Jerry Coyne is trying to defend evolutionary psychology again


Why, oh why, do EP’s defenders rely on throwing up armies of straw men to slaughter? It’s silly. Here’s how he starts:

There are some science-friendly folk (including atheists) who simply dismiss the entire field of evolutionary psychology in humans, saying that its theoretical foundations are weak or nonexistent. I’ve always replied that that claim is bunk, for its “theoretical foundations” are simply the claim that our brains and behaviors, like our bodies, show features reflecting evolution in our ancestors.

Have you ever seen a critic of evolutionary psychology deny that we evolved, or that features and differences of the human body and brain are products of evolution? Not me. When I say that it’s theoretical foundations are ridiculous, I don’t mean the idea that there are evolved differences between the sexes, but that EP comes with a set of ludicrous assumptions, such as that we are adapted to the African savannah and the agricultural and urban adaptations of the last 10,000 years don’t count. It leads to absurdities like the paleo diet, in which it’s assumed that we should eat like cavemen, because evolution.

I also criticize the just-so story-telling. Coyne should know this well: studying evolution is hard and demands rigor. Yet evolutionary psychologists will do a quickie study on color perception in college undergraduates and announce that women evolved to be better at recognizing ripe berries.

And obviously, as you might guess, there are the methodological problems. There is so much trivial market-driven crap in evolutionary psychology that it swamps out any hypothetically ‘good’ research in the field. If I were doing research on the evolutionary basis of human behavior (I’m not, fortunately), I would run away so fast from the label “evolutionary psychology” that I’d make Kanazawa’s head spin, and he’d have to formulate some story about the distant ancestors of white people having to sprint away from noisy speculating sabre-toothed tigers.

But then Coyne pulls his magic “proof” out of his hat: the existence of sexual dimorphism. Yeah, who has a problem with that? Men and women look different in grand and subtle ways. Some of those differences were almost certainly selected for. Again, I don’t know anyone who denies that, so it’s kind of weird to use it as his triumphant example. Except that he seems to think all those lefty wackos — you know, feminists, apparently — are in the business of denying the obvious.

But the left-wing opposition to evolutionary psychology as a valid discipline in principle, especially when it involves differences in sexual behavior, seems to me based more on ideology than on biology. Ideologues cannot allow any possibility that males and females behave differently because of their evolution. Such people think that this would buttress the view that one sex would be “better” than the other.

I know a lot of modern radical feminists. I’m pretty solidly in the left-wing camp myself. And NO ONE denies the physical differences between men and women, or claims that evolution could not have played an important role in shaping the diversity of modern humans. Nor do any claim that there aren’t significant behavioral differences — we encounter those every day. What we oppose is the credulous insistence that every single difference is a product of selection, that the influence of culture is noise gently overlaying the purity of the biological signal, and worst of all, the idea that the status quo is justified as a product of biology (which Coyne at least tries to distance himself from at the end).

But please, spare us the simplistic causal explanations for these differences that rely on cartoony, evidence-free speculation, like that men evolved to be bigger than women because they had to punch each other lots in fights for dominance. Perhaps we should recognize that culture creates roles that can generate differential selection pressure on men and women, and that human behavior is far more complex and cooperative than cavemen bashing each other with clubs.

Comments

  1. anarchobyron says

    Richard Lewontin’s Biology as Ideology is the perfect antidote for socio-biological, and evolutionary biological reasoning, while still affirming the veracity of biological and genetic sciences. Plus it has the ironic title of turning the ideological charge back around on people like Coyne.

  2. says

    Yeah, that’s the other big blind spot. They accuse others of ideologically skewing the science, while refusing to acknowledge that their ideology is skewing even harder.

  3. says

    I think the first time I ever heard of evo psych was from feminist critics. An article by Amanda Marcotte stands out in my memory. With no expertise to apply, and precious little background knowledge to boot, I didn’t know what to think. So I googled and I read. I read PZ Myers and I read Jerry Coyne.

    I’m surprised to see such vehement disagreement between them. For whatever reason, I took away basically the same message from each: you have to be wary and especially skeptical of these claims. To me, it looks like a difference in emphasis. Coyne says “Yeah, some evo psych is bad, but…”, while Myers says “Yeah, some evo psych is good, but…” Perhaps there is some aspect of this controversy that I simply don’t appreciate (as I said, no expertise, little background knowledge).

    Anyway, I love watching people who know more than me disagree with each other. It’s a great way to learn.

  4. Sastra says

    From what I can tell both Jerry and PZ are against trivial market-driven crap, cartoony, evidence free speculation, and radical ideologues running rampant in the field of evolutionary psychology. And from what I can tell, they more or less agree on many specific examples of this (and where they disagree it seems to be on the science.) So it almost seems more like a semantic dispute (“evolutionary psychology” is/is not too tainted by bad science to save) coupled with implied (or explicit) straw-man mischaracterizations. It’s hard for me to be sure because I haven’t studied the topic enough.

    If there is a reasonable aspect in ev psych then, what category does that part really belong in?

  5. Athywren; Kitty Wrangler says

    Does anyone even hold that evolutionary psychology is invalid in principle? I’m not a biologist or a psychologist, so I might be missing something important, but I certainly don’t think it’s invalid in principle. It’s just when people, as you say, leap from differences in colour perception to berry picking origins that it starts to look ridiculous. When they characterise the idea that society and culture influence us as “culture creating behaviour” and dismiss it out of hand, when we can actually see rapid changes in behaviour when cultural messages are put out.

    I’m kind of afraid that I might just be pulling a tu quoque here, but it’s always seemed to me that the evo-pych supporters are more often the ones with an ideology – a just world ideology, where every outcome can be explained as a natural result of evolution, and that promoting equity is both anti-scientific and against the common good.
    I don’t think that the idea that our brains and, by extension, our minds are influenced by our evolutionary past implies that one sex or race would be “better” than any other, but I do see it used that way quite often. On its own, that wouldn’t make it wrong – after all, people have attempted to convince me that evolution itself means we should commit genocide against the people we arbitrarily* consider less fit, and I don’t reject evolution because of that – but it’s certainly an issue that I’ve seen among some of the people who support it as True Science™.

    *My judgement; they thought it was an objective matter.

  6. gussnarp says

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t sexual dimorphism a really old mammalian trait? How many mammal species are there in which the males are not bigger than the females? Thinking of the bell curve of human size ranges, it’s certainly not like we have the kind of sexual dimorphism found in say, frogs, where males of many species are dramatically smaller than females. I wonder how our curve overlap compares to that of other mammals? I certainly don’t think we’re exceptional among mammals. So why then does Coyne think this is a point of evidence in favor of the validity of EP or any particular EP research? If we inherited sexual dimorphism from an ancestor who didn’t even have our large and complex brain, how does dimorphism have any bearing on EP? I mean, Coyne even acknowledges that the other great apes share this characteristic. At any rate, my challenge to EP proponents would be this: If you think small studies of young W.E.I.R.D. people or even of isolate African tribes provide strong evidence for your theories, you ought to be able to easily construct a study tracing the evolution of sexual dimporphism. Show us how we’re exceptional compared to other mammals by plotting the distributions and showing us some histograms of various species. Show us how we became more dimorphic as we developed our brains. Show us why sexual dimorphism among bonobos doesn’t pretty much obviate the sexual dimorphism argument for EP. Or at least stop bringing it up when it has nothing to do with any particular EP study.

  7. tonyinbatavia says

    I really wish he would be specific and provide a list of these ideologues who “cannot allow any possibility that males and females behave differently because of their evolution.” By name. With citations. Until then, I have no reason to believe he has a point or that these people exist.

  8. says

    It seems to me that there are at least two great difficulties in trying to understand how natural selection shaped human behavior. First, you need to rigorously disentangle cultural influences from inherent proclivities. Doing a study situated in a single cultural context is always going to be questionable. (Recent studies of moral intuitions have to a substantial degree transcended this limitation, BTW, so it can be done.)

    The second problem, which PZ alludes to, is that human ancestors have passed through many different environments over the past couple of million years and you can’t say which one is responsible for shaping any particular behavioral attribute; and even if you could, there isn’t any way to prove that it was selected by some specific component of the environment. Some speculations may be more sound than others. Good cross-cultural studies that found that most people are afraid of snakes even in places where they are pretty much absent, or that human feces are considered disgusting everywhere, would have a pretty obvious explanation. Not proof exactly. But when it gets more complicated than that, we’re entering a realm where you’re probably never going to get past speculation. And those speculations seem very likely to be shaped by culture-bound prejudices.

    That’s my summary of the problem, anyway.

  9. doublereed says

    That whole hypothesis from the “shape of the penis” thing was so ridiculous on so many levels that it really turned me off to evolutionary psychology. What gets taken seriously in that field baffles me.

  10. gussnarp says

    @Athywren (#5): Well, I’m just a laymen, but I wouldn’t say I have a problem with it in principle. But I would need to see someone show me how we can possibly design research in the field that can actually reach a solid conclusion. I’m sure there is some, but everything I’ve ever seen make it’s way into the popular media has been entirely speculative, without even showing a way that we could really test the hypothesis in a meaningful way. In a (very loose) way it’s biology’s version of string theory. Except without the mathematical need for the theory. Or even a cohesive theory. Or it’s not at all like string theory. But at any rate, it seem to be that there are a lot of hypotheses coming out of it, some even with studies claiming to provide evidence for them, that aren’t really testable right now. Maybe someday, but not now.

    We do know that there are differences in male and female brains and we know that hormones play a role in developing those different brains, but we are not yet able to identify the genes involved and how they might be sex linked or how they specifically express due to those hormones (or so Wikipedia tells me). And that’s no small hurdle to clear. We also tend to find that when we try to look at how those differences play out in actual human behavior, the differences become vanishingly small when we attempt to control for social and cultural factors.

  11. azhael says

    One pet peeve of mine is how people make a much bigger deal of the physical dymorphisms than they actually are, even on average. People focus on the differences and make a huge deal out of them while ignoring the vast similarities. Both genders have breasts and a penis, that’s definitely a commonality between them if ever there was one, and yet we treat male breasts as if they were something entirely different because of their size (just ignore that both are capable of producing milk through the action of prolactine), and we treat a clitoris and a penis as magically different things because one is bigger and fused around the urethra, and the other is small and unfused and that’s supossed to make them radically different. Both are fucking erectile, but never mind that.
    But men have hairy faces and chests! So do women, look closer.
    Don’t get me wrong, it makes sense to focus on the differences, in fact we need to if we are going to identify individuals in our social groups, but can we at least acknowledge that while we are programmed to perceive those differences, they are hardly meaningful?

  12. says

    Sexual dimorphism is actually pretty small in humans compared to other species. Just look at our closest relatives. Let’s face it, we are trained to put people in the “male” and “female” category from birth (and there are no other categories and everybody must fit those categories because apparently we could not deal with the uncertainty of not knowing which label fits). Therefore we think it’s obvious and clear. I’m not sure if some hypothetical alien species would even notice the difference.
    “Sex” is not a neat biologocal category that exists independently of gender.

  13. says

    Yes. Another way to look at it is that we inherited a greater pattern of sexual dimorphism from our ancestors, and that human evolution has been a process of reducing such differences in some ways, and accentuating them in other ways. It’s messily complicated.

  14. Maureen Brian says

    Please, please, will someone tell Prof Coyne and his mates that even if we go back to the Mesolithic – the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms – we have no idea about social organisation.

    Yes, we have cave art and petroglyphs, we have artefacts, we have burial sites, we have some evidence of both camping grounds and of the settlements inhabited longer or to which groups – the same group or different groups? – returned or maybe used as a base. Where our ancestors stuck around long enough to create middens we can even tell what they ate.

    About their social organisation – division of labour if any, gender roles if any, who was “in charge” if that happened at all – we know precisely nothing. I repeat, not a thing.

    From modern studies we know that sexual dimorphism is pretty universal but that it does not affect social organisation in the same way in every place. It would have to have universal and predictable effects on group structure if it were to be considered “evolutionary” and it doesn’t.

    Perhaps they should all be sentenced to a first year course in anthropology. One of the things I learned there was that the first studies were done by men who, of course, came back with the absolutely final and truthful version of how a particular people organised and governed themselves, allocated resources, etc.

    Except that 30 or 40 years later women went along to the same people in the same place and discovered – OMG! – they discovered that the male anthropologists had missed out whole chunks of the story. Perhaps there were matters of religion or reproduction which the people would only confide to another woman. Perhaps the blokes never thought to ask.

    By then, of course, the male version was official and on the record. The women were by definition wrong. Plus ça change.

    No, guys, you really cannot take your ideal, romanticised, version of now, before women got uppity, and then roll it back 40 or a 100 thousand years, let alone to proto-humans, and expect us to believe it. Very unscientific!

  15. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    We have such a poor understanding of psychology as phenotype that researchers ought to interpret results of evo/psych studies with appropriate circumspection. My problem with eve/psych studies (when I have one) is most often the stridency with which claims are made. Often, a hypothesis of selection is offered to explain some poorly defined variation in behavior, as if that’s the end of a scientific study rather than the beginning. I don’t care for that.

  16. smhll says

    I would like to see a conference topic drawing from the history of scientific thought that looks at all the (now disproven)
    ‘facts’ advanced by science that were used to prove that white men were superior to everyone and should get all the research funding while others stepped back to take their proper roles.

  17. Bea Essartu says

    One of the best uses of ideas of evolutionary psychology are in understanding words that we use like disgust. Most science fields start small and grow but some evolutionary psychologists went too fast to big theories when growing a smaller theory from things like disgust and motion sickness would have been better and sourced less argument and more agreement. It was a mistake by evolutionary psychologists not a problem with the ideas themselves.

  18. John Small Berries says

    Does anyone even hold that evolutionary psychology is invalid in principle?

    I’m pretty skeptical of it in principal as a whole, because I haven’t seen a single assertion from evo psychs that’s actually backed by evidence. Now, perhaps that’s because I only see the claims that are held up for scorn by its critics, but from what I have seen, it seems to be nothing more than taking a fact and dreaming up an explanation for it out of whole cloth (rarely, if ever, acknowledging possible alternate explanations). Heck, many of the claims aren’t even falsifiable, which doesn’t make it seem very much like science at all to me.

    I honestly don’t see the difference between evolutionary psychologists and the creationists who point to the Earth’s existence as proof that God created it.

  19. Nicholas says

    #15: “Yes, we have cave art and petroglyphs, we have artefacts, we have burial sites, we have some evidence of both camping grounds and of the settlements inhabited longer or to which groups – the same group or different groups? – returned or maybe used as a base. Where our ancestors stuck around long enough to create middens we can even tell what they ate.
    About their social organisation – division of labour if any, gender roles if any, who was “in charge” if that happened at all – we know precisely nothing. I repeat, not a thing.”

    Speaking as a professional archaeologist, I must disagree. There is an entire subfield of archaeology that deals with social organization and gender in prehistory. From all the the things you mention, we can actually learn a great deal about social organization and even division of labor. Plus, we are not working in a vacuum. Cultural anthropology and ethnography of extant (or recently extant) people living traditional foraging lifestyles provide much information about social organization and gender roles, and the same patterns seen in their physical remains are seen in archaeological record.

  20. Donnie says

    What pisses me off about Jerry Coyne and others is that they use EvoPopPsy as a justification for “differences” between men and women using animal models. You know the big differences between Men and Women versus spiders, gorillas, and other animals? Homo Sapiens evolved a bigger cranium with a larger brain (feel free to substitute more sciency terms). You know one of the benefits of having a bigger cranium? The fact that we can think on a higher fucking levels then our animal cousins!

    Yes, Men, for the most part, are stronger than Women. In the animal model, males can attack, rape, and assault females in order to spread their DNA over a larger population and ensure that their genes survive. The males will need to, depending upon the organization of the herd, tribe, fight other males for the right to attach, rape, and assault females.

    You know, maybe with bigger FUCKING brains, I think that we should have evolved a higher level of understanding that we do not need to treat fellow humans with the mentality used in the lower levels of the brain. Males and females behave differently not because of our evolutionary traits (unless you think that we haven’t evolved the ability to think above eating, fucking, and sleeping) but because our society has imposed gender roles for men and women. Then, ass-fucks come in justifying those gender roles based on animal models.

    Yes, Men and Women are different in size and shape. So-Fucking-what? Does that mean women should not be allowed to be scientists, CEOS, actually fucking individuals within Society without the need to run a gauntlet of fuckwads wishing to attack, rape, and assault her because that is what “we have evolved from”?

    Seriously? I read the article by Jerry Coyne and my whole reaction was, “So?”

    Jerry Coyne says:

    And if you admit that those differences in body size reflect ancient evolution, why do opponents of evo-psych claim that the differences in behavior that produced the physical dimorphism are no longer with us?

    Is he saying that Men are genetically programmed by evolution to attack, rape, and assault women because that is what their animal ancestors did therefore…what? Even if you grant that Men are genetically programmed by evolution for traits different than Women, who fucking cares? I would like to believe that we, as humans, have a higher level of critical thinking that overrides our baser, animal instincts and to declare that “men and women are different because evolution” provides no useful answer or problem to solve (in my opinion).

    I mean, what is the point of Jerry Coyne’s blog post beyond stating the obvious? Yes, there is sexual dimorphism among humans. So, men have an evolutionary drive to be assholes that attack, rape, and assault women? Does this therefore mean that those men who attack, rape, and assault women have not evolved higher level of lobes beyond our animal cousins? So, because these assholes haven’t evolved higher level lobes in their brains it would be immoral to point out their assholishness?

    Is Jerry Coyne pointing out that we are using ablest terms when pointing out the asshole behaviour because some men haven’t evolved higher level lobes in order to distinguish between right and wrong behaviours is a highly evolved society?

    Note: I consistently use Men as ‘attacking, raping, and assaulting’ in this post but with the understanding that Women can be substituted as well. you know, because even a small women can attack, assault, and rape a man. I wonder how many female gorillas ‘attack, rape, and assault’ male gorillas?

  21. Nicholas says

    Donnie — have you considered the effects of testosterone? We have evolved bigger brains, but we are still influenced by biology. Thought does not always trump biology. Males do have higher levels of testosterone, which is linked to changes in behavior, specifically aggression (think roid rage among steroid abusers). Maybe that is why female gorillas do not attack and rape male gorillas?

