Thursday, October 06, 2011

Boobies and Evolutionary Psychologists

 
Robert Kurzban is a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes for a blog called Evolutionary Psychology. It is associated with an "open-access peer-reviewed journal" of the same name. Kurzban's article is about me: Boobies, Blue-footed And Otherwise.

As you might imagine, Robert Kurzban is heavily into evolutionary psychology. Here's what he says on his website.
Research, Philosophy, and Motto. Evolution gave rise to mechanisms designed to solve the bewildering array of problems that humans faced, from problems of survival to navigating the intricate strategic dynamics of the social world. Was there an adaptive problem faced by our ancestors for a substantial period of human history? If so, then, yeah, there's an adaptation for that.

Research in the lab is currently being conducted on morality, cooperation, friendship, mate choice, supernatural beliefs, modularity, self-control, and other topics.
Robert Kurzban was upset by my critique of science journalism and evolutionary psychology [Evolutionary Psychology Crap in New Scientist]. You might recall that my criticism is based on many common features of evolutionary psychology but the most important are the unwarranted assumptions that: (1) a particular specific behavior has a strong genetic component. (2) that the behavior is adaptive, and (3) that we know how our ancestors behaved.

The particular example I discussed is domestic violence and whether there has been selection in the past for alleles promoting violent behavior of men toward their wives. I discussed this in terms of the possible genetics of violence-toward-women in order to make the point that even if there was such an allele, it's adaptive value is highly questionable.

Robert Kurzban got a real bee in his bonnet over this comparison. He claims that the violence-toward-women that was adaptive was restricted to special circumstances. According to him, it's not just general violence toward women that was being selected it was violence only under special circumstances. In other words, the specific allele that Kurzban is proposing is one that cause males to only attack their mates some of the time—like when they suspect infidelity. That's correct, that's what the paper discusses even though the distinction isn't clear in the article in New Scientist.

Like it makes a difference. All that Kurzban is doing is making the genetics and the evolution more difficult by restricting the behavior to special circumstances. What he is saying is that there is an allele (or a combination of alleles) that makes men respect women most of the time but, under special circumstances, they attack their mates violently. Since these special circumstances are, presumably, rare, it becomes even more difficult to imagine what kinds of genes/alleles might be involved and how such alleles could become fixed in the population. (Especially if most males never encountered those special circumstances.)1

This is supposed to make evolutionary psychology much more acceptable?

Here's what Kurzban says,
Now suppose our hypothetical author said that because this trait, predicted to occur only in certain circumstances was not, in fact, seen all the time, then,well, there is something “seriously wrong” with the field from which the paper is drawn.
Let me try and be clear about what I said using Kurzban's terminology. What he is saying is that violent behavior toward women under certain circumstances was adaptive in our ancient ancestors. Therefore the alleles (or combination of alleles) for this behavior became fixed in the population. Therefore all modern men have this genetic tendency to act violently toward women under particular circumstances.

Most modern men do not act violently toward women under those particular circumstances even though they presumably carry the adaptive allele (or combination of alleles). It's reasonable to ask how such a behavior could be possibly adaptive enough to have been fixed in the population. It hard enough to believe this just-so story but it becomes even harder if the penetrance of the genotype is low.

Robert Kurzban seems to think that my simplified version was a serious mistake that calls into question the critique of evolutionary psychology. I think that his scenario does not rescue the field—in fact it makes it look even more ridiculous.

Kurzan also tries another defense of evolutionary psychology.
Now, finally, because the topic at hand is something with moral overtones, let’s say the author punctuated the critique with a pious remark about how siblicide is bad, bad, bad, and that the boobies who engage in it are “assholes,” and added that, hey, we can all overcome our bad, bad traits.

What kind of person would thoroughly botch an argument about a paper, condemn an entire discipline on the basis of the incorrect analysis, and then brandish their moralistic piety by condemning the behavior in question? I don’t know…some kind of Moran?
I know damn well that there's a difference between genetics/evolution and ethical behavior and anyone who reads my blog knows this. We've discussed the naturalistic fallacy and the is-ought problem many times on this blog and I've said repeatedly that I'm a big fan of Gould's position on those issues. [See The Internal Brand of the Scarlet W.]

What pisses me off is the way evolutionary psychologists turn those arguments upside down. They postulate—often without any scientific evidence—that bad behavior has a strong genetic component and that such behavior was beneficial in our ancestors. According to them, we are stuck with these alleles today even though we don't like the consequences. We all understand that possibility.

Just because it's a possibility doesn't mean it's correct. According to many evolutionary psychologists, anyone who criticizes the science must be doing so because they don't like the behavior and not because the science is bad.

It's a convenient way to avoid dealing with the real problems in evolutionary psychology.


1. Wouldn't it be nice if evolutionary psychologists could actually do some research to establish the existence of these amazing alleles and show where they map in the human genome? Heck, I'd settle for just a decent speculation on what kinds of alleles could possibly be involved.

Take this particular case as an example. There must have been a combination of alleles in our ancestors that caused men to be nice to their wives all the time. Then, 50,000 years ago, a mutation (or several mutations) arose that caused men to start beating their wives under special circumstances but to be nice to them most of the time. We have 20,000 genes. Which ones control that kind of behavior?

And if all those subtle behaviors were so strongly adaptive then how come evolution didn't fix some more serious problems like impacted wisdom teeth, hernias, susceptibility to breast cancer, and stupidity?

48 comments :

  1. It's absurd to suggest that all of our behaviors do not have a strong genetic component. But linking them to specific alleles is extremely problematic.

    I suppose that the next step for these researchers would be to demonstrate that men who abuse their wives have these alleles. You'd need some random samples of abusers, controls, etc. etc. I don't think I'll hold my breath.

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  2. It seems to me we have a general disposition to reward those who cooperate with us and punish those who betray us. That seems adaptive for a social species, so it seems reasonable to suppose that the genes that create the neurology that gives rise to that psychology was selected for.

    Sexual infidelity is a type of betrayal, it doesn't seem necessary to invoke anything more specific than that mechanism to explain why both men and women react to it with punishments that ranges from violence to more socially-approved modes such as the divorce courts.

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  3. Hmmm... all sorts of male non-human primates beat the crap out of their mates, both potential and realized, when those mates get a little on the side. This seems to be especially common in harem mating systems such as in chimpanzees. It seems many human societies had (and still have in some cases) some pretty barbaric penalties for females that stray from their spouses. The Abrahamic religions even codified these penalties. So, is the behavior genetically-determined at least in part, or is it solely cultural? Dunno, but it would be nice if those claiming it is genetically-determined AND adaptive would actually test the idea.

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  4. I have to conclude that Kurzban is either disingenuous or a moron. His objection makes no difference whatsoever. EPers feel absolutely no need to try to test their plausible-sounding tales - that is the real problem.

    Having said that, I don't see why you sound so absolutely sure that male violence has absolutely nothing to do with adaptation. Pleiotropy is ubiquitous, you know that.

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  5. It sounds like EvPsych has 'internal immunization' mechanisms, which, at least as far as I understand it, are the worst sort. Its one thing to, ad hoc, modify a theory, but another to innoculate it by its own logic against criticism, like the deflection that critics must just not like the behaviours involved.

