αEP: The fundamental failure of the evolutionary psychology premise


This is another addition to my αEP series about evolutionary psychology. Here’s the first, and unfortunately there are several more to come.

I have a real problem with evolutionary psychology, and it goes right to the root of the discipline: it’s built on a flawed foundation. It relies on a naïve and simplistic understanding of how evolution works (a basic misconception that reminds me of another now-dead discipline, which I’ll write about later) — it appeals to many people, though, because that misconception aligns nicely with the cartoon version of evolution in most people’s heads, and it also means that every time you criticize evolutionary psychology, you get a swarm of ignorant defenders who assume you’re attacking evolution itself.

That misconception is adaptationism.

In a forlorn attempt to forestall the buzzing mob that will immediately accuse me of creationism and of denying natural selection, that does not mean that I think selection is unimportant or not essential. It does not mean that I think other modes of evolution are more important. It means that there is a large collection of mechanisms that all play a significant role in evolution, and that you can’t simply pretend that one is all that matters. Not appreciating the importance of these other mechanisms is a bit like being an electrician who thinks that voltage is all that matters, and resistance and current can be ignored.

In particular, random genetic drift, the variation in a population caused by sampling error, is far more significant than most people (including most evolutionary psychologists) assume. Most of the obvious phenotypic variation we see in people, for instance, is not a product of selection: your nose does not have the shape it does, which differs from my nose, which differs from Barack Obama’s nose, which differs from George Takei’s nose, because we independently descend from populations which had intensely differing patterns of natural and sexual selection for nose shape; no, what we’re seeing are chance variations amplified in frequency by drift in different populations.

Why? Because selection is blind to small differences. Chance dominates, unless the selection coefficient is relatively large.

Let me explain why with an analogy to a gambling casino. If you are at all numerate, you know that casinos are a colossal rip-off, great big shiny vacuum cleaners designed to suck all the money out of their clientele’s pockets (if you don’t know that, stop now, go read a math and statistics book until you understand what’s going on). I’ll assume you all understand this, and that you also understand that, like selection, it’s a consequence of the power of small advantages amplified by repetition. The house has a small advantage (OK, I’m lying a little bit there: the house advantage is typically between 5 and 20%, depending on the game), but every single gambler, every time they play the game, is facing that probability of kicking in a contribution to the house profits.

And it adds up. Every once in a while someone will get lucky and win, but the more they play, the more likely the odds will catch up with them, and eventually, inevitably, they will be busted, and the house will win. This is a powerful statistical consequence, and most people do understand that this is also how evolution can work: small differences played out for generation after generation can eventually result in extinction (if you’re at a disadvantage) or fixation (the difference spreads to be expressed in 100% of the population, if advantageous).

But it’s not enough. Imagine, for instance, that you discover a loophole in a casino game, and it’s enough to shift the odds in your favor. Let’s say you identify a set of circumstances in which a roulette wheel turns up red 51% of the time, giving you a 1% advantage if you place a bet on red when those circumstances are favorable. You have a system, and we’re going to pretend that it actually works, unlike most gambling systems.

So, equipped with your favorable impression of the power of selection and your 1% gambling advantage, you run out to your local casino and buy one $1 chip, convinced that you can now just gradually run it up into $10 million, just by playing patiently.

I think you can see the flaw right away. You will lose your $1 investment in the first spin of the wheel 49% of the time. Even if you build up a little pile of chips, you can be wiped out by a short run of bad luck. A selective advantage does not represent an inevitable triumph.

Similarly, a selective disadvantage does not represent an inevitable defeat. People still occasionally, very rarely have a net win after a night of playing roulette, despite the hefty house advantage working against them.

So how can you win with your advantage? Gamblers know this one: you need to go in with a substantial stake. Show up with a million dollars that you dole out in $10 bets all night long, so you have a buffer to deal with inevitable vagaries of chance, and the odds are really good that you’ll go home in the morning with $1,010,000. (Well, or the casino managers will notice your peculiar betting habits and toss you out — they’re rather zealous about protecting their advantage.)

There’s an important lesson there. Because this is a mechanism built on chance, you need both a selective advantage and a sufficient number of trials for that advantage to work. Few trials: chance dominates. Many trials: selection rules.

In a population of individuals, we have a term for that number of trials: it’s called the effective population size, or Ne. Remember, in evolution we care about populations, not individuals, so the variable of interest is not how many times an individual spins that roulette wheel, but how many members of the population descend on that device. Before we can assess the effectiveness of selection for a trait with a coefficient of selection s, we also need to know the population size.

One rule of thumb is that for selection to be effective,

|s| >> 1/Ne

What that means is that selection works best in large populations, while chance dominates in small populations — you need a very large s to make the selective advantage rise above the noise generated by chance variation.

What it also means is that in any population there will be a range of variation that is effectively invisible to selection, a range that will be rather narrow in an immense population of bacteria, but will be relatively wide in small populations…like, for instance, a large, slow-breeding population of Pleistocene primates.

Again, that does not mean that selection did not apply to our Paleolithic ancestors. Being born with a heritable heart defect meant you were strongly selected against, and that trait would be gradually eliminated from the population; being born with testes that produced voluminous robust sperm, or having an immune system that made you more resistant to a common virus, would still give your offspring an edge. But keep in mind that even the most wonderfully advantageous allele that arose by a de novo mutation in you has a good chance of being lost by meiotic segregation (1 over 2 to the number of children you have, to be precise), and even if your children do inherit that one trait, there’s a significant probability that one of the multitude of other factors that constrain survival and reproduction can work against it.

I repeat: A selective advantage does not represent an inevitable triumph. A selective disadvantage does not represent an inevitable defeat. Chance is an important element of the game of survival.

Here’s a specific example: color blindness. Being unable to discriminate differences in a particular range of wavelengths is a disadvantage — probably a very small one, but it’s clear that having trichromatic vision swept to near-fixation in old world monkeys and apes fairly rapidly, and fairly thoroughly…and not having it is a step backwards. So why hasn’t natural selection culled it from our populations? This isn’t a recent innovation that hasn’t had time to be corrected; trichromacy arose sometime after the split between the old and new world monkeys, 30-40 million years ago. It’s X-linked in those other primates, too. Shouldn’t this defective allele have been long gone from the primates?

No, and there’s a simple explanation: color blindness is a defect that’s below the threshold for a strong selection pressure to work against it (all you colorblind readers can heave a sigh of relief—Nature isn’t going to come gunning for you).

And if color-blindness is invisible to selection, I’m going to be pretty damned skeptical when an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation: a product of a 100,000 years of natural selection. It’s not impossible that pink preference could confer a benefit, but the idea that a pink preference was so strongly selected for that we can infer that it must have had a selective advantage is so unlikely that it can be dismissed as totally bogus, in the absence of exceptionally strong evidence for such an improbable circumstance. Furthermore, even if a pink preference existed as a heritable trait (which I doubt), the most likely explanation for its presence in a population is drift, not selection.

I’ve been assured that this is a decent summary of evolutionary psychology by a credible source. If you understood what I wrote above, you’ll immediately see the problem.

*** Is evolutionary psychology legitimate?

The foundation of the approach is very hard to disagree with. Tell me which you believe to be incorrect:

1. Organs are complex functional adaptations, results of selection processes

2. The brain is an organ

3. Therefore, we can understand it in terms of the past, just as we do for every part of the body in humans and in all other life forms on earth. (Note that understanding the history of a feature is not the same as saying any observable trait is adaptive or was. Red blood cells are not red because redness was selected for. Hemoglobin is simply a good oxygen transporter, and happens to be red. We still need to understand all this to explain the redness.)

The foundation of the approach is very easy to disagree with if you have any understanding of modern population genetics. It’s blown to flinders at the very first premise.

First of all, let’s just dismiss that “complex” quantifier. It’s irrelevant and often not true; simple functions can also be the product of selection (or drift!). My next post in this series will deal with the whole complexity canard, which is something I’ve noted in the past as being one of the favorite buzz words of ID creationists…and complexity usually isn’t a product of selection, but primarily of chance. They use it to make their arguments look sciencey when they’re not. Evolutionary psychologists like to toss it in for the same reason.

But that first statement has to be revised to make it fit reality. How about…

Some features of organs are functional adaptations, the result of selection processes. Others are not.

Now you can see that the first problem the evolutionary psychologists have to confront is whether the feature they are examining is actually a functional adaptation; they can’t simply assume that it is, as they often do, and then proceed on their merry way, building hypotheses to explain an assertion that they haven’t yet established as true.

Wait, check that. Actually, the first thing they have to do is show that the feature they’re examining is a direct product of a genetic variant in the first place, and shows some pattern of inheritance. They often skip this step, too.

Now this is not to say that every single researcher and paper in evolutionary psychology sucks. I’ve read a few that were decent (and lately people have sent me some others), but I’ve noticed something interesting: the farther the paper gets away from the “psychology” part, the more it looks at wider variation in populations, the better it is at narrowing the discussion to traits that actually exhibit demonstrable patterns of inheritance, and the farther it moves away from this Pleistocene nonsense, the stronger it is. The best of the work is more about quantitative genetics and comparative ethology; the more it fits under this banner of the Pleistocene hypothesis, and worse, the EEA and this kind of awful human centered crap, the farther I want to throw the paper across the room. Don’t even get me started on papers that assign deep evolutionary significance to the results of surveys in Psych 101 classes; those need to be pissed on at length.

Too often what I think of when I see these bad human psychology papers is a comparison to my favorite research animal, the zebrafish. Zebrafish are great as a model system for studying developmental mechanisms, they are abysmally deficient for studying evolutionary processes…but I imagine their evolution could be studied, with a lot of hard work looking at native populations and closely related species. Same with people: they are dismal specimens for studying evolution of behavior, although you might be able to do it with a wide enough and deep enough reach. EP is a hypothesis that tries to short-circuit the requirements for good evolutionary biology research.

The only salvation for the field is to get away from the BS I quoted above.

Comments

  1. generallerong says

    Thanks for this. When I encounter this stuff, my BS detector always zooms right to the top of the red zone, but I never know why, exactly.

    So I’ll be following your series and re-reading it intently.

  2. eric says

    What that means is that selection works best in large populations, while chance dominates in small populations — you need a very large s to make the selective advantage rise above the noise generated by chance variation.

    I expect this would mean that selective mechanisms would be relatively (i.e., compared to drift and other mechanisms) more important NOW than in the stone age, since ‘Vaughn’s world population growth history’ tells me the modern population is 6000x what it was in about 10,000 BC.

    I am not trying to defend any particular EP claim. Quite the opposite – the pop or vernacular idea that we are victims of/carrying around a legacy of neolithic psychology is completely turned on its head by this. The above would seem to indicate that neolithic psychological concepts get exponentially less relevant with every generation.

  3. says

    I would grant, at least, that the large size of the human brain must be adaptive. There’s such an obvious large cost to having a big brain, there has to be a big benefit to offset it. I don’t know about other characteristics of the brain though.

  4. says

    @Eric

    Yes, but compared to bacteria for example our 7 billion isn’t that big.

    From the wikipedia article on gut flora http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut_flora “All infants are initially colonized by large numbers of E. coli and streptococci. Within a few days, bacterial numbers reach 10^8 to 10^10 per gram of feces.” So 1 gram of poop has as many bacteria (albeit of maybe a couple hundred species) as there are people on earth.

    Always be sure you know what small is in the field you’re discussing :P

  5. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    eric@4,

    Not “neolithic”; the EP claim (I distinguish upper-case “EP” from “evolutionary psychology”, which can mean any psychology which takes account of the fact that we evolved) is specifically that human mentality was formed by adaptation in the Paleolithic.

