VICE tries desperately to smear Steve Pinker

September 3, 2020 • 10:15 am

The very title of this VICE Motherboard piece (click on screenshot below) is part of a multifaceted attempt to smear Steve Pinker, calling him a “free speech crusader” who nevertheless has blocked people on Twitter who connected his name with Epstein.

And the smear continues in the first paragraph, implying that somehow this blocking is abrogating people’s free speech:

Harvard professor and author Steven Pinker, who previously railed against “cancel culture,” is blocking anyone on Twitter who mentions his connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was charged with organizing a child sex trafficking ring before being found dead in his jail cell shortly after his arrest last year.

Note the double mention already of “free speech” and opposition to “cancel culture,” all of which is meant to imply that Pinker is somehow hypocritical in blocking people on his Twitter feed. But that is ludicrous. Favoring free speech does not mean that people have the right to defame you on your own Twitter site, or say whatever they want on your platform. For that’s what the tweets connecting Pinker and Epstein are all about—just another attempt to take down Pinker by implying that he was complicit in Epstein’s sex trafficking and abuse of underaged girls.

Pinker explained his connection to Epstein earlier on this site, and it wasn’t a very close connection. He also explained one thing he did for which he is sorry:

In the interests of full disclosure, there was another connection. Alan Dershowitz and I are friends and colleagues, and we taught a course together at Harvard. He often asks me questions about syntax and semantics of laws, most recently the impeachment statute. While he was representing Epstein, he asked me about the natural interpretation of one of the relevant laws, and I offered my opinion; this was cited in a court document. I did it as a favor to a friend and colleague, not as a paid expert witness, but I now regret that I did so. And needless to say I find Epstein’s behavior reprehensible.

As someone who was on O. J. Simpson’s defense team as an expert witness (also unpaid), I can’t be arsed to criticize this: everybody deserves a fair trial, even those accused of odious crimes—especially those accused of odious crimes.

At any rate, a colleague of Steve’s offered to flag accounts that connected Pinker and Epstein, and then manually blocked the flagged ones. Pinker notes that “the colleague doesn’t block anyone for criticizing or disagreeing with something I’ve written.”

And as far as the “right” to defame Pinker on his own Twitter site, Steve responds this way, and with a classic Jewish joke:

“I’ve been told that people are now bitching and moaning about this, but no one has a First Amendment right to post something on Steven Pinker’s Twitter feed,” Pinker wrote to Motherboard. “If someone wants to smear me personally, they have plenty of channels; to whine that I’m not offering them my platform has to be a new definition of “chutzpah,” after the man who killed his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.”

Then the article continues the smear:

Pinker’s numerous interactions in Epstein’s orbit have long been the subject of reporting and speculation.

. . . In 2019, Pinker tweeted that in 2002 his literary agent introduced him to Epstein, who cultivated a network of elite intellectuals and academics. Sometimes those intellectuals spoke or appeared at Epstein-financed Edge Foundation events, other times they hung out at Epstein’s island (or estates), and other times they entertained Epstein’s hare-brained schemes like freezing his head and penis and “seed[ing] the human race with his DNA.” Pinker seems to have been involved with Edge speaking events as far back as 2011, and appears in a photo from one of the Edge “‘Billionaires’ Dinners,” which Epstein has attended, in 2003.

The Edge Foundation events are run by Steve’s agent (and mine), John Brockman, who invited Pinker and Epstein to some of them. Steve’s involvement with Edge is because Brockman is his agent, and that has nothing to do with Epstein. Notice, though, how VICE tries to use Edge to connect Pinker and Epstein (yes, they did appear at the same event and were photographed together). But as Steve explained on this site:

But Epstein had insinuated himself with so many people I intersected with (Alan Dershowitz, Martin Nowak, John Brockman, Steve Kosslyn, Lawrence Krauss) and so many institutions he helped fund (Harvard’s Program in Evolutionary Dynamics, ASU’s Origins Project, even Harvard Hillel) that I often ended up at the same place with him. (Most of these gatherings were prior to the revelation of his sex crimes, such as the 2002 plane trip to TED with Dawkins, Dennett, the Brockmans, and others, but Krauss’s Origins Project Meeting came after he served his sentence.) Since I was often the most recognizable person in the room, someone would snap a picture; some of them resurfaced this past week, circulated by people who disagree with me on various topics and apparently believe that the photos are effective arguments.

