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Science Denialism? The Role of Criticism

Have you seen Rebecca Watson’s Skepticon talk yet? You should. It’s a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism. Just a word of warning, though, that Rebecca* repeats some ugly arguments about things like rape and sexual harassment. She’s using a good deal of sarcasm, but when you’ve heard enough of them, sometimes you’ve just heard enough.

One good reason to watch the talk now is that Ed Clint has posted a criticism of sorts of the talk.

I say, “of sorts”, because most of what Clint is upset about has nothing to do with the talk. You’ve watched it by now, right? You’ve seen the title: How Girls Evolved to Shop and other ways to insult women with “science”. You’ve seen all the newspaper headlines. You’ve seen the book covers.

You understand, presumably, that this talk was about the industry of pop psychology, which sells us reassurance that our world, in which gender roles are continually enforced, is just a consequence of natural differences between the sexes. Rebecca targeted both a credulous, sensationalist press and the methodologically weak science that produces the results used by that press.

To Ed Clint, however, that talk is denying the legitimacy of the entire field of evolutionary psychology. The title of his post? “Science denialism at a skeptic conference”.

Where does Clint get this idea?

Some of it is made up out of whole cloth. He makes the claim “Watson sees evolutionary psychology as being on par with creationism (she makes this comparison at  8:28) and therefore finds it fit for ridicule.”

Well, no.

At that point, she’s talking about a study designed to address the idea that women have evolved to shop. She says, “However, it’s not just the marketers who are coming up with the bad science like this. And in fact, researchers at the University of Chicago came up with a study that also supported this same theory, that women evolved to shop. Uh, the ‘scientific theory,’ and I’m using ‘scientific theory’ in the same way that creationists use ‘scientific theory’, which is not a scientific theory.”

In other words, these researchers supported a hypothesis. They did not create an overarching explanation for a large body of evidence, which is what theory means in the technical language. And Rebecca was comparing herself to creationists, not the researchers at the University of Chicago, much less all evolutionary psychologists.

That last bit, however, is the main problem with Clint’s post. At least within the post, he fails entirely to distinguish between criticizing a practice that is well-represented in a field and saying that the entire field is worthless. That is true despite all the cues in the slides that this is a talk built around pop psychology. It’s true despite the criticisms targeting specific researchers, studies, and conceptual frameworks. It’s true despite the fact that Clint quotes part of Rebecca’s answer from the Q&A on whether there is any good evolutionary psychology.

Rebecca’s full answer:

Is there any good evolutionary psych. Probably? I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring, because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything. Because, really, good evolutionary psychology would be more like, “Well, we don’t really know what happened in the Pleistocene, and we have no evidence for this, but maybe this. It’s not the sort of thing that makes headlines. So if there is good evolutionary psychology, it’s not in the media, and therefore, it might as well not exist as far as the general public is concerned.

Once again, this points to the fact that this is a speech about popular psychology. I happen to disagree about the “boring” part, but she’s dead right about the fact that evolutionary psychology in the popular media is appalling.

Clint seems so set on thinking Rebecca is criticizing all of evolutionary psychology despite all the clues to the contrary that he managed to produce this statement:

The first work she mentions in her talk is important because it sets the tone and is, presumably, important to her thesis that evolutionary psychology is pseudoscientific and sexist. She cites a Telegraph article referring to a study done by one Dr. David Holmes about the psychology of shopping. However, this is an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed study conducted by a non-evolutionary psychologist paid for by a business to help them sell things better. This has no relevance to Watson’s thesis, unless it’s also true that Colgate’s “9 out of 10 dentists recommend you give us your toothpaste money” studies prove that dental science is bunk.

And he presents it without, apparently, stopping to consider that using that “study” makes sense if Rebecca’s thesis is something else entirely, say, something relating to the title of her talk. (He also calls sticking to that topic “cherry picking”.) You know, something about science-in-scare-quotes being used to insult women. If this is science denialism, then so is Vaughn Bell’s caution about a survey that was a marketing gimmick for a sex shop.

What are some other things Clint objects to? He lists a number of time stamps that are supposed to be Rebecca theorizing about “Thousands of people in dozens of countries, women and men all working together toward goals such as defending rape as ‘natural’ and therefore good.” I’ve produced transcripts of them so you can judge for yourself.

20:07 After talking about Satoshi Kanazawa suggesting that men harass women because they’re not sexist:

It’s not unusual for evolutionary psychologists to make dumb-ass pronouncements about sex, particularly why every kind of sex is natural for a man while women hate sex unless they’re using it to get money or babies or cuddles.

In fact, this is one of the major ways evolutionary psychology is presented to the masses. This is hardly the only field in which this happens. If this is Rebecca indulging in science denialism, so is Dr. Petra Boynton listing sex myths that come from the sex “experts” presented by the press.

22:43 After noting two books, one explaining why women have sex and the other explaining why men don’t, and pointing out that the views of sex in our culture are generally screwed up:

At least these psychologists did actually ask women why they had sex. There have been other studies where women didn’t really seem to figure into it at all. This is a particularly fun and horrific one. This is ‘Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers’, published in 1989. There are a number of studies that are based on this idea that men appear to enjoy casual sex way more than women do, and women, of course, again only tend to want sex when they get a husband out of it or money or babies. So they take this as a given.

This quote discusses three different types of studies. I’m not sure which of the three is supposed to be what Rebecca is generalizing to evolutionary psychology as a whole. Whichever one it is, pointing out the unexamined premises inherent in a particular research design is generally considered a critical part of the scientific process. If it is science denialism, so is pointing out that WEIRD populations may not reliably stand in for humanity in general.

23:41 After describing the findings of the study:

So obviously women hate sex. Because evolutionary psychologists can apparently find no better way to approach potential mates in public, this study has been tried out multiple times.

When it has been pointed out that a particular methodology doesn’t address hypotheses that compete with yours, it isn’t very useful science to continue to repeat the same methodology with tiny variations that also don’t address those competing hypotheses. This is pretty basic research design. If pointing that out is science denialism, then so is my post on how political convictions affect IQ research.

35:40 After discussing a study on color discrimination and color preference that didn’t support the idea that pink is a girl color and blue is a boy color:

But that didn’t stop the headlines: ‘Study proves that girls like pink.’ There are plenty of stereotypes like that: Men don’t cry, for instance. Up until the Enlightenment, it was completely cool for men to cry. I don’t know if you know that. It was seen as evidence of honesty and integrity. Odysseus, for example, cried all the way through the Odyssey. And he murdered everybody who wanted to bang his wife. Everybody. And then he cried. Had a little cry about it.

This section of Rebecca’s talk is about ignoring contradictory evidence. In particular, in the field of evolutionary psychology, it is critical to understand the way behaviors under study have changed over time. Traits that are stable through very different societal structures are much more likely to be genetically determined, and history gives us many more societal structures than we can study in our modern, rapidly globalizing world. If pointing out that history gives us a strong counterpoint to the hypothesized “universality” of a trait is scientific denialism, someone should really be complaining about Carol Tavris’s talk at CSICon.

36:08 Following immediately:

And then there’s the idea that women’s natural place is in the home. Prior to the 19th century, it was actually expected that men would retain an equal hand in raising children and helping out around the home. Couples were partners, who might have performed different tasks, but they had an equal hand in running usually agricultural businesses and things like that and maintaining the family and home. And then when the Industrial Revolution came around, men started work in the factories, leaving women at home to take care of everything else.

I really have no idea how Clint gets anything like science denialism out of this section, much less allegations of an international conspiracy. Perhaps the time stamp provided is wrong, or maybe he’ll explain his thinking.

38:40 Following immediately:

So now evolutionary psychologists ignore all that and pretend that women’s place is in the home and then they look for reasons to “scientifically” support that.

Yes, in fact, some of them do. Noting this still doesn’t mean all of them do it. After all, many of these people are studying sexuality. Others are studying political decision-making. Others…well, you get the idea.

It could be argued that “pretend” is a bit harsh, but it seems fairly reasonable. Criticism of evolutionary psychology on historical grounds is nothing new. Criticism of this essentialist type of evolutionary psychology has not exactly been quiet or shy. These criticisms should be known by any evolutionary psychologist focused on this question who is serious about understanding the background of their field. Unless they are addressed in the design of research and/or acknowledged as major weaknesses in the evidence supporting these hypotheses, it’s hard to suggest anything other than “ignoring” is going on. If this kind of clear labeling is science denialism, so is this.

Moving on, Clint continues his objections:

At 15:41 Watson derisively explained her view of the method of evolutionary psychology as picking a behavior, assuming it is evolved, and then find “anything” in the past that might be relevant to it.  Setting aside the inaccuracy of her summary, she seemed to be balking that such an hypothesis is just totally made up. Yes, Ms. Watson, it is. That is how science works.

Here is what Rebecca said. Note that the context limits this specifically to “a lot of the pop evolutionary psychology”.

This is why there are tons of people who–particularly scientists–who think that a lot of the pop evolutionary psychology is just nothing more than just-so stories, as Stephen J. Gould noted. And the accusation that they make is that evolutionary psychology researchers first identify a behavior, like shopping; they assume that it’s evolved in response to environmental pressures–they don’t need evidence for that; and then they find anything in our ancient past that might be relevant to that.

One of the major criticisms of evolutionary psychology’s methods is the lack of falsifiability in this backward look. Do we perform a particular behavior? Well, there’s this thing that it might have been important to do at one point that could maybe transfer to the modern world in that way, so that’s evidence to support an evolutionary perspective on the behavior. Any ways in which this behavior might be less than adaptive (or decrease reproductive fitness) are not discussed. If Rebecca is engaging in science denialism by pointing this out, so is Jerry Coyne when he looks at modern studies.

Clint continues:

Watson’s talk is peppered with snark and sarcasm. Also, it should be clear by now she seems to have spent very little time researching the topic. She doesn’t treat the topic seriously. I do not merely mean that she does not take evolutionary psychology seriously— but the entire topic, including her own contentions, is more performance art than education lecture.

This is kind of an odd critique, being entirely stylistic. I’m not sure why it’s elevated beyond personal preference. I’ll just note that if snark somehow contributes to science denialism, then that’s what Kate Clancy, a biological anthropologist who studies women’s reproduction, was moved to do with the word “legitimate” after Todd Akin’s bizarre remarks.

I haven’t addressed everything in Clint’s post, not by a long shot. I’m not really interested in the idea he seems to have that Rebecca needs to talk about this topic as though she were a scientist. There are a couple of topics I think deserve their own posts, because they’re very common misapprehensions that aren’t restricted to Clint.

I do, however, find his conflation of criticisms–particularly specific, targeted criticisms–with science denialism to be a notion that needed to be examined in detail. After all, if criticism of “a particular way of applying evolutionary theory to the mind, with an emphasis on adaptation, gene-level selection, and modularity”, no less a person than Steven Pinker has identified David Sloan Wilson, Elliot Sober, Robert Boyd, and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy as science denialists.

The critiques Rebecca shared in this talk are not unique. Singling her and this talk out as anti-science while ignoring other, well-respected people who make these critiques is as ridiculous as the other ways she’s been targeted in the last couple of years. Really, it all needs to stop.

*I know Rebecca. I’ve spent enough time talking to her that referring to her by her last name seems silly. This is the only reason for the gendered naming conventions here.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Stephanie. I saw Clint’s post but as I’m traveling, I have no time to write anything up, so I’m very glad that you’ve done a great job of it. I’m actually giving this talk again tomorrow and I’m quite thankful to people who have given me notes and corrections. I even got a few good ones from Clint! He’s absolutely right that I misspoke in regards to Kruger’s affiliation (it’s U of Michigan, not Chicago, that should be embarrassed) and in regards to the favorite color study being given to Chinese people in the UK, not in China. Also, the “Why People Have Sex” study was not all white middle class women – it was only about ~60% white (and ~20% Asian.) I think I’ll note instead that the study involved 96% 18-22 year olds, all of whom were psychology students at University of Texas Austin, and among the women 27% of whom had never had sexual intercourse. More accurate and also more ridiculous.

    There are other bits and pieces Clint got wrong but at a glance I think you’ve covered the bulk of the problems here.

  2. says

    I was there for the talk. I thought it was pretty clear. I’m certain I’ve heard sharper criticisms before of both the pop evolutionary psychology and of shoddy and sensationalistic science “journalism” (probably in some of the links Stephanie provided).

    I enjoyed the talk. It was an amusing and entertaining way to educate people about those failings in the field and the journalism, to encourage people to be more skeptical of such pronouncements and give them some tools to do it with. It seemed very much the sort of thing appropriate to a skeptical convention.

    I hope we’re not going to have to start dumbing down talks at skeptical conventions. But Rebecca’s Skepticon 3 talk seems to have sailed over some heads too. I don’t know how; to me her talks are much easier to follow than a lecture on genetics or math. Easier to stay focused on too, what with more jokes and general snark. Maybe we just need big warning signs for the sarcasm-impaired?

  3. says

    Iguess he also thinks Cordelia Fine is a science denialist, whose wonderful book “Gender Delusions” brought many of the studies Rebecca mentioned to my attention the first time.
    And in a highly entertaining way, can you believe that!
    So, the question is, does he have any points about what Rebecca actually said about the studies?
    Did she misrepresent those?
    Did he deny evidence (I mean, actual evidence) that doesn’t fit her premise?
    Doesn’t look so…

  4. says

    I just had an idea for a scientific experiment:
    Next time Rebecca should just read one of Dawkin’s old speeches.
    Afterwards we all get a beer and enjoy how the usual suspects tear everything “apart”, showing how dogmatic and unscientific Rebecca really is…

  5. says

    The article had a few red flags for me despite the total lack of understanding that her talk was about the media’s poor use of EP not a critique of the whole field. It starts with a denial that he hates her and has a picture at the end showing how they were best buddies once. Anyone suffering from the straw-Rebecca delusion that she will destroy your career and call you a misogynist from just criticising her is probably unlikely to do a good job.

    If any more red flags were needed then there is the reception in SepticInk as ‘Rebecca Watson just got Pwned!’. Also the amusing censoring of anyone calling her “twatson” in the comments as they are a ‘serious’ network not one designed to heap abuse on anyone made me laugh. Usually they just stick with asserting she is the worst woman in the world (A la Ophelia’s post)

    The twits on twitter are all a flutter as it ‘proves’ she is not a proper sceptic. Why do they jump on the ‘proof’? Apparently just their gut feeling was sufficient up til now!

  6. Ivan Hoe! says

    It might have helped if both Rebecca Watson, and the author of this article, made clear they were criticising Ev Psych as it appears in the media, not the discipline itself.

    As it is all Ev Psych researchers seem treated as a homogenous headline seeking group and the distinction is not made explicit that what is in fact being criticised is science journalism and a few bad apples more interested in a media profile than good science.

    That is what’s being criticised, isn’t it?

  7. says

    It might have helped if both Rebecca Watson, and the author of this article, made clear they were criticising Ev Psych as it appears in the media…

    Which part of this post or Rebecca’s talk did you think was unclear on that?

    …not the discipline itself.

    You’re going to have to define what you mean by “the discipline itself.” There is, in fact, quite a bit to criticize in how evo psych is frequently practiced, but as there are deep disagreements within the field itself, none of them apply to every part of the field. And no, it’s not “a few bad apples” unless you’re using a nonstandard definition of “few”.

  8. Ivan Hoe! says

    Hi Stephanie, throughout Watson uses ‘evolutionary psychologists’ without the qualifier ‘some’ or similar, as do you. If I were an Ev Psych researcher I might get grumpy about that.

    But it seems you are intent on attacking the entire field with a few cherry picked examples and implying that because of there there is something deeply suspect about the whole endeavour. Maybe there is, but this does seem to support the starting point of Ed Clint’s critique, and his attempts to defend his discipline from that type of criticism.

  9. grauniad says

    “Some of it is made up out of whole cloth. He makes the claim “Watson sees evolutionary psychology as being on par with creationism (she makes this comparison at 8:28) and therefore finds it fit for ridicule.”

    Well, no.

    At that point, she’s talking about a study designed to address the idea that women have evolved to shop.”

    Actually, no, yourself.

    From around 8’50”, she is clearly talking about the whole field of Evolutionary Psychology, not simply how it is presented by the media, and dismissing it. She does once slip in the qualifier “pop”, but only once; if she meant to draw a distinction, she failed.

  10. says

    What are you saying, “no”, to? At 8:28 and when she mentions creationists, she is talking about that study.

    Your idea that a qualifier is inadequate to qualify something, however, is fascinating. Please explain in detail how that works, particularly when said qualifier is also the qualifier repeatedly applied to the entire presentation.

  11. Dunc says

    Oh, look, it’s people mistaking general statements for universal statements again! Man, that never gets old…

  12. says

    I’m wonsdering, why aren’t people who apparently like Evo Psych not as upset as we are about the apparent bullshit in that field as we are, since it does kind of discredit the entire thing but instead they go after those who rightfully point out the bullshit?
    Seriously, what kind of scientist takes two data-points (somewhere in the stone age and now), doesn’t bother to check if there’s a contiunancy, not even in different cultures around the globe (everybody who talks about the houswife thingy and man breadwinner thingy as traditional has obviously never seen a farm, not even the Little House on the Prairy) and then makes assumptions?
    Be angry at them, FFS!

  13. ChasCPeterson says

    The critiques Rebecca shared in this talk are not unique.

    That’s for damn sure. There’s not an original thought in the whole talk. It’s the same boilerplate and the same cherry-picked (and then twisted) examples as always. Ms. Watson is parroting received opinion throughout, evincing no first-hand knowledge whatsoever. It’s all: people I already agree with have said X.

    a study designed to address the idea that women have evolved to shop.

    FFS. This is stupid spin. Rhetoric. You should be embarrassed, but something tells me you won’t be.

    Iguess he also thinks Cordelia Fine is a science denialist

    You could read his post and find out.
    But I guess it’s easier to make shit up that already fits your preconceptions.
    (also, when recommending wonderful books, it’s good to get the title correct)

    what kind of scientist takes two data-points (somewhere in the stone age and now), doesn’t bother to check if there’s a contiunancy, not even in different cultures around the globe…and then makes assumptions?

    you are ignorant.

    everybody who talks about the houswife thingy and man breadwinner thingy as traditional

    that’s precisely nobody. No. Body.
    Straw, straw, straw, and you don’t even know enough to see it.

    why aren’t people who apparently like Evo Psych not as upset as we are about the apparent bullshit in that field as we are, since it does kind of discredit the entire thing but instead they go after those who rightfully point out the bullshit?

    Read Clint’s post. See how Kanazawa is regarded by the rest of the field.
    But to answer the question: Because people who apparently like Evo Psych actually know something about the field and about science in general? For example, the difference between a hypothesis that is tested and one put forward as a heuristic explanation? Because those who are bravely pointing out the bullshit are usually neck-deep in horseshit themselves? Because they don’t know the difference between a scientific paper and a press release and a column in Psychology Today? Because they are usually clearly motivated by politics rather than science and can no longer distinguish between reason and rhetoric?

