Evolutionary Psychology poisons everything

This study comes to a happy conclusion, and then wrecks it all with EP bullshit. What the researchers did was to email requests for either a pdf of a paper or copies of the raw data to researchers, and what they found was a high degree of cooperativity: 80% were willing to send a pdf, 60% were willing to send data. They seem to think this is surprisingly prosocial, but actually, I was a little surprised the numbers were so low. I was brought up to consider this to be expected — back in my old-timey days, when you published a paper, you also ordered a great big box of reprints, because people would send you postcards asking for a copy, and you’d mail it to them. Now you just push a button on a computer, and only 80% oblige? OK, I guess that’s an alright result.

They analyzed further, though, and also found a sex difference. If you were a man requesting a paper from a man, you were 15% more likely to get a positive response. That’s troubling. I’d say that that could be interpreted as indicating a continuing sexism in science. But that’s not enough for these authors.

There is no evolutionary analysis involved in this study, but of course, the reason for their result is…evolution.

Massen and his colleagues say that one possible explanation for their results “may be that among male academics there is a network at play, in which they favor each other much like ‘Old Boy’ networks”. They also suggest that this imbalance might have evolutionary roots and point to an idea called the male-warrior hypothesis, which states that men have evolved to form strong bonds with other males in their group because in the past this enabled them to defend territory from hostile attackers.

“Men are more ready to cooperate with genetic-stranger males to form these fighting coalitions,” says Mark van Vugt, an evolutionary psychologist at the Free University of Amsterdam who first suggested the theory in 2007. Some of the evidence for this idea comes from lab-based tasks such as public-goods games (in which volunteers choose how many tokens to keep or share), but there are some real-world hints too, he says. Boys tend to play in larger groups than girls, van Vugt says, and in sports such as tennis and boxing, men make more effort to bond with their opponent after a match or fight than women do. However cultural factors are also thought to be at work.

Jebus. Can I just say the words “US Women’s Soccer Team” and see this whole bogus line of reasoning vanish in a spray of flop sweat and tears from the men’s team?


  1. Matthew Herron says

    I was brought up to consider this to be expected

    It’s not just expected; for some (most?) journals it’s required by the publication agreement.

  2. thirdmill says

    It has always seemed to me that the problem with EP is with the tendency of its proponents to try to make it apply to anything and everything. It’s not really controversial that there are some behaviors and physical characteristics that make reproductive success more likely, such as parents having a strong emotional bond with, and protective feelings toward, their offspring. And those behaviors tend to be universal rather than cultural. So it’s not really much of a leap to think that such behaviors might have gotten hard wired along the way.

    But to claim that it somehow therefore follows that men are hard wired to prefer women who are thin, or that women are hard wired to be domestic, or that women are hard wired to not be good at math and science, strikes me as something that is a big leap, and from what I can tell also doesn’t have a lot of evidentiary support. So maybe the problem isn’t evolutionary psychology so much as the abuse of evolutionary psychology by sexists and racists.

  3. monad says

    You know, all they had to do is say “cultural evolution”, and suddenly talking about how men form networks to exclude rivals isn’t ridiculous at all. It just doesn’t present aspects of our time and place as beyond changing, which I guess some people consider of overriding importance.

  4. malefue says

    So in the past when groups of early male homo sapiens were out hunting or warring with other tribes, the supposed stay-at-home-females descended into chaos and couldn’t organise their “female groups”, leaving everyone starving and diseased so that the warriors could’t reproduce when they returned and therefore… eeehh?

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

    From the Soccer link PZ provided:

    Of course, the debate is much more nuanced than it may seem on the surface; things like revenue generation and ratings must be taken into account, but the striking pay disparity between men and women is much greater than it should be, especially considering the performances of both teams.



    Just fucking NO.

    It is NOT more nuanced. In order for revenue generation to in any way compromise the solid conclusion that vicious, unrepentant, flag-flying proud, horrific sexism is responsible for the revenue generation itself to be sexism free.

    Advertisers are less willing to be associated with hard-working, team-building, consistent champions than they are with poor-effort, selfishly individualistic, fucking LOSERS?

    Why would that be? Is it a difference in nationality? No, these are both US teams. Is it a difference in broadcasting? WHY WOULD THAT BE?

    Broadcasters are less willing to show off hard-working, team-building, consistent champions than they are to show off poor-effort, selfishly individualistic, fucking LOSERS?

    Why would that be? Is it a difference in expected viewership? WHY WOULD THAT BE?

    Could it really be that viewers are less willing to spend time watching hard-working, team-building, consistent champions than they are to spend time watching poor-effort, selfishly individualistic, fucking LOSERS?


