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The Brian Ferguson Interview

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Steven Pinker having it both ways as usual

Reviewers of Steven Pinker's work notice his logical inconsistencies, which is especially amusing when Pinker's work is about logic.

Back in September when Pinker's book "Rationality..." was released, Ted McCormick, writing in Slate, noted the inevitable Pinker logic fail, which has been characterized by other reviewers as Pinker "having it both ways":

Rather than argue for his own liberal, technocratic goals, however, Pinker lets their presumed superiority color his use of “rational” and “irrational” throughout. This creates a recurring dissonance, since what is irrational (or “cockamamie,” or “stupid”) from his perspective often turns out to be eminently rational by his initial definition: That is, it serves the purposes of those who hold to it effectively. 

I give other examples of Pinker's critics noticing Pinker trying to have it both ways here.

The article also notes Pinker's (inevitable) hypocrisy, combined with his inevitable support for far-right, race pseudoscience-promoting organizations:

Blaming universities’ “suffocating leftwing monoculture” for popular mistrust of expertise, Pinker mentions two examples in the text: University of Southern California professor Greg Patton’s removal from a course after using the Chinese ne ga, which can sound like the N-word, and testimony from unnamed personal “correspondents.” (In a footnote, he invites readers to look to Heterodox Academy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Quillette—all of it—for further examples.) The very next paragraph warns of “illusions instilled by sensationalist anecdote chasing.” Doctor, heal thyself!

And although Pinker, along with right-wing media, trumpeted the Greg Patton controversy far and wide, in the end, the university found in Patton's favor:

After weeks of an internal investigation by USC’s Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX (EEO-TIX), however, Patton was found to have acted appropriately, as Garrett announced to students and the rest of the Marshall School community in a September 25 email. The EEO-TIX found that “the concerns expressed by students were sincere,” the dean wrote, “but that Professor Patton’s actions did not violate the university’s policy. They have also communicated this to the professor and he allowed me to share their conclusion with you.

One or more hyper-sensitive students made an absurd charge against a professor, the university investigated the issue, and the professor was found to have acted appropriately. 

So is Steven Pinker's right-wing fear-mongering an example of rationality? I suppose if your goal is to curry favor with the deep pockets of the racist right, then yes, it is rational.

But going back to Pinker having it both ways. I mentioned recently that anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson introduced me to the work of another anthropologist, Douglas Fry, who sent me a link to his review of Pinker's 2012 book "Better Angels of Our Nature." 

I enjoyed Fry's review especially because he also noticed Pinker's trait of having it both ways:

Pinker’s evident fondness for state-based solutions also seems to make for greater analytical confusion as he tries to supply an anatomy of peaceable instincts that may inhere in human subjects apart from the imposition of state control. Pinker proposes that along with self-control, a moral sense, and the capacity to reason, a fourth “better angel” in our nature is empathy. But Pinker can’t seem to make up his mind about empathy. On the one hand, he quotes Charles Darwin in his final chapter’s epigraph, thereby appearing to give a last word to the great natural scientist’s hopeful formulation: 
As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
However, Pinker concludes earlier in the book, after much discussion, that it is actually rights, norms, and policies—not empathy—that are important for protecting people from violence. Pinker also concludes that “empathy can subvert human well-being when it runs afoul of a more fundamental principle, fairness.” If that’s the case, then why isn’t fairness promoted to angel status and empathy demoted? It’s hard to avoid the impression that Pinker is just jumping, halfheartedly, onto the empathy bandwagon in the wake of best-selling treatments of the subject such as Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization (2009) and Frans de Waal’s The Age of Empathy (2009)—both of which are far more thorough and lucid treatments of the subject than one finds in The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Whatever else you can say about Pinker, he's consistent.

Fry shared his review of Napoleon Chagnon's self-aggrandizing autobiography "NOBLE SAVAGES My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists." The autobiography was called "a lively and paranoid romp through the thick jungles of the Amazon and the thicker tangles of academic and religious intrigue" by the NYTimes.

