IDW says...

Friday, November 23, 2018

Steven Pinker and hereditarianism: the disconnect

Steven Pinker, who has no problem claiming "respectable media" is guilty of radicalizing the alt-right by suppressing "the truth" is in return adored by respectable media.

I've already discussed Jesse Singal in the New York Times white-washing Pinker's remarks. Remarks that were video-taped and so anybody who bothers to look could see that Singal misrepresented what Pinker had said. But luckily for Singal and Pinker few people bother to check, so certain they are of Pinker's innate goodness.

Pinker is currently promoting his latest book, Enlightenment Now and this is fairly typical of the press's approach to Steven Pinker - this is Andrew Anthony in the British left-wing newspaper The Guardian:
Pinker’s trademark mop of silver curls, more like that of an ageing hard rock guitarist than an Ivy League academic, a pair of twinkling blue eyes and a ready expression of amusement beam out from my screen.
I was hoping the New Yorker would have reviewed Enlightenment Now by this point, so I could get a less worshipful perspective on Pinker from the press, but so far they haven't published anything. 

The liberal press loves Pinker and of course the racist right loves Pinker - although unlike Pinker, at least American Renaissance acknowledges the existence of The Pioneer Fund. I have yet to find any evidence that Pinker has ever acknowledged the connection between the Pioneer Fund and the Bell Curve.

Considering how often Pinker accuses critics of hereditarianism of being influenced by liberal politics, it is absolutely remarkable that Pinker wouldn't at least mention the Pioneer Fund if only to explain why it doesn't matter that some claims made in the Bell Curve are based on work funded by actual white supremacists.

So why doesn't Pinker mention the Pioneer Fund? Well for one thing the fawning press doesn't trouble him by asking such unpleasant questions, too entranced by Pinker's twinkling blue eyes to even think straight, much less do the hard work of digging into Pinker's background.

As I mentioned in this series, journalists have been failing us for a long time concerning evolutionary psychology.

While the press has been doing its best to avoid noticing how squirelly Pinker is about hereditarianism occasionally reviewers can't help but notice it.

And so, having claimed there is genetic evidence that intelligence is a heritable condition, and having asserted that races are little more than large, inbred families, Pinker himself ducks the issue that generates most anger. In parentheses on page 144, he states: "My own view, incidentally, is that in the case of the most discussed racial difference – the black-white IQ gap in the US – the current evidence does not call for a genetic explanation." 
Good. I believe he is right. But why does he go on to say that Steven Rose is wrong to believe that IQ tests tell you nothing useful, or that race is a doubtful biological category? And why, after arguing the science of this question for many decades, do we all still "believe" rather than "know" one way or the other?
His admirers on the racist right have also noticed a disconnect. In the American Renaissance review of Blank Slate, available via the Wayback Machine, Samuel Francis writing in 2003 ponders:
Prof. Pinker is firm and clear about the “inherent” or “innate” characteristics and behavior of human beings—human nature — that exist before anyone has a chance to scribble on the blank slate. Not only aggression and sexual differences but also intelligence he acknowledges to be in large part genetically grounded, but on the Big Taboo—race—he is vague and even contradictory.
He endorses the environmentalist theories of the origins of civilization of Jared Diamond and Thomas Sowell as opposed to racial ones, and tells us that “My own view … is that in the case of the most discussed racial difference—the black-white IQ gap in the United States—the current evidence does not call for a genetic explanation.” Yet, six pages later, he tells us that “… there is now ample evidence that intelligence is a stable property of an individual, that it can be linked to features of the brain (including overall size, amount of gray matter in the frontal lobes, speed of neural conduction, and metabolism of cerebral glucose), that it is partly heritable among individuals, and that it predicts some of the variations in life outcomes such as income and social status.” Combined with the different scores of blacks and whites on IQ tests, of course, this implies that the “most discussed racial difference” has a significantly genetic and not an environmentalist explanation...
Pinker's admirers on both the left and the racist right sense that something is not quite right here. This is echoed by reviews in The New Yorker, the only media outlet not completely baffled by Pinker's bullshit. I'll talk about that next.