Smart Bombs: Mark Dery, Steven Pinker on the Nature-Nurture Wars and the Politics of IQ

Discuss

57 Responses to “Smart Bombs: Mark Dery, Steven Pinker on the Nature-Nurture Wars and the Politics of IQ”

  1. Pipenta says:

    I always found Gould unbearable tiresome to read. He spent too much time preening instead of getting to the point. I find Dery to be much like Gould in this correspondence. Pinker, on the other hand, is interesting and informative.

  2. Heteromeles says:

    Interesting post. I agree with #2, in that the discussion became somewhat annoying to read about half-way through.

    My take, though, was when someone espouses non-ideological science, going after them about the ideological lapses in their own and related fields will automatically elict a defensive reaction. Even if Dr. Pinker is perfectly rational and objective, he still has to work with the people he would criticize (or their students), and they’re still reviewing his articles and grant applications. It’s objectively understandable therefore that Dr. Pinker will stand up for his colleagues, right or wrong. They are his people, after all. Asking someone to piss in his own pool only works if he’s not planning on staying in that pool much longer.

    A better strategy would be to find a potential case of ideological bias in some other field that’s not totally alien to both people, so that it can be analyzed more dispassionately and with less consequence.

    One example: symbiosis in American biology. Despite numerous findings about how critical symbiotic interactions are in everyday life (think intestinal bacteria for one), symbiosis is a second-rate field compared to studies of competition, and in ecology textbooks, competition gets a chapter, whereas symbiosis typically gets (at most) five pages. This is despite the fact that it’s much, much harder to demonstrate a competitive interaction outside the lab. They’re over so fast or are so subtle that you have to be there at the right time to see competition in action. More often competition is inferred, not seen, unlike symbiosis.

    Why is that? Science historians have pointed out that it’s a relic of the Cold War. America espoused capitalism, with the rhetoric that competition made America strong. The Soviet Union espoused symbiotic theory, and one associated term, mutualism, was explicitly drawn from the mutual aid societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So as a commie theory, symbiosis was not to be tolerated, at least until America won the Cold War.

    I point this out a) because I know about it, and b) it forms a good potential study of how ideology influences a field of science, and unlike various psychology fields, it can be studied objectively by the cognitive scientists without fear of stirring up retribution within their own field.

  3. rageahol says:

    “a deep thinker about linguistics and cognitive science who fishes where the two streams flow together”

    means that he cannot level the following criticism:

    “often from the academic left, he maintains, and typically from those in the humanities rather than the hard sciences”

    because sorry to say, Pinker clearly knows fuck-all about “hard sciences”. Kind of like that chemical engineer who wrote the classic of creationist literature “the panda’s thumb”

    “a foeman who gives as good as he gets (if not better) in the nature-versus-nurture culture wars”

    So you’re saying, basically, that he likes to tilt at windmills.

  4. Tdawwg says:

    Wizard, what’s the source for that fascinating narrative? I’d fancied myself a Shakespeare amateur, yet ne’er did teller from honeyed lips into the porches of my ear pour such a strange and wondrous tale.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If the blank slate theory is untenable (I don’t think many people actually subscribe to it), the facts of cultural variation and rapid social change are undeniable. Biology and the social sciences are not simply competing explanations for the same thing. You could go some way in explaining slavery (for example) as an expression of the natural human tendency toward aggression, but biological evolution won’t explain why American slavery arose where and when it did.

  6. Tynam says:

    An aside for the curious: Anonymous @11 comments that a rational look at the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem does not explain (and would cause the rejection of) honour-based cultures, and suggests that the ‘logical’ solution is completely different.

    That’s just not true. Quite the reverse, in fact: a strong code of honour encouraging cooperative behaviour is the “logical” strategy.

    Short version reason: Betrayal in Prisoner’s Dilemma is only a good strategy if you’re only ever going to get to play one game. Real life, of course, contains many repeats of the problem.

    The game theory of repeated play Prisoner’s Dilemma has been extensively studied, both in theory and practice. Winning strategy in repeated-play experiments tends to strongly resemble the mafia / close knit family / code of honour approach anon mentioned: Start out by assuming cooperation from your partners; punish betrayals by retaliating in later rounds.

    Of course, humans don’t always use the logical strategies; being ignorant of psychology, I’ll stop here and leave others to tell us why.

  7. noen says:

    Tdawwg – Thems an awful lots a wurds jess ta say nuttin’.

    “Either I’m right about Sokal or you are, or it’s somewhere in between.”

