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Dec 05 2012

αEP: Shut up and sing!

This is one of a series of posts I’m working on over the next few days to criticize evolutionary psychology. More will be coming under the label αEP!

Recently, Bob Costas, a sports announcer, spoke out about gun control. In reply, the right wing has been in a frenzy of denunciations — he should just shut up, he’s not qualified to speak, he can’t possibly have reasonable opinions about anything other than football (of course, these same angry commentators don’t express similar opinions about Ted Nugent). It’s called Shut Up and Sing Syndrome.

Named after a Laura Ingraham book and a 2006 documentary about the harsh reaction to the Dixie Chicks’ anti-Bush comments, this syndrome condemns many Americans to believe that actors, musicians and athletes — really, anyone not deemed political “experts” — have no right to use their platform to address issues considered “political” in nature. In this case, conservatives are insisting that Costas is not merely wrong on the substance of his gun-related comments, but also that, according to the New York Times, “it was inappropriate to use the platform of an NFL telecast to make arguments concerning a hot-button issue like gun control.”

The insinuation is that as a sportscaster, he has no standing to weigh in on a political issue. In other words, like critics of outspoken athletes who tell them to “shut up and play,” critics want Costas to simply “shut up and talk only about sports.”

Sound familiar? It should. It’s a problem in more than just entertainment and politics — it’s also a problem in skepticism. What it really is is an authoritarian defense of orthodoxy that dismisses criticism unless it comes from the right kind of person — preferably one comfortably embedded deeply in the orthodox position. It’s a version of the Courtier’s Reply, only in this case it’s used to defend science, or a political position, rather than theology. Shut Up and Sing Syndrome imposes unjustifiable barriers to criticism: you don’t get to criticize the subject at hand unless, for instance, you have a Ph.D. in the relevant subject, or some other lofty credential, even if the criticism is based on obvious and trivial flaws that a layperson can see.

The layperson could be wrong, of course, because they’re lacking some deeper understanding and are focusing on superficialities. But even in that case, the proper response isn’t to declare that they should not be allowed to voice that opinion because they don’t have the right credentials, but to address the criticism. And if the layperson is right about the problem, hoo boy, but are you screwing up if you’re trying to silence them.

That’s happening to Rebecca Watson right now. She dared to point out that a lot of pop and evolutionary psychology is bad science, and as a reward, the witch hunt is in raging progress. We’ve actually got people declaring that she only has a bachelor’s degree in communications, therefore she wasn’t qualified to talk about a field of evolutionary biology. Some people are slyly arguing that she shouldn’t be allowed to talk about science at all at conferences, and comparing her to Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher.

I’m trying to say that skeptics should criticize people who talk out of their asses about science on a public stage.

And I’m trying to say that skeptics should criticize it rather than do it themselves.

A skeptic, like anyone else, is entitled to make a mistake or two, even a big one. However, making a habit out of spouting one’s uneducated/under-educated opinion (or regurgitating one’s own interpretation of a cherry-picked opinion of an expert) from a stage is not what good skeptics do; it’s what people like McCarthy and Maher do. It shouldn’t be tolerated, much less encouraged.

I’ve heard this before, from cranks on the other side, and I can mention one name that ought to give these skeptics pause: Emily Rosa.

Remember her? The nine year old girl who published her science fair project that showed that “therapeutic touch”, which claims that practitioners can diagnose ailments by waving their hands above them, didn’t work? She got the same kind of response from quacks, who dismissed her experiment because it was an insult to all the nurses and doctors who believed in it, and because she was a little nobody who couldn’t know how to design an experiment.

They were right. She didn’t have a high school diploma even. Heck, she hadn’t managed to graduate from 6th grade yet! How could she possibly find anything wrong with the ideas of MDs and nurses who had years and years of training?

Easy. Sometimes highly educated people hold stupid ideas — stupid ideas that aren’t that hard to unmask. And sometimes the worst kind of attitude comes from people who have a blind faith in the work of experts, to the point that they assume they can’t err, or that the process of science is so robust that it can’t fail.

Science uses peer review (not just “review”) to weed out bad studies, test the robustness of findings, and discuss appropriate conclusions. Peers are people who work in the same field – experts.

OK, stop laughing. I know you all know that some of the most execrable crap gets published in peer-reviewed journals, but the above is the opinion of Barbara Drescher, well-known skeptic and arbiter of what is True Skepticism. She has a degree, how could she be wrong?

Every scientist knows that peer review is not infallible. We spend a good chunk of our training sitting in journal clubs, mercilessly tearing apart papers published in even the most prestigious journals. Peer review helps weed out some of the bad stuff, so it’s a good thing…but it just improves the odds. And when you’ve got some deeply ingrown subfield where all the “peers” buy into the same bullshit, and approve and publish each others’ papers, the garbage can reach toxic levels.

And sometimes it’s really useful to have outsiders look in and make criticisms and suggestions — it can shake you out of the cozy warm easiness of dogma and get you thinking productively. For instance, I think philosophers have made invaluable contributions to evolutionary biology, forcing me to question some assumptions and rethink some of my old ideas. I also think amateurs have been invaluable, something Drescher finds unlikely.

Scientists in related fields (or even completely different fields) are sometimes able to criticize the methodology of a given study, but big-picture stuff usually requires specific expertise. Non-scientist experts in a field of science are rare. VERY rare.

No, it’s not that rare. Ask the astronomers, who have a deep and wide tradition of amateur observers. Ask taxonomists, who have long relied on non-scientist collectors. Ask the skeptics, Drescher’s own peer group, who have been putting people on stage and in print for years who have no scientific credentials at all. Are all the UFOlogists who have been debunking sightings been test pilots and rocket scientists? Have all the Bigfoot and chupacabra debunkings been done by experts with Ph.D.s in zoology? Have the skeptics who expose bleeding statues of the madonna as natural phenomena all been equipped with advanced theology degrees?

I will also point out that sometimes the experts are busy, or aloof from the public, or take acceptance of their discipline for granted, and they aren’t interested in participating in a public discussion of their field. That’s the case in evolutionary biology, for instance, where the truly rare individual is the qualified, credentialed expert in a particular field who is willing to spend the time in public education (it doesn’t help, either, that often outreach is derided within a field as a waste of time). The relevant specific expertise is some accurate knowledge of science and an enthusiasm for communicating it to others. If you’re going to silence the communicators who don’t have advanced degrees and deep expertise in a field, you’re going to seriously dry up the roster of people who are allowed to educate the public. And you’re going to have to fire a lot of notable public scholars.

Bill Nye? Mechanical engineer. I guess that recent stuff about evolution, climate change, and space exploration will have to stop.

David Attenborough? He does have an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences, but his career training was in management and broadcasting. Off with his shows!

Bill Bryson? College dropout. Oops. Clear out that chunk of the bookshelf.

Adam Savage? Art school dropout. Man, that guy can’t have anything worthwhile to contribute.

I could go on. But the point is if you think non-scientists with something useful to say about science are rare, not only are you wrong, but you are damning most of the planet to ignorance. In my perfect world (which isn’t here yet, obviously) everyone would have the basic competence to understand and critique general ideas about science, and could understand the logic of a science experiment. It shouldn’t be that hard. It shouldn’t be rare.

Sometimes you can shake up the big picture stuff by focusing on the details. Sometimes the really telling reveals occur when an amateur and an outsider point out that an experiment or methodology are wrong…especially when the experts dismiss the objections with a condescending, “well, that requires specific expertise to understand.”

And that’s the case here.

Rebecca Watson turned over the carcass of evolutionary psychology and exposed a lot of the rot underneath. What she did was talk about a series of published evolutionary psychology work, and research that was touted as legitimate science, that was obviously, patently, ragingly bogus — stuff that was so wrong that you really don’t need an advanced degree in an esoteric field to see it. It was bad science through and through.

Now you could say that maybe those are the exceptions — every field has bad actors in it, and misinterpreted and misleading experiments. Maybe Watson doesn’t have enough depth of understanding to appreciate the good work done in the whole of evolutionary psychology, and her condemnation was too sweeping.

That’s possible.

But here’s that telling reveal: in response to an exposé of shoddy science within the field, the evolutionary psychologists aren’t saying, with some embarrassment, ‘Yeah, we need to clean house a bit, and we should maybe be criticizing the sloppy work ourselves a little more loudly.’ No, instead they’re saying, ‘Kick her off the stage right now.’ She is accused of being a “science denialist”. All the attention is being paid to a biased critique of Watson’s talk that does a damned poor job of defending evolutionary psychology.

I know what science denialism is. I think denying the flaws in your own science is a pretty good example of it.

(What’s coming next: I’ll be addressing the possibility that a whole field could be wrong, then I’ll discuss the flawed premises of evolutionary psychology, and then dig into a few sample papers — papers that I’ve been assured represent good evolutionary psychology. By the way, if any valiant defenders of EP want to send me an example of the very best of the field, I’ll try to include some — I do not deny that there can be good research carried out by evolutionary psychologists.)

195 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    What’s Franc Hoggle’s degree in?

  2. 2
    kieran

    Journal club, give us a paper and we critique in the comments

  3. 3
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Oooooh boy.
    Can o’ worms opened.
    I look forward to the rest of this series.

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    David Attenborough

    Argumentum ad Attenborough. That wins the day! It’s scary to think that Attenborough is an “amateur” isn’t it?

  5. 5
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    My popcorn isn’t ready yet! Wait! Wait!

    (I wonder if there really will be any substantive response from within the evolutionary psychology blogospehere about any of this anyhow. It’s seems, pardon the irony, that it’s only a few who have anything to say to ‘defend’ their field against these simple observations. Are they reclusive or are they ‘above’ this? And, more importantly, are these traits evolved?)

  6. 6
    Chuck

    You can boil this entire article into the following sentence: “Critics attack Rebecca Watson for saying something.”

    It really doesn’t matter what she said, or what her qualifications are, or why she said it, or how right she is — the main problem for the critics here is that Rebecca Watson is saying something, somewhere. That makes a lot of people very angry for some reason.

  7. 7
    tomfrog

    Rebecca Watson has a lot of nerves criticizing EP since all of the problems in EP are clearly her own fault.

  8. 8
    LeftSidePositive

    Can we also devote an upcoming post to the motivations of people who insist that there *MUST* be good EvoPsych, apparently with little actual knowledge themselves? From whence comes this wellspring of certainty, if they themselves are not familiar with EvoPsych beyond its most pop manifestations? My personal favorite is Justin Griffith, who insists that there must be good EvoPsych, touts Clint’s piece as “excellent,” and puts up posts announcing what is really good EvoPsych–and then admits he’s a layperson and hasn’t actually spoken with any experts to see if the studies he likes are actually any good. Now, it seems to me, if one were disinterestedly advancing the cause of science, one would take something one finds interesting around to some experts FIRST before promoting it on one’s blog, and one wouldn’t have made the a priori declaration that EvoPsych must be good, and then go around and try to find papers for it (especially when those papers are not even relevant to what most people mean when they say EvoPsych, nor to the criticisms that have been made about it).

  9. 9
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    I don’t know if there’s a formal term for this phenomenon (someone pls. help me if there is), but it’s incredibly common across disciplines, fields, and industries. Part of being an expert in a subject matter is an emotional investment in the importance of that field, and by extension (this is the important part) the degree to which it validates one’s image of one’s self as an Important Person Much To Be Listened To.

    For a significant number of people in any field, any questioning of its core claims, or its most common public face, is ipso facto:

    1. Painting with a broad brush

    2. Tarring everyone with the actions of a few

    3. Ignorant and misguided

    4. Purely agenda-driven, and that agenda is to Tear Down My Field (and me, although I don’t think that’s often conscious)

    I’ve seen it in politics, activism, academic critique, consumer-protection policymaking. It seems to be a universal. Even the most reasonable critiques of obviously bad actors are met with screeching territorial gatekeeping, wild mischaracterizations of the critique, and a general emotional meltdown dressed up as reasonable professional indignation. This is why the rational response—-joining the critics in placing the blame for a bad reputation on where it belongs, the bad actors that you yourself actually agree are harmful though you won’t say so publicly—is almost never seen.

    It’s self-defeating and makes one look very stupid, but it’s everywhere. The most hysterical reactions are provoked when critics don’t merely point out bad apples, but call into question the verity/ethics/underpinnings of the discipline’s core assumptions.

    So, you’ve got that going on here with Rebecca’s talk, but it’s amplified into lunatic ugliness because Rebecca Watson.

  10. 10
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Shorter me: People have lots of sunk costs tied up in their industry/field/professional identity. It must be defended at all costs because the idea that it might have very large or even fatal flaws is too grim to contemplate.

  11. 11
    Anthony K

    You can boil this entire article into the following sentence: “Critics attack Rebecca Watson for saying something.”

    It really doesn’t matter what she said, or what her qualifications are, or why she said it, or how right she is — the main problem for the critics here is that Rebecca Watson is saying something, somewhere. That makes a lot of people very angry for some reason.

    If Rebecca Watson knew anything about EP, she’d know that the selection pressures in the Pleistocene savannah evolved nerds to lose their fucking shit when told, “Guys, don’t do that.”

  12. 12
    michaeld

    There’s also a lot of stage magicians in skepticism who to the best of my knowledge rarely have higher degrees.

  13. 13
    ChasCPeterson

    Maybe Watson doesn’t have enough depth of understanding to appreciate the good work done in the whole of evolutionary psychology, and her condemnation was too sweeping.

    Or, maybe Watson doesn’t have enough depth of understanding to grok the shit she’s ostensibly criticizing. Maybe she hasn’t even bothered to look at the primary literature and is relying instead on second- and third-order reportage, much of it biased and slanted. Maybe she’s just parroting received opinion gleaned from selective reading of only stuff she already wants to agree with. Maybe her motivations for singling out EP for criticism are far more political than they are scientific or skeptical. Maybe she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but is talking about it anyway, in a necessarily glib and substance-lite fashion. Everybody’s an expert on human behavior, eh?

    These are all also possibilities.

  14. 14
    Nathaniel Frein

    I like reading your posts on science, even when they’re over my head (which is often. I’m rather dull.) Evo Psych is one of those cases where I just feel like something is off about the arguments I’m seeing for it, but I don’t really know how to articulate them. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of your articles on this.

  15. 15
    Anthony K

    There’s also a lot of stage magicians in skepticism who to the best of my knowledge rarely have higher degrees.

    You mean, “James Randi, shut up and escape from that straitjacket!”

  16. 16
    Anthony K

    Or, maybe Watson doesn’t have enough depth of understanding to grok the shit she’s ostensibly criticizing. Maybe she hasn’t even bothered to look at the primary literature and is relying instead on second- and third-order reportage, much of it biased and slanted. Maybe she’s just parroting received opinion gleaned from selective reading of only stuff she already wants to agree with. Maybe her motivations for singling out EP for criticism are far more political than they are scientific or skeptical. Maybe she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but is talking about it anyway, in a necessarily glib and substance-lite fashion. Everybody’s an expert on human behavior, eh?

    You used up your supply of maybes in the last thread, Chas.

  17. 17
    jenny6833a

    A factually accurate argument is a good argument, no matter who it comes from. We agree on that.

    However, whether it’s evolution, climate change, or (say) nudism, baloney often carries the day by sheer weight of volume. The baloney arguments, usually based on unstated, intuitively obvious but false premises become common knowledge, accepted fact.

    I hope you’ll deal at greater length with the practical issue of how those who have legitimate expertise (and non-experts who make legitimate arguments) can prevail when ‘common knowledge, accepted fact’ is just plain wrong.

  18. 18
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    I don’t suppose there are any evolutionary psychologists about who can explain why Rebecca Watson evolved to publicly criticize evolutionary psychology? Hmm? Hmmmmmm?

  19. 19
    Skeptic Dude

    While we’re on the subject of biases. Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a flawed discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of uncomfortable conclusions that do not mesh at all with airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking. Surely that’s just a coincidence.

