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Kate Clancy tackles Evolutionary Psychology

It is a very good and measured response that highlights the flaws in bad evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology, the study of human psychological adaptations, does not have a popular or scientific reputation for being rigorous, even though there are rigorous, thoughtful scientists in the field. The field is trying to take on an incredibly challenging task: understand what of human behavior is adaptive and why. We can better circumvent the conditions that lead to violence, war, and hatred if we know as much as we can about why we are the way we are. What motivates us, excites us, angers us, and how can evolutionary theory help us understand it all?

Because of this, there are consequences to a bad evolutionary psychology interpretation of the world. The biggest problem, to my mind, is that so often the conclusions of the bad sort of evolutionary psychology match the stereotypes and cultural expectations we already hold about the world: more feminine women are more beautiful, more masculine men more handsome; appearance is important to men while wealth is important to women; women are prone to flighty changes in political and partner preference depending on the phase of their menstrual cycles. Rather than clue people in to problems with research design or interpretation, this alignment with stereotype further confirms the study. Variation gets erased: in bad evolutionary psychology, there are only straight people, and everyone wants the same things in life. Our brains are iPhones, each app designed for its own special adaptive purpose.

I’ve still got plans to post more on this subject, but an unfortunate event has blocked me. I was going to make my next post on evolutionary psychology one that focused on some of the papers, and in particular, I wanted to discuss a good paper or two, so that I could start off on the right tone. And people sent me links and papers.

Only problem: they were all awful. Every one. I couldn’t believe that even these papers that some people were telling me were the best of the bunch were so lacking in rigor and so rife with unjustified assumptions. I read through about a dozen before I gave up in disgust and decided that there were better things to do in my time.

I’d ask again, but I was burned so badly on that last go-round that I’d have a jaundiced view of any recommendation now.

Comments

  1. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    You probably saw it already but Jerry Coyne did a post on EP not too long ago, citing a paper he thought was pretty decent. Perhaps that would be a less painful starting point. Anyways, I’d be interested to read your counter to his points.

  2. says

    The Confer paper was at the top of my list.

    I thought it was terrible.

    I suppose I could write something about how it was terrible, but I really had this plan to start off by conceding that some of EP’s premises are fine, there is some promising work to be done, but every time I sat down to extract those optimistic views from a published paper, I’d end up gnashing my teeth and stabbing it with a red pen repeatedly.

  3. says

    I would add that evolutionary psychology also tends to ignore historical variations in behavior, as well as variations across cultures. For example, when proponents of evo psych start talking about boobs, I like to point to Renaissance portraiture and ask why for so many centuries women went out of their way to try to make themselves look as flat-chested as possible. Or why, if rosy cheeks are a sign of good health and therefore fertility, upper-class women poisoned themselves with arsenic trying to achieve the maximum level of paleness. Or why there were periods, at least in the history of Western civilization, when it was considered manly, and even heroic, for men to cry.

  4. Marshall says

    Reddit is a great tool if you ignore the “big popular” subs and instead subscribe solely to ones that best inform your interests. The rest, I agree, is pretty much all time-wasting crap.

  5. woodsong says

    Amused, not to mention the reversal a century ago in Western culture regarding who should be wearing pink or blue! How many Renaissance portaits have you seen of men in pink?

  6. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    Amused:

    Exactly. You can always come up with ten thousand exceptions to their “rules”, but those all seem to be explained as the cultural variations on the evo rule, and never the other way around, o noes!. Weird, that.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    I dunno ’bout peer-reviewed journal papers, but if you want good EP and can handle a 700-page book, try Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection.

  8. bradleybetts says

    @Amused #7

    Poetry used to be considered a manly skill too, which tend to be at odds with the modern assumption.

  9. says

    I’ve read Hrdy’s book, and really liked it. Maybe part of my problem here is that a good paper about evolution and psychology doesn’t match my search criterion for “evolutionary psychology”.

    One thing about the Hrdy book is that it really fulfills Clancy’s request: rather than trying to reinforce stereotypes, it challenges them. So she cites a lot of anthropological and sociological data that shows that the maternal instinct doesn’t really exist.

    That makes it read more like an anti-EP book.

