The Purity Posse pursues Pinker

July 5, 2020 • 12:30 pm

The Woke are after Pinker again, and if he’s called a racist and misogynist, as he is in this latest attempt to demonize him, then nobody is safe. After all, Pinker is a liberal Democrat who’s donated a lot of dosh to the Democratic Party, and relentlessly preaches a message of moral, material, and “well-being” progress that’s been attained through reason and adherence to Enlightenment values. But that sermon alone is enough to render him an Unperson, for the Woke prize narrative and “lived experience” over data, denigrate reason, and absolutely despise the Enlightenment.

The link to the document in question, “Open Letter to the Linguistic Society of America,”  was tweeted yesterday by Pinker’s fellow linguist John McWhorter, who clearly dislikes the letter. And, indeed, the letter is worthy of Stalinism in its distortion of the facts in trying to damage the career of an opponent. At least they don’t call for Pinker to be shot in the cellars of the Lubyanka!

After I read the letter and decided to respond to it, I contacted Steve, asking him questions, and he gave me permission to quote some of his answers, which were sent in an email. (Steve, by the way, has never asked me to defend him; I do so in this case because of the mendacity of the letter.)

The letter, on Google Documents, is accumulating signatories—up to 432 the last time I looked. You can access it in McWhorter’s tweet above, or by clicking on the letter’s first paragraph below:

Many of the signatories are grad students and undergrads, members of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA), which may explain why the vast amount of criticism leveled at Pinker comes from his social media, all tweets from Twitter. The letter shows no familiarity with Pinker’s work, and takes statements out of context in a way that, with the merest checking, are seen to be represented duplicitously. In the end, the authors confect a mess of links that, the signatories say, indict Pinker of racism, misogyny, and blindness to questions of social justice. As the authors say:

Though no doubt related, we set aside questions of Dr. Pinker’s tendency to move in the proximity of what The Guardian called a revival of “scientific racism”, his public support for David Brooks (who has been argued to be a proponent of “gender essentialism”), his expert testimonial in favor of Jeffrey Epstein (which Dr. Pinker now regrets), or his dubious past stances on rape and feminism. Nor are we concerned with Dr. Pinker’s academic contributions as a linguist, psychologist and cognitive scientist. Instead, we aim to show here Dr. Pinker as a public figure has a pattern of drowning out the voices of people suffering from racist and sexist violence, in particular in the immediate aftermath of violent acts and/or protests against the systems that created them.

In truth, Pinker as a public figure is hard to distinguish from Pinker the academic, for in both academia and in public he conveys the same message, one of progress (albeit with setbacks) and material and moral improvement, always using data to support this upward-bending arc of morality. And in both spheres he emphasizes the importance of secularism and reason as the best—indeed, the only—way to attain this progress. After indicting Pinker based on five tweets and a single word in one of his books, the signatories call for him to be stripped of his honors as a distinguished LSA Fellow and as one of the LSA’s media experts.

So what is the evidence that Pinker is a miscreant and a racist? I’ll go through the six accusations and try not to be tedious.

The first is about blacks being shot disproportionately to their numbers in the population, which, as I’ve written about recently, happens to be true. Emphases in the numbered bits is mine:

1.) In 2015, Dr. Pinker tweeted “Police don’t shoot blacks disproportionately”, linking to a New York Times article by Sendhil Mullainathan.

Let the record show that Dr. Pinker draws this conclusion from an article that contains the following quote: “The data is unequivocal. Police killings are a race problem: African-Americans are being killed disproportionately and by a wide margin.” (original emphasis) We believe this shows that Dr. Pinker is willing to make dishonest claims in order to obfuscate the role of systemic racism in police violence.

Actually, Pinker’s tweet was an accurate summary of the article. Have a look at the quote in its entirety, reading on after the first extracted sentence.

The data is unequivocal. Police killings are a race problem: African-Americans are being killed disproportionately and by a wide margin. And police bias may be responsible. But this data does not prove that biased police officers are more likely to shoot blacks in any given encounter.

Instead, there is another possibility: It is simply that — for reasons that may well include police bias — African-Americans have a very large number of encounters with police officers. Every police encounter contains a risk: The officer might be poorly trained, might act with malice or simply make a mistake, and civilians might do something that is perceived as a threat. The omnipresence of guns exaggerates all these risks.

Such risks exist for people of any race — after all, many people killed by police officers were not black. But having more encounters with police officers, even with officers entirely free of racial bias, can create a greater risk of a fatal shooting.

Arrest data lets us measure this possibility. For the entire country, 28.9 percent of arrestees were African-American. This number is not very different from the 31.8 percent of police-shooting victims who were African-Americans. If police discrimination were a big factor in the actual killings, we would have expected a larger gap between the arrest rate and the police-killing rate.

This in turn suggests that removing police racial bias will have little effect on the killing rate. Suppose each arrest creates an equal risk of shooting for both African-Americans and whites. In that case, with the current arrest rate, 28.9 percent of all those killed by police officers would still be African-American. This is only slightly smaller than the 31.8 percent of killings we actually see, and it is much greater than the 13.2 percent level of African-Americans in the overall population.

The signatories, not Pinker, stand guilty of dishonest quote-mining. I would argue that the cherry-picking here is intellectually dishonest—and deliberate.

2.) In 2017, when nearly 1000 people died at the hands of the police, the issue of anti-black police violence in particular was again widely discussed in the media. Dr. Pinker moved to dismiss the genuine concerns about the disproportionate killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement by employing an “all lives matter” trope (we refer to Degen, Leigh, Waldon & Mengesha 2020 for a linguistic explanation of the trope’s harmful effects) that is eerily reminiscent of a “both-sides” rhetoric, all while explicitly claiming that a focus on race is a distraction. Once again, this clearly demonstrates Dr. Pinker’s willingness to dismiss and downplay racist violence, regardless of any evidence.

In light of the recent police killings of blacks, I’m pretty sure that this tweet would look worse today than it did in 2017. But the article Pinker is referring to is about general improvements in police departments, not ways to make cops less racist. It does note that there’s racism in police killings, but says that the fix, as Pinker notes, comes from general improvements in policing (along the lines of general improvements in airline safety), not by focusing on racism itself:

Police violence is tangled up with racism and systemic injustice. We desperately need to do more to address that, foremost by shoring up the criminal-justice system so that it holds police officers accountable when they kill. But it’s also true that deadly mistakes are going to happen when police officers engage in millions of potentially dangerous procedures a year. What aviation teaches us is that it should be possible to “accident proof” police work, if only we are willing to admit when mistakes are made.

. . . The routine traffic stop, like the one that killed Mr. Bell’s son, is especially in need of redesign because it contains so many potential failure points that cause confusion and violence. In the computer science department at the University of Florida, a team of students — all African-American women — have developed a technology that they hope might make these encounters far safer.

. . .How can we fix this system that puts civilians and the police officers who stop them at risk? The obvious solution is to take the officers — and their guns — out of the picture whenever possible.

The technology developed by the African-American women has nothing to do with race, but limns general principles that should be followed in all traffic stops. Now I doubt Steve would, given the recent events and protests, post the same tweet today, but his summary of the article is not at all an “all lives matter” trope. Remember, there’s still no good evidence that the killing of black men by police reflects “systemic racism” in police department, and that needs to be investigated, but in the meantime perhaps some general tactical changes should be considered as well.

I asked Steve to respond to the claim that this is an “all lives matter trope.” Here’s what he emailed back (quoted with permission):

Linguists, of all people, should understand the difference between a trope or collocation, such as the slogan “All lives matter,” and the proposition that all lives matter. (Is someone prepared to argue that some lives don’t matter?) And linguists, of all people,  should understand the difference between a turn in the context of a conversational exchange and a sentence that expresses an idea. It’s true that if someone were to retort “All lives matter” in direct response to “Black lives matter,’ they’d be making a statement that downplays the racism and other harms suffered by African Americans. But that is different from asking questions about whom police kill, being open to evidence on the answer, and seeking to reduce the number of innocent people killed by the police of all races. The fact is that Mullainathan and four other research reports have found the same thing: while there’s strong evidence that African Americans are disproportionately harassed, frisked, and manhandled by the police (so racism among the police is a genuine problem), there’s no evidence that they are killed more, holding rates of dangerous encounters constant. (References below.) As Mullainathan notes, this doesn’t downplay racism, but it pinpoints its effects: in drug laws, poverty, housing segregation, and other contributors to being in dangerous situations, but not on in the behavior of police in lethal encounters. And it has implications for how to reduce police killings, which is what we should all care about: it explains the finding that race-specific like training police in implicit bias and hiring more minority police have no effect, while across-the-board measures such as de-escalation training, demilitarization, changing police culture, and increasing accountability do have an effect.

Fryer, R. G. (2016). An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Papers(22099), 1-63.

Fryer, R. G. (forthcoming). Reconciling Results on Racial Differences in Police Shootings. American Economic Review (Papers and Proceedings).

Goff, P. A., Lloyd, T., Geller, A., Raphael, S., & Glaser, J. (2016). The science of justice: Race, arrests, and police use of force. Los Angeles: Center for Policing Equity, UCLA, Table 7.