  22. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    The reason we reject claims from evo-phrenologists who claim to have at long last found proof that the current sexist nature of Western society and/or gender roles in general are hard-coded into us by evolution is the same reason we delete all those emails promising to enlarge our penises.

    It’s not that we ideologically reject the possibility that an erect penis could potentially be larger. It’s that we’ve seen so much obvious, ulterior-motive-ridden bullshit and fucking ENOUGH already!

  23. Bea Essartu says

    There have been many bad people using evolutionary psychology and ideas like it to do and say very bad things all over the world but that is separate from how one feels about evolutionary psychology as a science. Some people say that physics is bad because it brought to us the atomic bomb but most people do not blame the atomic bomb on the science of physics because you should blame the people who used physics to make the atomic bomb instead and physics also brought us many good things.

    I prefer to ask and look for good uses of evolutionary psychology such as understanding the differences between men and women and trying to make the differences less of problem. We should not wait for the differences to go away by evolution when we can find ways to work around them right now.

  24. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Donnie — have you considered the effects of testosterone? We have evolved bigger brains, but we are still influenced by biology. Thought does not always trump biology. Males do have higher levels of testosterone, which is linked to changes in behavior, specifically aggression (think roid rage among steroid abusers).

    Testosterone is linked to status-seeking behavior which differs between rats (where most of the “lol aggression” results come from) and humans. Higher testosterone in humans is associated with more fair and generous behavior in competitive-offer scenarios.

  25. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I prefer to ask and look for good uses of evolutionary psychology such as understanding the differences between men and women and trying to make the differences less of problem.

    How many of these differences are cultural? How many of the solutions are evolutionary?

  26. says

    Plus, we are not working in a vacuum. Cultural anthropology and ethnography of extant (or recently extant) people living traditional foraging lifestyles provide much information about social organization and gender roles, and the same patterns seen in their physical remains are seen in archaeological record.

    Yes, but, even with extant people, the social norms, and organization can be all over the map. And, often, the “known” data about them has been skewed by either the actions, or assumptions, of the original researchers, especially if that research was conducted decades ago, when the male bias was much stronger, as is mentioned by another poster, or the culture being examined has already been distorted, since the first contact with them, by outside influences. We can’t exactly do something like a Star Trek holographic hunter blind in the real world, and even if we could, there was, and still is, some level of inherent bias in data collection, which, less and less so, but still.. biases the results.

  27. Maureen Brian says

    OK, Nicholas @ 20, I’m prepared to believe you. Just give us one example from a dig itself or from the later analysis of finds which tells us something definitive about social organisation – on gender roles if you have it. But give us what you have.

    I stress gender roles only because this is what evolutionary psychologists and their amateur followers seem to find the most significant.

    On the hills above me there are both erratics and stone outcrops covered in ring and cup marks. Is there any way of working out either the gender or the social status of those who carved them?

  28. Nicholas says

    “Testosterone is linked to status-seeking behavior which differs between rats (where most of the “lol aggression” results come from) and humans. Higher testosterone in humans is associated with more fair and generous behavior in competitive-offer scenarios.”

    Pre-natal and in women! Are you seriously going to argue that “roid rage” in human adult males is a popular but mistaken anecdotal event? In primates (including humans), status-seeking behavior among males is often involves violence. See Jane Goodall, Diane Fosse, and Robert Saplosky studies of Chimps, gorillas, and baboons.

  29. says

    Perhaps there is some aspect of this controversy that I simply don’t appreciate (as I said, no expertise, little background knowledge).

    There’s one very important aspect, which is on display in the statements by Coyne that PZ quotes: one side, the evo-psych side, typically uses incredibly crude strawman in making and defending their claims. That’s a hige – HUGE – red flag.

  30. Bea Essartu says

    If you ask me how much or many of the differences between men and women are cultural I can’t give you one answer. In some cultures the roles for men and women are very strong and in some cultures you have more freedom. That is also a good question and I know that many people work against this which is very good and this includes me. Here the question is whether evolutionary psychology could be helpful in the same way that the atomic bomb brought us the microwave oven. I am saying that I believe that it can.

  31. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Show us how we’re exceptional compared to other mammals by plotting the distributions and showing us some histograms of various species. Show us how we became more dimorphic as we developed our brains. Show us why sexual dimorphism among bonobos doesn’t pretty much obviate the sexual dimorphism argument for EP. Or at least stop bringing it up when it has nothing to do with any particular EP study.

    Generally they assert the opposite: that humans obviously evolved to have a very unequal society on a gender basis ‘cuz LOOK AT ALL THOSE HERDING ANIMALS WHERE THE TOUGHEST MALE CONTROLS A HAREM LOL

  32. Nicholas says

    Maureen — off the top of my head (I’m away from my desk), an excellent book on the archaeology of gender is “Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives” by Dr. Rosemary Joyce (2008). Another is Sarah Nelson “Gender in Archaeology: Analyzing Power and Prestige.” 2004.

  33. raven says

    Where evo psych fails is simple.

    Human behavior is very flexible and plastic!!!

    They end up claiming what is behavior at one point in time in one place, is evolutionarily programmed. It usually isn’t. A huge amount is culturally determined and implanted by early childhood upbringing and maintained by the usual methods of social control.

  34. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    And if you admit that those differences in body size reflect ancient evolution, why do opponents of evo-psych claim that the differences in behavior that produced the physical dimorphism are no longer with us?

    Uh, aren’t the differences in body size mainly a result of the extremely high energy requirements for mammalian reproduction?

  35. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I prefer to ask and look for good uses of evolutionary psychology such as understanding the differences between men and women and trying to make the differences less of problem. We should not wait for the differences to go away by evolution when we can find ways to work around them right now.

    The problem here is that evo-phrenology, as actually practiced, is actively anti-productive in this regard.

  36. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Are you seriously going to argue that “roid rage” in human adult males is a popular but mistaken anecdotal event?

    Why not? “Crazy women with PMS” mostly seems to be. Plus, if “roid rage” is “common knowledge” and given that people act drunk if you give them a completely non-intoxicating placebo in a “club” or “party” atmosphere….

    Also, there does seem to be a bit of a specific culture with specific traits surrounding the circumstances in which people use steroids. Just sayin’.

  37. chigau (違う) says

    If regular Psychology was less of a dog’s breakfast, would evo-psych be better?

  38. Maureen Brian says

    Perhaps this is the moment to mention two facts well recognised in other sciences.

    * We and the other apes often used to explain human behaviour shared a last common ancestor at least 7 million years ago. In some cases, far more. Anyone know how long ago my last common ancestor with a rat was?

    * The level of testosterone produced by women varies enormously even within a given population. Women athletes, for instance, keep failing doping tests because their testosterone levels are above what the person who devised the test expected. Most of them are eventually cleared. I would imagine that women politicians may well be the same. It is thus as possible to argue that culture affects the level of testosterone in women (and in men) as it is to argue that testosterone itself determines gender role and social status.

  39. Nicholas says

    #36: “Uh, aren’t the differences in body size mainly a result of the extremely high energy requirements for mammalian reproduction?”

    Mammalian reproduction certainly factors in (female mammal energetic costs are higher in reproduction, so it figures smaller body size is adaptive) — but only if you consider females smaller than males! Most primates are sexually dimorphic in that males are typically larger and heavier than females. But, the females are as big as they need to be to reproduce. The males then got even bigger –they have no such energetic constraints.

    Think of female primates as normal size. The males super sized. The sexual dimorphism in primates is well-studied and correlates well with social organization. The more competition among males for access to mates, the higher the level of dimorphism. In Gibbons, which are monogamous, sexual dimorphism is zero (you can barely tell a male from female in the trees). In Gorillas and Orangs, where males fight and compete for access to females dimorphism is near 100 percent — males are twice as big as females. This is largely true for most mammals (not all!).

  40. Bea Essartu says

    When you make a joke by calling evolutionary psychology by the name of evo-phrenology you are making my point but in a backwards way. Phrenology was a bad use of the idea that the mind is made of separate modules which each different function. Phrenology is gone but the idea of modularity is the basic of all modern brain science. Bad uses of a science do not make the science bad.

  41. Nicholas says

    ” It is thus as possible to argue that culture affects the level of testosterone in women (and in men) as it is to argue that testosterone itself determines gender role and social status.”

    This is simply incorrect. Testosetrone levels do vary. But female athletes who fail doping tests due to naturally high testosterone levels rarely reach levels seen in males. Even if this weren’t a very small sample, female athletes who fail doping tests do so because their testosterone levels are higher compared to typical females, not because they are in the range seen in even typical males.

    And, their testosterone levels are certainly not affected by culture. There are few things females can do to naturally raise their testosterone levels, short of doping. Women typically have much lower levels of testosterone compared to males. Some women have naturally higher levels, but those are relatively few.

  42. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Bea Essartu:

    I am saying that I believe that it can.

    I am asking this snarklessly: Can you give an example (even one that is entirely hypothetical)?

  43. raven says

    wikipedia criticisms of evo-psych:

    Ethnocentrism[edit]

    One aspect of evolutionary psychology is finding traits that have been shown to be universal in humans. Many critics have pointed out that many traits considered universal at some stage or another by evolutionary psychologists often turn out to be dependent on cultural and particular historical circumstances.[42][43]

    Critics allege that evolutionary psychologists tend to assume that their own current cultural context represents a universal human nature.

    1. I’m just going to cut and paste the wikipedia summary of the most common criticism of evo-psych. Nature versus nurture. Inborn versus learned.

    If most of human behavior is learned, evo-psych doesn’t have much to say except that humans are social creatures that learn a lot.

    2. It’s a fair claim that our bodies, brains, and minds evolved. This doesn’t mean evo-psych as it exists today has discovered much of anything. These are two entirely separate questions.

    3. Evo-psych isn’t new. it is the old Sociobiology of Humans from the 1970’s. Rebranded. Applying sociobiology to humans ended up being such a failure that they had to change the name to evo-psych. Which isn’t doing any better.

    I suspect they might get somewhere, someday. Probably after another name change or two.

  44. Nicholas says

    Raven — Notice I am not defending Evo-Psych. But, you say “Evo-psych isn’t new. it is the old Sociobiology of Humans from the 1970’s.”

    OK, but sociobiology HAS been enormously successful in advancing our understanding of behavior in nonhuman social animals. Isn’t is a reasonable hypothesis to think that some human behavior may be influenced by our evolutionary history as social primates?

    Right about the ethnocentrism, tho. That is the challenge to all anthropology, however. Cultural anthropologists deal with every day and still manage to do good work.

  45. says

    i don’t think you’ve been on tumblr lately, but there is a new wave of transgender activism that absolutely denies the physical realities of sexual dimorphism. Coyne may have encountered some of them at some point. Just throwing that out there.

  46. Bea Essartu says

    I will try to give an example that comes from work I read. The raw data is that men are more various than women in many ways. The hypothesis is that variety helps speed adaptation but consistency helps survival of children and men can be the father of many children at same time so it is men that get variety. If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair. So use the information to adjust the jobs to include both variety and consistency at the same time.

  47. raven says

    OK, but sociobiology HAS been enormously successful in advancing our understanding of behavior in nonhuman social animals. Isn’t is a reasonable hypothesis to think that some human behavior may be influenced by our evolutionary history as social primates?

    You are making an assertion without any facts or data.

    The answer to your “reasonable hypothesis” might just well be NO!!! Or more likely a small amount. If humans are sponges that soak up huge amounts of learning from other humans, which is in fact true, then very little other than that is part of our recent evolutionary history. See below.

    Maureen Brian:

    Perhaps this is the moment to mention two facts well recognised in other sciences.

    * We and the other apes often used to explain human behaviour shared a last common ancestor at least 7 million years ago. In some cases, far more. Anyone know how long ago my last common ancestor with a rat was?

    Good point.

    The great apes are good for something but probably tell us little about our specifics. They and we have been on separate evolutionary paths for 7 million years.

    The chimps and bonobo’s are separated by 1 million years and close enough that they can still interbreed. Their societies and lifestyles are very different.

    This says one thing. Behavior is evolutionarily plastic and can change rapidly. How rapidly we don’t really know. It’s quite possible it changes on thousands of years timescales, a current hypothesis called self domestication. We’ve also seen this with dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. In foxes in Russia it took mere decades.

  48. The Mellow Monkey says

    skeptifem @ 48

    i don’t think you’ve been on tumblr lately, but there is a new wave of transgender activism that absolutely denies the physical realities of sexual dimorphism.

    And do you have a link to these denials?

  49. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Isn’t is a reasonable hypothesis to think that some human behavior may be influenced by our evolutionary history as social primates?

    FOR THE LAST FUCKING TIME THIS IS NOT WHAT IS BEING DISPUTED

  50. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    And do you have a link to these denials?

    And for how it’s somehow the fault of pornography?

    I suspect what skeptifem’s found is some assertions to the effect that biological sex isn’t nearly as clean and simple as society supposes either.

  51. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Bea Essartu

    Here the question is whether evolutionary psychology could be helpful in the same way that the atomic bomb brought us the microwave oven. I am saying that I believe that it can.

    This is rather an odd defense. I personally don’t think the microwave oven was worth 200+ thousand lives lost to atomic bombs. Maybe I’m weird that way. Like Antiochus Epiphanes, I’m curious about what you think evo-psych might teach us that will be worth the harm done by people using the field to justify their bigotries and regressive attitudes.

  52. rq says

    I’m reading Nicholas‘ comments and it sounds (to me) as if xe is saying that men are just naturally more aggressive, because testosterone, so there, we’re all primates and that is that.
    That sounds an awful lot like a justification for various kinds of violence. Am I missing something?
    Because the human brain was also mentioned above – bigger, supposedly better at thinking. Shouldn’t evo-psych (or, evo-phrenology – love it!!) be more focussed on continuing the positive, progressive evolution of our brains by helping us realize, culturally etc., that we should be focussed on being less aggressive and less dimorphic (in our thinking and actions; not much to do about the biology), more caring and sharing, esp. considering today’s potentially crowded conditions?
    Sounds like evo-psych |(and those who argue the ‘it’s natural because primates!’ bit) is a bunch of bull trying to justify current inequalities with a false history, instead of using its potential research benefits to improve humans going forward.

  53. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    The raw data is that men are more various than women in many ways. The hypothesis is that variety helps speed adaptation but consistency helps survival of children and men can be the father of many children at same time so it is men that get variety. If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair. So use the information to adjust the jobs to include both variety and consistency at the same time.

    This is, at best, completely garbled, and for the most part a just-so story. This is the problem we’re talking about.

  54. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    @ Bea Essartu

    The raw data is that men are more various than women in many ways. The hypothesis is that variety helps speed adaptation but consistency helps survival of children and men can be the father of many children at same time so it is men that get variety. If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair. So use the information to adjust the jobs to include both variety and consistency at the same time.

    This is so non-specific as to be utterly meaningless. Try again.

  55. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    This is rather an odd defense. I personally don’t think the microwave oven was worth 200+ thousand lives lost to atomic bombs. Maybe I’m weird that way. Like Antiochus Epiphanes, I’m curious about what you think evo-psych might teach us that will be worth the harm done by people using the field to justify their bigotries and regressive attitudes.

    Also, the microwave oven was developed as an offshoot of research on radar and had very little if anything to do with the atomic bomb. I wonder what the evo-phrenology explanation is for Bea Essartu’s muddled thinking.

  56. The Mellow Monkey says

    Azkyroth @ 53

    I suspect what skeptifem’s found is some assertions to the effect that biological sex isn’t nearly as clean and simple as society supposes either.

    That’s often the case when somebody says “trans people deny [XYZ]”, which is why I’m skeptical. Mischaracterizing or misunderstanding an oppressed minority is just too damn common.

  57. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Okay, we’re not done here.

    Isn’t is a reasonable hypothesis to think that some human behavior may be influenced by our evolutionary history as social primates?

    Damn you anyway, Nicholas.

    If PZ’s rebuttal wasn’t enough, I fucking posted on this VERY SPECIFICALLY:

    The reason we reject claims from evo-phrenologists who claim to have at long last found proof that the current sexist nature of Western society and/or gender roles in general are hard-coded into us by evolution is the same reason we delete all those emails promising to enlarge our penises.

    It’s not that we ideologically reject the possibility that an erect penis could potentially be larger. It’s that we’ve seen so much obvious, ulterior-motive-ridden bullshit and fucking ENOUGH already!

    Read it, you stupid hack. Read it until it SINKS IN. And then stop telling this lie.

  58. Maureen Brian says

    Thank you, Nicholas.

    I see from the note on amazon.co.uk – as far as I have got – that Professor Joyce discusses the great variability of gender roles between societies and, from her UC Berkeley page, that much of her work has been on the societies of Central America, meaning that she goes back at most 14,000 years.

    Professor Nelson, working in East Asia, covers a longer time-span of up to half a million years. She says in so many words that both the idea of gender and gender roles are social constructs.

    Both, though, seem to be of the generation which sought to get some of the sexist assumptions out of archaeology – that gender is fixed, that women have always had exactly the same role in society and that they cannot possibly ever have held power or done anything interesting, etc. In other words, feminist archaeology.

    Certainly, both books look fascinating. Whether you see this as I do or not, though this work counts as ancient history for most purposes in evolutionary terms even half a million years ago is yesterday.

    May I gently remind you that the human remains found in the Oseberg ship – burial date 834 C E – were female, one a woman of mind-bogglingly high status, the other possibly a servant, possibly her companion, perhaps her lover. Who knows?

    A simpler burial of perhaps 100 or 150 years later on St Patricks Isle, Isle of Man, was still that of a high status woman, the trappings of her authority buried with her. So there we are, almost in modern times, with women interred in a way which reflected the influence and power they exercised in life.

    None of which confirms the only aspect of evolutionary psychology which excites Dr Coyne. Indeed it confounds it. And no ape appears in this story to reassure him.

