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Dec 05 2012

Once You Look Past the Headlines

If you read blog comments or follow discussions on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know by now that a few people are relatively desperate for everyone to know about this interview that Rebecca Watson did with Swedish Skepchick back when she was in Europe for the Berlin World Skeptics Congress. There are various parts of it they would like you to pay attention to, but, well, we’ve already discussed priming once this go ’round.

Still, since this is apparently now an important interview, it will be good if everyone has full access to the whole thing. In order to facilitate that, and to keep the utility of quote mining to a minimum, I’ve produced a transcript.

You will find the occasional [?], which indicates this is my best guess at what was said. You will also find the occasional number in brackets. That refers to text that follows the transcript. However, I still suggest you read the entire thing (or listen to the full interview) before reading any of my take on things.

[Interview begins with about a minute of introduction and joking about minions needing to bring Rebecca drinks.]

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]

T: Good thing. [?]

R: Yeah, well, it’s been building up for a while. I just get so tired of seeing. “Women evolved to shop”, “Women evolved to like the color pink”, “Women evolved to be terrible at math and logic.”

T: Oh, yeah. And “Men are evolved to rape”.

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: Also, it seems that they are basically guessing a lot.

R: Yeah, a lot of it does seem to be. Like one of the examples I give in my talk is this “women evolved to shop” idea, in which a researcher says that women gathered while men hunted, so shopping is like gathering and visiting cultural institutions is like hunting. And so he relates all those things together without actually giving any more thought or evidence.

T: I have a hard time seeing why visiting cultural things is hunting?

R: Yeah. Yeah. And why, you know, in English, we use phrases like “bargain hunting” to explain shopping, so why can’t shopping be related to hunting? Why doesn’t this explain why men evolved to shop? And add on top of that the fact that scientists just don’t know what we were up to during the Pleistocene. You know, we have no fossilized brains, for starters, and it’s very difficult to piece together what a culture looked like that long ago. So what a lot of researchers do is they look to current-day, hunter-gatherer cultures. However, a lot of evolutionary psychologists pick and choose what they learn from those cultures. For instance, the assumption that women were gatherers and men were hunters. That’s not necessarily borne out by what we see in a lot of hunter-gatherer cultures. A lot of them have the women doing a fair amount of hunting and the men helping gathering, but this is conveniently ignored by evo psych. And I’ll also mention that there are a lot of researchers who think that we can’t even look at current-day hunter-gatherer cultures because they’ve been so influenced by agrarian cultures that they’re no longer an accurate portrayal of what was happening in the Pleistocene. [4]

T: Why do you think there is such a need to interpret these…made-up findings, I guess you can say, to support that women are this and that? Because it seems like it’s a very common theme in evolutionary psychology.

R: It’s women and it’s minorities. There are also a lot of “People of color have lower IQ”, “Africans have lower IQ, and that’s how they evolved”. You know, there’s a lot of pseudoscience about them as well, and I do think it’s a product of our culture, our culture which…. I think there are people who hold misogynist, racist, bigoted ideas, but they value science, and so they will seek out what they consider science in order to support their prejudice. And it’s been happening since the beginning of time. I mentioned during my Q&A that evolutionary psychology is not a new thing. It’s becoming more and more popular in the last few years, but it’s actually evolved from other things, like Social Darwinism, which, you know, got into a lot of trouble over eugenics and things like that. You know, so they change names and they slightly change their viewpoints. So, it’s not a new thing, and I do think it’s a result of people simply trying to use science to call their prejudice natural. [5]

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]

[Interview ends with general talk about Skepchick.]

Now for my takes:

[1] Despite the laughter, this has been pointed to as evidence that Rebecca was looking to bash the entire field of evolutionary psychology. Me? I think the laughter makes it impossible to tell which part of this she meant seriously, if any.

[2] I consider this a pretty clear indication that the science behind the media portrayals is Rebecca’s topic.

[3] This is the first of the descriptions that Ed Clint calls “misleading”. His rebuttal, however, is more along the lines of, “Well, basically yes, but here’s why.”

[4] This is the fifth of Ed’s point, labeled (if I’m reading the colors correctly) as “false” based on the claim that evolutionary psychologists “only lean heavily on non-controversial facts about the past”. This, of course, is a claim that can be falsified by a single controversial claim from an evolutionary psychologist about the past.

