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PZ Myers dissects evolutionary psychology: brief, sharp and fabulous

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Monday, November 7, 2022

Jerry Coyne misrepresents evolutionary psychology and declares his support for race pseudoscience

At the Stanford Academic Freedom Conference, Jerry Coyne referred to biologist PZ Myers as "a blogger" and misrepresented evolutionary psychology again

Myers has some thoughts about that on his blog, and on the Conference in general under the title Cranks congregate to demonstrate that they're cranks.

Here is the transcript of Coyne's remarks about Myers and evolutionary psychology from the audio recording I made.
(I want to) give you 4 examples of misstatements that are promulgated in biology by advocates of particular ideologies...

#3:  Evolutionary psychology is worthless as a discipline, and this is been made most vociferously by the blogger PZ Myers who made this statement: "The fundamental premises of evolutionary psychology are false." 

Well, the fundamental premises of evolutionary psychology are simply that our brains, as well as our body show traces of our ancestry over the past 6 million years. And that's not false, that's true, and I could give you a lot of data to show that in terms of behavior, for example. Let's just say that the denigration of evolutionary psychology is widespread. 

Now, why is it widespread? It's again, comes out of the ideology that we're blank slates. I think that comes from Marxism, where people are seen as infinitely malleable by the social environment. Whereas evolutionary psychology tells us that we're not blank slates that we're born with a little bit of writing on those blank slates, that can be changed a bit, but can only be changed within certain limits. And evolutionary psychology, I should add, for those of you who practice this discipline, does have a somewhat spotted history, but in the long run it's produced many valuable insights, such as differences in sexual behavior between men and women, differential (couldn't understand him here) and so on.

His claim about the fundamental premises of evolutionary psychology is pure bullshit, and P. Z. Myers already addressed that bullshit eight years ago and nine years ago:
There is also a tactic I really dislike; I call it the Dignified Retreat. When criticized, evolutionary psychologists love to run away from their discipline and hide in the safer confines of more solidly founded ideas. Here’s a perfect example [Myers then quotes Coyne saying essentially the same thing he said at the SAF Conference]
…the notion that “the fundamental premises of evo psych are false” seems deeply misguided. After all, those premises boil down to this statement: some behaviors of modern humans reflect their evolutionary history. That is palpably uncontroversial, since many of our behaviors are clearly a product of evolution, including eating, avoiding dangers, and the pursuit of sex. And since our bodies reflect their evolutionary history, often in nonadaptive ways (e.g., wisdom teeth, bad backs, the coat of hair we produce as a transitory feature in fetuses), why not our brains, which are, after all, just bits of morphology whose structure affects our behaviors?

You know what? I agree entirely with that. The brain is a material product of evolution, and behavior is a product of the brain. There are natural causes for everything all the way down. And further, I have great respect for psychology, evolutionary biology, ethology, physiology, anthropology, anatomy, comparative biology — and I consider all of those disciplines to have strong integrative ties to evolutionary biology. Does Coyne really believe that I am critiquing the evolved nature of the human brain? Because otherwise, this is a completely irrelevant statement.

Evolutionary psychology has its own special methodology and logic, and that’s what I criticize — not anthropology or evolutionary biology or whatever. Somehow these unique properties get conveniently jettisoned whenever a critic wanders by, only to be re-adopted without reservation within the exercise of the discipline. And that’s really annoying.

What I object to in evolutionary psychology is that their stock in trade is to make observations of behavior in a single species, often in a single population, and then to infer an evolutionary history from that data point. You don’t get to do that. It’s not that the observations are invalid (they’re often interesting in their own right), or that it’s not possible that human behaviors carry a strong genetic component — it’s that you simply can’t draw an evolutionary conclusion from the simple existence of a trait in a population. Yet evolutionary psychologists do, all the time.

So why does Jerry Coyne completely ignore what biologist P. Z. Myers has said? Is he motivated by particular ideologies?