  59. areyouashoggoth says

    It seems to me that, if evo-psych proponents were arguing in good faith, then there are multitudes of problematic human phenomena that they could study in order to shed some actual light and maybe help us overcome some of our more unfortunate proclivities. Things that have nothing at all to do with sex/gender. Like helping me say no to that bag of Doritos or Cheetos. Or helping addicts control their addictive behaviors. Or understanding why so many of us fall prey so easily to demagogues and snake oil purveyors. But as far as I can tell, they are only interested in sex/gender differences and they have no interest in actually changing or controlling maladaptive or destructive behaviors, it all seems to be ‘boys are better than gurls cuz penis! LOL! sux to be you! That’s a pretty big tell right there.

  60. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Can you please give example of a science that has no possible bad uses?

    Can you please go back and read what we’re actually fucking saying?

  61. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    It seems to me that, if evo-psych proponents were arguing in good faith, then there are multitudes of problematic human phenomena that they could study in order to shed some actual light and maybe help us overcome some of our more unfortunate proclivities. Things that have nothing at all to do with sex/gender. Like helping me say no to that bag of Doritos or Cheetos. Or helping addicts control their addictive behaviors. Or understanding why so many of us fall prey so easily to demagogues and snake oil purveyors.

    Or curing that inexcusable shitstupidliary that produces exchanges of

    “[VERY SPECIFIC AND TENUOUS CLAIM WHICH HAPPENS TO SUPPORT CLAIMER’S PREJUDICES!]”

    “[Criticism of tenuousity of claim convenience of its support of prejudices]”

    “WHY DO YOU DOGMATICALLY DENY THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE VERY GENERAL CLASS OF CLAIMS IT BELONGS TO COULD BE VALID?!”

  62. Saad says

    Bea Essartu, #62

    I will try to give an example that comes from work I read. The raw data is that men are more various than women in many ways. The hypothesis is that variety helps speed adaptation but consistency helps survival of children and men can be the father of many children at same time so it is men that get variety. If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair. So use the information to adjust the jobs to include both variety and consistency at the same time.

    You said you’d give an example but didn’t.

    What do you mean by variety and consistency here (especially with respect to jobs)? How is this not just a reformulation of estrogen vibe?

  63. Bea Essartu says

    I went back and read and saw that you reject claims from evo-phrenologists who claim to have at long last found proof that the current sexist nature of Western society and/or gender roles in general are hard-coded into us by evolution because you’ve seen so much obvious, ulterior-motive-ridden bullshit and fucking ENOUGH already! This says to me that to convince you of any good of evolutionary psychology I would need to go back in time and stop you from seeing bad previous arguments which I cannot do.

    All sciences have had bad people and bad uses. There is nothing you can do about this now but you can still try to make it worth it by adding good people and uses.

  64. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Bea Essartu

    Can you please give example of a science that has no possible bad uses?

    Can you please give an example of someone making that claim?

  65. octopod says

    I see your point. However, it seems to me that the way to convince people that EP is not obvious, ulterior-motive-riddled bullshit is to just drop the gender and race things for a while and prove the methods valid on some less ulterior-motive-riddled subject! Then, once the kinks in the methodology are worked out, maybe we can believe the results on those other topics.

  66. Bea Essartu says

    I used search and I don’t understand why is estrogen vibe here but maybe I can bring the two together and give better example. Maybe more men are outspoken atheists because of the extra variety. When atheism is minority then more men because must be in one extreme to be atheist. But when someday I hope atheism is majority then more women because now extreme is to be theist instead. If this true then way to get more outspoken female atheists is to just make atheism the majority because then men leave to be extreme and women more than men in atheism.

  67. Bea Essartu says

    Here is a joke for you Seven of Mine and I get your name correct this time. I am sorry about the last time. Can you answer my question with something that is not a question?

  68. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    So, we complain that evo-psych is mostly just a bunch of bullshit just-so stories with little to no evidence to back them up and you defend it by producing your own barely coherent, bullshit just-so story with no evidence to back it up. Excellent strategy, I must say.

  69. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Can you answer my question with something that is not a question?

    Yes, I can. Will I? No. If you don’t want to engage with what people are actually saying, feel free to get the fuck out.

  70. Saad says

    Bea, #71

    No, by the estrogen vibe comparison I mean your post #49 reads like the same type of unscientific sexism. I’m not specifically talking about atheism.

    What do you mean jobs where variety helps would be better for men? Variety as in what and why would that be better for men? You also said men are more “various” because that speeds adaptation. Various in what?

    And what are women more “consistent” in and how does that help with “consistent” jobs, whatever that is?

    This is making no sense whatsoever. Maybe I’m giving it far more attention than it deserves.

  71. Bea Essartu says

    Someone asked for an example and said it could be hypothetical and now you get upset that I use hypothetical example.

  72. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    “Hypothetical” does not mean “made up out of whole cloth with zero regard for reality”.

  73. Bea Essartu says

    There are many things that can be measured where men more various than women from physical things like tallness and strength to mental things like IQ and memory size. The question is what you do with raw data. You can be bad and use it to be sexist which is what I see people worry. You might also be good and use it to make adjustments so that the world is not biased for men. Like when you go in classroom and the chairs and scissors are for only right handed. Know how many people are left handed and make room more fair.

  74. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    This says to me that to convince you of any good of evolutionary psychology I would need to go back in time and stop you from seeing bad previous arguments which I cannot do.

    All sciences have had bad people and bad uses. There is nothing you can do about this now but you can still try to make it worth it by adding good people and uses.

    Can you at least entertain the possibility that the problem here is not “bad uses of science” but rather “non-science, based on a set of assumptions some (but not all) of which are known to be false, pretending to be science?”

  75. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Beau Essartu @ 49:
    Taking your example at face value, I don’t see how an eve-psych approach helps. Let’s say that there is a difference in the degree of variance between men and women in a population. Whether that difference in variance can be explained evolutionarily or not has little bearing on what cultural solutions are available. In your example, let’s say that this difference in variance could be explained entirely by culture. Would the solution be any different?

  76. Saad says

    Bea #78

    There are many things that can be measured where men more various than women from physical things like tallness and strength to mental things like IQ and memory size. The question is what you do with raw data. You can be bad and use it to be sexist which is what I see people worry. You might also be good and use it to make adjustments so that the world is not biased for men. Like when you go in classroom and the chairs and scissors are for only right handed. Know how many people are left handed and make room more fair.

    So… ergonomics at the workplace. This has to do with the topic at hand how?

    When you say things like “IQ and memory size” and adjusting the jobs to avoid sexism… are you saying dumb down the jobs for women?

    Stop messing around and finally give an example of what you mean by jobs with variety for men and jobs with consistency for women.

  77. raven says

    Bea:

    If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair.

    1. This is silly and useless. It assumes all men are clones and all women are clones. In fact, there is a vast variety of personalities depending on genetics, upbringing, and life experiences. The intra-group variation is such that the two intergroups overlap to a large degree.

    2. This whole thread shows how Sociobiology of humans aka evo-psych has so far failed. There is no consensus, nothing has been proved, and it just goes nowhere without a whole lot of data, proof, or underlying theory. And this is after 5 decades.

    It might change in a few more decades although that remains to be seen.

  78. Nicholas says

    #61 Maureen — I’m confused. My original reply was to your statement that ” that even if we go back to the Mesolithic – the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms – we have no idea about social organisation.”

    Joyce’s book covers Mesoamerica from about 14,000 years ago up to European contact (500 years ago). Nelson goes back even farther, up to .5 million years ago (which includes all of the Mesolithic, which is a somewhat archaic term rarely used today outside of Europe). Both have great detail on social organization learned from the archaeological record and references to many more works on the archaeology of gender, that cover even wider periods of time and space, including Europe.

    Regardless of what you think of it, I have shown that your original statement was incorrect.

  79. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    areyouashoggoth @63: I don’t think the evolutionary psychological approach is necessary there either. Discovering the mechanism by which variation in a trait is inherited is sufficient to guide research on treatment, without explaining how that variation came to be in the first place. Not to say that explaining how that variation arose isn’t interesting, or potentially enlightening– it just doesn’t contribute to the solution.
     
    I think what you may be conflating are the concepts of “heritable” and “evolved”.

  80. Bea Essartu says

    Yes I can entertain the idea evolutionary psychology is not a science because I think about things that not true quite often such as you are listening to me as much as I am trying to listen to you. Since we like questions so much can you entertain the idea evolutionary psychology is a science because it make predictions that can be found true or false?

    I do not know if solution would be different if men vs women difference from society or evolution but that does not change that one can learn about differences from evolutionary psychology so I am not seeing this as argument against evolutionary psychology. Also I do not believe that there is such a clear line that says this is society and that is evolutionary because society is one thing that evolved.

    Maybe better example of when variety vs consistency matters is when you are doing surgery that is standard vs surgery that is experimental. Consistency is better for standard vs variety is better for experimental.

    Lots of vs in this. You are making me think in a way that I usually try not to do.

  81. consciousness razor says

    Beau Essartu #49:

    I will try to give an example that comes from work I read. The raw data is that men are more various than women in many ways. The hypothesis is that variety helps speed adaptation but consistency helps survival of children and men can be the father of many children at same time so it is men that get variety. If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair. So use the information to adjust the jobs to include both variety and consistency at the same time.

    In addition to Antiochus Epiphanes’ point that this makes no difference, this is not even a valid example of the possibility you’re presumably considering. Variation in this sense occurs in populations, not individuals. A person is not “more various” (which is just nonsense) than another, but a group of people may have more variation among them compared to another group. Any person, in any group, may be better or worse than another at doing some specific job which requires some specific set of skills, independently of how they fit in statistically with other members in some category that you decided to assign to them. I don’t have some set of skills or a certain level of competence at them while also having some other level of competence at them. I just get the one set of traits as an individual, which of course might change over time with learning or practice or development or whatever. So, wherever that variation might come from, biologically or culturally, it still isn’t even relevant.

  82. Nicholas says

    #55 rq:” I’m reading Nicholas‘ comments and it sounds (to me) as if xe is saying that men are just naturally more aggressive, because testosterone, so there, we’re all primates and that is that.
    That sounds an awful lot like a justification for various kinds of violence. Am I missing something?”

    Well, yes.

    I am not saying and have not said that men are just naturally more aggressive. I pointed out that the relationship between testosterone levels and aggression is well-documented in steroid abusers (Roid rage). This demonstrates that elevated testosterone does influence aggression. That’s all. Now, men do have naturally higher levels of testosterone compared to females (on average). This does not mean men are naturally aggressive, but if testosterone affects aggression, then the differences in level between typical men and women must be considered in discussions of causes of violence. Is it the only factor? Is it the most important factor? Most likely not. But, in situations, it may be enough to make the difference between nonviolence and violence.

    I have never tried to justify violence. But, I do think there is usually an explanation for why violence occurs. In humans, that explanation may involve biological factors (roid rage), but it is folly to think this always outweighs cultural or psychological factors.

  83. parasiteboy says

    I think evo-psych can be good at looking at broad questions like “do chimps and bonobos show signs of morality” and look at what may be signs of empathy in chimps, bonobos and humans. I just started reading the book by Frans de Waal titled ‘The Bonobo and the Athiest”.

    I think evo-psych starts drawing a long bow (ie. it’s a stretch) when they try to be to specific. Evo-psych is trying to combine the messy sciences of psychology and scociology that typically have a lot of noise in the data or are limited in scope when they try to reduce the noise in the data with evolution that gets noisier when you look at multiple variables at the same time. Evo-psych would do itself a good service by Keeping It Simple pSychologically.

  84. Bea Essartu says

    Of course it is populations that have some amount of variety which is why I write men and not a man. I was careful with this.

  85. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Of course it is populations that have some amount of variety which is why I write men and not a man. I was careful with this.

    Populations don’t become surgeons, experimental or otherwise. Jesus fuck.

  86. consciousness razor says

    Of course it is populations that have some amount of variety which is why I write men and not a man. I was careful with this.

    So, do you often see populations (on the scale of human males) performing surgery on somebody? I don’t. They don’t tend to make operating rooms that big, at least not on planet Earth. Are you on some other planet, by any chance?

  87. Bea Essartu says

    All sciences stop working when you are too specific. Evolutionary psychology is not different from others because of this. Even physics cannot predict movement in smallest detail because of Uncertainty Principle. And biology cannot tell you the color of next baby eyes because only a set of percentages are known. Evolutionary psychology may stop before at higher than other sciences but that does not make it different and not a science just different in amount or level.

  88. ChasCPeterson says

    Why, oh why, do EP’s defenders rely on throwing up armies of straw men to slaughter?

    the credulous insistence that every single difference is a product of selection, that the influence of culture is noise gently overlaying the purity of the biological signal, and worst of all, the idea that the status quo is justified as a product of biology

    Just juxtaposin’.
    Otherwise, I’ll just deftly avoid this whole thread.

  89. Bea Essartu says

    Are two of you saying to me that any science that does not make predictions for single people is not a science? Are you saying that any science that only make percentage predictions is not a science? You have different definition of science therefore.

  90. Pierce R. Butler says

    gussnarp @ # 6: … isn’t sexual dimorphism a really old mammalian trait? How many mammal species are there in which the males are not bigger than the females?

    Lots of them among the common domesticated species, to start with, from housecats to horses.

    Nor do I see easily detectible differences in size in most of the wildlife (raccoons, opossums, turtles, doves, eagles, armadillos, coyotes …) I encounter. Though I can’t identify the sex of most such individuals, age and food availability seem to matter far more in terms of size. (Corrections by the more knowledgeable always welcome!)

    As I’ve mentioned here before, evo-psych does seem to offer useful perspectives on human violence (see Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden, Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World). Attempts to apply e.p. to status-seeking fail on grounds of developmental/behavioral plasticity and our artificial environment; sexual extrapolations fare even worse, as (among other factors) the nearly-flattened human estrus cycle presents a novel anomaly without precedents or parallels.

    Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection also merits recommendation in any discussion of successful application of evolution in understanding human psychology.

  91. consciousness razor says

    Are two of you saying to me that any science that does not make predictions for single people is not a science? Are you saying that any science that only make percentage predictions is not a science? You have different definition of science therefore.

    Nope. Thermodynamics is a science, for instance. But when you measure something like temperature, you’re simply not measuring the exact positions and momenta of all of the particles. It’s pretty much the same deal here. Don’t confuse the levels. Don’t cross the streams or whatever. That’s a bad, bad, bad thought.

    Is English not your first language? Maybe something is being lost in translation.

  92. Bea Essartu says

    I have said before that English is my third language. But I understand enough that what you just wrote agrees with me. In thermodynamics one can do useful things while only knowing about the average energy level of the particles. I am saying the same for evolutionary psychology. Maybe one thing that I did not say very clearly that I agree about is how forcing all men or all women to follow the average difference between men and women is unfair. But that is not a reason to pretend that the difference does not exist because it is like annoying email about bigger penis. It is a reason to look for way for make the average difference have less of an effect on individual people.

  93. Maureen Brian says

    Nicholas @ 83,

    Well, I’m in Europe so I get to say Mesolithic.

    I am still keen to hear from you something which archaeology has established about social organisation, preferably from the period before the city states of the fertile crescent because they produced massive changes in many aspects of society. Anyway, we have written records from them, even if I can’t read them. What do we have from before then or from pre-literate societies which would confirm that “correct” gender roles, as perceived by the strand of evolutionary psychology we’re discussing, are primarily determined by evolution? What do matrilineal and matrilocal societies – some of which still exist – tell us?

    C’mon! I only do this as a hobby so share your knowledge.

    PS: I live in a valley with evidence of human habitation going back nine thousand years, from not long after the place was barely suitable for year-round living at the end if the last Ice Age. Could such peoples have survived with almost 50% of the available human brain-power not in use? Or without that muscle-power too?

  94. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Bea Essartu,
    No. The problem with much of the Evo Psych is that it yields no testable hypotheses. It makes an observation of a trait and comes up with an explanation. That ain’t science. That’s mythology.

  95. Nicholas says

    #95: “gussnarp @ # 6: … isn’t sexual dimorphism a really old mammalian trait? How many mammal species are there in which the males are not bigger than the females?
    Lots of them among the common domesticated species, to start with, from housecats to horses.
    Nor do I see easily detectible differences in size in most of the wildlife (raccoons, opossums, turtles, doves, eagles, armadillos, coyotes …) I encounter. Though I can’t identify the sex of most such individuals, age and food availability seem to matter far more in terms of size. (Corrections by the more knowledgeable always welcome!)”

    First off, comparing domestic animals is not good — they are the result of artificial selection, and their trait often have more to do with human desires than anything in nature.

    As for racoons, opossums, doves, eagles, and such — look at the social organization. Most of these are solitary or mongamous. Both of these act as selection pressures that reduce dimorphism. Coyotes are dimorphic — males are a bit larger than females. They are social animals.

    Warthogs are an interesting example. They are social, but females are dominant. They are typically larger than the males. Same is true for spotted hyaenas. So, being social selects for sexual dimorphism in size. It is not a holdover from mammalian evolutionary history. But, the selection can make males or females bigger and stronger. If you see mammals that are not dimorphic in size, they are usually (not always) solitary or monogamous in their social organization. Social animals, with some notable exceptions, tend to be dimorphic due to competition for access to mates (larger individuals usually win those competitions).

  96. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    So, Nicholas,
    What would be your testable hypothesis–that in all species, the sex that is dominant is larger? Would a single counter-example falsify your theory of dimorphism?

  97. Bea Essartu says

    You know that the claim that it doesn’t make testable predictions was used against biological evolution by some people too. If you believe that argument will stop the field then be ready for disappointment.

  98. rq says

    Nicholas
    I still can’t figure out your point.
    We all know humans are dimorphic, and we all know that humans are social animals. Are you trying to argue that humans are dimorphic because they are social? Okay, what does this have to do with those gender roles evo-psych likes looking at and confirming so much?

  99. Nicholas says

    Maureen – “I am still keen to hear from you something which archaeology has established about social organisation, preferably from the period before the city states of the fertile crescent because they produced massive changes in many aspects of society. Anyway, we have written records from them, even if I can’t read them. What do we have from before then or from pre-literate societies which would confirm that “correct” gender roles, as perceived by the strand of evolutionary psychology we’re discussing, are primarily determined by evolution? What do matrilineal and matrilocal societies – some of which still exist – tell us?”

    Well, you got me at a bit of a loss here. First off, “the period before the city states of the fertile crescent because they produced massive changes in many aspects of society. ” Well, that would be the Mesolithic, so I think that’s already been covered.