Fry's review can be accessed via JSTOR here. Fry critiqued Chagnon's claim that Yanomami men who killed more also fathered more children, explaining why Chagnon's calculation is incorrect, which concurs with Ferguson's paper Materialist, cultural and biological theories on why Yanomami make war

The critique was enough to get Fry on Chagnon's enemies list:

I had begun to think that somehow I had escaped being put on the "detractor list" for my mathematical recalculation of Chagnon's unokai data (Fry 2006; Miklikowska and Fry 2012), but then I discovered that he cites a book I co-edited (Kemp and Fry 2004) as a supposed example of an ad hominem attack related to his 1988 unokai article (Chagnon, 2013: 278). However, Chagnon got the basic facts wrong. The only mention of Chagnon in the edited book involves his use of the label "fierce," has nothing to do with his 1988 article, and says nothing that could be considered ad hominem (Kemp and Fry 200422: 5). 

Regular visitors to this Pinkerite site will not be surprised to learn that Steven Pinker (and other supporters of sociobiology) is a big fan of Chagnon.

Fry also shared a link to an interview with Phillip Dwyer, author of The Dark Angels of Our Nature, which raises many of the objections that Ferguson did in his Pinker's List and adds a few more. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Matthew Yglesias supports the career of anti-Black racist political operative Razib Khan

I've noted before the association between rightwing political operative anti-Black racist Razib Khan and mainstream "centrist" Matthew Yglesias before

Recently Khan circulated a letter condemning Scientific American because he didn't like a Black woman writing that E. O. Wilson was maybe a racist.

As it turned out, Wilson was even more racist than many of us realized.

Khan got a bunch of the usual clueless dopes in the science world to join in his campaign, and when some of them finally got clued into Khan's 20+ years as a promoter of the extremist racist "science" of Wilson's pal J. Phillippe Rushton, they thought better of their support for Razib Khan.

But Matthew Yglesias thought their dismay over Khan's anti-Black racism was doing harm to a "healthy intellectual climate" as he sarcastically tweeted.

But although Khan retweets Yglesias regularly, I never saw Yglesias retweeting Khan.

Until now.

He includes a link to Khan's Substack.

Murder rates broken out by gender can be found all over the Internet - if that's an issue Yglesias really wanted to talk about. He didn't need to rely on Razib Khan for the information. But yet, for some reason, Yglesias had to use his respectable mainstream platform to give one of the main followers of J. Phillippe Rushton greater credibility. 

Of course Steven Pinker has been promoting Khan for close to 20 years, and there are a bunch of other mainstream media people who promote Khan.

The next time a creep like Andrew Sullivan claims that systemic racism is a thing of the past, point out that many mainstream media people, including Matthew Yglesias, gladly support the career of extremist anti-Black racist Razib Khan.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The endless hypocrisy of Steven Pinker

The endless hypocrisy of Steven Pinker - to whine about science being politicized while being a long-time ally of the racist right, from Steve Sailer to - currently - the appalling Razib Khan - both of whom are financial beneficiaries of Holocaust denier and some time Republican politician Ron Unz.

Pinker often relies on his fanboys, like Michael Shermer and Jerry Coyne to present his views, which he did again recently, when he complained about Science magazine via Coyne.

In his letter, Pinker wrote:
Science magazine appears to have adopted wokeism as its official editorial policy and the only kind of opinion that may be expressed in the magazine. An example is the recent special section on the underrepresentation of African Americans among physics majors, graduate students, and faculty members. This situation is lamentable and worthy of understanding. But the six articles in the issue assume as dogma that the underrepresentation is caused by “white privilege”: that “the dominant culture has discouraged diversity,” and “white people use their membership in a dominant group to assert political, cultural, and economic power over those outside that group.” Though Science is ordinarily committed to open debate on scientific controversies, no disagreements with this conspiracy theory were expressed. And though the journal is supposedly committed to empirical tests, no data were presented that might speak to alternative explanations, such as that the cause of the under-representation lies in the pipeline of prepared and interested students. If we want to increase the number of African Americans in physics, it matters a great deal whether we should try to fix the nation’s high schools or accuse physics professors of white supremacy. Yet Science magazine has decided, without debate or data, to advocate the latter.
Most interesting to me was this part:
And though the journal is supposedly committed to empirical tests, no data were presented that might speak to alternative explanations, such as that the cause of the under-representation lies in the pipeline of prepared and interested students.
Pinker is very aware of alternative explanations for Black American under-representation in science, because he has been promoting the career of Razib Khan, for two decades, as recently as October 2021

The main focus of Razib Khan's career is to represent Black people, especially Black Americans as essentially separate from the rest of humanity. Much like his early influence, J. P. Rushton did.