[5] There are two ways to read this. The first is that Rebecca is claiming that evolutionary psychology makes claims about minorities and is a scientific descendent of Social Darwinism. This would mean that Rebecca has come completely adrift from reality. The second is that Rebecca is talking about the cultural role that evolutionary psychology is playing, in response to a question to that effect, and is saying that the motivated research involved is a cultural descendent of Social Darwinism. That would mean she’s answering the question, but not being nearly as clear as she could be. Which is more likely?

[6] This is a significantly clearer answer to the question than she gave in her Q&A at Skepticon. It is also a good description of being appropriately cautious in describing results and points out a real weakness of evolutionary psychology as a whole. Some of this research is indeed being done, but far too much relies on survey data.

[7] This was actually a post in the Psychology Today blog network, where Kanazawa has a blog. It was taken down quite some time ago, however, and there are multiple sources that refer to it as a Psychology Today article or column. Some confusion is understandable.

[8] That’s a very good description of what many of us took from Rebecca’s talk at Skepticon.

43 comments

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  1. 1
    doubtthat

    For the record, let’s compare these two thing–

    1) Rebecca’s definition of EP:

    Well, evolutionary psychology is the idea that humans evolved during the Pleistocene epic, 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.

    2) PLOS Biology’s peer reviewed description of EP:

    According to the Santa Barbara school of Evolutionary Psychology (EP), human minds are organized into a large number of evolved psychological mechanisms—psychological adaptations designed to solve recurrent problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors [30]. These evolutionary psychologists attempt to provide criteria for “carving the mind at its natural joints” [104], generally by reverse-engineering from an observable phenomenon to its proposed function.

    The PLOS paper essentially describes traditional, standard versions of EP in the exact terms Rebecca does. It does point out, however, that there are proponents of EP who have taken criticisms of the field’s traditional bullshittiness seriously and improved.

    So, Rebecca was not only using EP in its popular sense, she was using it in its traditional academic understanding. Ed Clint was the one using a less standard model. A model, ironically, that agrees with all of Rebecca’s criticisms and uses that knowledge to improve the discipline.

  2. 2
    Dunc

    Under Pleistocene conditions, it seems highly likely that the ability of a female to successfully conceive, gestate, and wean a child would be constrained by the availability of food and the amount of excess body fat she is able to build up. Therefore, males should have evolved to be more attracted to females with significant fat reserves.

    Why have I never seen this argument made by EP supporters?

  3. 3
    noelplum99

    Thanks for the link and the run through, will be interesting to listen to another version of Rebecca’s take on this.

    There is the bedevilled part of me that wants to take PZ’s ‘Ed Clint is only doing this because he dislikes Rebecca Watson’ and reformulate it into ‘Rebecca Watson is only doing this because she dislikes Richard Dawkins’ but i am trying to keep the mud no higher than knee level for as long as i can (and, despite popular rumour, i try not to say things i don’t actually believe) :)

    Jim

  4. 4
    LeftSidePositive

    What the everloving fuck?! Where exactly are you getting the “Rebecca’s only doing this because she dislikes Richard Dawkins” line? What the fuck is that even supposed to mean? You are aware, are you not, that Rebecca has been tackling sexism in the skeptic movement LONG before Dawkins chose to belittle her with “Dear Muslima,” right? As one example, I refer you to her talk on “Women’s Intuition and Other Fairy Tales,” delivered on April 15th, 2011, which is in fact BEFORE Elevatorgate or before she had any reason to object to Dawkins’s behavior. You are aware, are you not, that misuse of EvoPsych is a huge problem for women in the skeptic movement–including men on these very comment threads who insist that the reason that women aren’t involved in the skeptic movement has nothing to do with sexism, and is just because women are naturally less rational? Saying that those who are speaking up against prejudice and misinformation are “just doing it because they dislike” someone is a shameful trivializing tactic that ignores the legitimate need that people have to combat prejudice to improve their lives.

    Oh, and fuck your dishonest, passive-aggressive “I’m just referring to how I could bring this up but I’m totally not actually bringing this up because I value high-minded discourse THAT MUCH.” Fuck you, you lying, smarmy, self-satisfied shitstain. And what I just said is a hell of a lot more supportive of productive, honest discourse than your faux-polite shit.

  5. 5
    jose

    I find literally nothing outlandish with what Watson said about EP. It’s all very standard criticism, old news indeed for people interested in this sort of thing. I don’t believe Ed Clint hasn’t heard these arguments before. If he hasn’t, he should google them and learn what is the actual reputation of evolutionary psychology within science.