  6. consciousness razor says

    I would grant, at least, that the large size of the human brain must be adaptive. There’s such an obvious large cost to having a big brain, there has to be a big benefit to offset it. I don’t know about other characteristics of the brain though.

    But apparently humans’ brains have been shrinking. I don’t know how much size matters or in what ways, but there you go.

    If something (as a whole) is supposed to be adaptive, but there’s such a large cost and it’s apparently being selected against, at what point do we start saying that some aspects of that trait (if we’re going to count it as one trait) might be maladaptive in some ways?

    (PZ, PREVIEW IS STILL BORKED: links look gigantic and aren’t in line with the rest of the text.)

  7. skephtic says

    Sounds to me like you only have a case against the over extension of evolutionary psychology, not evolutionary psychology itself, an argument which applies equally to physical structures as well. Psychology is just behavior. And behavior can be adaptive.

  8. John Small Berries says

    And if color-blindness is invisible to selection, I’m going to be pretty damned skeptical when an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation: a product of a 100,000 years of natural selection.

    Are there actually evolutionary psychologists who make that claim? If so, I’d be quite interested in learning how they explain away the fact that less than a century ago, it was pink for boys and blue for girls.

  9. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    And behavior can be adaptive.

    Only if that behavior is linked to a gene. Prove the gene-behavior link and PZ would shut up. Otherwise, you have “just so” tales of fiction pretending to be science.

  10. says

    Wait, check that. Actually, the first thing they have to do is show that the feature they’re examining is a direct product of a genetic variant in the first place, and shows some pattern of inheritance. They often skip this step, too.

    Hell, they often skip the step of showing the feature they’re examining exists. Well, they don’t skip it so much as ignore all evidence to the contrary. Then they use their silly “explanations” for the adaptive significance of this alleged feature – “Pink preference would have helped females!” – to imply that it exists.

  11. says

    @15 SC – Yes!

    My main problem with the adaptationist basis of evolutionary psychology is that adaptationism per se is a logical fallacy. You can’t simply come up with a reason for why a given trait might have been advantageous, find some evidence for that reason, and then claim that therefore the trait is an adaptation. That formulation assumes that the trait was an adaptation all along rather than ruling out nonadaptive alternatives. It flies in the face of how science, and evolutionary biology in particular, is supposed to be done.

  12. nohellbelowus says

    Question: Is there any good evolutionary psych?
    Rebecca 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]

    PZ Myers: Now this is not to say that every single researcher and paper in evolutionary psychology sucks. I’ve read a few that were decent (and lately people have sent me some others)…

    Thanks for the clarification. Looking forward to your next post on EP.

  13. firetree says

    This statement was taken from a response to one of your previous harangues about evolutionary psychology. . . . if you think there is any hope for a scientific understanding of human social behavior that does not include an evolutionary perspective, then you are sadly deluded. For me it says it all. Live with it. “And if color-blindness is invisible to selection, I’m going to be pretty damned skeptical when an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation: a product of a 100,000 years of natural selection.” I can not believe that you believe an evolutionary psychologist would believe such a thing. I would guess you make it up so you would have something to attack. After insulting everyone who disagrees with you it is amazing and that your understanding of the discipline is “built on a flawed foundation”. This time the quote is yours.

  14. Nepenthe says

    I can not believe that you believe an evolutionary psychologist would believe such a thing. I would guess you make it up so you would have something to attack.

    And I would guess that you haven’t looked at the EP papers posted in this thread that have proposed exactly such a thing.

  15. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    firetree
    1) Your comment is largely unintelligible, because it’s quite unclear who you are asserting said what.
    2) No-one here has suggested that “there is any hope for a scientific understanding of human social behavior that does not include an evolutionary perspective”.
    3) For the “girls are adapted to like pink” claim, see #18 and #20.
    4) Stop lying: PZ has never insulted everyone who disagrees with him. Most of the regulars have done so on a number of occasions, without being insulted.

  16. ChasCPeterson says

    random genetic drift, the variation in a population caused by sampling error,

    ? Drift is not “variation”. It is a mechanism of changes in allele frequencies. It’s not even necessarily predicted to cause variation.

    Most of the obvious phenotypic variation we see in people, for instance, is not a product of selection: your nose does not have the shape it does, which differs from my nose, which differs from Barack Obama’s nose, which differs from George Takei’s nose, because we independently descend from populations which had intensely differing patterns of natural and sexual selection for nose shape; no, what we’re seeing are chance variations amplified in frequency by drift in different populations.

    Assertion. Where is your evidence that (say) geographic variation in average nose-shape isn’t a result of sexual selection, current and /or ancient?
    And it’s pretty much beside the point anyway. Of course random variation is random. Adaptive hypotheses are not (usually) about explaining variation within populaitons anyway. Nobody would argue that the variation in human nose shapes is adaptive. Which is not to say that the invariant features of human noses–in particular the features that differ from all other primates–don’t call for an adaptive explanation.

    Selection coefficients are mathematical abstactions useful mostly for simplistic beanbag modelling. They are comparative, one allele (or phenotype) to an alternative. They have little to do with the study of how selection operates in nature, especially on polygenic phenotypes with additional evnironmental variance.

    A selective advantage does not represent an inevitable triumph. A selective disadvantage does not represent an inevitable defeat. Chance is an important element of the game of survival.

    OK. And yet adaptation is ubiquitous in morphology, physiology, biochemistry, and behavior of animals.

    there’s a simple explanation: color blindness is a defect that’s below the threshold for a strong selection pressure to work against it

    Of course, it’s also a single sex-linked recessive allele that hides from phenotypic expression in women. (And we all know it was the cave-ladies that had to distinguish red berries from green ones, not the men.)

    an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation

    Which EPs have tried to tell you that? Can you cite a source for this, or are you playing bad-example blogospheric telephone?

    I’ve been assured that this is a decent summary of evolutionary psychology by a credible source.

    this is bullshit

    First of all, let’s just dismiss that “complex” quantifier. It’s irrelevant and often not true; simple functions can also be the product of selection (or drift!).

    It didn’t say “functions” it said “organs”. And organs are, by definition, complex (at least in consisting of 2 or more integrated tissues).

    the first problem the evolutionary psychologists have to confront is whether the feature they are examining is actually a functional adaptation; they can’t simply assume that it is, as they often do, and then proceed on their merry way, building hypotheses to explain an assertion that they haven’t yet established as true.

    There is a difference between assuming and hypothesizing. One (best) way to test a hypothesis is to test its predictions; another is to test its assumptions. There is another difference between hypothesizing and concluding from tests of a hypothesis. There is another difference between a hypothesis that is subject to testing (and either supported or falsified as concusion from tests of predictions or assuptions) and one that is offered post-hoc as a heuristic explanation for data. Ideally the latter go on to be tested in the future. I think your summary of what EPs are doing, or trying to do, is muddled by not keeping these distinctions clear.

    the first thing they have to do is show that the feature they’re examining is a direct product of a genetic variant in the first place, and shows some pattern of inheritance. They often skip this step, too.

    Bullshit. This is nearly impossible to do not just for almost any behavioral trait in any natural population of anything, but for most phenotypic features of any interest–they’re masively polygenic (I thought you said you read Falconer). There are huge literatures clearly demonstrating all kinds of morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptation in all kinds of animals, without having the slightest clue about underlying genetic variants. The same goes for artificial selection (where at least patterns of inheritance can be studied).
    Phenotypic evolution can be studied just fine without reduction to the genetics.

    this kind of awful human centered crap

    um, EP is human-centered by definition. That’s your glib dismissal of that entire FAQ?

    I distinguish upper-case “EP” from “evolutionary psychology”, which can mean any psychology which takes account of the fact that we evolved

    so what’s your narrower definition of upper-case “EP” then? What are the criteria you use to draw this distinction?

    they often skip the step of showing the feature they’re examining exists. Well, they don’t skip it so much as ignore all evidence to the contrary.

    Don;t bother offering even one example of this thing They do so often.

    You can’t simply come up with a reason for why a given trait might have been advantageous, find some evidence for that reason, and then claim that therefore the trait is an adaptation.

    Fortunately, that’s not how actual ‘adaptationists’ work.
    You can, of course, hypothesize that a given trait is adaptive, and how, then find some evidence for its advantageousness, and then claim that your evidence is consistent with–or even supports–the adaptive hypothesis. If you can test predictions of the hypothesis that woudl not be predicted by alternatives, so much the better. If your only tests are to examine the assumptions of the hypothesis, you know what? That’s cool too.

  17. says

    @firetree

    I can not believe that you believe an evolutionary psychologist would believe such a thing. I would guess you make it up so you would have something to attack.

    Here’s a study that basically does just that.

    I quote:

    Thus, while both males and females share a natural preference for ‘bluish’ contrasts, the female preference for ‘reddish’ contrasts further shifts her peak towards the reddish region of the hue circle: girls’ preference for pink may have evolved on top of a natural, universal preference for blue.

    We speculate that this sex difference arose from sex specific functional specializations
    in the evolutionary division of labour. The hunter-gatherer theory proposes that female brains should be specialized for gathering-related tasks and is supported by studies of visual spatial abilities [7]. Trichromacy and the L–M opponent channel are ‘modern’ adaptations in primate evolution thought to have evolved to facilitate the identification of ripe, yellow fruit or edible red leaves embedded in green foliage [8]. It is therefore plausible that, in specializing for gathering, the female brain honed the trichromatic adaptations, and these underpin the female preference for objects ‘redder’ than the background. As a gatherer, the female would also need to be more aware of color information than the hunter. This requirement would emerge as greater certainty and more stability in female color preference, which we find. An alternative explanation for the evolution of trichromacy is the need to discriminate subtle changes in skin color due to emotional states and social-sexual signals [9]; again, females may have honed these adaptations for their roles as care-givers and ‘empathizers’ [10].

  18. Nepenthe says

    Which EPs have tried to tell you that? Can you cite a source for this, or are you playing bad-example blogospheric telephone?

    Is there some adaptive reason that EPs are unable to read words literally two inches above their own?

  19. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    f you think there is any hope for a scientific understanding of human social behavior that does not include an evolutionary perspective,

    How does one separate out the non-wired social component, which isn’t strictly hereditary, from genetic components that cause us to behave in certain ways? Given the human brain’s plasticity, I personally would expect almost everything the EP talk about is more social than genetic. So nothing makes sense until they show real connections to genes.

  20. consciousness razor says

    if you think there is any hope for a scientific understanding of human social behavior that does not include an evolutionary perspective, then you are sadly deluded.

    Hmm… since PZ doesn’t think that, where do we go from here?

    I can not believe that you believe an evolutionary psychologist would believe such a thing.

    Read the links in this thread. Can you believe that you can read stuff people link in this thread?

    I would guess you make it up so you would have something to attack.

    Irony alert!

    But wait — would you guess that or is that what you guess? Why is it just a guess?

    After insulting everyone who disagrees with you it is amazing and that your understanding of the discipline is “built on a flawed foundation”. This time the quote is yours.

    Seriously?Are you one of the murderers uh… bigots … er… people who disagree with PZ?

  21. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Where is your evidence that (say) geographic variation in average nose-shape isn’t a result of sexual selection, current and /or ancient?
    And it’s pretty much beside the point anyway. Of course random variation is random. Adaptive hypotheses are not (usually) about explaining variation within populaitons anyway. Nobody would argue that the variation in human nose shapes is adaptive. – Mr. Peterson

    Er… you just suggested that it might be, in the first sentence I quote. And your claim that adaptive hypotheses are seldom about explaining within-population variation is bullshit: such variation is often explained in terms of frequency-dependent selection.

