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Conservatives and Evolution [Rewritten Post]:

I have become increasingly frustrated with the infatuation of many conservatives with "intelligent design" theory. Ben Adler has a series of Q&A sesssions with various conservative plenipotentiaries on The New Republic web site on the topic of evolution and intelligent design. While some of them acquit themselves well (by my subjective assessment), others do not. There is much nuance in their responses.

It is not precisely clear what Adler's intent is, whether it is to simply gather information or to try to embarrass conservative leaders. My strong impression is that it is the latter, as he invokes the old argument from authority at the header of the story to demonstrate this as the settled opinion of science and so intelligent design theory is non-scientific. If the effort was to embarrass, then with respect to some participants, it is evident that they should be embarrassed. I personally have little patience for the intelligent design argument. As for the political questions, given all the crackpot things taught in schools these days across the curriculum, and given that for some reason we choose to run our schools through political bodies (school boards) it is not obvious to me why this particular politically-motivated curricular innovation is really that much different from many other questionable curricular questions--unless it is because it is argued that "intelligent design" theory is religious theory rather than science (note that this is a claim, from what I can tell, that intelligent design theorists reject).

But if the problem is the influence of religious belief over science, then there is a more important point here that is relevant--the left (such as The New Republic, which conducted this survey) plainly have their own "religious" beliefs when it comes to scientific questions. If we understand "religious" in this context along the lines of "unquestioned truths taken on authority" that render "taboo" certain scientific topics of inquiry or which is impervious to rejection by evidence, then it is plain that in some areas the left has elevated "religious" belief over scientific inquiry by turning certain scientific questions into unquestionable articles of faith, rather than open questions subject for scientific inquiry.

Here's a list of questions on which I suspect that if asked of leading leftist intellectualspolitical leaders would reveal among some of them the triumph of their "religious" faith over scientific inquiry:

1. Are differences between men's and women's aptitudes solely a result of society and culture, or is there an evolutionary basis for some of those distinctions?

2. Do you think that schools should expose children to the scientific hypothesis that evolution has produced innate differences between men and women that partially explains differences in interests and aptitudes, or should they teach that all differences are socially-constructed?

3. Do you believe that Harvard's faculty was correct in censuring President Larry Summers for offering the hypothesis that differential performance by men and women in math and science achievement at elite universities may be in part the result of differential distribution of natural abilities in math and science between men and women at several standard deviations above the mean?

4. Do you believe that the theory of evolution applies to the evolution of mental traits as well as physiological traits?

The last question I refer to elsewhere as the question of "Neck-down Darwinism"--the idea that evolution applies only to the evolution of physical, but not mental, traits. I also want to make crystal clear that at all times I am referring to the question of whether men and women have selected-for evolutionary adaptations that make them different, not "better" or "worse" (in the same way that a female's ability to produce milk to nurse a baby is simply different, not better or worse than males who lack this ability).

My hunch would be that such a survery would reveal that the left's religious faith in political correctness and its trump over scientific inquiry would prove as powerful for some liberals as traditional religious faith seems to be for some conservatives. And to my mind, equally embarrassing.

As a policy question, there is one difference between religiously-motivated science on the left and the right may or may not be relevant. This is that the right's program is to add new (dubious) ideas to the educational system (i.e., add intelligent design to the teaching of evolutionary theory) whereas the left's goal is to censor and exclude investigation of certain (potentially explanatory) scientific hypotheses from the educational system. As a policy question, my sense is that most people ascribe to something like a "free marketplace of ideas" conceptualization of education, meaning that they would prefer to err on the side of including erroneous ideas if they are also countered by better ideas, rather than the exclusion of potentially true ideas. I personally would have no problem with excluding ID and including EP, but then I think that these investigations should be questions of science, not religion.

(show)

[For those looking for an accessible introduction to Evolutionary Psychology, I recommend "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer" by Leda Cosmides & John Tooby.]

Update:

Rereading my original post and some of the Comments, I recognize that my frustration with both sides in this debate got the better of me and caused me to present my point in an suboptimal way that obscured my central point. So I have substantially rewritten the post with largely the same content and a more useful presentation. I have retained the original post as "Hidden Text".

Update:

Oddly, Pharyngula says that I critique a straw man--while turning my argument into a straw man. Obviously there is an interaction between nature and nurture, which I thought was quite clear in my post and in my article linked in my post. And if the left is willing to acknowledge this fact, then that is great. Then we are left with an empirical question of understanding how nature and nurture interact. On the other hand, my impression is that there are many on the left who continue to deny any role for nature and instead adhere to a model of social construction of many of these traits and attributes.

Pharyngula also says:

This does not equate to asking liberals about subjects on which scientists legitimately and vigorously disagree—this is something on which we can reasonably expect to find disagreement among pundits, disagreement which is not indicative of a disconnect with the scientific community.

***

As for evolutionary psychology, I'm a biologist, and I'm in the camp that says it's a load of poorly done hokum, so I'll forgive Paul Krugman if he should think EP is junk; I'll be less pleased if he says he agrees with it, but since EP does have many proponents in academe and is taught at places like Harvard, I'll just have to roll my eyes and be understanding.

Now this is quite a sweeping indictment of the field of evolutionary psychology--the entire field is "a load of poorly done hokum." I am not aware of of any substantial disagreement among knowledgeable scientists on the following concepts in evolutionary psychology (just to name a few): Hamilton's theory of kin-group selection, Trivers's theory of reciprocal altruism, the innate ability to acquire culture, the unusual degree of plasticity of human minds relative to other species, the parent-child bond, certain types of aversion and disgust, the incest taboo, an innate ability to detect intentionality, that our brains neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species' evolutionary history, the specialization of different neural circuits for solving different adaptive problems--just to mention a few.

It is my understanding that there is little disagreement, much less "vigorous" disagreement, among knowledgeable scientists on these particular points. Perhaps Pharyngula is aware of raging debates over Hamilton's kin-selection theory, fo instance, of which I am unaware. If so, it would be useful for me at least to see some actual critiques of the specifics of some of these core concepts in evolutionary psychology, rather than a blanket dismissal of a straw-man version of evolutionary psychology with little more than a dismissive hand-wave and tired appeal to a purported authority.

There are also certainly plenty of other issues in evolutionary psychology around the periphery on which there certainly is disagreement (which is why, where relevant, I conditioned my claims accordingly). But it is just as erroneous to assume that all questions are unsettled as it is to deny the presence of unsettled questions. To suggest that the entire field is "hokum" or that it is all up in the air or subject to disagreement is simply inaccurate.

Perhaps most curiously of all, Pharyngula seems to be fundamentally illiterate in statistics. It is nonsensical to talk about "counterexamples" to a description of a statistical distribution. If he understood statistics, he would recognize that the "room full of counterexamples" are actually what a statistician would refer to as "observations" or "data points" in the distribution beind described. The idea of a "counterexample" is fundamentally irrelevant to this problem.

Update:

In response to PZ Myer's assertion that evolutionary psychology is "poorly done hokum" and that there is "vigorous disagreement" about the entire field of evolutionary psychology I requested (quite reasonably, I thought) that Myers supply some specific examples of scientific disagreement over many of the core principles of evolutionary psychology, such as Hamilton's theory of kin selection. He has responded to this request for specifics that would support his claim that the entire field "poorly done hokum":

That semi-random list of principles is not the same as EP. It's like saying that because Michael Behe understands and agrees that natural selection has occurred, Intelligent Design is therefore the same as accepted neo-Darwinian theory. Picking a few points of concordance while ignoring the points of divergence between two ideas to imply a unity of support that is not there is, well, dishonest.

Nah, I'm plainspoken. He's lying. There is substantial disagreement in the biological community on evolutionary psychology, and to imply that this question has been settled in his favor is either gross ignorance on his part or simple fraud. Of course there is currently an ongoing battle over EP; check out the last link in my article.

I'm actually being kind by conceding that there is a legitimate debate on the subject. I know very few scientists who don't think Pinker is full of shit.

Ah, so now I understand--no need to respond to my request for analysis, because, well, "Pinker is full of shit." Why attack Pinker out of the blue when I never even mentioned him, rather than addressing the specifics I raised? Is Myers basing his entire attack of the field on that one book? Then, falling back (again) on the good old reliable argument from authority, he also links to an interview with philosopher David J. Buller, a critic of evolutionary psychology, who raises doubts about some aspects of the evolutionary psychology research program. Apparently citing an interview with this particular philosopher where he critiques some aspects of the evolutionary psychology research program sufficies to demonstrate that the entire field is "hokum" and that the entire field is open to question (it is not clear whether Buller is one of the scientists, actually he's a philosopher so he may not be included, who think that "Pinker is full of shit"--if so, that must be in his book because I couldn't find that particular quote in the interview he links).