    Let me add an additional problem that Watson did not mention: exaggerated conclusions incorrectly inferred from poor, unrepresentative samples of the kind described here (pdf) are way too frequent. We see it over and over: a study makes a wild claim about an inherent characteristic of human nature; we check the study and it consists of a poll filled out by the students of the psychology course. Seriously? There are just too many examples of this. *10 seconds googling* here. Let’s forget for a second the failure of that study to prove that there is anything evolutionary about their findings at all -culture is not mentioned once- and focus on the sampling.

    Overall I agree with Frans de Waal: evolutionary psychology is inevitable, the same way evolutionary anatomy and medicine and physiology are inevitable; but evolutionary psychologists need to change the way they do things to match up to the rest of the biological sciences, and they need to revise some of their foundational principles (that’s for the journals and their editors). The discipline, as a discipline, needs an overhaul, in order to become “more enlightened”, as he concluded.

    What definitely doesn’t help the enlightenment of the discipline is to dismiss criticism of the bad science as denialism. None of this is controversial or new in terms of the decades-old debate over EP. Again, these arguments have been around for years. That de Waal essay is ten years old.

  6. 6
    noelplum99

    LeftSidePositive @4
    If i corrected the errors in your response to me the first thing i would do would be to highlight your entire response and hit ‘delete’.

    I will go through my comment this time in slow time (the speed your mind presumably is ticking over at)

    1) Ed Clint, apparently, does not like Rebecca Watson very much and has criticised her.
    2) PZ Myers made a tweet (I follow him on twitter and read it) implying that Ed Clints response, despite the fact it dealt with the substance of Rebecca’s talk, was more a product of Ed’s dislike for RW than of something more substantial (like a guy defending his field of study perhaps?)
    3) Rebecca Watson, apparently, does not like Richard dawkins very much and has criticised him.
    4) Richard Dawkins has been, and still is, a firm and vocal proponent of evolutionary psychology.
    5) Rebecca Watson made a speech criticising evolutionary psychology

    So if it is reasonable to ignore the content of Ed’s blog and instead wave it away on the grounds that he is probably only writing it on the grounds he dislikes Rebecca, how is it any less unfair to overlook Rebecca’s speech in the first place on the grounds she doesn’t like one of evo-psych’s most famous advocates (actually, probably the most famous advocate, unless you can think of a more famous one?)

    Unfortunately, for reasons i will probably never fathom, you took it that I seemingly thought the ‘Rebecca is only doing this because she hates RD’ line as a serious suggestion, as opposed to demonstrating just how gratuitously and unreasonably dismissive PZ Myer’s tweet dismissal was, in this instance.

    Saying that those who are speaking up against prejudice and misinformation are “just doing it because they dislike” someone is a shameful trivializing tactic that ignores the legitimate need that people have to combat prejudice to improve their lives.

    I agree, that was along the lines of the point I was trying to make. Could i ask you to make this impassioned case to Myers? He obviously feels differently.

    Oh, and fuck your dishonest, passive-aggressive “I’m just referring to how I could bring this up but I’m totally not actually bringing this up because I value high-minded discourse THAT MUCH.” Fuck you, you lying, smarmy, self-satisfied shitstain. And what I just said is a hell of a lot more supportive of productive, honest discourse than your faux-polite shit.

    Hahaha. Awesome stuff!!

    jim

  7. 7
    LeftSidePositive

    Jim–you are a miserable filthy liar. We HAVE NOT ignored the substance of Ed’s criticism. Stephanie has discussed it in detail here and showed why his central criticisms were lacking and were grossly out of proportion to the pushback others get when they make very similar criticisms, and PZ referred to Stephanie’s detailed answers while he was on a time crunch, and is now going into the issues in more detail in a series on EvoPsych. Furthermore, Stephanie has ably demonstrated the manner in which Rebecca was targeted and how people specifically recruited Ed based on their dislike of Rebecca before they’d even heard the talk, and how Ed was all too happy to oblige the Rebecca-haters (before he’d even heard the talk). Moreover, PZ quite rightly argued that Ed’s self-serving post-a-picture-of-me-and-Rebecca-to-show-we’re-totes-friends! is pretty disingenuous and is more personal posturing than content-based criticism. In light of how blatant Ed was in overstating his case against Rebecca–and even going off the deep end to claim “science denialism” by willfully misinterpreting the nature of her talk, and the documentation of how this “critique” came about in terms of many “skeptics’” personal animus toward Rebecca, PZ’s comment was entirely justified. Yours, on the other hand, you pulled out of your ass as a pathetic Tu Quoque. You’re not fooling anyone with that shit around here.

