Jesse Bering writes an article on research looking at possible female evolutionary adaptations to rape. People go nuts. It’s not criticism of individual studies, or criticism of Bering’s summary of them, that’s disturbing. It’s the suggestion (see Emily Yoffe here) that this kind of research shouldn’t be happening at all.
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on Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 at 11:15 am by Radley Balko
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To be clear, regular bath salts don’t contain MDPV or mephedrone. These are research chemicals being sold as “bath salts” (sometimes as “plant food”) to skirt the law about selling chemicals for human consumption.
Otherwise that article is ridiculously ill-informed about the effects of the drugs.
On the one hand, I find Evo Psych research to be generally pointless, silly and dumb. Their theories seems to be mostly “just so stories” that serve little purpose beyond confirming long-held stereotypes about gender roles.
On the other hand, I can’t abide the behavior of modern feminists who are always quick to pull out the long knives whenever anyone challenges their central dogma about human sexuality or gender or rape. Especially rape.
Buy your bath salts now. Looks like the drug warriors may ban them.
I think that leaves about six things left that aren’t considered part of “a growing drug problem”.
January 23rd, 2011 at 11:53 am
What’s so bad about Baby Doc?
“Ducos handed over 100 documents detailing dozens of cases of detention without trial, systematic torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions which took place in Haiti between 1971 and 1986.”
It sounds like Baby Doc was a real trendsetter – the good ol’ US of A has been bringing his tactics to a worldwide audience for ten years. Sure make you proud to be a ‘mercan!
I have very little patience for the amorphous field of “evolutionary psychology”…
…before linking to Jerry Coyne, who writes…
The evolutionary source of our behavior is a fascinating topic, and I’m convinced that the genetic influences are far stronger than, say, posited by anti-determinists like Dick Lewontin, Steve Rose, and Steve Gould. Evolved adaptations are particularly likely to be found in sexual behavior, which is intimately connected with the real object of selection: the currency of reproduction.
Jesse Bering writes an article on research looking at possible female evolutionary adaptations to rape. People go nuts. It’s not criticism of individual studies, or criticism of Bering’s summary of them, that’s disturbing.
That’s what most of it was, though – out of 9 links to criticism in Bering’s response, 8 of them went on about the weaknesses of the studies Bering cited and the dubiousness of Bering trying to draw the level of certainty he did from them. And the one that didn’t – the one of Yoffe’s linked above – goes and criticizes a different Evolutionary Psychology paper.
Even Robert Kurzuban’s responses – linked to by Bering – more or less concede the accuracy of the criticisms, but says other fields are bad about it too.
And Bering, in his defense, says
. After taking David Brooks to task for his recent feature in the New Yorker, Coyne admonishes me for not having “known better” than to have shared with you, the gullible masses, those findings on adaptations to prevent rape. Or at least I should have provided you with a caveat emptor about the theoretical wares I was peddling. Well, perhaps. But that’s a judgement call. And I suppose I have enough faith in the Slate audience to assume my readers will understand that my own voice and interpretation are overlaid on whatever science topics I happen to discuss.
So … Bering admits that he shared only a small number of studies, and didn’t consider studies that provided other results. And then he says that slate readers should understand that his “own voice and interpretation are overlaid” by … completely ignoring some of the studies in a discipline, ignoring the flaws in the ones he does cite, and then stating
I’m riveted, and convinced, by much of the logic in this anti-rape area. And researchers are just getting started. Above is a set of astonishing truths.
So apparently we should understand that Jesse Bering is “riveted and convinced” and sees “astonishing truths” it means he hasn’t actually studied the topic evenly or closely studied the papers he did read.
Sure, Yoffe goes overboard at the end and says they should reconsider doing this stuff at all, and that’s no good, but there is the opposite problem – someone writing something edgy and then saying the equivalent of “you can’t handle the truth” when it gets criticized. Which Bering spends a lot of time doing, the following for example:
But I would like to know what we are really, truly, talking about here. Is this a debate over quality control in a particular academic field or a battle over politics and ideology? I wish I could believe it were only about the science. When the skeptics chime in, I suspect they are egged on by politicized reactants.
which should be interesting in theory, but in practice tends to center around reinforcing retrograde gender roles with almost nothing in the way of substantive evidence or even logic to support its claims.