If anything, it seems like the argument Myers is making is much closer to the ID argument that he critiques, than the argument I was making. As I understand the ID argument, it picks up on small holes in the theory of evolution or questions around the edges of the theory, and then proceeds to infer that the entire theory is open to question. Similarly, I have enumerated a long list of core (not semi-random at all) evolutionary psychology ideas on which there seems to be a substantial degree of agreement. Indeed, from what I can tell, he does not disagree with my assessment that there is widespread agreement on these concepts, he simply dismisses this agreement as irrelevant under his particular definition of evolutionary psychology. His response, as I understand it, is that this scientific agreement on these many core principles of evolutionary psychology is irrelevant because there are some unsettled questions around the edges of the research program, and so that therefore the whole research program itself is questionable and that there is controversy about the entire field. This seems much more similar to the arguments that I have read by ID theorists critiquing Darwinian theory, rather than the arguments that I was making. For the record, I don't know whether adherents to intelligent design theory also think that Pinker (or Darwin, for that matter) "is full of shit."

I don't see anything "dishonest" in saying--as I already did--that there is a substantial degree of many of the central points of evolutionary psychology but substantial questions remaining around the margins of the field, and that therefore we should proceed in a spirit of open inquiry and not shut off debate and study of particular hypotheses. Sure, I could be wrong (which is why I asked for specific critiques of the propositions I was citing), but that certainly seems a long way from "dishonest."

Or perhaps Myers's point is that rather than specific critiques we'll just have to take it on "faith" that evolutionary psychology is nothing more than "poorly done hokum" and to suggest otherwise is not only incorrect, but "lying" and "dishonest." But then again, that was my point in the first place wasn't it--that it appears that the problem with evolutionary psychology in some quarters is that it violates a deeply-held religious faith?

Finally, just to clarify again, when I use the word "different" I actually mean "different," not better, worse, or something similar. There is nothing normative in saying that men and women, on average and where relevant in statistical distributions, have differential abilities in the ability to lift heavy objects, throw rocks, nurse children, verbal acuity, or spatial-reasoning skills. This says nothing about the location of particular individuals within the distribution, but I suggest, could provide some explanation for the aggregate distribution of individuals along the distribution, such the paucity of women in the National Football League, for instance. But, then again, as mentioned Myers seems to be a bit confused on the concept of a statistical distribution (he thinks it is possible to provide "counterexamples" to a description of a statistical distribution), so who knows what he would make of the relative absence of women from the NFL.

Steve:
Eugene Volokh had a post yesterday on comments by the president of the DLC insulting Justice O'Connor's record. Will he also write a post discussing the far more numerous attacks on Justice O'Connor's record by right-wing commentators? I look forward, but not expectantly, to Prof. Volokh's follow-up post.

Todd Zywicki had a post the day before yesterday pondering what new name we might assign to the "nuclear option" (a term coined by Republicans, but which they now disfavor because it polls badly). Will he also write a post discussing whether we should rename "partial-birth abortion," the "death tax," and other terms which Democrats believe poll badly? I look forward, but not expectantly, to Prof. Zywicki's follow-up post.

Basically, we can play this game all day. Or we can acknowledge that cherry-picking an issue occurs all the time, and that criticizing it is probably more than a little hypocritical for anyone who blogs regularly. Prof. Zywicki blogs all the time about single incidents in academia or elsewhere that he believes are indicative of a larger problem in the world, and I don't criticize him for not blogging about other incidents that point in the other direction, but really now.
7.7.2005 7:49pm
M (mail):
It's also worth noting that many people, on both the left and right, oppose evolutionary psychology in its present form becuase they think it's poorly done science, and badly done biology. This includes most of the top philosophers of biology and many of the top biologists. I'm quite sympathetic to this myself. But, no top experts in the field (and essentially no members of the field at all) doubt the validity of evolutionary theory in general. The debate over evolutionary psychology is a debate _within science_, while the rejection of evolution is the rejection of science. The two are really not the same and it shows either ignorance or bad faith to suggest that they are.
7.7.2005 8:00pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Todd, give me a break. The New Republic is a moderate-liberal magazine -- it's not in business to write articles to help Republicans. Moreover, it is only reporting the truth -- a surprising number of right-wing pundits either don't believe in evolution or even if they believe in it don't believe it should be taught in public schools because it is offensive to Christians. I assume you find this embarassing. Well, it's a fact so it's just too bad.
7.7.2005 8:06pm
anonymous coward:
Steve, I think there is is a very good point in this post (somewhat obscured by the tendentious tone): our perceptions of scientific evidence are heavily influenced by our grab-bag of political biases. This reminds me of the abstract of an article in my to-be-read bookmarks: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=746508

Note that one can accept the fact that natural selection shaped our minds without buying everything sold under the rubric of evolutionary psychology. (I enjoyed Fodor's--probably dated but fun--take on Pinker in the LRB: http://lrb.co.uk/v20/n02/fodo01_.html ) Have not yet read Zywicki's paper (linked in his post) concerning its supposed legal usefulness, however.
7.7.2005 8:12pm
A. Non:
I was previously unaware that Zywicki was an evolutionary psychologist. Interesting.
7.7.2005 8:28pm
jd:
I happen to support evolution, but all of the "this is science, this is not science" business makes my stomach turn. Has everyone forgotten the lesson from "Structures of Scientific Revolutions"? Saying something is science or not is a patently defective line of argument that has caused more damage in history than it has prevented.

Further, while there is substantial evidence for evolution, abiogenesis is still an extremely speculative field. Evolution dissenters might not be educated enough to know what terminology to use, but you can't entirely blame them for saying that the "theory of evolution" is not backed by sufficient evidence to be comprehensive when the theory itself does not purport to have anything to do with the origins of life.

Many of my colleagues here at university agree so far as the factual content of what I just said but protest that saying it is only fodder for the zealots. I disagree, knowingly making not quite the right argument opens you to justified criticism. And unfortunately, the fallacy of argumentum ad logicam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_fallacy) is common.

If we want to convince people to support evolution, its time we made the right arguments, and the first step is to recognize that standard biology texts distinguish evolution from abiogensis. So, it is possible (albeit speculative) to believe in evolution and reject particular theories of abiogensis. Thus it is possible to believe in evolution and creationism--and in case you haven't followed, the question of intelligent design does not factor into anything I've said per se.
7.7.2005 8:29pm
frank cross (mail):
Well, there's no doubt that there are genetic differences among men and women, which I presume are taught in science classes.

But as for evolutionary psychology, I think the case is very weak. I would recommend a book called Adapting Minds, which seems to pretty effectively take apart the most basic claims of evolutionary psychology, especially those about male and female psychology.
7.7.2005 8:39pm
doctor(logic) (mail) (www):
While evolutionary psychology may have problems, I think it is fair to say that biology is one factor in the differences between male and female aptitudes in certain domains. However, while these differences (such as tendency to navigate by internal map vs. by landmark) may have their origins in our hunter-gatherer-past, they are often swamped by competing social and environmental factors. (Go Danica Patrick!)

More importantly, there's a policy angle that's often swept under the rug in this debate. Should we limit learning and employment opportunities based on gender or race? Should we try to convince our children that they should accept limitations based on genetic inclination? Do we want to live in a society in which women are denied equal access to mathematics and science classes because they're not well suited to it? I, for one, do not.

Larry Summers' comments may have been technically accurate (or they may not have been, I'm no expert on psychology), but, considering that he is President of Harvard, they were tactless and politically ham-handed. His comments suggested that Harvard might have an unofficial policy of restricting opportunity for women. Such a policy would constitute an affront to American principles of fairness and equal opportunity, and he did significant damage to Harvard's reputation in making his claims. So yes, I think Harvard's faculty was probably justified.

Maybe you should add these questions to your poll:

5. Do you believe that telling a certain class of young people that they will probably not amount to much in a given enterprise has any effect on their performance in said enterprise?

6. Are all evolved psychological traits inherently desirable, and should all such traits be reinforced with institutional policy?
7.7.2005 9:02pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Todd, give me a break. The New Republic is a moderate-liberal magazine -- it's not in business to write articles to help Republicans. Moreover, it is only reporting the truth -- a surprising number of right-wing pundits either don't believe in evolution or even if they believe in it don't believe it should be taught in public schools because it is offensive to Christians. I assume you find this embarassing. Well, it's a fact so it's just too bad.

Moderate-liberal? The translation of that is "TNR is too conservative for my tastes." (Kind of like how the media really IS too conservative if you're Eric Alterman).

What about the knowledge claim, "it is only reporting the truth -- a surprising number of right-wing pundits either don't believe in evolution or even if they believe in it don't believe it should be taught in public schools because it is offensive to Christians."

Some prefer people to report facts and leave truth to airy discussions of (say) philosophy of biology. I don't know a surprising number of right-wing pundits (nor would I conflate that with "Republicans") but I do know a number of people whom I consider conservative only one of whom believes in creationism.

