Evolutionary Psychology, the favorite discipline of old white men everywhere

Matt Lubchansky

Well, some old white men, anyway. Jeffrey Epstein loved evolutionary psychology because it was used to justify rapey behavior and abuse of women — it’s good for the species, don’t you know, rich abusers wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have an adaptive advantage. So Epstein threw money at helpful apologists like Robert Trivers and Martin Nowak (boy, did he throw a lot of money at him), and they obliged by rationalizing the worst activities of men. Meanwhile, other hangers-on who did not even like, let alone get paid by him, were still well-pleased by the chauvinism of EP, and heaped praise upon it without even requiring any quid pro quo. I don’t know which is worse.

Pinker is a talented popularizer of science and authored several books on language which were generally well received. He has attracted controversy, however, for engaging with popular debates on evolutionary psychology’s more sweeping claims in the 1990s. His 2002 book The Blank Slate is a sustained attack on those academics, intellectuals, and feminists who weight nurture more heavily than nature in the development of human behavior. While defending the book A Natural History of Rape, whose authors Craig Palmer and Randy Thornhill (a Trivers coauthor on the Jamaican symmetry work) helpfully advise women to wear modest clothing to prevent assaults, Pinker describes typical rapists as “losers and nobodies,” “outcasts,” or perhaps “ethnic rioters.” The billionaire science enthusiast is not included in Pinker’s rapist typology.

Heh, yeah — The Blank Slate is the terrible piece of crap that totally soured me on Pinker. It’s a dishonest polemic contrived to advance a dead perspective by pretending it was obviously true while taking malicious swipes at everyone who had a more nuanced, sophisticated view of the interplay between genes and behavior. I am not surprised that he became a proponent of evolutionary psychology, which was just more of the same old ignorant adaptationist garbage. When I compare the careers of two Harvard professors, Gould and Pinker, one of whom wrote two great books, The Mismeasure of Man and Ontogeny and Phylogeny, and a multitude of essays revealing his fundamental humanism, and the other of whom is a darling of modern racists and rapists, I have to think that the wrong one died early.

There is one thing to do now.

Epstein is dead, and now beyond the reaches of human justice, but it is still possible to hold his enablers and scientific sycophants to account. It is necessary, but not enough, to demand that individuals like Trivers and Nowak and institutions like Harvard and MIT return the millions they received from Epstein. The ideas produced by these scientists also matter. Evolutionary psychologists have naturalized, and even at times excused, male sexual violence, but evolutionary biology is not the sole province of reactionary white men. Those of us working in this field must push back on both the corrupt funding system at elite institutions and flawed ideas these institutions have produced.

If your beliefs require propping up with large amounts of cash from self-serving rich people, then maybe they deserve to be starved for a while. It should cost you credibility to be a recipient of donations from evil men: give the money back, let’s see if your ideas can stand on their own without the support of corrupt processes.

A tangled web of lies about dinosaurs

Never ever get entangled in the lies of creationists, is the lesson from this story. It involves a Trumpster member of the house of representatives, Mark Meadows; a creationist schoolteacher named Dana Forbes; an unscrupulous documentarian, Doug Phillips, who we later learn was screwing his underage nanny; a homeschooler named Pete DeRosa who leads phony ‘dinosaur hunting expeditions’ with the goal of proving they’re only 4,000 years old; Joe Taylor, proprietor of the Mt Blanco Fossil Museum, another creationist propagandist; and of course, Ken Ham, whose slimy rich fingers slither into everything.

To make a complex story short, Forbes finds a fossil allosaur on his property in Colorado, and makes a deal with Taylor to excavate it. Then DeRosa organizes an expedition of school kids, including children of Meadows, to “find” the fossil, while Phillips is making a movie of the event called “Raising the Allosaur”, which was sold by Phillips’ Christian front, Vision Forum. Vision Forum has since suspended sales of the video, citing “ethics-based issues”, and is now defunct. Meadows bought the site from the original owner and later sold it to Answers in Genesis in a set of transactions that are curiously omitted from the financial disclosure forms required of a member of congress. The allosaur skeleton was also eventually donated to AiG, and it now stands in the Creation “Museum”, where they claim it is evidence that the Earth is 6000 years old.

Five years ago, the Peroutka Foundation donated the skeleton to the Creation Museum, which is operated by Answers in Genesis. The museum had the skeleton reappraised, and declared its value at a million dollars. It is now one of the museum’s main attractions. On the front of the display is a note thanking the DeRosas; no credit is given to Forbes or Taylor. “The intact skeleton of this allosaur is a testimony to a catastrophic, rapid burial, which is confirmation of the global Flood a few thousand years ago as recorded in the Bible,” the Creation Museum insists, on its Web site. “There is no correlation between the age and intactness of a fossil skeleton,” Kirk Johnson explained, in an e-mail. He added, “It is important to note that their claim is demonstrably and profoundly incorrect.”

Every step in the process is crooked and tainted by unsavory characters with no qualifications to back up their claims, and the fossil ends up as misrepresented evidence in a phony creationist tourist trap. The testimony on display here is about the sleaziness of creationists.

The only character I feel pity for in the story is the poor abused Allosaurus.

Who invented this bad comic book villain?

Here we have an example of unbelievably bad writing. This plan makes no sense, unless your goal is just to create pointless pain and suffering. The only motivation for this kind of scheme is mindless ignorance and hatred, and yet the villain is supposedly rich and well-connected. Doesn’t he have anything useful to do with his wealth? Even a greedy desire for more money would leave more room for plot development than just looking for a moat with venomous snakes and shooting peasants in the legs.

