Field of Science

Steven Pinker on Roberts-speak

If you haven't yet seen it, check out this New York Times editorial by Harvard Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker. It is an analysis of (perhaps) why Chief Justice Roberts bungled the inaugural swearing-in.

The Assistant Village Idiot has a rather strange rebuttal. The author seems to believe Pinker's editorial was a political commentary. Well, it is, but Pinker is concerned about the politics of language (something he's worried about for a long time, as anyone who has read his books knows), not Supreme Court politics. The writer continues:

Pinker seems unable to restrain himself from injecting his political opinions into his discussions of language and thought. I wonder what that means?
One might ask the same question right back.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am the AVI and I challenge your statement. Yes, Pinker is speaking about a language issue, but the evidence that his speculation actually applies to Roberts is so slight that I felt quite secure in my accusation. This injection of politics is not unusual in his writing. The photograph of Bush directly below this post tells me why you are unable to notice this.

It's amazing how folks just set themselves up like this.

Wyman said...

I'm with the AVI. I feel that anyone who's working that hard to analyze a fairly small example of misspeaking is clearly adding context where there is none. And you've succeeded in adding no context at all.

Dr X said...

My impression is that hardcore partisans, at least those in the blogosphere, rely on political narratives as the central, conscious organizing frame for much of their experience. And, I think, partisans frequently and mistakenly assume that the same applies to everyone else.

One of the most bizarre instances of this sort of frame overreach was the Rachael Ray-Dunkin Donuts terrorist-scarf affair.

I'm not suggesting that intellectuals are free of biases or that academics never have political motives. I am saying that partisans frequently overreach, greeting every unsettling (to them) inquiry or speculation as evidence of political bias.

AVI's reaction to the Pinker piece seems to be a perfect example of this. The study of errors in perception, memory and speech is of great interest to psychologists and a routine form of psychological investigation. No disparagement of the subject of study is intended or suggested, in the least, by such an inquiry. But if one organizes all inquiry according to a narrative of conflict between liberals and conservatives, the investigation of an error of speech by a conservative ends up interpreted as a shot in the war between conservatism and liberalism.

coglanglab said...

"It's amazing how folks just set themselves up like this." -- Assistant Village Idiot

I am giving AVI the benefit of the doubt in assuming this comment was meant to be meta. The claim that my illustrating an article on Bush's creative use of words with a picture of him using a creative speaking pose is evidence of political bias...clearly that wasn't meant to be taken seriously.

(Though I admit I am not fond of Bush. Roberts is a very different issues.)

Still, I wonder what AVI would count as a non-biased article. Pinker suggested Roberts screwed up because Roberts prefers not to split verbs. Perhaps saying Roberts screwed up because he was an idiot and didn't use written notes would be less political?