  22. ChasCPeterson says

    Is there some adaptive reason that EPs are unable to read words literally two inches above their own?

    Fuck you; it took more than 6 minutes to write my comment, asshole.
    And the papers mouthyb is googling up are not the sources of idea that there are evolved sex differences in color preferences. Most of them in faft have nothing to do with it.

    The article cited in #28 is one of the sources, and the quoted passage is from the Discussion–it’s not presented as results or even as a conclusion from results. One hint is that it begins “We speculate that…” instead of “We conclude that…” or even “Our results suggest that..”. It’s a heuristic, post-hoc explanation offered for the data, which (putatively) demonstrate a sex difference in color preference.

  23. ChasCPeterson says

    you just suggested that it might be, in the first sentence I quote.

    Wrong. That was about geographic variation among populations, not variation within populations.

    your claim that adaptive hypotheses are seldom about explaining within-population variation is bullshit: such variation is often explained in terms of frequency-dependent selection.

    Mostly wrong. Frequency-dependent selection explains cases of stable, discrete polymorphism at phenotypic lor allelic levels, not continuous variation. And it was precisely the reason I added the parenthetical “(usually)”.

  24. Nepenthe says

    Chas, you’re not the only one who failed to notice. I was just offering a heuristic explanation of the data!

    It’s a heuristic, post-hoc explanation offered for the data, which (putatively) demonstrate a sex difference in color preference.

    And this is why we laugh. Because transparently stupid explanations are apparently a thing in this field.

  25. ChasCPeterson says

    But I’ve had all these arguments before and I think tonight I’d rather go drink beer.
    Have fun storming the castle!

  26. says

    @ChasCPeterson

    It’s a heuristic, post-hoc explanation offered for the data, which (putatively) demonstrate a sex difference in color preference.

    Exactly: most of that (apparently, publishable) paper doesn’t even have the thinnest veneer of science. It is a post-hoc completely unevidenced explanation offered for the data — data which, incidentally, do not whatsoever demonstrate a sex difference in color preference (seriously, have you looked at the numbers in that paper?)

    Yes, they are speculating — but the point is that I could speculate exactly the same thing without doing any research and have the same amount of credibility for my speculation. Science isn’t (shouldn’t, anyway) be about speculation divorced from any kind of empirical reality.

  27. ChasCPeterson says

    “transparently stupid” is of course purely a matter of OPINION.
    Go get ‘em Nerd!

  28. says

    and worse, the EEA and this kind of awful human centered crap,

    The discussion of learning is my favorite.*

    This part especially:

    Obtaining all the information one needs to reproduce from other members of one’s species is problematic as well. Evolutionary theory strongly implies that individuals will have conflicts of interest. Obtaining all the information one needs to reproduce from potential competitors is, in itself, a very poor reproductive strategy. There will be strong selection pressures on the providers of such information to manipulate the provided information in ways that benefit themselves reproductively, quite likely at the reproductive expense of the receivers. It is extremely unlikely that learning adaptations could evolve which were completely dependent on other individuals to provide the information necessary for reproduction.

    Leaving aside the various strawmen here, the collapsing of survival into reproduction, and the assumption that the members of a small band would face “strong selection pressures” to lie to children in their group, that he assumes the members of one’s species doing the educating are uniformly “potential competitors” is just hilarious. From whom would our ancestors have learned, chiefly? Perhaps their parents, and especially their mothers? What would be their interest in manipulating the information to the detriment of their offspring? And what is this information about reproduction that’s so important that learning itself is defined by it?

    Also, his argument implies that EP claims are likely manipulated for the reproductive advantage of EP proponents and so shouldn’t be trusted. :)

    * “But what about learning? Why do we need innate mechanisms if we can learn? The answer is that our ability to learn comes from specialized neural machinery that provides us with that capability.”

    Check and mate, EP critics!

    OK, this is pretty funny, too:

    In other words, each of us possesses the cognitive ability to break the law as well as uphold it. Not a very radical idea, actually. In fact, legal systems tend to be organized around just this principle. Laws are designed to prevent people from doing things that they might construe as being in their interest but which would impose costs on everyone else: theft, assault, neglect of important but onerous responsibilities, etc. Banks recognize that it is an enduring feature of human nature to take valuable things that belong to others, especially if they are strangers. But, just because it might be human nature to steal doesn’t mean it’s OK to do so. That’s why banks spend a lot of money on vaults with massive steel doors, timed locks, survey cameras, and armed guards. If you’re caught robbing a bank, you will pay a hefty social cost (e.g., jail time).

  29. Pteryxx says

    Sheesh, Chas.

    Original claim:

    an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation

    Response:

    I can not believe that you believe an evolutionary psychologist would believe such a thing. I would guess you make it up so you would have something to attack.

    You in #34:

    The article cited in #28 is one of the sources, and the quoted passage is from the Discussion–it’s not presented as results or even as a conclusion from results. One hint is that it begins “We speculate that…” instead of “We conclude that…” or even “Our results suggest that..”

    From the ABSTRACT of the article mouthyb cites in #28:

    We find a consistent sex difference in these weights, which, we suggest, may be linked to the evolution of sex-specific behavioral uses of trichromacy.

  30. Charlie Foxtrot says

    Is this the ‘sophistimicated theology’ argument all over again?

    “The EP you are dismantling is the simple, childish, EP that ‘serious’ EP’ers don’t use. We use the ‘sophisticated EP'”
    “Where is it? Show us.”
    “ummm… over there… I’ll go get it…” (running footsteps, door slams)

  31. Nepenthe says

    “transparently stupid” is of course purely a matter of OPINION.

    When the pink/female association has been around for less than 100 years, the idea that it is caused by sex-specific behavior in the Pleistocene is transparently stupid.

  32. consciousness razor says

    And what is this information about reproduction that’s so important that learning itself is defined by it?

    And why would we have to learn (about reproduction or anything) from someone else? Why would it need to be “taught” in order to be “learned”?

  33. consciousness razor says

    “But what about learning? Why do we need innate mechanisms if we can learn? The answer is that our ability to learn comes from specialized neural machinery that provides us with that capability.”

    Check and mate, EP critics!

    That’s also why we need élan vital. It keeps us alive, and we need to be alive!

    And Brawndo’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes.

    (Totally just speculation and my opinion.)

  34. says

    You know what I’d like? I’d like it if the same people who are angrily claiming that not all EP is bad could come with good studies.

    I’m willing to entertain that there could be methodologically sound EP. It would just be really nice if, you know, someone could post a bloody link.

  35. says

    When citing EP papers, one thing that’s good to do is to look at the number of citations. It’s a rough measure for how authoritative the papers are within their field. I note that the article on color preference in #28 was cited 33 times according to the web of knowledge.

  36. says

    When citing EP papers, one thing that’s good to do is to look at the number of citations. It’s a rough measure for how authoritative the papers are within their field. I note that the article on color preference in #28 was cited 33 times according to the web of knowledge.

    Alexander and Hines, “Sex differences in response to children’s toys in
    nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus)” – cited by 133.

  37. says

    the farther the paper gets away from the “psychology” part, the more it looks at wider variation in populations, the better it is at narrowing the discussion to traits that actually exhibit demonstrable patterns of inheritance, and the farther it moves away from this Pleistocene nonsense, the stronger it is.

    (emphasis mine)

    The problems of adaptationism aside, what’s with people thinking that only adaptions that occurred during the Pleistocene matter? We were most of the way to being human before then. Most evolution happened over the entire history of life on this planet, not just in the shallow history that occupies peoples’ imaginations.

  38. consciousness razor says

    We women need less, of course.

    At first, I read this as “we need women less [than that],” so I was going to ‘splain all about baby-making and necessary evils and so on… but I won’t go there.

  39. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Stop being so mean to EP. There is so much good EP out there, and you are misrepresenting the field. Here, let me not link to any decent examples.

  40. raven says

    Sounds to me like you only have a case against the over extension of evolutionary psychology, not evolutionary psychology

    You have to beat up on the evolutionary psych that exists…,

    not the one you want to exist.

  41. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Would [giggles] be [chortles] or [guffaw] under other circumstances?

    But Rebecca is one of teh womenz. Therefore she giggles and chirps and gossips. Manly men like me can chortle or snigger. When *I* laugh at pseudo-science, I am mocking it. When Rebecca laughs giggles at pseudo-science, she is just demonstrating that her fluffy lady-brain cannot grasp the topic at hand.

    amirite nohellbelowus?

  42. Lyn M: Necrodunker of death, nothing but net says

    Stepping into this thread was like being drawn into a black hole. I am supposed to be working, you know.
    With respect to sex specific use of trichromacy, the colour red being apparently so important to the little woman, I must ask, what about root vegetables? Root vegetables form an important source of carbohydrates in the paleolithic diet, especially with the advent of cooking. The whole red/green thing is out the window there. Also many edible nuts, seeds, gourds and so forth are not red when ready to eat. Why the huge emphasis on red berries? Were there no gooseberries, blueberries, loganberries? Not to mention mangosteins, bananas, lemons, oranges, — well you get my point. Admitedly, not all fruit was tremendously attractive in its pre-cultivated form (thinking oranges here), but most assuredly, not all of it was red when ripe.
    Further, what about the usefulness of spotting a blood trail? Is it not a help to the manly hunter to be able to pick out a fleck of blood in the green jungle and so track down the prey he has wounded? Not to mention being able to see that he has wounded an animal that ran for it. Knowing which animal to chase is an advantage, is it not?
    When I look at the shopping cart as I am waiting to pay, the red tends to be in the meat, with white, brown and green being strong in the vegetable section.
    Just saying.

  43. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I tried posting this comment once, it didn’t go through. Sorry, if this ends up being a duplicate.

    Would [giggles] be [chortles] or [guffaw] under other circumstances?

    But Rebecca Watson is one of teh wimmenz. Therefore she giggles and chirps and gossips. Only Manly men skeptics chortle, guffaw, or snigger at pseudo-science. When *I* laugh at bad science, it is because I am mocking it. When Rebecca laughs giggles at bad science, she is just nervously showing that her fluffy lady-brain doesn’t grasp the concept she is discussing.

    amirite nohellbelowus?

  44. Rob says

    Would [giggles] be [chortles] or [guffaw] under other circumstances?

    My first thought reading the quote at #17 was how replacing [giggles] with almost any other description of laughter completely changed the impression of the quote (and therefore the speaker). Which just goes to show how much baggage we place on giggling.

    The problems of adaptationism aside, what’s with people thinking that only adaptions that occurred during the Pleistocene matter? We were most of the way to being human before then. Most evolution happened over the entire history of life on this planet, not just in the shallow history that occupies peoples’ imaginations.

    um, EP is human-centered by definition. That’s your glib dismissal of that entire FAQ

    Right, so I’m not a psychologist and I’m running a fever, so brains at about 40% but…
    Why is evolutionary psychology human centred by definition? Firstly, who says other species lack behaviours open to study using psychology? Other species certainly evolve and have behaviour that appears adaptive. Secondly, as pointed out in the quote above Chas’ we had evolved significantly as a species pre-pliestocene. At what point did we become sufficiently separate as a species that apparently EP could put a box around us and ignore everything that came before?

    I’m not saying that EP lacks all merit as a discipline, but my BS detector is running pretty damn high at the moment.

    BTW Chas, if the best defence you can come up with for a paper is to use gobbledegook and say that the statement only appears in the discussion (wrong incidentally, also in abstract) you have already lost the argument.

  45. says

    Lyn M:

    When I look at the shopping cart as I am waiting to pay, the red tends to be in the meat, with white, brown and green being strong in the vegetable section.

    Um, er, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, red cabbage, beets, red peppers. Therefore, something.

