Sure, if "most cited academic author of the 20th century" is reasonable .
Also, there's a deep connection between automata and abstract languages - an abstract language can be described by the class of automaton that can accept it and vice-versa, at least in the case of finite automaton, pushdown automaton and Turing machines go, you have regular, context-free and context-sensitive language (known as ... "the Chomsky Hierarchy").
(Edit: added the title and author name in my post)
It's been 20 years since I finished my BS in Linguistics, but back then his name came up in just about every meeting of every class. We spent a lot of time discussing/arguing about whether he was right or wrong. I had one professor who was convinced that Chomsky was wrong, but he hired a TA who was a big fan of Chomsky so that we could get 2 different perspectives.
That's... rare, and beautiful. I admire being open-minded like this. I guess you felt in a similar way?
I'm not sure about that--he's written a lot of political books about particular countries/wars, each of them lengthy and painstakingly researched and footnoted--they alone would have been an ample life's work for most people. (I mean the earlier books, not the recent ones mostly based on interviews/conversations.) Then there's all the speeches, conversations, interviews etc on political topics.
They're certainly not a "good" reason to dislike him, but the reasons are very real and significant.
In the case of the VC, Chomsky spreads ideas that would destroy their economic power and give it the the people. People with millions of dollars in wealth are terrified of anarcho-syndicalists like Chomsky.
Over the last few years, I've become more aware how dependent ideas are on fitting into institutional frameworks - some are outside such frameworks but without people to systematically develop them, such ideas tend to be ephemeral.
Institutional frameworks solve those problems.
All these things are powerful and shape most modern intellectual endeavors. And by that token, someone who apply discipline and rigor in approaching questions outside an institution can have an incredible effect - back to Chomsky essentially creating the field that he's dominated (theoretical linguistics, one thing I didn't know 'till this article).
There you go. You have the question. You have a search engine. Go solve it. Oh... Hmm.
'Knowing which question to solve' only helps for easy problems. A search engine can help you solve easy problems. It won't do a damn thing for hard problems. You need someone to curate what is known in the field, point you in the right direction, steer you away from dead ends, help you break the problem down into bits that you might make headway in.
Academic institutions do just that. They don't always do it optimally, they can get stuck in local maximums, they are occasionally blind-sided by some genius that attacked the problem from an unorthodox angle.
But they do a hell of a lot more then a search engine ever would.
Basically, a lot of pre-1980 theories of mind seemed promising at the time because they had some explanatory power and made sense. But more recently, machine learning techniques of treating the mind more like a large-dimensional statistical object rather than something with complex internal structure seem to be proving more effective. I wonder whether in time the Chomskyan style of linguistics will prove to be a dead end.
I've heard of people disgruntled by his economics and political activism denigrating him as "not particularly smart". This article is proof to the contrary, politics notwithstanding.
Here's an example from T.M. Scanlon's "What We Owe to Each Other", a philosophical book on morality I was reading yesterday:
"When I ask myself what reason the fact that an action would be wrong provides me with not to do it, my answer is that such an action would be one that I could not justify to others on grounds I could expect them to accept."
This sentence is actually key to what the entire book is about, but.... "what reason the fact that an action"? I mean even as programmers we are taught to break apart long boolean expressions.
It's kind of like garden path sentences but a more general syntactic ambiguity that smart people are more guilty of due to their need to explain complex subjects. Hard for a writer to recognize, because they know what they mean.