TCS Daily


The Chomsky Fallacy

By Keith Burgess-Jackson - June 26, 2006 12:00 AM

Opinions, it's often said, are like anuses: Everybody has one. Should I pay attention to anyone else's opinion, given that I have my own, or given that I'm capable of forming my own? And if I do pay attention to someone else's opinion, whose? Peter Singer has an opinion about the killing of "defective" newborns. He thinks it's sometimes the right thing to do. Robert P. George, who is equally opinionated, thinks it's never the right thing to do. Paul Krugman has an opinion about tax increases on the wealthy to fund programs for the poor. He thinks it's the right thing to do. George W. Bush, who is equally opinionated (albeit more powerful), thinks it's the wrong thing to do.

Pick an issue. Capital punishment. The war in Iraq. Animal rights. Affirmative action. Homosexual marriage. Teaching Design Theory in public-school science classrooms. Drilling in ANWR. Cloning. Abortion. Nationalized health care. Climate change. Divorce. Opinions differ on all of these -- and on every other issue of public concern. What's a person to do?

Ultimately, each of us must make up his or her own mind on each issue. There are no moral authorities. If you decide to accept whatever the Pope says on moral matters, then you've made the Pope your moral authority; but the decision was yours. You decided to submit to the Pope rather than think things through for yourself. So maybe I should qualify what I said. There are no externally imposed moral authorities, i.e., there is nobody who, by dint of training, practice, or experience, has special insight into the good, the right, or the just.

There are experts in geology, musicology, linguistics, and physics, but not in morality. The reason we care about credentials -- having an advanced degree from an accredited institution, for example -- is that they are marks, signs, or indicia of expertise. They are not guarantors; they are indicators. If they weren't at least indicators, we would pay no attention to them. In fact, we pay a great deal of attention to them. Name one academic department that would hire someone without a Ph.D. degree for a tenure-track position. Is that irrational? I don't think so. Certainly those doing the hiring don't think so! They think it's eminently rational.

Noam Chomsky is, by all accounts, a brilliant linguist. Let me stipulate that this is the case, since I'm not a linguist myself. Let me also stipulate that he is a competent philosopher of language, although he has no philosophical credentials. Does either of these facts give his opinions on foreign policy (or political morality generally) any greater weight? (By "greater weight," I mean greater than that of any randomly selected individual.) I don't see how it does. Chomsky's training is in linguistics, which is a social science. He is familiar with the literature of that field; he understands and applies its concepts and methods; he contributes to it in accordance with discipline-specific standards. Qua scientist, his job is to understand the world, not change it. He is to conduct his investigations dispassionately, impartially, and without bias. Scientists who exhibit bias in their scientific work are violating a basic norm of the scientific community. They are injecting their opinions (values) rather than letting the facts speak for themselves. Science (from the Latin word for knowledge) is about getting things right, not setting them right. Its direction of fit is word to world, not world to word. It is informative, not directive.

I'm well aware of what's called "critical social science." With all due respect to its practitioners, it is not science; it's politics masquerading as science. Calling something science doesn't make it science. The same is true of "normative economics." To the extent that it's economics, it's not normative. To the extent that it's normative, it's not economics. I'm not saying that economists can't invoke norms in their work. They can and do. I'm saying that the norms they invoke are the object or presupposition of their study, not something they impose on it. For example, an economist might study the various ways (means) to full employment. The norm of full employment is a given, something assumed or taken for granted. The economist says, in effect, "Given this norm (goal, end, objective), how can inflation be minimized?" Economists are technicians. They supply means to ends, not ends. Their aim is to describe and measure the costs and benefits of each bundle of goods society is presumed to want, not to dictate what society should want. Not convinced? Then identify where in economists' training -- in which course or seminar, specifically -- they learn the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust.

Chomsky's expertise as a linguist (or as an amateur but competent philosopher of language) has no bearing on anything moral or political, including matters of foreign policy. These two aspects of his life are, quite simply, unrelated. That he has strong opinions about American foreign policy in general or the war in Iraq in particular is no more significant than that others, such as classicist Victor Davis Hanson, have equally strong but opposite opinions. So why does anyone care what Chomsky thinks? I suspect it's because people commit a fallacy. Expertise (or the authority that rests on it) is not transferable from realm to realm. It's realm-specific. Imagine if it were transferable. Stephen Hawking, the great physicist, would be authoritative on baseball, plumbing, and economics. Bill James, the baseball statistician, would be authoritative on the war in Iraq, botany, and campaign finance. David McCullough, the historian, would be authoritative on wine, women, and song. Expertise in any area would make a person expert in every area.