    Next: “What do we have from before then or from pre-literate societies which would confirm that “correct” gender roles, as perceived by the strand of evolutionary psychology we’re discussing, are primarily determined by evolution? ”

    I don’t know what “correct” gender roles are. Now, there may be division of labor by sex, which is culturally universal. Among foraging people, with one notable exception, males do big game hunting. Women more typically gather plant foods and smaller animals. So, that is one example of a division of labor that can be seen in the archaeological record and among living foragers today.

    Show me an example of a prehistoric society where women were the hunters. I know of none. (Interestingly, much has been written about how often male hunters come back empty handed. There, they rely completely on food females obtained. In fact, most foraging peoples today eat more plants than meat. However, the big game that the men DO occasionally bring back, is more highly valued, even among the women. So, men provide less food, but the food they do provide is assigned culturally with a higher value. I know of no society where this is not true). And, most foraging peoples are egalitarian and matrilineal. The figure their kinship on the woman’s side. The reason for this is obvious, there is no such thing as maternal uncertainty.

    Now you say: “PS: I live in a valley with evidence of human habitation going back nine thousand years, from not long after the place was barely suitable for year-round living at the end if the last Ice Age. Could such peoples have survived with almost 50% of the available human brain-power not in use? Or without that muscle-power too?”

    Well, nobody says both sexes are not making vitally important contributions to the survival of the group. Dr. Olga Soffer has studied Ice Age sites in Siberia, where she has discovered very good evidence of early weaving and textiles. Who invented and did that? Women. Was it important? Hell yes. Is it often overlooked by archaeologists? Hell yes. (In defense of male archaeologists (now outnumbered by women), the preservation of such cordage is rare and often not found).

    See Olga’s book: “The Invisible Sex. Uncovering the Role of Women in Prehistory.”

    I was a student of Olga Soffer. As a scientist, she taught that the scientists goes where the evidence leads. I do not look for evidence to confirm any understanding of what the “correct” gender role. So, for that reason I cannot answer your question on that.

  100. parasiteboy says

    Sexual dimophism in size does not always have to do with one gender being the “dominant” gender of a species. Parasitic copepods are a good example where the females are much larger in size than the males, but there is no social structure and thus no “dominance”. Hell, for some of them the males aren’t even parasitic and just stop by to drop off some sperm.

  101. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    You know that the claim that it doesn’t make testable predictions was used against biological evolution by some people too

    Maybe you mean the claim that was made by Karl Popper and later retracted?
     
    It isn’t that one couldn’t make testable predictions in evolutionary psychology, so much as 1) this often doesn’t occur, 2) often, it would be completely unethical or just really hard to test those assumptions.
     

  102. chigau (違う) says

    PSA
    Doing this
    <blockquote>paste copied text here</blockquote>
    Results in this

    paste copied text here

    It makes comments with quotes easier to read.

  103. Saad says

    Bea #85

    Maybe better example of when variety vs consistency matters is when you are doing surgery that is standard vs surgery that is experimental. Consistency is better for standard vs variety is better for experimental.

    So taken together with your #49

    If this is true then simple conclusion is jobs where variety helps would be better for men while jobs where consistency helps would be better for women but this would be unfair. So use the information to adjust the jobs to include both variety and consistency at the same time.

    This implies that you think standard surgeries are better for female surgeons and experimental for male surgeons?

    The terms variety and consistency aren’t making sense. You think if men have more genetic variety than women[*] then that means men are better at jobs that require variety? The two uses of the word variety can’t be interchanged like that. They mean something completely different. This is hogwash of the highest order.

    [*] I don’t know if that’s true. I have little more than a high school level understanding of biology, but I’ll grant it to you.

  104. Maureen Brian says

    But, Bea, evolution did make testable predictions right from the start, from 1859. Some of them were not tested for a while but they were there from the beginning.

    For instance, if Darwin observed – and he did – that the beaks of Galapagos finches differed from island to island and that it seemed to have something to do with the food resource available that in itself is a testable prediction. You go off with your notebook and you find one other place on the planet where closely related animals or birds in live different places, eat different food, need different camouflage then find they differ in a way which ensures their survival and there you are!

    Evolutionary psychology doesn’t follow that line. It begins with the idea (conclusion?) that evolution is the primary reason things are as there are – here, today – and dismisses any evidence to the contrary as an aberration.

  105. rq says

    Nicholas
    As per your 41, and social organization. Do chimps divide roles within society by gender, as well? For instance, do they self-police certain kinds of behaviours as being more appropriate for female chimps and others for male chimps? Aggression aside, that is. I mean things like foraging, childcare, grooming, play, etc.
    In other words, does their dimorphism in size influence who does what in chimp society?
    Or gorillas, if you prefer. Either will do.

  106. Nicholas says

    #103 rq: “Are you trying to argue that humans are dimorphic because they are social? ”

    Yes.

    More correctly, our prehuman ancestors were social (and are dimorphic). Australopithecus afarensis is dimorphic. Homo erectus is dimorphic. Neanderthals were dimorphic. This can be seen in the fossil remains.

    What is interesting is that modern humans, Homo sapiens, are LESS dimorphic than our distant ancestors. Some paleoanthropologists argue we became less dimorphic over time because we developed a social organization where there was less competition among males for access to females. They suggest monogamous pair bonds, which are relatively rare in primates.

  107. Radioactive Elephant says

    Nicholas #112

    Yes.

    More correctly, our prehuman ancestors were social (and are dimorphic). Australopithecus afarensis is dimorphic. Homo erectus is dimorphic. Neanderthals were dimorphic. This can be seen in the fossil remains.

    What is interesting is that modern humans, Homo sapiens, are LESS dimorphic than our distant ancestors. Some paleoanthropologists argue we became less dimorphic over time because we developed a social organization where there was less competition among males for access to females. They suggest monogamous pair bonds, which are relatively rare in primates.

    What about Bonobos? Their whole social structure is female dominated, yet they retain dimorphism with males larger than females.

  108. raven says

    bea:

    You know that the claim that it doesn’t make testable predictions was used against biological evolution by some people too.

    That claim was and is completely wrong. It failed based on huge amounts of data.

    If you believe that argument will stop the field then be ready for disappointment.

    This is an assertion without proof or data. It can be dismissed without proof or data by Hitchen’s rule. Is this really all you have? After 50 years?

    It’s also gibberish. Who says we or anyone wants “to stop this field”. It’s basically crying, “Help, we are being persecuted.”

    We don’t want to “stop this field” whatever that means. No, you aren’t being persecuted by peasants with pitchforks, torches and advanced degrees. What we want is for evo-psych to stop pretending to be science and start being science. Looks like it is going to be a long wait. We might be dead long before we are “disappointed”.

  109. Bea Essartu says

    If you believe that evolutionary psychology starts with the idea that evolution is the primary reason that things are the way they are then it is not me who needs to read more. I believe that is what people mean by straw man.

  110. Nicholas says

    #111: “As per your 41, and social organization. Do chimps divide roles within society by gender, as well? For instance, do they self-police certain kinds of behaviours as being more appropriate for female chimps and others for male chimps? Aggression aside, that is. I mean things like foraging, childcare, grooming, play, etc.
    In other words, does their dimorphism in size influence who does what in chimp society?
    Or gorillas, if you prefer. Either will do.”

    Well, yes and no. Females do engage in behaviors that males do not and visa versa. Female chimps seem less interested in changing their position in the social hierarchy (status, however, is very important to females) compared to males. Male chimps do virtually no child rearing. Females fish for termites and use simple tools more readily than males, the few males who usually learn such behaviors by observing their mothers carrying them. Males are much more aggressive to other chimps, especially males from other territories. There are about 150 observed instances of chimp adults killing other adult chimps. Males usually kill in groups that gang up on a single individual — almost always another male. They are almost always males. I know of no recorded instance where a female chimp acting alone killed a male. Males have rarely been seen killing females.

    As for self-policing, I’ve spent a year working in Chimp habitat in Africa. I dare you to determine if any behavior constitutes “self-policing.” There is a tremendous amount of hooting, hollering, running about shrieking, and such. Think about the challenge of trying to figure out exactly what is going on and why, while you are in ajungle.

  111. rq says

    Nicholas
    You missed the second part of that: does this socially impacted dimorphism (let’s assume, okay?) also determine gender roles in society? Should this dimorphism be used as a means of making sure that men and women adhere to their ‘proper’ tasks and responsibilities? Are gender roles, perhaps, a result of such dimorphism?
    Waiting for your thoughts on this part. You answered the easy question, I’m still wondering about your point.

  112. Nicholas says

    #113: “What about Bonobos? Their whole social structure is female dominated, yet they retain dimorphism with males larger than females.”

    I would not quite say Bonobos are matriarchal, but they certainly differ from other Chimps in social organization. They are also less-well studied, as they live in very remote Africa. Also, the genome suggests Bonobos diverged from other Chimps less than 5 million years ago (I have citation somewhere in my files, but a Google scholar search should find it). So, the dimorphism is likely residual. The fact that Bonobos ARE less dimorphic compared to their closest living relatives suggests the female dominated social organization is a selection pressure for reduced dimorphism. Alas, the chimpanzee fossil record is nonexistent (forest soils tend not to preserve fossils).

  113. rq says

    Nicholas
    I said besides the aggression, and you name a few things, like termite-fishing, etc. Okay.
    But are males, for instance, punished for termite-fishing? Ostracized, perhaps? Do the males make sure (by force, threats, etc.) that females stick to termite-fishing and tool-using, as opposed to being aggressive?

  114. monad says

    The problem with much of the Evo Psych is that it yields no testable hypotheses. It makes an observation of a trait and comes up with an explanation. That ain’t science.

    In fact, for most of what you see, it seems like the problem goes deeper than that. As PZ says, a lot of the time it’s just about tests run on a handful of college students. That’s not really a proper observation of a trait, not of the sort that is useful to consider variation of populations, which you need before you can start coming up with evidence for explanations.

    Myself, I think evolutionary psychology is an interesting approach that might deserve to be considered seriously. But that has to start with the evolutionary psychologists considering it seriously, and right now what passes under that name does not come close to that.

    Evo Psych defenders: is this mistaken? Have any of them actually looked at a trait among different human populations, its occurrence in cultures worldwide and ideally in historical population, and how it relates to their different environments, survival, or reproductive rates? Those sorts of rigorous studies would at least be a first step toward explaining an evolutionary role.

    At least it would tell you there might be something real to explain. How much is out there?

  115. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    All sciences stop working when you are too specific.

    Then you don’t understand how science works. If you can’t be specific, you are at best, pseudoscientific. If you won’t/can’t point to evidence, you are crank.

    I am saying the same for evolutionary psychology.

    Nice assertion. A working scientist would provide a link to a paper or original research backing up said assertion. Now, where is your link?

  116. azhael says

    Well, yes and no. Females do engage in behaviors that males do not and visa versa. Female chimps seem less interested in changing their position in the social hierarchy (status, however, is very important to females) compared to males. Male chimps do virtually no child rearing. Females fish for termites and use simple tools more readily than males, the few males who usually learn such behaviors by observing their mothers carrying them. Males are much more aggressive to other chimps, especially males from other territories. There are about 150 observed instances of chimp adults killing other adult chimps. Males usually kill in groups that gang up on a single individual — almost always another male. They are almost always males. I know of no recorded instance where a female chimp acting alone killed a male. Males have rarely been seen killing females.

    Says there are behaviours that females engage in that males don’t and vice versa. Follows with examples of behaviours both males and females engage in.

    I’ll grant you that differences in behaviour frequency exist, how do you determine that they are not influenced by culture?

  117. Nicholas says

    “You missed the second part of that: does this socially impacted dimorphism (let’s assume, okay?) also determine gender roles in society? Should this dimorphism be used as a means of making sure that men and women adhere to their ‘proper’ tasks and responsibilities? Are gender roles, perhaps, a result of such dimorphism?”

    Not socially impacted. Sexual dimorphism in animals is related to social organization and competition for access to mates. Now, Are gender roles, perhaps, a result of such dimorphism?

    Good question. You and your group want to hunt a big mammoth. Who are you suggesting do it? You or your pregnant partner? So yes, to a certain extent some gender roles are affected by the amount of dimorphism that exists in humans.

    “Should this dimorphism be used as a means of making sure that men and women adhere to their ‘proper’ tasks and responsibilities?”

    I don’t know. But, history and prehistory suggests the dimorphism has been used to make such judgements.

  118. Nicholas says

    “You know, the moment somebody uses the phrase “access to females” as if we’re just some sort of thing “real humans”, i.e. male ones get, I lose any interest in discussion.”

    I typically use such language when discussing nonhuman animals. But, make no mistake, even in highly dimorphic animals (Orangs and Gorillas), the males don’t get anywhere without the female cooperating. The males are fighting for access. That is no guarantee of success. There are many good papers on the evolutionary aspects of female choice.

  119. Nicholas says

    I must also leave. I hope I have helped. It’s been fun. I also would like to note that I was never insulting or demeaning.

  120. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I am saying the same for evolutionary psychology.

    Actually, you are saying comparative sociology, in the present day. You haven’t shown evolutionary psychology is nothing more that your vague and unspecific hand-waving, calling it an adaptation, and not ever showing a link to a gene. I prefer using the simplest approach. Essentially all human behavior and adaptations are cultural based until a genetic link is shown for that adaptation.
    Saves having to defend yourself with vagaries and hand-waving.

  121. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    @ Bea Essartu

    Are two of you saying to me that any science that does not make predictions for single people is not a science? Are you saying that any science that only make percentage predictions is not a science? You have different definition of science therefore.

    What the actual fuck? I’m saying you’re listing a trait of a population (variability) and claiming that it confers an advantage at an activity practiced on an individual level. You’re making a category error.

  122. rq says

    Nicholas
    Well, if my partner was pregnant, and really, really, really wanted to go out and hunt that mammoth? I’d let her do it. I doubt anyone goes out hunting mammoths alone anyway, and heck, she’s been walking around with excess weight and imbalance and doing pretty damn well for herself, I think I’d trust her out in the mammoth field, too.
    Being pregnant doesn’t take away her abilities. It might slow her down some, might change her direct or indirect role in the hunt, but it doesn’t mean I get to say ‘No, don’t go.’
    So, this patriarchal attitude of ‘protecting what’s mine’ (because, let’s face it, when you’re asking me if I would let me pregnant partner do some dangerous activity, you’re essentially saying I have some kind of property claim over her and her body), does that come with the dimorphism, too? Is it evolutionarily and genetically entrenched?
    (My personal experiences would argue no, but that’s… kind of what you seem to be saying?)

  123. Maureen Brian says

    Nicholas @ 104,

    You’re not really following this conversation, are you? It began up top with PZ once again expressing exasperation with a particular strand of evolutionary psychology which wants to leap straight from sexually aggressive great apes to twenty-first century humans in highly developed countries. It will admit of no changes in technology, no growth in numbers, no change in ecology which could possibly justify a variation in roles – ever when you or I might present them with evidence of great variation over time and from place to place.

    You and I are more in agreement than not. These guys would condemn us both. They live in a fantasy world where absolutely everything has changed except the expression of the sex drive in males, which is and must remain exactly where they presume it was – on the basis of no evidence – before we were even H sapiens.

    That would be daft and unscientific enough but they use this to excuse rape, belittle the observations and experiences of those who are not signed up to their notions. They want to maintain a status quo which never actually existed because it benefits them now – and bugger the rest of us.

    That is why we have regular outbursts, here and elsewhere, of exasperation and especially exasperation at those of them who in other respects appear to be scientists. It is almost a cult. It has the potential to harm us, does indeed harm many of us, and we fight back.

    Then they tell us we’re not allowed to question their near-divine wisdom. I’m sure you wouldn’t want us to settle for the submissive role they have mapped out for us.

  124. chigau (違う) says

    Nicholas

    I also would like to note that I was never insulting or demeaning.

    Liar.

  125. rq says

    Who are you suggesting do it? You or your pregnant partner?

    And I just realized that phrase was a direct erasure of female choice. Maybe not in partner, but activity, but still, erasure of choice.
    Hm.

  126. parasiteboy says

    Nicholas@125

    Sexual dimorphism in animals is related to social organization and competition for access to mates.

    Not always, see my comment @105

    As for your comment @116

    As for self-policing, I’ve spent a year working in Chimp habitat in Africa. I dare you to determine if any behavior constitutes “self-policing.” There is a tremendous amount of hooting, hollering, running about shrieking, and such. Think about the challenge of trying to figure out exactly what is going on and why, while you are in ajungle.

    A quick google search shows numerous articles on chimp cooperation and reciprocity both of which I would put under the heading “self-policing”.

  127. Radioactive Elephant says

    rq #131

    Well, if my partner was pregnant, and really, really, really wanted to go out and hunt that mammoth? I’d let her do it. I doubt anyone goes out hunting mammoths alone anyway, and heck, she’s been walking around with excess weight and imbalance and doing pretty damn well for herself, I think I’d trust her out in the mammoth field, too.
    Being pregnant doesn’t take away her abilities. It might slow her down some, might change her direct or indirect role in the hunt, but it doesn’t mean I get to say ‘No, don’t go.’
    So, this patriarchal attitude of ‘protecting what’s mine’ (because, let’s face it, when you’re asking me if I would let me pregnant partner do some dangerous activity, you’re essentially saying I have some kind of property claim over her and her body), does that come with the dimorphism, too? Is it evolutionarily and genetically entrenched?
    (My personal experiences would argue no, but that’s… kind of what you seem to be saying?)

    There is that Aka culture in Africa where women sometimes hunt even late into pregnancy and even with newborns strapped to them. (The women are still forbidden from hunting elephants though.)

  128. rq says

    Radioactive Elephant
    Well, you’re safe from the women, at least. ;)
    And a very interesting piece of information, that is!

  129. Nicholas says

    Alright, I came back for one look. Sigh.

    The bit about “your pregnant partner” was glib, but certainly this was a choice faced by foragers.

    “A quick google search shows numerous articles on chimp cooperation and reciprocity both of which I would put under the heading “self-policing”.”

    OK, you would call it that. Do the authors of those papers call it that? No. Why not? Cooperation is now self-policing? Really? Any of those self-policing behaviors relate to enforcing gender roles, which was the question I was addressing? No.

