Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism — Empiricism meets Constructivism

Following some of the feminist blogosphere since some time now, I frequently come across criticisms of „Evolutionary Psychology“. Discussing some of that with a friend who works in the field revealed that there is a lot of discontent and a feeling of being misunderstood among scholars there. A reply from an evolutionary psychologist that he referred me to disappointed me (I want to respond in detail to that later), as well as a recent journal publication with a very promising title (David M. Buss & David P. Schmitt (2011). Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism [pdf]. Sex Roles. doi:10.1007/s11199-011‑9987-3). Both show that they are at least as ignorant of what the critique is all about as their critics are of Evolutionary Psychology. I’m going to try to fill in some of these gaps in both directions, and explain why I mostly side with „the feminists“ at the end. This is at the same time part of a thought process of mine concerning epistemology („what and how can we know about the world“) and the role of science in a much more general sense. I didn’t really feel ready to write about that yet, but I might not anytime soon, and this kind of discussion arises so often that I decided to share my preliminary thoughts. I’m aware there will be holes and inconsistencies and look forward to criticism.

First of all, what is the Evolutionary Psychology that is being criticised here? There are admittedly big misunderstandings among outsiders what the research agenda is, and I’ll summarize a brief outline from Schmitt & Buss (2011, see above). The central idea is that our mental setup, including thoughts, feelings etc., has to be seen as outcome of an evolutionary process just like our physical one, with natural and sexual selection as the mechanisms that shape them. The in my opinion first somewhat counterintuitive and heuristically relevant claim is that this evolutionary process is manifested in quite specialized „psychological mechanisms, information processing devices“ that also respond to specific classes of information. Our thoughts, feelings and behavior then are the result of combination, coordination and integration of a large number of these mechanisms (and consciousness itself can be seen as an evolved device to achieve this integration). To think of Evolutionary Psychology as biological determinism is thus a common and big misunderstanding, because appropriate response to and interaction with different environmental factors is what these mechanisms are all about.

The search for these mechanisms is what characterizes most of Evolutionary Psychology research as far as I can tell, and is indeed a unique heuristic approach. All the same, the basic idea that evolution has shaped our mental setup seems to me about as trivial (very) as the basic claim of Neuroscience, that mental processes take place in the brain. And the value in and of itself of showing this in concrete examples I also consider equally low in both cases — the mere existence of a psychological mechanism that can be predicted from evolutionary hypotheses is as exciting (not at all) as the mere demonstration of a certain mental process correlating with activity in a certain brain region. Thus my first critique of Evolutionary Psychology: the field needs to be legitimized as achieving something more in either philosophical self-understanding or practical application.

This leads to my preliminary position on what and how we can know about „reality“, and what the role of science is in that process. I think that an at least mild constructivism is the only reasonable stance to adopt there. That means what we bring to our inquiry of reality in terms of interests, theoretical frameworks and research procedures has (at least) some impact on what we find — and that because a correspondence with reality beyond these preconditions is impossible to establish, scientific results cannot be evaluated based only on this correspondence with reality. The most reasonable proposed alternative (or complement) to „correspondence to reality“ as the standard for good science has been beautifully described by Jerome Bruner (1990. Acts of Meaning. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London) as „the pragmatist’s questions — How does this view affect my view of the world or my commitments to it?“ And for me it follows from there that a critical examination of these influences as well as the „pragmatist“ consequences is indispensable.

If that sounded too abstract, be reminded of the myriad ways in which the design of a study, statistical techniques and interpretation of the outcomes influence the results. There is so much discouraging research on how findings are exaggerated in medicine (e.g. Thomas A. Trikalinos et al. (2004). Effect sizes in cumulative meta-analyses of mental health randomized trials evolved over time. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 57(11), 1124–1130. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2004.02.018), a field with very rigorous established standards of research and also a powerful party with interests opposed to those of the primary researchers (inventors and marketers of new medical procedures and drugs vs. governments and insurance companies who pay the bills) — imagine what happens in a field like Evolutionary Psychology where there are much less established procedures and which relies a lot on questionnaire research in Western culture contexts, often using descriptive correlational findings in a specific culture as support for universal claims about causal genetic mechanisms. Actually, you don’t have to imagine, read „Why Most Published Research Findings Are False“ by John P. A. Ioannidis (PLoS Medicine 2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124) who concludes in the abstract: „for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.“

