• Is 90% of Evo-Psych False?

    Last month, Richard Carrier made an extended argument that Evolutionary Psychology is 90% false. There is much wrongness to be found that article, not least the strawman caricature of the field as something very like total genetic determinism, that is, the idea that “we have been molded to a certain bygone environment, and that this explains everything about us.”

    The crux of the argument, though, lies in Carrier’s claim that Evo Psych will do no better than more traditional psychology at coming up with testable hypotheses which yield reproducible results.

    Evolutionary Psychology is probably at least twice as unreliable as psychology alone, because EvoPsych makes a double claim: not just that an effect exists, but that it was caused by evolution (and not even merely that, but usually it claims a specific scenario as to how evolution produced the effect, and why). That is what makes it “Evolutionary” Psychology and not just Psychology. We now know, mathematically and empirically, that 1 in 3 effects claimed as documented in psychology cannot be so claimed after all. That means we can expect the same in EvoPsych: only 1 in 3 of its claimed effects can be trusted to hold up under further scrutiny. But EvoPsych also makes claims about what caused that effect, highly specific claims at that, and notably those claims are almost never based in evidence.

    If your understanding of how science progresses is that earlier theories (e.g. Newtonian mechanics and universal gravitation) are eventually replaced by more detailed and fundamental theories which make more and better testable predictions under a wider range of conditions (e.g. General Relativity) then you may take his argument with a hefty pinch of skepticism. In doing so, you would not be alone. YouTube philosopher Gary Edwards has zeroed his intellectual artillery in on the problem:

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    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.
    • Is “YouTube philosopher” a thing to be now? I can see that on a CV.

      Also…oh, Richard. Maybe he should stick to revealing large amounts about his personal life and not attacking fields that are way outside of his expertise.

      • I’d much prefer that he would stick to writing about ancient Greco-Roman culture and mythology, because that is what he does best. Naturally, though, I’m not in a propitious position to provide any advice.

    • SexyIsntSexist

      If 90% of evo. psych is wrong then things don’t look good for social psych and sociology or the whole!

    • SexyIsntSexist

      “EvoPsych makes a double claim: not just that an effect exists, but that it was caused by evolution”

      Is this an actual quote? What a fucking idiot! Of course biological effects exist because of evolution – the only alternative to that is God “caused” them.

      I think they are trying to say “caused by natural selection” as one of the mechanisms of evolution. I’m not going to bother listing the other ones because arguing with idiots and all that… what a numpty.

      • I’d wager there are at least some measurable psychological effects that are pretty much entirely the result of inculturation. Like how you can piss people off by flipping them the two fingers in London, but New Yorkers won’t generally take it the same way.

      • jg29a

        Well, or like how saying “push the button with the green triangle and I’ll give you $1000” causes some subjects to push the button with the green triangle, and causes other subjects to say, “¿Qué?”

      • Estoy totalmente perplejo, pendejo.

      • jg29a

        That verbal behavior has also been noted in some subjects.

      • SexyIsntSexist

        Of course there are. No ev. Psych would say otherwise. Lots of behavioural effects are the result of both transmitted and evoked culture. Adjustment is not the same as adaptation.

      • As a skeptic and aspiring rationalist, most of what I happen to find interesting from the field of psychology are effects which we can show to be cross-cultural and quite probably driven by shared neural hard-wiring. The split between System 1 and System 2 comes to mind here, along with an wide array of heuristics and biases explained by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

      • SexyIsntSexist

        You mean pre-frontal cortex vs amygdala? Elephant and rider metaphor (Haidt)?

        Life history has a big effect on genetic activation. But this is a known. See life history theory

      • Elephant and rider is pretty much what I’m going for, yes.

      • SexyIsntSexist

        Ive not read Thinking fast and slow soz.

      • It’s definitely on my top five list of books which skeptics and other rationalist folks should read. For a foretaste of the level they are playing at, you can download the original paper on heuristics and biases for free: http://psiexp.ss.uci.edu/research/teaching/Tversky_Kahneman_1974.pdf

    • jg29a

      Man, I want to see Carrier on a stage with John Tooby so bad…

    • SexyIsntSexist

      You off twitter Damion?

    • SexyIsntSexist

      The wannabe critics of EP have no idea of the complexity of the contemporary research. They all invariably refer back to Lewontin, Gould, Rose which immediately makes them dismissable as those issues were long ago dealt with – see http://www.amazon.co.uk/Defenders-Truth-The-Sociobiology-Debate/dp/0192862154

      Also it’s highly ironic to me when I first saw these anti-ep arguments emerge on the old Richard Dawkins forum. So many supposed rational atheists blindly following Darwkins on issues of religion while totally ignorant that he is a sociobiologist.