Linguistic Society of America Vs. Steven Pinker | My Dissection of the Claims


Recently, the Disciples of Woke have found a new head they want to unfairly place in the guillotine of "justice". That of famed Harvard cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker.

The allegations are coming from members of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) who've put together a messy little open letter of complaint to the LSA where they list their top 6 reasons for wanting Steven Pinker canceled *erm*, removed. They refer to these as "relevant occasions that show how Dr. Pinker’s behavior is systematically and directly at odds with the LSA’s stated aims." (translation: Pinker is presenting evidence that isn't aligning with the popular ideological belief system of today).

If you don't trust my biased eyes and want to read through the open letter yourself, you can find it by clicking here.

Otherwise, if you are interested in my interpretation of things, feel free to keep scrolling as I do my best to dissect these complaints against Pinker one-by-one.

Relevant Occasion #1


Steven Pinker posted a link on Twitter (5 years ago), accompanied by the comment, "Police don't shoot blacks disproportionately."

According to the LSA complaint:
Let the record show that Dr. Pinker draws this conclusion from an article that contains the following quote: “The data is unequivocal. Police killings are a race problem: African-Americans are being killed disproportionately and by a wide margin.” (original emphasis) We believe this shows that Dr. Pinker is willing to make dishonest claims in order to obfuscate the role of systemic racism in police violence.
Below is the section of the New York Times article that they're referring to.

 

It's the standard claims that black people are being shot disproportionately when compared to their overall population demographics in the country. Which, yes, is true. But if those criticizing Pinker would have perhaps read the next paragraph in this article, then things may be clearer:


As you can see, the data shows that police do shoot black people proportionately to the number of black people who are arrested by police (it's up for grabs whether bias comes into play in regards to the arrests themselves, but we'll address the skepticism over that in the next section). Pinker isn't being dishonest here. Ironically, though, his critics seem to be. Either that, or they only made it a few paragraphs into the cited article.

Relevant Occasion #2


Next up, Pinker's would-be cancelers write:
In 2017, when nearly 1000 people died at the hands of the police, the issue of anti-black police violence in particular was again widely discussed in the media. Dr. Pinker moved to dismiss the genuine concerns about the disproportionate killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement by employing an “all lives matter” trope (we refer to Degen, Leigh, Waldon & Mengesha 2020 for a linguistic explanation of the trope’s harmful effects) that is eerily reminiscent of a “both-sides” rhetoric, all while explicitly claiming that a focus on race is a distraction. Once again, this clearly demonstrates Dr. Pinker’s willingness to dismiss and downplay racist violence, regardless of any evidence.
As mentioned in our first response to a "relevant occasion", police aren't killing black people in disproportionate numbers when compared to the racial demographics of the criminal population. This is relevant as it's the criminal population (which black people are a large percentage of, for debatable reasons that may relate back to racism in some form) that is in danger of being killed by the police; not the overall countries population (where black people are a small minority). The numbers clearly show that black people make up a high number of arrests (and victim surveys match up with these numbers). Here's some FBI data from the 2017 date mentioned:

2017 FBI Crime Statistics

White

Black

Total

68.9%

27.2%

Murder and Nonnegligent Manslaughter

44.2%

53.1%

Rape

67.5%

28.7%

Robbery

43.6%

54.3%

Burglary

67.5%

29.8%

Violent Crime

58.5%

37.5%

Weapons; carrying, possessing, etc.

53.7%

43.9%

Prostitution and Commercialized Vice

56.0%

37.6%

Sex Offenses (except rape and prostitution)

70.9%

24.9%

Drug Abuse Violations

70.4%

27.1%

Driving Under the Influence

81.7%

14.0%

 

During that same year, here are the people killed at the hands of police (going by data collected from MappingPoliceViolence.org):


2017 = 1,095 deaths by Cop

White: 506

Black: 276

 

There Were 100 Unarmed Deaths by Cop


White: 52 deaths via

- 9 Taser

- 1 Beat/Restrained

- 42 Shot


Black: 48 Deaths via

- 10 Taser

- 3 Beat/Restrained

- 34 Shot


While there were over 1,000 deaths at the hands of police, a mere 100 of them were of unarmed people. If you look up their names, also available on MappingPoliceViolence.org, you can see that in most of these cases, as well, the victims were actively attacking the officers at the time of their death, were committing crimes, and often had violent criminal histories (which further highlights the fact that police killings are a problem within the criminal population, not the law-abiding American population as a whole; in which death by police is an extreme rarity for all races).