  20. 20
    Chuck

    “I don’t suppose there are any evolutionary psychologists about who can explain why Rebecca Watson evolved to publicly criticize evolutionary psychology? Hmm? Hmmmmmm?”

    Poor placental oxygen supply in mitochondrial Eve. DUH.

  21. 21
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking

    Horde, I just retrieved my bingo card and marked the first square. Ready to play?

  22. 22
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Josh,

    Don’t forget to mark whichever square refers to those gems that have “skeptic(al)” in the name.

  23. 23
    michaeld

    @ 15 Brownian

    Indeed randi has talked plenty about say homeopathy for example without a basic degree in chemistry, biohcemistry, medicine, or homeopathy (not that a degree in it would be worth much IMO).

    Or looking at Penn and Teller’s Bullshit (a show I enjoy despite it’s flaws) they lack expertise in: psychology, developmental psychology, toxicology, oncology, sexology, parapsychology, alternative medicine, medicine, biology, nutrition, neuroscience, political science, ecology, theology, economics, ethics, education, mathematics, business, biochemistry, criminal justice etc etc etc…. I could go on but pretty much every field of study at this point has been discussed by them at some point.

  24. 24
    LeftSidePositive

    Notice how Chas’s argument consists of NOTHING but “shut up and sing”?!

    Notice how he hasn’t actually described any additional depth that Rebecca is missing that would change her argument or our interpretation of the field? Notice how he hasn’t actually presented any of the original research that’s so much more thorough and brilliant than what Rebecca talked about? Notice how he hasn’t produced any candidates of what this “received opinion” could be, nor has he produced the sources that were apparently left out of a “selective” reading? Notice how he hasn’t actually shown any flaws in her science or skepticism that would then give him grounds to speculate about her motives or make them relevant? Notice how he hasn’t produced any actual errors that would justify his saying she doesn’t know what she’s talking about? Notice how he doesn’t provide any critical missing substance that would then justify his saying her talk is “substance-lite”? Notice how “glib” is a pathetically transparent tone argument that ought to just go fucking die in a fire already?! Notice how it’s actually the pop EvoPsychos and their defenders that are pretending to be an expert on human behavior based on mere speculation?

    So, in short, Chas has got fucking nothing but poisoning the well with a metric fuckton of “maybes.”

  25. 25
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Good catch, Beatrice! Also squares with names including “rational,” “true” “objective” and “empirical” are also free.

  26. 26
    PZ Myers

    Yes, Chas, it’s possible she’s never read a single one of the papers that she criticized, and that those dumb examples she used were all sterling examples of excellent research that she mangled beyond recognition.

    You might notice, though, that even in Ed Clint’s critique he had to confess that those weren’t particularly good papers. I don’t think you can rescue your hypothesis by revealing that they were actually quality work, unfairly maligned.

    Also, how does this hypothesis that she didn’t read or understand the work fit with the previously issued “cherry-picking” hypothesis, that she was intentionally selecting bad papers?

  27. 27
    broboxley OT

    We’ve actually got people declaring that she only has a bachelor’s degree in communications, therefore she wasn’t qualified to talk foreign policy
    that happens quite a bit.
    Does Marv Albert call basketball games? Sure, is he qualified to speak about sexual assault? Maybe, should he do it during a basketball 1/2 time? No.
    Costas will be on Sunday Night Football this Sunday and rightfully so.

    Now RW is a different story. Her Platform is to discuss what ever she wants to. She found issues with an obviously flawed piece of pseudo science and called them out. Correctly.

    Science (not all but some) don’t need years of studying at the feet of the master to be clearly understood by an outsider.

    I have been studying climatology for about 10 years. Peeled apart the NOAA Fortran source code that they do Climate Modelling with looking for errors. Didn’t find any glaring issues. I do like to call out items in the popular press that are incorrect and point out why they are incorrect. Every time I am told to leave it to the professionals and I couldn’t possibly understand it. Hogwash.

    If we left everything to the professionals we would still be treating homosexuality as a disease and applying electroshock therapy as a cure.

    My 2 cents and RW can take any side of any argument, if the statements are accurate good for RW

  28. 28
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    While we’re on the subject of biases. Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a wonderful, perfect discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of comfortable conclusions that mesh very well with the ways bigots, abusers, rapists and theists wish reality was. Surely that’s just a coincidence.

  29. 29
    daniellavine

    Notice how Chas’s argument consists of NOTHING but “shut up and sing”?!

    I did notice that. Quite conspicuous in a thread where the OP is about how revealingly impotent this argument is.

    While we’re on the subject of biases. Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a flawed discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of uncomfortable conclusions that do not mesh at all with airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking. Surely that’s just a coincidence.

    Still on the subject of biases, isn’t it pretty clear that there’s a lot of people who are uncomfortable with all the “airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking” and strain their tiny little minds mightily trying to discredit it? And isn’t it rather convenient for them that evo psych pseudo-science supports their pre-existing biases?

    May come as a surprise but racists and sexists (even closet ones who have TONS of black friends I swear) are occasionally biased as well. And between the Flynn effect, the sheer variety of behavior and belief among human cultures, and the absurd amount of plasticity in the human brain, there’s plenty of reason to doubt the essentialist garbage that Kanazawa et al are pushing. Especially when their “science” so conveniently mirrors their politics.

  30. 30
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Another place “Shut Up and Sing” manifests:

    “Why are you complaining about [racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/etc] so much? Why can’t you be rational and objective about this? Why are you so emotional about it? I (a learned straight cis white man) do see why that is a problem, but really, do you have to be so strident? Can’t you take a step back and look at the big picture?”

  31. 31
    Funny Diva

    Josh, Official Spokesgay @9

    Looks like a simple subset of TRIBALISM to me! My identity depends on the prestige of my group plus “identity&prestige uber alles”.

    My deepest gratitude once again to all the Hordelings who did so much Heavy Lifting in the “It’s a good idea. It’s depressing that it’s necessary” thread. And, yes, in my book “FOAD you JAQ-off of a mansplaining troll” counts.

    FunnyDiva

  32. 32
    hyperdeath

    All scientific fields should be able to withstand criticism of the form:

    The supposed evidence is merely wishful thinking and misinterpretation. The underlying theory is false, and its supposed integrity is merely due to a set of rationalizations used to evade proper criticism. The literature is a collection of nonsense, allowed to accumulate by peer review which amounts to mutual back-patting. The experts in the field are merely those who have correctly memorized this nonsense.

    If you’re unable to refute such objections, you’re not doing science.

  33. 33
    Anthony K

    While we’re on the subject of biases. Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a flawed discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of uncomfortable conclusions that do not mesh at all with airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking. Surely that’s just a coincidence.

    Look Chas, it’s another self-appointed expert in human behaviour!

  34. 34
    Anthony K

    Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a wonderful, perfect discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of comfortable conclusions that mesh very well with the ways bigots, abusers, rapists and theists wish reality was. Surely that’s just a coincidence.

    The peer review process at work.

  35. 35
    cicely

    While we’re on the subject of biases. Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a flawed discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of uncomfortable conclusions that do not mesh at all with airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking. Surely that’s just a coincidence.

    I’m sure it’s also a coincidence how much so many Evo Psych-backed assertions resemble “Just So Stories” to explain things “that everybody knows”:

    How The Woman Evolved To Belong In A Socially Subordinate Position

    How the (insert minority or ethnic group) Evolved To Be Intellectually Inferior

    and a personal, idiosyncratic favorite, courtesy of my late, ex-brother-in-law:
    How Women Evolved To Be The Natural Changers Of Diapers.

    (It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. We evolved an enhanced tolerance for the smell of babby poop.

    No, it’s true!)

    (Do not miss that goob.)
    -

  36. 36
    Anthony K

    I do hope Skepticdude will resubmit the paper pending the changes suggested by the reviewers.

  37. 37
    iknklast

    I have one thing to say: Alan Sokal.

    This reminds me of the sort of arguments he got following his “peer reviewed paper” that was just an assortment of mish-mash using buzz words that were familiar to the in crowd. And a physicist! Oh, my, the smart ones are on our side! That field has yet to recognize its flaws, in spite of the devastating hoax that revealed them so plainly to others.

  38. 38
    Sastra

    SkepticDude:

    Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a flawed discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of uncomfortable conclusions that do not mesh at all with airy-fairy postmodern politically-correct wishful thinking.

    Yeah, because Skeptic’s Guide to the Galaxy is where I always go to get my airy-fairy-postmodern- politically-correct wishful-thinking fix.

  39. 39
    michaeld

    Also in defense of skeptics with degrees in communications, Peter Hadfield aka Potholer54 who’s done great work against climate deniers and creationists is trained in journalism.

  40. 40
    poxyhowzes

    Nobody seems to recognize that RW wasn’t talking explicitly about evo-psych, but instead about the pop[ular] communication of evo-psych. Pop[ular] communication of science is a field in which Rebecca Watson is extraordinarily well qualified, not only by virtue of her degree, but even more by her lifelong, successful dedication to and practice of it.

    Ed Clint has not, AFAIK, commented at all on the topic of the pop[ular] communication of evo-psych, but rather has castigated Rebecca Watson for not talking in a popular forum about Ed’s own biased view of what may or may not be the ‘science’ of evo-psych.

    Ed, go get a respectable academic degree in Science Communication. Come back and talk to us when you have the diploma in hand. Until then, confine your communications to peer-reviewed journals.

  41. 41
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Chas:
    Do you have anything substantive to back up all those _maybe’s_? If you think she is wrong, offer up a counterargument.
    Is it possible that *maybe* you do not have one?

  42. 42
    =8)-DX

    Science (not all but some) don’t need years of studying at the feet of the master to be clearly understood by an outsider.

    Ooooh! Is that a challenge to name some? Rocket Science? Quantum Mechanics? Brain Surgery?

    Rocket Surgery on the other hand is something left almost entirely to laypeople.

  43. 43
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I was going to say…

    Have you ever noticed that very few “skeptics” reject criticisms of theism because they come from non-theologians? I seem to remember everyone and their cousin buying and raving about books by Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens. You don’t have to be an expert to notice dumb ideas, or even dumb comments from otherwise smart people. I don’t need to myself be an author of note to criticize a specific comment a writer makes, or have a degree in political science to reject some whackaloon idea from an elected official.

    It does seem to be an overlap of sexist, racist, bigoted assholes looking to preserve their unearned place in the world through pseudoscience, and folks who dislike Rebecca Watson for daring to exist and point out sexism and assholery.

  44. 44
    broboxley OT

    42# =8)-DX
    the art of filling tubes with explosives on a launch track takes years to learn? Hamas seems to grasp the subject

    Quantum Mechanics can be learned by studying the materiel if you have enough Math Background to grasp the material.

    Brain Surgery? Seriously? I would rather have a Neurologist direct a trained technician with steady hands cut me than a Brain Surgeon with palsy. Wait, they already do that, with robotics.

  45. 45
    PZ Myers

    Actually, no, you’ve forgotten the long wrangle among the skeptics about Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens — there was a dark period where a lot of skeptics rejected any intrusion by atheists into their domain. There were people who left the JREF in a huff over the fact that Dawkins was invited to speak at TAM.

    There are still old guard skeptics who insist that religion is completely outside the bounds of skeptical inquiry.

  46. 46
    ChasCPeterson

    Nobody seems to recognize that RW wasn’t talking explicitly about evo-psych, but instead about the pop[ular] communication of evo-psych.

    Well, see, that’s because she really did not make that distinction “explicit” at all. She seems to waver back and forth. A commenter at Wilkins’ blog is more specific.

    And a parsimonious explanation for why she critiqued blogposts and popular articles and press releases instead of primary literature is because she is completely unfamiliar with the primary literature. She says so at the end of the talk.

  47. 47
    scienceavenger

    If rightwingers are intent on driving noncredentialled critics from the public sphere of scientific criticism, they can start with practically every one of their global warming critics. Whistling past them while jumping on Costas reveals their agenda is political, not scientific.

  48. 48
    wilsim

    Been waiting for EP criticisms for long, long time.

  49. 49
    Sastra

    Yeah, because Skeptic’s Guide to the Galaxy is where I always go to get my airy-fairy-postmodern- politically-correct wishful-thinking fix.

    Oops. Just noticed this. Um.

    Yeah — and I meant to add that Skeptic’s Guide to the UNIVERSE is where I always go to get my airy-fairy-postmodern- politically-correct wishful-thinking fix FIXED.

  50. 50
    Inaji

    We’ve actually got people declaring that she only has a bachelor’s degree in communications

    Then those people had best shut up, as I’m sure they are only qualified to talk in and about highly limited areas.

  51. 51
    Kristjan Wager

    Well, see, that’s because she really did not make that distinction “explicit” at all.

    You mean, apart from all the times she made it clear during the talk, and even in the Q&A afterwards?

  52. 52
    flex

    One of the few books I think everyone should read is the CIA publication, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richard J. Heuer.

    To the best of my knowledge this book hasn’t been mentioned here for a few years. It covers many of the same issues with experts and amateurs, and springs immediately to mind when the courtier’s reply is discussed.

    Available for free download here:

    https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/psychology-of-intelligence-analysis/index.html

    I’d rate it as important for skeptics to read as Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians.

  53. 53
    LeftSidePositive

    Chas–the fact that she focuses on what is influential does not mean that she does not go back and read the primary literature about what gets influential–in fact much of her talk was about going back to how unsupported media assertions actually are in primary literature. She never said that she doesn’t read any primary literature–she said that she hasn’t done an exhaustive search of all primary literature that is not related to the topic of her talk. By the way, the receptivity to casual sex study and the study that speculated that women evolved to find berries, to name a couple in her talk, are both peer-reviewed studies, and contain the degree of flawed thinking and unsubstantiated assertion in the originals, not in popular media exaggeration.

  54. 54
    flex

    Aaaand, there is a unclosed italic. Doh!

  55. 55
    julianhill

    @michaeld, brownian
    –There’s also a lot of stage magicians in skepticism who to the best of my knowledge rarely have higher degrees.–

    I don’t know about other magicians but James Randi has always been at pains to explain that he doesn’t give a flying eff how people purport to be able to perform their supernatural tasks; he just wants them to demonstrate them under tightly controlled double-blind testing conditions.
    It’s up to the wider scientific community to take over and investigate once the pigs fly.

    I also remember a couple of years ago, Randi made an ill informed comment about global warming in one of his blog posts. He was taken to task about this by the JREF forum membership and published a mea culpa in his next post. I can dig out the links if you’re interested.

  56. 56
    Sastra

    ChasCPetersen #46 wrote:

    Well, see, that’s because she really did not make that distinction “explicit” at all. She seems to waver back and forth.

    Question: if Rebecca HAD made it ‘explicit’ at the beginning of the talk that her criticisms were specifically directed at popular and extreme conceptions of evo-psych, would the rest of the talk been just fine, in your opinion?

  57. 57
    broboxley OT

    Here is the main problem I have with EP
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evolutionary-psychology/

    Many evolutionary psychologists (See e.g. Tooby and Cosmides 1992) appeal to the idea that there is neither enough time, or enough available information, for any given human to learn from scratch to successfully solve all of the problems that we face in the world. This first consideration supports the conclusion that the underlying mechanisms we use to solve the relevant problems are innate (for evolutionary psychologists “innate” is usually interchangeable with “product of natural selection”[4])

    I will give flight or fight adrenal reactions as well as a few others to being hereditary but disagree with the statement’s generalities.

    1.)We eat, sleep, shit, fornicate, urinate, think and avoid pain.

    Any given human starting from scratch will be able to accomplish the list posited in 1.)

    Any other human activities are in direct support of the above and almost all human activities are in aid of providing “self” a personal version of the above activities.

    The younger learn from peers, parents, relatives and others. No hereditary evolutionary selective traits needed to accomplish the stated goals.

    Now investigation without bias into EP is good and will be able to delineate what has enabled us to accomplish our list of things to do, in the way we do them.

    Unfortunately most EP in the popular press is bias confirmation reminiscent of anthropologists with the same issues.

  58. 58
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    scienceavenger #47
    If rightwingers want to drive noncredentialed people out of scientific criticism, they should basically just shut the hell up completely, relly.