  130. says

    There is that Aka culture in Africa where women sometimes hunt even late into pregnancy and even with newborns strapped to them. (The women are still forbidden from hunting elephants though.)

    One of the things I have noticed whenever these topics come up is how amazingly ignorant of other cultures many of the evo-psych defenders are, making arguments based on things they likely do see in their own culture, proscribing biological significance to it, but not even bothering to consider whether other cultures do things differently. There appears to be very little difference between them and the sexist guys I see making statements about what they feel are objective standards of beauty, completely ignoring how much variation there is across cultures.

  131. rq says

    Nicholas
    You did not actually address the question of enforcing gender roles.
    And foragers may have had to deal with pregnant partners – but making decisions on their behalf? How can you be so sure?
    In addition, considering advances in technology and culture, etc., how does limiting my pregnant partner’s mammoth hunting apply to today and the modern, technological world? Are you saying there’s a genetic basis, evolved over several thousands of years, to police our partners and make sure the pregnant ones never, ever, do anything dangerous?

  132. raven says

    Show me an example of a prehistoric society where women were the hunters.

    I can show you one that is still around. It’s called the USA.

    I know a few women who are avid hunters including some of my family members. And they’ve got the dead animals to prove it. Even Sarah Palin has made a huge deal out of shooting moose and catching salmon in Bristol Bay.

    If this is all you have, then you like Bea have absolutely nothing. And once again evo-psych fails like it has for 50 years. Nicholas is trying to pass off mythology and just so stories as science.

  133. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    If you believe that evolutionary psychology starts with the idea that evolution is the primary reason that things are the way they are then it is not me who needs to read more. I believe that is what people mean by straw man.

    The evolution of homo sapiens is more about their cultural development, and less about their genes that allow for a large, plastic brain that changes with training/education. Those genes have probably been very static for the last few thousand years. For example, the plasticity of the human brain is shown by musician’s brains, a structure that develops with childhood musical training. Note the link to hard evidence, not handwaving and vagaries. That is what evo-psychs need to do, provide hard evidence, not handwaving, to back up their claims.

  134. raven says

    Sarah Palin’s Shooting | Field & Stream
    www. fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nuts/2013/02/sarahs-shooting

    Feb 13, 2013 –
    Once Sarah settled in with the 7mm, she dropped her caribou in one shot. …. I can say that Mrs. Palin and her family fly out to hunt moose/bears …

    Here is an example of Nicholas’s testosterone laden killer apes hunting for food. Sarah Palin.

    She is also an alpha male. Mayor of Wasila, governor of Alaska, and almost VP of the USA.

    (I’m not a Sarah Palin fan at all. But if she can do it….) Yet again, evo-psych dies of a self inflicted arrow to their own foot.

  135. rq says

    Show me an example of a prehistoric society where women were the hunters.

    Actually, that’s what we (spec., Maureen) were trying to get him to show. Or at least, specific examples of prehistoric social structure of any kind. Which he couldn’t.

  136. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I also would like to note that I was never insulting or demeaning.

    Smarm counts.

  137. parasiteboy says

    Nicholas@138

    Any of those self-policing behaviors relate to enforcing gender roles, which was the question I was addressing? No.

    I honestly don’t know, but you are correct that you were specifically addressing the question of gender roles earlier in your comment but not in the one I blockquoted. I chalk that up to my reading fail.

    OK, you would call it that. Do the authors of those papers call it that? No. Why not? Cooperation is now self-policing? Really?

    They may not call it that specifically, but having positive (cooperation) feedbacks and negative (reciprocity) feedbacks for example fits well within the definition of “self-policing” (first one on google – the process of keeping order or maintaining control within a community without accountability or reference to an external authority.)

  138. anbheal says

    I know this is back in the thread a ways, but Nicholas’s assertions about “extant” and “near extant” societies that strike us as “primitive” have been somewhere between suspicious and completely debunked since the late 70s. Few evolutionary biologists or anthropologists now believe that the Kung San or Maori or Brazilian pygmies can tell us much about social organization in our evolutionary past. To assume so is the height of cultural arrogance. As with a modern bacteria or worm being just as evolved as a human, so are the modern Maori and Kung San just as evolved as a German or Japanese. Besides, most of those “traditionally organized” societies are living on the social and ecological and nutritional margins or mankind as a whole — we have no reason to believe that hunter gatherers 20,000 years ago, with abundant resources, and living in the dominant pattern of human existence at the time, lived in anywhere near the same way, diets and artifacts notwithstanding. You simply can’t say anything about a Finnish businesswoman or a Thai lawyer or a Mexican doctor with evidence drawn from nomadic goatherds or rainforest slash-and-burn horticulture. That “Pureness Of The Primitive” vanity was abandoned by serious academics over a generation ago.

  139. anbheal says

    And hey, I’m sorry, I’m not comparing the Kung San to worms or bacteria — that was poor phrasing.

  140. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    “Lemurs that aren’t aye-ayes” might be a good example for next time.

  141. Rob Grigjanis says

    Nicholas @104:

    Show me an example of a prehistoric society where women were the hunters.

    A quick google turned up this;

    Some anthropologists argue that female Neanderthals participated in hunting, a dangerous activity, in part based on their skeletons’ displaying the same bone fractures as male skeletons do.

    and this;

    …it is interesting that the best image of hunting we have does show a woman was involved.

  142. David Wilford says

    Well, here’s some EP research that might be agreeable to both Professors Myers and Coyne:

    Male Superiority in Spatial Navigation: Adaptation or Side Effect?
    Edward K. Clint, Elliott Sober, Theodore Garland Jr., and Justin S. Rhodes

    ABSTRACT
    In the past few decades, sex differences in spatial cognition have often been attributed to adaptation in response to natural selection. A common explanation is that home range size differences between the sexes created different cognitive demands pertinent to wayfinding in each sex and resulted in the evolution of sex differences in spatial navigational ability in both humans and nonhuman mammals. However, the assumption of adaptation as the appropriate mode of explanation was nearly simultaneous with the discovery and subsequent verification of the male superiority effect, even without any substantive evidence establishing a causal role for adaptation. An alternate possibility that the sex difference in cognition is a genetic or hormonal side effect has not been rigorously tested using the comparative method. The present study directly evaluates how well the range hypothesis fits the available data on species differences in spatial ability by use of a phylogenetically based, cross-species, comparative analysis. We find no support for the hypothesis that species differences in home range size dimorphism are positively associated with parallel differences in spatial navigation abilities. The alternative hypothesis that sex differences in spatial cognition result as a hormonal side effect is better supported by the data.

    The whole paper is worth reading for the details.

  143. rq says

    Yep, all that spinning and dancing to the estrogen vibe makes us women dizzy and thus disoriented. Woo! Funny how I’ve managed to train myself into having a pretty damn good sense of direction, as well as map-reading ability. *spins away*

  144. Rowan vet-tech says

    Hunh. Guess I need to go turn in my excellent spatial sense because I’m female. I’ll go tell my mom to turn in hers, as well.

  145. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    …uh, do the “sex differences in spatial cognition” even still exist when we correct for “growing up being bought dolls, dolls, and the occasional doll” vs. “growing up throwing balls and playing with building toys?”

  146. says

    IIRC there is evidence that girls with older brothers* do better in spatial rotation than those without. Probably because those ungirly building toys are still in the house….

    *For the common definitions of boy and girl

  147. Rowan vet-tech says

    David, why then do my boyfriend, his brother, his father, his uncles and pretty much EVERY male in his line, completely suck at navigating? They have plenty of testosterone. My mother, myself, and my paternal grandmother are excellent navigators. My dad gets lost easily. My brother is pretty average.

  148. David Wilford says

    Rowan @ 160:

    To try and answer your question without benefit of really doing much digging – first, there’s a bell-curve distribution for both sexes, so there are definitely poor and good navigators in both groups. It’s simply that on average males, who have higher testosterone levels generally, are better at spatial cognition than females who generally have lower testosterone levels. Second, there is more than one way to navigate, as anyone who has tried to give and receive directions can tell you. If you can remember and communicate a list of turns at landmarks you don’t have to have a great spatial ability to find your way, as having a good memory will suffice.

  149. says

    Men Are Better Navigators Than Women, But Not Because of Evolution

    Old joke: That’s why they never ask for directions!
    Older joke: Just ask the Israelites how long their trip from Egypt took
    Not joke: How the fuck are they going to test that hypothesis in humans? Do they have a batch of babies who got raised under the exact same conditions so that they could impartially meassure this?

  150. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Well, the “Stomping one’s foot and yelling “IT’S INNATE! IT IS! IT IS! IT IS!” protocol has been criticized, but it’s certainly low-cost…

  151. diana6815 says

    azhael @12
    I have often wondered that myself.

    I’m gonna risk posting what might end up being pretty dumb…truth is, I haven’t read anything recently in this line…

    1) bigness may have been important before modern society developed…maybe…but my thinking is, humans don’t have to be big…not since we started making tools…and even less so now because we can make much more complex, much more useful tools. I always thought humans’ comparative advantage was creativity and the ability to learn (not size or even aggression)…why would bigness determine gender roles or even mate selection…(re: gender roles) my mother is tiny…so she can do weight training…use a ladder…whatever what she needs or wants to do calls for.

    I’m not sure we can disentangle society vs. biology…I agree there are biological underpinnings to who we are and how we behave, but I’m much more interested in the insidious role (and potentially much larger role) society plays.

    2) I was wondering how society could feed back into selection.

    If selection happens due to reproductive success…how would a society’s telling women they should want the big, burly, aggressive guy (which I think most would admit it does to some extent — a ‘manly’ man however you define that) and actually making it difficult (through laws, church, lack of or BAD sex education, etc.) for women to leave such men (or avoid pregnancy) if their aggression translates into abuse…how would *all that* ensure greater reproductive success for the big, burly, abusively aggressive guy…and perhaps NOT because women are any more drawn to that type than any other…simply because we’re social…we often cave to peer pressure…we often internalize values that are completely external…

    If women are pushed to want that kind of guy, prevented from leaving, and punished for trying to protect herself — which she can totally do through weight training, karate, gun ownership, etc. (e.g., Marissa Alexander in Florida who shot a warning shot at her abusive husband and got three years of jail time), reinforcing this idea that women shouldn’t fight back…(but society does that in other ways too).

    One could argue that individual animals do rape or otherwise coerce and that that factors into reproductive success, but what if human women suffer this not because they can’t fight back (tools and learning nullify the bigness argument), but don’t due to social pressures (boys are often given play guns, knives, later real guns, encouraged to do sports, hunting, learn the art of fisticuffs or martial arts…., whereas girls are given dolls, kitchenware, pretty clothes, makeup). Girls are taught to not make a fuss, not get dirty/be physical/aggressive in their play…

    I’m sure there are a million books touching on everything I just said. I guess the question is, is there a good one…one that isn’t ideologically motivated.

    Society could be the beginning and ending of this idea that such *alpha* males are preferred.

  152. says

    U nlurking to say: Bea is so incredibly vague: writing a lot, but never really saying anything at all specific. With each comment, the point (goal) gets moved — forward, sideways, backwards; there’s no real pattern. I’m frustrated, and I’m not even engaging with them. Honestly. It’s painful.

  153. Maureen Brian says

    Well, guys, I’m sorry but I can do all the things that count towards this testosterone-driven male superiority in spacial tasks. I can rotate an object or a sketch of a three diminutional object in my head, I read maps though I’m a bit out of practice, like Rowan, vet-tech I navigate (I’ve only every got lost once in my life) properly, I can tell what direction I’m travelling in and roughly what time of day it is by the position of the sun, even in cloud, and when I design a quilt I get the whole thing worked out in my brain before I put anything on paper and even then it’s notes rather than a layout.

    Am I some weird aberration? Very possibly but not because of this. I can do these things because I was shown how as small child and then given every opportunity to practice – playing with Meccano, taught by my builder/architect dad to read plans before I could read words, showing tourists on a map how to get from A to B, building mud and pebble civil engineering projects – I was keen on road intersections and especially flyovers – in the back garden, learning to draft dressmaking patterns at school and so forth. I’m pretty sure I got my maths O Level because both geometry and algebra – OMG abstract thought! – were a doddle, because I was no good at arithmetic then. My daughter, brought up in an entirely different environment, is just as good at the navigation – perhaps because she was praised for doing it, who knows.

    Has all this raised my testosterone levels? I have no idea!

  154. says

    As always with these sorts of questions I am tempted to ask, yeah sure those are bimodal bell-curve distributions, but what is the standard deviation of each curve and how far separated are the peaks? If the peaks are very close together compared to the width of the bell-curve, then where is the explanation for dimorphism being the dominant selection influence?

  155. Nicholas says

    #148: True, nobody thinks the San are an exact model for prehistoric hunter/gatherers (and, I never used the term and would never characterize them as “primitive”). They are not people “frozen in time”. But, this does not mean they do not face many of the same challenges that prehistoric foragers faced (even in marginal habitats) and developed analogous solutions that could be seen in similar patterns of spatial distribution of activity areas and artifacts at sites (whether recently occupied or long ago). So, such studies are not completely useless, as long as we do not rely on them alone or too much.

    Optimal foraging theory guides much work in archaeology of prehistoric foragers today. Developed by zoologists, OFT is useful in studies of birds and many other nonhuman animals, but is also very useful in archaeology. Prehistoric foragers had a variety of methods, but over time natural selection favors those that are more optimal. This leads to many similarities in the behavior, social organization, and material culture of foraging societies, regardless of habitat.

    For the record, I would let my pregnant partner hunt anything. However, it may not be an optimal strategy for the long-term survival of the group. I guess that is not biology dictating such decisions, but OFT.

    An excellent treatment of this for beginners is the book “Hunter-Gatherer Foraging: Five Simple Models.” by Robert Bettinger. It is recent, and I think you will see that the contribution from studies of extant and near extant peoples by cultural anthropologists is not minor or useless. The book is from about 2009, I believe.

  156. Jim Moore says

    Long-time lurker, first-time commenter. This is a general question from a poorly-educated layperson. When it comes to disposing of evo psych, whose work and how much goes in the dumpster? Williams? Hamilton? E. O. Wilson? Tooby and Kosmides? What about the work of Pinker and like-minded psychologists?

  157. jrfdeux, mode d'emploi says

    FWIW, which I recognize might be squat, my kids both enjoy playing with LEGO and with dolls. One boy, one girl, the boy is the elder by 2 years. My son seems to be better/shows more interest in constructing complex things, my daughter likes building functional homes for her Hello Kitty characters. AGAINST THE STEREOTYPE ZOMG my daughter is quicker and better with arithmetic and my son is sharper with language.

    [/anecdote]

  158. consciousness razor says

    They are not people “frozen in time”. But, this does not mean they do not face many of the same challenges that prehistoric foragers faced (even in marginal habitats) and developed analogous solutions that could be seen in similar patterns of spatial distribution of activity areas and artifacts at sites (whether recently occupied or long ago). So, such studies are not completely useless, as long as we do not rely on them alone or too much.

    Since they’re not frozen in time, they have an enormous cultural history that prehistoric people did not. They’ve got language, art, technology, forms of social organization, etc., that were not available in the very distant past. The conditions they’re in may be similar, but the way they approach such challenges doesn’t need to be the same at all. And evo-psych isn’t a theory (or simply a description) of prehistoric conditions. It’s a theory about human behavior. If you’re going to explain that or make predictions about it or develop some application of the ideas, you’re not going to get anywhere by minimizing cultural phenomena at every opportunity.

  159. Hoosier X says

    I really wish he would be specific and provide a list of these ideologues who “cannot allow any possibility that males and females behave differently because of their evolution.” By name. With citations.

    I have similar thoughts with almost everything stated by creationists, conservatives, fundamentalists, tea party ding dongs, etc. But if you express yourself out loud, they get mad and talk louder and ask you why you want the terrorists to win.

  160. raven says

    Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment …
    www. americanscientist. org › PAST ISSUE › March-April 1999

    by L Trut – ‎Cited by 435 – ‎Related articles
    When scientists ponder how animals came to be domesticated, they almost inevitably … Belyaev’s fox-breeding experiment occupied the last 26 years of his life.

    Evo-psych has failed to ask much less answer the most basic questions. This is one.

    1. How fast can species level behavior change?

    2. As it turns out, very fast. Belyaev domesticated the silver fox in a few decades of breeding.

    3. I have a Northern African Savannah carnivore. She sleeps on my windowsill and my feet. It is a cat of course. They were domesticated maybe 7,000 years ago from the North African subspecies of the Eurasian wildcat. It didn’t take all 7k years either. Are their behaviors the same? Not really.

    4. Same with the Bonobos and common chimps. One million years divergence and very different life histories.

    5. So what do the great apes have to do with us. After 14 million years of separate evolution (7 million X 2, they evolve too) not a whole lot.

    We know that species level behavior is evolutionarily malleable and can change fast. We don’t know how fast for humans. A current hypothesis is very fast. The self domestication hypothesis say we are self domesticating ourselves on thousand year time scales.

    If that is so and it is a big if, what Cro Magnon were doing 30,000 years ago might not have much relevance either. Most of us live in cities of 1 to 20 million. About as much as what F. silvestris Libica has to do with a Siamese cat.

  161. raven says

    I really wish he would be specific and provide a list of these ideologues who “cannot allow any possibility that males and females behave differently because of their evolution.” By name. With citations.

    I’m waiting for “them” to show where all males are identical clones and all females are identical clones.

    I don’t know anyone who is like me!!!! That sounds dramatic until you realize that everyone else in the world can justifiably say the same thing.

  162. says

    Last time I really looked into some evopsych research, I found that it was pretty awful–it just observed some things about human psychology, and then assumed one particular adaptive explanation for it. And then I found that it was a highly cited paper in the field. (Incidentally, it had absolutely nothing to do with gender.)

    I couldn’t say whether the whole field is so bad, just based on this small glimpse of it. But I’m convinced that evolutionary psychology has systematic methodology problems.

  163. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I couldn’t say whether the whole field is so bad, just based on this small glimpse of it. But I’m convinced that evolutionary psychology has systematic methodology problems.

    Yeah, they are bit like creobots/IDiots that way.

