Steven Pinker wins the 2019 Sterling Prize for Controversy

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 will be 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 will give 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.


October 29, 2019 | 7:00–8:30 PM


SFU School of Sustainable Energy building
Theatre, Room 1002
SFU Surrey Campus
10285 University Drive 
Surrey, BC V3T 4B7

We respectfully acknowledge that this event takes place on the Unceded, Traditional, Ancestral Territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo First Nations.


A Prize for Controversy?

The Sterling Prize honours work across disciplines that provokes and/or contributes to the understanding of controversy, while presenting new ways of looking at the world and challenging complacency. The Sterling Prize Committee selected Dr. Pinker as this year’s recipient for his vigorous defense of the values that the committee feels are at the core of academia: open, unfettered and reasoned debate.

About Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He grew up in Montreal and earned his BA from McGill and his PhD from Harvard. Currently Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard, he has also taught at Stanford and MIT. He has won numerous prizes for his research, his teaching, and his ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of ten honorary doctorates (including one from Simon Fraser University), and one of Foreign Policy’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” He was Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications. His tenth book, published in 2018, is called Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

Registration Disclaimer

As this event is free, and free events routinely have a high number of no-shows, it is our policy to overbook. In case of a full event, registration may not guarantee entry. Seating is limited and will be available to registered attendees on a first-come, first-served basis.    


By Skytrain

The nearest SkyTrain station to the SFU Surrey campus is Surrey Central. This is on the Expo Line that runs from Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver to the King George Station in Surrey.

Once you exit the Surrey Central SkyTrain station, walk south on City Parkway and turn right at 102 Avenue. SFU's Surrey campus will be on your left.

By Bus

Surrey Central SkyTrain Station is next to a bus loop that is served by the following bus routes: 314, 316, 320, 321, 323, 324, 325, 326, 329, 332, 335, 393, 395, 501, 502, 509, 590, C71, C73, C74 and N19.

For driving directions to the SFU Surrey campus from the Fraser Valley, from SFU’s Burnaby Campus and Vancouver, follow this link


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