  10. Sastra says

    Amused #7 wrote:

    I would add that evolutionary psychology also tends to ignore historical variations in behavior, as well as variations across cultures.

    I’m not sure where I read this (or if it was explicitly ev psych), but one explanation for variations in what is considered desirable or beautiful in women (or men) was that it is always related to status — and status is a basic evolutionary drive for a group-dwelling species.

    If wealthy people with high status had it or did it, then it was admired; if poor people with low status were thought to share the characteristic, then it wasn’t. An example of this is women’s complexions. In past centuries, a woman who looked as if she didn’t have to toil outdoors looked wealthy: paleness was considered beautiful. Later this was reversed, when having a tan was associated with having the leisure to lay on the beach while poor people slaved in factories. The same would hold for weight. “I have enough food” vs. “I work out.” The variation is always around a single factor: status.

    Seems to make sense … which is, of course, a good reason to be skeptical.

  11. GodotIsWaiting4U says

    Sounds like evopsych suffers from some of the same problems of philosophy: lax standards and rigor issues lead to idiots poisoning the field.

    I say this as a philosophy student.

  12. logicpriest says

    I bet a bunch of articles and studies that could be considered good evo psych are published in anthropology or linguistics journals. Even then they are going to be mostly historical surveys showing the ridiculous nature of evo psych claims made in the dedicated journals thereof.

  13. says

    British scientists have uncovered why little girls like pink toys. “Women are hardwired to like pink,” says Professor Gene Hunt of the University of Metro, “because their cavewoman foremothers spent their days gathering red leaves and berries amongst the trees.” Later, women needed to notice red-faced babies and blushing boyfriends. Men are attracted to blue because of the colour of the sky as seen when hunting.

    Women are also predisposed to backstab one another in the workplace and cry in the boardroom, just like the social structures in the cave population as extrapolated from these two bone needles. Being too successful will increase women’s testosterone, giving them hairy nipples and male-pattern baldness. Females joining the hunt may also explain the end of the Neanderthals.

    IQ test studies show that women have lower IQs on average than men, undoubtedly from lesser need for environmental variation while taking care of the cave. Tests on little boys prove that testosterone correlates with a sense of humour, which is why women just can’t take a joke. Housework has been shown to cut the risk of several fatal diseases, and dressing up nicely around the house is psychologically healthy as it uses the Homo erectus clan maintenance abilities of the female of the tribe.

    Men are naturally predisposed to sleep with as many women as possible, as proven by lions, whereas women are naturally predisposed to stay loyal to their man and their spawn. Women who sleep around are at increased risk of parasites and death, as proven by cheetahs, who are a pack of catty sluts.

    In a final crowning achievement, the team has shown that daily fellatio greatly reduces the incidence of breast cancer. Furthermore, regular sexual intercourse is essential to feminine health, but may be injurious if prolonged for more than two minutes or conducted while the man is sober.

    “In conclusion,” says Professor Hunt, “all of this is top-notch science that you can absolutely rely on. Now get your knickers back on and make me a cuppa.”

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    PZ Myers @ # 14: … rather than trying to reinforce stereotypes, it challenges them. … data that shows that the maternal exinstinct doesn’t really exist.

    Evo-psych must invoke instincts? No wonder our esteemed host has such difficulty finding “good” EP…

    A less well-grounded (the primary author is an MD, not an anthrop-/primat- ologist) book relating to the topic is Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World by Malcolm Potts & Thomas Hayden. Focusing almost entirely on the tendency of young human males to bond into small groups for purposes of violence, it only uses the phrase “evolutionary psychology” once (that I caught), but makes what seems to my utterly lay mind a strong case (and strongly pro-feminist recommendations for addressing the problem).

  15. logicpriest says

    @David

    I have read articles on popular news sites claiming some study proves most of those things. Now I used to give the studies the benefit of the doubt and hoped the journalist was just stupid or lazy, but after tracing some back to the original articles…

    One of those you can’t satire worse than the reality things. (I refuse to say poe)

  16. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Oh, hey, that Modern Psychologist article is pretty good.

    Is it? Brad Peters has some dubious opinions about where the mind exists:

    At any rate, it is my opinion that all of the ‘mainstream’ definitions of the mind have gotten it wrong.

