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    Why Evolutionary Psychology Pisses You Off (And Why Maybe It Shouldn't)
    By Michael W. Taft | March 2nd 2012 09:29 PM | 43 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    If you want to irritate a lot of people at once, write an article about evolutionary psychology. Publishing such an article will invariably provoke a firestorm of denunciations and criticisms. Given the vehemence of these attacks, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the scientific basis for evolutionary psychology (or “evpsy” as it is sometimes abbreviated) was akin to tarot cards or bloodletting. Yet the basic premise of evpsy—that some aspects of the human brain and behavior were subject to evolutionary pressures—seems to be scientifically sound.

    So what is it about this subject that makes it a napalm bomb for the inciting of flame wars? Below, I offer five things about evolutionary psychology that piss off scientists, feminists, policy wonks, and the rest of us, and explain why maybe they shouldn't.

    1. It's obsessed with sex. 

    If you've been irritated by an evo psych piece lately, it probably has something to do with S-E-X. The media knows that stories about sexuality sell, and so is constantly pushing sex-centric evpsy articles of questionable scientific value. Take this recent example, discussing a study that supposedly explains why men fall asleep after sex. Hint: it's because they don't want to talk about commitment. No modern cultural issues posing as science there! Many evolutionary psychological studies reinforce modern gender stereotypes of men as horny, youth-fixated cads and women as sneaky, duplicitous gold-diggers, pissing off feminists and decent dudes while giving fodder to the worst of the pick-up artists.

    To be fair, sexual selection is obviously important to evolution, and it makes sense that those interested in this field would be interested in what makes us select certain mates. Studies of human sexuality can be quite interesting and well-done, such as a 2008 study noting that women were more attracted to men who played team sports than those who played solo or non-athletes, likely due to team sports' reinforcing pro-social behavior. Still, I personally would love to see more studies like this one or this one, dealing with some of the subtle (if less sexy) intricacies of why we are the way we are.

    2. It's bleak and deterministic.

    Evolutionary psychology argues for a world in which our lives are governed by brain modules selected over millennia by evolution, so you can forget about free will. People tend to find it a bummer, as well as existentially threatening. As many evpsy critics argue, it also could also jeopardize public policy decisions intended to make us act better toward one another. If we’re all just “hardwired by evolution” to do the stupid stuff we do, like evpsy proponents suggest, then sociopolitical change is futile, right? Not exactly. For one, recent history has shown that, despite our nasty tendencies, overall we have become less prejudiced as a society. No, we don't have complete control over our own thoughts, but that doesn't mean we are doomed, tragic robots. Millennia of evolution have shaped us to be incredibly successful and adaptive organisms.

    Humans live on every continent, thriving in areas far beyond the African savanna from which we originally came. Just because our minds were shaped in the past doesn't mean that we're predestined, but instead that we are destined to succeed.

    3. It's just-so stories.

    This insult comes straight out of Kipling, calling out evolutionary psychology for providing neat fables rather than hard science. Its hypotheses are untestable, inferred "just-so stories" whose only logic is internal. Since we can't go back in time and directly observe our hunter-gatherer ancestors, there is necessarily a creative element to evpsy reasoning. Still, I have to groan when I read about the infamous study "proving" that girls like pink because they need to be better at hunting for berries. The preference for pink as the color for girls was a twentieth century innovation, and it’s bad science like this makes evolutionary psychologists sound like caveman storytellers. This doesn’t mean that all of evo psych is not beyond rescue, however. Last year, an interdisciplinary group called for a reassessment of the principles of evolutionary psychology, proposing that it take advantage of breakthroughs in other areas of study and integrate with them so that it might gain "a rich source of hypotheses concerning the human mind, and could exploit novel methods from a variety of adjacent research fields."

    Evolutionary psychology may be about to undergo some radical changes for the better.

    4. It justifies bad behavior.

    This combines #1 and #2 above, and adds in a touch more nasty. Because evolutionary psychology offers possible explanations for sexism, racism, homophobia, violence, and more, it can be seen as justifying or excusing bad behavior. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this has been made by Satoshi Kanazawa, who writes articles with titles like "Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?", "Beautiful People Really ARE More Intelligent," or even "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?" The outrage he has provoked has led him to be denounced by his peers in the field.

    But apart from rogues like Kanazawa, evolutionary psychologists who delve into these darker issues are (in general) not trying to justify them, just to explain why they might occur. Explaining something is not the same as excusing it. Human nature probably exists, and it's certainly not all sunshine and rainbows. However, new research continually finds evidence that, as much as we might have a predisposition for prejudice and violence, we're also hardwired by evolution to be empathetic and altruistic beings. Humanity is complex, neither good nor evil, but we can strive to be good, and part of improving the world is not ignoring the bad.

