Now Inside Higher Education has a hit piece on Pinker

July 17, 2019 • 12:00 pm

I used to think that Inside Higher Ed (IHE) was a pretty objective forum for reporting news from academia. But now, it seems, they’re going the way of BuzzFeed, publishing what is essentially a hit piece on Steve Pinker that, starting with his trivial assistance to Alan Dershowitz in the first prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein for sex crimes (Pinker interpreted the language of a statute, for chrissake), goes on to dredge up all the other accusations of Pinker from the last several years: he’s white, male, old, a sexist, and his scholarship is deficient. In other words, it goes beyond the ambit of the news to once again thrust a sword into Pinker. You can read the piece by clicking on the screenshot below.  Yes, I know where the title of the piece comes from, but it makes absolutely no sense to me in this context.

Note the prominent use of the incriminating picture, whose circumstances Pinker has explained.

What bothers me about the piece is that everybody who comments on Pinker is a critic, save one tweet from Claire Lehmann defending him and a quote from my defense of Pinker when Steve explained his dealings with Epstein.  What are you supposed to think when you read the following quotes? (I’ve added links to some of those quoted to help identify them.)

That convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had help in avoiding federal or state prison is unsurprising: money and power often buy what they shouldn’t. But the recent revelation that Epstein found aid from star psychologist Steven Pinker in the form of a 2007 legal document surprised both Pinker’s fans and critics.

. . .As Pinker wrote in 2018’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, “People seem to bitch, moan, whine, carp and kvetch as much as ever,” despite reams of data on how humans’ quality of life continues to improve.

Pinker’s detractors, meanwhile, take the revelation that he knew Epstein and contributed to his legal defense as proof that the professor is a fraud, has lost his way, or both. Just as critics have accused Pinker of glossing over inequality and the continued suffering of individuals in praising progress, they’ve asked how he could have patinated a predator’s defense.

“At a certain point, if you’re playing Dr. Pangloss to people who administer a monstrous social order, then at some point you’re going to rub shoulders with and do favors for actual monsters,” said Patrick Blanchfield, a scholar of politics and violence and an affiliate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

As I said before, I must be even guiltier than Steve because I was on the defense team of O.J. Simpson, who was accused of a horrible double murder and got off.  And look at Blanchfield’s quote! Rubbing shoulders and doing favor for actual monsters? I guess every criminal defense lawyer and expert witness is “doing favors for monsters.” Blanchfield isn’t even savvy enough to know that a vigorous defense is the only guarantee we have that the law doesn’t start railroading everybody. There are standards of guilt, and they include proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

And here’s Pinker’s help with Epstein (and being at meetings with him) used to confirm the supposedly shoddy nature of Steve’s scholarship:

Joel Christensen, chair of classical studies at Brandeis University, said that “however forced, or tepid or merely transactive” Pinker’s interaction with Epstein was, it “confirms for many what has been clear for years.” Pinker, he said, “is a reactionary who is moving from the center to the right because he refuses to engage critically with new voices or to entertain honestly the criticisms his work has produced.”

I guess my working for O. J. Simpson’s team confirms that I too am a reactionary. What does Pinker’s assistance for Dershowitz have to do with his political affiliation or openness to criticism? What are people like Christensen thinking?  I can only guess that they’re using this trivial assistance by Pinker to flaunt their own virtue.

And what was Pinker’s crime? The article details it:

But it’s the favor that Pinker did for Epstein that’s caused him the most trouble of late: in 2007, Epstein’s attorneys — including Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz — submitted a letter to federal prosecutors arguing that their client hadn’t violated a law against using the internet to lure minors across state lines for sexual abuse.

“To confirm our view of the ‘plain meaning’ of the words, we asked” Pinker, “a noted linguist, to analyze the statute to determine the natural and linguistically logical reading or readings of the section,” the letter said. “We asked whether the statute contemplates necessarily that the means of communication must be the vehicle through which the persuading or enticing directly occurs. According to Dr. Pinker, that is the sole rational reading.”

It’s impossible to know how much that analysis helped Epstein land his deal, if at all. But it clearly didn’t hurt him.

First of all, the favor was done for Dershowitz, not Epstein, and that’s important. Steve was acting as an expert witness in a criminal-defense case, as I did many times when trying to ensure that the government didn’t misuse DNA evidence by misinterpreting the statistics to the detriment of the accused. Apparently Flaherty herself—the author—doesn’t understand that helping out with a criminal defense is not a crime: it’s what needs to be done to ensure that the government always has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Author Flaherty doesn’t even mention that!

