The Comprehension Gap

The logo for the organization Reading Is Fundamental

I feel it is obligatory to write about the whole Google memo thing; it’s all everybody is talking about anyway, so why not chime in?

“Because enough is enough, Alex!”

Ah, but I think you’ll find my take to be slightly different than your average customers’.

(See what I did there? It’s called foreshadowing).

So the memo, what some are calling an “anti-diversity screed” and are characterizing as “arguing that women are not biologically fit for tech roles.”

Which begs the question: did these outlets even read the memo, or are they lying about it?

You see, I am not here to discuss the contents of the memo, or its now-fired author James Damore, or even discuss what this means to the future of the American workplace–if you want to read a good article about all that stuff, check out Lord Adeonistake on the whole controversy.

I’m not even here to talk about the media: I do not expect honesty from them, nor do I expect them to be particularly intelligent enough to grasp what the memo actually said, which can be boiled down thusly:

The gap in representation in STEM fields does not stem from sexism, but from the AVERAGE PREFERENCES women make when choosing an occupation, some of which are driven by biological differences between men and women, and Google’s strategy of using discrimination to promote women, and certain other groups in general, does more harm than good.

That’s it. The author wanted more women to be working in STEM fields generally, and at Google in particular–in fact, he sounds like a fan of diversity (this is where reading comprehension comes in: did people just skip that part, or ignore it?). The memo is not “anti-diversity”; it is more “anti-Google’s current diversity policies, which he claims are not producing the desired effect, and are in fact causing more harm than good.”

A picture of the outside of Google headquarters

That’s a bit more nuanced, right? It’s not as good for clickbait, though. And you’ll notice that I am neither attacking nor defending the contents of the memo . . . I’m just trying to set a baseline of understanding so we know what we are talking about. It’s like in a formal debate or an informal argument: both sides need to be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Remember when that used to be important?

And yet, people want him drawn and quartered. People are frothing-at-the-mouth mad. You may find the contents of the memo offensive or distasteful–and that’s fine–but I certainly hope you at least read and understood what it actually said.

More shocking, to me at least, is this:

So many people seem to lack both a basic understanding of statistics and of basic reading comprehension.

And many of these people went to college.

This is what disturbs me the most. Continue reading “The Comprehension Gap”

The Death of Curiosity

When I was in school, my friends and I had a saying: “Intelligence is a social disease.” 

We didn’t say this because we thought we were superior to everybody else, or even because we were smarter. But you have to understand that I was in elementary and high school in the 90s, the slacker era, the era where it was cool to be dumb.

I know for a fact that everybody I went to school with wasn’t dumb. It was just that, in order to fit in socially, one had to act like they were a moron. Those of us who didn’t were the weird ones. And as I palled around with the A/V nerds and the musicians and the history buffs and the computer geeks, that was my crew. 

I fully embraced my “weird” status, mainly because all I wanted throughout high school was just for everybody to leave me the hell alone.

The tides have turned since those days, and turned hard. These days, everybody’s into STEM and SCIENCE! Nerdiness and geek stuff, the kind of things that actually were social diseases when I was in high school, are now fully embraced, the province of the cool kids.

The pendulum has swung: instead of it being hip to be dumb, it’s hip to be smart.

Or so a surface observation would have you believe. I see things a little more cynically: It’s not cool to be smart; it’s cool for everybody to think you are smart.

This sounds really arrogant of me, but hear me out.

First: Remember that “intelligence” isn’t necessarily just about the raw data and information you’ve squirreled away in your brain. 

Second, take this simple test:

Try engaging a self-professed “smart person” on one of the topics they love. Maybe even challenge an opinion, or provide a different one. Do they:

  1. Engage in the discussion where they acknowledge your point and civilly provide counter evidence of their own?
  2. Demonstrate curiosity by asking you questions to further their understanding of your perspective?or
  3. Insult you, or otherwise dismiss your opinion outright and immediately end the discussion?

Generally speaking, if the person defaults to option 3, they’re probably not as smart as they think they are. 

Now ask yourself: what do you do when faced with a difference of opinion or an intellectual challenge? Continue reading “The Death of Curiosity”