A Letter I Wrote to Steven Pinker

[Amazon Link]

I recently read Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. My take is here. But something about the book bugged me enough to look up Professor Pinker's email address and dash off a missive. Here it is:

Dear Professor Pinker --

I'm a longtime reader, since The Language Instinct. I lean a bit more (OK, a huge amount more) toward the libertarian/conservative side than you do, but that's OK. Your occasional heresies against Progressive dogmas tell me you're a straight shooter.

So I hope you will consider a minor criticism of an instance where your shot is off-target.

I bought and read Enlightenment Now and mostly enjoyed it, but one thing bothered me enough to spur this mail. On page 343:

"Charge the cockpit or you die!" shrieked a conservative essayist, comparing the country to the hijacked flight on 9/11 that was brought down by a passenger mutiny.

And on page 449:

(Hence Anton's hysterical essay "The Flight 93 Election," mentioned in Chapter 20, which compared the country to the airliner hijacked on 9/11 and called on voters to "charge the cockpit or you die!").

I read the essay when it came out, and found it unconvincing. (I voted for Gary Johnson.) But I didn't recall the hysterical shrieking. So I went back to check...

Here's the problem: the exclamation point you (twice) put in quotes does not appear in the original essay. It's just a plain old period. Your insertion inside the quote marks is unfair and misleading, causing the casual reader to think the essayist you're criticizing was significantly more strident than he actually was.

I hope this is something you'll consider correcting.

In any case, best wishes, I look forward to your future work.

Only response so far has been an auto-reply. Understandable, he's a busy man. I'll update this post if I hear anything substantive.