Pinker avoids mentioning the race pseudoscience explanation directly, probably because that would link Pinker too obviously to what he has been indirectly - but indisputably - promoting for twenty years. 

Steve Sailer, a steadfast supporter of Pinker even ten years after Pinker stopped mentioning Sailer in public, has wondered at Pinker's ability to hold the same racist views as James Watson without suffering a career set-back:
How does Pinker avoid getting in trouble like DNA researcher James D. Watson or Pinker’s friend Larry Summers, former president of Harvard until he gave a Pinkerian talk on sex differences in IQ? I’m not sure, exactly. Perhaps it’s that the lithe, long-haired, soft-spoken Pinker seems like the archetype of the liberal college professor.
If anybody would know about Pinker's actual views on race, it would be Steve Sailer, who is very confident he has been a big influence on Pinker.

But for once I agree with Sailer - it is surprising that Pinker has gotten away with promoting race pseudoscience for so long with almost no impact on his career as celebrity intellectual. 

The likely answer - the media is too lazy and stupid and respectful of celebrity intellectuals.

The media's attitude towards Pinker's hiding-in-plain-sight pattern of promoting race pseudoscience is pretty well summarized by an email exchange I had with Gideon Lewis-Kraus who wrote:
If you have emails between Pinker and Sailer, I will gladly review them... 

With the implication that anything less than direct correspondence is not worth talking about.

That's why I was so amazed when, last autumn, the Guardian, once seen publishing dreamy love letters to Pinker's twinkling blue eyes and silver hair, published an interview in which Pinker was asked about his connection to Steve Sailer, for the first time, as far as I am able to discover, in twelve years:

Many critics allege that Pinker’s recent remarks are part of a longer history of comments and behaviour that have come dangerously close to promoting pseudoscientific or abhorrent points of view. To take a single example: the journalist Malcolm Gladwell has called Pinker out for sourcing information from the blogger Steve Sailer, who, in Gladwell’s words, “is perhaps best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people”. Angela Saini, a science journalist and author of Superior: The Return of Race Science, told me that “for many people, Pinker’s willingness to entertain the work of individuals who are on the far right and white supremacists has gone beyond the pale”. When I put these kinds of criticisms to Pinker, he called it the fallacy of “guilt by association” – just because Sailer and others have objectionable views, doesn’t mean their data is bad. Pinker has condemned racism – he told me it was “not just wrong but stupid” – but published Sailer’s work in an edited volume in 2004, and quotes Sailer’s positive review of Better Angels, among many others, on his website.
Pinker has expressed regret for his connection to Jeffrey Epstein. And this Guardian interview could have been his chance to express regret for promoting Sailer, but instead he denied promoting Sailer at all, preferring to mischaracterize his connection to Sailer as mere "guilt by association" as if Pinker simply bumped into Sailer at a student pageant at a school where they both had kids enrolled, and some dastardly woke person took their photo together and published it.

And of course Pinker would not express regret for his promotion of the career of Razib Khan, since he's continued to do it. Razib Khan's view is that Black Americans are innately morally and intellectually inferior, a position revealed most recently in his review of Charles Murray's latest book "Facing Reality." 

Khan presents the hereditarian view he shares with Murray as no big deal:
At a mere 168 pages, it is considerably shorter than the 500-plus pages of Murray’s previous book, Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class. That’s because there are only two big ideas being forwarded: that different races in America “have different violent crime rates and different means and distributions of cognitive ability.” That’s it. Though there is more reasoning and analysis between the covers, the whole work rests on these two pillars.
"That's it." Two pillars: 1. "races" in America have different violent crime rates and 2. "races" have different cognitive ability.

