The cruelest cut against evolutionary psychology

Larry Moran summarizes some criticisms of evolutionary psychology. He even cites philosophers who recognize the deep flaws in the field! But then, as a coup de grâce, he carries out the most damaging criticism of all: he quotes an evolutionary psychologist. Dang. That’s low.

Even more cruelly, he quotes the ridiculous Gad Saad, a professor of marketing who has made a career out of peddling poor interpretations of evolution designed to pander to MRAs and other frauds. Saad was asked to provide a list of notable achievements by evolutionary psychology, and he obliged.

  1. Women alter their preferences for the facial features of men as a function of where they are in their menstrual cycles. When maximally fertile, they prefer men possessing markers of high testosterone.
  2. Babies display an immediate instinctual preference for symmetric faces (at an age that precedes the capacity for socialization).
  3. Children who suffer from congenital adrenal hyperplasia display a reversal in their toy preferences. Furthermore, using inter-species comparisons, vervet monkeys display the same sex-specific patterns of play/toy preferences as human infants. This suggests that contrary to the argument made by social constructivists, play has an evolved biological basis.
  4. Individuals who score high on an empathy scale are more likely to succumb to the contagion effects of yawning. This is indicative that this particular contagion might be linked to mimicry and/or Theory of Mind.
  5. How provocatively a woman dresses is highly correlated to her menstrual cycle (a form of sexual signaling found across countless Mammalian species).
  6. Culinary traditions are adaptations to local niches. For example, the extent to which a culture utilizes meat versus vegetables, spices, or salt is a cultural adaptation (this is what behavioral ecologists study).
  7. Maternal grandmothers and paternal grandfathers invest the most and the least respectively in their grandchildren. Whereas all four grandparents have a genetic relatedness coefficient of 0.25 with their grandchildren, they do not all carry the same level of “parental uncertainty.” In the case of maternal grandmothers, there is no uncertainty whereas in the case of the paternal grandfather, there are two sources of uncertainty. This last fact drives the differential pattern of investment in the grandchildren.
  8. Good male dancers are symmetric (paper published in Nature). One would expect that some behavioral traits might correlate with phenotypic quality as honest signals of an individual’s desirability on the mating market.
  9. Self-preference for perfumes is linked to one’s immunogenetic profile (Major Histocompatibility Complex).
  10. When a baby is born, most family members (especially those of the mother) are likely to state that the baby looks like the father. This phenomenon is found in countless cultures despite the fact that it is objectively impossible to make such a claim of resemblance. The reason for this universally found cultural tradition lies in the need to assuage the fears of paternity uncertainty.
  11. Environmental stressors (e.g., father absence) and the onset of menarche (first menses) have been shown to be highly linked. In numerous species, the likelihood of a female becoming reproductively viable is affected by environmental contingencies.
  12. Women are less receptive to mandatory hospital DNA paternity testing (for obvious reasons). In other words, their willingness to adopt a new product/service is fully driven by an evolutionary-based calculus.
  13. Women can smell the most symmetric men. In other words, women have the capacity to identify men who possess the best phenotypic quality simply via their nose. This is what I have referred to as sensorial convergence.
  14. Using fMRI, the exposure to ecologically-relevant stimuli (e.g., beautiful faces) yields distinct neural activation patterns in men and women.
  15. In choosing a mate, humans tend to prefer the smell of others that are maximally dissimilar to them along the MHC. This ensures that offspring possess a greater “defensive coverage” in terms of their immunological system.

That’s a curious mix of dubious pop psychology, random correlations, non-universal cultural biases, and unjustified assumptions that certain behaviors have a genetic, as opposed to psychological, basis. For example, you don’t need a gene for assuming that infidelity exists…you can know how conception works and figure out that women can get pregnant by men who are not their socially defined partner, which may be why there is a certain level of distrust of paternity claims.

There’s also a total inability to recognize that physiological properties are not always adaptive consequences. For instance, evolutionary psychologists seem to be obsessed with ascribing deep evolutionary causes to fluctuations in behavior associated with menstruation. I can certainly believe in hormonally-driven variation in personality and behavior — that’s unexceptional and ordinary — but to then argue that small day-to-day differences in behavior have all been driven by a necessarily intense selection pressure is absurd panadaptationism.

You might also expect a Professor of Marketing to realize that a culture saturated with commercial marketing of stereotypical sexual imagery might develop abnormal response patterns — we are bathed in messaging that is conditioning us to advertisers’ influence, and may not have anything at all to do with our evolutionary history. There’s a circularity to it all. Marketing is all about shaping our preferences in particular directions, and then you get EP marketing professors trying to persuade us that they have no influence at all, they’re just discerning the deep patterns evolution has burned into our brains, so that they can be better able to influence us to buy their cologne and the associated body images with which they advertise it.