  14. ... says

    Well, haw-haw. So it turns out that Watson doesn’t know the first thing about science or reason, and thought she could get away with riding on a giant kick of self-righteousness. Now all the fans are upset that she’s been shot out of the sky.

    Leave science to the scientists little people. You’re not wanted.

  15. furiouslysleepy says

    I certainly got the impression that she was taking on evopsych in general rather than only the “industry of pop psychology” which produces “methodologically weak science”. Transcript from the speech and comments:

    (8:51) “Briefly let me tell you what evolutionary psychology is all about. It’s a field of study that’s based on the belief that the human brain as it exists today evolved completely during the Pleistocene era, when humans lived as hunter-gatherers. For many pop evolutionary psychologists, this means that there is one overall human nature that transcends any culture. So we can explain many of our behaviors that we see today by looking at what our ancestors were up to. That has the veneer of science, it has the word evolution in it …

    She uses the word ‘pop’ here, but there’s no need to. It is indeed the thesis of evolutionary psychology that there is one overall human nature that transcends cultures. No one claims that this nature explains all human behavior, but it is certainly a claim that it explains some behavior. So while she says ‘pop’, the statement that she’s about to attack is pretty much the entire field of evolutionary psychology.

    “In this case the evolutionary psychologists came up with the idea that women evolved to shop not because caves are warm like shopping malls, but because Pleistocene men were hunters and women were gatherers and visiting museums is like hunting and shopping is like gathering … ergo, science!

    Now the ‘pop’ is gone, and indeed, she is probably (I’m extrapolating from the screenshot) referring to “Evolved Foraging Psychology Underlies Sex Differences in Shoping Experiences and Behaviors” by Daniel Kruger and Dreyson Byker, from UMich, published in Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology. While this is a somewhat marginal journal and a not terribly well-rated paper, it is legitimate evolutionary psychology. At this point I don’t have any doubt that she’s criticizing the entire field, rather than just some pop version of it.

    Possibly I have the wrong paper, since I find no mention of museums in it. If someone could give me a reference that would be great.

    Disregarding her specific issues with the study, she goes on to say,

    “The biggest problems with the study though, are the same problems that are leveled against evolutionary psychology as a whole. I’ll go over a few of those points: while the brain is a product of evolution, the brain is also highly adaptable. Evolutionary psychology requires that our brains evolved twelve thousand to one million years ago and haven’t changed since, which doesn’t actually fit in with what we understand about evolution: we haven’t ‘finished evolving’. And in the last twelve thousand years we’ve seen interesting changes in human genes, like evolving the ability to drink other animals’ milk. … but according to the evolutionary psychologists, the brain stopped evolving. Another problem is that evolutionary psychology’s theories tend to be unfalsifiable. They’ll say ‘these behaviors are written into our genes’, but they never actually tell us which genes. There’s no evidence to support it.

    She’s quite clear here about criticizing evolutionary psychology as a whole, and Ed Clint specifically addresses each objection in the quote above. I’m making no judgments here about the strengths of Watson’s or Clint’s arguments, merely pointing out that Clint has correctly identified that Watson is criticizing the whole field and has responded on point.

    I do agree with you that these critiques are not new, and if this is science denialism then many other, more famous people have also engaged in it. But Clint is certainly correct that Watson is “denying the legitimacy of the entire field of evolutionary psychology”. Whether or not that adds up to science denialism is not something I want to get into.

  16. Maureen Brian says

    What’s the matter with you, Chas?

    As far as I can see there are three sets of people who like evolutionary psychology. I would define them this way …

    1. People who actually do good work, which would include checking with anthropologists, historians and similar that they have the non-psychology facts right before they form their hypothesis. I am very prepared to believe that such people do exist but sadly they never remember to tell us ordinary mortals of their work.

    2. Sloppy journalists and thrill-seeking subeditors who get their kicks by announcing that the truth about everything has been discovered. It sells better if that truth is about women or some other group assumed by the researcher to be entirely homogenous. These people really make us work to discover that the sample size was 52, of whom 47 happened to be upper middle class white people just starting college.

    3. Immature youths reeking of privilege who will grab any excuse to treat lesser mortals – their definition – with disdain and especially so if a couple of paragraphs in the gutter press appear to justify their irresponsible sexual behaviour.

    So, which of these are you supporting?

  17. edmundog says

    “There’s not an original thought in the whole talk. It’s the same boilerplate and the same cherry-picked (and then twisted) examples as always. Ms. Watson is parroting received opinion throughout…”

    That’s a bit hilarious, as your criticism of her criticism could have been copy-pasted wholesale from any number of criticisms of Rebecca and Stephanie. Nothing original to say, eh?

  18. spartan says

    “The critiques Rebecca shared in this talk are not unique. Singling her and this talk out as anti-science while ignoring other, well-respected people who make these critiques is as ridiculous as the other ways she’s been targeted in the last couple of years. Really, it all needs to stop.”

    I was mostly with you up until this point, I see nothing in Clint’s critique that is even nearly ‘as ridiculous’ as the other ways she’s been ‘targeted’ (in scare quotes as I don’t believe Clint is targeting her at all, I’m not saying that she hasn’t been targeted by anyone). That’s a pretty clear false equivalence. Whenever you respond to almost anyone’s post or comments on a topic that mirror another’s who has more expertise, you are ‘ignoring other, well-respected people’ in exactly the same way aren’t you? What’s the diff?

    It seems pretty clear to me from reading Clint’s critique that he is criticizing the content of her talk and her expertise on the subject she is critiquing, all of which are 100% fair game for anyone else. His critique may be invalid, but there’s nothing out of bounds about it. Which stands in contrast to the real targeting that she’s been receiving forever now, much of which has been directed at her personally and is indeed ‘ridiculous’.

  19. Dave Allen says

    Need he support any of them in order to call someone else’s position into question when said position is questionable?

    For example imagine two people – one who likes evolutionary psychology for it’s scientific aspects and another who thinks it supports a repressive political agenda.

    Would either of those two people be wrong in pointing out that when Giliell bemoans the apparent lack of evolutionary paychologists openly criticising those who cast a shadow on the field she ignores (for example) the fact that over 60 evolutionary psychologists did just that in regards to Kanazawa, the fact that he was dropped by a journal, and the other forms of opprobium he faced leading to the fact that he has effectively disengaged from the field for ten years now?

    You seem to me to be trying to trap Chas in some sort of guilt by association – because some people who defend evolutionary psychology are nasty he must now declare whether or not he is nasty himself. Is that right?

    But what bearing would that have on his rebuttals? Even if it were to transpire that he supported a rebarbative agenda (and I for one am willing to provide good faith until he indicates that he supports such a position) what would that have to do with the accuracy of his critique?

    And – seeing as I have now defended him, do I now have to tiresomely declare my politics in order to have someone consider the worth of my defence?

    I hope not, because it’s irrelevent as to the sense of the points I’m trying to make. Asked if some apples are green Adolf Hitler will provide useful information if he asnsers yes.

    Now this isn’t to support Chas’ tone, but as someone who has made a study of the field I certainly share his frustration when reading a post such as the one made by Giliell who clearly hasn’t made any effort to understand the field aside from picking up on a sensationalist recieved wisdom. A sensationalist received wisdom that I further feel Rebecca and Stephanie play to – rather than undermine.

    Now I will try to answer Giliell’s points my own way:

    “I’m wonsdering, why aren’t people who apparently like Evo Psych not as upset as we are about the apparent bullshit in that field as we are, since it does kind of discredit the entire thing but instead they go after those who rightfully point out the bullshit?”

    Well as has been pointed out a particularly notorious example of someone working in the field to ill effect is Satoshi Kanazawa. Let’s see what sort of calling out the evolutionary psychology field did of his bullshit:

    * In 2011 he was fired from his job at Psychology Today.

    * 68 evolutionary psychologists issued a statement condemning his work on the basis of its poor quality and dishonest methods. It is titled Kanazawa’s bad science does not represent evolutionary psychology

    * According to the above statement, 24 critiques involving 59 different scientists have been published in peer-reviewed journals of Kanazawa’s work. Kanazawa has not responded to any of them since 2002, showing his disengagement.

    * 35 leading minds in EP and related fields wrote a total deconstruction of his research model and published it in commentary in American Psychologist.

    * His own employer, the London School of Economics, forbade him (as punishment) from publishing in non-peer reviewed outlets for a full year and distanced themselvesfrom some of his work.

    So people who “like evo psych” don’t ignore the more egregious members of their community, they bend over backwards to shine light on their misuses and abuses.

    Not that such efforts go noted, apparently.

    Now Giliell, can I ask – as someone who “likes evo psyche” have I done my bit to show opprobrium for one of the most egregious abusers? If not what more would you accept as reasonable?

    FWIW however I do not see it as “discrediting” the field if people who produce good work concentrate on that rather than forever bemoan the bad. Should climate scientists concentrate on refuting skeptics as opposed to their work? I think it’s pretty irrelevent as far as “credit” goes. perhaps it would be good PR.

    “Seriously, what kind of scientist takes two data-points (somewhere in the stone age and now), doesn’t bother to check if there’s a contiunancy, not even in different cultures around the globe (everybody who talks about the houswife thingy and man breadwinner thingy as traditional has obviously never seen a farm, not even the Little House on the Prairy) and then makes assumptions?”

    Well – what source is this cited from? Is it representative of the field? Did it pass peer review? Do you know that scientists don’t typically include fictional characters in their populations?

    As for assumption, can you show one field of scientific study that does not begin from a point of assumption? If we can’t make assumptions we can’t make hypotheses and we can’t do science. Assumption isn’t the issue at all, it’s what can be found to justify the assumption that matters.

  20. Justin Griffith says

    An example of the conspiracy theory aspects of science denialism was left in my comments yesterday.

    EP is a maturing science, and on a scholarly level is considered mainstream (I trust the endorsement of the 137,000 members of the APA is evidence enough). A lot of us are only informed by the terrible EP that the media picks up. Ed Clint seeks to correct the perception, at least among the skeptic crowd. Perhaps a case could be made that he had ulterior motives, but it’s irrelevant to the validity of his statements.

    I think if Rebecca Watson slightly modified her approach, her speech would be all the more powerful and insightful. She is obviously an excellent communicator, and she is professionally trained after all. All she needs to do is be careful not to brush the entire field of EP with criticism of specific bunk studies. The studies she relied on are discredited and disowned by the EP scientists themselves. Repeatedly acknowledging that fact could easily enhance the same talk, perhaps like this:

    “And this study is hated among EvoPsych scientists, 70 of them publicly disowned it… And this study got him fired from the magazine by EvoPsych scientists who called him on his BS… And this scientist has been banned from publishing in non-peer reviewed journals by his employer… But still, flawed and discredited research like this gets picked up by the media… etc.”

    Currently, the speech comes off as EP = sexist science. Much of EP seems to have nothing to do with gender, such as fear in general, fear of spiders (vs fear of guns), incest, etc. None of that is ‘boring’, to me anyway. I don’t think it’s fair that people on twitter are skewering her with the expectation that she is a scientist. Clint’s critique is scholarly, and a proper rebuttal (if one is to be made) should be similar in scope and come from a scientist in a related field.

  21. Dave Allen says

    In order to avoid confusion, the inital remarks in my post are directed towards Maureen rather than spartan.

  22. BradC says

    I thought her talk was awesomely hilarious, in fact I told Rebecca afterwards I thought it was the best talk of the conference. Clint must not know Rebecca very well if he is surprised at her generous use of sarcasm.

    Ironically, Clint seems to actually agree with Rebecca regarding most of the specific examples cited, they are clearly some combination of bad science and/or bad science reporting.

    The question, then, is whether they are representative examples of a bad field, or whether they are bad examples within a largely good field. Clint is himself a researcher in evolutionary psychology, so admits to having somewhat of a biased perspective.

    I feel some responsibility here, as I was the one who asked Rebecca the question “Is there any good Evolutionary Psyche?” I wasn’t trying to set her up, I truly wanted to know if she thought the whole field was problematic, or whether these were merely bad examples.

    Frankly, I think that either might be defensible. I’ve heard quite a bit of broad-based criticism of the field (just search for “evolutionary psychology criticsm”, and you’ll find tons of articles like this one). Other recent examples include criticism of Naomi Wolf new book “Vagina: A New Biography”.

    On the other hand, maybe I just don’t know enough about the field to point to good examples of research.

    I think that Clint missed an opportunity here, in focusing his article on a (IMO) poor takedown of Rebecca’s speech. I think he would have been better served by writing an article titled “5 Awesome Findings from Evolutionary Psychology” or “Why Evo Psyche isn’t All Bad” or maybe “Why Defending Sexism and Racism is a Misuse of Evolutionary Psychology”.

  23. observerofthings says

    I think you will find Rebecca was not just addressing pop EP, which is your whole defence of her presentation.

    from timestamp 12:30

    Rebecca “The biggest problems with this study though are the same problems that are levelled against evolutionary psychology as a whole”

  24. says

    Can someone show me one of these good EvoPsych papers that isn’t complete bunk cooked up to sell soap flakes or back up stereotypical gender roles? The idea that evolution and biology play a role in our psychology isn’t unsound what with our brain being an evolved organ, but I think that it would be a much more effective defense of the field than accusing Rebecca Watson of bias.

    And note that this isn’t the creationist style “ask with the smug assumption that their isn’t an example”, I’m genuinely curious as to what non-sensational EvoPsych actually studies.

  25. says

    Although it is clear that Rebecca is mainly addressing pop-EP (something Ed missed), she does comment on EP as a whole on a couple of occasions.

    At the 13:00 mark she lists issues with EP “as a whole”. Claiming that EP states the human brain stopped evolving, this is totally untrue, EP does not claim this at all.

    The comment about the fact EP cannot tell us which genes certain traits come from is just silly (see Ed’s post for why).

    And she either blatantly or unknowingly misleads the audience when talking about VS Ramachandran. The connotation being that his satire somehow went unnoticed by EP and entered into the same peer reviewed journals as serious EP research when this is simply untrue. As pointed out by Ed, it was published in a non-peer reviewed journal which intentionally seeks out controversial and unsubstantiated research.

    The biggest victim of this whole pro/anti-FTB/Rebecca debacle is honest criticism. The “detarctors”, as they seem to be called, can only ever see the bad and the FTB crowd can only ever see the good. Simple fact is there is very rarely an instance of one side being totally correct. There are issues with both Rebecca’s talk and Ed’s critique, instead of each running to their respective camps and getting personal I wish there could be open and honest criticism, not so that people can knock each other down, but so the criticism can help others improve, which surely can only be good the skeptic community as a whole, and it is encouraging to see that Rebecca has taken on board some of the criticisms.

  26. Bert Russell says

    I have an incredibly difficult time believing that Rebecca Watson was not criticizing the scientific field of Evoluationary Psychology as a whole given her answer to the question posed to her by one of the attendees at the very end. Someone asked her whether or not, and I’m paraphrasing here, there was “any good evolutionary psychology.” Her response was a very long, drawn out, “Prooooooooobably.” Rebecca Watson said she guessed that there was some good evolutionary psychology, but that it was “so boring” and that it could only be made interesting “if you make up everything.”

  27. LeftSidePositive says

    Justin, I think you are being willfully ignorant if you refuse to see that this talk is CLEARLY about EvoPsych as it is presented in the media and as it is used to prop up prejudices. I watched the talk, and I cannot imagine how this could have been any clearer. You’re acting like theists who keep insisting atheists be nicer, when “Atheists.” is apparently too offensive. Replace “nicer” with “clearer” and that’s exactly what you’re doing here.

    Btw, I read the comment you linked to–the fellow has a totally cogent point and in his follow-up comment discusses in detail an example of a very poorly done study in which other potential explanations are not accounted for. Where, exactly, do you get off calling this “conspiracy theory aspects of science denialism”?

    And, frankly, when was the last time you heard anything about EvoPsych analyses of the fear of spiders come up in any blog discussion or to address any social policy? Has EvoPsych been widely hailed as a groundbreaking science because it addresses spider-specific fears? (whereas, oh holy shit, people wax on ad nauseum about how brilliant EvoPsych is when they get to use it to justify their sex- and gender-based prejudices!) Are observations about spiders and incest considered particularly influential? Perhaps, from the point of view of someone whose discrimination is regularly justified by bad EvoPsych, the fact that this stuff gets out into publication is more important than the fact that it later gets retracted? Did it ever occur to you that the people who finally say something so embarrassing that they get fired have been promulgating low-level sexism/racism FOR YEARS before someone finally calls them on it?! (by the way, the employer that prohibited Kanazawa from publishing was the London School of Economics, not an EvoPsych-specific entity. You also fail to mention that while 68 EvoPsych proponents publicly condemned Kanazawa, 23 publicly supported him, which, while a minority, is still indicative of some endemic problems in the field) Maybe the fact that it has such purchase in the mainstream media (which was, after all, WHAT HER TALK WAS ABOUT!) is a legitimate cause for criticism and concern. Maybe “Let’s present a complete survey of the field of EvoPsych, giving equal weight to obscure academic interests” is not the point–maybe the point is about tackling a cause of discrimination. If you want to improve EvoPsych’s image, take it up with the people who are tarnishing it with bad science–don’t insist that people who have entirely legitimate grievances about they way they are treated by pseudoscience instead give the survey talk YOU want to hear, because it’s not about you.

    Seriously, you come off as one of those liberal Christians who listens to a lot of cogent, important criticisms of strains of Christianity that are doing a lot of harm in the world, only to whine “but we’re not aaaaallllllll like that!!!!” Yeah, like we fucking care. Either spend your effort pushing back against those doing the harm, or get the fuck out of the way, and don’t spend your time shooting the messenger and protecting your own self image.

  28. says

    Leave science to the scientists little people.

    You mean like the scientists I used as examples throughout this post? The ones you didn’t bother to address in your comment?

  29. says

    furiouslysleepy, your second example of “the evolutionary psychologists” refers to those who did a particular thing, unless you’re claiming that all of evo psych is about how women have adapted to shop. The first quote would have been better off if the two points were reversed to go from the general to the specific. The third would have benefited from a “this strain of evolutionary psychology”.

    There. Constructive criticism. Two sentences, and no accusations of science denialism. Was that hard?

  30. says

    Dave Allen, I love commentary about how evolutionary psychology repudiates Kanazawa. I love in particular how that public repudiation happened after he was fired from Psychology Today. You’d think that if the work he was doing and the conclusions he was drawing from it were so scientifically unacceptable to those in his field, he’d have had a harder time getting through peer review. Somehow that never happens with the clearly motivated research, though, and that’s not limited to this field either.

  31. Stacy says

    I certainly got the impression that she was taking on evopsych in general rather than only the “industry of pop psychology” which produces “methodologically weak science”. Transcript from the speech and comments:

    (8:51) “Briefly let me tell you what evolutionary psychology is all about. It’s a field of study that’s based on the belief that the human brain as it exists today evolved completely during the Pleistocene era, when humans lived as hunter-gatherers. For many pop evolutionary psychologists, this means that there is one overall human nature that transcends any culture. So we can explain many of our behaviors that we see today by looking at what our ancestors were up to. That has the veneer of science, it has the word evolution in it …

    She uses the word ‘pop’ here,

    –Just as we’d expect if she was talking about “the industry of pop [evo] psychology”–

    but there’s no need to. It is indeed the thesis of evolutionary psychology that there is one overall human nature that transcends cultures. No one claims that this nature explains all human behavior, but it is certainly a claim that it explains some behavior.