And yes, rich people can buy better lawyers and better defenses than can poor people. That’s a big inequity in our system, and desperately needs fixing, but it doesn’t hurt the justice system—it helps it. The more robust the defense, the more thoroughly the prosecution must document its case. For Epstein now, it looks as if no lawyer, however good, will be able to get him off; and that’s the way it should be. To my mind, the evidence against him is overwhelming, and I don’t see much “reasonable doubt.”

The article then describes a bit of contretemps between Pinker and feminists in which he’s hung out to dry because he says that rape has at least something to do with sex. (He’s right: it’s about a combination of power and sex, an assertion that I agree with and that caused me to fall out with Susan Brownmiller when we were collaborating.)

Flaherty then quotes from my posting of Steve’s defense, but she can’t resist immediately opposing what Pinker and I said with the words of another critic. In this piece, the critics always get the last word.

Coyne wrote, “There you have it. If people are going to tar Pinker by flaunting his association with Epstein, then Pinker deserves a reply. This is his reply, and any further discussion should take it into account.”

Adia Benton, an assistant professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, said that beyond Pinker and Dershowitz, “I think there’s a tendency for men to overlook the foibles of their acquaintances and colleagues. The shunning of assholes and creeps is just not done. Especially when it comes to sexual misconduct and misogyny.”

Overlooking the foibles of their acquaintances and colleagues? Not shunning assholes and creeps? Did Dr. Benton or Ms. Flaherty note that I called out Lawrence Krauss for sexual predation, publicly disassociating myself from him? So did several other men, including, I believe, physicist Sean Carroll and the board of the Center for Inquiry. Dan Dennett and Pinker have both said they found Epstein’s crimes reprehensible. None of that is mentioned, of course: Benton gets the last word here.

My view of articles in general is that the last paragraph always gives a clue to the slant of the piece and the opinion of the writer. Here’s Flaherty’s:

Comparing Pinker to University of Toronto psychologist and quasi-guru Jordan Peterson, Christensen said Pinker “courts public attention and controversy after years of creating and publicizing work that is interdisciplinary and outward focused.” Over the past few years especially, he said, Pinker has joined “a cadre of older, mostly white male academics who espouse a purist view of free speech and debate” that “ignores significant scholarship from women and scholars of color about how free speech and academic freedom as traditionally construed overweight and privilege already privileged voices” — meaning mostly white, older men.

Yes, the ending criticizes free speech as well as trotting out the “old white male” canard to denigrate free speech. Never mind that the head of the ACLU, and author of a very good new book on free speech, is a woman: Nadine Strossen. Never mind that one of the most stirring and eloquent defenses of free speech I’ve heard in recent years was given by Van Jones, a liberal (and black) commentator for CNN (watch it here).  Never mind that minorities gained their rights largely through free speech—demonstrations and orations!

This is a one-sided, disappointing, and virtue flaunting article that serves as yet another hit piece on Pinker. I’m deeply disappointed with Inside Higher Ed, and with Flaherty’s reporting.

h/t: Michael

81 thoughts on “Now Inside Higher Education has a hit piece on Pinker

  1. I honestly don’t think this will affect his reputation. It’s not the daily buzzing of Twitter that defines a person’s stature in the long-term, and this latest controversy just acts as a litmus test for how you feel about him already. The people who don’t like him will assume that what he did was evidence of his reactionary leanings, and the people who like him and have read his work will assume the opposite.

    I don’t know quite what to think about the legal aid thing – I can see that giving legal aid to these Dershowitz as a favour is different from being hired to do it by someone with whom you have no connections.

    But really, this isn’t anything that’ll mean anything in the long-run. It’s more of a yanny/laurel test for finding out who already hates him and who doesn’t.

      1. I don’t know. I’d need to see more than one example of this kind of journalism before I worried about ‘entryism’ and wrote off an august publication like this.

    1. Vanity Fair has a piece on all the big names expected to come out of any Epstein trial, and many are already being named as having associated with him. Lurid details on some of these people are sure to follow. Epstein associated with A LOT of people. The names include Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Prince Andrew, and many others. But Pinker is not mentioned here. I guess as more of an academic star, Pinker doesn’t rate mention in celeb-centered Vanity Fair. But, anyone who posed for a photo with Epstein will eventually get mentioned I think. Such is his infamy.

    2. It’s more of a yanny/laurel test

      Huh? This is … some sort of litmus shibboleth for … something?

        1. I completely missed that “craze”. I’m not surprised that I’m a “laurel”, since I’ve got pretty substantial hearing loss, particularly at high frequencies. Whooping cough, explosives manufacture, or industrial, I don’t know, but my bet is on the childhood whooping cough because I’ve never noticed any change in my hearing.
          If I could find my hearing aids, that might make a difference. but I use them so rarely … (sounds of rucksacks being emptied).

