Sunday, January 13, 2013

Steven Pinker flaunts his shameless hypocrisy yet again

To my amazement, the New York Times published an article that was quite critical of the assumptions and (extremely flawed) studies of evolutionary psychology. I had to laugh at the part where Steven Pinker is asked for his response to the criticisms - I was just saying the other day that Pinker always claims political prejudice is the cause of the criticisms. And here it is again:
Citing the speed-dating study, Mr. Pinker added, “The only reason this flawed paper was published was that it challenged an evolutionary hypothesis ... in particular a sex difference — as the Larry Summers incident shows, claims about sex differences are still politically inflammatory in the academy.” Here, he was referring to the much criticized 2005 comments Mr. Summers made when he was Harvard’s president suggesting that women’s underrepresentation in science and engineering was attributable not to socialization but to “different availability of aptitude at the high end.”
I had to write a comment on the article - I don't know if it will be published on the NYTimes web site or not, but that's OK, it's published here:

Why does anybody bother to ask Steven Pinker his opinion of criticism of evolutionary psychology? He always says the same thing, as this article demonstrates: critics of evolutionary psychology are motivated by politics. 
And this is sheer hypocrisy - when the New Yorker published a critical review of his book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" Pinker linked to Razib Khan for his defense:
"But aren’t you just being defensive? Authors always think that negative reviews of their book are wrong. Has anyone else replied to Kolbert?
Razib Khan has a response in the Gene Expression blog on the Discover magazine Web site:"
Who is Razib Khan? A conservative who contributes to a blog called "Secular Right", as noted in this NYTimes profile from 2011: 
Khan is also a "junior fellow" at the Unz Foundation - Ron Unz is the publisher of The American Conservative. 
But although this information is available for anybody to find, to my knowledge no media outlet has ever called Pinker out on his shameless hypocrisy. 
UPDATE: they did publish it.

In my experience, only the New Yorker has viewed the claims of the Darwinian fundamentalists with the skepticism it deserves. My guess is that other media outlets employ writers who know little about science and have no inclination to learn more and feel that this prevents them from having anything meaningful to say on the subject of evolutionary psychology. But as the New Yorker has demonstrated on several occasions, you don't need to be a scientist to critique the claims of evolutionary psychologists - especially Pinker. All you need is the rudiments of logic, as Louis Menand demonstrated in his classic Pinker evisceration What Comes Naturally:

Having it both ways is an irritating feature of "The Blank Slate." Pinker can write, in refutation of the scarecrow theory of violent behavior, "The sad fact is that despite the repeated assurances that 'we know the conditions that breed violence,' we barely have a clue," and then, a few pages later, "It is not surprising, then, that when African American teenagers are taken out of underclass neighborhoods they are no more violent or delinquent than white teenagers." Well, that should give us one clue. 
Steven Pinker is not a profound thinker - he isn't even a coherent thinker. And he's a Darwinian fundamentalist who is literally incapable of imagining that criticisms of the claims and methods of evolutionary psychology could be motivated by anything other than political considerations.

And the reason for that is likely because he himself is motivated by political considerations and so assumes the other side operates in the same way.