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Posted by on Dec 1, 2012 in Critical Thinking, Evolutionary Psychology, Featured Inc, Skeptic Ink News and Report | 277 comments

Science denialism at a skeptic conference

13 Reasons to Doubt8/7/14  UPDATE: This essay has been substantially edited, expanded, and updated. The revision has been published as a chapter in Skeptic Ink’s recently-released skeptic anthology 13 Reasons to Doubt. Changes and additions include:

  • My response to Watson’s indirect reply to this essay
  • Appendix of errors and misrepresentations expanded from 24 to 90 items
  • Most of it revised, ~50% new content
  • All common e-book formats now available and paperback coming soon

On Mars right now, an earthling-built mechanical spider-scientist is driving around and learning the secrets of our sister world. It is doing so after a months long journey, remote controlled by people tens of millions of miles away. What an amazing time to be alive, to witness such wonders of science. This makes it all the more jarring to see how science is routinely attacked by subsets of the very same group of earthlings who can harness its power to accomplish such amazing feats. Readers of this space can probably readily summon examples to mind: biology textbooks in Louisiana, denial of climate change, attacks on the usefulness of vaccinations.

As scientists and skeptics, many of us have grown to expect this sort of attack on science from  conservative and religious corners, and that is undoubtedly true. But science denialism is not confined to the political right, nor to the religiously motivated. Liberal ideology is a factor in irrational arguments against genetically modified crops,nuclear power, vaccines and immunization, and is the ideology of most people advancing 9/11 conspiracy theories. But surely, if such denialism showed up at a skeptics conference, there’d be hell to pay, right? Well at least it wouldn’t be met with thunderous applause… but that is just what did occur a few weeks ago at the conference called “Skepticon“.

The denialism brought to Skepticon was to the field of evolutionary psychology, a thriving social science with roots going back to Charles Darwin himself. The critic was internet pundit and self-described feminist and skeptic Rebecca Watson. Watson is known for her blog website, as co-host of a popular skeptic podcast, and for speaking at secular and skeptic conferences. But Watson holds no scientific training or experience. The charge of science denialism is a serious one, and I will support the claim with a preponderance of evidence.

Watson’s Skepticon presentation. I refer to this YouTube video via video indices for your convenience.

This essay is necessarily lengthy, so here is an index to help you navigate. Part VI includes a link to a public folder containing the PDF-format versions of many scientific papers discussed here, as well as a Microsoft Word version of the 25 false and misleading claims.

 

About me
I am an anthropology graduate student at UCLA, a part of its bioanthropology section which conducts research in evolutionary psychology and other areas. I do not speak as an authoritative expert on evolutionary psychology, but I do possess significant experience. I have been closely following developments in the field for about a dozen years. I focused on evolutionary psychology during my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois, and my senior thesis research project, an hypothesis test of an adaptationist hypothesis, will be published in December’s issue of Quarterly Review of Biology. I am presently engaged in three research projects in the field of evolutionary psychology.

I have dedicated my professional and academic life to evolutionary psychology research. This may well mean that I am biased, but I shall strive for objectivity in this post (as I do all my writing). And I will cite evidence to support each of my criticisms.

I. Overview and analysis

This is the title slide of Watson’s presentation

A brief synopsis
Rebecca Watson’s talk was called “How girls evolved to shop and other ways to insult women with ‘science’ “. Watson reviews a number of evolutionary psychology claims, generally in the form of their appearance in online newspapers and in at least one book. All of these claims she ridicules pertain to sex differences, such as differing tastes between men and women in shopping, sexual preferences, and in the purported favoring of the color pink. Watson’s talk begins with examples of media distortion, the acceptance of non-experts to support a predefined conclusion (for example, that women evolved to shop a certain way), Interestingly, her talk does not seem to be at all about the media distortion of science. Instead, her conclusion focuses on research demonstrating the demotivational effects of perceptions of stereotypical gender imbalances.

The main points Watson wants to drive home are that evolutionary psychology isn’t science (as indicated by the quotes in the subtitle), and that researchers involved in it work deliberately to reinforce stereotypes and to oppress women. Watson frequently makes overly broad claims about the “they” or “it” of evolutionary psychology without further specificity, leading her audience to assume she simply refers to the entirety of the field, or to a large majority of it.

Points of agreement
I think Watson correctly points out several important things about evolutionary psychology. For example, that the media loves to hype and distort the science to sell newspapers, much as it does with other fields like genetics. Her examples in the introduction are good ones. Watson also brings up some truly objectionable research. The study purporting to show evidence that women prefer redder colors by Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling is extremely biased and features a conclusion inadequately supported by the data. Their data show that just about everyone of either gender prefers blue hues to any other. For the record, and as an evolutionary psychology researcher, let me be very clear: there is no compelling evidence that females biologically prefer pink and I don’t believe they do. I believe it is a purely cultural, and recent, development.

Watson also talks about one of the most infamous names in all of contemporary psychology, Satoshi Kanazawa, saying “he’s just the worst.” I agree. He seems to be a person who thrives on attention, something of a scientific shock jock. Fortunately, he has been most severely criticized by evolutionary psychologists themselves.

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.

 A peculiar sort of skepticism
Brian Dunning of Skeptoid wrote,  “The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.” This is surely well known to Watson, who calls herself and website “Skepchick”, a truncation of “skeptical chick”. Now we may ask, how would an (apparently) expert skeptic investigate the domain of evolutionary psychology to reach and support the conclusions that Watson has? The first step should be having a firm grasp on what evolutionary psychology is, and to have a working familiarity with the subject. Since we are talking about a scientific field, this at least would mean reading some papers, or maybe at a minimum, some scholarly reviews and meta-analyses. And they should be typical of the field, meaning from reputable journals and mainstream researchers. It would be silly to call biologists creationists and religiously motivated while pointing to Michael Behe and Francis Collins as examples of biologists as a whole.

Understanding the methods by reading materials on that subject from authorities and shapers of the field would also be required, particularly if you wish to comment directly on the methods of research as Watson does.

However, Watson seems to have only the most superficial understanding of evolutionary psychology and it isn’t clear that she’s read even one paper in the field. There are many reasons to think this. She cited no sources during her 48-minute talk beyond what is mentioned in newspapers and other media or publicly available abstracts. While she derided media distortion in one part of the talk, she implicitly trusted media reports for the bulk of it, and rather uncritically. It is true that Watson is not an academic and therefore has no ready access to scientific papers (the public generally has to pay publishers to view them, but I have made many papers discussed here available, see part VI). Watson made numerous mistakes in content, misrepresented very basic aspects of researchers work, got citations wrong, and demonstrated ignorance of contrary data. Some of these errors are listed in part IV and discussed in part II. Lastly, we know that Watson is not versed in the literature because she admits this herself. 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)

Setting aside the striking anti-science attitude that only media-hypable science can be interesting, as well as the jarring ignorance that a scientific field composed of thousands of researchers working for decades and publishing in numerous reputable science journals only “probably” has some good work being done, Watson clearly reveals that she is only familiar with evolutionary psychology in the “media,” having moments before shown incontrovertibly how unreliable the media is.

Watson repeatedly cites outliers, people and publications not involved with evolutionary psychology, and disreputable instances of each (as well as a few reputable sources). The first work she mentions in her talk is important because it sets the tone and is, presumably, important to her thesis that evolutionary psychology is pseudoscientific and sexist. She cites a Telegraph article referring to a study done by one Dr. David Holmes about the psychology of shopping. However, this is an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed study conducted by a non-evolutionary psychologist paid for by a business to help them sell things better. This has no relevance to Watson’s thesis, unless it’s also true that Colgate’s “9 out of 10 dentists recommend you give us your toothpaste money” studies prove that dental science is bunk. She spends several minutes on Satoshi Kanazawa, a man widely considered disreputable within evolutionary psychology. Even quoting him, Watson referred only to an interview he gave a tabloid newspaper. There was no effort to mention peer-reviewed research, nor to include what mainstream evolutionary psychologists think. The same is true of the VS Ramachandran anecdote that she shares, but more on that in a bit.

Supporting the extraordinary claims that a large scientific domain is sexist in general and methodologically bereft requires extraordinary evidence. It should entail a very serious, careful look at the nuts and bolts. How is peer-review accomplished? How well does it function? Are many awful studies passing it? How many? How easily? How is it that thousands of people, women and men, in dozens of countries across decades of time are all morally compromised in the same way? Did she speak to even one person who actually does evolutionary psychology?

Watson has produced no evidence that can even begin to sustain her outlandish claims. Even if Watson was accurately representing every person, paper, and claim in her talk,  she’d have succeeded only in proving some small handful of people making claims about sex differences are academically and/or ethically compromised. Her set of evidence is just too small to say anything more. The problem is not merely that her claims are often faulty, but that she seems not to understand (or not to care?) what a skeptical inquest of a science requires. She does not seem to know how to support her own claims. This is a peculiar sort of “skepticism” indeed.

 

 II. Rebecca Watson uses all 5 tactics of science denialists

In 2007 Scienceblogs writer Mark Hoofnagle wrote an oft-cited essay about 5 general tactics used by denialists to sow confusion. John Cook distilled these a bit for an article in 2010 which discusses climate science denial. The list below is reprinted from his web site skepticalscience.com.

  1. Conspiracy theories
    When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won’t admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.
  2. Fake experts
    These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research ‘junk science’.
  3. Cherry picking
    This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.
  4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
    The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.
  5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
    Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’.

It is useful to cite Hoofnagle here because Rebecca Watson demonstrates all five of these in a single presentation and because climate science and evolutionary psychology have a lot in common. (For a good primer on what precisely evolutionary psychology is, read this. )

Both climate science and evolutionary psychology…

  • are relatively new sciences
  • are less cohesive disciplines than interdisciplinary approaches involving the talents and body of literature from many different disciplines
  • are extraordinarily fecund, spawning hundreds of studies in new directions and expanding human understanding substantially
  • and lastly.. both are attacked as fraudulent by vocal bands of lay idealogues who feel threatened by the premises or conclusions that they believe each represents

 

Watson’s denialist tactics

1. Conspiracy theories
Watson frequently spoke of a shadowy, diffuse “they” of evolutionary psychology. When she cited researchers by name, they were held as examples of the they, and not distinguished as a subclass.  She also often spoke to their devious, immoral intentions. Not just that they’re mistaken about their claim or that their method is flawed, but that they actively wanted to oppress women and reinforce harmful stereotypes. Thousands of people in dozens of countries, women and men all working together toward goals such as defending rape as “natural” and therefore good (see video indices 20:07, 22:43, 23:41, 35:40, 36:08, 38:40). No evidence was presented which could establish these ulterior motives in such a large group, and as I shall explain, they are entirely false. Mark Hoofnagle wrote the following on Scienceblogs about conspiracy theories; not Watson’s, but his words fit equally well here:

[...] But how could it be possible, for instance, for every nearly every scientist in a field be working together to promote a falsehood? People who believe this is possible simply have no practical understanding of how science works as a discipline.

2. Fake experts
Fake experts are not featured prominently in Watson’s talk.  However, at the end Watson cites several fake experts whose opinions on the science are inconsistent with established, uncontroversial knowledge. She implores the audience to read Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a book seeking to justify a radical social constructionist view of gender differences. While Fine makes some reasonable points about some flawed studies, scholarly reviews have criticized Fine for cherry-picking studies as examples which are amenable to her conclusion and ignoring the rest:

[...] Despite the large amount of junk science on the topic that is reported in the popular media and in some academic outlets, there are also consistent findings of sex differences that hold up across studies, across species, and across cultures. Most of these are ignored by Fine. -Diane Halpern, Science Source

[...] However, there is more to the prenatal testosterone research than the few Baron-Cohen studies she mentions and more to the study of clinical populations affected by early testosterone than CAH girls and their play preferences. Fine’s selective approach leaves the reader with the impression that much of research into the organizing effects of prenatal testosterone on the brain is invalid and unreliable. In reality, the research in this area is extensive, complex and, yes,  uncertain, but not, for those reasons, worthless. The extent of this literature is evident in a review of this research that incorporated almost 300 studies (Cohen-Bendahan et al. 2005). Included were investigations of four different clinical populations, four different direct measures of prenatal hormones, and six different indirect measures. -Margery Lucas, Society Source

Watson goes on to suggest Greg Laden’s blog. Laden is a bioanthropologist who is on record uttering unscientific opinions such as that men are testosterone-damaged women:

The problem with men, as a group, as a type of organism, as a subset of humans, is that at various points along the way on their journey from the female template on which all humans are built biologically, they have been altered in ways that make them dangerous assholes. Even when we try to reduce the male-female difference as a society, men who do not willingly participate in that often end up being fairly nasty, dangerous beasts; they may be rapists, they may be batterers, they may be some other thing. They break our efforts to have an egalitarian peaceful world. In a way, they are broken. They are damaged, if you will. Some of that damage is facilitated by what you may know of as testosterone [...].

Last July at a conference Laden reiterated this as Just like a male is a broken female, a dog is a broken wolf (Youtube link). Laden’s unique views on sex and gender are not representative of sound scientific understanding.

3. Cherry picking
As outlined in part II, Watson restricted her citations to stories that appear in the general media and critical popular science books. She focused on some of the worst possible examples that could be found, such as the interviews (not publications) with the disgraced Satoshi Kanazawa, instead of focusing on mainstream, reputable researchers. She also limited her citations to the sub-topic of sex and gender differences. While it is understandable that she may choose a narrow topic to present to a conference, she frequently makes her claims about the field in general, not merely as it pertains to sex and gender differences. For example, she rehashes Stephen Jay Gould’s “just so stories” criticism, (long debunked by biologists and others), but then uses as examples only sex and gender claims.

Bearing in mind that Watson has said that evolutionary psychologists are doing what they do in order to oppress women and maintain stereotypes, we must assume Watson can tell us how evolutionary psychology hypotheses in other areas such as coalitional psychology, social exchange, language, landscape perception, kin detection, emotion, vision & visual attention, tool use and others all oppress women and support gender stereotypes. Watson ignores the majority of the content in the field she demeans as “not science”. Satoshi Kanazawa seems to be her “hockey stick graph” which she believes is enough to damn the whole of the science.

4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
Some of Watson’s criticisms would un-make many sciences were we to take them seriously. For example she says (13:27) “they never tell us what genes” as if this is a grand indictment of evolutionary psychology. There are scientists making in-roads in this area, but tracing the path from genes to structures to behavior is difficult-to-impossible, except in the case of disease and disorder. Further, we certainly don’t hold any other sciences to that standard, even the ones for which genes and adaptation are critical. Does anyone know precisely which genes make a cheetah fast, and exactly how they accomplish that? The peacock’s feathers, the fish’s gills? Shall we toss out all the evolutionary biology for which we do not have genetic bases identified? I should think not. Cognitive science also focuses on models divorced from physical stuff like genes and even neurons, but no one doubts that genes and neurons make cognitive capabilities possible (which is why genetic illnesses can severely impact them).

At 15:41 Watson derisively explained her view of the method of evolutionary psychology as picking a behavior, assuming it is evolved, and then find “anything” in the past that might be relevant to it.  Setting aside the inaccuracy of her summary, she seemed to be balking that such an hypothesis is just totally made up. Yes, Ms. Watson, it is. That is how science works. It is not known what the answers are before starting, so a researcher makes as good a guess as they can and then tests it.

At 13:39 Watson says that we can’t know enough about the distant past to make assessments of what might have been adaptive. She refers to variation in climate and “environment” and that the lives of our ancestors also “varied”. In other words, evolutionary psychologists can’t make any assumptions. We can’t assume women got pregnant and men didn’t, or that predators needed to be avoided, or that sustenance needed to be secured through hunting or foraging; these are real assumptions evolutionary psychologists use. If we were to toss out evolutionary psychology for this reason, we must also toss out much of biology, archaeology as well as paleoanthropology. Much care must be used in deciding what can and can’t be assumed about the past, but archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, biologists and evolutionary psychologists know this quite well.

5. Misrepresentations and logical fallacies
Please see section V. 25 False and misleading statements made by Watson.  In that list, items 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20 and 25 are misleading statements. This is not a comprehensive list. Watson makes liberal use of logical fallacies. I will describe just one for the sake of brevity.

The naturalistic fallacy. One can hardly find a more pristine example of this fallacy than in criticism of evolutionary psychology, and Watson’s remarks were  no exception. She spelled it out clearly at 38:30 “men evolved to rape… it was used as a well it’s natural for men to rape”. The problem to Watson is that some evolutionary psychologists study the phenomena of rape as a potential adaptation, or a product of adaptations such as the use of violence to obtain what one wants. Watson assumes that if rape is about sex, and sex is good because sex is natural, then rape must be natural and therefore good. This is an absurdity of course; it’s every shade of wrong from the rainbow of ultimate wrongness.

Scientists also study cancer; it isn’t to morally justify cancer. Hurricanes and hemlock are natural, but bad. The evolutionary psychology of rape informs that rape is a more heinous violent crime than other types of assault, not less. Commenting on Thornhill & Palmer’s book on the subject Tooby and Cosmides wrote, “Thornhill and Palmer argue that women evolved to deeply value their control over their own sexuality, the terms of their relationships, and the choice of which men are to be fathers of their children. Therefore, they argue, part of the agony that rape victims suffer is because their control over their own sexual choices and relationships was wrested from them.” The conclusion here is that the crime is much more emotionally devastating than the mere violence or trespass indicates; also, it implies that men probably can’t understand the true anguish of the experience for women.

Many influential figures within evolutionary psychology are unpersuaded by the notion of rape as a single coherent adaptation, such as Don Symons, David Buss and David Schmitt. This makes a conspiracy view of the field as monolithic sexists rather unlikely. Lastly, Thornhill and Palmer themselves have said the topic is worth studying to help reduce the rate of rape, not to justify it, as Watson asserted (without citing any evidence for her claim).

Science denialism: a losing strategy
Philosopher of biology Elliott Sober wrote in his book Philosophy of Biology (p. 132) the following about adaptationism, the research program prominent in evolutionary biology:

Adaptationism is first and foremost a research program. Its core claims will receive support if specific adaptationist hypotheses turn out to be well confirmed. If such explanations fail time after time, eventually scientists will begin to suspect that its core assumptions are defective. Phrenology waxed and waned according to the same dynamic (Section 2.1). Only time and hard work will tell whether adaptationism deserves the same fate ( Mitchell and Valone 1990).

Sober is saying that (for research programs) the proof is in the pudding: creationism hasn’t worked. It hasn’t given a better understanding of life, it hasn’t spawned new questions or sub-disciplines. It has no body of work. Sober also discussed how the once-scientific phrenology similarly failed, eventually. Science denialists have argued that climate science is akin to the failed phrenology, that it is wrong and misguided. This didn’t stop the scientists though, who kept working and discovering more and more. Today climate science is bigger and better than ever. It has innovated and synthesized methods. We’ve gained incredible new insights about how global climate systems function over time, and especially about the life of polar glacier geo/eco-systems. The original findings that the earth is warming have been replicated and supported by new evidences, even if some early research was flawed.

