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July 19, 2005

So many death matches, so little time!

This just in from AP: Bush to Introduce Court Nominee Tonight.

Cynical question: Has this announcement been expedited?

This afternoon is mostly taken up with writing VIAGRA slogans and working on my big ev psych post for the Washington Monthly. Thanks to the readers who suggested the topic. I'll be cross-posting it over here when it's ready. (Update: The ev psych post is going to have to wait until tomorrow.)

Here are a few more primo links to keep you entertained in the meantime:

Brad Plumer writes, "Some say Michel Foucault is dead. I just think he got hired by Merck." His post about the influence of big pharma on allegedly evidence-based guidelines is spot on.

Sisterhood is powerful--Liza Sabatier on the nanny diaries. Exclusive photo feature to test your knowledge of NYC feminist bloggers: See if you can spot the "inappropriate" Blog-Shero.

If you feel like doing a little ev psych pre-reading, here two good places to start:

Pro: Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer, by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.

Con: The Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology, by Jaak Panksepp and Jules B. Panksepp.


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Comments

Thanks for EvPsych items.

I would suggest a few other sources:

Evolutionary psychologist Helena Cronin proposes that there be two separate spheres of work in the world - one for women and one for men. This was originally written as a proposal to the British government, and then reprinted here as an editorial:
"Pity Poor Men"
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html

Unfortunately Stephen Jay Gould's critical review of Cronin's "The Ant and the Peacock" is only available for a fee, but I have a copy and will be happy to quote at length from it.

Some anti-EP Gould stuff you can get for free:

"Darwinian Fundamentalism"
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1151

and "Evolutionary Psychology: An Exchange" with Pinker, Kalant and Kalow.
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1070

Also check out:

Louis Menand's review of "The Blank Slate" in the New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/?021125crbo_books

The debate between Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke:
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html

And Spelke's report debunking claims that studies prove innate male math/science superiorty:
http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~lds/sexsci/

Nancy, I don't think you'll find much sympathy for Gould in this corner, especially given how thoroughly Lindsay's mentor Dan Dennett skewered "The Spandrels of San Marco" in Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

There are many thoughtful critics of EP (like the Panskepps) but -- at least from this layperson's perspective -- it doesn't seem to me like the Gould-Lewontin critiques have held up very well.

Wait, that's not quite right. What I meant to say was that, while "The Spandrels of San Marco" was a useful corrective against a general tendency towards greedy reductionism, I think Dennett shows pretty clearly that Gould and Lewontin go on to overreach shamelessly from there.

Holy shit, I didn't know Lindsay studied under Dan Dennett. That's awesome.

It was a Dennett piece (I think remarks from a conference, not sure) that first introduced me to folk psychology and naive physics, which in its roundabout way led me to start considering the way immigration and criminal codes subvert themselves by failing to take into account how they will be transmitted in shorthand through the populace, which is my primary research interest, more or less. So yay Dennett.

I'm surprised no one has suggested viagra slogans. How about

"Viagra: Because you like to get it on"

or

"Goes well with Ecstasy and other club drugs!"

or maybe I should just drug marketing to the experts.

I not only think the SCotUS announcement was expedited, I think the leak of Edith Clement's name today was to distract liberals from WSJ's bomb dropping regarding the confidential memo and renewed allegations of Cheney's involvement in illegal leaks.

He really has nothing to lose by nominating Clement (aside from pissing off the wingnuts) because, what are they going to do dilute their power by splitting the republican party apart or threaten to abstain from voting in the mid-term elections? What do they really gain from that?

This being said, if BushCo really wants to create a diversion from PlameGate & DSM, he'll nominate an arch conservative idealogue to keep a battle going in the press and Senate. [I'd have to wonder what sort of deal the democrats made with him for that nomination tough)


Nancy, I don't think you'll find much sympathy for Gould in this corner, especially given how thoroughly Lindsay's mentor Dan Dennett skewered "The Spandrels of San Marco" in Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

Interesting - I thought Lindsay was against evolutionary psychology. Not only is Dennett's reliance on strict adaptationism plain wrong, but he also came to the defense of the utterly indefensible Helena Cronin, against Gould's exquisite eviseraction of that ninny in his review of "The Ant and the Peacock." Maybe philosophers like to stand together against the criticisms of evolutionary biologists and paleontologists.

But clearly my bothering to post Gould's review of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" was for naught in the previous post - you haven't bothered to read it.

But you should because it's absolutely beautiful how Gould demonstrates the utter weakness of Dennett's strict adaptationism.