While this doesn’t render the idea of „better“ and „worse“ research in the sense of correspondence with reality useless, it certainly underlines the importance of examining which „mistakes“ in research are systematic due to an explicit or implicit agenda of the researchers and the dynamics inherent in the development of a theory. And to take into account the „pragmatist’s questions“ when considering accepting certain findings and whole research programs as part of our worldview.

I think this is not often made explicit by feminist critiques of Evolutionary Psychology, but I believe that most of them operate from a perspective on science similar to mine. And this is where evolutionary psychologist completely miss the point, and prefer to think of themselves as a purely „positive“ science describing „facts“ — dismissing criticism as committing the „naturalistic fallacy“. Let me illustrate this with two excerpts about „sexual coercion“ (the non-scientific term would be rape):

More generally, we believe that proponents of all theoretical perspectives should keep an open mind about the scientific hypothesis (and it is only that, a hypothesis), that men may have evolved adaptations for sexual coercion. It should go without saying that rape is illegal, immoral, and terribly destructive to women, and should in no way be condoned, whatever the ultimate causes turn out to be. Unfortunately, what should go without saying has to be repeated over and over, since those who advance evolutionary psychological hypotheses are unjustly accused of somehow condoning or excusing rape. The naturalistic fallacy, mistakenly inferring an ought from an is, seems to be a particularly stubborn error committed by critics of evolutionary psychology, despite the many published descriptions of this error (e.g., Confer et al. 2010). (Buss & Schmitt, 2011, see above)

In this spirit of simply stating the facts, this is the abstract of an article concerned with the connection between different female „mating strategies“ and sexual victimization:

Women show stable individual differences in mating strategies ranging from short-term to long-term. Short-term mating strategies may put women at greater risk of sexual victimization through increased exposure to risky situations or to men most inclined to pursue a strategy of sexual coercion. To test these predictions, we studied female college students who had experienced a completed rape, an attempted sexual victimization, or no sexual victimization. Women’s mating strategies were assessed through the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory. Victims further reported whether they engaged in consensual intimate behaviors with their victimizer before or after the victimization. Victims of completed rape scored highest on short-term mating strategy pursuit; non-victims scored lowest; women experiencing attempted victimization scored between these two groups. Victims of completed rape also more frequently reported consensual kissing and intercourse with their victimizer before and after the victimization than women who experienced attempted victimization. The findings of this study should not be interpreted as blaming the victim, but rather as identifying circumstances that put women at greater risk. Clearly, perpetrators are to blame for sexual victimization. Discussion focuses on future research directions and on practical implications for reducing rates of sexual victimization. (Complete Abstract of Carin Perilloux, Joshua D. Duntley, David M. Buss (2011). Susceptibility to sexual victimization and women’s mating strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 783–786. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.032)

From a feminist point of view it is cynical (and will often lead to an emotional rather than cool-minded response) that these statements which so obviously contribute to what is called „Rape Culture“ refer to aspirations of reducing sexual violence as their practical implications. The pillars of Rape Culture relevant here, in a nutshell, are the cultural believes around „men cannot resist sexual temptations and control their urges (at least some, and at least at a certain point)“ and „Women can and should avoid being raped in a variety of ways, especially through the way they dress and by avoiding casual sexual encounters“. These believes are at odds with findings in the feminist tradition that rapists are on the one hand a quite distinct group of men, and rape cases show a considerable amount of deliberation in choice of victim and circumstances, contradicting the „impulse“ trope. And on the other hand, they are enabled by widespread reiteration of exactly these believes, especially by other men.

