Evo Psych Ward

An utterly compelling tangle of arguments at The Center for Evolutionary Psychology, where the intersection of science and society is ripped open by controversy over Kevin MacDonald and his relation to Darwinian biorealism. Evo Psych star John Tooby makes some important points about the politics of denunciation, bringing the distinct spectra of political allegiance and sociological genetics into complex collision. Where do the implications of Hamiltonian inclusive fitness lead? (HBD doesn’t quite come into focus, but it haunts the discussion from the edges.)

For a sense of how murky this gets:

For those who are interested in carefully tracing out the dauntingly complex relationships between biology, brain, mind, and culture, this is all very familiar terrain. In the mid-1970’s, for example, Gould, Lewontin, and a few others injected heavy-handed moralizing, easy denunciation, the attribution of dubious intellectual genealogies, and an ad hominem attack-style into scientific debate in an effort to settle intellectual disputes by other means. One belief they cultivated assiduously was the myth that leading evolutionary scholars were ideologically motivated right-wingers. Due to my empiricist inclinations, I was the only person I knew who actually gathered data on this widely credited claim. The results were what common sense would lead you to expect: Evolutionists included communists, ex-communists, a wide array of non-doctrinaire Marxists, democratic socialists, anarchists, feminists, a Black Panther Party member (recently joined by a second), antiwar activists, many New Republic liberals, some apoliticals, and a neocon – a distribution (for better or worse) indistinguishable from any randomly sampled selection of faculty at leading research universities at the time. […] The most notorious tactic of Gould, Lewontin, and their allies during the early years was their attempt to drag the ideas they opposed under by manufacturing links to various repugnant doctrines. One moral problem with ignoring truth-value in employing such tactics is that these socially constructed links pull in both directions. The key theoretical breakthroughs central to sociobiology (inclusive fitness theory, parental investment theory, and so on) turned out to elegantly explain large sets of observations, and so went on to win the debates within the technical journals in evolutionary biology. Although Lewontin’s and Gould’s opposition to the most significant innovations in evolutionary biology over the last 30 years is nothing more than a quaint intellectual footnote within evolutionary biology, the fruits of their mythologizing live on outside of it. They live on in the spurious legitimacy that they gave to the netherworld of marginal scholarship (of which MacDonald is a typical example) that embraces the doctrines that the “moralists” were putatively fighting. More significantly, they did succeed in tarring the revolution in evolutionary biology in the eyes of nonbiologists, together with any serious attempt to think through the relationship between culture, human nature, and human evolution. This has perpetuated the antiquated status quo, during which social scientists have remained wary of the possibility of scientifically mapping human nature, and have remained almost totally ignorant of modern evolutionary biology.

ADDED: MacDonald responds.

July 14, 2014admin 18 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Pass the popcorn

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18 Responses to this entry

  • Handle Says:

    It’s good to look at Pinker’s contribution, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

    I have spoken to several current and past officers of the society, who are just as concerned about MacDonald’s preposterous ideas. But it became clear that there is no principled way for the society to denounce or censor him, or to remove him from his elected post, however much its members might disagree with his views. A commitment to free speech entails episodes of acute discomfort, even agony, whether in a scientific society or in a democracy as a whole.

    The suggestion that scholars “can’t ignore bad ideas” is a nonstarter. In science there are a thousand bad ideas for every good one. “Doing battle” against all of them is not an option for mere mortals, and doing battle against some of them is a tacit acknowledgment that those have enough merit to exceed the onerous threshold of attention-worthiness. MacDonald’s ideas, as presented in summaries that would serve as a basis for further examination, do not pass that threshold, for many reasons:

    1. By stating that Jews promulgate scientific hypotheses because they are Jewish, he is engaging in ad hominem argumentation that is outside the bounds of normal scientific discourse and an obvious waste of time to engage. MacDonald has already announced that I will reject his ideas because I am Jewish, so what’s the point of replying to them?

    2. MacDonald’s main axioms – group selection of behavioral adaptations, and behaviorally relevant genetic cohesiveness of ethnic groups — are opposed by powerful bodies of data and theory, which Tooby, Cosmides, and many other evolutionary psychologists have written about in detail. Of course any assumption can be questioned, but there are no signs that MacDonald has taken on the burden of proof of showing that the majority view is wrong.

    3. MacDonald’s various theses, even if worthy of scientifically debate individually, collectively add up to a consistently invidious portrayal of Jews, couched in value-laden, disparaging language. It is impossible to avoid the impression that this is not an ordinary scientific hypothesis.

