Much fuss about nothing at all

Jesse Bering disappointed me recently. He started off another evolutionary psychology story with this warning.

Consider this a warning: the theory I’m about to describe is likely to boil untold liters of blood and prompt mountains of angry fists to clench in revolt. It’s the best–the kindest–of you out there likely to get the most upset, too. I’d like to think of myself as being in that category, at least, and these are the types of visceral, illogical reactions I admittedly experienced in my initial reading of this theory. But that’s just the non-scientist in me flaring up, which, on occasion, it embarrassingly does. Otherwise, I must say upfront, the theory makes a considerable deal of sense to me.

Oh, boy. I love the throb of adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream. So I read further, expecting fierce data and challenging ideas.

They weren’t there. The hypothesis is rather bold — it’s the idea that homophobia is actually adaptive — but there’s no substance there. It turns out the data is all dueling surveys of people’s views about gay people. “Meh,” I said, and unclenched my fists and dabbed at the blood that was going to squirt out my eyes and damped down the fires that had just begun to flare up from the sparks crackling from my fingertips. That isn’t even interesting. They know nothing about heritability, they’ve shown nothing about differential survival or fecundity, they haven’t even tried to sort out cultural biases from biology. Is this to be the fate of evolutionary psychology, that it shrivels away into irrelevancy as its proponents overhype feeble, pathetic data sets?

I couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to spit contemptuously, but fortunately, Jeremy Yoder has taken on the subject and nicely dismantled the exaggerations and fallacies. Go read that.