I'm not saying that Hawking, James, and McCullough don't, can't, or shouldn't have opinions about these matters. I'm saying that their opinions, if they have any, are entitled to no more weight than anyone else's. If I want advice about wine, I'll consult a vinologist, thank you. If I want information about plants, I'll consult a botanist. If I want to know about NASCAR, I'll consult a racing expert. If I want to understand some arcane linguistic phenomenon, such as anaphora, I'll consult Chomsky. On matters that require expertise, either become an expert yourself or consult someone who is. On matters that require no expertise, such as morality, make up your own mind -- after gathering all relevant facts. This is not to reduce morality to taste; for there is a logic to moral judgment. Moral judgments must be consistent. If I believe that war is always wrong, I cannot consistently believe that the war in Iraq is right. I can believe one or the other of these propositions, but not both. Philosophy, as an academic discipline, consists in exposing inconsistencies. Moral philosophy, as a branch of philosophy, consists in exposing inconsistencies in moral judgments. Philosophy can't do everything, but it can do a lot. The only leverage a philosopher has is the principle of noncontradiction, which prohibits believing both a proposition and its negation.

Several years ago, when Jesse Jackson was running for president, I heard someone say that if he weren't black, he wouldn't be criticized so harshly. The irreverent reply was that if he weren't black, he wouldn't be taken seriously as a candidate. If Noam Chomsky were not a famous linguist, nobody would care a whit about his moral or political opinions. That people do care shows only that they are committing a fallacy -- that of transferring authority from a realm in which he is expert (linguistics) to one in which he is not (political morality).

Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Arlington, where he teaches courses in logic, ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of law, and social and political philosophy. He blogs at AnalPhilosopher. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily shared by others at his university.

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286 Comments

Chomsky vs. Hanson
Good article except for the point re Hanson. I think he would be much more likely to have a valuable opinion about foreign affairs, Iraq war etc. because I believe he is also a military historian. But Chomsky just mouths the same old boring anti-americansim.
We often hear the same kind of fallacy re global warming too, guys who are brilliant in fields totally unrelated to GW mouthing off and being used as reference. Because of all this it's why I believe in that story about who we would be better offwith ruling us, the top 100 professors arount the Boston area, or the first 100 guys entered in the Boston telephone book. The latter would be preferable because we could probably count of them having some kind of common sense unlike the mostly left wing profs like Chomsky et al.

The diploma fallacy
If a lack of academic credential is everything for you, why have we allowed Donald Rumsfeld to run the Defense Department? He is completely untutored in war, never having been through war college. His sole military experience was a minimal stint in the Navy following ROTC.

Or how about our commander in chief? Famously, the man's dad pulled some strings to get him out of serious service. As a result he got to fly around the Texas skies while better men were getting shot at.

Chomsky's knowledge of events is encyclopedic. It is also verifiable, through copious footnotes. You should check him out prior to forming an opinion.

(Ha ha. I'm rolling on the floor. No one who hates Chomsky would ever deign to read anything by him.)

Who's running the country?
Question, Mr D. How many "left wing professors" do we have ruling us? Hasn't Mr Bush been pretty scrupulous about weeding them out? Even in the Clinton Administration I think there was only one-- Robert Reich.

Left wing professors mostly stand on the sidelines, offering commentary on how they see the world going. It's the right wing ideologues who are actually in high places, causing the problems we struggle with.

Mr. Bean-left wing profs
You must be living on a different planet if you don't see report after report about how the profesoriat is mostly left wing. Bush doesn't hire and fire profs, the good old boy network and chairmen etc. hire according to their own biases, ie leftwing mostly, except for some of the real sciences.

Philosopher-kings vs truck drivers
No, we're living on the same planet. You're correct in noticing that among people who make their living reading everything, thinking about it and then forming informed opinions, most show up on the left side of the spectrum. I wonder why that's so?

On the other hand, the first hundred dorks in the Boston phone book would have as their common denominator the fact that they read very little and only "know" what they are fed on cable TV news.

