Join 3,559 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


New book claims the Peppered Moth, natural selection's poster boy, may be a fraud.
May 21, 2002 11:08 AM   Subscribe

New book claims the Peppered Moth, natural selection's poster boy, may be a fraud. In the 1970s, the American lepidopterist Ted Sargent highlighted serious problems with Kettlewell's experiment. But no one wanted to know: his research was ignored by the scientific community and his career stymied. The peppered moth experiment was "sacred"; critics were "demonised", their views dismissed as "heresy". But the evidence grew and in 1998 a prominent biologist, reviewing it in Nature , said his shock at the extent of the doubts was like discovering as a child "that it was my father and not Santa who brought the presents on Christmas eve".
posted by skallas (41 comments total)

 
This sort of thing is actually quite common. Ever hear the one about the scientist who claimed HIV did not cause AIDS? Or at the very least, that it had never been proven?

A friend of mine is the son of a physicist whose career in research was ruined when he and a colleague presented a paper that suggested the universe does not expand equally in all directions. It wasn't that they were disproved; others in the field just said "That's not the theory we know and love!"

And that was the end of the discussion.
posted by rocketman at 11:30 AM on May 21, 2002


Yeah - I guess it *would* be pretty terrible if it turned out that Santa Christmas didn't exist and it was our parents who deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
posted by skylar at 11:32 AM on May 21, 2002


Keep in mind that this article is about the theory of natural selection, not the fact of evolution.
posted by NortonDC at 11:33 AM on May 21, 2002


This is the classic case of a "loud, eager man who was invariably dressed in shorts and sandals... camping in woods near Birmingham and sustained by a diet of gin and cigars" who had the temerity to fancy himself a lepidoterist. Imagine yourself... living in the midst of lepidopterists, entymologists and other assorted academicians. Wouldn't you want to push the evolutionary envelope? Adapt or die. Or at least consider a change in your M.O.
posted by martk at 11:37 AM on May 21, 2002


Thoeries are based on facts (observations, measurements, etc.) Theory is the end of the scientific process NortonDC. You'll notice the theory of gravity hasn't been replace with the phrase the 'fact of gravity.'

Perhaps you mean the observation that life changes over time. Also why keep this in mind? The title of my post clearly says, "Natural Selection" not evolution.
posted by skallas at 11:39 AM on May 21, 2002


natural selection - The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.

so, NortonDC, what is "the fact of evolution"?
posted by andrewzipp at 11:40 AM on May 21, 2002


A summary of peppered moth research.
posted by iceberg273 at 11:41 AM on May 21, 2002


Keep in mind that this article is about the theory of natural selection, not the fact of evolution.

Who wants to lay odds that the creationists will jump all over this anyway as conclusive proof that evolution is a damned lie?
posted by turaho at 12:12 PM on May 21, 2002


> so, NortonDC, what is "the fact of evolution"?

Well, negating the very famous peppered-moth observation is quite highly relevant to the cognitive entity I may specify exactly as "Darwinian evolution by natural selection, in the updated form referred to as the 'modern synthesis.' " So if there's some other "fact of evolution" to which the linked article is not relevant, it must be something other than the modern synthesis.

I expect Norton's "fact" conflates two things: first, the fact that living things (together with everything else) change over time, with the mechanics of that change being unspecified. You don't need to go to Darwin for this idea; you can get it from, say, Lamarck; or a book of Buddhist meditation ("don't cling, there's nothing permanent to cling to") or a book of poetry ("...change and decay around me all I see.")

Norton also very likely means the "fact of evolution" that's used as a tribal marker, to distinguish those benighted souls who think the universe was created by the Lord Almighty and nothing has changed since then from the rest of us highly enlightened folks who "believe in evolution" (except when the subject of biological determinism comes up, at which point political correctness outranks Darwin and biology goes out the window because it doesn't fit in with the social-equality and unlimited-human-potential facts as we would like them.)
posted by jfuller at 12:23 PM on May 21, 2002


Ever hear the one about the scientist who claimed HIV did not cause AIDS?

One of the primary scientists who claims this is, in fact, Kary Mullis, Ph.D.. That's right, the same Kary Mullis who won the Noble Prize for his invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Futher, and quite interesting to note, HIV testing is only possible because of... PCR.

He, of course, has been demonized and dismissed for saying so, even though he and his colleague's claims seem to have some rationality to them. You would think that, being the inventor of the process, he might have more weight in a discussion like that. And yet, verylisten to him.