I’m not sure she’d disagree with Coyne’s quote – her problem seems to be with the field in practice, which leaves open the space for some of the fields’ work to be good. It’s kinda vague though.
The whole 2008 Libertarian Party process of selection of their presidential candidate was a real eye-opener for me. It helped clarify which libertarian sites were closest to my own views on things, by showing who had issues with Barr’s selection (and why they did) versus his defenders.
Not my only personal “litmus test”, mind you, but it was an important one.
They made some legitimate criticisms about the studies Bering cited, but I have a feeling that there’s nothing you could write about rape from an evolutionary point of view that wouldn’t piss off some people. And that’s one of Bering’s goals– he loves to be provocative. He’s written about the psychology of bestiality, incest, porn, you name it. I think he’s surprised about some of the sources of vitriol, but not at all about the fact that he’s receiving it.
It doesn’t bother me at all to think that rape is adaptive, and also that behaviors to prevent rape are adaptive. People seem to have a hard time getting it through their heads that “adaptive” doesn’t mean “nice.” We evolved to be sweet, loving, compassionate, and cooperative, but also to be petty, jealous, spiteful, selfish, and violent, because those things can help get your genes into the next generation as well.
As a feminist I get pissed off when people try to use evolutionary psychology to justify their prejudices, but this isn’t one of those times. I also don’t see the point in either dismissing the entire field because you disagree with the conclusions of one guy’s article, or using that article as evidence of why you’ve dismissed the field. That kind of grandiosity just seems like a plea for attention.
If you read Bering’s response, its clear that he backtracks a bit from his original position: “As with all good studies in psychology, there’s enough explanatory hedging about this problem to cover the entire state of Maine.”
One wouldn’t have guessed this from reading baldly assertive sentences like this one in Bering’s original piece “In fact, the distinctive, mushroom-capped shape of the human penis is designed to perform the specialized function of removing competitors’ sperm, which indicates an ancestral history of females having sex with multiple males within a 24-hr period.”
I’m not going to hash out every detail of this debate, but I think you’re mistaken to characterize the responses as “people going nuts”. Jerry Coyne’s criticism is very good, IMO, and Bering doesn’t quite meet it head on. I would point out that Coyne is ready to pour critical acid on all kinds of scientific claims, including ones that are far less controversial.
Yep, I have to agree with Strech. Most of the criticism of Bering’s article and the research he cites is on the quality of the research. Even well designed research has to be repeated before we should begin to put confidence in them. No, Bering in just digging himself a hole as far as I can tell.
“I love this drug war o’mine” said Nixon as he looked up from hell.
David in Balt |
January 23rd, 2011 at 2:13 pm
I used to have allot of respect for P.Z. Meyers, but he is clearly showing himself to be the worst sort of political hack. His baseless rants against libertarianism, his criticism of any area of science that happens to go against his dogma, etcetera make him hard to take seriously. He almost makes me ashamed to be an atheist and skeptic.
C. S. P. Schofield |
January 23rd, 2011 at 2:19 pm
MacGregory, I’m no great fan of Nixon but I don’t think you can blame the “Drug War” on him. I seem to remember that the federal laws against Pot, Cocaine, and Heroin were (if you look at the politics) passed as “Full employment for out of work Prohibition Agents” measures, amid a veritable blizzard of the worst “We gotta keep them goddamned Darkies in line” swill ever put out by anyone not wearing a sheet.
For the record, that was in the 1930’s.
Since then each Administration and each Congress have added to the idiocy. On the subject of drugs, Nixon was a goddamned fool, but he wasn’t the first, or the worst, by any means.
Yeah, no love lost here for the angry feminist crowd raising most of the fuss, but that said, evolutionary psychology is a joke and shoehorns studies into current cultural gender roles. I am a fan of science, but not a fan of pseudoscientific “research.”
I like the idea of evolutionary psychology, but it’s very rarely backed up with facts. Usually it’s just controversial enough to make headlines or a book while sounding plausible enough to not draw open scorn from the public. Most of the time it really is more of an art than a science. Of course so are Tarot and Astrology.