A personal eye-opener for me was a seminar by „Men Can Stop Rape“ which I attended during my internship in a counseling center specialized in issues of sexuality (which means a lot of abuse and rape) in Glasgow. The seminar was attended by both men and women, and the facilitator started by asking the question „What do men usually do to avoid being raped“. After some laughter, the two responses from the plenum which were written on the blackboard were „avoid going to jail“ and „don’t pick up the soap“. The same question asked concerning women yielded a long long list of behaviors related to being in vulnerable places in public and especially in the dark, and all sorts of safety behaviors around going out and dating. So while recommendations for women on how to avoid getting into „risky“ situations may sound reasonable especially to male researchers and laymen at first, there is already a ridiculous amount of concerns women carry around on the issue, severely limiting their freedom to live a rewarding life. And while they don’t provide any real safety, because they don’t really causally relate to rape, they might help a little bit by at least avoiding to provide excuses to the perpetrators. But again, there are so many things women are supposed to do to avoid getting raped that it will be hard to find a single rape case where the woman didn’t do something that is seen as related to getting raped, tilting public opinion and the outcome of a court case in favor of the perpetrator.

What has here been illustrated for the problem of rape (which I consider one of the most pressing ones) applies in a similar fashion to questions of work, access to jobs in leading positions or political responsibilities. It applies to questions of housework and childrearing. It applies to domestic violence and abuse, where a recent publication by the same group (David M. Buss & Joshua D. Duntley (2011). The evolution of intimate partner violence. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16, 411–419. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2011.04.015) innocently reports findings like a link between sexual infidelity and being victimized.

The conclusion of this epistemological line of thought is that even though I cannot at this point provide the reasons (and they would be interesting to know), social science that doesn’t have an explicit sociopolitical agenda seems to always slip into having the same implicit one: maintaining the status quo. And I believe this to be especially true for Evolutionary Psychology, Psychology in general and, as I have recently begun taking up to demonstrate, Economics.

Related to this is my argument that all social sciences should be „reflexive“ in two ways: Be able to explain their own activity as scientists and researchers as part of the psychological and social theories they develop, and be aware of the effects of their descriptions of people and society on what people actually do. I have recently started to look into that for economics, and was especially surprised to find how ignorance of the way our social organization and the descriptions thereof shape our behavior leads economists to cling to a thoroughly disproved „founding myth“ of pre-market societies‘ economic structures. As a side note, as far as I can tell our actual knowledge about what life was like in the „deep evolutionary time“ that has a central role in Evolutionary Psychology arguments is very limited, and feminists have a point when they say that what evolutionary psychologists think about especially the gender relations of that era looks „suspiciously like the American 50s“.

For evolutionary psychologists who advocate that even complex high-level behavior such as romantic feelings and relationships are essentially governed by evolved psychological mechanisms in the service of self-preservation and procreation, the same assumption certainly has to be made for their research endeavors. It already does a lot to take the edge out of their claims to objectivity and universality if you view their activities and proclamations as a means of predominantly upper-class men to advance their access to desirable „mates“ by, e.g., claiming that what they have to offer on the „mating market“ is what women in general are (and most people will read: should be) looking for.

This naturally leads to the other side of the reflexivity issue. I strongly believe that a culture in which stories like this are passed around for facts will have different relationships than a culture with a different, or maybe just more diverse, story on the interactions between men and women:

Sexual conflict, for example, can occur on the “mating market” over whether or not sexual intercourse will occur or in the amount of time and investment required before sexual intercourse will occur. Deception and sexual persistence are two common tactics men use in the “battleground” of pre-mating sexual conflict (Buss, 1989a; Haselton, Buss, Oubaid, & Angleitner, 2005). Deflecting sexual attention, imposing longer time delays, and requiring additional signals of commitment are common tactics women use in the “battleground” of pre-mating sexual conflict. (Buss & Duntley, 2011, see above. Emphasis original)

First of all, take a moment to link the descriptions of normal and expected male „tactics“ like deception and sexual persistence back to the rape culture arguments. Second, while the argument makes immediate sense from a point of view of evolutionary logic, think about how well this describes what you observe in your own love life and that of the people around you. My personal answer to that is: not very. And while I don’t want to claim that personal experience is what science has to be measured against, I want to make the point that often to see the flaws in a certain argument you have to step out of the frame of reference of that argument (in this example: from abstract-logical to concrete-experiential). Thus my bottom line: A valid and successful feminist critique of Evolutionary Psychology does not try to disprove empirical claims to differences between men and women applying the same methods as Evolutionary Psychology does. It points out the flaws in Evolutionary Psychology’s objectivist scientific premise and holds it accountable for both motivations guiding the research process and practical implications of its results, including their public reception.

