PinkerGate: The last word

Two days ago I wrote about how some social-media folks had distorted an eight-minute remark by Steve Pinker made at the Spiked event at Harvard: “Is political correctness why Trump won?” Pinker spoke about how certain facts have been censored or deemed by the Left taboo to discuss, and how the suppression of truth in that manner simply drives people into the arms of the Right or the “alt-right” (whatever the “alt-right” is). If you listened to Pinker’s whole set of remarks, it was clear that he was against the alt-right and was calling for a degree of honesty by progressives that would not drive people rightward.

In my post, I showed how many people willfully distorted Pinker’s remarks to make him seem a fan of the alt-right, something that anybody with a few neurons could have discerned had they listened to the whole eight-minute talk. But people kept excerpting just the first part of the remarks, where Pinker adumbrates the truths and also remarked—unfortunately, in my view—that there are “highly literate and highly intelligent people” who gravitate to the alt-right. While that statement was unfortunate, I think it came from Pinker’s seeing the “alt-right” (as I used to) as meaning “the far right”. But that didn’t matter. His point was that the Left has to deal with the facts about society, and then put them in their proper context, showing, for instance, that even if on average different sexes or ethnic groups differ in behavior or interests, that doesn’t mean they should be treated unequally or discriminated against. When the Left fails to do that, it could indeed turn people towards the other pole of politics.

As if that wasn’t enough, I pointed out that Pinker was one of the Harvard faculty’s biggest donors to the Democratic Party, something that hardly comports with him being on the “alt-right.”

Nevertheless, many people, hungry to demolish Pinker for reasons that are multifarious and often obscure, simply ignored the totality of his remarks so they could demonize him.  This attempt to smear Pinker, a well-known liberal, is one of the most blatant examples of dishonesty I’ve seen coming from people who describe themselves as Lefties. Here are some of the first tweets from people recognizing and calling out the unwarranted demonization of Pinker:

The last tweet includes a number of other tweets, some by people we know, smearing Pinker. I’ll put in those screenshots:

 

One of the first people to call out these distortions was writer Jesse Singal, who describes himself as “a Brooklyn-based journalist. I’m currently writing a book about social science, social justice, and the replication crisis for Farrar, Straus and Giroux (it’s due out…. not sure). I’m also a contributing writer at New York Magazine.  ” Here’s a tweet where Singal compares what Pinker actually said with how blogger P. Z. Myers characterized it:

Well, Singal wasn’t satisfied with responding on Twitter, and so he’s written a longer piece for today’s New York Times (link below), using Pinkergate as a symbol of the Internet’s inanity. (I’m not sure if it’s “making us dumber,” but it’s giving us the chance to show our true personalities: smart, dumb, honest, or duplicitous.)

You can read it for yourself (it’s not long), and I’ll just post a few excerpts:

The clip [of Pinker’s remarks] went viral. The right celebrated; the left fumed. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website ran an article headlined, in part, “Harvard Jew Professor Admits the Alt-Right Is Right About Everything.” A tweet of the video published by the self-described “Right-Wing Rabble-Rouser” Alex Witoslawski got hundreds of retweets, including one from the white-nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

“Steven Pinker has long been a darling of the white supremacist ‘alt-right,’” noted the lefty journalist Ben Norton. “And he returns the favor.” Others reacted to the rumor with simple exasperation: “Christ on a crutch,” said the liberal commentator and biologist PZ Myers, who also wrote a blog post denouncing Mr. Pinker for this supposed alliance.

The idea that Mr. Pinker, a liberal, Jewish psychology professor, is a fan of a racist, anti-Semitic online movement is absurd on its face, so it might be tempting to roll your eyes and dismiss this blowup as just another instance of social media doing what it does best: generating outrage.

But it’s actually a worthwhile episode to unpack, because it highlights a disturbing, worsening tendency in social media in which tribal allegiances are replacing shared empirical understandings of the world.

And here are some of Singal’s conclusions:

That’s because the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces [JAC: Why have the dynamics of these spaces become so pernicious?] hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect. On a wide and expanding range of issues, there’s no such thing as good-faith disagreement.

The online anger aimed at Mr. Pinker provides a perfect case study.

