The Times story that I thought was interesting for what it revealed about how Americans think with numbers seems to have struck a nerve.
Here’s a Facebook post by Jason Pontin, former editor of MIT’s alumni magazine, Technology Review:
It should go without saying (but obviously does not) that the behavior described in the article is unacceptable at every level. This is not the culture that technology needs if it’s to really serve humanity. Megan Smith has often told me, “You play the whole team” when you attack a really big problem. But a significant number of powerful men were harassing the team.
I responded with
If I ask people to contact me if they love Michael Bolton as much as I do, and 24 people from Silicon Valley respond that they enjoyed listening to “When a Man Loves a Woman” while relaxing with VC friends, will you be convinced that a significant number of the Silicon Valley “powerful” are huge Michael Bolton fans?
Owen Linderholm, whose LinkedIn describes him as a “Senior Content Strategist at WePay” and living in the Bay Area:
If 24 people were murdered by men in silicon valley would that be a significant enough number for you? It’s significant because what they did is significant not because it is statistically significant with a large enough p-value.
I took the bait:
The NYT article describes conduct going back to 2009. So that’s an 8-year period. There were certainly a lot more than 24 murders in Silicon Valley during those 8 years (just one year). … can we infer from these data that part of Silicon Valley “culture” is murder? You would probably try to figure out the population so that you could turn the total number into a rate and then you would compare the murder rate in these cities and towns to murder rates nationally.
Owen and then Jason:
You really are deliberately obtuse aren’t you. Were those murders by silicon valley luminaries?
I mean, some of these people are a). Very well known; b). Have spent the last decade piously positioning themselves as “allies” to women entrepreneurs and feminism in general.
Now you sound like the Women’s Studies major who is shocked to learn that one of the guys in her college dorm was feigning interest in feminism when really what interested him was her body.
There was another sub-thread spawned by Steve Atlas, linking to a Fortune article:
“You Won’t Believe How Many Women in Tech Say They’ve Faced Sexual Harassment”
Trae Vassallo took the stand during Ellen Pao‘s discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins … Afterwards, she says an “overwhelming number” of women approached her to share their own stories of harassment. … The survey includes just over 200 women—most of whom have at least 10 years of tech experience—sourced from Vassallo and Madansky’s networks. … A whopping 60% of the women who participated reported experiencing unwanted sexual advances.
[Actually, Vassallo and Pao’s stories suggest that Kleiner Perkins did not use sex as a basis for promotion. Vassallo’s testimony at the trial was that a Kleiner partner tried to have sex with her, but she refused. She was not promoted to “senior partner.” Pao testified at trial that the same Kleiner partner, who happened to be married, tried to have sex with her and she agreed. Pao also was not promoted to “senior partner.” So the two women (maybe inadvertently) participated in a controlled experiment.]
Here’s my survey. Me and this guy that I know surveyed 200 people from our networks. We discovered that 100 of them are FAA-certificated pilots, 70 of them with airplane ratings, 30 with helicopter ratings, 20 dual-rated, and 12 type-rated for at least one turbojet-powered aircraft. From this I infer that roughly 50 percent of Americans have FAA pilot certificates and that about 15 percent of Americans enjoy flying helicopters.
That Fortune would publish this article without the journalist or editor noticing the absurd methodological flaws that would be plain to a middle school student in Singapore explains why America needs H-1Bs. Just imagine how much money you could lose hiring anyone associated with this survey or the people who couldn’t see the flaws.
I then linked to a couple of articles about the Gates Foundation wasting $ 1.7 on “small high schools” due to incompetence with math/statistics:
Jason Pontin came back:
I’ve deleted the modifier “significant” but you’re fooling yourself if you think this isn’t a problem. You’re like those fools who think it matters that the police are as statistically likely to shoot an unarmed black man – when African Americans are stopped far more often. So, too, I’ve never talked with a female entrepreneur who doesn’t have a story like this.
So it all ties back to Black Lives Matter? I checked in with a neighbor who has raised about $ 50 million in the venture capital world (two startups plus a fund). It turned out that she had never been approached for sex by a VC, but that she had been approached for sex by her boss when working at a large bank (she said “no”). Of course, this is the Boston-area VC world so things might be different in Silicon Valley, but Pontin was Boston-based when editing Technology Review.
One Facebooker reasonably asked “So many women bail out of high tech. Why?”
Could the answer be “Most women were never dumb enough to be in high tech in the first place and the smart ones certainly wouldn’t be taking startup risk.”
At a party on Saturday night a graphic artist/designer for a Boston-area financial services firm described programming as “dull and unpleasant.” Her theory for why most of the coders at her employer were from India with “They need a population of more than 1 billion before they can find enough people who only care about money and don’t care how dull and unpleasant a job is.”
“We know Silicon Valley is broken, so let’s fix it” (CNBC) describes a couple of women as “industry leaders.” One is GM lifer Mary Barra, who never tried to raise VC money or work in high-tech. The other is Sheryl Sandberg, who never tried to raise VC money or work at a small high-tech company (Sandberg joined Google when it was already hugely successful and Facebook in 2008 when it was already worth at least $ 15 billion (October 2007 value)). [Separately, the article has a subhead of “Silicon Valley’s moral high ground belies its rampant problems with sexism.” Moral high ground? The journalist and editors are convinced by some anecdotes of “rampant problems with sexism” in an area where total employment is 1.5 million?]
A friend recently attended a wedding. The bride was marrying an already-rich guy. My friend and his wife shared a table with three Harvard MBA women. None of them were working. All had married already-rich guys. (See “Litigation, Alimony, and Child Support in the U.S. Economy” for references to the effect of marriage and family law on women’s labor force participation, e.g., “only 35 percent of women who have earned MBAs after getting a bachelor’s degree from a top school are working full time”.)
If Silicon Valley has truly developed a culture in which women regularly have sex with VCs in order to get funding or jobs (and the subset of the sisterhood that refuses to participate in this quid pro quo is therefore disadvantaged), why are we only hearing about it now? A friend’s private message:
this is the time for sexual beta-males to come out and pounce on alpha males in groups
Since I don’t live or work in Silicon Valley it is tough for me to offer an opinion on what the “culture” might be, other than people try to make money so that they can afford $ 5 million starter homes. But I remain fascinated that major newspapers and magazines, people whose job seemingly depends on being smart, and college-educated Americans all uncritically accept inferences made about a sizable industry (at least 23,000 startups in Silicon Valley as of 2016) based on 24 anecdotal reports where the journalists had to reach back through 8 years to gather enough material for one article.
Philip Greenspun’s Weblog