Johnson, D. J., Tress, T., Burkel, N., Taylor, C., & Cesario, J. (2019). Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(32), 15877-15882. doi:10.1073/pnas.1903856116

Johnson, D. J., & Cesario, J. (2020). Reply to Knox and Mummolo and Schimmack and Carlsson: Controlling for crime and population rates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(3), 1264-1265. doi:10.1073/pnas.1920184117

Miller, T. R., Lawrence, B. A., Carlson, N. N., Hendrie, D., Randall, S., Rockett, I. R. H., & Spicer, R. S. (2016). Perils of police action: a cautionary tale from US data sets. Injury Prevention. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2016-042023

Of course the signatories credit themselves with the ultrasonic ability to discern “dog whistles” in arguments that displease them, a license to throw standards of accurate citation out the window and accuse anyone of saying anything. 

Back to the letter:

3.) Pinker (2011:107) provides another example of Dr. Pinker downplaying actual violence in a casual manner: “[I]n 1984, Bernhard Goetz, a mild-mannered engineer, became a folk hero for shooting four young muggers in a New York subway car.”—Bernhard Goetz shot four Black teenagers for saying “Give me five dollars.” (whether it was an attempted mugging is disputed). Goetz, Pinker’s mild-mannered engineer, described the situation after the first four shots as follows: “I immediately looked at the first two to make sure they were ‘taken care of,’ and then attempted to shoot Cabey again in the stomach, but the gun was empty.” 18 months prior, the same “mild-mannered engineer” had said “The only way we’re going to clean up this street is to get rid of the sp*cs and n*****s”, according to his neighbor. Once again, the language Dr. Pinker employs in calling this person “mild-mannered” illustrates his tendency to downplay very real violence.

After I’d read Accusation #1 and this one, and saw the way the letter was distorting what Pinker said, I decided to write Steve and say that I was going to write something about the letter. I began by asking for the whole Goetz passage from The Better Angels of Our Nature (which you can see at the letter’s link) so I could embed it here. Steve sent it, along with these words:

The Goetz description was, of course, just a way to convey the atmosphere of New York in the high-crime 79s and 80s for those who didn’t live through it — just as the atmosphere was later depicted in The Joker. To depict this as sympathetic to a vigilante shooter is one of the many post-truth ascriptions in the piece.

Here’s the entire passage from Better Angels:

The flood of violence from the 1960s through the 1980s reshaped American culture, the political scene, and everyday life. Mugger jokes became a staple of comedians, with mentions of Central Park getting an instant laugh as a well-known death trap. New Yorkers imprisoned themselves in their apartments with batteries of latches and deadbolts, including the popular “police lock,” a steel bar with one end anchored in the floor and the other propped up against the door. The section of downtown Boston not far from where I now live was called the Combat Zone because of its endemic muggings and stabbings. Urbanites quit other American cities in droves, leaving burned-out cores surrounded by rings of suburbs, exurbs, and gated communities. Books, movies and television series used intractable urban violence as their backdrop, including Little Murders, Taxi Driver, The Warriors, Escape from New York, Fort Apache the Bronx, Hill Street Blues, and Bonfire of the Vanities. Women enrolled in self-defense courses to learn how to walk with a defiant gait, to use their keys, pencils, and spike heels as weapons, and to execute karate chops or jujitsu throws to overpower an attacker, role-played by a volunteer in a Michelin-man-tire suit. Red-bereted Guardian Angels patrolled the parks and the mass transit system, and in 1984 Bernhard Goetz, a mild-mannered engineer, became a folk hero for shooting four young muggers in a New York subway car. A fear of crime helped elect decades of conservative politicians, including Richard Nixon in 1968 with his “Law and Order” platform (overshadowing the Vietnam War as a campaign issue); George H. W. Bush in 1988 with his insinuation that Michael Dukakis, as governor of Massachusetts, had approved a prison furlough program that had released a rapist; and many senators and congressmen who promised to “get tough on crime.” Though the popular reaction was overblown—far more people are killed every year in car accidents than in homicides, especially among those who don’t get into arguments with young men in bars—the sense that violent crime had multiplied was not a figment of their imaginations.

Now if you think that this passage excuses Bernie Goetz for the shooting, and does so by using “mild-mannered” as an adjective, I feel sorry for you. Pinker’s doing here what he said he was doing: depicting the anti-crime atmosphere present at that time in New York City. Only someone desperately looking for reasons to be offended would glom onto this as evidence of racism. In fact, in 1985 the Washington Post called Goetz “the unassuming, apparently mild-mannered passenger who struck with force” . You can find the same adjective in other places. Complaint dismissed.

4.)  In 2014, a student murdered six women at UC Santa Barbara after posting a video online that detailed his misogynistic reasons. Ignoring the perpetrator’s own hate speech, Dr. Pinker called the idea that such a murder could be part of a sexist pattern “statistically obtuse”, once again undermining those who stand up against violence while downplaying the actual murder of six women as well as systems of mysogyny.

Here’s the “incriminating” tweet:

First, a correction: the 2014 Isla Vista killings by Eliot Rodger involved four male victims and two female victims, not six women. But that aside, Rodger did leave a misogynistic manifesto and a YouTube video clearly saying that he wanted to exact revenge on women for rejecting him, and whom he hated for that.

I couldn’t find the statistically obtuse link, and asked Steve about it, and he didn’t remember it either. But his point was clearly not to say that this murder wasn’t motivated by hatred of women, but to question whether it was part of a general pattern of hatred of women. That’s a different issue. I’ll quote Steve again, with his permission:

I don’t remember what it initially pointed to, but I’ve often argued that reading social trends into rampage shootings and suicide terrorists is statistically obtuse and politically harmful. It’s obtuse because vastly more people are killed in day-to-day homicides, to say nothing of accidents; news watchers who think they are common are victims of the Availability Bias, mistaking saturation media coverage of horrific isolated events for major social trends. Every victim of a murder is an unspeakable tragedy, but in trying to reduce violence, we should focus foremost on the phenomena that harm people in the largest numbers.

It’s possible — I don’t remember — that I mentioned data showing that uxoricide (the killing of women by husbands and romantic partners) has been in decline.

Focusing on rampage shooters and suicide terrorists is harmful because it gives these embittered losers exactly what they are seeking—notoriety and political importance—thereby incentivizing more of them. Also, the overreactions to these two smaller kinds of violence can have dangerous side effects, from traumatizing schoolchildren with pointless active shooter drills, to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The legal scholar Adam Lankford is the one who’s written most compellingly about the drive of rampage shooters to “make a difference,” if only posthumously — a good reason not to grant undue importance to their vile final acts.

Again, Pinker’s attempt to make a general point is parsed for wording (do they even know what “statistically obtuse” means?) to argue that Steve is a misogynist. Steve added, “The difference between understanding the world through media-driven events versus data-based  trends is of course very much my thing.”

5.)  On June 3rd 2020, during historic Black Lives Matter protests in response to violent racist killings by police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many many others, Dr. Pinker chose to publicly co-opt the academic work of a Black social scientist to further his deflationary agenda. He misrepresents the work of that scholar, who himself mainly expressed the hope he felt that the protests might spark genuine change, in keeping with his belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity. A day after, the LSA commented on its public twitter account that it “stands with our Black community”. Please see the public post by linguist Dr. Maria Esipova for a more explicit discussion of this particular incident.

First, “co-opting” is a loaded word for the simple act of citation, both in Pinker’s books and in his tweet below, citation that shows a decline in racist attitudes among white people over time. This involves answers to questions—not actions like murders—but attitudes must surely be seen as manifestations of “racism”.

The incriminating tweet:

As for Bobo’s article in the Harvard Gazette, yes, there is cautious optimism, but there’s also despair.


On the one hand, I am greatly heartened by the level of mobilization and civil protests. That it has touched so many people and brought out so many tens of thousands of individuals to express their concern, their outrage, their condemnation of the police actions in this case and their demand for change and for justice, I find all that greatly encouraging. It is, at the same moment, very disappointing that some folks have taken this as an opportunity to try to bring chaos and violence to these occasions of otherwise high-minded civil protest. And I’m disappointed by those occasions where in law enforcement, individuals and agencies, have acted in ways that have provoked or antagonized otherwise peaceful protest actions.

It’s a complex and fraught moment that we’re in. And one of the most profoundly disappointing aspects of the current context is the lack of wise and sensible voices and leadership on the national stage to set the right tone, to heal the nation, and to reassure us all that we’re going to be on a path to a better, more just society.

. . .We had all thought, of course, that we made phenomenal strides. We inhabit an era in which there are certainly more rank-and-file minority police officers than ever before, more African American and minority and female police chiefs and leaders. But inhabiting a world where the poor and our deeply poor communities are still heavily disproportionately people of color, where we had a war on drugs that was racially biased in both its origins and its profoundly troubling execution over many years, that has bred a level of distrust and antagonism between police and black communities that should worry us all. There’s clearly an enormous amount of work to be done to undo those circumstances and to heal those wounds.

And if the following isn’t a statement by Bobo that justifies Pinker’s characterization above, I don’t know what is, for while indicting Trumpism for fomenting racism, Bobo does indeed say he is “guardedly optimistic”, even using the phrase “higher angels of our nature”. (My emphasis.)

The last three years have brought one moment of shock and awe after the other, as acts on a national and international stage from our leadership that one would have thought unimaginable play out each and every day under a blanket of security provided by a U.S. Senate that appears to have lost all sense of spine and justice and decency. I don’t know where this is. I think we’re in a deeply troubling moment. But I am going to remain guardedly optimistic that hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, the higher angels of our nature win out in what is a really frightening coalescence of circumstances.

