Is evolutionary psychology not getting a fair shake?

Is evolutionary psychology not getting a fair shake? December 2, 2012

I am not a scientist, but I am a fan of calm, rational scientific debate. One of my favorite bloggers, Rebecca Watson, has been one of many voices critical of the field of ‘evolutionary psychology’.

Until recently, I simply accepted it as a failed science. Now I’m back on the fence, largely leaning the other direction. UCLA graduate student, Ed Clint also appears to be a fan of Rebecca Watson. However, he is much more of an expert in this particular topic, as he has experience in the field. He recently penned an eye-opening rebuttal to a recent speech of Watson’s. It’s a must-read.

I’m reminded of the devastating articles Richard Carrier penned about his colleague Bart Erhman’s latest book (on the subject of the historicity of Jesus as an actual person). Carrier utterly convinced me, but he has a few quirks such as making lengthy lists, presented in reverse order of importance.

With Ed Clint’s take down of Watson’s speech, it is clear that he was not attacking her with ad hom or other nastiness that often accompanies criticism lobbed her way. He did not write with malice. In fact he seems to regard her as somewhat of an inspiration to his involvement in activism. Clint provided this snapshot from Skepticon III with his Secular Student Alliance chapter beaming as they stand with Rebecca Watson.

Rebecca Watson and Ed Clint at SK3


This was a breath of fresh air:

My aim here is not to attack Watson, but to challenge a few of her unnuanced views about science and skepticism with which I happen to have professional experience. If she wishes to produce a sound, more sophisticated criticism of evolutionary psychology (entirely reasonable to do) then I would call this a success. Moreover, motive is ultimately irrelevant to the validity of my criticisms here. They stand or fall on the evidence alone. I am sure that anyone experienced in skepticism knows this quite well.

He even points to a few examples where they agree evolutionary psych seems to have gotten it wrong. Clint argues that these are outliers, and are largely discredited within the field. I don’t expect Watson to be able to rebuff the piece. It’s not her field. I suppose that’s kind of Clint’s point. Perhaps somebody with more training could reply in the negative.

If there really is an undeserved bad rep for EP in the press / blogosphere, perhaps Watson should dial it back on this particular angle. Ed even completely agrees with Watson’s take on the dangers of stereotyping, he just argues that it has nothing to do with evolutionary psychology.

Lastly, Watson notes a Stanford social psychology study which shows that “stereotype threat” can be a powerful force in demotivating people. I couldn’t agree more. I have often argued for 50% female representation at secularist and skeptical events for this exact reason, even knowing that it is likely that fewer than 50% of available speakers at any one time are female. I am not sure what this point has to do with evolutionary psychology, however. I’m familiar with no research or researcher who maintains that stereotypes aren’t capable of being very harmful to society.

Go read it, it’s pretty compelling stuff. You can still be a supporter of Rebecca Watson and disagree with her on something. At least I hope so!

FYI – I’m still on an extended hiatus regarding activism. Sorry, everyone! Will be back as soon as possible.

PS – Please take care not to derail into elevator-gate discussion. I support Rebecca Watson on many issues, and I think she’s a great writer. If you don’t, please keep it to yourself. Stay on the topic of evolutionary psychology. In fact, you should probably just comment at Ed Clint’s place. If it gets out of hand here, I’m shutting it down. I hope you understand (been burned before!)

Welcome: calm rational dialog, and on topic. Not welcome: everything else.

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