    5. It's stuck.

    Combined with recent advances in neuroscience, evolutionary psychology leaves us feeling almost as if we're nothing more than glorified monkeys, programmed by evolution. This threatens our ego big-time, since the ego wants to be in charge. However, research continually challenges some of the long-held ideas of evolutionary psychology, demonstrating that many adaptations are quite recent, and that our minds are still changing. We might be hardwired monkeys, but we are still in motion.

    Evolution isn't just in the past. It's happening right now, as you read this in the modern environment. Instead of a harsh natural environment selecting for the most robust fighters or the sexiest mates, it’s our society that is putting on the pressure. In his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker shows just how much violence, sexism, racism, and other forms of hate have declined over the ages, in part because our society no longer accepts certain impulses once considered natural and normal. We are developing into gentler beings, despite and because of our nature.

    Evolutionary psychology could have a lot to teach us, especially if it can take advantage of new discoveries in neuroscience and evolutionary biology. It needs to grow in scope and tackle things outside of the small box of the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness," since it's become evident that humans didn't evolve entirely in one specific time and space. An updated, more rigorous, less sensational form evolutionary psychology has the potential to answer not only where we come from, but where we are going.


    You're the perfect guy to write this.  I can't speak for everyone else but you wrote the only book last year using evo psych that didn't make me want to reach for a pistol. :)

    Now, some disciplines deserve the abuse they get.  If dopey people in the humanities want to stop getting knocked around as postmodernists, they can stand up to their moral relativist insiders and rescue the field. So it goes with evolutionary psychology.  Kanazawa may be a rogue outsider now but he was the ultimate insider a year ago - people loved him and he was the most popular writer on Psychology Today. As I have said when other psychologists like Stapel and Hauser got tripped up, young researchers are going to save the field because they expect to be able to engage in science and instead have to be lumped in with older people who think the field is a dodge or a con.  Or those young people got into the field because they are obsessed with sex but there is nothing we can do about that.

    Nice piece.

    Thanks, Hank. 
    Psychology is a young science, and the details of evolution in general are far from being clear. So the attempt to combine psychology and evolution at this stage is probably premature.
    John Hasenkam
    The problem I have with ev psych. is that attempts to explain behavior by drives and impulses, but these are behaviors. Given the strong environmental contingencies in shaping behavior is it valid to create models of behavior that do not in some way reference those contingencies?

    For example,

    We are developing into gentler beings, despite and because of our nature. 

    Now consider ... 

    "There is a mass of evidence, if evidence were needed, to show that even the kindest, most caring intelligent people do not behave well when the basic necessities for living are in very short supply."
    "Madness is not the preserve of the few. Given the right circumstances we can all go mad."

    itle [The Real Meaning of Money
    Author [Dorothy Rowe
    Publisher    [HarperCollins
    Place Pub    [London
    Date [1997

    Gee I like the internet, the safety of the streets, the roof over my head ... . Are we gentler because of some intrinsic change in our nature(yes, I believe a genetic component is in play but not nearly the whole explanation) or could it be that those living in the First World enjoy a level of comfort and security that most human beings could never have aspired too in the past or many in the present. It is easy to kind and gentle when the world is kind and gentle. 

    Right. No one in Somalia thinks people have evolved to be nicer. Too much of evo psych is mapping studies to the cultural topology they want to 'prove'.
    You are making half of my point, but the other half you forget:
    It is easy to kind and gentle when the world is kind and gentle.
    It is especially easy to be nice and gentle if all the torture (how we treat animals in our food supply, psycho torture in mass incarceration of innocent/sick, ...) is done for us in ways that we do never need to perceive any of it.
    Gerhard Adam
    Humanity is complex
    Exactly so, and perhaps if evolutionary psychology considered that, then they might not be so quick to pronounce the evolutionary basis for modern behaviors. 

    Part of the problem I've encountered is that evolutionary psychologists like to think that EVERYTHING evolved.  Just a silly side discussions about food preferences resulted in the preposterous notion that our food tastes are genetically [or evolutionarily] determined rather than largely culturally taught.  Similarly with concepts such as disgust and other attitudes, there seems to be presumption that concocting some story about how primitive people supposedly lived explains why we behave as we do in modern society.  It's that kind of nonsense that generates the ridicule.

