Steven Pinker, experimental psychologist at Harvard University, well-known public intellectual and SFU honorary degree holder has been awarded the 2019 Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy.
His most controversial idea? That life on earth is getting better.
Dr. Pinker’s most recent book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress makes a data-driven argument that by every major measure of human well-being, people’s lives have improved since the Enlightenment due to its values of reason, science and humanism.
Lauded by many - including Bill Gates who called it his “favourite book of all time” – Enlightenment Now has also sparked fervent criticism, with charges that Pinker mischaracterizes the Enlightenment and its sins, that he cherry-picked data and ignores current human suffering and inequality. Dr. Pinker counters these arguments, saying that each one gets things backwards, and that much of the fatalism of our times is whipped up by a news media industry that serves up gory anecdotes rather than systematic trends.
Dr. Pinker was presented with the unique and prestigious Sterling Prize on October 29 in the theatre of the new SFU School of Sustainable Energy Engineering building at the Surrey Campus. Following a short award ceremony, he gave a lecture on some of the controversies he has been a part of over his 40 years in academia as well as on the issues of free inquiry and free speech in universities, and how scholars should handle dangerous ideas.