    ChasCPeterson, Skeptic Dude
    So point us to some of this well-done evopsych. We’re all eagerly waiting.

  59. 59
    miller

    But here’s that telling reveal: in response to an exposé of shoddy science within the field, the evolutionary psychologists aren’t saying, with some embarrassment, ‘Yeah, we need to clean house a bit, and we should maybe be criticizing the sloppy work ourselves a little more loudly.’

    To be fair, Ed Clint admitted that Watson “brings up some truly objectionable research”, and says that EP is trying to clean up after the disreputable research of Satoshi Kanazawa. This was a relatively short note in a very long criticism, but if his only sin was to overemphasize the points of disagreement rather than points of agreement, I can personally forgive that.

    I look forward to a discussion of just how far-reaching the problems with EP are. I’ve seen pop-EP, and it doesn’t look good, but I don’t know enough to say anything about the field as a whole.

  60. 60
    Caveat Imperator

    Hell, sometimes people who DO have credentials get criticized if they criticize their field too broadly. Hector Avalos comes to mind. He’s argued that the field of Biblical studies as understood today needs to be gutted and carved up, and wants the better parts to be folded into history, archaeology, literature, and elsewhere. His critics have called him a traitor, and they’ve accused him of starting with his conclusions and working backward just because he’s an atheist.

    Even if a professional within evopsych made the exact same arguments, the people who are criticizing Watson would find something else to nitpick.

  61. 61
    nohellbelowus

    Question: Is there any good evolutionary psych?
    Watson: Probably…? [giggles] I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring [giggles]… because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything. [giggles]

    If I was an evolutionary psychologist, that statement would annoy me. She lampooned my career choice, and it got under my skin. Simple as that.

    Science denialism? No. No way. Given her credentials and accomplishments, Rebecca Watson could never legitimately be characterized as anti-science.

    Was Watson’s Skepticon 5 presentation science denialism? No way. It could even be interpreted as a wake-up call for better science.

    I actually enjoyed her presentation. If she could learn to not laugh so much at her own jokes, she might even be on Letterman some day.

  62. 62
    hyperdeath

    What’s with the alpha at the beginning of the title?

  63. 63
    daniellavine

    Chas,

    Well, see, that’s because she really did not make that distinction “explicit” at all. She seems to waver back and forth. A commenter at Wilkins’ blog is more specific.

    And a parsimonious explanation for why she critiqued blogposts and popular articles and press releases instead of primary literature is because she is completely unfamiliar with the primary literature. She says so at the end of the talk.

    Do you really not see how these two paragraphs contradict each other? (Hint: if her talk focused on blogs and popular articles rather than primary literature then perhaps you could have made a relatively simple inference about the object of criticism?)

  64. 64
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    It does seem to be an overlap of sexist, racist, bigoted assholes looking to preserve their unearned place in the world through pseudoscience, and folks who dislike Rebecca Watson for daring to exist and point out sexism and assholery.

    And they call it Evo Psych, a/k/a I Can’t Believe It’s Not Science!

    So point us to some of this well-done evopsych. We’re all eagerly waiting.

    I’ve been asking that, and waiting for an answer, for four years. Though, to be fair, I just asked again recently, but then lost track of what thread that was, so maybe it was provided finally.

    Though I’m sure evo psych has a ‘really good’ study about how ladybrains just can’t comprehend the total awesome sauce that is evo psych. And therefore its true. Because someone said it.

  65. 65
    Tom Foss

    I’m a little surprised that PZ didn’t specifically mention Randi among the people unqualified to speak about science. After all, Randi’s writing a book (for an awfully long time now) about his experience being a layperson magician assisting in science labs. I suppose Drescher will be crowing about that when it comes out, too. Right?

    Addendum: one of her pals in the whole “never mix skepticism with atheism” crowd is no scientist artist former shepherd Daniel Loxton. Strange how she never complained about his lack of expertise when he was releasing his book about evolution.

    All the recent EP stuff caused me to go back and find the Gould/Lewontin paper on spandrels, just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an EP hypothesis that something wasn’t specifically selected for, that it might have just been a byproduct of other things.

  66. 66
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    So, the holy principle of peer review.
    Do I really need to mention the name “Wakefield”?
    By now measles are endemic again in countries that though they were over them and children have died thanks to the fact that peer review managing not to see a complete fraud.
    Who was the person who expose all of it? A journalist…

    +++

    It really doesn’t matter what she said, or what her qualifications are, or why she said it, or how right she is — the main problem for the critics here is that Rebecca Watson is saying something, somewhere. That makes a lot of people very angry for some reason.

    My idea for an experiment was that the next talk she gives is an old one from Dawkins. My hypothesis is that the usual suspects will froth at their mouth about the “bullshit” she says.

    +++
    Dudebro

    Its funny how Evo Psych is perceived to be such a flawed discipline, now that it just also happens to reach a lot of uncomfortable conclusions…

    Damn, you got us. We just don’t like evopsych because it exposes that we actually really, really, really, hardwiredly like pink no matter what but we want to whine and complain about the fact how it is pushed onto us.
    At least I know why your ilk will defend evopsych even if they get their data by rolling the dice.

    ++++

    Also, how does this hypothesis that she didn’t read or understand the work fit with the previously issued “cherry-picking” hypothesis, that she was intentionally selecting bad papers?

    Oh, oh, oh, I know the answer:
    Rebecca Watson!
    By now it should be clear that you can hold as many contradictory opinions as you want to as long as they all bash her. The best get out of logic-fail card ever.

    +++
    Dalillama

    So point us to some of this well-done evopsych. We’re all eagerly waiting.

    Oh, but didn’t you read about that wonderful “sports” paper on the last thread? If you think that it’s mostly a “just so” story it’s because you’re lacking the qualification to understand it as Chas does.

  67. 67
    iknklast

    Giliell – after reading all the evopsych I’ve been seeing, I’ve realized that I must add some pink to my wardrobe. Apparently I have been misinformed on what I like by the evil anti-science, science-denialist crowd who thought I liked green, black, and brown instead, because, well, that’s what I thought I liked, but it’s so, like, non-scientific to like things because of what you LIKE. I’ve got two Y chromosomes; they tell me I like pink! And that’s why I don’t like EvoPsych, because now I’ve got to go shopping for new clothes. Oh, wait, I like that too, don’t I? ;-)

  68. 68
    Jen

    Yet oddly everyone demands I give talks and interviews about feminism and social justice, but I’m trained as an evolutionary biologist/genomicist. I’ve had times where I say I’d prefer to talk about science instead and I’m turned down.

    So if I give the same exact talk Rebecca gave, everyone would be cool with it? I have a feeling not.

  69. 69
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I’ve got two Y chromosomes; they tell me I like pink!

    Best typo of the week :)
    Yeah, also shoes. Something must be wrong with me, I’m not delighted by the idea of buying them.
    Knives on the other hand will my eyes make sparkle and my husband utter soothing words…
    Oh, wait, we’re still talking about shopping, don’t we? And when I make stuff myself it just proves that I’m best suitable for domestic work, I guess.

  70. 70
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I’ve got two Y chromosomes;

    I’m guessing you mean X.

  71. 71
    Cuttlefish

    Re: Randi…

    The problem was not that he was a non-scientist in a lab. The problem was that the scientists were non-magicians being fooled by simple slight of hand and other trickery.

    In the tradition of Houdini (“a magician among the spirits” pdf here: http://www.insidemagic.com/magicnews/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/A-Magician-Among-the-Spirits.pdf ), Randi noticed scientists being duped, and had his own expertise to lend. If a spoonbender was able to defy the laws of nature in a manner no physicist could explain… maybe it was not a job for a physicist. Scientific expertise (I suppose, expertise in general) tends to be narrow, but also tends to breed confidence. Especially in the physical sciences, researchers are simply not accustomed to having their subject matter intentionally lying to them. Magicians, as Randi has suggested, lie to people for a living.

  72. 72
    Anthony K
    So point us to some of this well-done evopsych. We’re all eagerly waiting.

    I’ve been asking that, and waiting for an answer, for four years. Though, to be fair, I just asked again recently, but then lost track of what thread that was, so maybe it was provided finally.

    You can find the infamous shopping study (well, references to it) if you google Dr David Holmes, Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester Arndale shopping centre, the company that commissioned it.

    His CV* covers some interesting topics. So does his rap sheet.

    *Kidding. Here’s his University page: http://www.rihsc.mmu.ac.uk/staff/profile.php?surname=Holmes&name=David

  73. 73
    peterferguson

    I don’t think qualifications should determine whether a person is qualified to talk about a given subject, but sufficient knowledge should at least be attained, that much is obvious.

    Rebecca, I feel, had sufficient knowledge when talking about pop-EP, however, her talk delved into EP as a whole on a number of occasions. When she did, she showed a distinct lack of knowledge in the field. Whether EP is a credible science is irrelevant at this point as Rebecca did not have enough knowledge on the subject to prove it or discuss it in detail. Throughout the speech she misrepresented numerous simple facts regarding EP. This should not be accepted at a sceptic conference, or any other conference for that matter.

    And on a side not, if you feel that qualifications are not needed to speak on a topic PZ, well you have changed your tune. This is taken from one of your previous posts, The Zombied-Eyed Granny Starver.

    “The other appalling thing about Ryan is how much the media is puling about how smart he is, and calling him a brilliant policy wonk (also hammered on by Pierce). Ryan is a guy with a bachelor’s degree in economics whose entire career is defined by political gladhanding and devotion to far-right ideological nonsense. He’s not particularly well-qualified; a BA is a degree that gives you a general knowledge of the basics of a field, and it’s a good thing, but it does not turn you into an expert. Ryan’s degree in economics is worth about as much as Bobby Jindal’s degree in biology.”

  74. 74
    Pteryxx

    For background reading (thanks to commenter jose over at Stephanie’s here) some critiques of evolutionary psychology that aren’t from RW.

    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 link to WEIRD People] 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.

    and Frans de Waal’s call for an overhaul of the field to address basic misconceptions such as ignorance about evolution, from 2002: [PDF link] Evolutionary Psychology: The Wheat and the Chaff

  75. 75
    Ichthyic

    you know, there are entire journals devoted to this field, for anyone who actually, really, WANTS to try and figure out what the field is like, what the studies are like, what the flaws are, whether there really are interesting papers in the field, etc.

    stop with the armchair, and on with the reading.

    start here:

    http://www.epjournal.net/

    then analyze each of the papers you find interesting.

    do the authors identify a problem that is unique and is lacking significant address in the literature as a whole?

    do they pose a good hypothesis to address this issue?

    do they follow up with methods appropriate to testing this hypothesis? Are there appropriate levels of replication for each variable being tested?

    do they identify limitations with their methods in either the results or discussion sections?

    do they apply an appropriate analytical model to the results?

    does their conclusion follow from the results obtained?

    yeah… now go and do that for each study of interest.

    that’s what real scientists do. that’s what gets done when PZ mentions “ripping a paper apart” in a graduate level or faculty discussion.

    so… how many of you have actually done that?

  76. 76
    ChasCPeterson

    In lieu of responding or taking bait, I apologize for the intemperate and reactionary nature of my comments on this topic over the last couple of days.
    Pop-criticism of EP and/or pop-EP just tends to get a bunch of my goats at the same time, but there’s no point in acting out about it. It was self-indulgent and I’m sorry for the aspersions cast.

    So I think I’ll just shut up wait until Prof. Myers is done poisoning the well and(oops) gets to the specifics.

  77. 77
    Ichthyic

    …oh I almost forgot the most important part!

    after you finish analyzing years worth of studies in evo psych to correctly evaluate how many have significant errors in either methods or conclusion, then it would be wise to compare that to any other field where behavior is studied.

    this is probably the standard to compare to:

    http://www.journals.elsevier.com/animal-behaviour/

    how many of the papers in this journal suffer similar issues to those in the evo psych journal?

    are the errors the same errors, different, more, less?

    does evo psych approach similar issues with different methods, or not?

  78. 78
    kristinc, now with added ventilation

    There’s an apocryphal story about a nurse who noticed non-evidence-based practices being routinely used on her ward and brought it up to a doctor. “And just what qualifies you,” huffed the doctor, “to criticize these prtactices?”

    She sweetly replied: “I can read.”

  79. 79
    John Morales

    Ichthyic, abductive reasoning is the weakest inferential method.

  80. 80
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    1.)We eat, sleep, shit, fornicate, urinate, think and avoid pain.

    Any given human starting from scratch will be able to accomplish the list posited in 1.)

    Actually, shitting and urinating are the only ones I’ve never observed had indirect evidence of people regularly failing to do. O.o

  81. 81
    Anthony K

    Here’s a good one. In fact, it’s the first one on the page:

    Inclusive Fitness Affects Both Prosocial and Antisocial Behavior: Target Gender and Insult Domain Moderate the Link between Genetic Relatedness and Aggression

    Here’s the abstract:

    Although prior research has examined the relationship between genetic relatedness and helping behavior (Burnstein, Crandall, and Kitayama, 1994), less is known about its role in aggressive responses to insults (Fitzgerald and Ketterer, 2011). Drawing on inclusive fitness theory (Hamilton, 1964) and the Kinship, Acceptance, and Rejection Model of Altruism and Aggression (KARMAA; Webster, 2008; Webster et al., 2012), we designed a 2 (participant gender) x 2 (target gender) x 2 (insult: status vs. reproductive) x 3 (relatedness: stranger vs. cousin vs. sibling) between-person experiment in which 489 participants (a) read vignettes in which a stranger, cousin, or sibling was insulted and (b) reported their emotional reaction and retaliation likelihood (six-item α = .91) in response to the insult. Consistent with theory and prior research, men were significantly more aggressive than women, and people were significantly more aggressive responding to insults against kin than non-kin. These findings support theoretically-derived, dynamic, and domain-specific links among insults, gender, relatedness, and aggression.

    There were three hypotheses that they tested:

    1. Consistent with most research on gender differences in aggression (e.g., Bettencourt and Miller, 1996; Eagly and Steffen, 1986), we expected men to respond more aggressively than women.
    2. Drawing on inclusive fitness theory and using a set of planned contrasts, we expected participants to respond more aggressively (a) on behalf of kin (siblings and cousins) than non-kin (strangers), and (b) on behalf of close kin (siblings) than distant kin (cousins).
    3. Following Fitzgerald and Ketterer (2011; Kirkpatrick et al., 2002), we expected reproductive insults to elicit more aggression than status insults.

    …but the experiment only supported the first two (and specifically only part (a) of the second).

    The mention a possible limitation being that they surveyed responses (e.g. Please read the following scenario and imagine that it is happening to you. The sibling referred to below is a female that has the same biological mother and father as you.…You’re at a big party and there are lots of people around. Suddenly someone you do not know walks up to you and calls your sister a whore.) and had them respond using a Likert scale, rather than insulting people’s sisters/brothers/strangers/cousins in person.

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but this is the kind of research for me, you fucking golddiggers/assholes/douchebags who may or may not be closely vs. distantly related to observers.

  82. 82
    Anthony K

    I must admit to being perplexed by something. Since much EP relies on what we know about animals, and since they reduced human relationships to simplistic biological ones (kin vs non-kin, but no consideration of close friends vs. distant cousins, for instance), why didn’t they cite evidence for how animals respond to theoretically hearing their sisters called whores?

  83. 83
    Khantron, the alien that only loves

    Why would they use stranger/cousin/sibling? Presumably you’d know your cousin/sibling, but not a stranger, could that explain the results? They obviously should have used friend/cousin/sibling. Really ridiculously obviously. Like a complete failure of critical thinking obvious.

  84. 84
    Anthony K

    Again, I must stress that this study was the very first one at the journal Ichthyic linked to, lest I be accused of using my trichromatic vision and nimble, Plio-Pleistocene digits to cherry pick.

  85. 85
    Inaji

    Brownian:

    lest I be accused of using my trichromatic vision and nimble, Plio-Pleistocene digits to cherry pick.

