This week, the bad science is from Gad Saad

Script below the fold!

Quiz time! Can you name the Canadian professor who is profoundly transphobic and testified against Bill C-16, who despises SJWs, thinks he’s an expert on evolutionary biology, and blames the corruption of academia on post-modernism and cultural marxism? I know who you are thinking of, and … it’s not him. I’m thinking of Gad Saad, another right-winger (he calls himself a “classical liberal”, predictably enough) on YouTube, and a professor at Concordia University in Montreal.

Although I have to start by giving him some credit: he’s very hardworking and prolific, and has churned out 4 books and a large number of published articles, and a huge number of YouTube videos. He’s also relentless in promoting his books, with just about every recent video being an opportunity to advertise his latest book. It seems a shame that he comes off as a third-rate Jordan Peterson wanna-be, when he’s clearly just as awful as his hero.

The sheer volume of crap he has been pumping out was intimidating: did I really want to engage with this particular pig, which was only get me dirtier? I’ve been keeping half an eye on him for a number of years, and there was so much garbage it was daunting to try and figure out where to begin — he’s wrong about so many things that I’d have to talk for hours to cover it all. It’s also the case that he doesn’t hesitate to fight dirty, has a large following, and is happy to sic his mob on them. Take, for instance, the case where, a few years ago, he got so pissed off at a student who expressed contempt for Andy Ngo that he contacted her university and tried to get her expelled, and had his mob harass her.

“Do you remember the vile woman [his audience certainly did] who was rejoicing about the attack one MrAndyNgo last week and who advised me to “get f**ed” and wished a worst calamity on me. Well, I have contacted her university. It’s in their hands. I have also forwarded the hate email from the member of the Noble Religion [I think that’s what he calls social justice] to his university. I thought long and hard prior to doing so but clearly this is not akin to how SJWs try to harass you by contacting your employer.

That last bit is stunning in it’s hypocrisy. Keep in mind this is also a guy who worships Free Speech Uber Alles. Threatening a student’s education is not akin to getting someone fired, somehow.

Fortunately, I’m spared a lot of the heavy lifting by a good essay by Néstor de Buen, who reviews Saad’s latest book, “The Parasitic Mind”. It fits firmly within a rather tedious genre, the anti-SJW rant.

The title and the premise of the book are certainly promising in this regard. As the title suggests, it proposes that we treat the ideas it seeks to criticize as pathogens that can infect the mind and, like real pathogens, propagate from one host to another. Now, this is not an entirely original idea; Lindsay and Pluckrose often use the metaphor of postmodernism as a virus in Cynical Theories, but at least it is one of the less explored ideas. Unfortunately, for Saad, this is one of the few strengths of the book. Other than this relatively novel idea, not much in the book is new. I do not believe it would quite be fair to say that if one has read one anti-SJW monograph, one has read all of them. However, this particular one does not offer anything new—other than the relative novelty of the pathogen metaphor. The rest of the book’s themes are essentially just familiar IDW tropes: Postmodernism and feminism are destroying the West; college campuses are ideologically indoctrinating students; SJWs prioritize feelings over facts; and we need to preserve the Western commitments to liberty, free speech, reason, and science. This—in and of itself—does not have to be an indictment of the book. All of these ideas could be addressed compellingly. The problem is that most of the book does not even meet the standards that Saad sets for himself in the beginning.

Not-so-interesting company Saad keeps, but I have to say the reviewer is wrong on one count. The particular trope he thinks might be one the spark of originality in the book, the idea that bad ideas can be infectious and pathogenic, is not at all original in the slightest. Richard Dawkins has been talking about it for decades. And if that’s not novel, then Saad is just reciting right-wing talking points at book length without an ounce of creative thought. Which is actually what I’ve thought of him for years.
So just go read de Buen’s review (I’ll include a link down below) to get the big picture on Saad’s schtick, and I’m going to focus on just one thing.
He’s an evolutionary psychologist.
Well, actually, he’s a marketing professor at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, but I guess calling himself an evolutionary psychologist is better marketing. He does publish real evolutionary psychology articles, also known as junk science, as we can see in wikipedia’s abbreviated list of selected articles.
Why are you evolutionary psychologists so focused on reinforcing conventional conservative views on sex? I don’t know, but it sure sells — Saad’s stories often get picked up in the popular press.
Again, I don’t want to wade into all that sewage, so I’m going to narrow my focus yet again, to a couple of YouTube videos where he spouts various cliches about SJWs with funny coloured hair. Warning about this clip: he repeatedly mispronounces “batesian mimicry” as “ba-teezh-ian mimicry”. I shouldn’t laugh, though, it’s a common problem with those of us who mainly get our words from books rather than conversation. So ignore that, let’s listen to him explain “Why Social Justice Warriors Have Colored Hair”.
[cue clip of explanation of aposematic coloring]
“A term I have reinvigorated into the common lexicon, in reality they are castrated”. Uh, what? As you’ll see, he constantly refers to social justice warriors as castrati. No, this isn’t in the common lexicon.