Also, and this might just be my personal bias, but marketing is simply the blood-laced, putrefying pus oozing from the suppurating teats of that great Satan, Capitalism, upon which Evolutionary Psychology greedily feeds. It is a potent poison that is not to be trusted.

A question for Elon Musk

Musk is doing it again. We have to colonize Mars to save humanity!

Humans must prioritise the colonisation of Mars so the species can be conserved in the event of a third world war, SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk said on Sunday.

“It’s important to get a self-sustaining base on Mars because it’s far enough away from Earth that [in the event of a war] it’s more likely to survive than a moon base,” Musk said on stage at SXSW – just days after Donald Trump announced plans to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in an attempt to defuse rising nuclear tension.

“If there’s a third world war we want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of human civilisation somewhere else to bring it back and shorten the length of the dark ages,” Musk said, responding to questions from his friend Jonah Nolan, co-creator of TV show Westworld.

OK. Simple question.

Which is more likely to be a habitable environment for humans?
A. Mars.
B. Earth after a massive nuclear war.

Bonus question!

After Musk’s colonization of Mars, and after a massive nuclear war, which planet is more likely to send a rescue mission to the other?
A. Mars.
B. Earth.

I could be mean and ask what the probability of either being able to mount a rescue mission would be (I’m guessing about 0%), or whether there would even be a colony to rescue on Mars (nope), but I’ll just sit down and take your answer, Mr Musk.

I ought to be getting used to atheists embarrassing me

One of the ways religious offenders defend themselves is by falling back into the arms of their co-religionists. “Why, when they attack me for molesting that girl, they are attacking the sanctity of Jesus Christ and his Holy Church!” It’s a way to gather allies by telling them that the criticisms against you are actually assaults on your entire belief system and all of your fellows.

Keep that in mind while reading Krauss’s response to accusations of sexual harassment. He is openly recruiting us atheists and skeptics to side with him.

On February 22, reporters from BuzzFeed published a libelous story defaming me specifically, and by association the skeptical and atheist community in general. To those friends, colleagues, and others who have written me kind notes of support, I want to thank you sincerely. To those who have expressed anger, I understand the disappointment you may have experienced upon reading the story. It has been very hard to remain silent thus far as my integrity and the integrity of the academic and skeptical communities, which I care about deeply, have been impugned.

My first thought is to defend myself — #NotAllAtheists, Dr Krauss! It’s you that is being accused, not me or my friends, so how dare you drag me into your community.

But then…damn. I think I’m being too optimistic about the quality of this community. I have to stop that. It ought to be easy to be cynical, since atheists are so happy to help. For instance, self-labeled atheists are proud to step forward and pull this kind of crap.

Some of you will dismiss this blatant sexism by saying it’s just one guy, one particularly repulsive guy. That’s true. Except…

TJ Kirk AKA the “Amazing Atheist” has been around for over a decade, and he’s been this repugnant since he first popped up. He has over 100,000 followers on Twitter. He has a million subscribers on YouTube.

You want to defend the skeptical and atheist community? We’re going to have to face up the fact that the popularity and persistence of terrible people who wave the banner of atheism has already compromised us, and realize that when some of our ‘heroes’ go further and commit sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean that they’re exceptional, but are perhaps more representative than we like to admit. At the very least, we have to recognize that being a misogynistic scumbag does not disqualify you from claiming to be an “amazing” atheist.

Further, that so many atheists insist that no moral stance can be assigned to atheism means that the awful people can not be repudiated as atheists; we can do so as individuals, as human beings, and as humanists, but the lack of any principle but “there is no god” in atheism means there are no grounds for forswearing or dismissing these people within the atheist movement.

So what’s the point of the atheist movement? There is none. It’s killed itself.

At least he’s an honest transhumanist

I can be sympathetic to transhumanism — I do believe that we’ll be gradually increasing the incorporation of biotechnology in our lives — while also thinking most of the transhumanists around today are a gang of goofy twits. In particular, this guy, Ben Greenfield, a “biohacker” who brags about trying every wildly improbable, untested biomedical treatment he encounters, is a transparent fraud. That way lies eventual catastrophe, but at least he’s up-front about what he’s trying to do.

