Open Thread, 1/14/2018

Steven Pinker is one of my favorite public intellectuals. The Language Instinct is probably my favorite book from Pinker.

Last week I started seeing scientists who I respect(ed) starting to tweet that Steven Pinker, a moderately liberal academic of Jewish background, is a fan of Neo-Nazis. This stuff started to litter my timeline since I follow many scientists on Twitter. To find all the links and commentary, start with Jerry Coyne, who is a friend of Steve’s. All I have to say is that a substantial portion of the science Twittersphere is OK with bracketing Steven Pinker with Neo-Nazis. True fact.

I read Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts two years ago. I don’t remember much about that book though.

CBC under fire for documentary that says first humans to colonize New World sailed from Europe. There is less evidence for the Solutrean Hypothesis now than there was 20 years ago (in a relative sense). We also now know from ancient DNA that almost no Solutrean ancestry is present in modern Europeans.

If you don’t believe me, read this paper, The genetic history of Ice Age Europe.

At least most of my Twitter followers don’t seem to be anti-Pinker.

Having a hard time saying anything about Anhui of note. Perhaps that says something?

Genomweb story that mentions both my day-job and side-hustle.

21 thoughts on “Open Thread, 1/14/2018

  1. Thing about Steven Pinker is, he says a lot of really stupid things. Like (I paraphrase) “poverty is caused by the Second Law of Thermodynamics” or “the alt-right are stand-up fellows who have just been misunderstood”. It’s not entirely unreasonable to conjecture that he’s fallen for the re-branding of “Neo-Nazi” as “alt-right” and simply not realised he’s implicitly endorsing Neo-Nazis, given how sloppy he is with other things outside his field of expertise.

    Basically, I don’t think it’s as much a “the academic Left have lost their minds” thing as much as “Steven Pinker says stupid things, also about Nazis”.

  2. Like (I paraphrase) “poverty is caused by the Second Law of Thermodynamics” or “the alt-right are stand-up fellows who have just been misunderstood”.

    if you are going to use quotes, don’t make them up.

    it seems the legend of pinker is great enough that you can just make shit up. i asked a friend to tell me what stuff on race and poverty he’d said that was offensive. he couldn’t cite them.

    anyway, you just proved my point about the bankruptcy of the online left. hearsay is evidence. john stuart mill is worthless.

  3. Left wing academia probably is deranged on this issue. Alt-Right (who I will say are most often dumb and objectionable in my experience), not simply net nazis, more like brash young males who are discontent with the axis of various forms of post-colonialism, feminism, pop-Marxism, non-replicable and biased social pseudoscience and the rule of the degreed expert. Sometimes this takes them to similar places to net nazis, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case they are a reaction to a very different set of circumstances than gave birth to the nazis.

    If you understand this, you can understand why some of them can at the same time endorse racism, endorse the open society, and endorse an anti-authoritarian Enlightenment, knowledge and free speech centered view of the why the West is economically and militarily powerful (besides being more academically respectable, such a view of the rise of the West opposes in the strongest sense the post-colonialist and Marxist model where Western power is built on colonial exploitation of “PoC”).

    Left wing academia probably cannot understand this, it really is too intellectually lazy, fragile and unimaginative to, and so cannot really understand why someone like Pinker can appeal them despite emphatically not being any form of nazi.

  4. well, richard spencer has tried to claim ownership of the ‘alt-right’ term. so i think it is defensible to say it is synonymous with white nationalism.

    otoh, like ‘neocon’ in the 2000s, it seems like a standard slander in left-wing circles of anyone they like (including property developers in portland).

  5. “Having a hard time saying anything about Anhui of note. Perhaps that says something?”

    I probably does. Lived 2 years in Hefei. I’ve been to more boring places in China, but not many.

  6. “otoh, like ‘neocon’ in the 2000s, it seems like a standard slander in left-wing circles of anyone they like (including property developers in portland).”