          1. Your hearing may not be as bad as you think it is. Whether an individual hears one or the other may depend on things like the kind of speakers and headphones you hear it through or what you had for breakfast. The sound was deliberately designed to sit on the boundary between interpretations. Any little thing can nudge it one way or the other.

            1. I had a friend try to persuade me to waste money on relatively expensive headphones once. Neither of us understood where the other was coming from. Some time later, when I got bored with him wanting to listen to some of my music collection when we got back from the pub, instead of continuing whatever we’d just been talking about, I dumped the load into a bag for him. He thought it was quite good and wondered why I didn’t want it back. A waste of time.

          2. My uncle has exactly the same thing. Everything at a high frequency passes him by.

            He doesn’t use his hearing aids either, because they don’t really work. There doesn’t seem to be any reliable way to fix the problem – there’s just no satisfactory solution at all. It breaks my heart a little for him because he’s such a nice guy and loves his music so.

            I’m sorry you’ve got the same thing. It’s a real pisser.

            1. I find the damned things quite painful. I put them in a few days ago to go to a French conversation class – first time I’d worn them for several months – and my ear canals were itching terribly before I got to the second bus change.

  2. The last paragraph especially shows the article up for what it is: yet another rock thrown at the very idea of rational debate. What matters most it seems is your age and your race — who your parents were.

    Just this week I saw an article about how many in India climbed above the poverty line in the last 10 years. Know what it was? 271 million. Almost the population of the USA, hoiked out of poverty in one decade. Pinker is right.

  3. That Inside Higher Education hit piece is more like the title of an earlier George Smiley novel by le Carré: A Murder of Quality.

  4. I simply cannot fathom the hatred directed toward Steven Pinker. He simply dared to say that the world is way better than it was before and getting better all the time… and people are outraged at this.

    1. I suspect people feel that if the world is getting better, they no longer can justify being a scrooge. And you know how much people love to complain that things are going down the tubes. If you remove that simple pleasure, what’s left to live for…I ask you.

      1. “And you know how much people love to complain that things are going down the tubes. If you remove that simple pleasure, what’s left to live for…I ask you.”

        This, exactly. I read this article yesterday:

        Here’s a fascinating quote that really made me think:

        “There is one other sense in which I see overlap between liberalism’s left and right critics, however. Both agree that liberal proceduralism, its pretension of neutrality, tends to enervate and disenchant the practice of politics. Both left and right radicals desire — at least affectively — a hot-blooded politics, a politics of struggle and sacrifice. In this way, both have come to adopt German theorist Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political as reducible to the existential distinction between friends and enemies. (NB: Matt and I call our podcast “Know Your Enemy.”) A life without this distinction — which is to say, for Schmitt, a life without politics — would be shallow, insignificant, devoid of meaning. And this is the world liberalism wants, a depoliticized world, where people are deprived of a higher purpose.”

        I can’t imagine living like this, but it seems that this is how more and more people on both the left and right want to live: every day is a political struggle, everything you think, do, say — even your very existence and “identity” (as defined by our current politics) — is political.

        Why would anyone want to live this way? The promise of liberalism is a life where you can be an individual, you can enjoy your life, you can have hobbies and distractions, you can go home after work and relax or hang out with friends. But so many people now just want to yell at each other about politics all day and, if they’re not, they feel either empty or like they’re losing.

        The idea of a life of constant politics is horrifying to me. A life where everything is political is a life under a dictatorship or authoritarian regime of some other kind. For example, in China, you have to constantly think about everything you say or do, lest your social credit rating is lowered and certain privileges like riding high-speed rails or flying on planes are revoked. Or some dictatorship, where everything you say and do is under the constant boot on the back of your neck. Or a theocracy or other totalitarian regime, where every time you watch TV, see a movie, go online, etc., it’s all filtered through the politics of the totalizing ideology of your political masters. That’s living in constant politics. Or a place like Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, or Syria right now, where you go from revolution to revolution, one side winning and then losing to the other, over and over, and you being forced to pick sides or stay on the sidelines under constant threat. That’s living in constant political struggle. And it’s terrible and horrifying.

        1. That’s an interesting perspective, but I don’t really buy it. People, once they overcome the basics necessities, will look for challenges. The world is full of worthwhile and constructive challenges, but many are distracted by politics into thinking it’s the only challenge worth wanting. The purpose of good leaders and good government is to focus peoples attention of worthwhile projects. Like the Peace Core, or a career in medicine, or solving global warming.