  164. David Marjanović says

    If regular Psychology was less of a dog’s breakfast, would evo-psych be better?

    That is the question.

    * We and the other apes often used to explain human behaviour shared a last common ancestor at least 7 million years ago. In some cases, far more. Anyone know how long ago my last common ancestor with a rat was?

    Between 60 and 65 million years.

    The raw data is that men are more various than women in many ways.

    Wrong.

    This is an assertion without proof or data. It can be dismissed without proof or data by Hitchen’s rule.

    For fuck’s sake, please, people, stop attributing quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur to Hitchens!!! It’s from Ancient Greek philosophy, and the Romans found it useful enough to make a catchy Latin version of it!

    Show me an example of a prehistoric society where women were the hunters.

    I can show you one that is still around. It’s called the USA.

    I know a few women who are avid hunters including some of my family members. And they’ve got the dead animals to prove it. Even Sarah Palin has made a huge deal out of shooting moose and catching salmon in Bristol Bay.

    I appreciate that you call the US a prehistoric society… but… you’re talking about pretty sophisticated guns here, which reduce hunting to “hide, and then pull a trigger”. The next snippet you quoted in bold makes that very clear.

  165. watry says

    My biggest problem with EP is also my biggest problem with the “paleo” diet PZ mentions–groups of anatomically modern humans (and our most recent ancestors) were not the same.

    For example: the berry-spotting=girls like pink thing everyone keeps talking about? Easily disproven by recent history, but even if it weren’t, I remember reading in some of my bio anth textbooks about evidence that some groups may have been gatherer-scavengers, with everyone taking part in the gathering. All the EP I’ve seen has been based on the idea that early humans were one way (or that only one group successfully propagated this long. Either way I don’t buy it).

  166. carbonfox says

    You’ll be shocked to hear that some commenters on Coyne’s posts are explaining how rape (see comments by gravelinspector-Aidan and nicky) and misogyny (yes, misogyny; refer to kevin7alexander) are adaptive because evolution. Another commenter (petrushka) once knew one lesbian who owned a large SUV, proof positive that all women seek the protection of large men; I think we can agree that women are the stereotypical demographic for oversized vehicles (just watch any Ford or Chevy truck commercial).

    Never mind that these would-be evolutionary psychologists provide no actual evidence of their theories (besides just-so stories)–but to question their assertions would clearly be enforcing radical feminism, not simply adhering to the longstanding accepted scientific practice of demanding evidence for claims. I suppose when a claim involves disparaging women, the scientific method goes out the window, it being apparently self-evident that evolution would cause a species hate its child-bearing half (as an adaptive measure). Other claims (like creationist just-so stories) are still to be subjected to the usual rigor, of course.

  167. Radioactive Elephant says

    carbonfox#182:

    You’ll be shocked to hear that some commenters on Coyne’s posts are explaining how rape (see comments by gravelinspector-Aidan and nicky) and misogyny (yes, misogyny; refer to kevin7alexander) are adaptive because evolution. Another commenter (petrushka) once knew one lesbian who owned a large SUV, proof positive that all women seek the protection of large men; I think we can agree that women are the stereotypical demographic for oversized vehicles (just watch any Ford or Chevy truck commercial).

    I’m sure shocked… SHOCKED!
    Wait… how does an SUV translate to a large man? Do the lesbians I know who don’t own SUVs cancel that one Petrushka knew, or was she the definitive lesbian?

  168. Rowan vet-tech says

    David, regarding hunting:

    When I was 6 and 7, I was making spears and trying to make bows and arrows. I was growing corn by the creek and I had made a hut for myself out of the cane plants the cattails.

    At age 8, I made a weird sort of bow/slingshot thing that worked well enough that my ‘arrow’ shot across the living room and through the glass in front of the fireplace, shattering it.

    I’d say at those early ages that the desire to hunt and to use the tools of hunting was pretty ingrained/instinctive.

    Basically, per every attempt to assert that ‘men do x, women do not do x’ I am a man, not a woman. But oddly enough not only do I identify as a woman, but I was also born in a body that naturally has tits, a vagina, a uterus, 2 X chromosomes, and produces more estrogen than testosterone.

    Per evo-psych, my aggressive, landmark navigating, direction-finding, distance-judging, mental 3-d-object rotating, primitive-hunting-desiring, green and blue preferring self should be male.

  169. Rowan vet-tech says

    I’m missing an ‘and’ in my above. I should also note that I was better at, and had more of a desire to, make spears and other ‘hunting weapons’ than the boys I played with.

  170. John Horstman says

    But then Coyne pulls his magic “proof” out of his hat: the existence of sexual dimorphism. Yeah, who has a problem with that?

    I object to the “di” in “sexual dimorphism” because intersex people exist (as well as generally-normatively-sexed people who display some non-normative features, like gynecomastia or strong androgenic hair growth in women) – there are more than two morphs and individual morphological features don’t necessarily vary together, so we can’t even say there is a single ‘sex gradient’ or ‘sex specturm’. Sexual polymorphism?

  171. vaiyt says

    But then Coyne pulls his magic “proof” out of his hat: the existence of sexual dimorphism.

    And this, ultimately, is what grinds my gears about the Evolumacated Psychologians I had to deal with so far. They always make a disingenuous conflation of “Any evolution at all happens” with “Any and all stories we can make up about human evolution are true”, and from “Any biological differences at all exist” witn “Everything is the result of biological differences”, as if accepting the former proves the latter. And then we start arguing eternal circles.
    “This proposed evolutionary cause is poorly argued”
    “But surely evolution happens?”
    “Yes”
    “Aha! Then you agree that it’s valid!”
    “But this proposed evolutionary cause is poorly argued”
    “But surely evolution happens?”
    “Yes”
    “Aha! Then you agree that it’s valid!”
    “But this proposed evolutionary cause is poorly argued”
    “But surely evolution happens?”
    “Yes”
    “Aha! Then you agree that it’s valid!”
    (…)

  172. vaiyt says

    The hypothesis is that variety helps speed adaptation but consistency helps survival of children and men can be the father of many children at same time so it is men that get variety. If this is true

    If this is true

    If

  173. says

    This entire debate frustrates the living hell out of me.

    As I’ve said multiple times in the past, I do not believe that humans are all that unique amongst the animal kingdom. Sure, we’re the only animals on Earth currently that can build the Hubble Space Telescope, but learning to use rocks to crack open nuts is one the first steps on that path. We are not alone with our awareness of ourselves and our surroundings. We are not alone in our recognition of death. We are not alone in our propensity to emote. We are not alone in our curiosity. We are not alone in our propensity to create societies based upon an organizational structure (government). And we certainly are not alone in our creativity and our ability to use tools. For every human behavior, you can find an analogue, albeit a seemingly simpler one, amongst the animal kingdom. And if you do see a human behavior that seems unique, it is only unique in its complexity.

    Religion, for example, seems to have no non-human-animal analogue. And yet religion stems from our awareness of death. Elephants are also acutely aware of death, are capable of recognizing elephant skulls from amongst others, and will stop to seemingly mourn their dead, in a seemingly ritualized fashion. Some even think that elephants may mourn the death of non-elephants, including humans. This does not necessarily mean that Elephants are spiritual animals or have religion, but the roots of that behavior (recognition of death) are the same.

    Based on that, I think it’s entirely reasonable to seek the roots of human behavior. And that’s where Evolutionary Psychology comes in. I have to study it myself to help me answer the question of just what fanaticism is (my main goal and why I’m studying Anthropology and so on).

    The problem is with people like Coyne and others who seem to think that because we have Evolutionary Psychology, culture simply doesn’t play a role. Evolution can only explain the roots of behavior. If behavior has an evolutionary explanation, then culture is its means of selection. So human behavior may have evolutionary roots, but its complexity is culturally selected. And we can change that. We may be a bit useless against natural selection, but as human culture is constructed by humans, it can be deconstructed as well, and that includes human behavior. An evolutionary explanation for a behavior does not justify that behavior.

    I may indeed be able to find an evolutionary explanation for the roots of fanaticism. This does not mean that fanaticism must then be tolerated as part of some fucked up status quo, because while the roots may be unchangeable, the behavior can be changed, and evolution is not a reason to not change it.

    Bigoted secularists have replaced the Bible with Evolutionary Psychology as a means of justifying their bigotry. And that’s the problem.

  174. A. Noyd says

    watry (#181)

    For example: the berry-spotting=girls like pink thing everyone keeps talking about? Easily disproven by recent history

    Also easily disproven by the fact that berries are hardly ever pink, especially when ripe. And color is an absolutely fucking terrible way to judge ripeness, anyway. Testing each berry for softness and seeing how easily it pulls off the stem or receptacle is infinitely more reliable.

  175. Hj Hornbeck says

    David Wilford @153:

    Well, here’s some EP research that might be agreeable to both Professors Myers and Coyne

    I hope not. From the paper:

    As we will review, solid evidence has established that males display superior performance relative to females on tasks pertinent to wayfinding in humans and in many nonhuman animals. The superior performance in males has been documented across cultures and across species, and appears to be related to the hormone testosterone. Moreover, the trait appears to confer a fitness advantage, i.e., enhanced navigation ability would appear to be advantageous for hunting when distances traveled are far and you have to remember how to get back home (Silverman et al. 2000; Ecuyer-Dab and Robert 2004b). However, the explanation for the male superiority effect in humans is still a matter of debate. The prevailing adaptation hypothesis states that the superior performance of human males over females on spatial navigation tasks is an evolutionary adaptation related to the specific cognitive demands associated with hunting or navigating a larger home range.

    Let’s unpack that. Most EvoPsych researchers give men hunting duties, on the grounds that a species that’s unusually good at endurance[1] would prefer hunting techniques that depend more on brute strength, a tool-using species would never invent tools like throwing projectiles, lightweight spears, or snares to compensate for a difference in strength,[2] and a communicative, social species would never use teamwork to gang up on larger fauna. Also, we’d avoid small game and stick to the high-risk big stuff.[3]

    Women have gathering duties handed to them, which is convenient because there’s no way you’d need spatial navigation to keep track of diverse food sites[4] that mature at different times of the year and may have predators stalking them. Nope, they’d just live right in the middle of these sites, and ward off large predators through their estrogen vibes.

    And finally, it’s impossible for the few hunter-gatherer tribes in existence today to have adapted or changed their techniques in the last 100,000 years,[1] and those early humans would have immediately stumbled on the best hunting strategy for their environment even when migrating to new territory.

    Most human studies under consideration are not of this sort, but nonetheless a significant number have directly measured human wayfinding and found a consistent male performance advantage (Galea and Kimura 1993; Astur et al. 1998; Moffat et al. 1998; Silverman et al. 2000).

    Let’s dive into each, shall we? Galea and Kimura 1993[5] gathered up the closest living analogy we have to hunter-gatherers we have, namely Canadian university students, and threw a battery of paper tests at them. Their most statistically significant result had a Cohen’s d of 0.36, indicating 86% overlap (ie. 86% of women could be paired up to a man with an identical score). Astur 1998[6] took 40 of the same standard reference subject and asked them to play a computer game where spatial memory was key… and, I’ll admit, got some of the biggest Cohen’s d’s I’ve seen in psychology (approx. 1.0, 65% overlap). Fortunately for all concerned, there’s no cultural explanation for why men could be better at video games.

    Moffat 1998[7] was a hybrid of both studies: standard paleolithic human reference, computer game (but they shook things up by using a maze instead of a pond), battery of paper tests. Men were AMAZINGLY better at mental rotation, with an astronomical d = 1.5 (45% overlap) that’s much larger than other mental rotation studies (which are usually around 0.7 or so). There’s no doubt men’s superior ability to quickly picture the underside of their prey gave them an advantage in the hunt. Silverman 2000[8] did pretty much the same thing as Galea and Kimura; if my math is right, their second-largest d was 0.66 or a 74% overlap (their largest was for number of strides necessary to traverse a distance, which showed an incredibly large sex gap).

    In short, your study is bullshit stacked on bullshit. I award you no points.

    [1] Liebenberg, Louis. “The Relevance of Persistence Hunting to Human Evolution.” Journal of Human Evolution 55, no. 6 (2008): 1156–59.
    [2] Villa, Paola, and Michel Lenoir. “Hunting Weapons of the Middle Stone Age and the Middle Palaeolithic: Spear Points from Sibudu, Rose Cottage and Bouheben.” Southern African Humanities 18, no. 1 (2006): 89–122.
    [3] Stiner, Mary C., Natalie D. Munro, Todd A. Surovell, Eitan Tchernov, and Ofer Bar-Yosef. “Paleolithic Population Growth Pulses Evidenced by Small Animal Exploitation.” Science 283, no. 5399 (January 8, 1999): 190–94. doi:10.1126/science.283.5399.190.
    [4] Hockett, Bryan, and Jonathan Haws. “Nutritional Ecology and Diachronic Trends in Paleolithic Diet and Health.” Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 12, no. 5 (October 1, 2003): 211–16. doi:10.1002/evan.10116.
    [5] Galea, Liisa A. M., and Doreen Kimura. “Sex Differences in Route-Learning.” Personality and Individual Differences 14, no. 1 (January 1993): 53–65. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(93)90174-2.
    [6] Astur, Robert S., Maria L. Ortiz, and Robert J. Sutherland. “A Characterization of Performance by Men and Women in a Virtual Morris Water Task:: A Large and Reliable Sex Difference.” Behavioural Brain Research 93, no. 1 (1998): 185–90
    [7] Moffat, Scott D., Elizabeth Hampson, and Maria Hatzipantelis. “Navigation in a ‘virtual’ Maze: Sex Differences and Correlation with Psychometric Measures of Spatial Ability in Humans.” Evolution and Human Behavior 19, no. 2 (1998): 73–87.
    [8] Silverman, Irwin, Jean Choi, Angie Mackewn, Maryanne Fisher, Judy Moro, and Esther Olshansky. “Evolved Mechanisms Underlying Wayfinding: Further Studies on the Hunter-Gatherer Theory of Spatial Sex Differences.” Evolution and Human Behavior 21, no. 3 (2000): 201–13.

  176. says

    In primates (including humans), status-seeking behavior among males is often involves violence. See Jane Goodall, Diane Fosse, and Robert Saplosky studies of Chimps, gorillas, and baboons.

    Two of those species are “not” closely related to humans, and show higher agression than even chimps. Chimps are “not” as closely related as Bonobo. Bonobo are almost totally non-violent. Oh, right, and Goodall’s research has come under a bit of fire on the grounds that her method of attracting troops of chimpanzees in for closer observation created an **artificial** set of conditions. It set groups that where normally not in close contact against each other, and did so by creating a scarcity, which all of them wanted. Even docile animals will fight over food, some will fight just over food that is “preferred”, rather than merely readily available. Goodall introduced something preferred into the mix, hard to get at, and worth fighting over, even among members of their own troop, then.. more troops tried to compete for it besides.

    In other words, its been argued, and I think probably correctly, that, just so she could study them closer, by having them come to her, instead of the other way around, she, how ever inadvertently, created the chimpanzee equivalent of a Black Friday run on the only toy store that still had the latest “must have” toy on the sales floor. Research since, conducted in conditions that are as close to natural as we can possibly make them, by devoid of the rare treat phenomena, which she induced, has shown **much** lower levels of aggression.

    Put simply, her research, and any other research conducted via similar methods, which manufactured artificial stresses, to draw in animals for study, poisoned the results. And, it is no more valid, as a result, than if someone tried to study human aggression, not by studying normal behaviors, but by intentionally locking people in a room, then telling them someone else in the room with them has the key to get out, but has been instructed to lie about it, or some similar madness. Of course, at some point, there are going to start hurting each other more than normal. But, unless your study is about “abnormal” aggression as induced by stress, its **not valid** to then claim that it is “normal behavior” for someone that is not under similar stress. Which is exactly what Goodall, how ever unintentionally, did, and what more recent research has called into serious question.

  177. vaiyt says

    Evolumacated Psychologians also ignore that, in their ideal gender-segregated Pleistocene hunter-gatherer scenario, every hunter *necessarily* has 50% gatherer DNA and vice-versa.

  178. Amphiox says

    Two of those species are “not” closely related to humans, and show higher agression than even chimps. Chimps are “not” as closely related as Bonobo.

    Chimpanzees and bonobos are exactly equally closely related to humans. Neither is “more” closely related to us than the other, and neither is “not” as closely related to us than the other.

    The common ancestor they share with each other arose after the common ancestor they both share with us.

  179. Amphiox says

    Women have gathering duties handed to them, which is convenient because there’s no way you’d need spatial navigation to keep track of diverse food sites[4] that mature at different times of the year and may have predators stalking them. Nope, they’d just live right in the middle of these sites, and ward off large predators through their estrogen vibes.

    This argument I find truly hilarious. Consider that the need to track diverse foot sites that mature at different times of the year is often held as *the reason* that spatial awareness evolved in the primate lineage in the first place, all the way up to and including hominids before H. sapiens, and the suddenly, with the arrival of H. sapiens, “Man the Hunter”, its like *poof*, gathering fruit is now NOT a good selection pressure for spatial awareness and wayfinding and whatnot.

  180. says

    Let me just add one more take on this. EP is a bit like EVP. You know, the whole “electronic voice phenomena” thing. Its certainly plausible to record sounds that are not audible to human hearing. If you record sound some place, with sufficient channels, and fidelity, you could, in theory, end up, in some big city, near a crowd, thousands of voices, and sounds, some combination of which may, either by chance, or by design, string together to form a coherent paragraph about, say, the dog peeing on the carpet. The problem is you need to be able to tell if the data is all from one person, or from one group who are all talking about the dog, that its in a plausible time frame of the conversation, that its even feasible that, if say, you constructed this paragraph from 500 different people talking, that they where all actually involved in the same conversation, and on, and on. Worse, you can go all the way down to static, background, white noise, and if you prime some clown to think that there is a dog, and dog pee, involved, and give them enough noise to listen to, they are likely to construct the same paragraph, out of **literally** nothing.