Evolutionary psychology has followed a similar trajectory in recent decades. Roundly criticized in the 80’s and beyond, researchers were not deterred. Although there are always going to be some  flawed studies, researchers weeded out failed hypotheses and refined methodologies. The influence of evolutionary psychology has steadily grown. Evolutionary psychology theories once controversial are now accepted by mainstream psychology. Every college psychology 101 textbook features evolutionary psychology. New areas of investigation are being explored which may shed important light on critical aspects of the lives of people, including evolutionary medicine and evolutionary theories of humor. Michael Shermer remarked on the mainstreaming of evolutionary psychology back in 2009. Despite some real challenges, evolutionary psychology is a science success story. All the nay-saying in the world can’t change that. Denialism is a losing strategy. The scientists always win in the end.

 

III. Lingering questions

When did the sexual division of labor begin?
“Recent research by anthropologist Steven Kuhn suggests there was no sexual division of labor prior to the Paleolithic” [Kuhn’s paper Watson cites is the hypothesis that Homo sapiens development of a sexual division of labor 40,000+ years ago allowed them to out-compete Neanderthals.] (14:43)

“Prior to the 19th century it was expected that men would retain an equal hand in raising children and helping out around the home […] then when the industrial revolution came around men started working the factories leaving women at home[…]” (36:08)

What is your definition of published scientific work?
Since Watson told the VS Ramachandran (16:00) story to the audience as if it were a coup against evolutionary psychology, saying incredulously “… and it got published,” without telling them the journal had nothing to do with evolutionary psychology. What’s more, the medical journal purposely invites “radical, speculative” pieces and likely has no serious peer review to speak of (Don Symons commented that if it is peer-reviewed “it must be by chipmunks”). We must conclude that Watson’s definition of published scientific work is anything sent to a journal that will publish a submission.

Why so flippant?
Watson’s talk is peppered with snark and sarcasm. Also, it should be clear by now she seems to have spent very little time researching the topic. She doesn’t treat the topic seriously. I do not merely mean that she does not take evolutionary psychology seriously— but the entire topic, including her own contentions, is more performance art than education lecture.

Watson sees evolutionary psychology as being on par with creationism (she makes this comparison at  8:28) and therefore finds it fit for ridicule. She even says mocking it “never gets old”. Even so, what about the impact evolutionary psychology might have? That seems less than amusing. For the sake of argument, let us imagine everything Watson believes is correct: Those who conduct research in the field are mostly misogynists who are dedicating many years to the pursuit of justifying harmful stereotypes and oppressing women. They’ve succeeded in compromising peer review, and the professional journals which publish them are mouthpieces of the patriarchy and scientific rigor is gone. They’ve infiltrated the top universities in the world- UCLA, Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Yale, and so on. They’ve established growing departments at said locales and have their own conferences and ever-larger presences at others. They’ve even succeeded in having much of their literature and research perspective accepted by mainstream social science.

If I believed that all of this were true, I would be horrified. The potential harm to society and to behavioral science would be almost incalculable. Were I to give a talk on it or write about it, I would dig deep. I would cite mainstream sources so that no one could dismiss me as cherry-picking. I would conduct or locate reviews of dozens or hundreds of studies, instead of citing one or two in tabloid newspapers easily dismissed as outliers, or taking the word of an author trying to sell books. I would read full published papers and foundational literature, not blurbs from the Telegraph about unpublished studies so that my understanding would become robust and accurate. I wouldn’t make an unserious, sarcastic tone my main presentational style because the stakes would be so high, the human cost so tragic.

Watson wants us to believe this great dark power is working, inhibiting social justice, hurting real people and the advancement of science, and that it is entertaining to talk about. She says (for example) that it is working to justify rape. To make rape OK.  …But hey, no big deal, right? Not big enough to research properly or to stop making jokes about for two minutes. This flip attitude lacks empathy, and I find it ethically repugnant. If even close to true, her claim isn’t funny. It deserves real skeptical inquiry and serious investigation and she gave it none of this.

 

IV. 25 False and misleading claims made by Watson

 

Claim or statement (video index)

Rebuttal

1. “[Evolutionary psychology is] a field of study based on belief that the human brain as it exists today evolved completely during the Pleistocene era when humans lived as hunter-gatherers” (8:51)

1) Evolutionary psychologists stipulate that change during the Holocene is possible; it is merely limited because 11k years is a short amount of evolutionary time for a species with a 20-year reproductive cycle.

2) The study of recent evolution is avoided for two reasons. The first is that large “big picture” understanding of the evolution of the brain are unanswered, making the asking of  any smaller questions impossible. Second, uncritical claims about recent evolution are the kind that have been  politically used by fascists and racists who wish to claim one “race” is superior.

3) Our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers for about 10 million years. This is a thousand times longer than they lived any other way (source). It is not reasonable to imagine  this period did not leave lasting marks on our psychology.

Source & more information here.

2.  Dr. Daniel Kruger’s 2009 study incorrectly cited as “University of Chicago study” (8:11, 9:41)

Dr. Kruger is faculty at the University of Michigan. His study is titled Evolved foraging psychology underlies sex differences in shopping experiences and behaviors and was published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology.

3.  Our brains evolved between 12k-1m years ago and haven’t changed since, this contradicts what we know about evolution. RW then gives, as an example of recent evolutionary change, our ability to drink animal milk. (12:45)

1) See point 1 above. Evolutionary psychologists state plainly that small changes are possible.

2) Drinking animal milk is a recent change, namely the mutation causing the enzyme lactase to be produced throughout the lifespan and not merely during infancy. However, this observation does not support RW’s argument because:

     a. Humans have shown virtually no major physiological changes in the last 10,000 years. Lactase is the exception, not the rule. This is evidence that the mind is unlikely to have many large recent changes, not the contrary.

    b. The mutation in the case of lactase is a simple one, an amendment to an existing enzyme’s production schedule. evolutionary psychologists largely focus on complex behaviors requiring equally complex genetic changes and thus far more time than the one observed with lactase.

    c. RW’s example relies on many assumptions about the conditions of the Pleistocene. For example, that humans had not yet domesticated cattle to get milk from, and that humans did not normally consume milk beyond childhood. This is inconsistent with her insistence that the Pleistocene is uncertain and unknowable for the purposes of scientific consideration in point 5.

4.  EP’s claim “stuff written into our genes. They never tell us which genes” (13:27)

The implication that gene(s) must be identified before an adaptation is demonstrated is specious. To quote Confer et al. 2010 

[…] Adaptations are typically defined by the complexity, economy, and efficiency of their design and their precision in effecting specific functional outcomes, not by the ability of scientists to identify their complex genetic bases (Williams, 1966). For example, the human eye is indisputably an adaptation designed for vision, based on the design features for solving the particular adaptive problems such as detecting motion, edges, colors, and contrasts. The reliably developing, universal, and complex design features of the eyes provide abundant evidence that they are adaptations for specific functions, even though scientists currently lack knowledge of the specific genes and gene interactions involved in the visual system.

Source, page 120

 It should also be noted that Charles Darwin had no idea what a gene was, as he drafted his theory of evolution based on the observations of apparent adaptations.

5. We know “shockingly little” about the Pleistocene era, it was varied in climate and ecology. “What we assume about them is taken from present day hunter-gatherer cultures” (13:39)

1) Evolutionary psychologists only lean heavily on non-controversial facts about the past. For example, pregnancy involves numerous costs, and we therefore expect that females in many species will be more picky about mating than will males. This prediction has strong empirical support for both humans and other animals. Source

2) The ancestral environment is not restricted to the Pleistocene. Powerful hormones, such as testosterone, for example, date back half a billion years. Breast feeding originated in early mammals eons before primates existed. To explain why we have bones, we’d consider ancient fishes hundreds of millions of years before the Pleistocene.

3) Data about our human past comes from archaeology. Contemporary hunter-gatherer societies are presumed, quite sanely, to be more like our ancestors than we are, but not to be exactly like them. They are useful in helping to determine features which are purely cultural and otherwise only useful when they conform to previously mentioned non-controversial facts about the past (see also response to point 1).

6. Evolutionary psychology claims are unfalsifiable. (13:17)

1) EP theories must make testable claims and do so. Example: Robert Trivers predicted that, among all animals including humans which have two sexes, the sex with the greater minimum investment in offspring should be more sexually choosey and the other more sexually aggressive/promiscuous. A comparative study of animal behavior could easily disprove his theory, though it has been confirmed by many observations.

2)  I have personal knowledge of colleagues who have had a research idea, collected data, and found no effect. These don’t get published, but nonetheless, an hypothesis is negated.

3)  I wrote a paper, currently in press at the Quarterly Review of Biology criticizing one particular EP theory, which is to say, a test of that theory. 

4) See a refutation of this specious claim from evolutionary psychologists here (Question 1, page 112).

7. There are some contemporary African cultures in which men are the primary gatherers (posed as objection to the notion of a knowable stereotypic Pleistocene environment). (14:17)

The anthropological record is clear that these cases are the exception, and that these exceptions happen for reasons based in ecology. To quote the study by Dr. Kruger which RW cited (see point 2):

These are aggregate tendencies, as men sometimes gather (Halpern, 1980) and women sometimes hunt (Noss, 2001). The sex reversal in activities usually take place under special conditions, such as male gathering when meat is scarce during the dry season, and these men often specialized in carrying heavy loads rather than searching for food (Halpern, 1980). In environments where food is more abundant and less seasonal, males gatherer proportionally more so than in more scarce and seasonal environments (Marlowe, 2007). Women do not hunt as often as men, and usually hunt more reliable small game when caloric return is relatively high compared to gathering alternatives (Noss, 2001). For example, Agta women in central Africa hunt in groups with nets for small game, and do not hunt when they have infants, a limitation that men do not face (Noss, 2001). It is important to recognize that evolution by selection does not require or imply absolutes; there will often be a few examples that contrast with the general pattern. Therefore, in general men tend to hunt and women tend. )
(Emphasis mine) Source.

8.  Anthropologist Steven Kuhn argued the sexual division of labor did not exist prior to the upper Paleolithic (50k-10k years ago) (14:48)

1) Kuhn’s hypothesis is just one of several attempting to explain why H. sapiens out-competed Neanderthals. Viable competing theories include symbol use and the invention of projectile weaponry.

2) There is no consensus among archaeologists that the physical evidence proves upper Paleolithic humans were the first with a sexual division of labor, nor that Neanderthal’s lacked them.

3) Subsequent studies have concluded Neanderthal women did not hunt as Kuhn supposed. Read here.

4) RW cites Kuhn as proof that modern hunter-gatherers are not indicative of the past. Kuhn shares this view, but clarifies that such knowledge is useful in formulating models of the past. He wrote: […]models developed from data on recent hunter-gatherers are most informative precisely when they prove to be inadequate predictors of patterns encountered in the Paleolithic record. In using the present hunter-gatherer studies to detect disjunctive predictions about the Paleolithic hominins, he is engaging in the same comparative reasoning as evolutionary psychologists which RW is criticizing.

5) Kuhn is an anthropologist speaking to archaeology. His hypothesis rests on his knowledge and inferences about the ecology and cultures of the distant past. RW’s points 5 and 7 claim that such knowledge is not admissible for consideration/that we can’t know such things.

Read responses, including criticisms, of Kuhn’s paper at the end of the pdf at this link.

9. “Tons of scientists.. who think that EP is ‘just so stories’” (15:26)

It is unclear to whom “tons of scientists” refers. The only one named is Stephen Jay Gould who used the term “just so stories”, 33 years ago, which is no longer considered salient criticism by itself on the grounds of being trite and banal.

Scholarly rebuttals to Gould’s criticism can be read here and here.

10. RW describes EP process as choosing a behavior, “assuming it’s evolved, in response to environmental pressure”, and searching for relevant piece of evolutionary past. (15:41)

1) No one believes that just any behavior must be an adaptation. Behaviors are chosen for testing when they show coherent function which is not explained by existing understanding. Even then, an hypothesis is considered speculative without data.

2) It is unclear how RW envisions hypothesis generation in science. All science begins with an observation, and an attempt to account for it, generally using a research paradigm or model, then testing that account. In this regard, evolutionary psychology is standard science. RW seems to believe we can know what is true or false before we’ve even started.

11. V.S. Ramachandran published a “satire” study “Why gentlemen prefer blondes” (16:00)

1) He published his paper in a non-evolutionary
psychology journal Medical Hypotheses. If his “satire” submission was so indistinguishable from “real” evolutionary psychology, why not publish in a mainstream evolutionary psychology journal?

2) Medical Hypotheses defines itself as a space for unfounded and out-there ideas. Here is a bit from their website: “The journal will consider radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas provided they are coherently expressed.” About the journal Don Symons said, “If Medical Hypotheses is peer reviewed, it must be by chipmunks.”

Read a more complete response from anthropologist Don Symons here.

12. RW cites Satoshi Kanazawa’s work as an example of EP. (17:25)

Satoshi Kanazawa is a disgraced outlier, roundly criticized from within and evolutionary psychology. To wit:

1) RW cites an interview Kanazawa did for the Sun- a tabloid newspaper. In it, Kanazawa cites no original peer-reviewed research.

2) In 2011 he was fired from his job at Psychology Today.

3) 68 evolutionary psychologists issued a statement condemning his work on the basis of its poor quality and dishonest methods. It is titled Kanazawa’s bad science does not represent evolutionary psychology

4) According to the above statement, 24 critiques involving 59 different scientists have been published in peer-reviewed journals of Kanazawa’s work. Kanazawa has not responded to any of them since 2002, showing his disengagement. 

5) 35 leading minds in EP and related fields wrote a total deconstruction of his research model and published it in commentary in American Psychologist.

6) His own employer, the London School of Economics, forbade him (as punishment) from publishing in non-peer reviewed outlets for a full year and distanced themselvesfrom some of his work. 

13. During the lead-in to interlude about Cindy Meston & David Buss’s Why Women have Sex suggests the notion “women hate sex. Science has proven it” (20:07)

Citation needed. On Amazon’s copy about the book the promo explicitly includes “pleasure” as one reason. Buss & Meston’s research clearly shows pleasure is important to both sexes.

14. During the interlude about Cindy Meston & David Buss’s Why Women have Sex RW makes several false claims and misleading remarks (22:47)

 

1) RW states 1,000 women polled were all white and middle-class. This is false. The women polled were diverse in ethnicity, socio-economic status, and came from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, China, and Australia. source

2) RW criticizes the lack of a book about why men have sex. Most psychology research has a relatively narrow focus, they choose this topic because it interested them, much the same as any researchers in any field. Trying to understand one particular gender identity, age, race, class, or any other sub-group better is a perfectly legitimate goal unless there is evidence of bias, but no such evidence is presented by RW. Social scientists have often been criticized for focusing on men. It now seems they can not win no matter what they study. 

3) Apart from the focus on women, which is evidently not acceptable, it’s not clear why RW brought this book up.

4) RW lead into a segment about distorted views toward female sexuality (“women hate sex.. science proved it”) by citing two researchers whose work demonstrates some stereotypes about men and women are false. Read more at Psychology Today.

In discussion of the top 10 reasons men/women have sex, the top for both was that they’re attracted to the person, and there was not much difference between genders (said Cindy Meston in this video). Cindy goes on to say this flies in the face of gender stereotypes. 

15. RW insinuates authors of papers such as Gendered differences in receptivity to sexual offers say or imply women only want sex for marriage or other unsavory purposes. (22:43)

Citation needed. Nowhere in Clark & Hatfield’s paper is this claim made. RW may be conflating ultimate and proximate levels of explanation. Women being more sexually conservative (an uncontroversial claim in mainstream psychology) is not a value judgment about that. RW seems to believe it paints women in a negative light and projects this opinion into the heads of researchers. Here is the paper.

 

16. RW falsely implies that the study showing that men agreed to sex with a stranger and women didn’t means that the researchers deliberately set out to show “women hate sex” (23:41)

 

17. RW falsely implies that the research is part of some conspiracy, designed to prove a pre-set conclusion in the name of evolutionary psychology. (23:44)

1) In the discussion of expected results, it’s clear the researchers did not know what to expect. They outlined 3 possibilities; one in which both sexes were more receptive than expected, one in which less so, and one matching stereotypical views. From the paper: It may be, that men and women are not so different as social stereotypes suggest. Again and again, researchers have found that while men and women expect the sexes to respond in very different ways, when real men and real women find themselves caught up in naturalistic settings, they respond in much the same way. (p. 48)

2) Nowhere in the conclusion do the authors say or imply women do not like sex as much as men.

3) The authors are clearly social psychologists with no particular strong ties to evolutionary theories over cultural ones of the time. They write in the conclusion: Of course, the sociological interpretation- that women are interested in love while men are interested in sex- is not the only possible interpretation of these data. It may be, of course, that both men and women were equally interested in sex, but that men associated fewer risks with accepting a sexual invitation that did women. …also the remnants of a double standard may make women afraid to accept the man’s invitation(p. 52)

18. RW suggests an alternate explanation for the conclusion of the sexual offers studies: the threat of rape, but does so 23 years after the original authors. (25:23)

The original 1989 paper states as part of its conclusion that the risk of assault is greater for women, and that this could help explain the findings. (p. 51-52)

19. RW correctly indicates that the study suggesting strippers make more when they’re ovulating is bunk, but this one study is hardly the only word on the matter. (29:26)

The stripper study was indeed very flawed. However, these studies of behavior changes during ovulation are not:

Chavanne, T.J., & Gallup, G.G. (1998). Variation in risk taking behavior among female college students as a function of the menstrual cycle. Evolution and Human Behavior, 19, 27–32.

Fessler, D.M.T., & Navarrete, C.D. (2003). Domain-specific variationin disgust sensitivity across the menstrual cycle. Evolution and Human Behavior, 324, 406–417.

Gangestad, S.W., Simpson, J.A., Cousins, A.J., Garver-Apgar, C.E., & Christensen, P.N. (2004). Women’s preferences for male behavioral displays change across the menstrual cycle. Psychological Science, 15, 203–207. 

Gangestad, S.W., & Thornhill, R. (1998). Menstrual cycle variation in women’s preference for the scent of symmetrical men. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 262, 727–733. 

Gangestad, S.W., Thornhill, R., & Garver, C.E. (2002). Changes in women’s sexual interests and their  partners’ mate retention tactics across the menstrual cycle: Evidence for shifting conflicts of interest. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 269, 975–982. 

Gangestad, S.W., Thornhill, R., & Garver-Apgar, C.E. (2005). Female sexual interests across the ovulatory cycle depend on primary partner developmental instability. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 272, 2023–2027. 

Haselton, M.G., & Gangestad, S.W. (2006). Conditional expression of women’s desires and men’s mate guarding across the ovulatory cycle. Hormones and Behavior. 

Haselton, M.G., & Miller, G.F. (2002). Evidence for ovulatory shifts in attraction to artistic and entrepreneurial excellence. Human Nature. 

Johnston, V.S., Hagel, R., Franklin, M., Fink, B., & Grammer, K. (2001). Male facial attractiveness: Evidence for hormone mediated adaptive design. Evolution and Human Behavior, 23, 251–267. 

Macrae, C.N., Alnwick, K.A., Milne, A.B., & Schloerscheidt, A.M. (2002). Person perception across the menstrual cycle: Hormonal influences on social-cognitive functioning. Psychological Science, 13, 532–536. 

