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Strunk & White & Pinker
November 21, 2012 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Steven Pinker is apparently writing a science/academic writing style guide of sorts based on insights from psychology. Here is an hour-plus long video of Pinker discussing the book at MIT.
posted by AceRock (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Watching the video now (slightly sceptically, in case it turned out to be a book promo). He talks engagingly, but I'm struggling with the irony of some of "Communicating Science and Technology in the 21st Century" being a Powerpoint presentation of large chunks of text in almost unreadable colors.
posted by Wordshore at 8:01 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


by now, it is old hat to find fault with Strunk and White...the introducer needs a course in communicating to audiences...Pinker a very bright guy but sways little here that can not be said--and some few books ago he embedded this stuff--in a book and was much more coherent and to the point.
posted by Postroad at 8:23 AM on November 21, 2012


Pinker's last book was The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and he gave an excellent overview of it in an hour+ lecture for the Long Now Foundation.
posted by gwint at 8:26 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good stuff, thanks.
posted by shivohum at 9:18 AM on November 21, 2012


This is an actual slide from the talk.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:19 AM on November 21, 2012


If you disregard from the slides, the talk itself is very good and funny at times, like when Pinker compares Dawkins' writing to Butler's.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:34 AM on November 21, 2012


Oh hell, I am going to suggest Olson's Don't Be Such a Scientist

Also, if you want easy to digest then Weinschenk's books (100 Things series) are quite good by breaking things to essential kernels. I was at first resistant but in the end quite liked the books.
posted by jadepearl at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yeah, those slides... It is strange that they are so bad. I mean they are actively bad and to be honest, I found distracting and felt it undercut the ethos of his presentation.
posted by jadepearl at 9:42 AM on November 21, 2012


Anything that moves the world one step away APA format, and their recent re-release of a corrected version of the same edition of their standard, and one step closer to having one universal, openly accessible, standard is a good thing.

I cannot wait until the APA standard dies the useless death it deserves, which will unfortunately probably be never.
posted by 517 at 10:13 AM on November 21, 2012


the irony of some of "Communicating Science and Technology in the 21st Century" being a Powerpoint presentation of large chunks of text in almost unreadable colors

It's not irony, it's an advance in technology! I took a course from Pinker well into the Powerpoint era where he presented from overhead transparencies with large chunks of text all in black. But the man knows how to give a talk and keep your interest; in the most memorable lecture he wore a toilet plunger as a hat, over the hair that made him the first member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.
posted by whatzit at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2012


Clearly, scientific communication as currently practiced is woefully ineffective at, you know, communicating. Someone needs to take a serious, thoughtful, data-driven look at how to improve it. It isn't merely a theoretical concern; the failures of scientists to communicate effectively, particularly on global warming, have real-world impact.

Equally clearly, anyone who can do a presentation in public with those slides and not be completely embarrassed is not the person to take that serious, thoughtful, data-driven look, because they have obviously completely failed to be aware of, much less internalize, any of the past 30 years of work in visualization and communication of information.
posted by louie at 10:50 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I watched that video over the weekend, and I wondered if the slides looked like that because of the video-recording technology. At times, a slide would suddenly become much more legible for a brief moment and then revert back to the various shades of magenta and pink that have been pointed out in the links. I don't know anything about how the video was produced, so this is just speculation.

Anyway, I totally agree with Pinker's emphasis on classic style. Although I don't think he said anything that hasn't been said by other advocates of what I usually call "plain style," the more people advocating that style, the better.
posted by crLLC at 11:07 AM on November 21, 2012


Chapter Seven: How to Make Straw Men Work For You
posted by IjonTichy at 11:50 AM on November 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh jesus. Now he wants to teach others to write crap books like he does?
posted by clvrmnky at 6:19 PM on November 21, 2012


I'm on the WTF side here. Pinker is one of the great bullshit artists of popular science, but one of the most ideologically rigid and least interesting writers.

I have never forgiven his caricature of Sapir and Whorf in the execrable The Language Instinct.
posted by spitbull at 7:27 PM on November 21, 2012


when i was a wee lad, my pop had a postdoc thingy at mit. i spent a couple afternoons playing "crystal quest" on a b&w mac plus. the top high score -- and it was a really, ridiculously good score -- was entered as "STEVEN PINKER." i asked dad who steven pinker was; i said i wanted to congratulate him. dad chuckled and said something like, "nah, someone put that in as a joke, he's too stiff for that...."
posted by RTQP at 12:29 AM on November 22, 2012


You might enjoy the nerd fight between Pinker and Taleb. This blog, not mine, mentions the key articles.

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/11/taleb-v-pinker-on-chances-of-war.html
posted by KaizenSoze at 7:57 AM on November 22, 2012


Um, hello? Maybe he made the slides butt ugly so you would remember them? They may seem inept, rediculus and ugly, but actually just data driven psychologically insightful design jujitsu.

Also, is he color blind? Perhaps it looks better if your retiinas lack certain cone types
posted by delmoi at 8:46 PM on November 22, 2012


Pinker's last book was The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and he gave an excellent overview of it in an hour+ lecture for the Long Now Foundation.

The Big Kill: Sorry, Steven Pinker, the world isn't getting less violent.
posted by homunculus at 5:20 PM on December 3, 2012


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