    4. The argument, as presented in the summaries, fail two basic tests of scientific credibility: a control group (in this case, other minority ethnic groups), and a comparison with alternative hypotheses (such as Thomas Sowell’s convincing analysis of “middlemen minorities” such as the Jews, presented in his magisterial study of migration, race, conquest, and culture).

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Both Tooby and Pinker conduct themselves very impressively. It seems to me that the interest around MacDonald has passed beyond the stage where some kind of intellectual boycott makes much sense. It would be good to see somebody from the biorealist camp engage seriously with these type of group selectionist ideas (Frank Salter as well as MacDonald). The Sowell (and Slezkine) middlemen sociology stuff is good, but it’s evasive on genetics. Playing the Leftist thought-suppression game is simply unhelpful, and betrays a disreputable level of intellectual cowardice (and bad conscience). It must be possible for rigorous criticism of group selection to make a case that reaches beyond academic specialists to a wider, interested audience.

    [Reply]

    Handle Reply:

    Pinker’s responses are neither boycotts – indeed he makes an admirable stand for free-discourse – nor are they evasive or cowardly. They a well-reasoned ‘first-pass-filer’ case that allocating effort to some kind of thorough rebuttal and refutation of MacDonald in particular, and above and beyond what has already been written, has such a high opportunity cost when compared to its likely impact on anyone’s opinions that it is almost certainly a waste of his time, regardless of how many people have whatever degree of interest in the subject. I agree.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    My remark wasn’t meant as a critique of Pinker. There’s no reason why it should fall on him to take up this task. But somebody should (it looks very weak otherwise), so if Pinker is discouraging that, I’d have to disagree with both him and you.

    Daniel Schmuhl Reply:

    Pinker pretty much has his mind made up from the get go. He says that MacDonald’s ideas are bad from thr start without reading any of the requisite matetial. I can’t say that I really agree with any of his reasons:

    1. The fact that Jews are less likely to accept certain ideas because of intrinsic biases is not by definition ad hominem, if anything Pinker is guilty of straw manning and misunderstanding the definition of the fallacy in question. Stating that Liberals are less likely to accept innate gender/biological differences is not a fallacy either, it is a fact.

    2. MacDonald’s thesis is not contingent on group selection. W.D. Hamilton praised MacDonald’s first book and has made similar arguments without invoking group selection at all. I don’t see him saying similar things about Johanthan Haidt or David Sloan Wilson either.

    3. Pinker is circumlocuting here. Pinker is saying that regardless of whether any of these theses are true, Kevin MacDonald occasionally uses value laden language (never actually makes an argument against this value laden language), and his work is bad for the Jews.

    4. Kevin MacDonald actually has used control groups. He added an entire preface on other diaspora peoples to his first book for example. Pinker would know this if he actually bothered reading his books and papers.

    [Reply]

    Steve Johnson Reply:

    “1. By stating that Jews promulgate scientific hypotheses because they are Jewish, he is engaging in ad hominem argumentation that is outside the bounds of normal scientific discourse and an obvious waste of time to engage.

    3. MacDonald’s various theses, even if worthy of scientifically debate individually, collectively add up to a consistently invidious portrayal of Jews, couched in value-laden, disparaging language.”

    At least he separated these with a point in between.

    “1. MacDonald’s argument implies that Jews are unlikely [among other things] to give his argument a fair hearing because that would not be good for the Jews”
    “3. I refuse to engage with MacDonald’s argument because he says bad things about the Jews.”

    Well, case closed then.

    Anti-anti-semitism has a habit of making bad arguments that make anti-semitism look good – anti-anti-semities should really think about that.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 5:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • nyan_sandwich Says:

    >The results were what common sense would lead you to expect: Evolutionists included communists, ex-communists, a wide array of non-doctrinaire Marxists, democratic socialists, anarchists, feminists, a Black Panther Party member (recently joined by a second), antiwar activists, many New Republic liberals, some apoliticals, and a neocon – a distribution (for better or worse) indistinguishable from any randomly sampled selection of faculty at leading research universities at the time.

    In other words, no rightists at all.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 6:08 pm Reply | Quote
  • Bill Says:

    I don’t comment that much, but just wanted to say that I read most of the articles OI links to. Thanks for doing the work of finding so many great articles that not only have coherent arguments in a world full of bs arguments, but that are also interesting, funny, etc…

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 6:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • FoolishReporter Says:

    Is there a good starting point for this particular argument? From what I’ve seen, it appears this goes back a few years, correct?