The reason why these social justice warriors color their hair in these very vivid colours is because they are in a sense engaging in aposematic coloring.

So we have a hypothesis of sorts, that people color their hair to make themselves look fierce and scary (or to advertise that they are actually poisonous and inedible, but I think we can discount that one.) His evidence for this is a photo he was sent. It consists of a set of well-known activist for social justice who have dyed their hair, juxtaposed with photos of colourful poisonous animals and fungi. I guess that’s how he does science. Anyway, I know one of those people, who just happens to be shown twice, probably because she’s doubly fierce. That gave me an idea for how to test the Gad Saad Ferocity Hypothesis: I simply asked Rebecca Watson why she dyed her hair red. Here’s her answer:

I started dying my hair hot pink because I was bored at home, and I fucked it up because it turns out that dying your hair is also very boring and I gave up halfway through. So I went to a stylist for the first time in a decade (I had just been trimming my hair myself when it seemed to get too long and I thought of the hair salon as a sort of boring torture chamber) and she gave me WINE and then told me my complexion would actually work better with a deep ruby color and she was RIGHT, it looks fucking awesome. So long story short I dye it this color because it looks fucking awesome.

There you have it, most fashion isn’t designed to be intimidating or warn people away, it’s to look good.
You may have noticed that I’m here with a purple beard, and could give a similar answer. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was trapped at home, bored, and I thought my snowy white beard was a perfect blank canvas, so I slapped on some hair dye. I thought it didn’t look half bad, so I kept it — it’s my plague year hair color. I hope no one is terrified by it.
By the way, once I get the vaccine, I’m thinking I’ll let it fade and go back to old man grey — and maybe get out to a hair stylist myself, get the shaggy explosion hacked back, and try for the more dignified, well-groomed look, more appropriate for an ancient geezer.
But Saad’s not done. He’s got to brag some more about his “hypothesis”.

“A wonderful example of how to use evolutionary principles in an abyss of lunacy called social justice warriors.”

NO. Hair style is a transient and non-heritable property that can be changed on a whim. It is totally inappropriate to claim it can be explained by the use of evolutionary principles…misuse of evolutionary principle is more like it, but then, that’s what evolutionary psychologists do. That’s actually a wonderful example of how bad evolutionary psychologists are at understanding evolutionary principles.
Nothing is going to stop Gad Saad from pushing his preconceptions, though. Here he is wearing his wig for the camera again.
[Gad Saad reciting his stereotypes about SJWs]
Man, what a lot of alt-right cliches. I’ll just remind you…this is what a SJW actually looks like. If you’re just going to mock them with inaccurate stereotypes about their appearance rather than their principles, well, you just going to look as ridiculous as Gad Saad.
But hang on, it wouldn’t be a Saad video without doubling down on the irony.

“Satire and humour and sarcasm are typically forbidden in these fascist totalitarian ideologies precisely because this form of discourse is incredibly powerful in tackling bad ideas.”

Apparently, he thinks that sitting at a desk wearing a red wig is humour. I think maybe he’s been watching too much Steven Crowder, and his sense of humour has rotted away.
Just to remind you: Gad Saad is not a biologist, evolutionary or otherwise. He is a marketing professor who thinks he can use evolution to sell things to you, specifically himself. I’ll leave you with another excerpt from de Buen, who also rips into evolutionary psychology at some length.

As we have seen, Saad does an extremely poor job at even defending the theory that is at the heart of much of his arguments in the book, choosing instead to simply give, at best, half-baked ad hominem refutations of what some of its critics have stated and simply ignoring the criticism at worst. Yet, Saad goes on to present EP as a theory on par with Darwin’s theory of evolution. In another passage, Saad writes: “[y]es, some conservatives reject evolution for religious reasons, but many progressives reject evolutionary psychology because it contradicts many of their secular ideologies including radical feminism.” This, again, is pure intellectual dishonesty. I do not doubt that there are progressives who reject EP for this reason. However, as some of the previously cited literature shows, EP has a long way to go before it is on similar epistemic footing as the theory of evolution, with which it is often at odds. EP is not, as Saad seems to suggest, synonymous with evolutionary theory or implied by it. It is a separate theory based on a very limited set of insights from it. So, to present a rejection of EP as equivalent to a rejection of Darwin is misleading at best. Further, even if there are people who reject EP on ideological grounds, to reduce every rejection of EP to ideology is not just misleading but flat-out false.

Ugh, yeah. I’d go further and say that evolutionary psychology has been reduced to little more than a rationale for defending repugnant conservative ideas badly.

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  1. says

    The “fetch” that I’m trying to make happen is reading “IDW” as “Intellectual Dork Web”.

    Because I’m a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum information, and I am also apparently 12.