Finally, Steve went into more detail about that tweet:

The intro to the tweet was context: introducing Larry Bobo and my connection to his research. It was followed by the transition “Here he ….”, so there was no implication that this interview was specifically about that research. Still, I’d argue that it’s hardly a coincidence that a social scientist who has documented racial progress in the past (including in a 2009 article entitled “A change has come: Race, politics, and the path to the Obama presidency”) would express guarded optimism that it can continue. After all, if 65 years of the civil rights movement had yielded no improvements in race relations, why should we bother continuing the fight? 

Now, one can legitimately ask (as Bobo does) whether responses to the General Social Survey are honest or are biased by social desirability. I address this in Enlightenment Now by looking for signs of implicit racism in Google search data (it’s declined), and more recently, have cited new data from my colleagues Tessa Charlesworth and Mahzarin Banaji (in Psychological Science last year) that implicit racial bias as measured by Banaji’s Implicit Association Test has declined as well. 

I’ve become used to incomprehension and outrage over data on signs of progress. People mentally auto-correct the claim that something bad has declined with the claim that it has disappeared. And they misinterpret evidence for progress as downplaying the important of activism. But of course progress in the past had to have had a cause, and often it was the work of past activists that pushed the curves down — all the more reason to continue it today.

I also asked Steve for the references to Bobo’s research showing “the decline of overt racism in the U.S.” Here they are:

Bobo, L. D. 2001. Racial attitudes and relations at the close of the twentieth century. In N. J. Smelser, W. J. Wilson, & F. Mitchell, eds., America becoming: Racial trends and their consequences. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Bobo, L. D., & Dawson, M. C. 2009. A change has come: Race, politics, and the path to the Obama presidency. Du Bois Review, 6, 1–14.

Schuman, H., Steeh, C., & Bobo, L. D. 1997. Racial attitudes in America: Trends and interpretations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Finally, the last indictment:

6.) On June 14th 2020, Dr. Pinker uses the dogwhistle “urban crime/violence” in two public tweets (neither of his sources used the term). A dogwhistle is a deniable speech act “that sends one message to an outgroup while at the same time sending a second (often taboo, controversial, or inflammatory) message to an ingroup”, according to recent and notable semantic/pragmatic work by linguistic researchers Robert Henderson & Elin McCready [1,2,3]. “Urban”, as a dogwhistle, signals covert and, crucially, deniable support of views that essentialize Black people as lesser-than, and, often, as criminals. Its parallel “inner-city”, is in fact one of the prototypical examples used as an illustration of the phenomenon by Henderson & McCready in several of the linked works. 

The two tweets at issue:

Umm.  .  both Patrick Sharkey at Princeton and Rod Brunson at Northeastern University are indeed experts in urban crime, and have taught and written extensively about it.  If there’s a “dogwhistle” here, blame Brunson and Sharkey, not Pinker. But there is no dogwhistle save the use of that phrase by the Woke to provoke cries of racism from their peers.

In the end, we have an indictment based on five tweets and the phrase “mild-mannered” in one of Pinker’s books, all of which distort or mischaracterize what Pinker was saying. That five social-media tweets and one word can lead to such a severe indictment (see below) is a sign of how far the termites have dined. I’m really steamed when a group of misguided zealots tries to damage someone’s career, and does so dishonestly.

The end of this pathetic letter:

We want to note here that we have no desire to judge Dr. Pinker’s actions in moral terms [JAC: oh for chrissake, of course they do!], or claim to know what his aims are. Nor do we seek to “cancel” Dr. Pinker, or to bar him from participating in the linguistics and LSA communities (though many of our signatories may well believe that doing so would be the right course of action). We do, however, believe that the examples introduced above establish that Dr. Pinker’s public actions constitute a pattern of downplaying the very real violence of systemic racism and sexism, and, moreover, a pattern that is not above deceitfulness, misrepresentation, or the employment of dogwhistles. In light of the fact that Dr. Pinker is read widely beyond the linguistics community, this behavior is particularly harmful, not merely for the perception of linguistics by the general public, but for movements against the systems of racism and sexism, and for linguists affected by these violent systems.

The people who are deceitful and who misrepresent the facts are the signatories of this screed, not Pinker.  File this letter in the circular file. I hope that the LSA doesn’t take it seriously, but if they do, the organization should be mocked and derided.

h/t: Many people sent me this letter; thanks to all.

179 thoughts on “The Purity Posse pursues Pinker

  1. I looked through the list of signatories and noticed that one of the individuals is a Google employee and signs as such.

    It’s interesting to me that an employee of a corporation doesn’t hesitate to claim a kind of authority by appropriating, in essence, the prestige of the employer.

    Companies that I have worked for very explicitly forbid that. In fact, that is very standard across business.

    I wonder if the Google employee knows that, or cares, or perhaps such public stances, given that they match Google’s politics/climate, are encouraged.

    1. Yeah, you should get approval from the company first to do something like this. Maybe he’ll get fired and write a bit “manifesto” and people can concentrate on that instead of what is really important.

      1. Nah, this is Google. (S)He will be promoted. I’m not entirely sure, but given their recent corporate wokeness I bet they have a Department of Correct Thinking.

      2. Google had a confidential working group with the aim of increasing the number of female employees. An employee with autism and a phd in Biology was asked to write ideas to improve recruitment and retainment based on his knowledge of gender differences expressed by psychology. Someone in that group was offended by his report and leaked it to the company to foment outrage. That was then leaked to Karen Swisher who ran a piece condemning “tech bro” culture. Her main contention was the use of the term “neuroticism”, of course she did not understand it’s technical meaning and in fact confirmed the statistics that women as a group, on average are higher in this trait, (Sensitivity to negative emotion.) Leaking confidential documents is illegal at Google. Nothing happened to the leaker. The writer was fired for sharing his expertise. His name was James Damore. Heterodox academy went through his paper line by line with extreme hair splitting, even so 50% was entirely accurate. The rest was largely marked inaccurate based on minutia. Any ideas that go against political correctness, Google punishes those who think it. Meanwhile it is fine selling out to China as concentration camps continue there.

        1. Do you work at Google? If so, you may want to be careful what you reveal on public forums, if not, you may no have the story of Google. When I worked for a well known high tech company I often heard people speculate on what went on there and why certain decisions were made and it was often far from the truth.

          1. The James Damore case was fairly well known and widely publicized. James Damore appeared on Joe Rogans YouTube/PodCast.

            The comment above might be misleading in that while James Damore was asked to comment, so was everybody who attended the same employee training. Damore made the mistake of actually taking it seriously and giving a carefully reasoned response with the intent of promoting women in tech. Unfortunately his reasoning didn’t match with woke culture.

            1. I still think that we should be skeptical about what one person (the dismissed employee) reports without hearing anything from Google itself. We don’t really know what goes on in Google. We don’t really know if it’s a stifling woke culture (if it is, Google will fail in the market ultimately because you can’t stifle expression and expect to be innovative and creative).

              1. That Wikipedia entry states no response from Google other than they had an internal meeting which was cancelled because of more leaks. And there was a leaked Google memo. Neither of those are public responses and neither of those indicate there is a toxic culture at Google. There may be. There may be not. It’s speculation given the evidence. Moreover, the labour board rejected the claim (after he withdrew it) because his firing was proper. So what I’m saying is it seems we don’t really have a lot of evidence that the whole company is some sort of punishing totalitarian hellscape.

              2. I remember the Damore episode. Knowing how these companies work, and human nature in general, I think it would be hard for someone not directly involved to really get the whole story. While it may seem to some that Google is being secretive, that may well be justified as employee/employer relations are involved. Even democracies have their secrets and a corporation is not a democracy.

              3. Yeah I remember the memo as well and yes companies tend to have to keep quiet about issues like this, especially if litigation is involved and they can’t really disclose private information about the employee easily. This is why I think it’s difficult to really draw conclusions about the overall corporate culture based only on these incidents.

              4. “Even democracies have their secrets and a corporation is not a democracy.”

                Would you say a corporation is a private tyranny?

              5. No, not at all. For one thing, employees are free to go elsewhere whenever they want to, sometimes at higher pay. Much is made about “good” corporations vs “bad” corporations but the fact is that in many ways their hands are tied. Big corporations have whole Compliance departments just to deal with all the rules, not to mention HR. I’m not saying it is impossible for a company to do bad things but I don’t see how you could call it a tyranny. Employers can be cruel and oppressive but its not good for business and, like I said, the employee can leave. It’s possible that an employee with little job prospects elsewhere could consider themselves stuck with an oppressive boss. I suppose they might call their situation a tyranny.

              6. Perhaps you should be skeptical of media reports. Damore’s document was available online. I read it, and compared what he actually said with what Google’s CEO claimed he said, and with what media reports claimed he said. Google’s CEO and almost every media account I read flat-out lied about the contents of Damore’s document.

              7. I am not arguing about the content of his report or its authenticity. I am arguing that one person’s or even a dozen people making a broad claim that Google is a vast woke hellscape is not evidence enough to believe it is. We simply don’t know. I do know companies like google do not make it easy to know their culture unless you are in it.