    So this one “overall human nature” doesn’t explain all human behaviors, but does explain some. Some behaviors belong in the transcendent “human nature” category and some belong in the other, non-transcendent category.

    OK. And its critics claim that too often, the discipline overreaches and puts behavior from category #2 into category #1. That’s what Rebecca Watson was talking about.

    That’s not “anti-science denialism.”

  32. Ivan Hoe! says

    The comment shave split into two discrete halves, those who think Watson was cherry picking to criticise all Ev Psych, and those who think she was criticising media Ev Psych.

    At the very least that’s a substantial communication failure on her part.

    A clarification seems to be needed.

  33. says

    The comment about the fact EP cannot tell us which genes certain traits come from is just silly (see Ed’s post for why).

    Actually, no. That there are ongoing claims that certain things are “genetic” (or evolved) in the face of significant amounts of research showing strong social effects is a legitimate critique and one that is not limited to evo psych. As the evidence for social determination mounts, the requirements for demonstrating a role for direct inheritance get bigger. Genetic evidence is not the only thing that would suffice, but pointing out that there is none is accurately describing the state of affairs.

    Why Clint would read this as a naive demand for genetic evidence for any adaptation without addressing that background is not something I can explain.

    As for Ramachandran, the situation with the paper is more bizarre than what Clint points out. he was on the board of Medical Hypotheses when his satirical paper was published there, as far as I can tell. So? Rebecca’s point wasn’t that the paper was published. It was that the theory published as satire was then repeated within evolutionary psychology. Clint is criticizing something Rebecca never claimed.

    FTB crowd can only ever see the good.

    Well, actually, no. Rebecca got feedback on her talk, some of it constructive criticism. It just didn’t happen in a huge blog post claiming she was destroying skepticism, though some of it happened in blog posts.

  34. says

    Bert, Rebecca’s answer points out that the doesn’t know about that evo psych because it isn’t part of the media pop psychology that is the focus of her talk. You understand that this answer is quoted in full in the blog post where everyone can see it, yes?

  35. says

    Maureen and BradC, if you don’t read some Hrdy, you’re missing out. There is good evo psych. It’s richly informed by details of anthropology and (frequently) primatology, and the conclusions it comes to are not facile.

  36. doubtthat says

    “A clarification seems to be needed.”

    Which she will probably make.

    You guys done now? That’s a bit of constructive criticism, surely now that the point has been made (in a sentence, no less) everyone will wait to see how Rebecca modifies her presentation.

    That was so reasonable. Let me just click over to the comments on Clint’s site to witness this new era of community cooperation…

  37. says

    Lee, when M theory starts being bandied about in the press to promote agendas it doesn’t support, Rebecca may read up on it enough to understand the criticisms coming from other scientists and turn that into an entertaining talk that encourages people to be skeptical about the claims they’re likely to see. You would probably do well to look forward to it should the day come.

  38. Pieter B, FCD says

    I thought that the headline Science denialism at a skeptic conference was definitely a stretch. I too did not hear what Ed Clint claims to have heard at the various time stamps he gives as examples of conspiracy claims. I also did not hear anything at 38:30 that sounded like

    The problem to Watson is that some evolutionary psychologists study the phenomena of rape as a potential adaptation, or a product of adaptations such as the use of violence to obtain what one wants. Watson assumes that if rape is about sex, and sex is good because sex is natural, then rape must be natural and therefore good. This is an absurdity of course; it’s every shade of wrong from the rainbow of ultimate wrongness. [emphasis added]

    What really brought me up short, though, was this statement

    climate science and evolutionary psychology have a lot in common

    What? Are there evolutionary psychologists modeling human behavior based on physical laws? I know a little bit about computational psychology, but I’ve not heard of nor been able to easily find any reference to it being used in evolutionary psychology. I’d be happy to have someone point out the similarities, which don’t seem to me to go much deeper than “both try to figure out what happened in the past and how it affects us today.”

  39. says

    Justin, that’s neither science denialism or conspiracy theory. Also, you understand that a publication in American Psychologist is not an endorsement by the APA, right?

    Clint’s critique is scholarly, and a proper rebuttal (if one is to be made) should be similar in scope and come from a scientist in a related field.

    “You’re critiquing something that wasn’t her talk” is a proper rebuttal, thank you very much. And no, I don’t need to be a scientist in the field in which I have a degree to speak on this topic. Fascinating that you were perfectly happy, as a person without a science background, to endorse Clint’s post though.

  40. Bert Russell says

    @37

    I understand that that is the case you are trying to make, that Rebecca Watson was only speaking of “pop” evolutionary psychology, but given the whole presentation, like at 8:50, I have to take your characterization with a grain of salt. It may very well be that that was Rebecca Watson’s intent and that she was not as clear as she should have been to communicate it and preserve that intent. If Rebecca Watson admits to it, that’ll be the end of it for me, as I will agree with you. (Hey, what about cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist Steven Pinker? He is a popular science writer. Would we throw his work into the “pop” evolutionary psychology bin, relegating it as BS? I would certainly hope not! Hmm…it’s like…Rebecca Watson should have provided a definition of the “pop” evolutionary psychology she was going to criticize instead of just using the one she gave for the actual science at 8:50. How peculiar.)

    Oh, and yes, I do know that you quoted Rebecca Watson’s response, but I didn’t think failing to scroll up and copy/paste was that big of a deal when my paraphrase was sufficient. Besides, I don’t believe your quotation from the presentation provided the needed body language and delivery style to help communicate fully what she was trying to say.

  41. Bert Russell says

    The American Psychologist is the official peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Psychological Association. While one article is not in and of itself an endorsement, for an article to actually meet the standards for publication in such a journal, it is a good sign that it is far from complete BS and has much merit to it.

  42. says

    “As for Ramachandran, the situation with the paper is more bizarre than what Clint points out”

    Irrelevant, the paper was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, simple as. I know Rebecca didn’t say it was but the implication was quite clear.

    “Rebecca’s point wasn’t that the paper was published” – Yes it was, she stressed it in fact. She was clearly implying that a satirical article got published in a peer reviewed journal and that EP was such a quack science that they could not tell the difference between serious scholarship and a satirical paper. That was represented in Rebecca’s talk, and is entirely misleading and indigenous. And is understandable why someone in the field (i.e. Ed) would get annoyed by such representation. Especially when coupled with the few other misrepresentations that Rebecca made about EP as a whole. I know I would be very annoyed if my field was misrepresented in such a manner.

  43. Bert Russell says

    @47

    Puh-leeze, if you seriously expect me to believe that accepting the most minor of corrections is what I am speaking about, and not something which is more central to your claim that Rebecca Watson is speaking only of “pop” evolutionary psychology, I will get going, as I have better things to do with my time than engage with a sophist.

  44. daveallen says

    Stephanie

    “I love commentary about how evolutionary psychology repudiates Kanazawa. I love in particular how that public repudiation happened after he was fired from Psychology Today. You’d think that if the work he was doing and the conclusions he was drawing from it were so scientifically unacceptable to those in his field, he’d have had a harder time getting through peer review.”

    Isn’t that a matter for the journals involved rather than evolutionary psychologists per se? A bad scientist can get middling or poor stuff peer reviewed if the particular panels involved are asleep at the post. That’s not a trait unique to evolutionary psychology. If no one assigned by the journal spots an article of objection it will get peer reviewed, but that does not mean it has been accepted by the author’s peers. Before he passed into any sort of orthodoxy he was disowned. This is GOOD, no?

    Bear in mind that some of Kanazawa’s papers were rejected outright, and that he behaved in the cynical fashion of presenting them with picayune alterations to new journals without mentioning his failure to get them published elsewhere. Shame on those individuals on the review panel (evolutionary psychologists or not) who weren’t vigilant enough, but that has nothing to do with the field in gestalt.

    Also, a lot of his papers do not, in and of themselves, contain information that would justifiably scare the horses – his ugliest ideas – the one’s that got him into trouble – are expressed in tabloid interveiws and blog posts, which aren’t matters of peer review.

    As far as I understand it the average peer reviewer is not going to be able to tell if the data presented in any particular study is made up or if the methodology utilised contains flaws that aren’t acknowledged by the author(s).

    As such good faith may be assumed by some/all panel members UNLESS they spot something screamingly and objectively wrong.

    Obviously not every journal is going to field panels of consistent degrees of expertise or vigilance.

    Obviously few journals are going to possess the resources needed to duplicate experiments and studies themselves.

    So until someone begins to garner a reputation for sloppy work how are a review panel to know which papers to suspect of carrying bad data or flawed methodology?

    So unless you know which of Kanazawa’s papers contain which screamingly bad info, and how easily they passed peer review in what journals according to what panels how are you to say that his passing into peer review has anything much to say about that state of Evolutionary Psychology as a gestalt?

    “Somehow that never happens with the clearly motivated research, though, and that’s not limited to this field either.”

    His sensationalist agenda is clear in hindsight. He didn’t begin his first paper with “by the way, I’m going to go on record later as saying my research supports notions of black women being relatively unattractive”.

    If it had, you may have a point.

    If you don’t damn evolution for piltdown man, don’t damn evolutionary psychology for Kanazawa. He was never hailed as a paragon, and it didn’t take long for him to be hailed as a pariah.

  45. says

    Aw, Peter, if you’d just read to the end of my comment, you might have gotten it. Pity you didn’t. Or is it just that you didn’t want to acknowledge the role of Ramachandran in the presentation?

    Bert, I know what a peer-reviewed journal is. I was pointing out to Justin that apparently he didn’t. Or did you miss that?

  46. says

    daveallen, that’s a remarkably long comment to tell me not to damn evolutionary psychology in particular. It is inexplicably long given that you quote me saying “that’s not limited to this field”.

  47. Bert Russell says

    @53

    I was pointing out that he has good reason to believe that evolutionary psychology is not this ridiculous thing I see it being made into here (not speaking specifically/necessarily about you).

  48. Bert Russell says

    @54

    Puh-leeze point out to me where Rebecca Watson accepted responsibility for failing to explicitly differentiate between what her intended target was, which you allege is “pop” evolutionary psychology, and what is being perceived by many it actually was?

  49. Bert Russell says

    @57, 58

    I believe his conclusion was premature based off of just that article. And I never claimed this is one of those things where Rebecca Watson is the one that has to be entirely accurate. But I would definitely be harder on Justin Griffith if he were to do such a thing at a skeptics conference of all places.

  50. daveallen says

    Stephanie

    Sure, but I took your:

    “I love commentary about how evolutionary psychology repudiates Kanazawa. I love in particular how that public repudiation happened after he was fired from Psychology Today.”

    … to speak to some ongoing assumptions or beliefs as to the fact that Kanazawa was not repudiated sooner as somewhat telling. I garner from it (without certainty, it is not easy to determine subtext from an online post) that you feel the fact that evolutionary psychologists have bent over to disassociate themselves from the man is somehow Not Enough.

    So fair enough, if you accept that the passing into peer review of bad science occurs in all fields and that it’s only really a problem if a practitioner makes it into the orthodoxy why say “I love commentary…” and so on.

    Is it to the credit of evolutionary psychologists that they have notably distanced themselves from him or not?

  51. says

    The problem isn’t really Watson or you, Steph, it’s that everyone seems to be asking anyone BUT those scientists well versed in Evo Psych, about Evo Psych. The assumption appears to be that they’re all just pining for a career, so rather than ask one of the scientists, we have Rebecca Watson, or some other random skeptic, make a hash of a relatively new scientific field.

    It just seems to me to be a recipe for disaster to have a layperson give a talk about how laypersons’ are misunderstand a complex, and relatively new, scientific discipline. Watson is as fallible as the rest of us, not especially so, nor especially immune to it. You compared Watson’s critiques to Jerry Coynes, but I think this ignores a categorical difference between a professor with genuine scientific credentials and years of scientific experience weighing in on a scientific enterprise, and someone who can’t marshal that kind of credibility on the subject.

    I’d also point out that Ms. Watson has become a vortex of controversy, and so many, many people will find it difficult to separate the issues in a very principled manner. Just as some would reflexively respond negatively to her, as PZ alleges of Ed Clint, some would reflexively respond defensively on her behalf, as Ed alleges of PZ. This has needlessly complicated the issue, and I think we all can at least agree that this is an important issue. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much to ask Rebecca Watson to aim her skeptical laser beams a little closer to home?

  52. says

    I did read it, but just because her point was X does not mean she didn’t do Y. So although her point may have been as you have stated, she still misrepresented the situation entirely, as I have already explained and will not repeat myself here.

  53. Nathanael says

    “So until someone begins to garner a reputation for sloppy work how are a review panel to know which papers to suspect of carrying bad data or flawed methodology?”

    A little critical thinking, and knowledge of history and cultural bias, on the part of a journal editor is a good start.

    I’ve read a huge number of abstracts purporting to find “essential” (genetic/hormonal/etc) mental differences between men and women, and with a very very tiny number of exceptions they were all completely bogus.

    (FYI, the short list which which seemed to have have some validity found that population *variances* on whatever was being measured were different between men and among women. All of the ones claiming mean variances were completely contaminated by uncontrolled cultural influences, or plain bad statisics work.)

    This tendency has been clear for over a hundred years now.

    Therefore any journal editor should look at a paper making such a sexist claim with a very critical eye, on day one: and say “This looks suspicious. Let’s triple-check it, okay?”

  54. F [disappearing] says

    John-Henry Beck

    I hope we’re not going to have to start dumbing down talks at skeptical conventions.

    If anything, we’re going to have to start dumbing them up.

    Giliell @ 2

    That would totally work unless someone recognized the content, then they would backpedal. I would love to see this tested as performance research in the manner you suggest.

  55. says

    It is indeed an unfair misrepresentation to say that EP is only used by sexists to justify their sexism – It is also used by racists to justify racism.

    Oh sure Clint, there is useful EP that does not do any of that stuff. But it is unfortunately not interesting to the media at all. So the thing everyone perceives as EP is really just plain garbage. And you are right, there is probably good EP out there. In fact, you are so right, that… that’s exactly what Rebecca said!

  56. says

    Critiques should always be welcome, of any speaker, and any idea. But the fact that Clint’s comment thread goes from “zero” to “you just can’t expect feminists to talk sense” in about 3.2 seconds makes me both wary, and weary.

  57. says

    Ah, I see, Bert. It isn’t enough for Rebecca to tell me that my whole post explaining that Clint incorrectly interpreted a presentation about pop evo psych to be one about the entire field was correct. She needs to tell you she did something wrong there in order for you to be satisfied. Nice. Not likely to happen, by the way. She doesn’t actually owe you that.

    As for Justin, the issue isn’t whether you’ve been treating him and Rebecca differently. The issue is that you’re jumping on my ass for correcting him while rolling over backward to give him the benefit of the doubt. Knock that stupid shit off.

  58. says

    daveallen, there is nothing inconsistent in my noting that much of evolutionary psychology as a field is more interested in playing a professional game than it is in self-policing and championing general understanding and noting that this is not unique to the field. In fact, if you see a fair critique that applies to your field, and your first response is to defend the field instead of using that critique as leverage to improve the field, you might be playing a version of that same professional game. Same with a tendency to see even that fair critique as an attack on your entire field.

  59. says

    Lee, who are the evolutionary psychologists who want to step up to give talks (frequently for expenses only) about the bullshit in their field? When you or someone else can answer that, we’ll happily push for them to be featured as speakers.

    It just seems to me to be a recipe for disaster to have a layperson give a talk about how laypersons’ are misunderstand a complex, and relatively new, scientific discipline.

    Assuming I read this through the typo correctly, no, not at all. One doesn’t need to understand a field at the level a scientist does in order to communicate about it effectively to a lay audience, just as one does not need to be able to communicate to a lay audience effectively in order to do good science. They are different skills.

    Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much to ask Rebecca Watson to aim her skeptical laser beams a little closer to home?

    You might want to think about this statement a little bit more. You’ve just suggested that Rebecca limit her work based on the fact that she’s got a small group of obsessive haters.

  60. Bert says

    @68

    That’s actually not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that your attempt to say what Rebecca Watson’s presentation was about was what you’re saying it was about, and, given the whole presentation, I have a hard time believing that. If Rebecca Watson would clarify that that was her intent and she was not as clear as she should have been, than I will accept your hypothesis, as it becomes the most reasonable, assuming she’s telling the truth, which I have no reason to believe she would be dishonest. I said this whole thing earlier I believe too so I’ll leave it at that.

    Now, you said that Rebecca Watson, in the very first comment on this blog, said she was talking specifically about “pop” evolutionary psychology. I looked. I don’t see it. Did she state it somewhere else? I’d love to see it. You even said she said your blog was accurate. I don’t see that there either. I see that she said thank you, but that isn’t the same thing is it?

  61. LeftSidePositive says

    Isn’t it fascinating the degree to which those here will go to great lengths to defend EvoPsych? I’m really intrigued by how personal this seems to be. Why this intense protectiveness? Do these people seriously think that the skeptic movement or its proponents will take a position against the evolutionary origin of the fight-or-flight response?! Are they genuinely concerned that we might refuse to accept the possibility of a deep-seated emotional reaction to distress vocalizations? (Are they further unaware that there are much more rigorous ways to examine the reactions to distress vocalizations across species than by categorizing movie scores?!) Do they worry that critiques of vapid studies on shopping might harden our minds to the high likelihood of a selection pressure to overestimate the proximity of potentially threatening sounds? Really? [Amy Poehler voice] REALLY?![/Amy Poehler voice]

    Rather, I posit that some of the impetus for defending the good name of EvoPsych might be a subconscious and emotional attachment to some of the very just-so stories (in particular or in aggregate) that rightfully draw mockery, and a compulsion to re-center the terms of discussion away from the non-privileged people who state the ways in which they are being mistreated. Even if most people who think themselves reasonable will not continue to defend any particular study that has been thoroughly debunked, there seems in this defensiveness a certain desire to hold the door open for the possibility of the more socially-relevant/contentious theories to be true (or they wouldn’t keep going multiple rounds after we said, “no, seriously, we’re totally cool with the fight-or-flight response!”).

  62. says

    I quite understand that you would cut Rebecca a little slack here, but really:an inch more and she could circumnavigate the globe!

    I actually watched Rebecca’s talk and for most of it i gave the benefit of the doubt,as you had, and asumed by her jovial manner this was simply a light-hearted run through of the bastardisation of one specific area of science in the popular press.

    However. However, that was before she fielded the question from the member of the audience. At that point I didnt feel I could any longer maintain the perspective you have maintained here alongside what i was hearing – dissonance levels had just reached breaking point.
    I actually imagined how I would field the question and imagined I would say something along the lines of:
    ‘I am pleased you have asked the question because it allows me to clarify something I maybe should have made clear from the very start. I want to be explicitly clear: this talk isn’t meant as some indictment on evo psych generally but rather the populist bastardisation amongst some individuals who do the label ‘scientist’ no credit and the popular press who are all too happy to suck up their tripe’

    What Rebecca actually said, and you reprinted here (devoid of the sarcastic intonation) could not have been further from this.

