Ugh. Evolution doesn’t work this way.

When I was growing up, it was quite common for pop-science to illustrate the evolutionary future of humanity: it was all big bulbous heads and spindly limbs and skinny little bodies. It was the kind of thing that probably played a role in shaping the conventional image of what extraterrestrials would look like, since obviously they would be more ‘advanced’ than humans.

It was all nonsense, of course, but that kind of thing is tough to shake off — almost as tough as ‘great chain of being’ fantasies, which seem to resonate with our naturally selfish idea of a biological destiny.

Now these pop-sci delusions have gotten moderately more sophisticated. Meet Project Graham, an awful, but very slickly produced, demo of the future of humanity if we were selected for car-crash survival.

projectgraham

So he’s got this massive double-walled cranium with a small brain suspended by rubbery ligaments inside it, air-bag cushions built into his ribs, a face thickly padded with fat, and knees that can bend side to side. Apparently, we’re going to have a kind of Mad Max future where the human race is going to be intensely culled by a lives of near constant collisions.

I detest this sort of thing. I can sort of see that the point is to educate people about the damage inflicted by car crashes, but it’s doing it badly — I’m not going to be terrified into driving more cautiously by the thought that my many-times-great-grandchildren will be uglified — and it’s doing it by inserting more misconceptions about how evolution works into the general public.

Also, if the selection pressure from driving were that severe, I know what the future of humankind would look like: a population of pedestrians, and people sensible enough to stay out of those death-traps on the road.

Marked for death

We have this lovely old slippery elm in our backyard — it’s huge and thickly branched and towers over our house. This evening we noticed that sometime during the day, we had a visitor.

IMG_0357

That is not a good sign. We’ll have to call the tree doctor tomorrow and get a diagnosis.

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: As we know on the internet, that’s one mode of communication

Watching carefully, I noticed that two other activities added to the commotion: sloughing of skin and defecation. Like other whales, sperm whales shed skin on a regular basis. This may be a mechanism to reduce the risk of infection and to rid the animals of external parasites. As the whales rubbed against one another, the physical contact dislodged flakes, sometimes entire sheets, of skin, which floated in the water like a blizzard of translucent dandruff.

Group defecation also seemed to play a prominent role. When a dozen or more whales defecated simultaneously, it created a cloud of poop that engulfed the ensemble, obscuring them from view and turning the seawater into an oily soup.

I think it’s a metaphor.

Here we go again: another cock-eyed defense of evolutionary psychology

This Myles Power guy fished up an evolutionary psychologist to write a defense of of EP, which is not at all impressive. I’m sure he could also find an acupuncturist to write many words about the wonders of sticking needles in people, but I wouldn’t be impressed with that, either.

I will just point out that this fellow also has decided that everyone who criticizes EP is ideologically motivated to hate it; it can’t possibly be that we detest it because it is bad science. And of course he pisses me off with his dishonest opening.

Now, before I begin, ask yourself this, if you are against EP, why? Which of the following do you disagree with:

  • Evolution shapes both the morphology and behaviour of organisms
  • Humans are as much a product of evolution as any other organism
  • Humans behaviour should show evidence of being shaped by evolution

Because if the answer is, “well, none of them”, then there is really no need to go anything further. Because that’s all EP is in the end, looking at humans from the point of view of evolution. It’s taking 150 years of evolutionary theory and applying it to human behaviour. That’s it. We can discuss the impact any evolved pre-dispositions have on behaviour in the context of social, cognitive and biological perspectives without name-calling. So we’re good yes?

No. We’re not good. This is classic EP evasion tactics: immediately hiding behind general principles of evolutionary biology, as if disagreeing with EP is exactly equivalent to denying evolution. It’s annoying as hell to every time have a chorus of idiots accusing me of being a creationist because I find evolutionary psychology to be simple-minded to the point of utter uselessness in actually explaining anything about human evolution, and it’s people like this EP proponent who always try to feed that nonsense right from the get-go.

Evolution shapes both the morphology and behaviour of organisms. Humans are as much a product of evolution as any other organism. Humans behaviour should show evidence of being shaped by evolution. Yes to all of those. Accepting basic biological facts does not, however, in any way imply that I must therefore accept the specific claims of a fallacious hypothesis about human evolution. Evolutionary psychologists are not simply applying 150 years of evolutionary theory to human behavior, and it’s dishonest to claim that they are.

I skipped the rest. If the author can’t even be trusted to explain what makes EP a specific and useful approach, but just wants to pretend it’s plain old evolutionary biology, using the same methods and rigor, then I’ve got no use for more games of hide and seek.

Myles Power’s dishonest defense of evolutionary psychology

Back around the 11th of July, I saw a few comments by a guy named Myles Power, a science youtuber, who was quite irate that Rebecca Watson criticized evolutionary psychology five years ago. There were the usual vaguely horrified reactions implying how annoying it was that some mere communications major would criticize an established, credible, true science like EP, and how she was prioritizing entertainment over scientific validity (not all from this Power guy; Watson is a magnet for the same tiresome bozos making the same tiresome complaints). So I told him that no, her criticisms were not off-base at all, and then a lot of scientists consider EP to be poor science. I also gave him a few links to consider.

He saw them, and acknowledged it.


@pzmyers This may take me some time to get back to you :)

He did not get back to me. Instead, he came out with a video titled Rebecca Watson’s Dishonest Representation of Evolutionary Psychology. It did not use a single scrap of the information I sent him. Not one bit. Furthermore, he just made this excuse.


I am also doing the ground work in organising a google+ debate with PZ and a Prof in EP from a reputable university.

Say what? He wrote that on the 14th. Not once has he contacted me about “organizing” a debate. One would kind of think that contacting both of the principals in this planned debate would be the very first step in organizing it. Do I get to say “no”, are is he just assuming that all he has to do is contact the esteemed EP professor and then I’ll self-evidently fall into line? I’m not at all impressed with Myles Power’s honesty so far.

So then I watched the video.

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Hackathon in Boulder

My daughter’s research group (she’s a grad student at the University of Colorado Boulder) is sponsoring an event in January called the Clear Earth Semantic Software Hackathon. This is beyond my understanding or experience, but I’ll do a little signal-boosting anyway — if you know what this stuff is, the application is due by 15 August.

The goal of the hackathon is to tackle cross-domain – earth sciences / computational linguistics – problems with the help of local experts, linguists, and earth scientists. Those problems could involve natural text, datasets, software tools, visulizations. Applicants must propose a week-long project as part of their application. Suggestions are: NLP/ML tools, information extraction, ontology-building, or any topic of interest that relates linguistics and earth science in a ML framework. In the earth sciences we include all earth-ice-life (geo-cryo-eco) studies. At the end of the hackathon, participants will present their tools and post them on GitHub. Applicants may apply as individuals or in groups of up to three – building a team within or across universities is strongly encouraged! Applicants may also choose to form a small group at the outset of the hackathon, or may choose to work alone. The only requirement is the development of a prototype linguistics-related software or data tool. The hackathon is NSF funded, and applicants need only bring a laptop and other essentials. Accommodation, travel and transport, and meals+ are covered.