      1. People who have complete contempt for the art of debate and argumentation. People who don’t have the ability or patience to persuade others that they’re right and so want to force their argument through by fiat.

        If I disagree with you…persuade me. Don’t tell me I’m wrong and go around me.

        That’s pretty much the defining feature of liberal democracy; that we try and persuade one another rather than just run over our opponent. And if we fail at persuasion, well that’s just tough shit. People are allowed to remain unpersuaded.
        If we want we can go back to the drawing board, come back with better arguments and try again. But we can’t just take shortcuts if we feel strongly enough that we’re right and everyone else is wrong.

    1. It is embarrassing that it was written for linguists to sign, as it contains sleazy rhetorical devices more suitable for the yellow press, and linguists don’t get a pass on use of language.

      To wit, the opening sentence in the first quote above announces four charges that they are “setting side,” which of course does just the opposite of setting them aside. Hint: to not mention something, don’t mention it!

      That kind of sleaze ball tactic is a bright red flag to me, since no one asked them to say that – they just “felt the need.” They could have said “we will not be discussing the affair with the pool boy” or any other made-up topic, since they are “setting it aside” and don’t need to provide any details.

    2. So many replies imply the signatories wrote this somehow collectively. You rightly suggest that someONE wrote this, and maybe, (though maybe not) had some of their classmates help edit it.

      It’s almost certain that all of the signatories would not have read the letter carefully. More likely it was presented to them by someone who implied that a refusal to sign would tar them with the same brush. Likely it was sent to a large list(s) as a link, which people were easily able to sign on to, likely based on the subject line and the image of Tamir Rice. Ahh virtue signaling.

      Whenever I stop and actually ask to read the text of the petitions presented to me in front of supermarkets, the presenters look at me like I’m crazy. But my reading usually shows that their curbside pitch was a deceit.

      1. BTW, I find this construction particularly revealing:

        “Let the record show that Dr. Pinker…”

        Which is a courtroom TV trope barely befitting a losing high school debate team. If that writer is in a post grad linguistics program, it must be a pretty lousy program.

  2. Since the letter concerns who should represent the LSA you would think only members should sign it, but I wonder. They are no longer accept signatures so you can’t see what was on the submission form, but the letter said anyone who identifies as a linguist could sign.

    I love how they used the word “identifies” – as in, all it takes to be a linguist is to believe you are one.

  3. Wow. Clearly if Pinker believes in capitalism and the Enlightenment, he must also be a dog-whistling crypto-racist. And if you can’t find real evidence of that, just stretch some quotes and amputate others to make Pinker fit the Procrustean bed you would situate him upon.

    1. “Kdo chce psa bit, vzdy hul najde”.

      OK, it’s missing a few diacriticals, but nevertheless, it’s a Czech proverb: “whoever wants to beat a dog can always find a stick.”

      These people are no different from the right-wingers they claim to abhor–same basic self-serving hatred in presenting their targets, same self-conscious dishonesty in their “facts,” same willingness to use any sliver of disagreement (real or imagined) to discredit the person and his or her entire work. I lived with it for 25 years in the church, and recognize its fascist odor.

      1. Is the ‘psa’ bit ‘dog’? I’m half Czech and I know a smattering of useless nouns. ‘Pes’ for dog being one of them.

  4. Sensible and honest people can see what regressive and dishonest people are responsible for that letter and its signatories.

    Naturally, PZ Myers and his cesspit are full of praise for it. But that has been an anti-science and anti-reason pit of bile for a long time.

    1. I remember following PZ Myers years ago. Then, suddenly, he started railing against stuff that seemed bizarre… At least to me. Then he started promoting a blog by his daughter, and my jaw dropped when she was furious with Pinker.

      They treated him like human garbage. I had read, heard, and seen Steven Pinker, and did the same with some of his critics. No one treated him like that.
      I thought, WHO are they talking about!?
      Who would rail against Pinker!?
      What the F is PZ and his daughter talking about!?
      I stopped following, or caring about what any of them said ever since. I assumed that kind of thinking was so ridiculous it would be ignored and disappear. Boy was I wrong…

      Little did I know, that was my introduction to “wokeness”, gasp.

      1. PZ “The Toxic Atheist” Myers has long realized that he’ll never be as successful as the Four Horsemen of Atheism, so he chose to dedicate himself to attempting to tear down anyone more accomplished and respected than him. That gives him a lifetime supply oft targets.

      2. PZ Meyers was probably one of my first experiences with the whole woke movement as well. I used to have some respect for him many years ago, but I find him utterly dishonest today. I think it can be evidenced that he’s willfully misrepresenting his adversaries, and in my book, that’s one of the most severe intellectual sins.

        1. With PZ, it was a sudden change, right? Or am I wrong?

          I read his blog daily for years and liked or agreed with most, if not everything he posted.

          Then, in a matter or weeks, maybe months, every other post I was like: “ok, I don’t agree with that, maybe he’s just very passionate about that topic”, but more often than not I found myself going “Huh?, What?, am I missing something?, is someone else guest-posting? what ever happened to this guy?” to finally “why am I reading this guy? why did I EVER follow this guy?”

          I don’t mean to say I follow/read people I only agree with (I don’t), but his change was so sudden to me it seemed fake and almost an overcompensation for something…

          I’ve never checked his blog again, so to hear references of “cesspit” and “toxic” tells me I should keep ignoring him.

          1. I don’t know that it was a sudden change but it seemed to start at the beginning of the great schism when the ideology of feminism butted up against the egalitarianism of most of the atheist so called movement.

            PZ has always been a feminist. I heard him speak in an Atheist Convention in Melbourne around 2011 and he was very good but he signed of with a suggestion that the solution was to be found in feminism.

            Then Elevatorgate happened and sides were taken, lines drawn in the sand, especially by the dogmatic ideologues like PZ and other feminists and the divergence began.

            But it was notable that PZ became more bitter, more harsh, more unforgiving of any opposing views that didn’t agree with woke left direction.

            Others have noted his possible bitterness at not being elevated to ‘horseperson’ status which may be true as he has been lashing out ever since.
            But also he really tied himself to the mast of an ideology and that doesn’t usually go well especially when dealing with actual free thinkers, as I suppose ‘the rationals’ are.

            I have heard more than once that he is pretty civilized in person but behind the keyboard he has typified the keyboard warrior lack of civility that can happen.

            So, I think it was always there in him but it took a branching where ‘sides’ are created and some kind of an inertial echo chamber keeps feeding the beast and we have the mess of nastiness we have now, when ideology trumps reason and evidence.

          2. In the end, I didn’t stop reading him because I disagreed with him; I stopped reading because he became so clearly bonkers, spiteful toward those who had more success and prestige, constantly attempting to destroy the reputations of his betters (remember his posts on Michael Shermer?), and utterly and unashamedly mendacious and driven by envy. His downfall was swift and so painfully pathetic. It’s like he realized he would never be considered one of the important atheists, so he dedicated himself to trying to tear down his betters through lies, deceit, and choreographing mobs. He’s a very sad man. He’s a case study of people who think they’re far more important than they are and basically going insane with jealousy and rage when they’re not treated as they see themselves. He’s such a sad, shambling mess of a man. It seems all he has in his heart is anger. I genuinely feel bad for him sometimes…

            Like Trump, PZ thinks he is one of the most brilliant people on the planet. Unfortunately for PZ, he’ll never get the praise and fawning idolatry that Trump does. He’ll just sit in his room, writing missive after missive, raging against the world that rejected him for the lesser mind that he is. To think, a man who thought he could be in the same company as The Four Horsemen or the circles in which Jerry travels, is really all alone, recognized only by woke sycophants whom he knows will accept anyone who follows their lead, and abandon him the second he doesn’t. His only followers are followers of convenience. I imagine he’ll die of a heart attack from his ever-present high blood pressure.

            I wish I could find the video, but there’s one from several years ago of him calling a female student up to the stage to assist him in some brief demonstration. At multiple points, he references her “coming to visit me in my hotel room later” (approximate quote). She was clearly and understandably uncomfortable with his remarks, but I guess he’s established himself as an “ally” to the point that such transgressions are ignored.

            1. I hadn’t been over to pharyngula for many years so I had a peek tonight. The post from July 3rd called “Confessions of a has-been atheist” is a pity party similar to what you described.

          3. I stopped clicking on pharyngula after watching him castigate, in the most crazy terms, anyone who disagreed with him. Debate, discussion? Forget about it.

            I had the temerity to stray from his line in a comment and was publicly (online) dressed down for it and never returned.

            I’ve hit on it maybe 5 times in the last ten years. It’s no better.

      3. I also was a regular at Pharyngula in the early days when he first became a popular blogger. He was quite good and there were many exceptional regulars there too for several years. PZ’s posts were as often about biology as about religion or other social issues and he really was quite good at relating science to non experts.

        In those days he had a throttle and he was generally pretty fair. However, even in those days he exhibited some traits that weren’t so positive. And those traits seemed to me to come to the fore over time, as if he exercised less and less restraint. One of those traits was that he never, ever could admit to error. I can’t remember a single time that he did. And he would quite often get a bit nasty with the person that was attempting to question or correct him. This was evident even in the earliest days and of course became a real shit show as time went on.