  8. 8
    Stephanie Zvan

    Actually, Jim, PZ has repeatedly said that he would get to the science portions of Clint’s post when he had time to do them justice. Trying to derive meaning from the fact that so far he has only tweeted (and blogged) about Clint’s behavior is pointless. You can stop now.

  9. 9
    jose

    Excuse me, are you guys 6?

  10. 10
    Ben Zvan

    “You know, these are the stories that get thrown[?]” Probably “shown”

  11. 11
    julian

    Ed was all too happy to oblige the Rebecca-haters (before he’d even heard the talk).

    I don’t think that’s fair. Clint said he would have to look at it first He only came out with the inflammatory language after listening to the talk.

  12. 12
    LeftSidePositive

    …and you’re trying to tell me that the enthusiasm of this SkepticInk writer had nothing to do with a prior distrust of Rebecca or any influence from the company he keeps, and that he was going into this talk completely unbiased and with no strong incentive to trash it from the people who asked him to do the talk? Yeah…and I’ve got a bridge to sell you!

  13. 13
    julian

    Broke so you can keeo your bridge, LeftSidePositive. I don’t know Clint other than this piece. He seems obnoxious and deliberately inflammatory. I don’t know what, if anything, he’d have against Watson as I don’t know him, his politics or anything else. So yeah, I’m not going to play fill in the blanks.

  14. 14
    birdterrifier

    @2 Anthropology/Paleo-Archaeology does that for evo-psychs. Have you ever seen the Venus figurine? It’s a depiction of a woman from the woman’s perspective and she is quite plump. I think that we can infer that this was an exaggeration as modern hunter-gather societies are not as plump as the Venus figurine but the body does seem desirous since they can be found all over Eurasia. Women do have more fat reserves than men in general even today so I’m not sure why EP would need to address this as men expect women to have more fat than themselves.

    The recent trend for American men to find skinnier women more attractive is a relatively recent phenomenon and I predict this to swing back the other way as cultural norms change seeing as how the long arc of history/pre-history expect women to be more plump.

    Also, I think that you are expecting these ancient cultures to not have good sources for nutrition but you must remember that human populations lived in far smaller groups because of this constraint. It’s only recently once we were able to control our nutrition resources did we create massive populations (the domestication of most crops dates back to as far as 10KYA but humanity’s switch to agriculture is far closer to 5KYA (in Mesopotamia and around 2,500KYA in MesoAmerica). This change in our subsistence pattern changed our cultures and daily lives and it happened extremely rapidly compared to the evolutionary timeline of our hominid history/pre-history. This rapid change is part of the reason why EPs believe that our brains didn’t evolve as fast as our culture did and possibly we have “Pleistocene brains” or whatever. Does Watson know that the Pleistocene ended 11,700KYA? That’s not a lot of time for evolution of major organs, or is it?

  15. 15
    birdterrifier

    The reproductive cycle for women in hunter-gatherer societies is really quite fascinating. These women actually have a natural form of birth control (not as reliable as modern BC, of course) and I can explain how this works. First of all, menarche occurs at the age of 16.1 on average which is a long time past many agricultural societies because better nutrition speeds up this process(this helps explain population booms). The average first birth occurs at age 19.5 and the women suckle their children for 2.9 years. The mother’s milk is the main source of nutrition for the child for 2 years and this constant process “is sufficient to stop ovulation for 24 to 30 months” and then the process starts all over again. All of this means that women do not have near as many cycles as U.S. women, for instance. U.S. women go through 450 cycles on average if they live past menopause and H-G women go through 160 cycles and the most important finding is that H-G women have nearly no history of reproductive cancers when compared to U.S. women. This seems like an example of how hour bodies can’t adapt as quickly as our culture and we should address this.

  16. 16
  17. 17
    doubtthat

    @14

    “…the body does seem desirous since they can be found all over Eurasia.”

    That type of simplistic, awesomely speculative reasoning is exactly what gives all these fields bad names.

    There are representations of chubby Buddha. Does that mean he was desired for sex? Can we infer that given their ubiquity across the most populated areas on the planet that those cultures viewed short, fat men as sex symbols?

    Maybe those early sculptures are already pregnant, telling us nothing about the pre-child bearing characteristics that were attractive. There’s literally no evidence for any of this, making any of the stories we conjure equally reasonable.

  18. 18
    Stein

    “Yeah. Well, evolutionary psychology is the idea that humans evolved during the Pleistocene epic, 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.”

    PLAIN WRONG and possibly intentionally misleading. Option A is that RW is very uninformed about Evolutionary Psychology and thus is unqualified as a critic. Option B is that RW already knew this but intentionally ignored it which makes her not worthy of trust.