    Also, is it necessary for EvPsych to ID the genes, or gene combos, or whatever, to be a working science? Surely any connection between genetics and behaviour is complex, given how complex the connection between genetics and phenotype is. Would it be valid to say that a particular phenotype can't be genetically based if we can't identify the genes 'for' it?

    But, even if we allow them to avoid the issue of identifying the genetic 'control', it seems like they really could be doing a helluva lot more to shore up their science. Postulating that there simply could be a situation in which a behaviour might affect fitness is a bit thin.

    Anyway, looking at Kurzban's statement that "[if there's] an adaptive problem faced by our ancestors for a substantial period of human history [then] there's an adaptation for that" kinda says it all. 'If it was possible, then it happened' he seems to be saying.

    Ever notice how many psychologists there are in evolutionary psychology, and how few geneticists there are? From Freud to Lacan to Evolutionary Psychology, you'd've thought the field've learned to be a bit more rigorous now.

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  6. Note 1 is a winner - the cherry on top of the closely-reasoned sundae that is this blog entry. Thank you for taking the time to write about this subject.

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  7. Before I give this evolutionary psychology crap a serious thought, I want to see just one article that estimates the selection coefficient of the trait they're talking about.

    If |s| !> 1/2Ne, no dice.

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  8. Devin says,

    Before I give this evolutionary psychology crap a serious thought, I want to see just one article that estimates the selection coefficient of the trait they're talking about.

    You're making a big assumption here. You're assuming that the average evolutionary psychologist knows about selection coefficients and how strong they would have to be to make their fairy tale come true.

    I've never seen a paper from the evolutionary psychology literature that gives us any details about how their adaptation scenarios might actually work in our ancestors. I suspect that's because they don't understand evolution.

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  9. snot-nosed kid says,

    So, is the behavior genetically-determined at least in part, or is it solely cultural? Dunno, but it would be nice if those claiming it is genetically-determined AND adaptive would actually test the idea.

    But that would be science and evolutionary psychologists seem to avoid doing real science. They prefer to just assume that their model is correct and look for good stories to "confirm " it.

    Robert Kurzban's website is a good example of that. A scientist would write ....

    We are interested in testing whether certain human behaviors have a strong genetic component and, if so, whether the behavior is adaptive. If the answers to those question are "yes" then we'd like to do some work to find out when such traits might have evolved.

    We are collaborating with geneticists to identify potential adaptive behavior alleles and to see if there's any evidence of a selective sweep of the corresponding region of the genome.


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  10. Don't just heap the blame on Evolutionary Psychologists for making appalling conclusions about primate sexual coercion. You can trace it back to shoddy work by primatologists such as Richard Wrangham--who makes functionalist claims about chimpanzee violence without ever estimating a selection coefficient. It beggars belief why people take these claims about non-human primates at all seriously--setting aside the inferences made about humans.

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  11. Following on socialscience’s comment… Why are you singling out EP, rather than all adaptationist approaches to behaviour? Journals like Animal Behaviour continue to publish “scientific” articles in which a claim about the function of behavior is “tested” with experiments, without running any genetic tests or reporting which candidate alleles are involved. That’s all crap too, right? You can’t test a hypothesis about the function of some behaviour without genetic data, whether it’s humans or hyenas… Right? Please take some time to explain to your readers how animal behaviour researchers aren’t really scientists, either.

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  12. anonymous asks,

    Why are you singling out EP, rather than all adaptationist approaches to behaviour?

    Hmmm ... I think I've attacked all sorts of adaptationist thinking whether it has to do with behavior or not. Did you miss that?

    The difference between real science and evolutionary psychology is that within science there are open discussions about the misuse of the adaptationist program. Critiques of just-so stories are common and there's even a few very famous papers in evolutionary biology that discuss the issues.

    We don't see any of that in evolutionary psychology. All of the criticism is from the outside. It seems like all evolutionary psychologists rise to the defense of even the most silly adaptationist just-so stories.

    Does anyone have an example of an evolutionary psychologist who criticizes their colleagues for the lack of scientific rigour?

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  13. Are evolutionary psycholgists the chiropractors of the humanities?

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  14. Does anyone have an example of an evolutionary psychologist who criticizes their colleagues for the lack of scientific rigour?

    Obviously there is an advantage to evolutionary psychologists NOT criticizing their colleagues. The selective advantage was so strong that alleles associated with it reached fixation wit extreme rapidity. Hmm, maybe I should flush this idea out and submit it to a peer reviewed journal like Evolutionary Psychology

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  15. Origin of Species has no mention of specific alleles or estimates of selection coefficients, so I guess Darwin didn't understand evolution or how to think about the functions of adaptations...
    The evolved function of a behavior is not demonstrated by finding a single underlying allele. (Indeed, finding the relevant genetic sequences would only beg the question--What FUNCTION promoted the success of these alleles? A question which requires looking outside of the organism, not inside it's genome)
    The evolved function of a behavior is indicated by it's articulate complexity, specifically in the mapping of sensory inputs to well-organized behavior. Functional hypotheses are tested by examining the fit between the structure of a behavior to a hypothesized adaptive problem.
    Evolution by natural selection is the only known physical causal process that can generate complex, functional systems such as the eye, kin altruism mechanisms, or kin aggression mechanisms.
    Hence, when a biologist observes complexly organized behavior, candidate explanations come from possible functions which produce that behavior either directly, or as a byproduct of performing some other function.
    *Some* genetic basis can be inferred from the complexity of the trait, but the specifics of those genes need not be of great interest... particularly because our current understanding of how genes contribute to complex traits--whether behavioral or anatomical--is so poor. We know so little about this that it is hardly time to speculate about what is or is not plausible when it comes to the genetic basis of complex traits.
    The quality of thought on this blog by both the author and commenters is surprisingly shallow... do you really think the way to understand evolved traits is to map them one by one to genes? Again, though this would be interesting, it would only beg the question about the causal processes that selected for the genes/behaviors. For that you need to look at adaptive problems.

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  16. All that Kurzban is doing is making the genetics and the evolution more difficult by restricting the behavior to special circumstances.

    Or what he could be doing is presenting what the actual argument is, in light of you botching it as badly as you did in your first post.

    What he is saying is that there is an allele (or a combination of alleles) that makes men respect women most of the time but, under special circumstances, they attack their mates violently.

    Respecting women (where's the allele(s) for that?) does not equal "not hitting", but let's get to the meat of that criticism:

    Under most circumstances, people will walk in a straight path. Under special circumstances - such as when an object is in the way - they will alter their path and move around the object instead of walking straight into it.

    Now, tell me, where's the allele (or combination of alleles) that make people walk straight most times, but under special circumstances make them move around objects? How did alleles for not blindly stepping into objects become relatively fixed in the population (after all, you have no insight into what our ancestors could have been like; maybe they did walk straight into trees and rocks)?

    What he is saying is that violent behavior toward women under certain circumstances was adaptive in our ancient ancestors.

    Under most circumstances, people are not violent towards each other. Under special circumstances - such as when one is personally being physically attacked - people will (tend to) become violent towards their attacker.

