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?”

I get comments: Slut edition

Someone found an ancient post just to call me slut:

I’m gonna have to side with the hater–using the term “sex positive” doesn’t make you come across as a well-rounded human being. It depresses me to think of how young you probably were when you lost it. And since then you haven’t slowed down your tampin’ around, clearly

I’m all about liberalism, but a slut is a slut, even if you do have good politics. Sex has ruined a lot of people. Be an infidel if you want, but God does exist–I’m sure of it, honey. And if you’re not with God, well, you’re with…

I assume their answer is Satan, but we can come up with something more entertaining than that. Dear readers, can you please enlighten me who I’ve been hanging out with instead of God that’s turned me into such a slutty-slut?

The Atheist’s Guide to Sex: The abridged version

Ask your partner(s) for consent, not mythological or supernatural beings.

I think that about sums it up.

On a more serious note, if/when I get any free time, a book called The Atheist’s Guide to Sex is my number one goal (or perhaps editing an anthology, if I can rope others into it). Think of the endless chapter possibilities! Secular sexual ethics, the effects of religion on sexual guilt, religious bullying of GLBT teens, interesting sex acts in other species, the religious right’s war on women’s reproductive health, giving “the talk” as a secular parent, bizarre sex stories from religious mythology… I could go on all day.

What would you want to see covered? …And do grad students ever go on sabbatical to write a book?

The argument from buttsex

I know we just established that gays don’t exist. In case that didn’t convince you, a random commenter has a great explanation for why homosexuality is unnatural:

I don’t understand why some people try hard to demonstrate that gays are just gays, and they have nothing whatsoever to do about it! Poor them, they are just attracted to other men and they can’t fight it. they can’t prevent themselves from not acting on it. period. Why would they subject themselves to social rejection, and injustice if it were easy to deny being gay!! Well, I don’t agree, if this is the case, then…then, we can also rationalize J Sandusky or any pedophile for that matter. Poor him, he is just attracted to young biys, he can’t do anything about, and he can;t prevent himslef from acting on it. or, maybe …incest, the father, is just attracted to his girl…and if she consenting, that s completely ok, actually in some societies, it is. the only difference between gay men and pedophiles is that one has a consenting partner, and the other doesn’t (you cant call kids a consenting partner), but the same deviate sexual urge is there. so then , why do we punch pedophile. we can just say that poor them, they can’t do anything about it. we do we punish incest? we can rationalize it the same way.  The key here is learned behaviour…you learn to hold yourself from a ceratin behavior, and not act on it because it is wrong. someone would argue that homosexuality is natural. well I argue that it is not…as a matter of fact, there is no natural lubrication available for sodomy! …there are tons of reason why homosexuality is not normal.

Oh, well then. Because obviously vaginas are always well lubricated, gays only have anal sex, straights never have anal sex, and no one ever has oral sex. Man, such airtight logic. This guy could be a theologian.

I got HUMP!ed

My only regret is not buying the t-shirt that said that.

HUMP! is an amateur porn film festival (and Dan Savage’s pet project) held in Seattle and Portland every year. When I went last year, the only thing I disliked was having to wait a whole year to go again. But this Friday I went with a huge group of friends, including Greta Christina. Feel free to complain how jealous you are in the comments.

Here’s a taste of HUMP! for those of you who couldn’t make it. The bonus props this year were duct tape, super soakers, and the number 7.  Obviously NSFW, and Not Safe For People Who Are Seeing Hump Next Weekend and Don’t Want Spoilers:

  • HUMP! opened with a spoof on Japanese Furry Porn where each animal was introduced like a character selection screen on a video game. Also, gratuitous use of silly string. I giggled.
  • I can never eat a donut again. The only lesbian video in HUMP! (and apparently the only lesbian video submitted at all) were two cute punk girls smothering donuts all over each other. There were parts that were hot, parts that were cute (sprinkles stuck to the butt!) and parts that were gross (cream filling facials). Probably the best use of the super soaker, which was filled with cream and strawberry stuff.
  • There were two James Bond spoofs, possibly the logical conclusion of trying to work a Super Soaker into porn. The first, Gold Penis, had some pretty hot sex scenes, but could have used some better video quality and…er…better casting. Sorry, but that was the most un-James-Bond-like James Bond I’ve ever seen. The second spoof was more focused on humor, with a hedgehog being the arch nemesis and the Bond Girl having a blond wig for both her top and bottom.
  • If there was a category for “Creative” or “Clever,” I would have voted for Go Fuck Yourself. Imagine a time paradox where you have to go to the past and have sex with yourself. The camera work was very cleverly done, and the plot had some funny twists I wasn’t expecting.
  • My next nominee for my fake category of Clever would be Night of the Giving Head. It starts as a typical zombie flick, with a girl being chased by zombies. Eventually her finger is chomped off, but she keeps running. Once the zombie catches her, he discovers she’s already turned into a zombie. And they bone. But in a funny twist, we get a montage of them doing zombie dating activities, like learning to dance Thriller in a karaoke bar, or eating humans at a picnic in the park. It was all tied together when he proposes by giving her finger back with a engagement ring on it, which she duct tapes back onto her hand. Definitely the best use of duct tape, in my opinion.
  • Six Feet Under starts with us at the funeral of a young man, and as the priest gives the eulogy we flash back to what he was actually doing. When sleeping with his wife, he was actually watching a hot dude through the window. His time with his “jogging buddy” was a little less innocent. And we discover his last moments were spent with the priest…having kinky gay sex. And he died from a little too much duct tape. It was cute and hot the whole way through, with a shocker ending of his jogging buddy and the priest coming on his face in the casket. What.
  • There was a Star Wars Strip-Light-Saber-Battle. Funny idea, poor execution. Straight male Star Wars fans apparently didn’t care.
  • Still in the nerdy theme, there were two separate films that involved video games and having sex with Atari joysticks. I…okay.
  • In Which She’s Pushed Against the Door or whatever it was called was super hot, but her screaming sounded super fake and annoying which kept me from voting for it for Best Sex. You were so close, IWSPAD! Fuck realistically or in silence! Silence would have been hotter!
  • The kinky stuff was waaaaay more intense this year. Last year I was “meh” about a couple films and maybe groaned in horror once, but this year was pretty unsettling. One video starts as a potentially hilarious ad for getting kinky supplies at Fred Meyer…but ends in one of the guys being completely wrapped in duct tape and having his partner pee into a funnel that looks like is going into his mouth…but which is revealed at the end to be a trick. One video involved two naughty nurses kidnapping some guy and…Jesus, I don’t event want to explain it. Gore. Fake blood. Stitches. Electroplay. It was one where I was hoping it would end soon. Don’t Call Me Missy was an intense dom/sub film, which starts with the woman tying the guy up to a chair and smacking him around pretty brutally. Eventually he escapes and the wrestling and grabbling and such comes full circle. Honestly the more mild parts of this were kind of hot, but there were lots of extreme parts that were way too shocking for me.
  • But my vote for Best Kink went to Knife, for freaking me out the most. I was literally flailing and had to cover my eyes for the last half. Basically someone ran a knife all over a woman’s body, cut all of her clothes off with it, then continue to run it all over her body. And I mean along her neck, jabbed into her breast, pulling a nipple out and running the sharp end against it, somehow none of this cutting her at all. And as the knife slowly made it’s way downstairs, the whole audience collectively went “Nooooo” and leaned back in their seat in revulsion. And then they stuck it in. Garhgrarhgarg. Augh. Why. WHY.
  • My vote for Best Sex went to Music for 2 Humans. Honestly, a lot of the other videos (Gold Penis, the Door one, Six Feet Under) were super hot… but I think after being freaked out by all the kink videos, I wanted one that was more sweet and…well, something I could relate to. I mean, if you’re into kinky stuff, that’s totally cool, but it’s just not for me. This one was set to beautiful music and was very intimate and real feeling, not staged.
  • My vote for Best Humor went to Mythical Proportions. It was an interview of three women who have centaur fetishes, with their fetishes animated in claymation. It had me in stitches. Favorite fantasy: “Not now honey, I’m preparing to spill the blood of the orc legions.”
  • My vote for Best in Show went to Teenage Dream. Every year there’s a video I wish was online so I could share it, and it’s this one. For one, the production value – film, camera work, acting, choreography – was excellent. It starts with a sort of nerdy effeminate guy playing basketball in gym class, and he blows the winning shot. He walks through the locker room, nervously checking out all the super hot guys. One of the jocks notices and calls him a fag, and before he can do anything, the gay kid faints. We then cut to a dream sequence where the Glee version of Katie Perry’s Teenage Dream starts playing, with all the jocks lip sincing and dancing around, progressively getting more and more naked, while the gay kid is on cloud 9. He eventually is woken up by the bully and his gym teacher, and he just has a big grin on his face. It was sweet, it was funny, and it was awesome. I really, really hope they consider releasing it.
And a funny observation about HUMP! Compared to “typical” internet porn, the women in HUMP! are so much more attractive. They have real, natural bodies of all shapes and sizes, instead of all being super skinny blondes with huge fake boobs. But it’s weird, because I feel like the guys of HUMP! feel…more fake. Maybe it’s because typical straight porn features average or below average guys, but a lot of the HUMP! porn was gay stuff, where all the guys were super hot and ripped. I wanted more variety (skinny nerdy guys!), but maybe that’s just me.
And that was HUMP! The only downside is I have to wait another year to go again. And, well, the dearth of lesbians. Come on ladies, submit stuff for next year! Can’t have the gay guys showing you up like this.