In November, Greenfield visited U.S. Stem Cell, a controversial clinic in Florida, to have his penis injected with his own stem cells. If the name of the clinic seems familiar, that’s because it’s the same Florida clinic that last year unintentionally blinded three patients in a clinical trial of an unproven stem cell therapy. In August 2017, the Food and Drug Administration sent U.S. Stem Cell and its chief scientific officer Kristin Comella (who appears in the webinar video with Greenfield) a warning letter for “marketing stem cell products without FDA approval and for significant deviations from current good manufacturing practice requirements, including some that could impact the sterility of their products, putting patients at risk.” U.S. Stem Cell Clinic, the FDA said, even tried to interfere the FDA’s investigation by denying agency employees access to facilities. (U.S. Stem Cell did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

“I wanted to go from good to great, and to get a bigger dick,” he told Gizmodo. “I’m not going to lie, that’s why guys without erectile dysfunction would do this.”

This is the worst of transhumanism, a guy who is trying to find a magical solution to his inadequacies, and meanwhile, even if they don’t work, he gets to call himself a brave “biohacker”. More like a biocharlatan — there’s no science here. An n of 1 in an uncontrolled “study” in which there is no assessment of elementary stuff like dosage and side-effects and even any measurement of primary effects is just garbage — it puts himself at risk with no possibility of learning anything new. And get a load of this:

Nonetheless, Greenfield said in the webinar that the procedure had made him “noticeably better hung.”

Three or four days after the procedure, he said, it was “almost like it grew.” His erections were also bigger, his penis got harder, and his orgasms were better, he said. The better orgasms, he said, might be a placebo effect, but the anatomical changes in size “cannot be denied.”

Gizmodo asked Greenfield whether he had measured his change in size.

“I haven’t taken out a ruler,” he said, explaining that he felt the size fluctuates too much to get a consistent measurement. But he thinks it looks noticeably larger.

“When inside of my wife, she can tell,” he added.

almost like it grew — oh, that’s persuasive. Everything he’s looked at is entirely subjective, and I’m sorry, but his wife’s vagina is not a calibrated scientific instrument, nor is her motivated opinion an objective assessment. That he hasn’t even bothered to try measuring the range of sizes before and after the treatment is a terrible indictment.

Penis enlargement scams seem to be a popular thing, though, at least from my observations of typical spam advertisements. US Stem Cell is going to get some business from desperate sad sacks with poor body image — I wonder if Greenfield gets a cut? They seem to be promoting a kind of sloppy pseudo-biology with the science removed.

Whoops, I made another video

Here it is:

One thing I’m noticing about this youtube business: I’m getting good enough to notice how bad I am at it. This one was a struggle because on my first test, I noticed this really annoying low level hiss in the audio — it was a faint noise from my laptop. I ended up juggling gear all over the place to get rid of it, rearranged bits of my office, and got so focused on improving the audio that I didn’t bother with video.

Oh, well. Some year I might know what I’m doing.

Oh, no! I’ve been doing Twitter wrong!

I have just learned about something called tweetdecking. You and your buddies form a secret group in which you agree to re-tweet each others’ words, gaming Twitter into thinking you’ve all got vast social reach and influence, and then — this is the key step — you offer to re-tweet other peoples’ words for a payment of a few dollars each. It sounds stupid, and it is, and like this can’t possibly work, but it does.

Customers, which can include both individuals and brands, pay deck owners to retweet one or more of their tweets a specified number of times across deck member accounts. Some decks even allow customers temporary access to the deck, almost like a short-term subscription to unlimited deck retweets. Single retweets tend to cost around $5 or $10. Week- or monthlong subscriptions can cost several hundreds of dollars, depending on the deck’s popularity.

People who run their own decks frequently make several thousands of dollars each month, multiple deck owners said.

“It’s the simplest thing ever, all you do is have your friends join and you have fun and tweet and make money,” Kendrik, aka @Simpnmild, an 18-year-old from Chicago who runs two of his own decks, said. “It’s the easiest thing ever. No hard work at all.”

As the owner of two decks with about 15 people in each, Kendrik works with all sorts of people and brands who want their tweets seen by the deck’s massive collection of followers. These customers pay a few hundred dollars to gain temporary access to the Tweetdeck so they can retweet themselves across several of the powerful deck accounts, pretty much ensuring it goes viral.

Kendrik said he makes between $3,000 and $5,000 a month doing this, and he pays members of his deck “based on who has the most page activity for the month” via PayPal.

And a 19-year-old named Lewie, aka @lxwie, who said he both runs a deck and is a member of another deck, said he makes between $2,000 and $3,000 each month.

I’m sorry, teens might be nice people, but they don’t usually have much experience, and don’t generally have great insights to share. There are exceptions, of course, but these don’t sound like kids who do yet. They’ve got a social media racket and that’s about it.

Worse, many don’t have anything creative to say — they “steal” tweets.

