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Paleofantasy: When people act like cavemen because they misunderstand evolution

I’ve been waiting so long for someone to write this book.

Salon has a great interview with Marlene Zuk, evolutionary biologist who just wrote “Paleofantasy: What evolution really tells us about sex, diet, and how we live.” The Paleo diet? How evolution surprisingly supports 1950s gender roles? Yeah, those ideas aren’t actually supported by evolution after all – something that should come as no surprise to my readers.

It is striking how fixated on the alleged behavior of our hunting-and-foraging forbearers some educated inhabitants of the developed world have become. Among the most obsessed are those who insist, as Zuk summarizes, that “our bodies and minds evolved under a particular set of circumstances, and in changing those circumstances without allowing our bodies time to evolve in response, we have wreaked the havoc that is modern life.” Not only would we be happier and healthier if we lived like “cavemen,” this philosophy dictates, but “we are good at things we had to do back in the Pleistocene … and bad at things we didn’t.”

The most persuasive argument Zuk marshals against such views has to do with the potential for relatively rapid evolution, major changes that can appear over a time as short as, or even shorter than, the 10,000 years Cordain scoffed at. […]

There are human examples, as well, such as “lactase persistence” (the ability in adults to digest the sugar in cow’s milk), a trait possessed by about 35 percent of the world’s population — and growing, since the gene determining it is dominant. Geneticists estimate that this ability emerged anywhere from 2200 to 20,000 years ago, but since the habit of drinking cow’s milk presumably arose after cattle were domesticated around 7000 years ago, the more recent dates are the most likely. In a similar, if nondietary, example, “Blue eyes were virtually unknown as little as 6000 to 10,000 years ago,” while now they are quite common. A lot can change in 10,000 years.

Read the whole piece, as it’s a great summary of why these sort of standard evolutionary psychology arguments are so flawed.

Now, I do think evolutionary psychology has a lot of potential. Obviously the brain evolves like any other organ, which has fascinating effects on behavior. But the field is in its infancy, and is currently propped up on arm chair speculation and frequently unfalsifiable claims (claims that are impossible to prove wrong).

My favorite example of this comes from the Evolutionary Psychology class I took in undergrad. Now, I was originally super excited about this class. As someone who was interested in human evolution, behavior, and sex, I thought that evolutionary psychology was my calling. That was until we got to a specific lecture on human sexuality. We were discussing a study that was investigating patterns of human promiscuity, and the professor asked us to come up evolutionary explanations to describe the data we could potentially see. Most people came up with something along the lines of “Female humans will not be promiscuous because pregnancy has more cost to them and they need a monogamous mate to help rear the child, where men will be very promiscuous  because they want to spread their seed as much as possible.”

I’m sure you’ve all heard that argument somewhere before. But I presented an alternative hypothesis: “Female humans have cryptic fertility – it’s hard to tell when they’re ovulating – so they will be equally promiscuous, because then no man will know if the child is theirs so they will all pitch in to help rear the child.” I presented this idea because evolutionary psychology often looks to primitive tribes for its hypotheses, and we see my scenario happening in many tribes of South America.

My professor nodded and said that was a good alternative explanation. I asked how we would be able to distinguish between the two hypotheses, but he didn’t seem to understand why that mattered. He saw evolutionary psychology as being able to explain either situation, so in his mind it only supported the field of evolutionary psychology because it was able to explain anything!

But the ability to come up with an explanation for anything is not what makes something scientific. Creationism can come up with an explanation for anything – “God did it” – and that is not scientific. To be scientific you need your predictions to be falsifiable, and unfortunately right now evolutionary psychology is closer to creationism than it is evolutionary biology.

Like I said, evolutionary psychology has a lot of potential because the brain evolves. But I think we need to establish a much larger base of information before we can even remotely accurately interpret data. We need to understand the staggering complexity of the brain and the genomic contribution to that complexity before we can really start investigating what’s going on, and even then it will not be as simple as thinking “What would cavemen do?”

Comments

  1. psweet says

    Pedantic note, regarding a point made in the interview:

    This is simply wrong — dominance refers to expression of an allele in an individual, and says nothing about whether the allele is favored by selection, or whether it will increase in a population.