          1. That’s a good perspective. I wish our country would push things like the Peace Corps more and have more programs that involve volunteer work. I think volunteer work is really important for building empathy, especially for people that aren’t in your normal bubble. When I did Meals on Wheels in high school I found it to be a really valuable and eye-opening experience. I came to care about a lot of the people I met, but they never would have entered my mind if I hadn’t done it. I’ve had the same experience with other volunteer programs.

            But I think I was talking about something a bit different. There’s this view now that politics is everything, and everything is politics. “The personal is political.” I can’t imagine thinking about politics all day, every day, nor do I want to. But, in countries and situations like I mentioned, the people don’t have any choice but to think about it. That’s the kind of environment I meant, and the kind I don’t want to live in.

            1. I jut returned from a short volunteer stint in Rwanda with Farmer-to-Farmer (sort of mini Peace Corps) training the country’s umbrella microfinancing organization in proposal writing. Along with “Good on you!” comments I’ve been hearing, “But Kagame (the authoritarian leader) is a dictator…he orchestrated the assassination of the previous president…it’s a police state…” Probably all true, but so what? Microfinancing is helping three million people escape poverty there. There’s “politics” and there’s “real people.” I prefer focusing on the latter.

              1. A hard part – as I am sure you know – is the opposite problem – being branded (or having your contacts branded) members of the opposition to the thugs. Neutrality is often necessary, at least as a well entrenched pretense. (And that hurts!)

    2. If you build your identity around myths about what is wrong with the world, and your imagined superiority because you’re “enraged” at it, then it’s a serious slap in the face to be proven wrong. And wrong in an oblivious, self-centered way.

      1. This, right here, is a perfect description of the social-justice left. To them, Steven Pinker is not only an ideological opponent, but an existential threat.

        They can’t accept intellectuals like Pinker making the well-reasoned case that the world hasn’t, in fact, been going to hell in a handbasket. Without outrage and injustice, real or imagined, their train will run out of steam.

        1. I would also point out that there’s a significant chunk of conservatives who have a big problem with Pinker’s worldview. His belief that progress involves recognising the rights of homosexuals, and allowing women more independence, and is generally synonymous with liberal democracy, is not shared by that many social conservatives.

          I remember going on Quillette, reading one of his articles(or an article that referenced his general worldview and empirical arguments), and BTL the pushback was entirely from conservatives disputing his belief that social equality was a good thing.

          It must be said that the most concerted pushback is coming from the identity politicking left though, yes. But there are a big chunk of people who dislike him because he’s far too progressive for them, rather than because he’s not progressive enough.

          He kind of falls between two stools: too left for the new brand of conservatism and not left enough for the modern far-left/illiberal-left.

          1. Although I like the “two stools” analogy, the Left and Right dislike Pinker along independent dimensions: the Hard Left because he documents steady progress and the Hard Right for what comprises that progress.

        2. I don’t see why Pinker’s thesis of steady improvement should be an existential threat to ‘the social justice left’. The data may indeed show that we have made progress on all manner of fronts regarding the quality of human life but we haven’t yet reached nirvana and a quick glance around the world is sufficient to see that there remains a large amount of poverty, inequality of opportunity, sexual, political and religious oppression etc to roll back. There’s no shortage of injustices to fight against!
          Sadly, I fear that there is a large amount of narcissism amongst many on the left who would rather be seen to be uncompromisingly ‘right on’ than to try and deal with real issues in practical ways but that’s another issue…

        3. Their grand social engineering projects have no rationale unless there’s a vast amount wrong with the world. The projects won’t even work unless human behavior is primarily driven by the social environment. Pinker nixes both those requisites, thus is considered an SP.

    3. I simply cannot fathom the hatred directed toward Steven Pinker.

      It’s the evolutionary psychology. The SJWs despise EP with a passion.

    4. Hardline political activists on any part of the political spectrum are heavily incentivized to hyperbolize how dire and awful the status quo is, because only a strong sense of the dire will motivate people to demand change. A Pinker-like narrative that the world is mostly doing OK will generate complacency, and rabid activists do not like the complacent.

  5. Prosecutor, judge and jury in the person of Colleen Flaherty have decided:
    Steven Pinker is not only guilty until his innocence has been proven. No, he is already guilty, although not even an offence, a crime has been committed.

  6. “At a certain point, if you’re playing Dr. Pangloss to people who administer a monstrous social order, then at some point you’re going to rub shoulders with and do favors for actual monsters,” said Patrick Blanchfield, a scholar of politics and violence and an affiliate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.”

    What is the sweating affiliate faculty member trying to say? (And whatever it is, did it happen “at a certain point” or “at some point”?)

    I suppose he fancies himself the Grand Inquisitor of Portugal, who sentenced Pangloss and Candide to a (never executed) auto-da-fé.

    Pinker isn’t claiming we live in the best of all possible worlds, only that the world has gotten better because we humans have cultivated our garden.