20. RW says that a New Scientist article on color perception is “trying to support a shitty stereotype about women.” This is largely correct, but the details are not amenable to the conspiratorial language, and show that the authors reflect on cultural influences and not merely biology. (34:27)

1) The authors stated clearly that both sexes and both English and Chinese ethnicities overwhelmingly prefer blues to any other color. This is not an impressive effort at supporting any stereotypes. 

2) The authors did expect cultural influence, including the Chinese belief that “red is lucky”. RW calls this observation the study “contradicting itself” instead of the authors merely considering all relevant factors. Evolutionary psychologists do not have a black & white view of culture versus biology. 

3) RW says part of the study was done in China. This is incorrect. The study was done in the UK. Some subjects were ethnically Han Chinese recently relocated to the UK. 

4) RW is correct that the authors really do strain to support a false premise that women in some way prefer a more reddish blue in order to help explain the purported preference for pink among women. This is not necessary as that is surely a cultural affectation and nothing more. Other studies assume as much, such as An evolutionary perspective of Sex-typed toy preferences: Pink, blue, and the brain. This paper by Gerianne Alexander provides a coherent EP perspective without any silly biological preference for pink sort of claims.

Read the paper featured in NewScientist  here.
Read Alexander’s paper here.

21. RW suggests that the stereotype that men cry less is invented and perpetuated by evolutionary psychologists. (35:40)

1) The evidence is that a reduced male tendency to cry (or to appear to cry) is not cultural. A 2011 study of 37 nations including Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Oceana and a total of 5,715 subjects found that in all places women report a stronger tendency to cry and to have done so more recently. Analysis of the 74 comparisons (2 measures x 37 nations) showed the same effect size for sex in all but three. This is very substantial evidence sex plays a significant role independent of culture. Read about it here. The study itself can be found in here. 

2) Lombardo et. al conducted a study on gender, crying in 1981, then again in 1996 using diverse subjects. Although many researchers noted the culture of the US had changed in that time, the two studies reported the same results. See “For Crying out loud..” here.

22. RW suggests that the idea that a woman’s place is the home is novel to the industrial era and that evolutionary psychologists are bent on looking for reasons to support the  stereotypical view. (36:08)

1) Citation needed with respect to evolutionary psychologists being determined to establish the stereotypical view. Here is what evolutionary psychologists say:

“Nothing in evolutionary theory privileges males over females, however, nor does evolutionary theory prescribe social ‘roles’ for either sex. Are ovaries superior to testicles? The question is meaningless. Are male mate preferences superior to female mate preferences? The question is equally meaningless.” -Edward Hagan

“[...] evolutionary explanations of the traditional division of labor by sex do not imply that it is unchangeable, “natural” in the sense of good, or something that should be forced on individual women or men who don’t want it.”-Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, p. 492

“[...] We share the view that men’s historical control of power and resources, a core component of patriarchy, can be damaging to women in domains ranging from being forced to endure a bad marriage to suffering crimes such as genital mutilation and ‘honor killings’ for perceived sexual infractions.” -David Buss and David Schmitt

2) RW may wish to reconsider using Steven Kuhn as a reference re: Pleistocene division of labor (see point 8) as his argument is that upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens had a well-developed sexual division of labor including that related to childcare 40,000 or more years prior to the industrial revolution. 

23. RW indicates that evolutionary psychologists are “using bad science to keep women and minorities down is nothing new” not much has changed in 100 years. (36:58)

Citation needed. There is no evidence that the evolutionary psychology research program is based on subjugation of anyone, and much to the contrary. Refutations in point 22 are similar. The claim of oppressing minorities is especially bizarre. A fundamental claim of evolutionary psychology is that human nature is pan-human, an idea which would undermine any biological justification of prejudice on the basis of class or race. 

24. RW says that evolutionary psychologists assert that “men evolved to rape” in order to justify rape with “it’s natural for men to rape”. (38:19)

1) Citation needed. There is no evidence that the evolutionary psychologists studying rape attempted to justify it in any way, shape or form, and evidence to the contrary (see 3&4 below) 

2) This is an incidence of the naturalistic fallacy. See discussion in section II part 5.

3) The evolutionary psychology of rape informs that rape is a more heinous violent crime than other types of assault. Commenting on Thornhill & Palmer’s book on the subject Tooby and Cosmides wrote, “Thornhill and Palmer argue that women evolved to deeply value their control over their own sexuality, the terms of their relationships, and the choice of which men are to be fathers of their children. Therefore, they argue, part of the agony that rape victims suffer is because their control over their own sexual choices and relationships was wrested from them.” Source 

4) There is no monolithic view on the truth of hypothesis that rape could be an adaption. David Buss and David Schmitt wrote in a 2011 paper Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism, “We concur with Symons’s 1979 summary that the then-available evidence was not “even close to sufficient to warrant the conclusion that rape itself is a facultative  adaptation in the human male” (Symons 1979, p. 284). We believe that his conclusion is as apt today as it was then.” These are very influential people in  evolutionary psychology rejecting the claim which RW says evolutionary psychology exists to promote. Source

25. RW correctly notes that stereotypes reduce minority interest in things like skeptical events and organizations. She describes a Stanford study which demonstrates the harmful effect of stereotype threats. This is well and good, but not especially relevant to RW’s topic, nor is any connection between the two created. (42:16)

Studies on the effects of stereotype threats are
revealing of the harm of stereotypes, but this says nothing about evolutionary psychology as a research program.

The relevance of this segment relies on the claim that evolutionary psychologists deliberately seek to support harmful stereotypes. As this is false, and everyone agrees that stereotypes can be very harmful. RW has produced no evidence of this claim, making the segment interesting but irrelevant to her thesis. 

V. Conclusion

During my undergraduate years, I was a secular student leader on my campus. For that reason, I attended the 3rd and 4th Skepticon conferences with my student group (I did not attend the most recent one in which Watson spoke about evolutionary psychology). I had a great time at both. Some of my favorite people and best friends attend and present at Skepticon. Here’s a photo of me with Rebecca Watson at Skepticon 3.

Good times.

The people I met and experiences I have had at Skepticon had a big impact on me. That’s one of the reasons I care so much about what happens there, and what the quality of the discourse is. The average attendee is a college student expecting to hear from authorities and experts. This isn’t just about Skepticon, though. As I write this Rebecca Watson is in Australia speaking at the Australian Skeptics National Convention. Watson travels all over the world as a self-appointed ambassador of skepticism, and of America. We should rightly be concerned about the quality of output of anyone fulfilling such an influential role.

Some of my colleagues have suggested, I would say cynically, that Rebecca Watson and her allies are likely to respond to this criticism by disparaging my character or insinuating I have ulterior motives (perhaps as part of the grand scientific conspiracy). I sincerely hope this is not the case. 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.

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. All of her skep-nomenclature trappings to the contrary, I do not think that Rebecca Watson understands this.

VI. Resources and further reading

Public google folder with PDFs of many studies referenced in this essay plus the above table in Microsoft Word format

Detailed evolutionary psychology FAQ at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology. Here is a  selection of questions from the FAQ:

Don Symons response to VS Ramachandran.
Rebuttals to David Buller’s book Adapting Minds.
John Alcock on why Stephen Jay Gould was wrong.
68 Scientists condemn Satoshi Kanazawa as “not representing evolutionary psychology”

  • ZedZero

    A password protected blog post? I don’t get it?

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t see any post. Nothing to see here. Move along…

  • bluharmony

    I think you’ve proved your case beyond a reasonable doubt, to be honest. Brilliant.

  • ThePrussian

    Topnotch piece of work. Very well done!

    • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

      It’s really a shame this was allowed at a skeptic conference. No one should accept any argument just because they agree with its conclusion, as I have warned Christians about. I am appalled that simply because she is an internet celebrity for other reasons she is accepted as an expert on anything else. Do we not have credentialed experts who can give talks like these? Right now I’m ashamed of my own community. I can only expect better in the future, and I do.

      • http://profiles.google.com/ekscalybur Bernard Michael

        This also bothers me. Before slotting her in that time, didn’t they know what she was going to talk about? Didn’t somebody that was organizing this event even think, “Watson is going to give a speech for nearly an hour on a subject she knows absolutely nothing about?”

        What kind of skeptic event will give time, and credence via the fact they are allowing them to give a speech, to someone who is going to spend nearly an hour just making shit up?

        • Clare45

          I think conference organizers give her a free rein to speak about anything she wants. She is probably not asked to be a speaker because of her scientific qualifications-she hasn’t any, but because she is a well known controversial internet personality. The audience who listen to her expect humour and fluff rather than any serious thoughts.

          • tim hem

            oh how I wish that were true Clare – sadly there are many that are quite happy to give her words credibility.

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/rockbeyondbelief/2012/12/02/is-evolutionary-psychology-not-getting-a-fair-shake/

            Her talk would have been fine if she put a disclaimer at the start – that it was just for laughs and giggles. But then it wasnt just for laughs – it was poisoning the well (as Martin Wagner might say)

          • http://twitter.com/brian_carnell brian_carnell

            This comment is interesting in retrospect (defending RW after Russell Blackford tweeted he wouldn’t attend any conference were RW was presenting):

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/11/we-have-always-been-at-war-with-the-insect-peoples/#comment-350803

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

            Ophelia Bensen has become an embarrassment to skepticism over this issue (as have many others, notably PZM).

          • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

            This is precisely the problem with the kind of neo-skepticism coming out of sources like FTB and Skepchick – it’s long on snark and really short on serious inquiry, and for the most part, is heavily populated by amateurs. Now in defense of amateurs, I will point out that there are some non-scientists with a *very* good understanding of evolutionary biology, who have taken the time to educate themselves on the subject, even without formal academic training. (I’d put myself about halfway between – I studied fungal taxonomy and ecology in grad school and hence do have formal education in evolutionary biology, but on the subject of human evolution and behavioral science in general, am more of an informed amateur.) On the other hand, there are those like Watson who have read zero professional papers on the topic, and have read *just* enough derivative work to give some sourcing to their a priori biases.

            Of course, it should also be pointed out that the skeptical movement from its beginnings has been populated by non-scientists – both Martin Gardner and James Randi were non-scientists, after all, and Randi’s background in stage magic was instrumental in exposing the fraudulent “psychics” than the at-the-time accepted as scientific field of parapsychology. That said, I can’t imagine either of those two attempting such an amateurish debunking of field of scientific inquiry as Watson has done.

          • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            I should point out, one founder of the modern skepticism movement is a scientist, and a damn good one. Ray Hyman. I interviewed him, on this blog. http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous/2012/10/18/rayhyman/

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

        She’s not just allowed, she’s promoted, as she’s a pet of PZMyers … who went so far as to attack John Wilkins for recommending this article.

  • Zachary_Bos

    “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.”

    Hear, hear. I trust that this is true. I would offer, though, that we might not call Watson’s presentation a case of science *denialism*, as much as a misunderstanding *of* a particular field. I trust that your dialogue with her about her criticism, and potential misconception, of this or that aspect of EP, will proceed with good will and enthusiasm.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I think Cook & Hoofnagle would agree with you. There is a difference between people who merely may know little about a topic or are a bit misinformed and those whom we might call denialist. We should take care not to confuse those (plus, I loathe hyperbole on blogs). I think in this case, that the evidence warrants the term but I am glad to debate the point, and any others herein.

      • zenspace

        If recent history is any indicator, this truly excellent analysis will be seen as an attack against all women and RW in particular by a certain group of persons whom I shall refrain from naming. Watch out for the Flying Monkeys to arrive ready to bear. I have read a few other comments by attendees that her presentation was abysmal from the standpoint of science or skepticism. I don’t think it is a stretch to point out that the ‘science’ she used is conveniently cherry picked and matched to promote an ideological goal that has been obvious for some time now. If anything, your article confirms she was worse than even I feared.
        I study human behavior and consciousness/cognition as a hobby but, aside from casual conversations on the topic, I do not have the detailed formal background that you do to speak in any real depth on the topic. Accordingly, the many references and balanced commentary you presented in this article are greatly appreciated. Thank you for that.

  • CommanderTuvok

    A very good and detailed “calling out” of Rebecca Watson.

    Just out of interest, have any of the other skeptics at FreeThoughtBlogs criticised her approach and conclusions on this one?

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

      Not that I know of. But I only read Maryam Namazie’s blog from there. Nevertheless, I would be surprising -and I might have read about it- it someone had.

    • Eliza Sutton

      A couple of hours ago, Justin Griffith at Rock Beyond Belief at FtB put up a post about Ed Clint’s analysis above; he presents the link to Ed’s “eye-opening rebuttal” and says he now wonders whether evo psych might “not [be] getting a fair shake” but he doesn’t (in the blog post) allude to the quality (much less the absence) of evidence in her presentation. He says near the end, “You can still be a supporter of Rebecca Watson and disagree with her on something” – as if Ed’s analysis above is merely disagreeing with her position.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/rockbeyondbelief/2012/12/02/is-evolutionary-psychology-not-getting-a-fair-shake/

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      No one at FtB would criticize her even if they were inclined to, as it would be treason to the “anti-MRA” tribe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.prophet Sean Prophet

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. The world owes you a debt. Progress occurs not so much through discovery, but public acceptance.

  • Pingback: Rebecca Watson Just Got Pwned! | Avant Garde

  • http://twitter.com/safeguardnda Safgard Endea

    TRIGGER WARNING: FACT-CHECKING.

    And it’s beautiful, simply beautiful!

  • http://profiles.google.com/steverino63 Steve Snyder

    Much of Ev Psych, or rather Pop Ev Psych, is bullshit. That’s from the vagaries of the EEA (which, realistically could be 2 million years ago on color vision and psychology vs. 50K on language and psychology), to just being wrong, and arguably for sexist reasons, on things like man the (noble) hunter-gatherer, when humans were scavenger gatherers long before that. I mean, really, David Buller obliterated most claims of Pop Ev Psychers half a decade to a decade ago. Here’s some of my blog posts on the subject: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/search/label/Pop%20Evolutionary%20Psychology

  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    Sadly, what Watson has done is reminiscent of Michael Behe. To say that something is not evolutionarily adaptive because we don’t know how exactly it is modulated at the molecular level is what Behe does. And in the case of Watson it is just as unscientific as Behe.
    Great job writing this.

    • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

      I’m not convinced that the analogy holds.

      What Behe does is claim that there is no incremental pathway to get to a given biochemical system. He tends to egg on his face a lot for doing so, whenever such a pathway is pointed out.

      What Twatson is (perhaps) claiming, correctly, though in this case for the wrong reasons, is that putative EP adaptations are implausible in the sense that our biology does not support them, which is true. They tend not to square with what is known about human neurodevelopment and for such an allegedly “biological” science, hard biology is most often conspicuously absent in EP claims.

      • http://twitter.com/thedarkerside Michael

        Watson has shown repeatedly that her views on Gender relations trump anything else. So I have a hard time believing that she made anything like an “honest mistake” or that she could accept anything, regardless of how well researched and documented, that does not fit in her worldview.

        This is really no different than Behe who twists reality to conform to his view of it.

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        Once again, in case you are unaware, the name is Watson.

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    “Satoshi Kanazawa seems to be her ‘hockey stick graph’ which she believes is enough to damn the whole of the science.”

    This comparison suggests you think that Mann’s “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction is bogus. Is that your intent?

    While I’m not up on the current state of the debate, evolutionary psychology has been heavily criticized as a discipline, including by philosophers of science such as Philip Kitcher (who, in an interview in Human Nature Review in 2004*, called it much less sophisticated than the pop sociobiology he criticized in his book Vaulting Ambition). You cite Michael Shermer as commenting on the maturity of evolutionary psychology, but I found it interesting the contrast between the Skeptics Society conference of 1996 on evolutionary psychology and the Skeptics Society conference of 2005 on brain, mind, and consciousness, in which several speakers were quite dismissive of evolutionary psychology.

    Within the skeptical community, there are others who have questioned the validity of evolutionary psychology, including Massimo Pigliucci (“Is evolutionary psychology a pseudoscience?” Skeptical Inquirer 30(2):23-24). (For the record, Pigliucci’s answer to the question isn’t “yes,” but it’s not quite a firm “no,” either.)

    * http://human-nature.com/nibbs/04/kitcher.pdf

    • An Ardent Skeptic

      There are appropriate ways for skeptics to make claims and support those claims, which Ed has done. The point of this post is that Rebecca chose not to exercise the due diligence we should expect and demand of ourselves as skeptics.

      And, your reference to Massimo Pigliucci further proves Ed’s point. Pigliucci stance, according to you, is “the question isn’t “yes, but it’s not quite a firm “no,” either”. Rebecca, OTOH, is making a claim that Evo Psych is complete bullshit meant to perpetuate gender stereotypes. There’s not a whole lot of nuance in her stance. And, Ed has shown that her claim is not supported by evidence.

      • http://twitter.com/GerhardPrinslo1 Gerhard Prinsloo

        I think we have seen enough of Watson to know that the science is of interest only as far as it can be twisted to support an agenda. I know that’ll be seen as an ill-considered statement, but how much evidence do you need? The elephant in the room has been ignored for too long. The talk was political, not scientific. It’s no secret that there is a big split in the atheist/skeptic world and that evolutionary psychology has been unpopular amongst Watson’s friends for a while. PZ Myers is known to be a strong critic of the field and his antipathy always puzzled me until his views on gender politics became clearer.

        I’m no evolutionary biologist and the poor quality of that talk was immediately obvious. The fact that she can get away with this is disturbing.

    • fascination

      What is your opinion on Watson’s “conspiracy theory”? That all these scientists (Evolutionary Psychologists) around the world are just trying to oppress women?

      • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

        The idea that evolutionary psychology is a conspiracy theory to oppress women is absurd. The idea that there are evolutionary psychologists with sexist biases that affect their work is not absurd. Was Watson’s claim closer to the latter or the former?

        • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

          I would ask you to find any comment in the video where Watson says “there are some..” or “some ep’s are sexist..” This is not what she says. She says repeatedly things to the effect of “it’s bullshit” and “women hate sex, science has proven it” (not, some researchers say…). Her tone and words are extremely clear throughout her entire talk.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

          “Was Watson’s claim closer to the latter or the former?”

          The video is posted above … why not just watch it and find out?

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      The short answer is that I don’t find the objections to evolutionary psychology persuasive (this is a gross generalization. Some critiques are very well made). But any of them that conclude “this is all pseudoscience” are difficult to support.

      That said, there are significant epistemological challenges for EP, and there is plenty of room for criticism of it, at large scales and small. Watson’s attack on it does not qualify as academic criticism, however.

      • http://twitter.com/SomeProfessor Tenure Hell

        I think you offer a balanced challenge to what you see as problematic with Watson’s presentation. I particularly appreciate your comment above about significant epistemological challenges for EP. I teach a human development class and I try to include multiple perspectives, including EP, on human development while pointing out the challenges that each perspective faces when dealing with such a complex, multifactoral phenomenon.

  • http://profiles.google.com/steverino63 Steve Snyder

    Oh, Buller’s never actually been refuted. Sorry, just hasn’t happened. In addition, legitimate Ev Psych would be better off simply junking the idea of an EEA. Beyond criticisms I’ve already mentioned, the idea isn’t falsifiable or testable now, and likely may never be.

    I’m fan of Rebecca Watson on any number of grounds, and she arguably cribbed a lot of her arguments. But, you’re wrong, too, and two wrongs definitely don’t make a right here.