    I have enough problems getting my students to understand this, it doesn’t help when even the pro-science writers get it wrong! (And yes, I realize that was from the article, this comment wasn’t aimed at Jen McCreight!)

  2. says

    psweet – you’re totally correct. I hadn’t had my coffee yet so I didn’t notice that, but now it bothers me too!

  3. machintelligence says

    dominance refers to expression of an allele in an individual, and says nothing about whether the allele is favored by selection, or whether it will increase in a population.

    This is true, but if the allele is favored (or disfavored) natural selection has a lot more leverage on dominant traits. This explains the rapidity with which it spreads in a population.

  4. says

    Since others are picking on this…

    “It actually doesn’t matter if an allele is dominant or recessive in regards to it being favored by selection – this is a common misconception the writer fell for as well.”

    As I recall, the distinction between dominant and recessive is whether or not it needs two copies of the allele to manifest. Being dominant only means that 3/4th of offspring will carry the trait rather than 1/4th; the distribution in the population over generations will remain the same in either case, assuming the allele does not affect the ability to reproduce. In this case, it does: those who have lactose persistence will have access to a regular supply of additional nutrition, and thus are more likely to survive long enough to pass the allele on. So even if it were recessive, the trait would still eventually manifest in most of the population. Do I have this right?

    Anyway, the whole field of evolutionary psychology seems so… pseudoscientific. From what I’ve read about it, it seems mostly to justify whatever biases or pejudices the person already has.

  5. says

    Some caveats for gregory

    Just a note the 3/4 , 1/4 thing only works in a heterozygous cross ie 2 individual each with a dom and recessive copy. If someone is double dominant for a trait then all their offspring would have a dominant copy as well. There are other variations of course but essentially its more complicated.

    Also, being useful helps lead to increasing amounts of the trait in a population but plain old random chance could have a beneficial trait die out.

    Now what I really want to know, is lactase persistence a top or a bottom?

  6. says

    @michaeld – Yeah, I was picking the simplest case.

    I’ve heard that lactose persistence arose independently three different time, with three different mutations: first in Europe, then in Mongolia, and most recently in central Africa. It would certainly be possible for a person to have, and pass on, any combination of these.

  7. says

    Actually it was probably the most complex single example :P but since we were being specific about some genetic discussions I thought I’d mention there were other situations.

  8. says

    Hey!
    As a blue(ish ;-) )-eyed person I must comment on the quoted passage proving that the YECs are Right!!!
    They just confused ‘everything’ with ‘blue eyes’, an easy mistake to make (see beginning of my first sentence)…

    :-D

  9. davidmc says

    “happier and healthier if we lived like “cavemen,” ”
    Would we really?
    cavemen had…
    sex, check,
    drugs, probably,
    rock n roll, of a sorts,
    soft toilet tissue…………….

  10. paul says

    About the paleodiet thing: The majority of humanity has had 500 years or less to adapt to eating potatoes, tomatoes, corn (maize), peppers (Capsicum, not Piper), peanuts, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberries–yet these things have become very widespread in a short time. I wonder if that is why peanut allergies are so nasty–we haven’t had enough time to adapt to them yet.

    How much time have Europeans and their descendents had to get used to eating soybeans?

  11. says

    Several points: Yes, some of the popular-science evolutionary psychology stuff might be wrong, but that doesn’t mean it is all wrong. Steven Pinker and other serious scientists also agree that many of the themes of evolutionary psychology are correct. It is generally not correct to assume that “primitive” tribes today are similar to our ancestors back in the caveman days. Even if some cases of polyandry exist, polygyny is much more common. You still need to explain this. Try this experiment: get a guy and a girl to ask strangers if they won’t to have sex. Do you really think that the difference between the responses is due to cultural conditioning? Yes, some things can evolve in a few thousand years, but that doesn’t mean that all things did.

  12. jamessweet says

    The most persuasive argument Zuk marshals against such views has to do with the potential for relatively rapid evolution,

    Huh, interesting… for my money, while that is certainly true, the even bigger issue with these “paleofantasies” (I like that term, heh) is that a lot of the stuff we are talking about wouldn’t exert any selective pressure, so (if you’ll excuse some colorful anthropomorphizing) why would evolution care?

