Flip of a Coyne: Jerry now champions Evolutionary Psychology

A coin featuring Jerry Coyne, stamped E.P. 2012 - referencing his recent turnabout on Evolutionary PsychologyRecently, this article by Ed Clint prompted me to ask whether or not Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is getting a fair shake. I ended up writing about it a few more times, and each time somebody would bring up Jerry Coyne‘s scathing indictments on the entire field. That’s all moot now, with a recent flip of a Coyne.

I don’t blame them for quoting Jerry Coyne. It’s not necessarily a logical fallacy to appeal to authority, and it’s pretty much all a lay-person can do. In fact, that’s what I was attempting to do by reading the peer-reviews and citing the papers that seemed to reach uncontested conclusions. (E.g. the fear of spiders and snakes being stronger than the fear of deadly weapons.)

Robert Kurzban is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and he contributes to the Evolutionary Psychology Blog. Professor Kurzban noticed that Jerry Coyne has recently done an about-face on the subject:

“In 2011, Jerry Coyne wrote:

Like the stories of the Bible, there’s no evolutionary psychology hypothesis that can be disconfirmed by data.

Here we are at the end of 2012, and Jerry Coyne now seems to take a decidedly different view,writing that:

…those who dismiss evolutionary psychology on the grounds that it’s mere “storytelling” are not aware of how the field operates these days. And, if they are to be consistent, they must also dismiss any studies of the evolutionary basis of animal behavior.

In this more recent post, he discusses the 2010 American Psychologist article by Jaime Confer and colleagues, and specifically identifies a number of research areas that he labels “interesting and worthwhile,” including incest avoidance, innate fears, greater choosiness for mates among women relative to men, and so on. He says that the Confer et al. piece is “an evenhanded exposition of the state of modern evolutionary psychology, how it works, what kinds of standards it uses, responses to some common criticisms (e.g., “we don’t know the genes involved”), and, for the critics, examples of  evo-psych hypotheses that have been falsified.” One conclusion he draws is that:

If you can read the Confer et al. paper and still dismiss the entire field as worthless, or as a mere attempt to justify scientists’ social prejudices, then I’d suggest your opinions are based more on ideology than judicious scientific inquiry.

…”  - excerpt via this well-sourced piece by Professor Kurzban

So it seems that citing Jerry Coyne in an appeal to authority against Evolutionary Psychology is now indeed unfounded, and safely discarded.

Professor Kurzban does not claim to know with certainty what caused Coyne to ‘flip’, but he does point out that Coyne mentioned Ed Clint’s lengthy article. He even psycho-analyzes why Ed Clint’s arguments may have shifted the conversation so thoroughly, and so quickly. Kurzban points to the article as a re-framing of the debate in terms of morals, causing would-be lay-critics to hesitate from joining in the dog pile. Ed Clint’s science denialism accusation is a strong one, and it seems that Jerry Coyne now shares this position when anybody dismisses the entire field, or even just that Confer et al. paper!

He’s optimistic that a watershed moment is around the corner for the scholarly and lay-person’s acceptance of his field. I left him a comment, encouraging him in his optimism. Check it out for yourself!

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About Justin Griffith
  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Seems how things should work. The data he was basing his opinion on improved, and so his opinion changed. Good on him for doing the correct thing.

  • Jay

    I haven’t really followed what Coyne has said over the years, and while I find many EP articles interesting, I have at times thought a lot of it was unproveable “stories”.

    That said, Coyne in his blog posts says, “But I’ve never maintained that the entire field is worthless, nor do I think that now. In fact, there’s some good stuff in it, and it’s getting better.”

    So it may be a question of nuance.

    I do think there is a shit ton of science denialism coming from A+ and Feminists regarding EP, which is farcical since Feminists believe in a skygod known as Patriarchy Theory and surround themselves with unfalsifiable, untestable theories every day that they then demand must be seen not just as true, but as the basis of law, economic policy, and similar.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      Yeah, I was in the same boat re: not following Coyne that closely. My readers brought his stance to my attention, and a few days later he did his public about face (I doubt he saw my articles, but most certainly saw Ed Clint’s).