    Unlikely, since Mark produced a paper by Sokal that directly refutes your claim. Which is why I guess you focused on personality instead of substance.

  8. stegodon says:

    As far as IQ tests go, many smart people are so lacking in common sense as to make them … musicians.

  9. robulus says:

    @Pareem

    Is it an interesting topic? I dunno. The more I think about it the more it looks like self-referential humour. It’s not April, is it?

  10. Anonymous says:

    “I’m especially interested in the question of whether people possessed of a certain facility with language can use language as a sort of simulation engine to create the illusion of a greater intelligence than they actually possess”

    No dude, it didn’t work.

  11. wizardofplum says:

    #37 NOEN-re TDAWWG-my sentiments exactly,hoist on his own petard but he doesn’t see it,Josephine Tey nailed it when she commented”It was from the rank of the ineffective that the minor critics were recruited”Mark Dery-2 TDAWWG-0

  12. TimDellinger says:

    Awesome.

    Thanks very much for posting this.

  13. AnneH says:

    This reminds me of Dick Cavett’s interview with Sir Jonathan Miller. Dr. Miller is a formidably intelligent man who also has a stutter. (He cannot say his own name.) To compensate and conceal his stutter, he trained himself to avoid sounds that he cannot say, substituting other words that convey his meaning. The knowledge of English necessary to be able to do so, and still carry on very intelligent conversations, is extensive.

    the interview:
    http://cavett.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/why-cant-we-talk-like-this/

  14. AnneH says:

    Additionally, that Dick Cavett interview made me ponder about how much Dr. Miller’s habit of avoiding words he couldn’t say shaped and stimulated his level of intelligence.

  15. buddy66 says:

    @#2,

    I had no problem with it. It’s not like Mark Dery is Charlie Rose. There are two good minds at work here; I feel grateful to have been invited to listen in.

    By the way, although it wasn’t for a book, it was for an essay — not a snarky email.

  16. Tdawwg says:

    You need to get your Bard straight, Wizard: “hoist with his own petard” (a petard is a kind of explosive device, so no “on”: plus, that’s not what Shakespeare wrote) would only work if I’d supplied a text that refuted the claim I made about it. To whatever degree that Dery’s cited Sokal text refutes my earlier arguments or not (I don’t think it does, certainly not “directly,” as if it were some kind of legal or forensic proof, sheesh), the tag from the Swan of Avon is inappropriate…. a petard, if you will, with which (not “on which”) thou hast so loftily hosited yourself. SHAKESPEARE 1 WIZARD -1000 :P

  17. buddy66 says:

    Not as bad as my once accusing a critic of being hoist with his own petrel…

    stormy, that is.

  18. noen says:

    For the greatest betrayal.

    “The ultimate betrayal is the impossibility of ever reaching the (non)-ground, the process is for nought, and yet it can never reach nought. The Human cannot slough off its skin, the physicist cannot find their Grand Unified Theory (or absolute univocal ontological component). The impossibility of the militant operation (desire to cleanse) lends it its metaterroristic function, a fury without end. Lies… all the way down.

  19. buddy66 says:

    “I’m especially interested in the question of whether people possessed of a certain facility with language can use language as a sort of simulation engine to create the illusion of a greater intelligence than they actually possess….”

    I’ve enjoyed very much reading this thread, but I could have saved M. Dery some time by answering his question with a positive and simple Yes. I mostly got away with it for over fifty years.

    “You’re rarely right,” my ex-wife told me, “but you always sound like you’re right.”

    I’ve met fakers who are even better at it than I was. It often takes one to spot one.

  20. Piers W says:

    I don’t object to the discursive questions in this format either. Why Dery wants the ‘answer’ and what he thinks of it is part of the point.

    I do object if I go to a lecture by someone interesting, and some twit wastes half the time at the end rambling on about his half understood notions of cultural studies, before just about remembering to add a question mark.

  21. Tdawwg says:

    Dery misrepresents Sokal’s little hoax. The point wasn’t to prove (were this somehow provable) that postmodernism posits that there’s no truth, that it’s all a fiction, cultural construction, etc.: he wrote a paper that purposefully misused postmodernism and quantum physics to point out that many trendy intellectuals don’t know anything about science. Postmodernism was just his vehicle: if anything, Sokal’s hoax is a warning to folks who use postmodernism as a strawman, or really to anyone who glibly spins BS about subjects they don’t know much about. Stuff like this

    The assertion, popular in some quarters, that postmodernism entails believing there’s no such thing as an empirical fact is in my opinion a straw man—the merest Sokal-ism.

    is so nineties: you don’t even find that kind of mischaracterization in the New York Times anymore! Not just a strawman, but a horrible dated cliche (that weaselly “some quarters”! Which quarters? Where quartered?) that only Dery seems to be still talking about, his strawman-of-a-strawman….