    EP holds that the time passed since the Pleistocene is not enough for significative mutations to happen because it takes between 1,000 to 10,000 generations for mutations to happen and become widespread (roughly 20,000 to 100,000 years) and Pleistocene ended no more than 12,000 years ago.

    Also the evolution of a new trait requires constant ambiental pressure within that time frame. Human environment has gone through many transformations during the Holocene so none of the new environments had time enough for humans to respond with evolved adaptations.

    So it’s not that brain has stopped evolving but that time hasn’t allowed for nay significative change.

    Read the whole explanation:

    http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/human/epfaq/evpsychfaq_full.html#pleistocene

  19. 19
    Stephanie Zvan

    So what you’re saying, Stein, is that we currently have essentially Pleistocene brains inside our modern bodies? This is what people should take away?

  20. 20
    Stein

    No Stephanie, that is what Watson wanted people to take away as a principle of Evolutionary Psychology.

    Those are the kind of WRONG oversimplifications on which Watson’s critique on Evolutionary Psychology are based and which make many people see that she is rather very uninformed to be a critic or maybeeee intentionally distorting views.

    What I said is that according to the principles of evolution (which apply to EP), time has not been long enough and environment has not been constant enough for humans to develop any significative evolutive adaptation in their brains AND their bodies. This doesn’t mean that natural selection has stopped in humans or that mutations have stopped happening but that new significative and successful adaptative traits have not had enough time to develop let alone to become widespread as to say that humans have effectively evolved in 12,000 years which is the age of Holocene.

  21. 21
    birdterrifier

    Yeah, our bodies have not evolved as quickly as our culture and subsistence patterns have changed. That’s why I gave that example of the reproductive cycle for H-G women.

  22. 22
    birdterrifier

    @17 Is that all you got from that comment? Did you read anything else? Venus figurines are created from the woman’s perspective so that is unlike the Buddha figures you bring up. Women also have been selected to have more fat cells than men and when women become too skinny their fecundity drops. This is just part of the reason that plump women would be seen as very attractive. Also, don’t read my comment on a blog post and reason that these departments use simplistic arguments. If you want to learn more about how Anthropology is held to rigorous guidelines then read this code of ethics developed by the AAA: http://www.aaanet.org/coe/Code_of_Ethics.pdf

  23. 23
    Stephanie Zvan

    Stein, you should probably look up “distinction without a difference”.

  24. 24
    doubtthat

    @Stein

    Randi, million dollars, please.

    In anticipation of this line of reasoning, which was expressed in Clint’s piece (EP doesn’t say that…), I included a peer reviewed academic description of EP. It’s the first damn response.

    What is the difference between Rebecca’s description and PLOS’s?

    Now, there are contemporary practitioners of EP that have distanced themselves from the traditional formulation of EP, but there is nothing “dishonest” about using the standard, popular description of a field. The best you can say is, “Yeah, Rebecca, there were a ton of problems with EP. Now folks working in EP have taken those criticisms to heart and are trying to turn it into legitimate science. Here are some papers that express such.”

    Be mad at the bullshitters in EP, not Rebecca. She is making the EXACT same criticisms that come internally from the field itself and from academia at large.

  25. 25
    doubtthat

    @22

    You’re concluding from more fat stores + inscrutable ancient figurine = that’s what they found attractive. That is a totally unjustified leap of judgment contradicted in every way by the diversity of features deemed desirable by human societies. It’s just pure, unfounded speculation. Could it be true? Sure, but there’s just as much evidence for that as any other story we want to tell, and why do you think it’s not a figurine of an already pregnant woman?

    Consider the range of things deemed attractive in human history. Bound feet. Corset-restricted hour-glass figures. Pale skin, tan skin. Hell, just restrict yourself to contemporary groups for whom fecundity is a major issue: elongated necks, massive ear and lip implements, small breasts, big breasts, big hips, narrow hips, large eyes, brown eyes, green eyes…for every potential feature, there is some group, somewhere that values it as desirable.

    Why wouldn’t a hunter-gatherer society value women able to move quickly or help out with the hunt? It’s just a black box that allows for endless speculation. I’m not saying that speculation is useless, but tying to draw certain conclusions is silly. The history of anthropology is riddled with examples of those types of stories being proven dramatically false.

    “Venus’s are created from the women’s perspective…” What does that even mean? How do you know the figurines weren’t a reference to some Earth-type goddess, a religious icon that represented desirable sexual characteristics equally as much as chubby Buddha? What fact allows you to conclude that those little headless figurines represent attractiveness?