        Another nasty trait that he exhibited even early on was encouraging his readers to pile on to any person he had targeted for criticism or ridicule. In the early days it was more gentle and civilized. Over time it became like inciting a lynch mob. He encouraged the worst aspects of human nature, rusty porcupines and all that.

        People often say that he changed because he was bitter or jealous that he never achieved the status of the 4 Horseman. That does indeed seem accurate to me. It seemed apparent to me as it was happening. The irony is that he was right there, that close. He had reached a point where he was getting very favorable recognition from people like Dawkins.

        1. Yes! You all make great points. I can’t believe I forgot many of the things you describe. That hollier than thou attitude, the shameful sending of his mobs to other sites/posts/polls/comments he didn’t like, elevatorgate, and that comment section of his… Ugh! It was worse that YouTube.

  5. As conversations with family members and texting storms by coworkers have shown, people don’t want facts, statistics, rational thought, nuance, logic, or calm discussions. They want buzzwords and sound bites that shore up their ideologically-based preconceptions. Thinking is hard, emotion-based groupthink is easy.

  6. As I’ve commented many times before, social and/or political movements that start off with reasonable demands to address legitimate grievances seem almost always to spawn extremists that attempt to take over the movements for radical and authoritarian ends. This happens on both the right and the left, regardless of the ideological issues. This is the case here with the attempt to smear and silence Pinker. He is a very public and controversial figures. His ideas should be debated. The extremists demand ideological purity. As is the case with all ideologues, they demand purity. The mildest dissent from what they “know” is right demands immediate and total censure.

    How the extremist mentality works is well known. This situation raises a question that is difficult answer: why do extremists, initially usually small in relative numbers, seem to so often get their way? On a macro scale this happened in the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. I have not seen in the public press much discussion of this important question. I can only suggest an answer; there may be others. A characteristic of the extremist mind is relentlessness. Obsessed with whatever they believe in, extremists never stop agitating for what they want. Verbal and sometimes physical intimidation is a common tactic. The truth need only be employed if it advances the cause. Over time, moderate people are worn down because by their nature they can’t devote all of their lives to defending themselves. Then the extremists take over and the moderates are silenced for good.

    The lesson here is that moderates must engage the extremists from the start. They need to defeat propaganda with the truth. As stated in the previous paragraph, they find this hard to do. But they must, before it is too late. Professor Coyne’s post is a good start in resisting the extremist demands regarding Pinker. If others join the fray, perhaps the letter signers will find someone else to malign.

    For purposes of intellectual honesty, I will conclude by noting that sometimes (but not too often) extremism is ultimately judged by contemporaries and historians as both noble and moral. The abolitionists of pre-Civil War America is a classic example. Vilified by almost the entire country, both North and South, by the end of the war they were viewed as right in their goals (at least by the victors). At the end of Reconstruction to the 1960s, they were once again condemned as fanatics by historians, only to end up as heroes once again for the past half century. So, each movement must be judged on its own merits. But, in the case of Pinker, the extremist attack against him has few, if any, redeeming qualities.

    1. “So, each movement must be judged on its own merits.”

      The crucial criterion is whether their claims are correct. As Jerry shows, the claims of the LSA about Pinker are just not correct.

      1. > “As Jerry shows, the claims of the LSA about Pinker are just not correct.”

        Careful there! The LSA has said nothing about Pinker as far as I know. The anonymous denunciation against him has nothing to do with the LSA, is signed mostly by students, and was almost certainly also written by one of them.

    2. Extremists tend to be highly motivated individuals. They often find themselves in power in places where most people just don’t want to deal with meetings, committees, paperwork and dealing with people who are from left (or right) field screaming at the dandelions and clouds.

      Which seems to be the state of US politics in general.

    3. “For purposes of intellectual honesty, I will conclude by noting that sometimes (but not too often) extremism is ultimately judged by contemporaries and historians as both noble and moral. The abolitionists of pre-Civil War America is a classic example. Vilified by almost the entire country, both North and South, by the end of the war they were viewed as right in their goals (at least by the victors). At the end of Reconstruction to the 1960s, they were once again condemned as fanatics by historians, only to end up as heroes once again for the past half century. So, each movement must be judged on its own merits. But, in the case of Pinker, the extremist attack against him has few, if any, redeeming qualities.”

      You seem to be equivocating between being *seen* as good by historians, and being actually good. Your conclusion is correct – obviously abolition of slavery was a good thing! – but your logic is IMO invalid.

      1. ” . . . being *seen* as good by historians, and being actually good.”

        Am reminded of the phrase, “on the right side of history,” from my observation usually employed as an exhortation by media pundits, columnists, ideologues and their ilk, during the last decade or so.

        My perception, however subjective, is that the phrase is roughly equivalent to saying, “Be on the winning side,” (appealing to the human desire to be a winner) as opposed to, “Be on the right side, of history.” The two sentiments are not necessarily synonymous. (Does it mean, “Be on the side of what oracles deem will be the majority historian consensus”?) Why not simply say, “Do the right thing”? Let history record that one did the right thing. History records whatever happened, right or wrong.

  7. The only comment in that list of sins that I found…problematic…as they say, was this: ‘Police kill too many people, black & white. Focus on race distracts from solving problem, as we do w plane crashes.”

    I looked at that and thought ‘that’s a pretty daft thing to say at this point in time’. Even if you believe it it’s a crass comment to make right now, given what’s going on.

    …Then I realised it was from three years ago.

    I don’t agree with the substance of the tweet, but the way it’s presented is(like most of the stuff in this letter) extremely dishonest, framing it as a callous, dismissive riposte to George Floyd’s murder. Presumably they trusted that most people, like me, wouldn’t look at the date at the bottom of the tweet.

    Apart from that it’s a whiff in my opinion. There’s nothing new here, just someone with too much time and too little sense who’s gone through Pinker’s back catalogue looking for hanging crimes.

    1. I am of mixed mind on this Pinker quote, regardless of when the comment was actually made. I believe it is true that our country has been racist (against blacks, hispanics, asians, islanders, etc.) for too long and that true systemic change is desperately needed to move forward to greater equality. Picking and choosing Pinker statements from past writings to paint him as racist is disingenuous, disgusting and not productive. To have any group sit back together and say, “Oh, how awful!” is useless. As many of us can come together to find a useful way of fixing the problems is what we should be doing. Blathering won’t do it. Protesting won’t do it. Defacing or tearing down statues or other symbols viewed as racist won’t do it. For the sake of humanity, let’s finally work together to achieve the change we want and need.

      1. ” For the sake of humanity, let’s finally work together to achieve the change we want and need.”

        The people who actually do all that stuff, the people who get things done, and change things, little by little, for the better don’t have time to fanny about on Twitter and start up petitions. You just don’t hear from them. They understand that compromise and persuasion are necessary components of all true change, so they’re boring and unfashionable in social media terms. They’re not going to get a million retweets for typing ‘TOM HANKS IS A WHITE SUPREMACIST’, or ‘NOMINATE NICKI MINAJ FOR NOBEL PEACE PRIZE OR YOU’RE RACIST’. They just quietly get on with things.

        That’s gradual meliorism. It happens in the background, too slowly for anyone to notice, and we wake up every day surrounded by its fruits without ever taking a moment to recognise how incredibly powerful a ratcheting system it is.

            1. Very true. Perhaps a mad cackle is in order? Something that acknowledges how silly it is and also the absurdity that it is, as made apparent by the past several years, well within the realm of the possible.

              1. Yes mad cackle is appropriate. I find I have been mad cackling more than I should because of all the absurdity!

    2. I mean, that “focus on race distracts from solving” problems w/ police killings is a claim about reality. It is a broad claim, involving innumerable underlying complex issues. The process of empirically evaluating such a claim is not easy and would likely be extremely tentative. As such I don’t think it is realistic (at this time) to say conclusively, one way or the other, whether the claim has merit.

      That believing the hypothesis is “problematic” as you say, I simply don’t get.

      Can we assume Mr. Pinker actually opposes unwarranted police killings? I think if we are thinking in good faith, we must assume as much.

      Now, if Mr. Pinker’s hypothesis is true – that “focus on race” distracts from problems with police killings – including the unnecessary police killings of black individuals – and that focus on other areas would better reduce or eliminate such killings – then it would certainly be a grave moral error to refrain from articulating this hypotheses for political reasons. For, if the hypotheses is true, pretending it was false would mean more unwarranted police killings (over the long run).

      So how could this be problematic? In order to find the articulation of the above problematic, it seems to me you would have to believe: (1) empirical evidence has already resolved this issue, Pinker is wrong, and Pinker should know he is wrong; or (2) empirical evidence has not resolved this issue, and IT IS NOT EVEN PLAUSIBLE that his statement could be true.

      As to (1) – I doubt that this is the case, but would love to review the evidence if you disagree, and (2) – I don’t think people who might have the intuition that this is not even plausible are being honest or thinking in good faith.

      1. Did you read my whole comment or just the first few sentences? I think you may have misunderstood me.

        I hoped I made it clear in my comment, but if not my position is this: I would have found it a dubious and yes, problematic(hate that word but it has its uses) comment had Pinker tweeted it now, in mid 2020.

        But it turns out it wasn’t tweeted now, it was tweeted three whole years ago. The petition gives the impression that it was tweeted now, at a time of racial ferment. It wasn’t. Therefore I don’t think it’s ‘problematic’.