    I assume you mean “don’t like”

  7. Milo’s taxonomy of what alt right means is still useful IMO but the term has become tainted by the worst of those groups. I think you called them “frog Nazis”. Did you come up with that? That’s a delightful way to put it.

    I wish there was a catchy term for right-of-center Trump-supporting-but-skeptical thinks-Frog-Nazis-are-losers. I’ve called myself an “Instapunditarian” but nobody understands that if they aren’t longtime readers over there.

  8. I just wanted to say thanks Razib for turning my on to R. Scott Bakker’s books. Disturbing but engaging.

    “I wish there was a catchy term for right-of-center Trump-supporting-but-skeptical thinks-Frog-Nazis-are-losers. I’ve called myself an “Instapunditarian” but nobody understands that if they aren’t longtime readers over there.”

    How about “in denial” or “conflicted”? Frogz von Papen? 😉

    More seriously, I think that space is getting increasingly small. Trump has no issues with retweeting and promoting Frog-Nazis at least. I get that a lot of people repudiate that ideology see working with these types as expedient in the pursuit of other ends. The duck test is making that distinction less meaningful by the day.

  9. i’ve had “consciousness on the brain” for a bit but haven’t made it there yet, currently reading Sean Carroll’s “from eternity to here.” Just finished “America’s War for the Greater Middle East” by Andrew Bacevich. i was in search of the “why” regarding our mysterious foreign policy. this book delivered:
    1) (starting after ww2: establish a “preponderance” of american military presence to prevent WW3 2) oil. Combine that with the neocon doctrine of democracy building, making an example of bad actor and terror havens, etc. we find ourselves where we are today.
    Basically, once the USSR collapsed, they decided to after Iraq (i think the book said they viewed it as a threat to the Saudi Kingdom since the early 80s.)
    this book is not verbose and is absolutely clear in the way it’s written – a lot of info to remember but easy to follow.

  10. Oh, weird. I also lived in Hefei for two years at one point.

    I guess the Hui-speaking parts of Anhui are linguistically interesting. Hefei, like most of the province, is a Mandarin-dialect-speaking area, though.

    The Buddhist mountain Jiuhuashan is one of my favorite places that I’ve gone to visit, although I’m not sure there’s anything particularly interesting to talk about with it. The second time I went, my friends and I discovered that there’s a discount if you’re a student or a Buddhist. As it happens, my friends were grad students and I am a Buddhist. The lady at the ticket counter obviously assumed I was lying so she refused me the discount unless I could produce a Buddhist ID card. I thought, wow, is there really a Buddhist ID card in this country that I’m supposed to be carrying around to get discounts on stuff? Never heard of it before or since. Maybe she was just gaslighting me.

    Chinese people generally prefer Huangshan, also in Anhui. I only went there once and conditions were bad. I guess if you’re going to visit a beautiful mountain, choose the weather carefully or else plan to stay for a few days to wait out bad weather.

    Anhui is where inland China begins, if you’re heading west from Shanghai. Hefei is very close to Nanjing and not that far from Shanghai, and yet has so much less going for it. I was told that almost all the foreign tourists in Hefei were there to adopt baby girls. I visited Wuhu, a mid-sized town in southeastern Anhui, once and it seemed to me there was something nicer about it that I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe the people there had the sense that they were close to the eastern seaboard and so they were more optimistic about their future.

    Hefei is also home to USTC, generally considered one of the most élite (top 5 or 10) universities in China. It’s probably the best school in China that isn’t in one of the rich eastern cities. USTC was originally located in Beijing but was moved out to the sticks during the Cultural Revolution. Not sure why only USTC – and not, say, Tsinghua – suffered this fate.

  11. After watching the discussion in full, the arguments made by Pinker appear much more ideological. I see an attack on the “university communists” straw man with Politically Incorrect Truth about the goodness of capitalism. Is this PragerU video?

  12. FYI Razib: “DNA and the Origin of the Jews”

    Is there a genetic marker for cohanim (priests)? Are Ashkenazi Jews descended from Khazars? Why is there such a close genetic connection between Samaritans and Jews, especially cohanim? A look at what genetic testing can tell us about Jews.