In an ideal world you could live in a nation run by the latter, and I could live in one run by the former. Then we'd both be happy.

forming informed opinions?
Or, being blinded by their dogmatism to discount contrary evidence and simply follow the left-wing 'litany'.
Indeed, many of the proesoriat go into that field precisely because they can make a cushy living by just reading instead of doing any real work; thus they are often so isolated from the real world that they can't be trusted to make proper decisions about anything.
In fact, re Chomsky, even in his own field of liguistics, he's even only considered one branch and not given credence by other linguists. And you want us to believe him on military matters?

Bringing the mountain to Muhammad
I'm thinking that you personally may never have taken much coursework in the liberal arts. Had you done so you would have found the introductory material to be on establishing methods of critical thinking in one's own thought processes.

We can always find poor teachers who merely expound their own biases and command their students to regurgitate them. If the students then internalize these biases so that they become one with them, they only have themselves to blame.

Superior teachers never tell their students WHAT to think, they show them HOW to think. Lesser lights in the university system may safely be disregarded.

Regarding Chomsky, it's instructive that you and the author of this piece concentrate on his opinions, and not on the mass of evidence he brings to bear on the subject. As a teacher he can only bring the mountain to you. You have to do the work of analyzing the information critically yourself, so you can form your own opinions.

Fallacious and silly
Elitists, I think, tend to be blinded by their own self-esteem.

While no fan of Noam’s, I am reminded of the current disingenuous assertion put forth by Rep. John Murtha, (D, PA) to the effect that only “boots on the ground” veterans can speak authoritatively about the war in Iraq.

Carried further, perhaps no one but an African-American should comment upon racial discrimination. Only a mature woman can speak authoritatively about abortion. In fact, possibly only the positions abortion-experienced women should really matter. Well, and maybe only lawyers should have anything to say about laws, regulations and the imposition of legislation upon the American public.

Sound familiar? And tiring...

My opinion is that Burgess-Jackson is just an elitist with yet another fallacious, corrosive argument meant to belittle the political opposition without bringing anything substantive to the debate.

Not hate, pity
I have read Chomsky and wonder if you have since you believe his knowledge of events to be "encyclopedic". His knowledge is nothing of the sort.

That man's pet linguistic theory is all but thrown out and his take on history and American government is nothing short of revisionism. Not to mention the man's extreme hyprocracy of making huge amounts of money while decrying the very systems that he uses to increase those amounts.

He merely says what you want to believe Roy. That is why Chomsky appears so brilliant to you and your ilk. Merely pointing out that Chomsky doesn't have the credentials to pontificate on his favorite Evil Empire does not do justice to the man's inability to discern the difference between excrement and shine-olah. From Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq the man has been famously clueless.

One more note:

Flying a combat jet is hardly easy and is serious business. Please, by all means, tell me how you have served your country.

Specialization
I'm reminded of the old saw: Specialization means learning more and more about less and less.

Opinion must not be confused with logic and dogma cannot be equated with science.

Roy's Ivory Tower Syndrome
The old "liberals are smarter" elitism has reared its ugly head once again.

Not taking into account that professors have full control over the futures of the students under them, is it any wonder that you would vomit out whatever position you believe your professor wants to hear? The ones who remain in the system long enough are the ones who actually believe what they are vomiting.

It is quite understandable that Roy would wish to have us believe that left = intelligence. While Roy dreams of a place run by the Ivory Tower (Cuba, Sovient Union, China) without the intervention of "dorks" who drive trucks, he fails to see the extreme views and disconnected rants that many of these academics produce.

A PhD does not equal common sense. Chomsky, Churchill, and Zinn are good examples of this.

Analyzing Opinions
I'll weigh in here. I've had considerable experience doing just the analysis you describe, and, frankly, that is the most disappointing part of dealing with Chomsky: he doesn't know how to weigh evidence, he pathetically misstates it in an effort to make it support his argument, and generally gives every indication of having formed his opinions FIRST, and then gone out to try and validate them, rather than considering the evidence and coming to them.

If he were an undergraduate in my courses who argued that way, I could recommend help, tutoring, and other resources. I could spend time in my office helping him to understand how to form an argument and evaluate it. I could recommend collateral courses. Sadly, he's not. He has spent his carreer in academia without learning how to do that (which includes, according to several friends in lingustics, arguing for his own theory).

So criticism of Chomsky for his opinions without reference to supporting facts is appropriate for two reasons: first, he came to the opinions without the facts, and so we can evaluate his opinion on that grounds. Second, his support for those opinions is wholly inadequate, demonstrating a lack of facility in handling data and sources that shocks the careful reader.