  46. gillt says

    In a way Ed Clint has already weighed in on the main thrust of the criticism in this post. And he demonstrates that he’s a little uninformed and therefore completely uninterested in anything that isn’t an adaptation.

    Ed Clint:

    Well, natural selection is the only way that things like eyeballs, livers, and bones happen; it’s also the only way that complex behaviors happen (in the sense of originate).

    I didn’t say that all change is natural selection. I said that it’s the only explanation there is for complex features- which Orr stipulates to in the quote you provided. It would be silly to think that drift, which operates on individual genes separately, would randomly coordinate dozens or hundreds of genes necessary to the successful formation of an eye (for example). This is an uncontroversial observation from evolutionary biology that I extend to complex behaviors dependent upon sophisticated neural development.

    http://skepticink.com/incredulous/2012/08/19/what-is-evolutionary-psychology/

  47. brucegee1962 says

    I’m perfectly willing to agree with PZ that the EP’s idea of every modern human behavior being a biological inheritance from the Pleistocene is total crap.

    BUT much — maybe most — of human behavior is inherited socially, rather than through genes. According to meme theory (books like The Meme Machine) the primary advantage that our large brains gave us was the ability to copy the behavior of others and spread beneficial behavior to large groups. So social units (or cultures) essentially behave like large organisms. If the members of a group adapt beneficial social behaviors (we should give extra food to pregnant women who are unable to hunt or gather for themselves) then that group will flourish and outcompete rival groups for resources. If a group adapts poor social behaviors (sleeping with your sister is a great idea!) then that group will die out before long. And memetic adaptation behaves very differently from genetic adaptation — a meme (get the termites out of their mound with sticks) can spread through a population in a week, whereas a gene could take centuries to spread.

    So meme theory would suggest that Ev Psych people should be looking at behavior that gave GROUPS an advantage in the pleistocene, expressed as cultural traits, rather than brain adaptations that gave individuals an advantage, expressed as genes.

    And the classic example is religion. Religious folks like to say, “If there isn’t any god, how come every single culture that we know about seems to believe in some form of higher power?” And the meme theory answer is “Because religion confers several advantages on groups that practice it — unity of purpose, centralized authority, bravery in battle due to belief in an afterlife — that allowed groups that had it to enslave or absorb groups that don’t.”

    So I’m much more willing to look at EP that attempts to explain purely social behaviors, and doesn’t try to blather on and on about the brain. But of course that kind of study lends itself to “just so” accusations, since it’s hard to devise convincing experiments.

    EP could actually be useful if it said, “Look, here is a cultural behavior that we possess because it was useful in ancient times, and it persists now even though it isn’t useful any more.” Heck, you don’t even have to go back to the pleistocene. Anybody who’s been watching Downton Abbey must be struck by the utter uselessness of the aristocracy portrayed there, and how little they contribute to society. But the aristocracy was crucial to the survival of a European nation in the Middle Ages, when the entire system of military defense was based around it. If you instituted rules that got rid of your aristocracy back then (say, by eliminating primogeniture) then you’d be conquered PDQ by a country that still had it. Most of the social problems from the 18th 19th centuries can be best understood as the problem of a meme that had become so deeply entrenched that it outlasted its actual utility by several centuries (after the invention of the professional army). And the same thing is happening to religion today.

  48. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    I’ve tried posting a few times, but I think I am using some term that gets me auto-moderated. One last, abbreviated, try.

    Would [giggles] be [chortles] or [guffaw] under other circumstances?

    People with fluffy lady-brains giggle. Manly men skeptics snigger or guffaw at bad science.

  49. says

    Why the huge emphasis on red berries?

    well, strictly speaking there needn’t be a focus on red berries specifically for red to be important. as long as ripe fruit/veg is relatively more red than unripe fruit/veg, ability to tell red from green would be useful. and most fruits and vegetables I can think of this seems to apply to.

  50. raven says

    When I look at the shopping cart as I am waiting to pay, the red tends to be in the meat,

    Huh?

    I don’t think we were pushing around shopping carts in the Pleistocene. Shopping carts are a relatively recent addition to our evolutionary heritage.

    BTW, meat as it is first seen is rarely red. Ever see a cow? Quite often they are white with black splotches, brown, tan, or black. Deer and elk are tannish, and bears are usually black. And a lot of meat with the skin off, isn’t red. Most fish, chicken, turkey, clams, are whitish, pork is a light pink.

  51. consciousness razor says

    So meme theory would suggest that Ev Psych people should be looking at behavior that gave GROUPS an advantage in the pleistocene, expressed as cultural traits, rather than brain adaptations that gave individuals an advantage, expressed as genes.

    Uh…

    1) Group selection is problematic. “Meme theory” does not fix that.
    2) Panadptationism is problematic. Your “this rather than that” options are both talking about kinds of adaptions, but not everything needs to be adaptive.
    3) Memes are cultural, not “evolutionary” — that is just a metaphor — and not a particularly compelling explanation anyway. Besides, we already have all kinds of scientists who study cultures.

  52. Rodney Nelson says

    consciousness razor #63

    Besides, we already have all kinds of scientists who study cultures.

    I’ve noticed that few evopsych people ever refer to the work of sociologists or anthropologists. Possibly the evopsychologists are too involved in reinventing the wheel to notice some of their studies have already been done by others in different fields.

  53. Lyn M: Necrodunker of death, nothing but net says

    My point was, simply, that to ascribe all red to berries and ripe and female doesn’t make sense.

    My folks are farmers, so I’ve seen lots of meat before it hit the barbecue. And I’ve seen blood from fish, as well as chickens, etc. It was red.

    And what do you mean there were no shopping carts in the pleistocene? I saw lots of them in pictures under the cave paintings.

  54. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Not “neolithic”; the EP claim (I distinguish upper-case “EP” from “evolutionary psychology”, which can mean any psychology which takes account of the fact that we evolved) is specifically that human mentality was formed by adaptation in the Paleolithic.

    What’s wrong with “evo-phrenology,” which is more or less what it is?

  55. profpedant says

    “Is evolutionary psychology legitimate?”

    The ‘explanation’ for evolutionary psychology that you quoted seems to me to be rigorous enough rationalization or assumption for attempting to study the evolutionary roots of our psychology, but it – as your analysis shows – is absolutely useless for demonstrating the evolutionary basis or any particular psychological trait. Conceding that our minds were shaped by evolution reveals nothing about what evolutionary pressures did influence our minds. It is like claiming that because the sky is blue we know how the sun works.

  56. brucegee1962 says

    consciousness razor,

    Sorry, your response has me scratching my head. What do you mean by “group selection is problematic”? If you mean it doesn’t happen — what is history but one group gaining ascendency over another group by wiping it out, enslaving it, or persuading it to adapt one of its cultural aspects?

    If you mean it’s hard to attribute a particular group’s success to a particular cultural practice/meme in a scientifically rigorous manner, then I’d agree with you. Just because something is hard to measure doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, though.

    As for your point 3 — as Dawkins originally suggested, pretty much anything that has the ability to a) copy itself, b) mutate or change over time, and c) compete with other versions of itself for resources, is necessarily going to exhibit evolution. Cultures do all three of these things, thus they evolve. And I would also predict that the idea of studying cultures from an evolutionary standpoint will revolutionize or is in the process of revolutionizing anthropology, as it’s already in the process of affecting fields as diverse as literary criticism.

    If your argument is that we should throw out the “evo psych” label and just go back to calling it anthropolgy, as Rodney Nelson suggests — maybe that itsn’t a bad idea.

  57. says

    So they threw a toy to a dozen monkeys, let them play with it for 5 minutes, and then made a conclusion about sex differences in toy preferences. At least they repeated the trials for each population they were considering.
    I’ll grant it’s a big step up from 2D:4D ratios, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

  58. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    And behavior can be adaptive.

    The absolute smoking gun for quackery is that when someone is demolishing their claims, rather than defending the specific claims they accuse the other party of dogmatically denying the general category their claims would belong in.

    Of course behavior CAN be adaptive, dipshit. That’s not what’s at issue here.

  59. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Also, his argument implies that EP claims are likely manipulated for the reproductive advantage of EP proponents and so shouldn’t be trusted. :)

    Insofar as evo-phrenology is almost invariably a transparent attempt to justify existing gender-social structures as “inherent” and “inevitable,” and this includes patriarchy, this may be the needle in the haystack we’re searching for. O.o

  60. says

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

    Honestly, if one of the stupidest funded/published articles ever can be taken seriously, defended, supported, and repeatedly cited by proponents, that says something about the field. And it’s not good.

  61. Pteryxx says

    …Oh gobies. The Execrable Vervet Study cites evolved red-preference for female primates.

    Color may also provide an important cue for female interest…A preference for red or reddish pink has been proposed to elicit female behaviors to infants that enhance infant survival, such as contact (Higley, Hopkins, Hirsch, Marra, & Suomi, 1987). The hypothesis that reddish pink or red may be a cue signaling opportunities for nurturance and thus eliciting female responsiveness could explain our finding of greater female contact with both the doll (with a pink face) and the pot (colored red).

  62. says

    I am conflicted. I think Jerry Coyne is making the better case.

    What case?

    ***

    Coyne:

    I have to admit, though, that as the field has evolved, I’ve become less critical of it as a whole. That is, I think, as it should be!

    Hahaha.

    …Hm. Maybe more sad than funny.

  63. says

    As I read this, the one thing that came clearly to me is that the biology students at UMM are very, very lucky to have such a great teacher in their midst.

    I hope they appreciate it.

  64. says

    …Oh gobies. The Execrable Vervet Study cites evolved red-preference for female primates.

    And it’s a totally post hoc cite! If the cooking pan had been green or black or whatever, as any pan might be, they couldn’t even have resorted to that. Of course, they did nothing to control for color.

    IT’S SO STUPID.

  65. says

    It’s interesting that Coyne’s commenters these days are overwhelmingly male, with a good portion of ‘pitters….

    Also interesting – Larry Moran on that thread:

    From time to time a field becomes discredited because there are so many bad researchers who publish bad science. This does not mean that every single researcher in the field is bad, it just means that the small minority of good scientists were overwhelmed by the bad ones.

    When this happens, it’s usually a good idea to re-name the field and start afresh. I think evolutionary psychology has reached the point where the discipline can’t be saved. It would be better if the best scientists moved on to a new field such as “Evolution of Behavior” and made sure that the kooks don’t follow them. They need to start new journals with rigorous standards.

  66. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    It would be better if the best scientists moved on to a new field such as “Evolution of Behavior” and made sure that the kooks don’t follow them. They need to start new journals with rigorous standards.

    Dust off and nuke the site from orbit.

  67. consciousness razor says

    What do you mean by “group selection is problematic”?

    I mean things like this, but I’m not a biologist so they could tell you more than me.

    Notice the choice quote from Pinker, which I didn’t realize was there until I went to the wiki page!

    If you mean it doesn’t happen —

    I don’t mean that. I don’t really know. It may happen, but not happen much. It may happen a whole lot, but not be what would make for a more productive approach to studying evolutionary psychology than it would be for evolutionary biology in general. I doubt psychological phenomena are somehow more collective than (non-psych.) biological ones. Unless you’re suggesting all of evolutionary biology needs a big heaping helping of group selection, not just evo-psych, then something about psychology (or something else, if you’ve just lost the plot entirely) must make you think more about groups than individuals. But it’s not clear to me what that’s supposed to be.

    what is history but one group gaining ascendency over another group by wiping it out, enslaving it, or persuading it to adapt one of its cultural aspects?

    I could just as easily claim history is a lot of individuals. Some of them wrote their stories down. Some left their groups. Some “freed” slaves while identifying with groups that were fine with enslaving them numerous other ways. Some weren’t good at persuading others or didn’t care enough about how others lived to bother persuading them to change.