    1. I think the opinion of the good doctor is related to what I posted under comment number five above: the idea that, if you don’t agree with his politics, if you support liberalism and believe it’s doing the world good, then you are inevitably involved in a monstrous scheme, which is inevitably created and perpetuated by monsters, which means you are inevitably going to be a monster yourself by associating with it.

        1. I didn’t! Sorry, I haven’t been following up on threads as much lately as I’ve been busy and, since I’m not subscribed, I don’t get new comment notifications and I have to go back to a page and reload it to see if there are any new responses. I know I can check the “notify me” box for a thread, but I already get so many emails in a day that I don’t need any more 😉

          I just checked out the trailer (I assumed it was a movie. Pretty smart, huh?) and realized I saw the trailer a few weeks ago. I’m very interested. Shades of The Wicker Man, it seems…

          Did you see it already? Unfortunately, I don’t live near any theaters that show indie movies, although it’s nice that they’re showing up upon release in streaming/on demand services more and more these days, so I can often see them for a few bucks in the comfort of my own home.

            1. Thanks for the rec! Totally forgot about having seen the trailer. I’ll be sure to keep it on my radar now.

              Yeah, it feels like A24 has been around for a long time, right? I feel like I see its logo a lot when I watch indie stuff, but it was founded in 2012.

        2. Oh, and did you see what’s happened with the Prenda Law case? Hansmeier got 14 years in the clink and the other guy will be sentenced next month.

          1. I was aware of the case, but hadn’t been following it closely. Thx for the heads-up.

            Scuzzy operators.

          2. Wow. I’ve just read up on that.

            Now I get wild when the RIAA/MPAA threaten ordinary people with exorbitant suits over alleged downloading of legitimate movies. But these Prenda Law scum are a whole magnitude worse.

            I’ve had a few (well, scores) of the current spam/scam emails “I installed a virus on your computer, I have webcam footage of you watching pr0n, pay me $600 Bitcoin or I will send it to everyone in your mailing list”, obviously these Prenda Law scum took it a stage further.

            14 years isn’t enough, IMO.

            I can’t help noticing that Prenda Law took advantage of the ‘American rule’ that the losers of a lawsuit don’t have to pay the legal costs of the winners – which facilitates vexatious lawsuits. Can’t help feeling that’s one major reason for the excessive cost of healthcare in the US – it enables ambulance-chasing lawyers to work for contingency fees in the expectation that a sympathetic jury will award a few thousand (or million) to a plaintiff because the defendant’s insurance company can easily afford it.


  7. I am shocked—shocked!—to learn that Steve Pinker thinks rape has something to do with sex. And I was shocked to learn that Pinker gave advice on linguistics to a friend who was retained as a defense attorney by a defendent who we should all consider indefensible. Why, next we may learn that Pinker has been seen in the presence of former Harvard house Dean Ronald Sullivan. Finally, it is shocking that Pinker did not retract everything he has ever written when scholars of feminist critical race and gender theory demolished all his heavily documented arguments by revealing that he is an old white male. We await even more thrilling discoveries from these disciplines.

    1. Indeed, of all the old feminist tropes, the “rape is about power, not sex” one is the most perplexing… and most obviously wrong.

      I’m guessing that its origin was from a lesbian professor — no male would come up with such a ludicrous notion.

      Thankfully, Pinker destroyed this argument in “The Blank Slate”…

  8. Is there a #MeToo campaign around Jeffrey Epstein? I don’t stare into social media because it stares back, so I don’t know.

    If not, why? Could it be that Epstein has many Democrat friends and supported Democrat causes?

    UK media has been surprisingly quiet about the allegations too.

    Perhaps Pinker is just a proxy for haters who don’t want to expose what is potentially being revealed about their heroes? Pinker could just be a victim of the latest vendetta to sweep the internets.

    1. Hm. Not sure about that: certainly The Times, the Grauniad and the Indie have given a fair bit of coverage to the charges against Epstein, including the allegation by one of his (then) under-age female associates that she was required to have sex with Airmiles Andy – an allegation denied vociferously, of course, by the Palace.

      But you may be right about Pinker. Or it might simply be that those who dislike his scholarship are prepared to use anything to try to smear him.

    2. UK media has been surprisingly quiet about the allegations too.

      I’d have to say that here in the UK I’d have to Googipedia to actually find out what Epstein was allegedly well known for – before this current case, that is. Meedja?

    3. To most people in the UK, Epstein was the manager of the Beatles who tragically took his own life in 1967, or possibly that scientist with the long unruly hair.

      Few people in the UK know or care who he is.

