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Evolutionary psychology racket alert: Serious news, not just more embarrassment for science


Someone tipped me off about this MIT Press book, attempting to explode the “evolutionary psychology” racket:

The claims of evolutionary psychology may pass muster as psychology; but what are their evolutionary credentials? Richardson considers three ways adaptive hypotheses can be evaluated, using examples from the biological literature to illustrate what sorts of evidence and methodology would be necessary to establish specific evolutionary and adaptive explanations of human psychological traits. He shows that existing explanations within evolutionary psychology fall woefully short of accepted biological standards. The theories offered by evolutionary psychologists may identify traits that are, or were, beneficial to humans. But gauged by biological standards, there is inadequate evidence: evolutionary psychologists are largely silent on the evolutionary evidence relevant to assessing their claims, including such matters as variation in ancestral populations, heritability, and the advantage offered to our ancestors. As evolutionary claims they are unsubstantiated. Evolutionary psychology, Richardson concludes, may offer a program of research, but it lacks the kind of evidence that is generally expected within evolutionary biology. It is speculation rather than sound science -and we should treat its claims with skepticism.

I say “attempting” because – from its blurb – the book sounds far too timid to me. (Prove me wrong, publisher, by sending me a copy.)

For one thing, evolutionary psychology is right up there with recovered memories as the kind of nonsense that professors of therapy get into because they don’t have anything more useful to do. The trouble is, if anyone takes them seriously, they can cause problems.

Frankly, evolutionary psychologists come up with stuff so stupid that it falls beneath mockery.

I am still mad at Bill Dembski for scooping me on the Big Bazooms theory of human evolution, but I forgave him eventually, and in the meantime there is “why middle-aged men have shiny scalps” and “why dad can’t dance” – supposedly, except when he can and does. And in many world cultures, he just must.

Whatever we want to call this stuff, it is not science. Science is about fact, not free-floating, idle speculation But – as noted earlier – I expect this book to accomplish little because the publisher and maybe the author are far too concerned with placating the tenured profs they should just dismiss. Prove me wrong.

Cannuckian Yankee at 6: I am very glad to hear that the people promoting no-responsibility mental health care will face some problems, somehow, somewhere. Like, who am I to say if someone's mental health is good or bad, provided he is not banging his brains out against a wall - which would certainly attract attention where I live, and remove all doubt. By the way: this message is not directed to anyone in particular, just a general message: Look homeward, angel! O'Leary
There appears to be an extreme disconnect between the practical treatment of mental illness and much of the theory behind it; although much of it is helpful. What it all comes down to is that if you treat a patient as a human being with value and choices, he/she rises to the occasion. That seems to be the trend today. I've mentioned this before, but modern methods that are pretty much written into regulation for mental health-based treatment facilities, include choice and input from the patient more than ever before. It's no surprise then that the term, which describes such choice-based treatment is the "recovery" model. They've discovered that recovery from the symptoms of mental illness is predicated upon humane treatment of the patient, which considers their desires, abilities, motivations and value to society. The recovery model also respects the spiritual motivations of the patient, and does not consider them detrimental. Let's not forget that academia is not the driving force behind practical theory when it comes to treatment, which affects the welfare of human beings. What drives treatment more often than not is the consumer. The consumer is likely to have family members who care for him/her. Any type of theory, which does not consider the value of the patient, and their ability to make their own choices regarding treatment, is likely to face strong protest from a large mental health consumer lobby. CannuckianYankee
I agree with Cannuckian Yankee. Science-based nursing is a highly honourable profession, as is pharmacy. All professions are today to be preferred to the endless and growing scandal of currently unreformed academics. Like, if you need to know why many universes prove that there is no God, go there. If you need to know how to get relief from painful real life physical problems, come here. It's possible that we can't help you, but it is certain that they can't. O'Leary
I know Richardson and bought the book when it first came out. It is indeed a very serious critique of evolutionary psychology -- but of the sort you would likely get from followers of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin. It aims to protect the integrity of Darwin's theory from scientifically sloppy and ideologically motivated interlopers. A fair amount of philosophy of biology is has this protective character, and there's nothing especially wrong with it -- but it is really targeted at other philosophers and theoretically minded biologists. Richardson is not really aiming for a more general audience here. Steve Fuller
Cannuck, You might be interested to know that it was this daughter, when she was five years old in 1994, for whom I bought a cartoon video entitled "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," with no idea who C.S. Lewis was. Thus began an amazing series of events that transformed my life, infinitely for the better, as I was liberated from 43 years of the hideous darkness of atheistic nihilism. GilDodgen
Actually Gill, nursing is an excellent field for anyone interested in mental health. Registered nurses are at the forefront of treatment. So she's probably getting into a field, which might prove very rewarding. I worked until recently in a skilled nursing facility whose focus was on the treatment of adults with mental illnesses. A student can focus on just such treatment in their nursing studies. If she decides to go that route, she will also get into the practical study of psychology that they are probably not teaching at UCI. CannuckianYankee
My older daughter had been attending the University of California, Irvine, with a major in psychology. (UCI is the home of Francisco Ayala and militant anti-Semitic Muslim students whose Jew-hatred is ignored and therefore de facto endorsed by the administration.) This has been all over the news for many months. After a semester of "study" (I looked at the books she was being forced to read, and it was all pitiful speculation encased in endless references and high-sounding academic language) she decided that she did not want to waste her life on this stuff, and transferred to a course in medical nursing, where she could do something worthwhile with her life. GilDodgen

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