    Lots of different people out there, and few if any of them every fits very well in one group rather than another.

    It’s people. Soylent Green History is made out of people.

    If you mean it’s hard to attribute a particular group’s success to a particular cultural practice/meme in a scientifically rigorous manner, then I’d agree with you. Just because something is hard to measure doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, though.

    I also mean that not everything happens because there was some “success” in the past. Some shit happens for other reasons or no reason, and I see no reason to think human psychology is any different. Ergo, we have shit now that might seem like it came about because of “a particular group’s success,” even though their success/non-success has little or nothing to do with how things actually came to be the way they are now.

    ———

    A preference for red or reddish pink has been proposed to elicit female behaviors to infants that enhance infant survival, such as contact

    What is that talking about? Is it calling these behaviors of getting contact (with the mother, presumably) or others that enhance survival “female behaviors”? What happens when a male infant does the same thing?

  68. nohellbelowus says

    It’s interesting that Coyne’s commenters these days are overwhelmingly male…

    Indeed. It’s almost like they’re somehow disenchanted with PZ’s blog, and prefer instead to interact in the more non-combative environment fostered and actively maintained by the affable Jerry Coyne.

    Pure speculation on my part, mind you.

  69. Nepenthe says

    they’re somehow disenchanted with PZ’s blog, and prefer instead to interact in the more non-combative environment fostered and actively maintained by the affable Jerry Coyne

    From this data, I suggest that men adapted to seek non-violent resolutions to problems because violence and discord would have been fatal on long prehistoric hunting expedition composed of armed men, whereas women could bicker incessantly and still be able to gather pink berries alone.

    I can haz Nature paper nao?

  70. nohellbelowus says

    …on long prehistoric hunting expedition…

    If you intended this as an analogy for the kinds of interactions that frequently occur on Pharyngula, it does seem quite apt!

    And while your paper is in peer review, will a Molly suffice in the interim?

  71. says

    Indeed. It’s almost like they’re somehow disenchanted with PZ’s blog, and prefer instead to interact in the more non-combative environment fostered and actively maintained by the affable Jerry Coyne.

    Good. Deeper rifts are welcomed.

    ***

    From this data, I suggest that men adapted to seek non-violent resolutions to problems because violence and discord would have been fatal on long prehistoric hunting expedition composed of armed men, whereas women could bicker incessantly and still be able to gather pink berries alone.

    Heh.

    I can haz Nature paper nao?

    If Henry Gee gets it. :)

  72. bobo says

    Another Evo Psych theory that I am sick of hearing is the one, and I paraphrase:

    “men are most attracted to ultra-feminine youthful looking women as this is a sign of health and fertility”

    IE, women who look like cupie dolls = beauty

    and any woman who deviates from the cupie doll look (Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bundchen) is accused of looking ‘like a guy’. because we know, female beauty is EXCLUSIVELY tied to femininity, and nothing else, and ‘femininty’ is only present in women who look like they are pre-pubescent…

  73. nohellbelowus says

    Good. Deeper rifts are welcomed.

    I’ll be sure and relay your message to them, just as soon as I finish my next twenty years of laundry.

  74. nohellbelowus says

    …and any woman who deviates from the cupie doll look (Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bundchen) is accused of looking ‘like a guy’.

    This was a conclusion from an evo-psych study? What was the journal… Hustler magazine?

  75. Nepenthe says

    but Nepenthe, did you normalize for the appearance of….colors?

    Shit! Ah well, I’ll just quietly issue a retraction later. No big.

  76. nohellbelowus says

    You’re them. Was that unclear?

    But I can’t be “them”… because I’m only little ‘ole ME!

    Please disregard the following if I’m way off-base, but I’m beginning to sense some hostility… do you need a glass of water and a lemon wedge?

  77. consciousness razor says

    Please disregard the following if I’m way off-base, but I’m beginning to sense some hostility… do you need a glass of water and a lemon wedge?

    You’re just now beginning to sense hostility? Has there ever been a pharyngula thread you’ve commented in, where people haven’t complained about you being an asshole?

  78. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    A preference for red or reddish pink has been proposed to elicit female behaviors to infants that enhance infant survival, such as contact

    …are they actually basing this speculation on the assumption that pink skin was the norm among our Pleistocene ancestors?

  79. chigau (無) says

    me

    Would [giggles] be [chortles] or [guffaw] under other circumstances?

    Rob

    My first thought reading the quote at #17[or something] was how replacing [giggles] with almost any other description of laughter completely changed the impression of the quote (and therefore the speaker). Which just goes to show how much baggage we place on giggling.

    You Win.
    That is what I was going for.
    But the conversation went elsewhere and was interesting.

  80. chigau (無) says

    #106
    re: your link
    Wow.
    That was really stupid.

    Are you sucking for hits on your blog?

  81. says

    I’ve noticed that few evopsych people ever refer to the work of sociologists or anthropologists. Possibly the evopsychologists are too involved in reinventing the wheel to notice some of their studies have already been done by others in different fields.

    And this is what first set off my bullshit detector for EP. I find anthropology and sociology fascinating (not that either field doesn’t have it’s own flaws and biases) and there’s a wealth of information there about a broad range of human cultures yet EP seems to ignore it all. They tend to look at behavior now among relatively affluent, mostly white, mostly young college students in English speaking countries (there’s some EP coming out of non-English speaking European countries but most seems to be coming from the US, UK, and Canada) and take it as universal. It’s a truly ridiculous way to try to learn anything about human behavior and whether it is biologically based or not. Culture adapts and evolves based on what our current needs as a society are so how do you tease out what is biological from what is cultural? And if it biological is it really adaptive or just neutral or even harmful but not enough to be selected against? I don’t knwo the answer but I know that the way NOT to do it is to only look at a culturally homogenous sub-populations and extrapolate it to the whole species.

  82. puppygod says

    @59 Caine, Fleur du mal

    Lyn M:

    When I look at the shopping cart as I am waiting to pay, the red tends to be in the meat, with white, brown and green being strong in the vegetable section.

    Um, er, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, red cabbage, beets, red peppers. Therefore, something.

    I know your post is ironic, but just for the record: strawberries, red cabbage and beets (red) are recent cultivars (some as recent as second half of eighteen century), and tomatoes and peppers were whole ocean away from paleolithic humans populations. For some reason, people tend to forget how many of the stuff we eat is very recent (in evolutionary timescale it didn’t exist yet, like, five seconds ago).

  83. carlie says

    and the quoted passage is from the Discussion–it’s not presented as results or even as a conclusion from results. One hint is that it begins “We speculate that…” instead of “We conclude that…” or even “Our results suggest that..”. It’s a heuristic, post-hoc explanation offered for the data, which (putatively) demonstrate a sex difference in color preference.

    And it’s the kind of speculation that would come with colleagues after a few beers, not something that should end up in the final paper. Any hypotheses or suggestions in the paper should be soundly based in the data. That kind of speculation without any support has no place in a published paper, and their decision to put it in casts doubt on the authors’ abilities to understand even what a decent hypothesis is.

  84. clastum3 says

    Nerd #14

    And behavior can be adaptive.

    Only if that behavior is linked to a gene. Prove the gene-behavior link and PZ would shut up. Otherwise, you have “just so” tales of fiction pretending to be science.

    Take the average size of the nose (or any other organ). Is it the result of adaptation? And if so, is there definitve proof that it is linked to a gene?

  85. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Take the average size of the nose (or any other organ). Is it the result of adaptation? And if so, is there definitve proof that it is linked to a gene?

    Ever hear of HOX genes stupid fuckwit? They control how the body develops. Anybody with a modicum of intelligence knows that. Let the adults continue the discussion.

  86. clastum3 says

    #112
    The hox genes are responsible for determining the average size?
    I thought they determined the position in the organism.

  87. ChasCPeterson says

    It’s interesting that Coyne’s commenters these days are overwhelmingly male, with a good portion of ‘pitters

    for the record, Prof. Coyne banned me, again. (I think because I might have been kind of snotty to Ben “Cheers” &oren)

    Ever hear of HOX genes stupid fuckwit? They control how the body develops. Anybody with a modicum of intelligence knows that. Let the adults continue the discussion.

    self-parody?

    Any hypotheses or suggestions in the paper should be soundly based in the data. That kind of speculation without any support has no place in a published paper, and their decision to put it in casts doubt on the authors’ abilities to understand even what a decent hypothesis is.

    Did you read it in context carlie? It’s really not that egregious, and the logic is based in the data. The authors purport to demonstrate certain sex differences in color preference. They purport to demonstrate that this is a cross-cultural pattern. But then they do in fact present an argument about a biological basis to this particular putative pattern; not a genetic link but something about the underlying neurology of color perception that to be honest I’ve never taken the time to understand. Doesn’t matter: the authors, at least, think that by this point they have presented data and evidence for a biological difference between human sexes. It’s certainly no sin to ask the question “how might it have evolved?”–it’s one of Tinbergen’s four questions–nor for a functional/adaptive hypothesis to be floated (among others, if available, although “Drift did it” is not much different from “God did it” logically).
    Point is, the EP thing was not the meat of the article, wasn’t even presented as a finding or a conclusion. It was clearly labeled a post-hoc speculation. I don’t even care if it was a stupid one. It’s ridiculous for this article to be the go-to example of how stoopid EP is, and it’s even more ridiculous if–as I believe–it’s the source of the meme about ‘EP sez girls like pink cuz berries’. Yet it’s all about policing bad science and not at all about the ideology of identity politics.

    gah spending time being an asshole again. I can’t do this today.

  88. scrawnykayaker says

    Obtaining all the information one needs to reproduce from potential competitors is, in itself, a very poor reproductive strategy. There will be strong selection pressures on the providers of such information to manipulate the provided information in ways that benefit themselves reproductively, quite likely at the reproductive expense of the receivers.

    Anyone get the impression that these people are big admirers of the Lee Atwater/FauxNeuz politics of spreading mis-information to get people to vote against their own interests? If you replace “reproductive” with “financial” in this paragraph, you get Republican politics in a nutshell.

  89. Pteryxx says

    Point is, the EP thing was not the meat of the article, wasn’t even presented as a finding or a conclusion. It was clearly labeled a post-hoc speculation.

    from my #41:

    From the ABSTRACT of the article mouthyb cites in #28:

    We find a consistent sex difference in these weights, which, we suggest, may be linked to the evolution of sex-specific behavioral uses of trichromacy.

    It’s ridiculous for this article to be the go-to example of how stoopid EP is,

    from my #41:

    Original claim:

    an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation

    That article was cited to prove *the above claim* exists in the wild. Many other ridiculously flawed articles have been linked so far, with similar systemic flaws, and criticized beyond this comment thread even. (Besides, if there’s any ONE go-to example of bad EP it’s probably the vervet study.)

  90. carlie says

    Doesn’t matter: the authors, at least, think that by this point they have presented data and evidence for a biological difference between human sexes. It’s certainly no sin to ask the question “how might it have evolved?

    I have two problems with it: one is that they don’t actually account for cultural differences and influence the way they think they do. But let’s say they have; I still think they’re too fast on the adaptationist answer as to answering the “how might it have evolved” question, which is I think what PZ is getting at in the OP. It is asking more of them than of scientists in some other areas to add “what headline could this make and how wrong could that be” as a question to ask themselves before writing something in an article, but I think it’s justified given that they know they are writing articles that could have a lot of media splash.

  91. firetree says

    In my post #24, Dec.10, I quoted ChasCPeterson’s post from Dec. 3. “If you think there is any hope for a scientific understanding of human social behavior that does not include an evolutionary perspective, then you are sadly deluded.”