I haven’t asked Steve how many times he actually met Epstein at Harvard, but VICE doesn’t know either; it just implies that they were connected because Epstein had an honorary position in Martin Nowak’s evolution group at the school (Nowak’s being investigated for this). Pinker and Epstein were at one of Nowak’s events, and that’s all I know. As VICE notes:

There are more [photos] in 2004 of Pinker with Epstein at an event at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PEDS). Pinker wrote to Motherboard that “[t]he director of the Program, Professor Martin Nowak, invited me, and he also invited Epstein. I had nothing to do with Epstein being there.”

According to a report by Harvard University, Epstein visited the campus over a dozen times, was a visiting fellow at one point, and had an office there—after he was convicted of procuring a minor for prostitution in 2008—and donated $9.2 million to the university, $6.5 million of which went to PEDS.

The “over a dozen times” is irrelevant to Epstein’s connection to Pinker, as it’s certain that Steve didn’t see Epstein constantly on campus, much less interact with him.

And there’s the fact that Pinker flew on Epstein’s jet to a TED conference and a dinner held by John Brockman in Monterrey, California. Note that they give the plane the name “The Lolita Express”, as it’s been dubbed by the media. But Epstein was accused of trafficking in underaged girls and having sex with minors in Florida (where he was convicted), and in New York, New Mexico, and the Virgin Islands, not California. But there’s no flight record that Pinker went to those places on Epstein’s dime, nor visited Epstein’s private island in the Virgin Islands.

Finally, VICE mentions this from an unsealed manuscript by one of the underaged girls trafficked by Epstein:

In an unsealed manuscript written by Virginia Giuffre—one of the main survivors of Epstein’s trafficking ring to come forward—Giuffre says she was forced to sleep with a Harvard professor named “Stephen,” his last name redacted, and described him as “a quirky little man with white hair and a mad scientist look about him.” Pinker’s name is spelled “Steven” with a ‘v.’ Another Harvard professor, Stephen Kosslyn, who once taught Pinker, has been tied to Epstein; Kosslyn is bald, with white hair on the sides of his head. Kosslyn does not appear in any known Epstein flight logs.

Pinker said he is not the “Stephen” in Giuffre’s manuscript and wrote “This was not me. I’ve never set foot on Epstein’s island nor any of his other properties. I spell my name ‘Steven,’ and there are Harvard professors named ‘Stephen’ who do have a connection with Epstein. This is not to say that Giuffre’s accusations are true, just that they are not about me.”

I downloaded the pdf file of Giuffre’s manuscript, and, unwilling to read 72 pages, I searched for “Stephen”, “quirky little man” and “mad scientist”, and didn’t find anything. Perhaps readers can find the part that VICE mentions.  At any rate, yes, Pinker has white hair, but he’s not “quirky”, and I, at least, don’t think he looks like a “mad scientist”. If this incident took place in the Virgin Islands, Pinker apparently didn’t go there. If it did and he did and is guilty as charged, well, the law will find that out, but I’m betting against it.

So what we have is evidence that Pinker was at events that Epstein attended, gave unpaid legal advice in a case against Epstein (which Pinker regrets), and flew on Epstein’s jet once, but only to California. The rest is speculation without evidence. Why is VICE indulging in this? I suspect mainly because VICE is woke and the woke media dislike Pinker intensely.

Epstein was of course an odious sexual predator (he killed himself in prison). But there’s no evidence that Pinker had anything more than a tangential connection with the man. As the evidence against Epstein continues to accumulate, now through his associate Ghislaine Maxwell, imprisoned and awaiting trial, we’ll find out what happened. Until then, the smearing will continue.

I’m often jealous of Steve, and have told him so, as his brain just keeps pouring out excellent books, and he writes like a dream. But it’s at times like these that I don’t think I’d want to change places with him. It can’t be fun to have people going after you all the time, either with no evidence or for things so trivial—like the tweets mentioned in the infamous letter to the Linguistics Society of America—that they’re like gnat bites: annoying but not serious.

57 thoughts on “VICE tries desperately to smear Steve Pinker

    1. Someone must have pointed this out already, but the redacted word on p. 59 can’t be “Pinker”. It’s the last word in the sentence followed by a full stop. And the space between “Stephen” and the redacted word is not blacked out. Comparing to the lines above and below, given the font, the redacted word is at least 7 or 8 letters, not 6. Is this really the best VICE can do?

