evo psych gets a scowl from two biologists

Evolutionary psychology sounds like a fruitful pursuit, but it's probably barking up the wrong tree as a discipline.
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Biologists seems to have a love-hate relationship with evolutionary psychology. Some think it’s terrific that we apply evolutionary reasoning to different questions about life and living things in general, others see it as the brainchild of sloppy thinking or just thinking way too hard. Personally, though I’m not a biologist, reading a lot of evolutionary psych investigations pushes me towards the opinion of the latter group. It seems that virtually every supposedly scientific finding about dating, sex, and social habits that produces a buzz in the media and prompts lists of “scientific reasons why blank” you see on so many pop sci and entertainment sites, will also generally support stereotypical gender roles or vast blanket generalizations such as: men were hunters while women had children and ran the caves/tents/houses so all their behaviors derive from that arrangement.

A while ago, Greg Laden struck out at evolutionary psychology’s propensity for gender role assignments, and now, after reading a sloppy paper on women’s supposed adaptations to avoid rape during ovulation, PZ went into a rant about the major shortfalls of the field. And you know what? He’s absolutely right. You can’t have a fruitful field of research by focusing on one particular feature of an organism’s body or behavior, then focusing all your efforts on explaining why and how it evolved even if there’s really no apparent reason to pay so much attention to that feature. Well, I suppose you can, but all you’ll end up with is pseudoscience draped with some scientific language borrowed from evolutionary biology and backed up with tests which don’t say a whole lot of anything about the topic or fail to consider the long and complex evolution of human societies in the process of simplifying something very complex or elevating something inconsequential.

# science // biology / evolution / evolutionary biology / evolutionary psych


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