Friday, April 17, 2015

Does the LSA and its flagship journal 'Language' have any regard for generative grammar?

It has come to my attention that Language is considering making an "event" of Vyvyan Evan's junk book The Language Myth. What do I mean by an "event"? Well, and here I quote: "because of the potentially controversial nature of the book, Language is planning a new type of review, in which we target the book for commentary papers by 4-5 individuals who have different academic perspectives." These reviews are to be about 1500 words. So, Language is going to make a BIG DEAL (6-7500 words of criticism plus a reaction by Evans, I would assume) out of this book pretending that there is something there, pretending that it is "controversial" in the sense that that the book raises many interesting issues that people of good faith can understand in different ways and that debating would enlightening. This is false. There are not and that's because the book is junk. The suggestion that Language (and, by extension, the LSA) believes otherwise is a terrible message to send.

Let me be clear: the book is not controversial. It is junk. Pure, unadulterated, complete junk. Reading it will make you dumber. The fact that Language is doing a "new type of review" will only suggest that this is not so. It will suggest that there really are various reasonable sides to the issue Evans book discusses and that the views in the book are worth taking seriously. After all, Language, the journal of the LSA, the main professional organization of linguistics, thinks that the book is is "controversial," (which in common parlance suggests well argued if still a bit out there). It does not suggest that the book is junk. Moreover, getting a wide range of reviews virtually guarantees that at least one of them will suggest that the views are not junk. After all, I bet Language wants to be "fair." What piece of junk could ask for a better endorsement than this?

Generativists have always considered Language the place you publish when you can't get your stuff into LI or NLLT, or Lingua or… It is far down the list of desirable publishing venues. If it ever was the journal that published the stuff at the cutting edge, it is no longer is that journal. Nonetheless, it is the official journal of the LSA and as such it should care about whether the works it highlights meet even minimal professional standards (one would hope for more than that, of course). The Evans book does not. To repeat, it's junk. So why exactly does Language want to showcase it? Do the editors hate Generative Grammar that much? Do they really think that generative linguistics has been an intellectual disaster? It would be nice to know if this is what the editors think, for if it is, maybe it's time for Generativists to either leave the LSA or the LSA should consider replacing the editors.

So, either Language hates 2/3 of the field (always a possibility) or the editors are filled with self-loathing. I find it hard to believe that any other professional journal would showcase work that is shoddy,  unprofessional, uninformed and logically lacking. Can you see Physical Review doing a special review on the latest approaches to perpetual motion? Or the American Anthropological Review doing a special issue on creation science? I can't. They have more self respect than that. They know that these topics are junk. But apparently Language is different. It's "open-minded" and willing to consider even junk as worthy of showcasing because of its "controversial" nature. This is not the first time Language  has done this (see here). Someone like me might get the impression that Language in no way respects what it is that Generative Grammar has done over the last 65 years. The idea that Evans' book is "controversial" suggests that the editors have lost all critical sense and are willing to admit the most egregious junk into its journals. This is not to say that Evans' book does not deserve special treatment in the pages of Language. It does. Language should be highlighting the fact that work like this is not worth the paper that it is written on. A decent hatchet job, now that I understand. But a "new type of review"? It sends entirely the wrong message.


  1. Bearing in mind I agree that it's junk, one interesting difference between this junk and perpetual motion, creation science, climate denialism or [insert hokum here] is that genuine academic faculties do not employ quacks, yet Evans is a Professor of Linguistics at Bangor, and, as we know, these views are represented in other faculty positions elsewhere. Why do you think that these ideas are inside the Ivory Tower when other fields manage to keep them out?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. All the people who get crucified on this blog (and thousands more who don't, but could) have the full panoply of academic respectability: senior tenured positions at well-regarded universities, lengthy publications records in journals with high impact factors, impressive citation figures etc. For example, all three of Ambridge, Pine and Lieven may be "without any redeeming intellectual value" in the world of this blog, but they appear to be doing OK in their academic lives. I'm afraid that tearing down the whole edifice is going to be a herculean task - just think of the number of 'applied linguistics' departments that will have to be taken out.

    3. And I didn't read the book, but I did read the article based on it, and was appalled. Just in case anyone thinks I'm trying to defend it.

    4. You are right about Herculean; in fact Augean Stables size. But I do not see how that bears on the question of whether one can expect one's professional associations to maintain the minimum standards in deciding what to publish and what to showcase. Let me repeat a point well made by David P: this is not bad in the sense that I don't agree and my theory is better. It is bad in the sense that it is deeply misinformed, ignorant and based on equivocations. It's the equivalent of someone saying that the theory of relativity does not apply to a person falling through space time if he has no living relations.

      As for how well regarded the authors are: who cares. This, as you might guess, makes things worse. The papers are still junk and we should hope that journals that seem to care about the "review process" might be able to monitor some of this stuff. And I would hope that this would be especially true in LINGUISTICS journals. If we cannot expect this from OUR professional journals, then what can we expect. In fact, if they cannot deliver this, then let's dispense with the pretense of reviewing altogether.

    5. But 'applied linguistics' journals are peer reviewed by academics with excellent academic credentials in applied linguistics. A generative paper would probably never get past peer review. Same with whatever journals construction grammar people publish in - Goldberg's at Princeton, I believe. How are you going to keep them all out of a professional association of linguists, if they're all actually CALLED linguists? And they're publishing in journals with 'linguistics' in the title? How many journals will have to be culled, and who will be separating the sheep from the goats?

    6. And I don't mean this as a 'relativist' statement. Personally, I have severe doubts about 'applied linguistics' as an academic discipline (hence the scare quotes). But just as a practical matter, how is this purging going to be carried out, in order to ensure that the wrong linguists are purged and the right linguists emerge triumphant? I think it's pretty clear how that happened in physics and chemistry, but I've no idea how the equivalent Darwinian winnowing would work in this field.

    7. There seem to be at least some linguists who have a rather different idea about what ought to be purged from the field [at least judging by the comments this post has been getting on social media]:

  2. Considering the quality of work (i.e. the lack thereof, just as Norbert describes) that comes out of some fully employed Professors of Linguistics such as Evans and the quality of work of those who are not fully employed as professional linguists, I wouldn't consider one's employment status as a merit badge at all. (Which is not to say that all fully employed professional linguists produce junk!)