    I read here that she is to give this talk again. Truly, if what you say here is a truer reflection on her talk than many of us have understood then she would be well advised (in my condesmansplainy patriarchypersonified kind of a way) to just make that a little clearer at the start.

    Jim.

  63. says

    While I think she is a little broad at times frankly most of the talk is a pretty thorough discussion of various bad or misused evopsych arguments and studies. Maybe i’m just an easy mark when I talk about lectures and the like but I don’t think it is a major impact on the talk.

    *odd side note: I was trying to fix my spelling a bit using google chrome’s spell checker and it suggested I change evopsych to psychopath*

  64. says

    Gotta love a comment that starts:

    I quite understand that you would cut Rebecca a little slack here, but really:an inch more and she could circumnavigate the globe!

    and ends:

    Truly, if what you say here is a truer reflection on her talk than many of us have understood then she would be well advised (in my condesmansplainy patriarchypersonified kind of a way) to just make that a little clearer at the start.

    Yes, I’m justifying a HORRENDOUS TRANSGRESSION–that can be fixed with a wee flag.

  65. LeftSidePositive says

    Noelplum99, you mean she should have been clearer that she was referring to the bastardization of EvoPsych in the media in the question where she explicitly referred to the role of EvoPsych in the media, to headline-friendly bias, and to the fact that her focus is specifically on the effects of EvoPsych on the general public? That’s not clear enough for you?! Yeah, and the word “Atheists.” is too controversial. Got it.

    Isn’t it funny that this particular critique is coming from you, who only seems to show up to discredit Rebecca and the idea that sexism exists, and a lot of others who have been vaguely or overtly hostile to women speaking up about sexism, and has the strange side effect that we have to dissect every little nuance of the speech instead of addressing the prevalence of bad science and sexist narratives in our community and in our culture at large?!

  66. says

    @71

    Lee, who are the evolutionary psychologists who want to step up to give talks (frequently for expenses only) about the bullshit in their field?

    Uh…how about Ed Clint? Did anyone ask any Evo Psych folks? Any number of graduate students would probably do it for a pack of Ramen noodles if you asked them. I would probably use a bit more tact than “hey, come talk about the bullshit in your discipline”.

    One doesn’t need to understand a field at the level a scientist does in order to communicate about it effectively to a lay audience, just as one does not need to be able to communicate to a lay audience effectively in order to do good science. They are different skills.

    It’s perfectly true that there’s no logical inconsistency between not being a scientist, and communicating effectively about a scientific discipline. But I’m not professing a prejudice to RW giving this talk, I’m professing a postjudice based on the result. I would be wary before she gave it, but it’s a bit late for this defense.

    You might want to think about this statement a little bit more. You’ve just suggested that Rebecca limit her work based on the fact that she’s got a small group of obsessive haters.

    I’m suggesting she limit her work to less exhaustive topics than the collision between culture and Evo Psych, given that she’s made a hash of it, and given that she’s a controversy magnet(regardless of whether that’s her fault or not).

  67. says

    Leftside @77

    I have very rarely referred to Rebecca. I find the elevator incident boring and overblown and have more interest in the issues than the particulars of individuals involved (aside from opportunities to land some cutting jibe for my personal amusement)

    Jim

  68. Bert says

    Woops, I’d like to apologize for repeating myself in post 73 near the beginning. My bad. I didn’t proofread that comment.

  69. says

    Lee, Ed Clint is not in evo psych. He’s a (I believe first-year) anthropology grad student. Also, I don’t think you’ve tried asking a graduate student to stand up in public to critique the people who will review their papers, etc. in a non-scientific forum.

    No, actually, Rebecca did not make a hash of the talk. It can and is being improved, but that’s not at all the same thing.

  70. says

    Now, you said that Rebecca Watson, in the very first comment on this blog, said she was talking specifically about “pop” evolutionary psychology.

    No, I said that she agreed with my post. You were the one who said, “I understand that that is the case you are trying to make, that Rebecca Watson was only speaking of “pop” evolutionary psychology”. Later I agreed with you that this was what this post, the one with which Rebecca agreed, is about. I’m not really sure what you think Rebecca was agreeing with when she told me I did a great job if it wasn’t the case I was making.

  71. says

    “Peter, she said he had it published, with no mention of peer review, and compared him to a honey badger. What exactly did she misrepresent?”

    Have I not clearly explained this? Rebecca does not furnish the audience with all the information. By simply saying that he wrote a paper and stressing that it somehow got published implies it went through peer review ridicule and was publish in a journal of some authority.

    I invite you to watch that segment again, it starts around at the 16:30 mark. The implications are clear.

  72. Bert says

    @83

    I must be blind. I keep looking over that comment, #1, and I don’t see her saying she agreed with you. I see her thanking you, but that isn’t the same thing as she could be thanking for you any number of things. She could be thanking you and saying great job for standing up for her. Honestly, I would too if you were for me because that is very nice of you. She could even be saying thank you as a way to say she does agree with you, but that isn’t clear (I’m suspecting a trend if that’s the case). Maybe it’s both! Or maybe it’s none of them and one I haven’t managed to think of on the spot.

  73. says

    Oh, and she says “some” EP scientists took him seriously, which is untrue. One did, a disgraced outlier who has been discredited, (another fact she withheld

    Not furnishing people with all the facts to suit an argument is just as bad as supplying false information.

  74. says

    @85

    The part you’re looking for is at the beginning and the end. I’ll quote them for you.

    Thanks Stephanie. I saw Clint’s post but as I’m traveling, I have no time to write anything up, so I’m very glad that you’ve done a great job of it.

    Rebecca is stating that she’s glad Stephanie did a good job of addressing Clint’s post because she hasn’t had time to do it herself.

    There are other bits and pieces Clint got wrong but at a glance I think you’ve covered the bulk of the problems here.

    She’s saying there are other things Clint got wrong, but that Stephanie got most of his wrong points addressed.

    Explicit agreement isn’t require in order for words to come across as meaning there is agreement. Her positive expressions of Stephanie’s post is obviously an endorsement of what was written.

  75. DanB says

    Rebecca’s talk has its faults, and the criticisms of it should be taken seriously.

    However, this ‘rebuttal’ from Stephanie is very poor.

    Further, a note to the commentators – dismissing stuff as simply ‘MRAs’ or some other emotive, non-science based, does not cut it when specific criticisms of Rebecca’s speech, research and methodology have being made. It is a bit like a religious nut who dismisses anything an atheist says with the charge of “Communist”.

    Perhaps Zvan and Myers (who has done nothing but ad hom and call people names, esp. on Twitter) could actually take their time and rebutt Ed’s article with a little more scrutiny and skepticism.

  76. says

    Also, I don’t think you’ve tried asking a graduate student to stand up in public to critique the people who will review their papers, etc. in a non-scientific forum.

    But Stephanie, it’s statements like that which get everyone riled! The implicit assumption is that he would be critiquing the discipline, not the media’s distortion (POP Evo Psych), and that any critique of the discipline would result in petty retribution. Consider how that might be received, and you’ll understand a lot of the push-back on Ms. Watson’s talk.

  77. says

    DanB: Where exactly are the ad hominem arguments against Ed Clint in this post? Please do point them out.

    I’ll also note there are an extraordinary amount of links in this post to show where things that Ed has criticized Rebecca Watson about, have been evinced by other scientists without any likewise rebuttal. The criticism is that Ed Clint is attacking a caricature of what Rebecca was talking about, probably because he feels like “his field” is being attacked — though why he claims authority in that field as an anthropology grad student I’m unclear.

  78. says

    The implications are clear.

    Assumes facts not in evidence. Seriously, you’re trying to support your argument with your conclusion? And what does a honey badger imply?

    So, let’s take a look at “misrepresent“:

    to give a false or misleading representation of usually with an intent to deceive or be unfair <misrepresented the facts>

    Now, it’s possible that you’re using the term “misleading” to mean without intent to deceive or be unfair. Of course, in that case, you’re misrepresenting Rebecca terribly, since that isn’t the common understanding of the term.

    Oh, only in your next comment you seem to have abandoned the idea that she’s not doing it deliberately, so there goes that idea. We’re back to the idea that if it’s “clear” to you, it must be universally clear.

    You’re also quite wrong that Kanazawa is the only evolutionary psychologist who considers blond hair an indicator of youth. Karl Grammer still talks about it. You know Karl Grammer, right? He’s the researcher who did the bit on lap dancers earning more in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycles.

  79. says

    Well, Lee, what we need then is a study. Let’s start with a pilot. Go find one graduate student in the field who is willing to do it.

    Missouri State University has three professors on the editorial board for the Evolutionary Psychology Journal (http://www.epjournal.net/about-the-journal/). That’s IN Springfield, Missouri. They no doubt have any number of graduate students in their charge. Broadening our search to include the entire state, and the field of potential speakers becomes larger, and the odds of at least one of them willing to lampoon media distortions of the discipline that much greater (assuming that’s the point, yes?).

    Springfield also happens to be near the borders of Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, providing ever more prospective speakers.

    Now it’s not my job to bill speakers for Skepticon talks, nor is it necessary that I trick some poor graduate student or professor into thinking there’s an opportunity for him to make an appearance in defense of his life’s work. My point is that, whether you personally feel the criticism of her lecture is valid or not, it has garnered criticism from reasonable people for coherent reasons. If the best Skepticon can do for a once a year conference is to fly a blogger in from Washington, don’t be surprised when such a move is not well received by those she supplanted, or those she sloppily criticized.

    Indeed, the more often this happens, the more animosity it will generate. It just doesn’t do to chalk up such criticisms to a small group of obsessive haters.

  80. Martha says

    Stephanie, you weren’t kidding when you said you needed better opponents! Less repetitive, too, I’d say. I believe the case for EvoPsych made so far is: “not everything Rebecca or Stephanie has said about EP is correct, so the EP I like must have value.” /headdesk

    On a more positive note, I particularly liked a comment DoubtThat (whose name I keep reading as Douthat and doing a double take as I realize that what s/he says makes sense) made on Pharyngula:

    What portion of the evo-psych literature is most influential? In a practical sense, what do evo-psych proponents generate that will result in actual societal effect?

    The bullshit Rebecca was talking about.

    The scientific debate will take care of itself. I’m not worried about that. As with evolution and climate change and the endless subjects where science has settled their differences, what’s valuable from evo-psych will survive, and the bullshit will be stomped out—in the scientific community. The framework for dispute settlement exists and it works.

    The battle, as in the other subjects mentioned, will take place in the public square as people informed by the science will have to battle back the stupid ideas that poison the brains of the common folk (of which I am a member–I produce no unique science).

    Thus, what Rebecca is doing is not “cherry-picking” or “straw-manning” evo-psych. She’s dealing with the most societally influential product, just like proponents of evolution have to argue about young earth creationism even though it’s fucking dumb. Marco Rubio and countless powerful politicians buy into it, therefore someone has to have that argument. It’s not a straw man of the anti-evolution position, it’s dealing with the most influential aspect of the ignorant and perverse ideology.

    Whether or not there’s anything worth salvaging from evo-psych will be determined by the scientists. What makes it to the public needs to be destroyed.

    Yep, that just about sums it up!

  81. says

    You didn’t deal with my main point, that Rebecca implied that the paper was published in EP peer reviewed journal.

    As for the honey-badger comment, I don’t know why you are bringing it up as it is wholly irrelevant to the discussion.

    “Oh, only in your next comment you seem to have abandoned the idea that she’s not doing it deliberately!” – Except for my first comment when I said “she either blatantly or unknowingly misleads”. I’m not sure whether it was intentional or not, it was misleading either way.

    And no I do not know of Karl Grammer, I’m not a scientist. That is why I would like to be furnished with as much accurate information as possible.

    As a speaker, Rebecca should clear up any ambiguities, it would only take one second to mention the magazine the paper was published in, instead it is implied it is a peer reviewed science journal. I’m sure I’m not the only one who understood what Rebecca said in this manner, in fact I’m sure it was the reason the whole audience laughed at that point. Because the paper being published in a pseudo-scientific journal isn’t really that funny now is it?

    And you’ve skipped over the fact Rebecca said EP states the human brain has stopped evolving, which no credible EP scientist has said.

  82. daveallen says

    Stephanie

    “daveallen, there is nothing inconsistent in my noting that much of evolutionary psychology as a field is more interested in playing a professional game than it is in self-policing and championing general understanding and noting that this is not unique to the field. In fact, if you see a fair critique that applies to your field, and your first response is to defend the field instead of using that critique as leverage to improve the field, you might be playing a version of that same professional game. Same with a tendency to see even that fair critique as an attack on your entire field.”

    The point is that I don’t see it as a fair critique and was explaining why, your responses to me do not seem to be particularly sincere.

    Let’s say you were discussing a field that were to matter to you with a critic, mainstream feminism let’s say, and your opponent were to respond to a point you raised by saying:

    “Oh I love it when people credit feminists for phenomena X. I particularly love it when they fail to acknowledge that feminsts only started going on about phenomena X after a particular date. Why didn’t they go on about before if they thought it so important? I suppose the phenomena is extant. But why on earth didn’t they take a slightly different and better tack in regard to the phenomena in good time?”

    Would you not find such an attitude beside the point and seek to explain in more detail exactly why – yes – the phenomena is pertinent and why it might have taken a little longer to manifest than casual observers might think optimum.

    Now if your opponent were to say:

    “Hey! I said the phenomena was extant didn’t I!”

    Would you not also find that somewhat irritating? Would you ask them what their straight answer was to the issue of whether or not the phenomena was pertinent?

    If they didn’t do so, but instead moved on to accuse you of playing a game how would that make you feel?

    Would you regard them as an honest actor by this point?

    I highly doubt it. I pointed out to Giliell that evolutionary psychologists do in fact cast opprobium on those who bring their field into disrepute. There isn’t anything wrong about that. You seem to kind of want to dispute and agree with me at the same time and I am asking you once again whether or not evolutionary psychologists can be credited for taking the action they took.

  83. says

    Peter, I exactly dealt with your assertion that Rebecca implied it was published in an evo psych peer-reviewed journal. The entirety of the evidence that you give is that this is clear to you. That kind of evidence is not evidence. Get something better or at least be honest in stating, “Well, I heard it that way, so my wildly logical brain tells me she must have meant for me to hear it that way.

    And no I do not know of Karl Grammer, I’m not a scientist. That is why I would like to be furnished with as much accurate information as possible.

    Then you have not the tiniest shred of an excuse for claiming Kanazawa was the only one. Your next comment will acknowledge that you did not have the information to make that statement and it will apologize for making the statement without the information to know whether it was in any way correct–both explicitly–or you will not comment again.

    Because I am tired of dealing with your repetitive bullshit, that’s why.

    Blah, blah, blah ambiguities. Yeah, I already addressed that. You can apologize for misrepresenting Rebecca there too, or not bother to comment.

    And you’ve skipped over the fact Rebecca said EP states the human brain has stopped evolving, which no credible EP scientist has said.

    What makes you so sure? You know squat about who has said what in the field of evolutionary psychology, as you’ve just pointed out.

    Also, I have “skipped over” nothing. As I pointed out in the post, I haven’t addressed the entirety of Clint’s post for a number of reasons. Don’t be dishonest about my behavior just because you’re looking bad.

  84. says

    I am asking you once again whether or not evolutionary psychologists can be credited for taking the action they took.

    I have, in fact, given individual evolutionary psychologists such credit within this blog post, using them as examples of non-denialism. If you think that credit should shine generally across the entire field, I don’t think you understand how science works.

    And yes, I still get to find it not all that outstanding for a bunch of evo psych researchers to repudiate Kanazawa only after everyone was telling them their field was tarnished by his behavior. It had been being tarnished for years. Kanazawa had been in well in the public eye doing damage. They acted after he lost institutional support because of criticism levied largely by a lay audience.

    Are you looking for credit for some particular action you’ve taken to police your field, or are you simply feeling your identity chafing when it normally makes you feel warm and cozy?

  85. JDizzle says

    Ya know, I’m a big fan of Rebecca Watson, and initially I agreed with what Stephanie Zvan tried to articulate here, but then I watched the video, and I’m in agreement with noelplum99 in what he said in post #75.

  86. says

    Which part of it, JDizzle? The part where there will be chaos and anarchy if we point out that Rebecca’s talk wasn’t anti-science or denialist or the part where a quick comment up front would have made things more clear?

  87. JDizzle says

    Anarchy? I didn’t get that. What I did get was that he, and now me too, thinks that you might be bending over backwards trying to explain away the problems with RW’s speech. And the rest I think I agree with. Thanks for letting my clarify. I’ll try and comment again later if I have the time.

  88. daveallen says

    Stephanie

    “I have, in fact, given individual evolutionary psychologists such credit within this blog post, using them as examples of non-denialism. If you think that credit should shine generally across the entire field, I don’t think you understand how science works.”

    I don’t see that either credit or opprobrium aimed at one individual in a field should apply to the field in gestalt unless it becomes a matter of orthodoxy.

    However, when significant numbers of people in the field say “we recommend Steven Pinker” (for example) you could say – well, he is somewhat representative, they clearly like him, he goes some way to representing a genuine authority.

    And when significant numbers of people say “I am embarrassed to admit to working in the same field as Kanazawa”, you could say – well, he wasn’t.

    So yes, when he has been effectively run out of town by the evolutionary psychology community I do think it is unfair to suggest that they haven’t really done so.

    “And yes, I still get to find it not all that outstanding for a bunch of evo psych researchers to repudiate Kanazawa only after everyone was telling them their field was tarnished by his behavior. It had been being tarnished for years. Kanazawa had been in well in the public eye doing damage. They acted after he lost institutional support because of criticism levied largely by a lay audience.”

    And that’s the benefit of being a layperson, you get to say “that sounds rebarbative, I reckon that bloke is full of shite!”

    Whereas those in the field have to say “blimey this guy looks a right nutter, how do we prove that though? Did he do his sums right? Looks like it. Where was that study done? Did he really follow that method? Anything wrong with it? Did he account for XYZ? I’ll ask about it …. come on answer your bloody email Satoshi! …. apparently he did. What about ABC? Aha! He clearly didn’t do C! Can we confidently say that if he had done C it would have produced vividly different results? It’s ambiguous. Shall we dupicate it? Do we have time/participants/budget? OK here’s a similar study with different results! Let’s say that’s a strike against him then. Is that enough to convict? Better gather a bit more evidence than one bad study. What about this one? Do you think he managed this variable? I’ll ask. Come on Satoshi answer your bloody email ….!”

    It takes a bit longer.

    I, as a layperson in regards to climate science, think it clearly obvious that the fact that so many of the tiny minority of climate scientists who vigorously oppose the notion that the burning of fossil fuels has something thing to do with climate change whilst also receiving payouts from fossil fuel concerns are dangerous charlatans.

