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Wall Street Journal / Biz - Money

Memo to a Google Engineer

Hey, shut up. Google is fighting the diversity furies and you’re not helping.


Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Try as we might, we can’t find anything truly objectionable in what a now-fired Google engineer had to say about the company’s diversity efforts.

Throughout his memo, James Damore repeatedly makes a point that will be purposely lost on many journalists, because they are afraid of it: The distribution of traits within a population says nothing about the traits of any particular person.

Men, on average, may be taller than women. Systematic science tells us so. But this does not allow anyone to accuse Julie Newmar of being shorter than Mickey Rooney. Neither does it allow Ms. Newmar’s admirers to complain about the science of height distributions.

Google says it dumped Mr. Damore for perpetuating “gender stereotypes,” which implies it’s forbidden to mention scientifically validated variations in the distributions of traits as they relate to gender. Why? Because it’s easier than reminding those who wish to feel aggrieved that such findings say nothing about their own traits or how they will fare at Google.

Which brings us to the real reason Mr. Damore’s prospective employment lawsuit won’t be the great air-clearing this issue needs: Google will pay him off handsomely because it knows it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

The gist of his memo was not to insist on gender stereotypes but on the folly of directing people into jobs for which they are not suited purely to meet diversity goals. Especially when, as he says, a better alternative is to rethink how jobs are structured if the goal is to make them more attractive to people with a different set of traits than they attract now.

Inconveniently, Mr. Damore also points to the discriminatory nature of Google “programs, mentoring and classes only for people with a certain gender or race.” Inconveniently, he notes the intrinsic unfairness of treating trait-based disparities as gender-based.

Example: Studies suggest women, on average, may be more anxious and more concerned about work-life balance than men, but plenty of men share these traits too. Where are the programs to help these men advance in a culture that naturally tends to reward those who are single-mindedly focused on their jobs?

“Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women,” Mr. Damore writes. “For each of these changes, we need principled reasons for why it helps Google.”

He insists it’s not intellectually defensible to assume all differences are the product of “oppression” and “sexism.” Guess what? Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not stupid. They know this. Mr. Damore’s real offense is exposing a necessary hypocrisy in Google’s plan for fending off the societal attacks that began in 2014 when its workforce was revealed to be 70% male and 61% white.

Mr. Damore is an embarrassment to the company’s strategy of appeasing the diversity furies with tokenism, perfectly acceptable to Google’s critics as long as it affirms their insistence that any and all disparities arise from discrimination and victimization.

Its critics don’t really care about outcomes. They care about Google endorsing their ideological and political fixations.

For all the world, this controversy is a dead ringer for the political correctness (before the term was commonplace) that descended on E.O. Wilson with his 1975 book “Sociobiology,” which made the now-undisputed claim that many human behavioral traits are shaped by evolution and passed along genetically.

Mr. Wilson was accused of every retrograde impulse, from Nazism to eugenics to a desire to keep women in the kitchen, though nothing could be further from the truth.

He was physically attacked at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, later writing, with excessive optimism, that it was the only case in America of a scientist being physically assaulted for “the expression of an idea.”

Here’s where we don’t blame Google, though, for living in the world. Companies do lots of things in the service of “community relations” that amount to payola for critics. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable position for a company that prides itself on scientific rationality to be found practicing deliberate irrationality to placate politically motivated activists. But unless business gets more help from the larger culture, what can you expect?

The Harvard of his day bravely stood by Mr. Wilson, though it’s debatable whether it would today. It even (if quietly) congratulated itself in 2000 for rereleasing what it called a “classic work” whose controversial nature “reverberates to the present day.”

If you can’t expect universities any longer to be brave in defense of reason, how can you ask a company whose stock is traded in the public market and whose relations with politicians and regulators are crucial to its ability to adapt and grow?

But at least Mr. Damore is likely to get a nice settlement.