Of course, I can't say I think Kary's right, though. However, he's a really smart guy, and he's aware of all of the research that runs counter to his claims. Shouldn't someone at least listen to him long enough to conclusively prove that he's wrong, instead of just scoffing?

Science is just a different type of religion for a lot of folks. They find a theory, accept it on faith, and then become rabidly defensive of it. And this always has surprised me, as it seems some of the greatest advancements and discoveries in science throughout history have been made when some scientist out there decides to depart from the "straight and narrow" and think about things in a different way.
posted by Swifty at 12:26 PM on May 21, 2002


Hooper's absorbing account of a flawed if not fraudulent experiment reveals an all-too-human side to scientists that will annoy professionals and enthral laypeople in equal measure. One thing is clear, though - science is much more than a collection of objective facts and figures. Ambition, jealousy, and megalomania are all part of this complex equation.

Yes. An interesting point when Kuhn made it 40 years ago in "The Structure of Scienfific Revolutions". Not exactly a new insight today however.
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:42 PM on May 21, 2002


I had a discussion with my prof recently about the importance of "taking a stand" in science. I'm the sort of person that nearly always qualifies my statements, and points out any dissenting evidence. The professor's point was that, by taking a stand on an issue, and making outrageous claims, you will anger people into action, and create movement in an area of research that may be otherwise overlooked.
It made a lot of sense to me, especially when I've heard many people say that the real point of the Kary Mullis "it's not HIV" argument is that the drugs we're giving these people are pretty nasty. You wouldn't give them to healthy people, so why are we giving them to sick people?
Of course, it's easier to go out on these limbs when you already have a nobel prize and several million publications. It's not so easy when you're just starting out.
posted by nprigoda at 12:52 PM on May 21, 2002


Who wants to lay odds that the creationists will jump all over this anyway as conclusive proof that evolution is a damned lie?

Um. They already have. This and much more.

See Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells, for example.
posted by Mondo at 12:57 PM on May 21, 2002


except when the subject of biological determinism comes up, at which point political correctness outranks Darwin and biology goes out the window because it doesn't fit in with the social-equality and unlimited-human-potential facts as we would like them

What do you mean by this?
posted by plaino at 1:02 PM on May 21, 2002


The fact of evolution is that it occurs. Examples include the rising resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, to the point that penicillin is basically useless now against infections it would handily routed generations ago.
posted by NortonDC at 1:10 PM on May 21, 2002


> What do you mean by this?

Oh, to pick one example, the biologically possible but politically unspeakable proposition that earning differences between men and women are in part based on (and legitimized by) biological aptitude and ability differences between men and women, rather than being based purely on organized male wickedness.
posted by jfuller at 1:27 PM on May 21, 2002


Really, the resistance of academic science to new theories, particularly ones that do not come out of the mainstream hierarchy, is legendary. The classic case is Alfred Wegener, the father of plate tectonics theory, which explains the observed fact of continental drift -- a theory which endured ridicule for decades until accumulated weight of evidence changed enough minds. I believe it was Wegener about whom it was said that scientists do not so much have their theories proven, as they do outlive their opponents.

I wouldn't necessarily say that evolution per se is a fact, though it comes darned close, but rather that speciation and genetics and extinction are the facts that remain best explained by the theory of natural selection. skallas: Gravity is pretty much an observable fact, or perhaps more accurately a predictable behavior; Newtonian physics does the best job of that prediction in terms of the human-scale universe. There really is no "theory of gravity" as any separate thing, given that between Kepler, Newton, and a host of others, its been pretty well nailed. I suppose you could say that there's a Cartesian theory of the physical world, but we're not going that direction today. The questions of gravity's properties, however, remain open to debate -- force or particle, et cetera.
posted by dhartung at 1:34 PM on May 21, 2002


> The fact of evolution is that it occurs.

And you don't care about the theory, about how it occurs? It's all the same to you if we have evolution by natural selection à la Darwin, or by inheritance of acquired characteristics per Lamarck, or for that matter evolution by Divine Intervention? These are three different models -- theories, if you will -- of how evolutionary change occurs, and the Peppered Moth revisionism only undermines the first (Darwinian) model, not the other two. You're cool with that?
posted by jfuller at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2002


I've found that, usually, the universe is what it is whether or not I am cool with that. I care, but the universe does not.

PS-Acquired changes are passed on to offspring (inherited) in humans via breastfeeding. The mother's milk teaches the child's immune system, passing on immunities the mother had to gain by overcoming infection.
posted by NortonDC at 1:48 PM on May 21, 2002


The fact of evolution is that it occurs. Examples include the rising resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, to the point that penicillin is basically useless now against infections it would handily routed generations ago.