    But otherwise, I agree that linguistics has been suffering as a field and this book, and the "special review" of it that Language wants to do, are symptoms.

  3. Let me start by saying that I think that I’d prefer to see other things debated in Language. But a little perspective might be in order, before y’all start throwing grenades at LSA HQ.

    1. I don’t know any details of this plan, if indeed it exists, but note that Language is no longer a single journal in the traditional sense. The traditional print section of Language still exists, but there is a growing set of online-only sections of Language, often on specific topics, with separate editors.

    2. The main editors of Language are serious linguists who care about things like formal semantics and the syntax of control. It is not likely that they are trying to push Evans’ agenda. It must reflect a different strategy. (Note that the editors of Language are independent of the LSA Secretariat and the governing board; probably appropriate.)

    3. Traffic to online journal content is a major revenue generator for the LSA. The LSA gets royalties as a function of the number of article downloads. Surprisingly, these can generate almost as much revenue as the total registration fees for the LSA’s Annual Meeting. Those funds support other LSA activities such as institute fellowships, advocacy for linguistics funding, etc.

    4. The only reason that I can imagine for pushing an “event” like this is red meat. It drives traffic (and hence revenue). I’d guess that the same thing works for you on this blog, Norbert. You draw a huge audience — probably larger than Language. Your articles on topics like the history of the field get more attention because of the other posts that generate fights.

    5. Fights drive citations, which drive impact factor and prestige, which attracts submissions and benefits authors, especially early career authors. It’s a twisted publication world that we live in right now, but journal editors are under lots of pressure to boost metrics for their journals, and those that do so get rewarded. We still live a relatively sheltered life: things are far worse in bio etc.

    6. Before canceling your memberships, remember that the LSA does many useful things for linguists. Aside from its publications program, which now includes Semantics and Pragmatics, it runs the largest annual conference in the field (the plenary talks provide a big platform for a lot of work that you regard as worthy); it runs the Summer Institutes; it is the primary professional group that advocates for linguistics (e.g., when Congress tries to slash NSF’s linguistics budget … like yesterday); it is quietly behind some of the most successful recent visibility for linguists in outlets such as the NY Times; it works to bring recognition and honors to linguists; it sponsors activities that bring linguistics to high schools; it defends programs that are under threat. Is it always perfect in its implementation. Of course not. But you get what you pay for.

    Bearing in mind that I don’t know any of the details directly, how would the following bargain look?

    Pros: generate revenue that benefits linguists; elevate metrics for journal, which attracts more good submissions, and helps others who publish in the journal (especially in metrics-governed countries); draw more attention to other more substantive work in the journal; provide a platform for people to air objections to Evans’ book … in a venue that has greater longevity than, say, Reddit (ahem).

    Cons: risk the impression that views aired in the journal have the endorsement of the professional society as a whole; risk that some linguists will cancel their memberships in protest (… first check that those people actually are current members).

    I’m unsure of the choice. Faustian bargains aren't supposed to feel good. The idea that a prestigious journal confers stamps of approval is a compelling one. And you’re worried that this devalues other work that you like.

    But is that different than the argument from social conservatives that gay marriage undermines heterosexual marriage? The arguments sound similar.

    1. Is CB part of your faustian bargain? You got a relatively positive response from that quarter.

      More seriously: It seems that your standard now is impact factor. The claim seems to be that if it raises eyeballs to the sight then that's fine. If that is the rule, I can think of far better ways of generating traffic. However, it strikes me (and no doubt you) as incredibly cynical. It is professional association as pimp. It treats the intellectual integrity of the field as something to sell if it generates revenue. It's a little further than I am willing to go, but to you, it seems like an admissible calculation. Ok, here we part company. It seems that for you there is no bottom line intellectually. For you it is reasonable for journals to not exercise quality control, just go for the eyeballs, even if that means advertising views that are close to incoherent and that denigrate the content of the discipline.

      Some facts: "I don’t know any details of this plan, if indeed it exists.." It does. I have documentation. So, there is no "if" here. Hence the quotes from the source that I provided. I would consider taking your phrasing personally if I didn't know that you were not suggesting that I made this up.

      "It is not likely that they are trying to push Evans’ agenda." I agree. It is far worse than this. They are consciously willing to promote what they must know to be junk to gain something else. Perhaps they agree with your view that impact factor is worth the cost of intellectual honesty. That's precisely what I was objecting to. I should add that I also find it ill-advised: if this becomes policy then the vetting utility of journals (something that you were in favor of as I recall) quickly dissipates. There is a reason that many GGers don't give a damn about Language. But perhaps this is fine with the LSA: after all the aim is to gain readership even at the cost of undermining the basic science.

      The LSA does many useful things. Yup and one of them should be to defend the intellectual integrity of the science. If it cannot do this, then we should know about it.

      Faustian bargains: One of the nice things about academic life is that you can hope that in some small domains we can hold back the relentless march of bulls**t. Some people want to manage BS and take advantage of its obvious alluring qualities (eyeballs). Some feel that stopping its dissemination is a virtue in itself. I think that our disagreement boils down to how we feel about this issue. Being a realist, you are fine with managing the stuff. Being a dreamy academic, I find it too corrosive to fool with for dubious advantages. I say 'dubious' for I found your calculations about the possible advantages of such a strategy to be (ahem) speculative (at best). If I am going to sell my birthright, I would like more than a mess o potage in return.

      Gay marriage: really? In case you missed this, my view is not that the state should outlaw this junk linguistics. My view is that linguists don't need to promote it in our own journals and treat it as respectable. I am not asking that junk linguistics be burned or that purveyors be criminalized. You seem to be suggesting that such drivel has a RIGHT to be in our journals. We should seek it out, solicit it maybe. If so, we simply disagree.