    However, I do not think that they should be chucked out of the field based on my antipathy towards them, they get to do their thing provided they meet certain standards. When it comes to being able to prove they fail to meet standard I do hope to see them ruined, but in the meantime I suggest they not be debarred lest those who do the debarring themselves face opprobrium for quelling dissent – however disgusting – without a thorough deconstruction as to why.

    Hence why I think it necessary that Kanazawa wasn’t debarred at the first whiff of disgust – because if it had turned out that his studies had been carried out according to the standard, his ideas would have been afforded all the more weight for having been seen as unfairly dismissed.

    “Are you looking for credit for some particular action you’ve taken to police your field, or are you simply feeling your identity chafing when it normally makes you feel warm and cozy?”

    Neither.

  89. Muñoz says

    You girls always have to watch for each other’s back no matter what… it’s called group preference and yes, you girls evolved to have group preference for girls.

  90. Muñoz says

    I never said so. Did I?

    Really, you don’t have to defend her when she has obviously had a terrible presentation based on superficial appreciations on evolutionary psychology just because she is a girl.

  91. says

    Yes, actually, you did tell me you don’t understand what “evolved” means by how you tried to prove it.

    Really, you don’t have to defend her when she has obviously had a terrible presentation based on superficial appreciations on evolutionary psychology just because she is a girl.

    Any more than you have to come along and be an asshole here over topics you don’t comprehend just because I’m a “girl”. You’re done.

  92. jose says

    Clint did two things. One, some quick fact-checking like that study that was from Michigan not Chicago. That’s alright. The other thing was to defend evolutionary psychology against usual criticisms with the usual arguments, which is no fact checking at all. But he’s treating both things like they’re the same.

    Would have been more clear if he had said: “here are some bits that were factually wrong, and now here is my take on a very broad question that is very contentious within science and that hasn’t got a clear, consensuated position yet.” Because that’s where evolutionary psychology is at the moment.

    What I get from Clint’s post is that evopsych is an established, mainstream field like any other branch of biology, which is his personal opinion on the matter, not the actual state of affairs. As an introduction to his defense of evolutionary psychology, he mentions the Mars rover and nuclear physics. He wants to talk about misleading, well…

  93. says

    I think jose hits it right on the head. If Clint had been more clear that he wasn’t defending bad EvoPsych, just pointing out that not all EvoPsych is biased and unscientific, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Maybe that’s what he meant to do, but his comments sound like he meant to defend all EvoPsych against Rebecca’s criticisms.

  94. jose says

    So I checked the guy on facebook and he has a video up with the following description:

    “Barb Drescher is a voice of reason in a time of overabundant dismay.”

    This links to a blog post that says: “Why do skeptics criticize Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher? Because they publicly trash mainstream science despite lacking the expertise to properly analyze methodology and draw different conclusions (how scientists do it).”

    You can see the parallel Clint and the author of that post draw here. Rebecca Watson is publicly trashing mainstream science just like Maher and McCarthy trash vaccines. Because evolutionary psychology and vaccine biology have the same status and respectability within science, I guess? Again, this can be their personal stance on the issue, and they can argue for it; but they shouldn’t state it as a given, as if it were the consensus in the scientific community. If I may quote Jerry Coyne here as a dissenting voice in the imaginary consensus Clint and Drescher rely on…

    “Every time I write a piece like this, one that’s critical of evolutionary psychology, I get emails from its practitioners, chewing me out for being so hard on their field. And my response is always the same: I’ll stop being so hard on your field when you guys start being more critical yourselves. If you policed your own discipline better, I wouldn’t have to.”

    Spot on.

  95. jose says

    Oops, forgot the link. Here. Read the whole thing, it’s good. And let’s be clear too that Jerry Coyne likes the idea of evolutionary origins of behaviors and attitudes. He’s no tabula rasa person at all. As do I! I love Frans de Waal, all his research on the evolution of empathy and morality and politics. What we don’t like is bad science.

  96. Ivan Hoe! says

    So, judging by many of the comments, including those by Zvan, it is Ev Psych as a whole that’s being attacked. In which case, Clint’s comments, whether you agree with them or not, are proportionate in defending a discipline against what he feels are uninformed attacks.

    I can’t see the grounds for complaint, unless some people feel that any criticism of Watson’s views is malign. Which would be troublingly defensive and unskeptical.

  97. Sam Rosen says

    @82
    @92

    Jason and Stephanie,
    Evolutionary psychology is a multidisciplinary science composed of researchers trained in psychology, anthropology, and other areas. Ed Clint is both an anthropologist and an evolutionary psychologist. (Noted evolutionary psychologist/anthropologists include Donald Symons and John Tooby.)

    Ed has also said he would love to talk about EP at a conference and that he has much experience at public speaking. Greta Christina called his talk at SSA 2011 one of the “best things” at the conference.
    link: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2011/08/08/best-things-about-ssa-conference/ and

    James Croft described his “powerful talk” at CFILC 2011 here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/templeofthefuture/2011/06/live-blogging-the-cfi-student-leadership-conference/

  98. says

    Sam, I’m well aware of what evo psych is, thank you. Ed did not describe himself that way in his post, and he is not listed in any speakers lists. If he changes that, he might actually get invitations to talk on the matter.

  99. says

    So, judging by many of the comments, including those by Zvan, it is Ev Psych as a whole that’s being attacked.

    Uh, no. For one thing, I have explicitly recommended some good evo psych. For another, you can’t look at comments about evo psych from people other than Rebecca and use them to deduce what Rebecca was talking about a month ago.

    I can’t see the grounds for complaint, unless some people feel that any criticism of Watson’s views is malign.

    Well, since you’re apparently finding this difficult, let me refer to you to the title of this post as a starting point in determining the grounds for complaint.

    Are you even trying?

  100. Sceptical Sceptic says

    - Did you notice the headline “EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY” during several minutes of her talk? Could it explain the fact that several people understand her to make statements about evolutionary psychology? (as in non-pop-)

    – If I would give a talk on “militant feminist”, but would leave out the “militant” a lot, would you mind?

    – Your dispute with Peter Ferguson over the implications of the “publishing” of an article seems to indicate that you have exceptionally high demands on levels of evidence. (I cannot help but be reminded of section II.4 of Clint’s piece.) My question to you: Since the journal in question is almost completely irrelevant to evopsych, why did she mention the fact that it was published at all?

    – Explicitly addressing “good evolutionary psychology”, Rebecca characterized it thusly: “Well, we don’t really know what happened in the Pleistocene, and we have no evidence [...]” – Do you think this is an fair characterization of good evolutionary psychology?

  101. says

    Did you notice the headline “EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY” during several minutes of her talk? Could it explain the fact that several people understand her to make statements about evolutionary psychology?

    What? Rebecca had slides?

    Yes, of course I noticed that. I also noticed (and quoted in the post) that for at least part of that she specifically talked about pop evo psych. I also suggested here in the comments a revision to one of those slides.

    If I would give a talk on “militant feminist”, but would leave out the “militant” a lot, would you mind?

    Would you be showing pictures of them with their guns as a major part of the talk? If so, I think I could keep up.

    Since the journal in question is almost completely irrelevant to evopsych, why did she mention the fact that it was published at all?

    I already discussed this with Peter, but I can repeat it here for you. It is relevant that once this mock theory was in the wild (which it had to be published somewhere in order to have happen), multiple researchers, not all of them repudiated, picked up the blond = youth = relevant signal of fertility theory.

    Do you think this is an fair characterization of good evolutionary psychology?

    I think a careful accounting of what we do and don’t know is good science in any field. I also think the answer is ambiguously worded (“this” is not very specific) and that Rebecca did a much better job of answering here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/12/05/once-you-look-past-the-headlines/

  102. hypatiasdaughter says

    Firstly, anyone who has ever heard Rebecca talk should know that she is noted for her breezy, HUMOROUS takes on the intersection of social, scientific and skeptical issues – from a feminist perspective. Sweet Jesus, people, what kind of an idiot criticizes her for not giving a scholarly, ponderous overview of the state of Evo Psych? If I wanted to listen to such a talk, I wouldn’t want it to be given by Rebecca, but by someone in the field or who has studied the field in some depth (say, a science historian.)

    Secondly, after skewering the bad Evo Psych (which seems to be the only stuff that makes it into the public) she cited numerous “good” studies (I recall several on priming). Were these not from Evo Psych but from other fields? Because she certainly left this layman ignoramus with the impression that Evo Psych had produced some interesting, quality research. You can critisize her for choosing to reject studies that produces results she dislikes and embracing those she whose results she likes, but how is this denialism of the whole field of Evo Psych?

  103. says

    There are two sides to this.

    1) …attacking a few bad apples who are picked up by the media (much like in any scientific field).

    2) …attacking a field as generally corrupt and unscientific.

    It sounds to me like a lot of the comments in here are attempting to claim she was doing #1 but agree with #2. You’ll have to forgive me then for finding the defenses of #1 as at best suspect.

    “I don’t believe in evolution but even it was true…” rarely results in an intelligent observation. Similarly arguing “Evolutionary psychology is a sexist, biased and unscientific field… but Stephanie wasn’t saying that” rings hollow for me.

    Seeing as Stephanie is in fact commenting in this thread it seems as if we can skip a lot of run around and ask straight up: are you criticizing a few bad apples or do you think the field is pseudoscience?

  104. David M says

    Stephanie, you mean how he didn’t describe his position in the first sentence of the sixth paragraph of his post: “I have dedicated my professional and academic life to evolutionary psychology research.”

  105. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stephanie 122:

    [Slides]

    Since perception seems to be a major issue here, I have to ask again: Could it explain the fact that several people understand her to make statements about evolutionary psychology? In other words, was the nature of Watson’s talk such that it was impossible for reasonable persons to assume she was talking about evopsych in general? Did she go out of her way to avoid that apparent misconception?

    ["militant feminists"]

    “Would you be showing pictures of them with their guns as a major part of the talk?”

    Yes, but I would also show a lot of pictures of feminists in their natural environment. (I admit that the comparison breaks down rapidly. Bear with me.)

    “If so, I think I could keep up.”

    That was not quite what I asked. Would you mind?

    [publishing]

    “multiple researchers, not all of them repudiated, picked up the blond = youth = relevant signal of fertility theory.”

    Could you please point out where Watson mentioned anybody but the very, very disgraced fringe researcher?

    Would the fact that it got “picked up” not imply a publication in some form? Why emphasizing it? Do you think Watson’s distinct vocal emphasis during the talk was merely meant to point out the trivial and obvious fact that it was in some way known to the public?

    [non-pop evopsych]

    “I think a careful accounting of what we do and don’t know is good science in any field.”

    Of course it is. I think Clint described in his article that evopsych does that.

    I am not aware that Clint’s article is about Watson’s position on evopsych in general; it seems to be about her talk. Do you think Watson’s phrase from that talk is a fair characterization of good evolutionary psychology?

  106. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @hypatiasdaughter 125:

    “Because she certainly left this layman ignoramus with the impression that Evo Psych had produced some interesting, quality research.”

    A quote from Watson from the talk:

    [Is there any good evolutionary psychology?]
    “Probably? I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring, because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything.”

    I can’t quite see how you came to that impression.

  107. says

    In other words, was the nature of Watson’s talk such that it was impossible for reasonable persons to assume she was talking about evopsych in general?

    I think that any reasonable person watching that talk in order to determine whether Rebecca was talking about evo psych in general would have to walk away with strong doubts. I don’t think anyone yells “science denialism” where there are strong doubts. Do you?

    I admit that the comparison breaks down rapidly.

    I admit the comparison is crap from the start. The question you seem to be getting at is, “Could I provoke an emotional response in you?” If you did, would I be justified in writing about denialism as my response?

    Do you think Watson’s phrase from that talk is a fair characterization of good evolutionary psychology?

    I think, as I’ve already said, that the sentence is ambiguous. Do you have a particular interest in reading tea leaves?

  108. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stephanie 130:

    You are quite apt in not really answering my questions.

    Slides

    I don’t think anyone yells “science denialism” where there are strong doubts. Do you?”

    Of course Clint works under the assumption that Watson was talking about evopsych in general. I think that under this assumption, he managed quite well to demonstrate the denialist tactics used by Watson.

    “militant feminists”

    The question you seem to be getting at is, “Could I provoke an emotional response in you?”

    Not at all. Please let me ask my own questions.

    My question was “Would you mind?” To elaborate, even assuming that you believe my assertion about the topic, would you criticizing me for making misleading references to a related but distinct topic?

    non-pop evopsych

    Do you think Watson’s phrase from that talk is a fair characterization of good evolutionary psychology?

    I think, as I’ve already said, that the sentence is ambiguous.

    I think I posed a simple yes/no question. Can an ambiguous statement be a fair characterization?

    Do we have an agreement on the “And it got published!” issue?

    (Too nitpicky? Sorry, but you claim that many people misunderstand Watson completely, and I don’t see any other way to clear the fog than to take a close look at her words.)

  109. Pieter B, FCD says

    Ed Clint: “I have dedicated my professional and academic life to evolutionary psychology research.”

    I’d call that a rather self-aggrandizing statement from someone whose LinkedIn page says he started grad school this September.

  110. says

    You are quite apt in not really answering my questions.

    No, I’m answering them. You just don’t like the answers. Repeating the questions, however, doesn’t change the answers.

    Of course Clint works under the assumption that Watson was talking about evopsych in general.

    Are you now suggesting we all get to merrily hack away at people’s reputations and work based on our assumptions of what that work is rather than what it actually is? If so, please provide your reasoning for this. If not, you do understand that this is not only what I’ve been saying but one of the things I’m criticizing him for, right?

    I think that under this assumption, he managed quite well to demonstrate the denialist tactics used by Watson.

    Well, actually, no. That’s been discussed here in the comments already. If you disagree with the people who gave reasons why they felt Clint was badly distorting the idea of denialism, argue with those people. Don’t just make an assertion as though they hadn’t commented.

    My question was “Would you mind?” To elaborate, even assuming that you believe my assertion about the topic, would you criticizing me for making misleading references to a related but distinct topic?

    What definition of “mind” are you using in which it isn’t an emotional reaction? Same for “criticize”. What do you mean? If you mean would I suggest that the talk be clairified, I’ve already done that in this comment thread, so asking me again is just perverse. If you mean would I call the talk “denialism”, I just answered that.

    I think I posed a simple yes/no question.

    I know you did. It’s an annoying tendency of yours. If you actually want to understand someone’s position rather than playing gotcha games, you don’t try to force uninformative answers. So stop that.

    Can an ambiguous statement be a fair characterization?

    How can an ambiguous statement be unambiguously declared either fair or unfair? An ambiguous statement gives you no information, just an opportunity to ask for clarification.

    Do we have an agreement on the “And it got published!” issue?

    Fuck, no. You haven’t even asserted a position on it. Don’t try to assume mine matches yours because I missed responding to part of your question. That’s an asshole move. Don’t be an asshole.

    Could you please point out where Watson mentioned anybody but the very, very disgraced fringe researcher?

    Did you read the comments before yours, or did you just decide I should spoon feed you everything specially? This has already been covered.

    Would the fact that it got “picked up” not imply a publication in some form? Why emphasizing it? Do you think Watson’s distinct vocal emphasis during the talk was merely meant to point out the trivial and obvious fact that it was in some way known to the public?

    Tea leaves. Stop it.

  111. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stephanie 134:

    This is getting unnecessarily combative. I’m sorry if I contributed to that in any way.

    That said, getting a useful answer from you is akin to pulling teeth with a bar of soap, not effective and unpleasant for both of us.

    One example:

    Do you think [...]

    Tea leaves.

    This is your piece, and I’m asking you about your position on one of its fundamental aspects (Does Watson misrepresent evopsych?). Do you need tea leaves for that?

  112. says

    What do you want to use my answers for? It can’t be understanding the nuances of what I think about this presentation, because every time I answer that way, you suggest I’m being evasive.

    Rebecca has commented to say that some corrections were appropriate and appreciated. I have said some statements could use revision. I have said some statements are ambiguous. I have said that, overall, Rebecca was not talking about the entire field of evo psych and that judging her on that basis is wrong. I have given you detail and explanation, and you have called it evasive.

    What the fuck is it that you want beyond a reasonable picture of my views? How the fuck is “Answer yes/no to questions I won’t clarify” useful for anything but spreading confusion?

  113. says

    In the interests of time, I’m just going to repost two previously written replies (one concerning the talk, one concerning this defense of it), so if there’s so disconnect in tone or content, that’s why:

    (Response one, concerning whether people ought to let talks like this slide by)

    There are, I feel, several different matters to consider. The first, and, in my mind, most important, is, “Does Watson actually understand the subject she’s supposed to be satirizing?” My guess is that no, she in fact has very little grasp on the subject (as appears to be the case for most people in her blogging circle who lob criticisms at evolutionary psychology as well), and most people here seem to be in agreement about that notion. So, whether this is or isn’t satire, this presentation does likely reflect her very real misunderstandings about the field and is likely to be enjoyed by people who similarly share those misunderstandings and dislike EP. I would put the chances of her misunderstandings in the video coming to be repeated by her fans as genuine criticisms of evolutionary psychology at “fairly high”.

    Now this might come off as harsh on my part, but given that she doesn’t seem to understand what she’s talking about, maybe she shouldn’t have used her conference slot to try and talk about it; in fact, she might have done better to just shut up about it (or, more gently, she should have selected a topic she actually knew something about).

    Naturally, this makes people who like EP defensive. If someone who knew nothing about your field (but was fairly confident they did) starting talking about how your research is misguided and your researchers have morally reprehensible reasons for conducting their research, you might get a touch defensive about that as well. But this is satire, isn’t it? It’s just political speech, so let it slide?

    Another question worth considering, then, might be, “even if this is satire (or political speech), is that automatically supposed to make it immune from criticism?” There is, after all, no rule I know of that makes something OK just because you slap the word “satire” in front of it. In much the same way, I imagine that Watson might not agree that rape threats are perfectly acceptable so long as they’re framed as being “jokes”, nor would she be very enthusiastic if someone started talking about stripping women of the right to vote because they’re irrational, even though this to could be considered “political speech”.

    (The second response, to this article specifically)

    The defense is also rather silly and misses a lot of key points. Here are a few of them:

    (1) The only studies that seem to be mentioned regard sex difference. While I get that this is because of the topic of the talk, I still think this is telling, since the methodologies of other work in psychology more generally (both within and outside of evolutionary psychology) use precisely the same methodologies as work in sex differences, but those methodologies are only really criticized when the study comes to a result that people like Watson don’t like. One doesn’t have to go far to find terrible studies that people who dislike EP will happily defend because the conclusions sound nice (see Amanda Marcotte doing that here, for instance: http://popsych.org/why-are-plumbers-so-sexist/).

    (2) Watson thinks that “good” EP would make claims along the lines of “we’re completely ignorant about what the past might have been like”. While this claim has been dealt with extensively elsewhere, it’s worth noting that we can know things like “women and not men got pregnant”, and “people lived in social groups”, and “people made use of certain wavelengths of light to navigate their world”.

    (3) There’s a point concerning evolutionary psychology in the media being appalling. The author also complains about the way that evolutionary psychology is presented to the masses. While I do agree that journalists can very often get things wrong and exaggerate claims, the author and Watson need to realize that they’re not helping in this regard. Watson’s confusions about what EP is are being broadcast to the masses; she’s propagating the exact same thing she’s complaining about. If this is supposed to be some kind of point in favor of Watson, I’m not seeing it.

