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Old 01-17-2011, 02:00 PM
uncle ebeneezer uncle ebeneezer is offline
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 3,332
Default The Evolution of Rape

Bob's favorite writer, Jerry Coyne, wrote this excellent take-down of a David Brooks column that featured a large dose of evolutionary psychology and rape. In it, Coyne takes to task Bheader, Jesse Bering, and repeats some of the criticisms that John Horgan has raised about Ev Psych on more than one occasion.

As we know, many studies in science, when repeated, fail to replicate the initial results. Think of all the reports of single genes for homosexuality, depression, and other behavioral traits that fell apart when researchers tested those results on other groups of people! And if an author did an initial study (not a replication) of handgrip strength that didnít show the relationship with ovulation, would that even be publishable? I think not.

I suggest, then, that the results of evolutionary psychology often reflect ascertainment bias. If you find a result that comports with the idea that a trait is ďadaptive,Ē it gets published. If you donít, it doesnít. That leads to the literature being filled with positive results, and gives the public a false idea of the strength of scientific data supporting the evolutionary roots of human behavior.

Nevertheless, Bering, who apparently has never seen a Darwinian explanation he doesnít like, finds all this very convincing:

I donít know about you, but Iím riveted, and convinced, by much of the logic in this anti-rape area. And researchers are just getting started.

Well, pardon me if Iím not quite so convinced. It takes more than a small study on American college women at a single school to convince me that a behavior is an evolved adaptation to prevent rape.

Now I donít oppose evolutionary psychology on principle. The evolutionary source of our behavior is a fascinating topic, and Iím 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. Iím far closer in my views on this topic to Steve Pinker than to Steve Gould. And there are many good studies in the field, so I donít mean to tar the whole endeavor.

But, for crying out loud, letís have the journalists and scientists show a little more responsibility when reporting on evolutionary psychology. If there are problems with a study, describe them. If an idea is pure speculation, say it. If there are other explanations for a phenomenon, give them. Letís not gull the public into claiming that we understand something with near certainty when we donít. These lax reportorial standards, pervasive in evolutionary psychology, seem to be much tighter in other areas of science, like physics or molecular biology. And this despite the enormous difficulty of demonstrating that any human behavior is an evolved adaptation.
It's too bad that we will probably never see Mr. Coyne on BHeads.
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