        I do, however, think it’s wrong – I disagree with its substance. But that’s very different from believing it to be problematic, ie. tasteless/crass/offensive. Which is what it would’ve been had Pinker sent it at the height of a national conversation regarding the murder of a young black man by a white police officer.

    3. I agree.

      I think also that it’s very important in the scientific community to allow people to argue positions you, the speaker, thinks are wrong. Whether you or I agree with Pinker on whether the police target blacks, or what the data means, he needs to be free to argue his positions because that’s the only way we hash these things out.

      The other thing that really struck me is their calling citation “co-option”. Holy hand grenades that’s Orwellian. One of the whole points of citation is to ensure intellectually honest credit is given to the people who did the actual work. To claim that in citing someone’s work, Pinker is “co-opting” it is to flip the scientific process on it’s head and call a good process evil.

      1. > “I think also that it’s very important in the scientific community to allow people to argue…”

        Truer words have rarely been spoken. We need to resist these moralistic, self-righteous crusades no matter where they come from. Science without freedom of thought is doomed.

        > “The other thing that really struck me is their calling citation “co-option”.”

        Indeed. I have received at least a dozen e-mails imploring me to start citing a specific set of scholars (with attached Excel files with names and paper titles) because they’re women, black or LGBT. The argument used in these e-mails is that there has been a systematic attempt to suppress scholarship by these groups, and so right-minded scientists must fight this by citing the scholars mentioned.

        They don’t mention that as soon as you do so, you open yourself up to Orwellian charges of “co-option” and “appropriation”.

        Madness. And profoundly unethical behaviour with regard to the citation farming campaigns.

      2. > “I think also that it’s very important in the scientific community to allow people to argue…”

        Truer words have rarely been spoken! We need to resist these moralistic, self-righteous crusades no matter where they come from. Science without freedom of thought is doomed.

        > “The other thing that really struck me is their calling citation “co-option”.”

        Yes, indeed. I have received at least a dozen e-mails imploring me to start citing a specific set of scholars (with attached Excel files with names and paper titles) because they’re women, black or LGBT. The argument used in these e-mails is that there has been a systematic attempt to suppress scholarship by these groups, and so right-minded scientists must fight this by citing the scholars mentioned.

        They don’t mention that as soon as you do so, you open yourself up to Orwellian charges of “co-option” and “appropriation”.

        Madness. And profoundly unethical behavior with regard to the citation farming campaigns.

  8. Authoritarians seem to have limitless energy to go after the things they abhor. Their behaviour bears a lot of similarity to the fervently religious.

    1. Also, none of them ever seem to have to get up and go to work.

      Wish I had time to engage them constructively (yes, an exercise in futility).

  9. “Purity Posse pursues Pinker” — sorry, boss, nice try, but William Safire already locked up the grand prize for alliteration with the “nattering nabobs of negativity” line he wrote for Spiro Agnew.

    You could still be in the running for the silver medal, though, never can tell.

      1. Hell, maybe I’ve lost a step in the memory dept. But then, back in the day, I tried to ignore Agnew’s existence as much as I could anyway.

        Shoulda looked it up, I reckon, though that woulda seemed sorta like cheatin’. 🙂

  10. While we are on the subject of linguistics (or at least where the object is a linguist), it is worth pointing out what a wonderful tool the dog whistle is. When you seek to interpret your target’s words in the least charitable way as as possible, what better means is there than to accuse them of dog-whistling? By doing so you are implying that they are expressing a hidden meaning which, by the very nature of nature dog-whistling, is impossible to refute. This is thoughtcrime in all but name.

    1. The whole subject of “dog whistles” really irks me.
      It really does seem like the grievance studies people have nothing better to do than construct these bizarre rhetorical arguments to confirm what they apparently need to believe.
      Racist speech or action is becoming increasingly scarce. I did a little informal survey of friends of my kids, young adults residing in the deep south. Almost none of them had ever heard a White person use the N-word, and none of them had heard it used in a derogatory manner.
      So, lacking examples of actual racism, they have invented dog whistles ,unconscious bias, and systemic racism to be outraged about.

      1. Please don’t trash “dog whistling”. Trump has given us some of the very best examples of the art, his classic Obama “birther” claim being the best example. Was it really uncharitable to point out that this had racism behind it, pure and simple? Was Trump really just trying to head off the massive mistake of electing a president that was not born in the US? Or did he have substantive issues with Obama’s platform? The dogs heard that whistle loud and clear and that’s how we got Trump as president.

        1. You are crediting Trump with a kind of verbal subtlety that I have just never seen in his speeches.
          I see him as much more of an unfiltered, stream of consciousness type of speaker.

          I personally think the birther thing that had been going around for years was just believable enough for Trump and a lot of other people to fall for it.
          That does not reflect well on him at all. People who fall for one conspiracy theory are likely to fall for others. But someone with his unfiltered speech, coupled with the horrible racism he has been accused of, would likely have a bunch of unambiguously racist quotes, easily found and published.
          Nobody would need to search for “dog whistles”.

          1. When Trump talks he’s talking to himself. It’s a monologue that to him is like a dialogue. As he talks he builds on what he hears himself saying. A narcissistic sociopath can’t do much else. He’s a linguistic ouroboros.

            1. “He’s a linguistic ouroboros.”

              I love it!

              Yes, the man is incapable of keeping his mouth shut, and that, combined with his certainty that he is always the smartest person in the room, leads to hilarious gaffes like speculating that bleach injections might be a viable treatment for treating patients with COVID-19.

              And, lest anyone think I’m overstating things, here’s the full quote, which of course was an interjection by Trump during a presentation by senior Department of Homeland Security official William Bryan on the research being done:

              “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds—it sounds interesting to me.”

              Of course he interjected. He believes he’s so smart that his thoughts are of nigh-limitless value. He believes he’s so intelligent, so perceptive, so knowledgeable, so great an autodidact that he can immediately understand any issue and speak on it, often with revelatory ideas that would simply never occur to so-called “experts” who have studied medicine for their entire lives!

              1. “his certainty that he is always the smartest person in the room…”. Deep down inside, I’m sure he can’t really think that. I suspect he’s found a way to compensate for his insecurities and has come to embody them fully. But I suspect he knows it’s all a bluff until someone confronts him with the truth.

              2. Oh he thinks and believes it. His insecurities are so far down buried he won’t consciously recognize them at all. He really believes he just understands everything immediately because he’s a genius. I have met way too many of these people but he’s extreme.

              3. I am eagerly awaiting the book(s) collecting tRump’s mouthings if/when he’s out of office.
                I can put them on my bookshelves with the works of Lincoln, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, et al for comparison. He speaks to himself, as you point out, at a level he can understand which may be third grade or less, and his vocabulary is close to nonexistent. Can’t think. Can’t speak. Can’t spell. Can’t write. “Don’t know much about history, biography, biology, etc.” I guess if you’ve never had people around you brave enough to tell you how stupid you are, you’ll never believe it. He’s done a pretty good job of protecting himself from such knowledge by keeping only family and sycophants surrounding him.

              4. I dunno, rickflick. The man is so sure of his intelligence and expertise. He’s lived nothing but a life of luxury and confirmation that he is brilliant from the various lackeys who have surrounded him at times throughout his life. Despite somehow losing money on multiple casinos (that’s a tough thing to do!), he remains obscenely rich because of a combination of his enormous head start, his connections, his ability to get investors simply because his name is Trump, and his rebranding into a reality show host. I think he really is so narcissistic that he believes he’s smarter than everyone else he’s with at any given time.

              5. Note how he referred to himself as clever for getting away with not paying taxes. Complete sociopathic/narcissistic behaviour. He saw the rules and figured a way around them. He doesn’t have a sense of right and wrong and empathy to guide him, just the rules and his ability to skirt them.

              6. BJ, it’s an interesting question. I suppose psychologists will study the guy for a long time to come. Maybe shrinks will get a chance for some prison interviews later on and be able to paint a better picture of the man’s ailments.

              7. “He’s a linguistic ouroboros.”

                Trump is also a linguistic oozlum bird — the mythical one-winged avian that flies in ever-tighter circles until it eventually disappears up its own asshole.

              8. That clip will become the administration’s most amusing and revealing legacy, remembered and enjoyed for decades. Children will include it in history assignments. He’s a stream of consciousness thinker.

          2. Trump didn’t just “fall” for Birtherism; he actively promoted it time and time again, telling a pack of lies about it, such as that he had a team of investigators in Hawaii who were finding out damning facts regarding Obama’s birth and that he had received crucial information from highly placed (yet unnamed) sources within the US government personally disclosing to him that Obama had been born in Kenya.

            What was it in your view, Max, that made Birtherism “just believable enough” to give it some credence?

            It was naught but bullshit, pure and simple — just as it was naught but racist, pure and simple. That those who promoted it tried to cover with a thin veneer of even more bullshit is why some might call it a “dog-whistle.”

            Birtherism is also what gave Donald Trump his initial toehold in Republican presidential politics, providing him with his initial hardcore base that carried him through the early 2016 Republican primaries with their crowded field of 17 candidates.

            The “dog whistle” has been a mainstay of racist politics since the likes of George Wallace stopped speaking overtly of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” and instead turned their invective toward “welfare queens” and “forced busing” and “law and order.”