    (4) The complaint of using WEIRD samples. The first point on that matter is (1) raised above. That is a criticism of all psychological research in general, even the stuff Watson no doubt likes, but I only see it being used when the results disagree with someone’s sensibilities. The second point is that EP is better, not worse, about incorporating cross cultural research compared to the rest of psychology. This should be a point that particularly inclines Watson and others EP, but it’s somehow overlooked.

    (5) There’s a concern raised that researchers in EP specifically ignore contradictory evidence. This claim is made without any reference to whether EP is special in that regard. This is followed by the classic genetic determinism point as if this is what EP researchers are trying to demonstrate, demonstrating in the process that the author doesn’t understand the foundation of EP any better than Watson.

    (6) The defense of Watson’s statement that “now evolutionary psychologists ignore all that and pretend that women’s place is in the home and then they look for reasons to “scientifically” support that.” There’s no bet hedging in that language; there’s no reference to specific researchers who think this. I can’t help but wonder where all the skepticism that was being applied to EP went all the sudden when it comes to claims like that. Odd…

  114. Martha says

    If you actually want to understand someone’s position rather than playing gotcha games, you don’t try to force uninformative answers. So stop that.

    Yes, this!

    Sceptical Sceptic (and many others on this threat): Some people actually have conversations to understand the other person’s view better– and to refine their own arguments. Indeed, Rebecca’s comment indicates that she is taking some of the points raised here and elsewhere into account to improve her talk the next time she gives it.

    Honing in immediately on minutiae rather than dealing with the other person’s major point is clear sign that you have no desire to engage in real conversation. Perhaps this article, to which Stephanie linked on Twitter the other day, will help you to understand how that works:

    http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/conversation-not-debate/

  115. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Martha 132:

    You know what I didn’t do? Making assumptions about other peoples thoughts and intentions. Maybe a question now and then would help you.

  116. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @LeftSidePositive 30:

    I think you are being willfully ignorant if you refuse to see that this talk is CLEARLY about EvoPsych as it is presented in the media and as it is used to prop up prejudices. I watched the talk, and I cannot imagine how this could have been any clearer.

    For starters, by not mixing evopsych and pop-evopsych throughout the talk.

    (I think it’s interesting to see how quickly your post morphed into a rant against (non pop-) evopsych itself.)

    @LeftSidePositive 30:

    Isn’t it fascinating the degree to which those here will go to great lengths to defend EvoPsych? I’m really intrigued by how personal this seems to be. Why this intense protectiveness?

    Please provide specific examples of this behaviour.

    Rather, I posit that some of the impetus for defending the good name of EvoPsych might be a subconscious and emotional attachment to some of the very just-so stories (in particular or in aggregate) that rightfully draw mockery, and a compulsion to re-center the terms of discussion away from the non-privileged people who state the ways in which they are being mistreated.

    That was fun! Now is it my turn to make up shit about your motivation?

  117. says

    Sorry, all. It’s been busy, and I’ve just excavated enough of the spam flood to figure out what are real comments.

    There are two sides to this.

    1) …attacking a few bad apples who are picked up by the media (much like in any scientific field).

    2) …attacking a field as generally corrupt and unscientific.

    Actually, gavingreenwalt, no. The field of evolutionary psychology as a whole is not corrupt and unscientific. There are people studying things like cognitive biases, just as an example, who are doing good work. By good, I mean that they are looking to work from other fields on these biases, are making testable hypotheses that differentiate between genetic and cultural transmission, and are doing experiments in babies and animals that can shed light on those hypotheses.

    The fact that this work exists tells us that the field of evolutionary psychology as a whole is not a loss. It doesn’t, however, and however much Ed Clint wanted to claim so, tell us that there are only a few bad apples who have generally been rejected by the field. This is not the case. There are fairly large strains of evolutionary psychology that do none of the things that make work in this field good. Talking about a broad swath, even if that swath is what most people think of as evo psych as a whole, is not attacking the field as a whole.

    Also, Rebecca gave the talk. I’m not Rebecca.

  118. says

    The first, and, in my mind, most important, is, “Does Watson actually understand the subject she’s supposed to be satirizing?” My guess is that no, she in fact has very little grasp on the subject (as appears to be the case for most people in her blogging circle who lob criticisms at evolutionary psychology as well), and most people here seem to be in agreement about that notion.

    Well, this assumes that her subject was something other than “the kinds of evolutionary psychology that tends to get picked up by the media. That subject she understood quite well.

    Now this might come off as harsh on my part, but given that she doesn’t seem to understand what she’s talking about, maybe she shouldn’t have used her conference slot to try and talk about it; in fact, she might have done better to just shut up about it (or, more gently, she should have selected a topic she actually knew something about).

    Rebecca has been covering “scientific” sexism for quite some time. You’ll have to work much harder if you want to come off as particularly harsh compared to some of the people who have tried to shut her up, but you’re still telling her to shut up. Don’t be one of those people.

    Naturally, this makes people who like EP defensive.

    Do I detect an appeal to nature?

    If someone who knew nothing about your field (but was fairly confident they did) starting talking about how your research is misguided and your researchers have morally reprehensible reasons for conducting their research, you might get a touch defensive about that as well.

    If you continue to label Rebecca as someone who knows nothing about your field while pointing out that she’s making fairly common criticisms, some of which you can’t deny, you’re going to look like you think the best defense is a good offense. Much, much better, since the problems pointed out do exist, would be a good defense.

    The only studies that seem to be mentioned regard sex difference. While I get that this is because of the topic of the talk, I still think this is telling…

    It is telling precisely of the fact that you want her to talk about something else. Aside from that, “Why didn’t she talk about what I wanted her to talk about instead of what she was talking about?” is…vapid.

    Watson thinks that “good” EP would make claims along the lines of “we’re completely ignorant about what the past might have been like”. While this claim has been dealt with extensively elsewhere, it’s worth noting that we can know things like “women and not men got pregnant”, and “people lived in social groups”, and “people made use of certain wavelengths of light to navigate their world”.

    It’s very sweet that you’re willing to paraphrase Rebecca in a way that distorts what she’s saying but you expect precision from her. Try to fix that.

    Watson’s confusions about what EP is are being broadcast to the masses; she’s propagating the exact same thing she’s complaining about.

    Once again, you’re criticizing her based on her talk being something other than what it is.

    The complaint of using WEIRD samples. The first point on that matter is (1) raised above. That is a criticism of all psychological research in general, even the stuff Watson no doubt likes, but I only see it being used when the results disagree with someone’s sensibilities.

    Get out more. I see it all the time as a general criticism.

    Now, you may not see that criticism applied to particular studies. However, if we’re talking sensibilities and cited subjects, we’re often talking about things like stereotype threat studies, which are simply establishing whether a phenomenon exists and aren’t trying to make any claims of universality.

    The second point is that EP is better, not worse, about incorporating cross cultural research compared to the rest of psychology.

    If you have some kind of quantitative data on this, I would be interested in seeing it. An awful lot of general psychology studies are done in clinical and community settings in large cities, which provide far more diverse samples.

    There’s a concern raised that researchers in EP specifically ignore contradictory evidence. This claim is made without any reference to whether EP is special in that regard.

    Bad behavior does not have to be unique to be criticized. Evolutionary psychology has a remarkably bad track record, however, on doing this when talking about sex differences. From the rape literature to data on female promiscuity, major criticisms have been made and, subsequently, ignored.

    This is followed by the classic genetic determinism point as if this is what EP researchers are trying to demonstrate, demonstrating in the process that the author doesn’t understand the foundation of EP any better than Watson.

    Actually, mentioning that genetics may determine a trait is hardly classic, “genes = destiny” genetic determinism. I really hope you understand the difference between the two.

    The defense of Watson’s statement that “now evolutionary psychologists ignore all that and pretend that women’s place is in the home and then they look for reasons to “scientifically” support that.” There’s no bet hedging in that language; there’s no reference to specific researchers who think this. I can’t help but wonder where all the skepticism that was being applied to EP went all the sudden when it comes to claims like that. Odd…

    Nope. Nothing at all odd about if you read what I actually had to say on the matter. Feel free, however, to provide examples of evo psych researchers who specialize in sex differences who do take that history into account.

  119. Sceptical Sceptic says

    Just FYI: Watson was nominated for “Claire’s dim Light Bulb of the Week” for the talk.

  120. says

    Just FYI: Watson was nominated for “Claire’s dim Light Bulb of the Week” for the talk.

    Who is Claire? An evo psych expert? Or is that only required of people who point out problems with it?

  121. Stacy says

    Aw, #141 thinks it’s clever.

    Really, Skeptical Sceptic? Some nobody is trying to make xirself seem important by jumping on the hater bandwagon? And bringing no substance–nothing but a lame attempt at humor to the cause? Gosh, ya don’t say?

    Just FYI: Nobody cares.

  122. says

    I don’t usually get around to subscribing to comment threads. They usually seem mostly dead by the time I get to them in the first place making it seem pointless to comment. I can’t believe this is still going.

    Oh well. Stephanie is doing a very good job of defending Rebecca’s talk.

    Sounds like, in the most generous interpretation, the defenders of EP are complaining that Rebecca’s criticisms aren’t accurate to that small area of ‘true EP’ that, well, no one’s heard of. Sounds to me like they don’t care for the message that their field as seen by outsiders is mostly just the harmful pseudoscience, because that’s what’s popular, so they’re trying to shoot the messenger. Especially since they already don’t like the messenger.

    The various conversations I’ve seen about Rebecca’s talk have lowered my opinion of EP, and its defenders particularly, far more than Rebecca’s criticism of what’s in the public eye.

  123. Rodney Nelson says

    Some of evopsych is apparently good science, performing experiments or doing other solid work and drawing reasonable conclusions from what’s learned. Unfortunately, laypeople like me don’t hear about this side of evopsych. Instead we see Satoshi Kanazawa claiming his personal opinion about the attractiveness of black women is universal and due to an asserted lower level of estrogen in black women (this assertion has been shown to be incorrect). I won’t bother to discuss Naomi Wolf’s homophobia and Amit Varma’s refusal to consider cultural reasons for misogyny but these are the sorts of things masquerading as evopsych.

    It appears to me that the evopsych people need to say, loudly and clearly, Kanazawa and Wolf do not represent evopsych. Until then the intelligent layperson is going to see evopsych as bullshit pretending to be science,.

  124. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stacy 143:

    Just FYI: Nobody cares.

    Sure, that’s why nobody responded to my post.

  125. says

    Hi Stephanie,

    Well, this assumes that her subject was something other than “the kinds of evolutionary psychology that tends to get picked up by the media. That subject she understood quite well.

    My initial question was (sort of) tangential to her talk: does she understand the conceptual foundations of evolutionary psychology as field? The answer to this question would seem to be a resounding “no”. It’s not even readily apparent that she has read much in the way of primarily literature, let alone a lot of it. This is an important point to bear in mind when considering her views on the subject.

    Rebecca has been covering “scientific” sexism for quite some time. You’ll have to work much harder if you want to come off as particularly harsh compared to some of the people who have tried to shut her up, but you’re still telling her to shut up. Don’t be one of those people.

    I’m not suggesting she never talk about certain topics; in fact, I’d welcome polite discourse about research and how it could be improved. I am suggesting, however, that she should at least understand the topic she intends to talk about before she devotes conference time to it. If she thinks that there’s “scientific sexism” (does this differ in any substantial way from plain sexism?) that needs to be corrected, I would at least expect her to get the science correct. If she doesn’t understands the subject and hasn’t even read much of it, her opinions about its validity or the motivations of researchers involved wouldn’t seem to carry any weight.

    If you continue to label Rebecca as someone who knows nothing about your field while pointing out that she’s making fairly common criticisms, some of which you can’t deny, you’re going to look like you think the best defense is a good offense. Much, much better, since the problems pointed out do exist, would be a good defense.

    That criticisms are common doesn’t mean they’re valid, nor does it mean that the people making them know anything about the field they’re criticizing . A common criticism concerning whether evolution happened is that there are gaps in the fossil record. Further, plenty of people who know very little about evolution and very little about Paleontology will make use of these criticisms.

    That said, I don’t know what criticisms you had in mind that I “couldn’t deny”.

    It is telling precisely of the fact that you want her to talk about something else. Aside from that, “Why didn’t she talk about what I wanted her to talk about instead of what she was talking about?” is…vapid.

    Not once one considers that most of the criticism (based on my personal estimate) directed at EP focuses on research that deals with sex and gender issues. This is somewhat strange, given the researchers in other fields use similar methodologies, similar theoretical frameworks, and draw similar types of conclusions.

    An example might clarify things: let’s say I happen to be very opposed to the use of null-hypothesis significance testing in psychological research for some conceptual reason. It would probably strike people as somewhat odd if I tended to only complain about NHST when it came to papers in visual perception, and, further, only when that visual perception research concluded that people could detect a certain kind of light at a certain brightness. Many people might start to conclude that my concerns were not with NHST per se, but more likely something about the visual perception field more generally, or a pattern of findings within that sub-field more specifically.

    Get out more. I see it all the time as a general criticism.

    Now, you may not see that criticism applied to particular studies. However, if we’re talking sensibilities and cited subjects, we’re often talking about things like stereotype threat studies, which are simply establishing whether a phenomenon exists and aren’t trying to make any claims of universality.

    You say you see it all the time as a general criticism. I’ll take your word for that with the understanding that you’ll take mine that I don’t. However, your very next thought would seem to express the opposite idea: that people don’t express it as often when considering other types of research. I find that kind of strange, but maybe I’m missing something.

    Tackling the second point, however, if stereotype threat had been established as existing only for the sample under investigation, it’s unlikely that any psychology textbooks would be talking about stereotype threat, or that other researchers would start researching it, or that anyone would think stereotype threat is a problem. As textbooks do cover it, researchers continue to examine it, and some people do afford it some degree of explanatory power in certain situations, it would seem they are, implicitly or explicitly, treating it as a generalizable psychological phenomenon. This is not only the case for stereotype threat; the point of most research is to generalize to other samples.

    And, all that said, just because a sample happens to have certain properties, it does not follow that the results won’t generalize to other samples. The suggestion that an effect might not generalize is often little more than an expression of skepticism; it’s not an argument.

    Bad behavior does not have to be unique to be criticized. Evolutionary psychology has a remarkably bad track record, however, on doing this when talking about sex differences. From the rape literature to data on female promiscuity, major criticisms have been made and, subsequently, ignored.

    I see that claim repeated again – evolutionary psychology researchers are particularly bad in this regard – but no reference group for comparison. We have a remarkably bad track record compared to whom?

    As I said above, just because people make criticisms or suggest that evidence is being ignored, it does not mean their criticisms are good or the evidence has been ignored. Sometimes people are just criticizing ideas they have imagined seeing. Since you mentioned rape, I’ll assume you’re referring to the Palmer and Thornhill book on the subject. Many of the criticisms were completely off-base, and the authors responded to some of them here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224490309552189.

    Is that to say their book is a perfect piece of research? No; just that it’s not nearly as bad as many people seem to think it is.

    (For another example of criticisms that don’t seem to match well with reality, there’s this as well: http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/apd.html)

    Actually, mentioning that genetics may determine a trait is hardly classic, “genes = destiny” genetic determinism. I really hope you understand the difference between the two.

    The point I was getting at is that part of the foundation of evolutionary psychology involves explicitly denying that questions along the lines of “how genetically determined is trait X” have any value in the first place (this point is in the primer on the subject). More flexibility does not mean or imply more or less genetic involvement, as you suggested it might, since this isn’t some zero-sum game between genes and other factors; both are equally co-determinant of traits and behaviors.

  126. says

    My initial question was (sort of) tangential to her talk: does she understand the conceptual foundations of evolutionary psychology as field? The answer to this question would seem to be a resounding “no”. It’s not even readily apparent that she has read much in the way of primarily literature, let alone a lot of it. This is an important point to bear in mind when considering her views on the subject.

    She doesn’t need to understand the conceptual foundations of the field in order to note that individual studies are based on unsound premises and don’t support their conclusions. She gave you very little in the way of statements from which you could discern with any certainty what she knows. She spoke to the details of several studies, plenty for the purposes of the talk. And you should probably base your views on the validity of what she said on…what she said, not some general feeling about her.

    I’d welcome polite discourse about research and how it could be improved.

    I would think that if someone were to point out flaws in your research, your reaction should very much not depend on whether they were “polite”.

    I am suggesting, however, that she should at least understand the topic she intends to talk about before she devotes conference time to it. If she thinks that there’s “scientific sexism” (does this differ in any substantial way from plain sexism?) that needs to be corrected, I would at least expect her to get the science correct.

    You think Rebecca needs to have read “a lot” of the literature in your field, but you’re arguing about her topic without even bothering to look up the terms? Really?

    Also, you’ve done a generally lousy job of talking about the studies she did criticize. Feel free to point out where she got that wrong in any way that impact her thesis instead of talking in vague and accusatory generalities.

    Not once one considers that most of the criticism (based on my personal estimate) directed at EP focuses on research that deals with sex and gender issues. This is somewhat strange, given the researchers in other fields use similar methodologies, similar theoretical frameworks, and draw similar types of conclusions.

    That isn’t strange at all. Sex and gender issues are highly relevant to a large number of people. Bad arguments that misrepresent the state of the literature are common. This produces a group of people who are quite familiar with the state of that literature. This provides an unusually wide base of expertise from which criticisms may come. Between that and the high profile of evo psych work on sex and gender, the various levels of criticism are exactly what we’d expect.

    That criticisms are common doesn’t mean they’re valid, nor does it mean that the people making them know anything about the field they’re criticizing . A common criticism concerning whether evolution happened is that there are gaps in the fossil record. Further, plenty of people who know very little about evolution and very little about Paleontology will make use of these criticisms.

    Then actually address those criticisms. People who battle creationism do.

    However, your very next thought would seem to express the opposite idea: that people don’t express it as often when considering other types of research. I find that kind of strange, but maybe I’m missing something.

    Yes, you’re taking an example, chosen to be relevant to the topic we’re discussing–namely, sex and gender–and assuming that since I went with this topic for comparability, I’m saying something about where the criticism is and isn’t applied.

    As textbooks do cover it, researchers continue to examine it, and some people do afford it some degree of explanatory power in certain situations, it would seem they are, implicitly or explicitly, treating it as a generalizable psychological phenomenon.

    To the extent that popular communication about psychology does not talk about the limitations of generalization, there is a problem, yes. However, there is an important difference between this incidental communication and direct claims of universality. One is a problem of communication. The other is a problem of the scientific process. When you’re talking about behaviors that are supposed to be fixed in humanity as a whole, you are doing the latter.

    Since you mentioned rape, I’ll assume you’re referring to the Palmer and Thornhill book on the subject.

    Since I mentioned rape, you might as well read what I have to say on the topic. Feel free to point to evo psych studies on rape that don’t have these flaws.

