Where is all this BS coming from?

I was introduced to another good take-down of that silly anti-“grievance studies” campaign. What I particularly appreciated is that this one recognizes the role of a key disseminator of bad science: Steven Pinker.

The obscure venue of choice for their account of the hoax, Areo Magazine, models itself on the magazine Aeon but in fact contains low-grade content obviously too petty or pedestrian even for Quillette (“Not All Men is Not a Fallacy. It is Humanism”). Yet what generated the Areo article’s viral lift were strong endorsements from the usual suspects—Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson, both senior psychology professors—and the budding reactionary Yascha Mounk, a Harvard lecturer in government but also head of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The orthodoxy these men represent is not an orthodoxy of scientific legitimacy but rather the emerging consensus of tech bros, Davos billionaires, and alt-right misogynists. Each of these groups has its own reasons to hate feminist and other critical scholarship—whether for ideological reasons, positivist data fetishism, or the perception that they are uncommodifiable and hence worthless.

I hadn’t heard of Mounk…but the Tony Blair Institute? I distrust him already. But we haven’t gotten to the real skewering yet.

It is hard to imagine a form of scholarship less rigorous, more motivated by nonscientific concerns, and more warped by political hobbyhorses than what these men practice. Steven Pinker routinely misrepresents the scholarship he relies on in his books; a 2013 meta-analysis of the burial sites he studies in his argument on the decline of violence reveals that nearly every one of them has been misunderstood or distorted, without any noticeable impact on its popularity. Yet he can never be effectively corrected by any fellow scholar, because the outsized power he wields due to his media platform will always give his views more visibility. Peterson is even worse, a neo-Jungian fantasist whose basic ideas about animal and human behavior are so egregiously wrong he no longer even bothers to justify them through standard scholarly practice. Mounk catapulted to media prominence entirely on the basis of a conveniently-timed claim that recent survey data showed an alarming collapse in support for democracy in Western societies; though critics soon called his analysis cherry-picked and inaccurate, his reputation as the premier pundit of the liberal-technocrat class remains untarnished. In each of these cases, it is celebrity, status, and money that immunize a would-be scholar from criticism and disincentivize any revisions to their views. These extra-academic factors have a much greater effect on shaping our own daily lives than the private politics of most fat studies scholars, for they spread incorrect conclusions to a very wide audience and give it the imprimatur of elite academic institutions.

It doesn’t even mention his efforts to prop up that bullshit discipline, evolutionary psychology. Why didn’t the hoaxers target the evo psych journals? They’d be an easy get, because so many of the papers in them are already garbage.

Apparently, the key to fame, fortune, and glory is to always support the status quo and tell the wealthy of the world what they want to hear. Dammit. I keep missing the money train because I’d rather dynamite the tracks, so I only have myself to blame.

As for Peterson, have you seen the The Wisdom of Jordan Peterson, a word salad generator? He’s as easy to dismiss as Deepak Chopra.


  1. ridana says

    Word Salad Generator was kinda fun.
    “The unpredictable transforms the doorway to opportunities.”

    “The unpredictable inspires unparalleled presupposition.” This one would have been better with added Pinocchio.

  2. DanDare says

    This ability to shoot bullshit loudly into the mesosphere and for rebuttals not to be heard is probably as large a problem for humankind as global warming.

  3. mistershelden says

    I have read some Pinker years ago (The Blank Slate) and remember finding it persuasive. But I wasn’t fact checking as I went along, and didn’t read the footnotes to see if he had misrepresented the evidence.
    Are there any good resources available to show me where he was wrong?

  4. Dunc says

    This ability to shoot bullshit loudly into the mesosphere and for rebuttals not to be heard is probably as large a problem for humankind as global warming.

    The two issues are probably not entirely unrelated.

    Bloody autocorrect. Memeosphere.

    I liked the original version. ;)