      Somebody just posted on WEIT using the name Griff, and referenced this article. I was pretty annoyed because I was unsure if somebody had a similar name, or if some setting on my own blog like a trackback. But Coyne’s response to him was great.

      Re: Patriarchy Theory – you just had to pee in that bowl of cheerios didn’t you? Oh well. FWIW, in general I’d like people to avoid stirring up this ‘debate’ here… If you do so, there are inevitable questions that lead to hijacked threads: (which form of feminism? what about men’s rights? Shouldn’t we just stand up for human equality? etc.) Please don’t instigate a debate that sprints away from staying on topic.

      ON TOPIC: EP, Jerry Coyne, EP Journal, perhaps PZ Myers’ series on anti-EP, Ed Clint’s article.

  • brianwestley

    “E.g. the fear of spiders and snakes being stronger than the fear of deadly weapons”

    I’ve always blamed legs. Humans are fine with two legged creatures, and (since we can crawl on all fours) four-legged creatures, but anything with zero or six or eight legs and we freak out.

  • http://www.oolon.co.uk/ oolon

    Did Ed ever get around to acknowledging that the author of the template for science denial-ism he used refuted his claim?

    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2012/12/05/rebecca-watsons-skepticon-talk-is-not-an-example-of-science-denialism/

    Never heard of Hoofnagle before (looks like a good blog tho!) but it seems pretty damning when the person who creates your method for determining science denial-ism says not close. He certainly did not pull any punches in criticising the mistakes in RWs talk. Personally I think it is fine to say she made mistakes, she clearly did. Not really understood why there is this need to over-hype the mistakes though.

    @Jay, PZ is probably considered A+ leader or something, this quote from him…

    Now this is not to say that every single researcher and paper in evolutionary psychology sucks. I’ve read a few that were decent …

    .. doesn’t quite smack of denial-ism to me, especially as below this he was asking for more good papers on the subject to review. Oh and you throw feminists in for fun… (You realise your blanket statement sort of called Justin a science denial-ist and said he believes in a Sky-god called Patriarchy Theory, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him identify as a feminist before!)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @oolon

      I was on the fence about some of Ed’s points regarding the famous Denialism blog’s 5 signs of science denialism. However, Ed Clint’s article did make the case for a few of them. Fake experts like Greg Laden, etc. Besides, for me, I wasn’t there for the morality re-framed. I was there for the science. It was the instant death of my previous impression that EP was bunk.

      When I posted about Ed’s article, people most certainly started commenting with what are undeniably science-denialist tactics and statements. There were many who walked up to that line and did not cross it, but there were many that went straight into batshit territory.

      Your quote of PZ Myers is telling. It’s one of the few times he posted about the possibility that some EP is decent. He went on to reference a few themes he said were important for a good EP case, but to my knowledge never mentioned a single EP paper he likes.

      He has repeatedly and recently dug in against EP as a whole. Judging by his lackluster anti-EP articles at ScienceBlogs, Ed Clint would easily best PZ in a debate – IMO.

      PZ starts out a very recent post like this (more recent than your quote):

      I have a real problem with evolutionary psychology, and it goes right to the root of the discipline: it’s built on a flawed foundation. It relies on a naïve and simplistic understanding of how evolution works

      It’s clear from this article that PZ is arguing from an extremely outdated angle. He thinks that all of EP relies on ‘adaptationism’, when even Ed Clint posits otherwise, and is soon to be published in a peer-reviewed paper on EP along these lines!

      PZ clearly missed this in Ed Clint’s piece:

      I believe in skepticism as a condition to living well, and for doing science. I therefore tow no lines for any entity or cause, not an evolutionary psychology edifice or anything else. I have mentioned my forthcoming paper currently in press, but I have not told you what it is about. Briefly stated, it is an hypothesis test of an adaptationist theory about gender differences in one kind of cognitive ability. The adaptationist theory is couched in “man the hunter, woman the gatherer” theoretical trimmings of the sort Watson dislikes so much. I test the hypothesis using a cross-species comparative analysis. My findings do not support the adaptationist model, and I suggest an alternative explanation which is non-adaptationist and consistent with the data.

