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Posted by on Dec 4, 2012 in Atheism, Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs | 38 comments

Yet Another FTB Faux Pas

Stephanie Zvan is making the allegation that marketing major and feminist speaker Rebecca Watson was targeted by Ed Clint and others when he criticized her factually erroneous and highly prejudicial speech on evolutionary psychology. She asserts that people were critical of the speech even before they heard it. But what Zvan misses is that in one of my first tweets about the topic I included a link to a lengthy interview with Watson, where she clearly states that she’s addressing the science of evolutionary psychology and not just pop psychology and tabloid press. Watson describes the content of her speech as well as her intentions for giving it, and makes many of the same errors Clint later points out. In fact, those same errors were criticized in the comments section of an earlier post in my blog. But because I am not an evolutionary psychologist, I did not feel qualified to write an entire blog post on the topic.

Here is the link posted in my tweet, which apparently Zvan missed:  Oops! Sounds a bit like Watson debunks Zvan’s entire argument about Watson’s speech, which Watson later endorses. What a mess.

Ms. Watson is now claiming she wasn’t trashing evolutionary psychology as a whole, but just the pop aspects. This is not at all clear from the speech she gave and appears contradictory to her comments in the interview above, where she compares evolutionary psychology to Social Darwinism and eugenics, aptly demonstrating that she can’t tell the difference between descriptive and prescriptive claims. For better criticism of evolutionary psychology see the writings of either Massimo Pigliucci or Jerry Coyne.

But most importantly, I’m so tired of all this nonsense. Don’t people have better things to do? Don’t I? And why do we have unqualified speakers talking about subjects they know nothing about (and with a political agenda, to boot)?

Important Edit: I just received information that since the speech was livestreamed, Clint had heard it before tweeting about it, which should completely demolish Zvan’s accusation of “targeting.”  But personally, I thought the interview linked above was bad enough to warrant criticism.

Also, commenters on various  blogs have pointed out that there are qualified experts — both male and female — on EP in every state and country, as well as qualified critics. There is no reason to fly in someone with zero qualifications (and a well-known personal agenda) to address this subject when local experts are available and willing to speak. If we’re claiming to be a rationalist movement, it wouldn’t hurt to start by behaving rationally.

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  • Stephanie Zvan

    You’re talking about the speech where she *joked* about slamming evo psych? No, I didn’t miss that, anymore than I missed that you feel the need to qualify me as an FTB blogger or Rebecca as a “marketing major”.

    Grow up, Maria.

    • bluharmony

      So, in other words, you have no argument to make. Good.

      • Actually, she never did… but who’s counting?

    • No, I think she is referencing the talk where Rebecca said EP grew out of eugenics and Social Darwinism. And no, there wasn’t a hint of humor when she said that.

      • bluharmony

        Exactly. The fact that we waited to write about this until we heard the entire speech and found a person qualified to comment shows nothing other than restraint on our part as a network. But I found Watson’s interview to be shamefully ill-informed long before I heard the entire speech. And that’s just from a layperson’s perspective. So there was no “targeting” of Watson as a person, just the misinformation she consistently disseminates, which is particularly toxic when presented to a young and impressionable audience that views her as an authority. Let’s not forget that she’s touring the world with this speech and representing “reason.”

    • I don’t see how anybody can reasonably assert that she clearly stated her criticisms were confined to media representations of “pop” evo psych. The major thrust of the talk was that evo psych is a pseudo-science that should be ridiculed. Hopefully Rebecca will see the valid criticisms and citations, address them fairly, and incorporate them into her speech to improve and clarify it so there are no future missteps or misunderstandings.

      • bluharmony

        A positive and constructive suggestion that I wholeheartedly approve.

        • What about claiming a satire was “published”, which clearly implied it was slipped past peer review, Sokal style (thus garnering applause from the unsuspecting audience), without qualifying that the journal it was published in isn’t reputable?

          • bluharmony

            No intention to fix those sorts of errors, at least not as far as I know. She listed the things Ed mentioned that she was going to fix, but that wasn’t one of them. Her words are in the first comment to Zvan’s first post on this topic. The one before she got the brilliant idea for the “targeting” angle.