    The situation is not more nuanced when you take revenue generation into account you fucking fucks. This is the same bullshit analysis that tries to claim that there is no wage gap, because when you take into account that women more often have interrupted work histories because women are more likely to take leaves of absence after a child is born and when a child gets sick and in certain other circumstances.


    And the evo-psych folks are just the cherry on top of this anything-but-sexism sundae.

    You know what I’d like to see? I’d like to see someone go through the evo-psych literature and tally up the minimum number of genes that would have to be Y-chromosome only in order for all the evo-psych “anything but sexism” hypotheses to be true, assuming that each different trait needs at least one gene that is not passed on to double X folks. Then I’d like to compare that to the total number of functional genes on the Y-chromosome. Should be a fun study.

    Of course, they could then claim that some of their hypotheses could be explained by universal genes that are regulated differently (activated at higher or lower rates) depending on the levels of certain hormones that have large average differences in production between double-X folks and XY folks.

    And that’s where the fun begins: because then you can actually take blood samples from present day people and see if the behavior they are hypothesizing to be mediated by hormone levels in fact changes among men depending on their hormone levels. That might even be a scientific, falsifiable hypothesis.

    But I’m sure they’d find a way for things to be just too, too nuanced to prove sexism. Because men evolved to uproot tubers while women evolved to pluck baobab fruit or something. Because whatever would the consequences be if, like, sexism actually existed? It’s a possibility just too horrifying for some men to contemplate.

    I’m sure that’s because men went off roving alone more often during the Hadean eon, so they benefitted genetically from cowering in fear, while women stayed in caves, relatively safe from meteor strikes, and failed to develop a healthy response to fear. I’ll put out the research establishing the genetic basis for men’s cowardice as soon as I finish reading a few more of these Kipling stories.

  6. says

    Of course, if the dudes had sent back less data to other dudes but more to women, the explanation would have been that they were suspicious of out-group dudes, guarding their own secrets, but generous with out-group females because they want to impress them with their skills and status. There’s nothing you cannot explain with these stories.

  7. rietpluim says

    The original phrase is “religion poisons everything” I believe, but there is not much of a difference.

  8. jahigginbotham says

    There was a guy who was known for correcting errors in papers. His success rate in requesting data was 5% or less.

  9. says

    @5 Crip Dyke
    I often try to point out to people the catch-22 there and with women’s sports in general. Some of that nuance is going to include the FACT that the competition in women’s soccer is not to the same level as men’s. This is an argument one may hear for not paying the women as much (along with the facts that women’s games tend to have lower viewership and attendance…though I believe this gap is closing and the women’s World Cup championship match I believe had the highest viewership of ANY soccer game ever here in the USA).
    But how can they be up to the same level if they don’t have the financial support?!!?! This shouldn’t be hard to figure out (but I honestly recognize such “arguments” as the excuses they really are).
    By the way, pay for the women has improved somewhat since that last World Cup win, but, yeah, we have a ways to go.
    Otherwise, I am trying to do my part by financially supporting women’s soccer. I bought season tickets for the Chicago Red Stars matches next year, despite the fact I live 4 hours out from the stadium and, thus, likely won’t be able to make many of the matches. But I love the sport and I want to help the women succeed.

  10. Siobhan says

    @6 Giliell

    Of course, if the dudes had sent back less data to other dudes but more to women, the explanation would have been that they were suspicious of out-group dudes, guarding their own secrets, but generous with out-group females because they want to impress them with their skills and status.

    Funny how it always works out that way.

  11. chrislawson says


    I am sure there is an EP explanation for why you don’t accept EP explanations.

  12. rietpluim says

    In addition to Leo Buzalsky @9
    Florence Griffith Joyner is the record holder for women on the 100m. She ran it in 10.49s, in 1988.
    Charles Paddock reached 10.4 in 1921.

    Women aren’t less fast than men; they are just 67 years behind.

  13. chigau (違う) says

    If regular Psychology was less of a dog’s breakfast, EP would have an easier time.

  14. snuffcurry says

    When men favor men at the expense of women and for no good reason as per the usual, it must be natural, inevitable, full of righteous intention with a long and storied history, and also because cooties. Ever was it thus and just-so, according to EP.

  15. snuffcurry says

    The takeaway from this particular Scientifical Conclusion is: sexism is detected and it must be normalized into something macho and cool-sounding, as opposed to pointless, spiteful, and self-defeating, as all male homosociality is.

  16. starskeptic says

    thirdmill @2
    “It’s not really controversial that there are some behaviors and physical characteristics that make reproductive success more likely,..”
    EP proponents also ignore the fact that traits don’t need to be advantageous to get passed on…