Today I read an article that listed a few of the colossal errors of Jordan Peterson, and I was flattered to be cited by the author.
However, using the coincidence of serotonin as the supposed basis for behavioural parallels between lobsters and humans – trumpeted during the Channel 4 interview, again to give off the impression of scientific authority – has been expertly dismantled by the biologist PZ Myers. Evidently irked by Peterson’s intellectual overreaching, Myers claims that Peterson has “built a case on false facts and distortions of general observations from the scientific literature. He has not demonstrated anything about socio-cultural constructions. Not only does he get the evidence wrong, he can’t construct any kind of logical argument…”
Worse still, Myers argues, there is an ideological motive for all this: “Peterson is distorting the evidence to fit an agenda… It’s appalling the degree to which this man is asserting nonsense with such smug confidence. This man is lying to you.”
Oh, “expertly dismantled”…thank you, thank you, I wave to the audience and blush charmingly. I am gratified to be appreciated. But then…Google throws a bucket of ice-cold humility in my face and suggests that I go read this excellent article in the Washington Post by Bailey Steinworth.
Oh, man, it is so good. She points out that “in asking us to consider the lobster, he’s cherry-picking one model of social behavior when there’s a whole ocean full of equally relevant examples”, and then…she gives several examples. It’s beautiful.
As a psychologist, Peterson understandably seems to favor lobsters because of their well-characterized behavioral repertoire, citing among other things research on the neurotransmitter and antidepressant target serotonin. But they’re not the only inhabitant of the ocean that’s been studied in this way. He might also be interested in Aplysia. Like lobsters, sea hares of the genus Aplysia — sea slugs named for sensory structures that resemble rabbit ears — have been used extensively in serotonin studies. Behaviorally, however, lobsters and sea slugs could hardly be more different: While a lobster rarely wants to see another lobster, a sea hare placed on its own will crawl toward chemical cues indicating the presence of other sea hares. In fact, being with other members of its species improves a sea hare’s ability to learn and remember. Peterson’s opening chapter emphasizes that male lobsters compete for the best territory to win access to the most females. By contrast, in sea hare sex, everyone gets a turn. They’re hermaphrodites that mate in groups, alternating between the “male” and “female” roles.
Now that’s an expert dismantling. Go read the whole thing. Of of the dismaying truths of our woefully inadequately educated public, which includes a certain pretentious professor of psychology, is how unaware they may be of the diversity of biological strategies. Nature ain’t respectin’ your Biblical mores, people.