Care to guess the winner?
Further to New Coynage: E.O. Wilson calls Richard Dawkins a “journalist,” here’s a new item by Andrew Ferguson at Commentary on one of evolutionary psychology’s muddier expeditions into the swamps of pop science:
In early 2011 Kanazawa devoted a column to one hard truth that nobody had dared to point out before—indeed, a hard truth that nobody had even suspected was true. Kanazawa alone had been brave enough to make the necessary scientific inquiry. “Women on average are more physically attractive than men,” he announced. This, it should be said, is kind of true, though it’s truer to say that in many surveys women as well as men tend to rate pictures of women more highly than pictures of men.
“So women of all races,” Kanazawa went on, “are more physically attractive than the ‘average’…except for black women.” The italics are his. In case readers failed to catch on, the editors of Psychology Today provided a helpful headline: “Why are African-American women less physically attractive than other women?” More.
Oh, we get it now!
Take that, Diana Ross and the Supremes! This is what you get for never returning those grad nerds’ calls way back when! With any luck, you are too busy managing your post-show biz career portfolios to care, but …
And of course he proposed an evolutionary theory to account for the hard truth to which his factor analysis had led him. It sounded terribly scientific, it really did: “The race differences in the level of testosterone can potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races.” This time the italics are mine.
Now, a few characteristics immediately leap out at any reader unlucky enough to happen upon Kanazawa’s piece. First among them is this: It is the work of a man unconstrained by prudence of any kind—intellectual, moral, social. There is the grandiosity, his unexamined confidence that the truths of human behavior can be captured in numbers and under controlled conditions. And there is the obvious methodological flaw: He uses subjective rankings by anonymous questioners of unidentified research subjects as a proxy for large, objective facts about entire classes of people. There is his pose as a disinterested observer, shrugging on his lab coat and pretending to follow the data wherever it leads him. And above all there is his reductionism, as though the conclusion he’s drawn about a made-up “physical attractiveness factor” could scarcely be otherwise thanks to the chemical composition of the human body, as it has been brought to us by natural selection.
Of course, sixty outraged evo psych prof signatures later, Kanazawa got dumped as a columnist.
But the take-home point is, … at what point did anyone decide evo psych was science? Here, Ferguson helpfully observes,
First, our infatuation with a reductionist, materialist conception of life has real-world effects, in marketing, business organization, even public policy. Some of the effects are more serious than others. A few years ago, interior decorators across Europe and America began painting corporate headquarters and work spaces green after researchers “discovered” that green was the color most conducive to creativity. (The evolutionary explanation: On the prehistoric savannah, our ancestors learned to associate green with water, nutrition, plant life, and, of course, fertility.) The painters had to be called in again after a year or two, when other researchers (working on a different group of undergraduates, no doubt) found that exposure to the color blue “can double your creative output.” (The new evolutionary explanation: Our cleverest ancestors were stimulated by the cerulean sky, the azure sea…)
So the reductionism came first; the big bills for repainting jobs later.
Meanwhile, hard science was still stuck at home, babysitting the Large Hadron Collider.
Be sure t catch his comments on government attempts to use evo psych to stimulate the economy, and what happened.
See also: “The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote — and shop, and tip at restaurants” (For further insights into what you really think looks good, never mind what you think you think looks good)
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