So do I recommend him? Yes, Ive found him useful in pointing out to others how not to handle evidence. Do I spend much time criticizing his opinions? It's not worth it.

Knowledge vs. Footnotes
"Chomsky's knowledge of events is encyclopedic. It is also verifiable, through copious footnotes. You should check him out prior to forming an opinion."

I suggest you check out his footnotes, then. Once you find out how he mishandles data, will you change your mind, or will you suggest he should have used other sources? That question, answered carefully, can be quite illuminating.

Footnote footnote
I am going to try to locate it but I remember where Chomsky actually footnotes a footnote in an older book that he wrote. I found the footnote in the older book and found that it referred to a passage in another book that he wrote that had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

If I find it I will post it for your appreciation.

Name one academic department that would hire someone without a Ph.D. degree for a tenure-track posit
"Name one academic department that would hire someone without a Ph.D. degree for a tenure-track position."

To my shame as a Coloradoan: The Ethnic Studies Dept at CU-Boulder. Ward Churchill.

Respect earned
The fact that Chomsky revolutionized linguistics means that he, at least in some situations, is thoughtful. What makes his political writing influential is that it is meticulously documented. He has done his homework. Most of his writing is fact, though uncomfortable. Conservative politicians are more troubled by his facts than his opinions.

For example, when Bush, Jr. said that the 9/11 bombers "hate America because they hate our freedom", Chomsky wrote about all the other reasons people from the Muslim world might hate America (support of Zionism, support of brutal dictators -- Saddam (in the beginning), Mubarak, the Shah of Iran, etc.), theft of oil, to name a few. All Chomsky's points are well documented. You might look at what he says about oil theft (or, if you're Mark, you might not have to).

When someone writes "we should support democracy around the world", that's opinion. When Chomsky writes that we in fact have supported dictators, that's fact & that's why the right wing noise machine targets him particularly.

Argument and Evidence, not Credential
Having actually read Chomsky on both linguistics and politics, unlike (apparently) the author, I can assert that Chomsky bases his criticisms of the U.S. government on meticulous research and bidingly valid reasoning.

This is how it is supposed to work. You don't take somebody's opinion as fact just because he or she has some title in the field, and you don't discount someone's argument merely because they're not recognized as an expert. Each argument stands or falls on its own, on the merits of the *argument* and not the merits of the person putting it forward.

Articles like this - which attack Chomsky without taking into account any of his evidence or reasoning - suggest to me that there are in fact *not* good grounds for disbelieving his arguments. Not good grounds because, when somebody has nothing to say in response to a good argument, they often chance the subject, and start talking about the person.

What doesn't surprise me is that TCS would publish this bit of 'reasoning' that would fail a first year logic class. What would surprise me would be to see it convince any reasonable person.

Chomsky on linguistics
Just as a footnote: the pinwheels here who say that his ideas on language have been discredited discredit themselves by making the allegation.

Talking In Circles
"the pinwheels here who say that his ideas on language have been discredited discredit themselves by making the allegation."

Ummm . . . Proof, please. Chomsky's theories on language are far from emperical. Just because there may be other linguists who disagree with some of Chomsky's conclusions doesn't mean they're simply "pinwheels." To assert such is mere bomb-throwing without data to back it up. This is akin to the Christian fundamentalist who asserts that the atheist who doesn't give creedence to the bible is nothing short of a discredited poo-poo head because the Bible is in itself self-crediting.

Nah
Chomsky may have "revolutionized" linguistics, but his revolution turned out to be the kind of dead end that formalisms posing as science always are. Nobody is wasting their time searching for his hypothetical "language organ," which he claimed was innate, yet not explainable by natural selection. The choices remaining are Creationism or incoherence, take your pick. But, really, who cares?


Politically he's devolved into a pathetic anti-American crank, an exhibitionist seeking that last dollop of celebrity. He's always reminded me of the little kid who's learned to be the center of attention by saying outrageous things and scandalizing the adults. (Such a naughty boy you are, Noam!) He retains a dwindling audience that buys CDs of his monotonal rants, and who buy and underline his repetitive, unreadable books, put out by obscure publishers. The Chomsky Cult. Otherwise, nobody pays any attention to him at all.