    Even something like sexual selection is assumed to be a fundamentally two-dimensional behavior instead of recognizing that it is far more subtle and nuanced and that the criteria the brain employs to gauge attractiveness is an extremely difficult problem.  V.S. Ramachandran has some interesting ideas that begin to approach the subject, but even he admits that it is a very rudimentary interpretation.  So when evolutionary psychologists begin to recognize just how rudimentary their knowledge actually is, then perhaps they will gain more credibility.
    Mundus vult decipi
    There is a sharp division in anthropology: Cultural vs. Biological. Culturalists believe that culture is "exo-somatic," in other words, they are adamantly against the idea that genes are responsible for (complex) human behavior. In my opinion, Culturalists should stick to ethnography and stay away from explaining the evolution of human behavior outside the realm of science.

    Within Biological anthropology, you also have a division between Human Behavioral Ecologists (HBE) and Evolutionary Psychologists (EP); they differ in terms of what they think the brain is used for. Human behavioral ecologists believe that the human brain is a fitness maximizer and that human behavior can be explained in terms of Darwinian fitness. HBE can therefore observe modern human behavior and make inferences about our past.

    Evolutionary Psychologists believe that the human brain only processes certain types of environmental information that was present when modern human cognition evolved (the EEA during the Pleistocene). EP has a difficult task because they do not believe humans are necessarily acting as they would in modern times (i.e. they are proponents of the "mismatch hypothesis" where some modern human behaviors may be maladaptive). It's a completely reasonable hypothesis (Evolutionary Medicine has a lot of evidence of this) and EP has successfully demonstrated instances of the psychic unity of mankind (i.e. brains process certain types of information in the same way regardless of culture) through such classic experiments as the "Watson's Selection task." EP is a VALID scientific field... and although there might be some crappy papers out there, it's a newer field and it is just going along a natural course of establishing credibility.

    Finally, EP is important in biological anthropology because it criticizes HBE. EP has shown that the link between human behavior and Darwinian fitness isn't as straight forward as they claim (status and reproductive success for example). We need these two competing ideas to force the other side to do better in their experiments.

    Essentially, people dislike evolutionary psychologists because the field is the minority viewpoint, whereas the dominant viewpoints have been around much, much longer are: Human behavioral ecology and the terribly flawed exo-somatic (might as well be called supernatural) explanation of human behavior.

    And come one.. humans haven't evolved to be gentler, sheesh. Long-live HOBBES!

    SORRY. I goofed and need to clarify something I said...

    "EP has a difficult task because they do not believe modern humans are acting as they would have in ANCESTRAL times (i.e. they are proponents of the "mismatch hypothesis" where some modern human behaviors are believed to be maladaptive in modern times)"

    Oliver Knevitt
    Determinism is a fallacy, as is adaptionism, which is something you didn't really address. The problem I find is that studies often forget that the behaviours are likely to be spandrels; byproducts of evolution driven by an entirely different cause. I know Stephen Jay Gould isn't a god, but his smackdowns of sociobiology and ev psych are worth reading. 
    About the worst study that I heard (if we're sharing horror stories) was one that suggested that yawning is infectious because humans grouped together to yawn in communal groups. Ugh. 
    John Hasenkam
    And come one.. humans haven't evolved to be gentler, sheesh. Long-live HOBBES! ...

    Our ingroup violence has probably decreased, that may be genetic because co-operation is its own reward in pack animals. Our outgroup violence may have increased. 

    Evolutionary Psychologists believe that the human brain only processes certain types of environmental information that was present when modern human cognition evolved (the EEA during the Pleistocene). 

    How scientific is to proclaim some starting point for the evolution of our cognition when we can find so many behavioral correlates in various other mammals? The evolution of human cognition did not begin with homo habilis! 

    <i>_and EP has successfully demonstrated instances of the psychic unity of mankind (i.e. brains process certain types of information in the same way regardless of culture)</i>

    Did they check that other animals, particularly primates, don't demonstrate similiar types of information processing? 

    This whole idea of humans becoming less violent is absurd. How can you judge violence when there are various forms of it? And is this a sweeping generalization for all societies? Or just to the United States? There is no evidence, cultural or genetic, to suggest our human nature has changed.

    Evolutionary psychologists understand that the concept of an Evolutionary Environment of Adaptedness is flawed, but it doesn't make the notion unreasonable. Why does human cognition receive such a special treatment? It's just yet another adaptation. Some human morphological traits have changed since the pleistocene and others have not. Yes evolution is obviously occurring continually, but there is nothing wrong with pinpointing down a specific region in time and proclaiming that is when a certain trait evolved. We do so with bipedalism, why is cognition any different? Just harder to prove, obviously.

    2.4 mya is when human ancestors started cooperative hunting, so if that's EP's definition for first sign of modern human cognition then so be it. A biological anthropologist will downplay the specialness of human cognition any day of the week, and they're certainly not being unscientific in their ideas... they do afterall, get published, EP does not suggest anything "unscientific."

