17 January 2020

Unpopular Ideas About Women in High Tech and Academia


Stephen Kershnar
Women in Tech and Academia
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 17, 2019

There are some interesting issues related to women in high tech industries and academia. Institutional leaders don’t want to discuss them. 

When a diversity program at Google solicited feedback, one of the people who attended it, James Damore, wrote a memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” In it, he argues that men and women think differently. Damore (a former doctoral student in systems biology at Harvard) notes that the differences are merely shifted bell curve rather than a difference found when comparing individual men and women. Damore argues that the differences are likely biological because they are universal across human cultures, often have clear biological causes, and are linked to prenatal testosterone. In addition, he argues, the underlying traits are highly heritable and they’re what one would expect from an evolutionary perspective. As an example, he notes that a biological male who was castrated at birth and raised as a female still identified with and acted like a male.

Damore argues that these biological differences can be seen in that women focus more on people than things when compared to men. One way to understand this, he notes, is that women focus more on empathizing and men focus more on systematizing. This, Damore argues, explains why women prefer jobs in social areas compared to men and why men prefer jobs in systematizing areas (for example, coding) when compared to women. He notes that women are higher on some personality dimensions: agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism. This, he argues, explains why women have a stronger preference for a balanced and fulfilling life and men a stronger preference for the long, stressful hours required for high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership positions. It explains, he claims, why men take undesirable and dangerous jobs such as coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting and why they suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

There is controversy over whether Damore is correct. Among the people who think Damore got the science roughly correct are Rutgers’ Lee Jussim, University of New Mexico’s Geoffrey Miller, University of Toronto’s Jordon Peterson, and psychologist and columnist Debra Soh. Damore’s reasoning also overlaps with research done by Cambridge University’s Simon Baron-Cohen (some of which has not been replicated) and Harvard University’s Steven Pinker’s summary of the relevant literature. It is also worth noting that the sex-differences in personality are small.

Lance Welton (pen name) wrote “Are Women Destroying Academia? Probably” in the Unz Review. In it, he discusses the idea that female dominance of universities is eliminating the space geniuses need to make breakthroughs in academia. Such breakthroughs, he claims, are critical to the generation of new ideas. Relying on the ideas of Edward Dutton, Welton asserts that geniuses are overwhelmingly male for two reasons. First, males have more outlier IQs. Specifically, Welton notes, men have a flattened bell curve and thus more very high and very low IQ scores. Second, he notes, geniuses have distinctive personality features. Specifically, they tend to have moderately low conscientious and agreeableness. These features, Welton claims, are connected to systematizing, an important feature for the generation of new knowledge. As universities feminize, he argues, the increased emphasis on not causing offense, working in groups, and rule-governed bureaucracies eliminate the environment geniuses need to flourish.

Given its speculative nature, it’s hard to evaluate Welton’s argument. Even if Welton’s account of the relevant science were correct, it is unclear whether, in general, the outlier IQ is more productive when paired up with lower levels of some personality traits (for example, conscientiousness) than with higher levels of them.

In addition, it is unclear what, if anything, Damore and Welton want done. They might want high tech firms and universities to return to merit-based hiring and promotion and to become less bureaucratic. Alternatively, Welton might want universities to discount women’s applications similar to what is currently done to white and Asian applications (see, for example, Harvard). It is unclear whether the benefit of elite universities emphasizing space for geniuses over rule-governed bureaucracy outweighs its cost. The cost of discounting women’s applications for high tech and university jobs is high due to the incredible talent that half the population brings to the table. There is also a concern about providing girls and women efficient incentives to develop their intellectual abilities.  

One way to test Damore and Welton’s ideas is to let the different models compete in the free market. Firms and universities that emphasize competitive norms (for example, less bureaucratic rule-governance especially against discrimination, high pressure, no protection from offense, and special space for geniuses) should be allowed to compete against those that emphasize empathetic norms (bureaucratic rule-governance especially against discrimination, more attention to work-life balance, protection from offense, and no special space for geniuses). Other firms and universities might split the difference. This would provide a test for the different models’ desirability and productivity. To some extent we have this now. Consider the different commitments to work-life balance found in various law firms. Permitting more extreme workplace models and allowing them to compete would further our knowledge of the tradeoffs. It would also allow people to choose the type of place they want to work.   

The institutional response to their arguments was as pathetic as it was predictable. Google fired Damore for his argument despite its having asked for his feedback on a diversity program he attended. Google’s vice president for diversity (Danielle Brown) denounced Damore’s memo. She asserted that writing that men and women are biologically different in how they think and what they want conflicts with equal opportunity. She didn’t explain why.   

An Indiana University professor (Eric Rasmusen) tweeted out Welton’s article. The university’s provost (Lauren Robel) denounced Rasmusen, calling his views “stunningly ignorant.” Instead of explaining what aspect of Welton’s argument was stunningly ignorant, she denounced Rasmusen and then crawled back under her rock. 

Merely because Damore’s and Welton’s ideas cause offense doesn’t show that they’re false. Nor will it make them go away.