Correction
I don't believe there are many who would say Chomsky's linguistic relativism is absolutely discredited. I would say that his theories, presented over 40(?) years ago, are simply ignored.

Well Said
Paul Johnson, in his book "Intellectuals," absolutely NAILS the Chomsky Phenomenon via his dissection of various personalities, including a passage on Noam himself. Highly recommended.

Nobody?
>there is nobody who, by dint of training, practice, or experience, has special insight into the good, the right, or the just.

Nobody knows, even after special study, training? Nobody?

While I think ethics is not the same as a science, there are certain practical principles that cannot be ignored. These principles do give good guidance to the ethical and moral.

Earned nothing but money...
by selling his rants to the idiot lefties who need a hit of his potent anti-Americanism.

This prestigious and most persistent Western apologist for the atrocities of Pol Pot and Mao, amongst others, has earned nothing but contempt from those of us who have actually read his works and then compared them to reality.

It is quite amusing to consider what would happen to him if he spoke against the government while being a citizen of Cuba, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, China, or Vietnam.

It was a good thing for him that 9/11 came along and gave him a reason to be put back on the A-list of the anti-war crowd. Now a new generation of idiots can read his works and come away "enlightened".

Ignored
You're right, and of course there are good reasons why a theoretical approach ends up getting ignored. It gets ignored when it turns out to be a dead end, no longer productive of researchable problems and hypotheses. The field of linguistics has moved on, especially to multi-disciplinary evolutionary approaches that are far more productive than Chomsky's formalism, which floated in its own ahistorical space.

I do wonder why you characterize Chomsky's view as "linguistic relativism." He posited a universal grammar shared by all humans, a set of innate constraints from which all possible grammatical sentences could be derived. That seems to me the opposite of relativism.







Good Point
"I don't believe there are many who would say Chomsky's linguistic relativism is absolutely discredited. I would say that his theories . . . are simply ignored."

Possibly. Especially when you consider the type of real scientific work done these days in the realm of brain and cognitive sciences (a la Steve Pinker) which tackle much of the lnguistic realm with more credibility than Chomsky's unproven suppositions.

See also
Paul Berman, 'Terror and Liberalism' (Norton, 2003), pp 144-153. A succinct and devastating critique from someone on the liberal side of the political spectrum.

Grammatically speaking
My labeling Chomsky's theories as linguistic relativism is his idea that whatever a native speaker of a language “feels” to be right is somehow grammatical. In other words, grammaticality is determined by personal intuition.

I took this as being a version of linguistic relativity. In Chomsky's world it all depends on how someone perceives a language. This flies in the face of every language that has formal grammar, which is most languages I assume. I have only studied German, French, Spanish and my teachers and professors seemed to stress the rules of grammar. There was nothing relative or intuitive about it.

It is not surprising that Chomsky takes a relativistic approach to linguistics since he does this with all other topics. "9/11? Well the US bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan at night and killed the nightwatchman! Same thing!"

Does anyone remember?
Having been a graduate student at San Francisco State back in the sixties, I well recall that a conservative expert in linguistics named S.I. Hayakawa was universally abhorred by the Left. While they poo-pooed his politics they endeavored to besmirch him by saying that he hadn't kept up in his chosen field. It didn't matter; he wound up a US Senator after a stint as president of that university.

Let's face it. Abraham Lincoln,, Woodrow Wilson,and Franklin Roosevelt had had no combat experience, but all conducted successful war efforts. Our politics is like our preferences in music; it's whatever resonates with our neurology. I say this admitting that Noam Chomsky fills me with revulsion. Footnotes do not a conclusive argument make.There are millions of texts filled with hundreds of millions of footnotes that not everyone in this string would agree with.

I sense in Noam Chomsky's entire demeanor an undying hatred of everything that enabled him to be what he is and what makes me feel good about the country in which I live, and myself. His appeal is in his articulation of that hatred. Hatred is a wondrous political unifier, and that's why the Left fawns over him; his hateful diatribes resonate with all their own loathing of this world they wish to change into " a great society." They have failed to change things thus far and are terribly frustrated. That frustration stokes their hatred yet more.