  • http://thearmchairskeptic.com/ The Armchair Skeptic

    Excellent work, and not just for the thorough debunking of Watson’s talk. It has helped fill some gaps I had in my understanding of evo psych. Thanks!

  • http://godlessradio.net/ Reap Paden

    It’s so nice to know there are people like you walking around on the planet, and sharing knowledge to help rid the world of ignorance. Great work

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      wow, thank you so much Reap.

  • http://profiles.google.com/steverino63 Steve Snyder

    Regular readers of my blog know that I have nothing but scorn for Atheist Plusers, especially the likes of Rebecca Watson, even more than for “old” Gnu Atheists.

    That said? Bottom line? Watson is a twit aspiring for intellectual pretensions. “Lucky” for her, she hit gold in stumbling on something that to some degree (Randy Tanehill and the adaptiveness of rape, anybody) halfway fit her concerns about sexism, even if she did crib all her arguments. It’s too bad that there’s not a better refutation of Watson at SkepticInk than this one, which is, in its last part, worthy of ridicule itself. And, so, Rebecca winds up with a new tar baby.

    Really, you folks. Real skeptics would not have the list of bullshit rhetorical questions and such above, most of which are either not true or not provable.

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/12/two-wrongs-definitely-dont-make-right_1.html

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      “Regular readers of my blog”

      Are there any?

  • Eliza Sutton

    Excellent piece. Detailed analysis, robustly referenced. Bravo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

    This is not an isolated incident, either. Just a few weeks ago I got tangled up with some denialists about “psychological sex differences” on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/events/347443245331691/permalink/372714749471207/ ). None other than Greg Laden shows up to spread the FUD. Literally could not bother himself to use Google to answer his own questions. What a disgrace.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I was there as well. As I recall, it was tricky to get people to even talk about the sources we were supposedly arguing about.

  • Bert Russell

    “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.”

    Am I the only one that finds it unacceptable that reasoned criticisms regarding of stances have to be include clarifications like the excerpt above? Is that the kind of people we’re dealing with? People that can’t differentiate and automatically equate criticisms of views with criticisms of the person who holds those views?

    • http://twitter.com/GerhardPrinslo1 Gerhard Prinsloo

      Yes. Those are the kinds of people being dealt with. After they have proven that, then you can quite legitimately criticise them as people. The reluctance of the big names in skeptic circles to do so has become part of the problem.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1665382363 Scott Locklin

        Which is why the sensible way to deal with people like Miz Watson is to simply notice that they are cabbage headed imbeciles, and anyone who listens to them are credulous numskulls no matter what they call themselves.

        • nash984954

          Ha Ha I love the way you put that, as it does seem to fit. I really
          never knew RW was so unqualified as she seems to be, like any popular ‘personality’, I guess. I am a Feminist and that since the first issue Ms mag came out, about the time a big push for the ERA Amendment was a rage in the 70s, which I was all for.
          Thunderf00t’s view on Atheism + and Carrier’s statement of you’re with us or agin us nonsense has me disappointed(Carrier, not Tf00t) in my fellow Freethinker/skeptics/atheists as they DO NOT speak for me, and his comments about RWs complaints on an elevator thing, both were spot on, especially after RWs showing at Skeptikon and her extreme criticism of EP, as Clint shows here, she seems like every issue is about women being oppressed, not that it doesn’t happen, but if you act like a hammer all you see are nails to pound in. So, thanks for the perfect description, “cabbage headed imbeciles…credulous numbskulls” made me lol.

    • http://twitter.com/GerhardPrinslo1 Gerhard Prinsloo

      Forgot to add that I’m not convinced that they can’t differentiate between attacks on them and attacks on their views. Easier to claim oppression if you are being attacked personally.

      • http://profiles.google.com/ekscalybur Bernard Michael

        You are 100% correct. Any criticism of anything that group of ‘skeptics’ say, is met with cacophonic screams of sexism, privilege and patriarchy.

        Instead of defending the guano flying out of their mouths and/or keyboards, or even acknowledging the criticism, they (Skepchicks, FtB’ers et al) simply attack the criticizer and demonize him.

        • Peter Houlihan

          Or her, because you don’t have to be a guy to realise that being asked for coffee isn’t oppression.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

            Indeed, there are way more women expressing criticism of Watson et al. than one would realize if one has only heard the ‘skepchick’ version of history.

    • http://twitter.com/Nithuun Ben Hawkins

      You can never ever ever interact with a Feminist without being subject to repeated ad hominem attacks if you’re not 100% in agreement on their rhetoric. That’s the sad truth even among “skepchicks”.
      “You disagree with me? Sexist! Racist! Virgin! Chauvinist! Loser!”

      The more Feminists are around the more likely it is to happen. In a one-on-one discussion they’ll wait until you’ve responded and put them on defense and damage control, and then usually end the discussion in a huff. But if there’s so much as 2 or 3 others around they’ll jump right into trying to stir up a frenzy of rabid support from their fellows by painting a target on you with their labels.

      So yes. Every interaction with these people requires elaborate disclaimers before anything else.

      • http://www.facebook.com/wagnerfilm Martin Wagner

        “You can never ever ever interact with a Feminist without being subject to repeated ad hominem attacks if you’re not 100% in agreement on their rhetoric.”

        And obviously, you can never talk about feminists at all without sweeping well-poisoning and hasty generalization fallacies.

        • bluharmony

          I was told by these people thast I couldn’t be a feminist because I believe in equal rights for all and don’t subscribe to radical feminist theory. This is despite the fact that I actually support every feminist cause, including affirmative action in certain situations. So I think we can safely say that some generalizations about this particular group of feminists can be made, though they won’t all hold true, of course.

          • derpanerb

            Every feminist cause?

            Like protesting warren farrel? Or opposing the creation of a men’s center at SFU? OR VAWA? Or the duluth model? Or special considerations in Obamacare for women only?

            All feminist supported, and all shining examples of something that is 100% NOT equality.

            So when you say “I believe in equal rights for all” and then say “I actually support every feminist cause”… you are completely fucking full of shit.

          • bluharmony

            Do you seriously believe that all feminists are the same? Besides, I don’t go around calling myself one. But I’m pro-choice, pro-maternal/paternal leave, pro-child support by both parents, and pro-free contraception/abortion for women who need it. I’m against almost everything done by Watson, Myers, and the Skepchicks. Also, what’s your problem? Do you get off on being foul and rude to people you know nothing about? How special.

          • Astrokid NJ

            Seems some people cant differentiate between generalizations and universal statements. Going by this standard, we should never say “religion poisons everything” (surely there’s some thing religion doesnt poison), or “birds fly” (even though kiwis, ostriches dont). The vast majority of religious people dont do atheists any harm.. so why are atheists bitching about religion? Could it be the small number of people who cause harm hold power?

            Like it or not.. opinions and generalizations are formulated based on those who are most visible. And most sane people have the ethical sense to suspend a generalization when dealing with an actual individuals.. and give them the benefit of doubt. And if the individual in question fails the test, then its a matter of “I told you so”.

            I call this kind of feminism supporters “census feminists” (a.l.a Dawkins’ Census Christians). They keep yapping about pro-choice etc that most sane people have no objections with.. while not saying a thing about the large amount of harm that feminism has done through its official channels.. like NOW. These are all very well documented things for several decades now.. for e.g Fathers Rights Activist Glenn Sacks has been writing the men’s side since 10+ years. Christina Hoff Sommers has been writing about the unjust stuff feminists do to men for almost 20 years now. To those who have studied feminist history, FROM ALL ANGLES, what FTB/skepchicks do to dissidents is nothing new.
            for e.g last month’s Warren Farrell Protest at University of Toronto. OR look up “Lace Curtain”.

            “census feminists” are vastly uninformed about feminist practice.. for e.g they believe that domestic violence is mostly male perpetrated (and thus justify draconian laws like VAWA and duluth model) which is an old myth that Hoff Sommers etc have written about for over a decade.. and debunked by academics as well. I included several links in a previous post. This is exactly what the religious apologists do.. focus only on good stuff.. like charity. Going by this logic, atheists have no right to criticize them. The unwillingness to look at the big picture is what repulses us anti-feminists. The cherry on top is that some of the “census feminists” call themselves a skeptic.

          • bluharmony

            I am very aware of Sommers’ work as well as that of Stepher Pinker’s sister. And I don’t deny that there are problems with what “gender” feminism does to boys and men. This is part of the reason I decided that it’s unacceptable for me to describe myself as a feminist, and to simply address specific issues instead.

          • nash984954

            Good for you, you didn’t take the bait, whereas, I apparently did, perhaps when you hear nothing then you say nothing. :-) Don’t be afraid of the name Feminism, I proudly wear, though I don’t push that label, I hope RW and her ilk don’t end up re-defining it according to themselves, in which case I’ll retire the name.

          • bluharmony

            I’ve stopped using the word (in fact, I’ve never really used it, except in the sense of “equity feminism”), but that doesn’t change what I believe in, and I believe that women are intelligent, capable, resourceful human beings who are in every way up to the challenge of competing with men in any intellectual arena. Thanks for your comment; I appreciate it.

          • Dhoelscher

            I look forward to seeing your comment deleted. It’s a blatant and nasty violation of the (completely reasonable) rules here.

          • bluharmony

            Exactly.

          • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            You are probably new here, and I assume you have strong feelings which resulted in you speaking more callously than you might have otherwise, so I will just edit that part out. But please try to keep your replies respectful and civil.

          • nash984954

            Thank you Ed, the last thing I want is to come to a skeptics science blog to hear blanket spiels about how life is un-equal for men, or anti-feminist rants.

            If I can jump in here and address a couple things.

            I’m new here actually, first time, and I got the link from a youtuber, integralmath, praising your account of RWs speech&claims, which I read, and pretty much agree with, and I didn’t know she was not really a scientist, but an internet/twitter personality. Previously, I’d listen intently to her comments, which mostly my mind wasn’t ever made up about until I read Thunderf00t’s really good analysis of skeptic conventions and some women’s problems there.
            As I read your critique here, I took a short break and looked up science blogs and found Greg Laden writing about your article here, and I still think I’m in agreement with you, I mean really, what is the use of someone(we do all have blind spots) who will say men are women poisoned by testosterone, or something like that? I did learn a bit more from you about Evo-Psych. I’ve just never equated psychology with ‘real’ science though most textbooks contain a lot about the scientific method used in their studies, it just seemed unrelated since humans are so variable, contradictory, making it tough to nail down any real knowledge, whereas, chemistry, physics, are more defined and “real.” I read an interview with EOWilson recently which changed my mind a bit about EP being real science, though he is a Biologist,and founded sociobiology, his efforts are a lot like Evo-Psych.
            I look forward to good stuff at this site, thnx Ed.

          • http://twitter.com/ikonografer ikonografer

            i suggest calming down a bit. i would submit to you that in this case, bluharmony’s use of the word ‘every’, is roughly equivalent to ‘every reasonable’. it seems pretty clear to me that bluharmony’s position is closer to ‘humanism’ than ‘feminism’–though they can use whatever moniker they prefer.

          • nash984954

            “All feminist supported, and all shining examples of something that is 100% NOT equality.”

            Define what you think equality means. Does it matter that VAWA was based on the fact that 50% of all murders were women killed by their significant other ‘men’ partners?Is that the kind of equality you mean?
            Or the fact that women historically have had to bear the greater share of the burden of contraception risks and contraception itself(the pill, which can cause blood clots) though it can cause physical problems, some do benefit medically. Viagra is covered, why not women’s contraception?Also, historically, women have had to pay more for medical benefits.Pregnancy was thought of as a pre-existing condition. At one time, women took medication for which no women were included in the drug trials’ pre-testing, Women do seem to have greater hormone fluctuations due to pregnancy preparation, which, if nothing else their health needs are a bit more involved.
            What exactly is your point? Trip up bluharmony, catch them in a contradiction? To criticise/expose in your mind Feminisms flaws?To show it is not for equalty, but to dominate men? Huge Fail, my friend.

          • MosesZD

            Birth control is covered. Blue Cross/Blue Shield. $30 a month.
            Viagra, btw, isn’t (same Blue Cross/Blue Shield). Well, actually, it is. The deductible is a floating deductible equal to what you pay for it. (Clever trick that.)
            So, effectively, it’s not.

        • tim hem

          Oh Martin. Come on my lil skeptical buddy…do you have comment to make on the article? or are you just going for cheap point scoring.

          You see Martin, this article gets to the very core of my problem with RW et al….and its nothing to do with feminism.

          • jjramsey

            I find little wrong with Wagner’s comment. Ben Hawkins made a slapdash comment about feminists that had little to do with reality, and Wagner called him on it.

          • tim hem

            nothing wrong with his comment at all – just a shame thats what he decides to comment on when the article had nothing to do with feminism. I like Martin calling out people for talking bull….did he per chance read the article above?

        • fascination

          Martin, I’m a big fan of your show! Maybe you could have an episode where Rebecca Watson debates Steven Pinker and/or Ed Clint. the debate would be about Evolutionary Psychology. It would be awesome to see Steven Pinker, Ed Clint and Rebecca Watson on the show.

        • http://twitter.com/Eshto Ryan Grant Long

          Let’s narrow it down then. There is a core group of feminist “skeptics” ruining the image of feminism. They don’t represent all feminists despite trying very hard to position themselves as the official spokespeople of all things “social justice”. I took gender studies in college. I live in liberal Madison. I’m a member of the gay community. I know lots and lots of lefty feminists. I’ve had polite disagreements on various topics with a lot of them over the past decade and we remained friends.

          However, on-line, within the last year and a half, and almost entirely without exception, my interactions with the so-called feminist “skeptics” (we all know who they are, I don’t need to name them) and their fans have been overwhelmingly negative. They lecture me on topics I’ve already studied almost a decade before they read about it on a blog somewhere, insult me, throw terms around from sociology they barely seem to understand, blog writers encourage their followers to gang up, reasonable comments are deleted while base insults are allowed, and anyone who disagrees, even slightly, is accused of “misogyny”. This is a problem.

          It is becoming more and more common to encounter people like Ben who now have a very low opinion of feminism because of the rude and unprofessional behaviors of ranting, self-described feminists on-line. I don’t blame him. The loudmouthed feminist “skeptics” are doing a great job of making feminism look hysterical, clueless, radical and anti-intellectual.

          Incidentally if anyone is interested in hearing about a real experience with taking gender studies courses at a reputable university, I have my own account here: http://ryangrantlong.blogspot.com/2012/09/influences-lgbt-studies-at-uw-madison.html

          When all of this drama went down it was particularly jarring since I had grown accustomed to studying gender and sexuality issues in a formal academic setting, under the guidance of qualified professors whose primary goal was to educate. In complete contrast, the goals of the feminist “skeptic” clique seems to be exactly the opposite: to jam a particular (and radical) ideology down everyone’s throats, throw science and skepticism under the bus when they don’t support that ideology, stifle dissent and retaliate against dissenters by attacking them on opinion blogs or smearing their public reputations.

          • http://twitter.com/safeguardnda Safgard Endea

            The ability to easily share information is a double-edged sword. It means that luminaries and lunatics get equal time–the ability to interact with an audience, which is what all social media affords, only compounds the problem. You see, you can ignore people too easily for the most trivial of reasons on blogs. You can elect not to receive any information from people at all, if you so choose.

            This isn’t just about opinions. It’s about personality cults. They can happen to anybody. Let’s say that you’re a marginalized, disaffected person who starts sharing their opinion and then, miracle of miracles, other people share that feeling too! You get a group of like-minded people who probably don’t want to think that they may be wrong.

            In this case, the people latching most desperately to this strange, ugly form of Feminism strike me as being emotionally damaged. These are the Feminists that exemplify the stereotypes right-wingers have been saying for years, and it’s not helping the cause of equality. Feminism, at least as I was sold on it, was about treating people fairly. But this new beast is something different. It’s disgusting. It’s as silly, stupid, asinine and vitriolic as any religion of the world. What’s most telling about these people is the language they employ in dealing with others–they do not shy from “snark” and sarcasm. Sarcasm and cynicism are effective ways to get a point across when used sparingly–but it’s more than that. They are outright disrespectful, and seem to have nothing but disdain for those who disagree, however slightly.

            And the funniest part is, they will clamor for people to shut up and be quiet when seen to be behaving–prepare yourself–inconsiderately, and without sensitivity. Look at their use of the phrase “Trigger Warning”. I have my own special contempt for that phrase. It’s designed to shield fragile, weak people from the horrors of Reality. The thinking goes that if someone is so frail that even discussing sexism, racism, or genocide, or anything else could compel them to commit self-harm, then bloggers would at least be considerate to forewarn them of it.

            Except that in telling them what’s coming, you plant the idea in their head anyway. I’m offended by this (like that counts for anything!) because it puts the onus on me to be responsible for someone else’s mental health. If you want to kill yourself because you read something nasty on the Internet, then you need to stay off the Internet. You’re too frail for it.

            (That goes for the bullies who see things they don’t like and want to use false DMCA takedowns to silence opposition.)

          • nash984954

            Good points, but I don’t know about anyone else, but I always take the position I’m so wrong, plain full of bull, don’t have enough info to decide, or am never certain that my hidden bias is speaking instead of a rational educated mind considering the issue at hand.Sometimes, though I won’t concede to accepting racist, ethnic, sexist, dehumanising attitudes in any discussion, without pointing them out, silence, or a non-response is all I can muster, but even then I think if I accept the slurs, they may think I agree with my silence, which is worst to me.
            Personally, after reading in 1979, a new book at the time, called “Nonsense, How to Overcome It,” by Robert J Gula I learned a lot about sound and unsound, valid and invalid arguments, political and advertisers agendas, logical fallacies, and so much about the ‘nonsense’ all around me that made it so tough to carry on a sane rational conversation(I lived in the South, so maybe that was part of it, :-)).
            2 things in the book I recall more than others, though. I hope it’s not too long.

            Page 17, “A person doesn’t have to be wise;he doesn’t have to know what he’s talking about;he merely has to appear to the ignorant to know more than the person who does know what he’s talking about.”

            AND: Page 191, o. “Finally, no matter how skilled in argument you may become, never forget the opening sentence of Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado”:
            ‘The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.'”
            ‘The world does not need another smart aleck.’
            All the great tips in that book and those 2 are prominent in my mind, even after 23 years. And I still refer to that book now and then. I really think all skeptic/freethinker types should read it, that one and one other, “Less than Words Can Say,”by Richard Mitchell, as they shine a light on how today their insights are needed more than ever(though written in the mid to late 70s) to sift through so much bullshit and everyone voicing ‘opinions’ in the name of free speech, when they should actually be voicing “informed” opinions only, which over the years has caused discourse to be less factually and more emotionally charged.and now with a forum, the internet, almost seemingly just FOR spewing BULLSHIT like the many rightwinger sites(I’m all for a different opinion conservative or liberal, but the Tprty has infected an entire political party and seems reality challenged.

          • nash984954

            Ryan, I agree 100%, the well has been poisoned by these folks who think they speak for all Feminists, as they portray Feminism as a radical, rabid dumbed down anachronistic ideology without real meaning,except to demonize men, and the view is prevalent online, also prevalent to meet folks like Ben who have a very negative view of Feminism itself based on the few he’s dealt with, and I may have been wrong, but he seemed to be talking about ‘women’ Feminists in his comment. Thanks for the link and sane, rational, thoughtful commentary.