    My position on evolutionary psychology/ social biology is that it is a new science, starting about 1970, but it is a science. As for my remark about PZ insulting people like me, he accused us of relying on a “naive and simplistic understanding” and having a “cartoon understanding of evolution” and treats those who respond to him as “ignorant defenders” by assuming he is attacking evolution itself. I am not lying. He said it. Nick Gotts (#26), this is an insult. In respect to behavior not being genetic, as long as chickens act like chickens, dogs act like dogs, and humans act like humans I will believe that behavior has a genetic basis, with the caveat that each person has a unique behavior (personality) just as they have a unique DNA. .

    In respect to “girls” preferring pink as a functional adaptation after 100,000 years as the result of natural selection, I do not understand natural selection to mean biological systems cause mutations that might be “good for them” but only preserve those that do no harm or assist in survival with the caveats related to population genetics PZ pointed out in his presentation. Further, I assume evolutionary psychologists do not seem to believe there is a basis for assuming mutations or other means of changing DNA/RNA, including epigenetic mechanisms such as exons, splicing, transposons, methylations, etc, stopped our adaptations to our physical or social environment from happening 100,000 years ago . As an aside, all of these epigenetic mechanisms require enzyme proteins thus I assumed are due to DNA/RNA transcriptions; thus subject to natural selection and all that entails. Mental and physical dualism is a real thing; it is just that mentality seems to be overtaking physical adaptations by an undefined mechanism (a nod to post #30 Nerd of Redhead). The contributions of mentality to our social adaptations seem to be a big part of our humanization. We are not “blank slaters”.

    As to post #32, yes, I am a “murderer” that disagrees with PZ and other posters on his blog. I am pro choice, which means I am a murderer for those who believe calling a fetus a baby is the correct thing to do. I call it justifiable homicide or infanticide and let the chips fall where they may.

  92. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I thought they determined the position in the organism.

    Size isn’t relative position? As I said let the adults talk.

  93. says

    (Besides, if there’s any ONE go-to example of bad EP it’s probably the vervet study.)

    Or the Clark-Hatfield one! I know it was done ages ago but I can’t *believe* how many people still think that ridiculous excuse to engage in street harassment was some sort of scientific study.

  94. Waffler, of the Waffler Institute says

    those need to be pissed on at length.

    Note that the length at which one can piss is itself an adaptive characteristic. Something to do with men being responsible for putting out campfires during the pleistocene epoch. Paper forthcoming.

  95. carlie says

    I do not understand natural selection to mean biological systems cause mutations that might be “good for them” but only preserve those that do no harm or assist in survival

    Oi! A few corrections:

    Natural selections don’t cause mutations. Mutations are separate.

    Preservation of mutated alleles that do no harm is not natural selection; it’s neutral selection (aka no selection)

    Preservation of mutated alleles that assist in survival is only natural selection if those alleles increase in number in the population relative to the non-mutated allele.

  96. carlie says

    Note that the length at which one can piss is itself an adaptive characteristic. Something to do with men being responsible for putting out campfires during the pleistocene epoch. Paper forthcoming.

    Hm, I wonder if that would be directional or stabilizing…

  97. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I do not understand natural selection to mean biological systems cause mutations

    *POOF*, there goes your expertise and authority. Mistatement about basic evolutionary science, and why PZ and the rest of us are skeptical of “scientific” claims being made by EP supporters.

  98. says

    Color may also provide an important cue for female interest…A preference for red or reddish pink has been proposed to elicit female behaviors to infants that enhance infant survival, such as contact (Higley, Hopkins, Hirsch, Marra, & Suomi, 1987). The hypothesis that reddish pink or red may be a cue signaling opportunities for nurturance and thus eliciting female responsiveness could explain our finding of greater female contact with both the doll (with a pink face) and the pot (colored red).

    That makes total sense if you assume that our ancestors were deaf so the only way a woman (or anybody else indeed) could tell that an infant wants something was when they saw the pink uvula

  99. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    It makes total sense if you assume our ancestors were WHITE and blushing/reddening of cheeks and hands would be obvious.

  100. clastum3 says

    Nerd #120

    Size isn’t relative position?

    Oh, so it’s just a question of relative position with Pinocchio’s nose . Talking of which…….

  101. broboxley OT says

    there’s a simple explanation: color blindness is a defect that’s below the threshold for a strong selection pressure to work against it

    dunno if it is such a defect. I have difficulty with colors. I also can see a deer standing still in the woods. The non color affected cannot see the deer. If I am a decent shot I have a distinct advantage when hunting

  102. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    and the quoted passage is from the Discussion–it’s not presented as results or even as a conclusion from results. One hint is that it begins “We speculate that…” instead of “We conclude that…” or even “Our results suggest that..”. It’s a heuristic, post-hoc explanation offered for the data, which (putatively) demonstrate a sex difference in color preference.

    So you admit they’re presenting evidence-free speculation, and this helps your case…how?

  103. chigau (無) says

    broboxley

    I also can see a deer standing still in the woods.

    Yeah, but can you see if the berries are ripe?

  104. says

    EP, if you strip it down to the base concept that evolution has shaped parts of our psychology, sounds like something worth studying. The problem I see when I look is that there are too many hacks and poor standards.

    I think PZ was right to point out the common assumption of adaptationism. Not every feature is adaptive. Sometimes they’re useless for survival but inexplicably considered sexy. Sometimes they’re a side effect of having a gene that provides some other useful function. Sometimes they’re neutral features that only got favored by random chance (genetic drift). I’d expect an EP advocate to address those possibilities in a published paper.

    Humans aren’t genetically hardwired, so the difficulty of studying the subject grows. We’re a cultural species. We learn various ideas and behaviors from the previous generation, good and bad, useful and useless. Before you can provide an evolutionary explanation for certain behaviors or preferences, you have to do the hard job of proving that there’s a genetic basis, rather than a cultural one.

    I have no trouble believing that our evolutionary history still has effects on how we think and act. The trouble is that evolutionary psychology seriously needs to clean house and kick out the people who aren’t willing to do the necessary work to prove it.

  105. Nepenthe says

    @chigau

    Only lady-people need to see whether berries are ripe. Don’t you know that early humans had strict sex roles precisely mirrored by those found in 1950s American television program? Can you imagine Ward Cleaver picking berries!? The very idea!

  106. broboxley OT says

    @chigau well blueberries are darker when ripe, salmonberries brighter and there is alway a taste test. Plus if the geese are queued up to start flying south pickem in a hurry

  107. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Mr. Peterson@34,

    Wrong. That was about geographic variation among populations, not variation within populations.

    You didn’t say so, you just said “variation”. Besides which, in the human case (and many others) there is no clear dividing line between within-population and between-population variation.

    Mostly wrong. Frequency-dependent selection explains cases of stable, discrete polymorphism at phenotypic lor allelic levels, not continuous variation. And it was precisely the reason I added the parenthetical “(usually)”.

    Again, you didn’t say so; and there’s no reason at all frequency-dependent selection should not apply to continuous phenotypic variation. Consider, for example, the case of hole-nesting birds: the more bigger birds there are in the population, the more advantageous it will be to be small, and hence able to use smaller holes – but both holes and birds vary continuously in size.

  108. John Small Berries says

    Also many edible nuts, seeds, gourds and so forth are not red when ready to eat.

    Not to mention holly, Daphne, Jerusalem cherry, Jack-in-the-pulpit, woody nightshade, lily of the valley, and all those other plants with berries that are not “ready to eat” when red, because their berries are poisonous.

  109. brucegee1962 says

    #133

    Before you can provide an evolutionary explanation for certain behaviors or preferences, you have to do the hard job of proving that there’s a genetic basis, rather than a cultural one.

    As I said in my previous posts, it seems quite likely that cultural behaviors and preferences are also subject to evolution (due to competition with other cultures). I would suggest that, for most behaviors, a cultural cause would be the null hypothesis.

  110. clastum3 says

    Nerd #120
    Don’t worry : I, at least, am confident that you will soon supply the evidence that the length of s.one’s nose is under the control of the hox genes, and so lift the taint of pinocchio from yourself.

  111. alwayscurious says

    From http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/group/busslab/pdffiles/evolutionary_psychology_AP_2010.pdf, as referenced above. Definitely the field needs more editing (may eventually be helpful after clearing the debris)

    The author starts out decently well, talking about fear of snakes. Sure, sounds great–a behavior we clearly share with primates. Food choosing behaviors: instinct vs individually learned vs. socially learned. Sounds a bit harder, but certainly do-able…But then on to favorite toys??? “The sole exception to this conclusion, from among the 19 key domains examined in the meta-analysis, centered on sex-typed activities” Ummm, when you run that many comparisons, isn’t likely that at least one false positive will appear? And given all the (cited) work was done by Dr Hines, it should give the field pause–not to blindly follow that lead, but to inspect it more carefully.

    Dr. Hines: Androgens are responsible for toy preference because it’s sex-linked (sick). And because girls with congenital defects have different toy preferences.
    Why, how helpful, did you measure androgen levels?
    Dr. Hines: Well, we finally did 20 years after claiming a relationship
    Did you intentionally modify androgen levels and rerun the previous experiments?
    Dr. Hines: No

    And after measuring testosterone, she found a link!! {After extrapolating missing data points, excluding the boys with low testosterone, disavowing the correlations that didn’t fit “as spurious” or victims of small sample size, and omitting from the abstract the significant results that didn’t support the stated hypothesis}. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0018506X1200044X

    A more precise direction for the field as a whole (if such a field is justifiably different from established disciplines) would also be beneficial.

  112. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Don’t worry : I, at least, am confident that you will soon supply the evidence that the length of s.one’s nose is under the control of the hox genes, and so lift the taint of pinocchio from yourself.

    Since the HOX genes are the null hypothesis and hard science, not hard to do with a minimal Google search. Which you would have done if you didn’t want egg on long nose.

    You should be able to demonstrate what you claim is the other explaination, or show what a bullshitter you are. Put up or shut up. In other words, don’t criticize your betters, show them they are wrong.

  113. truepolynomial says

    As a person with actual research experience in EP, because I haven’t really seen much defense here or elsewhere that I actually like, I feel obligated to reply to this post. Past experience (elsewhere) tells me that I’ll leave one fairly long reply, it will do little to no good, and I’ll leave frustrated and disappointed. That said, I’ll give it a try because I would be more disappointed if this passed and I didn’t feel like I saw one defense that I thought was good. I also apologize beforehand for grammar errors/typos/confusing sentences; this is the product of me quickly writing down my initial thoughts and reactions.

    First, PZ doesn’t cite any actual EP papers. This should be a red flag for two reasons. It’s a red flag because it is always possible that PZ is attacking a straw man. PZ claims that EPs are ignorant of drift–that we think all traits are the result of selection and we discount the role of chance in evolution. I actually rather like the nose example as an example of chance variation not subject to selection. But I like Tooby and Cosmides’s illustration with stomachs and stomach size much more: “[…] stomachs vary in size, shape,and acidity, yet stomachs are still adaptations Those features of the system that can be described in terms of uniform design are likely to be adaptations, whereas the heritable variations in the system are not (Tooby and Cosmides 1990). And as they say later in the same paper: “On the other hand, uncoordinated phenotypic variation commonly will be created by randomly distributed genetic differences between individuals (By uncoordinated variation, we mean individual differences that do not covary in an adaptively coordinated way with the presence or absence of other individual differences ) This variation breaks down into three components (a) differences that are adaptive (the smallest category), (b) differences that are maladaptive, and (c) differences that are effectively neutral (the largest category)”. Tooby and Cosmides, as I’m not sure PZ knows, are the two most respected and well-read EPs in the field. In this and other early papers, they built the foundation that PZ says is flawed. He says the foundation is flawed because of an ignorance of chance factors in evolution. This is difficult to reconcile with the position T and C take in this paper.