You should read the entire review,
("Darwinian Fundamentalism"
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1151)

but here are some excerpts:

* * * * * * *

Dennett bases his argument on three images or metaphors, all sharing the common error of assuming that conventional natural selection, working in the adaptationist mode, can account for all evolution by extension—so that the entire history of life becomes one grand solution to problems in design. "Biology is engineering," Dennett tells us again and again. In a devastating review, published in the leading professional journal Evolution, and titled "Dennett's Dangerous Idea," H. Allen Orr notes:

His review of attempts by biologists to circumscribe the role of natural selection borders on a zealous defense of panselectionism. It is also absurdly unfair…. Dennett fundamentally misunderstands biologists' worries about adaptationism. Evolutionists are essentially unanimous that—where there is "intelligent Design"—it is caused by natural selection…. Our problem is that, in many adaptive stories, the protagonist does not show dead-obvious signs of Design.

In his first metaphor, Dennett describes Darwin's dangerous idea of natural selection as a "universal acid"—to honor both its ubiquity and its power to corrode traditional Western beliefs. Speaking of adaptation, natural selection's main consequence, Dennett writes: "It plays a crucial role in the analysis of every biological event at every scale from the creation of the first self-replicating macromolecule on up." I certainly accept the acidic designation—for the power and influence of the idea of natural selection does lie in its radical philosophical content—but few biologists would defend the blithe claim for ubiquity. If Dennett chooses to restrict his personal interest to the engineering side of biology—the part that natural selection does construct—then he is welcome to do so. But he may not impose this limitation upon others, who know that the record of life contains many more evolutionary things than are dreamt of in Dennett's philosophy.

Natural selection does not explain why many evolutionary transitions from one nucleotide to another are neutral, and therefore nonadaptive. Natural selection does not explain why a meteor crashed into the earth 65 million years ago, setting in motion the extinction of half the world's species. As Orr points out, Dennett's disabling parochialism lies most clearly exposed in his failure to discuss the neutral theory of molecular evolution, or even to mention the name of its founder, the great Japanese geneticist Motoo Kimura—for few evolutionary biologists would deny that this theory ranks among the most interesting and powerful adjuncts to evolutionary explanation since Darwin's formulation of natural selection. You don't have to like the idea, but how can you possibly leave it out?

In a second metaphor, Dennett continually invokes an image of cranes and skyhooks. In his reductionist account of evolution, cranes build the good design of organisms upward from nature's physicochemical substrate. Cranes are good. Natural selection is evolution's basic crane; all other cranes (sexual reproduction, for example) act as mere auxiliaries to boost the speed or power of natural selection in constructing organisms of good design. Skyhooks, on the other hand, are spurious forms of special pleading that reach down from the numinous heavens and try to build organic complexity with ad hoc fallacies and speculations unlinked to other proven causes. Skyhooks, of course, are bad. Everything that isn't natural selection, or an aid to the operation of natural selection, is a skyhook.


If you think that I am being simplistic or unfair to Dennett in this characterization, read his book and see if you can detect anything more substantial in this metaphor. I could only find a rhetorical stick for beating pluralists into line. Can't Dennett see that a third (and correct) option exists to his oddly dichotomous Hobson's choice: either accept the idea of one basic crane with auxiliaries, or believe in skyhooks. May I suggest that the platform of evolutionary explanation houses an assortment of basic cranes, all helping to build the edifice of life's history in its full grandeur (not only the architecture of well-engineered organisms). Natural selection may be the biggest crane with the largest set of auxiliaries, but Kimura's theory of neutralism is also a crane; so is punctuated equilibrium; so is the channelling of evolutionary change by developmental constraints. "In my father's house are many mansions"—and you need a lot of cranes to build something so splendid and variegated.

* * * * * *

Gould wrote in reply to Dennett's defense of Cronin:

* * * * * *
"Really, Dan, however much you may find my views on adaptation distasteful, why do you use this forum to air your personal grievances? Nearly all your commentary treats my doubts about adaptation. But I said scarcely anything about this subject in my review of Cronin (only one column of the fifteen devoted to her book, with further comments in the last section, four columns long, that treats the two other books). My commentary centers on her advocacy of gene-selectionism—and I criticize her from a standpoint within selection theory by defending the hierarchical concept described above. Since I am operating within selection theory, and selection generally leads to adaptation, my critique of Cronin does not involve those aspects of my work that you dislike (i.e., my doubts about organismal pan-adaptationism). Moreover, I devoted most space to logical and philosophical refutations of gene selectionism (the concept of emergence and the confusion of bookkeeping with causality). You are a professional philosopher; why did you not comment upon the bulk of the review at all?"
* * * * * * *

As I said, maybe philosophers - especially evolutionary psychology-inclined philosophers - like to watch each other's backs.