  26. 26
    Stein

    The problem with Rebecca’s “definition” is that it a witticism that spreads misconceptions that relate not only to Evolutionary Psichology but also to Evolution Theory:

    1. A misconception about evolutionary time. Allowing to assume that human body has sitnificatively evolved during the Holocene (12,000 years) ignoring for example the fact that Africans and Australian Aborigins are essentially identical despite being isolated for more than 40,000 years.

    2. A misconception that Evolutionary Psichology is only related to “the idea that humans evolved during the Pleistocene epic… But that our brains stopped evolving then, so that we currently have Pleistocene brains inside modern bodies.” Which is also totally false.

    “Be mad at the bullshitters in EP, not Rebecca. She is making the EXACT same criticisms that come internally from the field itself and from academia at large.”

    I doubt any serious academic will base his criticisms of EP on this kind of bullshit that Rebecca gladly spreads.

    What is supposed to support Rebecca’s credibility other than her sense of self entitlement so she will be given credit in redefining a field of scientific study?

  27. 27
    doubtthat

    @26

    You guys are like brick fucking walls. I quoted you the definition of traditional EP provided by a peer reviewed biology journal. It is indistinguishable from Rebecca’s summation. So, again, why are you targeting Rebecca? She’s up to academic standards.

    1) This is just a wild, incoherent distortion of the argument presented. The position is not that there has been “significant” evolution since the Pleistocene, it’s that (at least) a) EP proponents have absolutely no idea how much evolution has taken place, b) how much evolution to, say, the frontal lobe of the brain would change behavior, and c) whether or not our brains are sufficiently complex that we can adapt to societal change, which I hope you would agree has been somewhat significant in the last 12,000 years, in a way to simplistic origin stories totally pointless. You’re attempting to shift the burden here.

    2) You added the word “only” to make the stupid statement seem plausible. Quote me the portion of anything Rebecca said that justifies your use of the word “only.”

    Now, once again, PEER REVIEWED PROFESSIONALS IN THE RELEVANT FIELD describe EP as relying on evolution during the Pleistocene as a necessary assumption. Go back to the first post, I quoted that article. The fact that new folks in EP agree with Rebecca that such assumptions are stupid and are trying to improve their profession does not wash away the decades of stupidity, nor does it change the fact that the most visible, influential, and popular versions of EP still rely on similarly unwarranted assumptions about our past.

    You “doubt” any academic would do something that the first fucking comment under this post shows academics doing. Distinguish Rebecca’s version of EP from PLOS’s version of traditional EP. You may actually learn something from the effort.

  28. 28
    Ben Zvan

    It saddens me that people hate Rebecca enough to argue the same side of the same point as a way to discredit her.

  29. 29
    Stein

    @Ben Zvan and doubtthat

    “It is indistinguishable from Rebecca’s summation”

    No, it’s not, please stop lying.

    The PLOS definition you provided doesn’t frame Evolutionary Psychology as:

    “the idea that humans evolved during the Pleistocene epic… But that our brains stopped evolving then, so that we currently have Pleistocene brains inside modern bodies.”

    Which is how RW wants people to see Evolutionary Psychology as a way to discredit it.

    EV is not “an idea” and this idea is not even true to EP because:
    EV doesn’t hold that human brain has “stopped evolving”
    EV doesn’t hold that there are “modern” human bodies evolved from Pleistocene, as a matter of fact human bodies are almost identical now to those in Pleistocene.

    The PLOS definition you provided holds that:

    1. Human minds are organized into a large number of evolved psychological adaptations designed to solve recurrent problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

    2. Evolutionary psychologists attempt to provide criteria for “carving the mind at its natural joints”, generally by reverse-engineering from an observable phenomenon.

    I don’t see any of these elements in RW “definition”. There is no concept of Psychological Adaptation, problems, reverse engineering and observable phenomenon in RW witticism.

    Come on, she screwed up big time!

  30. 30
    Lee

    Oh, and fuck your dishonest, passive-aggressive “I’m just referring to how I could bring this up but I’m totally not actually bringing this up because I value high-minded discourse THAT MUCH.” Fuck you, you lying, smarmy, self-satisfied shitstain. And what I just said is a hell of a lot more supportive of productive, honest discourse than your faux-polite shit.

    Setting the standard for discussion, FTB style.