14 January 2020

Three Areas of Concern for the US: Total-War Politics, Debt, and the Ruling Class


Stephen Kershnar
Three Areas of Concern
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 26, 2019

Consider three areas of concern about the US’s direction.  

First, we are moving toward total war in politics. The Inspector General’s report made it clear that the investigation into the Trump campaign was a criminal conspiracy. At least in the later applications for FISA warrants, the signatories knew there was no legal basis for the warrants. The Steele Dossier was nearly all of the evidence in support of the FISA reapplications and the FBI knew early on that it was full of false and unverified stories because it interviewed the single source from which the dossier’s author got his information. In addition, an FBI lawyer doctored information about the target of the investigation (Carter Page) to prevent it from becoming clear what a sham the investigation was. The intelligence agencies not only put spies (confidential human sources and undercover employees) into the Trump campaign, but likely set up a low level advisor (George Papadapoulos) to justify opening up the investigation.  

This report is different from the one covering the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email-related felonies. Previously, the inspector general referred the FBI’s director and deputy director for criminal prosecution.  Significant numbers of FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials have now been referred for prosecution, fired, or demoted. It is now uncontroversial that the former leaders of the CIA, DIA, FBI, and IRS are criminals who should be in prison. Consider John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, and Lois Lerner. The doddering fool who headed the Russia Hoax, Robert Mueller, was either aware that his investigation was based on a hoax or out of the loop.   

The House recently impeached Trump for a thought crime (allegedly considering not sending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to Ukraine) and for asserting executive privilege similar to how previous presidents asserted it. He didn’t commit a crime as he had a legal right (and, in fact, a legal duty) to demand Ukraine investigate American corrupt involvement with it. No informed adult thinks that Hunter Biden got $83,000 a month from a well-connected Ukrainian company for anything other than his name and, perhaps, Joe Biden’s favorable treatment. Even if Trump didn’t have this right, as best we can determine, he didn’t communicate a quid pro quo to Ukraine. In any case, Ukraine didn’t do what he asked them to do and still got the money. The most the left can say here is that he considered committing a crime but for an informant outing him (a thought crime). Even the evidence for the thought crime is paper thin. Predictably, the informant has suspicious ties to John Brennan and Joe Biden. In short, Democrats have declared total war on Donald Trump. The Brett Kavanaugh debacle fits nicely into this pattern. 

Second, the U.S. Debt is now $23 trillion. It is larger than the American economy ($20 trillion in 2018). Yet the government will likely add $1 trillion in debt each year for the next decade. Because Congress does nothing to address it, the country will simply whistle past the graveyard. The most disappointing person in all this is Donald Trump. One expects him to be the adult in the room.  

Two thirds of the federal budget goes for entitlement spending (50% on Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security alone), interest on the debt (7%), and guaranteed benefits for federal retirees and veterans (8%). Social Security is about to be in the red (leaving aside the credit this part of the government has against another part of it). This guarantees that when cuts have to be made, they will be bitterly resented, hard fought, and very painful.

Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, in This Time is Different, point out if the past is like the future, and it usually is, the U.S. will eventually default on the debt and, perhaps, impose painful austerity measures. This will likely crash the economy. It is worth noting that the European Union countries and Japan are building up similar debt-levels. Japan’s debt is 237% of its economy. The EU has a debt level 80% of its overall economy. The debt of the PIGS – Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain – make it clear that something is seriously wrong with leaders across the world and not just Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Chuck Schumer.

Third, the Democratic leaders are the most irresponsible in our lifetime. They ignore the FBI’s criminal conspiracy and the Russia Hoax to which it gave rise. Democratic Presidential candidates have little respect for the traditional American nation. Leading candidates have supported confiscating guns, eliminating gasoline-powered engines, junking the Electoral College, pursuing naked political impeachment, packing the Supreme Court, and imposing a wealth tax that runs afoul the Constitution.

The country’s ruling class also doesn’t respect the traditional American nation. It flooded the U.S. with immigrants. One out of seven Americans is now an immigrant (14%) and one out of four Americans is an immigrant or child of an immigrant (26%).  In response to the ongoing flood, the Democratic candidates fight over who is more committed to amnestying 22 million illegal aliens, giving them free stuff, and opening the border. On the open border, consider their support for catch and release, decriminalizing border jumping, eliminating ICE, letting immigrants go on welfare, and tearing down the wall.

These issues are related. Without the flood of left-voting immigrants and their children (85 million), the Democratic Party does not turn into the irresponsible party that weaponized government, ratcheted up government debt, and turned a blind eye to the continued flood of immigrants. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib are a stinging indictment of the new citizens who voted for them. Insufferable elites supported the Afghanistan, Iran, and Libyan wars, propelled the Russia Hoax, pushed impeachment, rammed through the debt-exploding spending bills, and want the Constitution reinterpreted into oblivion. The combination of corrupt elites and immigrant voting machine that supports them is part, but not all, of the problem.