    Prof. Steven J. Weitzman

  13. “Wilson was giving a talk about sociobiology in 1978. Before the talk began, protesters took over the stage, holding signs and declaring sociobiology wrong and condemning Wilson for coming up with it. One of the protesters then emptied a pitcher of ice water over Wilson’s head.”

    Has there been a fundamental change since 1978 other than the existence of social media?

  14. Enjoying Razib’s Insitome podcasts. Thought I’d note that the first one implicitly contradicts an assertion made by commenters in an earlier open thread. The Insitome podcast speculates that the rapid climate change at the beginning of the Younger Dryas pushed hunter-gatherers to agriculture. In the prior thread (sorry I don’t remember which), commenters speculated that rapid climate change during the Pleistocene kept modern humans from successfully developing agriculture until the Holocene.

    I still think it’s a big mystery why agriculture developed spontaneously and independently in multiple locations, and occurred only in the last 10% or so of the history of modern humans.

  15. USTC in Anhui is the fourth top Chinese science university.

    The aggregated reputable science journal papers weighted fractional count WFC data from, , an off-shoot of Nature Journal, showed that of the top 10 Chinese science university, 6 of them are concentrated in the small Jiangnan area. The full year data for 2016 Oct 1 to 2017 Sept 30 is used as the proxy for 2017. The non Jiangnan universities out of the 10 are Peking Uni and Tsinghua Uni in Beijing, Nankai Uni in Tianjing, and Xiamen Uni in Fujian just slightly south of Jiangnan. 8 out of the above 10 universities are hosts for the recent ‘double first’ disciplines with special fundings, except Uni of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Soochow Uni. The same 8 universities also receive special fundings from the 985 project since 1998.

    The performance of Peking Uni seemed to have flattened, but Tsinghua Uni is still powering ahead. Facing strong competition from the other Jiangnan universities especially from USTC and UCAS, the performance of Zhejiang Uni seemed to have dropped. The performance of the no. 10 Soochow Uni in Jiangsu is very interesting, it was quite recently a teacher training college. Three years ago THE data stated the gender ratio was about 80% female but recent data showed that it is now about even. The global ranking had gone from 192 in 2012 and successively 164, 102, 78, 79, to the estimated 62 for 2017. This could have been the results of recently putting a returnee life science researcher from USA to be the university president. Comparable performance of Soochow Uni with respect to some US universities,

    Rank WFC12 WFC17 Uni
    54 141.8 124.17 UC Irvine
    56 168.98 124.16 UCSD
    62 57.99 114.03 Soochow Uni
    64 130.55 111.66 UPitt
    66 140.63 110.83 Purdue Uni
    70 159.32 108.96 Rutger Uni
    71 147.33 108.92 UC-Boulder

    The progress of some of the universities globally,

  16. Anhui is the birthplace of Zhu Yuanzhang and Li Hongzhang. What else do you need?

    The Language instinct is a beautifully written book, but the science is sketchy. The “grammar is genetic” part is just his homage to his patron Chomsky; and it just isn’t true. Pinker doesn’t speak a foreign language and it shows.

    I’m still a fan, but I hope he’ll be remembered for The Blank Slate. As a linguist he’s really weak.

  17. Now just imagine how much harder it would be for him to defend himself from these accusations if he wasn’t Jewish. Dawkins gets smeared too, because he is critical of Islam, even though Dawkins strikes me as liberal.

    Seems like Academia is skimming over nuance and just throwing out labels.

  18. @spandrell: He was born in Montreal and lived there until his early 20s. Most Anglo Montrealers of his generation would be at least pretty decent French speakers if not totally fluent.

  19. @Joe Q.: I think he admitted he can’t speak French or Yiddish (which his parents spoke). I suspect that big factor for the high rate of Anglo-Quebecker proficiency in French is their mobility – those that can’t/won’t speak French to sufficient level for employment will leave for the rest of the Canada, the United States and rest of the the English-speaking world.

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