Myself, I don't "believe in evolution" because I recognize that it is a scientific theory with good explanatory power that may or may not be true. Don't know, don't care because it doesn't affect a damned thing. I don't think schools should be in the business of teaching "truth" either, rather they should teach facts ("here are the observable data") and explanations ("here's what we think happened based on those data"). No, creationism shouldn't be taught, but neither should evolution be taught as ***TRUTH***. Teach it as science, which is interested in data, not truth. Data are what they are, truth is what *you* think it means.
7.7.2005 9:06pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
John --- TNR endorsed Lieberman for President and still supports the Iraq War. I think that qualifies as "moderate liberal" and not straight "liberal" like the Nation. In any event, it has an agenda, and should not be criticized for advancing that agenda. I.e., we do not find it suprising that the National Review would not run a column like the one TNR ran. By the way, the media is not "liberal" --- that is a myth propagated by the far right so that anything written in the media critical of Republicans will not be believed by the masses --- the far-left is now doing its job to propagate the same lie (see Alterman as you referenced). The media is generally lazy, however, and for this reason makes a lot of stupid mistakes that both liberals and conservatives use to make the claim that the media is biased against them.

As for how you believe evolution should be taught, I believe that is how it is taught.
7.7.2005 9:19pm
The Plumber (www):
Of course men and women evolved differently. It is just as God intended.

Sorry, that's just the kind of thing I would say "over dinner".

Isn't the development of society a natural activity of mankind? If society/culture simply amounts to mass brain-washing, then is mass brain-washing a natural function of man?

Re: Question #2. Schools should teach whatever they want. However, schools shouldn't be publically funded.

Re: Last question. The question is wrong. Liberals don't believe in evolution in the same way that religious conservatives believe in God. No, their religion is government or secular humanism (which I think should be classified as a religion).
7.7.2005 9:37pm
dstraws:
Its refreshing isn't it? Those damn conservatives are willing to entertain the idea of evolution. A number of them actually qualified their answers with the caveat that they aren't experts. Furthermore, the line that's appearing in the conservative movement with respect to Supreme Court nominees is evident even here. I can't wait to read the NR interviews of leftwing intellectuals with respect to Evolutionary Psychology. My guess is that most will fill their answers with caveats as well. Its just amazing that complex questions don't have nice clear yes-no or black-white answers.
7.7.2005 9:40pm
SimonP (mail) (www):
A lot of commentators have already touched on this point tangentially, but I wonder if Professor Zwycki really thinks any of the questions he posed are as settled (i.e., not open to serious disagreement among serious people) as the basic fact of evolution is.
7.7.2005 9:44pm
Acksiom (www):
(1) But who, doctor(logic), are making the suggestions which you question in your second para -- that is, who besides yourself? When no one else is, isn't that a fallacy of some kind?

(2) How, exactly, does Larry Summers's position cause his remarks to become tactless and politically ham-handed? If they were made by NOW president Kim Gandy, would they therefore suddenly become nuanced and intellectually courageous?

(3) And how, exactly, did his comments suggest that Harvard might have an unofficial policy of restricting opportunity for women? What objective, empirical mechanism was in operation such that we all must necessarily arrive at that particular conclusion? Why, for example, is it simply not possible that his comments were rather directed towards the means of improving the audience's general awareness of certain factors involved in career divergence by gender, towards the goal of decreasing same?
7.7.2005 10:31pm
Henry Schaffer (mail):

2. Do you think that schools should expose children to the scientific hypothesis that evolution has produced innate differences between men and women in interest and aptitudes, or should they teach that all differences are socially-constructed?


In genetics, many (most?) traits of interest are controlled both by genes and by the environment. Teaching that either one of the two is the only cause is IMHO malpractice.

I think that Q.2 asks me to choose one of the two - but the language is confusing, i.e. why "expose" and "teach"?

John Jenkins captures the core of "science", and why saying "I believe in theory xyz" is an unfortunate statement.
7.7.2005 10:41pm
Don (mail):
Doctor(Logic):

Wow. Where to begin.

First, Summers never even suggested that Harvard contemplate a policy of restricting opportunity for women. Nobody but you is even considering limiting opportunities based on gender or race. You have every opportunity in the world to become the star left offensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders -- but if you're 5'5" and 140 lbs, it's unlikely you'll be the best candidate for the job. Likewise, the average height of NBA players is over 6'6", while the average height of American males is under 6'.

Should we be surprised that the population of NBA players is tall compared to the general population? Should we expend vast amounts of resources attempting to address "problems" of "underrepresented minorities" (here, short guys) and make certain that the average height of NBA players exactly mirrors that of the general population? Would the overall quality of play suffer as a result?

It's not about limiting opportunity. It's about recognizing that maybe, just maybe, different people have different distributions of certain skills. And maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't automatically leap to judgement (Racism! Sexism!) when the distribution of individuals at the extreme right tail doesn't precisely mirror that of the population at large.

This is an empirically falsifiable hypothesis, and could be supported or refuted by careful, clever analysis of data. Harvard's faculty, when it held the lack of confidence vote, effectively said that some hypotheses won't be considered -- not because they don't have a chance at explaining the data, but because we don't like them. Harvard voted against the scientific method. And in doing so, it did terrible damage to its reputation and to academia at large.
7.7.2005 11:22pm
Tumbling Dice (mail):
Steve is a funny guy with the point of Todd's post splattered all over the wall behind him, just above his head.

Thanks for the long winded post, Captain Obvious Steve.
7.7.2005 11:48pm
Justin Kee (mail):
I'll take the bait....

1. There probably is a biological basis in the difference between men's and women's aptitudes. For example, men are typically able to lift more weight above their head(s). The evidence is accumulating that there is a difference in the mental capabilities as well.

2. The biological differences in men's and women's aptitudes, both physical and mental, appear to be scientifically grounded and should be taught in public schools.

3. It appears that the Harvard faculty censuring Larry Summers was an example of extreme political correctness. Steven Pinker of Harvard has written some excellent rebuttals to the PC arguments.

4. I could not see how anyone with a scientific education could answer this question in the negative.
7.8.2005 12:18am
Peter Swanson (mail):
Todd,

Does it hurt at night to think that you're only a professor of law, and therefore have no real area of expertise or depth of knowledge? Is this why you are jealous? You would do well to discuss your situation with a trained professional. Posts like this only serve to betray your ignorance and your bitterness. Perhaps you should allow a more reasoned poster to screen your posts before you submit them. Just don't let Juan Non-Volokh do it, he seems to suffer from the same condition as you.
7.8.2005 12:24am
Agricola (mail):
This is not a post where enabling comments has been a good idea. But what Professor Zywicki has said is something I wish those on the left would think about just a teeny, tiny, bit, once in a while.
7.8.2005 12:31am
Igglephan:
OK -- I'm on the left, and here's some "thought" for yuz. Nowhere in his post toes Prof. Z. define "trait." Therefore, we cannot tell whether he is speaking of natural or acquired characteristics, which is what it is all about. Acquired traits, we note, do not descend. Evolutionists of course believe that the brain evolved, since we're also most of the time eliminative materialists and the correlation of brain size with function is too strong to deny. However, what one does with the brain is frequently cultured. To wit: math that hasn't been invented yet, which is the subject of Summers' comments, and of little or no sexual advantage. Evolutinary biologists will posit an evolutionary origin not as an ex post justification for surface appearance -- we're not creationists -- and since there is no evidence of reproductive success due to possession of mental traits aside from social pressures that diminish womens' opportunities; and failure to live up to one's potential because you are told that women should live lives of Santorum-esque subservience is an acquired characteristic; fill in answers accordingly.

As for schools, this whole thing is a little bit arcane until students reach the point where science classes teach method rather than rote fact, so it's all moot. I'd be happy just to keep evolution in the curricula of most schools!

Just a funny note -- Richard Dawkins had an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer (big ups!) where he wrote that when scientists fill a gap in the fossil record, the creationists immediately see two gaps. I'm going to use that one.
7.8.2005 1:38am
Gene Vilensky (www):
I am a mathematician not a biologist. But I do know that things like radiation can indeed affect what genes are passed down. Is being exposed to radiation an acquired characteristic or natural characteristic? Wouldn't then acquired characteristic be a rather vague concept, thereby making Mendel's Laws not Laws? If there are biologists here who can explain this to me, I'd appreciate it.

It seems to me that Mendel's Laws seem to be more probabilistic not strict "laws."
7.8.2005 2:34am
Paul Orwin (mail):
Todd,
I think you are overstating your case a great deal, and asking far too much of ev. psych, a young and controversial field (as stated by others above). Never the less, here are some answers to your questions from a liberal biologist. Even part of the dreaded liberal academic elite...

1. If you know the answer to this, take the first flight to Sweden, because they have a big prize for you! Seriously, there is just no good evidence here, because of the entanglement issue (a few twin studies that my old nemesis Godless Capitalist might cite, but its pretty thin) It seems likely that both genes and environment play important roles in INDIVIDUAL mental acuity, and it is very unclear how these factors play out on population levels (and that doesn't even touch on the measurement problem...)