    Now, tell me, where's the allele (or combination of alleles) that make people non-violent generally, but under special circumstances make them behave aggressively? How could that have become "fixed" in the population, especially if fights were rare?

    Most modern men do not act violently toward women under those particular circumstances even though they presumably carry the adaptive allele (or combination of alleles).

    Those particular circumstances meaning....? (probability of infidelity, distance of kin or allies, investment in relationship, seeing it on TV... what?)
    You're assuming only one potential module (or allele, or combination of alleles) has a say in the outcome because....?

    I know damn well that there's a difference between genetics/evolution and ethical behavior and anyone who reads my blog knows this.

    Most people also know that hitting inanimate objects or yelling at them won't do any good, but they do it anyway. Just because you "know" it, doesn't mean your behavior is completely unaffected by it.

    Of course, I'm sure you're in the top percentages of the population of those who say they are unaffected by bias, just like the majority of other people.

    They postulate—often without any scientific evidence—that bad behavior has a strong genetic component and that such behavior was beneficial in our ancestors.

    As we all know, children do not resemble parents and twins do not resemble each other in any traits - especially the bad ones - above random chance. Right?

    According to many evolutionary psychologists, anyone who criticizes the science must be doing so because they don't like the behavior and not because the science is bad.

    Many? Must be? Source? I'll wait...

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  17. Jesse Marczyk says,

    Now, tell me, where's the allele (or combination of alleles) that make people walk straight most times, but under special circumstances make them move around objects? How did alleles for not blindly stepping into objects become relatively fixed in the population (after all, you have no insight into what our ancestors could have been like; maybe they did walk straight into trees and rocks)?

    Thank-you for providing such an excellent example of how evolutionary psychologists think about genetics and evolution.

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  18. I think your interpretation detector is stuck on "literal". Think hard, let it swirl around for a minute, and ask yourself "is this how this man actually thinks, or is he trying to make some other point?"

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  19. Jesse Marczyk says,

    Think hard, let it swirl around for a minute, and ask yourself "is this how this man actually thinks, or is he trying to make some other point?"

    Not to worry. I've read a great deal of what you've posted on various blogs and I have a pretty good idea how you think and what points you think you're making.

    It's not pretty.

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  20. This blog entry should be renamed the following:

    When biochemists try to do brain/psychological science...failure and embarrassment often ensues


    We have 20,000 genes. Which ones control that kind of behavior?

    This is not a strong counterpoint to evolutionary psychology; you're greatly oversimplifying genetics. See Gary Marcus' excellent book 'The Birth of the Mind' for a clear overview of developmental neurogenetics.


    Most modern men do not act violently toward women under those particular circumstances even though they presumably carry the adaptive allele (or combination of alleles).

    So what? Your assertion is predicated on false assumptions of how evolved, modular cognitive adaptations develop ontogenetically and proximally operate algorithmically/computationally.


    And if all those subtle behaviors were so strongly adaptive then how come evolution didn't fix some more serious problems like impacted wisdom teeth, hernias, susceptibility to breast cancer, and stupidity?

    You assume that problems pertaining to wisdom teeth would -- supposing we even grant the perhaps arguable assumption that they would have any bearing on fitness in the first place -- be on a par with the impact on genetic fitness that investing in non-biological offspring would leave.

    Reports of evolved cognitive systems subserving facultative male mate-retention being "hard to believe" are greatly exaggerated.

    Indeed, cuckoldry would have been of the utmost important outcomes for evolution to have tracked; hence selection pressure for the evolution of modular cognitive systems sensitive to various cues indexing potential cuckoldry risk are in fact a quite reasonable hypothesis to make on Darwinian grounds -- all the more so given the evidence now available to support it.

    Here's a hint: Ancestral males that never responded to cues of cuckoldry risk are not our ancestors because those that were inattentive to such things were outreproduced and replaced by those that were. Differential fitness.

    You also fail to acknowledge evolutionary psychology as a much-needed heuristic for hypothesis-generation and empirical investigation into the architecture of the human mind, a heuristic that has already unveiled design features of the mind that would have been all but invisible without it.

    Such research is uncovering the potential design features of male jealously, which has evolved in response to very real threats to male fitness over human evolutionary time.

    The Gouldian canard about "just-so stories" is more myth than it is substantive critique. Those that chant its slogan only betray their underlying ignorance of that which they direct their ire toward.

    Your blog entries on this issue demonstrate a large ignorance of evolutionary psychology and cognitive science, inter alia, to say nothing of the philosophy of science.

    I'd humbly recommend you stick to biochemistry so as to not make the mistake of broadcasting your ignorance of other fields over the internet.

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  21. Thank you Larry for your incisive debunking of all the evolutionary psychology pseudo science. It has made my day.

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  22. Nietzsche says,

    "Nietzsche"? I assume you're one of those people who prefer to attack others behind the protection of anonymity? Do evolutionary psychologists have a nice "just-so" story about the adaptive value of cowardice?

    This blog entry should be renamed the following:

    When biochemists try to do brain/psychological science...failure and embarrassment often ensues


    Actually I was thinking of the following title: When evolutionary psychologists try to do evolutionary biology ... failure and embarrassment often ensues.

    Doesn't that seem much better? I'm pretty knowledgeable about evolution and that's the basis of my criticism of evolutionary psychology.

    So what? Your assertion is predicated on false assumptions of how evolved, modular cognitive adaptations develop ontogenetically and proximally operate algorithmically/computationally.

    You really don't know what you're talking about, do you? Do you have any idea how evolution works—especially rapid adaptation?

    You assume that problems pertaining to wisdom teeth would -- supposing we even grant the perhaps arguable assumption that they would have any bearing on fitness in the first place -- be on a par with the impact on genetic fitness that investing in non-biological offspring would leave.

    I was suggesting that as a possibility in order to get evolutionary psychologists to start defending their assumptions. It's interesting that you question whether death by impacted wisdom teeth (and infection) is detrimental or not but you never question whether certain bahaviors have a genetic component and are adaptive.

    That's very strange.

    Indeed, cuckoldry would have been of the utmost important outcomes for evolution to have tracked; hence selection pressure for the evolution of modular cognitive systems sensitive to various cues indexing potential cuckoldry risk are in fact a quite reasonable hypothesis to make on Darwinian grounds -- all the more so given the evidence now available to support it.

    Here's a hint: Ancestral males that never responded to cues of cuckoldry risk are not our ancestors because those that were inattentive to such things were outreproduced and replaced by those that were. Differential fitness.


    Do you have any idea how silly this sounds to someone who's knowledgeable about science and evolution?

    Here's a hint. Women who mate with men outside of marriage are very successful at leaving descendants. Men who mate with other men's wives also have descendants.

    You have no idea about mating behavior in our ancestors. You don't even know if they formed life-long pair bonds. Maybe it was common and acceptable for men to mate with many women and vice versa.

    All of your just-so stories are based on a variety of unsupported assumptions about genetics, evolution, and ancient societies. That's not science.

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  23. It's always shocking to discover how evolutionary psychologists completely miss the point of the criticisms of their field.

    Nietzsche says,

    The Gouldian canard about "just-so stories" is more myth than it is substantive critique. Those that chant its slogan only betray their underlying ignorance of that which they direct their ire toward.

