Is Evolutionary Psychology Garbage?

18 01 2009

There are still many who think it is. Sadly, like the blog linked here, many of the attacks are so riddled with unsophisticated ad hominem and vitriol that their more legitimate arguments are undermined.

For example, while I thoroughly agree that much of the research into human sexuality is problematic, I think the field extends so far beyond these studies that to paint the entire discipline with the one brush is misrepresenting evolutionary psychology. Not everyone thinks Buss defines the field.

Another point that seems to have eluded this blogger is that evolutionary psychology as a discipline itself is evolving. Less researchers are talking about ‘evolved behaviours’ and more are talking about ‘evolved faculties’ and ‘sentiments’ that are given content by environmental influences.

This shift was a result of some of the early criticisms against evo psych, such as its tendency to describe universal behaviours without accounting for variations amongst cultures – or the so-called genetic determinism that evo psych was purported to advocate. Such criticisms are beneficial and welcome, particularly if they advance the field. But dismissive ad hominem attacks are somewhat less helpful.

In fact, if this blogger hopes to become an academic herself, I’d advise her to make her criticism constructive rather than cathartic.




One response

20 01 2009

Sorry. This piece you link is not ad hominem. It attacks opinions and work, not individuals. It is vitriolic, but that is signalled by the author calling it a “RANT”.

Is it not constructive to point to the lack of attempts to formulate hypotheses in a falsifiable way? If it is not, I and a number of other economists are at fault for making the same point in our discipline.

So far as I can judge from passing acquaintance, evoutionary psychology is in a phase of potentially very fruitful hypothesis formulation. However, all that wiill fade away into insignificance, as has so much interesting psychological theorising, if it is not fairly rigourously tested against reality.

Theorising which looks like projections of the theorists own preconceptions occurs in most disciplines; and those who detest the preconceptions usually also find the theories resulting repulsive. That is irrelevant to the advancement of knowledge. What matters is how far the hypothesis is in accord with the evidence.

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