Guilt by association

Flash this image to see how fast a ‘free speech warrior’ will block you.

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 (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, 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.


  1. StevoR says

    Yes. Miss Stephen Jay Gould here too – almost as much as I miss Carl Sagan.

    Which is high praise indeed.

  2. says

    The people who like to use the term human biodiversity seem to favour the opposite, dividing people into a handful of groups and implying it’s bad for them to cross the boundaries of those groups.

  3. chrislawson says

    I dislike Pinker intensely and I agree with the broad thrust here that he keeps associating with extremely toxic people and groups and publishing in toxic journals and this definitely speaks ill of his integrity. But you cannot trust this source.

    (1) E.O. Wilson died in 2011, so he can’t have co-ordinated anything with anyone in 2013.

    (2) The book criticising Chagnon is Darkness in El Dorado, a book that blatantly lied about Chagnon’s activity in the Amazon including accusations that Chagnon deliberately started a measles epidemic as part of a genicidal research program…by helping vaccinate Yanomamo during a measles outbreak! Notice how in a piece full of details, suddenly the specifics are gone — no title, no author name, only a reference to Horgan who reviewed the book (egregiously) and savaged Dawkins et al (rightly) for their attempt at academic extortion.

    (3) Also, Horgan, it must be said, is not exactly a reliable source on this himself. He defended his mostly positive review of the book by claiming that ‘the evidence they (the detractors) cite comes not from impartial evaluations of Darkness but from partisan attacks.’ This is blatantly untrue, and had been made clear to him before he wrote his review. The book had even been rebuked by some of Chagnon’s most trenchant opponents in anthropology (I would have to dig it out now, but I recall an article by a scientific anthropologist who thought Chagnon was completely wrong with his interpretation of Yanomamo behaviour but still recognised the book as a hit piece), as well as by scientific and public health organisations (almost none of them with any relationship to Chagnon) for misrepresenting measles vaccination as a genocidal tool, you know, the kind of rampant paranoid misinformation that anti-vaxxers latch onto. In fact, the vaccine Chagnon used was the standard WHO recommended vaccine, which has never caused an outbreak ever because, well, vaccines are what you do to prevent and contain outbreaks, not start them. Horgan knew this, because he reports his own correspondence about it from prior to writing the review. So he knew about the criticisms, didn’t bother to check out any of the references provided, and then misrepresented them as ‘partisan’, all so he could avoid apologising for what was actually a monumental cockup for a journalist, doubly so for a science journalist. And the stupid thing is, there’s plenty to criticise about Chagnon without lying about him being a genocidaire, and there’s plenty to criticise in Dawkins et al’s letter threatening the reviewer’s reputation.

    I repeat that none of this is a defence of Pinker, just a plea for better sources.

  4. chrislawson says

    Oops — goddamn it. I was wrong about Wilson. My deepest apologies. Misread the date. F***. Not the kind of mistake you want to make when criticising sources…

    Thanks for the correction, Reginald. It was a stupid error on my part and the GTFO is fully warranted.

  5. Nancy McClernan says

    As Horgan writes in Scientific American, Pinker, Dawkins & friends came for him:

    I was still working on my review of Darkness when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated. All had learned (none said exactly how, although I suspected via a friend of mine with whom I discussed my review) that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer.

  6. says

    @6 chrislawson said: Thanks for the correction, Reginald. It was a stupid error on my part and the GTFO is fully warranted.
    I reply: dear chrislawson you are to be applauded for you honesty and willingness to admit an error. (I know I’ve made enough of them, myself). It is refreshing to see graciousness like yours here compared to someone who, on a recent post, endlessly and arrogantly defended an idiosyncratic use of grammar, pounding it into the ground, even in the face of proof to the contrary from his own reference.

    @8 birgerjohansson said: I see the name “David Duke” pop up. Never a good sign.
    I reply: What? You don’t respect the wonderfulness of the ‘grand lizard’?

  7. numerobis says

    I’m not really seeing the guilt by association thing here. It seems to be guilt by active actions Pinker is taking. He is actively defending white supremacists.

  8. KG says

    fellow h-bd members Virginia Postrel and Daniel C. Dennett

    Can anyone document Dennett’s membership of “h-bd”? Putting “Daniel Dennett human biodiversity” into a couple of search engines did not turn up anything relevant.

  9. says

    Rob: That appears to be from the Wayback Machine, from 7/20/1999.

    Also, the first member on that list is “Andrews, Louis R.” whose “background” is listed as “Stalking Wild Taboo website.” LOLWUT?! First sentence of his URL:

    These pages, named after a book by Garrett Hardin, are for socio-political thinkers unfettered by submission to the power of the pejorative. Such labels as racist, fascist, communist, and reductionist have little power here.

    Sounds more like a bunch of wannabee edgelords trying to be the edgiest edgelords this side of the edge…

  10. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@13,
    Thanks – my opinion of Dennett plunges several parsecs, especially given some of the other names on that list.