    Otherwise interesting stuff, but what happened to the grotty grottoes?

  22. Pareem4 says:

    Out of the (roughly) 7,486 words in this interview a grand total of 3,897 of them are Dery’s. Pinker comes in a close second with 3,499. It’s a 15 page transcript, and Dery takes up 8 of the pages. Dery also uses a lot of hypenated-type-words and ones of larger constitution, so I would unofficially argue that his true share of this exchange is a lot more.

    SO…..

    Dery, you were right that you should have labeled this as an ‘exchange’ and NOT an interview. Never before has there been an interview in which the interviewer takes up more than half of the time. Ugh.

    A few tips: think out your ideas before you bring them to Pinker! It’s a great topic, but you muddle so much it becomes obvious there’s no filter between your racing thoughts and your lips. Thus, if this interview clarified anything, it’s that you yourself proved that the answer to your first question is a “yes”.

    There are so many contradictory or non-sensical “half-thoughts” in this “interview” that the only thing I took away from this reading was a deep admiration for Pinker’s patience with you, and his ability to remember what you were “asking”. You’re a professor and a journalist. You of all people should know not to use “I” so much in an interview.

    Come on. Don’t ruin such an interesting topic/opportunity with your need to expound your own beliefs. Let him talk and give the readers some insight into something else besides your own thought process.

  23. chgoliz says:

    Pinker lost me when he wrote a glowing forward to the poorly written and researched book “The Nurture Assumption.” Seeing how well he sloughed off the layers of academic verbosity in the above piece has made me regain respect for his intelligence and abilities. Guess it’s time to read his latest book.

  24. Anonymous says:

    If I may cut through all the criticism going on here about who said what and who got what wrong, Mark, in answer to your original question to Pinker you might be very interested to look at a book by Roger Abrahams called “The Man of Words in the West Indies”. It is a cultural history of popular contests to use the most eloquent speech, showy vocabulary, and stylistic finesse, commonly found in West Indian Culture. It is thought to have West African origins, and also can be compared to some aspects of African American culture (sermonizing, speechifying, etc.). So it relates in an interesting way to your questions about the apparent B-W IQ gap — what if there are different cultural styles of intelligence, that value different things? Helen Verran has also done some very interesting work on differences in fundamental mathematical concepts in Nigeria, as compared to Western mathematics — where she identified distinctive ways in which Nigerian teachers and students dealt with abstract concepts of measurement such as length. I hope you pursue your inquiry in this direction.

  25. Takuan says:

    gee, Wiz, are you describing a fustibale?
    http://www.1186-583.org/IMG/jpg/Figure11.jpg

  26. robulus says:

    For those who are time challenged, here is the concise version of the interview:

    Mark Dery: I’m interested in the relationship between a facility with language and intelligence. I’m especially interested in the question of whether people possessed of a certain facility with language can use language to create the illusion of a greater intelligence than they actually possess.

    Steven Pinker: Unfortunately, there has not been much systematic work on the relation between language fluency and psychometric measures of intelligence. There are no hard data showing that sophistry is correlated with general intelligence, mainly because there are no standardized tests for sophistry.

  27. noen says:

    buddy66 – I think they’re called politicians.

  28. Stephen says:

    I can hardly believe that Pinker is still defending “The Bell Curve” which is now known to be based heavily on overtly fraudulent research.

    As to trying to preemptively remove Gould from a discussion of IQ, Pinker is just a nut.

  29. robulus says:

    Buddy, that does not mean you are unintelligent, or less intelligent than you appear. It probably means you form defensible points of view that don’t always turn out to be correct, meaning you are human.

    The question posed is whether people are capable of seeming more intelligent than they are by their use of language, an issue that can only be addressed scientifically with accurate measures for each, and the answer given is there aren’t accurate measures for each.

    I wonder why Mark is so concerned with the question, it kind of sounds like he wants to be able to one-up people at dinner parties by being smarter than them even though they argue their points better…

  30. Moriarty says:

    “But I digress.”

    Yes.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Even before he mentioned he was an academic (or, to doubly prove the point, a member of academe!), I could tell he was an academic.

    He couldn’t follow the train of thought, so instead simply rambled on whatever latest academic theory he could think of.