    It’s not like natural selection tunes our bodies to be strong, healthy, and happy under our environmental conditions; it tunes us to reproduce. Take the paleo diet: Evolution doesn’t really care all that much how long we live after 35 or 40 or so. You can just about get your full reproductive years in on a diet of potato chips and beer. Certainly some diets are more likely than others to lead to a longer healthier life, but this is largely a side-effect of our biology than anything that has been directly selected for.

  13. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Try this experiment: get a guy and a girl to ask strangers if they won’t to have sex. Do you really think that the difference between the responses is due to cultural conditioning? – Philip Helbig

    I don’t know – and neither do you. Your personal incredulity is not a scientific argument.

  14. says

    Phillip Helbig.
    Try this experiment: get a guy and a girl to ask strangers to have sex in San Fransisco and Saudi Arabia. Do you think the different responses indicates that Americans and Saudis are different species?

  15. profpedant says

    It may be that – for example – both explanations of ‘promiscuity’ could have some accuracy: some individuals reflexively or preferentially choose one strategy, and some individuals reflexively or preferentially choose a different strategy…..and quite possibly some other people tend to choose yet another strategy when they have the opportunity. In each of these hypothetical cases there would be advantages and disadvantages, which will probably vary from circumstance to circumstance and individual to individual, with different people adapting their behavior in different ways. Implicitly some variations will do better in some cultures than in others.

    So, if there are a variety of genetically-based psychological/behavioral preferences, the expression of which is immensely modified by culture, one person’s “natural behavior” may differ quite a bit from another person’s similarly “natural behavior” – even though those behaviors appear to be identical.

    Seems to me like a situation in which communication and mutual respect are very useful tools.

  16. phiknight says

    This books looks interesting. I was just wondering what “skeptics” were thinking about the paleodiet, but hadn’t gotten around to trying to read up on either positive or negative reviews for the diet (other than my gut reaction). The book is getting negative reviews from paleodiet people, but that’s not a big surprise.

    Now who wants to send me a copy? Or a job

  17. kaleberg says

    There’s a lot of bad evo-psych out there. It’s as bad as Kipling’s Just-So stories, but Kipling never claimed his stories to be true in any literal sense. The sexual stuff is generally the worst.

    For example, a lot of hunter gathering cultures (e.g. pre-enclosure Australian aborigines) didn’t link sex and conception, probably because everyone always had sex and often had babies. There was no vacuum, so no one discovered air. (Granted, one aborigine story I heard suggested spending a night on Bouncing Rocks, a rock formation on the coast, if one wished to get pregnant, but it was suggested that one take a male friend with you for better results.) Peter Graves, the author who believed that there was once an older feminist religion that had been supplanted by a later male dominated one, explained it well: it’s easy to establish maternity. Paternity is much trickier.

    It isn’t always just sex.

    I was in the American Museum of Natural History and couldn’t help overhearing a lecturer explaining to his class that music originated with religion. I wanted to scream at him. Obviously, he had never put a baby to sleep. Babies cry for all sorts of garbage reasons, as well as some good ones, and nothing gets them to calm down like rhythmic rocking and repeated musical sounds. This is cross cultural. You put up with a noisy baby and you’ll invent music well before you find religion.

  18. says

    Try this experiment: get a guy and a girl to ask strangers if they won’t to have sex. Do you really think that the difference between the responses is due to cultural conditioning?

    This experiment has been tried, discussed, and critiqued already.

    Risk of pregnancy raises the cost of random sex for women. That’s biological. Modern contraception lowers the cost. That’s cultural. The fact that they’ll be shamed and kicked out of some communities if they get pregnant without a father to show for it? That’s cultural. The fact that if they get raped, they’ll get blamed for it and the rapist will probably get off scot-free? That’s cultural. The study that tried to get at this didn’t take any of those things into account, and was criticized for that. Sounds like you are suffering from exactly the same set of prejudices and blind spots as the people who conceived the study and its methodology. Do you really think that the similarity between your blind spot and their is due to biological instincts?