2.This is a false choice, as these are not the only alternatives (not even close). Even more so, it is a poorly chosen example, as high school is not an appropriate place to teach hypotheticals (in my opinion). Why not the untested hypothesis that aliens live in my backyard? If the hypothesis has been tested (and I don't think it has, very effectively), then the appropriate lesson can be drawn. Asking a question is not the same thing as forming a hypothesis (or an hypothesis, either:))

3. It is not at all clear that that is what happened. President Summers made some bold statements about a field that he has little knowledge of, and was rightfully rebuked by people who actually study the issue, as well as women in science who felt that he was harming their goal of increasing participation in scientific research by women. Your statement about "natural tendencies" is unfounded, and unsupported by evidence, for reasons I mentioned in my answer to 1.

4. The theory of evolution applies to fitness, and allele frequencies. Not one other thing. It does not apply to physical attributes or mental attributes in any meaningful way. There is only one single factor that matters, and that is whether an organism has offspring, how many, and what genes they contain. Sorry to get technical (just a bit), but these oversimplifications are the root of the problem. If a trait increases either 1) the ability to survive to reproductive age, 2) the likelihood of mating, or 3) the viability of offspring, then the prevalence of that trait, to the extent that it is genetically determined, will increase in a population. This, unfortunately, gets very, very complicated.

Unfortunately, biology is not easily converted into social policy. (Actually, that is not really that unfortunate...)
7.8.2005 2:45am
justaguy (mail):
From the variety of inane comments to the seemingly mild idea that there might be biological differences between the sexes, one must conclude that the left and our mainstream culture has left reality so far afield with their political science: "humankind is a blank slate and we can re-create her as we wish and make a utopia on Mother Earth." The influence of Marxist philosophy having invaded our sciences, is profound and disturbing.

Reality may take awhile to get through the pseudo-science that blocks the academic world, but it does get through. How many of the mainstgream ideas that dominated the first two decades of the 20th century are still here? Lets see;

physics had a revolution(Einstein and Plank), as did sociology (does anyone still follow Mead or the peaceful man theories?), psychology(Freud anyone), and now biology is up for her revolution.

From the distribution of comments it seems that most readers here deny that there are biological differences between men and women other than from the neck down. This isn't to say that the law should treat men and women differently, but to deny that the differences in hormones between men and women from conception on, as well as that the tremendous physical differences have no affect on differing mental states, skill, preferences or anything other than difference in physical abilities beggars the imagination.

To further deny that the vast demonstrated differences in mental skills as well as demonstrated differences in preferences between men and women found almost universally around different cultures are not all environmental shows the ability of people to delude themselves.

We shouold get back to law and what can be shown in a courtroom.
7.8.2005 9:03am
doctor(logic) (mail) (www):
Acksiom, Don,

I don't know the details of the Summers case, so I am judging based on what the average man on the street hears. I think that Summers' comments may have been factually correct. However, Summers is the President of the organization, not a researcher, and that makes all the difference.

Suppose you were shopping for satellite TV service. You read in the press that the CEO of ACME-SAT TV says at public meeting that "we should expect reliability and reception to vary from customer to customer." Sounds factually correct, right? However, it suggests that when you report reception problems to ACME-SAT technical staff, they might be more likely to ascribe your problems to natural variability in equipment etc. You have no proof that they will offer worse service than any other satellite TV company, but it is suggestive of lower standards of service. It's a public relations failure. This is why, externally, company CEO's all sound universally optimistic. If they were realistic, they would subtly drive customers away. I think that, statistically speaking, it is the nature of consumers to be less optimistic about an enterprise than the leader of that enterprise. Good CEO's are externally optimistic, and privately realistic.

Policy-wise, let's cut to the chase.

Both sides in this debate fear quotas. Some fear that quotas will be established that demand that half the physics department be made up of women. Others fear that female admissions to the physics department will be restricted based on the expectation that women will be more likely to drop out or underachieve. Both kinds of quotas are undesirable. Both fears are reasonable.
7.8.2005 10:05am
Anonymous jim (www):
I think comparing evolutionary psychology to evolution (at least at this point) is really not a good comparison at this point. Personally I have no problem wih people believing in ID or even Genesis. What I do have a problem with is teaching all of our kids ID rather than evolution. Our students are already far enough behind the curve on math and science throwing another wrench is not going to help. If we are going to handicap our students like this, then why not return to Roman numerals and reject arabic numerals.
7.8.2005 10:11am
Tumbling Dice (mail):
Isn't the reason that ID is not taught in the schools resting on what amounts to a slippery slope argument? Clearly, teaching ID begs further questions about the nature of the intelligence behind the design, which would lead to the questions that dare not be asked on government owned property.

Only those who are truly unreasonable on the right would campaign for a curriculum which teaches ID and leaves out all other theories on the matter. Likewise, it is unreasonable to say that on the theory of evolution should be taught because it is the capital T-ruth. Why not present the case of both, encourage debate, etc.? Debate is not something that should be limited only to English and Philosophy classes. We have seen what a lack of questioning and debate has led to in the form of the "junk science" that surrounds global warming. There seems to be more "pc" type censorship in the scientific community than in any other. The only differenece is that at one point in human history, it was the Catholic Church which stifled scientific thought, whereas now it is the scientific community itself which strikes out at anyone who challenges the "consensus."

I wish someone would figure out the O/U on comments it takes to get completely off topic. I'd say it is 8.5.
7.8.2005 10:50am
Snacktime (mail):
Your argument is almost as insincere as the hedged, pandering comments quoted in the New Republic. As you well know, evolution is the foundation of all modern biology for 100 years. It is not comparable in either importance or scientific support to the derivative fields you mention.

But more importantly, the real thrust of the New Republic article is, "these conservative pundits are full of shit." Your response, which essentially amounts to a hypothetical "oh yeah? some liberals would be full of shit about some things too!" is pretty irrelevant and, in my opinion, pathetic.
7.8.2005 10:50am
Bruce Hayden (mail):
1. Differences between the sexes appear within a day or so of birth. For example, girl babies are (on average) better able to recognize voices and faces, and, indeed, even the existence of faces. On the other hand, boys prefer abstract shapes more than girls from a very early age.

Add to this that brain activity is notably different between the sexes. For example, women use a much greater area of their brains (on average) for language - which is one reason that women after a stoke are far more likely to regain speech than men are.

So, even with the political incorrectness of the data, I think that it is clear that male brains and female brains are different.

2. Depends on the age/level. I would prefer the subject not even be covered until college. But, at least in graduate school, I think it necessary to consider it, so that we can better understand any differences.

I oppose covering this subject at lower levels because I don't want to see either sex forclosed from some field because of this. Remember, while men predominate in higher level math, there are still plenty of women who can compete, and it would be counterproductive to dissuade them from doing such.

3. I found the Harvard actions somewhere between hilarious and tragic. Summers only stated truth - just look at math SAT scores. I saw a figure the other day - probably out of date by now - that by the 700 level, males outnumber females 13 to 1.

No amount of Harvard endowment money is going to erase this inconvenient fact.

4. Not sure. It makes some logical sense that males might be optimized differently from females due to long term societal roles. But, with my understanding of evolution and genetics, sexual differnciation is much harder to accomplish than nonsexual because it depends on some trait being turned on or off based on (typically, indirectly) the presence or absences of a Y chromosone. So, you not only have to have the new gene, but it also has to be turned on or off by another chromosone. One problem here is that the Y chromosone is pretty rudimentary any more - so it can't carry a lot of non-sexual information.
7.8.2005 10:57am
Bruce Hayden (mail):
1. Differences between the sexes appear within a day or so of birth. For example, girl babies are (on average) better able to recognize voices and faces, and, indeed, even the existence of faces. On the other hand, boys prefer abstract shapes more than girls from a very early age.

Add to this that brain activity is notably different between the sexes. For example, women use a much greater area of their brains (on average) for language - which is one reason that women after a stoke are far more likely to regain speech than men are.

So, even with the political incorrectness of the data, I think that it is clear that male brains and female brains are different.

2. Depends on the age/level. I would prefer the subject not even be covered until college. But, at least in graduate school, I think it necessary to consider it, so that we can better understand any differences.

I oppose covering this subject at lower levels because I don't want to see either sex forclosed from some field because of this. Remember, while men predominate in higher level math, there are still plenty of women who can compete, and it would be counterproductive to dissuade them from doing such.

3. I found the Harvard actions somewhere between hilarious and tragic. Summers only stated truth - just look at math SAT scores. I saw a figure the other day - probably out of date by now - that by the 700 level, males outnumber females 13 to 1.

No amount of Harvard endowment money is going to erase this inconvenient fact.