Where does all this leave Evolutionary Psychology as a field? In my opinion in need of an explicit agenda of why they are doing research and what they want to achieve with it. And a good argument as to how their products (both their explicit „findings“ as well as spreading their mode of thinking into popular culture) contributes to a better society. I believe that for some branches of Evolutionary Psychology, that can be done successfully. But for many others I am pessimistic, and this includes the whole field occupied with evolutionary gender roles and relations.

It also means that feminist critique that seems to misunderstand Evolutionary Psychology, especially where the „naturalistic fallacy“ comes into play, should be read as coming from some roughly constructivist-pragmatist viewpoint similar to what I have described, and as asking accountability for what findings and research process do to our actual social world. Which certainly doesn’t mean that all feminist critique is right. But a lot of it that sounds stupid if you stay within a positivist view of science suddenly makes sense if you appreciate what they are actually talking about.

Datum: Montag, 7. November 2011 0:31
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9 Kommentare

  1. 1

    Wonderful summary in the first two paragraphs.
    „Thus my first critique of Evolutionary Psychology: the field needs to be legitimized as achieving something more in either philosophical self-understanding or practical application.„
    Interesting. Apply this definition of what a „legit“ science is to other fields (sociology, philosophy, linguistics) and see what happens.
    On the other hand, there are very practical implications of what people in the field do, especially in psychiatry. I talked about defenses before: understanding that something is a bodily defense (cough pain fever), safe blocking, redundant systems etc. pp., you read what I wrote. That is one example of practical thinking. Another one is neuroscience, are there brain regions or networks (Anderson „neural reuse“ 2010 is a good example). Actually, there are examples in abundance.
    Next, constructivism. I personalyl find this debate boring and useless. There is a reality out there. Humans don’t have good capacities to measure it. Humans can build machines to help measure these things. In some fields we clearly have extremely good measures for reality, because the results of these measures are the premises for building machines, and if these machines are superfast computers or fly to the moon, our premises are correct, otherwise these highly complex machines wouldn’t work. In other fields, we have hard times understanding reality, and in some fields we might never understand or measure reality because of different limitations. I think that’s the only reasonable approach to this topic. However one calls this, I don’t care ;)
    And now I simply don’t understand what you’re saying. I read it, twice, but I don’t understand what is wrong about Buss quotations. Can you do me the favour and sum this up in a couple of sentences?

  2. 2

    I’m glad you agree with my summary.

    Concerning the need for legitimacy: This is a side note I maybe should have left out, has little to do with my main argument. Still, I believe that a science should have a certain consciousness of its agenda, and I see that much more in your examples of other sciences than in the gender parts of EvoPsy, which is in the center of my criticism for obvious reasons. The connection to the main criticism is that it also demands attention for aspects of science other than the „corresponds to reality“ part.

    Concerning constructivism, I don’t know how much good it does to shout at you if you find the whole thing boring and useless from the start. I’ll give it a try though. I think we are pretty much on the same page concerning this: „In other fields, we have hard times understanding reality, and in some fields we might never understand or measure reality because of different limitations“ but we draw different conclusions. Yours as far as I understand is campaigning for standards of good science in the sense of achieving better correspondence with reality. I’m not opposed to that, but (at least while we’re still far away from that ideal) I argue that we need to supplement that with other ways of evaluating science. I hope you agree that the research methods in evolutionary gender psychology don’t warrant a high level of confidence on a „correspondence with reality“ level? For me in any case this is a clear example of „classical“ criteria for good science being insufficient.