. . . It’s getting harder and harder to talk about anything controversial online without every single utterance of an opinion immediately being caricatured by opportunistic outrage-mongers, at which point everyone, afraid to be caught exposed in the skirmish that’s about to break out, rushes for the safety of their ideological battlements, where they can safely scream out their righteousness in unison. In this case: “Steven Pinker said the alt-right is good! But the alt-right is bad! We must defend this principle!”

This is making us dumber.

As I said, I don’t agree that this is making us dumber. People like Myers are not dumb, and are no dumber than they were before they began engaging in such outrage-mongering. What social media is doing is making them more recalcitrant in their views, more tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong. I’m not exactly sure why this is so, and perhaps readers can weigh in here. I suppose if you take a very strong and public stand, it’s a lot harder to back off or apologize if you are a public figure than if you’re simply someone talking personally to someone else. With social media, everyone is to some extent a public figure, which wasn’t true in the days when controversial figures like Mencken held the stage. But I’m still not satisfied with that explanation.

Even after realizing that these outrage mongers had been played by others—or by themselves—they continue to occupy their Faulty Towers, arguing for example, that Pinker is still a “useful idiot” to the alt-right or is “liked” by the alt-right. In this way they pretend to revise their views without really having done so. Here are a few examples of that:

Sacha Saeen, who was previously unknown to me, appears to be the person who started the fracas by posting a truncated video of Pinker’s remarks:

I’d comment further, but this is a family friendly site.

97 Comments

  1. yazikus
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I listened to the video, and my only objection (which I think other commenters pointed out on the other thread) is that his four facts more resemble what those on the alt-right think the left thinks than what the left actually thinks. That said, I found him compelling, reasonable, and clearly he was trying to reach an audience right of the fence (and maybe those very far left of the fence as well). Unfortunate to see some of those names on the list. Not at all surprising to see others. This is a classic case of the left ‘not helping!’ the liberal cause.

    • yazikus
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Should have said the four facts rebut what the right thinks the left thinks.

    • FH
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think he said that the Left actually thinks those things, just that they make those facts unspeakable, which is true in my experience. Most intelligent people on the Left don’t believe that every ethnic group commits crime at the same rate or that there are no innate gender differences on average.

      However, very often, if you say something contrary to those statements you will get shut down because it’s unimaginable to them that those things could lead to anything other than racism and misogyny. The problem is, and this was Pinker’s whole point as I understand it, that they are still facts and they don’t go away if you ignore them.

      Moderately intelligent people, who read and observe and are able to make up their minds will discover them, but many of those who do will never have encountered good arguments why they shouldn’t lead to bigoted attitudes, simply because that would have required acknowledging the facts in the first place.

      This, combined with the feeling of having been lied to by the “elites”, of having been treated like children who couldn’t be trusted to “know the truth”, leads to a backlash. People are adopting more extreme attitudes than they otherwise would, will not believe what they are told by the “PC” media anymore are more susceptible to influence by those who define themselves in total opposition to the left. I believe this is a big factor that drives the alt-right, and I have seen it happening in real life. I think this is what Pinker had in mind as well.

      • yazikus
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        I think you’re on it. +1

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    This is precisely the same thing the Soviets have discovered about the internet and it’s various platforms to propagandize and take over our politics in this country. It is the same thing that the far left is doing.

    I have no idea what the answer is but unless people who are easily influenced by the internet and everything on the bad side of it wake up….this will just get worse.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      “Soviets”? — how 20th-century retro of you, buddy. 🙂

    • eric
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      I have no idea what the answer is…

      Practice, IMO. The more academic disagreements on politics, religion, philosophy, public policy, etc. a person has with someone who disagrees with them, the more easy doing so will become. This sort of discussion is one of the things college is supposed to be for, but sadly it seems to be a bit lacking in it now.

      A person not getting this in a guided/involuntary format via university classes could, however, get it voluntarily by turning off their computer, inviting their opposite number to a coffee shop, and having a civil face to face conversation with them.

  3. Harrison
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    For Myers, it wasn’t social media that turned him, but his own blog culture, which he intentionally cultivated. Not unlike Trump, he’s stuck playing to his base, and they’re a foul bunch.