04 December 2019

Prohibition, Volstead Act, and the Obnoxious Dries


Stephen Kershnar
Lessons from Prohibition
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 1, 2019

I recently rewatched Ken Burns’ fascinating documentary on prohibition. Prohibition was a 1920-1933 nationwide ban on production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol. The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the Volstead Act that filled it out didn’t ban alcohol possession and consumption. One of the interesting questions about it is whether Prohibition worked.   

One 1991 study by Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron and Stanford’s Jeffrey Ziebel found that during Prohibition, per capita alcohol usage initially decreased to 30% of the pre-prohibition level. They argue that alcohol use later bounced back to only 60-70% of its pre-prohibition level. A 2017 study by several Simon Frasier University economists found that in the six years following prohibition (1934-1939), the end of Prohibition caused as many as 27,000 additional infants to die. On the other hand, Ludwig von Mises Institute economist Mark Thornton argues that per capita alcohol usage dropped precipitously before Prohibition and that if Prohibition had continued past 1933, it likely would have would have reached pre-prohibition level.

On health and crime, the studies are again mixed. One study found that death rates from cirrhosis of the liver, considered a proxy measure for alcohol consumption, declined by 10-20%. Another study found that alcoholism-related deaths, alcoholic psychosis admissions, and arrests for public drunkenness declined when Prohibition and related cultural changes went into effect. Again, however, it is unclear whether this resulted from forces that preceded Prohibition. Thornton argues that cirrhosis deaths bottomed out during World War I and then rebounded.

There is some evidence that Prohibition caused a significant increase in serious crime (for example, assault, burglary, murder, and robbery). This can be seen in the dramatic decline in these crimes once Prohibition was lifted. On the other hand, Harvard’s Mark H. Moore argues that violent crime didn’t dramatically increase during Prohibition. University of California at Chico’s Kenneth Rose argues that the statistics from the period are so poor that no conclusion regarding Prohibition’s effect on crime is warranted.

During Prohibition, the US.  Government was despicable. Writing in Slate, Deborah Blume notes that federal officials wanted to prevent industrial alcohols from being stolen by bootleggers and resold for consumption. To prevent this, they mixed it with a deadly poison. New York City medical examiners told them not to because the alcohol would be resold and end up killing people. It certainly did. The poisoning program killed at least 10,000 Americans. If another government had done this, it would have meant war.

American people’s liberty should not depend whether the latest scheme to improve people’s lives works. It is wrong for a do-gooder to use a gun or physical violence to prevent her fun-loving neighbor from being promiscuous, drinking whiskey, overeating, or smoking even if the prevention would make the neighbor’s life go better. It is even worse if the do-gooder were to prevent her neighbor from having such fun so that the do-gooder could shield her precious children from these recreational activities or make sense of her husband’s or son’s senseless death. If this is true for individuals, it is true for collections of individuals. The moral character of violence and coercion doesn’t change merely because more people are involved. Nor does it change when do-gooders act through the government rather wielding guns themselves.  

Unsurprisingly, do-gooders such as the Anti-Saloon League supported changing the Constitution to allow for federal income taxes. The Sixteenth Amendment’s passage made the Eighteenth Amendment’s passage more likely because it reduced government’s dependence on alcohol-related taxes. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union wanted to prohibit polygamy, prostitution, and tobacco. It also widely promoted educational material that included outrageous lies about alcohol. When it comes to improving adults and protecting children, a do-gooder’s work is never done.

What is interesting is how with time this lesson has been lost. CNN reports that in 2017, 70,000 Americans died from overdose. Despite a federal prohibition on the unauthorized sale and consumption of opioids, 48,000 of these overdose deaths were from opioids. This catastrophe is taken as evidence that more police officers and specialized courts are needed as are more and harsher prison sentences. This despite the fact that unauthorized opioid distribution and possession are already felonies. With the federal prohibition on these drugs working so disastrously, one wonders why anyone would want more of the same.  

Without the Eighteenth Amendment, Prohibition would have been unconstitutional. The federal government was not merely regulating interstate commerce when it banned alcohol production and sale within a state. Nor was the ban a necessary and proper means by which the federal government executed one of its other constitutional powers (see Article I Section 8). As a result, without the Eighteenth Amendment, the people would have the right to use alcohol. The right to regulate it, if there were such a right, would be held by the states. Unlike alcohol prohibition, federal drug prohibition is now considered constitutional. Some of the judges deciding such cases and police officers enforcing such laws even took an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Most Americans still can’t legally buy or use marijuana. Writing for The Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham points out that in 2016 there were almost as many marijuana users as cigarette smokers (55 versus 59 million). Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called for a cigarette-free society. Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole thought that the national drinking age could reasonably be set at 24. The Centers for Disease Control recently proposed prohibiting certain flavored vape products in order to, you guessed it, protect the children. Thirteen Democratic candidates want to criminalize and confiscate people’s AR-15 rifles, despite the fact that Americans own 5-10 million of them.    

Prohibition is a warning from the past. We should heed it.