  9. It is an obvious hit piece by an individual who has it in for Pinker. There is little doubt of that. Most of the article is spent grinding axes about Pinker’s general history and then suddenly inserts the association with Epstein. It is one of those nasty types that does not like you in any shape or form and then inserts what they think is a juicy bit that makes all the rest of my opinion correct. It is stupid and should be ignored, but nothing is these days.

      1. I saw that on the news today. Will be watching for that as it could include lots of things we do not know. I’m sure the crew on MSNBC will be tearing into this tomorrow evening.

  10. I think a lot of what’s going on is viewing past behavior vs. 20/20 hindsight. We know now with very high certainty that Epstein committed multiple horrendous crimes. Back in the late ’90s only the locals had any idea, and they had much less certainty. In the early 2000s local law enforcement had a bit more certainty, but still, the evidence doesn’t appear to have been widely known. By 2008 when his case was plead out, most people probably had some certainty he committed some sexual offenses with underage girls, but few people knew the extent. So to some extent, it seems to me like people are blaming Pinker for not acting in ~2008 with the knowledge we all have in 2019. And to argue a bit conservatively, I think Acosta is in something of the same spot. Though he’s more culpable and has much less of any ‘fog of war’ excuse, since as the attorney in charge it was his job to understand the full extent of Epstein’s crimes, which is certainly not the case for expert witnesses or advisors.

  11. In the world of scuttlebutt, “he provided linguistic clarification of a legal statute to a retired Harvard law professor who was working on a sex abuse case” lands pretty far down the list.

    Sadly, this sort of muckraking just dilutes the impact of the #MeToo movement. Maybe just focus on the perpetrators?

    1. I always regarded ‘MeToo’ as an unfortunate choice of slogan.

      In the past, ‘Me-Too-ism’ meant people who were too cowardly to complain on their own but would eagerly jump up and join the pack when someone else started the witch-hunt. It was a slur and among the most derogatory things one could accuse a person of, one I would carefully avoid making lightly.

      It seems the originators of the #MeToo movement were either ignorant or tone deaf. If they are indeed involved in this sort of lynch-mob nonsense then they are rapidly proving the aptness of the description.


  12. You gotta admire all the people out there who have the ability to KNOW someone is guilty of something (whether its OJ, Madoff or Epstein) before their guilt or innocence can be established in a court of law, such that anyone who had ever befriended the accused — or, heaven forbid, was involved with their defense — can be accused of being equally complicit in the crime.

    Yeah, me neither.

  13. It’s just the usual guilt by association argument accelerated by social media. No after-the-event explanation by Pinker will be taken seriously as it is indistinguishable from an excuse given by someone who truly did have knowledge of the offenses. This is just how the world works. However, smart and educated people are supposed to understand that guilt-by-association is often a flawed argument, as I am almost 100% certain it is in Pinker’s case.

    It is a real shame these professors are piling on Pinker. Is it really virtue-seeking or just stupidity? I suspect it’s neither. Instead it is the Left’s usual hatred of Pinker’s ideas that causes them to treat him unfairly. They are just using his slim association with Epstein as an opportunity to slam him. They really, really fear his ideas will detract from their agenda.

    I think their fear of Pinker’s ideas is justified. Conservative politicians will definitely use any positive message like Pinker’s as justification to ignore social injustice. Trump uses the healthy economy as “proof” that everything is ok. If someone mentions his heartless policies, he says “the stock market is at all time highs” as if anything bad that is happening is just the price of progress. Still, facts are facts. Pinker is just the bringer of good news. They need to get over it.

  14. I read it twice. Definitely a hit piece despite trying to feign neutrality by letting Pinker have his say. On that, Pinker was at his best.

    “If someone is determined to discredit me by any means necessary, then no means will be sufficient to change that person’s mind,” Pinker said. Going forward, his policy will be the same as it’s always been: to “advance arguments that I think are too interesting, important and supported by data for people to ignore, even if they disagree with them.”

  15. I think motivations matter and are very hard to read in these cases. If people are sliming Pinker because they want to kneecap a perceived ideological opponent, well, it makes some of the more hysterical claims about “far Left socialists” sound plausible in this case – accusing someone of being in on child abuse to discredit them would have fit right in, in Stalinist Russia.

    On the other, for the sake of empathy, I will try to picture my reaction if it were another group in question. If I found out Steve had even nominally assisted, say, Vatican officials in a legal case, I would probably be weirded out. I might give lip service to equality under the law but a part of me would be going “How are you even in these circles, how are you buddies with these guys, this is strange.” Of course child abuse in the Catholic Church has been much more widespread and spanned far larger groups of people so to my mind that intuition is justified – but, I can’t claim to mind read and know that people don’t genuinely feel similarly suspicious of Ivy League professors as a group.