This appears early on in the review. Everything Khan writes after this is based on the assumption of a biological reality of "race" and how it creates differences in violent crime rates and cognitive ability - Khan especially focuses on the race differences of being a Black American:
But why read a book on this topic when you can discover these facts within a few minutes? Tables on SAT scores by race are available in the Journal of Blacks In Higher Education, which pointed out in 2005 that “whites were more than seven times as likely as blacks to score 700 or above on the verbal SAT.” Wikipedia, meanwhile, has an entry entitled “Race and Crime in the United States,” which plainly states that a bit over 50 percent of victims and offenders in homicides are African American. The same website tells us that African Americans are about 13 percent of America’s population. Would you also be surprised to face the reality that the perpetrators of homicides are overwhelmingly young and male as well? These dots are there for anyone to connect if they like.
The presumption of innate Black inferiority makes everything so simple. And Razib Khan likes simple, which is why he once suggested we "remove all the history we take for granted" in our understanding of race in America.
So I have to take issue when The New York Times posts articles with headlines such as White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier. What genetics is showing is that in fact white Americans are shockingly European to an incredibly high degree for a population with roots on this continent for 400 years. If we removed all the history that we take for granted we’d be amazed that the indigenous peoples had so little demographic impact, and, that the larger numbers of people of partial African ancestry did not move into the general “white” population. 
The mystery of why "people of partial African ancestry did not move into the general white population" is solved by knowledge of the history of slavery and miscegenation laws. The only reason you would suggest removing all the history, the key to understanding the issue, is either because you're an idiot or you have a racist agenda.

To see how much Khan still denies Black history, check out this paragraph from the Quillette review:
For instance, to understand “white flight” in the 1960s and 1970s, all you need is to know that American culture and history has always been bathed in systematic racism and white supremacy. Never mind the massive crime wave of the late 1960s and 1970s that might have driven white residents out of dangerous neighborhoods in search of safety. 
Khan seeks to disconnect the "massive crime wave" from the historical record - the empirical facts - that demonstrate that yes indeed, "American culture and history has always been bathed in systemic racism and white supremacy." 

He's able to "connect the dots" that he thinks prove biology-based Black inferiority but not the dots from systemic racism to poverty to crime.

Steven Pinker did not address Khan's blatantly racist views when Khan interviewed him last October, a few months after Khan published his review in Quillette. 

Steven Pinker is a fan of Quillette, which is such a booster of race pseudoscience that its articles on race are reprinted by the white supremacist American Renaissance.

Khan's view of race is an extremist one, promoted by the (Koch-funded) American Renaissance and VDARE. How could Pinker possibly ignore something so extreme? 

What other reason can there be, except because Pinker agrees with Khan?

Pinker reveals his agreement with Khan in the interview:
Yeah, it's interesting that a number of the Catholic abuses of the scientific and public intellectual reasoning arena that I documented in "The Blank Slate" in '02 all of the elements of what we now call cancel culture, there were there were threads of it then going back even to the 70s in the reaction to E.O Wilson's, sociobiology...
The reaction to Wilson's sociobiology was because of its racist implications. Here Pinker seeks to equate that reaction with religion-based, anti-science irrationality.

We know now exactly how racist Wilson was, thanks to Wilson's exchange of letters with hardcore racist J. P. Rushton - and since it is correspondence, it is evidence that even Gideon Lewis-Kraus would find significant

But Steven Pinker tries to pass it off as no big deal, and then claims that using Wilson's correspondence - which Wilson chose to make available to researchers - is "slander."

The sociobiology/race pseudoscience view of Black Americans as a "race" more innately violent and having lesser cognitive ability than other races does not conflict with Pinker's suggested alternative to Science magazine's alleged wokeness:
"though the journal is supposedly committed to empirical tests, no data were presented that might speak to alternative explanations, such as that the cause of the under-representation lies in the pipeline of prepared and interested students..."
The "pipeline of prepared and interested students" could be explained by the sociobiology view, that Black American students are unprepared and uninterested in physics because they genetically lack the cognitive ability to become prepared enough, and are not interested in science due to their essential nature. 

When you already believe that racism and sexism are no big deal, all roads lead to sociobiology. Including for the pipeline problem.