Its not fair to compare micro-evolution to macro-evolution. Changing to more advanced and fit forms is a lot more complex than the simple mechanics behind colonies of bacteria surviving antibiotics and passing those genes to the next generation. A powerful demonstration of evolution, but it doesn't really demonstrate evolution on a larger scale. Though it is widely thought that the mechanics in both macro and micro are the same.

dhartung, the way I understand the scientific method is facts support a theory. Facts are observed objective information. I don't think its correct to call evolution or gravity facts, as they are concepts first. Evolution is based on the observable fact that life changes as time goes by and gravity by its effect on objects. Maybe 'gravity' isn't a theory but universal gravitation certainly is. Really its semantics at this point. Science consists of theories. Theories can never graduate to fact, they will always remain theories. Its the scientific community which decides which theories are, err, more fit than others.
posted by skallas at 2:06 PM on May 21, 2002


Noting that the virusmyths.com website mentioned above has the sam background colour as the holy MeFi. I'm trusting it more already.
posted by nedrichards at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2002


Its not fair to compare micro-evolution to macro-evolution.

I didn't.
posted by NortonDC at 2:12 PM on May 21, 2002


Really, the resistance of academic science to new theories, particularly ones that do not come out of the mainstream hierarchy, is legendary.

I suspect you're quite correct about that. There is another side of the equation however ... which is that for every new theory that is dismissed because it challenges traditional scientific thinking in a field - and is later found to be correct (like the case you note), there are dozens that are dismissed that really are big stinking piles of moose flop.

For instance, this is a good example of the genre (it is just picked at random, but there are thousands of these out there). Fairly typical ... it includes the quintessential elements:

"His papers have consistently been rejected by the editors of the official scientific publications, thus preventing his theories from getting known and widely discussed."

and

"Not being a physicist myself, I cannot presume to judge his experiments nor his theories, but I am convinced that a healthy course of action would be to publish and thoroughly discuss his views and discoveries, instead of building a wall of non communication to silence a voice that dares speak up against such recognized authorities as Einstein and to overthrow some of the views held by what we might call "establishment physics"."

(The "views" we are talking about here are some crank's version of the "ether" - a concept quite popular a century ago, but at this point considered charmingly childish). Note however, that every crank on earth will declare that they've discovered some startling truth, and are really being stymied by "the establishment". And that their views get no hearing because science is afraid of being challenged. And of course, in every case, it is held that "healthy course of action would be to publish and thoroughly discuss his views and discoveries". Only problem being that it takes serious time and energy - by the scientific community in any field - to do such a thing ... and hence scientific communities generally establish fairly rigorous barriers (getting published in peer-reviewed journals & etc.) before they select topics of research.

Now and then this certainly does supress what down the road comes to be understood as a new truth ... but most often it simply serves the legitimate purpose of filtering out the volumes of idiocy that are out there.
posted by MidasMulligan at 2:23 PM on May 21, 2002


For instance, this is a good example of the genre (it is just picked at random, but there are thousands of these out there). Fairly typical ... it includes the quintessential elements:

How is that fairly typical? This guy has no credentials and hasn't been published anywhere but the net. Contrast one of the fellows from the posted article - Ted Sargent. He simply has respectable academic credentials.

Josef Hasslberger is a businessman who fancies himself a cosmologist. Big difference there, Midas. As to whether the strict skeptical view of all things unorthodox is more beneficial than harmful isn't something that's answered by qouting a nobody and patting the status quo on the back. I think its an issue thats much more complex and not easily answered.

Going back to the article, this isn't even about orthodoxy vs. the maverick as much as it is about correcting mistakes and how intellectual inertia keeps certain misconceptions alive. Amazingly, the photos of the peppered moth have been known to be faked for quite some time but no one is stepping in to fix the textbooks. Maybe if people weren't so busy fighting with fundies, kids would have a good chance at understanding the scientific method and get reliable information from their science texts. I think the real victim in the creationism vs. evolution "argument" is that real criticisms of evolution as we know it rarely break the surface.
posted by skallas at 2:52 PM on May 21, 2002


I think the real victim in the creationism vs. evolution "argument" is that real criticisms of evolution as we know it rarely break the surface.