    I think we would then conclude that thoughts are more than even their neural representations

    You would seem to say that “the mind is produced in the brain,” whereas I would not.

    What if you stopped looking for a single specific ‘place’ to tether the mind?

    Maybe his critique of EP can stand regardless.

    But it can’t stand on Peters’s own redefinition of the word “ought.” “What is based on reasoning, non-physical, what is culturally determined” is just subset of what is, FFS. Can that glaring error be excised and the critique rewritten without it?

  17. profpedant says

    How about writing a _good_ evolutionary psychology paper yourself? Or at least the outline of one, showing the kinds of reasoning and evidence needed to make a useful argument about the evolutionary basis of human psychology?

    There is a lot of talent and skill available among the Pharyngula Horde, maybe a good outline of what a good evo-psych paper would need to be could be filled in, annotated, and completed by the horde?

  18. Owlglass says

    @7 Amused
    I think you are mixing up a history of ideas and aesthetics with this topic. The field workers and farmers were tanned, and being pale was thus considered a sign of higher social status. People also spoke french or mimicked whatever was considered “in” at the french court. This is more comparable to having an expensive smartphone, or the latest fashion today. Red cheeks and lips (and widened pupil) are allegedly considered beautiful as they occur at sexual arousal or interest and were “faked” pretty much through all times, in earlier ages for example with atropine, from the plant aptly named Atropa Belladonna. However, apparently much other things are considered sexy in other cultures. I suspect that much of it is cultural, but that culture is much more than just what’s currently fashionable at a moment. As extremely social beings who constantly mirror each other and where we see us and others from multiple perspectives at any time, it is very hard if not impossible to “unthink” cultural effects, we seem to be hopelessly entangled in it.

  19. ChasCPeterson says

    those all seem to be explained as the cultural variations on the evo rule, and never the other way around

    Suppose that there was some (as yet poorly defined) influence of evolutionary biology on human behavior (something that even EPophobics will at least generally pay lip service to). Overlaid on this putative background would be what everybody agrees is the powerful influence of culture. Cultural variation around a biological core makes perfect sense.
    How exactly would the other way around look? There is a cultural core overlaid by biological variation? Msakes no sense, plus I’ve been accused of racism for less.

    a good paper about evolution and psychology doesn’t match my search criterion for “evolutionary psychology”

    Doesn’t that strike you as bizarre and fucked-up? I see this trope more and more often; Nick Gotts, for example has distinguished between Evolutionary Psychology (not good!!!) and evolutionary psychology (which, of course)!

    she cites a lot of anthropological and sociological data that shows that the maternal instinct doesn’t really exist.

    I haven’t read the book but wha? I’d like to see those arguments. In particular, what “the maternal instinct” is taken to mean. Flexible behavior can be just as ‘innate’ as the simplistic fixed-action patterns of olde. I’m goin to put my bets on 100 million years of evolution-as-mammals over the fashionable blank slate of gender as a Bayesian prior. But I’d like to read the book. O the stack!

  20. says

    SGBM

    Can you maybe make an argument about where his views on dualism affect his critic of evolutionary psychology. What you have written mostly comes off as a red herring like bringing up Ken Miller’s views on god when discussing his criticisms of ID. He can be wrong about dualism and still point things out about evo psych.

    While I agree his definition of ought is clumsy and needs to be fixed I don’t think it affects the whole piece or the points I originally brought it up for. Like the confer paper not mentioning any of the other research into fear reactions to spiders and snakes that stands no matter what your criticisms are.

  21. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Can you maybe make an argument about where his views on dualism affect his critic of evolutionary psychology.

    I can not, or will not, because I consider myself unequipped to judge scientifically controversial claims about evolutionary anything.

    I note that “maybe his critique of EP can stand regardless.” But it appears to me that this is at least a warning sign. He says genetic influences on the mind are subordinate to culture and he seems hesitant to place the mind in the physical world. Is that mere coincidence?

  22. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Nick Gotts, for example has distinguished between Evolutionary Psychology (not good!!!) and evolutionary psychology (which, of course)!