    What does this mean for EP? Just this – we don’t know how much of any of it is just f-ing noise. We don’t even know what the social/cultural white noise looks or sounds like. We are listening to the equivalent of some idiot taking, at least, 10,000 years (or millions, if you want to claim cultural influences might be retained that long, without shifting too much to match anything recognizable), of crowds, all talking about some probably as of yet not even definable number of conversations, all overlapped on top of each other, in what probably is such a huge mess that it **may as well be** white noise, with no content, or context, of any kind. And, here come the EP people, and they sit, and listen to the noise, and decide that they **definitely** hear some women talking about how red the berries are, or some guys arguing over which woman to force themselves on, or.. who the heck knows what, from millions of bloody years ago.

    Only.. they don’t know. They don’t know if its pure noise, and they are hearing things, or if every other word in the conversation is 20,000 years apart, with no connection between, them, or if its the EP equivalent of two human brains talking to each other about **actual** evolve behavior, from last wednesday. All they have is a prerequisite set of assumptions about how X has to have been adapted, and they go out with their special EVP equipment, looking for the ghost of the event, which proves the conclusion. And, like ghost hunters, when they use EVP, **they hear exactly what they are looking for, every time**.

    For human behavior, you have to show a) how, b) when, and c) why, something developed. You can’t just start out with, “What?”, then jump to “Why?”, as an hypothesis, and declare that you solved the mystery, because you crammed the “How?” and “When?” so far back into the depth of human development that even a time traveler would never be able to find it, to confirm it, never mind some guy publishing a paper which claims that said behavior come to pass as a result of basket weaving among nomadic dancers, during the last ice age, or some similarly bloody meaningless assertion (none of which are made any more plausible if you say “hunter gatherers”, or claim it was, “guys hunting deer”, or something.) How the frak do you know it was the hunter gatherers, hunting deer, instead of my nomadic ice age dancers? I mean, other than just insisting that one of them sounds more plausible in a so called research paper? How does even the archeology available do a dang thing to address something so imprecise and nebulous, that you can’t even pin it down to “Where?”, never mind “When?”, with any precision? And you expect to get “Why?”, or “How?” out of it, and not have anyone paying attention asking you when your “paper” is going to come out on the fantasy, or science fiction shelf?

  181. raven says

    I appreciate that you call the US a prehistoric society… but… you’re talking about pretty sophisticated guns here, which reduce hunting to “hide, and then pull a trigger”. The next snippet you quoted in bold makes that very clear.

    I thought it was more relevant. What we care about is what the testosterone addled killer apes are doing these days.

    As others have pointed out, what do we really know for sure about “prehistoric societies”? Do we have any of their manuals? Videos? Reality TV shows? Blogs? Books? By definition, prehistoric means before writing. All we have are archeological remains and someone guessing.

    I don’t see that modern hunting was that different from ancient hunting. What is so hard about hiding and tossing a spear or shooting an arrow? In northern California, a common way to get deer was to dig a big pit and wait for a deer to fall in. In Montana one finds herds of buffalo driven off of a cliff. Ancient peoples also used net hunting, snares, fishing nets, and fishing line a lot. They used the most efficient, easiest ways possible.

    And BTW, modern hunting isn’t trivial. Even with a rifle. It’s actually quite involved and takes a lot of different skills. You have to know where to go, what animals will be there, how to hunt them, get close enough to shoot them. And no, just sitting somewhere isn’t going to work. You have to know where or you will sit there until you die of starvation. Sometimes you stalk them, sometimes drive them.

    You rarely get a close shot but have to be careful not to shoot other hunters or yourself accidently, both of which happen often. Then you bleed them, gut them, skin them, transport them, butcher them, and preserve/cook them.

    Even with modern rifles, SUV’s and cases of beer, success rates tend to be low. In California, in a lot of places, deer success rates run around 3%. And the fact remains, lots of women hunt in the USA. And if Sarah Palin can do it any one can. I doubt it is a recently acquired evolutionary trait.

  182. says

    HJ Hornbeck
    That was a work of beauty!
    +++

    You’ll be shocked to hear that some commenters on Coyne’s posts are explaining how rape (see comments by gravelinspector-Aidan and nicky) and misogyny (yes, misogyny; refer to kevin7alexander) are adaptive because evolution.

    The “rape is adaptive” makes no fucking sense at all given the sheer amount of consensual sex* that happens as opposed to rape.

    *For a given value of consensual
    The next point links up with this and is human reproduction within society. Just in case people didn’t notice, we’re actually not some savannah or grassland dwelling animals where one male mates with all the females and the rest of the males just look angry. We* have been living in very stratified societies for a long time, societies where your choice of a partner was highly restricted by your social standing (and still is!), so there is not ONE playing field on which everybody mingles, but rather a variety of playing fields with different rules for each one (look at the Bourdieu’s Cultural Habitats). And in the end it looks like most people who want to reproduce and are physically capable of doing so actually manage to do so. And the survival of the offspring seems to be very much dependent on the social status and the amount of resources people have.

    *For a given value of “we”. Not uiversal around the globe

  183. raven says

    The “rape is adaptive” makes no fucking sense at all given the sheer amount of consensual sex* that happens as opposed to rape.

    1. FFS. What we do to rapists is adaptive. It’s a felony and they can and do get tried, convicted, and sent to prison for any where from 5 years to 30 years.

    And that is if a husband, boy friend, or other male doesn’t just shoot the rapist first.

    2. Which does happen. My cousin did an economic development project on a South Pacific island. No police, no jail, traditional society. Some guy had a hobby of raping young girls. The elders got together and decided. Someone ran him through with a fish spear and that was it.

    It sounds harsh but what could they do? No jail. Small island and no one can easily get away. Nearest other island was hundreds of miles away over blue water.

  184. says

    Also, the chances to get a woman pregnant by raping her in the sense of “ambushing her, dragging her off into the bushes and raping her”, which is the concept of rape those people have because else they’d have to admit that rape does happen way more often, ironically, are very small (that’s a very German sentence. I’ll leave it like that). You need institutionalized access to women’s bodies to make sure they get pregnant.

  185. rq says

    John Horstman (above)
    You’re right – of course, in evo-psych, there’s only the two available, so it’s the dimorphism that gets argued, because otherwise how will everyone get placed into nice neat categories?
    But you’re absolutely right, that it should be polymorphism.

  186. says

    Yep, I’d like for all the people who keep talking about “men” and “women” to first give me a waterproof classification of who is what. Because “sex” is Bohr’s atomic model: not too complicated and correct if you casually glance at it, but not standing up to scrunity.

  187. carbonfox says

    Giliell:

    The “rape is adaptive” makes no fucking sense at all given the sheer amount of consensual sex* that happens as opposed to rape.

    raven:

    FFS. What we do to rapists is adaptive. It’s a felony and they can and do get tried, convicted, and sent to prison for any where from 5 years to 30 years.

    Here’s how the budding evopsycher explained it (nice, huh?):

    Cheating [raping] has a high reproductive benefit for most primate males. One (or more) extra offspring for the cost of two minutes of squelching and the threat of a battering if caught. If you get away with it … investment and risk over, so move onto the next cheating possibility. Corollary prediction : once you’ve shagged her behind her apparent mate’s back and got her up the duff, drop her like a soiled condom and move onto getting the next partner. –gravelinspector-Aidan

    Note that “cheating” here is actually referring to rape, in response to another commenter who wrote, “Explainable or not, rape seems like a maladaptation and/or cheating.” Because rape is basically just “cheating” the reproductive game, amirite?

    Who could believe that this brilliant mind has oversimplified the risks and benefits of rape to the rapist (as Giliell and raven explained)? The physical risks are so high (to both rapist and victim) and the reproductive benefits so low (to both rapist and victim) that rape does not make sense from an evolutionary standpoint…and crazy…that’s supported by the fact that most men aren’t rapists!

    As an aside, I really want to thank the Hoard for your tireless work dismantling bullshit arguments like these. I’m a graduate student in a male-domainted science field, and on top of all the usual stressors of graduate school, sometimes after hearing so many idiots like Bea (online and off) describing how my ladybrain might be better suited to a more “consistent” (wtf?) / child-caring / berry-picking position, I want to quit and go live in a cave. You’re keeping me out of the cave, Hoard. Thank you for that. :)

  188. says

    Note that “cheating” here is actually referring to rape, in response to another commenter who wrote, “Explainable or not, rape seems like a maladaptation and/or cheating.” Because rape is basically just “cheating” the reproductive game, amirite?

    Well, that’s because they don’t see women actually as people. They hold to the biblical idea that rape is basically property theft against the rightful owner of the female body, who is not the woman in question, because see 1.

  189. carbonfox says

    Radioactive Elephant #183:

    I’m sure shocked… SHOCKED! Wait… how does an SUV translate to a large man? Do the lesbians I know who don’t own SUVs cancel that one Petrushka knew, or was she the definitive lesbian?

    I was interested in why Petrushka needed to point out at all that the woman in question was a lesbian. What’s the relevance? I guess to insinuate that even lesbians are secretly yearning for big, strong men? *puke*

    My main mode of transportation is a motorcycle (and I’m a woman). Maybe some evopsycher can explain the relevance of my vehicle choice to the sexual choices of my ancestors (because obviously every behavior has some evolutionary basis and I don’t just ride a motorcycle because it’s cheap/practical/fun).

    Watch this guys…I’m about to start a career as an evopyscher. So if SUVs are all about wanting the protection of big men…then the reason I ride a motorcycle must be…I’m trying to advertise my vulnerability to men so they’ll fuck me? No wait, maybe I’m showing off my “robustness” so they’ll think I’m a healthy mate? That’s not it…maybe its offroad capabilities make it an excellent vehicle for collecting berries? I just don’t know! Better ask Petrushka (or some other evo-pyscher) for help.

    And remember folks, this is science!

  190. wanstronian says

    This is like watching Mom and Dad fight. Guess I’d better pick who to live with, and who to visit every other weekend.

  191. azhael says

    @205 Carbonbox

    And remember folks, this is science!

    It annoys me that i’m expected to believe that it is…by scientists!

    The point at which you can legitimately posit “we do “x” because our ancestors were selected for “y”” as ONE of the potential HYPOTHESIS is when you have stablished that there is a correlation between an observed behaviour, its frequency, intensity and distribution, and a genetic distribution among populations. At that point, fair enough, you haven’t demonstrated anything other than that the behaviour exists, but you can start making hypothesis as to why that’s the case, including the possibility that it may be a selected for trait.
    However, what evo-phrenology (that’s lovely that is) almost always does is make the observation that a behaviour occurs, then invent a just-so story about why the cause of that behaviour is clearly a particular selective pressure faced by our ancestors, that only affects sex-linked genes, using as support, not data, oh no, but all the other times someone has done the same. If that wasn’t unscientific enough, the unsupported hypothesis is then hailed as a conclussion.

    Evo-psych COULD be scientific, but instead it’s most commonly one step away from quantum healing.

  192. rq says

    carbonfox
    Write a badly cited book, you’ll be rich in no time. May I suggest the title ‘Women, Motorcycles and the Evolutionary Desire for a Real Man’? Certainly has a clumsy, appropriate ring to it.
    And good luck in your studies!!

  193. Hj Hornbeck says

    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- @198:
    Thanks! For extra amusement, I recommend looking at the author list; you might recognize a name.

    The “rape is adaptive” makes no fucking sense at all given the sheer amount of consensual sex that happens as opposed to rape.

    If rape is adaptive, then it should be pervasive; EvoPsych researchers argue we’re all the same basic hardware, so if a trait was adaptive for our ancestors it must be present in all human populations.

    Broude and Greene (1976) find that rape is absent or rare in 59 percent of the 34 societies for which they found information on the frequency of rape (see Table 2). They say that rape is “common, not atypical” in the remaining 41 percent. In this study, forty-seven percent of the societies were classified as ‘rape free’; 35 percent were classified in an intermediate category; and 18 percent were classified as ‘rape prone’ (see Table 2). Thus both studies support the first general hypothesis of this study: sexual assault is not a universal characteristic of tribal societies. The incidence of rape varies cross-culturally.[1]

    Huh.

    Among the Taureg of the Sahara, for example, it is said that “rape does not exist, and when a woman refuses a man, he never insists nor will he show himself jealous of a more successful comrade” (Blanguernon, 1955, p. 134). Among the Pygmies of the Ituri forest in Africa, while a boy may rip off a girl’s outer bark cloth, if he can catch her, he may never have intercourse with her without her permission. Turnbull (1965), an anthropologist who lived for some time among the Pygmies and became closely identified with them, reports that he knew of no cases of rape. Among the Jivaro of South America rape is not recognized as such, and informants could recall no case of a woman violently resisting sexual intercourse. They say that a man would never commit such an act if the woman resisted, because she would tell her family and they would punish him. Among the Nkundo Mongo of Africa it is said that rape in the true sense of the word—that is, the abuse of a woman by the use of violence—is most unusual. If a woman does not consent, the angry seducer leaves her, often insulting her to the best of his ability. Rape is also unheard of among the Lakhers, and in several villages the anthropologist was told that there had never been a case of rape.[1]

    You’d think research like this would be a prime target for EvoPsych, as it kicks away at their fundamental premises. But in the thirty years since Sanday published, I haven’t found a single critique of her work. I suppose it’s possible they critiqued her sources instead of her, or think that by vanquishing Margaret Mead’s work they’ve tossed out all anthropology; all I can say is that I’ve looked for a direct critique, and couldn’t find any.

    I did find this, however:

    Rape of women by men has occurred throughout recorded history and across cultures. In
    this article, we discuss rape from an evolutionary psychological perspective. […] Rape is a fact of life across cultures (Roze ́e, 1993; Sanday, 1981).[2]

    Yep, at least one EvoPsych researcher flat-out lied about Sanday’s work. I wish I could say that was the only ethics breach I know of, but I spotted some work by David Buss that swings dangerously close to the “F” word. I can dig it up, if people are interested.

    (Also, kudos to the FtB commenter that led me to Sanday’s work. It’s been a fascinating read!)

    [1] Sanday, Peggy Reeves. “The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape: A Cross-Cultural Study.” Journal of Social Issues 37, no. 4 (1981): 5–27.
    [2] McKibbin, William F., Todd K. Shackelford, Aaron T. Goetz, and Valerie G. Starratt. “Why Do Men Rape? An Evolutionary Psychological Perspective.” Review of General Psychology 12, no. 1 (2008): 86–97. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.12.1.86.

  194. stevenjohnson2 says

    Professor Myers, is “silly” really a strong enough term to describe Coyne’s argument? In his post Coyne wrote “And if you admit that those differences in body size reflect ancient evolution, why do opponents of evo-psych claim that the differences in behavior that produced the physical dimorphism are no longer with us?” This is so Lamarckian I was tempted to think it was some sort of typographical error, given his vociferous attacks on any modification of the Modern Synthesis.

    The thing of course is that the behavior he alleges to have produced sexual dimorphism, sexual competition between males for mates, is indeed still with us: There are and have been for centuries many men who kept harems, which is the fullest expression of this kind of competition. None of these men relied upon size or physical competition. In fact they had to rely upon other men to guard their mates. The lord of a harem has always found that a mate’s willing cooperation with an interloping male is otherwise impossible to prevent. More common polygynous marriages have other kinds of guards, such as severe sanctions for straying, maybe even capital punishment. Coyne so far as I can see deliberately ignored such commonly known facts about current behavior even while falsely accusing opponents of doing so!

    The “problem” of mates engaging in sex with other males is rather different when the mate need only be guarded during estrus, as in the other primates. Human women do not actually go through estrus of the same kind. As Coyne knew, that is a prima facie reason that his argument is, as you say, “silly.” The thing is, since he knows that, why is he making it any way?

    Also, I must disagree that Coyne was attempting to distance himself from right wing misinterpretations of science in his final remarks. “This is not to justify any sex differences in behavior as “right” or “moral.” That is the naturalistic fallacy. But the left-wing opposition to evolutionary psychology as a valid discipline in principle, especially when it involves differences in sexual behavior, seems to me based more on ideology than on biology. Ideologues cannot allow any possibility that males and females behave differently because of their evolution. Such people think that this would buttress the view that one sex would be “better” than the other.” This appeal to the supposed “naturalistic” fallacy is equivalent to assuming that true morality is in opposition to man’s fallen nature. As such it merely re-expresses in superficially secular terms very old, and very reactionary, superstitions. Defying your own nature may be gratifying to God but it likely will be a prescription for misery. I suppose he deems that good for the character?

    Worse: If both women and men naturally (i.e., because of evolution) behave in different ways, then the spontaneous course of events will lead them to different spheres in life. Coyne is objecting here that these different outcomes does not mean that one is “better” than the other. He’s saying that they may be separate but equal, because of evolution, nature. His invocation of the fallacy is irrelevant, because the thing is not whether one is “better” than the other, but whether it can be different. He can write ” we have the ability through culture and learning to overcome such a tendency,” in this tendentious post, invoking free will as a defense. But there is no free will in this sense, as Coyne himself is fond of saying when it suits his purpose.

    Personally I think Coyne’s is not just a reactionary but that his gene selectionist perspective, no matter how popular, is ideology.

    PS “Xenophobia” is a social phenomenon, irrelevant to his discussion. People in densely populated societies have a relatively small number of people they genuinely know and deal with on a regular basis (estimated to average two hundred if I remember an old study.) Every other stranger is effectively a member of an out group! Gatred for far away groups (in effect, imaginary demons) is not a psychological drive created by evolution.

    Also, the true naturalistic fallacy is the tacit assumption that the current situation, as perceived or represented, is necessarily an expression of “nature,” aka the Will of God. There are lots of things that are in fact “natural,” such as the desire to live or sexual response. It is not at all clear why anyone should debate their morality. What really is clear is that there is in fact a natural variation in human beings, not just one ideal “natural” template.” It is not at all clear how one can dismiss such variation on the grounds that we can freely choose the (God-given) moral path.

  195. chimera says

    Nerd @ 142
    Your Musician’s Brains link is down and the article might be behind a pay wall? anyway.

    To everybody, thanks for all these take downs of Evo Psych, it has cheered me up a bit. I went over to Coyne’s when PZ posted this and got really depressed reading all those comments (many of which, if I remember correctly were actually self-reports of successes in body-building and weight-training. And that is significant somehow too, but I’ll let somebody else put it into words).