I certainly agree w/ you on this point.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:01 PM on May 21, 2002


One of the primary scientists who claims this is, in fact, Kary Mullis, Ph.D.. That's right, the same Kary Mullis who won the Noble Prize for his invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

He's also done ALOT of acid. And I'm not talking about the deoxyribonucleic kind. Remember Linus Pauling and Vitamin C? Nobel prize winning biochemists can have some eccentric ideas sometimes.
posted by euphorb at 3:07 PM on May 21, 2002


Science is just a different type of religion for a lot of folks. They find a theory, accept it on faith, and then become rabidly defensive of it.

But that's quite the straw man, because that's NOT science, no matter how many uneducated fuckwits* think it is. Science is about falsifying hypotheses and creating ever more accurate models, NOT about "proving" anything, which is a very questionable concept at best.


*I've gotta quit reading MetaTalk!
posted by rushmc at 3:12 PM on May 21, 2002


These are three different models -- theories, if you will -- of how evolutionary change occurs, and the Peppered Moth revisionism only undermines the first (Darwinian) model, not the other two.

Actually, it doesn't even do that. It may refute the use of that particular example to illustrate the process of natural selection in high school textbooks, but it says nothing about the mechanisms of natural selection operating within populations over much longer periods than a few decades, which is a lot more relevant to what Darwin was talking about.
posted by rushmc at 3:16 PM on May 21, 2002


earning differences between men and women are in part based on (and legitimized by) biological aptitude and ability differences between men and women, rather than being based purely on organized male wickedness.

you must be joking. women have had the right to vote for less than a century. they've been excluded, either formally or informally from most of the high-paying professions up until very recently. the jobs that women have traditionally been pushed into, such as teaching and nursing, are grossly undervalued economically (please explain to me how a lawyer benefits society more than a teacher). plus, women are not compensated at all for the very valuable work they do raising the next generation of doctors and lawyers, often without the help of a father. instead they are ignored, or if they happen to be poor and single, are villified as lazy welfare queens.

to say that its biologically differences that has held women back displays a profound ignorance of history and the continuing influence of gender bias on our society. "earning differences" result from the fact that men have historically decided what kinds of work are worthy of compensation and what kinds are not.
posted by boltman at 3:49 PM on May 21, 2002


<off-topic jape>

The significance of the moth is change. Caterpillar into chrysalis or pupa. From thence into beauty. Our Billy wants to change too...

I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye.

&lt;/off-topic jape&gt;
posted by evanizer at 4:41 PM on May 21, 2002


[topic drift]

boltman: I think jfuller was saying that the source of that gender bias may have some valid anthropological basis -- not that women are inherently inferior to men. (As in: women became undervalued at some formative historical period during which hunting and fighting were better survival skills than childraising, and the habit stuck with us to the present day.)

I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the theory, but by jumping all over him for not being PC, you're proving his point pretty well. (Biologically possible, but politically unspeakable. Yep.)
posted by ook at 4:51 PM on May 21, 2002


[Kary Mullis], of course, has been demonized and dismissed for saying so, even though he and his colleague's claims seem to have some rationality to them. You would think that, being the inventor of the process, he might have more weight in a discussion like that. And yet, very [few] listen to him.

Thus demonstrating the point, as it's often said, that in science there are no authorities, only experts. In other words, no one's proclamations are regarded as being right simply because of the person making them, no matter how many wonderful things that person has done in the past.

And that is a strength of science, not a weakness! If the evidence does not support your hypothesis, then your hypothesis must be rejected, regardless of whether you are a homeless man shouting and ranting on a street corner, or a Nobel Prize recipient.

(Aside: regardless of his views on HIV/AIDS, Kary Mullis is a quite entertaining speaker. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do so.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:31 PM on May 21, 2002


I think jfuller was saying that the source of that gender bias may have some valid anthropological basis -- not that women are inherently inferior to men

he said that differences between the sexes cause and legitimate earning inequalities. that sounds to me like he's saying that women deserve to earn less because they are biologically inferior.

if believing that women and men are equally capable of making valuable contributions to society is politically correct, then i'm guilty as charged.
posted by boltman at 8:50 PM on May 21, 2002


Oh, to pick one example, the biologically possible but politically unspeakable proposition that earning differences between men and women are in part based on(and legitimized by) biological aptitude and ability differences between men and women, rather than being based purely on organized male wickedness.

I'm sure we'd all love to hear about exactly which "biological and ability differences" account for these differences. The human genome information is pretty much out there, available for your elucidation. Precisely which genes code for mopping, dishwashing, and fetching the boss another cup of coffee?

