Stuart Reges emails

On this page I have included emails that I sent about diversity issues to mailing lists during the 2017-18 academic year. I have replaced names of CSE individuals with notations such as Student, Faculty, and Staff.

message sent on 12/5/17 to a broad email list:

    Some feminists distinguish between equity feminism (a moral imperative
    to work towards political equality) and gender feminism (the idea that
    there are no gender differences).  For anyone who wants to explore the
    scientific case against gender feminism from a man who calls himself a
    feminist, I recommend Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate.
    Another good source is Gad Saad who explores evolutionary explanations
    for gender differences.  Earlier this year he gave an invited talk at
    Google that is available here:
    He has many other videos available on his youtube channel The Saad

message sent on 12/13/17 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    I was going to wait a few weeks before responding to the recent
    workshop, but given that it will be discussed this Thursday, I wanted
    to mention a few ideas.  I'm sending this message just to
    diversity-allies because it's not clear that people on the
    cs-gradswomen list would be interested in this discussion.
    I wanted to explain why I sent a message in response to the workshop
    invitation and why I will continue to do so every time it is
    advertised on a mailing list I'm part of.
    I believe that this workshop presents a narrow view of feminism and
    one that is not science-based.  In Student's transcript, Professor
    Professor questions whether the western tradition of scientific inquiry
    can be trusted:
    > Thinking about feminist approaches to knowledge- it is both a
    > commitment and a concern. What does it mean that knowledge has been
    > produced without women? Where are the women? What does objectivity
    > mean if knowledge has been produced in gender-segregated ways? Is
    > that objective? We can think about feminist voices but also in terms
    > of colonized countries or colonized knowledges. All these voices
    > that have been left out- what does it mean that we haven't
    > considered them?
    This gets at the heart of many of the disagreements between gender
    feminists and equity feminists.  If we can't agree on how to identify
    objective truth, then we can't reason together about the state of the
    world and how we might change it.  I would hope that most folks in CSE
    have made a commitment to science as the foundation for exploring
    objective truth.
    As Faculty pointed out, feminism itself is an ideology and not a
    science.  That makes this workshop unlike almost any other that we
    host in the department.  That is why I will continue to post a message
    in response to every invitation to workshops like these.  I think it's
    important that people understand that there are other ways of
    approaching feminism and I think that CSE members would be
    particularly interested in understanding the scientific case against
    gender feminism.  I'm not looking to start arguments.  I just want to
    send exactly one message mentioning these ideas each time I see an
    advertisement for a workshop like this that presents such a limited
    view of feminism.
    I would be happy to share links to videos that explore feminism from a
    scientific basis.  I am hoping to put together some resources on my
    web page over the upcoming break to make it easier to share.  And I'm
    willing to discuss these ideas in person or on this mailing list for
    those who might be interested.
    My TAs and I will be grading exams during the lunch meeting, but I
    will find some time to stop by to join in the discussion.

message sent on 12/13/17 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    I feel like I'm preaching to the choir here to comment on science to a 
    group of scientists, but I would say that the important starting point is 
    that we all agree that there is an objective truth out there, not whether 
    our current scientific theories adequately explain it.  Good science is 
    always tentative and open to revision when new data and new perspectives 
    call into question previous conclusions.  Science works wonders when you 
    follow a few simple principles.  One of my favorite quotes from 1984 is, 
    "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.  If that is 
    granted, all else follows."

message sent on 1/29/18 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    Unfortunately I have a conflict that prevents me from attending the
    diversity teas this quarter, but I thought I'd throw out a thought
    experiment in response to Staff's concern about viewpoint diversity
    in case anyone wants to discuss it.
    James Damore provides a great specific example.  He's a real person
    and he really got fired for expressing his views and now he's suing
    Google.  The main point James made in his essay was that biological
    differences might explain why fewer women seem interested in computer
    science.  That is a defensible intellectual position (he devotes 10
    pages to defending it).
    While Google has a great deal of latitude in deciding when to banish
    someone from their community, public universities like UW do not.  We
    are legally bound to respect an individual's right to have an opinion
    that differs from what most people in the Allen School believe.  So
    one way to explore viewpoint diversity is to think about how to make
    someone like James Damore feel welcome in CSE.  Young people who have
    similar beliefs are likely to be afraid that they will be punished for
    expressing such ideas.  As Staff mentioned, perhaps we should add
    some wording to the inclusiveness statement that would encourage
    people to feel comfortable expressing even controversial opinions.
    Heterodox Academy recently posted an article from a faculty member
    looking for appropriate wording for her syllabus to encourage
    viewpoint diversity:
    I would say that she is trying to figure out how to make someone like
    James Damore feel welcome and comfortable while at the same time not
    making others feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.  It's a tough problem.
    Any thoughts on how we might thread this needle?

