LONGING FOR BETTER DISCOURSE: Ludicrous linguists tear Pinker apart!

FRIDAY, JULY 17, 2020

Wittgenstein's work offers context:
These linguistics professors today!

That's what one of the analysts said after reading Michael Powell's lengthy report in Thursday's New York Times.

Powell's report reads like an Onion parody, but the events it describes have apparently actually happened in the real world—"out among them English," to borrow the final line of the 1985 film, Witness. Online, Powell's stranger-than-fiction report appears beneath this headline:
How a Famous Harvard Professor Became a Target Over His Tweets
According to Powell, the famous Harvard professor in question has been targeted by more than 550 linguists. Powell's report captures the lunacy of the times, in a way which could be quite instructive..

These linguistics professors today! Beneath that headline about those tweets, Powell's report starts like this:
POWELL (7/16/20): Steven Pinker occupies a role that is rare in American life: the celebrity intellectual. The Harvard professor pops up on outlets from PBS to the Joe Rogan podcast, translating dense subjects into accessible ideas with enthusiasm. Bill Gates called his most recent book “my new favorite book of all time.”

So when more than 550 academics recently signed a letter seeking to remove him from the list of “distinguished fellows” of the Linguistic Society of America, it drew attention to their provocative charge: that Professor Pinker minimizes racial injustices and drowns out the voices of those who suffer sexist and racist indignities.
Is there life after being dropped as a “distinguished fellow” of the Linguistic Society? More than 550 academics are hoping that the arch-racist Pinker will be forced to find out.

Linguists are frequently said to be cunning, but this collection of same may not be super-sharp. As Powell continued, he may have rolled his eyes a bit at the scholars' list of charges:

"[T]he letter was striking for another reason," Powell wrote. "It took aim not at Professor Pinker’s scholarly work but at six of his tweets dating back to 2014, and at a two-word phrase he used in a 2011 book about a centuries-long decline in violence."

We'll recommend that you read the full report. But what was the offending "two-word phrase" to which Powell refers?

That isn't entirely clear from Powell's report> But concerning Pinker's six (6) tweets, more than 550 linguists are also upset about this:
POWELL: The linguists’ letter also accused the professor of engaging in racial dog whistles when he used the words “urban crime” and “urban violence” in other tweets.
The linguists are exercised because Pinker used the term "urban crime" in a tweet! Truly, you can't get dumber than this. It isn't humanly possible.

A tangle of similar strands of linguini clogs the professors' complaint. Pitiful though their effort may be, it invites us to examine a general notion which surrounds our discourse with a haze which makes clear vision impossible.

That general notion is this:

Can more than 550 linguists be wrong? Many will find that hard to believe. After all, they're professors!

It's natural to have respect for academic authority. It's natural to assume that professors at leading universities are actually sharper than the average bear.

A similar assumption may affect our assessments of our upper-end press corps. After all, t he major journalists in question work for our most famous news orgs. Many went to the finest schools and they've been on television!

The branding of these news orgs and schools gives these journalists and pundits a certain authority. It's natural for readers to assume that their viewpoints, and their front-page "stories," just can't be crazily wrong.

Presuppositions of this type lead us to swallow the things we get told. Our professors and journalists just can't be crazily wrong!

It's natural to react that way. But that's a faulty assumption.

We've decided to stop our rumination right here, with a follow-up report on the morrow. That report will concern the work of the later Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein's later work ruled the day in the philosophy departments of the 1960s. Since then, it has been cast aside by the "professional philosophers" we're inclined to trust, or so said Professor Horwich back in 2013.

(For ourselves, we'd been inquirjng about that possibility at least since 1999.)

According to Howwich, his colleagues cast Wittgenstein's later work aside because it blows the whistle on centuries of their own bungled work. According to Horwich, Wittgenstein said that the western world's alleged greatest thinkers had been persistently muddled, a version of being wrong.

Our greatest thinkers had been muddled, confused? Could any such claim be correct?

We thought of the later Wittgenstein's work when we read Powell's report about the loopy linguists. For today, let's get clear on what these linguists have said:

Professor Pinker once used the term "urban crime in a tweet. On that basis, more than 550 linguists want him stripped of high honors!

You simply can't get dumber than that; it isn't humanly possible. On the bright side, this lunacy lets us examine some basic assumptions.

Can professors and journalists be crazily wrong, even when they propound as a group?