Until I start to see microarray results showing that a given man doing a particular job expresses more "ability" gene product than a particular woman doing the same job, I'll just continue to call "bullshit" on "ability differences" between the sexes (and the races) and stick with something that is known to exist: sexism (and racism).
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:33 PM on May 21, 2002


re:jfuller - he didn't claim that differences between the sexes cause earning inequalities. he claimed that it was possible (not even likely) that earning inequalities were in part caused by differences between the sexes. I mean, at a very basic level, this has to be true if sexism exists: how do we distinguish to whom our sexism is directed if not by a biological difference (presence of different body parts)?

and if you want to get all semantic and claim jfuller was talking about "aptitude and ability," how about the ability to give birth?
posted by juv3nal at 5:04 AM on May 22, 2002


f&m: the human genome is not completely understood, nor is it really completely mapped. You requirement that a microarray study be done to prove that there are biological differences between men and women is quite depressing -- I'll point to one defective CHROMOSOME ('Y'), visible without a microarray analysis, and show you that there is an inherent genome difference....

And, some abilities are held there. Tasks requiring fast sugar burns (sprint actions) are easier for men. Tasks requiring slow sugar burns (stamina actions) are easier for women. Tasks requiring bulk strength for vertical lifting and movement are easier for the male skeletal structure, while the female is better suited for balance. It is not a stretch, considering the differences in androgyn and progesterone between the genders, that brain development and function should be different as well.

So, mopping (balance, stamina) is definately easier for females. Strange that I am the one that keeps doing it in my house, I guess, but I like a clean floor, and don't mind my inferior genetics.

It is a rampant PC argument that men and women should be able to earn the same for the same job. If it can be shown that men and women are completely interchangeable for that job, they're right. But it would seem that pretty much all jobs have aspects that tilt the balance one way or the other. In most, the tilt is insignificant, and should not be considered in the value of the position. In others -- well, I can safely say that I don't care which gender carries me out of the burning building, but I can understand why more men do that kind of work, and are thus paid better for the work they do.

And, jfuller wasn't saying that the pay disparity between teachers and lawyers is genetic. The problem is between male teachers and female teachers -- why the difference in paygrade, if it exists? Should there be a difference, and if so, why? Good question, but not allowed, because it isn't PC.
posted by dwivian at 6:49 AM on May 22, 2002


I'm going to stop trying to parse out what jfuller may or may not have meant; if he wants to clarify he can come here and do it himself.

Boltman, I agree with you that in this day and age there are few if any jobs that cannot be done equally well by women or by men, and that whatever inherent biochemical differences there are between the sexes, that variation in ability between individual people probably far outweighs that between genders as a group.

But, at the same time, differences do quite clearly exist -- both the inherent physical and chemical differences dwivian refers to, and social and behavioral differences caused by culture (we give boys GI Joe and girls Barbie, so they're naturally going to grow up to behave differently). It would be wonderful to be able to find out which of these differences are natural and which are just cultural byproducts. Same thing goes for race, another taboo subject.

But since it's such a touchy political subject, it's impossible to do good science on it. I personally suspect most, perhaps all, of the differences are just cultural, not inherent -- but as long as the topic remains untouchable we'll never know for sure.
posted by ook at 7:28 AM on May 22, 2002


> I'm going to stop trying to parse out what jfuller may or
> may not have meant

Someone asked me for an example of a biological/evolutionary hypothesis that is not impossible (the way, say, two guys each taller than the other is impossible) but that even those who profess to "believe in evolution" will refuse to think about in terms of evolutionary theory or evidence, but rather will angrily reject without consideration because other conflicting dearly-held attitudes take precedence.

So I made up an example of such an hypothesis, never once stating whether or not I believed it myself. And sho'nuff, here comes some dude heaving dead cats at me for daring even to mention such an unthinkable thought. Fuller tips hat to boltman for being such a handy and convenient hair-trigger PC moron, ready on the spot to demonstrate my point for me so graphically.


Now then, having said that, I'll give make up another hypothesis, and will stipulate that I think it not just possible but very probably the natural fact:

1) In the ancient world, violent aggressiveness was a highly valuable job skill, and became strongly fixed in males because a male can pass his traits on to many offspring even if he takes hair-raising risks and dies young, which a female cannot do.

2) In the modern world, that very same male aggressiveness is still a highly valuable job skill. Strong aggressiveness and monomaniacal success orientation make others either do what you want them to or get out of your way, and this is very useful in scratching your way up to the high pay scales.