    I've seen many evolutionary psychologists mouth similar words. I've never seen an evolutionary psychologist demonstrate that he/she actually understands the issue and can defend the ultra-adaptationist behavior of evolutionary psychologists.

    Your blog entries on this issue demonstrate a large ignorance of evolutionary psychology and cognitive science, inter alia, to say nothing of the philosophy of science.

    I'm addressing evolution and how evolutionary psychologists misuse and misunderstand it. I'm confident that I understand evolution better than they do.

    I'm not an expert on the philosophy of science. Are you?

    I'd humbly recommend you stick to biochemistry so as to not make the mistake of broadcasting your ignorance of other fields over the internet.

    I'll stick to my fields, which are evolution, molecular biology, and genetics. When people say stupid things about those topics, I'll call them on it.

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  24. It's true that there are certain parties in these debates who claim to be experts in fields they know nothing about. We've already had plenty of discussion about the most prominent guilty parties.

    It's the evolutionary psychologists, who repeatedly prove that they don't know bugger all about evolution.

    The Central Failure of Evolutionary Psychology
    Evolutionary Psychologists in Action
    Making Rudyard Kipling Proud
    Evolutionary Psychology: The Capacity for Religion
    Pop Evolutionary Psychology
    Changing Your Mind About Evolutionary Psychology
    Shopping Is a Throwback to the Days of Cavewomen
    Why Evolutionary Psychology Is False
    The Great, Profound, and Valuable Works of Evolutionary Psychology
    Why Dads Can't Dance
    Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology
    The Bankruptcy of Evolutionary Psychology
    The Problem with Evolutionary Psychology

    I have yet to see a single evolutionary psychologist demonstrate that they understand evolution well enough to defend their claims.

    Please let me know if you ever find such a person.

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  25. You have no idea about mating behavior in our ancestors. You don't even know if they formed life-long pair bonds. Maybe it was common and acceptable for men to mate with many women and vice versa.

    Extant hunter-gatherers taken as an aggregate provide us with a good approximation of ancestral lifestyles.

    Such groups living today also have lifestyles which are disparate on a number of different variables, so indeed we have reason to expect that the underyling cognitive architecture subserving mating behavior evolved in response to these socioecological contingencies, which would bear on fitness.

    This is why ethnographies and data compiled by evolutionary anthropologists are an invaluable resource for evolutionary psychology.

    Be mindful that both evolutionary psychologists and behavioral ecologists alike postulate richly facultative responses -- behavioral ecologists/Darwinian anthropologists rely heavily on life history theory to frame such behavioral phenomena, whereas evolutionary psychologists couch such contingencies at the level of adaptive algorithmic processes instantiated in neurocognitive modules.

    Nowhere in my reply did I assert that humans, either ancestral or contemporary hunter-gatherers, formed life-long pair-bonds exclusively.

    What you are attempting to do is engage in both naive anthropology and psychology, a priori from the arm chair.

    And you're the one accusing evolutionary psychologists of "just-so stories" and "unsupported assumptions?"

    That said, we can safely say that our ancestors did engage in long-term pair bonds at least under certain conditions.

    If we knew about no other facts, the pan-cultural existence of romantic love and jealousy alone are strongly suggestive of it.

    Moreover, one of the most prolific and compelling set of research programs within the evolutionary psychology of mating has been on short-term versus long-term mating strategies, including a wealth of empirical discoveries documenting how women's mating preferences actually fluctuate on the basis of the phase in their menstrual cycle that they happen to be in: during the fertile window of the late follicular phase where the probability of conception is maximal -- roughly between days 7 to 12 -- women exhibit enhanced preferences for a number of different traits, such as facial masculinity, behavioral dominance, deeper voices, and various other signals of good genes.

    There is even evidence that these preferences are more pronounced in women whose current partner is low in overall genetic quality.

    The risk of cuckoldry is real and happens to some men. Do not assume that there has been no adaptive response to it in males.

    By contrast, during women's non-fertile luteal phase, preferences for 'good dad' indicators are enhanced. These are only a handful of examples, mind you.

    Such discoveries, aside from evincing every indication of adaptive design and thus contributing to a cumulative case, are in fact mutually-supportive of the work that you are critiquing in this blog post.

    Unfortunately, as an ignorantly indignant critic you apparently are unaware of such findings.

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  26. All of your just-so stories are based on a variety of unsupported assumptions about genetics, evolution, and ancient societies. That's not science.

    Actually it is you making the ill-founded assumptions about genetics.

    By your reasoning about the dearth of genes, evolutionary biologists should be signaling the crisis alarm at the great similarity between the chimpanzee and human genomes.

    Whence in the genome do our stark interspecific differences come from, Larry?

    Yet of course no evolutionary biologists worry about such things, because they do not harbor your comic book caricatures of molecular genetics and developmental neurogenetics, inter alia.

    I've already recommended you have a look at Gary Marcus' fine book, which will correct your misconceptions (unless of course you're pulling a sorry Gould/Lewontin technique and willfully distorting the issues vis-a-vis evolutionary psychology).



    I've seen many evolutionary psychologists mouth similar words. I've never seen an evolutionary psychologist demonstrate that he/she actually understands the issue and can defend the ultra-adaptationist behavior of evolutionary psychologists.

    "Ultra-adaptationist behavior?"

    You're assuming that evolutionary psychologists just crank out explanations while lounging on the couch.

    Surely you're aware that hypotheses are empirically tested, right? Or do you prefer to snipe media portrayals of the field and rest easy that you've vanquished straw man caricatures?

    Did you miss the point about the heuristic value of adaptationist thinking for inquiry into the architecture of the human mind?

    Are you aware of various phenomena and research programs within evolutionary psychology which feature competing evolutionary hypotheses, including hypotheses that fall under the rubric of spandrels/by-products?

    Are you aware of the tricky issue of optimality assumptions in adaptationist research? That is, the notion that one must be mindful of balancing optimality assumptions against the panoply of constraints that might hold in any given case.

    Accusing Darwinian psychologists of "ultra-adaptationist behavior" is really just akin to using the hackneyed phrase of 'genetic determinism'.

    I will also say that if you are relying on the writings of Gould for your understanding of adaptationism, optimality, and constraint, you will unfortunately be gaining a very unbalanced treatment of such matters.

    If you're interested I can cite additional material to help expand your understanding (a prospect which you should embrace if you really take yourself to be an open-minded and impartial scientist).


    I'm addressing evolution and how evolutionary psychologists misuse and misunderstand it. I'm confident that I understand evolution better than they do.

    Well, actually no, Larry, you're not "addressing evolution and how evolutionary psychologists misuse and misunderstand it."

    Aside from your patent ignorance of fields like evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and neurogenetics, what you are in fact doing is attempting to make methodological and epistemological arguments about adaptationism and psychological science.

    For one thing, adaptationist reasoning is employed in evolutionary biology without regard to any of the considerations you highlight, and which you take to be desiderata for their acceptance.

    Recall George Williams' canonical treatment of adaptationist criteria.

    Furthermore, you are attempting to legislate what should count as good methodology and epistemology in the sciences of mind (i.e., evolutionary psychology), particularly as neo-Darwinism might apply to it.

