One accidental occurrence is meaningless and forgivable, but when you keep hanging out with the same group of racists for over 20 years, and when you are repeatedly informed that these are bad guys, the correlation becomes rather more substantial. All you have to do is look at Steven Pinker’s history of academic friendships to see that maybe there’s a problem here.
- 1999 — Pinker joins the human biodiversity (h-bd) group begun by Steve Sailer, now the editor of VDARE, along with race science researchers like Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, race science funders like Ron Unz (of the Unz report), J.P. Rushton of the infamous, explicitly eugenic Pioneer Fund, and J. Michael Bailey, who used pseudoscience to stoke transphobia and hate.
- 2004 — As editor of Best American Science Writing, Pinker publishes Steve Sailer’s essay citing inbreeding in Iraq as a rationale for an inevitable failed state, as well as fellow h-bd members Virginia Postrel and Daniel C. Dennett. Also included is writing by Max Tegmark, the MIT professor who recently attempted to fund a neo-nazi media group as part of the Future of Life institute, and two columns by Nicholas Wade of the New York Times, who later wrote a ‘deeply flawed, deceptive’ book on race science and was condemned by 140 population geneticists for misappropriating their work.
- 2005 — Pinker writes a letter “to protest the shocking and disgraceful treatment of professor Helmuth Nyborg”, a fellow h-bd member who speaks at the same conferences as David Duke and researches sex and race differences in IQ. In June of 2006 Nyborg was found to be “grossly negligent”, misrepresenting his own scientific efforts and results. Nyborg is subsequently relieved of duty from Aarhus University as part of a 3 year investigation. In 2009, Pinker sends a second letter in defense of Nyborg without changing a word, addressing it this time to the new president of the university. Many fellow h-bd members join him, including Rosalind Arden, Harpending, and Rushton, as does Linda Gottfredson.
- 2006 — Pinker writes a lengthy article on the the IQ of Ashekenazi Jews by fellow hb-d members Harpending and Cochran (debunked and later proven utterly unfounded by better science and scientists) in which he blithely asserts that “Like intelligence, personality traits are measurable, heritable within a group, and slightly different, on average, between groups.” In 2019, Pinker defends Bret Stephens’ use of the discredited paper, while Stephens goes on say that he regrets not obscuring the source of the data, noting that “I could have cited from any number of other sources not tainted by Harpending’s odious racial views.”
- 2007 — Pinker provides counsel to Alan Dershowitz, with whom he taught a class on Morality and Taboo as described by the Edge.org (full syllabus here), on the interpretation of the interstate commerce law used to prosecute Jeffrey Epstein. The late Epstein was, of course, a prominent funder of the Edge.org, the elite group of scientists and thinkers which included Wilson, Dawkins, Dennett, Cochran, and Pinker (as well as Gould and many others). Pinker is a bit sensitive about this connection.
- 2012 — Pinker helps fellow hb-d member and holocaust denier Ron Unz tailor a critique of self-described “scientific racist” Richard Lynn’s work on IQ, emphasizing his openness to it as a legitimate area of inquiry. (arguments about who is the real racist get ever more surreal in these circles).
- 2013 — Pinker, an advocate for the biological inevitability of war, coordinated with Wilson, Dawkins, and Dennett to urge that book reviewer John Horgan either denounce a book critiquing an ethnographer (Chagnon) and his writing on his subject (the Yanomami of the Amazon) or recuse himself entirely, warning that a positive review might ruin his career. Horgan, in conversation with Chagnon for more than a decade at that point, does not cave to the pressure, later saying “I’m only sorry that my review did not point out the irony that Chagnon — unlike some of his hard-core Darwinian champions and like many of his critics — rejects the view of war as an instinct.”
- 2018 — Pinker shares a Quillette article by fellow hb-d member Rosalind Arden on the disinvitation of fellow Nyborg supporter, Linda Gottfredson, from a conference. In his note, he tuts at the SPLC for labeling her an ‘extremist’ simply because she has spent nearly half a century insisting that racial disparities in IQ are innate, immutable, and ensure unequal outcomes between racial groups. Perhaps he feels this too is a reasonable hypothesis — or perhaps he feels the conference would benefit from the work of Arden and Gottfredson correlating intelligence and semen quality. (Arden discloses their professional relationship if not the subject of their work in her article, saying of intelligence research “How often do we take the time to walk empathetically in the cognitive shoes of others? Millions of people struggle to maintain their health, their jobs, and their finances for the blameless reason that they are a little less adept.”)
- 2022 — Upon the posthumous discovery of E.O. Wilson’s approving correspondence with eugenicist (and h-bd member) Rushton, Pinker does not reflect or contemplate the implications of this discovery for either his field or his close collaboration with Wilson. Instead, he promotes an article by Michael Shermer (another one of the New Atheists that took a hard right) and remembers the battles Wilson, like Pinker, fought in the NYRB on behalf of biological determinism.
I’m also grateful that the article reminded me of the argument between Pinker and Stephen Jay Gould on evolutionary psychology. Gould was brilliant. Man, I miss that guy.