Why Academic Writing Stinks, by Steven Pinker
The curse of knowledge is a major reason that good scholars write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to them that their readers don’t know what they know—that those readers haven’t mastered the patois or can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention or have no way to visualize an event that to the writer is as clear as day. And so they don’t bother to explain the jargon or spell out the logic or supply the necessary detail. Obviously, scholars cannot avoid technical terms altogether. But a surprising amount of jargon can simply be banished, and no one will be the worse for it.Pinker's new book, a style guide, The Sense of the Style, has ten grammar rules it's OK to break (sometimes). He talks to Edge on Writing in the 21st Century, which includes the occasional fMRI.
Cultivating Thought: Cups and bags at Chipotle (previously) will now feature stories and essays by famous authors, including Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Steven Pinker, Sarah Silverman, and Jonathan Safran Foer, who came up with the idea for the series and will be curating it as well.
War! What was it good for? Quite a lot, argues historian and archaeologist Ian Morris. Over thousands of years humans used war to build our societies, then turned it against itself. With luck our newly acquired habits and forthcoming robots will keep the world from returning to older levels of bloodshed.
[Pinker] conflates scientific knowledge with knowledge as such. In his view, anybody who has studied any phenomena that are studied by science has been a scientist...If they were interested in the mind, then they were early versions of brain scientists. If they investigated human nature, then they were social psychologists or behavioral economists avant la lettre. Leon Wieseltier pens a response to Steven Pinker's essay on scientism, both in the pages of the New Republic. Others, including some prominent atheists, have taken issue with Pinker as well.
Every year, Edge.org asks a question. This year's is:"What *Should* We Be Worried About?" The responses are things like "Chinese Eugenics," "We Are In Denial About Catastrophic Risks," "Worry About Internet Drivel," "The Patience Deficit," "The Power Of Bad Incentives," "The Complex, Consequential, Not-So-Easy Decisions About Our Water Resources," and "The Cultural And Cognitive Consequences Of Electronics." They are from people like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, David Rowan, Evgeny Morozov, Kate Jeffery, Vernor Vinge, Bruce Schneier, Alison Gopnik, Steven Pinker, Virginia Heffernan and Simon Baron-Cohen. There are 154 answers. [more inside]
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.
Steven Pinker on the "False Allure of Group Selection", with comments by Daniel Dannett, Stewart Brand, and others. Richard Dawkins's take on group selection. Jerry Coyne's take.
The Stupidity of Dignity: Conservative bioethics' latest, most dangerous ploy. Steven Pinker reviews Human Dignity and Bioethics, the latest report from the President's Council on Bioethics. [more inside]
The 5th Annual Edge.org Question is: What is your question? Read answers from Brian Greene, Brian Eno, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Howard Gardner, Daniel Dennett, and, yes, Alan Alda (and many others).