Saturday, May 21, 2011

Evolutionary Psychology cottage industry

Some guy, Andrew Badenoch tweeted about me way back in December and I just found out about it today.

I'm such a lazy tweeter - if that isn't redundant. I hardly ever do it, and I've never bothered to fully explore all the features of Twitter. Mainly because I'm too busy blogging. So I didn't realize that there was an @Mention feature until today. It lists any time somebody mentions your nom de tweet. And I found this:

evolvify Andrew Badenoch VS. This: RT @nancymcclernan: evolutionary psychology is complete crap.

I'm not entirely sure what the point is - I linked to a standard just-so evolutionary psychology piece and he linked - "versus" that - to an article with the standard EP party line, that anybody who objects to the conclusions of evolutionary psychologists are doing so only on the basis of political correctness.

"The fish stinks from the head" as they say - certainly a coworker has said this about our mutual boss at almost every job I've had. I had an argument with uber-evolutionary psychologist Steven "Blank Slate" Pinker via email way back when and he said this of Stephen Jay Gould:
The criticisms of Stephen Jay Gould have been extensively addressed in my writings and others, and I believe they stem more from his political ideology than from the empirical literature.

Apparently you can't hold political views - certainly not if you're left-leaning - without having those views taint your scientific opinions.

I blogged just the other day that other big-wig EP-promoters Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins also have non-science problems with Gould.

But what else can they do? Gould was a prominent evolutionary biologist, nobody could claim he was anti-science. The only possible way to neutralize his in-depth critique of evolutionary psychology - even at the level of his arguments against strict adaptationism - is to say that it's because he was a socialist.

After I tweeted about the Badenoch tweet, the guy himself immediately visited this blog and then tweeted back for this fairly typical EP-type exchange:

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan don't remember that, but i do sometimes mention science deniers.
37 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply

nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - it's a typical pro-EP talking point that the only people who disagree with EP are anti-science. What a load of shit.
33 minutes ago

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan dismiss the field of behavioral ecology too & we'll talk. otherwise it's the same anthropocentrism creationists practice.
26 minutes ago

nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - you just have the entire list of standard EP talking points, don't you? Does the UCSB or the LSE issue a weekly list?
22 minutes ago

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan you have the standard "just ain't so stories" and vapid rhetoric. yawn.
20 minutes ago

nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - but I see you have your own little cottage industry based on EP - better defend that cash cow
16 minutes ago

evolvify Andrew Badenoch
@nancymcclernan i challenge you to do it without a single political plea, ad hominem, or other rhetoric -- scientific arguments only. enjoy.
8 minutes ago

Nancy McClernan
@nancymcclernan Nancy McClernan
@evolvify - I've done it dozens of times already - but then so has Gould, Coyne, Harris, Ferguson, Spelke etc. etc. etc.

It goes on from there - I think you can view it on Twitter if you're really interested. It's hard as hell to have a tweet debate.

For the uninitiated, UCSB stands for the University of California at Santa Barbara, specifically their Center for Evolutionary Psychology, the Mecca of evolutionary psychology and LSE is the London School of Economics, the British version. Virtually all the big names in evolutionary psychology are associated with one or both of these.

Badenoch later said that he was going to discount my work since my "stuff" isn't scientific. I do have a blog devoted to Cultural Materialism although I always disgracefully neglect it. And much of what I've posted is more about anti-evolutionary psychology than about cultural materialism. I first learned of evolutionary psychology (or its direct ancestor, sociobiology) from Marvin Harris, the leading proponent until his death in 2001 of cultural materialism.

I really need to have a central location for all my evolutionary psychology resources, arguments etc. For example, I need to post a full-blown critique, once and for all, of Helena Cronin's inane policy paper-turned-newspaper article "Pity the Poor Men." I debated Cronin's co-author Oliver Curry years ago via email and I debated Richard Dawkins over this in a Pharyngula comments thread. I bailed out of that too early but I had too much else to do, like learn how to program a database/javascript/PHP-driven web site, to give the debate enough attention. But I regret it because that was probably my only chance to address Dawkins directly on the subject. But if I ever do again, it would be most efficient to have all my arguments over Cronin's paper laid out in advance.

(I also think Dawkins holds a grudge against Gould because of Gould's scathing review of Helena Cronin's "The Ant and the Peacock." Only a little bit of which is available online for free.)

I write about EP every now and then here on Heavens to Mergatroyd, and one way to organize those posts is to have a label - so from now on I will label all posts about evolutionary psychology accordingly.