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  27. I'm not an expert on the philosophy of science. Are you?

    What counts as good science cannot be derived from first-principles. This is pretty much an emerging consensus amongst contemporary philosophers of science, who now view what's known as the 'demarcation problem' in terms of a cluster of epistemic virtues, neither one of these epistemic virtues being individually necessary or sufficient for a discipline, field, or theory to count as genuinely scientific.

    Rather, something counts as genuinely scientific to the extent to which it jointly incorporates these factors.

    There is also the related issue of what's dubbed 'inference to the best explanation'.

    By your criteria it would be illicit to employ adaptationist reasoning in order to conclude that the function of eyes are for seeing.

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  28. Nietzsche asks,

    Whence in the genome do our stark interspecific differences come from, Larry?

    I might surprise you to learn that real scientists are working on this problem. It should be possible to learn what mutations are responsible for the differences between chimps and humans.

    The techniques they employ involve genetics, molecular biology, and genomes.

    Isn't it strange that evolutionary psychologists aren't doing similar experiments to find out whether certain genes (alleles) influence specific behavior?

    "Ultra-adaptationist behavior?"

    You're assuming that evolutionary psychologists just crank out explanations while lounging on the couch.


    Yes. When it comes to evolutionary just-so stories, that's exactly what they seem to be doing.

    Surely you're aware that hypotheses are empirically tested, right? Or do you prefer to snipe media portrayals of the field and rest easy that you've vanquished straw man caricatures?

    No, I'm not aware that their hypotheses are empirically tested. Can you point me to the papers that identify specific alleles for violence-against-women-under-special-circumstances? Can you point me to the papers that show such behavior confers a selective advantage? Can you point me to the papers showing how such alleles could have become fixed in ancient humans in a short period of time? Have any experiments been done to show what kind of selective coefficients are necessary and how many genes (alleles) might contribute to the behavior? (A simple computer model would suffice.)

    Well, actually no, Larry, you're not "addressing evolution and how evolutionary psychologists misuse and misunderstand it."

    Yes, I am.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Nietzsche says,

    There is also the related issue of what's dubbed 'inference to the best explanation'.

    Inference can be good but it's no substitute for evidence.

    The biggest problem your discipline faces is not in making up good explanations. It's making up good questions.

    You assume that a certain behavior is (mostly) controlled by certain alleles, but you have no evidence to back up that assumption. You assume that the behavior you're interested in is beneficial, but you have no evidence to back up that assumption. You assume that selection occurred in our ancient ancestors, but you have very little evidence that they behaved and thought the way you claim.

    You may develop a good story (inference) based on all these assumptions but what's the point?

    ReplyDelete
  30. I was just reading V.S.Ramachandran's account of how he came up with a just-so story "explaining" why "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" as a satire on Evo Psych and sent it to a journal to see what would happen. To his surprise they published it. His account of this is in his book Phantoms in the Brain.

    ReplyDelete
  31. N:
    "That said, we can safely say that our ancestors did engage in long-term pair bonds at least under certain conditions[...]The risk of cuckoldry is real and happens to some men. Do not assume that there has been no adaptive response to it in males."
    If its safe to say what the conditions of our remote ancestors were, and sage to say the some (sufficiently 'some' to make a difference) men get cuckold, and we can also assume that there's an adaptive response....what else is there for EP to do? What else can it do? Seems like nothing, its assumed itself out of existence.

    N:
    "Moreover, one of the most prolific and compelling set of research programs within the evolutionary psychology of mating has been on short-term versus long-term mating strategies, including a wealth of empirical discoveries documenting how women's mating preferences actually fluctuate on the basis of the phase in their menstrual cycle that they happen to be in"
    IS this even evolutionary psychology? You've got a state, and a psychological preference. And, what, you're assuming that this psychological preference is largely controlled by a genetic system that came to be in modern humans? Without demonstrating it? Isn't the 'demonstrating it' part what EP /should/ be about?

    N:
    "What counts as good science cannot be derived from first-principles. This is pretty much an emerging consensus amongst contemporary philosophers of science, who now view what's known as the 'demarcation problem' in terms of a cluster of epistemic virtues, "
    Larry Laudan is not the end of philosophy of science, and if EP was more Popperian, EVEN IF its 'incomplete', it would probably be better off.
    Anyway, its probably more of a distraction than anything, whether EP lies outside the demarcation or whether it fails to employ a 'cluster of epistemic virtues' isn't too important in the end. No one is saying that its garbage via fiat.

    N:
    "Extant hunter-gatherers taken as an aggregate provide us with a good approximation of ancestral lifestyles."
    Says who? And when did the genetic system that strongly influences psychology arise, in early modern humans, for whom modern hunter-gatherers might be a good approximation (and just what are the rates of monogamy, cukcoldry and spousal abuse in those societies? If you're in a small inbred band, how important is being made a cuckold?), or in quite pre-human chimp societies? Or has 'having horns' been a problem ever since we were shrews?


    N:
    "Ancestral males that never responded to cues of cuckoldry risk are not our ancestors because those that were inattentive to such things were outreproduced and replaced by those that were. Differential fitness."

    Isn't this the ENTIRE issue? Moran says 'demonstrate the differential' and EP says 'duh, its obviously differential'. Doesn't this make an outsider's acceptance of EP dependant on the authority of the person going 'duh'?
    Cuckoos cuckold (have to wonder if there's an etymological relationship there) other birds. Does that mean Cuckoos are super birds that wipe out their hosts, and just move from species host to host over time? How would we study the incidence and dynamics of Cuckoo and Cuckoo'ed in a population?
    Stewie voice: "Measure some fitness values maybe? Gather some evidence perhaps? Engage in a properly constituted field study while empirically testing our assumptions against a null hypothesis?"

    ReplyDelete
  32. Schenck:

    Says who? And when did the genetic system that strongly influences psychology arise, in early modern humans, for whom modern hunter-gatherers might be a good approximation (and just what are the rates of monogamy, cukcoldry and spousal abuse in those societies?

    Like Moran, by your reasoning it would be illicit to conclude that, at a very coarse grain of analysis, the function of human legs are for locomotion unless one can specify exactly when the "genetic system" influencing the function arose.

    (By the ludicrous standards set by Moran, he should flatly deny the functioning of human legs -- or any trait for that matter -- until one can show him the alleles subserving that function. There is much in evolutionary biology and other sciences that would be unscientific by his bizarre standards.)


    IS this even evolutionary psychology? You've got a state, and a psychological preference. And, what, you're assuming that this psychological preference is largely controlled by a genetic system that came to be in modern humans? Without demonstrating it? Isn't the 'demonstrating it' part what EP /should/ be about?

    Is the fact that behavior geneticists have demonstrated general intelligence to be highly heritable invalid because they haven't "demonstrated" where the "genetic system" resides in the genome, presumably its complete molecular-genetic architecture and all relevant alleles both across and within populations?

    Such examples are too numerous to list -- you can replace behavior geneticists and general intelligence with other scientists and analagous traits, mutatis mutandis.

    I hope you see the absurdity in the claims that you're making here and the double-standard of expecting evolutionary psychologists to deliver what other scientists don't (and which in no way impugns their science either).

