Friday, October 07, 2011

Scientists and Poets

 
Scientists and poets are very different. Yes, it's true that some scientists are poets but when it comes to real scientific debates poetry is a poor excuse for science.

Unless, of course, you're an evolutionary psychologist. Evolutionary psychologists seem to be quite incapable of recognizing real scientific problems with their just-so stories. Instead, they fall back on a tactic that's much more common in modern humanities departments. They attack presumed motives and misconceptions.1

Jesse Marczyk of Pop Psychology is a defender of evolutionary psychology. He posted a poem on the thread: Boobies, Blue-footed And Otherwise. Instead of actually dealing with the science behind the study he assumes that all criticism of evolutionary psychology comes from people who don't understand the difference between "is" and "ought" and who don't understand that genes can influence behavior.

Unfortunately, this sort of response is all too typical of the mindset of evolutionary psychologists. Isn't there a single evolutionary psychologist who can behave like a scientist instead of like Rudyard Kipling?
When silly critics of evolutionary psych
Tell the world these studies are like
Excuses for misogyny
And evil behavior apology
Threatening to bring back Third Reich,

Those critics will proclaim,
“Those who rape and maim
Will turn to our field
For a convenient shield
In order to avoid any blame”

When the topic under discussion gets heated
The misunderstandings are always repeated
“Genes don’t determine behavior”
Is always their savior
Despite this point long being defeated

Their sense of self-satisfaction
Persists without any retraction,
Admission of fallibility,
Lack of civility,
Or awareness of any infraction

It would seem their moral outrage
Has left them biased and unable to gauge
Accurately the research they hope to dismiss
Leaving them only to curse and to hiss
In a manner unbefitting a sage.

These critiques are quite the bore,
and we’ve all heard this shit before.
We’re left only to shake our fist,
As they seem persist
Not unlike an academic cold sore.


1. The term "post-modernism" is much abused but that's what I'm thinking

7 comments :

  1. Mr. Moran, you keep on complaining that assertions in evolutionary psychology lack evidence. However you surely appreciate that evo psych is not like physics, chemistry or even evo biol where more or less direct evidence is available. Evo psych faces a particular challenge because you are trying to draw conclusions about past human behavioral traits for which little or no material evidence is available. Since this state of affairs will likely always persist, what would you say would be satisfactory AND easily obtainable evidence that would convince you about some of these assertions? If there is no such evidence that you think could directly validate evo psych's assertions, do you think evo psych will never become an actual science? If so, do you think all evolutionary psychologists should just give up studying this discipline?

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  2. anonymous asks,

    However you surely appreciate that evo psych is not like physics, chemistry or even evo biol where more or less direct evidence is available.

    I disagree. Surely there can be evidence that a particular set of alleles predisposes men to beat their wives under certain circumstances?

    Surely there can be evidence that all, or most, modern men possess those alleles? (i.e. selection)

    Can we never find evidence that the behavior is adaptive?

    Can we look at modern hunter-gatherer societies to see if wife beating (under certain circumstances) is common?

    Modern genetics has identified many loci that appear to have been recently selected. Are any of them involved in behavior?

    We know a lot about population genetics. Why can't evolutionary psychologists assign probable selection coefficients to their presumed adaptations and show us how they could have become fixed in a scattered population of small hunter-gatherer groups?

    There's a ton of work being done on presumed adaptations in the hominid lineage and all of it qualifies as science. Evidence is gathered and presented and subjected to the intense scrutiny of colleagues who are knowledgeable about evolution.

    Correction ... not quite all of it. Evolutionary psychology is a notable exception. Why is that?

    What's different about the alleles for skin color, lactose intolerance, ability to speak, and blood types? Why do we demand scientific evidence for the adaptive value of those alleles but not the alleles of the evolutionary psychologists?

    ... do you think all evolutionary psychologists should just give up studying this discipline?

    I think the discipline has been so discredited that it can't be saved. If real scientists want to study the evolution of human behavior then they are going to have to come up with a new name for their discipline and they are going to have to enforce rigorous scientific standards to eliminate the non-scientists.

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  3. There once was a man name of Buss
    Who caused such a terrible Fuss
    For whatsoever he Studied
    He with ultra-adaptationism Muddied
    Leaving science to deal with the Muss

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  4. Moran: "If real scientists want to study the evolution of human behavior then they are going to have to come up with a new name for their discipline and they are going to have to enforce rigorous scientific standards to eliminate the non-scientists."

    The name for this is neurogenetics.

    Moran: "Modern genetics has identified many loci that appear to have been recently selected. Are any of them involved in behavior?"

    Why doesn't the FOXP1 and autism count?

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  5. "Evo psych faces a particular challenge because you are trying to draw conclusions about past human behavioral traits for which little or no material evidence is available. "

    One word calls attention to this whiny bullshit: genetics.

    The great sin of evo psycho is over-reach. The field seems unwilling to gather the hard evidence in support its wild hypotheses--it's stuck in sci-fi phase. For that would require doing evolutionary functional genomics (or something like that), which is time consuming and costly.

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  6. Cayazzo: Are you suggesting that evidence for past human behavioral traits is as direct as that for molecules, bird feathers and quarks?

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  7. Wavefunction,

    Are you saying that every discipline of evolutionary science has to find a way to come up with this kind of hard data except evo psych?

    What if scientists working in disciplines like archaeology, paleontology, or criminal forensics just complained about how hard it is to get the data. Would they still be legitimate sciences?

    Science is hard. Stop complaining.

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