This week, a Google employee reignited a huge debate on whether there are sex differences in the brain – simply by sending an email. James Damore, the staff member in question, posted a memo to his colleagues in which he suggested that the company’s diversity policies ignored crucial variations between men and women, writing: ‘Distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we dont (sic) see equal representation of women in tech and leadership’.
This memo, a manifesto of sorts, was brave, lateral and thought-provoking, intricately laying out the problems of workplace policies and ideologies at Google. In firing him the company has proven one of the memo’s points: that Google’s executives exhibit groupthink authoritarianism.
Damore has been dismissed as a right-wing agitator. Owen Jones, for instance, who clearly knows absolutely nothing about psychology, wrote: ‘he’ll probably be a star guest on alt-right shows and the rightwing lecture circuit’, before suggesting that his assumptions on sex differences are wrong.
Jones has highlighted a fact that many scientists know all too well: in quoting or contemplating academic literature, one is likely to be deemed ‘right-wing’, even when the topic is politically neutral. I know this as a psychology graduate; as soon as I started reciting my knowledge I was branded ‘right-wing’. I am conservative, but my politics is informed by science and not the other way round. Jones (and many other left-wingers) aren’t willing to engage with research that doesn’t confirm what they already believe.
Jones attacked the memo for suggesting that there are inherent differences between the sexes, scoffing at Damore’s assertion that females are more ‘neurotic’ than males. Sadly for Owen, the data indicates that this is true; women are far more likely than men to suffer from emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which go hand in hand with this trait.
The trouble left-wingers have is they often believe differences are inherently bad, and that sexual variation can only mean something insulting for women; we’re thick compared to men, perhaps. Conversely, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that our brains confer considerable advantages. It is certainly not sunshine and lollipops being a bloke: men are more susceptible to several conditions, including autism, attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, specific language impairment and dyslexia compared. Even psychopathy has been shown to be more prevalent in men. In recent years, some have suggested dismissed these figures, arguing that conditions only have gender gaps because of sexist diagnostic tools, but Tourette’s Syndrome is one clear affliction that is almost impossible to miss, and it’s three to five times more prevalent in males.
People aren’t ‘blank slates’, purely shaped by their environment. The truth is that outside factors interact with internal factors to create a human, meaning that nature and nurture are equally important. Neither die-hard believers in socialisation or biological determination are right.
Reading through Damore’s memo, it is clear that he realises this and is familiar with a wealth of scientific evidence. He has been criticised for not citing studies in the manifesto, but anyone who has combed through psychological research can see that he knows his stuff.
That’s why it’s such a great shame that for being literate, he has been accused of being ‘alt-right’. When Jones accused Damore of this, he not only displayed his own ignorance of the subject, but inadvertently complimented his Twitter enemies. If this Google ex-employee is alt-right then the alt-right are far more scientifically astute than we realise.