        • jbrisby

          He’s not wrong though.

        • http://twitter.com/ikonografer ikonografer

          sorry, it’s neither hasty nor overgeneralizing to claim ‘feminists’ are the problem. ‘feminism’ is an ideology. that ideology is firmly anti-science, and like all ideologies, it is unskeptical of its own claims. moreover, it rests not on actual data, but distortions, misrepresentations and outright falsifications of data.

          on the other hand, if you’re all in a huff b/c you’re a *humanist*, and are merely using the term ‘feminist’, i suggest you change the way you self identify to reflect that.

          i would suggest that if Ben Hawkins, who you responded to above, can ‘….never talk about feminists…”, you are either deliberately misrepresenting him, aware of every single statement the man has ever uttered, or since you make a mistake i would teach my incoming freshmen *ahem* *never* to make–that is, using absolutist terms such as *never*, that you are therefore omniscient, a liar, or woefully incapable of carrying on a civilized discussion, w/o resorting to the same type of fallacious argument you’re erroneously trying to point out.

          have a sunshiny day

          • nash984954

            Your comment reeks of elitist absolutism BS. “it’s neither hasty nor overgeneralizing to claim ‘[insert teachers who have to teach incoming freshmen here]‘ are the problem” Where is the evidence that Feminism is anti-science due to its being an ideology?It actually is more than an ideology. It has led many women to speak up for themselves, and it isn’t just about women.You failed to notice Wagner purpoeful mimicking Ben’s blatant absolutism statements without resorting to calling him a complete ass.

            Absolutism???After you say this about the ideology of Feminism,
            “it rests not on actual data, but distortions, misrepresentations and outright falsifications of data.” Amazing, aren’t YOU unskeptical of your claims here?I saw nothing to reference a back up for your statement just more yakkity yak..

            ‘resorting to the same type of fallacious argument you’re erroneously trying to point out.’ pot, meet kettle, kettle, meet pot.

        • MosesZD

          Sadly though, this does seem to be the state. I have yet, in any public forum, seen feminists (and their flying monkey appologists) fail to attack someone personally (including those insults) when they point out some of their sacred cows are false assertions and in no way, shape or form, actually comport to observed human behavior in society.

      • nash984954

        That’s if you assume all Feminists are female and go to Skepchik exclusively. Feminism is not about women, it’s about human rights and it’s unfortunate it was labelled Feminism since at that time sexism and patriarchy were so blatant it was addressed first. Amazed I haven’t called you: “Sexist! Racist! Virgin! Chauvinist! Loser” yet, because ‘you disagree with me’? must be because I’m a man and a Feminist. And DO NOT call me a mangina.I think you limit yourself to just those whom you haven’t had the best experiences with. As they say when you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, that’s just people, not Feminists or whatever you call yourself. Sadly, the human brain tends to stereotype and categorise sometimes wrongly, too.BTW, You’re not trying to set yourself up for attack from Feminists as some will disagree with your characterization of Feminists.Open your mind, I may be wrong, but you sound inexperienced in talking to very many different types of folks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

      “Is that the kind of people we’re dealing with? People that can’t
      differentiate and automatically equate criticisms of views with
      criticisms of the person who holds those views, or that just don’t want
      to for some quasi-religious reason?”

      Yes. Definitely, yes.

  • David Holman

    This was a great article, I’m a big fan of evolutionary psychology and I learned a ton in this article. Thank you for this!

    I hope that you’re not attacked by Watson and her kind and that they listen to your critique!

  • real horrorshow

    Why is Watson being invited to speak at these conferences, rather than Ed Clint? Who are people paying large sums to attend conferences to watch a hungover charlatan bumble her way through this nonsense? They’re not sceptics by any sane definition.

    • http://www.facebook.com/wagnerfilm Martin Wagner

      Skepticon is free to attend.

      • bluharmony

        It’s only free to attend if you live near by. In any case, the organization must pay for the speakers flights, hotel, and other costs, and must raise funds somehow. Having seen the quality of the speakers (and I’m not talking about the likes of Dawkins, Krauss or many others) I would never donate to an organization that invites people like Watson or Myers because I believe they do far more harm than good to the causes I care about. And that’s how we decide on these things — with our dollars. Just as Watson is “raising awareness,” so are we.

      • real horrorshow

        Conferences plural, Martin. See bluharmony’s response. Watson certainly gets fees for other conferences she attends. After all, she doesn’t have a job.

      • mofa

        Based on RW’s talk it would want to be for free. I hope, for those attending, that the rest of the speakers at the conference provided top quality scepticism…I get it now…she must be the ‘comedy relief’ put in between two serious speakers, you know, that technique that Shakespeare used in his Tragedies – RW is a tragedy.

    • http://twitter.com/brian_carnell brian_carnell

      I think Ophelia Benson hits it on the head…that presentation was very entertaining.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/11/we-have-always-been-at-war-with-the-insect-peoples/#comment-350803

  • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

    The problem is that Watson is not a very articulate critic of what is mostly bad science.

    The evidence for a physiological basis for “mental modules” (and frequently very nitty-gritty ones like “cheater detection”) is lacking and given the coarse lines along which most human neurodevelopment proceeds (see: reaction-diffusion), it is not likely to exist at all.

    Connectionist researchers (inter alia), who tend to be more aware of these issues, bristle at this sort of ignorance, but their criticisms are rarely taken into consideration. (E.g. Steven Pinker’s claim in the The Blank Slate that connectionist models can’t handle recursion, something that had been untrue for over a decade at the time of its publication in the form of Recursive Auto-Associative Memory a.k.a. RAAM.)

    But EP doesn’t just run up against physiology as such, it also runs up against other findings in psychology. For instance, EP posits that creativity is an adaptation to leave behind more offspring by analogy with creatures like the bower bird when it is generally accepted that psychopathological traits that impair social functioning undergird creativity.

    Also, whether Satoshi Kanazawa is “disgraced” is sort of besides the point. I don’t really care whether the outcomes of his work, or any other EP work, is “sexist” or “racist”. I care about the fanciful abductions in his research. This style of thinking is entirely common to EP in general; he only got kicked out of the club because he was making everyone else look bad.

    • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

      On a related note, EP also falls down on computational grounds:

      http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001109

      “A large part of EP’s emphasis on massive modularity drew from artificial intelligence (AI) research. While the great lesson from AI research of the 1970s was that domain specificity was critical to intelligent behaviour, the lesson of the new millennium is that intelligent agents (such as driverless robotic cars) require integration and decision-making across domains, regularly utilize general-process tools such as Bayesian analysis, stochastic modelling, and optimization, and are responsive to a variety of environmental cues [73]. However, while AI research has shifted away from an emphasis on domain specificity, some evolutionary psychologists continue to argue that selection would have favoured predominantly domain-specific mechanisms (e.g., [74]). In contrast, others have started to present the case for domain-general evolved psychological mechanisms (e.g., [75],[76]), and evidence from developmental psychology suggests that domain-general learning mechanisms frequently build on knowledge acquired through domain-specific perceptual processes and core cognition [44]. Both domain-specific and domain-general mechanisms are compatible with evolutionary theory, and their relative importance in human information processing will only be revealed through careful experimentation, leading to a greater understanding of how the brain works [44].”

      It’s kind of embarrassing.

      • bluharmony

        How does “Both domain-specific and domain-general mechanisms are compatible with evolutionary theory” = EP fails on computational grounds? Did you even read what you posted?

        • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

          Yeah I did. “Compatible” isn’t the same thing as “required”. Going around using computational metaphors from the seventies and insisting that the mind is like a Swiss Army knife executed in the finest detail is not warranted by the evidence. Which is why the abstract of that paper starts:

          “Evolutionary Psychology (EP) views the human mind as organized into many modules, each underpinned by psychological adaptations designed to solve problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors. We argue that the key tenets of the established EP paradigm require modification in the light of recent findings from a number of disciplines, including human genetics, evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and paleoecology.”

          “require modification” i.e. “not currently up to snuff”

          • fascination

            From Wikipedia article on Evolutionary Psychology:

            Evolutionary psychology generally presumes that, like the body, the mind is made up of many evolved modular adaptations,[131] although there is some disagreement within the discipline regarding the degree of general plasticity, or “generality,” of some modules.[127] In contrast, some psychologists argue that it is unnecessary to posit the existence of highly domain specific modules, and, suggest that the neural anatomy of the brain supports a model based on more domain general faculties and processes [132][133] However, recent computer simulations of the evolution of neural nets suggests that modularity evolves because, compared to non-modular networks, connection costs are lower [134] as illustrated in this video
            There are links contained within that you can check out.

          • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

            I’m well aware that division of labor is useful in neural nets. I’m also aware that this modularity can—and in most species does—emerge during the organism’s development rather than being baked directly into the genome because my knowledge of this subject is more than a cursory Wikipedia search.

          • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

            For instance: the cells in what usually become the visual cortex are slightly predisposed to handle visual input. (N.b. this is far short of whole hog mental modularity.) In the congenitally blind, they are co-opted for other purposes and a different sort of “module” EMERGES from development. Whereof the (in this case true) stereotype that the blind can have a better sense of sound.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

            And their improved sense of sound also usually has a strong spatial component to it, due to the fact that it’s the *visual cortex* being co-opted, and not some other region.

            Again, what part of “Both domain-specific and domain-general mechanisms are compatible with evolutionary theory” do you not understand?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

            And what, pray tell, do you suppose regulates that development in the organism? Genes? Or pixies?

          • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

            Stephen Pinker views the mind as organized into modules – I do not think the entire field of evolutionary psychology is dependent on that claim. I agree, Pinker’s “mental module” theory is not a good one, but your attempt to dismiss evolutionary psychology as a whole just based on that is pretty weak.

    • fascination

      Are you an Evolutionary Psychologist? You should take your findings to all the mainstream, respected, peer reviewed scientific journals that regularly publish Evolutionary Psychology research. If you can disprove years of research done by respected scientists and discredit this entire field of study, then you could really make a name for yourself! You would be the first! I say go for it.

      • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

        “If you can disprove years of research done by respected scientists and discredit this entire field of study, then you could really make a name for yourself! You would be the first! I say go for it.”

        Here, you sidestep every word I said in favor of a shallow appeal to authority. There are in any case plenty of people publishing research that is (sometimes vehemently) critical of EP. Where do you think I got “Connectionist researchers (inter alia), who tend to be more aware of these issues, bristle at this sort of ignorance” from, dumb-dumb?

        Moreover, you’re attributing far greater rationality to the peer review process than it actually deserves. The continued (mis)application of null-hypothesis significance testing year after year tells us that it is collectively sometimes not very bright.

        • fascination

          It was a good humored attempt at sarcasm. I didn’t mean to offend you. Learn to relax

          • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

            idk … sounded pretty serious.

            Between Rebeccunt Twatson’s idiocy and the commenting here, this is one of those days when I can only hope that our posthuman successors arrive sooner rather than later.

          • fascination

            Sometimes sarcasm and joking doesn’t come across well on the internet. Again, it was probably my bad. Apologies for any offense.

          • Dhoelscher

            Grow up.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      ‘The evidence for a physiological basis for “mental modules” (and
      frequently very nitty-gritty ones like “cheater detection”) is lacking
      and given the coarse lines along which most human neurodevelopment
      proceeds (see: reaction-diffusion), it is not likely to exist at all.’

      This is laughably bad naive reductionism. By this sort of reasoning, computers can’t have modules either … but modules are virtual machines that are not to be found at the level of “reaction-diffusion”.

  • Kevin Solway

    ” I have often argued for 50% female representation”

    If you’re talking about speakers, then I must disagree with this.

    It is very demotivational to men to know that they can be excluded purely because they happen to be male.

    I would rather hear quality speakers rather than low-grade speakers, such as Watson, who are selected purely because they are female.

    • bluharmony

      As a woman, I strongly agree with this. I’d rather be selected on the merits than because I’m female, and I’ve always outperformed most males scholastically, so the only issues are qualifications, expertise, speaking ability, and lack of discrimination.

      • http://www.facebook.com/DMathers89 Daniel Mathers

        This is absolutely something I wish more people would grasp. I find it odd that women don’t find it offensive to be token speakers. It essentially says “You’re only getting to talk because you have a vagina and we feel sorry for you”.
        That feels more sexist than anything to me.

      • eccles11

        This 50/50 rule seems to be a trend we will see more and more in the future.

        It is also entirely possible that in the future we may end up with more talented and qualified women in the pool of speakers. I wonder if the 50/50 rule will seem so compelling at that stage.

        On another note, I have a friend who comes under the defintion of ‘minority’ and is eligible for certain special treatment including better access to scholarships. She invariably ticks “white” in the race box (even though she isn’t), because she is extemely smart and talented, and would hate the idea of knowing that she might be where she is because of anything other than that talent.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      This is certainly a point that can be debated. My view is that the playing field is far from level, and that we can make short-term positive gains that are worth more than the short-term losses you described.

      • http://www.facebook.com/arty.farty.186 Arty Farty

        If you pick speakers by gender and insist that half be female in areas where females are a small fraction of the top people, the first thing you will achieve is to make people stop wanting to attend talks by females. You will create a negative correlation between femaleness and quality.

        Edward you’re a grad student, right? Shall we reserve 50% of the tenure track jobs for females, too? In fact, why stop there? Let’s just make all the hiring of females until females are 50% of the faculty everywhere? (Many feminist academics would applaud this idea–they have told me they would.) Why not do it? Are you focused on short-term losses for people like you? Think of the wonderful short-term gains for the whole society. We can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, Edward, and you look like the perfect egg for the purpose.

        In fact, you will find that to some degree, this is exactly how the job market works, esp in areas where females are scarce. This is why female asst prof starting salaries in STEM areas are higher (I have seen numbers on this but I don’t have them handy–look them up if you doubt it.)

        • jjramsey

          If you pick speakers by gender and insist that half be female in areas where females are a small fraction of the top people, the first thing you will achieve is to make people stop wanting to attend talks by females.

          Not necessarily. You can easily have a scenario where only a small fraction of the famous names in skepticism are women, while still having a lot of women who are talented and would make good speakers but are just not as well-known. In that case, bumping up the number of female speakers to 50% wouldn’t require a decline in their quality, but rather more effort on the part of recruiters to discover these less well-known talents.

          • eccles11

            Unless one gender is more talented at this an another (and i will assume there is no difference due to lack of evidence either way). if the population is something like 70/30. Then you will be spending far more resources finding qualified and talented from the /30 pool. And if you theoretically took the same time and effort into the /70 pool, finding the best of the best in both pools, you should end up with an average of a 70/30 ratio.

            So all other things being equal, and given large enough numbers, the talent should roughly match the pool you are drawing from.

          • http://twitter.com/NerdsAreFaggots Nerds Are Faggots

            You know what they say about assumptions…

      • http://www.facebook.com/justicar.thelatest Justicar Thelatest

        Why stop there? The ill-educated don’t get equal representation at conferences. Certainly it would be a nice feeling for them to have the prestige of being a presenter at a convention/conference. Why, I bet that could motivate others who see this outreach to attend, and I’m sure that in the short-and-long-run it would be better for society if we could get those types more interested, and that this would offset any of those pesky short-term losses one might kvetch about.

        Seems reasonable to me since the criterion for selection countenanced by your ‘it’s-debtab[able]-scheme is unrelated to whether one is competent to give whatever random lecture they decide to vomit out.

        • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

          Someone who is not qualified should not speak, period, no matter the other goals an organizer might have.

          The short-term losses of having an ill-educated speaker would not be trivial, they’d be devastating.

          • http://www.facebook.com/justicar.thelatest Justicar Thelatest

            But that is what one is inviting when the criterion for inclusion is anything other than ability. There’s no reason to suppose there should be a 50/50 split. Or if there is and a panel winds up having 6 women and no men on it, would it be okay to bump off half of them for the sake of equal representation? There are Women in Skepticism conferences. Would it be okay to have Men in Skepticism conferences? What about White People in Skepticism? Heteronormatives in Skepticism?

            Or, say, I can’t help but notice there’s a dearth of gay speakers at conferences. Let’s just throw that in the mix too. 50% men, 50% women, ~10% of each have to be gay. (and if in the United States: ~13% African American, ~5% Asian, ~3% of mixed race… where does it end?)

          • http://twitter.com/SomeProfessor Tenure Hell

            You’ seen to have assumed that the main or sole selection will be based on a characteristic, in this case gender. My take on the so-called”50/50″ effort assumes that there are sufficient numbers of talented women (in this case) that have been missed for a host of reasons. The organization is making a conscious and concerted effort to seek out qualified speakers who also happen to be women.

          • Astrokid NJ

            which brings one back to the question “why have talented women been missed out?”, and not other demographics.. such as talented blacks, asians, native americans, handicapped, etc? Why is nobody talking about those demographics as well?
            I say all this as a “person of color” who hates all this affirmative action stuff. We need diversity of ideas, not diversity of people.

            If all these women are indeed available as you say.. how come we haven’t heard of them already through their blogs, or even intelligent participation in these discussions.. like the rest of the people have to do? Dawkins and Hitch didnt suddenly show up at the top.. neither did the obnoxious PZ, nor the very talented Hirsi Ali. They had to put in years/decades at lower levels, or write successful books and defend their ideas on book tours. Hirsi Ali worked her way to the top too.. even holds real life debates with religious apologists.. which is a great litmus test to rise to the top.

    • http://twitter.com/GroovyKitty GroovyKitty

      You seem to be presuming that there are not an equal number of women who are qualified on the merits as there are men. You can choose speakers on their merits AND be mindful of selecting a diverse group of speakers at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive things. You might have to choose some people who are less well-known, but that has nothing to do with their qualifications to speak.

      • http://twitter.com/SomeProfessor Tenure Hell

        I didn’t see this comment. I just commented similarly, but yours is much clearer.

  • fascination

    Mr. Clint, thank you for this article. It was very illuminating. Even though you critiqued Watson’s speech (justifiably), it was still very polite. BTW, I am a Biological Anthropology student also.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Well, perhaps we shall meet at an HBES or some such :)

  • Wallace Beery

    As good as it gets. Any advice on a good, current book on evolutionary psychology?

  • operator oscillation

    “pregnancy involves numerous
    costs, and we therefore expect that females in many species will be more picky
    about mating than will males”

    You’re conflating mating with pregnancy. During the mating process, it’s the
    males who do it at a cost (they are the only ones who lose energy) and are
    actually more picky than the females. The females are only available during
    heat cycles and the males can only give their seed to a single female because
    by the time they regenerate their sperm, the heat period has ended. So they
    tend to be choosy (selecting higher status females that have fewer males trying
    to breed with her, so his sperm doesn’t have to compete with other male sperm).

    We tend to assume that because human sexuality feels so uncivilized that it is
    animalistic, but in actually, human sexuality is very different from animal
    sexuality, even from our nearest relatives the chimps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thaumas-Themelios/100001074236927 Thaumas Themelios

      You’re conflating intuition with science. Your intuition tells you that males have a higher cost. Actual science bears out the fact that females bear the highest cost (usually, there are a few exceptions, though in mammals it is nearly always the female due to internal gestation).

      I’m gonna go with science on this one.