    The point I was getting at is that part of the foundation of evolutionary psychology involves explicitly denying that questions along the lines of “how genetically determined is trait X” have any value in the first place (this point is in the primer on the subject).

    No, not exactly. Again, you might as well read what I have to say on the topic instead of deciding you know what it is because you’ve run into other people with criticisms of evo psych.

  127. jessemarczyk says

    She doesn’t need to understand the conceptual foundations of the field in order to note that individual studies are based on unsound premises and don’t support their conclusions. She gave you very little in the way of statements from which you could discern with any certainty what she knows. She spoke to the details of several studies, plenty for the purposes of the talk.

    I thought we should have been in agreement that understanding the topic you’re talking about before devoting a conference slot to it would be a positive thing, but it seems we’re at odds there. I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I happen to feel she gave us plenty that demonstrates she doesn’t understand the field, but, then again, I suppose people unfamiliar with the field as well might be led to believe that she demonstrated competence in that regard.

    You think Rebecca needs to have read “a lot” of the literature in your field, but you’re arguing about her topic without even bothering to look up the terms? Really?

    Also, you’ve done a generally lousy job of talking about the studies she did criticize. Feel free to point out where she got that wrong in any way that impact her thesis instead of talking in vague and accusatory generalities.

    You seem to be conflicted. In the first part of your response, you stated clearly that it wasn’t important for Watson to understand the conceptual underpinnings of the field she’s criticizing, but here you seem to think it’s very important I understand the difference between “scientific” sexism and the regular kind. The thing is, a quick google search doesn’t turn up any definition of scientific sexism and how it differs from the regular kind, whereas the reverse is not true for EP (there are plenty of articles on the conceptual framework of the field).

    Clint already pointed out some specifics of her messing up the details of papers and views of researchers rather badly, but if you have a specific criticism and citation in mind you’d like my input on, I’m happy to look at it.

    Between that and the high profile of evo psych work on sex and gender, the various levels of criticism are exactly what we’d expect….Yes, you’re taking an example, chosen to be relevant to the topic we’re discussing–namely, sex and gender–and assuming that since I went with this topic for comparability, I’m saying something about where the criticism is and isn’t applied.

    Again, you seem conflicted: are methodological and theoretical criticisms largely targeting work on gender, but not on other areas of research that use similar methods and theory (and this is appropriate), or are you making no claim about where criticisms are and are not directed?

    Then actually address those criticisms.

    Which criticisms would you like me to address? I already linked you to a good article that addresses some of the most common ones, so I’m assuming you have a criticism in mind that wasn’t addressed there to your satisfaction.

    When you’re talking about behaviors that are supposed to be fixed in humanity as a whole, you are doing the latter.

    In terms of people who consider themselves evolutionary psychologists, I have not met a single one who would make the claim that behaviors are “fixed”; in fact, all the big names in the field repeated stress the opposite point. I don’t know what field you’re criticizing here, but it’s not evolutionary psychology.

    Since I mentioned rape, you might as well read what I have to say on the topic. Feel free to point to evo psych studies on rape that don’t have these flaws.

    Well, you misunderstand the adaptation/byproduct debate as one that is somehow devoid of environmental input, which is strange given the context-specificity of the argument that was made in favor of rape being adaptation by Thornhill (for the record, I’m on the side of Buss/Schmitt/Palmer on that matter). You also seem to misunderstand Shackelford’s paper as saying something about rape-myths influencing spousal rape. Given that you don’t seem to (a) understand the arguments being presented and, as a result, (b) misinterpret them, I’m not terribly inclined to click through the remaining links you have on the topic. You just seem to be making assertions and not much beyond that.

    From your last link:

    The questions are ”To what specificity are our behavioral capacities and tendencies determined?”…It means that, given just how flexible our brains are, the body of research produced so far has failed to prove that this particular behavior, at this particular level of granularity, is determined by our genes.

    No; that is not the question. If you’re going to tell me you understand that the gene/environment dichotomy is a false one, I would expect you to avoid that questions like that.

    Try not to take this as an insult, but your understanding of evolutionary psychology doesn’t seem very sound. You might want to spend more time trying to understand the field and the claims made by researchers within the field (just as Watson ought to) before you continue writing about it because you’re not doing a good job as is.

  128. says

    I thought we should have been in agreement that understanding the topic you’re talking about before devoting a conference slot to it would be a positive thing, but it seems we’re at odds there.

    No. We are at odds on what Rebecca’s talk is actually about. You keep insisting that all of evo psych is her topic. You’re commenting on a post that makes the case that it is not. Can you not remember this?

    You seem to be conflicted.

    No. There is a difference between suggesting that someone needs to be deeply familiar with information tangential to their topic and suggesting someone should bother to look up a topic on which they are commenting directly. Also, Google pro-tip: When you are dealing with a compound term made up of two common terms, use quotation marks. I had no trouble finding discussions of the topic.

    Clint already pointed out some specifics of her messing up the details of papers and views of researchers rather badly, but if you have a specific criticism and citation in mind you’d like my input on, I’m happy to look at it.

    Clint made several trivial criticisms that don’t affect Rebecca’s thesis (see her acknowledgement above) and several that presupposed her thesis was something other than what it is. If you can keep in mind what her thesis actually was, feel free to list those you think still make a difference to that thesis.

    Again, you seem conflicted: are methodological and theoretical criticisms largely targeting work on gender, but not on other areas of research that use similar methods and theory (and this is appropriate), or are you making no claim about where criticisms are and are not directed?

    Are you really that bad at following a discussion? I’ll recap for you.

    You: [Use of WEIRD samples] is a criticism of all psychological research in general, even the stuff Watson no doubt likes, but I only see it being used when the results disagree with someone’s sensibilities.

    Me: This is a general criticism, but you’re less likely to see it made of research that merely establishes the existence of a phenomenon instead of claiming its universality.

    You: Wha??? But that’s a difference!

    Me: That difference is based on the type of claim being made. If you claim universality, WEIRD research is a real methodological problem for you.

    See? You made a claim about criticism being differentiated by political sensibilities. I pointed out that there were other differentiating features much more salient. Understand now?

    Which criticisms would you like me to address?

    How about criticisms actually made by anyone in this discussion, instead of those you claim are generally common?

    In terms of people who consider themselves evolutionary psychologists, I have not met a single one who would make the claim that behaviors are “fixed”; in fact, all the big names in the field repeated stress the opposite point. I don’t know what field you’re criticizing here, but it’s not evolutionary psychology.

    I’ll take this slowly. “Fixed” refers to the idea that the alleles that are supposed govern the modules for shaping behavior hypothesized to exist in the human brain are present in essentially 100% of the population (deleterious mutations assumed to be temporary in the population and set aside for convenience). To the extent that one posits both genetic determination of the presence of such modules and their universality or near universality, one is talking about these modules being “fixed”, whether one expresses it in those terms or not.

    Now, you can wring your hands over what I mean when I say, “behavior”, and work to get all upset over them if you want to. I’ll just stop and go back to more basic explanations that you should have been able to follow for yourself. Or you can stop trying to go the ad hominem route, put a little work into this conversation, and address the point.

    Well, you misunderstand the adaptation/byproduct debate as one that is somehow devoid of environmental input

    No. That’s discussed in the comments with someone else who misunderstood it.

    You also seem to misunderstand Shackelford’s paper as saying something about rape-myths influencing spousal rape.

    Quite the opposite. I am saying that by failing to incorporate well-known research on rape myths, Shackelford likely misidentifies the correlates of the behavior he’s studying.

    No; that is not the question.

    Yes, it (in context and with all the surrounding discussion) is. See? I can do baseless assertion too.

  129. jessemarczyk says

    No. We are at odds on what Rebecca’s talk is actually about. You keep insisting that all of evo psych is her topic. You’re commenting on a post that makes the case that it is not. Can you not remember this?

    I can only assume by this you mean either that (a) she certainly talked about evolutionary psychology (she also happened to get those parts wrong because she doesn’t understand what she’s talking about), but that wasn’t the larger point of her talk, or (b) her talk had nothing to do whatsoever with evolutionary psychology specifically. The latter option seems to me to be indefensible, leaving the former.

    If her topic is supposed to be sexism in the often poor media coverage of science and not evolutionary psychology specifically, why she would bother mentioning at all EP seems strange (when she could have mentioned social, cognitive, or developmental psychology, for instance). It would similarly make her claim (around 9:30) that she came there to (among other things) “bash something…with evolution in the title [that only has the veneer of science]“ seem out of place. If you don’t think she was referring specifically to EP being her focus, I’m curious what alternative you feel she had in mind.

    Also, Google pro-tip: When you are dealing with a compound term made up of two common terms, use quotation marks. I had no trouble finding discussions of the topic.

    Thanks for the tip: After entering “scientific sexism” into Google and searching each article on the first page of results, I found no formal definition of the term. I did gather from context (much of which discusses the early 1800s) that “scientific sexism” looks just like regular sexism, except with the addition of a generally misunderstood or misinterpreted citation or stated fact after it, which is pretty much what I had figured it was, so, no; it’s no different than regular sexism and the label of science could be dropped with no ill effects. You could have just said that in your initial response.

    You made a claim about criticism being differentiated by political sensibilities. I pointed out that there were other differentiating features much more salient. Understand now?

    I don’t think your recap is entirely…complete, so let me add a few details: I made a claim that criticisms tend to be leveled (in practice) not on conceptual grounds, as fields making precisely the same types of claims and using the same theoretical framework and samples are not criticized nearly as much over this issue (and when they are criticized, it generally seems to have something to do with the precise patterns of results which obtained, but that’s a somewhat separate issue).

    I also pointed out that most work in psychology – evolutionary or not – does intend to generalize and is treated as such by laypeople and academics alike. If you’ve ever read any psychology textbooks, pop books, or scientific papers, you’ll have noticed this as well. After all, if people didn’t expect these results to generalize they (a) wouldn’t bother running the experiments, or (b) cite them.

    So, putting this all together, we end up with the conclusion that it seems probable that many of the criticisms people raise are raised selectively, contingent on some factor of the study other than the ostensible target complaint. If the salient factor here was WEIRD samples, you’d expect to see the same intensity of complaints leveled, regardless of field or findings. In other words, many people will say sample X is bad when they’re trying to deny the value or conclusion (no matter how tentative) of the paper in question, not when they’re legitimately concerned about this issues across the board. This is consistent with much of the research done in the field of reasoning that has demonstrated people often lack genuine conscious insight into the underlying reasons for their choices. Of course, this research has often made use of WEIRD samples (or at least WID ones, depending on what counts as “educated” and “rich”), so maybe we should be extra wary of it.

    So my question was the following: are you or are you not suggesting that criticisms are leveled unevenly, contingent on field of research (and findings within that field) and not methodology?

    How about criticisms actually made by anyone in this discussion, instead of those you claim are generally common?

    I’m fearing we’re going to fall back into the whole “scientific sexism” issue. Instead of taking another few posts to insist I figure out what you have in mind (if indeed you do have anything in mind), you could just tell me which criticisms you’d like to see addressed. That would, of course, involve you committing to a relatively concrete criticism as one you envision as being “good” as well as explaining why you think it’s good. I think your selection in that regard ought to be enlightening.

    Now, you can wring your hands over what I mean when I say, “behavior”, and work to get all upset over them if you want to.

    With your permission, then, I’ll point out that you initially mentioned behaviors – not modules – as being what EP researchers believed was fixed. It’s nice to see you withdraw that point. EP doesn’t posit that these modules are “genetically determined” either – as the genetic/environmental dichotomy is conceptually rejected – but at least the focus shift to modules was nice.

  130. says

    Since you’re having so much trouble: Rebecca’s thesis, which can be gathered both from her title and what she actually talks about, is that the claims that “women have evolved to XYZ” (for example, you know, shop) that we are confronted with in the media on a regular basis, along with their implicit or explicit statements that men have not, are based on pseudoscience and studies with methodological shortcomings so great that they can’t support that idea. If you want to claim all the crap as fundamental to evo psych, go right ahead. Clint was suggesting much of it wasn’t actually accepted evo psych, but I won’t hold you to his argument.

    After entering “scientific sexism” into Google and searching each article on the first page of results, I found no formal definition of the term. I did gather from context (much of which discusses the early 1800s) that “scientific sexism” looks just like regular sexism, except with the addition of a generally misunderstood or misinterpreted citation or stated fact after it, which is pretty much what I had figured it was, so, no; it’s no different than regular sexism and the label of science could be dropped with no ill effects.

    Right. I need to stop assuming you can (or are willing to) draw reasonable inferences from what you read. No, you can’t actually drop “scientific” from the label because at that point, the term stops referring to the specific history and ongoing practice of the misuse of the epistemic authority of science to lend legitimacy to extant forms of discrimination. To make this more clear for you, the “scientific” is the authority, and the “sexism” is the discrimination. Thus, “scientific sexism” is discrimination that claims to come from a place of epistemic authority. Without the authority, it is a very different thing.

    Additionally, you find on that page plenty of discussion of current topics in scientific sexism (such as Todd Akin’s remarks during his campaign) and Stormfront of all places claiming very current relevance. This is not just a matter for the history books.

    I made a claim that criticisms tend to be leveled (in practice) not on conceptual grounds, as fields making precisely the same types of claims and using the same theoretical framework and samples are not criticized nearly as much over this issue (and when they are criticized, it generally seems to have something to do with the precise patterns of results which obtained, but that’s a somewhat separate issue).

    I also pointed out that most work in psychology – evolutionary or not – does intend to generalize and is treated as such by laypeople and academics alike. If you’ve ever read any psychology textbooks, pop books, or scientific papers, you’ll have noticed this as well.

    Second point first: WEIRD, as a published concept, is just over two years old. (Anyone who can’t access that, I recommend Greg Downey’s excellent summary.) Textbooks, given their lifespans, are generally off the hook in terms of having responded to the discussion. Pop books constantly receive criticism for oversimplifying their subjects, whatever the subject.

    That leaves scientific papers and the conclusions drawn from them. Is it just gender studies we complain about? Is that the only place we’ve paid attention to this concept?

    No. The body of research on decision-making is called into question. The body of research on morality is questioned. Same for religion. Same for pedagogy and cognitive errors. If you look, people paid attention to what it means for research in fields they are interested in.

    Does this all happen at the same rate? Probably not. That doesn’t, however, justify an inference that the objections are only politically motivated. It happens where we have interests. People pay only so much attention to optical illusions. Morality is an abstract subject for most people. Gender essentialism is not so much. But do you know where the pressure is on constantly to research cross-culturally rather than generalizing from convenience samples? The effective delivery of medical care. It’s not really a political issue. It’s just relevant to the interests of a large number of us.

    So, to summarize, the amount of criticism follows the amount of interest, not politicization. Additionally, in a field directly claiming to speak to any kind of universality, failure to address the issues of such convenience samples does not just affect generalizability of results; it affects the ability to claim to have addressed the research question.

    Instead of taking another few posts to insist I figure out what you have in mind (if indeed you do have anything in mind), you could just tell me which criticisms you’d like to see addressed. That would, of course, involve you committing to a relatively concrete criticism as one you envision as being “good” as well as explaining why you think it’s good. I think your selection in that regard ought to be enlightening.

    You have now read multiple posts of mine on this topic. You have already pulled what you thought was a claim out of one. It turns out you were wrong, but it does show that you know generally how this is done. Hemming and hawing over it now just looks evasive.

    With your permission, then, I’ll point out that you initially mentioned behaviors – not modules – as being what EP researchers believed was fixed. It’s nice to see you withdraw that point.

    You’d already read a post of mine talking about modules and about the null and experimental hypotheses involved in researching evolutionary psychology. Don’t pretend you weren’t using one tiny piece of wording you didn’t like to try to discredit my general knowledge on the topic when you knew better.

    This just gets uglier and uglier.

  131. jessemarczyk says

    Rebecca’s thesis, which can be gathered both from her title and what she actually talks about, is that the claims that “women have evolved to XYZ” (for example, you know, shop) that we are confronted with in the media on a regular basis, along with their implicit or explicit statements that men have not, are based on pseudoscience and studies with methodological shortcomings so great that they can’t support that idea.

    There are a few ways to take what you say here about Watson’s (and it would seem your) point, but I feel the bolded portion allows me to make an inference about whether EP was a major topic of the debate.

    If the talk wasn’t at least partially about evolutionary psychology as field, but instead about some other pseudoscience that has evolution in the name that Watson said she was specifically trying to bash as she put up her slide entitled “evolutionary psychology”, then Watson might need to work on her presentation skills, as that’s awfully confusing. Maybe there’s some giant misunderstanding here, but, I have to admit, I’m not seeing it…

    As for the XZY portion, I’m unsure whether you’re trying to imply that (a) women haven’t evolved to do anything in particular, (b) men and women have taken identical evolutionary trajectories, or that (c) sometimes hypotheses about those trajectories are wrong and/or misrepresented (such as by people in the media, you, or Watson). I’m fine with the latter critique, so long as it comes with the understanding that because a specific hypothesis might be to be wrong – or incomplete – it’s not damning of an entire field or other researchers within that field to the point that it warrants the label “pseudoscience”.

    To make this more clear for you, the “scientific” is the authority, and the “sexism” is the discrimination. Thus, “scientific sexism” is discrimination that claims to come from a place of epistemic authority. Without the authority, it is a very different thing.

    It seems we might almost be in agreement, then. Sexism is sexism regardless of the source (or lack thereof) used to justify it. Sexism does not become a new kind of sexism because the person expressing a sexist attitude uses a good paper, a bad paper, no paper, or some other source (such as a holy text or a personal experience) to justify it. I would think sexism should be sexism regardless of the identity of the person expressing it or the reason one is expressing it. The reason is a separate matter entirely.

    This does come with the warning that one needs to be wary of denying results of actual science because of a perceived sexist intent. Whether the person conducting a study is the most of the least sexist person in the world, their results and their methods ought to be evaluated independently of that. (If their bias affected their methodology, that would fall under the methods evaluation as well.) This is a very real concern, given that the results of research do tend to matter when people are evaluating it

    It doesn’t take much digging to find the same person complaining about samples in one instance and not in other. This was the case, for instance, when Amanda Marcotte was criticizing work on hand-grip strength over the menstrual cycle in response to a rape scenario (a sample size of about 230, if I remember correctly, drawn from an undergraduate population), but later praised a study that found no difference in the ability of men and women to draw funny captions to cartoons (a sample size of about 20, again drawn from an undergraduate population). Another example of this can be found here: http://www.epjournal.net/blog/2011/12/pz-myers-clarifies-criteria-for-distinguishing-genuine-hypotheses-from-%E2%80%9Cjust-so-stories%E2%80%9D/

    Is it just gender studies we complain about? Is that the only place we’ve paid attention to this concept?…Does this all happen at the same rate? Probably not. That doesn’t, however, justify an inference that the objections are only politically motivated.