    2. Gay marriage: really? In case you missed this, my view is not that the state should outlaw this junk linguistics.

      Of course, Colin Phillips very obviously did not claim that this was your view. He claimed that your worries about good linguistics being damaged by bestowing unearned respectability to bad linguistics (by featuring it in Language) is akin to worrying that heterosexual marriage will be damaged by allowing gay people to marry one another. This parallel seems fairly apt to me. I would be interested in hearing your response to Phillips' actual claim.

    3. Norbert: I don't much like the idea of staging a big fuss about Evans book in/near Language. My argument was that there is a rational strategy for trying this. The internet has so exploded the traditional model of publishing and sharing scientific information that I'm keen to see people exploring lots of different ideas for the role of academic publishing. Many of the traditional roles have disappeared, and some of its remaining roles are handled terribly. If our preconceptions are challenged, then so much the better. Who knows, something good might come from the experimentation.

      Note that another reaction to your distaste with the Evans' book would have been not to mention it at all in your blog. The fact that it got you sufficiently worked up to attack it so harshly, here and in social media, could be taken as an indicator that it's to be taken seriously ("If that nut Norbert is so angry about it, it must be a real threat to his band of zealots!"). I haven't read the book myself -- life is too short, and I'm relying on y'all's reviews to tell me that I might learn more from reading other things.

      Impact factor should not drive everything, of course. It's an absurd way of evaluating somebody's work. It's just like judging somebody based on which college they attended, rather than on their individual merits. We evaluate the quality of a paper not based on its intrinsic strengths, but based on how often people pay attention to other papers that have appeared in the same venue. That's pretty regressive. I sincerely wish that IF didn't exist. But it is easy and entrenched, and in many countries it creates tyranny over researchers. Being dreamy academics is fine if we're in secure positions in well(ish)-funded programs in the US. But young researchers in Europe and elsewhere don't have that option, and their careers can't afford to wait until the time when a lightning strike makes governments back off from silly scientometrics. So perhaps the best that we can do is to help them to thrive within the existing system while also working on creating new solutions that have a chance of success.

      [Apologies if I gave the impression before that I doubted your information. In a longer version of my comment, which was blocked by your length limit, I gave more context. I'm on the LSA's governing board currently, and have been involved in many discussions about the evolution of the LSA's publishing program. But this development came as a surprise to me. Also, the proliferation of 'sections' of Language has led to repeated misunderstandings of what material is appearing where.]

    4. Just a brief comment on Norbert's blog on The Language Myth and the responses it received. Although I didn't read the book yet, from the blurb I can vividly imagine how it goes. The issue reminds me of what went on with BBC target articles like Christiansen and Chater's (2008) Language as shaped by the brain, or Evans and Levinson's (2009) Myth of Language Universals. Apparently within the field of cognitive science a certain genre of publications has been developing that pretends to be part of a serious scientific endeavor but in fact violates core requirements on scientific work, and - curiously - is treated by at least part of that field as if it does reflect serious science, and is even widely acclaimed (as was earlier – and surprisingly - the case with Tomasello's Constructing a language). We can regret it, but it appears to be a fact. And we as professionals should not ignore it, but effectively expose the flaws of such work. (Another question is why this happens in this particular niche of our field - I cannot imagine this happening in fields like particle physics, chemistry, immunology, and so on, but I will leave this for another occasion.) Thus, I do think that as a field we have the responsibility not to let this kind of work pass by without a proper response.

      My main problem is, therefore, not so much with setting up such a piece of work as a target for discussion, or even with making an 'event' out of that, but with what happens next. My experience so far with writing responses (as I did to C&C and E&L), is that the BBC editors allowed the authors to take this up as kind of a game. In their responses, neither C&C nor E&L took any substantive argument seriously. And in fact many of the responses did not even try to bring up substantive arguments, and essentially came down to saying 'Great that this finally has been said, hail to the authors', and so on. I had my students in an MA class go over the articles and the commentaries, and make a table of which commentaries contained substantive arguments and which didn't. As they reported, the great majority of the positive commentaries lacked substantive content. Virtually all of the critical commentaries did have substantive arguments. Yet, in their responses the authors were allowed to twist or ignore the substantive comments they received ad libitum.

      Crucial, then, for a discussion in one of our professional journals is that it be conducted on professional terms. That is, part of the deal/contract of any author submitting a contribution to such an event should be that the author agrees to retract in his response any statement of the work that the commentaries show to be incorrect. It is the responsibility of the editors to make sure this indeed happens. Moreover, all commentaries should be required to make a substantive point. No empty praising commentaries should be allowed. Also, the size of 1500 words should be reconsidered. Serious arguments may well require considerably more space. In addition commenting authors should be allowed to include links to supplementary material, including proofs and data. Under such conditions events like planned by Language may serve a purpose. But, again, crucial is that the editors take their responsibility seriously.

    5. Very interesting comment Eric Reuland. I imagine typing twice BBC instead of BBS was just a Freudian slip [Chomsky represents Science to you]? Joking aside, there are a few things I find surprising:

      Like many critics of Evans’ book you admit you have not read it. Maybe you can appreciate better how strange that is if you imagine me writing: “Although I didn't read [Chomsky’s latest] book yet, from the blurb I can vividly imagine how it goes” - and then go on to criticize it. I hope you would be outraged. Just why does it not bother you that so many generativists see no need to read what they dismiss? From all you can tell Evans could have given valid arguments challenging the Chomskyan paradigm - they just have not been read.

      I agree that it would be desirable to implement the suggestions you make in your final paragraph. I am very surprised that nothing remotely resembling such standards was enforced on Adger’s ‘Mythical myths…’ review in Lingua. [I am not saying there is nothing to criticize in Evans’ book but the Adger review fails on all counts you provide and is riddled with factual errors]. It is understandable that people say things on blogs or social media that are half-baked, even intemperate. But, as you say, a scientific journal should enforce higher standards.

      Time and again it surprises me how generativist syntacticians react to the kind of work you mention. Was it not Jerry Katz who urged linguists some 40 years ago to keep their work separate from work in other fields such as psychology/biology? Was he not ridiculed by Fodor and Chomsky? Now if you insist that linguistics is part of psychology you should not be offended by researchers applying the kinds of standards customary in that field to work in [psycho]linguistics. If you think these standards are inappropriate for your work, then you should drop that biology-pretence and redraw the disciplinary boundary lines Chomsky erased.

