Saturday, September 07, 2013

Big surprise - Steven Pinker is an ass again

UPDATE: welcome Facebookers - for more of my opinions on Steven Pinker and evolutionary psychology proponents please see the evo-psycho bros series on this blog.

I swear I am not constantly doing Google searches on the name Steven Pinker. Without even trying it seems like at least several times a month I read another story about Pinker being an ass - everywhere from Pharyngula, to today's New York Times:
I don’t want to talk about Colin McGinn. I want to talk about Steven Pinker — or rather, about something Steven Pinker said, in a letter he wrote in June to Professor Edward Erwin at the University of Miami, defending McGinn. Referring to the university’s threatened disciplinary action against McGinn in response to complaints from a female student, Pinker wrote that “such an action would put a chill on communication between faculty and graduate students and on the openness and informality on which scholarship depends.” 
Penalties for bad behavior include dirty looks, explicit criticism and sensitivity training. You may be subjected to blogging. 
What I want to say about this is: Really? For a university to treat lewd conversation as a serious offense threatens scholarship as we know it? Aren’t we being just a tad apocalyptic? 
To be fair to Pinker, a well-known Harvard psychologist and author, his main worry at the time was about the proportionality of the university’s response to the alleged offense — he was appalled that behavior “apparently no more serious than exchanging sexual banter with a graduate student” had been met with the academic equivalent of the nuclear option. Later, as more of the facts emerged, Pinker admitted that the alleged wrongdoing might have been more serious than he had originally thought. (Pinker apparently did not know all of the facts when he wrote this letter; he now acknowledges that McGinn “behaved badly,” but still maintains that “the outcome was too severe.”) But the fact that Pinker had found it plausible that a university would have forced out “a brilliant and distinguished scholar” just for joking around betrays some high paranoia.
Colin McGinn, in case you don't know, resigned over charges of sexual harassment:
In Mr. McGinn’s telling, his relationship with the student, a first-year doctoral candidate who worked as his research assistant during the 2012 spring semester, was an unconventional mentorship gone sour. 
It was “a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship,” an “intellectual romance” that never became sexual but was full of “bantering,” Mr. McGinn said in a telephone interview. The terms of his agreement with the university, he said, prevented him from saying much more. But “banter referring to sexual matters,” he added, isn’t always “sexual banter.” 
The student, through intermediaries, declined to be interviewed for this article, citing concern that it might damage her academic career. 
But Benjamin Yelle, the student’s boyfriend and a fifth-year graduate student in philosophy at Miami, said she had been subject to months of unwanted innuendo and propositions from Mr. McGinn, documented in numerous e-mails and text messages of an explicit and escalating sexual nature she had shown him. In one from May 2012, Mr. Yelle said, Mr. McGinn suggested he and the student have sex three times over the summer “when no one is around.” 
Both Mr. McGinn and the student declined to provide any e-mails or other documents related to the case. But Amie Thomasson, a professor of philosophy at Miami, said the student, shortly after filing her complaint in September 2012, had shown her a stack of e-mails from Mr. McGinn. They included the message mentioning sex over the summer, along with a number of other sexually explicit messages, Ms. Thomasson said.
In Pinker's case I don't know if it's so much paranoia as that it's his standard knee-jerk defense of any form of patriarchy, which he believes is the innate evolved way that humans were meant to live.

And yes, I do mean "meant to live" - although evolutionary psychologists are always banging on about how they are innocent of racism and sexism, just merely describing how things are, not how they ought to be, when you scratch the surface of their rhetoric you almost always discover that not only do they think that humans have evolved to behave exactly as people in the 21st century behave, but it's the best way for us to live.

That's why they suggest that rape victims should be told as part of their counseling that rape is an adaptive behavior, or advise governments to create a two-tier employment system to ensure that men earn more money than women.

How much you want a bet that if you debated Pinker long enough he would eventually admit that the reason we can't ask male philosophy professors to stop preying on their students is because boys will be boys and older men must naturally pursue younger women. Law of the jungle.

At this point I don't know who is the biggest evolutionary psychology/new atheist clown: Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. But Pinker is definitely doing his best to be the biggest.

UPDATE: ten minutes after I wrote this post I read this:
As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video. 
I was crushed. I couldn’t believe it. Richard Dawkins was my hero. I looked up to him as a beacon of truth and reason in a world of irrationality. I couldn’t believe he would act this way toward Rebecca. Before I left for the tour, I truly, honestly thought that the whole “Elevatorgate” thing was a miscommunication, and if someone (and I was willing to be that someone) would sit down with Dawkins, they could explain to him why it’s uncomfortable to be propositioned in an elevator by a stranger, and then Dawkins could apologize for the whole thing and everyone could move on. I really just thought it was just ignorance, not malice, that caused Dawkins to act that way.
Let this be a lesson - never discount that asshole Richard Dawkins for biggest evo-psycho/new atheist clown.

More observations on Steven Pinker.