    I did not say gender was the only area where these concerns were raised; I was very careful to not make that claim because, well, it’s false, so I’m not sure why you bothered with the first point. My point was that, proportionally, it seems to draw more than its fair share (given that these possible methodological issue are ubiquitous throughout the whole of psychological research). On that point, we seem to agree. Without positing any specific reasons, we can agree that these concerns are driven by something beyond methodological concerns. Figuring out precisely what that something is would be a very interesting question. Here’s one of the only papers I know that began to examine the issue: http://www.evostudies.org/pdf/GeherVol2Iss1.pdf. While this paper is by no means the final word on the subject, I think it’s a useful first step into the debate.

    Hemming and hawing over it now just looks evasive.

    I agree, but perhaps not in the way you intended. I can’t begin to evade whatever criticisms you have in mind if you don’t first tell me what they are. I already posted two responses to common criticisms; you evidently don’t seem to think they’re enough. That’s fine, but you are mum on the subject of which important criticisms you don’t feel are addressed (or which criticisms weren’t addressed to your satisfaction) and why you feel those criticisms are valid ones. Once I know what criticisms you have in mind, I’ll do my best to address them.

  132. says

    No. I have dragged you this far, meeting hyperbole, irrelevance, insinuation, and attempted reputation trashing with logic and evidence. I have no interest in putting up with more in order to drag you any further.

    We’re done. Go away.

  133. says

    Fairly impressive, jessemarczyk, that you’ve drawn so many inferences to make your case, then conceded on every point made contra them, and still you sneer about there being nothing in Stephanie’s mind. I realize you’re banned now, but I just want to applaud your effort at judo here. Using your own weaknesses against Stephanie, projecting them onto her… that’s talent.

  134. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Jason 155:

    “still you sneer about there being nothing in Stephanie’s mind.”

    I have to admit I stumbled upon this too, but it seemed to be too outlandish to be meant that way. Of course he was casting doubt on the alleged valid points of criticisms that Stephanie apparently has in mind. It looks to me as if she hemmed and hawed instead of providing an example.

  135. says

    Seriously? In all the posts I’ve written on this, you can’t find an example of a criticism I’ve made either?

    ^^ This, by the way, is pointing and laughing, not hemming an hawing.

  136. Sceptical Sceptic says

    Sorry, it took me a while to notice that:

    “It’s a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism.”

    Where does this introduction mentions “pop-evopsych” or “tabloids and science reporting” in any shape or form?

  137. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stephanie 159:

    You do not find the quoted sentence anywhere else on this page?

    I’m puzzled. Some web mishap? What is the third sentence of your piece in your version?

  138. says

    Not searchable in the browser I’m currently using apparently. Sorry about that. Now, what do you mean by “this introduction”, and why are the phrases you’re searching for in quotes?

  139. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stephanie 161:

    They are in quotes to mark them as phrases, nothing more. So what about it, is your summary giving the impression that Watson was talking about pop-evopsych or media’s fuckups then reporting about evopsych?

  140. says

    I say, “of sorts”, because most of what Clint is upset about has nothing to do with the talk. You’ve watched it by now, right? You’ve seen the title: How Girls Evolved to Shop and other ways to insult women with “science”. You’ve seen all the newspaper headlines. You’ve seen the book covers.

    You understand, presumably, that this talk was about the industry of pop psychology, which sells us reassurance that our world, in which gender roles are continually enforced, is just a consequence of natural differences between the sexes. Rebecca targeted both a credulous, sensationalist press and the methodologically weak science that produces the results used by that press.

    Once again, this points to the fact that this is a speech about popular psychology. I happen to disagree about the “boring” part, but she’s dead right about the fact that evolutionary psychology in the popular media is appalling.

    And he presents it without, apparently, stopping to consider that using that “study” makes sense if Rebecca’s thesis is something else entirely, say, something relating to the title of her talk. (He also calls sticking to that topic “cherry picking”.) You know, something about science-in-scare-quotes being used to insult women.

  141. Sceptical Sceptic says

    Yeah, we’ve seen those. Nonetheless, your very first description of Watson’s talk contains no reference specifically to the popular part of evopsych, and no reference to the media’s role in (mis-) representing evopsych or science in general. In effect, it describes exactly what Clint writes about.

    Now, you not only write in your piece and in comments that Watson’s talk is about pop/media, you seem to be surprised that Clint or anyone else gets the idea at all that this would be about evopsych in general. To reiterate (my emphasis):

    It’s a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism. [...] To Ed Clint, however, that talk is denying the legitimacy of the entire field of evolutionary psychology. [...] Where does Clint get this idea?

    Maybe he got it from your summary? Do you think your summary is clearly (or at all) transporting the information that the talk is about pop/media? (In case you wonder about my motives again: I think it does not, and I think the contradiction is evident, but I would like to hear your take on it.)

  142. says

    Oh, I see. If I don’t refer to pop or media in every sentence, then in that sentence I’m talking about something other than what I’m talking about when I specifically make that case. Fascinating.

    How does that work?

  143. Sceptical Sceptic says

    It is obviously not just any old sentence, but your initial description of Watson’s talk, your summary, your headline.

  144. says

    If only we had a word for that practice of digging an utterance out of its context and insisting that its meaning be derived from it alone. “Utterance-digging” is too clunky though. “Statement-excavation”? Meh.

    Oh, well. I’m sure someone will come up with something eventually.

  145. Sceptical Sceptic says

    What is the context that I missed? Please tell us, because I have no idea what you could be referring to.

    Let’s have a closer look at the context:

    Have you seen Rebecca Watson’s Skepticon talk yet? You should. It’s a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism. Just a word of warning, though, that Rebecca* repeats some ugly arguments about things like rape and sexual harassment. She’s using a good deal of sarcasm, but when you’ve heard enough of them, sometimes you’ve just heard enough.

    Where is that context that changes the intention of your short description of Watson’s talk?

  146. says

    Oh, gee, golly. Wherever does that sentence appear. Where might you find nearly 2,000 words of context, some of which have been quoted to you when you started trying to play stupid word games?

    Are you dumb or dishonest?

  147. Sceptical Sceptic says

    You are ignoring a lot of what I say. This is not just any sentence, it’s your description of Watson’s talk. Yes, I’m aware that you contradict this sentence later on, that’s my fucking point. Your introduction to Watson’s talk is, if we take your later statements at face value, puzzingly wrong (“Where does Clint get this idea?”).

    There is no context to change the meaning of your one-sentence description of Watson’s talk.

    What is your case here, is the one-sentence description accurate or not? If it is, why did you not mention pop or media? If it is not, was it your intention to mislead the reader, or is possible to understand Watson’s talk to be about (non pop-) evopsych?

    Finally, drop the insults, they are not helping.

  148. says

    Oh, no. The insults help. They simply aren’t intended to help you.

    There is no contradiction. There is elaboration. That you see contradiction is by virtue of the fact that you’re projecting what you want to see on a deliberately vague sentence. That you cling to that one sentence is by virtue of the fact that it allows you to keep thinking what you already want to think, while the rest of the post does not.

    Take the whole post in. The cognitive dissonance may be painful for a little bit, but not as painful as watching you struggle against it.

  149. Sceptical Sceptic says

    Bullshit. This is elaboration out of a Marx brothers movie. Why would you start with a description that, by itself would be wrong?

    [Rebecca Watson's talk is] a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism.

    No immediate context to change its meaning (but you dropped that point anyway), and not only wrong (according to your later statements) but wrong in exactly the way Clint puzzingly assumes for his piece on Watson’s talk. Just to allow for later elaboration?

  150. Sceptical Sceptic says

    (Funny that you mention cognitive dissonance. Not searchable in the browser you are using? Srsly?)

  151. says

    What about it is wrong?

    It isn’t long. Whether it is entertaining is a matter of opinion. It doesn’t comprehensively cover the bad science you can find within evo psych. She looks at studies and statements from evo psych researchers. The studies she covers and the statements about them are not good science. And the topic around which all of this happens is gender essentialism.

    So where is the wrong aside from in your head?

  152. says

    (Funny that you mention cognitive dissonance. Not searchable in the browser you are using? Srsly?)

    If you want to persuade my employer to allow me to use a modern browser so I can argue on the internet during my breaks, feel free to try. If you think I lie, go the fuck away. There’s no point in you trying to have a conversation with a liar.

  153. says

    Hey, I like this one. Pretty good summary.

    There is no contradiction. There is elaboration. That you see contradiction is by virtue of the fact that you’re projecting what you want to see on a deliberately vague sentence. That you cling to that one sentence is by virtue of the fact that it allows you to keep thinking what you already want to think, while the rest of the post does not.

    Take the whole post in. The cognitive dissonance may be painful for a little bit, but not as painful as watching you struggle against it.

    Sceptical Sceptic, if you really want to do skepticism well then learning some better reading comprehension will really help out a lot. You do seem amazingly fixated on taking one sentence out of context to prove your prior expectation. It’s hard for me, someone who was there for the talk, to see how you can get out of it what you say you do without intending to misrepresent Rebecca’s point.

  154. Sceptical Sceptic says

    What about it is wrong?

    What is it in that sentence? Watson’s talk? Why starting a general discussion of it at this point?

    Jus to clarify the obvious: The “wrong”s in my #173 (all three of them) are meant from your point of view, to point out the contradiction between your one-sentence description and your later statements. I think you absolutely nailed it with that description.

    If you think I lie, go the fuck away. There’s no point in you trying to have a conversation with a liar.

    I don’t think that you lie, only that you suffer from a bad case of confirmation bias.

  155. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @John-Henry 177:

    You do seem amazingly fixated on taking one sentence out of context to prove your prior expectation.

    Bullshit. Again, please tell us in what way the context changes the meaning of Stephanie’s one-sentence description of Watson’s talk. For your convenience:

    Have you seen Rebecca Watson’s Skepticon talk yet? You should. It’s a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism. Just a word of warning, though, that Rebecca* repeats some ugly arguments about things like rape and sexual harassment. She’s using a good deal of sarcasm, but when you’ve heard enough of them, sometimes you’ve just heard enough.

    It’s hard for me, someone who was there for the talk, to see how you can get out of it what you say you do without intending to misrepresent Rebecca’s point.

    It’s hard for me as someone who has seen the video more than once that the personal experience can be so much different. You couldn’t always see the slides on the video, is this the reason?

    (BTW, nice one. Of course I’m not only wrong, but puzzingly wrong (we covered that), and now intentionally misleading. Yeah, so much easier to push away the cognitive dissonance if you assume that THEY are out to GET YOU!!!)

  156. says

    Sceptical Sceptic, Rebecca did exactly what I said in that sentence. She did exactly what I said in the rest of the post (the context you keep trying to pretend we’re not referring to). They are not contradictory, and they are not what Ed Clint said she did.

    Clint said she denied an entire branch of science, remember? That was what the whole “denialism” thing was premised upon.

    She did not. She criticized reporters, authors, studies, researchers, assumptions, and practices, and rightfully so. Do you think pointing to me saying she did so is some sort of smoking gun? I ask because there has been an immense amount of argument, much of it right here where you can see it, over whether she did what I said or what Clint said because they are not the same thing.

    You have two ways to try to argue out of this. Either you make a case that sentence you’re treating like a security blanket is inconsistent with the rest of my post, or you make a case that my whole post is saying the same thing Clint is saying and everyone is being silly to argue over the differences. You’ve done neither. You’ve just kept suggesting we only look at one sentence or paragraph, which is still quote-mining.

    Try actually making an argument.

  157. says

    Shorter Sceptical Sceptic: if you don’t include your thesis and conclusion in every sentence, then I’m allowed to pull a single sentence from a post of 1500+ words and fixate on it, and resort to mind-reading to fill in the missing context.

    It’s kinda nice that that my pointing this flaw out makes me more sceptical than Sceptical Sceptic. Can I change my name to Scepticaler Sceptical Sceptic of Scepticism (With Helmet of +3 Sceptitude)?

  158. says

    Well, Jason, Sceptical Sceptic does think that plugging a word from a comment into a search box and not having one of the sentences in the post that contains that word come up in the results is somehow cognitive dissonance. I think that already gives you a head start. Just use the proper American spelling, though, please.

  159. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Stephanie 180:

    What is your point here, that the one-sentence summary is not meant to be a one-sentence summary? What else then?

    Have you seen Rebecca Watson’s Skepticon talk yet? You should. It’s a brief, entertaining look into some of the ways evolutionary psychologists abuse science when it comes to gender essentialism.

    I don’t want to bring up the whole talk again, but you guys have great skillz in phasing out during parts of the talk, esp. he parts where she talks about evopsych in general. Remember that my immediate topic is not her talk, and not even Clint’s reply, but the one-sided way it’s discussed here.

    Either you make a case that sentence you’re treating like a security blanket is inconsistent with the rest of my post

    Oh, it’s logically consistent alright. It also leaves out exactly the points you stress during the rest of your piece, pop and media. Why?

  160. Sceptical Sceptic says

    @Jason 181:

    I think I made quite clear where I see the contradiction. Try to keep up, and stop setting up straw man. In a pinch, ask me instead of making stuff up.

    signed,
    Scepticaler Sceptreme Sceptical Sceptic of Scepchurch of Scepticism (With shield of +5 Sceptitude)

  161. says

    What is your point here, that the one-sentence summary is not meant to be a one-sentence summary? What else then?

    My point is, as it has been, as I have told you, that this is a vague statement onto which you are projecting your own desires. If you think it is inconsistent with the rest of the post, as I have told you, make that case.

    I don’t want to bring up the whole talk again, but you guys have great skillz in phasing out during parts of the talk, esp. he parts where she talks about evopsych in general. Remember that my immediate topic is not her talk, and not even Clint’s reply, but the one-sided way it’s discussed here.

    Actually, I transcribed parts of the talk that Clint specifically talks about. You know, all that stuff with time stamps on it? That’s not exactly restricting the information given.

    It also leaves out exactly the points you stress during the rest of your piece, pop and media. Why?

    Because it is presented before the video. I consider it more intellectually honest not to try to prime people to see particular parts of a whole when those parts are important to my argument.

  162. Stacy says

    It’s kinda nice that that my pointing this flaw out makes me more sceptical than Sceptical Sceptic. Can I change my name to Scepticaler Sceptical Sceptic of Scepticism (With Helmet of +3 Sceptitude)?

    Now with extra added crunchy sceptical goodness!

  163. says

    Bobbling a Ctrl-F is “cognitive dissonance”, avoiding priming an audience is “leaving things out” despite making exactly the case later in the post, and latching onto a single sentence near the top of an argument as proof that the rest of the argument isn’t what it’s about is scepticism. Oh, and my suggesting that making shit up about a sentence without context (which context is the rest of the very same post) is mind-reading, is a straw-man.

    Thankfully I’m a skeptic. This UK-spelling brand of scepticism leaves much to be desired.

  164. Ben Snyder says

    @Stephanie Zvan,

    I have listened to the interview more than once, and she makes no distinctions within the field of evolutionary psychology. Rather, she openly states that she is attacking it as a whole. I’ll quote your transcription to point it out:

    “Technicolor: You have been talking about evolutionary psychology and the problems with this. So maybe you can summarize a little bit what you have been talking about.

    Rebecca: Yeah. Basically I used my talk as an opportunity to slam evolutionary psychology for half an hour, [laughs] cause– [1]”

    “R: Yeah. “Men evolved to rape.” Uh, yeah. I mean, the thing is, once you look past the headlines and actually look at the studies, what you see over and over and over again is pseudoscience being passed off as science. [2] You know, they have tons of assumptions that they don’t support with the evidence, and they make up Just-So stories that seem to fit the facts. And it only ends up reinforcing stereotypes, which does harm to all of us.

    T: Can you tell us a little bit more about evolutionary psychology, what the field actually is?

    R: Yeah. Well, evolutionary psychology is the idea that humans evolved during the Pleistocene epoch, which we did. But also that our brains evolved, which they did. But that our brains stopped evolving then, so that we currently have Pleistocene brains inside modern bodies. And they…. This isn’t necessarily supported by any evidence, but what they do is look to our Pleistocene ancestors in order to explain present-day behaviors. [3] And what I and a lot of scientists find is that those behaviors are often better explained by certain cultural influences and not as something that’s necessarily innate in the brain or in the genes.”

    “T: You think there are any evolutionary psychology findings that are actually supported by science?

    R: I’m sure there are. I’m sure that there are–there must be–evolutionary psychologists out there who are very careful with their work and who don’t make large pronouncements like one I mentioned in my talk: “This proves conclusively that men value sex and women don’t.” You know, something like along those lines. I’m sure there are researchers who come to a conclusion more like “It’s inconclusive whether such and such occurred.” There may even be people who are actually searching out biological evidence for the idea that our behaviors are evolved from the Pleistocene, but, you know, they’re not the ones who are making the headlines because that’s not what the mainstream media wants. [6] And they’re not even the ones who are making the headlines in publications like Psychology Today, for instance, where we saw things like why black women are rated as less attractive than white women, why black women basically evolved to be less attractive. I mean just pure racist claptrap in Psychology Today. [7] You know, these are the stories that get thrown[?]. These are the ones we need to stand up and rebut. [8]”

    And I’ve read your notes at the end and find them to be unconvincing.

  165. Pieter B, FCD says

    Ben:

    Please inform those of us still reading how your statement

    she makes no distinctions within the field of evolutionary psychology

    jibes with

    I’m sure that there are–there must be–evolutionary psychologists out there who are very careful with their work and who don’t make large pronouncements like one I mentioned in my talk: “This proves conclusively that men value sex and women don’t.” You know, something like along those lines. I’m sure there are researchers who come to a conclusion more likeIt’s inconclusive whether such and such occurred.” There may even be people who are actually searching out biological evidence for the idea that our behaviors are evolved from the Pleistocene, but, you know, they’re not the ones who are making the headlines because that’s not what the mainstream media wants.

  166. Brad Peters says

    I don’t understand why so many people are trying to make distinctions about whether Rebecca is critiquing EP as a whole, or only some part of it… as though critiquing the whole field would be blasphemous.
    There are a lot of people who seem to forget how science works. Scientific evidence is always interpreted and justified by theories which are in turn built on rational or philosophical arguments. In order to be a scientific theory, EP must be committed to certain theoretical assumptions, which hold it accountable and allow it to be falsifiable. It does not help to say, “I consider EP to be more general in scope, involving a holistic view of human nature from an evolutionary perspective.” If that were true, then we might say that behaviorism is also a form of EP. In short, it makes EP seem vague and elusive, which is not good for any scientific theory.

    No one denies that the mind was shaped by evolution – psychologists argue about WHAT IT WAS that nature selected. EP argues that nature selected domain-specific information-processing mechanisms that were designed to solve specific evolutionary problems of our Pleistocene past. This is not a fact, it is a proposition, and as such it is possible to critique it. EP is NOT the only way to look at human behavior from an ‘evolutionary perspective.’ If readers are curious about some of the more serious criticisms against this field, I would encourage them to check out my own critique of evolutionary psychology.

    A slightly revised version has been accepted for publication in the journal Theory and Psychology.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The thrust of their criticism (in addition to some small errors Watson made and has acknowledged) is that Watson’s critique was over-broad, focused on the whole of evolutionary psychology [...]

  2. [...] confusion. In these areas, she dropped the ball and didn’t write as responsibly as she might. Her response – to acknowledge the errors and say she’ll fix them in an upcoming talk – seems [...]

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