Thursday, September 1, 2016

An addendum

There is a recent critical review of the Wolfe book, quite different in tone from Bartlett's, in the Washington Post (here). The reviewer is Jerry Coyne, quite a big shot in evolutionary biology. It is interesting to contrast this review with Bartlett's (see link here). Though vigorously written it also contains some arguments relevant to evaluating Wolfe's ridiculous claims. Is there a lesson to be learned from the fact that Coyne is a scientist and Wolfe and Bartlett are not? I don't think so, except in the trivial sense that Coyne knows something about the subject matter being discussed and Wolfe and Bartlett do not. There is a conceit in american journalism that you need know nothing about the areas you are writing about. All it takes is some poignant questioning and general smarts and, poof, you can explain what's afoot.  This is not always so. However, in this case, I believe, it could have been. The basic issues that Wolfe and Bartlett discuss are not that technically difficult to wrap one's head around if you want to understand what is going on. This is not a case where the technical outstrip the resources of a tyro. No, these are cases where a good dose of bad faith is required to get things so wrong. As I have noted in an earlier post, Bartlett knows better. His "mistakes" cannot be excused by the intrinsic difficulty of the subject matter.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Proof of your point above is the following superbly perceptive review of Wolfe's book (and its cultural context) by someone who appears to be a student/intern at the Harvard Divinity School, definitely not a linguist:

    Tom Wolfe's "The Kingdom of Speech" (2016): A Review

    Highly recommended.