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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

Skeptical Inquirer
Letters to the Editor

Dear 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 conclusions.

Greta Christina

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.


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