    So then to the big part of my text that was cryptic:
    Evolutionary Psychology has to be measured by its societal effects as well as on „correspondence with reality“ standards. The whole gender field does exceptionally poor in that (former) respect. We have good reasons to believe that the findings (and how they are communicated) contribute to cultural beliefs that enable rape — keyword rape culture. This means because of the evolutionary gender stuff, more rapes happen, more rape victims go without justice, often getting blame on top of the pain, more rapists remain free to rape again. In a similar vein, the evolutionary research contributes to conservative political agendas concerning power hierarchies, gender relations etc.. In the absence of really good arguments what your stuff is good for (legitimacy again), this means you shouldn’t be doing it.

    My related „reflexivity“ argument: You cannot exempt yourself from your theories as a social scientist. I don’t believe economists who describe everybody as self-interested rational agents but themselves as noble scientists theorizing and modeling for the best of everybody. I don’t believe evolutionary psychologists who see all behaviors as ultimately governed by arguments along the lines of „access to mates“, but what they do is just „objective“ science for the fun of it or even nobler reasons. And (the circle closes) what scientists tell us about our nature changes what we do. It does so in economics, where we can’t even imagine a not immediate tit-for-tat any more (read the link I had there). It does so for relationships, where reiterating the story of „women want status and money, men want sex with different women“ shapes behavior.

    More than a couple of sentences I fear, I hope you bear with me :)

  3. 3

    That was superclear, thank you.
    Legitimacy: not the issue here, we could talk about this another time.
    Constructivism: you sum up my point very well here. I think when we can explain universal findings in all cultures regarding jealousy, and our explanation is the only one that can explain that, it seems to be pretty relevant for explaining the universe, or reality. Honestly, I feel I can make a better judgement than you, because I feel I you read one or two papers of major players in the field, who are majors players because they write semi-scientific books (Buss is a good example, and I haven’t seen him publish anything of real relevance since 2002). I think people do explain reality, like other scientists do (neuroimaging is also guesswork at the moment, but future researchers can look at our results and use them for meta-analysis, and that’s amazing — again, Anderson 2010 and others). That’s an easy and maybe cheesy way out of this („I know more“), but I simply don’t have the time to sum up a conclusive and concise overview of good gender research in EvoPsy.
    Gender: I don’t share your premise (EvoPsy doesn’t do reality stuff in gender research), since we do explain a broad variance in probability of behavior (e.g. mating strategies) that no other field can explain. 
    “ This means because of the evolutionary gender stuff, more rapes happen, more rape victims go without justice, often getting blame on top of the pain, more rapists remain free to rape again.„
    (1) I’d like to see evidence for that assumption
    (2) If this assumption is true, and let’s assume it is for the sake of the argument, the conclusion „this means you shouldn’t be doing it“ isn’t correct.
    When someone develops the pen, and even states in the manual of the pen that this pen should in no circumstances be used to hurt other people, and the Joker pushes it into someone’s eyeball, the Joker is to blame, and not the inventor of the (incredibly useful) pen. I totally disagree with you here.
    „In the absence of really good arguments what your stuff is good for„
    We describe, explain and predict human behavior, and we do it better (that’s my opinion) than any other field in psychology. That’s what everybody else in psychology does, just with the difference that our explanations are always both proximate and evolutionary, and most other fields only give proximate explanations.
    „It does so for relationships, where reiterating the story of ‚women want status and money, men want sex with different women‘ shapes behavior.„
    Disagreement again. Please think about this argument and apply it to all kind of other non EvoPsy explanations for behavior in psychology. Actually, you criticize the whole gender field itself. This can be applied to every single psychological finding (I’m thinking about group behavior research here, or sociology, or biology). 
    I want to find out things about the world. There are universal standards for good evidence, and some of the things we do (like some of the things other fields do) meet these criteria. We state that this does not and should never have moral or ethical implications. If people use this as wrong premise for ethical implications, that’s not our fault and other people should see that their argumentation is wrong.