      In Watsonian terms, I’ve done the impossible (evolutionary psychology theories can’t be tested/falsified) by rejecting the party line (everything is an adaptation) consequently breaking a gender stereotype in total defiance of a fundamental purpose of the field (to oppress women)— and it’s being published in a venerable biology journal. If I am an evolutionary psychologist, I must be the worst one ever. I’ve broken every rule. I must be biding my time until they kick me out of the clubhouse.

      So, I formally criticized a theory in evolutionary psychology that has stood for years. I did it, in part, because I love evolutionary psychology. I know that it’s a good science and that a good science gets better with robust criticism. I am excited to be able to play a tiny part in that, if I can. It was also an exercise in skepticism toward something I cared about. We need to engage in this kind of skepticism because as we try to figure out how the world works and how it got to be the way it is, commitments to ego and politics tend to get in the way.

  • lesliegriffiths

    The repost was from me Justin, and there was no evil intent – I just though Jerry might be interested.

    For the record my surname is Griffiths, hence Griff

    Griffiths is quite a common surname in Wales (not so much Griffith!)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @lesliegriffiths

      Haha! Cool. Yeah, it’s a common shorthand I get too. I’ve met quite a few Griffin / Griffiths / Griffith with the same nym. No evil was assumed, I was only worried that my blog had an auto-spam function to everyone I link to.

      I’ve always been told that my surname was Welsh. A lot of Uk readers always seem to attach that ‘s’ at the end, and it suggests to me that some of ‘my’ Griffiths left their ‘s’ on the boat a few centuries ago.

  • lesliegriffiths

    I’d mail you a copy of the Swansea telephone directory, but it would make for dreary reading!

  • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

    I’m not that familiar with the specific papers and personalities here, but would like to make a general point about science and how it is used.

    Science (at least good science) strives to simply be a way of figuring stuff out. If you’re doing good science you’re trying to *disprove* yourself essentially, right? Observations don’t have ideological slants – they are just observations.

    However, the context of how those observations or theories are presented is where the devil lies.

    For example, racists love to point at crime statistics to justify their racism. Sociology is not somehow to blame for gathering those statistics, obviously. However, when you accuse someone of using those statistics in an inappropriate way to bolster their racist attitudes; you’re accused of being “anti-science” by the “race realist”. (Trust me – been there.)

    I can see a similar dynamic happening with EP.

    For example, step-dads has much higher abuse rates toward children than biological dads do. This has been linked to an evolutionary model for a long time. Many male mammals will actually kill the children of other males as a matter of course when a widowed female hooks up with him. There is certainly an evolutionary advantage for this practice, as the biological children of the new mate will not have to compete with the biological children of the old one.

    So – that’s just about as straight forward as ever, right?

    And it’s completely legit until abusers use that model as an excuse because y’know, that just a “natural” “biological” imperative right there and just the way things are – you know, like rape and beating your wife. Or, when someone completely against legal divorce decides to chime in – saying that because of this widows should be forced to marry their dead husband’s brother or something.

    Then, when someone points out that these people are using those models in inappropriate ways to bolster their problematic attitudes. You know, that person will be accuse of being anti-science by the “gender role realist”.

    It’s all just so predictable – and anyone who has even shot a passing glance at the history of science knows just how bad it can get before it gets better. I mean, even in the first publication Origin’s of Species was being co-opted by classists and racists. We put an African man in the ZOO in the name of science for Chrissake.

    So yeah, just saying (to the person who pissed in the Cheerios) – that absolutely, critics of EP should parse their criticisms of EP and how EP is being presented; critics of the critics of EP should parse their criticism of that criticism.

    In other words – ask yourself what they are actually criticizing – the science, or how it is being presented and used in the context of bolstering ideological stances.

    Y’know what I’m saying?