    • SweetPeavey
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I agree, I think it was the bunny incident that did him in, it was the last time I remember seeing him try to push back against his minions and it didn’t go well for him

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        What was “the bunny incident?”

        • SweetPeavey
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          A ridiculous controversy about a cartoon depicting two cartoon bunnies, one in pants and one in a dress, in which the female bunny makes a religious assertion that is contradicted by the smart atheist bunny in pants.
          The resulting heated discussion about whether or not the cartoonist was sexist by depicting the female bunny as the dumb, credulous one went on for hours until even PZ had enough and tried to rein it in, without success.
          It’s the last time I can remember him trying to push back against his commentariat and it’s around that time that I stopped taking him seriously.

          https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/11/24/sometimes-a-bunny-is-just-a-bunny/

    • Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      PZ Myers has always been a nasty, creepy, resentful, twisted little man. It’s only thanks to his access to social media that, instead of just the denizens of a sleepy little farm town, the entire world knows he believes in lamarckism and Gaia theory, condones bestiality, fantasizes about having kinky sex with his students & mollusks alike, and harbors the desire to murder priests and stab christians.

      • yazikus
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        This thread (and this topic) are an interesting place to drop your spin-erific comment, Matt.

        • Richard Sanderson
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          “Yazikus”

          That is a name I recognise.

          Do you comment on some of the non-religious blogs at Patheos?

          There are a bunch of PZ-defenders and regressive chumps I routinely rip to shred over there.

          Go on, try and mount a defence of PZ Myers. Why anybody other than racists and utter pieces of fecal matter defend this scumbag, only Charlie Darwin knows.

          • yazikus
            Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

            No thanks. I haven’t the desire to. I was just amused at the placement of Matt’s comment. I imagine he got what I meant.

      • E-J Jay
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        Do you have any evidence that PZ condones bestiality. lusts after his students, or fantasizes about murdering Christians?

        • Harrison
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          Michael Nugent has documented some of PZ’s violent fantasies:

          http://www.michaelnugent.com/2015/01/17/violent-rhetoric-pope-francis-pz-myers/

        • Richard Sanderson
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          He was actually accused of raping one of his students.

          So much for #ListenAndBelieve.

          • Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

            What? He was? Wow. So…what happened? He’s still employed (I gather) so I guess it didn’t happen at his school (U of Minnesota at…Morris?).

          • Posted January 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

            This isn’t true. According to some version of his story, and he offered several. He claimed he was threatened with such an accusation. Please be precise with such matters, or provide evidence otherwise.

            It’s of course remarkable how both better known blogging men at the Intersectional Headquarter, Jason Thibeault and PZ Myers report (themselves) to have been accused/threatened to be accused of sexual inappropriate behaviour, and how the third big name, Richard Carrier was accused later on (he’s sueing). You have to let that sink in: all three most visible “intersectional” guys there (at the time) had or have to deal with accusations, or threats of such nature.

            In the same manner, the single most nasty place, then teeming with sexual violence in insults, was FreeThoughtBlogs. Their numerous defenders and Patreons from Matt Dillahunty to David Silverman have no conception of just how much egg they have on their faces.

            One thing is sure, these people demonstrate most vividly the psychological concept of projection, and seem to be mostly driven by that, and the realization that copious virtue signalling works like teflon. Myers was the first to openly deplatform a female skeptic, he made rapey jokes, threw around violent (including sexual and violent) insults — documented by “Skep Sheik” on his blog — and none of that ever undermined him in the eyes if his flock.

            The same people, however bring out pitchforks and the pyre when it comes to far, far, milder comments by Dawkins etcetera (or here, Pinker).

            On topic, I think this has to do with Post-Evangelicalism in the USA that runs in these people. They no longer believe in God, but they are still burning Evangelicals. I only have anecdotal evidence, but I found that when their opponents congregate, there was a remarkably high number of “internationals”, apparently outnumbering the Americans.

            • Posted January 12, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

              “This isn’t true. According to some version of his story, and he offered several. He claimed he was threatened with such an accusation.”

              Ah. Thanks, Aneris.

        • Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          In lieu of links, I will list post titles.