      Talking of Chomsky: Can you explain to me why generativists are so concerned about the negative impact work like ‘The Language Myth’ might have on your field - yet show no concern whatsoever about the impact of works like “The Science of Language”? As long as you [pl] are not willing to apply the standards of criticism you outline above to the work of the man who represents your field to the world you should not be surprised that things are happening in a ‘particular niche of [y]our field’ that are not happening ‘in fields like particle physics, chemistry, immunology, and so on’.

      One last thing: Could you be so kind and direct me to work by Chomsky [the more recent the better] that contains the kinds of proofs you consider required? I would like to be able to model my response on his example. Thank you.

    6. @Eric:

      I'll leave CB to you, though I advise against it. Your main point seems right to me. I am not against Language reviewing the book. Indeed, I would give it a lengthy review along the lines of Chomsky's review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior. In fact, I would commission a review of ALL of the works you mention. Language should be critically engaging with this stuff and showing it up for the junk that it is. However, I am not optimistic. The indicated format is not one that encourages me to think that the editors are thinking along these lines. They want, I am sure, to be fair and presents various points of view and engage in lively discussion of the issues and…Well, you know the trope. But this is precisely what we should not be doing for doing this will only make it seem as if this junk is not junk, which would be to mislead. IMO, this raises to the level of flat earthism or creationism (actually maybe a little worse for the former was once reasonable and the latter doesn't misunderstand the claims it is attacking). Not calling it junk and treating it as such is to lend it credence that cannot be anything but misinformed, dishonest or cynical. So, though I agree that Language and LI and NLLT and Lingua and…should engage with this stuff and not ignore it, I have little hope that this will be done well.

    7. linguist X: "Bumping into strangers is rude. People shouldn't do that."

      the-indomitable-Behme-bot: "I read somewhere that Chomsky once bumped into someone! Defend your field, linguist X."


    8. "I read somewhere that Chomsky once bumped into someone! Defend your field, linguist X. And don't forget to do my homework while you're at it!"

    9. Thank you very much "Behme Bot" and Olivier for helping me make my point. Assuming that Collin is correct, and this blog has a larger readership than 'Language", these readers must be truly impressed to witness that because you don't have a cogent reply to a critique or challenge, you characterize the *person* offering the challenge as a bot. This is a very clever use of the ad hominem, please, keep doing it---it so nicely illustrates just what I've been saying...

      One more thing: I have been using select examples from Norbert's blog in my 'reasoning skills' classes on informal fallacies. I would like to give you full credit for your contributions - so please drop the modesty and reveal your names.

    10. That's what's so amazing about the Behme-Bot: it can, without an ounce of self awareness, accuse others of engaging in ad hominem attacks. It can, without an ounce of self awareness, impugn others for invading someone's online space uninvited. The wonders of being a bot!

    11. Ah, I see you are not ignoring me anymore, Christina Behme. Good, we can start over our discussion where we last left it. In your article "How scientific is Biolinguistic Science" you described works as "spirited" and "[un]convincing" yet felt neither the need to quote them appropriately nor even to characterize them accurately. Have you by now understood why this is not acceptable? Can you describe the content of these works? Behave like a responsible scholar and take responsibility for your work (hey, you're in luck, E.Reuland is right here on this thread).

      You suggest that I don't have a content reply to a critique or challenge. I don't know what you are talking about, but just above you asked E.Reuland to "direct [you] to work by Chomsky [...] that contains the kinds of proofs [he] considers required." Feel free to quote my reformulation ("do my homework") in your class. Don't forget to provide the immediately relevant context, though.

      As for your query, rest assured that any comment I'll ever write on your blog or any e-mail I'll ever send you will be under my full name. If you want it before that, no problem. Write a summary of Why Agree? Why Move? by S.Miyagawa outlining the main minimalist hypotheses in this work, their role in the argument, the crucial empirical data in support of the conclusions and those which are problematic. Add to that (if you so wish) your critique of the argument. Then, I'll tell you my name.

    12. Dear Oliver,

      I am sorry you misunderstood. I have no interest in your full name [just find it noteworthy you would hide in semi-anonymity] and even less in doing your homework - if you need a summary of a paper you can't even supply a place of publication for, I am afraid you have to do it all by yourself.

      I checked the paper you're so obsessed with. The only thing I said about Eric Reuland's paper is that it was a spirited defence of MP. Frankly, I have no idea why you would object to that. Clearly the paper was a defence of MP - so 'spirited' can be the only thing you object to - maybe you think I should have said it was dull. Then we simply disagree - the paper did not convince me but I did not think it was dull at all.

      I can, of course, not prevent you from further embarrassing yourself with public blackmail attempts, but please do not send me any e-mails. Our interaction here is officially over.

    13. Dear Christina Behme,
      1) My name is not Oliver. 2) If you have no interest in my name, why did you ask? 3) I understand that logic can be hard, but you asked my name and I answered that I would give it to you if you wrote the summary in question. Do you understand the meaning of "if" in that sentence? Interpret this the way you want but stop suggesting I asked you to do a summary. 4) I am not obsessed with this article, I played the game fairly. I took one of your academic work, read it, found a serious mistake and expect you to correct it. Otherwise, declare that you think you are above academic standards. If you ever find a mistake in my academic work, you are more than welcome in expecting the same of me. 5) After several exchange on this topic, I find it extraordinary that you could write "Clearly the part was a defence of MP". No, the paper you quoted was not a defense of MP. Go read it and you'll see. I hope. 6) You say this paper did not convince you. Fine. But you wrote it was unconvincing, which is quite a different thing, and you give no indication neither in the paper nor now of having read it (had you read it, you would have noticed your mistake, I hope). Do you see a problem here or is this all fine? 7) Thank you for your kind concern about me embarrassing myself publicly. It does seem good advice to avoid putting oneself in such a situation.

