Bates vs. Pinker

Elisabeth Bates’ New York Times obituary includes this passage:

In putting forth her ideas, Dr. Bates criticized the theories of the linguist Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleague Dr. Steven Pinker, the psychology professor, now at Harvard. They contend that infants have a high degree of early knowledge and that development is more a matter of unfolding inborn traits.

Frequent sparring between the two sides, one based in California, the other in Massachusetts, led to the aphorism that much of cognitive neuroscience lay within the dynamic pull of a west pole and an east pole. Dr. Bates was ”queen of the west pole,” Dr. Elman said.

Dr. Pinker said in an interview: ”As much as we locked horns, I had a huge amount of respect for her intellect and for keeping people like me honest. In anticipating her criticisms, she forced me to do better work.”