    In the end, I think Pinker will be fine. There is no evidence that he did anything even remotely wrong and in some ways, given how obsessed with Harvard Epstein was, the degree to which Pinker limited their contact is noteworthy. If someone has been hanging around for what, a decade or so trying to get in good with you, you’d almost expect more than a single picture where you were formally seated at a table with them, name badge fully visible. But Pinker has survived in academia, which I assume is intensely political, for this long, so he probably has good instincts about such things – another reason I think he’ll be fine in the long run. I’m sure he’s had to deal with a lot already to get to where he is today, and he was obviously able to deal with it.

  16. Somewhere there is a photo of me grinning like an idiot with OJ standing behind me, his hand on my shoulder. I was, I think, eleven years old with a group of boys meeting one of the great sports heroes of our day.

    Maybe I’m not in as much trouble as Dr PCC(e), but I’m afraid someone will find that damning photo and put me in the same basket as other horrible people who’ve talked briefly or bumped into bad people over the years. I guess I’ll have to go into hiding soon.

    In the immortal words of professor Hubert J. Farnsworth; “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore”

  17. I’ve read decent criticism on Pinker’s recent better history books, though never from the woke departments (I have no strong opinion, as I skipped these books from his).

    Coleen Flaherty is honest in one point: she produced an unashamed hit piece, which can be easily ignored.

  18. This article is very bad. Flaherty doesn’t even suggest that Pinker was wrong in his interpretation of the relevant statutory language. To her mind, it was immoral of Pinker to correctly interpret the statute, since the correct interpretation helped Epstein.

    Perhaps we should do away with trials altogether, and just have people like Flaherty determine who should disappear in the middle of the night on a way-way trip to the Gulag.

  19. “To confirm our view of the ‘plain meaning’ of the words, we asked” Pinker, “a noted linguist, to analyze the statute to determine the natural and linguistically logical reading or readings of the section,” the letter said. “We asked whether the statute contemplates necessarily that the means of communication must be the vehicle through which the persuading or enticing directly occurs. According to Dr. Pinker, that is the sole rational reading.”

    This seems to be Pinker’s unforgivable sin. Yet you know that, if some gangstah hadn’t been read his Miranda rights, SJWs like Flaherty would be screaming mad.

    The letter of the law must be uniformly applied to everyone, and never in abeyance simply because the accused is a nasty person.

  20. What is overlooked is that Epstein is a donor to Harvard and Steve as a Harvard Professor was no doubt expected to be nice to Epstein no matter what he thinks of him. Been there, done that. The fact that Steve has not taken any of Epstein’s money, even though I’m sure he could have arranged it, says volumes about his integrity.

  21. “I used to think that Inside Higher Ed (IHE) was a pretty objective forum for reporting news from academia.”

    I don’t particularly like Pinker and think he frequently strays too far outside of his expertise, but if this is what made you stop thinking positively of IHE, you’re several years behind the curve. Like a lot of websites that were very good in the late 2000s and early 2010s, IHE experienced a sharp drop in objectivity and quality around 2014-2015: the two polarizing issues were the “free speech crisis on campus” and, related, the Title IX actions under the Obama administration. Writers continually innuendoed that FIRE was a right-wing dark money group, that Laura Kipnis probably committed a Title IX hostile environment action and had gone anti-feminist by complaining about Title IX investigations, etc. Like you said, the usual tactic was to quote tweets selectively, and put the writer’s “tell” in in the very last paragraph. The website has been Buzzfeed-tier ever since the original dustup at Toronto (2016?) that brought Jordan Peterson to prominence.

    And yes, none of the people who write for the site seem to like evolutionary psychology, so of course they won’t like Pinker.

    1. When you say “he frequently strays too far outside of his expertise” – what do you mean? Linguistics? Carefully research work on violence? Psychlogy? Religion? Should everyone – every academic – have a checklist of their areas of expertise, so when they stray outside it everything they say ceases to have validity? That happens with Nobelists – some seem to think they have a Nobel-given right to talk about any subject…

      1. Well, I am not sure about implementation, but I think one should make a point of checking with experts on each topic one addresses. One of my criticisms of some of Pinker’s stuff is that he did not discuss work about the commercialization of AI – neither philosophers of computing (who have written a lot about this) nor IT security professionals (who also have from overlapping angles) were referenced.

        (Disclosure: I am trained as the former and work as the latter.)

        I might say that I regard myself as *both* a critic and an “fan” of Pinker’s work – I always learn a lot and find them very worthy of consideration, just often just a *little* too un-charitable to critics. Here this is especially true.

        That said, however, the guilt-by-association hatchet jobs by his *personal* critics are beyond the pale.