    That wouldn’t happen, as cherry picking would come under the heading of gathering. Also, red fruits, only women would be attracted to them because pink.

  86. 86
    jose

    “And when you’ve got some deeply ingrown subfield where all the “peers” buy into the same bullshit, and approve and publish each others’ papers, the garbage can reach toxic levels.”

    This point is very important. If you send a paper to a journal whose editors agree with you on the foundational concepts of the field you’re working on, you’re going to get published even if those concepts are not up to the common standard in the rest of science.

    In every other field related to animal behavior, say, biogeography, herpetology, etc. you always has studies at least attempting to identify a strong genetic component to the traits they claim were shaped by natural selection for some reason or another. At least you have heritability measures (even if many times it’s misapplied), and often they actually identify the alleles involved in the traits that are being studied. An example.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you have Nishida in Tanzania carefully tracking groups of chimpanzees, keeping notes of all the kinship relationships throughout generations in order to understand the power dynamics taking place within groups and between groups and how individuals find their place in their group.

    These examples are in opposite ends in terms of their scope -from single aminoacid substitution to the multigenerational social study of entire populations-, but what they share is scientific rigor. And that’s a problem with many journals specialized in evolutionary psychology (I don’t dare say all because I don’t know all of them): they routinely accept studies that purportedly identify adaptations and other outcomes of evolution with more than questionable samples (a couple dozen students from your psychology class aren’t representative of the whole of human nature) and without bothering to establish whether the trait in question has any evolutionary significance, or even if it is heritable at all; unlike what happens in other disciplines, this is taken as a given from the beginning, and the editors of the journals take it as a given as well, so no wonder so many flawed studies make it into peer-reviewed journals.

  87. 87
    paercival

    I’ve been a long time lurker here, and this discussion over EP has me a bit confused on one point, and I’d like some help. I teach high school and we sometimes talk about learning styles different students have, and sometimes it becomes a gender thing: girls learn best one way, and boys learn best a different way (with exceptions, etc). And to a certain extent that made sense because of different hormones affecting behavior, etc. And now reading this stuff here makes me doubt the educational learning stuff because it makes differences in behavior based on gender. Can someone help make this more clear for me? Thank you – and sorry if it’s a dense question

  88. 88
    Inaji

    And to a certain extent that made sense because of different hormones affecting behavior, etc.

    Seriously? Really?

  89. 89
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @Brownian:

    Again, I must stress that this study was the very first one at the journal Ichthyic linked to, lest I be accused of using my trichromatic vision and nimble, Plio-Pleistocene digits to cherry pick.

    Oh, man! This is why I keep coming back to Pharyngula ;-)

  90. 90
    John Morales

    paercival, do the boys and the girls wear the same clothing in your high school?

    (Or, less-snarkily, are they socialised in the same manner?)

  91. 91
    michaeld

    @55 JulianHill

    Indeed, I remember when that happened. To be clear I’m not saying we need to kick the magicians out, I think they are quite useful as cuttlefish pointed out. I was just bringing them up as lay people that get to do a lot of talking and are listened to in skepticism despite not having credentials in the area’s they talk about.

    Or if you look at the Skeptics guide to the universe Evan also has a communications degree and I think Jay is in computers. There’s plenty of other skeptics doing good work in the community who are not directly experts on the topics they talk about and that’s ok (is my point). So for people to pick on Rebecca for having a degree in communications is silly (not that you are necessarily saying this).

  92. 92
    paercival

    Ok, I’m wrong. Fine. Kids are socialized differently and therefore learn differently. So next time I take a class, or professional development about student learning styles, and someone mentions gender, do I just tell the person to shut up? What response would be most effective?

    Where my brain starts to hurt is when I think about something like steroids: don’t they cause an increase in testosterone, and isn’t aggression (roid rage) part of that?

    Like I said, I’m just trying to understand and reconcile what I learned with what now makes sense as presented by PZ and some others here

  93. 93
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    @86:
    Nononononononononono!
    *different people learn differently*
    Period.
    There is no line to be drawn WRT to learning diffetences between the sexes. Some girls learn the same way boys do and vice versa. Heck, some people require a mixture of techniques to learn information.

  94. 94
    birdterrifier

    I can’ see how political punditry is at all analogous to scientific criticism.

    Is there an established objective method for political pundits to found their opinions on (of course they should be founded on the fact but that’s what the scientific method should do)?

    Does the political punditry world generally demanded to operate in an objective manner?

    Do we generally base our political opinions on personal experiences and political ideologies?

    I think the answer to these questions is “no” and that’s why I don’t think that it’s an apt analogy for scientific criticism.

  95. 95
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    BTW, I found interesting an EP paper that Justin Griffith linked to on his blog, courtesy of jose I understand. As Justin writes:

    It’s got some well-laid out problems with the field of EP. Curiously, it frames much of the criticism as a past tense problem (‘traditional EP’) and suggests some quality control measures already are (or should be more rigorously) applied by present day scientists (‘modern EP’).

    Curious indeed. But they nevertheless acknowledge the tendency in the field to jump from observing a behavior to proposing an evolutionary hypothesis without considering anything in between (i.e. making up “just-so-stories”):

    Traditionally, EP has tested hypotheses using the conventional tools of psychology (questionnaires, computer-based experiments, etc.). Generally these hypotheses have a functional perspective—that is, EP proposes that a particular mechanism functioned to enhance reproductive success in our ancestors.

    However, Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen famously proposed that understanding behavior requires comprehension not only of its function and evolution, but also of its causation and development, and he argued that a complete understanding of behavior involves addressing all four of these questions. These distinctions are relevant because accounts of the evolution of brain and cognition cannot in themselves explain the brain’s underlying working mechanisms, since these are logically distinct questions. While evolutionary analyses may generate clues as to the mechanisms of human cognition, these are best regarded as hypotheses, not established explanations, that need to be tested empirically, and there are instances where such evolutionary hypotheses about mechanisms have had to be rejected. Here, we ask which of Tinbergen’s questions is currently addressed in the field of EP…

    They also remind EP researchers that:

    There is sufficient empirical evidence for the deployment of context biases, such as conformity or prestige bias, to render the casual dismissal of transmitted culture counterproductive. A broader EP could actively pursue these questions, [emphasis mine] by testing experimentally whether human social learning is dominated by content or context biases, and by investigating the factors that affect reliance on each. The finding that innovation, social learning, and other aspects of development are capable of introducing novelty into phenotype design space, thereby establishing new selective scenarios, opens up new opportunities for investigating evolutionary novelty to which social scientists can actively participate.

    I’ll be all the more interested to read further PZ’s critique on evo-psych, since he’s a developmental biologist!

  96. 96
    carlie

    Does the stuff about attractiveness and ovulation cycles and pheremones count as evo psych? Because that seems more like neurology or physiology rather than psych.

  97. 97
    Inaji

    So next time I take a class, or professional development about student learning styles, and someone mentions gender, do I just tell the person to shut up? What response would be most effective?

    You might try pointing out that such notions are sexist and silly and shouldn’t be perpetuated. There’s plenty of research out there to back you up, too. In other words, educate the adults doing the educating.

    As for the few who might take steroids*, what does that have to do with how individuals learn?

    *No, taking them is not a good idea, but unless you have classrooms stuffed with kids on steroids, I don’t see why you’re mixing that up with methods of teaching/learning. Unless you’re just intent on making this all about hormones.

  98. 98
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Paercival:

    To be honest, I wouldn’t tell them to shut up. If I may be blunt, you don’t know enough about the learning differences PEOPLE have to make an informed opinion. Study more. Read more. Really listen to what students say. Do not accept what you’re told is truth. If you must, do so provisionally, until you can verify the truth. I kknow that for me, learning depends on the subject. Things I have an interest in, I learn quickly. Other things are more difficult and require repetition. Still others require real world application for me to understand.

  99. 99
    Kagato

    Peterferguson @73:

    And on a side not, if you feel that qualifications are not needed to speak on a topic PZ, well you have changed your tune. This is taken from one of your previous posts, The Zombied-Eyed Granny Starver.

    “The other appalling thing about Ryan is how much the media is puling about how smart he is, and calling him a brilliant policy wonk (also hammered on by Pierce). Ryan is a guy with a bachelor’s degree in economics whose entire career is defined by political gladhanding and devotion to far-right ideological nonsense. He’s not particularly well-qualified; a BA is a degree that gives you a general knowledge of the basics of a field, and it’s a good thing, but it does not turn you into an expert. Ryan’s degree in economics is worth about as much as Bobby Jindal’s degree in biology.”

    Notice the highlighted words.

    There is an important difference between promoting someone with mediocre qualifications as being an elite expert in a field, and allowing someone with allowing someone with limited expertise to criticise a field.

    Being a critic (or a skeptic) does not make you an expert, but that does not disqualify the criticism either.

    That’s not to say someone without formal qualifications can’t become an expert (as Sir David Attenborough illustrates above); but their expertise must be demonstrated, not merely asserted.

  100. 100
    Anthony K

    Indeed, I remember when that happened. To be clear I’m not saying we need to kick the magicians out, I think they are quite useful as cuttlefish pointed out. I was just bringing them up as lay people that get to do a lot of talking and are listened to in skepticism despite not having credentials in the area’s they talk about.

    Right, I was too, in case that was confusing on my part.

    And JulianHill and Cuttlefish made good points with respect to Randi’s usual care not to overstep his expertise (I remember the global warming snafu too.)

  101. 101
    broboxley OT

    Doing my own cherry-picking
    http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP10727730.pdf
    The Challenges of a Darwinian Approach to Psychological Disorders

    “Living is a
    sequence of episodes in which organisms attempt to reach goals and avoid losses”

    more later after I finish the article

  102. 102
    Inaji

    Tony:

    Really listen to what students say.

    That’s a good start. My primary problem in HS was being bored to tears, which is why I rarely showed up to class and easily aced all my tests. I can count on half a hand the amount of teachers who were fun, interesting and didn’t treat the students like a bunch of halfwits.

  103. 103
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @ Tony:

    There is no line to be drawn WRT to learning differences between the sexes. Some girls learn the same way boys do and vice versa. Heck, some people require a mixture of techniques to learn information.

    Oh, gosh, that’s one where past personal experience knocks on the door and howls…

  104. 104
    jose

    paercival @86,
    First of all, each kid is a different individual. What’s true for an average need not be true for an individual. Just to get that out of the way.

    Now, it may be the case that there are different techniques that work better for boys and others that work better for girls on average. It’s an empirical question, just which ones work best. I have no clue because I don’t know anything about teaching, maybe PZ, being a teacher, can weigh in, or perhaps other commenters. But that isn’t exactly related to the topic at hand here, because the response to a learning technique doesn’t need to have anything to do with evolution. Why would we automatically go for the explanation that this difference is caused by innate, genetic differences between the sexes which originated as adaptations for some behavior our ancestors used to find useful for survival and mating? Is there any reason at all to pick this explanation in particular over other alternatives?

    But it gets worse than that: in my opinion, the answer to that question is impossible to find. This is because in the case of humans, it’s impossible to set apart education from built-in traits. We are exposed to external influence since before we are born, and we are constantly reshaped by it and we constantly reshape it ourselves. We can’t take newborns and raise them in the same environment in a controlled way like we can in the case of crops, flies, mice or even apes. In the case of humans, there are going to be necessarily too many uncontrolled factors to establish a meaningful measure of heritability. Even studies about identical twins “separated at birth” suffer from this.

    There was this study in which boys were raised as girls but they nevertheless preferred trucks to dolls (can’t find it right now, sorry). This showed, according to the study, that many cases of sex-specific behavior in kids are innate. This is an example of an uncontrolled study. It is impossible for the parents to be sure they have overcome unconscious bias due to the fact that they know they are raising boys. This is why blind studies and control groups are used in science in the first place! But what can we do? Lock the boys up so the parents don’t know who they’re dealing with? It’s human beings we’re talking about.

    So, to sum up… my take would be to err on the side of safety and pay attention to the kids as individuals.

  105. 105
    Jadehawk

    some of the papers at epjournal are entertaining. especially like the one that can’t tell the difference between machismo and physically self-sacrificial altruism, and consequently uses the former to test whether the latter is a primarily male behavior.

    guess what the result was.

  106. 106
    Tom Foss

    Paercival: I think part of it is picking your battles. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard in Ed classes about the effect that the full moon has on students and the like. Sometimes you just have to let the pseudoscience go with a sigh.

    Re: Evo-Psych: one of the other big problems (that I rarely see brought up, but I don’t spend all my time reading evo-psych journals, so take it with a grain of salt) is the assumption of applicability and universality to these traits that are being explained. Regular psychology research (and/or the reporting thereof) has the consistent problem of making broad claims derived from a study of educated western grad students. Before we can begin discussing whether or not a trait is specifically the result of evolutionary processes, don’t we have to first determine whether or not the trait is expressed in more than just members of particular societies? Are these evo-psych researchers conducting studies of the !Kung and the like to ensure that the traits they’re studying aren’t the effect of a particular culture?

    The first study from that linked Evo-Psych journal I could get to open was this one, which based its findings on observations of a huge number of not only groups from different cultures, but also closely-related species, in order to draw valid conclusions.

    Oh no wait, it was 78 undergraduates. My mistake.

    From a brief skim, I noted this line: “Physically self-sacrificial altruism is commonly perceived as a stereotypically male, as opposed to female, behavior.” Commonly to whom? Perceived by whom? Is this true across a wide variety of different cultures? Is this true across temporal differences? The evidence provided in response to these questions is the opinion of a Sioux warrior. Awesome.

    This was part of the problem Ben Radford ran into with his “pink bcuz berries” nonsense awhile back. The whole “pink is for gurlz” thing isn’t universal across cultures, it’s not even universal in this culture across the last hundred years. Isn’t that a major lesson in Skepticism 101–before trying to explain a phenomenon, make sure the phenomenon actually exists.

  107. 107
    Jadehawk

    From a brief skim, I noted this line: “Physically self-sacrificial altruism is commonly perceived as a stereotypically male, as opposed to female, behavior.” Commonly to whom? Perceived by whom? Is this true across a wide variety of different cultures? Is this true across temporal differences?

    also: by which definition of physically self-sacrificial altruism? note that they discuss only examples from the category machismo; the quiet self-denial for the comfort of others that’s stereotypically more commonly ascribed to women doesn’t get mentioned at all, even though it fits into “physical self-sacrificial altruism”, too.

  108. 108
    Jadehawk

    blockquote fail

  109. 109
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I wanted to respond (belatedly) to a couple of comments from the earlier thread:

    they’re fixated on looking for differences, distinctions, and oppositions rather than human commonalities

    They’re asking different questions than you think they should. They’re looking for commonalities within–and therefore differences among–subsets of people instead of among the whole kumbaya world of the old Coke commercials. I understand. Part of the reason is because some questions are regarded as or treated as more interesting than others within a field. Part of the reason is that the specific case of sex differences has a rich literature of theory and comparative data behind its hypotheses, more so than most other (generally more complex) aspects of behavior. And part of the reason is that statistical hypothesis testing takes commonality as the null hypothesis and therefore predictions of differences can be supported much, much more confidently.

    I think you misunderstand. What I’m suggesting is that even when they look at subjects other than mating, they approach them from the start with assumptions about and a quest to find differences.

    Take for example, the sports article. (Please.) The question of why humans enjoy sports and watching sports is a fascinating question, and there are no doubt interesting evolutionary insights. Of course, you could approach this question as “Why do many people enjoy playing and watching sports?” (accepting that much variation exists). It’s plausible that enjoyment of sports (and nonathletic games) is rooted in the enjoyment – shared by the vast majority of humans and many other species – of play. Many people have studied play behavior amongst other animals species. Enjoyment of and interest in watching sports (and other skilled performance) could be linked to aesthetic enjoyment and the pleasure of observing and learning from skilled practitioners more generally, or vicarious play. There are numerous and complex plausible explanations, and our understanding is seriously rudimentary.