message sent on 1/30/18 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    I agree with Student that email is not the best way to explore a
    complex issue like this, but I really appreciate the fact that Faculty and
    Student took the time to respond to my thought experiment.  It seems
    likely that I have a fundamental disagreement with them.  I don't want
    to argue through email, but I'd like to try to just state what I see
    as the disagreement.
    Damore's memo was mischaracterized by the media.  He mostly talked
    about women and men having different preferences based on biological
    differences.  This is an opinion shared by reputable scientists like
    Jordan Peterson and Gad Saad both of whom interviewed Damore on their
    podcasts and said that he got the science basically right.  Heterodox
    Academy put together a great resource that was intended to show the
    full range of evidence on both sides.  You can scan their lengthy web
    page and just notice the color coding to see that there is substantial
    evidence on both sides of this question:
    The point is that this is not a settled question in science.  As a
    result, I would find it particularly odd that CSE would take a stand
    one way or the other.
    I think my primary source of disagreement is that I don't think that
    the fact that Damore's ideas might upset people should be a reason to
    treat him differently from any other member of the community.  I'm in
    the Chicago Principles school of thought:
    As Jay Ellison wrote in his now famous letter to freshmen, "We do not
    condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals
    can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."  That
    is the essence of viewpoint diversity.  Welcoming all viewpoints,
    which I think is essential to university life, means that sometimes
    people will be made uncomfortable.
    This is a complicated topic that isn't easy to summarize, so I don't
    presume to speak for Faculty or Student.  I'm just trying to explain where
    I'm coming from.  Probably an in-person discussion would be better.  I
    can attend the tea on February 13th and perhaps we could discuss it
    then.  If the time were moved to 2-3, I could attend every week.

message sent on 2/13/18 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    I enjoyed the discussion we had at the tea today, although we clearly had 
    too many issues to address in the limited time.
    As I mentioned several times at the tea, I encourage people to watch Gad 
    Saad's invited talk at Google in which he talks about gender differences. 
    He discusses the question of how much evidence is required from science to 
    draw strong conclusions:
    And if you want an example of a true class act with scholars disagreeing 
    without being disagreeable about the question of whether gender 
    differences can explain why we see fewer women in STEM, I recommend 
    watching the debate between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke held at 

message sent on 2/14/18 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    I, too, don't want to attempt a debate via email, so let me try to explain 
    some of my concerns without trying to raise the level of heat.
    We say that we are committed to diversity and inclusion.  We often tell 
    compelling stories of individuals who feel they are not welcome.  I 
    claimed at the tea that I believe the individuals who most feel that in 
    CSE are conservatives, deeply religious individuals, and Trump supporters. 
    I have heard all three groups openly mocked.  This is not just theoretical 
    for me.  I have spoken to specific individuals who have shared their 
    stories with me.  Many are reluctant to speak out.  I don't think it is 
    "out of scope" to consider whether the Allen School has achieved it's 
    stated goal of becoming "a community that celebrates and values 
    differences among its members."
    At the tea we spent a lot of time discussing my thought experiment of how 
    we should react if we had someone like James Damore in our community.  His 
    example raised so many questions that we didn't have time to thoroughly 
    discuss them.  A consistent objection that was raised was that he got the 
    science wrong and that his views are akin to climate science skeptics or 
    creationists.  I sent the two links because they directly address many of 
    the objections that were raised at the tea.
    Another idea I emphasized is that discussions on difficult topics often 
    veer off course when someone makes a comment along the lines of, "He said 
    X, but that really means Y."  The concept of dog-whistling was mentioned. 
    I believe that if we want to have a constructive discussion in which we 
    show mutual respect, we have to abandon the tendency to ascribe ideas to a 
    person who has not mentioned those ideas.
    I share the goal of closing the gender gap in CS and I celebrate the many 
    talented and capable women in our community.  I also believe there is 
    substantial scientific evidence for gender differences and that these 
    differences can explain some of the gender gap.  This was Damore's core 
    argument.  Google has decided that they won't tolerate such arguments.  I 
    hope that as a university we can find a better solution.
    Broad gender differences predict population outcomes, so we can conclude 
    that perhaps a perfectly just society would fail to produce 50/50 men and 
    women in CS, but they do not make any predictions about individual 
    outcomes. In the spirit of my X/Y example, I encourage people to resist 
    the temptation to extend my words to mean something more.  It may "feel" 
    like my words imply something about the abilities of women in CSE, but 
    that is not my intent and those are not the words I used.
    I began the tea with a simple question.  Is it okay for someone in our 
    community to openly express the idea that there are biologically based 
    gender differences and that those differences can have an impact on 
    diversity?  I believe that question remains unanswered.  I'm sorry if some 
    consider this a waste of time, but there are actual people in our 
    community who are uncomfortable voicing their opinion on this issue 
    because they feel that it is socially unacceptable to do so.  It is my 
    opinion that we are failing our commitment to inclusion if we fail to 
    address this question, but as the disclaimers always mention, "your 
    mileage may vary." :-)

message sent on 2/14/18 to the diversity-allies mailing list:
    Faculty said:
    > It is completely appropriate to openly debate this and noone is 
    > questioning anyone's right to do so.
    You were not at the tea.  Someone joked that if Damore came to UW that, 
    "We will hurt him."  Others said that someone who holds such views should 
    not be allowed to be in a position of authority (making decisions). 
    Others said that CSE should take sides in this debate and make "our 
    values" clear.  That does not convey openness.
    Faculty mentioned these ideas being "hurtful."  Being hurt by ideas is part 
    of the price we pay for participating in the marketplace of ideas.  We 
    have found no better way to explore issues and seek the truth.
    I am happy to explore the issues raised by Faculty and Faculty in a setting 
    where we can talk in person.  That was my understanding about the intent 
    of the teas.

Stuart Reges
Last modified: Thu Nov 15 08:15:41 PST 2018