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July 4, 2005 7:49 AM   Subscribe


 
Someone who is neither a psychologist nor a biologist says that psychologists and biologists are wrong.
posted by orthogonality at 8:35 AM on July 4, 2005


Someone who is trained in the analysis of reasoning looks at evidence, method, and theory and notes that there are serious logical inconsistencies.
posted by carmen at 8:47 AM on July 4, 2005


Thanks for the link, daksya. It's good to see a thorough critique of evolutionary psychology from a more evolutionist perspective. However, I think it's important to bear in mind that merely coming up with plausible explanations for behavior is a pretty flawed approach to science.

For a complete explanation (and must read for evolutionary biologists), see Gould and Lewington's (1979) "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm:
A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme."

posted by estelahe at 8:55 AM on July 4, 2005


RTFA!!!

RM: What value can philosophers add to science?

DB: I have no doubt that some readers are going to say that I've brought nothing to these issues, because philosophers should stick to what they know--namely, nothing. And there's an extent to which I agree with them. Philosophy as a field is not a body of knowledge to be known. What we philosophers do get trained for is analysis of reasoning. I think philosophers can contribute quite a bit to ongoing scientific research in this respect, becausc theory and evidence aren't tightly and obviously connected to one another. Evidence usually only speaks to theory after some tortured chain of reasoning to connect the two. And it's that tortured chain of reasoning [that] philosophers are trained to look at with a critical eye.

I'm not telling the world that everything in my book is right, so everyone should stop listening to evolutionary psychologists. I propose something different: Inform yourselves. Please. Go out and read the stuff by evolutionary psychologists and read my book, then make up your own minds about what you think is right and wrong. I think people should look at both sides before deciding.

posted by trey at 9:11 AM on July 4, 2005


That was for orthogonality.
posted by trey at 9:11 AM on July 4, 2005


I am a biologist (in fact one who studies evolution) and I think you should definitely take this guy seriously.
posted by grouse at 9:49 AM on July 4, 2005


Thanks for the link, daksya. This morning, I was thinking about an argument I had with someone on Slashdot about sexual attraction in humans and its relation to reproductive fitness. My argument is that reproductive fitness has very little relationship to sexual attraction, especially in light of the massive number of data that humans are attracted to animals, objects, members of the same sex, etc. At most, reproductive fitness is a genuine but insignificant factor in the evolution of sexual attraction.

In fact, I liked the interview with Buller enough to request his book Adapating Minds using my intrastate library lending system (OhioLink).
posted by mistersquid at 10:16 AM on July 4, 2005


I would be more persuaded by his argument if it came from a young, nubile female.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:24 AM on July 4, 2005


I'm a psychologist and I think you should take this guy seriously.

In particular, he nails what I think is one of the more serious flaws in Evolutionary Psychology:

JRM:In the book you also point out the difficulty of reconstructing the ancient environment that evolutionary psychologists argue has shaped the human mind.

DB: Even by their own account, human psychology evolved for the most part to deal with human psychology, to put it crudely. You can't be specific about what the adaptive demands were on human psychology without knowing something about the way that humans minds were working then, and that's something we just don't know.


Too often, I see Evolutionary Psychologists creating "just so stories" about human behavior in the paleolithic and neolithic using circular reasoning and extremely scant evidence from the period. Modern humans inhereted certain forms of cognition from the social structures of ancestral humans. We can extrapolate the social structures of ancestral humans from contemporary cognition.

To examine how evolutionary biologists work in other fields, it took more than 150 years for the Theropods became Modern Birds theorists to collect enough evidence to make limited claims about the soft tissue structures of some dinosaur species. And much of that happened with the discovery of new fossil beds that preserved feathers and body casts.

Can I also confess to loosing respect for Pinker because of his bombastic positioning of himself as the only reasonable person in the field, built on the bodies of straw men attributed to Watson, Skinner and Gould?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:47 AM on July 4, 2005


I am a graduate student in Psychology who is enrolled in a program ripe with evolutionary psychologists and I definitely think you should take this guy seriously. Many EvPsychologists suffer from post-hoc fallacies in a major way.

KJS: I got lambasted in another post because I said that Pinker and Dawkins were too bombastic and turned me off, despite the fact that I am a believer in evolution.
posted by trey at 11:40 AM on July 4, 2005


I'm all for a sceptical approach to the EP 'project'. And there's lots of over-stated claims and spurious correlations. But no-one ever said EP was going to be easy. We can find fossils of soft tissue, and learn about dinosaur evolution, but even if we found a perfectly preserved one-million year old human brain, it would tell us very little about that human's cognitive abilities and behaviour. So we are forced to come up with 'just-so' stories and seeing if - circumstantially - they make sense. It's the only way to proceed.
posted by leebree at 12:28 PM on July 4, 2005


It's the only way to proceed.

