Friday, May 20, 2011

More "Evolutionary Psychology"

Here and Here.

It's good that there has been a rather swift response to this sort of garbage. But in the grand scheme of things, the criticisms of it miss the mark. The criticisms of this pseudo-scientific trash are too narrow. They miss the fact that this whole "research program" (I think it's already conceding to much to call it that) is based on faulty premises. Moreover, they miss the fact that this sort of garbage is hardly new- it is a revamped version of eugenics (which, we'd do well not to forget, went into extreme disrepute in the aftermath of Auschwitz for good reasons).

This isn't just about race and politics, though it is about that. This is about science. "Evolutionary psychology", as it has come to be known, is based on faulty reasoning, unfounded methodological assumptions, shoddy data, and is, on that basis, junk science. The "conclusions" reached by such charlatans are resting on thin air. They violate every principle of scientific inquiry in the book, while maintaining enough of an air of being "scientific" to piggy back on the credibility of serious science.

Suppose, for example, you were applying for a job. Suppose that you were asked by an interviewer what your major life goals were, and you replied "well, in line with evolutionary psychology, I guess my basic goals are just to pass on my genes as much as possible." By any reasonable standard, that would be a batshit crazy thing to say. Serious psychologists would correctly judge that such a person had some sort of psychological problem- surely no plausible conception of psychic health could countenance someone claiming to have such a basic life goal. Yet, for all that, these "evolutionary psychologist" charlatans claim that they're giving the best explanation of the data, where the data is supposed to be living, breathing human beings. But it's not even clear that they are looking at the data- they are simply deducing the implications of their faulty assumptions (which include misinterpretations of evolutionary theory itself). But, of course, science isn't a deductive enterprise. It's supposed to turn out that your hypotheses are falsifiable. But are the basic claims of "evolutionary psych" falsifiable? It seems as though they can give a revisionist interpretation of anything at all that we do where it turns out that we're just doing exactly what their theory says we're supposed to do. Of any human behavior whatsoever, they can devise some interpretation according to which it is an exemplification of their theory. But that is not how science is supposed to work. It should turn out that the basic claims of a theory could be dis-confirmed by the evidence.

This stuff is sloppy bullshit. Sometimes it is claimed that all human behavior is explainable in terms of the basic function of perpetuating the species. Sometimes it is claimed that all human behavior tends to serve the function of passing on a particular individual's genes. It's not even clear which of these is supposed to be operative, and often the two are run together. But both of them are quite obviously false, and both trade on misinterpretations of evolutionary biology.


JM said...

This blog was harping in favor of it for a while:

susan said...

At bottom EP IS political. Sociobiology or evolutionary psychology is not science and never was. It used biology, sociology, and psychology to foster the political viewpoint of white male supremacists, especially in academia. Wilson was and is known as a racist and misogynist. There is no way to sugarcoat how vile his "theories" are. He was typical of many men in academia, which, during the time of the mid-1970s, was heavily male-dominated. It is no coincidence his book came out during the rise of affirmative action in colleges and elsewhere. He and his ilk were offended that women and minorities were demanding a greater share of the economic/occupational pie. Time to come up with an excuse by twisting various disciplines in order to keep minorities and especially women in their place. Sociobiology or evolutionary psychology is junk science, quackery, and never should have been allowed to gain a foothold in academia.