"We believe that a just-so story is simply a story, a tentative, speculative answer to a question, and, as such, a clarification of one's thinking, ideally a goad to further thought, and, not incidentally, a necessary preliminary to obtaining the kind of additional information that helps answer a question (which, in the best cases, leads to yet more queries). When that happens—when the narrative is testable and generates fact-based research—then, in a sense, it is no longer a just-so story, but science, pure and … rarely simple."
Once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, when we two authors were young and the world was so very new and all, and our children even younger, we used to take them on long car trips, during which, when we were finished with Raffi songs and Broadway musicals, we would play the Cream of Mushroom Soup game. It went like this. ...
Picture a bowl of Cream of Mushroom Soup (a staple comfort food in our family). It is composed of little glops of what are supposedly mushrooms, in a matrix of goo, vaguely resembling cream sauce. Now, discuss it from a _____ (fill in the blank) perspective, say, Marxist: How does Cream of Mushroom Soup contribute to the triumph or enslavement of the proletariat? Is it a bourgeois exploitation of the working class, or perhaps an inexpensive means to a worker's paradise? A Chicago School of Economics perspective: Cream of Mushroom Soup flourishes in a free-market economy; does it taste best there, too?
Next, describe Cream of Mushroom Soup as seen by a Platonist: Wherein lies its essential form—the glops or the goo? How would a postmodern deconstruction of Cream of Mushroom Soup compare with a Buddhist approach, which holds that the soup is made of nonsoup elements and is therefore empty of intrinsic...
David P. Barash is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and Judith Eve Lipton is a psychiatrist. Their most recent book together is How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas (Columbia University Press, 2009).
Ever since ethologists, geneticists, and ecologists joined together to create "sociobiology," more recently called "evolutionary psychology" when applied to human beings, practitioners have had to contend with the accusation that their work consists of modern-day just-so stories, imaginative accounts of how the biological world came to its current estate.... Among evolutionary biologists in particular, that can be a scathing criticism: To call something a "just-so story" is to dismiss it as unscientific moonshine.
We'd like to propose a revision. To our scientific colleagues: Let's stop running from "just-so story" as an epithet and start embracing its merits. To any nonscientist name-callers: Think again before you sign on to a supposed rebuke that isn't.
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