4. Not sure. It makes some logical sense that males might be optimized differently from females due to long term societal roles. But, with my understanding of evolution and genetics, sexual differnciation is much harder to accomplish than nonsexual because it depends on some trait being turned on or off based on (typically, indirectly) the presence or absences of a Y chromosone. So, you not only have to have the new gene, but it also has to be turned on or off by another chromosone. One problem here is that the Y chromosone is pretty rudimentary any more - so it can't carry a lot of non-sexual information.
7.8.2005 10:58am
Bruce Hayden (mail):
Sorry about the duplicate post - problems signing on.
7.8.2005 10:58am
anonymous coward:
"I saw a figure the other day - probably out of date by now - that by the 700 level, males outnumber females 13 to 1." This is certainly not true if you're talking about college admissions. (Incidentally, scoring above a 700 on the SAT math doesn't exactly indicate an aptitude for higher math. One of the problems in measuring intrinsic aptitude is, of course, the extreme difficulty of measurment.)
7.8.2005 11:19am
A Country Lawyer (mail):
Todd,

I generally concur with your sentiments.

A couple of points on ID. First, it's not science because it's not falsifiable. I have yet to hear a single ID advocate posit any experiment, whether an actual phsyical experiment or a mental one, that could disprove the existence of a Creator. Second, it's ridiculous to say it's not religion. ID is essentially the belief that the world is so wonderous, so miraculous, that it must have been created by a Creator. Nudge, wink. Gee, who could that Creator be?

Now, ID may well be true in some metaphysical or absolute sense. The world is pretty wonderous and full of miracles. But a belief in a Creator is not science but faith.

And, of course, who's to say that a Creator who is omniscent and all powerful couldn't create evolution?

Should ID be taught in the schools? Sure, in a class on philosophy or comparative religion where other metaphysical questions (what is good? what is beautiful? why is there evil? do men have souls? what happens after we die?) can be debated. Just don't put it into a science class.
7.8.2005 11:35am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Bruce Haden wrote

I found the Harvard actions somewhere between hilarious and tragic. Summers only stated truth - just look at math SAT scores.

First, Todd's comment on Summers is not accurate--his generalization was far more sweeping than the more conservative of the interpreters later reported. When the actual text of the remarks appeared in print, I was shocked at how much more arrogant the actual comment was than the substance of it that was reported.

Bruce's comment above, as well as Todd's original statement in the post tend to trivialize the social aspect of cognitive gender discrimination PRIOR to the SATs and college admission.

I have heard math and science teachers as early as middle school comment that they "could not" or "did not want to teach girls", that "girls should not be" in their classes, that girls should drop math classes or take the lower tier ones, that "girls don't have the aptitude for science". Comments of this sort have come, surprisingly, from both men and women. Claiming that the differences are innate, on one hand, supports this nonsense. On the other hand, it ignores this evidence.

The trouble with EP is that it is barely above the level of alchemy. Some day it may evolve into real science, but, for now, it's more of a debate club than a scientific discipline.

Bruce and Todd should not feel bad, however--even Pinker fell into the same trap (in his Harvard Crimson oped).
7.8.2005 11:39am
lotek aztech (mail):
Actually, Igglephan, some new research indicates that if a rat is exposed to certain toxins at certain levels, it will impact his/er progeny for at least 4 generations, so there's probably some degree of plasticity to the statement "acquired traits are not inheritable." As for the biological differences thing (and I'm a crazy tree-huggin' liberal nut-job, just in case y'all are wonderin'), of course there are biological differences between the genders; anyone with a brain knows that. I like to think of the whole thing this way: biology determines the range of the trait, and environment determines where on the range one happens to fall. The strongest men in the world are a good deal stronger than the strongest women, but the strongest women in the world are a good deal stronger than the vast majority of men. It seems only logical that the same would apply to mental traits; after all, taken as an aggregate, there are fewer women in the extremely high and extremely low intelligence categories.

I'm not sure where the conservatives get these wierd stereotypes of liberals (here's a hint, folks, we don't hate America just because we think there's room for improvement...near as I can tell, y'all seem to think there's room for improvement, too). Must be 'cause y'all are dubm-ass ignern't rednecks from the South, right...;).
7.8.2005 12:09pm
Steve Reuland (mail) (www):
While I'm a fan of evolutionary psychology myself, it's controversial for a good reason; not merely because of any political ramifications, but because it consists of a lot of untested (and in some cases untestable) hypotheses. In other words, while I think it shows promise, it is, at this point, an immature science.

But even if ev-psy were a mature science with tons of research backing it up, and yet people insisted on denying it anyway, this would be far less of a sin than denying evolution whole cloth. Denying the latter, afterall, necessarily entails denying the former. The Pat Buchanans and Grover Norquists of the world don't believe in ev-psy either; they may believe in innate differences between men and women as far as intellectual abilities are concerned, but they didn't get this belief from studying science.
7.8.2005 12:14pm
Steve:
I greatly respect Prof. Zywicki for rewriting this post. I never denied there was a point lurking behind his original post, and I am no hater of snark, but the problem with writing a post as he did originally is that there is no chance of convincing anyone not predisposed to agree with you that it was anything other than a cheap shot.
7.8.2005 12:19pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
trackback comment

for the trackback.

for terms:


Abiogenesis (Greek a-bio-genesis, "non biological origins") is, in its most general sense, the hypothetical generation of life from non-living matter. Today the term is primarily used to refer to hypotheses of the origin of life from a primordial soup. Earlier notions of abiogenesis, now more commonly known as spontaneous generation, held that living organisms are generated by decaying organic substances, e.g. that mice spontaneously appear in stored grain or maggots spontaneously appear in meat. (That idea, which has long been known to be incorrect, will be called "Aristotelian abiognesis" in this article.)



In a book he wrote 15 years later, Yockey argued that the idea of abiogenesis from a primordial soup is a failed paradigm:


Although at the beginning the paradigm was worth consideration, now the entire effort in the primeval soup paradigm is self-deception on the ideology of its champions. …


BTW, there is now a fairly substantial population of transgendered individuals. It would be interesting to compare various test scores before and after.
7.8.2005 12:31pm
Bob Flynn (mail):
Here's the wording of Ben Adler's questions (I think):

1. Do you personally believe in evolution?

2. What do you think about intelligent design ?

The first is a little sloppy (belief has no place in science; stuff is or isn't), the second absolutely fair.

Sure, Adler, hints that any answer other than "Yes," to the first question, means that the respondent is a wacko.

But, ipso facto, at a very basic level, those are fair questions.

Of course, the better follow-up queries, would have been, "Why do you believe in evo?" or "Why do you think highly or lowly of ID."

As an aside, each theory, Evolution and ID, must be falsifiable, in order to be scientific.

So, I think it's perfectly proper, perhaps required, to ask a proponent of each, "What set of hypothetical facts, if observed, would refute your pet theory?" If you can't answer that, then your view is based on faith, not science. Proponents of ID oughta answer this -- so should proponents of the dominant theory, Evolution.
7.8.2005 1:04pm
doctor(logic) (mail) (www):
Bob,

Richard Dawkins said this in an interview at Salon.com:


British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would constitute evidence against evolution, famously said, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." They've never been found. Nothing like that has ever been found. Evolution could be disproved by such facts. But all the fossils that have been found are in the right place.


http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/04/30/dawkins/
7.8.2005 1:20pm
anonymous coward:
In response to the latest update:
"I am not aware of of any substantial disagreement among knowledgeable scientists on the following concepts in evolutionary psychology..."
IANAS, but I think many of those points are in fact controversial, and some may well be minority positions among "knowledgeable scientists."

As far as our brains adapting "neural circuits" specializing in specific problems, consider Fodor's point (from http://lrb.co.uk/v20/n02/fodo01_.html , where this point is addressed at greater length):
This is a long story, but here's the gist: it's common ground that the evolution of our behaviour was mediated by the evolution of our brains. So, what matters with regard to the question whether the mind is an adaptation is not how complex our behaviour is, but how much change you would have to make in an ape's brain to produce the cognitive structure of a human mind. And about this, exactly nothing is known. That's because nothing is known about how the structure of our minds depends on the structure of our brains. Nobody even knows which brain structures it is that our cognitive capacities depend on. Unlike our minds, our brains are, by any gross measure, very like those of apes. So it looks as though relatively small alterations of brain structure must have produced very large behavioural discontinuities in the transition from the ancestral apes to us. If that's right, then you don't have to assume that cognitive complexity is shaped by the gradual action of Darwinian selection on prehuman behavioural phenotypes. Analogies to the evolution of organic structures, though they pervade the literature of psychological Darwinism, don't actually cut much ice here. Make the giraffe's neck just a little longer and you correspondingly increase, by just a little, the animal's capacity to reach he fruit at the top of the tree. So it's plausible, to that extent, that selection stretched giraffes' necks bit by bit. But make an ape's brain just a little bigger (or denser, or more folded, or, who knows, greyer) and it's anybody's guess what happens to the creature's behavioural repertoire. Maybe the ape turns into us. Adaptationists say about the phylogeny of cognition that it's a choice between Darwin and God and they like to parade as scientifically tough-minded about which one of these you should pick. But that misstates the alternatives, so don't let yourself be bullied. In fact, we don't know what the scientifically reasonable view of the phylogeny of behaviour is; nor will we until we begin to understand how behaviour is subserved by the brain. And never mind tough-mindedness; what matters is what's true.
7.8.2005 2:04pm
Bob Flynn (mail):
DocLogic,

Excellent example!!!!