  196. lpetrich says

    We are a rather obviously sexually dimorphic species, even if not as sexually dimorphic as some species get. Which sex is bigger depends on social structure and resource investment.
    Among solitary species, females get bigger than males because they make the bigger gametes. This makes female spiders and mantises dangerous to their mates, because male ones look like potential meals to them.
    Among social species, the sex with less investment has resources to spare for competition, and sometimes gets bigger. It’s usually the male sex, but sometimes it’s the female sex, and sometimes it depends on environmental features like availability of food, as in Australian bush crickets. Female ones like to eat the male ones’ spermatophores or sperm capsules. When well-fed, males ones compete for female ones, while when poorly fed, it’s the female ones who compete for male ones, because of the male ones’ sperm capsules.
    A way to compete is to be flashy-looking, and it’s common for male animals to be more ornamented than female ones. Consider male lions and their manes, male deer and their antlers, and males of lots of species of birds. Sometimes it’s reversed, as in phalarope birds. Male ones sit on the eggs, and female ones compete for them — and are flashier-looking.
    Looking at our species, some ornamental features fit the pattern well. Like men’s beards and big chests and likely also baldness. But there is a BIG anomaly.

  197. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    My main mode of transportation is a motorcycle

    Watch this guys…I’m about to start a career as an evopyscher.

    Why not just wear a helmet? :)

  198. lpetrich says

    Why more concern with women’s appearance than with men’s appearance. If we fit the usual pattern of many other species, then women should prefer looking plain and men should prefer looking flashy. But what we find instead is very weird. When the two sexes differ, it’s women who prefer looking flashy. I add this qualification because there are lots of men who have liked to look flashy, something that is rather glaringly cross-cultural.

    This is apparently cross-cultural: The “Beauty Myth” is No Myth – Emphasis on Male-Female Attractiveness in World Folktales, by Jonathan Gottschall et all. The title is a reference to Naomi Wolf’s book “The Beauty Myth”. She seems to think that women liking to beautify themselves is the result of some male conspiracy against them. In fact, some sorts of beautification are indeed troublesome, something that fits that conspiracy theory rather well. But if JG is correct that it’s cross-cultural, then we have a big anomaly on our hands, something that cannot easily be explained as a cultural quirk — and something contrary to what one would expect from evolutionary psychology.

    Evolutionary psychologists’ response to that has been to invent Just So Stories, it seems.

  199. monad says

    Hj Hornbeck @ 191:
    I, too, would like to say how great this unpacking was.

    Evo Psych supporters: my question above was genuine. What evolved traits you find in humans would in theory be interesting to know. So if anyone has actually tried to do any of the detailed work comparing different populations and how variation in traits influences their survival, the sort of thing necessary to even make educated guesses about evolutionary pressures, I’d like to know.

    So far, this quoted study was the closest any of you have offered to an answer, and as Hj Hornbeck shows it is so far short of the mark it’s not clear they even understood where the target was. It’s not a good sign for the field if nobody has managed to do any serious work, is it?

  200. consciousness razor says

    chimera, #211:

    Your Musician’s Brains link is down and the article might be behind a pay wall? anyway.

    I just got it to work with no paywall. Apparently, it was just a temporary glitch somewhere in the intertubes.

    Lots of much more detailed neuroscience in there, and lots of other evidence (in numerous other studies) of brain plasticity besides musicians of course. But Nerd’s summary is basically accurate and relevant.

    Behavior, and the brain structures associated with it, simply isn’t something you’ll find somewhere in a gene (or two or three or many). It depends heavily on what people learn throughout their lives, in addition to their biological development and evolutionary history. You might think people are “naturally gifted” at music, for instance, and come up with all sorts of fuzzy measures of vague traits like that which are linked to some definite genetic profile or distribution, but even if you somehow made all these terms more precise and do find some evidence to that end, you’re still left with a whole lot that isn’t genetically determined. That isn’t going away. Nobody with any sense should find that surprising, but some do seem to have this weird view that you can somehow manage to get a complete picture (of who knows what) without it.

  201. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I will confirm that the musician’s brains article was available when I posted the initial link, and that it did disappear earlier today as Chimera claimed, and has reappeared per Consciousness Razor. Typical internet/web site temporary glitch.

  202. rq says

    it’s women who prefer looking flashy

    Women prefer, or society places strict definitions on what is acceptable for men and women to do for looking flashy? I seem to recall several royal courts over the centuries where the men were just as, if not more, flashy as the women. Also, define ‘flashy’.

  203. Maureen Brian says

    stevenjohnson @ 210,

    Are you another one of those who cannot distinguish between extra marital sex – often the expression of the sex drive in women, about which we don’t seem to hear much from the evo-psychologists – and the forcible penetration of a woman who has not consented, i.e. rape?

  204. Amphiox says

    But what we find instead is very weird. When the two sexes differ, it’s women who prefer looking flashy.

    Perhaps in the cultures YOU are familiar with, but those aren’t the only cultures that have existed in the history of humanity.

    Even among the agriculture cultures that people are most familiar with this is not universally true, and those cultures have existed for less than 10% of humanity’s total time as a species thus far.

    And at least 99% of all human cultures are lost to us and will be forever unknown.

  205. toska says

    lpetrich #214

    If we fit the usual pattern of many other species, then women should prefer looking plain and men should prefer looking flashy. But what we find instead is very weird. When the two sexes differ, it’s women who prefer looking flashy.

    If we fit the usual pattern of many other species, men would be naturally colorful and flashy and they wouldn’t need to decorate themselves. Makeup and fashion are part of culture, not part of the evolution of our species. Other apes don’t seem to bother with makeup or colorful clothing. How did our pre-modern ancestors with smaller brains handle this? It’s also worth noting that male “flashiness” to attract mates is not as pronounced nor as common in mammals as it is in many non-mammalian species.

    When observing many non Western cultures, men and women both use face paint for rituals or to show status (sometimes. Again, dependent on culture), but it is cultural and does not play out for the same purposes or across the same gender lines as western cultures or cultures that are heavily influenced by western beauty norms.

  206. stevenjohnson2 says

    Maureen Brian @219 writes

    ” Are you another one of those who cannot distinguish between extra marital sex – often the expression of the sex drive in women, about which we don’t seem to hear much from the evo-psychologists – and the forcible penetration of a woman who has not consented, i.e. rape?”

    I referred specifically to willing cooperation from females (supposedly part of the harem) with interloping males at one point. And at another I referred to negative sanctions up to capital punishment enforcing polygyny. Since the answer to the question is an obvious yes, this came across as needlessly hostile. Surely there is a better way to defend evolutionary psychology, even against someone who has the gall to dismiss the entire field as flawed.

  207. says

    Still working through the thread, but a quick search fails to bring up the term I always think of when evo-psych comes up: spandrels. Even if we accept that a given behavior is the result of evolutionary forces on psychology, how do we determine that it’s been specifically selected-for and isn’t just a byproduct of some other factor? For the sake of argument, let’s say that testosterone really does increase aggression in males, and evolution has favored males with higher levels of testosterone. How can we reasonably conclude that the selection pressure favored that aggression (or even more egregiously, a particular way of expressing that aggression) and not some other factor that testosterone is linked to?

    Of course, the other thing I think of is Marlene Zuk’s fantastic book “Paleofantasy,” which skewers a lot of the frequent assumptions of pop-evo-psych, like all these psychological impulses coming from a (largely mythical and by no means universal) period of hunter-gatherer societies, rather than evolving along with us over time. Lactose tolerance in Europeans is only 12,000 years old; why do so many evo-psych hypotheses suppose that our impulses all come from a time before agriculture?

  208. lpetrich says

    rq #218: “Women prefer, or society places strict definitions on what is acceptable for men and women to do for looking flashy?”
    The next question is what makes “society” decide something.

    “I seem to recall several royal courts over the centuries where the men were just as, if not more, flashy as the women.”
    That is indeed correct, and it shows that we have a certain flexibility there.

    toska #221: “If we fit the usual pattern of many other species, men would be naturally colorful and flashy and they wouldn’t need to decorate themselves. Makeup and fashion are part of culture, not part of the evolution of our species. ”
    I disagree, because in that case, men would create supernormal stimuli, sort of like what some makeup does. Like lipstick.

  209. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Surely there is a better way to defend evolutionary psychology, even against someone who has the gall to dismiss the entire field as flawed.

    The way to defend it, is to show it isn’t based on tests given to twenty-first century college student, and then presupposed unto the genetic “adaptation” that the author is presupposing. In other words, more and harder data from the anthropologists world-wide that show the conclusion is universal, and not bullshit from the author. And an link to certain genes and the behavior is plus.
    In other words, hard data, not handwaving and vagaries, which is the modus operandi in the field.

  210. Menyambal says

    The guy says that berries are all pink, which isn’t the case, and people in Africa didn’t live on berries, to the exclusion of all other vegetation, and not only women went foraging. Blood, on the other hand, is red, and drops of blood on the ground are used in tracking wounded animals, so therefore women did the hunting.

    See, I can make up arguments, too.

  211. F.O. says

    @Hj Hornbeck #209: I was checking Broude and Greene (1976) and wondered how did they deal with underreporting of rape.
    Do their numbers refer to reported rape or estimated instances of rape?
    Their column 19 cites “frequency of homosexuality” which is.. weird, because it either refers to *reported* homosexuality (which I’d expect to vary wildly according to social customs) or “biological” homosexuality, in which case however they decide to define it I’d expect it to be largely invariant among human populations.

    Same for the examples you cite (Tuareg, Pygmies): I’m very open to the idea that rape is largely or entirely cultural, but wouldn’t that be like asking a Catholic priest if they force themselves on children?

    To be clear, I lean towards thinking that rape is natural rather than cultural, but I never thought about it much and I see that I may have to change my ideas.

  212. rq says

    F.O.
    Since rape is the act of ignoring a woman’s wishes re: her own bodily autonomy, I’d be inclined to believe that there is a huge cultural component to it – do men respect women, do they listen to women, are women considered people or property, etc. Differences in thinking about women (or marginalized groups) make a huge difference in how people act towards those groups, up to and including ‘natural’ things like rape. Heck, it used to be ‘natural’ to abandon crippled babies and leave them to die, but somehow we overcame that one (mostly)!

  213. says

    But what we find instead is very weird. When the two sexes differ, it’s women who prefer looking flashy.

    Yep, because everything dudes do gets defaulted and labelled as “non-flashy”.
    I remember a conversation at my child’s preschool. One of the little boys had one of those eye patches children sometimes have to wear. And that is clearly not something kids are happy about, so I decided to say something nice and comment on the cool pirate designs. He brightened up and told me about all the different designs he still had at home for changing and I replied that it was quite a fashion accessory.
    To which another little boy said “Fashion is for girls, boys don’t do fashion!” and I thought (but didn’t say, of course): “Yeah, that’s why you little asshole don’t give a fuck at all about what you wear. You’re totally happy with whatever cloths mummy chooses in the morning, be it a pink skirt or your dad’s old 1980’s sweater.”
    Just because the codes are different for men and women doesn’t mean that men don’t have strict fashion codes and grooming behavour as well.

  214. azhael says

    I woudn’t normally do this but given the context of this thread and that rape can be about more than just attempting to procreate, could we please not say something like this?:

    Since rape is the act of ignoring a woman’s wishes

    I agree, though, that it has a huge cultural component. In fact i think it supersedes any natural component about passing your genes along (since in social apes it’s a terrible strategy). Rape as an assertion of dominance, for example, has nothing to do with that and it has been common in many cultures, primarily among men.

  215. rq says

    azhael
    Umm, could you please clarify the issue with the statement? I’m sorry, I’m just not getting it at all right now. I understand you take issue with it, so I will refrain in future from saying that, but.. could you please explain??

  216. The Mellow Monkey says

    rq, the phrase “rape is the act of ignoring a woman’s wishes” defines rape as something done to women. People of all genders can be raped. Being inclusive in the language about rape is a really Good Thing: it helps not erase rape victims and it also doesn’t play into the false narrative of rape being a primarily reproductive act.

  217. rq says

    The Mellow Monkey
    Okay, I get that. Thanks. I was more stuck into arguing the whole dimorphic thing, I guess, and it slipped my mind. Seeing as how the whole argument for rape in evo-psych seems to rest on some mysterious reproductive advantage.
    Sorry. Will do better in the future.

  218. azhael says

    What The Mellow Monkey Said :)
    In other threads, with a different context i wouldn’t have objected, but in this one i think it was best to do so.
    Your point about how evo-phrenologists seems to want to make rape purely about reproduction is a prime example of how limiting the definition is very problematic in this context.

  219. Bea Essartu says

    This is to H J Hornbeck. The argument you give for rape being adaptive or not seems to use the idea that things that evolve are either positive or negative all the time and all places which is a main effect in statistics. You used example of rape having different percents in different cultures as a reason to not think that it could have been adaptive at earlier time. You need to know that many theories are more complicated than main effects only. Genes can be switched on and off by environment so selection can be for interactions and not main effects. There is no negative to evolving to rape if the conditions needed for rape to be activated are not in certain environment. The same person in one culture might rape while in different culture not rape just as being homosexual might appear in one culture and not in different culture as the number of people living close together is different.

  220. says

    Except that he seems to think all those lefty wackos — you know, feminists, apparently — are in the business of denying the obvious.

    I notice that a lot of the backward dimwits who use EvoPsych to excuse bad (mostly male) behavior, also happen to really hate feminists, and sometimes turn their EvoPsych reasoning into extended rants against feminists. Case in point: “A Natural History of Rape,” which parroted the “rape is how humans had to reproduce” line and bashed feminists for refusing to understand what women had to do in the face of men’s natural evolved instincts.

  221. azhael says

    being homosexual might appear in one culture and not in different culture as the number of people living close together is different.

    Eh….what? O_o
    I’m getting used to you not making any sense (nothing to do with english not being your native language), but this presents a challenge.

  222. chigau (違う) says

    Do these people actually believe that every instance of penis-in-vagina results in pregnancy?
    Do they believe that every pregnancy results in live offspring?

  223. Hj Hornbeck says

    F.O. @227:

    I was checking Broude and Greene (1976) and wondered how did they deal with underreporting of rape.

    We have some good stats on why people don’t report. This source‘s a bit older and gender-specific, but should still be in the right ballpark:

    In one study, women gave the following reasons for not reporting incidents of sexual assault:

    fear and shame (64%);
    belief that the police could do nothing about it (50% of women gave this reason);
    concern about the attitude of both police and the courts toward sexual assault (44%);
    fear of another assault by the offender (33%);

    (Solicitor General of Canada, “Canadian Urban Victimization Survey,” Bulletin 4: Female Victims of Crime. Ottawa, 1985.)

    A tribal society doesn’t have an independent judicial system, though, they have a family that they’ve known all their life. As there are large predators about, humans in these societies tend to stick together in small groups and watch each other’s backs, rather than spend a lot of time isolated and solitary like we do. Throw out cultural attitudes that promote myths about sexual assault as well, and you’ve just wiped out the vast majority of reasons people don’t report their sexual assaults.

  224. The Mellow Monkey says

    Bea Essartu @ 235

    being homosexual might appear in one culture and not in different culture as the number of people living close together is different.

    I assume this is inspired by a wild misunderstanding of Calhoun’s behavioral sink theory?

  225. rq says

    Did Bea also just argue that rape can have no negative effect sometimes? …

    Also, azhael, thanks again for pointing that out and sorry for being so bilineal in my argument. :) (And MM for correcting me.)

  226. says

    Do these people actually believe that every instance of penis-in-vagina results in pregnancy?

    Yep, apparently they have never heard of something called the Pearl Index, which tells you how many out of 100 women who regularly have PIV get pregnant within a year.
    It’s 80 for women who don’t use contraception.
    That’s talking about well-fed modern western women, of course.

  227. says

    Bea @235:

    There is no negative to evolving to rape if the conditions needed for rape to be activated are not in certain environment.

    “The conditions needed for rape to be activated”…?
    Do you think rape is some basic function of humanity that turns on or off depending on the environment? If so, you don’t understand rape at all, and I implore you to just stop talking about it now (and then go read a lot about the subject). Rapists choose to rape. It’s an act of dominance and power.

  228. F.O. says

    @lpetrich #214:

    When the two sexes differ, it’s women who prefer looking flashy.

    I am a cis straight white male. I *LOVE* to look flashy and our culture where males can choose their clothes among a vast variety of black and gray pisses me off to no end.

    @rq #228: Thanks; I agree with you, there is no question that the unwillingness to answer the problem is cultural and that our culture must change.

    My current idea is that, for example, physical violence is natural but we build social and cultural barriers against it.
    How much physical violence is acceptable is cultural, and the same goes for rape.
    In a way, culture is a way to override our instincts.
    If we agree that rape is about power and not about sex, I can see how this would fit among social primates, hence my tendency to classify it as “natural”.

    @Hj Hornbeck #240: So basically we can assume that rape among tribal societies is usually reported?
    I’ll confess I’m not entirely convinced, but it is an intresting argument, I’ll do some research.

  229. says

    Are you another one of those who cannot distinguish between extra marital sex – often the expression of the sex drive in women, about which we don’t seem to hear much from the evo-psychologists

    I tend to suspect that EP likely would try to argue that “marriage” itself is an adaptation. Mind.. Humans do not really exhibit, at all, truly, “mate for life and never pick another” behaviors that would imply this. On the contrary, in some isolated cultures what often gets miscategorized as marriage is more like friends with long term benefits, without any demand that it be permanent, or assumption that it should be. Worse, the common trope that you can’t mix sex and friendship has been debunked in a number of recent studies, which have shown that, on the contrary, so long as the relationship doesn’t end in some way that damages trust, overall, those who have had physical relations with past friends seem **more** likely to maintain them. This sort of social bond was even what led navy pilots to invent the whole “swinging” trend, as a means to cement connections between women, as well as the surviving men, so that they would have a support structure, both social, and economic, if the new husbands didn’t make it back from the war.

    Ironically, western perception of both relationships, as well as infidelity, insist that you can’t be lovers, and stay friends, and that even consensual sharing is “infidelity”, and that these things **must** cause problems. Which, of course, like a great many other things, brings to question how many of those “problems” are caused by the expectation that one should have them, or be angry, etc., and how many are actually real, in the sense that they would still happen, without and entire culture demanding that you react the “expected” way to them…