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Another reason to hate evolutionary psychology – as if we needed one May 24, 2011

Posted by Summerspeaker in Evo psych.
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Satoshi Kanazawa recently published the article “Why Black women are less attractive than any other women” over at Psychology Today. That title alone shows the misogyny and racism that characterize Kanazawa’s work. Charles Mudede perhaps reasonably invokes eugenics and Nazism against the LSE academic.

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1. Zack M. Davis - May 24, 2011

I take issue with your (and Mudede’s) title. Surely we can say that Kanazawa’s research is false and harmful without also dismissing an entire field of study. If a researcher in another field had said something similarly disreputable, we would not want to call it “another reason to hate cultural anthropology,” or “another reason to hate behavioral genetics,” or similar.

Summerspeaker - May 24, 2011

Such harsh language unhelpfully polarizes the debate, but the field of evolutionary psychology has an established record of attempting to codify oppressive social hierarchies through the power of SCIENCE. Kanazawa represents a trend rather than a outlier.

Zack M. Davis - May 24, 2011

I agree that evolutionary psychology is often misused by people who don’t understand the is/ought distinction to legitimize oppressive social hierarchies. But insofar as evolutionary psychologists make value-neutral empirical claims about the world, it seems like we can just evaluate those claims on their factual merits. As Paul Graham put it, “If a statement is false, that’s the worst thing you can say about it. You don’t need to say that it’s heretical.”

Kanazawa represents a trend rather than a outlier.

I’m not so sure; note that Kanazawa’s work has attacted heavy criticism from within the field.

2. Summerspeaker - May 26, 2011

As Paul Graham put it, “If a statement is false, that’s the worst thing you can say about it. You don’t need to say that it’s heretical.”

This is a rather naive perspective. Falsehoods vary dramatically in their political implications. Pseudoscience that supports established structures of white supremacy and misogyny ain’t the same as shoddy research about homeopathic medicine. Nor can claims – particularly in any field that studies the human – always be neatly categorized into true or false. I see no convincing basis for any grand and firm pronouncements about human nature at this point. I’d have fewer complaints against evolutionary psychologists if they were less presumptuous and gave more respect to social dynamics. In theory, it’s an intriguing area of study. (Note that some of my colleagues in the humanities won’t even grant that much and dismiss the field without qualification. I wish there were more dialogue between academic disciplines.)

I’m not so sure; note that Kanazawa’s work has attacted heavy criticism from within the field.

That’s good to know. I assumed it would, considering how outrageous it is. On that note, here’s a change.org petition on the matter.


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