We're going to say that they can be and frequently are! Tomorrow, we'll race through Wittgenstein's claim that our greatest philosophers have pretty much been wrong all the time.

As we do so, we'll be trying to break a spell. "A picture held us captive," Wittgenstein wrote, and if we can say this without being offensive, being held captive is wrong.

Tomorrow: Instinctive pathway to error

80 comments:

  1. "Powell's report captures the lunacy of the times,"

    Ha-ha. Far from 'lunacy', dear Bob, this is a normal Stalinist/N.Korean M.O.

    ...incidentally, your labeling public figures 'insane' fits well into the pattern, dear Bob.

    So, why complaining? If you're a real liberal, dear Bob, stop whining, start signaling loyalty, and get on with the program.

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    1. Wow. Mao turns away from his usual shtick, labeling everything "Goebbelsian," i.e. Nazi propaganda, to "Stalinist/N. Koren M.O.," communist propaganda. Mao without favor slays the great slouching beasts of totalitarian ideology, right and left! Defending free-thinkers everywhere and their right to communicate as he does, in strings of mindless non-sequiturs. Well done, dear Mao.

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    2. Speaking of programs:

      https://news.sky.com/story/secondary-infektion-russian-online-deception-operation-targeting-uk-eu-and-us-exposed-12008586

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  2. These linguists probably aren’t master debaters either. However, they are wankers.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.spectator.co.uk/article/welcome-to-the-world-you-created-j-k-rowling/amp

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    1. Is Cecelia ostensibly an adult?

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    2. The verdict has been out on that for years.

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    3. You mean jury?

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    4. It’s in one of their pockets.

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    5. Alas, it's not as much fun if you have to explain the joke to ignoramuses, is it, Cece?

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    6. I’m not quick on the uptake myself.

      Which is why my defensive instincts say “Is his statement really innocuous” when you address me.

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    7. Deadrat, Cece got it wrong. Her mistake adds nothing to any humor unless you are suggesting that we should laugh at her for getting it wrong.

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    8. What did Our Cecelia get wrong? I'll have to admit I didn't follow her link, which is probably why I have to ask, but my comment was directed at her word play.

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    9. Her mistake adds nothing to any humor unless you are suggesting that we should laugh at her for getting it wrong.”

      Damn, bro, you truly are an ignoramus.

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    10. I find your dismissive attitude distressing.

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  3. "Truly, you can't get dumber than this. It isn't humanly possible."

    Wrong. There are actually people who saw Donald Trump playact as a successful businessman on a TV show, and thought it was real. These linguists seem like geniuses in comparison.

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  4. Tsk. Another example of liberal “cancel culture.”

    What Somerby fails to note is another letter, mentioned by Powell:

    “Also this month, 153 intellectuals and writers — many of them political liberals — signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that criticized the current intellectual climate as “constricted” and “intolerant.””

    That at least shows there is some sort of debate going on amongst “intellectuals” (“many of them liberal”) about this type of thing.

    My main question: why did this story, about an internal squabble amongst linguists, merit a story in the New York Times? It hardly seems important. Academics have engaged in passionate disputes over internal matters since the beginnings of academia.

    Maybe Powell or the Times thought this was truly significant. Or possibly they thought their Hamptons-based readership would find it important, as Somerby might say.

    A media critic might examine the possible reasons for typing up this story and giving it outsized importance, including a furtherance of the notion of a liberal “cancel culture”.

    Or, on the other hand, one could use it to mock the (liberal?) professors.

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    1. “ My main question: why did this story, about an internal squabble amongst linguists, merit a story in the New York Times? It hardly seems important. Academics have engaged in passionate disputes over internal matters since the beginnings of academia.“

      Off the top of my head:
      Because being cast out of the preeminent association of your field of endeavor and being labeled a racist might be a social game changer?

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    2. And the general public cares about an internal dispute amongst linguists why, exactly? They care about Steven Pinker why? Academics debate amongst themselves all the time. It hardly merits high profile reports in the New York Times. My point is that it is possible, if you follow Somerby’s former criticisms, that the Times is elevating a dispute that no one would normally care about, giving it a giant platform for purposes other than merely reporting a fact.

      If you read the story, Pinker was not expelled, by the way.

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    3. The dispute is emblematic as another scrummage in the current debate on the free flow of ideas and “cancel culture”.

