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.