I’m so naive I didn’t even know you could do that. I guess it involves finding clever tweets, and then copy-pasting them as if you wrote them, without acknowledging the true author. I would have called it plagiarizing, but OK.

Anyway, Twitter hasn’t yet figured out how to shed the Nazis on their service, but at least they’ve now begun to purge the site of unoriginal, boring, shallow teenagers, who are all very sad about losing thousands of dollars every month.


You know, it says something about Twitter that they were so trivially gamed, and it says something about these kids who think that gaming social media is how you get “famous”.

So, atheism is becoming a refuge for people who learned biology in kindergarten?

Some days I feel like I’ve spent one quarter of my life learning oversimplifications, and the remaining three quarters trying to encompass all the wonderful complexity out there. And then I have to deal with all the people who have turned the beginning stuff they learned in grade school into rigid dogma, rather than the first step in learning. I appreciate learning I’m not alone, like from this Stanford blog from a few years ago.

The simple scenario many of us learned in school is that two X chromosomes make someone female, and an X and a Y chromosome make someone male. These are simplistic ways of thinking about what is scientifically very complex. Anatomy, hormones, cells, and chromosomes (not to mention personal identity convictions) are actually not usually aligned with one binary classification.

The Nature feature collects research that has changed the way biologists understand sex. New technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that chromosomal sex is a process, not an assignation.

As quoted in the article, Eric Vilain, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology at UCLA, explains that sex determination is a contest between two opposing networks of gene activity. Changes in the activity or amounts of molecules in the networks can sway the embryo towards or away from the sex seemingly spelled out by the chromosomes. “It has been, in a sense, a philosophical change in our way of looking at sex; that it’s a balance.”

Two very nice words: process and balance. Those are so much more accurate than bang, your sexual identity was determined by a collision of two gametes in your Mom’s fallopian tubes, and don’t you argue with me. Or this: a fascinatingly perverse video from a guy who has been banned from playing the card game, Magic: The Gathering for harassment.

Just to explain the context a little bit: the banned player is quite irate, and has discovered a horrible thing that the makers of his favorite card game have done that is ruining the game. You only have to listen to the first 30 seconds of this excerpt, but you can continue if you enjoy listen to a growed man ranting about SJWs wrecking his fantasy game.

Magic has adopted “they” as the preferred third-person-singular pronoun for a player, replacing “he or she”.”

This on the 25th anniversary of the world’s most popular card game is a fucking disgrace. Gender is real.

Then he goes on to whine about the low frequency of transgender people in the US, as if the number makes any difference, and is if the only possible reason to make this change is to satisfy transgender men and women (hint: there’s a larger spectrum of individuals who don’t identify by those pronouns). It’s a 12 minute video. All that’s in it is this guy complaining about how a card game company wasted all this effort making a grammatical change via one sentence in an internal document about some upcoming card releases, listed in a section titled “various nonfunctional changes”. The sad thing is that over 20,000 people have watched this performance.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to pay more attention to the views of experts in reproductive and developmental biology, published in Nature and by Stanford, than the angry ravings of a bigoted game player who doesn’t like these new people sneaking into his gaming community. But what do I know? That whiny gamer has been invited to speak at an atheist convention in Milwaukee. Remember when atheism used to try to associate itself with science?

Good morning! Thanks for the birthday greetings!

Hey, all, I took a blog break yesterday — it’s been a long semester so far and I just decided to cut off one thing for a bit. It was…different (that’s Minnesota slang, I’ll let others translate). I’ll ease back in today.

First on the agenda: my birthday was on Friday, and I got inundated with greetings on Twitter and Facebook and all those social media places, and I did not reply to them. Not because I’m a bitter, hateful old man now, but simply because there were so dang many of them that if I tried I would have been sitting there all day typing the same short phrases over and over again. So I will now simply broadcast one mass “THANK YOU VERY MUCH. I HAD A LOVELY TIME. I’D HAVE INVITED YOU TO THE PARTY BUT THE WEATHER WAS TERRIBLE AND I DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH CAKE. SINCERELY, PZ.” Although actually I had tacos, but if I’d told you that you would have been even more annoyed that I didn’t invite you. Sorry. But really, thanks!

For those of you hoping for news from the future, I have to tell you that so far being 61 is awesome. It’s a prime number, you know, and you get all kinds of superpowers on prime birthdays; now I have to wait 6 more years before I get another base power boost. It’s also the sum of two squares, so you get to feel as good as you did when you were 5, 6, 25, and 36, which is nice.

All in all, I highly recommend living until you are at least 61. I encourage all of you young’uns to do so.