          • I tried to bring that up in Zvan’s post but she was having none of it, mainly because it is impossible to prove implications (despite how obvious this one is), then I was blocked for not apologising for a perceived wrong.

          • bluharmony

            Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m blocked too; I haven’t checked, and have no desire to ever comment there again. If she has anything to say to me, she can say it right here. One of the stupidest things I’ve done in my life was responding on her blog when she was defending the fact that some FTB commenter published my home address in Laden’s blog. Going there just draws attention to things that deserve none.

          • Chas Stewart

            I didn’t applaud! I had no idea if she was telling the truth since it seemed so ridiculous but this guy behind just couldn’t get enough of her talk. He was laughing before the jokes were done. Sometimes, I just can’t stand fanboys.

          • bluharmony

            Here’s an example of criticism of evolutionary psychology done well. It’s limited in scope, and not full of factual errors: And it also addresses the problem of the kinds of studies that make the news. (I didn’t bother reading PZ’s.)

    • bluharmony

      If you would like me to remove the “FTB Blogger” language, or feel I misrepresented you in some way, just let me know and I will fix it.

    • Ejaculata Lovetinkle

      But you *are* an FTB blogger. Outside of that glittering qualification, what other claim to notability on these matters can you make?

    • Ohh, yeah. Now she was *joking*. How convenient! I will asume all her Skepticon talk was a joke – actully, it was!

      • Ejaculata Lovetinkle

        The “just joking” thing is a hoot, no? It must the the FtB/A+ equivalent of “no homo”.

        • bluharmony

          I wonder why Zvan bothered to show up here. If you’re caught, you’re caught, and adding an ad hom to the situation doesn’t really help you.

          • Pitchguest

            What did you expect? She outright pardoned Greg Laden when he was jousted by FTB after he’d threatened Justin Griffiths. Not only did she excuse his behaviour during that time, she actually went the extra mile and blamed the victim and chided Justin. Utterly disgraceful.

            She excused him when he stalked Abbie Smith to get her fired from her job, she excused him when he said “get off the rag and kiss my ass” to a woman (to which she responded something along the lines of, “that would be unlikely, as she has just become pregnant”), she excused him when he accused men of having a “rape switch”, she excused him when he said men was “damaged by testosterone.” She’s a laughing stock. To call her sceptical is scientific suicide.

    • Jeff

      We all make mistakes. (For example, I used to be a fan.) Do you ever admit when you screw up? Ever, ever, EVER? That more than ever is what has ended my love affair with FtB. You guys never doubt yourself for a second, you never think you might be wrong. You are right right RIGHT about everything, and anyone who disagrees on the most minor point is a bad person.

    • Wait, wait, it’s wrong to qualify you as an FTB blogger or rebecca as a marketing major?

      I’m sorry, but why? Possibly poisoning the well?

      Because it seems that you, PeeZus, et al go to great, GREAT lengths to poison the well anytime any of the FTB / A+ /Skepchicks people face *any* criticism. The first thing you make sure to do is show that oh no, they can’t be criticizing *content*, they have a hidden agenda, so you shouldn’t take them seriously at all.

      I would ask if there is any level of hypocrisy you won’t stoop to, but I think the easier question would be: “Is there a point where you aren’t being so hypocritical as to strain the ability of the word “hypocritical” to contain the hypocrisy you practice?”

      (and no, I am not under even the *slightest* delusion Zvain shall read any of these responses. She is only capable of making a stand in places where she has editorial control. Same thing with PeeZus et al. They are only brave when standing in the house, behind their parents, whilst peeking around their legs and bravely, bravely sticking their tongues out at you.)

      • bluharmony

        Actually, you know what? I was just trying to describe them accurately. Maybe the “marketing major” had a point to it, but I seriously don’t know what Zvan does other than live-tweeting, blogging, and writing petitions of sorts.

