David J. Buller is a Professor of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University (USA). He is an expert in his field, He is not a professional science journalist although he has written a book and many articles.
This is relevant because many science journalists have written favorable articles about popular evolutionary psychology. This is the field that promotes evolutionary explanations for many human behaviors. They are the classic examples of adaptationist just-so stories.
Buller has just published an article in Scientific American where he argues against these popular stories [Evolution of the Mind: 4 Fallacies of Psychology].
Here's part of what he says ...
Some evolutionary psychologists have made widely popularized claims about how the human mind evolved, but other scholars argue that the grand claims lack solid evidenceThere's nothing remarkable about this article. The majority of evolutionary biologists know full well that pop evolutionary psychology is a farce. For most biologists, it's an embarrassment.
The most notable representatives of Pop EP are psychologists David M. Buss (a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Evolution of Desire and The Dangerous Passion) and Steven Pinker (a professor at Harvard University whose books include How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate). Their popular accounts are built on the pioneering theoretical work of what is sometimes referred to as the Santa Barbara school of evolutionary psychology, led by anthropologists Donald Symons and John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides, all at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
According to Pop EP, “the human brain consists of a large collection of functionally specialized computational devices that evolved to solve the adaptive problems regularly encountered by our hunter-gatherer ancestors” (from the Web site of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at U.C.S.B.). Just as evolution by natural and sexual selection has endowed all humans with morphological adaptations such as hearts and kidneys, Pop EP says, so it has endowed all humans with a set of psychological adaptations, or “mental organs.” These include psychological mechanisms, or “functionally specialized computational devices,” for language, face recognition, spatial perception, tool use, mate attraction and retention, parental care and a wide variety of social relations, among other things. Collectively, these psychological adaptations constitute a “universal human nature.” Individual and cultural differences are, by this account, the result of our common nature responding to variable local circumstances, much as a computer program’s outputs vary as a function of its inputs. The notable exceptions to this rule involve sex differences, which evolved because males and females sometimes faced distinct adaptive problems.
Moreover, because complex adaptation is a very slow process, human nature is designed for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle led by our ancestors in the Pleistocene (the period from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago). As Cosmides and Tooby colorfully say, “our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind.” Pop EP proposes to discover our universal human nature by analyzing the adaptive problems our ancestors faced, hypothesizing the psychological mechanisms that evolved to solve them and then testing those hypotheses using standard-fare psychological evidence, such as paper-and-pencil questionnaires. Pop EP claims that a number of psychological adaptations have been discovered in this way, including evolved sex differences in mate preferences (males prefer nubility; females prefer nobility) and jealousy (men are more distressed by a mate’s sexual infidelity, women by emotional infidelity).
I believe that Pop EP is misguided. The ideas suffer not so much from one fundamental flaw as from many small mistakes. Nevertheless, recent critiques of evolutionary psychology point to some general problems of Pop EP.
The real puzzle is why most science journalists seem to be completely unaware of the controversy. They haven't been doing their job. Next time you see an article promoting the "latest discoveries" of pop evolutionary psychology look for the balance. Do you see the disclaimers questioning the relevance of the entire field? If those points aren't mentioned then you know that science journalists have not done their homework.