    14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    15. Christina, I am shocked to see that you actively support copyright infringement by linking unsuspecting FoL readers to a youtube clip that the uploader did not get permission to post. I can, of course, not prevent you from further embarassing yourself with public piracy advocacy, but I encourage you to use some of the time you spend on digging up youtube clips to ask Google whether Why Agree? Why Move? is a paper or, maybe, possibly, in this reality we all inhabit (presumably), a well-known book in one of the leading monograph series in linguistics. Because right now it looks like you don't know the literature as well as you claimed in a recent comment.

    16. Thank you for the copyright comment, Thomas - obviously I was unaware. As for the literature: I do not remember I ever claimed to be familiar with "Why agree? Why Move?" - can you tell me where I said I was familiar with that particular work?

      And, while we are at it - let me return the interrogation favour: can you provide any of the references I asked for on December 24, 2014?

      Norbert had claimed that "Chomsky is especially careful to quote his sources when he goes after them. He footnotes heavily and quotes extensively."

      I had asked "Could you be so kind and provide such quotes from Chomsky's recent book "The Science of Language" where he quotes extensively - so his critics can learn how it is done properly? Especially appreciated are quotes regarding the allegedly common theory of language evolution [p. 15], the distortion of Elman's work [p. 226], the crazy theory of Dummett [p. 57], the allegedly irrational scientists referred to on p. 123."

      So far neither Norbert nor anyone commenting on his blog has been able or willing to provide a single reference. Would you be able to explain to the readers of this blog what the reason is for your collective refusal to either provide such references or to admit that what Norbert told his readers can not be backed with facts?

    17. In a brief conversation with Kleanthes, you claimed to be sufficiently familiar with the technical literature. Imho that constitutes at the very least being aware of recent publications in the LI Monograph series.

      As for your other question, I can only speak for myself, and the answer is simple: because I don't care about your vendetta. I don't care if Norbert's claim is correct, I don't care if Chomsky made some thoughtless claims in an extended interview that happened to be turned into a book, I don't care about your opinion of said book, I don't care about somebody else's review of some other book, and I don't care about all the drama that surrounds these issues. You might just as well be complaining about Ben Affleck's recent casting as Batman, it has nothing to do with my research or my job so I don't see why it merits my attention. You had plenty of time to convince me, you've made hundreds of comments, and you never managed to present your position in a way that made me believe it's worth my time. I just got back from a lovely workshop on computational phonology; every single talk there was interesting and offered some cool insights. In less than 20 minutes, each presenter did a better job than you did in thousands of lines of text.

      For the longest time I was a-okay with that, I don't have to find everything interesting; it's the internet, so I can just ignore any discussions that don't strike my fancy. But you have become impossible to ignore in the last few months, thanks to your constant attempts to derail discussions and turn them into one-note faux-polite inquisition trials where everybody who isn't on your side is automatically on Chomsky's and thus needs to exonerate themselves by providing evidence that your accusations are unfounded (most recent exhibit: your previous post).

      Several people have told you in very clear words that they consider your actions intrusive and your rhetoric abrassive, heck, you were even the implicit subject of a post about the lack of comment moderation here. But that hasn't stopped you, nor did it make you rethink your approach. Norbert is definitely aggressive in his blog posts --- and he has explained his rational for that --- but that does not give you carte blanche to use underhanded rhetoric against third parties posting in the comments section. If they attack or insult you, sure, then it's fair game, but that's not how it has usually gone down.

      It is also noteworthy that you are the only one consistently creating this kind of reaction. Greg and me are anything but hardcore Chomskyans, but we fit right in. Alex Clark and Noah Motion are not Chomskyans, yet they have been part of some of the most challenging and productive discussions here. Colin Phillips disagrees a lot with Norbert when it comes to the institutional aspects of linguistics, but somehow their back and forth never devolves into a verbal vortex of entropy.

      On a positive note, though, you're a good motivator for me to finally finish some of those blog posts I've got lined up, for whenever the discussion gets even the least bit technical, you're nowhere to be found, surprisingly.

    18. Thank you for revealing the full extend of your double standards, Thomas. You are 'shocked' by my alleged 'public piracy advocacy' yet you are not in the least troubled by an individual very obviously using my name without my permission - Lovely.

      Also thank you for confirming that you do not care that Norbert made a false claim about Chomsky's practices. I care about truth you do not. Still, a simple "I can't provide any reference" would have done just fine instead of that extended vortex of personal insults you spiralled yourself into.

    19. This comment has been removed by the author.

    20. @Christina: You said you care about the truth. Here is your chance to prove it.

      1) [“I am not saying there is nothing to criticize in Evans’ book”] Can you list all the things that are worth criticizing about the Evans’ book?

      2) Someone who I think you highly respect once famously wrote “the most irresponsible passage written by a professional linguist in the entire history of linguistics”. Surely, the amount of evidence that needs to be presented to make the claim of “most irresponsible…” is incredible. There have to be all kinds of comparisons to other irresponsible statements made in the history of linguistics, and an argument for why it is the most irresponsible. Equally surely, the claim being made is in need of more evidence. This wasn’t a newspaper article or such; it was a book that the author had decent control over. You said you really care about argumentative strategies, so how come we haven’t seen reviews and papers in journals/lingbuzz strongly criticizing this?

      If you can answer the two questions honestly, I am sure the community reading this blog will be able to trust your claims of respecting truth more. So, here’s your chance to show you are not just obsessed about Chomsky, and really care about argumentative strategies, linguistics and the truth.

    21. Okay, this is a circle I really can't square:
      1. You underhandedly suggest that Olivier is engaging in public blackmailing. (or rather Oliver, as you are so fond of calling him; looks like you don't care that much about names when it isn't your own).
      2. When he points out that this is obviously not what he was doing, you resort to accusing him of not understanding sarcasm (in a post you have now deleted).
      3. I post a very obvious sarcastic reply, going so far as even using your own words in an effort to highlight the dubious nature of your blackmail complaint.
      4. Despite your self-proclaimed mastery of sarcasm, you now take this reply at face value just so that you can postulate a double standard on my part (which, frankly, is really lazy, a little bit of google foo would have gotten you much juicier quotes of mine that can be contorted into support for your double standard accusation).

      But if this is indeed the full extend [sic] of my double standards, I'll gladly take it, few people can be painted in such a positive light.

