Harvard professor Stephen Pinker attacked by 550 academics for tweets dating from 2014
A famous Harvard professor and scholar whose most recent book was described by Bill Gates as “my all-time favorite new book” has become the latest target of America’s “culture wars”.
Steven Pinker, 65, a cognitive psychologist and popular science author, has been accused of downplaying concerns about racial justice and sexism.
More than 550 academics have signed a letter to remove him from the list of “distinguished fellows” of the Linguistic Society of America.
They gave as evidence six of his tweets dating back to 2014, and his 2011 description of a man who shot four assailants as “in soft manners.”
“Dr. Pinker is accustomed to speaking about genuine grievances and downplaying injustices, often by distorting the facts, and at the exact times when Blacks and Browns rally against systemic racism and for critical change,” their report said. letter.
The company’s executive committee refused to remove him last week, saying: “It is not the company’s mission to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression.”
The decision to convict Dr Pinker came after 153 intellectuals and writers, including JK Rowling, Fareed Zakaria and Malcolm Gladwell, signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that criticized the current intellectual climate, calling it “canceling culture.” and “intolerant”.
Their letter sparked a fiery backlash from opposing liberal and left-wing writers, who accused the editors of Harper’s letter of elitism and hypocrisy.
Dr Pinker has made big donations to Barack Obama, but he denounced what he sees as the narrow-mindedness of heavily liberal American universities.
The Montreal-born professor enjoys intellectual debates, asking provocative questions about innate differences between the sexes and between different ethnic and racial groups.
He also suggested that the political left’s insistence on banning certain topics has contributed to the rise of the alt-right.
“I am convinced that the world is a complex place that we are trying to understand,” he told The New York Times. “There is an inherent value in freedom of expression, because no one knows a priori the solution to problems. “
He described his detractors as “police officers of the word” who “scoured my writings for offensive lines and adjectives.”
One pointed tweet was a comment from 2015 that the number of police shootings on blacks may be due to police having a disproportionate number of encounters with black residents in underprivileged communities.
“Data: Police don’t shoot black people disproportionately,” he tweeted, with a link to an article. “Problem: no race, but too many police shootings.”
Another complaint was that Dr. Pinker in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, described a man who shot four young abusers on the New York City subway in the 1970s as “de gentle way ”.
He wrote, “Bernhard Goetz, a mild-mannered engineer, became a folk hero for shooting four young muggers in a New York subway car.”
The letter against him states: “Once again, the language used by Dr. Pinker to refer to this person as ‘gentle’ illustrates his tendency to downplay the very real violence. “
He suggested that the under-representation in science might be partly rooted in the biological differences between men and women.
In 2007, he brought his linguistic expertise to the 2007 defense of Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges, at the request of his friend Alan Dershowitz – Epstein’s lawyer.
Dr Pinker said he regretted getting involved. John McWhorter, professor of English and linguistics at Columbia University, said the argument was “depressing”.
“Steve is too big for this kerfuffle to affect him,” he said. “But it is depressing that a wise and reasonable scholar is seen by many intelligent people as an undercover monster.”