  • Jay

    Justin,

    I do apologize for stirring up that debate here.

    I will only say, I think Richard Feynman’s essay on Cargo Cult Science should be required reading for all skeptical atheists.

  • http://www.oolon.co.uk/ oolon

    However, Ed Clint’s article did make the case for a few of them

    Is it really fair to brand a fellow sceptic a science denial-ist when Ed did not make a case for *all* of them? It is a pretty strong criticism so ideally he’d be sure…

    I must admit I got the impression he was not at all sure about calling RW that given the amount of reference to how he used to be a mate of RWs. Then again that could be self-defeating for him as no mention of any bias and he’d get shat on as well. So in regard to the bat-shit denial-ist statements you saw after his post I’d just say that polarisation really improves the quality of the debate! [sarcasm]

    Anyway one good thing to come out of it all is the amount of articles on the subject where people are trying to be much clearer about exactly what they are criticising. I’d have to agree with your post overall as there does seem to be a shift of people not quite so willing to make as many blanket dismissals of EP and look closer into it. It’s peaked my interest … In regard to PZ *only* covering EP from an adaptationist PoV, there is more to come and given that is the ‘old fashioned’ way of looking at it, as you say, it makes sense he’d cover it first. Lets see what comes and how many good papers he finds! I bet > 0… Any takers?

  • Edward Clint

    @oolon #5

    Mr. Hoofnagle commented on my original post and linked to his reply, which I read. I did not find it worth replying to for a variety of reasons, such as the naiveté of his objections. For example, he thinks Watson posted actual papers in her presentation because she had an abstract on a slide. Anyone who has done any reading of field literature knows that abstracts are free and papers cost $/are behind paywalls. I really don’t have time to correct these sorts of confusions from lay people who aren’t spreading them at large conferences around the world. Some of his other objections seem like goal-post moving and strike me as changing the rules based on how much we like the target. I am disappointed in seeing this and now question my choice to cite him as a skeptic.

    Nonetheless, out of courtesy (because I did quote him), on my site I replied to Mr. Hoofnagle and asked him if he would like me to formally reply to his reply. He never answered me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      Wow, there are some notable problems with Hoofnagle’s post:

      Hoofnagle:

      Ok, first of all, you don’t need to be a scientist or an expert in a particular field to be critical of it.

      You don’t have to be a scientist to be a science denialist, either. Ask my dad about global warming or DDT. He’s not an expert but he IS a denialist.

      —-

      Hoofnagle on #1 – conspiracy theories:

      The problem with Clint’s analysis is that at no point does Watson ascribe conspiratorial behavior to these scientists typical of a denialist argument.

      Clint on Watson:

      At the end of her talk, an audience member asks Watson if there is any “good evolutionary psychology”. Watson throws up her hands while saying “prooobably? I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring.. because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything. [...] if there is good evolutionary psychology, it’s not in the media[...]” (see index 47:30)

      —–

      Hoofnagle on #2 ‘fake experts’:

      Clint acknowledges these examples are weak, and in particular picking on Greg is really just a smear. I think it’s hard to interpret his post on “men as testosterone-damaged women” as serious, as he himself says:

      e. Or whatever. Other people were more thoughtful about it and objected to the statement because it is wrong. Well, that’s good, because it is in a way wrong, because it is an oversimplification. But it was not meant to be a description of the biological and cultural processes associated with the development of individual personality, culture, and society. I am a little surprised that people thought it was such a statement, because it is so obviously a remark designed to poke certain men in the eye.

      The problem with that thinking is, Rebecca Watson did not represent Laden as ‘not serious’.

      —-

      Hoofnagle on #3 ‘cherry-picking’

      Now here I agree with Clint, Watson should have limited her remarks to evolutionary psych and the “sub-topic” of sex gender differences, as it’s clear that there is more to evolutionary psych than this idiotic “girls like pink” crap. But…

      Why continue? You agree about cherry picking as a whole. Why cherry-pick and disagree with Clint (and Coyne for that matter) about the efficacy of Gould’s ‘just-so’ argument. It was just an example of a point you freely conceded.