            1. What was Poppy Bush’s “Willy Horton” ad if not a “dog whistle”?

              What was Ronald Reagan’s kicking off his 1980 post-convention campaign with an appearance at the county fair in Neshoba County, Mississippi (site of the infamous lynchings of civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Andrew Goodman) to give a stem-winding speech in support of “states’ rights,” if not a “dog whistle”?

              1. I did not know about Ronald Reagan’s choice of venue and it’s significance. I always thought of him as primarily a promoter of free enterprise and small government. But, after Nixon, I guess the party of Lincoln had discovered a path to power they couldn’t turn down, and that Lincoln wouldn’t recognize.


      Loury suggests that policing strategic messaging is unavoidable. I’m going to suppose the problem lies more with echo chambers in C. Thi Nguyen’s sense:

      i.e. “In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined.” Further facilitated via social media repetition among people who maybe glossed over the article and rarely if ever read a relevant book or paper. “I didn’t read the article but here’s my opinion anyway”

  11. Dr Pinker has produced a solid body of work providing clear evidence of where he stands in this highly emotive field of race and inequality. To judge him on twitter chirps is unhelpful.

  12. I meant to write “by the very nature of dog-whistling” not “by the very nature of nature dog-whistling”. Although its probably a hidden message..

  13. Pinker is not only a great scholar. He also has an outstanding ability to survive in the academy despite having controversial views and expressing them.

    Yet I expect that he will be kicked out of the LSA within days and that soon after Harvard University will restrict his opportunities further.

    Hopefully he can elude the red guards, though they would not let him go even if he confessed imaginary thought crimes.

    To defend him, commentators naturally resort to disproving the charges against him, which implies that they are legitimate and that wokeism is totally acceptable if only we were practicing it as it was understood a few years ago.

    Alas, it is very sad to see Pinker cancelled. I am horrified by the realization that there is no effective opposition and that things will probably get much worse in the coming years.

    1. I am pretty sure that Harvard won’t punish him at all. Woke as they can be, they can’t afford to tarnish one of their stars, even on this nonexistent “evidence.”

      If the LSA kicks him out, it would be shameful, and I, for one, will kick their butts!

      1. The real danger here isn’t to Pinker — he is tenured and one of the most established scholars around — but to anyone of lower status who holds similar views. Campaigns like this might not be able to “cancel” Pinker, but they could cancel non-tenured professors, people employed in other places, politicians, students, etc. We’re being put on notice: “These views are not acceptable. Do not associate yourself with them or with people like Pinker, or we might just come after you.” The wider movement of which this letter is a part is already having a severe chilling effect, and it seems like that effect will continue growing in the near future.

        All we can hope for is that enough people become fed up and are willing to push back publicly, but established and respected people like you will have to lead the charge because us lesser voices with less secure positions in society might not always be willing to risk it. I know most people don’t agree with this kind of BS. The majority of people I know are lifelong Democratic voters and extremely liberal, and none of them like what’s going on.

      2. Ceiling Cat Almighty I hope you’re right!

        I underestimated this movement from the start, thinking it was too ridiculous and therefore would not gather enough support to achieve anything…
        But then came the “deplatformings”, “cancelations”, etc., and I thought that would instead create a backlash of “reasonableness” that would vanquish this silliness, but wrong again.

        If they get a man like Pinker… holy s#!t!

        What a tiny minority, a handful of important bureaucratic positions, and a virtual megaphone can – and could! – do.

      3. As embarrassing as the letter is (for those who wrote it), it will carry little weight with the LSA, as there was no vetting of membership status for those who signed it (I was surprised to see some prominent names on there but those people have stated on social media that their names were inserted without their consent). In addition, the letter is not calling for Pinker to be booted from the LSA but to have his status as an LSA Fellow and media consultant revoked.

        1. > “I was surprised to see some prominent names on there but those people have stated on social media that their names were inserted without their consent”

          Could you point us to any cases of that? Because that would be a bombshell.

            1. Yes, Ray Jackenoff (sic) was there but appears to have been taken down. Promoters of the letter are claiming that “trolls” were responsible for adding prominent linguists’ names.

  14. “I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.”

    Christopher Hitchens

    1. It’s such a shame that we lost Hitchens when we did. Oh, what I would give to have him around these last few years railing against these petty totalitarians.

  15. I’m hopeful the saner heads in the LSA will denounce this egregious attack on Pinker. What rubbish! What poor scholarship! It’s as if they think “Enlightenment” meant making society lighter skinned.

  16. In more than one of their podcasts, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heyring comment that Evergreen is all around us now. The grad students who probably concccted the letter were all undergrads during the recent sweep of woke fashions out of Evergreen/Oberlin.
    Earlier fashion sweeps include Angry Birds, Pokemon, baseball caps worn backwards, and, back in the 1600s, witch trials in Britain and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The latter fashion seems to be enjoying a resurgence.

    In the early 1600s, there was at least a countervailing trend, epitomized by the Accedmia dei Lincei founded in 1603. With its most prominent member Galileo Galilei, it explicitly upheld the empirical, scientific
    viewpoint. Despite the superficial lip service paid to “science” today, we are still in need of individuals, like Steven Pinker, as willing to champion rationality as the Linceans were in their time.

    1. ‘Despite the superficial lip service paid to “science” today, we are still in need of individuals, like Steven Pinker, as willing to champion rationality as the Linceans were in their time.’

      I wonder if the (U.S.) National Science Teachers Association ever considered inviting Drs. Pinker, Coyne, Dawkins et al to speak at the below event:

      “Teaching About Social Justice Science Issues in a Time of Protest and Pandemic

      The coronavirus pandemic has exposed gaps in U.S. science education. Our curricula have not been prioritizing learning about the relationships between issues of social justice and scientific phenomena, like the inequitable impact of the pandemic or environmental degradation. Meanwhile, powerful protests against anti-blackness have made more and more science educators aware of the need to enact anti-racist science teaching. Discussion centers on principles and examples of teaching about Social Justice Science Issues (SJSI) in high school science courses, introductory college science courses, and in preservice science teacher education.”

  17. Unfortunately for Pinker, there is no room for nuance anymore, so his explanations will fall on deaf ears (not that he needed to explain himself, as its been made clear that he was completely misrepresented here). As George W. Bush once said, “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” the terrorists here being anyone who opposes the excesses of the “woke.”

    “In truth, Pinker as a public figure is hard to distinguish from Pinker the academic, for in both academia and in public he conveys the same message, one of progress (albeit with setbacks) and material and moral improvement, always using data to support this upward-bending arc of morality. And in both spheres he emphasizes the importance of secularism and reason as the best—indeed, the only—way to attain this progress.”

    And this is something the woke really can’t stand: the idea that the values of The Enlightenment have been one of, if not the prime mover behind the explosive expansion of liberties, individual rights, the ending of slavery, the incredible pace of growth in material comfort and security, the spread of democracy, and so much more over the last several centuries. And an emphasis on reason is another thing the woke hate. Reason requires that we research problems in order to find solutions, rather than rely on emotions, anecdata, and “other ways of knowing.”

      1. It does have a nice ring to it, right? Although I hope that using “ring” in that last sentence and my use of the phrase “fall on deaf ears” in my original comment will not forever tarnish me as an ableist.

  18. ‘…we set aside questions of Dr. Pinker’s tendency to…’ means, as far as I can tell, ‘but we’ll smear him with these insinuations anyhow.’

    Even I, who have never read anything of Pinker’s other than what has appeared on this website over the years, detected misrepresentation and contentious distortion by going to two of the letter’s supporting links.

    One consequence of the letter and PCC(e)’s robust response is that Enlightenment Now has moved from my One Of Those Books I’ll Get Round To Reading One Day list to a request 30 minutes ago for it from my local library.

  19. I’m sensing there’s a lot of blow back building against these Woke efforts to tar all white people with the racism brush and to “cancel” people like Pinker. As has been noted here and elsewhere, up until the last couple of years this movement seemed to mostly be about deplatforming far right from campus events so not many cared to argue with them. Now that these attitudes are reaching a wider audience, it is starting to really bug people.

    Probably most people don’t care about whether Pinker loses his LSA position and awards. However, there are two things they really do care about:

    1. Woke attitudes are seen as partly to blame for Trump in 2016 and there are fears for 2020. They paint a huge target on the Left that the Right can fling mud at.

    2. There is a chance that the recent demonstrations about BLM, George Floyd’s murder, and racism will result in meaningful reform. The protestations by the Woke jeopardize that by alienating allies, desiring to throw everything out and start over, and their “if it isn’t perfect, it’s racist” attitude.

    While resistance is building, they won’t go easily. Their ability to shame businesses and educational institutions will be hard to dislodge. And their inroads into MSM are particularly obnoxious. I am hoping they get their “Have you no shame, sir” moment soon.

  20. Chrissake, we Lefties were always criticized by the Right for being pie-in-the-sky meliorists — ever since this nation’s founding, and even before that in Jolly Old Blighty — for believing, as the Liverpudlian lads put it, that things are getting better all the time (or at least most of the time, a-few-steps-forward-an-occasional-step-back style).

    You’d think that would be cause to rejoice. Instead, we have poor Pinker perpetually pummeled by pedantic peons for providing proof (as long as we’re doing the plosive “P”, pick-a-peck-of-pickled-peppers style, alliteration thing today).