      As for the second paragraph, I reject the presupposition of factivity in sentence 1; I said if, not that. Regarding sentence 2, unwillingness does not imply inability. Two rather trivial truths that you ignore in your fight for truth.

    22. /consistently posts underhanded, agenda-driven jabs at one individual, somehow meant to indict an entire field

      /complains about unfairness in blog comments

      /claims to know about sarcasm, apparently not about irony

    23. @ karthik durvasula:

      re your #1: I certainly could do that but this is not the forum for it. As I told Noah, it is not my job to provide David Adger with better arguments than those he put forward in his review. Instead of a full list here is my main objection to the book: it spends way too much time discussing the Chomskyan framework. Now before you take this as a cop-out think about it for a moment. Had Vyv just presented the view he considers correct in a book directed at a lay audience and not mentioned Chomsky once do you think his book would be the target of so many hostile blog posts etc. by Norbert and others? I seriously doubt it...

      re your #2: you may be surprised to learn that I agree with you: Paul's attribution of 'most irresponsible passage' was not a wise move because, as you say, it is virtually impossible to demonstrate it was more irresponsible than any other passage. So, instead of focussing on the issue [what Chomsky actually says in the passage quoted], people will attempt to show that this was not the most irresponsible passage. Incidentally, I have told Paul my concerns [go ahead and ask him] and you can freely quote what I say here. Please note though: me having doubts about 'most irresponsible' does not entail that I think the passage was not irresponsible - it certainly was.

      All I can say to Thomas: if interactions with me are as much of a drag as you describe why do you keep initiating them? I had hoped 'lovely' would have been enough of a sarcasm sign - seemingly it was not. I care about names of people who are willing to post their full name before attacking others. For all I know, Olivier could be not even his real name [and NO, Olivier, this is no invitation to further interactions].

    24. For all I know, Christina Behme is not your real name either. I do hope it is though, because otherwise you owe the real Christina Behme a hell of an apology.

      Also, you seem to be entertaining the delusion that I'm interacting with you. That's not true: read above and you will see that you initiated this discussion with me. All I did was commenting to another commenter that in addition to asking linguist to defend their field, you are fond of asking them to do your homework, as you had just done with Eric Reuland and as you did again since then with Thomas Graf. Then you asked me my name, I said I would give you my name if you wrote a summary of Why Agree? Why Move? detailing the theoretical assumptions in force, the conclusions they entail and the comparison with empirical data. You said I was asking you to write such a summary, suggested I needed it somehow and wrote that I was engaging in "public blackmail" (a quite deranged statement, by the way). I pointed out I was doing nothing of the sort.

      So if you don't want to interact with me, just don't interact with me. That won't erase the mistakes in your work, though, and that certainly won't suggest I am wrong in thinking that you haven't even read the articles you quote. But hey, want to shut me up once and for all and prove I am wrong in that respect: explain the content of the article of Reuland you should have quoted (instead of the one you quoted). Too much work for you? Explain what is meant on page 846 (NLLT18, as you are ironically fond of getting precise reference). Still too much for you? Explain why standard minimalist assumptions about locality yield markedly different predictions from classical binding theory when it comes to binding of reflexives and what is empirically attested (I think by now this is a reasonable request, as the explanation can comfortably fit in one sentence). But doing so would entail you actually reading the work you criticize, so I'm not holding my breath.

    25. @Christina:

      I think your doubt is misplaced. The problem with the book is not that it criticizes Chomsky. The problem with the book is that it is on par with flat earthism and creationism. So had Vyvyan Evans "just presented the view he considers correct", I imagine that it still would have received its due criticism from generative linguists.

      This is quite indicative, I think, of why others are finding interactions with you tiresome. For most of us, we are interested in determining how language works, not defending everything Chomsky has ever said or done. In fact, most of us disagree with Chomsky on a wide variety of things as was highlighted in a recent comment thread. Even Norbert disagrees with Chomsky rather pointedly about the quintessential linguistic operation (Label vs. Merge).

      So again, we're not criticizing the book because it disagrees with Chomsky. We're criticizing the book because it is bad science (if science at all).

      I respect the desire to hold everybody to rigorous academic standards, but it seems like the place to begin that endeavor is not with what people say in interviews and on Twitter and rather with what people say in academic publications.

      Additionally, one standard that you seem particularly concerned with—consistency—seems like the wrong flame to hold individuals to. One would hope that (scientific) theories are internally consistent, and so one certainly should hold theories to the flame of consistency. However, I don't see any reason why a person being inconsistent ought to count against a theory that that person has developed.

      Again, for most of us, this is about figuring out how language works, not defending Chomsky's every last action.

    26. Adam, thank you for your comment. Keep in mind that I was asked what I believe the flaws of the book are. I certainly accept that you disagree. Though I would be interested to learn based on what you call Vyv's positive view 'flat earthism'? You will understand that such a label is quite insulting - why do you feel it is justified? Incidentally, the book does not pretend to be a 'scientific contribution' - rather it popularizes science. It may be doing a bad job at that, but if you think the science it popularizes is bad would it not be best to criticize the relevant publications in the scientific journals.

      As for what we are interested in: you may want to remember that 'the other guys' are also interested in 'figuring out how language works'. Presumably they and you [pl] disagree on what language is. That is hardly reason for such hostility [labour of hate as Norbert likes to call it]. I think that some people on this blog are incredibly rude. But I do not think they are stupid. Yet, quite a few of them routinely accuse the other side of stupidity [and worse]. The blog post we comment on contains the work 'junk' as label for another linguist's work 11 times, labels like flat earthism and creationism are tossed about, the LSA is likened to a pimp by Norbert - yet [apart from Colin and Noah] no one is betting an eye. Is this the kind of scientific discourse you advocate, Adam? Maybe a good idea to take a very deep breath and think about who is doing damage to the reputation of your field.

    27. @Christina: For the record, you answered neither of my questions. I will repeat them:

      1) Can you list all the things that are worth criticizing about the Evans’ book?
      I don't see why this is not a forum for it? You have spent inordinate amounts of time criticizing interviews, FB comments by others, newspaper articles... So, please list all the things that are worth criticizing about the Evans' book.