    One example:
    “Your use of the “culture of honor” argument makes me think of game theory—Prisoner’s Dilemma, that sort of thing”.

    Note that game theory is a rationalist (economic) explanation of human behavior-using the Prisoner’s dilemma would lead one to REJECT honor and maximize logical, scientific thought. That is the whole point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: to quantify (to scientize) human choice. The people who would fail the Prisoner’s Dilemma (the mafia, closely knit family members, those who make up the very culture of honor being discussed here, for whom loyalty is paramount), are exactly the one’s whom the Prisoner’s Dilemma fails to explain most explicitly.

    He doesn’t realize this, because he doesn’t understand it. Its just an academic analogy du jour (that is, ‘analogy of the day’ for you non-members of the ‘academe’). One more slice of academic fad-speak to be vomited out, among all the others, as evidence of one’s superior culture.

    I enjoyed Pinker, though. He was preternaturally patient.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Pinker’s intransigence regarding the concept of ideologically driven science is a bit off-putting. The short and obvious response to his claims would be to point out that the answers you get are determined by the questions you ask; the asking of questions itself is based on values ~ what you do want to know, what’s important, etc.

    Given that correlation, all science is ideologically driven, and there are always questions you can’t pursue either because they would be socially/politically unacceptable, or because it wouldn’t even occur to scientists to ask such a question, let alone devise a methodology for measuring the thing in question.

    Science and religion are much closer in approach than Dr. Pinker would like to think; they both approach the world with a set of beliefs about how things operate and try to explain them in those terms. While I won’t argue that science does a much better job than religion (though only in physical terms; science isn’t even close to literature in terms of answering why people do bad things, for example), it operates along the same lines.

    You find what you look for. That you might be missing something more useful/interesting/valuable is a de facto outcome of the ideological underpinnings that guide who we are and how we work.

    Lanval

  33. wizardofplum says:

    #39-TDAWWG-Of course you have quoted Shakespear accurately.Sadly he wasn’t so diligent in quoting his source,Ben Jonson,who had fought on the side of the Dutch against the Spaniards at Flanders and was an important source of military minutae for ‘oor Wullie.

    Technically,the difficulty in placing a petard in the lower arrow loops in the bastions and barbicans of a castle,are overcome by using a long pole with a loop at one end in which the grenade rested.The pole was raised,positioned and twisted,et voila,Le grande Pouf!

    Jonson had described an incident when an archer,
    Alan Carver,of the Somerset and Devon Yeomanry, had rendered his bow useless.He volunteered to help the sappers.He approached his target raised the pole but regrettably HE was too short and failed.Undaunted he hopped on the shoulders of a companion and steadying the pole under his armpit attained the appropriate height.But when he twisted the pole to release its deadly cargo,the petard stuck and exploded.The pole followed a violent upward arc,with Yeoman Carver firmly attached.It was mooted about that he ended up in the machicolations of the overhanging parapet but that has never been confirmed and is more likely to be idle chatter at the tavern Widow Bull in Deptford,where ‘oor Wullie would share some ale and bon mots with Ben,Chris Marlowe,Tom Watson et al.You stick to your source,it’s safe,I’ll stick to mine,’cos it’s the troof!G’night,be kind to yourself.

  34. FoetusNail says:

    Being both of lessor intelligence and vocabulary, I found Dery both informative and dreary. Obviously a showoff. I suppose if you got some amount of it show it off.

    As far as IQ tests go, many smart people are so lacking in common sense as to make them useless.

    The interesting bits are the way we lessor mortals fear intelligence and how this fear is used to manipulate our opinions and votes.

    I’ve worked much of my life in places where this fear and loathing of intellectuals is rampant and we have all witnessed first hand the ways in which both political parties play to the country bumpkins hiding in our city hearts.

    Also, the bit about the thinker avoiding retaliation is thought provoking. Even in an honor bound society intelligence will rise to the top. A truly intelligent leader understands the pitfalls of honor and uses them as one would use physical terrain.

    However, intelligence and the use of brutality do go hand in hand. The intelligent use of brutality, even to the point of random brutality, has proven quite successful. Unfortunately we are not so far evolved that we no longer understand, require, or respect the use of force. Brutality is often viewed as an admirable trait, an intelligent leader understands this position.

    While I wish for a more enlightened world of peaceful intellectuals unafraid of change, I realize I live in a world of violent ideologues, where a moderate is just a chickenshit who enables fanaticism.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      As far as IQ tests go, many smart people are so lacking in common sense as to make them useless.

