Someone noticed Pinker’s sleaziness

There’s a petition making the rounds to have Steven Pinker’s recognition by the Linguistic Society of America removed. I don’t expect a petition to accomplish much of anything, but this one is nicely written.

As we demonstrate below, Dr. Pinker’s behavior is systematically at odds with the LSA’s recently issued statement on racial justice, which argues that “listening to and respecting [the experience of students of color] is crucial, as is acknowledging and addressing rather than overlooking or denying the role of the discipline of linguistics in the reproduction of racism.” Instead, Dr. Pinker has a history of speaking over genuine grievances and downplaying injustices, frequently by misrepresenting facts, and at the exact moments when Black and Brown people are mobilizing against systemic racism and for crucial changes.

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.

It then proceeds to document instances where Pinker played fast and loose with the facts to advance his dogma of progress constantly marching forward, as long as we ignore the inconsequential suffering of poor minorities. It’ll be ignored, but maybe a few people will wake up to his dishonest messaging.


  1. ORigel says

    Imagine if all the fenimists and antifas say, “Pursuing social justice is pursuing a zero-sum game because we’d gain rights at the expense of cis white male bigots. Instead, we should do nothing and wait for social inertia to get us all a positive sum. George Floyd would smile down at us, because in 20 years ten percent fewer POC will be murdered by cops if trends continue. Let’s drop the anti- and become fa!”

  2. Przemysław Rumik says

    But isn’t a fact of this that we are starting to talk/change something about problems of those minorities a proof of Pinker’s “dogma of progress constantly marching forward”?
    I’m seeing here similarity to psychosis of rising crime in 80’s. A lot of stuff was continuously being added as crime, so number of people recognised as criminals was growing and number of cases was growing. Now thanks to progress a lot of stuff is very often for the first time recognised as injustice, but this doesn’t mean that in world we have more injustice, but that as society we are better and we are starting to see injustices which were hidden because of injustices touching bigger parts of society.
    In Europe many right-wing minded people brings example of Sweden as country which lost a lot because of imigration, because Sweden has much more sex crimes than other European countries, but they “foreget” to mention that it is not because Sweden has more cases per se, but because Swedish law has much widder definition of such crimes.

  3. says

    Yeah, Pinker just seems like an apologist for the status quo, that gets discreetly funded through various institutions so as to make the status quo seem progressive and intellectual. I think I hate him a lot more than the more outwardly reactionary types because his grift is so much more effective at pacifying people who would otherwise maybe be more proactively progressive.

    I also especially hate him for the apologism he peddles with regards to exploitation of the Global South. He defends structural adjustment programs that lead to child labor, starvation wages, and deadly pollution being expelled into cities and pristine environments alike.

  4. says

    When I saw how Pinker strawmanned feminism in The Blank Slate I figured he was either ignorant or dishonest – and which it is, is of mostly academic interest.

  5. says

    Przemysław Rumik

    For someone born in 1955 it looks like some things got somewhat better in the 1960s then things went backwards in the 1980s with welfare reform, the war on drugs and the tough on crime campaigns.

  6. Matt G says

    Pinker is a Status Quo Warrior, to be sure.

    I wonder what we’ll learn about him from Ms. Maxwell.

  7. raven says

    But isn’t a fact of this that we are starting to talk/change something about problems of those minorities a proof of Pinker’s “dogma of progress constantly marching forward”?

    The second comment and already it is cosmically stupid.

    Progress doesn’t march forward. Progress in fact, doesn’t do anything. Progress is an intangible idea and a description we use sometimes.

    Things change because people change them!!!
    It’s not easy and it isn’t guaranteed either.
    When there is progress, it is because people are doing things, things that cost money, time, and quite often their lives.
    To take one example, the election and regime of Trump and the GOP has been a huge disaster for most people in the USA. It isn’t progress at all, it is going backwards as fast as the GOP can take the USA down.

    Pinker’s part in whatever change and progress has been made since he has existed is to get in the way and impede it any way he can.
    He is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    I don’t know much about Pinker’s views in particular. In regards to @2 Przemysław Rumik’s comment, though, I don’t see anything in his comment that implies that he thinks progress was easy or guaranteed or without sacrifice — and yes, 2016 made it painfully, glaringly obvious that gains can be lost.
    It sounds as if @7 raven’s point, though, is that observing how much progress has been made in the past is somehow antithetical to our ability to make further progress. I would tend to disagree. Climbing a steep cliff is monotonous and demoralizing, but one thing that can give a climber renewed vigor is looking back and seeing how far she has come.
    After all, it wasn’t Pinker, it was MLK Jr. who said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He certainly wasn’t implying that that arc magically bent on its own — he knew better than anyone the price it demanded and continues to demand.

  9. monad says

    But isn’t a fact of this that we are starting to talk/change something about problems of those minorities a proof of Pinker’s “dogma of progress constantly marching forward”?

    Whether Pinker’s idea of it or not, I would certainly consider it progress, if we were starting to talk and change something about those problems. But this is not the start. People have been having the same conversations and fighting the same fights for a while now. It is disappointing how those have been received.