Of course, falsifiability is the ultimate in goal-post moving, since one gets nearly unlimited opportunies to attack a theory. But, the more the merrier, I say.

BTW, I was worried that you were gonna start discussing Haldane's Dilemna . Whew!
7.8.2005 2:47pm
Chris of M.M. (mail) (www):
As a cognitive scientist, I would object strenuously to the teaching of Cosmides, Tooby, Buss, and Pinker-style evolutionary psychology, because for the most part, its theoretical claims have been shown to be false or to be completely devoid of empirical support (for the arguments against that version of EP in general, as well as the claims of Pinker, along with Buss and the other mating and parenting EPers, read Buller's Adapting Minds, and for a demonstration that Cosmides' and Tooby's social exchange theory is devoid of empirical support, check out the work of Dan Sperber, particularly his 2003 book chapter on the topic).

Of course, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't teach that there are innate gender differences. Of course there are, and even in addressing the Summers' remarks, few liberal "intellectuals" have argued that there aren't. Of course, the evidence for innate gender differences in mathematical ability is sketchy, at best. There is some (some) indirect evidence that it may be due to gender differences in spatial reasoning abilities, which are thought to be innate, but that's a theory that is still open for debate. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that social and other environmental factors influence the disparities, which, I might add, vary greatly across the distribution of males and females. So, should we teach that there are innate differences in mathematical ability between the sexes? No, unless we're willing to say that there is no direct evidence for their innateness.

We can, however, note that there are other differences, including at least one robust cognitive difference (spatial ability), along with many others, including differences in brain structure (particularly in the hypothalamus, but elsewhere as well). Fortunately, these things are already taught, at least at the college level, in any neuroscience course. I'm not sure how deep high school biology courses go into neuroscience, but if they went deep enough, they too should teach these things. I can't imagine how textbooks that covered neuroscience sufficiently could get by without it (the college textbooks certainly don't). I doubt many liberals, including those who are pretty far to the left like me, would object to this either.
7.8.2005 3:16pm
Igglephan:
Yes, mutations alter the basic Darwinian proposition, but what gets passed down is an alteration in gene structure, which is independent of physical manifestations in the person affected. There is no radiation corrollary to Lamarckian evolution. Traits do not descend BECAUSE they are acquired, and this would not apply to neuralplasticity in any case. By its nature, the brain is malleable, which is the X-factor at work in this debate.

Even still, I find it hard to see this particular mutation -- for math aptitudes? -- being (a) sex-linked to begin with, and (b) operative on the population level. The fact is that it is hard to imagine there being such a strong reproductive advantage in the ability to do linear algebra at a time when humans evolved, i.e. reproductive success hinging on successful mastodon hunting. At best, mutations on the Y-chromosome are about as successful as the genes for colorblindness. Culture, and means of production, have evolved much faster than our brains.

There may be an evolutionary basis for differences in nurture, but evidence like earlier voice identification does not really dictate overall behavior patterns. Some of it could be recapitulations of phylogeny, where instinct matters more. Summers didn't say any of that. (I would have fired his ass as if he were talking about race, but no matter.) I remain somewhat skeeved out by the psychological NEED to insist on gender distinctions rooted in nature. Hardly anybody ever reaches her full potential in mathematics, especially in the U.S. So little turns on whatever evolutionary data one might find, that the risk of prejudice or confusion outweighs the probative value of the evidence. I think we should focus on ways to eliminate ways in which gender dictates life chances not to ground them in science.
7.8.2005 3:35pm
Chris of M.M. (mail) (www):
By the way, the rejection of EP of the Tooby, Cosmides, Buss, and Pinker variety for being the empirically unsupported, methodologically inferior, and theoretically problematic crap that it is, is not to reject the use of evolutionary considerations in psychology. It does reject the biologically and neuroscientifically absurd arguments for massive modularity, which as most neuroscientists will tell you, simply doesn't exist, and it rejects unwarranted speculation about the "EEA," but there is plenty of evolutionary psychology that doesn't involve those. It's just not going to be found in a book by Buss or Pinker, or a paper by Cosmides.
7.8.2005 3:36pm
David Berke:
It appears to me that Intelligent Design is not part of a rational scientific discourse because it is inherently religious.
Intelligent Design theory does not "suggest" the existence of God, it logically requires such (or at least something sufficiently similar to a religious conception of God that the distinction is meaningless).
By saying that life is too complicated, and the series of events are too unlikely to have come into existence without intelligent design, ID presents a classic "first cause" problem.
If we take the ID theorists at their word, some intelligent agent, whether it be hyper-intelligent aliens or God, created life on Earth, or at least set up the necessary conditions to allow it to happen.
Fair enough. If it's God, the inquiry stops. If it's something else, what created that intelligent entity? Eventually, you end up with an intelligent entity with the ability to create life, yet, predates life. Essentially, God.
Furthermore, as numerous posts have already mentioned, ID is inherently unscientific as the essential premise cannot be meaninfully tested.
Therefore we have a theory which requires the existence of God and must be taken on faith. Sounds like religion.
Comparing religious beliefs to scientific theories based upon the best available evidence is nonsensical. This is no different than teaching that any other scientific theory (Gravity, Atomic Theory) might be wrong because God or some other entity is feeding us false data.
Although I am not religious, I believe in God. I just don't believe that the public school system should be teaching religious beliefs in the guise of comparing them to scientific theories.
7.8.2005 3:57pm
Joe (mail):
British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would constitute evidence against evolution, famously said, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." They've never been found. Nothing like that has ever been found. Evolution could be disproved by such facts. But all the fossils that have been found are in the right place.

I would comment that the Cambrian Explosion itself is strong evidence against Evolution. Every explanation of how things come about fails to explain the complete and utter absence of any fossil record of ancestors to the sudden appearance of an incredible and abundant world of life. Why no fossil record? If the fossil record is so very informative, why nothing before a sudden appearance of millions of different and highly adapted species? I recall reading there are more species among the fossilized records of this Cambrian Explosion, all extinct today, than exist in the world today. Strange foundation to sit the theory of Evolution upon, IMHO!
7.8.2005 4:50pm
Dlanod:
Joe may wish to check his feelings about the Cambrian Explosion as strong evidence against Evolution against the actual facts. A good starting place would be at:

This is yet another one of the dozens of creationist canards debunked at Talk Origins ()
7.8.2005 5:03pm
Dlanod:
Oops, the links didn't work. Let's try this again.

Joe may wish to check his feelings about the Cambrian Explosion as strong evidence against Evolution against the actual facts. A good starting place would be at: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC300.html

This is yet another one of the dozens of creationist canards debunked at Talk Origins (http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html)

Copy and paste links. Can't seem to get it to work using the link button. Sorry.
7.8.2005 5:06pm
Blar (mail) (www):
I'm not a leading leftist political leader (only one of the four words applies, but it's the most important one), but I'll give it a go.

1. The latter. Evolution does have a role in the difference in the distribution of some aptitudes between men &women.

2. Schools should not teach the (false) claim that all sex differences in aptitudes and interests are socially-constructed, but it is not necessary for them to expose students to the claim of evolved sex differences, since this hypothesis is not central to any academic discipline. In some cases it would be appropriate to avoid either claim. For instance, a class could learn about the great advancement of women over the past couple centuries, including the disappearance or dimunition of sex differences that had previously been considered the natural way of things, without discussing whether some of the differences that remain are innate. In most classes where current sex differences are discussed in detail, though, there should be some discussion of the relevance of genetics.

3. Summers offered his hypothesis in a clumsy way, and reinforcing the stereotype that women are bad at math and science can have negative effects on women who might pursue work in math and science, but Summers did not deserve the censure that he received. Many of Summers' critics assimilated his claim into a more pernicious, false kind of claim about innate sex differences that they had learned to oppose, which led to an overreaction to his relatively limited and mild claims about sex differences.