          Myers once posted about an erotic dream involving his students turning into mermaids. (“Nightmare Fuel”)

          He condoned sex with certain ‘willing’ (sic) animals, naming dogs and dolphins, and argued that bestiality laws should be struck from the books. He also saw no problem with having sex with any dead animal, with a squid purchased at the fish market being one example.
          (“The ‘objective morality’ gotcha”,“Do not have sex with the cephalopods!”)

          On numerous occasions, he’s posted hentai tentacle rape porn, and once wrote: “nothing beats a sea slug for that vulval feel”.
          (“Definitely Not Safe For Work”, “No! Don’t use an octopus for bikini bottoms!”, “Cephaloporn, a critique”)

          Myers laughed at the death of a priest who worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor and homeless, and fantasizied about killing more himself. (“It must have been an act of god”)

          Myers threatened to shank any christians who tried to pray for him: “Just so all you Christians know, if I’m in a fatal accident, and I’m lying in the street dying, and you’re not running over to stop the bleeding or otherwise physically help me, and you try to pull that prayer-and-conversion shit on me, I’m going to stab you.” (“Cause to Celebrate!”)

          He relished getting the chance to slug the Pope: “if ever … I were to meet the pope, I’d have to punch him for provoking me” (“A Papal Conundrum”), and indulged in a deathbed fantasy where he slaps and strangles “The last priest on Earth” who is also the Pope, Dalai Lama, “Head Imam” and jewish high priest. (”What makes for a good death?”)

      • Richard Sanderson
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        You missed out the fact he was accused of raping one of his students.

        I’ve also had other messages from former students about his creepy behaviour.

        No wonder he virtue signals LOUDLY how he is so “pro-woman”.

        What a con-artist.

        • jaxkayaker
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

          Do you have a citation for this claim? I’d very much like to review it.

  4. Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  5. Historian
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    The frenzy created in the minds of those who have attacked Pinker once again reveals the mind of the ideologues, whether to be found on the right or left of the political spectrum. As purists, intolerant of any views that differ in the least from theirs, they must strike out against their perceived enemies. They may not even realize or care that they are distorting the views of those that they have mentally defined as pure evil. Ultimately, the larger society realizes their idiocies and rejects them. Totally baffled as to why this happens, they believe that certainly their next article or tweet will convince the masses of the correctness of their views. Frustrated, they wonder why people cannot accept the obvious truths they espouse. As Trump would say, these people are sad.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      The harshest punishments are almost always reserved for apostates.

  6. Jon Gallant
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    The Internet is not making anyone dumber, but it is rather providing an unprecedented medium for infantile attention-grabbing behaviour. Whereas previously, blowhards would bore you witless in a bar, now we have hordes of them (Trump, Myers, etc. etc.) boring everyone witless on the Internet.

    To this, I have to add that the selective quotation trick seems more common on the infantile Left than its counterpart at the other end. I’m uncertain why this is so.
    Maybe it relates back to the old Left’s Jesuitical trick of mining Marx or Lenin for usables text-bites.

  7. Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Sacha Saeen popped up just before Ayaan and Asra Nomani testified to the Homeland Security Committee. He had a go at Ayaan, accusing her of supporting Sisi, I queried him politely, he blocked me after 3 exchanges. Sarah Haider, as usual, had the most charitable interpretation of his behaviour: perhaps he is ill.

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      He blocks anybody who calls out his BS.

      It is so his TL is clear of pesky people demolishing his lies, with pesky things called FACTS.

      If you see people approvingly retweeting this fraud (this includes creepers like Dan Arel, PZ Myers, Nice Mangos, and a few others), they are also likely to be frauds.

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        On the other hand, I make a positive effort to follow people with whom I know I will disagree. Yet, I’m constantly disappointed at how I could have predicted their ideas. The unusual thinker is rare indeed, and I guess twitter is a super-lens on the ideological bubble of offline networks.

  8. Kirbmarc
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Sacha Saeen has a history of being dishonest about people he doesn’t like (like Sam Harris):

    https://concretemilkshake.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/playing-dumb-the-masochism-of-misrepresentation/

  9. Jake Sevins
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Someone should make a video with Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, “Many good people have been seduced by the dark side of the force” and then a newspaper with headline “Kenobi says Dark Side full of ‘Good People'”

    It would be hilarious AND on-point.

    • Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I agree wholeheartedly. This isn’t the internet, this is all us, this is in us. The internet just magnifies the effect. For wasn’t Anakin good, wasn’t he happy, wasn’t he virtuous, until a host of external and internal changes got him to change his cape?

      Most of us have avoided our hate, somewhere along the line others have let it flow through themselves.

  10. SweetPeavey
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    PZ has a blog post up already in which he, of course, doubles down.
    It’s almost Trumpish, this tendency to never apologize, never roll back earlier statements and never pause to consider that this style of rhetoric is better at alienating people than persuading them.

    • Paul S
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Once you cross the line and associate someone as being an alt-right nazi whatever, you can never go back and you can’t apologize, lest you are seen as a sympathizer.

    • Vaal
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      My goodness, I just read that new post by PZ.
      It was…just…amazing (not to mention reprehensible). It would be hard to find a better example of “doubling down” than that.

      He truly comes off as someone who you can’t reason with at this point.

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        And yet in explaining science he can be very good.
        But in matters concerning social justice, he has less interest in accuracy or inconvenient details.

        • Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          His science long ago became corrupted lysenkoism in service to his radical left ideology.

          I’m not sure how good at explaining science one can be, when one brags about confusing 3/4 of one’s freshman cell biology students, and admitting that (paraphrasing): ‘I teach them Fisher; then I teach them why Fisher doesn’t matter.’

          • Posted January 12, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

            You got me there. I have seen that too. I was referring to less.. intersectional matters, but I was not clear.

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        He crossed that point years ago. At least he hasn’t yet accused Pinker of rape. That’s his usual accusation.

      • Vaal
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        I’d just like to amend what I wrote, a bit.

        In saying PZ seems like someone you can no longer reason with, I’m specifically talking about the idea of getting him to change his mind, especially if he’s made what I think to be a mistake. (And that’s hard for all of us).

        That’s not the same as simply writing him off, though, which I do not do. I still think PZ and I would agree on many things, and that he can write some interesting and valuable stuff. I am very critical of the elements in PZ’s writing that I think deserve criticism, but the last thing I’d want to do is fall into the very “with us/against us” thinking that seems so poisonous these days, and simply dismiss PZ entirely for not agreeing with everything I believe.

        • SweetPeavey
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

          I agree with you. I still think he’s a good writer, he just needs to get out of the ideological cocoon he’s in and be willing to lose the loyalty of his posse of arrogant maniacs. I can only imagine that would be difficult to do, as I’ve never had my own posse of maniacs to lose, but I can see how even that little amount of power and influence would be hard to give up

        • Posted January 13, 2018 at 2:32 am | Permalink

          “I’d want to do is fall into the very “with us/against us” thinking that seems so poisonous these days, and simply dismiss PZ entirely for not agreeing with everything I believe.”

          I think that’s a salutary instinct, but wasted on some folks who are just too far-gone. PZ would certainly fall into that category at this point, and CJ Werleman would be another such example. On the other hand, there are writers who I think have drank deeply of the ‘social justice’ koolaid who nevertheless sometimes have a worthwhile point, for example Eiynah or Contrapoints. And even PZ might rarely have a purely science-oriented post that’s worthwhile, at least that was the case when I was still following him – his post on DIC microscopy is a very good suitable-for-laypeople explanation of a fairly complex topic, for example. But as soon as he turns to anything to do with ideology or politics, good grief, his rhetoric goes south fast!

  11. darrelle
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    “What social media is doing is making them more recalcitrant in their views, more tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong.

    There may be something to that but I wonder if some of this can be accounted for by social media simply enhancing the visibility of people that are already very tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong to a much larger audience. The only one of these people lying about Pinker that I have many years of acquaintance with is PZ Myers. He is an example of what I mean.

    Even in the early days of his blog some personal characteristics were clearly evident. He could be quite nasty to people he disagreed with and people who disagreed with him. I never, not a single time, ever witnessed him admit that he was wrong about something when challenged. Even when clear evidence was provided. Granted, he may have done so but being a regular at his site for some years, never having witnessed him do so, but often witnessed him get nasty with someone when it was clear he was wrong, I’m confident it was rare at best.

