Saturday, February 13, 2016

My Hate Mail Responder Has Awakened

Yes, I do get nasty letters and not all of them come from religious people offended by evolution. I could swear the guy who wrote this one was in the movie line behind Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

My Hate Mail Responder Has Awakened


F.F. People write hate mail for all kinds of reasons. It’s not written entirely by fundamentalists with religious objections to science.  I can never predict what will come over the transom. Part of the problem here is that I hired a hate mail responder and he’s been slacking off on the job. I woke him up and asked him to offer his viewpoint on this little morsel that came in last week:

I don't really want to bang on you but this article is offensive in its ignorance. Any second year college student would know that you are crediting other people with Noam Chomsky's claim to fame. Literally, Chomsky's entire academic career was based on his theory that human ability to organize and use language and grammar was a native quality not learned and that it most likely was possessed by other mammals. Prior to Chomsky, a consensus orthodoxy had language and grammar being a learned ability from culture. Chomsky basically told them the world was round. He lays out numerous reasons why he was led to this conclusions and he changed everyone's mind instantly. It was the most ground breaking discovery in modern linguistics and shaped entire fields of study since, including this experiment. Because you don't make the proper connection, the article comes off as crude and unlearned, or in a more modern description, something only a blogger would write and not be embarrassed about. You should be studying, not having a public voice.

Higgs: You woke me up for that? Well, now that I’m up, I might as well deal with it. Dear Sir, I believe you are being a touch insincere when you say you don’t want to “bang on” my co-blogger. If that were the case it would be quite easy for you to resist pushing the send button. I’d also like to call your attention to the dozens of other stories on the same study in the New York Times, BBC and other news outlets. We could not find a single one that mentioned Dr. Chomsky. There’s a reason for this.

If I wrote the script for Faye’s life, I’d have Noam Chomsky walk in right now, the way Marshall Mcluhan walked onto the set of Annie Hall and offered some much-needed humility to a blow-hard professor, who quite frankly couldn't hold a candle to you. Here’s what I’d have Noam Chomsky say:

"Dear sir, while it’s true that I did some seminal work in linguistics, it’s silly to expect me to be trotted out in every newspaper story on the study of language. The researchers profiled in the column did original work on word recognition in non-human primates. I never did any studies of this kind. They devised a clever experiment and deserve credit for it.

I enjoyed the column and thought the new work was very clearly explained. If you had taken the time to read my book Manufacturing Consent, you’d know that I have no tolerance for bullies. Quite frankly, I the last thing I need is to be championed by people like you. You are offensive in your pompousness."   

That would be fun. If you're out there Noam Chomsky, please come forward. Can I go back to sleep now?

FF: I only life worked like that.

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About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

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