      —-

      Hoofnagle on #4 ‘unreasonable expectations of evidence’

      While it’s true that it would be unreasonable to posit a genetic explanation for each trait since so many traits are polygenic, and we have a very incomplete understanding of the function of much of the genome, this criticism shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. Eventually this field will have to incorporate genome-wide analysis into our understanding of human behavior, although Clint is right, not every finding in biology that’s important or worth publishing about needs to be explained down to the last atom.

      I’m going to count this as Hoofnagle once again agreeing with Clint. Without a goddamn time machine to travel to the future, how is Clint supposed to incorporate the genome-wide analysis accordingly? Also he agrees with Clint twice while breaking his own rule demanding unreasonable evidence.

      —-

      I think Hoofnagle was conflicted on #5 – ‘misrepresentations and logical fallacies’.

      I also think that his list of false or misleading claims by Watson is worth reading and it really should have been the starting point for the discussion about Watson’s talk.

      That list is a mountain of #5, and it is organized and annotated in an extremely accessible way.

      ——-

      So counting them up, Hoofnagle concedes #3 and #4, and partially concedes #5. I think he made a weak case against the others, and that a stronger case could be made in RW’s defense. I’m not certain, but I don’t think Hoofnagle’s famous ’5 tactics of science denialism’ post ever suggested that all five must be present. It appears that Ed Clint only has to make the case for a single tactic.

  • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

    And oh heck – even Greg Laden during his epic *face palm* panel on gender at Skepchick-Con said he thought some EP was sort of interesting.

    As I mentioned, the potential is there for EP to both suck and be used for suck – and if those fears are not being realized in the perspective of other peripherally related science-types than things should cool off.

    It sounds like they are.

    Oh hey – talking about that panel – I guess I had a pretty long conversation with Ed Clint in Cris’s post about it. That was a long time ago. :)

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cristinarad/2012/07/11/gender-differences-skepchickconconvergence-panel/

    (Holy crap I must have too much time on my hands. It’s down there at number 9 – liking the new format.)

  • Edward Clint

    @Justin

    Yes, I believe I have said it elsewhere (perhaps in comments, or my reply to James Croft), but the 5 items are not a required checklist before we can agree that science denialism has occurred. They are tactics, and the use of even one of them is deeply troubling and is sufficient cause that we should not consider one who deploys them to be a competent skeptic (or at the least, that that talk as an example of legitimate skeptical analysis). The fact that we all tend to agree that 2-3 have substance should be shocking. These are not just disconnected facts. They tell us something about the mode of thought of the person, the lack of respect for the subject and audience and for that matter, skepticism itself.

    Someone warned the secular community

    a year and a half ago that 1) Watson was lowering the bar of discourse and 2) that she showed disrespect to the venues where she speaks. If the organizers of Skepticon had listened to that and other critics, perhaps I could have been spared those 10,000 words, and they’d have been spared some embarrassment.

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that one of the reasons I wanted to address Watson’s talk is that I thought it might be the tip of the denialist iceberg. This has turned out to be complete justified. Even if you buy the story that Watson was “merely” speaking to “pop ev psych”, we have examples in PZ Myers, Amanda Marcotte and others who don’t equivocate- they simply say it’s all nonsense. As much as anything else, I am pleased to have exposed these denialists who do not disagree with any of the charges I have made re: the scientific denialism of ev psych.

  • http://saltycurrent.blogspot.com SC (Salty Current), OM

    It’s an evenhanded exposition of the state of modern evolutionary psychology, how it works, what kinds of standards it uses, responses to some common criticisms (e.g., “we don’t know the genes involved”), and, for the critics, examples of evo-psych hypotheses that have been falsified.

    This would be the Confer paper that cites the infamous vervet study? Oh – it is! Hahahahahahaha.

