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The New York Times on Violence and Pinker
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The New York Times has a short piece on Steven Pinker up. Nothing too new to long time followers of the man and his work. I would like to point readers to the fact that Steven Pinker has a F.A.Q. up for The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He links to my post, Relative angels and absolute demons, as supporting his dismissal of Elizabeth Kolbert’s review in The New Yorker. I have to admit that I find much, though not all, of the coverage of science in The New Yorker to exhibit some of the more annoying stereotypical caricatures of humanists when confronting the specter of natural philosophy.

I should also mention I started reading The Better Angels of Our Nature over Thanksgiving. I’m only ~20% through it, and probably won’t finish until Christmas season gets into high gear, but so far it’s a huge mess. In both a good way, and a bad way. The good way is that it’s incredibly rich in its bibliography, with fascinating facts strewn about the path of the narrative. The bad way is that so far it lacks the tightness of The Blank Slate or The Language Instinct in terms of argument. This may change. Finally, I think I should mention that Pinker has already addressed some of the criticisms of his methodologies brought up in the comments sections of my posts. Those who have specific critiques probably should read the book, because he seems to try sincerely to address those. Or at least they should address those critiques to people who have bothered to read the book.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
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  1. It’s a hugely ambitious book that does work the reader hard. I found it more work to read and review than Francis Fukuyama’s “Origins of Political Order,” which is certainly not lightweight.

    But a lot does come together as Pinker’s book goes on — I have a ton of notes I wrote in the back that say things like: “p. 123: A-ha! P. forgets about X, Y, and Z!” Then on p. 321 Pinker says something like, “Now, some of you may have objected that I had forgotten about X, while others wonder why I haven’t answered objection Y, and others Z. Well, in response, let me point out that …”

  2. But Pinker’s book is also a fun read on the microlevel. It’s just huge.

  3. I’ll just link to Sailer’s review: It’s one of the best things he’s written recently.

  4. This book may be having a good effect on me even though I haven’t read it. I bought it weeks ago and it’s still unopened. Its purchase coincided with my developing a strong urge to fill in ancient gaps in my physics education. Maybe this is procrastination but I am enjoying teaching myself a lot of physics.

  5. As I am going through, I am checking some of his sources, and I have noticed a pattern of very sloppy work. I asked him for a corrigendum for claiming that Chinese people have the highest prevalence of the “Warrior Gene,” which was based on an obvious copy-and-paste error. Almost his entire treatment of that research was hackery, which I covered in detail. I would also say that he has grossly misrepresented the data when he claimed that “the racial disparity in American homicide has not always been with us,” and I shall delve into the complexities of this in my next post. In general, I see a heavy reliance on secondary and tertiary sources. For example, he cites the same data that The Bell Curve cited for claiming that victim surveys back up racial disparities in arrest records, but he relied on secondary sources, whereas Murray and Herrnstein used the actual studies by Hindelang. Needless to say, The Bell Curve was never a likely candidate for the Pulitzer, as Nicholas Kristof said of Pinker’s book.

  6. and I shall delve into the complexities of this in my next post.

    interesting. i’ll check that out.

  7. You can tell by “shall” and “delve” that it will be important. Pinker must be shitting himself.

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