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    4. Duh. I mentioned that in my original post. And that is precisely my point!
      The Times wants to further the idea of something called “cancel culture”, because they know it generates clicks and provides fodder to conservatives as proof positive that there sho’ nuff is a lib’rul cancel culture, by gum, because those “liberal” linguists had some concerns about one of their own. I am suggesting a hidden agenda at the Times, a not very fanciful notion for readers of Somerby.

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    5. They are characterizing this as cancel culture in order to demonstrate that the conservative meme of "cancel culture" actually exists, when this kind of academic dispute has been happening forever and is nothing new.

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    6. mh: “many of them liberal”

      Perhaps they were, before signing the letter.

      After signing the letter, some have already been excommunicated from the cult (see, for example, Steven Pinker), and some have already backed out, see Matt Taibbi's piece here.

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    7. mh, as you know, the NYT has been accused of engaging in cancel culture in an effort to fend off the anger of their largely liberal readership.

      if the NYT’s wishes to give credence to what you seem to think is overhyped phenomenon, I guess it’s because they have some skin the game and wish to mediate the issue.

      It’s a discussion worth having as is illustrated in the judgment of the linguists society’s executive committee, which rejected the efforts of 550 its alumni in excommunicating a more widely known member from their society.

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    8. The NY Times needs to explain why they don't run opinion pieces from ISIL.

      #marketplaceofideasmyass

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    9. “The NY Times needs to explain why they don't run opinion pieces from ISIL.”

      You sound like the people who see no difference between Bernie Sanders and Stalin.

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    10. My main question: why did this story, about an internal squabble amongst linguists, merit a story in the New York Times?

      The main answer: it's about Pinker, a so-called "public intellectual," who's well-known to the NYT and probably to much of the local readership of the paper.

      Besides, Gulliver among the Lilliputians is an evergreen.

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    11. @deadrat
      That makes sense. It affirms the NYT commitment to “Hamptons” values. But it doesn’t explain why Somerby buys the story as reported, and takes sides by mocking the 500 linguists, rather than examining the possible storyline the Times may be pushing by giving the story such prominence. Pinker wasn’t even expelled. It seems like an unremarkable tempest in a teapot that the average American, including your average liberal, would find a waste of newspaper space.

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    12. [I]t doesn’t explain why Somerby buys the story as reported, and takes sides by mocking the 500 linguists,...

      Perhaps he did the minimal research that I did to find out the basic dishonesty of the 500 "linguists."

      ... rather than examining the possible storyline the Times may be pushing by giving the story such prominence.

      I think my explanation pretty much covers the reason the NYT gave the story the column inches it did.

      The Pinker story is far down in the list of things in the NYT that are a waste of newspaper space. Almost then entire OpEd page, for instance.

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    13. Speaking of cults:

      https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/pm/sprawling-russian-disinformation-operation-gets-little-traction/12375446

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  5. Pinker is married to frequent Somerby punching bag Rebecca Goldstein.

    Apparently he isn’t using his linguistic skills to save the public from his wife’s drivel.

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    1. Pinker used to be married to Nancy Etcoff, who wrote "Survival of the Prettiest" a book examining the innate biological foundations of beauty and attraction. If Somerby were to read it, he might understand why Gore's candidacy was doomed by his stiffness and four-button suits.

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    2. Does it explain why drooling, slack-jawed idiocy beat stiffness and four-button suits?

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    3. Yes, George Bush is much more attractive than Gore. Etcoff, I believe, talks about who wins presidential elections. She did an empirical study of what traits cause a man to be considered handsome, trustworthy, strong, etc. back in the 1990s. Somerby things Naomi Wolff had nothing to tell Gore, but the "prettiest" man does tend to win elections.

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  6. Somerby has no understanding of the context in which Pinker has operated for decades, no knowledge of his previous books, his ventures outside of linguistics and his alignment with socio-biologists and nativists, yet he feels confident siding with Pinker against those 550 linguists who objected to his use of racially coded language.

    Somerby ought to at least read some of Pinker's work before deciding who is right and who is wrong. He has put his foot into the middle of a large, ongoing intellectual fight between those who want to change culture and those who believe it is biologically fixed, complete with traditional gender roles and biological racial differences. Somerby is one step away from defending Jordan Peterson.

    Pinker started his career as a linguist but he traded on his credentials in that field to speculate and write books that are much broader and less grounded in any evidence beyond his opinions. For example, he wrote a book on "how the mind works" without having the background to do so. The writer is kind to call this popularizing, because his books are frustratingly filled with unsubstantiated, often controversial generalizations and conclusions that support political conclusions that many academics find uncomfortable, if not racist (as implied with this recent complaint).