  • http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

    Ed, I know very little about Watson (was she Elevatorgate? i don’t even know anything about that). However the psycholoy that motivates science denialism is troubling. Whether or not EP is valid as a science or not IS NOT the point here, as some commenters seem to think. The point is whether someone criticising a science or a position can do it in a robust and rigorous manner. Watson appears to have criticised something of which she has little clue. This is the shame, especially in the context of a skeptical conference. Well done, Ed, for exposing this.

    • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

      It is a good point that Twatson can’t argue for shit, likewise that when she is right, she is not right in the sense of having “justified true belief” (emphasis on “justified”); rather, her political biases sometimes steer her towards the truth incidentally.

      The article in question does however make the claim, repeatedly, that EP is essentially a legitimate field of research. It is only this claim, and not that Twatson is a fucking dummy, that I take issue with.

      • http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        I think it is unsurprising that an Evolutionary Psychologist might defend his own discipline. Of course, as noted, these are two separate issues.

        • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

          Well yeah they are. I just think it appropriate to address them all here.

          • http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Rock on! Let’s debate EP, though I’m probably not the man to do it. Having said that, i have just finished Pinker’s How the Mind Works which is jam packed full of well-referenced and seemingly bona fide EP.

          • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

            Pinker is especially bad.

            See below about his claim that “connectionism can’t handle recursion” which was false years before he published it.

            Here’s another example, where he claims that an objective basis for morality is in some sense extant in the form of a game theoretical rationale.

            http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2346

            a) Which game theoretical decision rules? Evolutionary game theory, I would guess, being that he’s an EP. But then it is known that evo game theory doesn’t necessarily result in outcomes we might want or need. The book “Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution” gives an example of “bad” evolution as the (Rabbit, Rabbit) outcome of a Stag Hunt game in an Indian village. (I won’t spoil it … go check it out.)
            b) Would he laud the terrific superior morality of a terribly advanced alien and/or robot race bent on wiping out the human species to further its own self-replication? Probably not.

            There are many other examples … he is just endlessly bad.

          • http://www.skepticblogs.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            can’t imagine where you think psychology comes from!!!!! Do we have identical psychology to our hominid ancestors? Has it remained static over 200,000 years? As difficult as it may be to establish the exact causality for psychological predispositions, it is ridiculous to assert that there is no causality! Surely? I don’t understand where you thin our psychology comes from, unless you are going to start invoking God.

      • http://www.synapses.co.za/ Jacques Rousseau

        “Twatson” is straighforwardly abusive, and adds nothing to the comment. SiN was not founded to heap abuse on others – but it will very easily become that, if we aren’t careful.

        • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

          “‘Twatson’ is straighforwardly abusive, and adds nothing to the comment.”

          It most certainly does. It draws attention to the fact that she is a twat, and avoids the ambiguity that, in attacking EP, I am defending her.

          • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            Be that as it may, personal insults are not permitted on this network.

          • http://twitter.com/NerdsAreFaggots Nerds Are Faggots

            I stand corrected.

        • nash984954

          Could you please not repeat that term?It demeans the comment section, no I’m not a moderator, I just don’t like women being referred to that way, even in standing up for her you said the term that ends up in someone’s brain.Thanks for the point that it added nothing to the comment,
          just sayin’

          I’m new here, so maybe I should just STFU.

    • ZedZero

      I think it inevitable that denialism would pop up in our merry little band, We are exactly the same creature as they are.
      I see atheist touting their own intellectualism and moral superiority often and it smacks of belief in special creation atheist style. I think that EP is particularly troublesome as it flies in the face of our own sense of superiority. It is also a rebuttal to ideas for freewill.

      What RW is doing is simply an attempt to flatter her own sense of superiority. It is no different than the common priest with his special book and special purpose announcing his social rank to all who’ll listen. It really should not come as a surprise to anybody that we have priests in the tent but, then we first have to acknowledge that they and we have more in common than not.

      • http://twitter.com/ikonografer ikonografer

        “We are exactly the same creature as they are”<~~false equivalence

        " I think that EP is particularly troublesome as it flies in the face of our own sense of superiority." <~~appeal to consequences

        "…we first have to acknowledge that they and we have more in common than not." <~~trivially true. i wear shoes. RW wears shoes. i sleep. RW sleeps. i don't deny science even if it doesn't support my opinions. RW…wait….thought i was on a roll there for a minute.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      Yes she “is” Elevatorgate.

  • rg57

    I hope I’m not the only person to have clicked on a link :(

    I found that both of your links to the 68 people condemning Kanazawa were bad in different ways. A correct link appears to be

    http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/kanazawa-statement.pdf

    • Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

      Kanazawa’s methodology is not unlike that of other evo psychs. He just embarrasses them, so they threw him out.

  • tim hem

    To be honest, all you really had to do was point to 47:30 of the video, and saved yourself the bother of a rebuttal – nuff said

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      More telling is 48:17, when she goes “whew” upon establishing that there aren’t any evolutionary psychologists present.

  • Dhoelscher

    The arguments against nuclear power are far more persuasive than those made for it, but otherwise a mostly excellent article.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Perhaps; but I do find irrational arguments exist against it and where you find those, they are part of a liberal purity or fear-based response instead of an evidential one.
      The point is merely that denialism knows no political bounds.

      • http://twitter.com/ConradMayhew ConradMayhew

        Just a quick note: on nuclear and biotech, fear is often at play indeed, as shown by the difference in risk assessment between the experts and the public. See for example (among others):
        Slovic 2012, “The perception gap: Radiation and risk”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 2012 68: 67
        Savadori et al. 2004, “Expert and public perception of risk from biotechnology”, Risk analysis 24(5):1289-1299

        • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

          Citations in the comments. You’re classin’ up the place Conrad. Thanks!

      • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

        Well, I too find arguments for nuclear power very unpersuasive post-Fukushima. We were supposed to be in an era of “safe” modern nuclear power when that massive radiation release took place. It tells me that nuclear plants are not as protected from all contingencies as its proponents claim, and that the results of failure can create significant dangers to health and the environment. So I think it’s hardly an irrational concern or even fear.

        • http://twitter.com/ConradMayhew ConradMayhew

          My comment indeed mixed two completely different problems.
          On the one hand, there is the issue of the safety of nuclear power. As you mentioned, after the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents, having doubts on this points is perfectly rational.
          On the other hand, there is the issue of the perception of radiation danger. Radiation is certainly not harmless, far from it, as exemplified by the famous “radium jaw”. However, for several reasons, the perceived threat posed by even the slightest amount of radiation can be disproportionate with regards to the actual threat and compared to more concrete health risks
          such as smoking or pollution. As this is not my field of expertise, please feel free to check the classical studies by Slovic on radiation risk (see ref above) for a more accurate account.
          In any case you were right to point out that I didn’t correctly separate the two issues.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

          “post-Fukushima. We were supposed to be in an era of “safe” modern nuclear power when that massive radiation release took place.”

          This is the sort of ignorance rampant among anti-nukes. Fukushima was built starting in 1976 … it was old technology. Anyone who “supposed” that Fukushima was “safe” or “modern” was grossly mistaken.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      They’re “persuasive” because they are largely based on emotion and propaganda techniques. The truth is that there are both safe and unsafe nuclear technologies, and we could have the former if we had the political will, which the anti-nuke propaganda undermines. I say this as an officer of the Sierra Club, which has a no-exceptions policy against nuclear power.

      • Dhoelscher

        I guess it depends on what you mean by “safe.” I’m quite well aware of the difference between appeals based on emotion and propaganda and those based on evidence. I don’t see the vast literature on this subject that comes from organizations like Greenpeace or the Union of Concerned Scientists as being at all based on E & P. (Yes, the latter group is officially neutral on nuclear power, but that’s mostly a pose of non-partiality; clearly the scientists there rightly want us to forget about nuclear power.) And I don’t see the arguments at Counterpunch, whose editor is an environmental writer, as being E & P based either. Check out some of the several dozen articles they’ve published on this subject over the past 15 or so years.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

          I’ve already checked them out; I’ve read extensively on the subject. You say the arguments against nuclear power are persuasive, but give no hint of why. Most of them are aimed at older technologies, and at the corner-cutting of corporations, which is a legitimate concern. But there *are* safe nuclear technologies for perfectly reasonable and acceptable meanings of “safe”. But such technologies need to be supported and accepted to become viable, just as with all alternative energy technologies.

  • http://twitter.com/ConradMayhew ConradMayhew

    Thanks for this very informative and well documented post.
    Yet, I was not convinced by your argument that Watson uses the conspiracy theory tactic (subjective assessment). I feel that only near the end, when she abruptly shifted the topic toward sexism did she lean toward this tactic.
    As you point out, Watson does not use too much the fake expert tactic, but she used the argument of authority tactic a lot, using the media as her backing authority: “look, it’s in the newspapers, so it’s true!”
    That set aside, I fully agree with you on all other counts. As a radiology physicist who knows very little about EP, here are a few things that rather amazed me (I’ll refer to your table hereafter):
    1 and 3, no evolution of the brain? This is very far from my field of expertise, but Watson failed to mention that several human behaviors seem akin to behaviors encountered among other primates. As far as I understand it, this seems to show that human have not fallen that far from the evolutionary tree.
    4, Asking a for a genetic basis? Lots of medical observations have no genetic basis at all, it doesn’t make these observations any less valid, unfortunately for the patients.
    6, EP claims are unfalsifiable? That’s a pretty serious claim, so I was expecting some serious arguments to back it. None was given, it was just said in passing.
    11. The Ramachadran satire? Interesting story that she didn’t illustrate with a scan of the paper of even with a reference, but only with a photograph of the author. Since when does anyone use an author’s photograph to back a claim in a scientific debate?
    This last point is representative of a flaw I felt throughout this talk : lots of funny drawings, useless pictures and excerpts from the generalist press, but very little information that could be used for informed fact-checking and thinking. About the exact contrary of what scientific debate is based on.
    All in all, it was a highly entertaining show (except at the end, when Watson obviously lost focus). Thanks for providing a scientific counterpoint to this activist-like event.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      When it comes to the conspiracy aspect, I think you may have a point insofar as Watson has probably not thought through her own claim. The conspiracy is implied by it, but not overtly stated by Watson.

      To me, the thinking is the same, though. And, failure to consider the immediate implications of one’s own argument is equally upsetting in a would-be skepticism advocate. Thanks for your comment.

  • Wulfgar

    Superb job. I’m worried about what kind of people have podium to talk on skeptic events

  • Dave Hitt

    Good article, Ed, but you should do further checking on second hand smoke before using it as an example of anything. It is a perfect example of junk science. Tiny increases in disease, too small for epidemiology to measure accurately, are touted as proof, while studies that show no increase are ignored and seldom even published. (Publication Bias.)

    Epidemiology, which provides an estimate of a probability, doesn’t provide proof, although if there are numerous studies with *high* RRs (over 2.0) that’s considered strong evidence. (For instance, the relationship between primary smokers and lung cancer is a very high RR.) But when studies have very low numbers (any RR under 1.5 is suspect) the results are always quite questionable for a number of reasons, including the fact that the CI is usually VERY close to straddling 1.0, which would make the RR statically insignificant. The RRs of SHS studies are usually around, or below, 1.2. Combine such a tiny increase with the limits of epidemiology, add in publican bias, and you’ll have to conclude that proclaiming the homeopathic levels of toxins in SHS are deadly is as silly as homeopathy itself.

    Stanton Glantz, like most nicotine nannies, has shown himself, time and time again, to be a vile hateful human being who has enriched himself and his university by promoting hatred and fear of smokers, although that’s more of a side point than the main issue. The main issue is that the facts simply don’t support all the evils claimed about second hand smoke. It is simply nonsense, and understanding how and *why* it is nonsense is a great bullshit-meter-tweak that makes it easier to spot other BS claims that appear to be backed with epidemiology.

    • Eliza Sutton

      I’d posted a reply to point out that 95% confidence interval close to (but not crossing) 1.0 doesn’t mean the finding isn’t statistically significant – that’s the point of the 95% CI – but it does mean the effect is, or may be, smaller than one for which the low end of the CI is higher. That reply of mine isn’t currently visible, possibly due to my having included 2 links & having quoted an abstract in its entirety. At any rate, I’d tried to point you to 2 meta-analyses that examined multiple studies of the effect and did conclude that the effect is a 15-30% increase in risk of lung cancer diagnosis in setting of chronic exposure to second hand smoke, and that that (repeated) observation is indeed statistically significant.

      References available on request.

      • Dave Hitt

        I saw one study where the lower bound was 1.06%! Talk about being *barely* statically significant.

        Whenever you have RRs in the 1.2 range, the lower bound of the CI is going to be very close to 1.0, if it doesn’t straddle it. Studies that are barely significant get published, studies that are not significant usually don’t, so it’s akin to the old psychic’s trick of recording the hits and ignoring the misses.

        Meta-analysis is also suspect, by its very nature. Because all studies have flaws, it’s easy for a researcher to cherry pick, rejecting studies that don’t support their conclusion and including those that do. In fact, that’s how the EPA study, which started this whole SHS panic, was conducted. Not only did they ignore 2/3s of the data, when that didn’t give them the results they wanted, they used a 90% CI instead of the standard 95% CI! Since links may get this comment marked as spam, Google “epa hitt” for a detailed explanation of how they concocted their results.

        Any study, not just those on SHS, that returns an RR of less that 1.5 (and 2.0 or higher is preferable) should be considered highly suspect. The multiple difficulties of measuring human behavior (recall bias, misclassification bias and unaccounted for confounders, to name a few) make epidemiology a crude tool too imprecise for measuring small increases. It’s like trying to measure microns with a yardstick. The yardstick is a great tool for measuring some things, just as epidemiology is a great tool for measuring large effects, but useless for measuring very small things precisely.

        And let’s not forget that collation does not equal causation – a lesson often forgotten by people who quote statistics – which means even with high RRs epidemiology doesn’t prove anything. It can provide an estimate of a probability, and that can be very useful, but it’s not proof.

        The bottom line is when you see any study calming an increase below 50% your skeptic BS meter should go off, and you shouldn’t accept the conclusions without looking into it further.

        • Eliza Sutton

          Lower bound of CI “1.06%” or “1.06”? There’s a difference. The latter is a 6% increase in risk, not a 1.06% increase in risk. And, actually, most environmental risks to health are in this range. The really high risk ratios are an exception, not the rule.

          It’s not the size of the effect that should raise questions of bias. AFAIK, bias can appear to cause an effect of any size and should always be considered. One of the bugaboos is that it can be hard to recognize.

          And of course correlation doesn’t guarantee causation, but there are some situations in which help suggest it’s there, for example when the exposure predates the adverse outcome (as in, years of exposure to second-hand smoke, and subsequent diagnosis of lung cancer) and when the exposure is known to be adverse, with a very high risk ratio, in the setting of direct exposure.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I debated editing that part out. To be honest, I just didn’t want to edit one point in the block quote of five points (call it laziness). You make some good points.

  • CommanderTuvok

    Ed, you do realise you’ll be accused of “scientism”, or “hyperskepticism”?

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I expect to be accused of much worse; I will take it as it comes. If I am guilty of scientism, then let it be proven.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arty.farty.186 Arty Farty

    Your article is well stated and scholarly, Edward, and you make a convincing case that Watson takes a lot of cheap shots and doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.

    But that doesn’t mean that EP is a thriving scientific enterprise.

    What I find striking is that you give the EP party line, but you do not give examples of success stories where we have high confidence that some particular adaptation exists, and confidence in our story about how this adaptation was useful in the EEA?

    What would it be? Pregnancy sickness? OK, maybe, but this is one case where the theory is pretty much biologically informed common sense, right? If you asked an obstetrician in 1940 *why* women get pregnancy sickness, wouldn’t they have been fairly close to the mark?

    Or would it be the Buss story on jealousy? Is that your poster child for the success of EP? If so you should look at the literature and see the many problems for the data, for the premises and the reasoning, etc.

    I would say that the meta-theory of EP as you describe it must surely be right. But the idea that we can figure out enough about what happened in the EEA to make evolutionary analysis a really useful tool for working on specific problems–I just don’t see that. But if you have great examples, please say what they are?

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I must say the idea that there can be a “party line” in this field is an amusing one.
      I did not give examples of success stories (though I did link to Michael Shemer’s 2009 article which discusses some) because the essay is not meant to be a comprehensive defense of evolutionary psychology- not can I do so in the comments section of this page.

      Since you asked.. I like Trivers’ foundational work on parental investment theory because it explains sexual behavior as unrelated to sex. I think the modern EP formulation of inclusive fitness as it pertains to things like altruism is extremely powerful. The EP account of basic mating strategies is mainline psychology now. Darwinian medicine is really just beginning, but I think it is very exciting and is an area I may explore myself. Morning sickness is just one of dozens of applications, and not the most interesting. Allergies, heart disease, stress, and “novel” diseases of modernity are more interesting and targets for new research and understanding.

      It’s such an exciting time!

      • http://www.facebook.com/arty.farty.186 Arty Farty

        Interesting. As it happens I completely agree with you about those. Those are good examples, and I would put money on them too.

        I am not anti-EP btw: I teach the overall framework in a very positive light when I teach Intro Psych, but I caution that a lot of the writings billed as EP currently are both dogmatic and speculative. Dogmatic in insisting upon highly specific adaptations, based evidently on a skepticism about what learning can do which seems to be increasing obsoleted. Obsoleted by what computational work is showing about the power of sophisticated learning mechanisms (Tenenbaum, Hinton, etc.)

        So maybe we agree about everything… except that unlike you, I think you should be given a merit-based fair chance to get a job, a speaking invitation, etc, rather than having half the slots reserved for people in a group that you happen not to belong to. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/noelplum99 noelplum99

    Very interesting and thorough analysis, thank you for writing this piece.

    When i read of Watson’s point about Ramachandran i couldn’t help thinking of Peter Woit’s references to Alan Sokal and the Bogdanov brothers in the field of particle physics. However, the conclusion Woit drew there was simply the warning that the field had become so complex it was hard to determine hoax from junk science from good science, he didn’t claim it as evidence toward the whole field of particle physics (or even string theory of which he is highly sceptical) as being bunkum.

  • GeorgeC

    I wonder if anyone has brought this to Watson’s attention. I’d love to know her reaction, hypocrisy is a nasty thing.

    • flueedo

      I’m dying to read her answer to this, but I doubt there will be one(not in the form of attempt of rebuttal anyway); I think Ed made it incredibly hard for her(or anyone) to manage getting away with simply twisting his words.

  • http://twitter.com/RckBeyondBelief Justin Griffith

    Thanks Ed! Eye,opening.

    I blogged about this over on FreethoughtBlogs, but I’m obviously and admittedly out of my league to rigorously defend your take. When you get a chance please do take a look at the comment section.

    For instance, I used ‘fear of spiders / dark / anything’ and the vestigial organ of goosebumps as a potential example of evolutionary psychology countering a specific Stanford Psych Encyclopedia / Buller demand.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Thank you, Mr. Griffith, I appreciate you posting about this. You’ve done well in responding to your commenters, I would say and I’ve chimed in there to clarify a couple things. I debated adding Buller as a fake expert as well, but it’s more of a grey area with him. That said, those wishing to debunk EP are well advised not to rely on his arguments. They’ve been dashed to bits already and Buller’s reputation may have been significantly harmed by his book.