More on woman hating

Ben Cochran is a nursing student at East Carolina University. He is also a misogynistic pig. I’ll let him do the talking (emphasis mine):

People go to the doctor when they’re sick.

If you’re a girl, sometimes you go to the doctor to get Pabst beer, or a pap smear, or something like that.

What girl have you ever heard of that goes to a doc in the box for birth control? None of them. They go to their gyno. It’s a matter of efficiency. If you have a lung problem, you see a pulmonologist. If you have a heart problem, you see a cardiologist. If you have a cunt problem, you see a gynecologist.

So I’m sitting in student health the other day, sneezing my friggin eyes out and coughing up green oysters wondering what in the name of great Zeus’s beard is taking so long. I’m just trying to get seen and have this purulent mucus extricated from my hacking body. Half an hour later, I finally see some movement stirring from across the waiting room. A nurse exits with about half a dozen girls, all grinning from ear to ear, bubbly and giggly as if they just scored their first alcohol purchase with a fake id. In their hands they carried what seemed like a solid 36 month’s worth of birth control.

First of all, not even porn stars need that much birth control. Second of all, do you mean to seriously tell me that I’ve been sitting here in misery for the last half an hour just so that this gaggle of preemie sluts could get a free pass on harlotry?

Go read your Redbook in the lobby of a specialist while you get a mani as you wait to get your hatchet wound inspected. Leave student health for those of us that are in actual need of medical attention.

Look, this is a university—an ivory tower of academic prowess. We don’t need to be handing out birth control left and right especially from an on campus location. This is a bastion for the intellectually competent. If you find your talents to lend themselves to a more base and carnal nature, perhaps this just isn’t the place for you.

I don’t take issue with sex mongers. They serve their place. Hell, according to the bible, it’s the oldest known profession on earth. So you sultry sex fiends are clearly established, but this is a place of higher being. Please take your gaping holes elsewhere for medical services, and leave the real health issues to those that actually belong on a college campus.

Heaven forbid you had to suffer through your stupid cold for thirty minutes because women were getting their preventative medicine. Those stupid whores should just accept their God given purpose as baby making machines. Duh. Aren’t you glad this guy is becoming a nurse? Or worse, that this letter could have just as easily been written by many of the people currently running for public office in the US?

A “cleaned up” version was printed in his student newspaper. Though really, it just removed some of the coarse language – the ignorance and hatred is still going strong.