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 7:39 pm Reply | Quote
  • FoolishReporter Says:

    @FoolishReporterDisregard my comment. I haz a stupid

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 7:43 pm Reply | Quote
  • The poor evopsych research that screwed it up for everyone else | Philosophies of a Disenchanted Scholar Says:

    […] http://www.xenosystems.net/evo-psych-ward/ […]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 7:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • Evo Psych Ward | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 8:20 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nathan Turner Overdrive Says:

    Dialogue contributed by John Tooby # 3
    ” In other words, functional aspects of the architecture (e.g., complex adaptations) will tend to be universal at the genetic level, even though their expression may be limited to a particular sex or age, or be contingent on the presence of an eliciting cue in the environment. Humans are free to vary genetically in their superficial, nonfunctional traits, and they do. But they are constrained by natural selection to share a universal genetic design for their complex, evolved functional architecture. The claim that the human cognitive architecture must be universal at the genetic level is not a pious liberal falsehood – it is a profoundly important fact, derivable from adaptationist principles.”
    HNU affirmed – we are not the heretics you are looking for!
    In 1999 this was dubious. In 2014 – risible.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    There’s an argument this time, rather than merely a warmed-over Stalinist propaganda campaign, which is nice. But yes, there’s an awful lot hidden in that locked-up “complex adaptations” black box. Or rather, there’s an lot implicitly hidden in it, which isn’t really there at all. I don’t think there’s any real suggestion in the HBD camp that variety among “complex adaptations” is the issue — which leaves a vast amount of significant variety.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2014 at 8:27 pm Reply | Quote
  • P Says:

    It’s amusing that because of the Zizek thing, Hornbeck’s pithy and accurate summary of MacDonald’s argument is now plastered all over the liberal and leftist websites. MacDonald must love it.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 15th, 2014 at 12:37 pm Reply | Quote
  • Izak Says:

    That Slate discussion is a classic!

    I agree with Daniel Schmuhl about Pinker’s attempt at refuting MacDonald. It’s weak. It’s very weak. He only comes to a half-decent point for #4 (as in, half of the point is valid), and it’s not even that good.

    I have problems with MacDonald’s thesis myself, and no one seems to have made this point, so I’ll go ahead and make it: he does a terrible job at explaining the role of deception in what he sees as Jewish evolutionary strategy.

    He chalks up a lot of Jewish-universalist hypocrisy to “self-deception,” but he never goes really into what self-deception actually means. He only provides a few perfunctory citations of Lerner and some other guys. This is a serious question, and I think it’s the core of what John Derbyshire is trying to say when he questions whether a “group evolutionary strategy” is a valid concept at all. The question is so important because it provides an insight into whether Jewish “evolutionary strategy” is conscious or not conscious. And if it isn’t a conscious plan, then how could such a long-lasting group of people evolve to have such extremely low introspection? If I’m going around saying everyone else needs to be a universalist except for me, and I’m not consciously aware of it, then wouldn’t that make me the least self-aware person ever? The Jews aren’t low on self-awareness, if anything they’re very self-aware about what’s going on in their minds, at least on an individual level. Who is more introspective than someone like Woody Allen?

    You never really get to the bottom of this question with MacDonald, and he seems allergic to theorizing about it. He doesn’t even really discuss the mechanics of it. How does the mind deceive itself? And this is a shame, because he constantly talks about Jewish self-deception. It’s a key component to his theory of their strategy.

    [Reply]

    Zerg Reply:

    Yes, well put. But in any case the evidence doesn’t support the claim that Jews generally want nationhood for themselves alone and “universalism” for everyone else. Those Jews who oppose non-Jewish nationhood also tend to oppose Jewish nationhood; pro-immigration Jews tend not to care very much about Judaism and Israel. Religious Zionists like the American Tea Party and vice-versa. Jewish radio guys Mark Levin and Michael Savage are anti-immigration and pro-Israel. Left-wing, anti-American Jews are anti-Israel and usually hate Judaism.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 15th, 2014 at 6:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lightning Round – 2014/07/16 | Free Northerner Says:

    […] On the ENR. Related: Dialogues on evo-psych and Kevin MacDonald. […]

    Posted on July 16th, 2014 at 5:01 am Reply | Quote

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