    • bluharmony

      Justin, I just wanted to take this opportunity to go slightly off-topic and tell you that I think you’re simply superb!

    • tim hem

      the comments on your blog are a fine example of why comments sections arnt the place to have a meaningful discussion on science.
      No one suggests that everything is explained by EP – but the science exists to identify areas which may be.
      Pareidolia is interesting one for example.

      evolutionary roots of morality is also something we often cite in our arguments with the religious.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      Beware … PZMyers tweeted that this article is “very BAD”, so you may be in some jeopardy.

  • quawonk

    And in writing this, the AtheismPlus’ers and FTB’ers (who will not make any effort to actually understand it) will call you all kinds of disgusting names, publicly slander you, and if they can, try and get you fired. It has happened, and will continue to happen. These are the kind of people you’re dealing with here.

    Hope you can handle it, and most importantly, I hope your employers and those in charge of your career can see through their nonsense and will take your side.

  • http://www.facebook.com/irrational.exuberance.98 Irrational Exuberance

    Bravo!

  • Jim Cheetham

    Skepticism can be viewed as a form of scientism, and as such you are very correct to highlight where unsound claims are being made. So +1 for that, and -1 to Rebecca for not having sound claims, and drawing conclusions from them.

    But skepticism is not scientism, it can address a wider and much more subjective topic, which is to do with how personal perceptions can affect your ability to assess the world objectively. And it also addresses an audience that isn’t fully able to engage in the research and evaluations that an academic scientist should. So overall, I’m not outraged by inaccurate statements from skeptics, whereas I would be outraged by inaccurate statements from scientists.

    Short form: Looks like Rebecca was “wrong”, but as long as she’s “less wrong” next time the system is working well, and you’re both a valuable part of it.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I do not fault Watson for not being an expert in science. I fault her for not minding the most basic steps involve in skepticism. If you say “x is true” you should have made a good-faith (lay) effort to find out if x is, in fact, true. Her actions do not suggest an imperfect execution of such a step; they indicate indifference to it.

      • tim hem

        this is exactly the point. Its why Watson was a polarising character even before this feminism malarkey kicked off.
        I do hope you can resist the temptation to engage with those people via twitter. It never helps.
        I am hopeful as the signs are that skeptical organisations are becoming more aware of a small group of people with very loud voices require the re-education room of 101 guide to skepticism.

        • bluharmony

          Yep, unlike us (I’m exempting Ed from this criticism), they’re great.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      That’s the most unskeptical drivel I’ve read in a long time, Jim.

    • bluharmony

      I’m sorry, but after reading about the criticism of EP in Wiki, I had far more information (including rebuttals) than was presented in Watson’s talk. Shouldn’t a talk directed at laypeople be at least a bit more detailed and nuanced than Wiki? Shouldn’t it provide something (other than snark) that you can’t find in a top level Google search? Shouldn’t opinions be supported by evidence? Isn’t that a requirement for skepticism?

      Also, I think you’re underestimating most people’s ability to understand science. Even those of us who aren’t scientists have generally had some scientific education if we went to high school and/or college. It’s a requirement. Of course, those who can’t understand science at all are the ones who are fooled by ignorant talks such as Watson’s, and that’s exactly what we shouldn’t be doing as skeptics — encouraging scientific ignorance by appeals to false authority.

  • http://twitter.com/JenLucPiquant Jennifer Ouellette

    On the whole, I think this is very thoughtful, thorough critique of the talk (which I heard — and also cringed a bit at the “there might be good EP but it’s so BOOORING” joke). I’m not particularly a fan of Evo-Psych but would never write off the entire field, and I found I learned a great deal from Ed’s post. That said, after Ed put so much thought and care into writing a balanced piece, I am deeply disappointed to see nothing in the comments but the usual spittle-flecked personal attacks on Watson, skeptical feminists, et al. Ed’s post deserves a better class of comments….

    • http://www.skepticink.com/notung Notung

      I agree. Let’s keep this in the (admirable) spirit of the OP.

      • http://www.skepticink.com/notung Notung

        Sorry, I should have made it clear that there are very good and thoughtful comments too – I’m learning a lot.

    • Chas Stewart

      It’s to be expected isn’t it? Some want there to be a change in temper of discourse while others just want to root for/against a figure.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      “I am deeply disappointed to see nothing in the comments but the usual
      spittle-flecked personal attacks on Watson, skeptical feminists, et al.”

      That’s quite some filter you’ve got there.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Thank you Jennifer. re: comments. It is expected that, considering the recent history of the community, people have strong emotions and loyalties and those come to the surface in moments like this. I have found some very thoughtful comments, too, though.

    • An Ardent Skeptic

      Jennifer, I consider this “I am deeply disappointed to see nothing in the comments but the usual spittle-flecked personal attacks on Watson, skeptical feminists, et al.” to be exactly the kind of dismissive, broad sweeping generalization you seem to be complaining about.

      “Nothing” in the comments is of any value whatsoever? Every comment is just “spittle-flecked personal attacks on Watson, skeptical feminists, et all.”? Really?

      Well, maybe some of us in the trenches, who aren’t handed microphones to spew negativity about the community while at the same time proving themselves to be inept and inadequate role models for skepticism, are tired of having our all of our concerns completely dismissed with comments like yours.

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  • http://twitter.com/PrimerDimers Tove Thorsson

    I don’t see how Watson’s talk is supposed to be science-denialism. When Gould and Dawkins would argue over different models of evolutionary theory, were they being scientific deniers? I, personally, think that evolutionary psychology is a waste of time and full of untestable non-hypothesis. But of course I am biased because I am a bacterial geneticist. You are also biased because, by your own admission, you work in evolutionary psychology. So of course you are going to get your feathers all ruffled whenever wet lab scientists make fun of your field and call it names like “just so stories” and “fairy tales.” So, umm, sorry about that. But that doesn’t make us science deniers and to suggest so is laughable.

    • fascination

      Ms. Watson spoke of Evolutionary Psychologists as basically wanting to suppress women. Her charge was that these scientists are apart of some vague conspiracy to promote sexist and misogynist attitudes. This is a far cry from Gould and Dawkins arguing over specifics of evolutionary theory. Not to mention, Rebecca Watson made so many errors in her speech and did such poor research that it was shocking.

    • bluharmony

      You do realize that Watson isn’t a scientist or a professional of any sort, right? So your analogy of a dispute between Gould and Dawkins is flawed from the outset. Also, as many have pointed out, the errors Watson made do not rest of the ultimate validity of every premise in Evolutionary Psychology.

    • http://twitter.com/ConradMayhew ConradMayhew

      True, “science-denialism” may sound like an overstatement. However, Watson did use a lot of science-denialism tactics: argument of authority, cherry-picking, misrepresentation… So what would the proper term be? Would you agree on “militant propaganda” ?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      What an unintelligent comment.

  • fascination

    Mr. Clint, I was sorry to see that PZ Myers has already started personally attacking you on Twitter. Instead of first critiquing your article, he tried to insist that you had some horrible, secret, ulterior motive for writing it. Of course, it would be difficult for Mr. Myers to write a thorough critique since this is not his field of expertise, but he didn’t have to start the personal attacks. I thought that your article was very polite and not at all mean spirited. I want you to know that you have a lot of support. Hang in there!

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Thank you for the encouragement fascination, you’re terrifically sweet. Although PZ’s behavior is unfortunate, I would urge a modicum of compassion. I believe he lashes out because he feels so small and vulnerable, and because he is. I can think of few other reasons for such unprovoked barking. He is making a mistake in coming after me. He will be wounded by it. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, and that we could just have a calm chat about it.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

        Indeed, Myers will be wounded by his tweet to John Wilkins saying that this article is “very BAD”. And Chris Ho-Stuart is wrong in his claim below that he introduced “Ed’s own history” … Myers went there first.

        • http://twitter.com/DuaeQuartunciae Chris Ho-Stuart

          Look again. The first entry of PZ into the twitter conversation was to retweet MY tweet on Ed’s history.

    • http://twitter.com/DuaeQuartunciae Chris Ho-Stuart

      You should blame me; not PZ.

      I was pointed to this post through twitter, and on looking at it, and this blog, was impressed. I have subscribed to the blog feed. I’m looking into the various claims more myself and hoping (like Jennifer Ouellette above) for some good discussion in coming days.

      Jennifer is also correct that Rebecca attracts “spittle-flecked personal attacks” and I’m very pleased to see Ed working on moderating some of those.

      But to be honest, I was not impressed with Ed’s own history of engagement with respect to Watson; and it was *me* introduced that into twitter. PZ did chime in at one point to agree with my reservations, but beyond that PZ had nothing to say about ulterior motives. PZ’s tweets focused on the matter of Evolutionary Psychology. It was me that raised questions about Ed’s personal history with the disputants, and tweeted on it a number of times. Not PZ.

      I’ve passed on a bit more to Ed directly in the twitter exchanges and don’t need to rehash it here.

      Ed, glad to be here at your blog, honest!

      I think you are wrong in your psychoanalysis of PZ, and you should review the tweets. You’ll see it was me who was expressing most of the reservations about your history with Rebecca; and that PZ was nearly always focused on the subject of Evolutionary Psychology itself — barring just that one tweet which was really a retweet of mine.

      PZ generates strong feelings; both by expressing himself strongly and provoking strong reactions from others. Calm chats online isn’t his forte — though he does do them well if you get face to face. But in this case, you should blame me, and not PZ, for raising questions about your history.

      I’m not apologizing for that; I do really think the personal aspects of how people engage matter and impact how subsequent exchanges proceed. But as I said in the tweets, and as PZ endorsed, the primary focus has to be the straight merits of your critique regardless of the other personal stuff.

      • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

        When focusing on the EP, he also said “blatant dishonesty” which is untrue and needlessly aggressive. Whether you prompted it or not he said I’ve been “smarmy” in “denying vendettas”. You are not responsible for these accusations. Even if PZ wanted to mention the past, he could have done so in far more civil terms. He decided it was important to make it insulting as well.

        I was not about to rehash all of elevator gate and direct attention to tired old drama just to appear more forthright. Either there is merit to my arguments, or there isn’t. Think of my motives whatever you like.

        • http://twitter.com/DuaeQuartunciae Chris Ho-Stuart

          That was certainly prompted by me. I said “Clint has more history w Watson than he’s admitting.”

          PZ retweeted that, and rephrased it into his characteristically more aggressive style. But he’s repeating what I said first in less confrontational terms in his retweet. The content is mine; I *am* responsible for those accusations. They are accusations I made first, rephrased.

          I’m not speculating on your motives, however. I don’t really care, or understand, why people treat one another the way they do. I just note that you and Rebecca (and others) DO ALREADY have a history, and on looking at that history you don’t always show up very well, frankly. If you were going to post pictures of yourself with Rebecca, you should also have acknowledged that there’s more to your history than that.

          I agree PZ could have been more civil; but we both know that simply isn’t PZ’s style. That’s a different matter to who it was that raised the personal history of disputants (it was ME) and your psychoanalysis of PZ (which is just bizarre), or the focus of PZ’s own tweets (which was not about personal history, but on the subject of Evolutionary Psychology itself; his retweet of my tweet being the exception).

          I do have one bit of advice for going forward, which I mean entirely as support for your desire to maintain focus on the merits of argument!

          PZ is likely to blog on this soon. That’s going to be good for your hit count (getting into a fight with PZ was
          the best thing I ever did for my own blog hits, some years ago :-). It may also mean you are going to need to keep a careful eye on comments, from all sides of the various fights, to nip problems early.

          Sorry to continue this side issue; but really, you should blame me, and not PZ, for the twitter remarks on these secondary points.

          • fascination

            It’s interesting that PZ feels that he has such a vast knowledge of Evolutionary Psychology even though it is outside of his expertise. What was that Sam Harris quote about scientists being humble and not usually stepping out of their field’s area of expertise (when it comes to scientific matters)? Hmmm…I might have to look it up. I think it was from the Four Horsemen tapes.
            Chris, you seem to know PZ better than I do. I’m not very active in the conference scene. I’m a young woman who is working on my second degree. Frankly, I don’t have time for most of the Skeptic/Atheist conferences. Although, I have been to a few in the past. What I don’t understand is this: why is PZ so nice in person and yet on the internet, he is the exact opposite? He will be sweet to someone’s face and then when he is safely behind his computer, he will spew the most vicious insults at the same exact person.
            You may not know why. I certainly don’t. I used to respect Mr. Myers. However, after seeing this behavior from him (and worse), it is difficult for me to think of him as a decent human being. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I’ve seen good people get hurt by him. I really don’t know what to think about Mr. Myers anymore.
            Anyway, this comment is probably derailing so I’ll leave it there.

          • http://twitter.com/NerdsAreFaggots Nerds Are Faggots

            um the reason is pretty obvious, because he’s a chickenshit nerd whose balls crawl up inside him when he is face to face with someone, but who becomes bold and courageous when separated by about 4000 miles and a DSL line

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

            “Clint has more history w Watson than he’s admitting.”

            This is grossly dishonest … his article was not about his history with Watson, so he had no responsibility to say every possible thing about it, and failure to do so is not failure to “admit” something.

            “PZ could have been more civil” — PZ is an intellectually dishonest ass (which is not to say he isn’t often right in his substance — he is) and you’re a sniveling sycophant.

        • jbrisby

          You mean “Oscar” Myers and his neverending stream of baloney?

          • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            I wouldn’t say that. PZ makes quite good contributions to the community. I generally enjoy his biology talks. Let’s try to speak a bit more charitably, even in dissenting.

          • CommanderTuvok

            That’s an admirable view, Ed, but don’t expect too much charity from PZ. You dared to criticise Rebecca Watson – that is a cardinal sin!

          • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            I don’t expect any charity from PZ. But then, I don’t need any. If my case is poor, then it can be demonstrated with facts and reason. If PZ chooses not to employ facts or reason, his comments are not relevant to me, and I will ignore them.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

        This is a bunch of *smarmy* bull from Ho-Stuart. Myers went personal immediately after trashing the piece as “very BAD”, and he did not “focus on the matter of Evolutionary Psychology”, he merely said something stupid about EP being loose with evidence when John Wilkins said that Myers habitually ignores the evidence of EP … which is quite true. Myers is right about a lot of things but he’s an arrogant SOB who is way too sure of himself and intolerant of disagreement.

        “and as PZ endorsed”

        That’s false BS … Myers’ response was that the personal stuff must be dwelt on.

        As for Ho-Stuart’s own “raising questions about your history” — it was an absurd cherry pick of one old blog comment that HS went to considerable effort to misinterpret as a “double standard”.

      • ThePrussian

        I get where you’re coming from, and one should always be careful ascribing motives, but in PZs case I think this is justified. Shameless self promotion alert, you will see why here:
        http://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2012/11/15/a-part-2-fatboy-myers-and-the-chalice-of-poisonous-drivel/

      • http://twitter.com/NerdsAreFaggots Nerds Are Faggots

        “Calm chats online isn’t his forte — though he does do them well if you get face to face.” lol sounds like a fairly typical malcontent nerd–rages online, meek and passive in person

  • http://twitter.com/suninabox Someone

    Bravo

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

    “Some of my colleagues have suggested, I would say cynically, that
    Rebecca Watson and her allies are likely to respond to this criticism by
    disparaging my character or insinuating I have ulterior motives”

    Of course PZ Myers did exactly that, excoriating John Wilkins for tweeting this article, saying it’s “very BAD” and that he is surprised that Wilkins recommended it. His followup was that “Clint was a bit smarmy in denying his personal vendettas & associations.”

    • ThePrussian

      Can’t seem to find Myers comments, meaning he’s too damn chicken to post them on his own blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rachel-Quinn/745643623 Rachel Quinn

    Thank you for your thoughtful response and extensive citations. Be wary of citing Psychology Today, however. They are, unfortunately, often a source for pop psychology and hype.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Quite so. I don’t take it as anything more than that.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kristof.verhoeven.0 Kristof Verhoeven

    Despite this being a very informative and thorough rebuttal of Rebecca Watson’s presentation, I would like to offer a few words in her defense:

    She is not a scientist, and her talk was not specifically about science, but about the way “science says …” is abused in the media to promote political agendas (including sexism). Apparently, the field of Evolutionary Psychology is proving to be very easily subverted for this purpose. Most likely BECAUSE very few people know precisely how EP works, because the field is fairly new, and last but not least because there are enough bad apples in the field willing to sell out to the highest bidder.

    So I would conclude that EP is suffering from a PR problem.

    Clearly, “the worst offenders” are getting the most media coverage, further accentuated by RW’s last remark about the “good science” being boring/uninteresting (in the eyes of the general public) and therefore remaining largely unknown. Meanwhile the controversial, objectionable just or plain incorrect stuff is getting published in “peer reviewed” journals, and passed around as incontrovertible truth in gossip magazines and on social networking sites. In other words, bad EP is jumping the science bandwagon in the same way that homeopathy is: by looking exactly like genuine science to the layperson.

    • tim hem

      you mean her last remark that the “good science” was probably boring – if it exists…which she could only guess about, cos she like didnt really know if there was any, but yeah there probably was some…i guess…maybe

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      “her talk was not specifically about science, but about the way “science
      says …” is abused in the media to promote political agendas (including
      sexism)”

      That’s what a good talk could have been about, but it’s not an accurate description of the talk she actually gave. Try actually reading Ed’s critique.

      “RW’s last remark about the “good science” being boring/uninteresting (in the eyes of the general public)”

      The added parenthetical is grossly intellectually dishonest. Watson gave her own view, which she stated categorically, and claimed that, in order for EP to be interesting it has to be made up.

      Watson’s take-away message … the view she wanted to impart/reinforce to her immature audience and was largely successful — was that EP is a pseudo-science, a mechanism for putting a scientific veneer on misogyny. She did not attempt show that EP is an actual science that is being misrepresented by the media that only puts forth bad examples of it — to the contrary, she presented the media version of EP as being the whole of EP, in order to trash EP as a whole.

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  • ashamanic

    You may have seen it already, but Stephanie Zvan has a truly terrible rebutal, that mostly consists of complaining that despite the words and examples she used, Rebecca Watson wasn’t talking about evolutionary psychology in general, but media misrepresentation of it. There isn’t much worth responding to, as she doesn’t make any coherent counters to your points, but you may want to consider it.

    • CommanderTuvok

      Both Svan and PZ have posts up, none of them contain anything of value. They felt they simply had to put up any kind of response, and allow their cognitive dissonance affected commentators take the ridicule away from Rebecca Watson.

      Doesn’t it tell you something when criticism of Rebecca Watson results in immediate, angry, reactionary garbage from her defenders at FreeThoughtBlogs. They act very much like climate change deniers, or Creationists.

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  • ZedZero

    Ed, This is from PZ’s blog post about your article, ”bioinformatics and genomics have a great future ahead of them, as does molecular genetics and development, but evolutionary psychology is one I would steer them well clear of, as a field that has not and will not ever contribute much of substance.”

    Wow, what a stupid thing to say. No vision at all, stinks of his own denialism. Advertisers and politicians will pay millions for EP application. They already are investing in and paying for rudimentary stimulus response technology. It is the keys to the kingdom in a very literal sense. A very sleazy kingdom but, they all are aren’t they?

