Letter to Skeptical Inquirer
Context: In their March/April 2003 issue, the Skeptical Inquirer ran a piece by
Steven Pinker defending his book The Blank Slate -- largely with the
argument that the book's many detractors were being blind to the obvious
truth of his basic premise. I wrote this letter in response, and
the Skeptical Inquirer was kind enough to publish it (along with many
other responses to Pinker's piece) in their next issue.
April 12, 2003
Letters to the Editor
I would like to point out to Steven Pinker that it is quite possible to
agree with the broad outlines of his Blank Slate theory -- namely, that
human behavior is shaped by both genetics and environment -- and still
disagree, vehemently and non-trivially, over any or all specific
conclusions drawn by the theory's proponents about which behaviors are
influenced by which factors, and to what degree.
For instance. Pinker states in his S.I. article that The Bell Curve has
been vilified for its general thesis that some human traits (i.e.,
intelligence) are genetically influenced. I believe this assessment is far
off the mark -- The Bell Curve has been vilified for its defense of the
specific thesis that intelligence is a race-linked genetic trait. The same
is true for Pinker's book: New Yorker reviewer Louis Menand did a fine job
of accepting The Blank Slate's overall "nature plus nurture" principle
while still ripping into the book with a fiery passion. (New Yorker, Nov.
25, 2002) I believe Pinker is seeing willful blindness to a solid
scientific principle, when many of his critics are in fact presenting
valid critical disagreement and anger with some of his specific
Postscript: I was originally going to say that New Yorker reviewer Louis
Menand did a fine job of ripping Pinker a new asshole, but decided that
this phrasing might reduce the letter's chances of being printed.
Copyright 2003 Greta Christina. Originally printed in the Skeptical Inquirer.