3) This particular sex-linked difference will have a strong impact on average female compensation vs. average male compensation. Note that the difference I'm pointing to has nothing at all to do with your merit as a worker or how well you do your job, and everything to do with your ability merely to bulldoze your way into that high-paying job in the first place.

4) Strong aggressiveness and monomaniacal success orientation are still strongly biologically based, and sex-linked. There are 10 or 20 or 50 Bill Gateses and Larry Ellisons out there for every Martha Stewart


P.S. Sure I've heard people say it's all cultural, that Bill and Larry are what they are because they got "Alien vs. Predator" games from Santa instead of "My Little Pony." I'll gladly entertain that hypothesis, as a hypothesis (I'm very broadminded, heh) but it strikes me as pretty weak as explanations go and some real work ought to be done to establish the truth of the matter. However, no real work will be done because if a researcher took the question on and got the "wrong" result (i.e., as I said, a result that doesn't match up with the facts as we would like them,) it would be a career-ender. So much for freedom of thought, and so much for "believing in evolution." For most non-biologists a stated belief in evolution is almost entirely an I'm-an-enlightened-guy tribal marker and doesn't really go any deeper than wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches to say the same thing.
posted by jfuller at 2:38 PM on May 22, 2002


It is a rampant PC argument that men and women should be able to earn the same for the same job.

Really? If someone has been employed to do a job they should be paid the exact same amount as any other person doing that job. If they're not as good at it, they won't be promoted, or they shouldn't have been employed in the first place.

Perhaps the reason science doesn't address itself to the question of why men get paid more than women is because it's too broad a question.

Even if you're talking about one single profession, as opposed to the whole of employment, how can you study scientifically whether a whole gender's brain makeup is better suited to the varied tasks that comprise any job than the other gender? And that's before you take into account cultural factors like women working part time more often, taking career breaks for children and being more numerous in low-paid 'caring' professions such as nursing and teaching. I won't even get started on the mental barriers that mean being a nurse or a secretary is 'women's work'.
posted by Summer at 2:55 PM on May 22, 2002


However, no real work will be done because if a researcher took the question on and got the "wrong" result (i.e., as I said, a result that doesn't match up with the facts as we would like them,) it would be a career-ender. So much for freedom of thought, and so much for "believing in evolution."

Oh yes? I went through a phase of reading popular science books about evolution a couple of years ago. Many of them dealt with the evolution of sexuality and gender differences without paying lip service to political correctness. This one in particular touches on what you are talking about (see chapter six).

These books tend to be generalised theses not backed up by much human data because, as I said above, the subject is just too broad to be studied scientifically. How can you determine whether lack of aggression is what is holding someone back as opposed to something else? And then apply that on a meaningful scale? It can't really be done.
posted by Summer at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2002


fuller, let me just repeat what you actually posted least anyone actually be fooled by your backtracking above:

...the biologically possible but politically unspeakable proposition that earning differences between men and women are in part based on (and legitimized by) biological aptitude and ability differences between men and women, rather than being based purely on organized male wickedness.

so apparently while you may or may not actually believe this hypothesis, you feel that it is an argument that should be taken seriously and researched. Maybe we can give some federal grants to some scientists to research whether or not women's lower earnings are "legitimized" by their supposed biological inferiority. Maybe they just really can't learn to think like lawyers since they are biologically disposed to be irrational. Maybe they deserve to earn less money than men doing the exact same job. maybe the idea of civil rights for women is just a great big mistake because, as it turns out, their only "biological aptitude" is for cooking and cleaning and raising kids! I mean, these are just "hypothoses" and all, and they aren't necessarily true, but it's really important for, you know, the good of society that we be able to do this kind of important research without the wailing of the hair-trigger PC morons like boltman and his left-wing friends.

you're clearly an intelligent person, fuller. how can you possibly believe that your above statement is a "scientific hypothesis" rather than a moral and political belief? i don't have any problem with the theory that mens' historical subordination of women might be related to a biological proclivity for aggression. But I don't get how this "legitimizes" said subordination. I also don't understand how you can say that these aggressive tendencies demonstrate some greater "aptitude" (also a morally loaded term when left unqualified) for any socially valuable activities. To the extent that greater ruthlessness allows men to out-earn women, it demonstrates the screwed up values of our hyper-capitalist system, not some praiseworthy "aptitude" on the part of men. It certainly "legitimizes" nothing. A murderer may have genes that make him prone to aggresion but that doesn't legitimize his breaking the law.
posted by boltman at 11:19 PM on May 22, 2002


« Older The Villa Rustica in Hechingen-Stein....  |  Google says: Don't mess with M... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments