Brooks: Sundar Pichai should resign as Google's CEO

Brooks: Sundar Pichai should resign as Google's CEO

August 12th, 2017 by David Brooks in Opinion Free Press Commentary

FILE - In this file photo dated May 17, 2017, file photo, Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address for the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

There are many actors in the whole Google/diversity drama, but the one who's behaved the worst is CEO Sundar Pichai.

The first actor is James Damore, who wrote the memo. In it, he was trying to explain why 80 percent of Google's tech employees are male. He agreed there are large cultural biases but also pointed to a genetic component.

Damore was tapping into the long, contentious debate about genes and behavior. On one side are those who believe humans come out as blank slates and are formed by social structures. On the other are evolutionary psychologists who argue genes interact with environment and play a large role in shaping who we are.

When it comes to genetic differences between male and female brains, the mainstream view is male and female abilities are the same across the vast majority of domains. But there are ways male and female brains are, on average, different.

In his memo, Damore cites a series of studies, making the case, for example, that men tend to be more interested in things and women in people. (Interest is not the same as ability.) Several scientists in the field have backed up his summary of the data.

Geoffrey Miller, a prominent evolutionary psychologist, wrote in Quillette, "For what it's worth, I think that almost all of the Google memo's empirical claims are scientifically accurate."

Damore was especially careful to say this research applies only to populations, not individuals: "Many of these differences are small and there's significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population-level distributions."

That's crucial.

We should all have sympathy for the second group of actors in this drama, the women in tech. Picture yourself in a hostile male-dominated environment, getting interrupted at meetings, being ignored, having your abilities doubted, and along comes some guy arguing women are on average less status hungry and more vulnerable to stress. Of course you'd object.

What we have is legitimate tension. Damore is describing a truth on one level; his sensible critics are describing a different truth, one on another level. He is championing scientific research; they are championing gender equality. It takes a little subtlety to harmonize these strands, but it's doable.

Of course subtlety is in hibernation in America. The third player in the drama is Google's diversity officer, Danielle Brown. She didn't wrestle with any of the evidence behind Damore's memo. She just wrote his views "advanced incorrect assumptions about gender." This is ideology obliterating reason.

The fourth actor is the media.

As Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic, "I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed." Various reporters and critics apparently decided Damore opposes all things Enlightened People believe and therefore they don't have to afford him the standards of intellectual fairness.

Which brings us to Pichai, the supposed grown-up in the room, who fired Damore and wrote, "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

That is dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a CEO) or too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a nonleadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That's when we need good leaders most.

The New York Times

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