    Yes we see human behavioral correlates in other animals, but superficially, you can't ever assume it's the same. You wouldn't believe the controversy surrounding animal behavior... Even more surprising, I've seen papers completely detest the idea that chimpanzees hunt cooperatively. Everything is disputed...animal behavior is a mess of a discipline at present and I wouldn't trust any results to give us answers to the really big questions about human cognition.

    One classical EP experiments involves identifying cheaters (for example, nobody likes people cutting in lines!)... Harvard educated or farm educated, you definitely will be able to spot a social cheater in a given situation. Although we can't read a chimpanzee a paragraph and then ask them which individual in the story is violating a social rule, it is still likely chimpanzees and whatever other highly social animals out there definitely have their own way in dealing with cheaters, but that doesn't make the trait analogous to what humans are doing. In other words, the way humans recognize social cheats could have emerged after the divergence of of the human-chimp lineage.

    John Hasenkam
    You are making half of my point, but the other half you forget: 

    Sort of but where you are making claims about levels of violence I am more interested in causes of violence. Organisms aren't going to just be violent because of some inner drive or impulse, violence typically arises in sexual or resource competition. If people are looking to means to reduce the levels of violence in society then distribution of wealth is certainly worth thinking about but is completely contradictory with respect to our current economic models blessed upon us by a profession largely in capture to the corporate class. Macro-Economics is religion, micro economics has promise. (Note: We need a distribution of wealth, it is not a sin to be rich, but we could a lot better than the current skew!)

    Primates need a pecking order. We're happy being alpha this or that, it helps. As Robert Sapolsky points out in one of TED Talks, modern societies create all these opportunities for us to enjoy a little status climb, whether it being a deacon at the local church or coaching a kid's team. Harmless, fun and good for all concerned. One of the great strengths of a diverse economic and social culture is that it maximises the opportunities for various individuals to find a place in that society. We have room for improvement but not under the prevailing economic structures. 

    So I don't think we need to be that fatalistic by entertaining the belief the violence is so entrenched in our nature that there is bugger all we can do about that. I think there are lessons we can learn that can help us. The problem there is the last data I read indicated the Flynn Effect has reversed circa 2000, academic standards are falling, and if those trends continue there simply won't be enough bright people around to reduce our violence against each other and everything else.  
    (Note: We need a distribution of wealth, it is not a sin to be rich, but we could a lot better than the current skew!
    We had better distribution of wealth even 10 years ago and legislated it out of existence.  The same people (kooks like Krugman) who bleat about how much greater the disparity is between the CEO of a company and a worker now compared to 15 years ago forget that they were telling everyone to hate CEOs then too. I wouldn't be the CEO of a public company now - the accounting costs are millions and if I sign something and it turns out to be wrong, I go to jail.  That drove up the compensation for CEOs, because now they might go to jail even if they did nothing wrong.

    It isn't capitalism that is the problem, it is warmed over Keynesian nonsense.  The guy was a eugenics believer and when that failed, he turned to killing the middle class.  His followers (Krugman again but lots of others) are fine whining in the NY Times but they should never be allowed anywhere near money.
    Everything is misled just because using broad words like "evolution" or "adaptation", and discussing just the derived conclusion without any understanding of process. The concept of how selection pressure shapes human life is the most profound and useful framework I ever got.

    Interesting. In the first point, I find the value of play obvious – people don’t usually want to do something that isn’t, and trying to get other people to do something other than what they want to do is usually a waste of effort unless accompanied by a sufficient bribe, and otherwise it’s just plain wrong to even try it. And the idea that pictures of natural environment are helpful through visual stimuli makes some kind of sense of the otherwise untenable idea that nature itself has essential health values.

    On the second point, sociopolitical change is a bad thing regardless of what or why unless the how is by suggestion and individual decision not by social or governmental policy, of which there should be none at all except for the preservation of internal and external security, internal justice, and maybe a sound (but not any other sort) of currency.

    On the third point, it is obvious that human beings are not going to in general have or exhibit ANYTHING AT ALL in common, unless it is evolutionarily favored, or was in the past before cultural and other sorts of technological evolution took charge.

    On the fourth point, there is no such thing as “bad” behavior, only behaviors which foster having descendents of one’s genes or one’s behaviors or both, and those which don’t. And K was right about those there assertions at least as regards the modem USA: women STILL largely provide companionship and/or children and or services in return for men supplying at least protection and often provisions as well.