    1. I can understand why those fighting racism, climate change, etc. wouldn’t like someone saying that things are good and getting better all the time. Pinker is obviously aware of it too. Unfortunately, he’s trying to make nuanced, fact-based arguments at a time when so many people are looking for simple yes/no answers. (Actually, it’s probably always been this way. Nuance always has trouble convincing an audience.)

    2. You’re really going for some wordsmithing prizes today, eh, Ken?

      I think you’ve likely already won all the prizes for this site’s comments section. If anyone ever created a writing contest for the predominantly prudent pundits and poets of this publication’s participants, I’d place my pennies on your probing patter.

  21. The wokerati now have their sights on The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.
    Adam Rutherford (frequently on the BBC, race and gender don’t really exist etc) responding to a recent Lawrence Krauss defense of science.

    “Y’see, the ‘Scientific Revolution’ – like ‘The Enlightenment’ – is a problematic post hoc term – and is in many ways inseparable from the Age of Empire, European expansion, colonialism – an age of Plunder and exploitation.”

    Quite, quite mad.

  22. I think this may be the correct link to the no longer valid google link in item 4. This link states that 77% of murders in 2012 were of males. This would support Mr. Pinker’s point about the claim being “statistically obtuse.”

  23. What is utterly unsurprising in this Goebbelsian petition is the signatories themselves. Hundreds of unremarkable PHd candidates, activists and other low-status academic types. Our university machine is churning out too many unexceptional graduates (in areas precisely like linguistics) who cannot find productive/well paid work in their fields, so resort to bullying and greivance mongering to feel validated. Genuflecting to an impossible ideal of moral correctitude is also a way to advance themselves in their wildly left-leaning institutions. This is hateful, self-serving, political posturing. Nothing more. Fortunately they’ve outed themselves – and we have their names – for when the pendulum swings the other way.

  24. I read this post and the comments earlier today, and have sort of been thinking about it ever since.
    We really need people like Dr. Pinker to speak freely if we are to have a free society.
    We especially need people like him if we are to actually address issues like police violence. I keep hearing activists saying that they just want to have a dialog, but a discussion in this case means actually looking objectively at the data.
    I suspect the claims about wanting to have a dialog are really just them saying what they assume sounds reasonable, but not at all what they really desire.

  25. This strikes me as nothing more than ugly middle school bullying dressed up in self-righteousness. The same people who get their rocks off by starting mean girl (or guy) rumors about someone just to prove they have the power to turn others against them, can now pretend it’s a moral crusade by proclaiming to the masses that some past statement was not sufficiently supportive of minorities, or was probably a secret ‘dog whistle’. Of course with criteria that broad literally any statement can potentially qualify, which is the point – this is no better than just starting a nasty rumor about someone for the heck of it.

  26. First Steve Hsu, now Steven Pinker. Both are staunch defenders of IQ research. I am curious why Pinker was not attacked for this.

    It is interesting to note that a large chunk of the linguistics department at Queen Mary College in London signed this stupid letter.

    1. And who was the machine learning/AI expert from Google who was recently brought before the mob for having the temerity to suggest that it wasn’t ML/AI itself that was problematic, but the data sets?

      Of course, we could go on and on making these lists, but he sprang to mind when I read your post. He deviated so very slightly from the narrative, but was mobbed nonetheless. One would think that saying, “we may lack the diversity to feed the machines properly comprehensive datasets” would be uncontroversial to the woke, but it fell just outside of the narrative that ALL AI/ML is infected with white supremacy and thus illegitimate and in need of oversight by the Committee On RightThink, as is every other scientific discipline.

      1. The twist here is that the data *is* the code in an ANN, in a way that is not true of other approaches. So data bias *becomes* algorithmic bias. (There are also algorithmic bias worries with some of these techniques as well, as it happens, like statistical prejudice.)

  27. On Wiki, Linguistics Society of America either has 3500 or 3600 members. If all the signers of the document we read here are members, that’s roughly 10%.

    I don’t know how much benefit it would do Dr. Pinker if some of the thousands of us on this site were to write in his support, but here is the web site:

  28. Bravo for posting this Jerry. This defense is vital work, yet I’m sorry that so much aggregate mental energy has to be wasted on bullies like these. I’m embarrassment for everyone on that signature list.


  29. What strikes me about Woke hypersensitivity to mentions of crime — mainly gun violence — in cities is that the ideologues who insist on suppressing any discussion of this problem reveal that they do not care who or how many are dying — even if victims are children under 10. From comfortable offices in safe neighborhoods, these zealots shout down even black folks who live in dangerous areas and who work to reduce violence and save lives.

    We saw this dynamic play out in the recent “controversy” over journalist Lee Fang’s interview with a guy from Oakland, who had suggested that the current protests also offered an opportunity to talk about reducing murder. This idea was quickly deemed unspeakable, and one of Fang’s black co-workers publicly blasted him. Of course, that co-worker does not go home each night to a street where bullets may break the windows at any time, so she has the luxury of worry most about looking righteous, while other people die.

    1. BLM activists want to fight white-on-black police misconduct, whites calling the police on suspicious black individuals and other instances where whites make their lives more uncomfortable.

      Fighting crime in black communities is not only unimportant, but actively harms their objectives. After all, most of the revered BLM martyrs turn out to be vicious criminals and that does not bother them in the least. For all I know, the police is not viewed as legitimate in high-crime black areas and a no-snitch-code prevails at all costs. If 30% of African-American males have felony records, better policing might soon incarcerate the majority of men who live there. It would deprive the rest of exciting lives in exchange for a better chance to get a dull low-status job like cleaner. After most of the community knew someone who recently ended up in jail because of the new approach, how could community leaders keep their positions? Much better to focus on the danger of getting killed by a white police officer.

      Now the parents of that eight-year toddler disagree with them, but how could they not after losing a child? Old ladies in their area will probably disagree, too. But young men will not (and neither will their girlfriends) and they are what this issue is all about.

  30. Your ruined a perfectly good alliteration by sticking “The” in front of the headline. 🙂

  31. Pretty outrageous. Reminiscent of the Greenwalding of Sam Harris to accuse him of advocating a nuclear first strike on Iran based on a transparently duplicitous quote-mining of a passage in “The End of Faith” where Sam points to the danger of a US nuclear first strike posed by the possibility of true believers in Islamic dogma acquiring nuclear weapons.

    1. Partee did a nice analysis. Pretty much confirms that Pinker was reasonable and the petition is a crock.

    2. A really good response. I’m glad people are addressing this letter in a reasoned way.

      Fraudulently adding signatures certainly suggests the writers approached this entire exercise in bad faith and even without the rest of the evidence (which is very clear if you simply read the referenced articles).

      It depresses me that people go after Steven Pinker in this way. He is such a mild mannered person and seems to approach his work and others in such a genuine way. I can only conclude that those that heap nastiness on him are simply jealous and that’s what depresses me. Petty humans doing what petty humans do – making the world that much more difficult for all of us.

      1. As I told a friend, I think Pinker is a bit too capitalist friendly, and he should really talk to some philosophers of computing and IT security people on the dangers of AI (for example), but he’s certainly not a bigot. He’s again like what I said about Barack Obama – a guy you can *discuss* with, and figure out more of where you agree and disagree with. (Or such is my impression, in both cases.)

  32. “The letter shows no familiarity with Pinker’s work…”

    As we’ve seen, it doesn’t matter what person the statue represents, what he did in life, or whether he was a friend of foe — it is a statue, it is prominent, and therefore it must be felled, to show our power.

  33. If this conversation is needed then obviously Steven Pinker doesn’t do very well with 140 characters. And that’s not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with writing a book, a long form essay or keeping your own blog. Just stay off twitter.

    1. No, the problem is that people trawl through Twitter looking for things to be offended about. Nobody can tweet about controversial issues without starting a conflagration, and in this case it’s not Pinker’s fault, but those who deliberately misinterpreted his tweets.

      1. Yes, I agree. Staying off Twitter is giving in to these clowns. They’ll follow you wherever you go so getting off Twitter won’t solve anything. You would just be ceding territory to them.

        1. But they didn’t follow him wherever he went. All the accusations were from Twitter. They didn’t read his books or his scientific papers. This is my point: academics, intellectuals et. al should just stay off Twitter, and make of point of declaring that if you want to know what I think, read their personal blog, long form essays, scientific papers or 300 page books.

          1. ” . . . if you want to know what I think, read their personal blog, long form essays, scientific papers or 300 page books.”

            But wouldn’t that render them less “accessible” (a term used with increasing frequency in the NY Times) to the majority of humans? (sarcasm)

            In my view, “accessible” is “dumbing down” and anti-intellectualism/intellectual laziness.

  34. But they didn’t follow him wherever he went. All the accusations were from Twitter. They didn’t read his books or his scientific papers. This is my point: academics, intellectuals et. al should just stay off Twitter, and make of point of declaring that if you want to know what they think, read their personal blog, long form essays, scientific papers or 300 page books.

  35. Just an idea, but if all of the signatories of the open letter are so eager to denounce people, might it be a reasonable idea to keep their list in mind and for other academics etc. to be wary of working with such people – 1) so they don’t get “knifed” for some supposedly offensive remark, 2) because the ridiculousness of the claims in the open letter do not speak well of the signatories’ intellectual capabilities, and mainly 3) to dissuade people from making public denunciations?

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