  4. 4

    I will stand up against people changing facts about the universe because they like these stories better.
    And a gender field that ignores how humans developed, and ignores that men and women are different in many (also psychological) aspects, and that the modules we have in our head today explain a broad variance of human behavior, is just like someone who prefers creationism over evolution because he is afraid that without creationism there can be no moral values and standards.
    We need to find these moral values for ourselves, yes. That is hard. But we need to accept and understand EvoPsy mechanisms that steer our behavior, because that is the ONLY way we can change our behavior.
    Second reason for homicide in the States is jealousy. We need to understand this mechanism, we need to teach this to society, we have the responsibility to make them aware of this process so they can better interfere with this module. We can change our behavior. It’s easier if we understand why we are how we are.
    Evolution is a big part of the answer.

  5. 5

    I set out to another reply with a sigh, for two reasons. First, because I like „your worldview“ with its faith and confidence in progress of science along the lines of better understanding „reality“, and still have a lot of emotional attachment to it myself. Maybe that’s my kill all reply to your „I just know“ — I used to think like you. And second, because my new worldview isn’t really settled yet, and it’s not easy to sum it up easily, especially when talking on the abstract level like „positivism vs constructivism“. I’ll try, and appreciate your critique as always.

    I don’t advocate „changing facts about the universe“ at all. I just don’t believe in facts very much any more to begin with. What you call „fact“ to me is: A description of and perspective on reality to which you come asking specific questions, embedding yourself in a specific (scientific and general) culture and tradition of thinking. Thus, these findings are never innocent to me.

    And I consequently actually believe that it’s not too hard for each and every specific finding in the evolutionary gender research to point out what it misses and which important, central aspects of human experience and behavior it doesn’t explain. And what methodological flaws it has, many of which will be impossible to do better in practice. Sadly, that is often taken by scientists (of all disciplines) as petty criticism — if you point experimental researchers to studies that show how strongly your preconceptions influence your results (remember the famous behaviorist rat thing? And we’re talking humans here!) they agree in theory, but they manage to dissociate that from their work and results — yeah, there could be a small influence, but it won’t change my results completely. In my opinion, it often does, and I find support for that belief in studies like Ioannidis‘. So: yes, all these stupid little mistakes can make you find something completely in the wrong direction, and that even and especially when it also „just makes sense“ like the evolution stuff. 

    We describe, explain and predict human behavior, and we do it better (that’s my opinion) than any other field in psychology.“ — Do you really think that? Have you seen much research beyond questionnaires? Does the evo-gender stuff explain what you see in your own life and personal environment, even using your trained (and thus also one-sided) perception? For me, as I said, the answer is a clear no. And I side with Amanda Marcotte when she notes that the support evo-gender-research gets publicly seems to almost exclusively come from men who feel at the same time entitled and frustrated sexually. Who get some comfort from the idea that their own sciency selves just don’t trigger these „alpha-seeking programs“ in women who still want cave-man-beasts. But that by pursuing their path and getting rich they will eventually at least trigger the „status-seeking“ ones. And they overlook that maybe their central dating problem is their disrespect for women’s perspectives both individually and as a group. 

    Have you ever heard ravings about evo-gender stuff from a woman? A woman who says these theories just explain so elegantly and well how she feels and behaves?

    Apart from that, I don’t actually see the point of evolutionary as opposed to proximate explanations on a practical level. If so many murders are due to jealousy, what does it help us to know why inclinations towards jealousy and violence in romantic relationships evolved? Apart from the fact that you probably have to see murder of a former or current partner as dysfunctional (even in an evolutionary sense) in all contexts, and if it’s a disorder, functional applications don’t apply any more? I think it will help much more to look into proximate triggers of jealousy and domestic violence, and protective factors, and even societal stuff like access to guns… And I think feminist research has made real progress along these lines.

    As for the reflexivity issue, where you say „Please think about this argument and apply it to all kind of other non EvoPsy explanations for behavior in psychology. Actually, you criticize the whole gender field itself.“ Yes I am, and am aware of that. But I’m saying that by being conscious of and goal-oriented with these effects (again, having an explicit agenda) you can make that problem work for you. In a way that’s an argument similar to the placebo business, but I know I’m opening a whole other barrel here.