  19. John Horstman says

    @kaleberg: You’re talking about the Tiwi, I believe. While they nominally didn’t link sex and reproduction (conception is discursively constructed as the result of a spirit entering the woman’s body; see, for example, the section “Tiwi Birth Rites” on this page), it’s really in a wink-and-nod sort of way, a collective lie to further the system of social paternity irrespective of genetic paternity. We see similar phenomena with things like the sale of abortifacient drugs in the US and UK during the Victorian period that were used to treat “menstrual irregularity”, nominally so that pregnancy could occur, because obviously regular menstruation is necessary for conception to take place. Another example might be the supposed magical transformation of the Eucharist in Catholic ritual practice; few Catholics believe in a literal magical transformation, but they pretend to do so for the sake of social convention. Pretty much every group of humans has known about the link between sex and pregnancy, as far as we can tell (widespread use of contraceptive and abortive practices from barriers to drugs to behaviors is evident). A lot of assertions to the contrary are the result of cultural projection by anthropologists who did not take care to account for differences in cultural context and thus interpreted euphemistic mythologies (that the people in question actually understand as such) deployed to maintain the social structure as things believed to be literal truth. The fact that a given group might not interpret conception through a biomedical frame doesn’t mean that they don’t understand the connection between specific acts that can induce conception and pregnancy. In this case, studying behavior is more illuminating than studying the way that behavior is constructed and understood.

  20. says

    @#14: The experiment has actually been performed. See Pinker’s books for references to the refereed literature and extensive discussion.

    @#15: What kind of rhetoric is this? Just because some things are formed by nurture rather than nature doesn’t mean that all are.

    @#20: In many countries in modern Europe, there is no shame involved for single mothers, whether or not they can/will name a father. In some countries, far more than half of all children are born to single mothers. Similarly, blaming the victim doesn’t take place in more civilized countries, and neither do rapists get off scot-free. However, in such countries, there is still the huge dichotomy between (desired or actual) polygyny for men and dearth of polyandry for women. In most countries in Europe, prostitution is legal, yet almost all prostitution is men paying women for sex. The few male prostitutes who exist serve mostly gay men. Why the difference? Note that in a typical prostitution setting, “the community” doesn’t know about the transaction. Call girls and call boys are discreet. But still the difference is there. Yes, the original experiment might have been flawed, but that doesn’t mean that taking these flaws into account leads to the conclusion that this well known difference between the sexes is cultural.

  21. says

    @21: I seem to recall one case where some “primitive” people claimed not to understand the link as a practical joke on the visiting anthropologists.

    Reminds me of a family reunion when my grandmother (now deceased for a quarter of a century or so), on being presented one of her great-great-grandchildren, remarked in real (not mock) surprise about the child’s mother: “She ain’t been married long enough to have a baby!”. Had she thought this through, she probably would have fainted, but one of my aunts (one of the grandmother’s daughters) saved the day by quickly replying “It don’t take as long as it used to, Mama.” :-)

  22. socjo says

    From what I’ve read of the subject (though I’m neither a psychologist nor a biologist, just interested), there does seem to be some sense in the area relating to newborn baby behaviour, which modern society (and some tribal ones) doesn’t pay a lot of attention to – perhaps frightened by how similar the behaviours of newborn babies across the world and chimps/orangutans etc are? And how as a poster said above, they need basic things like rocking and soothing to sleep, they don’t tend to adjust well to being left alone in cribs from birth. Unfortunately though, a lot of people who see the sense in this argument also seem to fall into the anti-vax camps so I find myself backing away from those sites a lot of the time :?

  23. scott hoyt says

    Not even a little bit related, but I just thought you might like to know that they’ve just announced the 2nd expansion to Civilization V. A Brave New World. =P

  24. grouperfish says

    I look forward to reading this book. I’d like to see a good take down of some evo psych. Unfortunately, some of the books I’ve read that try to do this are not very good. So I’m hoping this is a good one.

    And… did you really come up with that idea (of cryptic fertility) yourself? Because that’s basically the logic behind why many female primates have sexual swellings. The sexual swelling attracts males but only provides a fuzzy signal of receptivity. Multiple males mate with the female and paternity is confused. This results in preventing infanticide or perhaps just eliciting more help/protection from multiple males. I’m not saying this is necessarily relevant for understanding humans, but rather that this idea is already out there.

