Google recently fired engineer James Damore over a memo he wrote suggesting that men tend to be inherently more interested in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) thereby challenging the ideology that men and women are basically the same but guided by different social expectations. The memo went public and generated controversy along with some broad critiques for and against. Yet with so much information and so many statistics involved, it is hard to sort out just how much of our temperaments is contributed by our biology and how much is from social expectation. Indeed, on this issue, it is hard to agree on anything. How many of us would agree that our genes contribute 10% of our traits, or 2% or 30%, or 0% (meaning nothing at all)?
Our beliefs guide our political positions, of course, but conversely, our positions guide our beliefs. One mainstay of modern feminism is that women have been and continue to be oppressed, and so should be given more voice and more compensation. If genetic variations contribute nothing, then that suggests unfair social factors that should be addressed. Conversely, if genes are strong contributors, then the case for a social injustice falls apart.
A 2012 study in Science tracked the careers of several thousand University scientists over almost 20 years, and found that 13% of the male scientists earned or contributed to patents, as compared to just 6% of the female scientists. Thus, on this one broad measure, the average male scientist produces about twice what the average female scientist produces. So not only are there more male scientists, but the individual males on average are more productive.
The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, rated 11th highest in personal incomes by the 2018 Wikipedia. American science and industry has been out ahead for decades after World War II, but indications are that the rest of the world is catching up.
How will that play out? If encouraging women in STEM fields will add to our prosperity, then it is all for the better. We are not competing just among ourselves, but also against the rest of the world. But if we support women instead of men, we are advancing the less productive individuals over the more productive.
Harvard president Lawrence Summers wondered aloud if males might be innately more talented in these fields, and enough of the activist faculty considered this and other positions offensive enough that Summers chose to resign rather than continue against the angry opposition. The unfortunate conclusion is that the ideological climate is not merely supportive of women, but can be actively contemptuous toward men. Damore contends that the Google culture is openly hostile to men, his own treatment there being one of many instances. Complimenting men on anything can be considered bias against women, and therefore socially offensive. Yet failing to support our more traditional producers is a huge gamble with our collective future.
Richard Driscoll, PhD, is a psychologist and author of “Would You Meet Me Halfway?”
NCFM Adviser Richard Drisoll, Ph.D, Gender Politics in Science
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