4. Yes.

On the larger point of comparing liberals' denial of evolved sex differences to conservatives' denial of evolution, I think that they aren't all that parallel. The latter is far more important; evolution is one of the most important and most well-supported scientific theories in existence, and it is central to the entire field of biology. My sense is that denial of evolution is also far more widespread. Additionally, liberals' denial of evolved sex differences is part of a more general nature/nurture opposition between liberals and conservatives, with conservatives generally emphasizing the role of genetics and liberals downplaying it (one salient exception is in explanations of homosexuality, where the roles are reversed). There have been errors on both sides, and it is clear that the truth is that there is an interaction between genes and environment so the argument must be over degree and details. Because there is a significant amount of symmetry in this debate, I find it strange to take the most extreme liberals out of this debate, exaggerate their numbers and prominence, and take them to balance out the outrageous position of many conservatives on evolution.
7.8.2005 5:55pm
Chris of M.M. (mail) (www):
By the way, there is some, often substantial disagreement about the innateness of things like incest aversion, theory-of-mind, and aversion disgust (clearly we have capacities for aversion and disgust, but there's little evidence that those capacities are innately tuned), along with debate over Trivers' version of reciprocal altruism (both within and outside of psychology) and Hamilton's theory (in biology).

Furthermore, when Todd writes that there is no substantial disagreement about whether "our brains neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species' evolutionary history," the point is so broad that it's not clear what would constitute substantial disagreement. There is almost universal disagreement about the EP speculations about the EEA, as well as EP beliefs about the implications of the speculations (i.e., their belief that certain modules must have evolved as adaptations to speculated conditions in the EEA). Outside of EP, in cognitive and social psychology, along with most of neuroscience, these speculations and their implications are pretty much dismissed as nonsense born of ignorance of evolution and the brain. However, it's quite clear that our brain did evolve (rather than being implanted by aliens), and pretty much every expert accepts that. Whether Todd's assertion was meant to imply this, or to imply that people accept the speculation about the EEA and theorizing from that speculation of EP, is not clear, but it's only true if the former is the case.
7.8.2005 5:57pm
Ed Darrell (mail):
Where is Ed Brayton when we need him?

Evolutionary heritage is a lot more like a hand dealt in a poker game, or perhaps a bridge game, than it is like a destiny. The trick is to do the best you can with the hand you're dealt in the game you're in.

Creationism is the philosophy that says you were dealt your hand by God, and if you're nice enough or mean enough, depending on the sexual orientation of the others in the game, God will magically change your cards. Intelligent design is the philosophy that says you were dealt your hand by God someone a lot smarter than you, so you should just confess your stupidity and the awesome intelligence of God the intelligent designer (whom I have dubbed the Wilber Force, if you're really interested).

Evolution is the science that studies the hand dealt, and based on bids, bluffs, antes and showings from the other players, attempts to predict who has the naturally superior hand, and then studies why that hand won, or failed to.

Hope is a good thing. It's not something that should be preached in high school biology classes, except as inherent in the study of biology that enables the future researcher to find cures for disease and new combinations for new crops to feed starving people.
7.8.2005 6:09pm
Steve Snyder (mail) (www):
Pharyngula writing up a straw man? Not at all.

Rather, your response was a red herring. You say:

I am not aware of of any substantial disagreement among knowledgeable scientists on the following concepts in evolutionary psychology (just to name a few): Hamilton's theory of kin-group selection, Trivers's theory of reciprocal altruism, the innate ability to acquire culture, the unusual degree of plasticity of human minds relative to other species, the parent-child bond, certain types of aversion and disgust, the incest taboo, an innate ability to detect intentionality, that our brains neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species' evolutionary history, the specialization of different neural circuits for solving different adaptive problems--just to mention a few.


I was unaware that any of these were issues of evolutionary psychology. Certainly they are not core issues, most of which are indeed controversial and many of which are indeed hokum.

Try again, Todd, rather than writing a smokescreen response.
7.8.2005 6:27pm
Joe (mail):
Dlanod, Radiological dating is based upon assumptions.
Those assumptions are un-testable. Is radiological dating useless? If the best those who hold to the religion of Evolution can do is mince the ages of when the Cambrian period began and end, and try to speak with a precision that far exceeds the known margins of error for even those who hold to such methodologies, and can only produce for those millions of types of fossils 2 or 3 contested transitional forms ( kind of like me saying a snake is transitional between a whale and a Pig ), then once again, I see those with prior beliefs arranging the data to support their assumptions, not science. If you believe such sloppy misinformation debunks anything, have fun.
If you want to see true science, however...
http://www.evcforum.net/ubb/Forum5/HTML/000274.html

=)
7.8.2005 6:57pm
Zywicki (mail):
Friends:
I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed following the extremely interesting and informative conversation that you all have been having on the Comment Board regarding this post.
-TZ
7.8.2005 7:15pm
Michael Stiber (www):

...he invokes the old argument from authority at the header of the story to demonstrate this as the settled opinion of science and so intelligent design theory is non-scientific.

This was not an argument from authority; it was merely a statement of fact. Evolution is settled science, supported independently by evidence from a number of sciences. I think it is unreasonable to accuse someone of arguing from authority merely because they refrained from recapitulating an entire biology textbook.
7.8.2005 7:37pm
Richard Bennett (www):
OK, folks, let's get serious for a second. Intelligent Design is a load of crap, and anyone who promotes it as a serious theory should get whacked upside the head. Really.

But smart conservatives are wary about doing this to their nuttier religious brothers because they (we) are all part of a coalition against a greater evil, namely the progressive/multi-culti/socialist/gun-hating/feminist plague. Zywicki's fun with EP exposes the entirely fanciful foundations of the enemy coalition, and skillfully at that. The other side has gotten away with positioning itself as friendly to science and reason when it's anything but on questions of sociology, history, and anthropology.

Perhaps the the time has come for conservatives and libertarians to reclaim the title of champions of reason and science by exposing the straight-jacketed thinking of politically correct hacks like Myers, but we also have to reject ID and the whole creationist dogma. And we needn't fear alienating religious people in the process because ID isn't just bad science, it's bad theology.

So whack away at Myers, but whack Behe and Dembski too.
7.8.2005 9:33pm
A Country Lawyer (mail):
Richard Bennett: You are surely correct that many conservatives hold their fire on ID to avoid giving offense to allies in the bigger cause. But it's unfair to say that ID is "a load of crap." It's not a scientific theory in any sense, but as a metaphysical or religious explanation for the origins of the Universe and intelligent life, it's no worse than many others. Let's face it, science has no theory at all as to the origins of the Universe. Don't tell me about the Big Bang unless you can explain what came before the Big Bang and what before that. And, so far as I can tell, scientists still don't much of an explanation for how life came out of the primeval soup of inorganic chemicals, which the theory of evolution does not address. My objection is to teaching ID in science classes because it undermines the teaching of the scientific method. And the theory of evolution is a pretty good scientific explanation for the origin of species, which is why it ought to be taught to school children.

And it was indeed great fun watching TZ hoist the liberal establishment on its own petard. In addition to innate sexual differences, how many other topics are taboo to the liberal establishment?
7.9.2005 12:24am
A Country Lawyer (mail):
Michael Stiber: If you think ID is science, then please, give us an example of an experiment that could disprove it. That's not an argument from authority, that's the scientific method.
7.9.2005 12:29am
Bernard Yomtov (mail):
And it was indeed great fun watching TZ hoist the liberal establishment on its own petard.

Huh? Leaving aside the discussions of the validity of EP, let's take a quick look here.

Zywicki defends Summers, who was Treasury Secretary under Clinton and is President of the much-reviled, on the right, Harvard University. Zywicki implicitly calls the President, who thinks "the jury is still out" on evolution, a scientific ignoramus. And your interpretation is that he attacked "the liberal establishment." Brilliant.
7.9.2005 1:29pm
Richard Bennett (www):
Summers' remarks were certainly attacked by the Liberal Establishment, especially its Feminist Strike Force. I don't see that every thought by every member of every Democratic Administration is doomed to be conventionally liberal. It seems to me that even Mr. Clinton offended liberal orthodoxy a time or two himself.

Zywicki's post is actually rather "brilliant" in the non-ironic sense.
7.9.2005 8:00pm
Don (mail):

Acksiom, Don,

I don't know the details of the Summers case, so I am judging based on what the average man on the street hears.



Of course you don't know the details -- y'know, what Summers actually said. It's a real shame that the technology doesn't yet exist where you can electronically search a vast amount of information quickly and easily to find the text of Summers's speech (or whatever else you're looking for). If this technology did exist, then you could actually render an informed opinion, rather than posting ignorant blather. Oh well, perhaps someday.


I think that Summers' comments may have been factually correct. However, Summers is the President of the organization, not a researcher, and that makes all the difference.

Suppose you were shopping for satellite TV service. You read in the press that the CEO of ACME-SAT TV says at public meeting that "we should expect reliability and reception to vary from customer to customer." Sounds factually correct, right? However, it suggests that when you report reception problems to ACME-SAT technical staff, they might be more likely to ascribe your problems to natural variability in equipment etc. You have no proof that they will offer worse service than any other satellite TV company, but it is suggestive of lower standards of service. It's a public relations failure. This is why, externally, company CEO's all sound universally optimistic. If they were realistic, they would subtly drive customers away. I think that, statistically speaking, it is the nature of consumers to be less optimistic about an enterprise than the leader of that enterprise. Good CEO's are externally optimistic, and privately realistic.