    EP proceeds differently. They begin with assumptions about differences across subsets of humans based on their culture in a particular historical moment. Sure, women might enjoy sports, but they don’t “excel” as much as men in the sports that are most culturally valued, so we should look, in trying to understand the enjoyment of sports, to fundamentally distinct qualities of men and women. The assumptions that go into this and the possibilities and paths ignored are numerous. The most extreme is the assumption that the reasons men and women are interested in playing and watching sports are qualitatively different. It’s a bias of the field.

    ***

    Okay. I asked this question on Stephanie Zvan’s page, but no answer, so I’ll ask it here.

    Why the fuck do we care what evo psych even has to say about gender roles? It’s the only thing I ever see about evo psych – “women like to shop because…” “women are attracted to…” “men are…” – it’s all sexist bullshit and it’s all built around this ridiculous hunter/gatherer type of meme.

    So the big question is – why do we fucking care? Why should we give a rat’s ass if women are conditioned evolutionarily to enjoy shopping more than men? Why should we care if anything in our evolutionary past makes it so men are more aggressive than women?

    It’s just another way to put people in boxes. I hate boxes. I want to destroy all boxes. Everyone is unique. Life is not dictated by our genes. Even if we found out all these magnificent evopsych bullshit articles were true, so the fuck what? Do we hereby prevent women from having jobs or doing stuff they’d rather do because it’s in their genes? What about trans*persons like myself?*

    What does it fucking matter?

    This is an important subject. You’re asking two questions here: Why do evo psych proponents care, and how do their conclusions affect their actions? and Why should we non-EPs care what they have to say?

    They care primarily for reasons of sexism and racism. Is it possible to look for differences between/among categories without seeking to rank them in a fixed and inevitable hierarchy? Sure, but it’s highly unlikely and has not been the case with EPs or their forerunners.

    Discussing these alleged differences is unavoidably political, but, again, the history of EP and its ancestors is clear: these arguments have explicitly and generally proudly been used to support policies that have limited the opportunities of large numbers of people and caused great harm. They do “hereby prevent women [and black people, and Jewish people, and Southern European people, and poor people,…] from having jobs or doing stuff they’d rather do because it’s in their genes,” in a thousand different, tragic ways.

    I mentioned The Mismeasure of Man and Delusions of Gender on the previous thread. If you haven’t read them, you really should. The rhetoric is consistent, the arguments are consistent, the effects on policy are consistent. This is dangerous stuff. That’s why we who recognize it as bullshit continue to care.

    I wish that we didn’t have to continually deal with this nonsense. (Like theology, it’s a waste of our time and theirs.) As Gould argued long ago, it thrives in periods of conservative ascendency and conservative retrenchment. I believe we’re emerging from one of the latter, and the situation is all the more promising in that the last fundamental plank in the raft of rightwing ideologies – speciesism – is also being addressed. This will take a while, and it’s only the combined advance of social justice movements and challenges to faith and bogus conservative science that will do it.

    *I’m honestly shocked that you don’t see why people would care about what the self-proclaimed representatives of science, who have an effect on policy, have to say about trans people.

  110. 110
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Damn. Hope this is fixed:

    I wanted to respond (belatedly) to a couple of comments from the earlier thread:

    they’re fixated on looking for differences, distinctions, and oppositions rather than human commonalities

    They’re asking different questions than you think they should. They’re looking for commonalities within–and therefore differences among–subsets of people instead of among the whole kumbaya world of the old Coke commercials. I understand. Part of the reason is because some questions are regarded as or treated as more interesting than others within a field. Part of the reason is that the specific case of sex differences has a rich literature of theory and comparative data behind its hypotheses, more so than most other (generally more complex) aspects of behavior. And part of the reason is that statistical hypothesis testing takes commonality as the null hypothesis and therefore predictions of differences can be supported much, much more confidently.

    I think you misunderstand. What I’m suggesting is that even when they look at subjects other than mating, they approach them from the start with assumptions about and a quest to find differences.

    Take for example, the sports article. (Please.) The question of why humans enjoy sports and watching sports is a fascinating question, and there are no doubt interesting evolutionary insights. Of course, you could approach this question as “Why do many people enjoy playing and watching sports?” (accepting that much variation exists). It’s plausible that enjoyment of sports (and nonathletic games) is rooted in the enjoyment – shared by the vast majority of humans and many other species – of play. Many people have studied play behavior amongst other animals species. Enjoyment of and interest in watching sports (and other skilled performance) could be linked to aesthetic enjoyment and the pleasure of observing and learning from skilled practitioners more generally, or vicarious play. There are numerous and complex plausible explanations, and our understanding is seriously rudimentary.

    EP proceeds differently. They begin with assumptions about differences across subsets of humans based on their culture in a particular historical moment. Sure, women might enjoy sports, but they don’t “excel” as much as men in the sports that are most culturally valued, so we should look, in trying to understand the enjoyment of sports, to fundamentally distinct qualities of men and women. The assumptions that go into this and the possibilities and paths ignored are numerous. The most extreme is the assumption that the reasons men and women are interested in playing and watching sports are qualitatively different. It’s a bias of the field.

    ***

    Okay. I asked this question on Stephanie Zvan’s page, but no answer, so I’ll ask it here.

    Why the fuck do we care what evo psych even has to say about gender roles? It’s the only thing I ever see about evo psych – “women like to shop because…” “women are attracted to…” “men are…” – it’s all sexist bullshit and it’s all built around this ridiculous hunter/gatherer type of meme.

    So the big question is – why do we fucking care? Why should we give a rat’s ass if women are conditioned evolutionarily to enjoy shopping more than men? Why should we care if anything in our evolutionary past makes it so men are more aggressive than women?

    It’s just another way to put people in boxes. I hate boxes. I want to destroy all boxes. Everyone is unique. Life is not dictated by our genes. Even if we found out all these magnificent evopsych bullshit articles were true, so the fuck what? Do we hereby prevent women from having jobs or doing stuff they’d rather do because it’s in their genes? What about trans*persons like myself?*

    What does it fucking matter?

    This is an important subject. You’re asking two questions here: Why do evo psych proponents care, and how do their conclusions affect their actions? and Why should we non-EPs care what they have to say?

    They care primarily for reasons of sexism and racism. Is it possible to look for differences between/among categories without seeking to rank them in a fixed and inevitable hierarchy? Sure, but it’s highly unlikely and has not been the case with EPs or their forerunners.

    Discussing these alleged differences is unavoidably political, but, again, the history of EP and its ancestors is clear: these arguments have explicitly and generally proudly been used to support policies that have limited the opportunities of large numbers of people and caused great harm. They do “hereby prevent women [and black people, and Jewish people, and Southern European people, and poor people,…] from having jobs or doing stuff they’d rather do because it’s in their genes,” in a thousand different, tragic ways.

    I mentioned The Mismeasure of Man and Delusions of Gender on the previous thread. If you haven’t read them, you really should. The rhetoric is consistent, the arguments are consistent, the effects on policy are consistent. This is dangerous stuff. That’s why we who recognize it as bullshit continue to care.

    I wish that we didn’t have to continually deal with this nonsense. (Like theology, it’s a waste of our time and theirs.) As Gould argued long ago, it thrives in periods of conservative ascendency and conservative retrenchment. I believe we’re emerging from one of the latter, and the situation is all the more promising in that the last fundamental plank in the raft of rightwing ideologies – speciesism – is also being addressed. This will take a while, and it’s only the combined advance of social justice movements and challenges to faith and bogus conservative science that will do it.

    *I’m honestly shocked that you don’t see why people would care about what the self-proclaimed representatives of science, who have an effect on policy, have to say about trans people.

  111. 111
    Jadehawk

    I believe we’re emerging from one of the latter,

    you’re such an optimist

  112. 112
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    you’re such an optimist

    Inherited it from my father. ;)

  113. 113
    Nancy

    Since you’re going after sketchy evolutionary psychology (finally) please address this work of Helena Cronin in which she uses the principles of evolutionary psychology to argue in favor of the traditional – or as she calls, it “traditional” – family economic arrangement.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html

    It started out as a policy paper but then she recycled it as an op-ed in a British newspaper.

    I got into a brief debate with Dawkins about this in 2009 in the Pharyngula comments – and unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish it. I pointed out that what Cronin was suggesting was that the British government should arrange its employment system to encourage the traditional male-breadwinner family arrangement. Here’s Cronin’s conclusion:

    ***
    Rather than taking male standards as the universal measure, or expecting the sexes to adopt androgynous working roles, the government should design family-friendly employment practices that reflect the different preferences of women and men. A recent government survey revealed that women are happier with a different balance of work and family. Following the birth of the first child, women work less, men work more – an arrangement that both mothers and fathers endorse. Another recent study found that of all parents in the 1990s, the most contented groups appeared to be mothers and fathers in “traditional” single-earner families in which only the father worked. The unhappiest mothers and fathers were those in families without an earner, followed by families where mothers were the sole earners.

    The government should be tackling the causes of family breakdown. There is no evidence that interfering with the symptoms – re-educating the poor parenting, purveying marriage guidance, instituting prenuptial agreements or redesigning marriage ceremonies – will have any effect on marriage and divorce rates.

    ***

    Now in spite of the fact that anybody who can read English can clearly see what Cronin is getting at – that the British government should be “tackling the causes of family breakdown” by ensuring a single (male) earner family, Dawkins said that I just didn’t understand the science well enough to get what she was really saying. And literally all he knew about me was my screen name.

  114. 114
    jose

    Whoops, I had a lapsus in my last comment: “there are going to be necessarily too many uncontrolled factors to establish a meaningful measure of heritability.”

    Nooo, that’d be easy. Just study families with adopted kids! I mean inheritance. Big difference, trying to pin down the magnitude of the trait (be it capacity for learning, propensity, etc), rather than its variation.

  115. 115
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Now in spite of the fact that anybody who can read English can clearly see what Cronin is getting at – that the British government should be “tackling the causes of family breakdown” by ensuring a single (male) earner family, Dawkins said that I just didn’t understand the science well enough to get what she was really saying. And literally all he knew about me was my screen name.

    I can confirm this. Dawkins’ comments on that thread, particularly regarding Cronin, were arrogant, ignorant, and silly. (And this is said from no affection for Nancy, and with a good deal of respect for Dawkins.) He did acknowledge some of his error when challenged by Nick Gotts, but it doesn’t seem to have changed his general arrogant bigotry, unfortunately.

  116. 116
  117. 117
    jose

    About Cronin… she puts so much emphasis on genetic kinship in order to defend the nuclear family. She’s aware spouses are genetically total strangers, right? If we are programmed to care primarily for our genetic relatives, it’s no wonder we have so much divorce nowadays!

    There’s also the fact that the concept of the nuclear family is barely a century old and that the majority of human cultures are not monogamous. Is there a way to say “cultural chauvinism” and not sound rude?

  118. 118
    Inaji

    Jose:

    Is there a way to say “cultural chauvinism” and not sound rude?

    Politely? I don’t think niceness is necessary when pointing out such massive problems.

  119. 119
    ChasCPeterson

    theywe always return to the scene of the crime

  120. 120
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Oh, oh, oh, I know the answer:
    Rebecca Watson!
    By now it should be clear that you can hold as many contradictory opinions as you want to as long as they all bash her. The best get out of logic-fail card ever.

    …has anyone ever seen Rebecca Watson and Obama together? O.O

  121. 121
    Jadehawk

    another fun one: low birth-weight correlates with ADHD and promiscuity, therefore scrawny twerps make up for the evolutionary disadvantage of being scrawny twerps by screwing everything that moves.

    hmmm… wonder what else correlates with low birth weight, ADHD prevalence, and sexual promiscuity…

    nah, can’t be. socioeconomic class is a cultural thing, so that can’t be it. it must be evolutionary, because reasons

  122. 122
    iknklast

    Hi, I’m back. Sorry about the two Y chromosomes – too much grading, not enough sleeping.

    Learning styles. As an educator, I depsie that. Every student in my class babbles on about learning styles. No matter whta I do, if they do poorly in class, it’s because I taught to a different learning style. So I get evaluations that say “she taught to a verbal learning style, and I’m a visual learner.” The next evaluation (same semester, different student) will say “she taught to a visual learning style, and I’m a verbal learner”. Even my dean, excusing why he couldn’t understand a simple declarative sentence with simple one-syllable words informed me that he is a “visual learner”.

    Learning styles is really just a crutch used to beat teacher’s over the head. And from what I’ve read in several sources, they don’t seem to have good evidentiary support, and no two people I’ve ever met test for them the same way, or come to the same conclusions about what my learning style is. That’s not a good sign of sound science.

  123. 123
    iknklast

    Sorry about the typos. despie = despise. My computer thinks it’s Hal.

  124. 124
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Iknlast:
    All of that leaves me wondering, is there a *best* method of teaching? If not, how do we ‘teach to the student’?

  125. 125
    broboxley OT

    EP warning, screenfulls of post
    one thing I notice is that some EP folks are using a lot of questioning of living humans and deducing inherited traits from the answers. They might do better studying history and folklore to find commonalities with current day diagnosis of mental health issues.

    Lets take a look for examples
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berserker

    This fury, which was called berserkergang, occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its colour. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe. When this condition ceased, a great dulling of the mind and feebleness followed, which could last for one or several days.[8]

    Jonathan Shay, MD, makes an explicit connection between the berserker rage of soldiers and the hyperarousal of post-traumatic stress disorder. In Achilles in Vietnam he writes:
    If a soldier survives the berserk state, it imparts emotional deadness and vulnerability to explosive rage to his psychology and permanent hyperarousal to his physiology — hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans. My clinical experience with Vietnam combat veterans prompts me to place the berserk state at the heart of their most severe psychological and psychophysiological injuries.[12]

    the Malay mengamuk is described similarly. American Indians of the plains had named fighters with this marker.

    Now I want to separate those humans who have bad environmental markers that could induce a similar rage, like going postal to a true berserker (for lack of a better term)

    A true berserker has physiological changes prior to going into a fugue state where extreme violence ensues with no regard to who is harmed or self harm. The state ends when there is either no further object to attack or systemic exhaustion, long past normal human exhaustive states. The berserker is socially apart from the rest of the group (who wants to be close when they go off?) has self esteem issues because of the perceived otherness. Has to compensate for the difference in a somewhat socially acceptable manner.

    A historical example of this is the American Plains Indian called Crazy Horse by the whites. He fought with very little ornamentation. Had no apparent fear. Was not liked by the Big Bellies because of their distrust of his motives. From sources he had a “hawk?” that lived in his chest that only gave relief when in battle.

    Now what is the evolutionary advantage of those (if this is genetic and I suspect it is) attributes? If those who carried the gene in the local pool of people were a small enough group it would be an advantage in protecting the group. So how would a small group of new humans utilize this ability? Like ebola, if too many folks carried this trait all would be killed off quickly so it needed to be contained.

    From folklore and history man has wrapped these others with
    “special” consideration. Custom and religion would seek to suppress these attributes until needed. Because of the nature of the trait many would be killed by wary neighbors such as the “Black Donnelnellys” of Canada. So if this particular trait is genetic what would we see today?

    Suggest that the DSM (Intermittent explosive disorder) be looked at closely to see who actually fits the historical description. See what genetic markers that may be different from the general population and start tracing back for commonality.

    A good pool to start with are the descendants of Nial. Its already a known marker, he fit the traits. (My Gran used to say berserk was the blood of Nial). Check those markers against arrests, hospitalizations, news accounts and further refine the base.

    At that point EP becomes useful. A throwback gene that can cause serious pain can be detected early and hopefully treated as at least in today’s western world that is not a useful genetic trait.

    First prove it. There is a real use for EP if it checks out.

  126. 126
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Throughout the speech she misrepresented numerous simple facts regarding EP.

    Such as?

  127. 127
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    They might do better studying history and folklore to find commonalities with current day diagnosis of mental health issues.

    …any suggestions for a control group?