You can read more of Orr's response to Dennett here:
http://www.bostonreview.net/br21.5/orr.html

He reveals that Dennett's rhetorical style is very similar to Cronin's - and I would maintain many of the leading evolutionary psychologists, but I'm still studying that so can't back it up yet. But it strikes me that a common tactic of the evolutionary psychologists is to claim that if you don't agree with their ideas, you're anti-Darwin or even anti-science:

Orr excerpt ----

As for Dennett's tendency to manipulate readers, I offered two examples: his infamous bait-and-switch (promising revolutions-Consciousness Explained! Universal Acid!-and delivering cabinet shuffles, a trick Searle also picked up on), and his tendency to brow-beat those in the humanities with scientific claims couched in fancy language. So, for instance, if you don't buy his "population memetics" explanation of cultural change, it's not because the idea is silly. It's because you're a mushy "Darwin-dreader" who's terrified of science. But we needn't look to Dennett's book to find such tactics. His response is loaded with dubious maneuvers. For instance, anyone who doubted Dennett's ability to issue pseudo-scientific bluster should consider my own exhibit A: Dennett's new explanation of what he meant when he said (incorrectly) that evolution by random change is faster than that by natural selection. He now tells us:


I did indeed misspeak (p. 126), but the result was ambiguity, not error. The issue is complicated: it depends on whether you're measuring the (average) speed of departure from a starting point in genetic space, or the speed of attainment of some particular evolutionary product. I meant the former.

Now I've been in the population genetics business for some time and, frankly, I have no idea what Dennett is talking about. And-I can find no polite way of putting this-it's hard to escape the conclusion that Dennett has no idea what he's talking about, either. Even the most charitable interpretation I can come up with is just plain wrong.
-- end Orr excerpt ---

H. Allen Orr, an evolutionary geneticist, recently wrote an article against Intelligent Design for The New Yorker
http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050530fa_fact


Consider Dennett your mentor on evolution at your own peril.

Those poop head ev psych people and their poop head tricks, not like the anti (poop head ev psych people).

Blah blah blah.


Those poop head ev psych people and their poop head tricks, not like the anti (poop head ev psych people).

Blah blah blah.

Um, let me guess - you're a proponent of evolutionary psychology.

But clearly my bothering to post Gould's review of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" was for naught in the previous post - you haven't bothered to read it.

Of course I've read it. I've also actually read Darwin's Dangerous Idea -- have you? Gould is way off base.

Gould is way off base.

How so?

Gould doesn't believe any features of the human mind were adaptations. He doesn't even believe language is an adaptation -- he seems to think it's the product of some general-purpose learning mechanism, and that's completely implausible.

[BTW, Nancy, I meant to thank you for linking to the Spelke-Pinker debate. That was terrific -- very enjoyable and informative. Spelke is very sharp -- but, you know she's a proponent of evolutionary psychology as well, right? EP proponents aren't all hacks.]

Gould doesn't believe any features of the human mind were adaptations. He doesn't even believe language is an adaptation -- he seems to think it's the product of some general-purpose learning mechanism, and that's completely implausible.

Please provide something to support your statements.

[BTW, Nancy, I meant to thank you for linking to the Spelke-Pinker debate. That was terrific -- very enjoyable and informative. Spelke is very sharp -- but, you know she's a proponent of evolutionary psychology as well, right? EP proponents aren't all hacks.]

Really? Well then somebody should get the word out to Steven Pinker, because here's what Pinker said about Spelke, in the very debate you're talking about:


There is an extreme "nurture" position: that males and females are biologically indistinguishable, and all relevant sex differences are products of socialization and bias...

Liz has embraced the extreme nurture position...."

I would think that Steven Pinker, of all people, could spot an evolutionary psychologist, and "the extreme nurture position" is the antithesis of evolutionary psychology.

So where did you get the idea that Spelke is a proponent of evolutionary psychology?

Please provide something to support your statements.

Which one? That Gould doesn't believe any brain functions are adaptations, or that this is an implausible position?

For the former, see here:

Stephen Jay Gould: I don't know Steve Pinker very well. I certainly appreciate his expositions of the Chomskyan worldview, but I sure wish I could persuade him that adaptation is not the way to go in understanding brain function. He seems quite implacable, though.

As for the latter, well, you've made your antipathy to anything that smacks of adaptive reasoning quite clear, so I doubt I could give you a source you'd have much patience for. But that's just my (layperson's) opinion after reading a fair bit of stuff on both sides of the issue. I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time.

So where did you get the idea that Spelke is a proponent of evolutionary psychology?

From her vitae, abstracts of her papers, lists of people she has collaborated with, and many of the statements she made during the debate:

"I want to start by talking about the points of agreement between Steve and me, and as he suggested, there are many. If we got away from the topic of sex and science, we'd be hard pressed to find issues that we disagree on."

"We agree that the mind is not a blank slate; in fact one of the deepest things that Steve and I agree on is that there is such a thing as human nature, and it is a fascinating and exhilarating experience to study it."

"Notice that I am not saying the genders are indistinguishable, that men and women are alike in every way, or even that men and women have identical cognitive profiles."