    Its too bad you didn’t have that awesome of a prof for evo psych. I’m tired of the field getting a bad rap, because there is some interesting stuff there. One of the things I’ve been interested in lately is food consumption and our food preferences and how that works in the modern world. The paleo diet is not a real thing I think, but I think it is worth thinking about how our past environments did effect our current food preferences and how that plays out in our modern lives. There is something going on there. And, I think it could be really important, actually, to helping people regulate their diets and understanding why they make the choices they do.

  25. doublereed says

    “But the ability to come up with an explanation for anything is not what makes something scientific. ”

    From a Bayesian perspective, if you are equally good at explaining any outcome, then you have zero information.

    If we discovered a fairy, then evolutionary biologists would be very, very confused. Which is what is supposed to happen. More information should limit possible outcomes.

  26. Ben P says

    Reminds me of a family reunion when my grandmother (now deceased for a quarter of a century or so), on being presented one of her great-great-grandchildren, remarked in real (not mock) surprise about the child’s mother: “She ain’t been married long enough to have a baby!”. Had she thought this through, she probably would have fainted, but one of my aunts (one of the grandmother’s daughters) saved the day by quickly replying “It don’t take as long as it used to, Mama.” :-)

    This is just another version of an old southern aphorism.

    “The second child takes nine months, but that first baby can come at any time.”

    Hint: It doesn’t refer to first children being carried to term.

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Try this experiment: get a guy and a girl to ask strangers if they won’t to have sex. Do you really think that the difference between the responses is due to cultural conditioning?

    Um, why not? Cultural conditioning is more than adequate to explain it. Or have you seriously not noticed slut-shaming vs “dude, you turned down SEX? What a pussy!”

  28. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Similarly, blaming the victim doesn’t take place in more civilized countries, and neither do rapists get off scot-free.

    The FUCK?

    Have you been living in an underground bunker for the last few days?

  29. johnwoodford says

    Similarly, blaming the victim doesn’t take place in more civilized countries, and neither do rapists get off scot-free.

    The FUCK?

    Have you been living in an underground bunker for the last few days?

    That presupposes that the US is a more civilized country; there are too many good examples these days that demonstrate this is not the case.

  30. cry4turtles says

    I’m a foodie and am always looking for good research about nutrition. I’ve spent a lot of time studying raw veganism and do my best to eat as many raw fruits and veges as possible; however, my dedication took a hit when I read the theory that cooked foods provided increased glucose for our energy-hungry brains to increase cortical mass-thereby making us the humans we are today. It makes sense, a lot of sense. So now I enjoy delicious soups and whole grains and legumes with my wonderful raw fare. I’m 48 and feel 28. I’m eager to adjust my behavoir according to new research. Sensible living.

  31. Jubal DiGriz says

    When I first heard about this paleodiet thing I did a double take. Paleolithic eating habits could be summed up as “shoving everything edible within a days walk into your face.” And the notion that as a species we’re best suited for a particular set of foods is absurd… for the vast majority of our past food selection was extremely regionalized, and there’s a tremendous variety of non-cultivated edible things within every biosphere. The human system has been adapted to be diverse and there are no optimal foods, just optimal nutrition.

  32. anuran says

    #32 cry4turtles, the research has been done. A good summary is in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. It’s more or less and extended review article covering the material in paleontology, physiology, anthropology and a couple other disciplines.

    tl;dr version? Cooked food is significantly more nutritious than raw food. Gelatinizing starches, denaturing proteins and so on outside the body allows us to extract much more from them with a significantly smaller metabolic cost. And we have evolved to eat cooked food. Compared to other primates we have short digestive systems, weak jaws and puny teeth. We don’t have a sagittal crest to attach real jaw muscles to. We don’t spend 8-12 hours a day chewing. And we are not capable of eating nearly as many plants as the other apes.

    Moving a lot of the work of digestion outside our bodies seems to have contributed to brain development and had profound effects on our social structures. Some very interesting experiments indicate that an entirely raw diet is poorly compatible with maintaining body weight even with a sedentary lifestyle and may be widely incompatible with reproduction for women.