  22. Looks like a journalistic lynch mob is after Steven Pinker. A photograph showing Mr. Trump and Mr Epstein enjoying each others company on a Trump property in Florida. Maybe the lynch mob will get distracted or confused depending on politics.

  23. Pinker has explained that he didn’t fully know what his expert interpretation of a bit of legalistic language was bring used for. That should be enough to satisfy the hordes who want their pound of flesh. Pinker probably regrets his name being used in a citation, as it has caused him more headache than was worthwhile.

    It seems to me that Dershowitz might have used Pinker and his name as extra leverage, when a task of this relatively minor nature should have been akin to anyone consulting the Webster or Oxford dictionary or Wikipedia. I’m not a lawyer so lawyers out there may correct my ignorance.

    1. I find it disturbing that not knowing why you are doing some research should be a defence. The fact is that Pinker was providing expert testimony for the defence of an accused person. He should not be criticised for that whether he knew who the accused was or not.

      There’s going to come a point where the defendants accused of certain types of crimes will find it difficult to find legal counsel because of the repercussions for the members of the defence team.

      1. I’m not particularly invested in this one way or the other – I don’t think it’s going to change anyone’s minds about Pinker and I don’t think it’s going to affect his reputation in the long-term – but unless I’ve misunderstood, Pinker wasn’t hired to provide expert testimony; rather he did it as a favour to his friend. From that perspective it looks a little incestuous, in a way that wouldn’t be the case if he’d been hired to provide testimony as a professional with no ties to the defendant or the defendant’s lawyers.

        I’m playing devil’s advocate here though. I don’t think I have strong feelings about this either way.

      2. I get your point.
        I can understand why Pinker might be terribly embarrassed or regretful of any misconstrued association with Epstein. The fall-out must be very severe. In my view, Pinker was only the messenger who gave what was most likely an honest and unbiased interpretation of the wording of a point of law. If anything, it might be the statute that ought to be criticized or scrutinized, and changed if need be.

  24. Jealousy and envy are driving these poisonous toads. They will never come close to the success and stature of Pinker and they know it.

  25. Ye gods – never meet ANYONE in case they end up as a criminal & thus somehow contaminate everything YOU ever did or said!

  26. Oseroff is especially odious. He used his position at the APA blog to smear feminists he and his ilk branded “terfs”. And he uses reddit for his defaming as well.

  27. So I commented there about my disgust at how the far left were undermining defender’s abilities to consult experts. I got this response:

    Most criminal cases end in plea agreements after the brutally overworked and underpaid public defender meets with the defendant for the first (and only) time for maybe ten-fifteen minutes. Where’s your concern trolling for them?

    I can’t respond there now, they’ve closed comments, but this made me see red when I saw it.

    Okay, the first problem here is misidentifying the core reason why so many cases end in plea agreements.

    Basically within America you have municipalities that have embraced zero tolerance policing as a form of revenue collection. They keep their rates down by clamping down on every minor infringement.

    When the cops threatened to go on strike a few years back, one of the threats they raised was that they would actually do their jobs like reasonable people, and not fine everything in sight.

    It is also the root cause of so much of hostility between the police and minorities – these fines act as a stealth tax on the poor who are specifically targeted because they cannot afford the time off work to fight them.

    Thus you end up with a lot of plea agreements being reached simply because the people being charged don’t have the money it requires to take the time to fight the case.

    The fines resulting from those plea agreements then end up becoming jail time, because if you can’t afford a day off work to go to court, how good do you think your ability to pay the fine is going to be?

    And of course this is what makes the public defenders so overworked in the first place.

    But aside from that, how does reducing the public defender’s ability to consult with experts help them do their job?

    It doesn’t. This argument is one of the things that has disgusted me with the left for the past decade – the sheer phoniness of it all.

    It costs nothing to say “f&$k the police”, paying slightly higher rates so that city hall doesn’t rely on fines to fund itself? That costs money. And this is in the progressive, liberal, urban areas just as much as anywhere else.

    It is all tribes no actual principles, it is Epstein is in the “rich tribe” so his rights as a defendant should be compromised because of the way the poor’s rights as defendants are compromised.

    Instead of actually dealing with the problems, you have douche merchants pushing this idea that it is some zero sum game where you take one of ours, we take one of yours – like that has ever not ended badly.

    The solution to injustice is not more injustice, the tribalism on display in all of this is frankly sickening.

  28. Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago, who is not a fan of Pinker’s, nonetheless had this comment on the Inside Higher Ed piece:

    IHE must be desperate for news…
    …if they’re organizing a story around tweets by random maniacs, ignoramuses, and self-promoters on Twitter.

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