  128. 128
    broboxley OT

    #126 Azkyroth, if you read the whole post you will see a ready made group to check for commonality then everyone who does not have have Nial’s markers as a control group. Use the populace Northern Ireland or Scotland who don’t have the Nial marker as a control group. Not cheap, I know

  129. 129
    iknklast

    Tony, I don’t know if there’s an answer to that. I think you have to do what works for you. I hear a lot of theory from education majors, but what I’m seeing in my classrooms is students who show up without the most basic of knowledge. Maybe it’s time to throw out all the theory, and start over.

    My grandmother was a highly successful English teacher. Her students were extremely successful in life, and they appreciated her. She probably had no clue about “teaching theory”. She just taught. And they learned. Maybe that’s what it’s about. Finding your own style, not putting up with crap, and encouraging students to work on their own behalf.

    We all want magic answers. Why can’t Johnny read? We blames the teachers, and teachers probably do make mistakes. But I think at best that’s only a small part of the answer.

  130. 130
    latsot

    I’ve often found amateur opinions useful in challenging and sometimes changing some of the assumptions I’ve made in my own field. I give talks about my work in front of mixed discipline audiences and quite a lot of the really good questions come from people in other fields.

    I think this is partly because I have no authority in that relationship and the questioner has nothing to lose by asking a question that might turn out to be foolish. The question comes from a genuine lack of understanding (which is my fault for being such a poor speaker) or from a genuine desire to learn something new (which is great, that’s why I’m doing the talk).

    In contrast, experts tend to raise fairly small, detailed, technical points. This is valuable too, but doesn’t challenge assumptions. Both types of criticism are useful.

  131. 131
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    paercival
    Just tell them that this is a sexist overgeneralisation and that we should use multiple teaching and learning strategies as to reach all our individual students.
    An anecdote: When you talk to parents of young kids they will all notice how different they are from each other, especially if they’re closely related in age.
    Now the first explenation people who have different sex children is to fall back on the naturalistic fallacy and attribute the differences to boy vs. girl. One talked earlier, the other one walked earlier. One plays more rough, the other one prefers quiet games, one is better at painting, the other one and jigsaw puzzles…
    Now, parents whose children are the same sex actually notice the very same differences…

    ++++

    “Physically self-sacrificial altruism is commonly perceived as a stereotypically male, as opposed to female, behavior.”

    I’m very sure that the person who worte this was never pregnant…

    ++++

    The unhappiest mothers and fathers were those in families without an earner, followed by families where mothers were the sole earners.

    This has, of course, nothing to do with the facts that men do indeed get more pressure to be the breadwinner and are therefore psychologically harder hit by unemployment, while women can in some sense “fall back”* into the housewife position.
    And it’s also independent of the fact that in those sole female breadwinner families the second shift is also often done by the mothers because it’s beneath the unemployed man who does so.

    *Big generalisation here on my part, of course. I’m talking about tendencies

    +++
    iknklast

    Learning styles is really just a crutch used to beat teacher’s over the head.

    Hmm, I don’t think so, but I agree that the argument is over-used as a get out of jail card.
    I do really badky with visual stuff, I really need to concentrate to integrate any of it in my teaching. And I think that most people do best when all their senses are used, although you might have it easier with one or the other. I had classmates who could reproduce those graphics teachers use on the black-board weeks later, while I was at loss. I would carefully put that thing into a text. Then I could learn it.

    . Maybe that’s what it’s about. Finding your own style, not putting up with crap, and encouraging students to work on their own behalf.

    Ehm, no. Education science works with great success and it can tell us a lot about how we learn and what strategies you can use. There might be very gifted individual teachers who will make everybody sparkle, but they are a rare minority. The rest of us needs a profound knowledge and a big toolbox. Sadly, that’s something people who teach on college level hardly ever get.

  132. 132
    carlie

    I teach high school and we sometimes talk about learning styles different students have, and sometimes it becomes a gender thing: girls learn best one way, and boys learn best a different way (with exceptions, etc).

    Huh. I’ve read a decent amount on learning styles and I’ve never seen gender used as a major categorization as to who learns best in what way, nor have I seen any trends between males/females in my classes in who learns how.

  133. 133
    bradleybetts

    @LeftsidePositive #8

    “Can we also devote an upcoming post to the motivations of people who insist that there *MUST* be good EvoPsych, apparently with little actual knowledge themselves? From whence comes this wellspring of certainty, if they themselves are not familiar with EvoPsych beyond its most pop manifestations? My personal favorite is Justin Griffith, who insists that there must be good EvoPsych, touts Clint’s piece as “excellent,” and puts up posts announcing what is really good EvoPsych–and then admits he’s a layperson and hasn’t actually spoken with any experts to see if the studies he likes are actually any good.”

    Hey look, “shut up and sing”! That was quick, I was hoping it would take longer than 8 comments for someone to employ the very fallacy discussed in the article.

  134. 134
    carlie

    Learning styles is really just a crutch used to beat teacher’s over the head.

    teachers, not teacher’s

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that someone who is in charge of an entire class needs to take into consideration how to get the information across to at least the majority of students. To take it to the extreme, you wouldn’t walk into a class of Spanish speakers, lecture in English, and then tell them it’s their fault if they’re not learning. A lot of people absorb things different ways, and they really can’t incorporate it if it isn’t in the way they can understand. It’s not all on the teacher; students need to learn their own styles and how to change one thing over to another (making their own visual maps of their notes, etc.), but it’s good for instructors to keep that in mind as well. How is it a bad thing to have both diagrams and verbal descriptions? What’s wrong with making analogies in a few different ways? It’s not rocket science.

  135. 135
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    carlie
    The gender-thing is big, up to the argument that we need gender seperated schools again to cater best for the different learning types.
    Woe for the “statistical outlier” girl/boy

    It’s not all on the teacher; students need to learn their own styles and how to change one thing over to another (making their own visual maps of their notes, etc.),

    You know, as a high-school teacher in traing I think that is one of my most important tasks: show them different ways and offer them different possibilities and then let them choose the thing that works best for them.
    There’s nothing worse than a teacher who enforces their own personal style onto all children alkie and who will not tolerate a different approach. If they leave my class knowing how to learn I have done a great thing.

  136. 136
    Bernard Bumner

    …Hey look, “shut up and sing”! That was quick, I was hoping it would take longer than 8 comments for someone to employ the very fallacy discussed in the article.

    Expecting someone to do their homework before pronouncing on an academic subject is absolutely not the same as shut up and sing. In this case, it also serves to highlight a certain irony.

  137. 137
    ChasCPeterson

    Mr. Bummer: well said.

  138. 138
    broboxley OT

    #135 Bernard Bumner

    and then admits he’s a layperson and hasn’t actually spoken with any experts to see if the studies he likes are actually any good.”

    well if the studies have been published in a peer reviewed journal, presumably experts have already deemed them suitable have they not?

  139. 139
    mrheteronormative

    Dr. Myers. I’ll put it in a way you can hopefully understand. You see, some of us would like to have segments of society that are free from politics. We would like to be able to watch a game, or listen to a show, that is ostensibly about something else (such as gaming, flower arranging, etc) without constantly having to be made angry by the interjection of the political views of the person presenting.

    You don’t get this at the moment because the current paradigm is that the majority of political interjection is in the left direction. Being not a man of principle, you see no problem with this, but turn the tables and try to imagine if for every time you tried to escape it all, you had to listen to the conservative views all the time.

    After all, the dictum of avoiding politics and relition (pretty much the same thing) in familial circles is that it aids getting along and avoiding tension. Let’s have some areas of society that are free of politics please. It’s polite, and will make society a better place.

  140. 140
    broboxley OT

    mrheteronormative #138 thats reasonable, so why are you visiting here? Did someone hold your nose to your computer and force you to read this blog? Just curious

  141. 141
    Anthony K

    It’s polite, and will make society a better place.

    Fewer unevidenced claims like the above will make society a better place.

  142. 142
    opposablethumbs

    some of us would like to have segments of society that are free from politics.

    HAHHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!

    Translation: those of us who belong to the most privileged sectors of society would like to go right on pretending that what looks “neutral” to us (because it reflects our privilege unquestioningly) actually is neutral. We want to go right on watching shows that replicate and celebrate the male gaze (het, of course) and marginalise/demonise/render invisible every other viewpoint. And we want to claim that this is normal, plain ol’ common sense normal, and that it’s the alternative voices that are “dragging politics into everything”.

    But mrheteronormative, cupcake, the politics are already there – you just like to pretend otherwise.

  143. 143
    Bernard Bumner

    well if the studies have been published in a peer reviewed journal, presumably experts have already deemed them suitable have they not?

    a) That isn’t a given in this reality.

    b) Journal articles taken in isolation are little better than opinion. Consulting an expert would hopefully mean finding someone who can convey the consensus, but also provide some critical insight into the limitations of the thing.

  144. 144
    Bernard Bumner

    Also, I’m not saying LSP is correct, or even right to single out Justin, merely that such criticism is not necessarily shut up and sing.

    I have no problem with people questioning Watson’s expertise, or asking how and why she reached certainly conclusions. I do have a problem with them deciding that she is wrong because she lacks the correct sort of formal bona fides.

  145. 145
    Rey Fox

    Being not a man of principle

    Oh DO tell.

  146. 146
    Anthony K
    Being not a man of principle

    Oh DO tell.

    DreadPirateHeteronormative: “We are men of principle. Politics at half-time do not become us.”

  147. 147
    broboxley OT

    Bernard Bumner thank you for the clarification

  148. 148
    thecynicalromantic

    Many evolutionary psychologists (See e.g. Tooby and Cosmides 1992) appeal to the idea that there is neither enough time, or enough available information, for any given human to learn from scratch to successfully solve all of the problems that we face in the world. This first consideration supports the conclusion that the underlying mechanisms we use to solve the relevant problems are innate (for evolutionary psychologists “innate” is usually interchangeable with “product of natural selection”[4])”

    I want to know what universe Tooby and Cosmides are living in where any given human successfully solves all of the problems that we face in the world. ‘Cos I live in one where people tend to fuck shit up all the time.

  149. 149
    sharculese

    Dr. Myers. I’ll put it in a way you can hopefully understand. You see, some of us would like to have segments of society that are free from politics. We would like to be able to watch a game, or listen to a show, that is ostensibly about something else (such as gaming, flower arranging, etc) without constantly having to be made angry by the interjection of the political views of the person presenting.

    And there are many more of us who think that people who are intelligent and eloquent on one subject (yes, I know we’re talking about Bob Costas here, but pretend we’re not) could also be intelligent and eloquent on other subjects. That it offends your delicate sensibilities seems an odd part of the calculus.

    If you disagree with what people with a popular platform are saying, the solution is to speak up, not to find an excuse to declare their opinions illegitimate. That is not something that someone confident of their own views does.

    Being not a man of principle

    Speaking of excuses for shutting down criticism as illegitimate…

    Seriously, climb down off your high horse. You clearly don’t know how to ride it.

  150. 150
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Many evolutionary psychologists (See e.g. Tooby and Cosmides 1992) appeal to the idea that there is neither enough time, or enough available information, for any given human to learn from scratch to successfully solve all of the problems that we face in the world. This first consideration supports the conclusion that the underlying mechanisms we use to solve the relevant problems are innate (for evolutionary psychologists “innate” is usually interchangeable with “product of natural selection”[4])”

    I think it better supports (along with other evidence) the conclusion that what we’ve evolved that’s innate is considerable cognitive and behavioral flexibility and potential, in order to contend with the various and changing problems we face.

  151. 151
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    It’s interesting that Dawkins’ hypothesis about religion as an evolutionary by-product (of the propensity for children to trust and obey their elders, which helps them to avoid danger) differs from the sort of thinking underlying evo psych. It’s very different from arguments from religious apologists that we have an innate tendency to believe in a god or to “seek God” – arguments used in the same way many evo psych claims are: to reject the possibility that religion will ever go away and contend that such a situation would be undesirable in any case. And he doesn’t try to divide humans into different groups, assuming, for example, that women are innately religious for fundamentally different reasons than men.

    I’m not saying anything about the correctness or incorrectness of the hypothesis (I’m using that term more broadly than I prefer to). I’m just saying the form it takes is quite different.

  152. 152
    daniellavine

    You see, some of us would like to have segments of society that are free from politics. We would like to be able to watch a game, or listen to a show, that is ostensibly about something else (such as gaming, flower arranging, etc) without constantly having to be made angry by the interjection of the political views of the person presenting.

    From what I understand, there are many such shows and games for you to watch. I’ve never heard Bob Barker’s views on NAFTA on “The Price Is Right”. I don’t know whether Vanna White votes Republican or Democrat. So you can find all kinds of politics-free entertainment. But PZ has no obligation to censor his politics on his own blog for your convenience; if you don’t like it you’re more than free not to read it.

    You don’t get this at the moment because the current paradigm is that the majority of political interjection is in the left direction. Being not a man of principle, you see no problem with this, but turn the tables and try to imagine if for every time you tried to escape it all, you had to listen to the conservative views all the time.

    In what sense is PZ unprincipled? Because anyone who disagrees with your politics is unprincipled? Who’s inserting politics in that case? Anyway, the above is bullshit. Conservatism is ascendant in this country and heteronormative and race-baiting bullshit is everywhere in the media. Even without watching TV I’m subject to it constantly. So I don’t have to imagine anything, I know what it’s like for people to constantly espouse political points of view with which I disagree — and do so loudly and pointlessly.

    Let’s have some areas of society that are free of politics please.

    There already are. Just not this blog.

    It’s polite, and will make society a better place.

    You mean for straight, white conformos like you, right? Sorry, I prefer making squares like you intensely uncomfortable.

  153. 153
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    From what I understand, there are many such shows and games for you to watch. I’ve never heard Bob Barker’s views on NAFTA on “The Price Is Right”.

    He is a dedicated animal rights activist, though, and he used to close the show with an appeal to have pets spayed and neutered. Earlier this year he was not included in the 40th-anniversary Price is Right special – after hosting the show for 35 years – because of his public criticisms of some of the prizes on animal rights grounds.

    (He also apparently has a degree in economics. :))

  154. 154
    Jadehawk

    You see, some of us would like to have segments of society that are free from politics. We would like to be able to watch a game, or listen to a show, that is ostensibly about something else (such as gaming, flower arranging, etc) without constantly having to be made angry by the interjection of the political views of the person presenting.

    lol

    no such thing as “free from politics”. the closest you can get is “politics I agree with” or “politics of the status quo”, which while still there, are nearly invisible to the viewer. which means this whine basically amounts to “I don’t want to have to deal with other political views”

    Being not a man of principle

    BWAHAHAHAHA

    try to imagine if for every time you tried to escape it all, you had to listen to the conservative views all the time.

    you mean like what happens every day?

    Let’s have some areas of society that are free of politics please. It’s polite, and will make society a better place.

    I wonder for whom is it better to sweep problems under the carpet? not the people actually affected by the problems, obviously. But hey, that’s political. stoopid reality and its stoopid political bias.

  155. 155
    daniellavine

    SC@152:

    Good point. I think Jadehawk nailed it in 153; I didn’t even think of Barker’s animal rights stances because I mostly agree with them. I’m going to guess Captain Privilege doesn’t notice political stances as such when he agrees with them as well.

  156. 156
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    shorter mrheteronormative: everyone in the world exists to make me comfortable and content, right?

  157. 157
    ChasCPeterson

    I’m going to stick to my pledge to shut up and do the singing I need to get done, but I’ve been thinking and so for the record:

    a) I never criticized Ms. Watson’s qualifications to speak publicly on any issue. Instead I questioned her knowledge of the subject about which she chose to speak in this case. This is not an ad hominem based on who Watson is (and the fact that literally everything turns out to be her fault); rather, I’d have the same questions for anybody else who said what she said in the video in question. Accusing me of the shut-up-and-sing argument is therefore bullshit.