    To continue on with T and C, they provide ample evidence of the way in which an understanding of drift has informed their work in their response to some of Gould’s criticisms (link below). This response is worth reading in full on its own right (though, I’m not a big fan of the continual appeals to authority). But, more importantly, they also succinctly, and oh-so-wonderfully, explain why, despite EPs awareness of drift, drift is less often mentioned in EP papers than selection: “It is exactly this issue of predictive utility, and not “dogma”, that leads adaptationists to use selectionist theories more often than they do Gould’s favorites, such as drift and historical contingency. We are embarrassed to be forced, Gould-style, to state such a palpably obvious thing, but random walks and historical contingency do not, for the most part, make tight or useful prior predictions about the unknown design features of any single species. ” EPs don’t talk a lot about drift not because drift isn’t important, but because drift doesn’t lend itself well to a priori predictions, which are absolutely necessary for good science studying something as complicated and poorly understood as the human mind. In the case of human behavior, it’s easy to say that something is the product of drift, but difficult to show it; until that changes, EP work will continue to focus on what selection can tell us and understand that we’re missing some of the picture–though not a damningly large portion–that would be provided by drift.

    It’s not only T and C who are aware of drift, nor is it something EPs were aware of in the early 90s and then forgot. Buss and his graduate students acknowledge the importance of random factors in the second paragraph of their somewhat recent theoretical paper, which someone kindly linked above: “(c) noise, variations in a given characteristic that are due to random environmental events or genetic mutations (example: random low base-rate fears, such as fear of sunlight, that occur because of stochastic genetic or developmental factors)” (Confer et al., 2010). Buss is also one of the most well-respected and well-read EPs in the field, and also greatly responsible for constructing the foundations of EP. And, he also knows that genetic drift is a thing and that it matters.

    So, if EPs are so ignorant, can PZ cite any credible source showing that EPs think that genetic drift is unimportant? Any claim by a respected in EP, in a respectable peer-reviewed journal, that all features of organisms are adaptations? That random processes don’t lead to important aspects of species’ traits? Or best of all, any statement that ANY selection at all will always lead to fixation of a beneficial variant (as PZ so confidently states we believe)? If not, PZ’s argument might just be inaccurate.

    The second reason the lack of citations should be a red flag is that it might indicate that PZ isn’t very knowledgeable about what he’s criticizing. PZ makes numerous bald claims about what EPs think and do in this post (and elsewhere): “It relies on a naïve and simplistic understanding of how evolution work “, “I’m going to be pretty damned skeptical when an evolutionary psychologist tries to tell me that girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation: a product of a 100,000 years of natural selection “, “the first problem the evolutionary psychologists have to confront is whether the feature they are examining is actually a functional adaptation; they can’t simply assume that it is, as they often do “. These arguments have weight because people trust that PZ, being an intelligent and knowledgeable man, knows about EP and therefore knows that these statements are true. So, PZ, what do you really know about EP? Without googling, Can you name our main scholarly society? Or how about our main conference (bonus points if you know where it was last year, or with which scholarly society we had a joint conference!)? What is the name of our “flagship” journal? Or, can you name five journals EPs frequently publish in? One I’m particularly curious about: excluding the three I mentioned, what is your perception of the five EPs most respected by others in the field (please note: I am NOT asking for the EPs most quoted in the media, unless those five happen to be the same)?

    What sort of knowledge does PZ actually show? Well, he refers (but doesn’t cite) to that old color preference research that is very popular to use to denigrate EP. Not only does PZ refer to it, he talks about it as though that is a championed finding within the field! I always find this argument unusual because in my now ~four years learning about and researching EP, I’ve never seen that finding actually cited in anything I was reading. So, I did what PZ should have done and tried to track down who was citing this work. It turns out that there is (unfortunately) more than one paper that makes this argument. But, I went to the one that I thought was most frequently cited as EPs making the claim that “girls’ fondness for pink colors is or was a functional adaptation “: Hurlbert and Ling (2007). First, this paper wasn’t published in an EP journal, nor, to my knoweldge, are Hurlbert and Ling actually EPs (I’ve certainly never heard of them). I did a quick check on Google Scholar to see how well this paper was cited/where it was getting cited. This paper has 67 citations according to Google Scholar, which isn’t shabby. However, of all of these citations, I only see one in an EP journal (and this was one of only two citations by people I’d actually heard of, though I only skimmed the author names, so there may be more prominent citers in the list). So, maybe this finding isn’t really in EPs trophy case as PZ seems to imply? Maybe if we compare to papers that are actually celebrated in the field? Cosmides’s 1989 paper on cheater detection has 1,758 citations, in a wide range of journals that actually include EP outlets. Buss and Schmitt (1993), a seminal paper in the area of human mating, has 1908 citations on Google Scholar. I could do this all day. So, perhaps EPs don’t actually care much about sex differences in color preferences? Perhaps we find that work just as stupid as people outside EP do? I won’t try to speak for the entire field, but I can attest that is certainly my opinion of this research, and I don’t think I’m different from many of my colleagues in this regard. This relates to a point to which I’ll return in a moment.

    What other knowledge does PZ claim? Well, he quotes Edward Clint (never heard of this guy, but I gather he’s well-known around the blogosphere?) and he claims that an unnamed, credible third-party source vouches for the quality of the quoted explanation. I wonder why PZ doesn’t directly quote an explanation from an actually directly credible source? For instance, T and C’s rough definition of an adaptation from their seminal 1990 paper, “The Past Explains the Present”: “Approximately, an adaptation is:
    I) A cross-generationally recurring set of characteristics of the phe-
    notype developmentally manufactured according to instructions contained
    in its genetic specification or basis, in interaction with stable and recurring
    features of the environment (i.e., a design);
    2) whose genetic basis became established and organized in the species
    (or population) over evolutionary time, because
    ‘3) the set of characteristics systematically interacted with stable and
    recurring features of the environment (the “adaptive problem”),
    4) in a way that systematically promoted the propagation of the genetic
    basis of the set of characteristics better than the alternative designs existing
    in the population during the period of selection. This promotion takes place
    through enhancing either the reproduction of the individual bearing the set
    of characteristics or the reproduction of the relatives of that individual, or
    both. ”

    Immediately below this quote, on page 384, T and C give an excellent and brief description of the adaptationist program (under the heading “Adaptationist Analysis”). It is a bit too long to quote here, so I’ll just beg you to go and read it. Donald Symons (1995) also gives an excellent description in a chapter entitled “Beauty In the Adaptations of the Beholder: The Evolutionary Psychology of Human Female Sexual Attractiveness”. I will beg you to read this as well.

    I said I’d return to my feelings about the color preference research in a moment. This is my second major point: PZ talks about EP as though it is monolithic and this is fallacious (and, to be fair, I sort of do as well; it’s a mistake that is difficult to avoid). I’m sure in response, he’ll say that he acknowledges that there exist some EPs who disagree with some of the things he characterized as being typical of the field, and that’s all nice and admirable. But it should nonetheless be pointed out that EP is a science, not a religion, and there is no dogma to which we are all required to adhere. There are, in fact, very few things that one MUST believe in order to be an EP, and they’re on the order of things like “believing in evolution”, “believing humans exist”, “believing humans behave”, “believing human behavior can be shaped by evolution”. Beyond that, really, points of contention abound. You can likely find at least one well-respected EP who disagrees with any given proposition in the field. So, to say things like “EPs think sex-differentiated color preferences are functional adaptations” is very dicey. I’m sure there are some EPs out there who do; there are many others, including myself, who think they are wrong. Thus, finding any one EP supporting any one proposition does not necessarily tell you what all EPs think about that proposition. One must turn, as I did above, to the journals and conferences to see what argument exists. Often, one must pick a side and do some research on it to determine the truth.

    Third, and most importantly, PZ makes a strong claim about EP methods: “they can’t simply assume that it is, as they often do, and then proceed on their merry way, building hypotheses to explain an assertion that they haven’t yet established as true “. PZ seems to think that what we do is observe phenomena in the laboratory and then come up with evolutionary stories to explain them post hoc. Now, some researchers actually do this, and there’s a good and a bad way to do it. The good way is simple bottom-up hypothesis generation: you observe a phenomenon, come up with a hypothesis to explain it, test the novel predictions that come from it, and accept or reject your hypothesis on the basis of how well its predictions ultimately do. EPs do this all the time I’m sure (I can’t give citations as to its frequency, so this is necessarily speculative), as do all credible scientists. This is a valid and legitimate way to generate understanding. There is a bad way to do this, and this is the way I think PZ means to say EPs work: to do the first two steps of the bottom-up process and just stop there. Now, unfortunately, some EPs do this as well. I could easily generate a short list of people I suspect do this all the time. Now, it’s important to note that I said -suspect-. That’s because people usually try to hide that they are doing this by pretending that they actually came up with the hypothesis first (it’s also really easy to tell when people are doing this, but the occasional charlatan can get successful as in any field). People do this because EPs hate when researchers merely generate hypotheses post-hoc. It’s a bad way to do science and leads us all astray. When scientists are not committed to using hypotheses to generate a priori predictions, they are roundly criticized if not openly mocked. The way we strive to do our work is by identifying adaptive problems from what we know about human evolution, using these to hypothesized adaptive solutions (read: adaptations), using these hypotheses to generate predictions about unknown design features of the human mind that would demonstrate a mechanism with improbable utility at solving that particular adaptive problem, and then testing these predictions in the laboratory/field. As an example, take the controversial area of periovulatory shifts if female attraction. I’ll avoid the details here, but it was originally hypothesized (and observed) that females should be more attracted to masculine and symmetrical males around ovulation. This hypothesis then LATER generated the prediction that this shift would be specific to females whose current mates were not themselves masculine and symmetrical, and this prediction has been multiply confirmed. The adaptation hypothesis generated an a priori prediction that was later tested and confirmed in the laboratory. (Now, I said this area is controversial. There are some prominent detractors from this hypothesis in the field. What are they doing? Using their alternative hypotheses to generate a priori predictions that would invalidate the dominant hypothesis. This research area should only prove to get more interesting as time goes on) EPs, of course, didn’t come up with this method: it was laid out most eloquently in Adaptation and Natural Selection by George C. Williams. It is the standard upon which much work in non-human animals is based–try to read an issue of Animal Behaviour without finding a paper that relies on this exact sort of evidence. Yet I don’t see the blogosphere alight about the fundamental flaws in Williams’s reasoning or with the field of behavioral ecology. Some EPs are bad; I would absolutely never disagree with this. In fact, in retrospect, I think some of the work I’VE done is bad. But most EPs (most of the time, in my case) do good work, and live and die by their ability to generate novel, testable predictions and replicable findings.

    Using the standard above also shows us how we can understand traits as adaptations without fully understanding their development: if something shows improbable usefulness in performing some function, we can be confident that it is an adaptation regardless of whether we can identify the genes that underlie it. We don’t know the genes that are responsible for interacting with the environment in complex ways to produce human eyes, but we know the eye is an adaptation because it is so clearly intricately designed for converting light into useful information. If you disagree with this standard, be prepared to throw out a lot of understanding about evolution and species traits. If you think a different standard should apply to human behavior, you better have a good, clear argument as to why and as to what alternative standard must be used. We still need to understand development–no trait can be fully understood without knowing how it develops. And development is even important to claims of adaptation because (1) sometimes an adaptation hypothesis entails claims about how a trait will develop and (2) sometimes an observation about development can contradict an adaptation hypothesis. Thus, knowledge of genes and development is highly useful, but not necessary to the adaptationist.