    There is no one set pattern of mating in either extant hunter-gatherers or people in modern societies, and therein lies something which evolutionary psychologists are fully cognizant about and indeed have discovered through empirical investigation of mating psychology: The evolved architecture of mating is very much contingent to a manifold of relevant variables.

    Things are much more complex than Moran would like his blog readers to believe, based on his facile understanding of the discipline.

    Also, there is data from contemporary societies demonstrating that extra-pair paternity rates exist in the range of about %3 to as high as at least %20, depending on the particular society. Cuckoldry exists.

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  33. Schenck:

    Off the top of my head, I also know that Steven Platek and colleagues have found evidence that males respond to questions geared to assess how they would hypothetically allocate resources and time to experimentally manipulated images of infants and children.

    Shockingly, they have found that men preferentially make such allocations to infants whose facial appearance most resembles their own -- and they do so unwitting that such images most resemble their own faces.

    This is evidence in favor of the hypothesis that there exists cognitive systems subserving parental investment decision making, in light of the ubiquity of paternal uncertainty.

    Platek and the late Davendra Singh have also found that these effects light up specific areas of the brain in their functional MRI experiments.

    These are just a couple of examples of how many lines of independent evidence can demonstrate adaptive design features and hence lend increasing cumulative support to specific evolutionary hypotheses.

    These are in fact predictions made antecedently on theoretical grounds as well. Indeed, some Bayesians also argue that the posterior probability of a given hypothesis scales with the ability to make independently successful predictions about various phenomena -- which is often the case in evolutionary psychology.

    (Other theoretical and metatheoretical orientations within psychology are unable to make such predictions -- indeed such phenomena is often completely invisible from a predictive point-of-view.)


    Stewie voice: "Measure some fitness values maybe? Gather some evidence perhaps? Engage in a properly constituted field study while empirically testing our assumptions against a null hypothesis?"

    Sure, but you're still making a lot of assumptions here. Evolutionary psychologists have argued on theoretical and empirical grounds that one cannot simply and straightforwardly apply models used within behavioral ecology to human reproduction.

    Indeed, one cannot even assume such measures are valid means to assess reproductive success in any non-human species whose current environment deviates from their environment of evolutionary adaptedness.

    For one thing, there are factors within modern societies, particularly contraception, which foil any simple attempt at measuring reproductive outcomes via 'counting babies', to say nothing of the issues surrounding the much talked about 'demographic transition'.

    Mind you, there is data gathered by evolutionary anthropologists that support evolutionary-psychological theories; but of course those ignorant of the field wouldn't know this.

    By far the great majority of critics of evolutionary psychology are unaware of the theoretical underpinnings and fine points of the discipline -- they just read media reports or imbibe ignorant hear-say and form conclusions on such impoverished bases.

    I'm always amused by those who believe themselves qualified to confidently jump in and claim an entire field baseless without any training or knowledge of it (e.g. Larry Moran). Just like those creationists that claim evolution is "just a theory," "bad science."

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  34. Larry says,

    I might surprise you to learn that real scientists are working on this problem. It should be possible to learn what mutations are responsible for the differences between chimps and humans.

    Larry, I'm completely aware of that. My point is that you need not map out the molecular-genetics of cognitive or behavioral traits to know that there must be such differences.

    Perhaps it seems rather surprising from your vantage point as a biochemist; but in fact higher-level facts can actually dictate what we must find at the lower-levels: cognitive scientists, for example, can tell cognitive neuroscientists what to look for, indeed what they must find in many cases. (Many scientists have made this point.)

    Interspecific differences betweeen chimps and humans are observed; and their existence is not contingent on any of us antecedently identifying the "alleles" or "mutations" that explain them.

    I would think that the very fact that much of the differences are now strongly thought to implicate complicated developmental dynamics like those orchestrated by cis-regulatory regions of the genome, amongst other things, should give you serious pause before you presume simple-minded citations of the number of genes or facile notions of Mendelian mappings of alleles with traits.


    No, I'm not aware that their hypotheses are empirically tested.

    Does the moon disappear when nobody is looking at it? Does evolution become false when Intelligent Designers ignorantly assert that it is not supported?

    Similarly, does the vast and ever-growing empirical literature in evolutionary psychology, replete with hypothesis testing, disappear simply because Larry Moran is ignorant of it?


    Can you point me to the papers that identify specific alleles for violence-against-women-under-special-circumstances?

    Can you point me to the papers that identify specific alleles for male urination, a species-typical adaptation for excreting liquid waste? Or any other such traits?

    And if not...perhaps everyone is unlicensed in making such presumptuous conclusions about adaptations.

    I fully expect you to write a blog entry denouncing various scientists for engaging in crappy science for not having met your very quaint epistemic and methodological standards.


    P.S. Coincidentally, I also reside in Toronto. If you want I might be able to give you a Starbucks seminar on the basics and foundational precepts of evolutionary psychology (so long as you're buying my latte, that is).

    ReplyDelete
  35. Nietzche writes:

    Platek and the late Davendra Singh have also found that these effects light up specific areas of the brain in their functional MRI experiments.

    Are there experiments in which a repeated specific stimulus does not "light up specific areas of the brain" on fMRI scans?

    ReplyDelete
  36. Are there experiments in which a repeated specific stimulus does not "light up specific areas of the brain" on fMRI scans?

    Hell, even dad salmon can light up in an fMRI scan.

    http://prefrontal.org/files/posters/Bennett-Salmon-2009.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  37. Nietzsche writes:
    Platek and the late Davendra Singh have also found that these effects light up specific areas of the brain in their functional MRI experiments.

    Jud writes:
    Are there experiments in which a repeated specific stimulus does not "light up specific areas of the brain" on fMRI scans?

    This whole conversation is hilarious, but this actually made me chortle aloud. It seems that every time he tries to defend the scientific merit of ev-psych, it just comes back to demonstrating its vacuity.

    ReplyDelete
  38. N:
    "it would be illicit to conclude that, at a very coarse grain of analysis, the function of human legs are for locomotion unless one can specify exactly when the "genetic system" influencing the function arose.
    "
    I think you're mixing things up here. we know that legs exist, we don't need to debate that, and they clearly function for movement. When its not obvious what's going on, we need to be more rigorous, and that's going to be the case most of the time. But what you're mixing up here is the function and whether it improves fitness. We don't need to go a genetic study of the development of legs in order to study the fitness of legs.

    N:
    "Is the fact that behavior geneticists have demonstrated general intelligence to be highly heritable invalid because they haven't "demonstrated" where the "genetic system" resides in the genome"

    But the problem is that EP hasn't demonstrated that these things exist and are inheritable in the first place. If Behaviourists have /demonstated/ that general intelligence is inheritable, then that's all well and good and why can't EPers do the same with 'domestic violence' and the like? Why don't they bother?

    N:
    "There is no one set pattern of mating in either extant hunter-gatherers or people in modern societies"
    If you're not saying that monogamy is the standard going back a very long time, then, at least on this issue, you've got even more problems. We could see before how, at least /given/ monogamy and a 'good' incidence of cuckoldry, anti-cuckoldry-mechanisms would probably be adaptive (and what the hell is that really saying in the end anyway?).