    Comment #654 in Baby Bear’s lament: James Wood in the New Yorker

    [Dawkins:] Actually, evolutionary psychologists are simply psychologists who think in an evolutionary way.

    [Gotts:] This is not the case. Rather, the term “evolutionary psychology” is associated with a number of specific hypotheses. The following is from Wikipedia, but I doubt the evolutionary psychologists concerned would object to the characterization:

    “The discipline rests on a foundation of core premises. According to evolutionary psychologist David Buss, these include:

    1. Manifest behavior depends on underlying psychological mechanisms, information processing devices housed in the brain, in conjunction with the external and internal inputs that trigger their activation.
    2. Evolution by selection is the only known causal process capable of creating such complex organic mechanisms.
    3. Evolved psychological mechanisms are functionally specialized to solve adaptive problems that recurred for humans over deep evolutionary time.
    4. Selection designed the information processing of many evolved psychological mechanisms to be adaptively influenced by specific classes of information from the environment.
    5. Human psychology consists of a large number of functionally specialized evolved mechanisms, each sensitive to particular forms of contextual input, that get combined, coordinated, and integrated with each other to produce manifest behavior.”

    Similarly, pioneers of the field Leda Cosmides and John Tooby consider five principles to be the foundation of evolutionary psychology:

    1. The brain is a physical system. It functions as a computer with circuits that have evolved to generate behavior that is appropriate to environmental circumstances
    2. Neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that human ancestors faced while evolving into Homo sapiens
    3. Consciousness is a small portion of the contents and processes of the mind; conscious experience can mislead individuals to believe their thoughts are simpler than they actually are. Most problems experienced as easy to solve are very difficult to solve and are driven and supported by very complicated neural circuitry
    4. Different neural circuits are specialized for solving different adaptive problems.
    5. Modern skulls house a stone age mind.”

    In my view, of Buss’s premises, 1 is only controversial insofar as some might balk at describing the brain simply as an “information processing device” (are the levels of hormones or alcohol present, both of which affect cognition, “information”?). 2 is false if taken to mean that the brain is sufficient to produce our manifest behaviour: we were not selected to read, write, pass laws, or undertake research in psychology; and acquiring these skills depends crucially on the use of external cognitive prostheses. 3 is certainly at least partly true, but does not allow for the possibility that some psychological mechanisms are byproducts of adaptations. 4 is true, 5 is controversial.

    Of Cosmides’ and Tooby’s 5, in my view 1 is true as long as we use a wide-enough definition of “computer”, but the brain is not suffiicent to explain human cognition and behaviour: it interacts in crucial ways with the rest of the body and the external environment, including the anthropogenic aspects of that environment. 2 is false: natural selection designs nothing. 3 is true, 4 is at least partly true but how far is controversial, 5 is false: for example, acquiring the skill of reading is known to have physical effects on neuronal connections:
    Castro-Caldas A, Petersson KM, Reis A, Stone-Elander S, Ingvar M. (1998). The
    illiterate brain. Learning to read and write during childhood influences the functional organization of the adult brain. Brain 121(6), 1053-63.

    Of course, my view is just my view – but this is enough to show that “evolutionary psychologists” does not just mean simply psychologists who think in an evolutionary way: the leading practitioners of the discipline are making substantive claims which may be true or false, and which they themselves describe as central to it.

    Dawkins’s reply:

    Yes, I have to agree, there are some fields of study where the name is not a neutral description of the field but becomes, by common consent, identified with a school of thought. You are probably right that Evolutionary Psychology is at least teetering on the brink of this category, although the case is less clear than for, say, psychoanalysis or even sociobiology. Looking down your two lists of five propositions, I find myself, like you, in sympathy with most of them but I share some of your reservations. So would, I suspect, many individuals who call themselves Evolutionary Psychologists, which is why I used the phrase ‘teetering on the brink’.

  23. mudpuddles says

    Is Steven Pinker an evolutionary psychologist? And is his book The Blank Slate worth reading?

    I wanted to buy it last weekend but flicked through another book in the store that turned out to be anti-Pinker and it said he was an evo-psych proponent. Just wondering.

  24. says

    Baby Bear’s lament: James Wood in the New Yorker

    What a fine thread that was! One of the best ever.