The Keith Burgess-Jackson Fallacy
K.B.J.: Philosophy can't do everything, but it can do a lot. The only leverage a philosopher has is the principle of noncontradiction, which prohibits believing both a proposition and its negation.
...
Reads to me like Professor BJ is a little defensive about his chosen profession and the fact that a linguist has more credence in political circles than he does. Professor BJ betrays a poor understanding of linguistics as a field of social science. Chomsky, as PBJ admits, is a "brilliant linguist" but spends his essay in ad hominem attacks and out-of-his-ass comparisons with other figures. Why the Social Scientist Chomsky should be conflated with Jesse Jackson (who is more like the Pope in his ecclesiastical/political role, who PBJ also backhandedly disparages) is something only PBJ in his philisophical wisdom can understand.
...
By the way, Stephen Hawking IS a very well respected baseball statistician.
...
Linguistics studies the ways humans create symbols and organize themselves through language. If a professional scientiest of symbollic communication wants to discuss the way politics works in our daily lives as a symbollic construct, and evaluate the ways practicioners and consumers of politcs understand the process and realize results... WELL THAT SMELLS LIKE SCIENCE TO ME. Science can be wrong, that's why we theorize and falsify. It's a shame Professor PBJ can't give some real contradictions to Chomsky, which could be made, but instead is propping up his career by smearing somebody else.
...
Professional scientists of any stripe are often very well read outside their discipline and the closer you get to their work, you should maybe pay atttention to what they say. The fact that Chomsky hasn't been taken apart by right-wing social scientists (more common than you think) is telling.
...
If you read PBJ's bio and look at his publications, he's a hyperliterate devotee of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy that proclaims the egoistic self as the epitome of social and political devotion. For a philosopher and a lawyer, he's got precious little love for the cultures and societies that spawned both critical thought and humanistic legal codes.

Ummm -- What?!
"[PBJ is] a hyperliterate devotee of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy that proclaims the egoistic self as the epitome of social and political devotion. For a philosopher and a lawyer, he's got precious little love for the cultures and societies that spawned both critical thought and humanistic legal codes."

While I'm no devotee of Rand's ultra-black-and-white Objectivist assertions (and especially the cultish Randroid offspring her theories have spawned), reading the above statement it struck me that following up the proclamation of the first sentence with the extremely subjective conclusion of the second has got to be one of the biggest Non-sequitur arguments I've ever read....

A priori assumptions
As Chomsky's argument has been amplified but not greatly modified over the years, what you say is true: he comes with a point of view and proceeds to reinforce it.

Fortunately, no one else ever indulges in such a process. Certainly no one on the Right ever comes with an agenda. Much less do they all march in lock step, mutually reinforcing the party line of the day?

For that matter I don't find Chomsky to be opinion-heavy at all. Rather he is a wonk: reams of data within only a connecting narrative.

Why not do as I thought I had suggested? When reading any material, automatically deduct the opinions and just scan the piece for checkable facts. Then once you have digested all the facts for which your comfort level is high, you can just form your own opinions.

Finally, would you agree with me that the most pernicious form of opinion is not fringe opinion-- which must be heavily supported by logic plus data before it carries the power to convince anyone-- but rather those unexamined assumptions everyone carries around with them while taking them for granted? The assumption, for instance, that our every action abroad is undertaken altruistically, for the good of the world, would be one such glaring error. We're in business after all to profit from the rest of them, and to keep any nation but our own from ever gaining advantage.

I wasn't talking about other scholars in the field
I was talking about people here who aren't scholars in the field but are nevertheless sure they know about Chomsky's standing in the field.

And you know this how?
I mean, you can point to the absence of footnotes to his papers in current work? What's the basis of your assertion?

The theoretical approach has been quite productive
In fact. In ongoing works in computer natural language processing.

Pinker doesn't ignore Chomsky
He first of all studied with him, and has enormous respect for him as a scholar. He disagrees with him, but the disagreement illustrates Chomsky's continuing status as a major influence in the field. See:

http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/papers/2005_03_Pinker_Jackendoff.pdf

Hate speech
wow!

>His appeal is in his articulation of that hatred. Hatred is a wondrous political unifier, and that's why the Left fawns over him; his hateful diatribes resonate with all their own loathing of this world they wish to change into " a great society."

But the Right never, never, expresses "hate." People like, say, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh are just dispassionately telling it like it is. Sure.

Laughter Earned
HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah, oh please stop it hurts, HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah Hah HAh Hah, geez I can't take it anymore.

Of course treason and sedition, in desperate need of enforcement aren't laughing matters.