    2. The one thing that annoys me and pisses me off more than anything else is the combination of arrogant confidence and ignorance. This is a combination that I perceive in a great many internet critics of EP, the vast majority, in fact. It’s my honest perception that the talk given by Ms. Watson falls into this category–its information content consists entirely of stuff I could google up with a quick blog-search of appropriately politically oriented sites, and she evinces no clue of having done any homework beyond that. (Again, I’m talking strictly about knowledge, not qualifications or day-job or personality or college major or past performance.) It seems very clear to me that again, the vast majority of internet EP critics (such as here in the comments of this blogpost) don’t even know enough about the actual subject to know how little they know about it–it’s a Dunning-Kruger situation. And I make no claim to expertise or literature currency either.

    C: I feel no obligation nor motivation to offer up examples of “good EP”. For one thing, I style myself no expert on the subject, and I know enough to know that I don’t know much. But if I sincerely wanted to know what kinds of papers are regarded as interesting and reliable, I’d probably avoid asking contrarian assholes and the internet and maybe instead go down to the library to check out one of several textbooks on the subject. Or maybe one of the many useful FAQs and websites available from the very internet I was reading all these half-baked blog comments on, all just a g**gle away..

    iv.) AFAICT, the vast, vast majority of internet critics of EP not only don’t know what they’re talking about, but are also fundamentally disingenuous, since the motivation for their vehemence essentially reduces to ‘OMG somebody might take such hypotheses or results and use them to commit the naturalistic fallacy by upholding the kyriarchical status quo and undermining my more progressive political goals, OMG!’ Very often, this fear is extrapolated into accusations that such political rhetoric is the raisin date of EP and the motivation driving its proponents. Which is a fucking absurdly ridiculous argument from top to bottom. Everybody agrees up front that is ain’t ought, OK? Now we move forward from there. It’s a starting gate that people want to use as a roadblock and this pisses me off.

    e–I am no valiant defender of EP. I do have/had vastly more knowledge in the subject of animal behavioral ecology than 99.9% of people (I’m talking about accrued knowledge, not qualifications), and I am deeply skeptical of the general concept of human exceptionalism. Behavior evolves. Deal with it. Exactly how it’s genetically encoded is not at all clear, yet (which is why the complaint that ‘they don;t even know which genes’ is so deeply stupid, to me), but there is no doubt whatsoever about this fundamental observation of animals from insects to fishes and lizards to primates. None. Therefore, I think the biological/evolutionary/genetic underpinnings of human behavior are legitimate, worthwhile, and interesting subjects of inquiry, and that scientific method ought to be applied to that inquiry whenever possible. As far as I can tell, the people who are trying sincerely to pursue such a research program these days call themselves Evolutionary Psychologists. And that’s why I insist on defending the general approach and goals of the field, even while acknowledging (and/or professing ignorance about) the difficult problems inherent in applying the program.

    VI: Since Prof. Myers has already advertised his intention to “address…the possibility that a whole field could be wrong, then…discuss the flawed premises of evolutionary psychology,” which sounds to me an awful lot like poisoning the well, I’m going to list in the next comment a few links to (what I predict will be) better and more balanced discussions of the problems, progress, pitfalls, and prospects of this field of study.

  158. 158
    Anthony K

    and I am deeply skeptical of the general concept of human exceptionalism.

    I am too, likely even more so.

  159. 159
    ChasCPeterson

    These links explicitly address all of the genuine problems likely to be raised amid the general pummelling:

    First, most of the usual objections are addressed in this FAQ.
    Here is a perspective from some anthropologists, published in a review journal of general ecology and evolution.
    This (pdf) is a recent review in American Psychologist by some proponents.
    This (pdf) is by respected primate-behavior guy Franz de Waal.

    I submit that if you haven’t read these, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about.

  160. 160
    ChasCPeterson

    Finally, I’d like to put forward a candidate paper for PZ’s EP Journal Club (without expressing an opinion, as I haven’t read it carefully yet):

    Full text

    Existing commentary

  161. 161
    daniellavine

    @Chas:

    Behavior evolves. Deal with it. Exactly how it’s genetically encoded is not at all clear, yet (which is why the complaint that ‘they don;t even know which genes’ is so deeply stupid, to me), but there is no doubt whatsoever about this fundamental observation of animals from insects to fishes and lizards to primates. None. Therefore, I think the biological/evolutionary/genetic underpinnings of human behavior are legitimate, worthwhile, and interesting subjects of inquiry, and that scientific method ought to be applied to that inquiry whenever possible.

    See, this is a great example of why I’m pretty skeptical of EP in general despite your vehemence.

    It’s quite obvious looking at the variety of human experience that while in some facile, simple-minded sense “behavior evolves”, not all behavior is evolved. Much behavior is very clearly cultural. The propensity for food taboos is evolved; specific food taboos, however, are very clearly cultural. The capacity for language is evolved; specific features of a particular language are cultural.

    The propensities and capacities just mentioned are “encoded genetically” in some way, sure. But the specifics of the food taboos or language are not genetically encoded, they’re passed individual to individual via acculturation.

    You’re absolutely right that the physiological basis for human behavior is worth studying; but anything worth doing is worth doing right, don’t you agree? So wouldn’t it make sense to actually figure out whether IQ is a measure of physiological difference or cultural differences? Doesn’t it make sense to be skeptical of premature assertions that IQ definitely measures exclusively physiological variables?

    In the case of gender roles, we again see just from the variety of human experience passed to us by historical records that gender roles vary enormously culture to culture (although there is no evidence of cultures with no distinct gender roles at all). So wouldn’t it make sense to actually determine which elements of gender roles are physiological and which are cultural before writing papers about the evolution of various female or male preferences?

    You should be happy that there’s so many people who are skeptical of the results of EP: skepticism of results is what moves any science forward.

  162. 162
    PZ Myers

    Excellent — it even looks interesting from an initial casual perusal. Will read it more carefully this weekend.

  163. 163
    daniellavine

    From Chas’s EP FAQ:

    Behavior is often referred to as ‘plastic,’ a relatively vague and unhelpful term which usually means that behavior changes. The real question is why and how behavior can change in such seemingly useful ways. The descriptor ‘plastic’ contributes NOTHING to an understanding of either the why or the how of behavioral responses to environmental conditions. Useful behavioral change must come from a structured psychology that is generating the behavior. Even describing real plastics (i.e., various types of organic polymers) as ‘plastic’ reveals nothing about the nature of their ‘plasticity’. The plasticity of plastic is a consequence of very specific and hierarchical microscopic properties of the polymer chains, including the types of chemical bonds found on the polymer backbone, the length of the chains, and the number and nature of links between polymer chains, just to mention a few. Similarly, the ‘plastic’ (i.e., changeable) nature of behavior results from very specific and hierarchical properties of the nervous system generating the behavior, and it is the latter which are of interest. At best, the term ‘plastic’ vaguely *describes* a property of behavior (that it can change in response to environmental change); it does NOT *explain* it. It is long past time to junk the term ‘plasticity’.

    Huge fucking straw man and doesn’t honestly address how neuroplasticity complicates EP narratives. Not very encouraging.

  164. 164
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    and I am deeply skeptical of the general concept of human exceptionalism.

    I reject it outright.

    Behavior evolves.

    That can mean a number of different things. It’s too broad a statement to be of any use.

    the motivation for their vehemence essentially reduces to ‘OMG somebody might take such hypotheses or results and use them to commit the naturalistic fallacy by upholding the kyriarchical status quo and undermining my more progressive political goals, OMG!’ Very often, this fear is extrapolated into accusations that such political rhetoric is the raisin date of EP and the motivation driving its proponents. Which is a fucking absurdly ridiculous argument from top to bottom. Everybody agrees up front that is ain’t ought, OK?

    Are you fucking kidding me with this? How could you even type such a ridiculous thing? If you’re that ignorant of reality, you should not be participating in these discussions until you educate yourself. Read Delusions of Gender. Read The Mismeasure of Man (if you read it in the past, read it again). Look at the influence of these stupid arguments on policy, educational practices, and culture over the past century. Read the fucking public statements of EP proponents about the social implications of their work, and look at how they reveal claims of disinterested pursuit of the facts to be false.

    And I’ll point out once again that the claims of what is with which we’re taking issue are unsupported. We’re pointing to fatal problems with their assumptions, methods, and analysis. It’s not that these people are making claims we believe are true but fear might have pernicious social consequences, as you imply. It’s that they’re making claims that aren’t supported by solid evidence and that we know have pernicious social consequences. Let’s say goodbye to the straw feminist (I know you’ve already read that, but apparently can use a refresher).

  165. 165
    broboxley OT

    Chas #159 very interesting paper. I would be interested in adapting http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5843/1360/T1.expansion.html to wolves of a similar age, without the tools test obviously.

  166. 166
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Finally, I’d like to put forward a candidate paper for PZ’s EP Journal Club (without expressing an opinion, as I haven’t read it carefully yet):

    But I’m confused. That’s not in an EP journal. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that no one could do or has done solid work in the evolution of any psychological phenomenon. Quite the contrary. If we’re going to talk about the field of EP then we need some definition that’s more specific, I think. Otherwise people are going to fall into what Dawkins was compelled to admit was an error: assuming that EP is simply psychology understood in light of evolution. It isn’t. It would be in theory, but Real Existing EP isn’t that.

  167. 167
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Similarly, the ‘plastic’ (i.e., changeable) nature of behavior results from very specific and hierarchical properties of the nervous system generating the behavior, and it is the latter which are of interest.

    Huh?

  168. 168
    daniellavine

    Yeah, there’s a whole lot of “huh?” going on in that FAQ item.

    “You see, any behavior that is not caused by genes are caused by physiological features which are in turn caused by genes. Checkmate, EP skeptics!”

  169. 169
    broboxley OT

    What is EP?
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evolutionary-psychology/

    For philosophers of science —mostly philosophers of biology—evolutionary psychology provides a critical target. There is a broad consensus among philosophers of science that evolutionary psychology is a deeply flawed enterprise. For philosophers of mind and cognitive science evolutionary psychology has been a source of empirical hypotheses about cognitive architecture and specific components of that architecture. Philosophers of mind are also critical of evolutionary psychology but their criticisms are not as all-encompassing as those presented by philosophers of biology. Evolutionary psychology is also invoked by philosophers interested in moral psychology both as a source of empirical hypotheses and as a critical target.

    there is that word again
    Philosophers
    Nothing intrinsically wrong with that but like Priests and Politicians YMMV

  170. 170
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @SC #163:

    Look at the influence of these stupid arguments on policy, educational practices, and culture over the past century. Read the fucking public statements of EP proponents about the social implications of their work, and look at how they reveal claims of disinterested pursuit of the facts to be false.

    Exactly. That awful “boy or girl toy” study with vervet monkeys is still quoted and used as representative of the standard of scientific understanding of how girls and boys “naturally” tend to play, even in papers focusing on how to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes:

    http://www.parentingscience.com/girl-toys-and-parenting.html

    BTW, that paper is from 2009, but it was just retweeted today in my TL, posted both by a science writer and a paediatrician.

    So, yeah, it does affect very much the real world outside the internets.

  171. 171
    strange gods before me ॐ

    http://plato.stanford.edu/ is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    Every article in it is going to be about philosophy.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/life/

    Life is often defined in basic biology textbooks in terms of a list of distinctive properties that distinguish living systems from non-living. Although there is some overlap, these lists are often different, depending upon the interests of the authors. Each attempt at a definition are inextricably linked to a theory from which it derives its meaning (Benner 2010). Some biologists and philosophers even reject the whole idea of there being a need for a definition, since life for them is an irreducible fact about the natural world. Others see life simply as that which biologists study. There have been three main philosophical approaches to the problem of defining life that remain relevant today: Aristotle’s view of life as animation, a fundamental, irreducible property of nature; Descartes’s view of life as mechanism; and Kant’s view of life as organization, to which we need to add Darwin’s concept of variation and evolution through natural selection (Gayon 2010; Morange 2008). In addition we may add the idea of defining life as an emergent property of particular kinds of complex systems (Weber 2010).

    And so on. Whatever your point was, broboxley, thanks for sharing.

  172. 172
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Let’s have some areas of society that are free of politics please.

    No such thing. Ever heard the phrase “the personal is political?” No, I thought not.

    What you’re really asking for is areas of society that are free of challenges to your biases. And it’s pathetic.

  173. 173
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    This (pdf) is a recent review in American Psychologist by some proponents.

    Hee:

    Parents apparently encourage girls to play with dolls and houses and boys to play with balls, bats, and toy trucks. Even within this delimited domain, however, the assumption of a unidimensional parent-to-child direction of effects has been undermined by other studies. Male vervet monkeys, like boys, prefer playing with “masculine” toys such as trucks; female vervet monkeys, like most girls, prefer “feminine” toys such as Barbie dolls (Hines, 2004).

    This (pdf) is by respected primate-behavior guy Franz de Waal.

    In which he argues for what EP could potentially be if it weren’t what it currently is.

  174. 174
    chigau (違う)

    Let’s have some areas of society that are free of politics please.

    Is it even possible to have ‘society’ without ‘politics’?

  175. 175
    daniellavine

    I’d love some more details on that vervet monkey study. How do the monkeys know that dolls are feminine toys and trucks are masculine? That is, what is inherently masculine or feminine about this or that particular configuration of plastic that could be inferred by a non-lingual animal? One might guess color but the “gender” of colors seems to me to be rather clearly demonstrated to be cultural.

    Leaving this dangling implication that somehow not only human beings but fucking vervet monkeys possess genes indicating to them that cars are masculine and dollies are feminine doesn’t seem to me to be evidence in favor of EP. Rather the opposite, it’s kind of a reductio ad absurdum of the whole field. Are you really trying to tell me male vervet monkeys have a genetically predisposition to play with plastic toy cars? And I’m not supposed to just laugh at you?

  176. 176
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    daniellavine – you’re overthinking it. See, EP guys sees that little kids play with the toys that are advertised to their genders. And that means we evolved to like those things because that’s a convenient reason not to investigate it any further.

    So far, EP is religion – its circular logic is proof of how awesome is! because reasons!

  177. 177
    ChasCPeterson

    But I’m confused. That’s not in an EP journal.

    I was responding to this request of the ECO’s:

    By the way, if any valiant defenders of EP want to send me an example of the very best of the field, I’ll try to include some — I do not deny that there can be good research carried out by evolutionary psychologists.

    He didn’t specify that it must be from a journal that included the specific words “Evolutionary Psychology” in its title, and to insist on a criterion like that simply displays your lack of understanding. Science is interdisciplinary (sometimes they even publish ecology!). That article addresses one of the deepdown core assumptions of the EP research program, and to dismiss it just because you suspect it might be good is the acme of confirmation bias and no-true-Scotsmanism.

    . If we’re going to talk about the field of EP then we need some definition that’s more specific, I think….assuming that EP is simply psychology understood in light of evolution. It isn’t. It would be in theory, but Real Existing EP isn’t that….he argues for what EP could potentially be if it weren’t what it currently is.

    Sez you.
    This looks very much like moving the goalpost. If it’s any good, then it’s simply psychology from an evolutionary perspective; it’s not Official Evolutionary Psychology? Bullshit.
    Do you think all Official Evolutionary Psychologists are required to fall in line behind the opinions of Toomey, Cosmides, and Buss? It’s like when Nick seemed to claim that Ethology, Behavioral Ecology, Sociobiology, and Evolutionary Psychology are all different nonoverlapping disciplines becuase they have different rubrics. It doesn’t work that way.

    And I note you fail to supply an alternative definition that fits your secret criteria, whatever they are.

    I’d love some more details on that vervet monkey study. How do the monkeys know that dolls are feminine toys and trucks are masculine?

    they don’t. It’s the whole fucking point; the one SC has never grokked. You don’t get it either.
    Those gendered categories are defined by data from human children and compared to data from monkeys. Data. You know, the part of science that can’t be rhetoricized for political purposes?

  178. 178
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I’d love some more details on that vervet monkey study. How do the monkeys know that dolls are feminine toys and trucks are masculine? That is, what is inherently masculine or feminine about this or that particular configuration of plastic that could be inferred by a non-lingual animal? One might guess color but the “gender” of colors seems to me to be rather clearly demonstrated to be cultural.