Don't you think there are subtle differences between selling satellite TV and leading one of the world's premier institutions of higher learning and scientific inquiry? Isn't Harvard a place where students are taught to seek the truth, wherever it leads? Where researchers strive to obtain a more thorough understanding of the universe? Where the scientific method of using data to distinguish between various hypotheses is practiced and respected?

Not anymore, apparently.

Summers is an economist by training (and a damn good one). He's been brought up on the practice of advancing different hypotheses that could explain observed phenomena, and eliminating some when they can't fit the data, not because we don't like the policy implications.


Policy-wise, let's cut to the chase.

Both sides in this debate fear quotas. Some fear that quotas will be established that demand that half the physics department be made up of women. Others fear that female admissions to the physics department will be restricted based on the expectation that women will be more likely to drop out or underachieve. Both kinds of quotas are undesirable. Both fears are reasonable.



Poppycock. There would be no restrictions on female admissions to the physics department. Women who are good enough to play with the big boys would be welcomed and treated as true peers, rather than affirmative action hires. There aren't restrictions on female participation in many professional sports, and occasionally an exceptionally able woman is capable of competing successfully with the most able men on the planet (see Danica Patrick and Michelle Wie for two recent examples). But we'd be fools not to acknowledge the simple fact that the best hundred golfers on the planet are all men. Likewise, it's entirely possible that the best hundred physicists are all men. Subtle differences in either the first or second moments of the distributions of male and female ability will tend to have major effects in the extreme tails.
7.10.2005 9:42am
mrkmyr (mail):
Zywicki does not address PZ Myer's main point: that Zywicki's list of quesitons would not reveal that a person has a political faith that trumps scientific theory (unlike Ben Adler's questions).
7.10.2005 8:43pm
doctor(logic) (mail) (www):
Don,

Don't you think there are subtle differences between selling satellite TV and leading one of the world's premier institutions of higher learning and scientific inquiry?

Not in this context.

Isn't Harvard a place where students are taught to seek the truth, wherever it leads? Where researchers strive to obtain a more thorough understanding of the universe? Where the scientific method of using data to distinguish between various hypotheses is practiced and respected?

Straw man. If a student or researcher had made the statement based on a study, there wouldn't have been an outcry.

Summers is an economist by training (and a damn good one). He's been brought up on the practice of advancing different hypotheses that could explain observed phenomena, and eliminating some when they can't fit the data, not because we don't like the policy implications.

Again, this doesn't matter one jot. He speaks for the university administration. His job is political, not academic.

Poppycock. There would be no restrictions on female admissions to the physics department.

What a trusting soul you are. I mean, discrimination, that's never happened before, right?

If you're on the admissions committee of a very prestigious institution, you're gambling that the people you admit will turn out to be Nobel Prize winners, distinguished in their field. And you're gambling based on very limited information, like test scores and recommendations. If you believe (based on historical data) that women are 25 times less likely to be leaders in a given field, isn't there some temptation to bet against them in the admissions process? Would it not be reasonable to assume that, given their genetic disadvantage in that field, women would need to score higher on entrance exams than men in order to perform as well at graduation and beyond? Even if genetics is just one of several factors?

It seems to me that the actuaries would have us raise the bar even higher for women than men. Statistically speaking, in order to maximize the potential of its alumni, Harvard should discriminate. Just like insurance companies discriminate between high and low risk customers.

Fortunately, unlike insurance firms, there are rules that govern equal opportunity in these environments. This is because most people think that university candidates should be judged in a way that is blind to race and gender. For the most part, we must trust, based on the good word of their administrators, that universities are not discriminating unfairly. Summers went out of his way to highlight gender differences to a degree not supported by research (by his own admission). Not inspiring.

You speak of the reality of genetic predisposition. Well, here's economic reality for you: when the leader of an enterprise highlights gender variations in performance, it reduces the public's confidence that the enterprise will offer equal opportunities.
7.10.2005 11:29pm
Steve Sailer (mail) (www):
Dear Todd:

You might be interested in my 1999 articles in the Toronto National Post:

"A Miracle Happens Here: Darwin's Enemies on the Right"


"Equality v. Truth: Darwin's Enemies on the Left"
7.11.2005 12:32am
ts (mail):
"My strong impression is that it is the latter, as he invokes the old argument from authority at the header of the story to demonstrate this as the settled opinion of science and so intelligent design theory is non-scientific."

Ha ha ho ho. Don't they teach in law school how to distinguish between fallacious arguments from authority --
e.g., "It says so in the bible." -- and legitimate reference to expert opinion? But no, I guess we're supposed to be more impressed by Zawicky's uninformed assertions than the collective wisdom of the scientific community.

Intelligent design is not a scientific "theory" because it doesn't meet the criteria for such a theory. Of course, such criteria are laid down by scientists and philosophers of science, so they could be disputed if one rejects "authority" in the sense that Zawicky uses it.

"it is plain that in some areas the left has elevated "religious" belief over scientific inquiry by turning certain scientific questions into unquestionable articles of faith"

No, that's not plain at all since "the left", whatever such a group noun could refer to, doesn't hold any of these views unquestioningly, if "it" or any of its members hold them at all. Aside from playing tu quoque schoolyard games, Zawicky seems to be making the fundamental error of failing to distinguish between *statistical* differences among populations and differences between individuals. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as "differences between men's and women's aptitude", just as there is no such thing as a "left" capable of holding a view. This confusion is illustrated by his talk of physiological differences that are *universal*, such as having milk-producing glands. This is a difference that exists between any *individual* man and any *individual* woman; but there is no such difference in regard to, say, math ability. And to "suggest" that the gender distribution in academia may have similar cause as the gender distribution in professional football is to play the most unscientific game of all, the sort of baseless inference employed by folks like Von Danikan -- "It may be that aliens built the pyramids...." -- well yes, many things *may* be. It may have been that there was some genetic reason why there were no blacks in the major leagues before Jackie Robinson. And it may be, as Al Campanis said, that it's an innate difference in aptitude that explains the absence of blacks from management. Or it may not. That there is a known statisitical difference in strength between men and women doesn't provide support for *any* of these hypotheses, and is therefore irrelevant. Perhaps if Zawicky spent more time trying to think scientifically and less time trying to score points for his identified political team he might have realized that.
7.11.2005 9:23am
ts (mail):
My most humble apologies for misspelling "Zywicki". (But my points stand on their merits.)
7.11.2005 9:35am
Don (mail):

Straw man. If a student or researcher had made the statement based on a study, there wouldn't have been an outcry.


The scientific evidence on differences between brain function in males and females is overwhelming. For instance, 75% of autistic individuals are male. Also, there's a whole lot of work that shows differences in spatial processing; in this case, males have a larger first moment (they're better, on average), and also a larger second moment (more variation around the mean). So the most able along this dimension are overwhelmingly male, as are the least able.

To believe in the face of these kinds of evidence that despite differences in the ways brains operate (several documented, many more perhaps not yet documented) that there can't possibly be any gender-based difference in ability to do higher math and physics -- well, to believe this (and to return the thread to its topic) requires an amount of religious faith at least as great as any fundamentalist.

If you're on the admissions committee of a very prestigious institution, you're gambling that the people you admit will turn out to be Nobel Prize winners, distinguished in their field. And you're gambling based on very limited information, like test scores and recommendations. If you believe (based on historical data) that women are 25 times less likely to be leaders in a given field, isn't there some temptation to bet against them in the admissions process? Would it not be reasonable to assume that, given their genetic disadvantage in that field, women would need to score higher on entrance exams than men in order to perform as well at graduation and beyond? Even if genetics is just one of several factors?


Summers was talking about gender representation among faculty, not among undergraduate students. You would, of course, know this if you had bothered to read Summers's comments before offering your opinions.
7.11.2005 9:40am
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Speaking of science, it would have been interesting to compare the responses to the TNR questions from selected liberal luminaries.

Antonio
7.11.2005 4:32pm
doctor(logic) (mail) (www):

The scientific evidence on differences between brain function in males and females is overwhelming.

Oh dear. You misunderstand me. Everyone knows of studies that show gender-based differences. I never disputed this. The point that I'm making is that it doesn't matter whether there are differences or not. We seek reassurance that institutions will be fair in spite of any differences.

Summers was talking about gender representation among faculty, not among undergraduate students. You would, of course, know this if you had bothered to read Summers's comments before offering your opinions.

And if you had bothered to read my posts, you would see that this is not relevant to my argument. Harvard's top administrator feels so strongly that women aren't statistically suited to being top physicists/mathematicians/whatever that he makes a big, juicy, public statement about it. He could have made his comments in reference to female graduates of the Russian space program, and it would have had exactly the same detrimental effect on public confidence in Harvard University.
7.11.2005 8:35pm
ctw (mail):
"physics had a revolution(Einstein and Plank)"

I get very board with comments like this.
6.26.2006 5:08pm