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Jackson Lears Responds to Steven Pinker's "Science Is Not Your Enemy"

To the Editor:

Stephen Pinker should be more careful in his research. In “Science Is Not Your Enemy” (TNR, 19 August 2013), he misrepresents my views by quoting me out of context. Citing a statement that makes me sound like I am blaming “science” for all the catastrophes of the twentieth century, he says that this is “the standard case for prosecution by the left.” In fact I was making no such case.  If he had bothered to read the entire article, or even the next few sentences, he would have known that I was explaining the decline of the positivist faith that scientific knowledge could somehow be sealed off from human institutions and imperfections. The twentieth century showed that “scientists were as corruptible by money, power, or ideology as anyone else,” I wrote, adding that science of course remained “a practical means of promoting human well-being: midcentury laboratories produced vaccines and sulfa drugs as well as nuclear weapons.” For a man who claims to be pursuing objective truth, Pinker is remarkably willing to alter evidence when it suits his ideological needs. His distortion of my views is not good science. It is merely bad polemic.