      You say useless; I say different priorities.

  35. wizardofplum says:

    #13 BUDDY66-My thoughts exactly and I have a schoolboy’s knowledge of French.I was taught never to use French or Latin terms if you were not sure of your readership.Feeling the necessity to explain is tantamount to patronizing the reader
    I am confident that that was not the motive of the poster but in his case “mettre au jour” would be more appropriate.Dammit! I broke the rule,

    #18DERY-When reading any of TDAWWG’s posts I am always reminded of a quote by John Kenneth Galbraith,it is so apropos “Complexity and obscurity have professional value-they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades.They exclude outsiders,keep down competition,preserve the image of a priveleged or priestly class.The man that makes things clear is a scab.He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery”.For my part I found your style and approach illuminating.You were creating an atmosphere of conversation, not merely a question and answer interview and do not deserve the pettiness revealed in some of the respondents observations.TDawwg is a nitpicking pedant but I’m confident someone loves him and he does have,in his unique obfusticating way,some views of merit.Yer good,mate keep it up.

  36. Takuan says:

    simple test: is he smart enough to not be mean?

  37. buddy66 says:

    Its just an academic analogy du jour (that is, ‘analogy of the day’ for you non-members of the ‘academe’).

    Gee, thanks for clearing up that du jour thing for us. Is that French or Latin? There’s no way us non-academics would ever know that sort of stuff, ya know what I’m sayin?

  38. blurgh says:

    What a fantastic article. It’s like some kind of debate judo. Pinker’s logical and well-thought-through replies both counter Dery’s assertions and reveal the shallowness of Dery’s thinking.

    Dery wonders what’s testable, while Pinker explains how you’d test it. Pinker’s doing science while Dery is failing to undermine it. While they might play games trying to define what science is, it’s pretty clear only one of them understands it.

    Throughout, Pinker corrects Dery’s terminology, and even grammar (I love the ‘data are’ bit – yes, I know the consensus on this is somewhat weak), yet Dery styles the conversation not so much as an opportunity to learn as a chance to just keep on talking. The asides he makes are weak and dull, and even without them he says less with more words than Pinker manages.

    I’ve never read anything by Pinker before. Looks like he’ll be getting a few more book sales from me. Dery… less likely.

  39. Sceadugenga says:

    I’m especially interested in the question of whether people possessed of a certain facility with language can use language as a sort of simulation engine to create the illusion of a greater intelligence than they actually possess, whether through eloquence or, more crudely, the strategic use of a large vocabulary (specifically, arcane words or rarified jargon), highbrow allusions, and the like.

    To even pose this question requires that we first radically decontextualize ourselves from the epistemological artifacts of intelligence qua tool for hegemonic capitalistic dominance and recast language performace as a hyperreal expression that precisely negates the ideological compulsion for quantitative comparison. I mean duh!

    Also, what MD apparently didn’t get about the eugenics thing was that there are two separate ideas:
    1) Preventing low-IQ-score people from breeding will gradually result in an increase in IQ scores in the population
    2) It ought to be government policy to carry out such selective breeding

    Idea (1) is scientific; it’s either true or false. Idea (2) is political/moral, and is neither true nor false. Even if certain scientists publicly espoused idea (2), that does not make it a scientific position.

  40. Tdawwg says:

    Regrettably, I don’t have time to play whack-a-mole with TDAWWG, nor does there seem to be much profit in it, since I responded at length to one of his points, in another thread, and answer came there none.

    And the reason for that was my simple critique of your simplistic presentation of Bakhtin earned a lot of to-me-strange personal baggage: something about “not feeling the love,” something about aggressively spellchecking, and a whole lot of other stuff that sounds interesting but doesn’t say much. Put simply, you’re quite touchy for someone writing on a very popular blog with a very vocal and intelligent readership: this touchiness, and the elaborate passive-aggressiveness you get into instead of simply responding to a point or question, makes one less than eager to respond.

    (I mean, really, “feel the love,” what a phrase! Subjective-objective genitive confusion: M. Dery feels no love for Tdawwg, or doesn’t feel Tdawwg’s love? The mind reels! If the former, great, I certainly don’t want your “love”; if the latter, yikes, get help, man, the Internet’s not the place for love…. not my corner of it, anyway!)

    But since I’m a firm believer in not letting baseless charges go unanswered, no matter how yawningly dull or ineptly argued, I’m forced to respond to his post, above.