Hey why doesn't Chomsky lead a "peace delegation", to his favorite aggreved people and stop a major source of C02 emissions and left wing noise, his big yap.

You don't understand either Chomsky or grammar
Here's the funny thing about grammar:

>his flies in the face of every language that has formal grammar, which is most languages I assume. I have only studied German, French, Spanish and my teachers and professors seemed to stress the rules of grammar. There was nothing relative or intuitive about it.

You'd think so, yes. But here's an unsolved problem in computer science. You have a website where you can type in a series of English words. The computer running the website has to tell you if the string is grammatical English.

This can't yet be done. The problems cited by Chomsky are at the base of why it can't yet be done.

Hate Speech + Ignorance
>"But the Right never, never, expresses "hate." People like, say, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh are just dispassionately telling it like it is. Sure."

The difference between a Coulter/Rush and a Chomsky is that Coulter and Rush actually do research on the topic they are talking/writing about. Chomsky has an abyssmal record when it comes to the quality of his research. Coulter denies evolution, which shows that she lets religion interfere with her reason, but her work on other areas is damn near flawless. I would put her against Chomsky on a political debate any day.

Chomsky doesn't do research? Nigerian e-mail time.
If you believe this, let me send you some email from Nigeria. A smart guy like you can really clean up with it.

You are guilty as charged
>"We're in business after all to profit from the rest of them, and to keep any nation but our own from ever gaining advantage."

This assumption is much more damaging, and untruthful, as this one:

>"The assumption, for instance, that our every action abroad is undertaken altruistically, for the good of the world, would be one such glaring error."

You, and Chomsky, believe that America makes its money and pushes its agenda by keeping all others down. What a load this is and what a way to keep yourself blind to the good things that have occurred in this world due to American influence.

You and Chomsky think that America is a fascist state or rapidily approaching that state. Yet the US continues to outlive all predications of our inevitable doom as well as being a conduit for other countries to increase their wealth and economic opportunity.

It is so easy for cynics to claim that "you just don't know you're not free" and to convince others that this is so based on wild accusations that, if proven untrue, can be used to prove that the tyrannical US government has covered it up. Conspiracy theorists like Chomsky need no proof since the signs are all around us if you just open your eyes and see things in his cynical light.

Has the US screwed up? Oh yeah. Big time. But the ideology pursued by Chomsky has cost the world much more.

I Never Said...
... that Pinker ignores Chomsky; I stated that he disagreed with him. Also that I personally find Pinker's work more scientifically validating than Chomsky's theoretical framework re: linguistics. However, I dissent from the notion that disagreement over a given individual's proffered theoretics is a criteria for measuring the status that individual holds, let alone the validity of their expressed theories. Controversial doesn't necessarily mean worthy of serious analysis.

In the case of Chomsky, it may very well be that his initial developments in the area of linguistics proved a jumping-off point with regard to further exploration in that field which has proven beneficial. This has been, indeed, his contribution to that endeavor which I believe he has earned, and I applaud him not for that. However, per the topic of this article, I don't believe it gives him the same status with regard to just any subject to which he devotes his arguments. He certainly has every right to make his arguments from any viewpoint he wishes, backing them up as he sees fit -- however, it's also encumbant upon those disagreeing with his out-of-specialty pronouncements to deal with them on their own merits.

In short, one should not merely approve or disapprove of Chomsky's socio-political assertions because of his status within the field of linguistics. His expertise in the one doesn't necessarily translate into unassailable credentials in the other. Again, I recommend Johnson's evaluative dissertation.

Correction:
My sentence in the previous post, "This has been, indeed, his contribution to that endeavor which I believe he has earned, and I applaud him not for that." should read, "This has been, indeed, his contribution to that endeavor which I believe he has earned, and I DO applaud him for that."

Apologies for the error.

Indicia? What info and logic are being addressed?
The, ahem, indicia may have little to do with current reality. Failing to understand that is why, for example, highly regarded classical physicists made pompous fools of themselves when a machinist presented a materials research paper on the semi-conductor properties of certain arrangements of amorphous materials where he claimed to induce and disperse local order - effectively inducing and reversing phase change between amorphous and crstal-like regions of a glass-like substance at will.


Stan Ovshinsky and his opinion were met with laughter and derision, not because he was wrong but because he had no apparent, ahem, indicia. He'd acquired the information that provided him with the understanding and intuition to carry out his experiments by researching physics in a library.


