Steven Pinker Survives Attempted Cancellation
In early July, a group of linguistics researchers published an open letter calling for the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) to revoke the organization’s distinguished fellow status from linguist and cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Enlightenment Now.
The signatories, many of them graduate and undergraduate students, pointed to years-old tweets of Pinker’s that they claimed revealed his racist and sexist biases. Almost immediately, a group of established scholars leapt to his defense. “The letter shows no familiarity with Pinker’s work, and takes statements out of context in a way that, with the merest checking, are seen to be represented duplicitously,” wrote Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. Academics from across the disciplinary and political spectrum joined Coyne in rebutting the letter, including linguist (and Reason contributor) John McWhorter, leftist firebrand Noam Chomsky, and formal semantics pioneer Barbara Partee.
In a conversation with Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey on the day the LSA announced it would not take any action against him, Pinker explained what efforts like the LSA letter tell us about the state of debate in America’s elite institutions.
Q: This LSA letter is an astonishing document.
A: I think it’s part of a larger mindset that does not see the world as having complex problems that we fail to understand and o
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