    Not a necessary state of affairs whether we evolved that way or not, but it IS the state of affairs…and “pretty” people and non-Blacks DO have advantages in the US, and doubtless will for the foreseeable future, if only because of historical impacts that if they ever dissipate it won’t be any time soon. It’s like trying to complain about gravity or the value of Pi.

    On the fifth point, evolution obviously selected both for an Ego and for ways of controlling its desires at least somewhat. And look at other human characteristics not involving brains or behavior. For example, most of the ancestors of most of the people who lived in areas of Europe subject to Malaria 500 years ago, got there 500-1000 years earlier, but few of those ancestors were there 2000 years earlier. And where they came from, almost no one now has any anti-Malaria adaptation.

    The logical inference is that few of the people there now had ancestors with such an adaptation as recently as 1000 to 2500 years before the present day. Yet virtually all of the people there now have at least one important anti-malarial genetic adaptation…and this is genetic evolution, presumably slower than cultural/technological evolution…

    People get mad when they think someone is challenging their beliefs. If they’d just get along WITHOUT belief in anything but reality, they would be fine. But belief systems are evidently selected for in general as well, I guess because the ones that hang around tend to help teach individuals, groups of individuals, and both together how to cope with reality at less cost to the learners than some of the other ways such as ‘try it and see’.

    Fun to read what you wrote.

    Gerhard Adam
    If they’d just get along WITHOUT belief in anything but reality, they would be fine.
    Just to take this one point.  This simply isn't true.  Belief systems exist because humans must, of necessity, operate with incomplete knowledge therefore they invariably create boundary conditions about what is likely and what they "believe" to be true until circumstances indicate otherwise.

    It is this ability to "believe" that allows to survive at all.  Humans have the unique ability to make quantum leaps in judgement [for good or ill] based on very little knowledge, even just singular events.  This is absolutely invaluable to avoid having to repeat mistakes dozens of times before we assess the probability of such an outcome.
    Mundus vult decipi
    oh phoeey. believe in what you cvan materially demonstrate and forget about the rest of it. its nonesense.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but that simply isn't true.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Mr. Taft's "just so stories" reason for rejecting evolutionary psychology seems convincing. The other four do not. I would like to suggest a couple more. 1) The power of cultural and environmental influence on behaviour is undisputed. In order to make a convincing demonstration that a behavior developed directly by natural selection, you should be able to show that that interpretation is more plausible than learning 2) It is much more convincing that evolution will mold general dispositions, eg gregariousness or aggression, or capacities such as complex cognative behavior rather than specific behaviors.

    Actually, the positions here are perfect examples of misunderstandings and total delusions that have been talked about for many years. It's illustrative to engage your misunderstandings and strange ideas, like Kurzban did awhile ago.

    Then after chastising your critics for being so nasty, hank chimes in and says that everyone in ep (except for you?) drives him into a murderous rage (reach for his pistol) Class act Hank!

    Keep up the good work here at science 2.0 guys.

    Gerhard Adam
    Kurzban?  It's always interesting how insulated evolutionary psychology believers are.  They think that they understand what's taking place, because their delusion is so complete.
    Mundus vult decipi
     misunderstandings and total delusions that have been talked about for many years.
    So these delusions persist because...they are not delusions. It's adorable that you dismiss all the crank positions of evolutionary psychology as not being real evolutionary psychology yet few in actual evolutionary psychology call out their own for promoting woo nonsense. The field is what people actually do in it, not an idealized version of what some people want it to be. In other words, spend time fixing the problems in your field rather than defending them.
    (Different Anonymous than above, by the way)
    I'm curious where you got your evidence that evolutionary psychologists are less willing to "call out" others than other disciplines like, say, Social Psychology or Biology? Do you have a citation?

    Just looking at the latest issue of EHB I see an article titled "Handedness in a nonindustrial society challenges the fighting hypothesis as an evolutionary explanation for left-handedness". Now, I don't know if this is a good article (I haven't actually read it), but it does seem like disagreement among scientists is welcome in EP's journals. And given its somewhat high profile publication, I'm sure responses will be given if it is flawed. You and I can just wait and see on that, though.

    I also recall the following blog post in the wake of the last Kanazawa controversy:

    Kenrick is a well-known name within the field and although he does dedicate considerable space to defending the field against the resulting accusations (I think rightfully so), he does very clearly denounce Kanazawa's actions in this case and his tendency toward sensationalism in general.