    N:
    "Things are much more complex than Moran would like his blog readers to believe, based on his facile understanding of the discipline."
    I really think that if I were an EPer, and a person that really understand biochemistry and genetics and evolution, as well as Prof. Moran does, I would /seriously/ consider his criticisms and try to implement them.

    N:
    "lso, there is data from contemporary societies demonstrating that extra-pair paternity rates exist in the range of about %3 to as high as at least %20, depending on the particular society. Cuckoldry exists."
    Ah, now we start to move into data. Next would be attempting to asses the affects on an individual's fitness given different rates of cuckoldry in different socio-cultural settings.
    Not merely saying 'it'd be detrimental to not beat your wife since she's prolly a cheater'.

    N:
    "This is evidence in favor of the hypothesis that there exists cognitive systems subserving parental investment decision making, in light of the ubiquity of paternal uncertainty. "
    Sounds more like people don't want to feed other people's children, not that there's an inborn psychological mechanism to seek out and attack the results of an affair.

    N:
    "latek and the late Davendra Singh have also found that these effects light up specific areas of the brain in their functional MRI experiments."
    This is really saying nothing more than that psychology has a strong basis in biology.

    N:
    " Indeed, some Bayesians also argue that the posterior probability of a given hypothesis scales with the ability to make independently successful predictions about various phenomena -- which is often the case in evolutionary psychology. "
    Positivism fell out of favour in the early 20th century, this, btw, is the 21st.
    Regardless, the whole idea hings on whats a successful prediction. Astrology, according to astrology, makes excellent predictions. Even the people that utilize astrology say it works. So EP saying EP works isn't terribly meaningful, and EP having a stiff reaction to criticism from a person in what /should/ be a closely allied field, seems more meaningful.
    Maybe instead of positivism EP should look to Sir Karl and survive some refutation attempts.

    ReplyDelete
  39. part 2

    N:
    "Indeed, one cannot even assume such measures are valid means to assess reproductive success in any non-human species whose current environment deviates from their environment of evolutionary adaptedness. "
    While obviously every theory or research programme should be allowed some ad hoc reformulations to deal with challenges, this sounds a little bit too much like internal immunization. SOMEWHERE the field has to set things up so that if it falls, we can see it fall.
    N:
    "For one thing, there are factors within modern societies, particularly contraception, which foil any simple attempt at measuring reproductive outcomes via 'counting babies', to say nothing of the issues surrounding the much talked about 'demographic transition'. "
    Doesn't that just argue against using 'modern' societies for field research? How much does cuckoldry affect a person's reproductive success in modern hunter-gatherer societies? This can be studied, why aren't EPers studying this? Finding a 'wife beating gene' is a stretch, but lets remember that EPers /are/ in fact saying that these things exist and that we can quantify their effects. Going back to the legs issue, we can study the genetics of limb formation, and its been studied in a lot of detail. Why aren't EPers at least starting to do this? Now obviously I'm not going to indict all of EP, but the more I hear about it, from its advocates even, the less it sounds like a viable science. Instead of modern psychiatry it sounds like freudian psychology, for example.

    What Prof. Moran is talking about is the sort of thing that EP needs to do, it needs to get the 'evolutionary' part tacked down quite a bit more.

    Also, on the 'history/philosophy of science' side of things, I was thinking about Kuhn's Paradigms and EP. Kuhn says that we get scientific revolutions when a field switches over to a new paradigm. This process starts in the period of normal, puzzle solving science, where there are anomalies that the current paradigm can't answer or can't answer well. Most researchers ignore this and focus their efforts on questions we can answer and problems we can solve. But as more anomalies build up, some scientists are thrown into crisis, and its this crisis that makes them reject the old paradigm, formulate a new one, and then start to work on it. From this, if the crisis-reacting scientist is successful and can show, through something like normal science, that the new paradigm is better, the whole field will switch over to it. (ok that's really just background information, but I include it for context).

    So EP sounds like a revolutionary new paradigm, EXCEPT, it doesn't seem to have been induced by a crisis. Its a paradigm without a crisis.

    ReplyDelete
  40. But what you're mixing up here is the function and whether it improves fitness. We don't need to go a genetic study of the development of legs in order to study the fitness of legs.

    According to Moran you cannot assume this -- indeed, you cannot assume anything, save maybe the veracity of the Cartesian cogito argument (and perhaps not even that).

    If you don't need to study the fitness of legs, why do you need to study the fitness impact of cuckoldry and parental investment in non-genetic offspring, something which intimately and directly links to the heart of evolution, namely differential reproduction?


    If Behaviourists have /demonstated/ that general intelligence is inheritable, then that's all well and good and why can't EPers do the same with 'domestic violence' and the like? Why don't they bother?

    Firstly, they're behavior geneticists; not "behaviourists," which is something entirely different. (I think that's an important distinction to be clear about.)

    Secondly, you're assuming that a proclivity toward domestic violence is not heritable (a trait exhibiting differences between individuals).

    Thirdly, evolutionary psychologists posit facultative adaptations subserved by modular cognitive systems instantiating algorithmic computations. It is a vastly more nuanced and complex view than you apparently have been led to believe.

    It isn't as explanatorily shallow at the proximal levels as perhaps sociobiology was. (If you're interested, I'd highly recommend one of the papers explaining some of the foundational principles of evolutionary psychology by Tooby and Cosmides.)


    If you're not saying that monogamy is the standard going back a very long time, then, at least on this issue, you've got even more problems. We could see before how, at least /given/ monogamy and a 'good' incidence of cuckoldry, anti-cuckoldry-mechanisms would probably be adaptive (and what the hell is that really saying in the end anyway?).

    The point is that there doesn't seem to be evidence of any single "standard," in the sense that it is, and was, exceptionless across the Pleistocene and various ecological niches during that time throughout the African savanna, or even in contemporary societies, be they traditional or non-traditional.

    The point is that humans do practice monogamy (whether or not it is life-long or serial, etc.). Under conditions of monogamy, a male's fitness, ceteris paribus, is impacted negatively by investing parental resources in offspring that he has not sired genetically.

    These are the evolutionary conditions that evolutionary psychologists partly used to begin deriving such hypotheses (but also from paternal uncertainty, amongst other considerations).

    It isn't just one study that evolutionary psychologists conduct; topics of investigation in evolutionary psychology are ongoing. Moreover, they are often derived from mid-level principles in evolutionary biology and subject to empirical tests, and also pitted against various competing evolutionary, non-evolutionary, and by-product hypotheses.

    Moreover, independent lines of evidence -- each of which is, additionally, often antecedently predicted on theoretical grounds and empirically corroborated -- builds a cumulative case in favor of a given evolutionary hypothesis.

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  41. Moran does, I would /seriously/ consider his criticisms and try to implement them.

    I do not doubt Moran's expertise in biochemistry (in the way in which he ostensibly doubts the expertise of all evolutionary psychologists and its legitimacy as a lens with which to investigate the architecture of the human mind).

    What I critique are his double-standards held against evolutionary psychology and lack of understanding of the discipline.


    Sounds more like people don't want to feed other people's children, not that there's an inborn psychological mechanism to seek out and attack the results of an affair.