    • I suppose that the “joke” is on everyone who watched it thinking that she did mean to slam evo psych. Naturally, it is their own fault for not interpreting it correctly. Fortunately, we have you, to tell us precisely how things are to be seen and understood. How generous of you, to share your perspicacity with the internet.

  • Steph doesn’t seem to like you. 🙂 I’m sure you’re gonna lose sleep over that.

    • bluharmony

      Yeah, it’s a tragedy.

      • In Stephanie Zvan’s defense, a lot of people characterize her as being none too bright. The problem is not, however, her lack of luminosity or low albedo, but that through no fault of her own, she’s so fucking dense that light bends towards her and then can’t escape.

  • If there were a god, I’d pray to her that this kerfuffle would lead to a substantive discussion of the merits of evo-psych as a field of scientific inquiry instead of yet another discussion about some blogger/podcaster who makes speeches.

    • bluharmony

      The problem is when the speaker herself says that the field she’s talking about is soooooo boring. And those commenting on the speech say the scientific analysis and peer review papers are too long and boring to read. And that’s a big, BIG problem. Also, it really doesn’t help feminism much when the people doing this are all women. See this wonderful example: This woman actually appears to care more about Watson’s hair than EP.

    • Astrokid NJ

      what lies at the heart of the matter is ‘negative’ generalizations applied to women. This is what is triggering emotional responses, and causing them to reject entire fields of science. So.. why not actually strike it at the root, and talk about the generalizations themselves? 🙂

      People keep talking about “stereotypes”.. i.e a “very strong impression” from which concerned individuals are unable to escape. i.e effectively a universal statement. I find this bizarre.. coz our lived experiences in this day and age show that its really difficult to find universals.. there are always lots of exceptions, and things are spread along a continuum.

      This “women evolved to shop” idea.. it seems to irritate the feminists because of the shopping aspect. Its identical to the Ed Rybicki Womanspace affair which triggered FTB ire a while ago. But lived experiences of men tell us that women shop a hell of a lot more than men, and there are figures out there that bear it out.

      funny thing is.. feminists seem to have no problem talking about generalizations that show men in negative light (Schrodinger’s rapist, men are pigs, etc), and women in positive light. for e.g
      12 Things women do better than men

      I personally have no problem with generalizations at all.. whether they are about sex, race, country, etc. I wish we could break out of this political correctness shit, at least in the atheist/skeptic communities.

      • bluharmony

        The first step to solving problems is being able to talk about them without fear of being crucified for saying the wrong thing. Especially when talking in descriptive, not prescriptive terms. Yes, women do seem to like shopping more than men. Why is this? Why is it wrong to ask the question? Also, why did more women than men (at least from what I’ve seen) say that they agreed with Watson largely because Clint’s article was too detailed and too long to read, and they agreed with her conclusions? Why have we not yet seen a *real* rebuttal? Why? Why? Why?

  • Pitchguest

    Stephanie Zvan

    Ah, yes, of *COURSE* she was joking. Joking the whole thing through, I imagine?

    Was she *just joking* on any other times where she recounts things she considers ridiculous? Again, we have Watson in her talk speaking about evolutionary psychology as a whole several times, in fact referring to it “as a whole” around the 12:30 mark, and then we have the questioner at the end who asked her about the merits of evolutionary psychology — which means the questioner misunderstood the entire talk and should have been corrected by Watson — of which she should have answered in the affirmatory if, indeed, she was just talking about evo-psych as described in the popular media. She didn’t, she just scoffed and gave a glib and vague response, but reaffirming our suspicions by answering thusly, “Is there any good evolutionary psych. Probably? I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring, because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything.” Verbatim that is what she said.

    If she wasn’t intending to discredit it as a whole, as you say “the universal rather than the general”, why did she answer the question like that? Moreover, why would she speak on behalf of evolutionary psychologists if she has no expertise on the subject? It is obviously a scientifically sound field, even PZ Myers says so even though he contradicts himself by saying it “would never amount to anything of substance.” Er, yeah. And this was in defense of Watson’s talk. Maybe you ought to think if your “blind leading the blind” defense of Watson is equally as troubling as PZ Myers’ rebuttal?