  31. 31
    tigtog

    Stein, she’s paraphrasing and simplifying for a lay audience. Using the exact terminology as the PLOS Biology defiinition would not be appropriate. The first part of her description can be improved, certainly,
     
    e.g. Evolutionary pyschology holds that because we know from evolutionary biology that human bodies and minds will not have evolved hardly at all since the Pleistocene epoch, because there simply hasn't been enough time for our genes to change much ...
     
    but the second part is a perfectly adequate paraphrase of the PLOS Biology definition

    [so] what they do is look to our Pleistocene ancestors in order to explain present-day behaviors.

    In any case, the title of the talk was How Girls Evolved to Shop and other ways to insult women with “science”, which I note a lot of critics are eliding, and the most important part of that paragraph you’re dissecting is actually this bit below:

    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.

    This is a long standing criticism of EvPsych from biologists, anthropologists etc. The substantive explanatory power of EvPsych’s “reverse engineering from observable phenomena” is notoriously low.

  32. 32
    Stein

    Tigtog, there is nothing wrong with simplifying concepts for a lay audience as long as those simplifications don’t spread slanderous misconceptions such as that EP are dumb enough as to study an “outdated” Pleistocene brain which is what her “definition” ultimately leads to conclude: “But that our brains stopped evolving then, so that we currently have Pleistocene brains inside modern bodies” making the audience think that if human body evolved since then (wich is substantially false), the brain must have evolved as well.

    The fact is that both the human brain and body have hardly changed a bit since Pleistocene.

    I focus on criticising this definition because it sets a distorted perception of EP from the beginning. Her presentation was plagued with such kind of suspicious errors for a person who credits herself knowledgeable enough to criticize a field of scietific study.

  33. 33
    tigtog

    The fact is that both the human brain and body have hardly changed a bit since Pleistocene.

    Wow, if only I’d written something in my comment that said exactly that.

    Wait, I did.

    (it’s the bit in the different font starting with “e.g.”)

  34. 34
    Stein

    Tigtog, yes, you did wrote something like that when improving her “definition” but the fact is she didn’t. The “definition” she gave willfully ignores this fact.

  35. 35
    tigtog

    She gave a description, not a definition. Why can’t you stick at “didn’t make it clear”, why do you feel the need to ratchet up to “wilfully ignores”? As others have said, I have no doubt that the next time RW gives this speech a sentence or two in the sprit of my suggestion will be part of the introduction, and then you can all chillax.

    In any case, the point of her presentation is that the EvPsych that makes newspaper headlines is almost always the pseudoscience regarding supposedly universal gender roles (an alleged universality that doesn’t even stand up looking at different cultures around the world today, let alone throughout recorded history). Sometimes its the studies that come to a racist or classist conclusion that catch the media’s imagination, just for a change, but mostly it’s the gender essentialism.

    Other EvPsych studies that don’t insult women with pseudoscience are so irrelevant to the point of the speech that it’s not hard to see why it appears that most of the audience didn’t have a problem with the speech as a whole.

  36. 36
    Stacy

    Stein, it’s getting hard to hear you from way down there. Maybe you should try digging up.

  37. 37
    Stephanie Zvan

    Setting the standard for discussion, FTB style.

    Honesty in argumentation, even when it isn’t polite? Okay, I’ll cop to that. What’s your alternative?

  38. 38
    Stein

    Tigtog, even if you want to frame it as a description rather than a definition it’s incorrect, misleading and shocking to hear from someone who claims to be knowledgeable enough.

    I don’t see the value in criticizing pop media distorted EP with a superficial and biased pop discourse. It all reduces to Oprah style “discussion”.

    The truth is that EP is not racist as it has reached the conclusion that all humans are mostly genetically identical, and even then EP doesn’t study evolutionary divergences or exceptions but coincidences. The concept of race is not even a scientific evolutionary concept.

    You may be tempted to make war on EP by claiming it’s sexist because, say, many EP studies have reached the common sense conclusion that the reproductive value of females is strongly related to youth. But:

    “Nothing in evolutionary theory privileges males over females, however, nor does evolutionary theory prescribe social ‘roles’ for either sex… evolutionary psychologists can formulate hypotheses about individual preferences, but cannot predict much regarding the social arrangements that will result when individuals with different preferences negotiate a social contract” *

    It’s media that takes big jumps from scientific conclusions, and this is not limited to EP, it happens on every scientific field so why not criticize media? Because RW has a political agenda. It all reduces to that.

    * http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/human/epfaq/evpsychfaq_full.html#sexism

  39. 39
    tigtog

    The truth is that EP is not racist as it has reached the conclusion that all humans are mostly genetically identical

    How generous of EP to accept the findings of evolutionary biologists.