    It isn't as if this controversy has just arisen. Pinker has been doing this for at least 20 years, getting worse as he has become more of a fixture, encouraged by his appointment at Harvard University (which loves to hire celebrity intellectuals). He may write engagingly, but he supports the status quo in race and gender issues, if not encouraging extremists (not that they read him).

    Somerby seems to find it likely that 550 linguistics professors are all stupider than Pinker and himself. Once again, proving that he doesn't understand statistics. This illustrates his tendency to call anything he disagrees with, dumb. But in this case, he is defending Pinker solely because of the nature of the criticism against him, without any investigation of his own. That kind of knee-jerk reaction is about as far from intellectual as you can get, but he has no other basis for having an opinion about Pinker than disliking that linguists are fighting about words (which is after all the substance of their field).

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    1. This particular criticism of Somerby seems to me to have real merit. It certainly would be helpful for Somerby to delve into Pinker's thinking enough to answer the criticism made above, that he's engaging in knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes he'll return to a topic and flesh things out, but sometimes, it's true, he heads off into the weeds of Wittgenstein.

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    2. “ Somerby ought to at least read some of Pinker's work before deciding who is right and who is wrong. He has put his foot into the middle of a large, ongoing intellectual fight between those who want to change culture and those who believe it is biologically fixed, complete with traditional gender roles and biological racial differences. Somerby is one step away from defending Jordan Peterson.”

      According the article the main focus of the letter was six tweets by Pinker.

      It would seem that you could have disputes in the academy about the influence of biology over cultural factors without people being turned into pariahs. You would think that 550 scholars might allow some ground between themselves, their colleague, and Hitler.

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    3. Academic arguments may focus on a specific issue, but they are always between people who hold theoretical views that place them in different factions within their community. Everyone is aware of where everyone else stands, and the arguments may arise over some specific but are argued on the basis of these broader alignments. Just as occurs in politics. Can you really say that those opposing masks are only focused on the masks?

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    4. I haven’t suggested that this conversation among linguists is limited to the basement plumbing.

      That’s all the more reason for the linguists to be less rigid and doctrinal in their demand that Pinker subscribe to a narrow point of view.

      There ought to be room for black linguists who may think that due to a combination of breeding (as in the passing of genetic material) and cultural proclivities black people tend to be more creative, expressive, and artistic than Anglos with differing imperatives that have lead females to prefer certain mates.

      There ought to be room for this type of discussion.

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    5. Somerby ought to at least read some of Pinker's work before deciding who is right and who is wrong.

      No one need read any further than the six tweets in question. The intellectual dishonesty in the petition's misrepresentation of Pinker's words is patent. For a list of sources debunking the anti-Pinker claims go here: https://www.motherjones.com/recharge/2020/07/factually-flawed-anti-pinker-letter/

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    6. Deadrat, as I said, this is not an argument that can be taken out of the larger context of Pinker's history of saying inflammatory things. The tweets are the proximal cause but Pinker's books are the reason they don't want him to receive that honor.

      What you consider "misrepresentation" as you read those tweets out of context, is the interpretation of their meaning within the large body of writing Pinker has done, which lays out his beliefs in great detail. You cannot take the tweets in isolation and neither have the people you are calling dishonest.

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    7. As I said, this is not an argument that can be taken out of the larger context of Pinker's history of saying inflammatory things.

      And it would be one thing if the petitioners made their argument by putting the tweets in the context of "Pinker's [so-called] history of saying" objectionable things. But that's not what the petitioner's did.

      You cannot take the tweets in isolation and neither have the people you are calling dishonest.

      Except that's exactly what the petitioner's did. Have you read the "open letter"? I have. It states, "[W]e document six relevant occasions that show how Dr. Pinker’s behavior is systematically and directly at odds with the LSA’s stated aims. We believe that these examples show that Dr. Pinker is untenable as an LSA fellow and should not be allowed to retain that status."

      In fact, the open letter explicitly says it will "set aside" larger questions of Pinker's problematic positions.

      The six examples (tweets, all) are taken out of context, and misrepresent Pinker. Now, I doubt that the petitioners can make a convincing case against Pinker, but they might be able to make an honest case. They chose not to.

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  7. Somerby forgets that Herrnstein & Murray's book, The Bell Curve," also came from a Harvard professor (Herrnstein). It argued that innate racial differences made programs like Head Start an ineffective waste of money because those ratty black kids just can't learn and are biologically predestined to lives of crime and poverty.