      2) You said you really care about argumentative strategies, so how come we haven’t seen reviews and papers in journals/lingbuzz strongly criticizing this (the quotation I alluded to earlier)?

      If you can genuinely answers these questions instead of evading them, then I think people will be able to respect you as a serious researcher/academic, genuinely interested in the things you claimed to be interested in. If not, I am afraid, you will only be reinforcing the claims made by others on this thread above.

    28. /asserts that Vyv Evans book "does not pretend to be a 'scientific contribution' - rather it popularizes science."

      /resumes vehement critique of what is a transcribed interview.

    29. karthik durvasula: You are being sarcastic re # 1, right? You are aware that I have co-submitted so you would not seriously think I offer David free ammunition after the way I have been treated here? But if you are so genuinely interested in my list ask the editors of 'Language' to commission one of the reviews to me and I promise you'll be able to read my list. As for #2, the short answer is I have not gotten around to it. But you will be happy to learn that it will be discussed in a paper I am working on at the moment - so please be patient. Meantime I am looking forward to reading your criticism of Chomsky's debating style. Where did you say it appeared?

      May I also inquire about your position on Norbert's post we comment on? Do you feel his public attacks on the LSA and "Language" are the kind of conduct linguists should aspire to? A simple yes/no answer is all that is needed. And sadly, I have to leave now for a while - grading time - It was nice talking to you.

    30. @Christina:

      About (1), you are a co-author not of the book, but about a rebuttal to David's review. So, I simply don't see the conflict of interest you are talking about. So, feel free to criticize. In fact, you said you care about the truth and argumentative strategies, so I still don't see what the big deal is.

      If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you of course can't give David any more ammunition, but you want people who think generativists are onto something good to freely talk about every negative/positive thing that another generativist has said. Is this correct? It smells a lot like an old foe named hypocrisy.

      Perhaps, you should include your own words/arguments in the informal logic class of yours. Your students stand to gain a lot, clearly.

      About (2), you still haven't answered the question. I will leave it at that.

      And finally, re "Meantime I am looking forward to reading your criticism of Chomsky's debating style. Where did you say it appeared?"

      Unlike what you want to do, my interest is not in criticism of X's debating style. You will also see that I have no published work criticizing anyone else's. So, it seems to me that instead of pulling yourself out of the very non-constructive focus you have, you want me to join you. I am sorry, but I will have to resist this very tempting offer (Note: this is sarcasm).

    31. @Christina:

      That is why the book is particularly worthy of firm criticism. It attempts to popularize views that are demonstrably false; this is why the label of flat earthism is warranted. I won't dwell on this, as I suspect we won't ever be able to come to terms, but it is worth noting that relevant criticisms have been made in academic journals. As just one example, Legate & Yang (2002) have empirically validated at least one poverty of the stimulus argument, which rather straightforwardly falsifies Evans's claim that "language doesn't arise from innately programmed knowledge of human grammar, a so-called 'Universal Grammar'" (p. 3).

      To address the points in your second paragraph:

      (i) I am aware that the other folks are interested in figuring out how language works. And there has been some useful and enlightening exchange with some of these other folks. What I was pointing out is that you don't seem to be intersted in figuring out how language works. You only seem to be interested in holding generative linguists—particularly Chomsky—to the standard of strictest consistency, and you often insinuate that lack of consistency diminishes the scientific theories/analyses that have come from these inconsistent folks. I think humans are, by nature, inconsistent. At the very least, I'll be the first to admit that my own behaviors are anything but perfectly rationally and internally consistent. So I don't see the point of trying to hold anyone to perfect consistency. Theories/analyses, yes. Humans, no. I imagine many folks are finding interactions with you tiresome for similar reasons: you seem to have no interest in figuring out how language works and only seem concerned with trying to hold humans to a standard that is—at least in my opinion—humanly impossible. Furthermore, it's worth noting that the often underlying insinuation present in your comments—that a person's inconsistency invalidates their arguments and scientific contributions—is an instance of ad hominem.

      (ii) The label of junk seems to be warranted, as the book does not meet even the most minimal academic standards. As just one example, Evans blatantly misquotes Chomsky, as was pointed out in the comments on the Facebook thread.

      (iii) As for the environment and opinions expressed on the blog, I don't pretend to agree with everything that is said, and I honestly don't understand why that seems to be your default assumption until somebody publicly denounces something. There are many things that I find objectionable that are said on this blog. For instance, I find Norbert's—in my opinion—rather defeatist attitude toward the crappficiation of academia objectionable. I completely agree with you that the noticeable lack of participation on the blog from women is a problem, and I find Norbert's response to you leaving much to be desired insofar as he just says that he is open to suggestions from others about how to remedy this. He could be doing more to actively remedy the situation, such as soliciting posts from women in linguistics. I also don't agree with Norbert's speculations about the self-loathing nature of the editors of Language expressed in this post. However, there are several reasons why I might not constantly voice these concerns, and I don't see why the default assumption is that I do agree until I publicly object.

    32. Re: Do you feel his public attacks on the LSA and "Language" are the kind of conduct linguists should aspire to? A simple yes/no answer is all that is needed.

      Unlike you, I am perfectly happy being honest. No, I disagree with Norbert's general view on this issue. Although, about Nobert's particular gripe with multiple formal commentaries of Evans' book. I simply don't understand why Language is taking a book that "popularizes science" so seriously in allowing for. It is simply not a "scientific contribution", as acknowledged by one of Evans' collaborators, so I don't understand why Language is trying to arrange for such an expansive discussion/review of the book. Makes no sense to me? One might also do multiple formal commentaries of blog posts and newspaper articles on Language then.

  4. In somewhat reverse order: Interesting points, Collin. I would disagree with part of what you say in #4. "Fights" may indeed attract attention but your analogy still seems flawed because Norbert never invited me to post anything on his blog and he made it quite clear he'd be happy if I'd eternally disappear. David Pesetsky even asked to implement soviet style censorship. So their position is abundantly clear. Norbert seems to fear this will not be the case with the "Language" review event.

