A few weeks ago, I made note of evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller (Evolutionary Psychologist Geoffrey Miller Has His Own Grad Student Criteria - Weight) and his odd claims about what makes a successful grad student.

He claimed that obese women - errr, sorry, people, but since over 70% of psychology grad students are women we know what he meant - wouldn't have the discipline to complete grad school. You know, because they eat too much.

Now, this was a little silly on multiple fronts; to begin with, we have to chuckle at the idea Miller invokes that psychology is all that hard and it takes some steely determination to survive it. Maybe it is harder in grad school, but producing a paper after that is as simple as surveying psychology undergraduates and invoking a correlation. I get about 50 such psychology papers sent to me with a request for coverage every week. Psychology is relatively new but some clearly exploit that; the methodology can be sketchy, there needn't be a null hypothesis and you can ignore the placebo effect. When you can't be bothered to do surveys you can just do what Marc Hauser and Diedrik Stapel did and make stuff up.(1) Secondly, I know a few scientists by now and I know as many really fit ones as I know obese ones - though most scientists, like most people, are somewhere in between. Their determination to be smart is not correlated to determination in all walks of life - most scientists would never make a goofy assertion that their diet hinders their ability to complete an intellectual task.  Evolutionary psychologists, though? Well, obviously that isn't even the silliest claim we will see from them this year.

Miller, of course, scrambled to explain away his Twitter comment, insisting it was part of an experiment. That seemed to satisfy the NYU public affairs office, where he is a visiting scholar - it's apparently okay to "Jim Crow" fat people in academia north of the Mason-Dixon Line -  but the University of New Mexico, the actual school where he has tenure and is stuck with him for life, was less amused. No one else believed his offensive statement was part of any elaborate experiment, even inside psychology, where 'you can't prove it isn't an experiment' is a decent defense of a spurious claim.

Because California is a hotbed  of 'I will call your work legitimate if you call mine legitimate' academics, a commenter on Reddit even noted that people in the discipline refer to the prevalence of rampant untestable assumptions throughout the modern field as the "Santa Barbara Church of Psychology" while discussing an article by Annalee Newitz at i09 that puts it more bluntly, titling her piece "The rise of the evolutionary psychology douchebag".

Miller, notes Newitz, "is the poster child for evopsych douchebaggery. Previously, he has spoken up about how he loves the idea of a Chinese eugenics project to make people smarter. Though Miller was involved in this project (he donated some of his smart DNA for testing), he had actually misunderstood its aims and misrepresented them as eugenics. In fact, the project was aimed at studying genetic markers of intelligence. Miller is also famous for saying, based on almost no evidence, that evopsych reveals that lap dancers get better tips when they are ovulating."

These guys are not killing psychology any more than Drs. Oz, Chopra, Weil And Gupta - the Four Horsemen of the Alternative - are killing medicine. But they sure are not helping. It's difficult to imagine a vast left-wing conspiracy against them, though.

Well, Annalee, you can't prove they aren't getting better tips while ovulating, can you?

And that is the problem. But insiders in evolutionary psychology don't see it that way. A common complaint - and it has some merit in principle before they get silly with it - is that left-wing biologists (translation: almost all of them, in academia) don't want biology to have any functions, because it might be argued that rape could be genetic or that black people can have lower IQs, which is a very un-liberal, non-politically-correct idea, we are to deduce.  Satoshi Kanazawa even came right out and said we had evolved to dislike black women, which was so ridiculous and used such a blatantly unscientific foundation that even Psychology Today said it was too kooky for them. His employer declared he was not allowed to publish else anything without their approval. Biologists crapped on him for misusing biology to promote his social nonsense. 

So they have a point that science academia is attacking them - it's just that what 'the left' has to do with it is a mystery - or the right either. It just happens there are no right wing biologists so 'the left' is invoked.  And they are correct, most of the attackers are on the left politically. One book author critical of evolutionary psychology did claim a belief "that human social behaviors are correlated with our human genes is largely held by people who are right wing politically" (Anne Innis Dagg in "Love of Shopping’ Is Not A Gene: Problems with Darwinian Psychology" cited by Joe Quirk), but that was the only one, at least that is mainstream or sold any books. Maybe some crackpot at Think Progress believes it too, but no one with a clue does. History instead shows that the belief in the supremacy of genes has always been on the left. The early progressives, who not only accepted genetic determinism but made it part of the nation's legislative and judicial policy, including forced sterilization and special labor classes in school for non-elites, were unfailingly left wing. Evolutionary psychologists are far left even for academia so it is obviously not politics that makes biologists turn on them.

Apologists for evolutionary psychology in biology, like Richard Dawkins, are on the left as well. As Quirk, author of "It’s Not You, It’s Biology: The Science of Love, Sex  &  Relationships" puts it in his Humanity + article:
Hop on Google.video and watch the kindly old environmentalist E.O. Wilson discuss his Pulitzer Prize-winning book On Human Nature Does he seem like a guy with a secret agenda to justify rape? Are Wilson, Pinker, Dawkins, Wright et al. funded by a secret cabal of right wing conspirators? Or is it the other way around? Maybe it’s not evolutionary psychology, but its critique, that is driven by ideology.
So they have a minor point, in that it isn't right-wing ideologues engaged in derision of evolutionary psychology, it is the left. They just attribute way too much to it, as evolutionary psychologists tend to do about car grills and messy offices and that taking turns is due to evolution too. Ed Clint at Skeptic Ink even believes it is the super politically correct people on the left - including the Rebecca Watson who became notable for correlating an elevator pick-up with rape - that are most critical, even calling her a flat-out science denialist for not accepting a genetic basis for her clothes shopping behavior. Right wing people like to see ivory tower types get a little comeuppance here and there, so maybe conservative pundits will defend this silliness on occasion to fire up the liberal base, but if you ask a mid-west farmer if they have a genetic disposition in how they shop for cow feed, they are going to look at you like you are claiming to be from outer space.

No, it is instead that the biologists deriding evo psych do so because the claims and conclusions aren't evidence-based. Is it possible that the common political makeup of social science participants and their conclusions are dismissed by left-wing scientists because the social science they are criticizing is not very good science, if it is science at all? 

Of course it is possible and exceedingly likely. Biologists are always under attack by someone in politics. A decade ago they felt like they were under attack by right-wing people over human embryonic stem cell funding limitations but they absolutely are under attack by left-wing people when it comes to genetics right now, so they are used to all sides tag-teaming them every other decade. They are not scrambling to make new enemies.

What biologists are doing is generally going after whoever goes after biology - including social fields that want to hijack science to make spurious social justice charges that liberals in science would otherwise believe in.

NOTES:

(1) I know, I know, Stapel was a social psychologist, not an evolutionary one. Good luck finding a difference where it counts. Both attempt to rationalize behavior by claiming epigenetic voodoo - now that they heard of the term epigenetic.