  33. says

    @#20: In many countries in modern Europe, there is no shame involved for single mothers, whether or not they can/will name a father. In some countries, far more than half of all children are born to single mothers.

    Bullshit.
    There might not be as much shame if you have one child while being single, but heavens forbid if you have more than one child from more than one father and are not in a relationship with either father…
    It also still means being excluded from a hell lot of life because in modern Europe children still don’t take care of themselves.
    Also, the number doesn’t mean “single mums” but “unmarried mums”. There’s a large difference between the two as many people don#t get married even when they have kids. My cousin and her partner are grandparents by now.

  34. Ben P says

    Bullshit.
    There might not be as much shame if you have one child while being single, but heavens forbid if you have more than one child from more than one father and are not in a relationship with either father…
    It also still means being excluded from a hell lot of life because in modern Europe children still don’t take care of themselves.
    Also, the number doesn’t mean “single mums” but “unmarried mums”. There’s a large difference between the two as many people don#t get married even when they have kids. My cousin and her partner are grandparents by now.

    I think you’re closer to wrong than she is. I You’re correct that there’s certainly some societal disapproval of a woman that has multiple children by different men, but it’s markedly less than in the US. Moreover, even though I’m not traditional at all, I find it hard to take any umbrage about societal disapproval of that sort of behavior. Then again, I’m also an attorney that brings abuse/neglect cases for the state and see that sort of thing a lot.

    In scandanavian cultures and with their naming conventions, there is not an automatic indicator of whether a child is born out of wedlock or not. (example in the US of mothers with children of different last names). Surnames are more commonly taken than they were historically, but patronymic naming isn’t uncommon.

    And as far as taking care of children, I’m not sure how that’s relevant, but it’s important to point out that, in Sweden for example, both parents get 480 days of paid leave for a child, free maternity care and free child healthcare, a pretty substantial child subsidy, there is subsidized day care and then free school from kindergarten on. It makes child benefits in the US look like a cruel joke.

  35. cry4turtles says

    anuran, I don’t have that book. I’ll have to check it out. I know cooking does render certain nutrients more available, but raw foods are still an important catagory of foods. I’m certain that throughout human evolution, no species ate only cooked foods. Plus cooked foods were a different animal just 50 years ago. Trying to find the right balance for me. After 48 years, I may have nailed it, at least for the past 3 months. The theory is quite simple. Practicing it, not so simple.

  36. anuran says

    cry4turtles, one of the points they make is that while there are foods which are eaten raw every human population cooks. We haven’t found any exceptions. It’s as close to a universal as we’ve found in human behavior, even more than pictures of cute cats :)

  37. says

    BenP

    You’re correct that there’s certainly some societal disapproval of a woman that has multiple children by different men, but it’s markedly less than in the US.

    So what?
    It is still the woman who gets shamed. Do you know how she ended up in that situation? Whether her birth control was sabotaged? The guy gets no shame. If he has a child with a woman who already has one or two by different men and leaves her, not much of a problem.
    Slut and whore are still some of the worst epithephs to be thrown around, showing taht there’s still lots of societal disapproval for women who are sexually active.

    I’m not traditional at all, I find it hard to take any umbrage about societal disapproval of that sort of behavior.

    Yeah, but apparently only by women.

    In scandanavian cultures and with their naming conventions, there is not an automatic indicator of whether a child is born out of wedlock or not.

    That’s conflating the two things again: One is being born out of wedlock, the other one is being born to a single mum. And while the former is indeed much less stigmatized, the other is.

    And as far as taking care of children, I’m not sure how that’s relevant, but it’s important to point out that, in Sweden for example, both parents get 480 days of paid leave for a child, free maternity care and free child healthcare, a pretty substantial child subsidy, there is subsidized day care and then free school from kindergarten on. It makes child benefits in the US look like a cruel joke.