    More fraudulent rhetoric. The dullness-to-you of an argument isn’t really at issue, no? (And kindly browse other commenters’ points re: your dullness as a prose stylist, and get back to me, kthxbi.) Either I’m right about Sokal or you are, or it’s somewhere in between. This is more obfuscation, more Hot Flaming Rhetoric, woo. “Baseless charges,” wow, suddenly we’re in court! Howzabout simply “inaccurate,” “wrong,” etc.?

    Dunno, I don’t really see the Sokal-VS-postmodernism issue in the same clear light that you claim to. Less than a straw-man postmodernism, he seemed to me to be inveighing against laughably bad examples of over-aggressive one-size-fits-all postmodernism: not the actual theories, but half-assed appropriations of the theories by bad academics. He does have a bit of “our postmodern friends,” but I read these more as rhetorical flourishes than straw-men that you see lurking in those bushes. But, hey, why let nuance get in the way of FLAMING BRICKS and MAILBOX WHACKING?

    @Wizardofplum, arguments about the goodwill or character of a person aren’t really good arguments about the statements they make. Obfusticating, though, is a wonderful, lovely word, so thanks!

  41. noen says:

    “[Sokal] wrote a paper that purposefully misused postmodernism and quantum physics to point out that many trendy intellectuals don’t know anything about science.”

    That knife cuts both ways. There are also many scientists and their proponents who know nothing about contemporary philosophy and are fully mired in 19th century beliefs and attitudes. They cannot come to grips with Thomas Kuhn much less any current ideas. And yes, I still get many telling me that postmodernism means there is “no such thing as reality”. (Well, you know… in way that’s true) ;)

  42. aquathink says:

    I was looking for a book by a man with the last mane of pink, got confused and picked up How the Mind Works- best mistake of my life!

  43. Piers W says:

    #14 Sceadugenga

    That would seem to suggest that a scientist taking up a position such as that global warming or nuclear proliferation is a bad idea, does not make that a scientific position either.

  44. Anonymous says:

    @16

    That’s exactly right, because the notions of “good” and “bad” are not scientific (how would you quantify it?). However, relying on evidence to show that global warming occurs and is a result of human activity would be scientific. Relying on evidence to show that this is not the case would also be scientific; the “goodness” or “badness” of a phenomenon does not (nor should it) enter into the equation. If it did, what would happen were our morals to change? Would natural laws suddenly become more or less “scientific”?

    Just because you agree with a statement made by scientists does not that statement scientific.

  45. wizardofplum says:

    #49 Buddy66 Ta,muchly but I must decline Ben was then and I have moved on.Besides if I get a wee hankering I always have my Nortons Anthology near at hand.
    #59 TDAWWG-Ah! what mellifluous,nay dulcet,words that from Apollo flow,Yet dare I trust and with trusting dare,to take full measure of His welkin!

    #53 TAKUAN-nope,the sling-stick would not work in this case.The petards would be too heavy and accuracy questionable.But I used to have great fun in my youth down at the local abandoned clay pit,The Bluey.WE would take a thin willow branch put a blob of sticky clay on the end and whip it at the ‘enemy’,got quite accurate with it too.In retrospect I wonder at our stupidity,one of those missiles in the eye would be deadly

  46. Tdawwg says:

    :D, Wiz. But what’s the source? Pedants want to know!

  47. Clayton says:

    There are very few scientists who aren’t evolutionary psychologists who take evolutionary psychology as serious science.

  48. leviathan says:

    I can’t decide if Pinker’s views on the sanctity of science are either childishly ideal or irresponsibly dangerous?

    Regardless, the opinion that social, political, cultural, and economic factors do not shape–even partially– the scientific enterprise in a given context is an exercise in ideologically motivated denial. To make this concession isn’t to rubbish science full stop, but rather to recognize that like all human artifacts, it is not without flaws and limitations, some of which we are aware and others that might be best described as Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’.

    And for a guy who wants to pawn eugenics off on politics as opposed to science, why did he feel it was necessary to describe people as ‘retarded’, a term that arose from within that ‘political’ movement?

  49. FoetusNail says:

    Antinous, my observation comes from engineering, perhaps they were simply in the wrong profession.

    Though I wish everyone could be there to witness the first meeting of two math geniuses, who are each stranded on their own islands in a sea of ignorance, it is love at first sight. They almost immediately, and with great relief, start speaking the private language of mathematicians.

    Stegodon, Musicians, yes!

  50. M. Dery says:

    Regrettably, I don’t have time to play whack-a-mole with TDAWWG, nor does there seem to be much profit in it, since I responded at length to one of his points, in another thread, and answer came there none.

    But since I’m a firm believer in not letting baseless charges go unanswered, no matter how yawningly dull or ineptly argued, I’m forced to respond to his post, above. Yes, Sokal was at some pains to argue the point that postmodernists in the academic left are gnawing away at the epistemic foundations of the notion of Objective Truth. He argues this point at some length in his paper “Truth, Reason, Objectivity, and the Left.” And again in “Transgressing the Boundaries: An Afterword,” when he protests, “I’m a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover some of them.” And again in “A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies,” when he writes, “In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter.”

    As for TDAWWG’s assertion that this point is so ’90s, isn’t the ’90s revival still going strong? Harsh realm, dude!

    In other news, some of you have hurled a flaming brick about the length of my point-by-point responses to Pinker’s answers. Others have understood my intent, which was to challenge Professor Pinker, frontloading my questions with evidence for the social-constructionist position as a means of provoking sharply argued responses. Perhaps my mistake was in labeling this an interview when it was, in large part, a debate. For what it’s worth, Pinker pronounced the exchange a success. After reviewing the transcript, he wrote, “I think the whole exchange reads pretty well; I hope your readers agree.”

  51. nire says:

    Hi – Pinker has some fascinating things to say, but I am so put off by Mark Dery’s show-off-y questions that I don’t have the stomach to read it any more. Just ask a question, if you want to know the answer. If you want to prove how clever you are, or how much you know, or insert a thousand asides (clever, esoteric, or otherwise), then just do so in your own book. It’s frustrating to the reader to have to sort through all the mishmash.

  52. levendus says:

    #12

    Dr. Pinker’s intransigence regarding the concept of ideologically driven science is a bit off-putting. The short and obvious response to his claims would be to point out that the answers you get are determined by the questions you ask; the asking of questions itself is based on values ~ what you do want to know, what’s important, etc.

    The short and obvious response is that your point is banal. EVERY human activity is based upon values. We don’t have infinite time nor resources. Since choices have to be made values are going to be employed. You can add to the list of values- what’s going to get me recognized amongst my peers, what is going to make me a ton of money from the patent, what’s going to interest me and not leave me feeling like I wasted my life on an insignificant topic, etc.

    What you call intransigence is Dr. Pinker’s resistance to being pulled into a Marxist rhetorical trap whose sole purpose is to undermine the authority of science to say things about the world around us. Especially when those statements run counter to the Marxist’s/leftist’s/progressive’s , what have you, vision of the way things “ought” to be.

    Given that correlation, all science is ideologically driven, and there are always questions you can’t pursue either because they would be socially/politically unacceptable, or because it wouldn’t even occur to scientists to ask such a question, let alone devise a methodology for measuring the thing in question.

    Since it has been shown that ALL human activity is ideologically driven, as you define it, what is the point of singling out science? Why is ideology more significant than access to resources- which requires a political process to get access, the ability of scientists to form the question, the current state of accumulated knowledge, paradigm ossification, a high divorce rate in the society, or a myriad of other factors that affect the allocating of a finite lifespan?

    Science and religion are much closer in approach than Dr. Pinker would like to think; they both approach the world with a set of beliefs about how things operate and try to explain them in those terms.

    This is about as meaningful as saying “Humans and worms are more similar than one would like to think; they both breathe air.

    The similarities are trivial. Whereas the differences cause completely disparate outcomes.

    You find what you look for. That you might be missing something more useful/interesting/valuable is a de facto outcome of the ideological underpinnings that guide who we are and how we work.

    More useful/interesting/valuable according to whom? Wouldn’t that valuation just be the de facto outcome of just another ideology’s preferences?

    It appears that most “critques” of science tend to just be rhetorical devices to supplant one ideology’s values with another’s. The important question is why we should give creedence to a critique of science from an ideology where literature is a valid epistemological tool?

    #13 posted by buddy66, August 14, 2009 4:10 PM

    Its just an academic analogy du jour (that is, ‘analogy of the day’ for you non-members of the ‘academe’).

    Gee, thanks for clearing up that du jour thing for us. Is that French or Latin? There’s no way us non-academics would ever know that sort of stuff, ya know what I’m sayin?

    You just lowered everyone’s estimation of your g.

    #14 posted by Sceadugenga, August 14, 2009 4:33 PM

    I’m especially interested in the question of whether people possessed of a certain facility with language can use language as a sort of simulation engine to create the illusion of a greater intelligence than they actually possess, whether through eloquence or, more crudely, the strategic use of a large vocabulary (specifically, arcane words or rarified jargon), highbrow allusions, and the like.

    To even pose this question requires that we first radically decontextualize ourselves from the epistemological artifacts of intelligence qua tool for hegemonic capitalistic dominance and recast language performace as a hyperreal expression that precisely negates the ideological compulsion for quantitative comparison.

    As Sceadugenga has demonstrated, when used ironically the “simulation engine” demonstrates the actuality of one’s intelligence.

    Let me simplify MD’s point; Can smooth talkers use their gift of gab to trick people into thinking that they are intelligent when in reality (which is just an ideological contstruct of the predominant power heirarchy, but I digress), they aren’t?

    #23 posted by FoetusNail, August 15, 2009 12:38 AM

    Being both of lessor intelligence and vocabulary…………..

    As far as IQ tests go, many smart people are so lacking in common sense as to make them useless.

    At first I thought you were just being modest, but no, your self-description was accurate.

    I suppose eventually we’ll have the CSQ to go along with the EQ.

    I’ve worked much of my life in places where this fear and loathing of intellectuals is rampant and we have all witnessed first hand the ways in which both political parties play to the country bumpkins hiding in our city hearts.

    Perhaps the loathing can be explained by the way you categorize people who disagree with you as “bumpkins.” Being condescended to has a tendency to make one angry.

    I would think someone as retarded as you would be able to empathize more with their plight.

    #25 posted by leviathan, August 15, 2009 5:30 AM

    I can’t decide if Pinker’s views on the sanctity of science are either childishly ideal or irresponsibly dangerous?

    I’ll help you, they’re neither. They’re actually completely correct. Hope that helped.

    Regardless, the opinion that social, political, cultural, and economic factors do not shape–even partially– the scientific enterprise in a given context is an exercise in ideologically motivated denial.

    Your criticism is also ideoligically motivated, so it all cancels out.
    Furthermore, that’s not what Dr. Pinker said.

    To make this concession isn’t to rubbish science full stop, but rather to recognize that like all human artifacts, it is not without flaws and limitations, some of which we are aware and others that might be best described as Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’.

    Scientists are fully cognizant of this and come up with procedures to address these concerns.

    #32 posted by Stephen, August 15, 2009 3:19 PM

    I can hardly believe that Pinker is still defending “The Bell Curve” which is now known to be based heavily on overtly fraudulent research.

    Whoever taught you to read should be ashamed. I think it’s safe to say that the rest of us will gladly testify on your behalf if you should decide to sue the school system that “educated” you.

    #33 posted by wizardofplum, August 15, 2009 6:58 PM

    #13 BUDDY66-My thoughts exactly and I have a schoolboy’s knowledge of French.I was taught never to use French or Latin terms if you were not sure of your readership.Feeling the necessity to explain is tantamount to patronizing the reader
    I am confident that that was not the motive of the poster but in his case “mettre au jour” would be more appropriate.Dammit! I broke the rule.

    Ouch! The ironical use of the simulation engine nets another victim. It’s like watching fish jump into the boat.

  53. 2k says:

    At first I thought Mark was highlighting the socially awkward situation associated with one party deliberately and consistently using unnecessarily complicated language whilst making spurious references to ambiguously relevant concepts.

    But then I lol’d.

  54. buddy66 says:

    Thanks, WIZ, for the great story. You a Jonson scholar? If so, I’ve got a modern “translation” of The Alchemist I’d like to sell you (Ben’s street slang was jest too tuff fer this here Yankee.)

  55. Pareem4 says:

    @ ROBULUS

    Ha, I guess it _could_ have been an interesting topic. But I doubt it’s self-referential humor. My guess is that there would some megalomania going on here. My evidence:

    1. Today’s post called “Post-Mortem”, which is worded in almost exactly the same way, is also oozing Smug from its pores.

    2. The man’s Wikipedia page looks like he wrote it himself. Go ahead, look up “Mark Dery” on Wiki so you can find out about how often he writes the “definitive accounts” of all manner of subjects.

    He probably reads too much Heidegger or Baba

    ‘Tis certainly August

  56. Piers W says:

    #17 Agreed. Although obviously a mullah or a priest with an opinion would have a religious position, and a philosopher would have a philosophical position. Not fair eh?

    #18 M. Dery

    This reader (of a Sokal-style ‘naive realist’ turn of mind) appreciates the work you put in and thinks the result was well worth reading. Thanks very much.

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