No, it's only one way to proceed. Another way to proceed would to be only make statements that are strongly supported by evidence. This is supposed to be science, right?
posted by grouse at 12:33 PM on July 4, 2005


It's not that straightforward. Many scientists come up with their theories first, and then look for evidence to support it. with EP there are so many variables (as there are with all kinds of social science) that often the theories come first, and then they try and figure out what kind of evidence would actually support such a theory. Only then can you suppport your theory with data. Social science (for this is what EP is) is not as easy as physics.
posted by leebree at 12:43 PM on July 4, 2005


One thing that bothers me about this interview (and most other popularised evolutionary psych), is that they talk only about humans, while I think the really interesting bits of evolutionary psychology are the ideas that work across species. Of course the data will look unpersuasive and muddy when only humans are considered. When the same predictions are backed up by observations over many, or most, species, the explanations seem less like 'just-so' stories.
However I realise its unfair to have much opinion about Buller based on one interview.
posted by Zetetics at 12:53 PM on July 4, 2005


Only then can you suppport your theory with data.

If your "theory" is not supported by data, it is not a theory, it is only a hypothesis

Social science (for this is what EP is) is not as easy as physics.

Physics is easy? Anyway, perhaps the problem is that evolutionary psychology is not seen as a social science by the public. I know intelligent people who easily accept the latest evolutionary psychology result as fact, while they would be a bit more skeptical about a sociology paper, even one that was better supported by evidence.
posted by grouse at 1:07 PM on July 4, 2005


Someone who is neither a psychologist nor a biologist says that psychologists and biologists are wrong.

A jury of twelve people who are neither the accused nor murderers convicted someone of murder.
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:13 PM on July 4, 2005


I'm a graduate student in social psychology, and I think this guy deserves to be taken seriously.

That being said, I didn't think his arguments against sex differences in mate preference -- which basically amounted to "Robert Redford hasn't dumped his wife for a younger model, therefore their theory is wrong" -- were all that convincing. It's probably unfair, though, to make that kind of judgement based on two paragraphs of an interview, and I plan to read his book regardless.
posted by myeviltwin at 7:47 AM on July 5, 2005


Zetetics writes "Of course the data will look unpersuasive and muddy when only humans are considered. When the same predictions are backed up by observations over many, or most, species, the explanations seem less like 'just-so' stories."

But this is one of the unexamined assumptions of EP: human behavior and culture can be reduced to a kind of pure animality due to evolutionary ancestory, therefore human motivations can be understood in evolutionary terms by searching for correlates in the rest of the animal kingdom. Quite aside from the fact that the ability to have this argument obviates this approach, the problem is that even in straight phenotypical evolution things do not work this way. See Gould's essays on the panda thumbe, among others. To assert that we can understand humans and offer valid explanations about human behavior based on this kind of reductive reasoning-the it looks like a duck argument-is to fail to understand evolution in quite as fundamental a fashion as ID (sic) proponents do.

orthogonality must just have been tired, usually he's up for a good point for point on this kind of stuff.
posted by OmieWise at 10:18 AM on July 5, 2005


myeviltwin: That being said, I didn't think his arguments against sex differences in mate preference -- which basically amounted to "Robert Redford hasn't dumped his wife for a younger model, therefore their theory is wrong" -- were all that convincing. It's probably unfair, though, to make that kind of judgement based on two paragraphs of an interview, and I plan to read his book regardless.

I thought there was more to it than that. The argument was that if you look at mate preference over the entire lifespan, that the trend is for mates of similar age and experience, and that EvPsych people follow the media's trend towards treating "trophy brides" as representative.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:18 AM on July 5, 2005


Someone who is neither a psychologist nor a biologist says that psychologists and biologists are wrong.

Someone who is not a scientologest or a movie star saying that moviestar scientolgests are wrong!?
posted by delmoi at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2005


A great book for unpacking assumptions about primate models for human behaviour is Linda Fedigan's Primate Paradigms. Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the evolution of sex roles / gender based behaviour.
posted by carmen at 1:05 PM on July 5, 2005


But this is one of the unexamined assumptions of EP. . .

I don’t see that at all, OmieWise. It looks to me like you’re arguing against a caricature of evolutionary psychology. What you call an unexamined assumption, I’ve always seen as a central question - more like, ‘to what extent can human behaviour be illuminated through comparison with parallel or analogous behaviour in other species that share most of our evolutionary history?’ If you’re arguing that the answer is ‘to no extent whatsoever’, then I would think that is a bizarre assertion.
As I recall Gould’s essay on the panda’s thumb, I fail to see how it can be read as a refutation of evolutionary psychology. Note that even Buller appears to be arguing against a specific formulation of evolutionary psychology, not against the field itself, which he says has” been a very positive development.” He’s trying to advance the field, not shut it down.
The psychologists I’ve known with an interest in evolutionary approaches were acutely aware of the complexities involved. To compare them with proponents of intelligent design is baselessly insulting.
posted by Zetetics at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2005


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