No. A Portland professor is not being railroaded.


“No” is usually the right answer when an article is headlined with a question. Jesse Singal has authored an article in NY Magazine titled, Is a Portland Professor Being Railroaded by His University for Criticizing Social-Justice Research?, and think we can cut through all the garbage by simply saying “no.” Singal tries to present both sides, but one side is not at all convincing.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a mini forum which showcased a variety of different views on the subject. “The entire force of their stunt lies in the fact that they managed to get several satirical papers published,” wrote the University of Washington biologist Carl T. Bergstrom. “But it makes no sense to judge the health of a field by looking at what an insincere author can get through peer review.” On the other side was Yascha Mounk, a Harvard lecturer in government, who condemned the circling of the academic wagons and what he viewed as unfair attempts to undermine the hoaxsters. “[E]ven if all of the charges laid at the feet of Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian were true, they would have demonstrated a very worrying fact,” he wrote. “Some of the leading journals in areas like gender studies have failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit.”

I think Bergstrom already answered Mounck’s objection. You can find bad papers getting published in every field, even, for instance, molecular biology. That there are swarms of worthless submissions and that a few of them leak through is inevitable and to be expected; we shouldn’t be blithe about it, of course, and we should act to tighten up procedures where ever the problem arises, but there was no serious, responsible call to action by the “grievance studies” experiment, other than to simply abolish all of gender studies.

I would point to one extreme example of bad science in molecular biology: the ENCODE project. Does the existence of that badly executed and interpreted project mean that all of molecular biology has “failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit”? I don’t think so. And before you whine about the inclusion of morality as a criterion, I remind you that ENCODE cost $200 million dollars, and if you don’t think sucking away that much money lacks both scientific and moral consequences, well, I don’t think you’ve got much in the way of an intellectual contribution to make.

Here’s the money shot from Singal’s article, though, and why it’s safe to answer “no” to that question.

For the purposes of Peter Boghossian’s case, three facts about IRBs matter a great deal: “study” is defined rather broadly in the federal guidelines; possible risks to humans — even ones that non-IRB nerds may view as negligible — are taken very seriously; and IRBs tend to look especially closely at studies involving deception. For these and other reasons, each of the four IRB experts I spoke or emailed with agreed that yes, the grievance-studies hoax needed IRB approval; yes, it clearly involved human subjects; and no, PSU’s decision to investigate it on that front cannot be reasonably viewed, on its own, as politically motivated. In other words: This particular aspect of the university’s response smells more like a standard reaction to improperly vetted research than a witch hunt.

All the rest is noise; yes, people complain about the onerous paperwork of IRBs, and sometimes the committees tie up research, but only a fool would suggest that we get rid of them altogether.

One other point is that Boghossian is afraid he might get fired. He should be! Not because this one “study”, but because he’s already on somewhat shaky ground. Boghossian is a non-tenured, non-tenure track assistant professor! He has no path to promotion, and he’s probably on a year-by-year contract. This is not to say that it is a good thing how PSU manages their faculty: they have 9 tenured/tenure track philosophy faculty, an equal number of adjuncts, and 6 full time non-tenured instructors, of which Boghossian is one. He’s employed as long as his department finds him a useful contributor to their teaching needs, but if the negatives start to outweigh his utility, they could easily let him go at their next contract review. And this is academia…it’s not as if there aren’t heaps of philosophy Ph.D.s who’d love to get a full-time appointment in a lovely city like Portland.

I doubt that this fuck-up he’s made will get him fired, but it will put a black mark on his record, and administrators will remember it. I would suspect that he’s already signed a contract for next year — no one likes last minute, rushed job searches to fill an abruptly vacated position — so what will be interesting is what PSU does next year, after all the hubbub about this issue has died down, and it’s decided whether his appointment is renewed.

If I were him, I’d be shopping my CV around right now. Although he might be instead banking on notoriety to help him squeeze donations out of alt-right fanbois, since he’ll have his very own grievance to tout.

Comments

  1. Siobhan says

    Jesse Singal faces personal gains, of course, should Boghossian’s conduct get a pass. Both of them have informal marks against them for their mutual bugbear in gender studies.

  2. hemidactylus says

    Pinker: “Should IRBs (human subjects research approval committees) be dismantled? [Probably yes.]”

    Wikipedia:

    “Notable – and in some cases, notorious – human subject experiments performed in the US include the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, human radiation experiments, the Milgram obedience experiment and Stanford prison experiments and Project MKULTRA. With growing public awareness of such experimentation, and the evolution of professional ethical standards, such research became regulated by various legislation, most notably, those that introduced and then empowered the institutional review boards.[1]”
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_subject_research_legislation_in_the_United_States

    And going beyond Tuskegee there was Guatemala where subjects were deliberately infected without consent, curiously absent from Enlightenment Now. No mention of MKULTRA, Milgram or Zimbardo either. Bad for the narrative. Ironically enough a keyword search for Stanford returns:

    “Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. 1947/2007. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press.”

    If we remove financial regulation we get a subprime driven meltdown. We remove environmental regulations we get more pollution. What happens if we remove IRBs?

  3. hemidactylus says

    I wasn’t clear that Pinker did mention the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, but not Guatemala or any of the other stuff. For Pinker Tuskegee is a “bloody shirt”, Pinker: “The researchers, many of them African American or advocates of African American health and well-being, did not infect the participants, as many people believe (a misconception that has led to the widespread conspiracy theory that AIDS was invented in US government labs to control the black population).” As a side note that conspiracy theory has a more interesting and currently relevant backstory:

    https://youtu.be/tR_6dibpDfo

    Pinker goes on that though the Tuskegee experiment was “universally deplored” and yet “it may even have been defensible by the standards of the day: treatments for syphilis (mainly arsenic) were toxic and ineffective” he points out the crucial aspect that it was “a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people”. Guatemala just happened to be another time and another place.

  4. says

    IMO Jesse Singal’s track record on social justice issues is dubious– I feel that he is one of those self-declared “allies” who’s sore that his hand-delivered cookie with gold leaf didn’t arrive on his doorstep in proper order despite all he’s done (stamps foot petulantly)! And if the subject of his reportage is trans issues– I’m not trans but, holy shit, there’s a vibe there.

    My opinion on Pinker at this point is unprintable…

  5. Russell says

    Having progressed from Sokal 1.0 to 2.0, it may be time to acknowledge that the problem has escalated from a plethora of bad papers, lit. crit & scientific, to a plenum of worse journals.

    My university subscribes to, or at least recieves some 35,000, which is less than15% of the global total, a number that makes one wonder if there is an editorial corollary to the observation that there is no theory so pervese that two Nobel laureates cannot be found to endorse it

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2019/01/how-matt-ridley-got-away-with-it-and.html

    https://www.berfrois.com/2018/11/how-much-differance-does-it-make/

  6. hemidactylus says

    Actually I’m not as negative on Pinker for his shortcomings as others may be. His progress mongering juggernauts Better Angels and Enlightenment Now have merit overall. But he’s trying to persuade us more than critically reflect on his own ideas. Things like the Guatemala syphilis experiment are relevant errors of omission. He makes an odd reflection on women in Asia transitioning from the hostile conditions of rice paddy agriculture to the sweatshops. And in an odd aside I’m not sure he intended to be serious, on CSPAN’s book talk he made last year promoting Enlightenment Now he used western movies as quasi-documentary evidence for lawless anarchy of the frontier.

    Yet the reason most of us are here to gripe about Pinker is potable water and childhood vaccination. He does focus almost exclusively on what we have gotten right. But reading Raoul Martinez’s Creating Freedom was a bit of an antidote to Pinker. And though dated and curmudgeonly the Frankfurt School pointed to the shackles the Enlightenment innovations have created for us. They were too harsh on popular media, but as an ideological tool we can be manipulated by our inventions. The PR industry tries every election cycle and this is interesting how mass communication technology can spread an ideological infection across the planet:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Infektion

    Things move quicker now. Where are Pinker’s rose colored glasses?

  7. Russell says

    “Where are Pinker’s rose colored glasses?”

    I suspect he put them aside around the time Charlie went off the air at PBS.
    I see Neil Tyson has met the same fate at Nat.Geo.

  8. aoifeb says

    One look at any of Singal’s articles on the trans community will show the bad faith he approaches his subjects with.

  9. chrislawson says

    hemidactylus@4–

    Pinker is wrong about Tuskegee. Flat out wrong. Both factually and morally.

    [1] It was NOT “universally deplored”. When Buxton first raised objections in 1968 (before the story became public), the CDC and the AMA not only defended the study but argued that it should continue until all subjects had died and been autopsied.

    [2] The study DID cause the spread of syphilis. By the end of the study, 40 of the subjects’ wives had been infected and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis. So while the Tuskegee team didn’t specifically go out and inject people with syphilis, Pinker is splitting hairs here to justify the unjustifiable. There is at best a tiny sliver of moral difference between deliberately infecting people and deliberately withholding treatment while knowing that will allow the infection to spread. (And notice how he tries to blame critics of the Tuskegee experiment for an unrelated conspiracy theory about AIDS?)

    [3] … “a one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people”. Jesus f***ing Christ. Even putting aside the lie that it was a one-time failure (actually it was a decades-long failure with multiple ethical lapses, plus it was far from the only “one-time” example of unethical medical research even if we limit ourselves just to studies of syphilis!) and the lie that it was just “a few dozen people” ( add up the number of subjects who died of syphilis or syphilis-related complications, the infected wives, and affected newborns, it comes to 177 minimum), it’s just indefensible to say that failing to prevent serious, sometimes deadly, harm to “a few dozen” people by deception is trivial. This is just unbelievably clumsy apologetics for a crime against humanity.

    The only good defence of the Tuskegee experiment is that (1) when it was set up in 1932 there was no safe treatment for syphilis and so it was not unethical to start a cohort study to examine the effects of the disease and (2) the study gave a lot of social and educational support as a reward for participating. There were plenty of ethical breaches even from the start, (e.g., the participants were not informed of the purpose of the study, and in one particularly egregious moment, experimenters lied to participants that they would receive treatment in order to get them to undergo spinal taps), but the basic study design would have been acceptable today with modifications such as giving full informed consent before recruitment. But as soon as penicillin became widely available, it became grotesquely unethical to continue. The study should have ended in 1947-48 with penicillin treatment of all participants and sexual partners. Instead the study continued until 1972. And even then it only stopped because Buxton, one of the (very junior) research assistants, objected to what he was being told to do and, after being stonewalled for 4 years, broke the story to the press.

    So, yet another step in Pinker’s moral and intellectual death spiral. I can’t believe I once liked the man’s writing.

  10. says

    I agree. His ignorant stance on the Tuskegee study is utterly deplorable.

    But at least now we know where this idea that we’ve been on a long-term progressive spiral upwards comes from — from downplaying modern crimes.

  11. hemidactylus says

    The hard to stomach treatment of the Tuskegee experiment (and ignoring other bad things done in name of science) were but a very small chunk of Pinker’s book. He should have done better given the severity of the subject in ethical terms and impact on people’s lives, but can we write off the entire book or Pinker himself for that fuck up? Given the comprehensiveness of the book and that many other topics are covered for better or worse I’m willing to give him a fair reading on other topics. I do think this portion of the book is very relevant to his rather jarring tweet about IRBs.

    Another part of the book where he covers use of reason he gets into how denying it is self-refuting. Fair enough though he does pretty much say reason itself needs no justification. Just do it. But he decries “faith” in reason. Strangely in his Open Society Popper uses the liar’s paradox the opposite way. If you uncritically adopt reason and dismiss the need to justify its use can you turn around and argue that others must justify their arguments based in reason itself? Popper says critical rationalism is recognition of the implicit leap of faith involved in adopting reason. His views are very subtle and I’m at a loss to say whether he or Pinker are right. Interesting problem.

  12. chrislawson says

    It’s up to you how much to write off Pinker as a writer. You might find that there is some other aspect of his work you find interesting enough to put aside objections about his take on Tuskegee. But to me, misdescribing an abundantly-documented ethical travesty — arguably the definitive example of unethical medical research — in order to downplay its importance so that he can argue that ethics reviews should be scrapped for human experiments, well it makes him a source I won’t go to again. There are many excellent science writers out there who don’t struggle to see plain ethical concerns or honestly describe the history around them. Why stick with Pinker?

  13. joebiohorn says

    What Peter Boghossian did is called a parody. Any field too full of itself to tolerate parody is particularly deserving of that treatment. We have, however, arrived at a point where the serious minded critiques of Boghossian defy parody, having come altogether too close to self-parody.

  14. hemidactylus says

    @13- chrislawson

    I dunno. A mental exercise in critical evaluation? He may have his bad moments. His misrepresentative dismissal of Horkheimer and Adorno annoys the shit out of me. I for one prefer Fromm. But Pinker’s diatribe about the misapplied term “social Darwinism”: “The misapplication of the term social Darwinism to a variety of right-wing movements was begun by the historian Richard Hofstadter in his 1944 book Social Darwinism in American Thought; see Johnson 2010; Leonard 2009; Price 2006.” and how eugenics was a progressive movement and not in alignment with laissez faire principles was fairly spot on, though I am still not a fan of Spencer nor unbridled capitalism. The Thomas Leonard guy he cites gives a far less polemic treatment of that nuanced history. There are others who have critiqued Hofstadter’s views (Richard Bannister and Geoffrey Hodgson).

  15. John Morales says

    joebiohorn:

    What Peter Boghossian did is called a parody.

    Nah. It’s called lying and cheating.

    Any field too full of itself to tolerate parody is particularly deserving of that treatment.

    Any field too full of itself to tolerate lying and cheating is particularly deserving of that treatment.

    (Heh)

    We have, however, arrived at a point where the serious minded critiques of Boghossian defy parody, having come altogether too close to self-parody.

    Well, you at least aren’t guilty of any serious-minded critique, and you certainly don’t defy parody.

  16. says

    That is not parody. Or, it stopped being parody when it was sent out in all seriousness in the hopes of acceptance, when they were published, and when the authors stooped to making up data to make it more persuasive.

    Once again, a right winger shows that they don’t understand comedy at all. Go back to listening to Dennis Miller.

  17. joebiohorn says

    PZ, your repeated conflation of “classic liberal” with “right wing” is foolish on at least two levels. First it is simply factually wrong: we liberals support full equality for women, gay rights, including marriage, and most of the rest of your social/political agenda. We probably differ mostly in supporting a more robust interpretation of free speech. I think you are succumbing to us/vs them tribalism: “If you don’ agree with me about everything, we must disagree about everything”. Second, you just alienate people who are your natural allies on most of what you want to accomplish (see above). Why would you want to do that? In the interest of perceived ideological purity? The problem you have with Pinker also puzzles me. At a symposium in Utah while he was working on “Better Angels of our Nature”, he explained his thinking more or less as follows: Let’s have a look at some cases where we made real progress toward social justice, see if we can understand what we did right, and think about how to replicate that success over a broader range off issues. What’s so bad about that?

  18. hemidactylus says

    @29- joebiohorn

    I imagine you liberals are not too keen on regulation, germane to IRBs. There was good historical reason for such regulations. Have they gone too far? I wonder what lab and wildlife biologists think about laws, regulations, and institutional oversight as it effects euthanasia of lab animals or field work with protected species. Warranted, bothersome red tape or a mixture?

    There are social pressures too coming from animal welfare and animal rights groups. This stuff is countered by propaganda by pro-research interests. The animal welfare and rights pressure groups are ironically enough a product of the expanding circle Pinker adopted from Singer. Our moral sense has made things more of a pain in the ass for our intellectual pursuits. Values constrain the gathering of facts.

  19. joebiohorn says

    @hemidactylus

    Given that fully 1/3 of the posts on this thread are from you, dare one suggest that you should “get a life”?

  20. vucodlak says

    @ joebiohorn, #20

    I think you are succumbing to us/vs them tribalism: “If you don’ agree with me about everything, we must disagree about everything”. Second, you just alienate people who are your natural allies on most of what you want to accomplish (see above).

    Given Pinker and Boghossian’s willingness to employ and support alt-right goddamn Nazi talking points, I don’t really care if we would agree about some things. If “classical liberals” want to lie down with that crowd, who are the very worst humanity has to offer, then they are NOT the allies of progressives.

    Mealy-mouthed protectors of the old order and “free-speech” absolutists like them are a huge reason why, in 20-fucking-19, we see fascism on the rise around the globe. We let the scum recruit on every street corner, infiltrate our institutions, shout down all opposition, and the freeze-peachers just wring their hands and “reluctantly” take the side of the people who will take away the rights classical liberals claim to care so deeply about first chance they get. In the name of freedom, of course.

    They load the fascists’ guns for them. Don’t expect us to be grateful for that.

  21. joebiohorn says

    @ 23 vucoflak

    A little paranoid, are we? If free speech doesn’t mean that even those we disagree with are allowed to speak, what does it mean? You fear you can’t counter that speech with better arguments? Well, try getting beyond the ad hominem attacks.

  22. hemidactylus says

    @25- Crip Dyke

    joebiohorn has pretty much told me to shut up after evading my query on regulations. He’s trying to freeze my peach. Oh the horror! And the irony.

  23. says

    @hemidactylus:

    joebiohorn is afraid that it would be impossible to counter your speech with better arguments.

    Also, just so it doesn’t get lost in later furor, I will happily assert that joebiohorn does not know of a single case where a person has been prevented from speaking in the US (the jurisdiction that includes PZ and to which this post is relevant) much less Minnesota. Of course, I would welcome well documented facts that refute this, but no one seriously believes that joebiohorn personally knows anyone who has actually been prevented from speaking or has even read of a well-documented case in which someone unknown to joebiohorn was prevented from speaking by anything other than behavior which is already illegal under laws none here seek to overturn.

    Joebiohorn is a nitwit.

  24. chrislawson says

    Ah, the previously unknown Joebiohorn Limit — if you contribute more than a third of comments in a given thread, your arguments can be ignored.

  25. chrislawson says

    hemidactylus@15–

    I’m sure Pinker has many interesting things to say and I’m certainly not trying to dictate to others what authors they abandon reading — my own bookshelf has quite a few books I vehemently dislike but keep for reference purposes. But whatever smart things Pinker has to say, I am confident there are better, more informed writers saying those things as well.

  26. vucodlak says

    @ joebiohorn, #24

    A little paranoid, are we?

    Sunshine, I’m so paranoid that I won’t even stand in the same room with smug JAQ-er like you, so take your “we” and fold-spindle-and-cram it into your frozen peaches.

    If free speech doesn’t mean that even those we disagree with are allowed to speak, what does it mean?

    There’s a difference between saying that some people shouldn’t be allowed to speak, and suggesting that maybe there should be restrictions on certain things said. I am for the latter. When Nazis and their ilk are allowed to openly recruit and promote genocide, that doesn’t further the cause of freedom.

    You fear you can’t counter that speech with better arguments?

    Fascism and nationalism cannot be defeated solely by logical arguments, because people do not become fascists or nationalists for logical reasons. Fascists/nationalists give zero fucks how many logical fallacies you can point in their reasoning, because they aren’t reasoning at all. It’s emotion that drives their devotion to dominance and authoritarianism, not logic.

    It doesn’t matter if you have better arguments, because the people who are drawn to these ideologies don’t care about rationality. All debating such fascists and nationalists does is give them publicity and an opportunity to recruit.

    Well, try getting beyond the ad hominem attacks.

    Yeah… I’m not attacking Pinker and Boghossian because I don’t like their hair or fashion sense. I’m attacking them for parroting far-right talking points about “PC culture destroying the world with safe spaces” and other such garbage. I’m attacking them for the positions they’ve taken.

  27. Steve Bruce says

    Like I said in one of the previous posts, only a fool would actually believe these free speech warriors are actually interested in defending free speech. Most of them are simply anti social justice movement, anti Muslim and pro Israel (no matter what Israel does). Most of them didnt speak out against the recent attempt to penalise anti Israel criticism and some in the past have tried to get pro palestinian faculty fired. On top of that their behaviour on their own blogs/ YouTube channels exemplifies their hypocrisy- none more so than the eternal snowflake Jerry Coyne. To call them free speech warriors is an insult to the cause of free speech. They are better described as status quo warriors (SQWs if you will).

  28. joebiohorn says

    I’m sure PZ is very thankful for his cadre of faithful minions ready to pile on whenever they detect that Dear Leader has been slighted.

  29. says

    I believe that, as I am responsible for less than a third of the thread’s content, I have the moral standing required to ask joebiohorn to answer the question and stop squirming. Strangely, his efforts to pre-empt this by insulting anyone who asks this of him don’t bother me.

    Answer the question, “joe.”

  30. joebiohorn says

    I’m not claiming anyone has been forbidden from speaking. It’s more my sense that you would if you could (you know, like “deplatforming” writ large). I am particularly disturbed with the use of “Free speech absolutists” clearly as a perforative. I would proudly take that mantel as a good thing. Free speech that is circumscribed or constrained isn’t.

  31. says

    I’m not claiming anyone has been forbidden from speaking. It’s more my sense that you would if you could

    Google translate, can you help?

    I don’t have any actual evidence that anyone in the conversation has done anything wrong. I don’t even have any evidence that anyone in this conversation has thought anything wrong. But I kinda sorta think that maybe, though I can’t prove it, y’all do have some bad thoughts. So I’m criticizing you.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  32. joebiohorn says

    PZ @35. That’s sad and kind of petulant, like the president. There is so much we agree on: the urgency of dealing with climate change; protection of abortion rights and gay rights; proper teaching of evolution just to start a list. An old saying about cutting noses to spite faces comes to mind.

  33. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Free speech that is circumscribed or constrained isn’t.

    Free speech that deliberately tell lies, and hurts people, needs to be condemned as irresponsible. Only responsible free speech should be promoted. Which is my problem with FSAs. They don’t take responsibility for their free speech, and usually don’t appreciate others using theirs against them.

  34. John Morales says

    CD, re:

    I’m not claiming anyone has been forbidden from speaking. It’s more my sense that you would if you could (you know, like “deplatforming” writ large).

    Tsk. More subtlety, please, not for your target, but for your readers.

    What does it mean? An admission from joebiohorn that their whole beef is based upon some inchoate sense, not actual circumstances, best as I can tell. In short, the worry is that certain unwholesome opinions receive pushback.

    (Yes, it is ironic)

    joebiohorn:

    PZ @35. That’s sad and kind of petulant, like the president.

    Your personal opinion is duly noted, for what it’s worth. Which is not much, in my estimation.

    (Your attempted archness is weak, IMO, but at least it’s recognisable as such)

    There is so much we agree on: the urgency of dealing with climate change; protection of abortion rights and gay rights; proper teaching of evolution just to start a list.

    Big deal. A hard kick to the unprotected shin hurts like buggery; people need food to survive; shit doesn’t smell that nice at all. We all agree on those, no?

    But then, we do not agree that “What Peter Boghossian did is called a parody.”

    An old saying about cutting noses to spite faces comes to mind.

    <snicker>

    Well, if you agree with PZ on so many things, why do you cut your nose to spite your face?

    (Rhetoric heads-up: when you make a claim, take care whether it’s potentially reflexive)

  35. says

    @joebiohorn:

    Free speech that is circumscribed or constrained isn’t.

    Do you oppose defamation laws?
    Do you oppose criminal conspiracy statutes?
    Do you oppose truly voluntary non-disclosure contracts where a person freely elects to be paid money in exchange for not speaking but must give back all that money PLUS forfeit additional penalties if they later freely elect to start speaking on the topic?
    Do you oppose civil and criminal penalties for freely speaking about classified information learned during the course of government employment?
    Do you oppose the actions of courts who hear certain motions in chambers and seal certain records to conceal information from the public and the laws the impose penalties on those who violate such seals?
    Do you oppose the professional standards that require of newspapers that they refrain from printing the names of victimized children in stories about the crime or the accused criminal?

    …just asking questions, joe”any limit at all destroys free speech”biohorn.

  36. wanderingelf says

    can we write off the entire book or Pinker himself…?

    In a word, yes. While Better Angels may have made a few points worth discussing, a significant portion of it was cherry-picked bullshit. Pinker claims sexual assault these days is actually over-reported because, you know, Duke lacrosse team, and that statistics used by advocacy groups are merely “junk statistics” because, hey, the author of The War Against Boys says so. Between that and his rather suspect handling of data regarding violence in small-scale societies vs state-level societies, I feel quite comfortable writing him off. Of course, garbage sometimes contains hidden items of value, but digging through the piles of garbage Pinker produces to discover the few bits of value buried within is not high on my list of things to do.

  37. John Morales says

    wanderingelf, FWIW, I personally agree with the thesis that, over the centuries of recorded history, things have become less crude and gentler (nicer?) overall. Anyone can read historical accounts and compare then to now.

    (But yes. I agree that your criticism has merit)

  38. lexianlily says

    Not at all surprised that the article was written by well known transphobic Jesse Singal. It sounds like his usual ‘just asking questions’ style. His style of centrist but always leaning right punditry disgusts me.

  39. KG says

    There is so much we agree on: the urgency of dealing with climate change; protection of abortion rights and gay rights; proper teaching of evolution just to start a list. – “classical liberal” joebiohorn@42

    I strongly suspect that if you were to spell out what you think should be done about climate change, protection of abortion rights and gay rights, and teaching evolution, it would quickly becone clear that the areas of agreement are minimal*. According to the online sources I can find, “classical liberals” are believers in minimal government and “free-market” economics, which are fuck-all use (indeed, in the case of climate change, a huge part of the problem) if you want to actually take effective action in these areas.

    *Actually, I suspect you know this.

  40. wanderingelf says

    FWIW, I personally agree with the thesis that, over the centuries of recorded history, things have become less crude and gentler (nicer?) overall. Anyone can read historical accounts and compare then to now.

    Except Pinker does not limit himself to “centuries of recorded history.” Since humans lived in band-level societies with no written language for over 90% of their existence, historical accounts only cover a fraction of human “history.” Writing was invented only a few thousand years ago, and existed only in large-scale societies until quite recently. Small-scale societies are known mainly through archaeology and ethnography, fields Pinker cherry-picks for data to support his thesis. My larger point is that Pinker is an unreliable source of scholarship on such things because his biases make him more concerned with proving his ideas “right” than with interrogating their validity. His attitude towards Tuskegee shows that either (A) he genuinely does not understand why it was so bad, or (B) he does understand but downplays its significance anyway. Either way, he seems ethically challenged, and not someone whose opinions I am inclined to lend much weight.

  41. Russell says

    PZ Myers
    11 January 2019 at 7:56 pm
    That is not parody. Or, it stopped being parody when it was sent out in all seriousness in the hopes of acceptance, when they were published, and when the authors stooped to making up data to make it more persuasive.

    Small magazines offering absurd theses from sincere authors in every issue ( Anyone for feminiist glaciology ?) often set more people laughing than they have subscribers.

    Parody is the wages of cant, and present laughter deserves the presumption of innocence.

  42. says

    Have you even read Glaciers, gender, and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research? Or perhaps even the author’s summary?

    We chose the title “feminist glaciology” to provoke discussion about who is producing knowledge about glaciers and what the implications of that existing knowledge are, including whose voices are left out and what types of scientific questions are asked (and which ones might thus be ignored). We also wanted to present a variety of different sociocultural forms of glacier knowledge that go beyond science, to generate discussion. Our goal was to ask questions about the role of gender in science and knowledge—to start a conversation, not conclude the discussion.

    It’s actually a sensible and interesting paper. The people who freak out about it are the ones who’ve never looked at it, but instead have only seen distorted bullshit from ideological shitflingers.

  43. Russell says

    Read it, PZ? I blogged it tears ago :
    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2016/03/save-cisgendered-glaciers-throw-virgin.html

    and had a good laugh about it with Bruno Latour after he gave it an honorable mention in his last lecture on the spatial semiotics of the anthopocene

    Your quote left out the best parts, complaining that deniers of feminist postcolonial science doubt that situated indigenous belief systems that link meat-eating and catastrophic ice-falls are marginalized by neoliberalism, imperialism, transgender power relations and iinequality.

    As lectures on the pathological Pachamamaphobic hegemony of Western cis-heteropatriarchic scientific glacism go, it’s gonzo enough to woke the dead

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