  1. You state Epstein committed suicide but the forensic evidence suggests murder instead. As one who taught clinical anatomy and forensic biology for many years I say murder not suicide

      1. Hey, those Clintons, they’re droppin’ bodies all over town, including, of course, Vince Foster and Seth Rich.

        I’m not bothering with an emoji on this one.

      2. Not so! Epstein was murdered by the Illuminati, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Rothschild family all working hand in hand. Aliens were probably involved too, but don’t quote me on that.

          1. Soros’ love children? Of course they’re invovlved. Where do you think Trump got the idea of a family dynasty of power from?

      1. Donald Trump expressed doubts that Epstein killed himself.

        Notwithstanding the fact that everything Trump says has to be treated with caution (because he lies all the time), Trump also had an association with Epstein and may therefore have a motive to have him bumped off.

        Just saying.

  2. I’ve always thought Pinker looks like a rock star, not a mad scientist. If he were to stand next to Brian May (who happens to have a PhD in Astrophysics), they would look like band-mates. Definitely no mad scientist vibe going on.

  3. So, everything that Epstein contributed money to is now suspect as well. If this principle were applied to other reprobates, there would be rather broad cultural consequences. Think of all the art and music commissioned by the notorious reprobates of the Medici family.

    For that matter, Duke Cosimo II de Medici was also the patron of Galileo, exemplar of experimental science and founder of what we now call Physics. If unsavory patronage makes anything beyond the pale, there is a lot of Western civilization to be cancelled. [Maybe that is the whole idea.]

    1. So, everything that Epstein contributed money to is now suspect as well.

      That’s a straight-up, no flexibility “yes” from the “woke”. Remembering too that for the woke, “suspect” ≡ (is identical to) “convicted”.

      For that matter, Duke Cosimo II de Medici was also the patron of Galileo,

      Well, that’s the mechanics which Newton extended out of the window, and we can get rid of Einstein too. What’s left? Biology? Psychology? Stamp collecting? And the magic of the Internet.
      How do those planets stay up in the air?

  4. Giuffre … described him as “a quirky little man with white hair and a mad scientist look about him.”

    In physical description (and at least tangential academic affiliation, though not name) the person sounds more like Pinker’s old bête noire from The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier. 🙂

  5. I have no reason to doubt Pinker, and I think these smears based on sketchy “evidence” are reprehensible, but the spelling of “Stephen” and the description of him as having a “mad scientist look” are hardly exculpatory.

    If his alleged victim had only heard his name, she’d just as likely spell it Stephen as she would Steven, especially if she had known other Stephens.

    And a “mad scientist look” is pretty much exactly how I’d expect a young teenager to describe an older man with a mane of white hair. Think Doc Brown in the Back to the Future movies. She was older when she wrote the account, presumably, but that impression would stick with her.

    1. As a (fmr) defense attorney I’m not sure taking Ms. V.G.’s word as gospel is necessarily a good idea. She seems like a profiteer to me.

      This is a personal opinion, not a legal one, though I’d like to see some firm collaborative *evidence* beyond one person’s testimony before I got out the torches and pitchforks for Prof Pinker.

      In the pubic’s eye the burden of proof tends to go down as the outrage of the crime goes up, in lockstep.

      D.A., J.D., NYC

  6. I am inclined to believe Mr. Pinker since the evidence of any wrong doing is so weak. I may be wrong and more damning evidence may be uncovered. If that happens I will lose respect for Mr. Pinker. What I won’t do, though, is lose respect for his work which I think stands on it own. I will even retain some respect for the man who produced such work even while being saddened and disgusted by his moral failings. Fortunately, right now, I have no reason to doubt him.

        1. Who are you, what have you done with Jerry, and who is feeding the ducks?

          Having been threatened this afternoon by man-eating sheep with a hungry glint in their eye … I think we know what the new duck food flavour is.

  7. Let me ofter a helicopter view. The problem, if there is one, resides not with intellectuals like Steven Pinker (irrespective of whether you agree or disagree with his views, to which he is of course entitled), but with billionaires having systemically eaten their way into intellectual life and the world of charity.