So, anyway, just what opinion of Chomsky's is being referred to? Or is it the opinions of vast numbers of people who generally find his information to be sufficient and his logic to be sound that are being dissed?

Getting tired of being wrong yet?
Gee. I have a word processor with a grammar check. Many of the rules CAN and HAVE been hard coded into these wonderful programs. Just do a google search on grammar software and you can find extremely accurate ones for sale.

As in all languages, there are thousands of rules and exceptions to each one. The fact that a computer program cannot find them all yet does not mean that objective grammar does not exist.

So it would seem that you are quite wrong on both counts. I have studied grammar and I have studied Chomsky. Perhaps this would be a good time to opt out of this debate since you obviously have no clue as to what are talking about.

The allegation was that Chomsky's work was being ignored
That's not true.

>However, I dissent from the notion that disagreement over a given individual's proffered theoretics is a criteria for measuring the status that individual holds, let alone the validity of their expressed theories.

Fine. But controversy or no controversy, Chomsky's work remains of fundamental importance in linguistics.

> don't believe it gives him the same status with regard to just any subject to which he devotes his arguments. He certainly has every right to make his arguments from any viewpoint he wishes, backing them up as he sees fit -- however, it's also encumbant upon those disagreeing with his out-of-specialty pronouncements to deal with them on their own merits.

I absolutely and unequivocally agree.

What I did during the war
I started reading Chomsky when everyone here at TCS was accusing me of sounding just like him. And when I did read him, naturally I agreed with his outlook-- but that's hardly the point. I also note he is heavy on verifiable factual material. He has a very good ratio of content to comment. You can just check the facts and follow the narrative without his prompting you with an opinion.

"That man's pet linguistic theory is all but thrown out"

Were we talking about linguistics? I think we weren't.

"...his take on history and American government is nothing short of revisionism."

He contradicts the official line. Nothing wrong with that. Do you just uncritically swallow everything you're fed by official sources?

"Not to mention the man's extreme hyprocracy of making huge amounts of money while decrying the very systems that he uses to increase those amounts.

Two mistakes here. I don't recall that he's making a great deal of money-- certainly not in comparison with profiteers like **** Cheney. And secondly he doesn't "decry"-- he doesn't even address-- American business. His subject is imperialism.

Anyone who has the ability to do research and to connect the dots is competent to describe events as they appear to him. Chomsky is distinct from many other writers in the area of global politics in that he doesn't mangle or ignore inconvenient facts.

You have to admire that even if you disagree with him. Compare him to, say, the blatant liars who put out FrontPageMag if you want to see the difference between honest scholarship and disinformation.

As for my own term of service, I came of age at the beginning of Vietnam and refused to serve in an immoral invasion of a rural nation that posed no threat to us. I have since maintained my integrity in being against these volitional wars the country feels called upon to enter into every couple of decades.

Bush claims such wars are good for us-- yet when it came his turn to serve in one he hid behind his father's influence and gained a post far, far from the shooting. THAT, my friend, is a very big difference.

Interesting...
I find it amusing that this article laments Chomsky for his lack of expertise in foreign policy when he clearly lacks the education to be considered an expert.

The funny part, is that most of the folks that voted for and continue to support the guy that is currently sitting in the big chair, helped to elect a guy that: got notably lousy grades throughout his acedemic career (and never would've gotten into Yale without Dad's help); failed at every major business venture he took part in; failed as a manager to remove the members of his administration who's performance was remarkable only in demonstrated incompetence; started a war on the lamest evidence available (indeed, being suckered by the Iranians to boot), not to mention because "he tried to kill my daddy...". Indeed, this guy got himself elected despite not being good at anything he ever touched (thanks to Dad calling in evey political favor in the book).

Indeed - someone with one of the worst track records in history is now responsible for our foreign policy, finances, economy, etc. And the results aren't anything to brag about.

I guess no one should listen to the POTUS based on his education or record.

It's not me who's wrong.
but the fact is, the machine can't do a definitive grammar check.

>As in all languages, there are thousands of rules and exceptions to each one. The fact that a computer program cannot find them all yet does not mean that objective grammar does not exist.

Computers have no trouble handling rules and exceptions. They do have a lot of trouble handling language. You might look into this before posting furher.

Or, why not post about a science you know more about, like chemistry. Tell us about how CO2 is lighter than the carbon its made from by burning.

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