    His inability to admit he was wrong, and his ungracious attitude about it, was to me his most noticeable characteristic. That characteristic really turned me off from very early on. I mostly read his site for several of the regular commenters there who were quite good. For example Sastra, who is also a regular commenter here at WEIT.

    • Vaal
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Speaking of Sastra, we haven’t seen (her?) around here for a while, have we? (I may have missed it).

      One of my favorite contributors to these comment sections (and a voice of reason on PZ’s site)

      • darrelle
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        She has been mostly absent for a while now, but I did recently see a couple of comments from her. Can’t remember the exact thread off hand, but it was actually one of the Pinker threads. Perhaps the first one Jerry put up.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Ah ha. Found it. A comment of hers was about Pinker but it was actually in the recent article Jerry put up about Prager.

        Dennis Prager explains why he believes in the afterlife

        • Vaal
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          Sastra sighting!

          Thanks.

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • eric
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if some of this can be accounted for by social media simply enhancing the visibility of people that are already very tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong to a much larger audience.

      No, I think the anonymity and physical/social distance provided by the internet both result in otherwise good or normal people behaving socially badly. It doesn’t have to, of course, but I think statistically it does.

      George Carlin had a skit where he pointed out that the louder you call someone an a**h*** usually depends on how far away from you they are. Everyone has those moments – not just some bad apples. Who knows, it may even be a survival instinct to avoid antagonizing a potential attacker when they’re right next to you. Or maybe not. Whatever teh cause, people you talk to on the internet or twitter are both physically and metaphorically a long way away from you.

      Which is a long-winded way of saying I side with the “causes some normal people to behave like jerks” argument rather than the “reveals the jerks among us” argument.

    • Taz
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Agree completely about Sastra.

      • Posted January 13, 2018 at 6:10 am | Permalink

        Yes, me too, and I also miss Ben Goren since he found love. OTOH, I’m happy for him 🙂

  12. Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum.

  13. jhs
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Maybe because it is easier to trash talk others than to try to understand others.

    Maybe such trash talk does make people dumber, and there are more dumb people spending more time on the internet.

    Who knows?

    Can we just talk about Pinker’s lovely gray hair and Trump’s coiffured orange-blond hair?

  14. Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    It’ wrong for the NYT to describe PZ Myers as “liberal”. He’s a regressive leftist ideologue who espouses many illiberal views.

    It interesting to observe how Myers’ derangement leads him to eventually declare as politically ‘right wing’ any liberal amenable to cognitive or evolutionary psychology.

    • Leigh
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Why substitute name-calling for logical argument?

    • Craw
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      That’s been going on a loooooooong time. E O Wilson 40 years ago for example.

    • Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      PZ Myers, who lurks here but is too cowardly to respond directly to PCC, has another blog post up attacking Pinker.

      The first of Pinker’s thoughtcrimes that Myers lists?

      “Pinker is an advocate for evolutionary psychology….”</blockquote

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Believe me, I can come up with a few OTHER choice epithets for PZ Myers.

  15. Craw
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I think one of the problems is speed. With social media people react quickly to initial, often doubtful, reports. Then people see lots of other people they normally agree with piling on. Social proof feedback loops start. Quickly you have a mob.
    It’s exacerbated by Twitter because of the need for extreme compression.

    This really isn’t a new phenomenon, since we have seen mobs for all of history. But the speed of it gets inside many peoples’ OODA loop.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      My suspicion is that there are (many) people who *like* the feelings of outrage and being part of a mob – and social media is one way of supporting supercritical mob-readiness. All you need is a catalyst to let loose the (often confected) outrage.

      It doesn’t matter what Pinker actually said, or meant, all people were looking for was a fresh effigy to (virtually) lynch. The effigy being a straw man of course.

  16. Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    P Z Myers wanted to be one of the four (orignally five–Ayaan Hirsi Ali was to be part of the group) horsemen but he couldnt be by virtue of being too dumb and too nasty. So–he’s decided to make a career of being dumb and nasty instead. In fairness, he does seem to have found his true calling there.

    • Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, Myers only asked to ‘ride a pony’ and be put in charge of internet atheism.