    Last words concerning your creationism comparison, partly crazy: The moral implications that come with both are part of the reason why I prefer the story of science over the one of creation, and it would actually be a valid argument (even though not the only one) for me if I saw that differently. I also think that engaging creationists on that basis (is the implication of „just do what some higher being tells you“ as opposed to „find rules as an individual and together as a society“ really what you prefer?) can be much more fruitful than trying to scream „facts“ at them which they won’t trust anyway because these „facts“ already take as their basis what they want to prove „right“ (a science approach to the world). And: I’m always highly skeptical of „ONLY ways“. I was very impressed when „without alternatives“ became the German „un-word“ in one of the recent years.

  6. 6

    I don’t advocate „changing facts about the universe“ at all. I just don’t believe in facts very much any more to begin with. What you call „fact“ to me is: A description of and perspective on reality to which you come asking specific questions, embedding yourself in a specific (scientific and general) culture and tradition of thinking. Thus, these findings are never innocent to me.

    We take our presuppositions about the universe and build computers and space rockets. If our presuppositions would be false, these machines wouldn’t work. I therefor disagree. We don’t know a lot, but there are things we do know.

    So: yes, all these stupid little mistakes can make you find something completely in the wrong direction, and that even and especially when it also „just makes sense“ like the evolution stuff. 

    That’s science. People make stuff up? They will eventually be found out and corrected. Let wrong ideas come up into sight so that the sun can melt them (Darwin, quoted from memory and probably not 100% correclty).
    I am not good with gender stuff in EvoPsy, my work is on depression and other mental disorders. I know the work on reproductive strategies and foraging (women have much better spatial memory and recall items with higher caloric density better than men). There is no alternative theory for this than an evolutionary theory. So if people don’t like when a science explains human behavior statistically (which is what psychology does, it can never be applied to a single person), then they need to come up with a better hypothesis. That’s how science works, it’s elegant and correct. 
    I feel tired commenting on the fact that people abuse science for their own means. Should we stop astronomy because crazy writers exploit the stupid people selling them millions of books about bullshit? No. There is no relation. I said all I have to say regarding this point, and I think I made it pretty clear what my opinion is.
    I also said that understanding jealousy from an EvoPsy point (the only point explaining why J exists in the first place) is the only way to reflect about this, to make people think about this, and to help them control these unuseful emotions that are hardwired programs in our minds. 

    Apart from that, I don’t actually see the point of evolutionary as opposed to proximate explanations on a practical level.

    Oh, I do. But we can disagree here, that’s fine.Daly & Wilson showed in one of the most convincing studies that the risk for a child to die by abuse by the parents is  80x higher in families with step parents, and still 30x higher when you control for everything else (e.g. socioec. status). This study was conducteed because people had an evolutionary hypothesis about human behavior. And so many studies are conducted with these ideas, and we find things out about the world. Without the theory of evolution we wouldn’t have the means to create these ideas and show that some of them are correct. 

    Regarding alternatives: science is without alternative, even if you don’t like it. There is no other way to reliable find truths in this world, that is at least my opinion. And if we don’t agree here, that’s fine.

    I think more people should be constructivistic about science, but from within. They should see how humans are biased and flawed and how people make up data, but that doesn’t make science bad. It makes humans imperfect doing science, and makes the progress and process of science slower and more tedious.
    It’s still the only way, and there are absolute truths out there. And although we will never answer the majority of them, we might answer some. And that is very, very interesting.


    PS.: I love Ioannidis. But it’s a mistake to think he’s criticizing science from without, he’s doing it from within, to make it better. That’s exactly what we need.

  7. 7

    The kind of science done by psychologists (including the evolutionary variety) must out of necessity involve making some philosophical assumptions… the most obvious is how they go about defining the mind, which will influence interpretation of the data. I wrote an extensive article critiquing evolutionary psychology in this regard. I would love to hear comments from others:

  8. 8

    I might write a rebuttal once it’s published ;) 
    Actually, I might post a comment but I’m very busy at the moment. Maybe on the weekend. 

  9. 9

    Brad, thanks for the pointer — the introduction reads very interesting, will read and comment on the pdf as soon as I can, I don’t get a lot of computer time these days because of traveling.

    E., I’m pretty sure your thoughts on this will be interesting too :) And I still have my reply to your last comment ripening in the quiet moments here…