    Finally, the interview with the Swedish Skepchick. You can’t get anymore clear than that. But she’s just *joking*, isn’t she? I suppose her frequent giggling and laughing at her own jokes is evidence of that, but I’m curious about one thing. Her previous talks also feature her frequently giggling, scoffing and laughing at her own jokes. Does that mean she was *just joking* there, too? Maybe that’s an indicator she doesn’t take any of these things seriously. None of it. Anyway you slice it, it’s clear to anyone who isn’t a fan that Rebecca Watson is not a qualified science communicator, she doesn’t have the expertise to speak confidently about evolutionary psychology and she is definitely not immune to criticism — however terse — as you seem to delude yourself into. She is not being harassed, she is not being “targeted” – she is being called out. You would do good to learn the difference. Enough is enough, Zvan.

  • Karmakin

    Well, I do think the descriptive vs. prescriptive debate is a debate well worth having, as I’ve seen EP used in a prescriptive manner before, and it does drag down the entire field IMO…not that I’m expecting too much from it to be honest. Maybe I’m just being dumb here but I’m not sure what use other than intellectual interest comes from EP. (Not that EP is alone in this regard).

    • Clare45

      Karmakin, I agree.The problem as I see it with EP is that like other social sciences-psychology,sociology etc. research is made difficult by the fact that studies are generally retrospective rather than prospective. An example of a prospective study would be a double blind clinical drug trial. However, one way to get round that problem is to study very large population groups-at least 1000 subjects. Validations studies are also extremely important. For those who are not scientists, that is when another researcher or group replicates a former study, possibly using a different methodology. It seems the field of EP at this point, being relatively new, is lacking in these validation studies.

  • It should be noted that the official story now pedaled by Zvan and co. is deeply insulting to Rebecca Watson. It defends against denialism by way of arguing for spectacular incompetence. Watson did not know how to present a highly controversial topic in a way that her own thesis was clear & unmistakable? Many people who have no particular opinion about Watson as a person have had the same impression of the video as we did.

    This defense also changes nothing about the many errors, omissions, and contradictory evidence that even a lay person should have been able to sort out relatively easily, so long as they were trying to do so.

    So, if you wish us to accept the fact that Watson’s talk was a confusingly-delivered and poorly-researched, well maybe we ought to believe you. However, I doubt so many of us wish to see her speak again in the near future.

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  • Anyway, Rebecca Watson gave the same talk in may 2012 at the World Skeptics Congress in Berlin. I was there. I heard it at the time. So much for “She asserts that people were critical of the speech even before they heard it.” It is a very lame defense of RW’s talk.

    • bluharmony

      There’s no indication that she’s changing her talk significantly after the criticism, either.

  • steven

    Did Rebecca Watson really claim that there was ‘…a series of strange studies in which attractive members of each sex stopped passers-by on the street and asked them if they’d be willing to go have sex with them.’

    I’ve certainly heard of studies where college boys were asked on campus by perfect strangers if they wanted to go on a date with them. Most said ‘yes’.

    I’ve certainly heard of studies where men were shown pictures of perfect strangers and asked if they would be willing to have sex them in theory. Most said ‘yes’.

    But I’ve never heard of a study where women propositioned men in the street for sex.

    Perhaps I’m ignorant. After all, I’m sure there are studies I’ve never heard of.

    When was this study? Where? Obviously, Rebecca must have documented it.

    And , really, did most men say yes to instant sex?

    Just walk through the red-light district of a town and you will see that the street-prostitutes do not have anything like a 90% success rate in propositioning men. Most men just walk past.

    I will be charitable and assume Rebecca did not invent this study. It would be wrong of me to think otherwise.

    Which makes it even more intriguing.

    How did the men who propositioned women for sex not get arrested?

    It is also remarkable that this appears to be the one study by evolutionary psychologists that was scientifically valid. It produced genuine knowledge about what those men are like.

    All the other studies by evolutionary psychologists are junk science.

    But that one was scientifically valid.

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