    The concept of race is not even a scientific evolutionary concept.

    Indeed, evolutionary biologists established that a long time ago. Laypeople use the term, however, because they observe the strong heritability of melanin levels and other distinctive phenotypical variations in humans with certain common ancestries, and they also observe the xenophobic responses that these distinctive phenotypical variations often provoke. Scence sadly has a long-documented history of certain practitioners attempting to justify xenophobia scientifically, don’t you agree?

    You may be tempted to make war on EP by claiming it’s sexist because, say, many EP studies have reached the common sense conclusion that the reproductive value of females is strongly related to youth.

    How exactly does one define “reproductive value”? Reproductive *success* is surely best measured by how many grandchildren your grandchildren have, and so on, because one generation of reproduction on its own is pointless in evolutionary terms. The active involvement of maternal grandmothers in assisting mothers to raise children has been shown to increase survival rates in infancy and longevity generally. The evolutionary anthropologists who have studied the grandmother effect have looked at a wide variety of ‘natural-fertility’ societies (where women have children quite closely spaced and have to care for several dependent children simultaneously) in order to gather their data, and that’s surely what the family situation would have been during the Pleistocene.

    Unless you’re defining “reproductive value” purely as “sexual attractiveness” then actual genetic adaptation would surely have favoured mate selection of a woman based on the health of her mother and grandmother and their willingness to assist her in raising children? If not why not?

    It’s media that takes big jumps from scientific conclusions, and this is not limited to EP, it happens on every scientific field so why not criticize media?

    Are you sure you’ve actually listened to the whole speech? There was plenty of criticism of media’s role in giving more attention to the sensationalist pseudoscience subset of the field than it should ever get from anyone.

    Because RW has a political agenda.

    Like most people who make a point of making speeches, I’m sure that RW has more than one political agenda.

    She, and other people listening to her, may well disagree with you on exactly what those agenda entail.

  40. 40
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    You may be tempted to make war on EP by claiming it’s sexist because, say, many EP studies have reached the common sense conclusion that the reproductive value of females is strongly related to youth.

    Gee, that wouldn’t be the same thing as the typical Pick-Up Artist Asshole’s ‘common sense conclusion’ about the ‘reproductive value of females’, now would it? (Warning, that link eventually goes to Château Heartiste.) Oh, look-ee, it’s an actual example of a sexist asshole who regularly abuses EP to draw vile conclusions about women, oh sorry, ‘females’. This guy was debunked by PZ within the last month, for fuck’s sake: Another ugly example of the abuse of Evolutionary Psychology (Pharyngula, 23 November 2012).

  41. 41
    Stephanie Zvan

    Stein, if you want to comment on this blog, stick to one ‘nym and one email address. Anything else will not be allowed through, and if you keep trying, you will annoy me enough to block you entirely.

  42. 42
    Stein

    Xante, the fact that someone you dislike is using some information for goals you dislike doesn’t automatically turns the information into a lie.

    Men like young women more than old women on average, it’s a hard fact.

  43. 43
    Stein

    Tigtog, I’m glad we are agreeing on the fact that race is an irrelevant concept to evolution and that there are unprofessional people (who don’t deserve credit) trying to justify racism.

    Reproductive value of an individual is defined by the members of the opposite sex. When an individual shows many traits that are prefered by the opposite sex, he has a high reproductive value. An elder and sick individual has low reproductive value because members of the opposite sex will not prefer to mate with him.

    Now, the health and willingness of a grandmother is a very unreliable state of reality. Youth an beauty are evident to simple eye sight. The fact that men don’t need to know the tiniest bit of the existance or state of the mother of a woman (and the fact that they rather would prefer not to know anything about her) in order to be compelled to mate with her is because most possibly the existance, health and willingness of a grandmother didn’t provide significant reproductive advantages for our ancestors in the Pleistocene. If it were relevant then men would feel compelled to know much about a woman’s mother before mating with her. A case I have never heard of.

    I didn’t listen her presentation, I read a transcript and not all of it, it’s not worth it, but I recall a quote:

    “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.”

    That means she is either not knowledgeable of EP or willfully ignorant of it. Because she doesn’t know anything about serious EP, only the bad pop stuff, she guesses it exists but it must be boring, all she has heard of EP is made up.

    Here is the political agenda of RW: EP conflicts with feminism because it’s findings point to the fact that traits and behaviours are naturally selected for each gender thus invalidating the gender theory notion that gender is a cultural construct.

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