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Thursday, June 15, 2023

Biologist vs. Steven Pinker

Biologist Keira Havens has written a superb piece on the appalling race pseudoscience career of Steven Pinker. Well-written, well researched and even funny:
Gould wasn’t wrong when he said that the field of evolutionary psychology had some work to do in developing falsifiable hypotheses and considering causal factors other than biology (an issue it continues to struggle with today). But hit dogs will holler. Pinker rushed to the head of the pack to defend his friends, the concept of biological determinism, and the narrow, barren conclusion such dogmatic thinking generates. Enthusiasm doesn’t translate to expertise though, and Pinker reveals an inability to distinguish between origins and outcomes and a weakness for flawed studies, citing phrenology-adjacent work to support his arguments.

Gould responded:
If we define poetic justice as defeat by one’s own favored devices — Robespierre before the guillotine or Midas in golden starvation — then we might be intrigued to find Steven Pinker, a linguist by training, upended by his own use of words”.
Even though Gould passed away in 2003, Pinker still fights his ghost on the regular, probably because burns like that leave you scarred for life.

But my favorite part of her post is her timeline of Pinker's career. Of special interest to me is this bit, because I've been planning to write about this little incident for a long time and will, soon:
2012 — Pinker helps fellow hb-d member and holocaust denier Ron Unz tailor a critique of self-described “scientific racist” Richard Lynn’s work on IQ, emphasizing his openness to it as a legitimate area of inquiry. (arguments about who is the real racist get ever more surreal in these circles).
And here's a fun coincidence - in the next bullet point Havens mentions a conflict between John Horgan and Pinker and his gang:
2013 — Pinker, an advocate for the biological inevitability of war, coordinated with Wilson, Dawkins, and Dennett to urge that book reviewer John Horgan either denounce a book critiquing an ethnographer (Chagnon) and his writing on his subject (the Yanomami of the Amazon) or recuse himself entirely, warning that a positive review might ruin his career. Horgan, in conversation with Chagnon for more than a decade at that point, does not cave to the pressure, later saying “I’m only sorry that my review did not point out the irony that Chagnon — unlike some of his hard-core Darwinian champions and like many of his critics — rejects the view of war as an instinct.”

I was still working on my review of Darkness when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated. All had learned (none said exactly how, although I suspected via a friend of mine with whom I discussed my review) that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer.

I responded that I could not discuss a review with them prior to publication. (Only Dennett persisted in questioning my intentions, and I finally had to tell him, rudely, to leave me alone. I am reconstructing these exchanges from memory; I did not print them out.) I was so disturbed by the pressure from Dawkins et al—who seemed to be defending not Chagnon so much as the sociobiology paradigm--that I ended up making my review of Darkness more positive. I wanted Darkness to be read and discussed, to get a hearing. After all, Tierney leveled what I found to be credible accusations against not only Chagnon but also other scientists and journalists.
Demonstrating how accurate it is to refer to the race pseudoscience gang as a gang.

BTW - Edward Wilson is E. O. Wilson the indisputable racist and Marc Hauser was accused by Harvard of research misconduct. So he's a natural for the race pseudoscience gang.

It so happens that just the other day I discovered a video of a discussion on war for the now-defunct Philoctetes Society. It features historian David Blight, whom I recently mentioned for the first time on Pinkerite; anthropologist R Brian Ferguson whom I've mentioned many times; the psychiatrist, the late Dori Laub; and moderated by John Horgan. But I hadn't realized Horgan is a hero.

Thanks for your excellent work, Keira Havens.

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