    I know these are just anecdotes, which is why I'm sincerely hoping you can provide some sort of empirical demonstration of a tendency within EP to shy away from self-criticism. Short of that, it appears your accusation might be baseless. Perhaps, should this be so, you should take some time to reanalyze the field's position on many of the issues you raise? The following paper is a personal favorite, and I think dispels many of the concerns you appear to have:

    (Same anonymous as immediately above)
    I should also point out as a side note that there are numerous misconceptions, small and large, both in the original post and the comment thread (I'm sorry to call you out Mr. Taft, as you appear to be the biggest advocate here, but a clear understanding of these issues is vital). I'd recommend the paper I linked above to everyone interested in learning more about EP just in order to iron out some of these conceptual wrinkles.

    Gerhard Adam
    From the paper you linked.  This is a perfect example of the kind of nonsense that makes evolutionary psychology seem contrived.
    Instead, the purchase of pornography by males must reflect some underlying adaptation, such as the hypothetical and obviously oversimple decision rule: “move towards situations that produce retinal images of naked nubile females and become sexually aroused.” Because the EEA lacked artificially created images of females, such a rule would plausibly have been fitness-promoting. Maladaptive behaviors similarly give information about the functional structure of our adaptations and are therefore worth studying.
    I'm continuously amazed that such arguments are still made using simplistic Darwinian fitness examples.  Are they really that clueless?

    The other paper was more of a justification for the same kind of nonsense as Kanazawa was guilty of, except couched in terms of caution.  This is playing at science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    What about this do you see as simplistic? Keep in mind that they stated at the outset that they were intentionally oversimplifying for the purpose of the example. And what about the rest of the paper? Do you have anything specific to say about the broader theoretical framework they drew this example from? If your objections are limited to these individual soundbites, there doesn't seem to be much substance to your position.

    And to what other paper are you referring? Kenrick's blog post? What do you see as justifications?

    Gerhard Adam
    Kenrick's blog post didn't chastise Kanazawa's science, it merely warned about the hazards of being too vocal in public and striving for sensationalism [despite the fact that he justified doing precisely the same thing for his book].

    As for the other being simplistic....

    It should be abundantly clear that simplistic views of fitness adaptations are not pertinent to humans at this stage.  We are essentially a eusocial mammal so to try and examine "adaptations" against modern behavior is ludicrous.

    It would be like examining an individual ant and attempting to explain how its behavior maximizes its fitness.  It is simply silly and misses the broad picture of what's actually taking place. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Kenrick didn't chastise Kanazawa's science because his science is irrelevant. Kanazawa is far from being a major player in the scientific community of EP. Searching EHB for "Kanazawa" (which appears to return, amongst other things, articles in EHB that cite Kanazawa) returns 24 results. Searching "Kenrick" returns 66, "Tooby" returns 138, "Buss" returns 191. This certainly isn't a perfect metric, but it does seem to be getting at something... What made Kanazawa famous was his ability to say things in a way that appealed to the general public--his sensationalism. It's also important to point out that Kenrick also did not say sensationalism was good science (he actually didn't say it was good at all, but I grant you that it seems implied). He said sensationalism is a useful way to capture the attention of the public--e.g. readers of popular blogs (or books). Again, at no point did he say science should be sensationalist.

    What do you mean by '"adaptations" against modern behavior'? And why is this ludicrous? What stage are humans at? Are other species at this stage? Which? You are being very vague. And you still have not made any specific comments about the theory as a whole; just this one quote.

    Finally, with regards to your ant analogy: fitness maximization arguments are exactly the theoretical position Tooby and Cosmides were refuting in this paper. The sentence immediately before the one you quoted reads: "Proximate fitness-maximization is not the principle that explains these behaviors and trying to show (for example) that the purchase of pornography or cocaine enhances the average reproduction of purchasers over nonpurchasers practicing the best “feasible” alternative is sterile, since their present adaptiveness has nothing to do with their existence". So, you're right. Searching for how the modern behaviors of organisms maximize fitness is silly and that's precisely why Evolutionary Psychologists don't do this.

    (there are, I should note, many evolutionary psychologists who do test hypotheses by examining differences in present fitness. These researchers do not, however, argue that psychological adaptations are "fitness maximizers" and there is also considerable disagreement as to whether examining present fitness is meaningful to EP. I happen to believe modern fitness is completely irrelevant and using it to test evolutionary psychological hypotheses is inappropriate. Many others also hold this position, but many disagree. Yet another example of disagreement that seems problematic for the "EP doesn't self-police" claim.)

    If evolutionary psychology is true then tell me how we are different from the Greeks or Romans 2,000 years ago.

    We should be grateful that someone who is clearly qualified to comment on the current and predominant viewpoints of EP actually took the time to post on this thread. Some of the comments against EP on this thread are so pseudo I wouldn't expect anyone knowledgeable in the field to partake.