    First, any quoting of Coyne in this way has always constituted a silly argument from authority in any case. Second, he showed long ago that he had a weakness for at least some bad evo psych and a lack of interest in engaging with critical arguments. Third, he’s let his personal and other biases lead him away from a reasoned approach to arguments about sexism for a long time now, so I’m not surprised he’s decided to toss more of his reputation in the pot. Fourth…the vervet study. The one in which they gave cooking pans to vervets. The one cited in Confer’s “evenhanded exposition.” Hahahahahahaha. Kinds of standards evo psych uses, indeed. Hahahahahahaha.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      SC – First off, thank you for what you said the other day.

      The reason why I even posted about this development was not that I consider Jerry Coyne an expert on EvoPsych. Rather, it’s because so many anti-EvoPsych people flocked here and cited many of his statements against EvoPsych.

  • ema

    …we have examples in PZ Myers … who [doesn't] equivocate- [he] simply say[s] it’s all nonsense.

    PZ:

    Now this is not to say that every single researcher and paper in evolutionary psychology sucks. I’ve read a few that were decent …

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @ema – That has already been responded to, and can be dismissed. For those who also missed it:

      Your quote of PZ Myers is telling. It’s one of the few times he posted about the possibility that some EP is decent. He went on to reference a few themes he said were important for a good EP case, but to my knowledge never mentioned a single EP paper he likes.

      PZ has repeatedly and recently dug in against EP as a whole. Judging by his lackluster anti-EP articles at ScienceBlogs, Ed Clint would easily best PZ in a debate – IMO.

      PZ starts out a very recent post like this (more recent than your quote):

      I have a real problem with evolutionary psychology, and it goes right to the root of the discipline: it’s built on a flawed foundation. It relies on a naïve and simplistic understanding of how evolution works

      It’s clear from this article that PZ is arguing from an extremely outdated angle. He thinks that all of EP relies on ‘adaptationism’, when even Ed Clint posits otherwise, and is soon to be published in a peer-reviewed paper on EP along these lines!

      PZ clearly missed this in Ed Clint’s piece:

      I believe in skepticism as a condition to living well, and for doing science. I therefore tow no lines for any entity or cause, not an evolutionary psychology edifice or anything else. I have mentioned my forthcoming paper currently in press, but I have not told you what it is about. Briefly stated, it is an hypothesis test of an adaptationist theory about gender differences in one kind of cognitive ability. The adaptationist theory is couched in “man the hunter, woman the gatherer” theoretical trimmings of the sort Watson dislikes so much. I test the hypothesis using a cross-species comparative analysis. My findings do not support the adaptationist model, and I suggest an alternative explanation which is non-adaptationist and consistent with the data.

      In Watsonian terms, I’ve done the impossible (evolutionary psychology theories can’t be tested/falsified) by rejecting the party line (everything is an adaptation) consequently breaking a gender stereotype in total defiance of a fundamental purpose of the field (to oppress women)— and it’s being published in a venerable biology journal. If I am an evolutionary psychologist, I must be the worst one ever. I’ve broken every rule. I must be biding my time until they kick me out of the clubhouse.

      So, I formally criticized a theory in evolutionary psychology that has stood for years. I did it, in part, because I love evolutionary psychology. I know that it’s a good science and that a good science gets better with robust criticism. I am excited to be able to play a tiny part in that, if I can. It was also an exercise in skepticism toward something I cared about. We need to engage in this kind of skepticism because as we try to figure out how the world works and how it got to be the way it is, commitments to ego and politics tend to get in the way.

  • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

    @ Ed Clint

    I tend to think of denialism as not giving up a stance even when confronted with evidence.

    You made some pretty clear criticisms of the framing of her talk and good old fashioned corrections. If she reads your criticism and does not interact with that information at all – that would be denialism.

    If she rejects some of your criticisms, giving reasons, and allows some of them to refine her views and her presentation – then that is exactly how it should be.

    Charity and benevolence!

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ D4M10N

    Everyone knows vervets prefer chew toys. Silly evo-psych researchers, playing with monkeys.