    Is Steven Pinker an evolutionary psychologist? And is his book The Blank Slate worth reading?

    I wanted to buy it last weekend but flicked through another book in the store that turned out to be anti-Pinker and it said he was an evo-psych proponent. Just wondering

    Do you only read books that confirm your preexisting opinions? I read “Blank Slate”, and at least it gave me an idea of the broader concepts under discussion and the areas of disagreement or dispute.

  25. grouperfish says

    Hrdy is indeed evolutionary psych…. just not the bad kind. As a person that studies psych… and evolution…. but probably not the kind you think of (I don’t study mating behavior or sex differences) I’d really like to see people defining Evo Psych – or good and bad evo psy – before tearing it apart. There is baby and bathwater here.

  26. logicpriest says

    @grouperfish

    The inclination to toss so much of evo psych out is that the basic premise of the articles that seem to pop up have all shared one flawed premise: there is an evolutionary reason for a specific yet complex social trait.

    They tend to fail to include:
    1. Why that specific trait can be singled out from others
    2. If the trait is universal (broadly speaking) to the singled out group that has it
    3. How is it heritible

    Then from the ones I have managed to read, they also assume a reverse order of evolution: a trait popped up because it was needed. That is rather more like the creationist view of evolution rather than the scientific one.

    This is not to say that nothing we do is heritable and likely the result of our past, but in order to prove a highly complicated and specific trait is genetic one must do more than come up with a just so hypothesis.

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    There is baby and bathwater here.

    If you keep watching the bathwater long enough, you can be pretty certain there’s no baby in it if you haven’t seen a trace of it.

  28. clarewilkinson says

    As I understand it from my colleagues in anthropology, the good stuff is more sensitive to interactions of culture and environment, in essence figuring there is more flexibility to behavior than is often assumed by the more bonkers stuff that deals with absolutes (e.g. “Men can’t multitask; women are good at details, so should do needlework etc. etc.) This kind of thinking leads to interesting work on e.g. men’s nurturing of infants; women’s hunting etc. etc.

  29. slartibart says

    logicpriest

    That is rather more like the creationist view of evolution rather than the scientific one.

    This is precisely why I have come to think of evo-psych as simply intelligent design for scientists/atheists.

  30. neutrinosarecool says

    EP was set up as an offshoot of ‘sociobiology,’ wasn’t it? Here’s the wikipedia definition of the latter:

    “Sociobiology is a field of scientific study which is based on the assumption that social behavior has resulted from evolution and attempts to explain and examine social behavior within that context.”

    Seems pretty reasonable when you’re talking about ants and all their pheromones or sporulating myxobacteria, but for mammals, things are much more complicated.

    I’d guess that the adaptability and flexibility of the mammalian brain is what makes it such a valuable survival aid, and that would argue against extensive genetic hard-wiring, since that would make learning more difficult. Consider the great facility that, say, adopted children have for learning the languages they’re exposed to (as compared to the languages their biological parents spoke) – that points to a brain that has evolved for learning, not one set up with pre-programmed social behaviors, which would probably be maladaptive in many circumstances.

  31. says

    The problem with “good” evopsych is that it pretty much universally exists in other fields. Sociology, psychology, neurobiology, etc… And that’s because “evopsych” is a marketing term to sell “just-so” stories to the news media about how “science” proves that 1950s gender and racial roles just so happen to be universal biotruths. There have been many attempts to connect it to the larger academic society and in fact marry it to actual interdisciplinary work between biologists and psychologists or sociologists and biologists, but it turns out when you crank out a bunch of afactual pseudo-science, the academy is really hesitant to stand with you.

    And the cherry on the sundae is that there really is some great work happening right now looking at biological origins of psychological conditions and attitudes.

    It’s called psychology.

  32. logicpriest says

    @slartibart

    I agree. Especially since the authors of the studies seem to always end up “proving” some preexisting social construct is magically genetic. I think anthropology, linguistics and psychology should team up and kick out the evo psych people (and the sociologists, who are just my personal enemies with their abuse of the statistical method.)