      And to discharge that self-granted mandate, he proceeded to cultivate a caustic and belligerent commentariat, and aggressively ban anyone who disagreed with him. Then he filled his ‘science’ (sic) blog with: accusations of prominent skeptics for sexual assault and harassment based on rumors and second-hand gossip; accuse another prominent atheist of “providing a haven for rapists”; promote radical feminist and postmodernist ideology; regularly share (with images) his paraphilia for sex with sea creatures; put forth his crackpot theories on evolution, while virulently attacking EP and declaring natural selection “insignificant” to evolution. He also laughed at the death of a priest raising money for a children’s charity, and mocked Robin Williams’ suicide.

      Well done, Little Paul.

      • Harrison
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Over time it’s become more obvious that his affected humility masks a deep sense of entitlement. He’s a humblebraggart at heart.

        • John Frum
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps he is mistaking popularity for respect.
          It seems quite a common mistake to make.

  17. sshort
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Pinker is simply asking people to think harder… never a popular move with religious and political zealots.

  18. Steve Gerrard
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I think Singal’s point is that dumber =

    “more recalcitrant in their views, more tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong.”

    It is the shorter “Twitterized” version of all that.

    Once again, Twitter is treated as if it spoke for all Americans, or at least everyone who matters. It seems obvious to me that it is not where policy issues will ever get resolved, or even usefully discussed.

    • Craw
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      My theory about Twitter is this. When aliens invade it will be useful to them if all the idiots were easily identified. Hence Twitter.

  19. Posted January 12, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Ironically, one of the biggest problems with social media is its democracy. Everyone’s voice carries equal weight in many conversations. As with this Pinkergate episode, people can point out a grave injustice and abuse of the truth but they don’t really carry much authority. No one has the power and authority to definitively say “that’s crap” and take the offending content down.

    This is a hard problem to solve. Some minor social media sites have tried to address this by allowing people to vote things up and down and using this data to generate some sort of “respect” score for each participant. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work much better than the “like” mechanisms on Twitter and Facebook.

  20. Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    re Jay Rocker comment: you got it backwards! Pinker didn’t agree with the alt right about race and IQ. It is the alt right which always looks for credible “scientific” facts or opinions to support their racist theories. Acknowledging the existence of race is not
    racist; it is racist PRACTICES that are racist! (Duh.). Another side of this has to do with Islamism. Anyone, liberals included, who acknowledges the violence and repression of Islam, sharia law and other Muslim practices is smeared because it just so happens that the alt right has taken up this issue and happens to be CORRECT in its assessment of the dangers of Islam. So even if you reached this conclusion solely on the basis of your own research, you are tarred with the racist brush by the left, which is conscientious in ignoring the atrocities of Islam against women and children as well as Islamists who commit terrorist acts. It isnt right wing to acknowledge these atrocities! Isnt that what liberals and the left do all the time when it comes to Israel, for example? But when it comes to Hamas and Hezbollah, all of a sudden they are silent. These misunderstandings are part of the reason we have postmodernism trashing the notion of truth and casting aspersions on science and scientists such as Pinker. The alt right exists because the left has recused itself from the truth and supports criminals and authoritarians and their crimes against humanity.

    • Curt Nelson
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think the right dislikes Islam for the same reason as liberals (violence and repression). The right hates it because it isn’t christianity and muslims tend to be non white.

      Left and right arrive at the same place for very different reasons.

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        … for the same reason as SOME liberals.

        • Kiwi Dave
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps you should also qualify your generalisation about the right to ‘SOME OF the right’.

          I read some conservative US bloggers, one regularly, and it’s obvious that they are principled believers in the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution for all Americans, and oppose repression and coercion.

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        In the U.S. context 40% of Muslims are white, 28% Asian, 20% black and 8% Hispanic, Pew tells us. I’ve never come across an SJW who knows this basic fact, as they champ at the bit to call someone a racist.

        • denise
          Posted January 13, 2018 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          But they’re considered brown, not white, making them people of color. Pew might not recognize brown as a category, but SJWs do.

  21. sniffnoy
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The quoted tweet by Giovanni Tiso is correct, though — Pinker’s not a leftist, he’s a liberal. Which (as a liberal myself!) is not to somehow validate Mr. Tiso’s broader point.