The amount of cherry picking he had to do to reinforce his predetermined conclusion is astonishing. Ignoring the results you don’t like are not science, though it is common in evolutionary psychology. That’s what the feminist and science blogs attacked him for. Maybe we should ask some of these strawmen if they’re ovulating and test their grip strength. Then we can ignore the results we don’t like, write a book about it, and get butthurt when people call us out on it.
Barr and all the party infighting really makes one question the LP cause. I’ve often wondered how the two big parties try to reign in their loons and distance their respective mainstreams from the whack-jobs out there that alienate the middle. Apparently the LP has the same issues.
Ok. What I get from that article is that meth is fucking evil. Don’t do it. It makes you snort bath salts.
I’m against the drug war and see criminalizing addiction and consumption as the cause of a lot of our ills so I’m probably going to heartless bitch hell for the following, but I’ve reached the point in my life where I can honestly say this and mean it (and yeah, it is a horrid feeling):
If someone wants to snort bath salts, give them a room and let them snort bath salts.
“What if they die you emotionless bitch?” I’m sorry. That is sad. But, more elbow room for those of us who don’t eye random industrial/household chemicals and think, ‘Gee. Wonder what that shit would feel like up my nose/injected in a vein/smoked through a pop can?’ No, i don’t understand the mental state that would compel someone to do that. I can not empathize with that state. Maybe it makes me evil. Like meth?
If someone wants to snort bath salts, give them a room and let them snort bath salts.
I’m a heartless bitch, too. I’d make them pay for the room and probably a deposit to cover the cost of cleaning up any bodily remains.
Aside from that, I agree completely.
Carl-Bear Bussjaeger |
January 23rd, 2011 at 7:07 pm
“Bob Barr gives libertarian critics more material. Disappointing.”
Why? I mean, that’s like being disappointed that, as a Republican, Obama makes Republican look bad. Non sequitur. Granted, presenting him as a Prez candidate made the _Libertarian Party_ look like Republican Annex Assholes, but the LP hasn’t had a hell of a lot to do with libertarianism for a long time.
When Barr starts making restitution to his drug war victims (and stops funding Republican candidates facing Libertarians) I _might_ allow that he’s beginning to learn something about being a libertarian.
Maybe the Libertarian Party picked former Congressman Bob Barr as their presidential candidate because he already reasonably strong name appeal, having been a long-serving Georgia Congressman, and one of the Clinton Presidential Impeachment team in the Congress.
Thereafter, he regularly appeared as a guest political talking head on various cable TV networks.
I’d never even really heard of previous Libertarian Candidates.
If we threw out every sociology study because it was conducted on a relatively small group of college-aged psych majors, then most of what we know would have to be thrown out, because that is how 99% of these studies are conducted.
Maybe Bering is reading too much into a series of small studies, so criticizing him isn’t unreasonable. But to claim the whole field is pseudoscience, no different from tarot cards? That’s absurd.
And quite frankly, people really tip their hands when they do that. It leads me to believe that liberals dismiss evolutionary psychology for the same reason conservatives dismiss climate science and evolutionary biology: the scientific results contradict their emotional and political worldview.
Re: Rape study. You can safely ignore anything Emily Yoffe says. She’s a moron, and her advice column is like a broken clock – right twice a day by pure accident. She’s by far my least favorite regular Slate contributor.
So the LP picked a guy the Reps and Dems couldn’t stand anymore and voted out, and whose drug warrior rep (and habit of backstabbing libertarian candidates) completely alienated libertarians. A clean sweep. Yeah, let’s hear it for name recognition.
I’m reminded of an encounter with the area sales manager of a telecom for which I once worked. He came into my office one morning with a newspaper, all excited. The paper’s business section had a front page, above the fold expose on what a lousy company we were, how sales people would promise stuff the company wouldn’t (and couldn’t) deliver, had horrible customer service for those foolish enough to go with us anyway… et cetera, et cetera… Don’t ever do business with this company.
I pointed out the little problem that this was terrible publicity. He replied, “Sure. But people will know who we are.”
When that company went bankrupt and out of business, I wonder if that clown got a job advising the LP.
I finally understand. If you fail to unconditionally do what I say (show ID, put the camera down, let me fondle you, etc.), then you are disturbing my peace; hence, I am arresting you for disturbing the peace.
re: Barr — Feeling pretty good about not voting for him, right now.