    Gerhard Adam
    Oh, so if people disparage a scientific discipline, then its appropriate to just take your evo psych toys and go home? 

    I expect knowledgeable comments and not apologists and rhetorical nonsense.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, it wasn't the disparagement that made Ms. Mann expect EPs to avoid this thread; she explicitly said it was the "pseudo" nature of the disparagement. As I have shown you, EPs seem more than willing to engage in disagreements (and Mr. Campbell has still not provided us his citation showing the contrary). You still have not given me a reply to my comments above; shall I take this to mean that you have taken up YOUR toys and gone home?

    And to Ms. Mann, I'll assume you were talking about me. In which case, thank you for the compliment. And it was precisely the fact that the comments in this thread did seem to stem from misconceptions about actual EP that provided me the motivation to at least try and provide some information. Such misunderstandings can only stifle the possibility of legitimate discussion and criticism.

    We should be grateful that someone who is clearly qualified to comment on the current and predominant viewpoints of EP actually took the time to post on this thread. Some of the comments against EP on this thread are so pseudo I wouldn't expect anyone knowledgeable in the field to partake.
    Unfortunately, that is the same flawed reasoning a proponent of astrology would use; critics are just misinformed and no real expert will legitimize their arguments.  Heck, it is the same argument Tom Cruise used when he was debunking psychiatry and that is the problem with it; anyone who wants a shield can just claim the only people who get through the shield deserve it...because they are cheerleaders for the field.
    Unfortunately, that argument can be levied equally against anyone who who disagrees with any critic. I could walk across the street to my university's physics department and inform them that all matter is indeed composed of turtles, and it's turtles all the way down. When they explain to me that this is foolish, I could, with just as much justification as you do, say "That is the same flawed reasoning an astrologist would use...". Would we be forced to throw out physics with astrology? I think not. So, a claim that a critic is misinformed must sometimes be legitimate. How do you know that the claim isn't legitimate in this case if you won't engage with the evidence? Or provide evidence for your assertions about EP?

    In fact, the astrology argument is of startlingly similar form to the argument you are making. You don't provide any evidence that evolutionary psychologists are misinformed or that you are not and you dismiss whatever contradicting evidence EPs provide you on the basis that they are misinformed. The only EP proponent you endorse (Mr. Taft) is one that himself appears to have a few serious misconceptions about EP (we can get into this later if you're interested); so it is clear that who you endorse or denounce is based more on agreement with you than on actual knowledge of actual evolutionary psychology.

    This is the same thing said before, by you or someone else; there is some Evo Psych 'ideal' and the many, many people who deviate it from within EP have 'misconceptions' about what it really is.  It is entirely subjective.  A field is not determined by a definition you happen to like, it is determined by the people in it.  What EP people should be doing is throwing out everyone who doesn't subscribe to the non-misconception version you like. But they can't, because anyone can claim to be EP and the minute you try and impose a standard, the curse of relativism comes back to haunt you.

    This is a problem with literally any discipline. Again, I can claim to be a physicist and make any wacky claims I like (e.g. Deepak Chopra). This does not and should not delegitimize Physics proper. If you agree with this, then there is no justification for your antipathy toward EP itself over charlatanism in general.

    What would delegitimize Physics proper would be if Deepak Chopra were widely published or cited in prominent Physics journals, or if Deepak Chopra gave talks at important Physics conferences, or if Deepak Chopra were considered an authority among physicists, etc. I have shown you now multiple times that the arguments you claim EP espouses are not present in the writings of its most respected researchers, or in the pages of its most respected journal, and I suspect this year's HBES will not have many talks about individual pornography purchasers (or ants) maximizing their own fitness. You, on the other hand, have yet to offer me any evidence that any of the things you see as problems with EP are in any way representative of the field's overall body of work.

    If this isn't enough for you, and if we take your stance to its furthest extent, we'll be forced to call anyone an expert who fancies themselves so, and we will have to throw out a lot of legitimate science.

    This is a problem with literally any discipline. Again, I can claim to be a physicist and make any wacky claims I like (e.g. Deepak Chopra). This does not and should not delegitimize Physics proper. If you agree with this, then there is no justification for your antipathy toward EP itself over charlatanism in general.
    Deepak Chopra is not a physicist but if he were claiming to invent Evolutionary Physics he would absolutely get made fun of by physicists.  There would be no circling of the wagons and 'you all just don't understand what evolutionary physics is' claims by anyone inside physics.  This is your strangest analogy yet since it basically affirms my point; people inside EP should be calling out charlatans the same way people in physics do. Instead you are insisting (a) no one buy you and 5 other people are really doing EP and (b) criticisms of the thousands of others turning it into pseudoscience are misplaced because only a handful of people matter.
    You misunderstand the analogy. Your position would force you to criticize physicists because Deepak Chopra uses a half-baked understanding of it to make wacky claims. This is ridiculous, given that Deepak Chopra's ideas in no way represent the ideas of physics proper. Were a Science 2.0 blogger to claim that Physics is nonsense because it makes claims like those of Deepak Chopra, it would be completely appropriate to point out that actual physics, the physics in the journals, the respected papers, the conferences, the source of the overwhelming majority of research within physics, doesn't endorse or use Chopra's views.