  • http://twitter.com/Iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

    I have my doubts Jerry Coyne has really “flipped”. Coyne has long been a critic of some of the more wrongheaded excesses of EvPsych, such as Thornhill & Palmer’s “Natural History of Rape” fiasco. He’s also critical of pan-adaptationism in evolutionary biology in general. But I don’t think Coyne has ever ruled out the underlying need for a science that applies evolutionary biology to aspects of human behavior – Coyne has never been a “social constructionist” to the best of my knowledge. One can reject all kinds of specific misapplications of EvPsych without disparaging the larger value of understanding the evolutionary aspects of human behavior.

  • http://twitter.com/Iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

    Regarding #20 -

    I’ll just say this about PZ vs Coyne on evolutionary biology – PZ hasn’t published a scientific paper on the topic since 1998. Coyne is very much in the thick of the field, still publishing review articles and research papers on the topic, in spite of being very active as a blogger and popular author.

    I realize that’s a bit of an argument from authority, and that don’t mean that PZ’s arguments in a disagreement with Coyne are automatically wrong. But I will say, all things being equal, if I was looking to Coyne vs PZ as to who’s the more reliable source, I’d go with Coyne.

  • hjhornbeck

    Uh, Griffith, I think you’ve been duped. The article you link to claims Coyne has done an about-face. If you read through to the blog post that one linked to, however, you find:

    But I’ve never maintained that the entire field is worthless, nor do I think that now. In fact, there’s some good stuff in it, and it’s getting better. [...] My position has always been that good evolutionary psychology should meet the evidentiary standards of papers on the evolutionary significance of behavior in other animals—standards that are, say, met by papers in the journal Animal Behaviour.

    So Coyne has only acknowledged that there are good EP studies out there, more than he originally gave it credit for. I wouldn’t call that a reversal, let alone “championing” the cause, and yet the post you link to paints it as such.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      He even referenced his change of heart yesterday, HJ.

      I don’t see it as odious (as some have) that I changed my mind about the field. Part of it involved doing more reading about it, and teaching it, but most of it I attribute to the fact that the early excesses of evolutionary psychology have been tempered as the field has started policing itself.

  • http://www.oolon.co.uk/ oolon

    I think M.A.Melby nailed the objections to the denialism charge nicely in @21… RW actually thanked Ed for the corrections in her comment on Stephanie Zvans post defending her and said she would include them. I’ve not seen her subsequent talks on this subject but if she has modified her stance and made it clear she is addressing the media’s favourite pop-EP only then she is no denialist. (Or made it clearer as in my opinion I thought that was the focus of the talk from the start, but obviously my personal interpretation and not one shared by all so it should have been clearer)

    And thanks again to M.A.Melby as that link to your conversation with Ed was illuminating, he was clearly already pissed off at the anti-EP stance from a way back and not without cause. I think there is some conflating of how EP is used by idiots to make sweeping sexist generalisations and justifications and the whole field of EP itself so Ed is right to tackle that. Hopefully RW makes it clear the talk is on those pop aspects as I doubt anyone can criticise that since there is much to be ashamed of… Lucky no one gave those damn Vervets guns to play with or we’d be in a post apocalyptic planet of the apes world right now, curse those EP researchers for playing with fire!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @Ooolon,

      Yeah, I was in the same boat, roughly. “It does seem like clear science-denialism… but it would be super easy to fix her talk by not painting with a broad brush, and referring to ‘pop EP’ only.”

      Whoever said it would be denialism if she continued to give an unmodified speech had it right. Though it’s certain she definitely used at least some of the tactics the first time around, I don’t think she wants to be known as a science denialist. Acknowledging her mistakes on Zvan’s article was important, and I suppose all it takes to check is the next youtube video of her speech. Has that happened yet?

      Also, vervets have displayed alcohol dependency, never give those goddamn vervets weapons!

  • hjhornbeck

    Griffith @26: Ah, so I see. I guess he has softened his stance considerably.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @HJ

      Yeah, I think it’s time many of us did so. EP never was the 100% awful science many of us thought it was, but it was plagued by quality-control issues. Over the last decade especially, it seems that the science has matured quite a bit. It’s to the point where continued dismissal of the entire field would amount to denialism.