The only thing that can happen next is for a Schwarzenegger or Willis type of meathead hero to come along and blow him away ignominiously, with some kind of wise-ass remark. It’s been done, it was boring then, it’s stupid now. Send the script back for a complete rewrite and come up with something plausible.

Wait, what? It’s not fiction?

Jesus fucking christ.

Baby #Spider

One day old. This was a tough photo to take — the little spiderlings respond to any touch with frantic escape behavior and end up running all over the place, and they refuse to pose nicely for a picture.

I note that even shortly after emergence they have the banded legs and scattering of dark abdominal pigment.

Only if I want to die

A few years ago, we bought a vest and leash for our cat, with the idea that she’d be able to play outside, supervised. She tries to escape at every opportunity, so we thought she’d like that. It was a nightmare. She was shape-shifting and twisting and clawing and yowling to escape, and ended up pulling a Houdini, getting out of it, and leaping in a single bound onto the roof of our house. We immediately gave up on trying ever again. You can imagine what I think of this idea for a Halloween Spider Costume for Dogs, Cats.

No way. Nope. That would not be cute. It would be more like a scene from John Carpenter’s The Thing, and for more versimilitude, it would be my guts spilled over the scene.

Although…I wonder if the large size would fit me?

P.S. If anyone has a similar spider costume for their pet, send me a photo and I’ll post them for Halloween.

Happy #Arachtober! Or is it?

That’s right, #Arachtober is a thing with swarms of people posting photos of their fave spiders this month. It doesn’t seem quite right to me, because October is a sad month for spiders in Minnesota — I’m seeing them fading away as the weather cools and their prey declines and we approach the terrible frost and frigid winter. Here’s Jenny By-The-Front-Door, for instance.

I’ve been checking on her every day. She’s not very active; she’s huddled in her nest cobbled out of dead leaves and debris, and I can see her legs peeking out, and if I poke at the nest with my finger, she’ll slowly wave at me, but she’s nowhere near as busy as the spiders are in the warm summer months. I expect that one of these days I’ll give her a little poke and she won’t respond. She’ll either be in diapause or dead.

I still have lots of thriving spiders in the climate controlled environment of my lab, at least!

I wouldn’t want to be in Collin Peterson’s shoes right now

I get quoted in this article on our local Democratic representative, Collin Peterson, although it may not be obvious, since of course they misspelled my name. Peterson is one of the few Democrats in the House who is reluctant to proceed with impeachment. This is where I live.

Western Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District backed Trump over Hillary Clinton by 31 points in the last presidential election. No House Democrat nationwide represents a district with a wider Trump margin. It was the Republican’s biggest percentage of all eight Minnesota districts, higher even than in Rep. Tom Emmer’s Sixth District.

Peterson’s winning margins have shrunk the last few elections: from 26% in 2012 to 4% last year.

Yeah, this county is a brilliant shade of ruby red, and he’s a blue dog Democrat limping along by being a strong supporter of agricultural interests. He is awful in so many ways, but he is a cog used to help maintain Democratic leadership. I was one of those 4% last year, only because I am compelled to support a lackluster party in opposition to an evil insane party. And the thing is, he knows it!

In an interview in June, Peterson said his success in a strong Trump district had improved his standing with fellow House Democrats. While he differs with his party on many issues, he said he had a good working relationship with Pelosi, who understands the politics of his district. Peterson also explained his ready reply to DFLers from his district unsettled by his conservative bent. “I’m the best you’re going to get.”

Isn’t that a wonderful recommendation? “Settle for me, because as worthless as I am, everyone else is worse.”

I think he’s doomed. No matter what the consequences of an impeachment fight, whether it energizes Democrats or Republicans, he’s going to be chewed up in the middle.

Master Grifter

All I need to see is this one Facebook post to know that Joshua Feuerstein is trolling as part of his grift.

The clues are all right there.

  • He’s invoking the name of Greta Thunberg. She probably hasn’t the slightest idea who this guy is, but his right wing followers hate her. This’ll get their attention, but not hers.
  • He’s “offering” $100,000 to her preferred charity. I’d be surprised if he had it, since he’s nothing but an ex-preacher running a pretend ministry out of his house, probably as a tax dodge. It’s part of the con artist’s illusion of being rich already.
  • He’s asking for a debate. He doesn’t say what the debate is about, nor does he have any competencies that would qualify him to argue about much of anything. In fact, he’s a bit of a cipher — there’s no information about his educational background anywhere that I could find. He’s a guy who rants, nothing more.
  • I repeat, he wants a debate. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to realize that a demand for a debate is the first sign of an ignorant wanker looking for attention.
  • He wants an hour long televised debate. He has no clout with or appeal to any network. What’s he going to do, sit in his car and yell on YouTube to convince CBS or Netflix to give him an hour of their time?
  • He’s at the stage of begging his followers to share his demands. The kinds of pathetic angry evangelical Christians who pay attention to Joshua Feuerstein aren’t going to have any clout either.
  • He links to a whole string of media outlets as if they’re going to pay any attention to him. It’s all for show.
  • He includes a photo of Thunberg looking angry in contrast to what he apparently thinks is a good photo of him, where he’s looking incisive or something. Nope. The whole effect is ruined by the weirdly affected way he has his stubble trimmed, and that greasy hair shaped into a point. That’s what a yokel thinks a yuppie looks like.
  • He knows he can post an attention-grabbing offer of $100,000 because he will never have to pay it out — he’s a nobody making wild demands that he is certain can’t be met, but it sure looks great to the rubes. There’s a long history of creationists offering large sums of money for ‘proof’ of evolution that they rig so they never have to pay out, and this is the same thing.

Feuerstein has nothing to offer except that he’s willing to accept the publicity of a debate with a famous person. Excuse me, I meant “debate” — a thing he has reduced to a mindless shouting match with a teen-ager.