    • http://twitter.com/ConradMayhew ConradMayhew

      I, too, was appalled by this comment from Meyer.
      Firstly, the man appears to be incredibly full of himself: “I’m a big gun, I have plenty of students who listen to me religiously, and I tell them what’s good and what’s bad for them”. That’s a god complex if I ever saw one.
      Secondly, the fields he’s promoting sctivities right now for pharma companies. His main crrer advice to future researchers thus seems to be: Follow The Money. Wow, that’s not what I’d call a Grand Vision, more like a bean-counter’s narrow peep.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kristof.verhoeven.0 Kristof Verhoeven

      “Advertisers and politicians will pay millions for EP application.”

      Isn’t that precisely the point RW was making though? That at the moment, the most visual side of EP is being abused by people spreading a message, rather than in an endeavour to accumulate knowledge. Start with a conclusion and find a way to shoehorn in some presumed paleolithic ancestor’s behavior, then claim it’s the natural way for things to be. This is the BAD EvoPsych that the field should try to distance itself from.

      • ZedZero

        That EP would attract quacks doesn’t invalidate the underlying theory. I think there is a conflation of the idea that EP has some bad implications for some people’s world view and the idea that it s not a valid science with real world applications.
        I think I understand your point but, I would say inserting moral validity into scientific inquiry is a emotional trap that provides a bridge to denialism. I could make the same case about nuclear energy and 60’s generation liberals, if you are familiar with their knee jerk reaction to even researching nuclear power.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kristof.verhoeven.0 Kristof Verhoeven

          Good science is good on its own merits, and there’s no value judgement or moral evaluation required for it to be “good” science.
          I’m sure there are valuable insights to be made with EP, but right now the only stuff that seems to make it into the papers is “bad” science, not because of being morally bad (although it probably is that too), but because it’s badly executed research from a scientific P.O.V.
          This does not excuse RW’s appeal to emotion to dismiss it either though, whether she’s onto something or not.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

        “Isn’t that precisely the point RW was making though?”

        No. Utter logic fail.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      I think the tenured professors I know who get to do kick-ass EP work for world-class universities and publish in the finest science journals that exist… and have been for years might disagree.

  • ZedZero

    BTW, that is the first time I’ve read PZ’s junk in a long time. In school I did a paper on the nature of denialism and just happen to find I needed to use Matt Nesbitt and Chris Mooney’s work as reference material. Do you remember PZ’s big kerfuffle with their work? Well to my surprise and against my own bias found that Nesbitt and Mooney’s analysis was data driven and sound. PZ just doesn’t like what they have to say so he trashes them. He has little credibility I my informed opinion.

  • Andrew Middleton

    I’m always appalled at the terrible internet manners of Skepchick opponents (insults, rape threats etc.) so I am truly heartened to see the level of online discourse raised. Excellent points, excellent research and of course a unifying and respectful approach. We need more like you.

    • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

      With all due respect, I’d say this level of discourse is not atypical of Skepchick opponents. It’s just that Rebecca Watson and company has been busy painting everybody who disagrees with her as being extreme misogynists or at least in league with them. She conflates the two in a particularly ugly way.

      The fact is, there’s a pretty nasty current of misogyny through much of the internet. Women who are “anti-Skepchick” get their share of it too, and it’s not unusual to see social justice warriors slip into that mode when it suits them. That problem is endemic, not an issue particular to those who happen to be on the wrong side of the FTB/Skepchick party line.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      “I’m always appalled at the terrible internet manners of Skepchick opponents (insults, rape threats etc.)”

      I’m always appalled at the intellectual dishonesty of Skepchick proponents such as yourself.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    Feminism is a religion.

    • CommanderTuvok

      I disagree. Feminism is an ideology that contains many good ideas and aims. However, that does not mean all feminists are rational and sensible people. There are some feminists who have an agenda and resort to smearing and lying. These people include folk like Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers and Stephanie Svan.

      There are lots of feminists in the atheist/skeptic movement who oppose the aforementioned bullies, and have had to deal with a lot of excretia thrown their way as a result. Their favourite terms for feminists who disagree with them are “gender traitor”, “sister punisher” and “chill girl”.

      PZ, Svan, Ophelia Benson, Melody Hensley, Watson, Amanda Marcotte, and a few others, give feminism a very bad name.

      • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

        Ok… I’ll grant that feminism has many basic noble aims and even

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.armstrong1 Jennifer Frances Armstrong

    The point that isn’t addressed in the article above is how it is that having scientific backing for a view that may uphold that men and women have different essential natures can further social development, intellectual sophistication and/or benefit us in terms of knowledge. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that science has to justify any of its endeavors in moral terms. However, I think it misses the point of RW’s criticism of evolutionary psychology not to consider the social relevance of EP, or how it impacts on the popular consciousness. RW did, after all, state that she wasn’t presenting her analyses as an expert on the topic, but rather in terms more relevant to feminism. So why not take her at her word, and also address her criticisms in the same vein?

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      because she gave such a bad talk that it seems to be about both everything and nothing? she careens between misuse of EP and tarring EP as junk so fast that you need a stopwatch and a journal to follow it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.armstrong1 Jennifer Frances Armstrong

        I also listened to her speech via YouTube and I didn’t go away with that impression of yours. Quite the opposite — I thought the presentation was very well put together. I think what is missing from the criticism is precisely what I have asked to be addressed. That is, what constitutes the “misuse” of EP, under any circumstances, indeed if it is possible to “misuse” it.

        The argument that there are experiments that are less scientifically verifiable than others can certainly be made, at least in theory, if not in practice. That is the nature of the scientific method, to assure consistency and verifiability.

        What science cannot do is to provide objective grounding as to what it means to use or misuse the findings. This is even more of an issue in the case of EP, where the “findings” have already been established on the basis of certain philosophical presuppositions, that may not have been examined.

        For instance, if I were to conduct some research that allowed me to conclude that men tend to masturbate when there is a full moon, would it be a legitimate use or misuse of these “findings” to assert that full moons make men horny? The simple facts or statistics — which let us say, for the sake of the argument, correlate a higher degree of masturbatory activity with full moons — do not, in turn, furnish the means to interpret these statistics. That is science. Skepticism sticks to the facts and doesn’t assert meanings that go beyond the facts.

        RW’s critique shows the generally speaking EP is not skeptical in this sense, and therefore that it isn’t scientific. That’s because the statistical data does not “speak for itself”, but needs an interpretive framework to make sense of it. Now, perhaps this framework could be valid. Nobody is saying it couldn’t be. If it were based in archaeology, or anthropological evidence, we would start to get close to developing a valid framework for SOME of the propositions of EP. Of course, to remain in the realm of science, these propositions would always remain hypotheses or theories, subject to correction and reevaluation.

        RW is pointing out that EP does not remain in the realm of science in these ways. It is framed by populist expectations about gender differences.

        Really, it should not be too hard to figure this out.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

          ” Skepticism sticks to the facts and doesn’t assert meanings that go beyond the facts.”

          And yet that is very much what RW did and you do here.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.armstrong1 Jennifer Frances Armstrong

            Aren’t you doing it too, by asserting that I am going beyond “the facts”? Aren’t you going beyond “the facts” youself?

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

            Tu quoque is not merely a fallacy, it’s a concession.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.armstrong1 Jennifer Frances Armstrong

            That’s nice. But you misunderstood what I said. I was referring to the logical construct of your assertion, which was to suggest that I was going beyond “the facts” — when there was no evidence that this was true. Therefore, your assertion that I was going “beyond the facts” was itself a manifestation of going beyond the facts, with regard to the contents of my statements.

            Your simple assumption that I was engaging in playground rhetoric was very silly. :(

  • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

    Nice *thorough* rebuttal of Watson’s poorly-researched screed.

    I haven’t gotten through the whole article yet, so this is kind of
    running commentary – regarding Rebuttal 1.3 – you are correct to point
    out that the hunter-gatherer period of human evolution far outweighs the
    time since agriculture, much less settled high civilization. And you
    are absolutely spot-on to point out that Watson’s claim that EvPsych
    claims the human brain “stopped evolving” after the Paleolithic is a
    gross misrepresentation of what the field actually claims. (Then again,
    Stephen Pinker acknowledges saying something very close to this a few
    years ago: http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_8.html#pinker )

    That said, it must be noted that evolution for any trait acted on by
    selection does not typically proceed at an steady stochastic rate –
    rather, the rate of selection will vary depending on the intensity of
    selective pressures, which can vary over time. In terms of human
    evolution, the agricultural revolution (at least for those human
    lineages that experienced it) represented a period of very strong
    selection (increased density, disease, hierarchy, and other factors –
    the average human lifespan actually *decreased* at first), and therefore
    represented an impact on human evolution that weighs more heavily than
    its relatively short time in human evolutionary history would indicate.
    In fact, there’s evidence that up to 10% of our genome might have
    undergone strong evolutionarily recent selection:

    https://www.mcdb.ucla.edu/Research/Goldberg/HC70A_W12/pdf/How%20We%20Are%20Evolving.pdf

    http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_8.html#pinker

  • mofa

    I can’t believe some of the things that are coming out of RW’s mouth. I hope she did not repeat this talk in Melbourne. Rebecca leave the science to scientists.

  • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

    I think the Evolutionary Psychology FAQ you refer to at the end is overly dismissive of the idea of plasticity:

    http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/human/epfaq/evpsychfaq_full.html#plasticity

    In fact, “plasticity”, specifically, “phenotypic plasticity” is a well-accepted idea in biology, and it amazes me the FAQ author would be so completely dismissive of it. Many traits, from the thickness of Douglas-fir bark to many aspects of human behavior, are quite variable in a species and highly malleable by the environment. Complex traits like this, of course, are as much the product of selection and other evolutionary mechanisms as any other trait. However, it does challenge the naive idea that selection inevitably leads to narrow, uniform adaptations in a species, which if you think about it, would be suboptimal given an organisms need to function in a variable environment.

    In fact, there’s entire subset of evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology, which places a great deal of emphasis on changes in behavior as responses to environmental pressure. Such ideas have firm rooting in theories developed in animal behavior, like optimal foraging theory. I will note that the “Santa Barbara group” around Stephen Pinker has tended not to emphasize that set of theories, to their detriment, I think. One reason to look at the field of evolutionary psychology more broadly than just Pinker and company.

  • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

    I’ll note that Stephanie Zvan is now claiming that your entire critique is off-base, because Watson is supposedly only critiquing “pop evolutionary psychology”:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/12/03/science-denialism-the-role-of-criticism/

    It strikes me as kind of backpeddling, if that’s what they’re claiming now. Indeed, Watson does point to “pop evolutionary psychology” at several places in her talk, and I’d certainly be on the same page with her in that regard – the version of evolutionary psychology reported by the media is indeed a travesty. But it is also clear that elsewhere in her talk, she drops all pretense that she’s merely talking about the “pop” version and attacks the entire field. In fact, her entire coda of “oh, there’s probably good evolutionary psychology being practices sommmmeewherrrrre, but it doesn’t make it into the media” demonstrates just how little she’s engaged with the actual science.

    BTW, I’ve been posting this in several places, but it bears repeating – here’s a very spot-on evaluation and critique of the current state (as of 10 years ago) of evolutionary psychology by Frans de Waal:

    http://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/LL_2009/pdf_attachments/dewaal_evpsych_2002.pdf

    That’s what an intelligent, nuanced critique of evolutionary critique of evolutionary psychology actually looks like. Something Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers could learn a thing or three from.

  • CommanderTuvok

    Everybody should check out PZ’s “Discovery Centre” style response. He is so rattled he has started to weald the big banhammer.

    PZ knows he has been caught with his pants down, and Rebecca’s reputation has taken yet another battering. They are used to being able to control the narrative and fallout from such setbacks, but this time, they are exposed for the non-scientific, pro-political charlatans that we knew they always were.

    It is interesting that PZ’s commentators have responded in typical fashion. All name-calling, accusations of being an “MRA”, telling people who they disagree with to f-off, etc. They are panicking because they realise they are exposed.

    Just like the Discovery Centre, PZ really hates being confronted with science, logic and facts.

  • Guest

    On Section III. Lingering questions
    When did the sexual division of labor begin?

    I cannot access the research link, is that just me?

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  • http://twitter.com/NerdsAreFaggots Nerds Are Faggots
  • http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com Echidne of the snakes

    I enjoyed the summary arguments, Mr. Clint, whatever my own views on evolutionary psychology and especially its popularizations might be.

    On your fifth point in part IV: One specific question I have about this comes from the (perhaps now antiquated?) assertion that women seek resources in men for mating purposes rather than, say, youth and handsomeness. It seems to me that “resources” in a nomadic tribe must have been embodied, and that in this sense the resources men possessed would, to a large extent, become equal to the things men are assumed to value in women for mating purposes: Youth and health. Perhaps hunting skills, but perhaps men would also have looked for gathering skills in women?

    Even something like social dominance seems less likely to matter, given that more recent nomadic groups seem to be fairly egalitarian (at least based on what I have read).

    So what, exactly, do evolutionary psychologists mean when they discuss a preference for resources as a possible evolutionary adaptation in women?

    I also have a slightly different take on the lack of genetic knowledge you refer to in point 4 of section IV. Several of the more popularized treatises I have read speak about various behaviors as “hard-wired,” and possibly therefore immutable. But the explanation for the “hard-wiring” is missing if the required genetic knowledge is missing. Thus, to argue that something is “hard-wired” seems very premature under those conditions.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Hello and thank you.

      re: nomadic tribes & sexual selection
      In these cases resources translates roughly to social status and/or hunting ability. In many small-scale societies reputation for hunting predicts the number and quality of wives.
      re: gathering skills in women
      Unlikely because gathering (as observed in ethnographic studies) success is not seen as skill-based. Gatherers tend to collect about as well; success is a function of time. This is probably why gathering tends not to confer status, even if the majority of calories in a group’s diet comes from foraged items.

      re: preference for resources
      Well, any indicator that a male can readily procure or possesses the things that keep her and offspring alive.

      re: hard-wiring. Genetic evidence is something we should eventually look for (when that science is more developed) but it is by no means required before we commit to an idea as likely true. For example, humans like salty fatty foods. We’re wired that way. To deny it would require you to produce an explanation for this feature independently arising in every human culture in all times and places ever studied. Also, humans continue to like salty fatty foods even as it kills them (obesity, heart disease, diabetes).

  • http://www.facebook.com/bogdan.cvetkovic.3 Bogdan Cvetkovic

    Actually Rebecca Watson is on the right and the people of the “atheist community” are the ones flagrantly disregarding science for political ideology and showing a complete lack of reasoning, critical thinking, or scientific understanding. Watson’s criticisms of evopsyche are drawn from the many disparagements from other scientists from many fields.

    The reason why the majority of the “atheist community” is so poor in reason, science, education, and critical thinking, and why they embrace evopsyche is because, at bottom, the “atheist community” is a clique of sheltered middle class white people who enjoy being sycophants and demagogues. They support evopsyche because it justifies things like racism, sexism, classicm etc. and gives them an excuse to resist social change, all the while pretending to be liberals and progressives.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkeelQGsY4k&feature=g-high

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

      That’s a Poe, right? Tell me that’s a Poe, rather than your head actually being stuffed with ideological cliches.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-King/100000839600576 Robert King

    Well put together. Just a couple of things. I would say that the evidence that we lived for hunter-gatherers for 10m years is a bit of a stretch. 3m, maybe? For fairness you should also cite the scientists who came together supporting Kanazawa. While most of agree that he is poor I believe there was a missed opportunity to educate the public about how science works. It is competetive. He gets out there and he gets shot down.
    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=416527
    And for the record I did not sign up to either. I dont think science should be done this way–it should be conducted in scholarly jounrals where there are rules of engagement. Mainstream media loves attention and a firestorm–as does Rebecca Watson, seemingly.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Hello Robert, and thanks. I cited the source for the 10m figure. I agree, it is well to mention the scientists supporting Kanazawa. I wasn’t aware of that at the time of writing, and I’m shocked to know some names on that list.
      I do expect to talk more about how the science really works later on. This essay was plenty long as it was.

  • http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com Echidne of the snakes

    On the question of sexism in evolutionary psychology: It is not necessarily the case that a field would contain more than the average number of sexists (or gender traditionalists) only if there’s some giant conspiracy. Simple self-selection can work quite as well.

    That’s a theoretical comment and not intended to express any beliefs about evolutionary psychology as such.

  • DY

    Three small corrections:

    – IV.12 contains two links to the same Penke paper (3) and 5))
    – “Therefore, in general men tend to hunt and women tend. )” To gather? I can’t access the linked document.
    – “Moreover, motive is ultimately irrelevant” missing “my”

    Please delete this post once the corrections are made.

  • DY

    So is there a re-rebuttal from Watson? A comment from her about this? Anything yet?

    • CommanderTuvok

      No. Just plenty of gnashing of teeth. She will presume that everyone will realise Ed Clint is wrong, because Rebecca Watson is, of course, infallible and never wrong!

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  • Mark Hoofnagle

    Hey, sorry if you’re being piled on here, but I have to disagree. I don’t think this represented science denialism, although her talk did have some flaws which I think you pointed out. I explain here why Watson doesn’t match denialism criteria. In brief, I found the allegation of conspiracy and fake experts particularly weak, and the goalposts a stretch. You have a good cherry-picking argument, but that would be corrected if she had reduced her topic from evolutionary pscyh to merely, evolutionary psych attempting to explain certain stereotypical female behaviors. If she had limited the scope of her criticism, it would have been a perfectly fine talk, but I think her main error was over-generalization, not denialism.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Hello Mr. Hoofnagle. I appreciate you responding, and particularly to the 5 criteria. That is refreshing as most critics seem to have ignored them. I agree that there is variance in the strength of each of the points. I also don’t think the most important aspect is whether or not the label “denialist” is unimpeachably appropriate (though I believe it is), so much as the failure of skeptical process in those we’ve designated to be experts in knowing it. If you wish me to reply to your blog post, let me know.

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  • http://www.propithecus-verreauxi.com verreauxi

    I don’t really understand the rebuttal (based on what Tooby and Cosmides say) that us humans have been hunter-gatherers for 10 million years–what a bizarre date to chose. So in the mid/late Miocene there were human ancestors running around gathering and hunting? (I’m trying to envision Ouranopithecus and Dryopithecus running around engaging in these tasks). This is not only wrong, it contradicts their own FAQ (posted above) which says that the EEA is “equated with the Pleiostocene.” In this regard, Watson is not incorrect for suggesting that one tenet of EP is that much of our human behaviors are purported to have evolved in this time period–she’s just paraphrasing Tooby/Cosmides own FAQ. There are numerous other quotes by John Bowlby and Donald Symons that support their Pleistocene view of things.

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  • DK

    Truly appreciate the time and effort you put into this Mr Clint. Cheers. – DK

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  • WhatevsK

    Watson’s presentation is exactly what I’ve come to expect from anyone self-identifying as a feminist. This article presented an excellent, thoughtful analysis which will almost certainly be ignored and derided by Watson and her fellow feminists.

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  • Phalacrocoracidae™

    Thank you*
    -r
    -=-

    *belated

  • jbrisby

    That’s Rebecca.

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  • Shadeburst

    Very disappointing. Clint falls into the very same traps he accuses Watson of inhabiting. Not that I like her. Ten minutes on her blog will convince you that she’s a misandrynist.