    And finally, some minor points:
    PZ links to the EP FAQ. A lot of people like this FAQ and, actually, I like a lot of the FAQ. That said, it does contain some errors. Most importantly, I think its definition of the EEA is slightly flawed. The EEA is most properly defined, in my opinion, as the composite of all of the selection pressure-relevant properties of environments that lead to a particular adaptation. This means that the EEA is not a specific time nor place (as the FAQ gets correct), but it also means that each adaptations has its own, specific EEA (as the FAQ gets wrong; species don’t have EEAs). The EEA is a slippery concept that is misunderstood widely within the field and out (maybe I’m misunderstanding it now? Who knows!). I think a lot of the confusion is that T and C sound like they’re using it in different ways in different publications, so different interpretations of EEA have spread. They clarify in some source (that I’m currently forgetting) the sorts of shorthand they use. For now, I think we can take this, from their primer, as reflecting that the definition above is good: “It is the statistical composite of selection pressures that caused the design of an adaptation. Thus the EEA for one adaptation may be different from that for another. Conditions of terrestrial illumination, which form (part of) the EEA for the vertebrate eye, remained relatively constant for hundreds of millions of years (until the invention of the incandescent bulb); in contrast, the EEA that selected for mechanisms that cause human males to provision their offspring — a situation that departs from the typical mammalian pattern — appears to be only about two million years old. ” Kurzban recently wrote a blog post about this: http://www.epjournal.net/blog/2012/12/eea-invariances/. It’s worth reading.

    In response to Clint’s claim about organs being complex, PZ says that “simple functions can also be the product of selection (or drift)”. I think PZ misunderstands the meaning of “functional” here. The meaning of “functional” I interpret from Clint is the Williams, T and C sort of meaning: solving a recurrent adaptive problem. As such, “functions” are not products of selection in the same way that BMW doesn’t produce “driving to works”, it produces cars whose functions are “driving people to work”. What is at issue, then, is not the complexity of the function, but rather the complexity of the mechanism that performs a given function. The more complex it is in performing that function (i.e. the more component pieces that interact in functionally conducive way), and, critically, the less the nature of its design can be accounted for by alternative hypotheses, the more certain you can be that you are looking at an adaptation for X. If you were to see something that was highly complex, but its pieces were often counter-productive and the total mechanism didn’t seem to do much at all (much like the computer my father once tried to build for when I was a child), you would say that the mechanism is not likely to be an adaptation. Were you looking at something highly functional but very simple, you might say that it’s possible that this came about by selection, but it’s also extremely likely that the mechanism was a happy accident brought to us by drift. And finally, if you saw some output that looked like it came from a complex, functional mechanism but was not related to its function, you might call that output a byproduct, as EPs often do (for instance, see Kurzban, Tooby and Cosmides 2001, or Roney 2009).

    Some of the more linkable papers I cite:
    Tooby and Cosmides 1990: : http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/papers/jpersonality.pdf
    Response to Gould: http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Debate/CEP_Gould.html
    Confer et al 2010: : http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/Group/BussLAB/pdffiles/evolutionary_psychology_AP_2010.pdf
    The past explains the present: http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/papers/pastpresent1990.pdf

  114. clastum3 says

    Nerd –

    None of the chromosomes mentioned in relation to the nose in that paper contain hox genes. So you’ve just proved that you yourself were wrong at #112 and #120.

  115. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Using the standard above also shows us how we can understand traits as adaptations without fully understanding their development: if something shows improbable usefulness in performing some function, we can be confident that it is an adaptation regardless of whether we can identify the genes that underlie it.

    Actually, until you can show a genetic tie to the “adaptation”, a social adaptation should be the null hypothesis since homans live in societies, have language, and oral/written history. The problem many of us have is EP backers presume a genetic adaptation where it is a social adaptation, and the burden of evidence is upon the EP backers to show a genetic tie-in. Which is why your long screed won’t convince anybody.

  116. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So you’ve just proved that you yourself were wrong at #112 and #120.

    Sorry, you’ve proved yourself wrong since you didn’t provide an alternative to the known and developed science, which is the null hypothesis. Development occurs through HOX genes until proven otherwise. Where is your EVIDENCE?

  117. alwayscurious says

    Thank you Truepolynomial!! I look forward to reading your references more fully soon. (in truth, I only skimmed Confer; seeing Hines turn up again was rather disappointing). I agree that it’s very disappointing when the media grabs the loudest cranks in the field to highlight what is happening in it. Maybe that’s what has happened here?

    And yes, HOX genes are essential to regulation of nose size, placement & function, one quick example here:
    http://www.jneurosci.org/content/23/2/568.long.

  118. truepolynomial says

    Nerd: I don’t know what a “social adaptation” is, so I’m just going to ignore that term. It sounds, though, like you’re mixing two of Tinbergen’s levels of analysis: ontogeny and function. To show that some trait develops by socialization is not to show that this trait is not an adaptation because it’s always possible that selection has favored adaptations that make an organism social (mate choice copying comes to mind). Imagine you were studying some fish species, and that fish has some trait develops only if the fish is exposed to sound waves of a particular frequency from its environment. Let’s also imagine that we know that sounds of this frequency would have been part of this fish’s environment for a long period of time throughout that species’s evolution. Certainly we wouldn’t say that because the trait only develops if the fish is exposed to those sound waves there’s no possible way the trait could be an adaptation, no? So why, when the sound waves are the voices of other humans, does the interpretation dramatically change? Selection favors genes that are able to interact with their environments in ways that produce traits that increase gene reproduction; nothing about this says that the environments genes interact with can’t include other organisms. So, the question is not “Does the psychological trait in question develop in response to socialization?”, it’s, as Williams told us 46 years ago, “Does the trait show evidence of being highly specialized for performing a particular adaptive function?”. Because such traits, by definition, are exceedingly unlikely to appear by chance alone, and because selection is the only force known to be capable of generating complex, functional design, if we see a complexly, functionally designed trait in nature, we can be confident that it’s an adaptation regardless of if we know how it develops. See my eye example in my “screed”, and please read Williams (1966) for a more thorough, eloquent explication of this argument. Steven Pinker also expresses this argument interestingly through analogy with an olive pitter, I believe in “How the Mind Works”. Kurzban and Haselton give a good explanation/expansion of the analogy here: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/haselton/webdocs/haystraw.PDF.

  119. says

    (in truth, I only skimmed Confer; seeing Hines turn up again was rather disappointing).

    I found it hilarious when I followed Chas’s link to that Confer article the other day. No one who takes that study seriously, much less cites it as undermining anything, should themselves be taken seriously. If that Confer article is an example of the best defenses EP has to offer, it’s time to pull the plug. You can’t argue that critics of the field are cherrypicking bad research that serious practitioners reject and then recommend an article that cites possibly the worst example. Well, you can, but don’t expect to be taken seriously.

  120. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    To show that some trait develops by socialization is not to show that this trait is not an adaptation because it’s always possible that selection has favored adaptations that make an organism social (mate choice copying comes to mind).

    Gee, this sounds like sophistry to this scientist. Show the connection to genes before making a claim at it is an adaption. That is my point. Take the handwaving away of socialization out the picture. Handwaving isn’t science. It is mental masturbation.

  121. says

    To show that some trait develops by socialization is not to show that this trait is not an adaptation because it’s always possible that selection has favored adaptations that make an organism social (mate choice copying comes to mind).

    Still funny.

  122. nakarti says

    I almost laughed out loud when I noticed it: The theory of evolution is irreducibly complex: Take any part out of it, and it doesn’t work correctly.

  123. ChasCPeterson says

    Development occurs through HOX genes until proven otherwise.

    Show the connection to genes before making a claim at it is an adaption.

    Dear Nerd: you are an idiot sometimes.

    HOX genes are essential to regulation of nose size, placement & function; one quick example here

    except that DLX5 is not (strictly speaking) a HOX gene, and the olfactory bulb and epithelium are not parts of the ‘nose’.

  124. axel says

    Let’s define deleterious traits as those (with a genetic basis) that harm reproductive success relative to other traits that do better. Then in this case, surely they can exist for only 3 reasons:

    1) They are new. Natural selection has not had enough time to eliminate (or fixate) them.
    2) They are not deleterious under all conditions. Maybe they become beneficial in some climates or at some gene frequencies etc.
    3) They are linked to other beneficial traits e.g. pleiotropy.

    Note that if such a trait reaches ‘fixation’ by pure luck it is no longer deleterious under this definition as the alternatives that do better have been removed from the pool.

    Now consider variability in nose length as P.Z. does. First let’s assume nose length has some bearing on reproductive success.

    Now the first thing to say is that presumably nose length is not specified to the nearest millimeter genetically. In other words there is room for variation that is not heritable, part of reason why everyone’s nose it not a fixed size.

    But let’s assume there is a heritable component. By looking at my dad’s nose or my genes I can infer my nose is likely to be a least 3 inches long, much larger than average.

    Then the reason for this must be one of the 3 above. It is a new mutation (on an evolutionary timescale), it is a beneficial trait in some environments or it is linked to another trait that confers reproductive advantage.

    Now of course if the long nose confers only a weak reproductive disadvantage then natural selection needs much more time to do its work. But there is no arbitrary threshold beneath which a deleterious trait is invisible to selection.

  125. axel says

    So is color blindness caused by drift? Let’s separate out:

    X) Why it persists as a trait in the trait pool despite the presence of ‘fitter’ traits
    Y) How it got to its current level in the population in first place

    X (even if it occurs) cannot be caused by drift. This is because drift does not help the deleterious trait persist but rather it speeds up its journey to fixation of extinction.

    Y might be caused by drift if its prevalence in the population has shifted from its ancestral value by more than would be expected by selection alone. But it could also result from:

    1) Mutution by itself
    2) The trait being linked to something beneficial
    3) the trait being beneficial under some conditons or was previously beneficial.

    In other words a trait can be non-adaptive without being caused by drift.

  126. Brad Peters says

    Thanks for another good read. Defenders of EP don’t seem to understand the theoretical assumptions that are thought to support it. There are many ways to define the human mind from ‘an evolutionary perspective,’ but EP commits itself to some variant of defining the mind as being comprised of domain-specific information-processing mechanisms that were designed to solve evolutionary problems related to our Pleistocene past (or some other distant history). This is based not on scientific fact, but rather philosophical argument, and as such, we are justified in critiquing any logical errors we encounter. Like you, I am convinced that 95% of the research done by EP is bollocks, and that any ‘good’ research that comes out of it is done despite their theoretical commitments, not because of them.

    On a related note, it does not help when many adherents say that they view EP as a more all-encompassing theory that takes a general approach to studying the human mind ‘from an evolutionary perspective.’ Using a definition this broad, we would be permitted to say that ‘behaviorism’ is a form of EP. In addition, it makes the theory vague and elusive, and protects it from criticism or falsifiability, which as we all know, enters the realm of pseudoscience.

    If readers are curious about some of the more serious criticisms against this field, I would encourage them to check out my own critique of evolutionary psychology. A slightly revised version has been accepted for publication (early 2013) in the journal Theory and Psychology:

    http://modernpsychologist.ca/critique-of-evolutionary-psychology/

  127. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dear Nerd: you are an idiot sometimes.

    So are “scientists” who make claims they can’t back up. Adaption is weasel word like “life” for an anti-choicer. It changes with intent of the author.

    The real question is whether the adaptation cultural or genetic. A scientist needs to be specific. All I say is that it is cultural adaptation in humans should be the null hypothesis, and genetic adaptation can only be claimed with solid evidence. But the EP folks seem to imply some genetics are involved.