Pinker is making this about "both sides" being in danger of the police because it is both sides who are in danger of the police (one no more than the other, at least). Thus far, there's no evidence to suggest that these police killings are racially motivated (and, as Pinker correctly points out, several reasons to assume they're not).


It's obviously the LSA complainers who are dismissing evidence, as it runs contrary to their pre-established beliefs.


Relevant Occasion #3



The Complaint:

Pinker (2011:107) provides another example of Dr. Pinker downplaying actual violence in a casual manner: “[I]n 1984, Bernhard Goetz, a mild-mannered engineer, became a folk hero for shooting four young muggers in a New York subway car.”---Bernhard Goetz shot four Black teenagers for saying “Give me five dollars.” (whether it was an attempted mugging is disputed). Goetz, Pinker’s mild-mannered engineer, described the situation after the first four shots as follows: “I immediately looked at the first two to make sure they were ‘taken care of,’ and then attempted to shoot Cabey again in the stomach, but the gun was empty.” 18 months prior, the same “mild-mannered engineer” had said "The only way we're going to clean up this street is to get rid of the sp*cs and n*****s", according to his neighbor. Once again, the language Dr. Pinker employs in calling this person “mild-mannered” illustrates his tendency to downplay very real violence.

Here, Pinker's adversaries are really scavaging for material to become outraged over. In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Pinker listed off a quick series of examples of the "flood of violence from the 1960s through the 1980s" that reshaped American culture. Within these examples, Pinker mentions the story of the villainous Mr. Goetz. Below is the entirety of what Pinker had to say about the man:

The flood of violence from the 1960s through the 1980s reshaped American culture, the political scene, and everyday life. Mugger jokes became a staple of comedians, with mentions of Central Park getting an instant laugh as a well-known death trap. New Yorkers imprisoned themselves in their apartments with batteries of latches and deadbolts, including the popular “police lock,” a steel bar with one end anchored in the floor and the other propped up against the door. The section of downtown Boston not far from where I now live was called the Combat Zone because of its endemic muggings and stabbings. Urbanites quit other American cities in droves, leaving burned-out cores surrounded by rings of suburbs, exurbs, and gated communities. Books, movies, and television series used intractable urban violence as their backdrop, including Little Murders, Taxi Driver, The Warriors, Escape from New York, Fort Apache the Bronx, Hill Street Blues, and Bonfire of the Vanities. Women enrolled in self-defense courses to learn how to walk with a defiant gait, to use their keys, pencils, and spike heels as weapons, and to execute karate chops or jujitsu throws to overpower an attacker, role-played by a volunteer in a Michelinman-tire suit. Red-bereted Guardian Angels patrolled the parks and the transit system, and in 1984 Bernhard Goetz, a mild-mannered engineer, became a folk hero for shooting four young muggers in a New York subway car. A fear of crime helped elect decades of conservative politicians, including Richard Nixon in 1968 with his “Law and Order” platform (overshadowing the Vietnam War as a campaign issue), George H. W. Bush in 1988 with his insinuation that Michael Dukakis, as governor of Massachusetts, had approved a prison furlough program that had released a rapist, and many senators and congressmen who promised to “get tough on crime.” Though the popular reaction was overblown—far more people are killed every year in car accidents than in homicides, especially among those who don’t get into arguments with young men in bars—the sense that violent crime had multiplied was not a figment of their imaginations.

See that little bit that I highlighted there? That's it. In the entirety of this book, that was it. A 23-word description of a news story wedged into a series of other stories and events. The complaint about what Pinker had to say was literally longer than what he said.

Pinker was neither praising this man, saying that he considered Goetz a "folk hero", nor even giving an opinion about the situation. Also, he wasn't speaking about violence "in a casual manner". He was painting a picture of a time period to show how violent it was (and he chose to include the Goetz story into it).

Relevant Occasion #4


The Complaint:
In 2014, a student murdered six women at UC Santa Barbara after posting a video online that detailed his misogynistic reasons. Ignoring the perpetrator’s own hate speech, Dr. Pinker called the idea that such a murder could be part of a sexist pattern “statistically obtuse”, once again undermining those who stand up against violence while downplaying the actual murder of six women as well as systems of mysogyny.
While I can't find what article Pinker was linking to in his Tweet (clicking on it led to a dead-end), he's correct in claiming that an anecdotal event, committed by a lone wacko, doesn't imply a larger scale epidemic. That's patently ridiculous.

By the way, does no one else find it odd that members of The Linguistic Society of America can't spell "misogyny"?

Relevant Occasion #5