Featured Post

PZ Myers dissects evolutionary psychology: brief, sharp and fabulous

I admit I LOL'd at the part about lighting up "like a Christmas tree." WATCH AND LEARN all IDWs!

The Brian Ferguson Interview

Saturday, June 24, 2023

P.Z. Myers bites back!

Excellent post on P. Z. Myers' site Pharyngula in response to the typically wrong-headed Jerry Coyne article in Skeptical Inquirer.

Favorite bites:

(Quoting Coyne): 3. Evolutionary psychology, the study of the evolutionary roots of human behavior, is a bogus field based on false assumptions. 

Great. On this one, he cites me directly as the purveyor of this supposedly misguided claim. I wrote, “The fundamental premises of evo psych [evolutionary psychology] are false,” which is accurate, I did say that. I also said a lot more, explaining what those faulty premises are… but Coyne & Maroja omit that, for some unexplainable reason. Instead, they come up with an anodyne definition of evolutionary psychology: our brains and how they work–which yield our behaviors, preferences, and thoughts–sometimes reflect natural selection that acted on our ancestors.

One problem here is that I agree with that sentence, so once again, they have invented dissent where none exists and have hidden away the problem with evolutionary psychology. The idea that genes and evolution have shaped our behavior is accepted and not at all problematic, but Coyne & Maroja assert that opponents of evolutionary psychology deny the role of evolution on behavior.

Bluntly, that is an outright lie.

They think they can get away with it because they’ve obscured what premises of evolutionary psychology I consider false. It’s a quote mine.

Where I consider evolutionary psychologists to fail is in methodology and poor theory — they take the unjustified shortcut of assuming any modern behavior is the product of genetic traits that were locked in place in the Pleistocene, and are always the product of selection, and that therefore any hypothetical selective scenario they invent is valid and worth publishing as science. They seem to be entirely oblivious to alternative modes of evolution, treating natural selection as the only significant force, ignoring the facts of drift and migration. They are masters of the just-so story, building hypotheticals about ancient human ways of life and ‘testing’ them with surveys of middle-class students enrolled in Psych 101 courses.

I do not deny that human biology and behavior are the product of evolution, but rather that evolution is more complex than evolutionary psychologists imagine it to be, and that the tools of psychology are sadly inadequate to address the problem.

What I teach in the classroom:

Every species is the product of a long history of evolutionary forces, and those forces involve more than just a cartoonish idea of endlessly optimizing selection. You’ve learned about nearly-neutral theory, about lineage analysis, about the mathematics of comparing traits (they would have gotten all that in even my introductory classes), and that accurately determining the evolutionary trajectory of a population requires detailed measurement and observation and rigorous mathematical analysis. Please do apply what you’ve learned to behavior and psychology, but do it better than the evolutionary psychologists have.


(Quoting Coyne): 5. Race and ethnicity are social constructs, without scientific or biological meaning.

Oh god, make it stop. Coyne & Maroja take a bold step in favor of race realism.
To be fair, they take a waffly stance, being ambiguous about how we ought to talk about ethnicities instead, about how many races/ethnicities there are, and how we can use race information to fine-tune medical treatments or even how we can solve crimes by reconstructing perpetrators from their genetic information (see previous section; no, you can’t). He uses these excuses to defend… Bo Winegard?
Indeed, even writing about this subject has led to sanctions on many scientists, who have “found themselves denounced, defamed, protested, petitioned, punched, kicked, stalked, spat on, censored, fired from their jobs and stripped of their honorary titles.” A well-known example is Bo Winegard, an untenured professor in Ohio who was apparently fired for merely suggesting the possibility that there were differences in cognition among ethnic groups. This is why most biologists stay far away from this topic.
“merely suggesting the possibility” is a curiously tepid way to describe a guy who openly describes himself as an “ethno-traditionalist”, “cultural nationalist”, and “racial realist” and who calls Arthur Jensen his “intellectual hero.” He’s a loud and proud racist who thinks white people are superior!

 Here’s how I handle this in my classes:

Don’t be a fucking racist goober. 
More seriously, in the last two weeks of my genetics course I gave the students a dozen peer-reviewed papers on how geneticists were addressing the issue of race, put them in groups, and had them give presentations on the papers they chose to discuss. Get into the literature, and you’ll discover most modern geneticists have little patience with so-called “scientific racism,” any more than they are interested in discussing “scientific creationism.” There are exceptions, obviously. Usually they’re posting on Quillette or other race-realist forums. Or publishing in Skeptical Inquirer or the Journal of Controversial Ideas.

The supposedly liberal Coyne is thrilled that his fellow race pseudoscience promoting ghoul, Andrew Sullivan, likes his garbage.

Jon Stewart helped Sullivan reveal what a right-wing reactionary ass he really is. Exactly reactionary old crank Jerry Coyne's kind of guy.

Oh look, racist Noah Carl is also a big fan of the sleazy racism of Coyne and Maroja.

Blog Archive