    I wouldn't particularly cite that evidence as corroborating Buss and Duntley's hypothesis per se; rather, such lines of evidence build a cumulative case that evolution has been sensitive to paternal investment in non-genetic children, all else being equal.

    And if evolution has forged any adaptive mechanisms for dealing with the risk of unwittingly investing resources in non-genetic children, then it certainly is plausible to hypothesize and investigate whether other such adaptations might exist to prevent cuckoldry in the first place.

    Note that sexually-antagonistic co-evolution is rather pervasive in the animal world.


    This is really saying nothing more than that psychology has a strong basis in biology.

    You should read the study first before assuming what it may or may not show.


    Astrology, according to astrology, makes excellent predictions. Even the people that utilize astrology say it works. So EP saying EP works isn't terribly meaningful, and EP having a stiff reaction to criticism from a person in what /should/ be a closely allied field, seems more meaningful.

    Humor me: What sorts of empirically confirmed predictions does astrology make?

    Evolutionary psychologists have made predictions that have been borne out empirically -- predictions that a-Darwinian psychologists would have a snowball's chance in hell of making.


    Maybe instead of positivism EP should look to Sir Karl and survive some refutation attempts.

    Pretty much any hypothesis or theory in evolutionary psychology is open to falsification.

    And at any rate, falsification is not the be all and end all of what makes for a legitimate science.


    While obviously every theory or research programme should be allowed some ad hoc reformulations to deal with challenges, this sounds a little bit too much like internal immunization.

    There are theoretical and empirical reasons for why evolutionary psychologists posit this as a metatheoretical tenet.

    That said, most would probably have no problem with utilizing extant hunter-gatherer societies as a reasonable testing ground for assessing the link between certain hypothesized traits and reproductive success -- indeed, as I noted, evidence in support of relevant evolutionary hypotheses can be found in such settings.


    SOMEWHERE the field has to set things up so that if it falls, we can see it fall.

    OK, but again, you're assuming this isn't the case, and that specific evolutionary hypotheses have not been falsified outright.


    How much does cuckoldry affect a person's reproductive success in modern hunter-gatherer societies? This can be studied, why aren't EPers studying this?

    They have. If you're interested in these questions perhaps you should investigate primary sources.

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  42. Why aren't EPers at least starting to do this? Now obviously I'm not going to indict all of EP, but the more I hear about it, from its advocates even, the less it sounds like a viable science.

    Curious as to why this wasn't an oft-heard critique of, say, neuroscience over the last few decades, and even today.

    Granted, cognitive neurogenetics in a nascent field starting to make some progress; but obsession with molecular-genetic evidence as a critique against evolutionary psychologists is quite puzzling.

    Are particular cognitive neuroscientists studying memory engaging in bad science because they don't conduct genome-wide analysis studies or look for possible evidence of selective sweeps for auto-biographical memory?

    I should also note that there are evolutionary psychologists out there that are integrating the cutting edge in molecular genetics with various research programs within evolutionary psychology.


    So EP sounds like a revolutionary new paradigm, EXCEPT, it doesn't seem to have been induced by a crisis. Its a paradigm without a crisis.

    I hear you on the Kuhnian points. Though at the same time, Imre Lakatos was quite successful in outlining how multiple paradigms can and do co-exist contemporaneously.

    Now, as for paradigm crises... It's pretty clear that psychology has no established paradigm.

    By many accounts, psychological science has been in paradigmatic crisis since the fall of behaviorism at the hands of Chomsky.

    Two of the key pioneers of modern evolutionary psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, were essentially the first to have argued forcefully that the fusion of the cognitive revolution with neo-Darwinism is precisely what not only psychology needs, but what the social sciences in general need as their foundational, naturalistically grounded metatheory.

    Psychology and the social sciences, as they stand today, are at root a panoply of patchwork theories with no connection with one another, and implausibly a-Darwinian or anti-Darwinian fantasies with little or no consilience with the rest of the natural sciences.

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  43. Nullifidian:


    This whole conversation is hilarious, but this actually made me chortle aloud. It seems that every time he tries to defend the scientific merit of ev-psych, it just comes back to demonstrating its vacuity.

    Have you read the Platek and Singh paper?

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  44. Nietzsche said,

    Two of the key pioneers of modern evolutionary psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, were essentially the first to have argued forcefully that the fusion of the cognitive revolution with neo-Darwinism is precisely what not only psychology needs, but what the social sciences in general need as their foundational, naturalistically grounded metatheory.

    It's the reliance on "neo-Darwinism" that's part of the problem.

    When Stephen Jay Gould attacked evolutionary psychology in the 1990s he singled out Cosmides and Tooby for special criticism. This got a rely from them that was published in the New York review of Books [Tooby and Cosmides' Response].

    It's a good example of how evolutionary psychologists respond to criticism. Here's the opening paragraph.

    John Maynard Smith, one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, recently summarized in the NYRB the sharply conflicting assessments of Stephen Jay Gould: "Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists." (NYRB, Nov. 30th 1995, p. 46). No one can take any pleasure in the evident pain Gould is experiencing now that his actual standing within the community of professional evolutionary biologists is finally becoming more widely known. If what was a stake was solely one man's self-regard, common decency would preclude comment.

    When it comes to an understanding of evolution I'll take Gould over Tooby & Cosmides any day of the week.

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  45. Nietzsche says,

    I do not doubt Moran's expertise in biochemistry (in the way in which he ostensibly doubts the expertise of all evolutionary psychologists and its legitimacy as a lens with which to investigate the architecture of the human mind).

    Do you have any doubts about my expertise in evolution, genetics, and molecular biology?

    What I critique are his double-standards held against evolutionary psychology and lack of understanding of the discipline.

    There's no double standard. I'm critical of many scientists who don't understand evolution and I praise those who get it right.

    The problem with evolutionary psychology is not so much that there are researchers who don't understand evolution and population genetics, it's that there's nobody who gets it right.

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  46. I am glad that there are others starting to question the assumptions of evolutionary psychology. The biggest problem, from my view, is how they go about defining 'the mind'... this will lead them down a path where evidence is interpreted in a certain way and they are likely to get it very wrong. I wrote a lengthy article on my website:

    http://www.modernpsychologist.ca/critique-of-evolutionary-psychology/

    I would love to have people comment on it.

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  47. Humans are more likely to salivate under certain conditions, such as when they smell a yummy brownie. We can talk about the evolution of salivating in response to tasty-food-cues (TFCs) without worrying about the alleles that are responsible for that phenomenon, can't we? Can't we safely assume that there has been variability in the genetic predisposition to salivate in response to TFCs, and that those of our ancestors who had the more adaptive predisposition survived and reproduced at higher rates?

    I know I'm leaving out large parts of the argument, but I hope you seem what I'm getting at. We don't need to worry about alleles to talk about evolution. Darwin knew nothing about genetics.

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  48. We don't need to worry about alleles to talk about evolution. Darwin knew nothing about genetics.

    In no other scientific field, would this sort of opinion be taken seriously. Darwin did not perfectly describe evolution. He nearly started it, and our understanding of what is going on has advanced considerably.

    -The Other Jim

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