I feel a little bad when I make posts without much commentary or detailed refutation, but sometimes it just doesn’t need it. But if you need a blow by blow take down, another blogger already has it covered.

I have HUMP! tickets!

This is my new favorite yearly tradition:

The Pacific Northwest’s biggest, best, and most beloved amateur-and-locally-produced porn festival returns this fall. …The Stranger and the HUMP!™ 2011 jury invite local filmmakers, actors, kinksters, exhibitionists, and notorious sex-havers to get to work on their films for HUMP!™ 2011. The HUMP!™ jury is composed of local sex experts (ahem), sex-positive film critics, and sex-obsessed porn fans. The HUMP!™ jury looks for hotness, humor, and originality. Films do not have to be slick or professionally produced. They do have to be hot or funny or hot and funny.

NEW PRIZE CATEGORIES: Until 2009, HUMP!™ had two grand prizes: a $2,000 prize for Best Humor and a $2,000 prize for Best Hardcore. But some HUMP!™ audience members complained that the categories were too limiting. How were you supposed to vote if your favorite film wasn’t particularly funny or all that hardcore? So last year we created new prize categories and added more money to the purse:

    • Best Humor: $1,000 First Prize, $500 First Runner-Up Prize
    • Best Sex: $1,000 First Prize, $500 First Runner-Up Prize
    • Best Kink: $1,000 First Prize, $500 First Runner-Up Prize

And…

  • Best in Show: $4,000 Grand Prize

Prizes will still be awarded by audience ballot. It’s possible that a film could win more than one prize and that a single film—perhaps a hilariously kinky film with a scorching-hot sex scene?—could sweep the HUMP!™ Awards! It’s like the Oscars™ with Orgasms™.

This year’s extra credit props are the number 7, super soakers, and duct tape. I’m already a little wary of the super soakers and duct tape. But I absolutely loved it last year (NSFW), so I can’t wait.

Do this now, OkCupid

One of my favorite blogs is OkTrends (even if they haven’t updated since April, sadface). What’s better than combing dating site data for statistical trends an oddities? All of their articles are super interesting.

I was having lunch with some of my fellow graduate students, when the conversation turned geeky (as it tends to do). I mentioned how it would be great to have some sort of measure of sexual compatibility on OkCupid other than skimming through the various questions people have answered (which, don’t lie, is the first thing everyone does). Though the questions are very telling – just from reading other’s answers to the sex questions, I can tell if we’d be compatible or not. But there’s no good metric for it.

The solution to us was obvious to us: Principal Component Analysis.

“Principal component analysis (PCA) involves a mathematical procedure that transforms a number of (possibly) correlated variables into a (smaller) number of uncorrelated variables called principal components. The first principal component accounts for as much of the variability in the data as possible, and each succeeding component accounts for as much of the remaining variability as possible.”

You could do a PCA on people with all of their sex answers being their data. The magic of PCA (please don’t make me describe the math) would then decide what the proper variables are to measure. If I had to guess, kinkiness and experience would probably be the two main variables in someone’s sexual preferences. I would guess you’d get a chart looking something like this:

Chart of kinkiness vs. experience with clustered data points

With each dot representing a person, and people potentially forming clusters. You could look and see if you easily fall into the kinky cluster, or whatever. And PCA can have more than two variables, though that’s a little trickier to graph. I can imagine the 3rd being something like desire. Do you want lots of sex, or are you happy with not that much? That’s a major point of conflict in relationships, so it would be great to have that sorted out by the power of statistics.

Thinking this was pretty much the best idea ever, we emailed OkCupid, highlighting our accolades as computational geniuses and internet nerds. This was the response:

“Hi Jennifer – Thanks for writing.  We only share our data with third parties when they have a budget to license the data…

Thanks,
Sam”

I think that “…” implies “You don’t have the money to do it yourself.”

So, fine, fine. But in the name of science, I want to see it done. Come on, OkCupid. You know you want to reach a new level of geekery in your statistical analysis. Make it so.