    (If you read the thread it came from, it’s pretty clear that there’s some serious failure to adapt to terminological differences there — @zbepo explains that he’s using “leftist” to mean “not right wing nor on the center”, and Mr. Tiso just basically… ignores this, continuing to use the word in a different way without stopping to negotiate terminology.)

    If you ignore the difference between liberalism and leftism you are going to be very confused when you see hostilities between the two groups…

    (Collapsing things onto a one-dimensional political spectrum and calling liberals “centrists” is a mistake too, FWIW.)

  22. Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris has some good comments on this phenomenon here and here.

    • Craw
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for those. Both are great.

      Why not Sam Harris in 2020?

  23. KD33
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    (Peter Donnelly:) “Violent-minded haters like Sam Harris.”

    ????

    Nore sue about the “not making us dumber” notion.

  24. Eric K
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I really think the way people manipulate & slice and dice YouTube clips to suit their agenda is beyond the pale. I even see fans of certain YouTube stalwarts slice and dice a 2 hour talk into “the best bits”, leaving it far from decipherable. Content should be controlled by the creators…not left to be reconfigured & resubmitted by any random YouTuber.

  25. Harrison
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Someone has suggested PZ send in a counter-op-ed to the NYT to rebut Singal’s.

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Who’s that someone?

      • Harrison
        Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know if this person is just a random Twitterer or anyone important, but I don’t know them. I only mentioned it because I thought the idea itself was funny. I don’t think the Times would be willing to print anything PZ would send them, or depending on how venomous it’s likely to be toward both Pinker and Singal, even able to do so.

        • Rich Sanderson
          Posted January 12, 2018 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

          I know who you mean.

          It is some creepy woman who seems to be a cult follower of PZ Myers.

          She could easily be another one of ** ********’s socks/fleas.

  26. Hunt
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Whether intended or not “Virtue” Singal’s excerpt from the video acts something like an April Fool’s joke for social media. But instead of providing a good (and more or less private) laugh, social media makes being a fool very, very public. That’s just the world we live in; some people just can’t handle the temptation. By now it should be obvious that social media has a very sharp double edge.

  27. Richard Sanderson
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I see some of the usual scumballs retweeting the known liar, antisemite, and all-round POS, Sacha Saeen.

    Dan Arel, of course, oh…

    …and “Nice Mangos”, who dipshit Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson insisted was “not a regressive”.

    Not only is NiceMangos a regressive, she a vile piece of s***, and this is yet more confirmation.

    PS – When the **** is Patheos gonna cover this, esp. Hemant. Especially since some of SleeZee Liar’s minions hang out in the comments there.

  28. Martin X
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I remember the days when no one dared critize PZ Myers. He would send thousands of his minions to “Pharyngularize” sites that hosted a critic.

  29. EliHershkovitz
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Pinker fan here. I listen to Pinker not to judge but to cognitively stretch. Pinker is a throwback to the time when all ideas were on a conference-sized hand-hewn table (room for all!).

  30. rickflick
    Posted January 12, 2018 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    It might be that outrage-mongering has become common simply because the internet provides a space where immediate disconfirmation is not going to happen. Any excitement will survive for at least 24 hours which feeds the adrenal glands of many who are addicted to the short news cycle. 15 minutes of fame has been replaced by 24 hours of notoriety.

  31. marvol19
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Disappointed but not surprised to see Elinah in there. She used to be good but has thrown her lot in with the SJW crowd recently.

  32. Posted January 13, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    PZ’s claim, that leftists don’t fall into apoplexy when confronted by unpleasant facts like the rate of crime committed by blacks, is thoroughly undermined by the bulk of comments in this FB thread:

  33. Posted January 14, 2018 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    For the record, today’s (January 14) edition of the Observer (the Guardian’s Sunday stable-mate) has a comment piece by Nick Cohen which is critical of censorship by the left and which links to PCC(E)’s earlier article on l’affaire Pinker.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/13/censorship-wins-no-arguments-and-just-helps-the-right


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] people smearing Steve Pinker as a supporter the alt-right. Jerry Coyne has two posts (here and here) summarizing the smear job. Jesse Singal uses the Pinker controversy as an example of how social […]

  2. […] since I follow a lot of 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 […]

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