    I notice that at least some of Norbert's colleagues stray considerably from the policy he recently suggested: 'attack the work not the person'. It is one thing to call a book 'junk' 11 times in a few paragraphs but quite another to label the author a 'quack'. If Norbert's blog is as widely read as Colin suggests [I have no reason to doubt him], then it might be a good idea to think about how such intemperate outbursts reflect on you [pl] as professionals. And before you publish yet another 'hatchet job' re the book you may want to consider that David Adger's very unprofessional review, published by a journal Norbert ranks above 'Language', has already done quite considerable damage to your cause. If you [pl] actually have criticisms that are of interest to linguists [vs. the amateur biology talk and recursive confusion that fills so much of the "review"], it would be good to finally voice them.

    1. What was so bad about Adger's review, just out of curiosity? I'm sincerely curious. I read it, and it seemed fine. Evans' book seems well-deserving of harsh criticism, which is what Adger's review seemed to me to be.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Noah, if, as you say, Vyv's book is deserving of harsh criticism, why would David Adger go after non issues. He makes a big deal out of linguists allegedly not using the word 'language instinct' but then has to admit that some actually do. So why was he raising this red herring instead of giving a precise definition of 'innate capacities' and demonstrating how the triggering by experience actually works. Is he unable to provide some specific examples that interest linguists on all sides of the isle? And, if he had taken his job at least somewhat seriously, he would have known that the paper he uses to attack Vyv [Corballis, 2007] actually relies on an interpretation of Fitch & Hauser [2004] that is incorrect according to Fitch & Friederici [2012]. Besides, this starling recursion issue was always a very weak challenge to the Chomskyan paradigm [even if starlings are capable of recursion that tells us nothing about whether or not humans have a Chomskyan LF] - so why did he self-embarrass himself over such a side-issue? Or take his recursion disaster. Now he may not know much about that topic but it's not like you generativists have no people who do know - why not let them deal with it? Anyone who has read "The Language Myth" and Adger's review must think: jeez that is all generativists have to criticize - their case must be really quite weak.
      DISCLAIMER: I am not saying your case is that weak only that the Adger review makes it appear that way.

    4. why would David Adger go after non issues

      As far as I can tell, he goes after a number of issues that Evans addressed in his book.

      ...he would have known that the paper he uses to attack Vyv [Corballis, 2007]...

      Is this the only citation that Adger misinterprets? If so, that's still a pretty good batting average.

      Besides, this starling recursion issue was always a very weak challenge to the Chomskyan paradigm ... so why did he self-embarrass himself over such a side-issue?

      Obviously, because Evans tried to use this issue to attach generative linguistics.

      Or take his recursion disaster.

      I'm not going to defend the part on recursion. It seems to me to be, at best, asserting a revisionist history about how that term has been used in generative grammar. And I can't make any sense of the assertion that computability-recursion (Adger's sense #2) has "Nothing to do with category recursion" (Adger's sense #1). This is well outside my area of expertise, but #1 seems pretty clearly to be a special case of #2.

      Anyone who has read "The Language Myth" and Adger's review must think: ... their case must be really quite weak.

      You didn't mention a number of other things that Adger addressed in the piece (e.g., competence vs performance, universals, language development, double dissociation) that together make Evans' position seem quite weak.

    5. Noah, first of all I appreciate your effort defending a paper that is not yours. But I think in the end it is up to David A. to defend his arguments - we both can only speculate what he may have intended. Having said this a few short comments:

      If Evans' only example [for possible precursors of language in other species] had been the starling research I would agree with you. But it was one of many. So why would one attack one of the weakest opposing arguments but leave the stronger ones intact? As for batting average: it is troublesome that Adger seems unaware of an important argument put forward by his side and needs someone from the other side to tell him what his side is committed to.

      Regarding the other points you mention; Adger's treatment of them [in the review] is as unconvincing as that of those I mentioned. I gave you a couple of examples not an exhaustive evaluation. That would amount to re-writing Adger's review - but it is not really my job do show him stronger arguments. It would be a good idea for him to read the entire book [not just a few pages that he find offensive] and then have a look at the literature referenced. I see no indication that he has done that. Writing "Evans should ideally base his discussion on something more recent than work presented in a 20 year old popular science book" implies that Evans relies exclusively on Pinker's book. The most charitable interpretation of this very insulting claim is that Adger has not even looked at the reference section of "The Language Myth". Nor does he seem familiar with the massive literature on double dissociation that challenges his position. But as I said: it is not my job to do his research...

  5. Norbert -- "If that is the rule, I can think of far better ways of generating traffic." -- do please pass on any ideas you may have on that score to the editorial board! We do need all hands on deck in that effort; the LSA can't continue its efforts on behalf of the field, occasionally counterproductive though they may be, without the revenue from Language.

  6. A little more on Language, and on opportunities to effect positive change for syntacticians.

    Compared to many other journals in linguistics, Language does a lot of things well. It has an active team of associate editors with different expertise. It has regular turnover of editors and AEs, so that the journal is not beholden to any individual or institution. It publishes material online for free after 1 year. Although there are often complaints from different directions that "Language is opposed to sub-field X", I don't think I've ever heard the opposite claim that Language is biased towards a specific sub-group. (That can't be said for all journals in the field.) Language is owned by a professional organization, rather than by a manipulative corporation or an individual person or wealthy institution. Language is like most other journals in linguistics in having slower turn around times than we'd like. But it is transparent about its success in this regard, and when AEs become part of that problem, steps are taken to replace them. Could it do better. Certainly, but it's making improvements precisely because it's accountable.

    If there is interest, the LSA would be open to suggestions for a new online section of Language devoted to research on syntax, similar to the section that now exists for phonology. There could be a lot of latitude for a group of enterprising grammarians to come up with a good editorial model, and since it would be online only, it would be freed from many of the constraints of traditional publishing. The one thing that the LSA would not likely support is a proposal to create a journal that is dedicated to a specific theoretical persuasion. A historical syntax section is currently in the incubation phase.

  7. I read Norbert's blog only infrequently, but each time a take a look at the discussions in the comment sections, they strike me as increasingly bizarre (not just from a sociological perspective). What's wrong with our field?

    1. My diagnosis is here. It's more of a problem with the blog than with the field I think.