  33. daniellavine says

    Suppose that there was some (as yet poorly defined) influence of evolutionary biology on human behavior (something that even EPophobics will at least generally pay lip service to). Overlaid on this putative background would be what everybody agrees is the powerful influence of culture. Cultural variation around a biological core makes perfect sense.
    How exactly would the other way around look? There is a cultural core overlaid by biological variation? Msakes no sense, plus I’ve been accused of racism for less.

    Let’s go over this through the lens of everybody’s favorite paper, the vervet monkeys sexual preference paper!

    Suppose there’s some influence of evolutionary biology on vervet monkey’s behavior. OK, no problems so far.

    Overlaid on this putative background would be a powerful influence of culture…well, maybe not so much for the vervets. It’s actually really hard to say, although given that even dogs have what people think of as personalities I suspect there’s a lot of variation in vervet behavior resulting purely from differences in the experiences between specific vervets.

    OK, so here’s the monkey shot: there’s no way to conclude from this argument that vervet monkeys prefer certain toys on the basis of sex. Just because monkeys are evolved and have two sexes does not mean we can conclude that the choices made by particular monkeys are made specifically because they have evolved to make those choices. I do not necessarily prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream because I evolved to do so. It’s rather more likely to be an idiosyncratic preference resulting from my idiosyncratic life history.

    In other words, your argument here is perfectly reasonable but this does not imply that the specific claims and methodologies of evolutionary psychology are valid.

    The “other way around” stuff is a complete non sequitir. I’m assuming you were just trying to sound smart. It didn’t work.

  34. David Marjanović says

    In particular, what “the maternal instinct” is taken to mean.

    Well, insofar as it exists, it’s definitely not limited to women. So it’s misleading to call it “maternal”.

  35. ChasCPeterson says

    that’s because “evopsych” is a marketing term to sell “just-so” stories to the news media about how “science” proves that 1950s gender and racial roles just so happen to be universal biotruths.

    Bullshit strawfigure boilerplate. This is not serious discussion.

    the authors of the studies seem to always end up “proving” some preexisting social construct is magically genetic.

    Bullshit strawfigure boilerplate that doesn;t even make any sense. A genetic influence on behavior is an assumption built into the hypotheses tested in a study of evolutionary psych. Data are collected and judged as to their consistency with the hypothesis. Nobody has ever “proved” an explicit genetic link to any behavior in humans. But, here’s what you got wrong: nobody has ever claimed to do so either.

    I think anthropology, linguistics and psychology should team up and kick out the evo psych people

    lol. ‘Cause there’s no bullshit whatsoever in cultural anthropology, linguistics, or the various nonevolutionary subdisciplines of psychology. None at all!

    I suspect there’s a lot of variation in [sp.] behavior resulting purely from differences in the experiences between specific [sp.].

    yeah…so? That’s not “culture” and there’s a lot of variation in every measurement in biology. Thereforew we replicate measurements and statistically analyze samples instead of anecdotes. so: so?

    there’s no way to conclude from this argument that vervet monkeys prefer certain toys on the basis of sex.

    No one concludes that “from this argument”, numbskull, it’s a conclusion from the fucking data. Your chocolate vs. vanilla thing is irrelevant.

    The “other way around” stuff is a complete non sequitir. I’m assuming you were just trying to sound smart. It didn’t work.

    Did you see the comment I was responding to, asshole? It wasn’t my stuff.

    Well, insofar as it exists, it’s definitely not limited to women. So it’s misleading to call it “maternal”.

    what?
    Your claim here, to be clear, is that there are no inherent sex differences in human parenting behavior. That’s an assertion that needs a citation, my friend.

  36. logicpriest says

    They don’t need to claim to find a specific gene, but they do need to explain how either a gene or the hormone differences in development “caused” a sex linked behavior. And of course all fields have bad studies, but evolutionary psychology seems to mostly bad studies. It ain’t all or nothing.

    More importantly, put up or shut up. Find a study with good methodology that shows sound evidence of a physiological link to a particular behavior.

    And to reiterate, if there is no genetic or hormonal link, then there is no sex linked behavior. How the fuck else could it be passed on?

  37. logicpriest says

    Or, to paraphrase the entire origin of species:

    Anything included in natural selection must be both survivable and transferable to the next generation.