    Kanazawa is much like the Chopra of EP. Psychological adaptations being fitness maximizers (although not Kanazawa's idea) is the analog of a Chopra idea within EP. He has been called out by EPs (as I have shown you), he is not respected within the scientific community (as I have shown you). There are also lots of people doing legitimate EP (as I have shown you); you just don't know about them because you refuse to actually look at the evidence I provide you. And what's worse, you continually fail to back up the outlandish claims you make because the evidence they demand doesn't exist. Criticisms of the charlatans like Kanazawa is perfectly legitimate and appreciated; what is misplaced is criticism of EP proper because people like Kanazawa exist.

    Correction: anyone an expert in any field who fancies themselves so. You're going to have problems with all scientific disciplines, my friend.

    Just the ones that are not actually science, like evolutionary psychology. It is not complex to understand where it has gone off the rails, nor is it hard to fix it. But instead of fixing it, internal people engage in rationalization, name-calling and denial.
    If it isn't complex, describe it to me. You still haven't provided me evidence that evolutionary psychologists are any less proactive about excluding the misguided or are more prone to "rationalization, name-calling and denial" than any other discipline. You still haven't shown me problems with the evidence I provided you to the contrary. You still haven't shown me problems with the Tooby and Cosmides article I linked earlier. You still haven't given me a reason why Kanazawa is more of a problem to EP than Chopra is to Quantum Physics (assertion that EP isn't a science is not an answer, it's an evasion; why isn't EP science? Provide me evidence that EP does have features that exclude it from being a science and that other fields that you do consider to be sciences do not have these features). You claim to have all of the answers but continually fail to provide them. You just continue to fail to back up your claims, ignore evidence that contradicts your claims, or ignore completely ignore questions that you can't answer. When pushed on these issues, you repeat back the same unsubstantiated claims. At a quick glance, it looks like I'm the only person in this discussion line (not the total thread, but just this back and forth between myself, you, and Mr. Adam who seems to have disappeared) that has (1) provided any external link, (2) provided any citation at all, (3) provided information about any actual journal, (4) provided any sort of quantitative evidence that appears to be able to speak in any way to a given claim, and (5) provided concrete instances that relate to a given claim. It appears, Mr. Campbell, that it is only one of us who is looking for his answers in the positions of the stars, and I don't own a telescope.

    To the anonymous EP poster:

    It really was quite a surprise and pleasure to witness someone from EP set the record straight, so you're welcome for the compliment!

    Even though I am receiving a thorough education in bioanth, I feel as though I still do not know enough to make a judgement in terms of being part of a single school of thought. But what I can do, however, is critically evaluate research and my judgement is that EP is a legitimate discipline and a science.

    People love to hate EP because they either completely buy the over-inflated claims of HBE (fitness maximization) or better yet, they subscribe to creationist 'logic' when it comes to explaining human cognition and behavior. Furthermore, the media just reports a lot on bizarre EP articles about sex, which hurts the field and well, science in general. The individuals of this site are well aware of the damage bad-media reports cause to science moral and more often than not, good and important research is left unacknowledged by the public.

    One of my graduate advisers is a Santa Barbara EP and my soon to be PhD adviser is a behavioral geneticist who I think is EP as well. I'm definitely setting myself up potentially for some hardcore criticism. But, what I'd like to express is that these individuals are real men of science (they get NSF grants), and notable journals even invite them to write articles.

    Furthermore, they aren't in an armchair administering surveys to college students, they are out in the field at all ends of the earth to collect data in order to support their ideas just like every other respectable researcher is doing. A lot of their work involves unraveling the complex epidemiology of diseases. Also, my advisers have identified something that the field of evolutionary biology got wrong! I'm hoping their work will make a real splash at the upcoming AAPA conference and I'm thrilled to present on one aspect of their work.

    Given the fact of how much I respect my advisers and how special their work is, it is difficult to not take the comments personally on a site whose cause I whole-heartedly believe in. The patrons of this site have considerably high intellect, but as mentioned, there is an apparent lack of understanding regarding the field of EP, which is upsetting.