  2. says

    Just as an aside, anyone who claims to be a “classical liberal” and cannot correctly state Adam Smith’s description of the morally acceptable motivation for market participants (enlightened self-interest, not pure greed) isn’t a “classical” or “liberal” or any combination of the two. I’m always amused by purported “classical liberals” who know nothing about the context of and motivation for the pro-market-force books of their dead white upper-class male heroes. The Wealth of Nations was written as a moral treatise, demanding that the new merchant classes engage in the noblesse oblige that the inherited nobility and organized religion had failed at so miserably. Hobbes and Locke were motivated not so much by abstract theory as by visible misuses of power by those who had inherited it.

    In more science-friendly terms, it really helps to actually examine one’s data and experimental design before pontificating on what it all means.

  3. hemidactylus says

    If you want to see a sadly laughable take on anti-Wokeness here’s an exhibit of profound ignorance:

    Which pissed me the hell off with the risible (by Coyne): “And then the poor PoMos and Critical Theorists get their drubbing (remember, the roots of Critical Theory are in the filthy humus of postmodernism)”.

    Apparently Coyne thinks pomos can time travel. Eventually someone in the commentariat called him on his misrepresentation of Critical Theory. Witness the @21 comment by Aneris. Very good reply. Will it have effect?

    Lindsay and Pluckrose were quite a bit more on the ball with things than Coyne. Yet Critical Theory is far from the bogey Coyne thinks it is. Hell I have reservations with the Marx/Freud rubric of Horkheimer and Adorno and find their take on commodified popular culture disgustingly elitist. Yeah there is high culture and kitsch but so much in between. Would they bash the TV show Community? Thems fightin words.

    Habermas was far more sophisticated, being both critical of 1st generation CT and pomo. I’m reading second hand treatment of Frankfurt that takes Habermas and Honneth to task for their criticisms of Papa Adorno [The culture industry revisited : Theodor W. Adorno on mass culture / by Deborah Cook.]. Again Adorno was a snob for his disdain of popular culture (the culture industry made me say that). Sorry for the rant.

  4. raven says

    As the title suggests, it proposes that we treat the ideas it seeks to criticize as pathogens that can infect the mind and, like real pathogens, propagate from one host to another.

    What is novel about this idea?
    This seems to be the description of memes.

    Oxford Dictionary
    an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.

    Not all memes are pathogens but some can be.
    Already this guy Gad Saad seems like an idiot and a routine right wingnut hater.
    I’m already bored.

  5. hemidactylus says

    And the ultimate irony in all this bullshit is that advanced Frankfurt Critical Theory is about ethics of discourse and importance of recognition (versus disrespect) which one would think dovetails splendidly with street epistemology. Habermas cut his teeth on the Enlightenment public sphere before systemic colonization. If Boghossian was a real philosopher and not an ignorant propagandist he would recognize the value of Critical Theory as championed by Habermas and Honneth. Jackass polemicist!

  6. hemidactylus says

    Public sphere being coffee shops and library meeting rooms where new atheists congregated before COVID necessitated Discord and Zoom. Sorry I’m on a tear.

  7. says

    … and let’s not get started on the extreme social conservative background of twentieth century continental philosophy that provided most of the underpinning for the variety of Critical Theory that the Right so loves to criticize, shall we? Let alone ahistoricism, Saussare, et al. That’s so… antiscientific.

  8. PaulBC says

    Blake Stacey@2 This is the second time I have seen IDW and tried to remember what it is supposed to mean. Before I looked it up, the best I came up with was “Identity: White.” That’s accurate enough and may keep me confused for a long time to come. (I read “BTW” as “Be thus warned” for a year or two back in Usenet days; it was pre-web and tougher to get a definition just like that.)

  9. brucegee1962 says

    Reading the transcript, when you said he was wearing a wig, I wondered if it was an 18th century powdered affair. No such luck, though.
    Hey, what’s the evolutionary justification for 18th century men to wear wigs? Umm, let’s see, maybe so the saber tooth tigers won’t be able to grab their hair?
    There have been thousands of fashions in countries around the world over the last several millenia. I wonder if every single one of them is caused by something that happened in the Pleistocene?

  10. charlesanthony says

    Apparently, he believes in Lamarckism, as that would support the the idea that dyeing one’s hair red would have a genetic influence.

  11. =8)-DX says

    welp, this was a wonderful refresher on what you think about evo psych. not sure if my email got through, but in the serious inquiries podcast I linked, Lindsey Osterman actually mentioned Gad Saad as a crackpot nobody in the field cares or knows about. It sounds as if there are also some actual ernest evo psych biologists, but as you mentioned their hypothesis is week and their research tenable at best. Good vid, thanks!

  12. says

    Regarding the charge of unoriginality: “Language is a virus” is at least as old as Laurie Anderson’s song of that name, released I think in 1984. The song was a tribute to William S. Burroughs, and the saying “language is a virus from outer space” is often attributed to him, but never with exact coordinates.