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The Brian Ferguson Interview

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Brian Ferguson v Steven Pinker

I first interviewed anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson fifteen years ago when I was considering writing a biography about anthropologist Marvin Harris. Unfortunately I never did write it. I may still have the interview, on cassette tape, but no longer have the equipment on which to play cassette tapes.

But strangely enough, after I become a devoted critic of Steven Pinker I realized that Ferguson was also a critic of Pinker. This should not have surprised me though, since Marvin Harris was a critic of  sociobiology in general, and Harris had been Ferguson's anthropology professor at Columbia University, and then his colleague.

So I interviewed Ferguson again last week in a Manhattan diner, about his work and his critiques of Pinker. This time I used a Snowball microphone feeding into a Garageband audio channel. The audio quality is much better than the one on the cassette, although background noise from the diner can be heard. I will post the recording soon, with transcript, on YouTube.

Ferguson has written two papers debunking hereditarian theories that Steven Pinker has supported.

Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence

The first theory supported by Pinker was presented in a paper by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, Henry Harpending entitled Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, which claims that Askhenazi Jews are innately more intelligent than other ethnic groups.

Ferguson wrote a response entitled How Jews Became Smart: Anti-"Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence"

Pinker's List

The second hereditarian theory was both more formally supported by Pinker and more formally refuted by Ferguson.

The theory, presented in Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, was that our pre-historic past was extremely violent.

Ferguson's response is a chapter in a book, War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views edited by Douglas P. Fry. Ferguson's chapter, which he has made publicly available for free, is entitled Pinker's List, Exaggerating Prehistoric War Mortality.

I will be focusing on the Ashkenazi papers and the Pinker's List debates in separate posts.

Ferguson discusses Pinker's List issues and Pinker's name comes up in this interview with John Horgan.

The transcript can be found on Pinkerite here.

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