  8. I tend to think that, if you were associated with Epstein before 2006 when the accusations against him first came to light, you can’t be guilty by association.

    If these people think that Pinker was actually involved in Epstein’s crimes, they need to say so and produce their evidence.

  9. There’s a tweet that directly claims Pinker is complicit.

    Does anyone know if doing that crosses the line into defamation? (Isn’t ‘complicity’ a legal term implying that one is an accomplice, aiding and abetting?)

    The tweet strikes me as different than those posting links and memes in that it DIRECTLY claims complicity.

    Here it is. It’s by Angela Rasmussen, who has over 160,000 followers. (The tweet was retweeted by Jonathan Eisen):

    Should it be reported?

    1. Reported to whom?
      I don’t know American practice, but British slander/ libel practice requires the slandered/ libelled person to be the one who launches a suit.
      Whether the punitive costs of defending an action in Britain are still an issue in choosing where to mount one’s retaliation, I don’t know.

      1. Thanks — you asked ‘Reported to whom?’

        I meant should it be reported on Twitter for violating rules. Is it not a form of targeted harassment to spread that someone is **complicit in a crime**? (Implying guilt-by-association is a step down from DIRECTLY claiming someone is complicit.)

        1. I’m sure Pinker (and his agent’s social media support staff, in all probability) will have done those reports already. IME, Twitter don’t give a faecal pellet about such things – it drums up the eyeball-seconds for them to sell to their advertisers.

  10. This article is incredible. It’s very common that critics of the “freedom of speech crusaders” do not understand the argument in its most basic outline. Even that strongly smells of mendacity. They say “cancel culture” doesn’t exist, and if does, it’s a good thing. They say that nobody had a right to be free of “consequences”, which is an extreme strawman already. It’s preposterous to believe any serious person would advocate for no consequences whatsoever. The argument is rather which consequences are acceptable or even normal, and which veer into censorship, anti-pluralism and tyranny of the majority. I understand that the definition of cancel culture can be difficult and controversial, but it should be possible to see the contours of what is meant.

    It requires a bit more intellectual curiosity to also consider proportion (the magnitude of a transgression), the unpredictable nature of social media, trends, clickbait, online abuse, mob behavours, how defacto public spaces are privately owned and much more. It is a depressing reality that journalists, yes, broad brush, are either unwilling or incapable to look into the matter in a more serious way, especially as these questions have some of the most important implications. There are a few exceptions. Vice, categorically, is not one of them.

    My first problem is that this trolling — it cannot be anything else — is not even entertaining. The second problem is that such commentary now comes disguised as “left wing” from people who are employed by mega corporations that have their tentacles everywhere and are furthest removed from an actual left wing in politics. Vice is owned by Canada’s richest guy (who founded it), Disney and a few others.

    What’s incredible here is that this take is even dumber than usual, and that strains credulity altogether. Does the author Edward Ongweso Jr seriously believe that criticism of cancel culture means that Steven Pinker must now read everything that floats in his direction and that declining to entertain abuse and trolling is hypocritical? A large part of cancel culture <iis online abuse, and it is precisely done to make the experience as unenjoyable as possible in the hopes the person is driven off the platform. That is an aspect cancel culture, and was early on the reason why the moniker “social justice warrior” was given to proponents of cancel culture, not an opposite.

    The article is such incredible that it inadvertently exposes itself as a drive-by attempt of character assassination, to further the online abuse against Steven Pinker, link him more to Epstein and by floating conspiracy theories about his involvement. The whole tendentious part about an anonymous “Stephen” gives it away as a unsubtle smear job of the kind where someone wallows in feces and tries to rub it off on somebody else.

    1. This article aside, given that the originally discussed criticism of Steven Pinker asked that he not be honored by the Linguistic Society of America, and not be listed as the primary media consultant, because his work does not follow the principles that they have set as crucial to linguistic research (all the while saying that he is welcome to attend events, join the community etc), is that the kind of consequences a reasonable person could espouse?

      1. Sorry, but I don’t think anyone could read the original letter to the LSA against Pinker as primarily being about his body of work not be in accord with what’s happening in linguistics today.

        A reasonable person would see their “criticism” for what it was: an attack on someone.