  38. mudpuddles says

    Thanks michaeld! That’s a good interview. I’ve found some other articles online which seem to put Pinker and The Blank Slate firmly in the “good” (i.e. diligent, skeptical science) side of evolutionary psychology, rather than the “bad” (i.e. pseudo-science, over-reaching mumbo jumbo) side.

  39. ChasCPeterson says

    they do need to explain how either a gene or the hormone differences in development “caused” a sex linked behavior.

    No, actually, they don’t need to do that. Someday, maybe, that would be cool to know, of course, but since nobody has much of a clue how behavior gets inherited in any kind of animal, despite plenty of irrefutable evidence that it does, that sets an impossible bar to current inquiry.

    More importantly, put up or shut up.

    I’m not making any assertions.
    Ignorant criticism bothers me is all.

    Or, to paraphrase the entire origin of species:
    Anything included in natural selection must be both survivable and transferable to the next generation.

    That’s the worst paraphrase I’ever seen.

  40. logicpriest says

    The only way for something to be explained by “evolution” is for it to be something passed down that doesn’t get an organism killed off. I am glad you have a vague “worst” criticism of my paraphrase, which is obviously grossly simplified, but you have yet to say anything useful or specific.

    If a study or paper claims that something is “evolutionary” it must be something actually linked to the genetic grouping they claim has whatever psychological feature. That could be how the genes are expressed based on the sex (hormones and development, etc) but it still has to actually exist within the genes, or else it isn’t evolutionary but environmental. End of story.

    If you can’t at least find some evidence of a method of transmission that is only linked to that group, such as all the claimed sex differences evo psych vomits forth, then it is little more than an unsupported hypothesis.

    In all seriousness, though, if it isn’t transferable to the next generation, it isn’t natural selection.

  41. logicpriest says

    Addendum: the only way for the type of evolution they mean, adaptive through natural selection. The premise of most articles in evo psych seem to have the order of natural selection backwards. They think organisms change in response to external pressures, instead of the changes happening to work with external pressures and giving some edge over other organisms.

  42. logicpriest says

    And lack of edit is killing me, but I also meant to include that they don’t need to find the particular gene sequence, since that is more x-men than actual biology, but they do need a reasonable explanation for how it could possibly transfer. Species linked behaviors are easier to show than the subgroups of a species, especially in humans, who have very few sex linked or “race” linked differences.

    The base case for behavior in organisms with complex brains should probably just be environmental.

  43. chocolatepeanutbutter says

    more about the Confer article…
    excerpt:
    “Can you provide evidence for a psychological
    adaptation without documenting its
    genetic basis? Evolutionary psychologists often formulate
    hypotheses about adaptations, although some test
    hypotheses about by-products of adaptations (e.g., Kurzban,
    Tooby, & Cosmides, 2001) or noise generated by
    mutations (e.g., Keller & Miller, 2006). Adaptations are
    typically defined by the complexity, economy, and efficiency
    of their design and their precision in effecting specific
    functional outcomes, not by the ability of scientists to
    identify their complex genetic bases (Williams, 1966). For
    example, the human eye is indisputably an adaptation designed
    for vision, based on the design features for solving
    the particular adaptive problems such as detecting motion,
    edges, colors, and contrasts. The reliably developing, universal,
    and complex design features of the eyes provide
    abundant evidence that they are adaptations for specific
    functions, even though scientists currently lack knowledge
    of the specific genes and gene interactions involved in the
    visual system.
    The same logic applies to psychological adaptations.
    Just as empirical research has documented snake fears, the
    auditory looming bias, and the descent illusion as adaptations
    without identifying their genetic basis, so too can
    research confirm the existence of adaptations for kin altruism,
    differential parental investment, and cheater detection
    in social exchange without identifying their genetic basis.
    The demonstration of specialized functional design provides
    some of the most compelling forms of evidence for
    adaptation. Identifying the genetic basis of a trait is neither
    necessary nor sufficient for demonstrating that the trait is
    an adaptation.”

    Does this not strike anyone as a very poor analogy? We know empirically that the eye is based in biology and ruled by biological developmental processes and factors. We don’t just theorize that the eye is based in biology, devise a study that proves the existence of the eye, and then state that because the eye exists it is a product of biology.