    Yes, and?
    1) Not all of western Europe is Sweden. I’m German. I would have gotten 14 weeks of 70% paid leave if I’d worked as an employee. As I worked as a freelance I got shit. Then we got 300€ for a year. We would have gotten 63% of my (or his) income if I hadn’t been a freelance. Tough luck, eh?
    And yes, I get the child subsidy. It pays for the daycare/kindergarten, the subsidized one. If I’d gone bck to college before the little one was 3 yo, daycare would have cost 2 times as much. Yes, that’s free if you’re on wellfare.
    2) Oh, and please, don’t try to tell me about the wonderful life of single mothers in western Europe. My husband works out of town so I’m part-time single mum. Don’t tell me I’m not excluded from large parts of life because somehow it’s commonely frowned upon if you leave your toddler alone at home to go for a beer. Don’t tell me that juggling things when your child is sick is easy because of some policy or other in Norway. Don’t tell me that people don’t give me the stinky eye because I dare to go back to college and not be a nice SAHM. And don’t tell me I could easily get an abortion in case I somehow decide that I don’t want to live in the wonderful utopia for mothers that I apparently live in without somehow noticing.
    Don’t fucking try to explain my life to me.

  38. Robert Oerter says

    I feel compelled to point out that, homosexuality aside, it’s mathematically impossible for men to be “more promiscuous” than women. Humans have sex in pairs, therefore every time a man is having sex with a woman, a woman is having sex with a man. To get mathematical about it: (# of men’s sex encounters) = (#of women’s sex encounters), therefore (Average # of sex encounters per male) = (# of men’s sex encounters)/(#of men) and (Average # of sex encounters per female) = (# of women’s sex encounters)/(#of women) are approximately equal. At least, if they are different, it is only because the number of women is slightly different from the number of men.

    (In chemistry this is called the “principle of detailed balance.”)

  39. kaleberg says

    Reply to John Horstman

    I’m not sure if it was the Tiwi or another related group. Wikipedia places the Tiwi in NT. My source was Paul Mason, an anthropologist who grew up in Daintree in QLD. He did tell some interesting stories. For example, he had a friend who had described his first encounter with white men who were working on a survey of the area around 1905 or 1910. The surveyors had cut a swath through the forest, and his friend had stolen a steel axe from one of their camps. Pleased with his acquisition he had acquired something of a “big head” and gotten careless. He had stepped into the open swath and come face to face with a white man. Needless to say, he panicked and ran for the safety of the forest. Mason was pretty sure the white man on the surveying team had similarly panicked and run in the opposite direction. Since Paul Mason knew the date of that survey, and his friend had told him that he had just finished his second manhood rite before the incident, he could say that his friend was in his mid-60s at the time of he heard the story.

    (I met Mason back in ’89. I don’t know if he’s still around. There’s a recently minted anthropologist named Paul Mason in the area, but I have no idea of he is a relation.)

  40. says

    “I feel compelled to point out that, homosexuality aside, it’s mathematically impossible for men to be “more promiscuous” than women.”

    It depends on whether you count the encounters or the people having them. In many cases, there are a small number of women who are very promiscuous (often charging for their services) while most are monogamous. So, if on average men say they have had more than 10 partners and women don’t, it’s not necessarily a contradiction.

  41. demonhellfish says

    Giliell@39,

    I’m just a lurker, but I’d like to point out that you’re awesome.

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  43. Klebbster says

    This post, along with the book it is about, is somewhat surprising to me. I picked up on the “paleo” way of eating and exercising about a year ago, and I had no idea that it was about anything other than physical health through biologically matched exercise and eating. It makes sense to eat the foods that we evolved to eat, and to exercise in a manner that replicates the motions and exertions that our bodies are used to. What I do know is that the overwhelming majority of paleo diets advocate the elimination of grains, legumes and anything processed from our diets. The problems with processed foods are obvious. Grains are relatively new to humanity, and there is a lot of research that shows that they cause blood glucose/insulin spikes in our bodies that no other category of foods cause, with the exception of processed carbohydrates and sugars. Legumes are questionable, even by hard core paleo advocates, and only because of the enzymes that accompany them without rigorous preparation beforehand.

