More on the follies of Evolutionary Psychology

I am a regular reader of PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula. Myers is a Biology professor and researcher, and a progressive atheist, so what’s not to like?

Among the objects of his regular criticism is Evolutionary Psychology, and during my blogging timeout he wrote a number of pieces about that issue, and since I made references before to the multiple problems present in that area, I thought it might be a good idea to present the more recent stuff in one post.

This is a series of posts he made in response to others criticising his criticism, and although this may seem convoluted, taken as a whole they present a cogent, coherent and compelling argument against EvoPsych.

So, in chronological order, here we go:

When in doubt, just question the motives of evolutionary psychology critics.

"I detest evolutionary psychology, not because I dislike the answers it gives, but on purely methodological and empirical grounds: it is a grandiose exercise in leaping to conclusions on inadequate evidence, it is built on premises that simply don’t work, and it’s a field that seems to do a very poor job of training and policing its practitioners, so that it primarily serves as a dump for bad research that then supplies tabloids with a feast of garbage science that discredits the rest of us."

Tackling Pinker’s defense of evolutionary psychology.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa — that skips right over the really important word: ‘adaptive’. Start there. That’s my primary objection, the habit of evolutionary psychologists of taking every property of human behavior, assuming that it is the result of selection, building scenarios for their evolution, and then testing them poorly.
We already know that that is impossible. The repertoire of human behavior is so complex and rich, and relatively recently evolved, that to argue that every behavior is the product of specific selection imposes an untenable genetic load. The bulk of the genetic foundation of our psychology (and I agree that there must be one!) must be byproducts and accidents. The null hypothesis of evolutionary psychology should be that a behavior is non-adaptive, yet for some reason all I ever see is adaptive hypotheses."

Jerry Coyne gets everything wrong, again.

"It doesn’t seem to matter how often we point out bad science or lousy protocols or unjustifiable interpretations — the criticisms will be dismissed with this ‘Oh, they’re just leftist ideologues!’ baloney. Yet somehow the converse never seems to be brought up by the EP defenders: that somehow, these EP papers almost universally seem to find rationalizations for the status quo, that they take existing behaviors in our culture and slap on a just-so story to claim women’s roles or the place of minorities is biological or natural or genetic or determined by 100,000 years of selection. If I were to turn this argument around, and say that supporters of EP are all ideologically driven fellow travelers of Kanazawa and Murray and Herrnstein (which I am NOT doing here, by the way), we’d immediately recognize this as a beautiful example of poisoning the well."

I really recommend reading the whole thing.


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