Pinker mentions a possible source of the pipeline problem:

 ...it matters a great deal whether we should try to fix the nation’s high schools or accuse physics professors of white supremacy. Yet Science magazine has decided, without debate or data, to advocate the latter.

So what exactly is wrong with the nation's high schools? Well as the The Century Foundation study on the issue notes:
Inequality begins in childhood: The United States is underfunding our public schools by nearly $150 billion annually, robbing millions of children—predominantly minority and low-income children—of the opportunity to succeed.
So why is it that public schools for minority and low-income children - often in the same category - are underfunded? Could it have something to do with systemic racism?

Well not according to Steven Pinker, he's already ruled out systemic racism as "dogma" -
 But the six articles in the issue assume as dogma that the underrepresentation is caused by “white privilege”: that “the dominant culture has discouraged diversity,” and “white people use their membership in a dominant group to assert political, cultural, and economic power over those outside that group.” 
So if it isn't systemic racism what's left? If the legacy of slavery, followed by anti-Black terrorism (like Tulsa), and Jim Crow and the unequal distribution of government grants and funding for schools and redlining and the home appraisal gap, etc etc etc.  - "all the history that we take for granted" - are ruled out, what is left to explain Black failure to thrive?

Steven Pinker's long-time ally, Razib Khan, has the answer - genetic Black inferiority. They have failed to thrive because they are born that way. That's what Khan means by "connecting the dots."

Khan revealed his contempt, for those who think history holds the key to Black American failure to thrive, in his interview with yet one more IDW-related media outlet:

Ultimately like I know people in Academia who talk about like systemic racism and prejudice and all this stuff, I just say like it's really easy, all you need to do is minorities that you think should have these jobs, you guys just need to like draw straws and one out of five of you resign and free up the positions, hire somebody of color, and we're all good, right, it's a simple thing to do, but they never do it, do they? They don't make the hard decision, I told an acquaintance of mine who wanted to talk to me about racism and I just got sick of it, and I was just like, well what you need to do is give your son's inheritance to a Black family. If you're talking about wealth and equality right now, he needs to be poor, and make his own way, and they need to have money, so just do it. And the person flipped out at me. Cause they just wanted to talk. And I'm just not super interested in talking. I am a non-white person. I don't need to be talked to about racism all the time. It's not interesting to me.

"give your son's inheritance to a Black family"

Problem solved. No big deal. Now don't bother Razib Khan with talk about racism. It's not interesting to him.

The alternative to "wokeness" is a vicious, right-wing, biology-is-destiny point of view with serious political ramifications, or as Khan said in his Quillette review: 
(Murray's) thesis is that American society faces disaster if it is not prepared to confront certain politically uncomfortable facts about race.
And if people like Murray had their way (Murray is also funded by Koch via AEI), it would be perfectly legal to discriminate in employment, on the basis of race.

But sure, let's listen to Steven Pinker and his rightwing goons whine about how politicized Science magazine is.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Resources from anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson

Anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson
Although many come to this site to read about the latest IDW/race pseudo-science idiocies, quite a few have visited to check out my interview with anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson, Global Urban Studies/Urban Systems Ph.D., Division of Global Affairs, Sociology and Anthropology, International Institute for Peace at Rutgers University.

Check out Ferguson's site at https://www.rbrianferguson.com

The interview is available in audio and transcript formats. The post for the interview also includes links to many excellent resources.

I heard from Ferguson recently that he will be publishing a new book this year. In 2021 he published Masculinity and War - this excellent paper includes a refutation of the evolutionary psychology approach to the issue - such refutations are always welcome here at Pinkerite. 

(Check out biologist PZ Myer's efficient and effective refutation of the entire evolutionary psychology research strategy here.)

And Ferguson pointed me to an excellent YouTube video, by Lewis Waller, entitled Steven Pinker is WRONG about the decline of violence - all critiques of the claims of Steven Pinker are very much welcome here at Pinkerite.

Ferguson also introduced me to the work of Douglas Fry, Professor & Chair Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the School of Health and Human Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Fry's website is here. Both he and Ferguson are mentioned in the Lewis Waller video.