    Just as a side note, the author uses the example of a species of cricket that goes silent within five years of moving to a new location, with new predators. I am not a biologist, but this sounds like it involves quite a bit of behavioral influence. It doesn’t really matter if evolution can occur that quickly, anyway, as long as we have research and data that show that eating real foods (naturally raised meats, vegetables, fruits and seeds/nuts) is empirically good for our health. I had no idea that the topic was as controversial as it now appears to me!

  44. deltamachina says

    The Culture Industry – The Ideology of Death

    ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-961596

    ,,,,…,,.,..,.,,

  45. anuran says

    Of course the whole Paleo thing is based on “just so stories” and bad science. But there are some good results. A mixed diet with lots of whole fruits and vegetables, no processed foods, refined sugars or HFCS, periodic light fasting and eaten when hungry rather than on a schedule is generally a good thing. So is the emphasis on getting plenty of exercise, sunshine and adequate sleep.

  46. deltmachinery says

    How we won the James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge

    thespiritscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=68&t=15600

  47. steffp says

    @ Giliell, professional cynic
    Don’t fucking try to explain my life to me.
    As you’re clearly playing the small business entrepreneur victim card, in a specifically feminine discrimination way, some sort of explanation seems required.
    I would have gotten 14 weeks of 70% paid leave if I’d worked as an employee.
    No. Actually it’s 100% of one’s average income , paid 6 weeks before, and 8 weeks after childbirth. You confuse Mutterschaftsgeld and sick pay, which is ~70% after the 6th week.
    As I worked as a freelance I got shit.
    Well, yes. Entrepreneurs are the great losers in Social Capitalism, as everyone knows. Victims, even. But, as an advice, get a better tax accountant if really all you got was shit. Your tax refunds should compensate all woes of not being privileged for the social safety net.
    Yes, that’s free if you’re on wellfare.
    Which was exactly the point of BenP. Subsidies for those who need them.
    Interesting what you left out in your petty-bourgeois rant:
    free maternity care and free child healthcare, free school from Kindergarten on
    But of course that’s nothing at all. You still need a baby sitter when you want to go out and have a glass of wine… darn bureaucrats.

  48. rossthompson says

    In many cases, there are a small number of women who are very promiscuous (often charging for their services) while most are monogamous.

    And yet, when we do DNA studies, we find out that 20% of babies born to married couples were fathered by someone other than the mother’s husband.

    So, if on average men say they have had more than 10 partners and women don’t, it’s not necessarily a contradiction.

    That depends on what you mean by “average”. If you’re talking about the median, then no, it’s not a contradiction; if you’re talking about the mean, then it is.

    But, if you’re relying on people self-reporting how many partners they’ve had, then there just might possibly be social pressures encouraging men to over-report and women to under-report. How do you control for that?

  49. gillyc says

    rossthompson:

    And yet, when we do DNA studies, we find out that 20% of babies born to married couples were fathered by someone other than the mother’s husband.

    Citation please? Because I’ve read that that’s a myth, and the percentage is more like 1%.

  50. howard says

    Try this experiment: get a guy and a girl to ask strangers if they won’t to have sex. Do you really think that the difference between the responses is due to cultural conditioning? – Philip Helbig

    …if you control for the unique dangers women face in these situations, the response evens out to roughly the same.

    Citation.

    And yet, when we do DNA studies, we find out that 20% of babies born to married couples were fathered by someone other than the mother’s husband.

    That is 20% of cases where a DNA test is requested–20% of cases where the father thinks that he is not the father. In a self-selected area where you would expect them to be right a hell of a lot more. This is the cross-slice of the general population you would expect to be a hell of a lot higher than 20%. That it is so low indicates that it is probably exceedingly low in the general population.

    Phillip Helbig
    March 26, 2013 at 7:40 AM (UTC -7) Link to this comment

    “I feel compelled to point out that, homosexuality aside, it’s mathematically impossible for men to be “more promiscuous” than women.”

    It depends on whether you count the encounters or the people having them. In many cases, there are a small number of women who are very promiscuous (often charging for their services) while most are monogamous. So, if on average men say they have had more than 10 partners and women don’t, it’s not necessarily a contradiction.

    This is from a self-reported study. A moment of thought might show why men might over-report due to cultural reasons and women might underreport. And a bit of meta-analysis would show that work has already been done.

    (sigh)

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