The denial or rejection biological truth affects two areas of evolutionary biology most of all: the idea that there are differences between groups, and the fact that differences between individuals, and averages between groups, might have a genetic basis. Ideologues reject both because difference implies ranking, and this supposedly implies superiority/inferiority, which in turn implies bigotry. And the notion that individual or group differences might be partly based on genes somehow makes them easier to reject than if they were cultural.
Just as Coyne lied about evolutionary psychology, he lied about critics of "biological truth." The actual truth is that hereditarians like Coyne have yet to prove the "biological truth" they would like to believe about differences among "groups." 

But not having data doesn't stop this crowd. As the piece at Inside Higher Ed notes:
While many other speakers described higher education’s commitment to the pursuit of truth as fading, the conference was heavy on anecdotes and speculative diagnostics relative to clear data. 
Now Coyne seems like a bumbling cranky old man to me - but is he really so stupid as to believe that race has not been used to rank people as inferior/superior?

And does he really not understand that this ranking system - which race pseudoscience goons do all the time - is what motivates all race pseudoscience promoters? It's not an accident that a favorite paper of race pseudoscience promoters was written by two racists who were brought together by a third racist.

So far Coyne has completely avoided mentioning Amy Wax's sulphuric racist rant. No doubt because Coyne's racism is the same as Wax's and he approves of what she said.

Before the racist panel, the last one of the Conference, I was feeling some sympathy for the complaints of the victims of "cancellation" who trotted out their grievances one by one over the course of the two days. Certainly it is possible that some university administrators have done their jobs badly or have been unfair. And of course people can disagree on what is going too far to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

But when Amy Wax began to projectile vomit racist bullshit, I got my wakeup call: the underlying belief-system of this conference is indeed race pseudoscience

The fact that Coyne agrees with Wax, although he constantly declares himself to be a liberal, demonstrates that the issue that truly binds these people together is their anger that they get pushback when they promote racist pseudoscience in public.

Here is Coyne in the foreground, just below his racist ally Amy Wax.

It's curious that when Isaac Chotiner interviewed Amy Wax in 2019, she claimed she did not believe in race pseudoscience:

And I guess, to be really crude about it, you would use Trump’s succinct phrase: Why are there so many shithole countries? Of course the moment you say that, people just get outraged: Oh, my God, you are a racist for saying that. And that, of course, lets them off the hook; they don’t have to answer the question, which is convenient.


People do get outraged about that. You are correct.


I have asked many sophisticated, knowledgeable people that question, and I have never gotten anything close to a plausible answer, because of course any answer has to be subject to the strictures of political correctness. I have had a couple of really smart people, people on the left, say, to me, Hey, you have a point: we don’t have an answer, and we are not allowed to think about it rigorously and realistically because there is a code of things you do say and things you don’t say.


What is your answer?


I don’t have one. I mean, my answer is this term “culture,” which consists of so many different things, from top to bottom, so many different aspects of the society. It is this very complex amalgam that holds people back on all sorts of levels. And I am not an anthropologist, I am not a political scientist. I just think that is where the answer lies. And then the question is: Do the people make the culture? Is it something that drops from the sky, or is it something about how people think, what they do, the habits that they have, the values that they have, the practices that they engage in?


When you are casting doubt on the idea that it “drops from the sky,” are you trying to say that it is something innate, or that it is the result of history and experience?


I think the word “innate” is terribly mischievous.




I would not use the word “innate.” To me, “innate” is a term that looks to heritable, or genetic factors. Now you can broaden it and say innate to a culture, but I would probably not say that, because it is so misleading. So, I’m really not saying anything about biology. Nothing at all. I mean, this is not a race-realist question or point of view. It’s totally agnostic on that question. It pushes that question aside and says, What is it about cultures that hold people back?

She certainly has a "race-realist" point of view now. I wonder what changed? Was it all those invitations to dude ranches from her new racist friends?

The Inside Higher Ed article also mentions that the conference skewed older male and white. It sure did.

You can see Pinker on the left, next to Anna Krylov.

During the Conference, Coyne posted another fetish-pic of Steven Pinker's boots. I have joked around, saying he's obsessed with Pinker's boots, but now I'm starting to wonder if this is a serious paraphilia for Coyne.

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