"Finally, you do not create someone who feels like a girl or boy simply by perceiving them as male or female. That's the lesson that comes from the studies of people of one sex who are raised as the opposite sex. Biological sex differences are real and important. Sex is not a cultural construction that's imposed on people."

Contrary to what Pinker said, Spelke does not embrace the "extreme nurture" position at all. (This is sort of a nasty habit of Pinker's, attributing views to his opponents that they do not in fact hold.) She says quite explicitly above that she does not believe that males and females are biologically indistinguishable, just that the biological differences are a wash when it comes to scientific and mathematical ability.

There is, of course, the somewhat thorny question of what exactly is meant by "evolutionary psychology" and who counts as an "evolutionary psychologist," but based on an admittedly cursory overview of her work, she appears to believe that many brain functions are indeed adaptations.

"As I said, maybe philosophers - especially evolutionary psychology-inclined philosophers - like to watch each other's backs."

It is a rewarding behaviour, and so it is selected for, until the resources (publishers ink) become over-harvested. Then the members of the pack turn on eachother.


" He doesn't even believe language is an adaptation -- he seems to think it's the product of some general-purpose learning mechanism, and that's completely implausible."

I find it very plausible, in a tricky way.

The development of language sparked a tremendous diversification of human problem solving applications. Virtually all abstract problem solving requires sophisticated language. It is not in the least implausible that if there were a language adaptation at some point, it would have rapidly become a general, problem-solving facility, or, if a general problem solving facility exists it would only develop along with linguistic capability. Seperate facilities for language and abstract, general problem solving ability would seem to me to be unnecessarily complicated. That's not to say it isn't so, just, in my opinion, less likely. Much of our structure IS unnecessarily complicated.

Seperate facilities for language and abstract, general problem solving ability would seem to me to be unnecessarily complicated.

Except that there are brain-damaged people whose general problem-solving abilities are completely intact, and yet they struggle mightily with the simplest linguistic tasks, like regularizing a made-up word. (For example, "This man likes to wug. Yesterday, he ______.") There are also "babblers" -- people with severe mental retardation but incredibly fluent, fully grammatical nonsense-speech. There is overwhelming evidence that human brains are equipped with an innate "language module" that is completely independent of any general-purpose learning mechanism. Pinker is wrong about a lot of things, but he's 100% correct about this.

I know Elizabeth Spelke, and I can say with certainty that she's not a supporter of Pinker-Cosmides-Buss Evolutionary Psychology. That doesn't mean she thinks we should ignore evolution.

As someone who is staunchly anti-EP (in the Pinker-Cosmides-Buss mold), I'm predisposed to agree with anti-EP arguments. Gould's, however, is terrible, and many other critics of EP have tried to distance themselves from his staw man-reliant critique.

Also, there is evidence for and against an innate language module, and there is still a pretty heated debate about it in the literature. It's not always easy to find the non-Chomskyan position within linguistics, because linguistics is so heavily dominated by Chomskyans, but outside of linguistics, in psychology, psycholinguistics, and anthropology, there are plenty of detractors.

It's important to realize that lesion, brain damage, and imagining studies that show dissociations and double dissociations do not indicate that there is an innate module, even for language.

I know Elizabeth Spelke, and I can say with certainty that she's not a supporter of Pinker-Cosmides-Buss Evolutionary Psychology. That doesn't mean she thinks we should ignore evolution.

Thanks for clearing that up, Chris, and I apologize for my mistaken inference about Spelke. I think I must have an overbroad idea of what constitutes evolutionary psychology (versus, well, I don't know, psychology informed by natural selection).

I love it when my intellectual superiors almost miss the point. As a fan of ev psych and toddlers at the stage poop head is a favorite expression, I above pointed out there were two catagories, one defined in opposition to the other, both of which are contingent, neither of which can be reduced to a common core set of premises in opposition to one another, one of which is focused on the emerging science of biology outside the dead hand of the past orthodoxies. Meanwhile, the poop head discussion goes on, yet, I doubt toddlers post here.

.."my own exhibit A: Dennett's new explanation of what he meant when he said (incorrectly) that evolution by random change is faster than that by natural selection. He now tells us:
I did indeed misspeak (p. 126), but the result was ambiguity, not error. The issue is complicated: it depends on whether you're measuring the (average) speed of departure from a starting point in genetic space, or the speed of attainment of some particular evolutionary product. I meant the former.."

What Dennett appears to be saying is that, while the immediate effect of mutation can be rapid, progressive changes due to natural selection may (most likely will) result in "some particular evolutionary product"- kind of a "rabbit & tortoise" analogy... ^..^


one of which is focused on the emerging science of biology outside the dead hand of the past orthodoxies.

In other words, yes, you are a proponent of evolutionary psychology.

And if it is a poop head discussion, and you participate, what does that say about you? You're a toddler genius?

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