      2. Yes, a society can decide that someone is not meeting some requirements and of course are free to act on this. Where it gets thorny is when they enlist the (semi) public as an amplifier. When criticism becomes an open game, everybody can find something. It quickly becomes at least a flame war, which is then sold as a “culture war”. This dishonest play is now the main “culture journalism”: the woke heavily advertise themselves as “the left”, much like the postmodernists before them, and even louder shout from rooftops that anyone who hasn’t their exact view is at least far right. More dishonestly, the open nature and “culture war” narrative is used to charge up the situation much more, but allegedly it’s actually about for something highly specific concerning one society and its specific rules.

  11. So, let me get this straight.

    VICE is confusing freedom of speech with the ability of Twitter trolls being able to harass people on social media…? I had to double check this article wasn’t written by notorious hack and pro-harasser Phil Torres.

    I saw some of those trolls, many antisemitic and abusive, who would “respond” below Pinker’s tweets. In fact one of them had set up a bot/troll account to retweet random links to people “dunking” on Pinker whatever Pinker himself tweeted. When Pinker set his tweets so that only those he followed could reply, this bot/troll account was crying.

    Pathetic, really.

  12. I have seen people who look like a mad scientist, and I have also seen people who look like they had been mad scientists in the past, but now look sane. Look around you. They are everywhere.

      1. Those were some kick ass boots S.P. was sporting. heheheh You could see JAC really envious.

        I think JAC has boot envy!

        Oh… also… on the file… pick any random born in the 1950s in Nth America guy and you’ll probably find a Steven or a Stephen. He’d joked about it himself!
        D.A., NYC

  13. I just scanned the PDF Jerry posted and also did not find any mention of any “Stephen” nor “mad scientist”. However, documents similar to this one have been circling widely online for about a year. There’s a Reddit feed that uses it to claim Pinker had a sex slave.

    This implies that either the one Jerry found is the real one and someone maliciously redacted it to make the world think Pinker was accused (the version with the story of a “mad scientist” Harvard professor with white hair named “Stephen” has circulated widely) or that the copy Jerry found has been swiped.

    1. In fact, Jonathan Eisen tweeted (including RTs) around 30 times against Pinker in the last day.

      One of his direct posts was to a Reddit article. The second comment in the Reddit he posted is a link to the libelous Reddit that claims Steve raped girls:

      Here is the link that Eisen posted. You’ll see the comment:

      The fact that *anyone* let alone a scientist would go out of their way to implicate someone in a sex crime is truly despicable.

      I’m disgusted by the behavior of Eisen, the Cantlon Lab, whoever ‘Wokyleeks’ is, and others.

      It’s vicious.

    2. See comment #1. The phrase and the redacted name are on p. 59 of the document Jerry linked to (in the section called “Chapter 9”). Some parts of the PDF seem to be not searchable.

  14. Guilty until proven innocent.

    Not that Professor Pinker will care, but I will try to add my name to those who believe and support him.

    Not that they’ll care, but I sent an email to Vise telling them that I will no longer read their material due to the Pinker smear.

  15. You know Vice USED to be a reputable news source but now they’re just bonkers all the time.

    I can’t stand this pile on on Pinker by the “wokerati” – I admire him so much. The Epstein b.s. was obvious.

    Though…. it is amazing how little money it takes to get a uni like Harvard to dance for you. I might buy some influence myself at a lower level school if their souls are going that cheap. My alma maters Melbourne U. (Australia) and Georgetown U. (D.C.) are always trying to hit me up. I don’t give – there are better uses for my philanthropic dollars, like helping, y’know, poor people!

    I’m convinced the H. admin pushed Pinker into it -“Look, this dude is a big time donor – go mingle and get him to write a check”.
    You know how that goes.

    And now this idiotic Linguistics Society witch hunt of him. Ugh.

    For what its worth, give Prof S.P. my (humble) best when you two next lunch. I’m sure he’s up to fighting the good fight against these insane lynch mobs. And, btw, even as a former Wall St-er and attorney (retired) I’m a LEFTIST and these people piss me off.

    They’ll come for you one day Prof Coyne. Watch.

    D.A., J.D., NYC

  16. Giuffre is a proven liar. She made scandalous accusations against Alan Dershowitz that he was able to prove false, with documentary evidence.

    Not saying Epstein was a saint . . . but if Giuffre said it was a sunny day, I’d wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella.

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