    When you call things biologically fixed and then use that as an explanation for "urban crime" you open the door to a bunch of bad ideas that shouldn't be given academic sanction. There was a time when eugenics was popular among academics, but we all learned in the 1940s where that road leads. Today's professors are warning us about a revival of those ideas, again justified by biology and neuroscience, coming from people who should know better but seem to be more concerned with attaining celebrity via controversy than with the harm to those working to achieve social change. Pinker works hard to promote himself, just like Trump nurtures his brand. Pinker should think about the consequences of his actions, but like Trump, he doesn't. Neither does Somerby, when he takes Pinker's side against those linguists who don't want a prestigious recognition to be given to someone who doesn't exemplify the highest values of their field.

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    1. anon 11:39 - so what specifically did Pinker ever say or "tweet", other than what the NYT article describes, that justifies the position of these linguists, that he should be expelled from this linguistics society? Did he ever say that "urban crime" is "biologically fixed." You seem like a conscienceless smearer, with not much capacity to think critically - like your bizarre equation of Pinker and Trump because they both "promote" themselves.

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    2. The Bell Curve, as I remember, doesn't claim anything the lying 11:39 AM dembot says it claims.

      What it claims is that government programs don't produce lasting effects, while good family environment does.

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    3. Ha ha ha.
      Good family environment = Mao's bosses in the establishment paying for labor.
      How about it, Mao? Can you get any of your establishment friends to kick in a little something for the rest of us, or does the government keep providing money directly to the poor?

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    4. the poor in the previous comment = working class

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    5. What, LORD Thy God Soros is not paying well for your mindless dembottery, my dear?

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    6. AC/MA -- don't be lazy. Read those articles at the links I posted. They describe the criticisms of Pinker. And yes, he is saying that crime is biologically determined. He says that is something that cannot be discussed openly in academia. I agree that it cannot be openly discussed, but I disagree about the reasons. This is the new incarnation of the old eugenics, Bell Curve, Shockley arguments. Pinker thinks he is being daring but he is merely giving cover to bigots.

      Try this one:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_race_and_intelligence_controversy

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    7. Mao, you didn't read what Murray said. Trying reading the actual book. The part you mention is there, but Murray takes it steps further, in the section of the book about the social implications of all those charts and graphs. The issue of New Republic edited by Andrew Sullivan contains a series of essays rebutting Murray (Hernnstein was dead by that time). You can read the summary that Murray wrote there.

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    8. https://newrepublic.com/article/68044/sex-ed

      I don’t find this offensive.

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    9. I did read the actual book, dembot, albeit years ago. I do know for sure that 11:39 AM's claptrap is not in there.

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    10. @3:50, your links don't mention crime. Please quote Pinker to the effect that crime is "biologically determined."

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    11. See @5:38 pm below

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  8. “Is there life after being dropped as a “distinguished fellow” of the Linguistic Society? More than 550 academics are hoping that the arch-racist Pinker will be forced to find out.”

    Well, actually, no:

    ““The linguists demanded that the society revoke Professor Pinker’s status as a “distinguished fellow” and strike his name from its list of media experts. The society’s executive committee declined to do so last week, stating: “It is not the mission of the society to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression.””

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    1. Hurray! Better heads than the ones we have seen defending the opposite!

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    2. How could 550 linguists be wrong?

      Easy for them. Like falling off a log.

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    3. Shall we find out the political views of the members of the executive committee?

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    4. If you think that makes a different.

      The urge to shut people up and to control them comes with species. Ask the Dixie Chicks and whoever thought up Blue Laws.

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    5. It apparently makes a difference to conservatives, and Somerby. It is presented as a purely left-wing phenomenon, as if it defines who liberals are. Just read every comment by Mao talking about Nazi, dembot, goebbelsian, etc.

      If it turned out that the executive committee were mostly liberal, that would tend to undermine this view. This info was buried in the story, so their decision was not the focus.

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    6. That seems to be only relevant aspect of the issue for you too.

      Perhaps this was the reason you were so quick to dismiss its importance?

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    7. No one is trying to shut Pinker up. He has published a lot of books. They are trying to keep his views from being given a seal of approval by giving him an honor. His views are attractive to the alt-right and give cover to bigots. (No one is accusing Pinker of being alt-right, but he does have a fan club.)