I'm certainly at a disadvantage, time-wise, when it comes to debating Andrew Badenoch. His web site evolvify looks like an effort to turn evolutionary psychology into a cottage industry. He's selling diet books that appear to have something to do with evolution - "Body by Evolution" to be precise.

And like any good snake-oil salesman, Badenoch is here to tell yah that evolutionary psychology has a hundred and one uses: Evolutionary Applications to Marketing.

So the promotion of evolutionary psychology isn't just a scientific exploration for Badenoch - it's a business, and any time he spends debating me is a tax write-off.

Well, salesmen will always make more money than debunkers. It's funny that EPs so often claim that debunkers of EP have ulterior motives - politics - considering how much money proponents of EP stand to make through telling people what they want to hear. For in spite of the gains of feminism there are still massive numbers of people who want to believe in gender essentialism and will buy anything that tells them that yes, everything they were raised to believe about the proper roles of men and women is absolutely true and in fact, ordained by evolution (now that ordained by God no longer has the power it once did.)

Oh, and what does this untainted-by-political-views (unlike Stephen Jay Gould) Andrew Badenoch think about feminists? Big surprise - not much:

But in this case, the “f word” in question is “feminism”, so humor will be optional at best.
I find it telling that he tries to support the old tired idea that feminists have no sense of humor by linking to that idiotic article by Christopher Hitchens that I just blogged about. Because Hitchens didn't say that feminists have no sense of humor, he said that women aren't funny. It's right there in the title of the piece. But I guess that Badenoch was in such a rush to attack feminists he just grabbed the first thing that was handy.

And to get an idea of the scientific level that Badenoch is operating on, check out his glowing review of a book by Louann Brizendine. He writes:

Brizedine is not above reviewing the basics: “We may think we’re a lot more sophisticated than Fred or Wilma Flintstone, but our basic mental outlook and equipment are the same.” While this book will be of interest to anyone who wonders why men and women are so different, it will be particularly useful for women and parents of girls.

To give you some idea of Brizendine's standards of research:

But by a unanimous vote, this year's Becky goes to the psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, whose bestselling book The Female Brain argues that most of the cognitive and social differences between the sexes are due to differences in brain structure. It's a controversial thesis. The New York Times's David Brooks and others have hailed the book as a challenge to feminist dogma, and Brizendine herself has charged that her critics are angry because her conclusions aren't politically correct. Actually, though, you can leave out the "politically" part. The reviewers for the British science journal Nature described the book as "riddled with scientific errors." And in newspaper commentaries and posts on the LanguageLog blog, the University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman has been meticulously debunking Brizendine's claims about men's and women's language.

As far as my own sources in support of the debunking of the Flintstones claims of evolutionary psychology, I have many, but I have three favorites:
  • Materialist, cultural and biological theories on why Yanomami make war by R. Brian Ferguson. Ferguson was a student of Marvin Harris and worked closely with him to refine cultural materialist theories. NOTE - the link will open up a PDF document. If you have any interest in theories of human culture and behavior you need to read this.

  • Adapting Minds, Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature by David J. Buller. I wrote this book report on it - although I still haven't finished it. But it has such important information about the failings of evolutionary psychology. My review discusses Buller's critique of the work of David Buss (Richard Dawkins wrote the intro for Buss's EP textbook) who goes so far as to misrepresent virtual female sex-slavery as female sexual preference.

  • What Comes Naturally by Louis Menand. This review of Steven Pinker's book "The Blank Slate" is the most accessible of these three and a good introduction to Evolutionary Psychology Debunking 101. Well-written, logical and entertaining. I can't resist quoting:

    Having it both ways is an irritating feature of "The Blank Slate." Pinker can write, in refutation of the scarecrow theory of violent behavior, "The sad fact is that despite the repeated assurances that 'we know the conditions that breed violence,' we barely have a clue," and then, a few pages later, "It is not surprising, then, that when African American teenagers are taken out of underclass neighborhoods they are no more violent or delinquent than white teenagers." Well, that should give us one clue. He sums the matter up: "With violence, as with so many other concerns, human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution." This is just another way of saying that it is in human nature to socialize and to be socialized, which is, pragmatically, exactly the view of the "intellectuals."

Debunking the wacky claims of evolutionary psychology is certainly a passion of mine, but it's not a lucrative one - rather I lose money on it. And I have to balance my time with a regular 9-5 day job and my other passion, playwriting. One of these days I'm going to write that biography of Marvin Harris though...