Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. Currently Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Pinker has also taught at Stanford and MIT. His research on vision, language, and social relations has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association. He has also received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and other publications. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”
Pinker: I think a political leadership that blows off science is going to lead to nothing but disaster. But I think though for their part, people in universities and newspapers have to open their minds to have the same kind of critical self-reflection that everyone must have; realize that universities can also spiral into kind of a self-contained, ideological, almost religious cult; and that it’s important for universities to open up and welcome ideas from smart people who aren’t in that particular orbit. I think that think tanks and policy institutes have been invaluable in that regard; that there are certain ideas that don’t come out of university departments because a university becomes a tribe or a culture, has an ideology, and they have to realize that they’re not an infallible and welcome ideas. I don’t think universities have been completely successful in doing that either.