      The NY Times is being controversial, in my opinion, to gain readers. It is the same motive that made them hire assholes like Bari Weiss and Brett Stephens (climate change denier). The rest of the editors are trying to do more than generate outrage, so they objected to these stunts. Someone on the NY Times staff apparently still believes in this approach to building readership.

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    8. Cecelia, don't you know that the Blue Laws came out of religious beliefs of the dissenting sects that colonized New England and other areas? This isn't the government imposing censorship -- it is the community imposing its religious values on everyone who lives there.

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    9. Pinker had powerful friends, such as Jeffrey Epstein and Alan Dershowitz. A committee is easily intimidated by major donors and bigwigs at places such as Harvard.

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    10. “ This isn't the government imposing censorship -- it is the community imposing its religious values on everyone who lives there.”

      Yes, I was and am aware of that. I’ve had to live under religious people imposing their values on other people VIA the government by voting for restrictions based upon religious precepts.

      I have no big beef with religious believers.I am one.

      I do think that everyone should impose as little as possible on other souls.

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  9. Here are some interesting criticisms of Pinker's work:

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why/

    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/07/17/steven-pinkers-aid-jeffrey-epsteins-legal-defense-renews-criticism-increasingly

    https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/05/the-worlds-most-annoying-man

    You get the idea...

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    1. Here are some interesting criticisms of Pinker's work:
      ... You get the idea...


      Sure, but I don't think you do. Take your currentaffairs.org cite. The author (Nathan Robinson) objects to Pinker's condescending tone and (what he says is) Pinker's overly-simplistic characterization of his opponents in a manner "dismissive and contemptuous" (which is probably why I'm an admirer). Robinson says he doesn't want to dwell overly much on Pinker's style, but the title of his piece is "The World's Most Annoying Man." That's as may be, but Robinson's criticism is both cogent and backed by quotes from Pinker that sit in plenty of context.

      This is a far cry from the mendacious tweet-rage of the petition.

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  10. We wouldn’t be talking about this bs if the NYT hadn’t published this idiocy.

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  11. From a review of Pinker's books by Louis Menand:

    "Many pages of "The Blank Slate" are devoted to bashing away at the Lockean-Rousseauian-Cartesian scarecrow that Pinker has created. What the new sciences show, he says, is that, contrary to "the romanticism of intellectuals," nurture is usually no match for nature. Rehabilitation often fails to cure violent criminals; identical twins raised separately exhibit uncanny similarities; reading bedtime stories has little effect on I.Q. Findings like these suggest that there are limits to what we can expect from efforts to make people happier, smarter, and better citizens by manipulating their environment. When revolutionaries remake society from the ground up, on the theory that a new kind of human being will emerge, or when feminists argue that if little boys played with dolls and teacups the world would be a less violent place, they are, in Pinker's view, breaking eggs with no hope of an omelette. They are simply frustrating drives and instincts that will find an outlet sooner or later. It's not nice to fool human nature."

    Deadrat, you can read his books if they appeal to you. He argues this in lots of places throughout his work. It is his claim to celebrity.

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    1. What the new sciences show, he says, is that, contrary to "the romanticism of intellectuals," nurture is usually no match for nature. Rehabilitation often fails to cure violent criminals....

      This says that if you're a criminal, environment (in the form of "rehabilitation") won't change you. This is a far cry from crime being "biologically determined," which would include the proposition that your environment (i.e., your upbringing) won't affect your innate physical nature.

      Deadrat, you can read his books if they appeal to you.

      Actually, the only book of Pinker's that I've read is The Sense of Style, which is about writing.

      Delete
  12. "The details are well-aired: No sooner did the cancellation letter circulate than a group of truly renowned linguists and journalists dismantled it. The letter was refuted in detail by Barbara Partee, one of the founders of contemporary formal semantics and an emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Michael Shermer, the respected publisher of Skeptic magazine; the entirety of MIT’s Language Lab; Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist who put the petition’s fallacies to rest (and did it best); John McWhorter, the Columbia linguist (one, two, and three); Joe Henrich, chair of Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology department; Noam Chomsky (say what you will about Chomsky today, but he’s correct here, upholding principle over bad-faith petitioners who are “pretending to be outraged as the wrong ox is gored”). Also dismantling the letter are Yale scientist Nicholas Christakis and countless others."

    These are a bunch of Pinker's friends, colleagues at MIT (where he was before Harvard), and supporters. These are not unbiased people, they are folks who like him and share his opinions.

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  13. Why didn't Somerby provide a link to the letter itself?

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