  10. hemidactylus says

    I’m mixed on Pinker. Looking just at the arc from Damore memo to Brooks to Pinker’s tweet was jarring. I reread Damore’s memo and it was nerve grating, inspiring an (feminine?) anxiety in me. It comes across as male sour grapes especially in the call for viewpoint diversity while downplaying actual diversity. If he were to stick to the possibility that genderized preferences may be a slight factor in outcome but instead not mutually exclusive to sexism and patriarchal tradition which also socializes preferences themselves he would have come across less abrasively. And are thing vs. people differences a male/female thing?

    The stuff Pinker analyzed on Ashkenazim in Europe was at first glance offputting given European history leading to the Nazi regime but also a way of flipping script on antisemites’ views of Jewish identity given same history. Pinker addressed the research perhaps too charitably but stopped short of asserting it all as correct. Still offputting though.

    Given Pinker’s endorsement of Singer’s moral circle expansion and acknowledgement of rights revolutions one would not expect him to put the kibosh on recent developments that continue the arc he recognizes.

    He started with the Hobbesian approach of The Blank Slate and Kant’s crooked timber which would recognize inherent shared human flaws and that progress, mostly due to stuff happening in human history, isn’t inevitable but takes hard work and isn’t now at a finished state. So maybe he stands in the way of his own theses ironically.

  11. damien75 says

    Since this post mentions “scientific racism”, I take advantage of it to ask for help.

    Is there anybody among the readers of these comments who can indicate me the best available resources where to find counteraguments to “scientific racism” ?

    There are websites listing the most common creationist arguments against evolution and answering them. Is there anything similar for “scientific racism” ? That would be of a great help to me.

    Thank you in advance.

  12. specialffrog says

    @Damien75: while I have not read it I think this is the stated purpose of Adam Rutherford’s “How to Argue With a Racist”

  13. raven says

    damien Here is one and links around it.

    Race/IQ: Irish IQ & Chinese IQ
    AUGUST 14, 2012|7:46 PM RON UNZ

    One of the many surprises I’ve encountered when reading the dozens of web pages and many hundreds of comments attacking my Race/IQ analysis is the overwhelming focus of these critics upon my Irish data. Although I discuss similar ethnic IQ evidence regarding the Greeks, Balkan Slavs, Southern Italians, Dutch, Germans, and various other European peoples, it sometimes seems like the attacks on my Irish analysis are more numerous than those against all these other cases combined, perhaps even if we also throw in all the examples dealing with East Asians and every other non-Irish race on the planet.
    For example, when I pointed out that Lynn had devoted many years of personal research in Ireland and eventually concluded that they were clearly a low-IQ race,

    One of the groups that consistently scored low on IQ tests for a century were the Irish.
    It was so consistent that most people in the field concluded that the Irish were indeed dumb.

    These days, the Irish score at least average on IQ tests.

    The point here is that IQ and IQ tests are effected by a huge number of variables besides genetics, including things like general nutrition growing up, education, culture, economic status, stress levels and so on.

    At various times the groups scoring low on IQ tests and considered stupid include “Greeks, Balkan Slavs, Southern Italians, Dutch, Germans,” Jews, and Irish among others.
    Some of these groups have also been used to show that superior IQ is based on ethnic origin as well.
    It can’t be both and is more likely to be neither.

  14. says

    But isn’t a fact of this that we are starting to talk/change something about problems of those minorities a proof of Pinker’s “dogma of progress constantly marching forward”?”

    The concept of ‘teleological progress’ isn’t Pinker’s, by any stretch. Auguste Compte was a big fan of that idea (he who coined the notion of “captain’s of industry”), as was Heigl, and many more before him.
    Pinker is merely the latest to tout that idea, and frame the contemporary facts to their speil.

    The best part is that it’s entirely unfalsifiable: if things are bad, you just whinge that people aren’t looking at a long enough timeline, and if things are good you can just state the obvious.

  15. says

    Er… isn’t he the one who approves of euthanizing disabled people? Because that was enough for me to write him off. This just makes me feel like writing him off was a good choice.

  16. nomdeplume says

    Another “scientist” who saw a chance for fame and fortune in telling the Right what they wanted to hear.

  17. says


    @Brian Lynchehaun

    It is Auguste Comte, not Compte.

    My bad. I apologise for being mostly blind and not catching all of my typos. Glad you’re here to point them out for everyone. Good job!

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    garydargan @ # 19: … I tracked down the source of the figure in the top right.

    How? I took a chance and plugged the image URL into, and all I got was –

    Your image may be unique, and doesn’t appear anywhere on the web.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    blf @ # 23 – Thanks!

    As for Tineye, they serve as a reminder – no heroes!

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    I just read the 19-page pdf file linked by blf @ # 23 and now better understand garydargan’s reaction @ # 19.

    In brief, it’s a quick summary of some of the links connecting racist leaders and organizations with “Intellectual Dark Web” sources such as Pinker, Sam Harris, & Quillette. I know just enough about the subject to recognize this covers only a sample of alt-right influencers, but it does illustrate conveniently the continuity between the current “thought leaders” and long-established racist centers such as Pioneer Fund and Charles Murray. Warning: multiple copy-editing errors, though I didn’t spot significant factual failures.