Sunday, July 08, 2007

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. Part 1.

NOTE: The next parts of this series are here, here and here.

Phila linked to an article in Psychology Today about 10 politically incorrect truths about people. In the context of psychology, the term "politically incorrect" means either that the authors are going to talk about evolutionary psychology theories where women don't compete at all but men do, like ferocious kangaroos, or about evolutionary psychology theories which tell us how racial minorities have lower intelligence levels. Or both.

I call the kind of evolutionary psychology this article represents Evolutionary Psychology, capitalized, because it's a sort of religion-cum-ideology and not a real study. There was a time when I cruised the websites of Evo-Psychos quite regularly and found most of them to be woman-haters. You can look up the work of Stephen Sailer, for instance and just follow the links he scatters to go to where I went. Take a shower afterwards.

I always have a lot to say about the Evolutionary Psychology pieces, and that is the reason why this post is given the haughty name of "Part 1". This post is going to be just about the fringes of the article; about one of the authors and what I found about his work by Googling. The next post will look at the ten politically incorrect truths in a little more detail.

Let us go then, you and I, and look at the beginning of the article more carefully. It states:

Human behavior is a product both of our innate human nature and of our individual experience and environment. In this article, however, we emphasize biological influences on human behavior, because most social scientists explain human behavior as if evolution stops at the neck and as if our behavior is a product almost entirely of environment and socialization. In contrast, evolutionary psychologists see human nature as a collection of psychological adaptations that often operate beneath conscious thinking to solve problems of survival and reproduction by predisposing us to think or feel in certain ways. Our preference for sweets and fats is an evolved psychological mechanism. We do not consciously choose to like sweets and fats; they just taste good to us.

The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct.

I bolded the two sentences I want to say a little more about.

Evolutionary Psychologists (note the capitals) usually make this assumption: That human nature is a collection of psychological adaptations, adaptations, which happened a long time ago, and adaptations which still affect our behavior even if they might now be useless.
What these guys usually fail to point out is that they are also assuming that adaptations stopped at some point in the early dawn of prehistory. They are not explaining why this would be the case and they usually ignore the evidence that adaptations in other fields have been shown to sometimes be quite rapid. Neither do they allow for much flexibility in the human psyche. What they want to have is a situation where we all are, deep inside, nomadic early humans walking the African savannas in small family groups.

But they don't want us to think too much about that actual setup, because that might make us question some of those theories they give us. For instance, many of their theories really require that humans or their ancestors would have had a large amount of access to unknown individuals of the opposite sex (so that large, non-sagging breasts, say, would be used as a proxy for youth in women) and an opportunity to amass material wealth. Neither of these seems to be true for the current or recent nomadic tribes in Africa.

That was about the first bolded sentence. The shorthand of the authors demands respect for a very partial theory which is totally untestable today, given that we can't send observers back into prehistory and that we don't have the kind of genetic information that would be needed to test the theories today.

What about the second bolded sentence? Whenever I see the kind of argument presented as here, I know that something smells off. Real scientific articles don't say that they are going to "tell the truth." That's just not the way science is written. Then the codeword "politically incorrect." Before reading any further I knew what the piece was going to contain. I also knew that it would be linked to on Free Republic, Pajama Medias and other wingnut sites. The wingnuts secretly agree with the authors of this piece so they will link to the article. That's ok. What is not ok is to pretend that "science" has found these arguments to be true. The second part of this post will explain why that is not true.

Enough about the preamble to the article. What about the authors? They are listed as Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, the authors of the book with the same name as this post, to be published in September of 2007. Mr. Miller appears to have died, which means that Mr. Kanazawa is likely the actual author of this article. I decided to focus on him at first, to see what else he may have written and what is being said about him.

It turns out that he is a controversial guy:

The London School of Economics is embroiled in a row over academic freedom after one of its lecturers published a paper alleging that African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is now accused of reviving the politics of eugenics by publishing the research which concludes that low IQ levels, rather than poverty and disease, are the reason why
life expectancy is low and infant mortality high. His paper, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, compares IQ scores with indicators of ill health in 126 countries and claims that nations at the top of the ill health league also have the lowest intelligence ratings.

It also turns out that Kanazawa is the author of many of the findings he discusses in the Psychology Today article. This means that much of what he says is not backed by other people's research but his own. That matters. It is very important to see what kind of a statistician he is. More about that in the next post on this topic.

What is quite fascinating, by the way, is reading the various wingnutty blogs which have posted on this article, and the comments threads. The following is not an atypical comment:

The real proof of the analysis-- which contradicts feminism-- is that the more status and power a woman has-- the fewer men she sees as potential mates-- because they must be at least as high status as her and preferably higher status.

Women are most powerful from 16-30 or so (" You might get lucky tonite"). As they age , they lose power over men ( women over 40 ,"they are so grateful") For men-- it is the reverse-- young men have little status and little power over women, but as they age,, they get more power typically, as they accumulate resources. Its absurd for a 25 year old man to date a 45 year old woman. But the reverse is the norm, if he has the big bucks.

Sigh. Actually, most married couples are approximately the same age. This commenter makes it sound as if 45 to 25 is the usual case. And all those surveys about partner preferences take place in a world where women, on average, have less money than men do. But that is not taken into account.

I included that comment because it tells a lot of the appeal of the church of Evolutionary Psychology and the fact that many of its congregants are fervently anti-feminist.

This whole thing reminds me of that old saying about the lie being half-way around the world before truth gets its shoes on. It's very easy to write stuff like that and keep publishing it. To refute it takes time and by the time the criticisms are ready the story has moved to some other field.