  • Edward Clint

    re: is it denialism?

    The more important part is that it is not skepticism. It also is not the case that it is fixed with a “thanks for the corrections” because many of the problems stem from her approach, not simple errors owed to her non-academic status. In order to find out that VS Ramachandran never got his piece published in a real science journal, you don’t need to be an evolutionary psychologist. You need to have spent 2 extra minutes researching via google. Fact-checking by me or anyone else does not change this apparent disregard for the skeptical method or laziness or whatever you’d like to call it. Remember, she considers herself a “science communicator” and an expert skeptic, of sorts. The bar is, or should be, much higher for her as a speaker.

    There are issues, too, of basic literacy with the subject matter than any person speaking on them should have. I specifically wrote “lingering questions” in response to Watson’s apparent lack of basic understanding about how this science works. I asked her about when she thinks the sexual division of labor began because anyone talking about ev psych should know that fields like ethno- and paleo-archaeology and anthropology are *source* disciplines for ev psych work, not competing fields. None of those “lingering questions” has been responded to. Again, “oh I corrected the part where it isn’t all white subjects in that one study” does not change the problem of a person speaking passionately about something they have no basic acquaintanceship with.

    I would also like to remind you that Rebecca cheerfully beckoned her audience to learn more from de facto ev psych denialists like Marcotte and Laden. I find that very curious in someone who isn’t doing some denialism theirself. It is as if a lay speaker were criticizing biology then told the audience they should check out their buddy Michael Behe’s awesome blog. Here’s some of the rhetoric from Marcotte that Watson’s audience might find on searching:

    “I read and research a lot of “evolutionary psychology”, and while they are very good at getting people to cop to anti-feminist opinions and sexist behaviors, I have not really seen many—any?—that prove their contention that these behaviors or opinions are encoded in the genes instead of learned from the environment. They simply note people are sexist and claim that it’s genetic”

    Fact checking reveals these serious problems, it does not solve them (and please note that Watson answered exactly 3 corrections, out of a couple dozen issues). Might Watson now produce a well-researched talk? Sure. I’ll be the first to say so, quite happily, if she does. That would be a terrific outcome. That said, I think conferences could do much better in vetting speakers. I think that it would not be so difficult to get graduate students, professors or the like to do science talks. Why are we not inviting more scientists to do science talks?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @Ed Clint -

      Have any later editions of her speech surfaced? She said she was going to include some of your corrections. Perhaps your article did what you hoped.

  • jose

    “So it seems that citing Jerry Coyne in an appeal to authority against Evolutionary Psychology is now indeed unfounded, and safely discarded.”

    Unless people were citing him because of his good arguments, not because he is Jerry Coyne.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @Jose, that was handled in this portion of the sentence you quote:

      So it seems that citing Jerry Coyne in an appeal to authority

  • jose

    Yeah, but I was not quoting him in an appeal to authority.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @Jose

      Then it wasn’t addressed to you…?

  • Edward Clint

    @Justin

    There isn’t media of such events, to my knowledge. You can read comments from people who attended the same talk in New Zealand just a couple of days after my critique was published here: http://auckland.skepticsinthepub.net.nz/events/91824162/?eventId=91824162&action=detail

    But the comments are scattered, take them as you will. I suppose we will just have to wait for her to give the talk again at a venue that is recorded, since she apparently has no interest in responding to me on her blog.

    PS, my associate tells me that spanish-language Skepchick is bashing ev psych quite hard using some recently published/media reported article about the color red and sexual perceptions of it. I wonder why it’s not been remarked on by the english/main Skepchick site. Perhaps they’re highly autonomous, I do not know.

  • jose

    Justin, counterexample? Seems to me the post overlooks the actual content of the critiques, making them look like they only consisted of appeals to authority. Coyne’s critical posts are as good as they were two months ago.

    Ed, the Spanish blogosphere in general is far more Spelke-like than Pinker-like, if I may put it that way.


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