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Sexual neuroscience PhD: The engineer who wrote the ‘Google memo’ is right


James Damore got fired from Google because the highly educated engineer (who was working toward a PhD in systems biology from Harvard) said biology appears to play some role in the career pursuits of men and women, including at Google.

He has the right enemies, and the right allies.

Human sexuality science writer Debra Soh, who has a PhD in sexual neuroscience from York University, writes in The Globe and Mail that Damore’s internal memo was “fair and factually accurate.”

She points to studies that show higher levels of prenatal testosterone (typical in boys) “are associated with a preference for mechanically interesting things and occupations in adulthood,” including in girls with a certain genetic condition:

When they are born, these girls prefer male-typical, wheeled toys, such as trucks, even if their parents offer more positive feedback when they play with female-typical toys, such as dolls. Similarly, men who are interested in female-typical activities were likely exposed to lower levels of testosterone.

As well, new research from the field of genetics shows that testosterone alters the programming of neural stem cells, leading to sex differences in the brain even before it’s finished developing in utero.

One of the most cited studies that found male and female brains can’t be differentiated by sex “has been refuted by four – yes, four – academic studies since,” Soh writes.

She echoes Damore’s point that group traits don’t dictate preferences for any given individual, but it’s ignorant to claim group traits simply don’t exist:

In fact, research has shown that cultures with greater gender equity have larger sex differences when it comes to job preferences, because in these societies, people are free to choose their occupations based on what they enjoy. …

Contrary to what detractors would have you believe, women are, on average, higher in neuroticism and agreeableness, and lower in stress tolerance.

She scolds the witch hunt leaders who went after Damore for “denying biological reality and being content to spend a weekend doxxing a man so that he would lose his job.”

Read the op-ed.

UPDATE: James Damore removed a line about a Harvard PhD from his LinkedIn page following scrutiny, and Business Insider confirmed with Harvard that Damore was enrolled in but hadn’t completed the doctoral program. He replaced the PhD line with his highest completed degree, a master of science in systems biology. The post has been amended accordingly.

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