I’ve come to realize that the main reason I tend not to refer to myself as a “libertarian” in casual conversation (even though it’s probably the most accurate political label) is that it is pronounced the same way as “Libertarian”.
#3 Dave Krueger: “I think that leaves about six things left that aren’t considered part of “a growing drug problem”.”
Just give ’em time, man. They’ll knock those out, too.
Boyd Durkin |
January 24th, 2011 at 10:22 am
Reason TV also has an interview with Joel Klein (ugh).
Why isn’t Nick G. grilling Joel Klein about “real” school choice (such as private schools)? Klein is one of the biggest statist in the country and he’s been in charge of NYC schools since 2002. Every proposal he has boils down to “MORE $$$”.
Klein is the enemy, not in any way a savior and Nick shouldn’t be doing a fluff video with him.
Wiki Joel Klein’s anti-business, pro-big government past. This asshat cost me too much money for me to forget his scams.
witless chum |
January 24th, 2011 at 6:31 pm
Radley, I don’t think that’s a fair gloss of Yoffe (who almost made me nod off there because I thought of her advice column). She’s saying the studies shouldn’t be done because she think’s that these sort of studies about women’s menstrual cycles have lead to ridiculous conclusions, again and again. That sounds more like mockery than some sort ideological out of bounds line.
January 25th, 2011 at 1:19 am
If people get so pissed of at the (to me, very plausible) idea that women might have evolved defenses against rape; just imagine what they would feel about the idea that the *races* are different.
Oh well. It’ll all be accepted one day, and we’ll laugh at those who denied these things.
“…someone writing something edgy and then saying the equivalent of “you can’t handle the truth” when it gets criticized.”
Of course, that’s pretty much all of what “evolutionary psychology” (which is usually neither much about evolution or psychology) amounts to. It’s a very similar dynamic to what one sees produced by creationists or other pseudoscientific scenes.
#43 – Umm, I think most people acknowledge that they are (just like genders) except the individual variations are enough such that simply looking at the means isn’t necessarily predictive in individual cases.
Regarding the larger issue of evo psych: It’s true. There are a lot of just-so hypotheses out there, and it looks terrible. Comparing it to climate science isn’t at all reasonable, as someone above did – at least the latter produces models which can be tested. There are ways to test hypotheses in evo psych, but they’re very subtle – usually comparative studies that draw more from what’s called sociobiology than evo psych, because you’re dragging in a lot more than humans into your analysis. And without that background, you’re making a lot of assumptions about the environments in which humans arose, their past social structures, and the relative fitness levels of certain behaviors that are simply very hard to quantify without some other species to compare against. There are a few hypotheses that I do think have borne fruit in evo psych, but the vast majority of those came from zoologists and sociobiologists first.
Fursther, when I see Bering make a statement like this, “I can only assume that Myers has not had to face a university human-research ethics committee in the past several decades,” my immediate response is “Boo-effing-hoo.” Of course you’re facing IRB restraints. (Has Bering ever had to deal with an IACUC?) It’s still not an excuse for the fact that the experiment doesn’t serve much to support the hypothesis. It sounds a lot like “Well, we couldn’t do what we wanted, but we got this thing that’s kinda close, and it should be good enough, right?”… Except no. If you can’t get the evidence, you can’t get the evidence. You don’t get brownie points for trying harder and having to work around bureaucracy in science, sorry. And the WEIRD problem is a HUGE problem in the social sciences. I don’t think most researchers take it seriously enough. A lot of defenders are pulling out the Tu Quoque card on it, totally missing the point.
And, worst of all, evo psych is one of those fields in which Ioannidas’ work definitely applies – a ‘hot’ research topic, with little replication among different teams, in which one or two studies is generally ‘sufficient’ to demonstrate a hypothesis. Given that the production of hypotheses in evo psych is probably pretty easy, then that makes the prior probability of those hypotheses much lower than something like, oh, clinical trials which already have the basic science models worked out to a degree before they’re tested.
And maybe I’m reading into Yoffe differently, but she seems to be lamenting the shoddiness of it all moreso than the hard feminist line of “No differences, women are just men without a Y chromosome!” sort of thing. Could be a matter of interpretation, I suppose.