    Leaving this dangling implication that somehow not only human beings but fucking vervet monkeys possess genes indicating to them that cars are masculine and dollies are feminine doesn’t seem to me to be evidence in favor of EP. Rather the opposite, it’s kind of a reductio ad absurdum of the whole field. Are you really trying to tell me male vervet monkeys have a genetically predisposition to play with plastic toy cars? And I’m not supposed to just laugh at you?

    Oh, it’s even worse than that. The other “feminine” “toy” was a cooking pan. A cooking pan. They gave vervets a cooking pan.

    I dissect the study here.

  179. 179
    ChasCPeterson

    jessus fuck with the vervet thing. I cannot get dragged back into this shitshow.

    this dangling implication that somehow not only human beings but fucking vervet monkeys possess genes indicating to them that cars are masculine and dollies are feminine doesn’t seem to me to be evidence in favor of EP

    Nobody has ever claimed anything like this. It’s as straw as straw gets.

    Are you really trying to tell me male vervet monkeys have a genetically predisposition to play with plastic toy cars? And I’m not supposed to just laugh at you?

    I’m not trying to tell you anything. And you can laugh at me as much as you want, jackass.
    There are data that indicate (putatively) that male vervets prefer to play with toy cars over the alternatives presnted in the experiment. OK?
    It’s not all about ideas, science. It’s about data.

  180. 180
    ChasCPeterson

    So wouldn’t it make sense to actually determine which elements of gender roles are physiological and which are cultural before writing papers about the evolution of various female or male preferences?

    Wouldn’t it make sense to actually determine which elements of gender roles are physiological and which are cultural before writing papers about the cultural transmission of various female or male preferences?

    It’s kind of the whole point of the whole enterprise. I’ll say it again: based on our knowledge of other animals, the panculturalist paradigm of human behavior is not a reasonable null hypothesis. If we can’t start there, then I have little interest in further discussion.

  181. 181
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    He didn’t specify that it must be from a journal that included the specific words “Evolutionary Psychology” in its title, and to insist on a criterion like that simply displays your lack of understanding.

    No, He specified “the field.” We have to have a shared understanding of “the field,” which can be based on self identification and shared assumptions, as Nick showed Dawkins on the earlier thread and as de Waal understands. Because no one that I’ve seen is suggesting that there can be or is no research that examines some aspect of human psychology in terms of evolution. We’re talking about the field that calls itself EP.

    Do you think all Official Evolutionary Psychologists are required to fall in line behind the opinions of Toomey, Cosmides, and Buss?

    You linked above to an article that takes that line (not that they have to, but that they do). I’m not suggesting that they have to. I’m saying the EP that people are talking about when we criticize it is a field with a shared identity and set of shared premises.

    they don’t. It’s the whole fucking point; the one SC has never grokked. You don’t get it either.

    Please stop embarrassing yourself.

  182. 182
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    There are data that indicate (putatively) that male vervets prefer to play with toy cars over the alternatives presnted in the experiment.

    Actually, no. Their so-called data didn’t indicate that. They did not find that preference, and it wasn’t a study of play in any event. (Or really of preferences, for that matter.)

    daniellavine, I fear it’s a lost cause. I’ve been hoping for years now that someone could get Chas to appreciate the absurdity of this study, but so far no success. You can try, though.

  183. 183
    ChasCPeterson

    I dissect the study here.

    In a deeply confused and therefore entirely ineffectual fashion. And you’ll note little dissent in the comments. But it’s not because detailed and thoughtful dissent was not submitted. It was. For that: fuck you, SC, you intellectually dishonest coward.

    Look at the influence of these stupid arguments on policy, educational practices, and culture over the past century.

    Ancient history. Asserted and not demonstrated. And all naturalistically fallacious in any case.

    Read the fucking public statements of EP proponents about the social implications of their work, and look at how they reveal claims of disinterested pursuit of the facts to be false.

    Feel free to link to a couple of examples.

    We’re pointing to fatal problems with their assumptions, methods, and analysis.

    Who’s “we”, Kemosabe? You and C.F. Fine? Go ahead and keep on pointing out these “fatal problems” and count yourselves as exceptions to my generalizations. Because you guys are special and super-sciency and not motivated by your identity politics at all, I know.

    It’s not that these people are making claims we believe are true but fear might have pernicious social consequences, as you imply.

    No, beacuse you have already convinced yourselves that any conclusions or hyptheses with potentially pernicious social consequences (such as those you just summarized as “the influence of these stupid arguments on policy, educational practices, and culture”) could not possibly be true. That’s why you go hunting for the fatal problems in the first place.
    If you were squeaky-clean apolitical science cops, you’d be hunting down the fatal problems in psychology generally, or in comparative physiology, or insect ecology, or studies of molecular signal transduction.
    But you aren’t. Because it’s the potential social consequences that you really care about, not science.

    But anyway, my comment referred specifically to the majority of internet critics of EP. I already said you can be an exception.

    [and once again, this particular topic brings out my inner asshole. I’m sorry. Back to trying to shut up until the specifics get raised.)

  184. 184
    daniellavine

    @Chas:

    they don’t. It’s the whole fucking point; the one SC has never grokked. You don’t get it either.
    Those gendered categories are defined by data from human children and compared to data from monkeys. Data. You know, the part of science that can’t be rhetoricized for political purposes?

    Then what conclusions am I supposed to draw from this “data”? Presumably I’m supposed to conclude something about genetics and gender but without a plausible causal mechanism I’m not sure how I could do such a thing. Ignoring possible methodological flaws and the likelihood that this study hasn’t been replicated yet (and probably won’t be with the same results) have alternative hypotheses for the preferences of vervet monkeys been proposed or am I just supposed to accept by fiat that it’s a function of genes linked to gender?

    Nobody has ever claimed anything like this. It’s as straw as straw gets.

    Then what is the fucking claim being made?

    It’s not all about ideas, science. It’s about data.

    Really now. Then let’s repeat the context:

    Even within this delimited domain, however, the assumption of a unidimensional parent-to-child direction of effects has been undermined by other studies. Male vervet monkeys, like boys, prefer playing with “masculine” toys such as trucks; female vervet monkeys, like most girls, prefer “feminine” toys such as Barbie dolls (Hines, 2004).

    Emphasis mine. So you’re saying that it’s, like, just data, d00d. And yet here it’s being cited as undermining arguments that specific features of gender are culturally determined. If that’s what this study does — undermines the case that gender* is culturally determined — then logic would dictate that the study must be interpreted as supporting the notion that gender is genetically determined.

    So it seems to me despite your cries of “straw man” that this data is being interpreted exactly as I said: that male vervet monkeys are genetically predisposed to playing with plastic toy cars. Otherwise the inference made in this article (recommended by you) is not logically valid.

    I wouldn’t have an issue with the study if it wasn’t being used to advance a particular position on a scientific question, i.e. if it wasn’t being used as evidence for or against some scientific hypothesis. Data can only be used to support or undermine a hypothesis when it is interpreted in a certain way.

    How could this study undermine the idea that gender is cultural if it’s not interpreted as supporting the idea that gender is genetic?

    *I’m using “gender” here as short-hand for “specific features of gender,” i.e. how gender manifests in behavior. Like playing with dollies ‘n shit.

  185. 185
    daniellavine

    Quoted from the study:

    The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage. This implies that sexually dimorphic preferences for features (e.g., color, shape, movement) may have evolved from differential selection pressures based on the different behavioral roles of males and females, and that evolved object feature preferences may contribute to present day sexually dimorphic toy preferences in children.

    How is this not claiming what you called “straw”?

  186. 186
    daniellavine

    @Chas:

    It’s kind of the whole point of the whole enterprise. I’ll say it again: based on our knowledge of other animals, the panculturalist paradigm of human behavior is not a reasonable null hypothesis. If we can’t start there, then I have little interest in further discussion.

    Missed this before. By “panculturalist paradigm” what do you mean precisely? I’m not advocating a blank slate position on human behavior; accusing me of such is well and truly a straw man.

    But I think it’s fair game to point out that gender preferences between human cultures often contradict each other; there’s plenty of evidence pointing to the huge amount of plasticity in human behavior. While “blank slate” isn’t a reasonable null hypothesis, neither is the idea that girls like dollies because they don’t have a Y chromosome.

  187. 187
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    daniellavine

    But don’t you understand, that means that boy-brains evolved to like things with wheels and girl-brains evoled to like things for cooking even before we had wheels or fire.
    Amazing, isn’t it?

  188. 188
    daniellavine

    @Giliell:

    Right now I’m just trying to get a straight answer out of Chas whether or not that is an implication of the study. Because he approvingly linked to an article that clearly does interpret it that way and quoted a part of the study itself making the same inference, but when I pointed out that this interpretation is laughable he referred to it as “straw” and said that no one was making that inference.

    Boudry writes about this particular “immunizing strategy” here in relation to Intelligent Design “theory”: specified complexity is a knock-down argument against evolution…until the concept is criticized at which time the ID “theorist” admits it’s just a tautology. And then when the heat dies down it goes back to being a knock-down argument against evolution.

    These are great arguments as long as you don’t look directly at them.

  189. 189
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    In a deeply confused and therefore entirely ineffectual fashion.

    I invite anyone else to read it and judge for themselves.

    And you’ll note little dissent in the comments. But it’s not because detailed and thoughtful dissent was not submitted. It was. For that: fuck you, SC, you intellectually dishonest coward.

    Chas, I’m trying to protect you, and to avoid your pathological stupidity on this subject. It’s frustrating and unsettling, and I don’t understand it. And we’ve already discussed this on a long-ago thread here.

    Ancient history. Asserted and not demonstrated. And all naturalistically fallacious in any case.

    It’s demonstrated, for example, in Fine’s book. Which you’ve had a couple of years to read. It’s demonstrated in the case of Summers, FFS. Just generally, it’s ridiculous to think that accepted ideas about human differences in capacities and preferences don’t have social consequences. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or false or if the reasoning is fallacious. That’s the reality. Beliefs in innate group differences in intelligence have had a profound effect on people’s lives since forever.

    Feel free to link to a couple of examples.

    From Fine’s article: “Steven Pinker soothed irrationally outraged readers with the information that variations in sex hormones, “especially before birth, can exaggerate or minimize the typical male and female patterns in cognition and personality”, before complaining that a mentality of taboo “needlessly puts a laudable cause [the modern women’s movement] on a collision course with the findings of science”.” I gave you another yesterday when I linked to the article in EP about how evo psych isn’t compatible with gender feminism. Helena Cronin’s arguments have undoubtedly influenced people, and all of these claims would be even more influential if we didn’t produce counterarguments. That’s a small sample.

    Who’s “we”, Kemosabe? You and C.F. Fine? Go ahead and keep on pointing out these “fatal problems” and count yourselves as exceptions to my generalizations. Because you guys are special and super-sciency and not motivated by your identity politics at all, I know.

    Let’s put this silliness to rest. I’ve stated in no uncertain terms, on this very thread, that my motives in prioritizing this subject are personal and political as well as scientific, not that these are neatly separable. That says nothing about the quality of the arguments I make or my substantive criticisms. What I want is for EP proponents to stop hiding behind a mask of disinterested scientific objectivity and acknowledge their motivations, and then appreciate how these shape their assumptions, research, and arguments. Then we can proceed to talk about the substance.

    No, beacuse you have already convinced yourselves that any conclusions or hyptheses with potentially pernicious social consequences (such as those you just summarized as “the influence of these stupid arguments on policy, educational practices, and culture”) could not possibly be true. That’s why you go hunting for the fatal problems in the first place.

    That’s false, but even if it were true, it wouldn’t make the fatal problems I find, and there are many, magically disappear.

    If you were squeaky-clean apolitical science cops,

    WTF? I’ve never claimed to be this, and I don’t think any debunkers have to be apolitical. Science is political. Objectivity rests in the fair and honest conduct and analysis of research, not in purging yourself of political motives. No one should want to do that, and it’s totally impossible.

    you’d be hunting down the fatal problems in psychology generally, or in comparative physiology, or insect ecology, or studies of molecular signal transduction.

    I’ve written quite a bit about problems in psychology that have nothing to do with EP. But, yeah, shockingly I’m most concerned with debunking those bad arguments that I think have the most noxious consequences. I think that’s true of most people, and I can’t see what’s supposed to be bad about it. Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to appreciate the problems with dominant model in psychiatry and the harm it’s causing, and to write about it and join in protests and so on. Does that mean my criticisms are invalid? Of course not. I expect I am less critical of the studies and arguments that are more in keeping with my views. I try to correct for that, but it’s always useful to read intelligent arguments from hostile perspectives.

    My motives for interest in a particular bad arguments by no means invalidate the substance of my criticisms. You have to deal with that substance. The vervet study is a perfect opportunity. It’s possibly one of the dumbest things ever to disgrace a journal, and you’ve been taking it seriously and defending it for two years.

    But you aren’t. Because it’s the potential social consequences that you really care about, not science.

    It’s both. I care about the potential social consequences of bad science, I care about bad scientific practices generally, and I care about the social causes of bad science. As a sociologist who’s studied the modeern history of science and a critical-analytical thinker, I feel confident talking about all three. Doesn’t mean I always get everything right. Drop the political-purity red herring and address the arguments.

  190. 190
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I wouldn’t have an issue with the study if it wasn’t being used to advance a particular position on a scientific question,

    I would. It would have no rationale and the “data” wouldn’t be meaningfully interpretable. It would be worthless, as opposed to jawdroppingly stupid. But that’s still an issue.

  191. 191
    Bernard Bumner

    Chas, do you really think that their experimental design is sufficiently controlled to yield clear data? Their results and interpretation appear to be little more than fishing for superficially appealing correlations. Do they really test their initial hypothesis, or do they actually collect some noisy data and then trawl it to support their conclusions?

    I’m not sure you need to examine gender assumptions in order to suggest significant methodological flaws in the study.

    In the end, they wave away the finding that male vervets don’t really “prefer” masculine toys just as readily as they welcome the correlation between female vervet preference and femininity. That appears very much like trying to have one’s cake and eat it.

    It is no good to simply say that we should follow the data, because the data is only as good as the design of the experiment that generated it, and the interpretation is only as valid as the hypothesis is clear, rigorous, and well-stated.

    In short: if I make sufficient measurements, and do so sloppily enough, I can probably make any claim I care to support my loaded hypothesis.

  192. 192
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    “The Ivanpah project won’t negatively affect tortoises or the desert ecosystem in the slightest. People like Clarke and Peterson are agenda-driven hippie eco warriors, not the dispassionate pure science types they’d have you believe. Their politically motivated arguments conflict with objective science. Why would they care about this at all, if they weren’t herp-coddling ideologues?”

  193. 193
    rrhain

    There’s a recent program on the Science Channel that had to do with color and was looking into exactly how we perceive color. Clearly, there is biology involved, but there does seem to be a lot of “psychology” involved in exactly how we perceive color.

    From what I can recall, they put forward that certain colors are more biologically oriented while other colors are more psychological. They did this through various experiments regarding different people in different cultural backgrounds and worked with them in how they perceived color. Certain colors were handled the same across cultures while others varied, leading them to conclude that we process various visual stimuli differently.

    Would that be an example of “evolutionary psychology”?

  194. 194
    Larry Clapp

    I don’t know if she’s “the best” of anything, but I’ve enjoyed the blog of Emily Deans, an evolutionary psychologist.

    http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/

  195. 195
    Brad Peters

    I am very happy to see some debate re-emerging with regard to Evolutionary Psychology. This is a good post, and exactly where you need to start. People forget that ‘scientific evidence’ is only as good as the theory that interprets it, and that theories are based not on concrete objective facts, but rather human reasoning and philosophical arguments. Kuhn was right to say that once scientists buy into their ‘conceptual communities,’ they more-or-less take it for granted; it becomes very difficult to look from another epistemological angle and almost impossible to seriously entertain that your own theory could be wrong. I did a video post explaining this curious relationship between science and theory as it relates to psychology:

    http://modernpsychologist.ca/psychology-theory-and-critical-thinking/

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