This interview with Satoshi Kanazawa, co-author of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters (with Alan S. Miller) reminded me of this critique of Kanazawa and Miller’s Psychology Today article by the Thistle. I meant to reply when he first wrote it, but got too caught up with Esozone stuff and forgot.

First of all I have to say that I’m skeptical of all popular science books, especially popular psychology books. I must also say that I am not a scientist, and don’t have a lot of knowledge of evolutionary psychology. Also, I’ve only read the article and interview, not the book. So Kanazawa and Miller’s work could be total bunk for all I know. That said, lets take a look a look at what the Thistle has to say.

Many of the speculations in this article are without clear source.

True. Hypothetically, more detail about how they reached these conclusions can be found in the book.

Evolutionary psychology is emphatically not science. It is a genre of speculation based on a mix of other peoples’ science and observation of cultural trends. EPs, like the sociobiologists before them, are notorious for rationalizing status quo culture as being rooted in biology. They are not researchers but armchair theorists (just like me). Thus when Frank Marlowe contends something, he is not dispelling a “mystery,” just giving his opinion.

Scientists haven’t even decided if social science really is science, nor am I sure I accept social science as science. Evolutionary psychology (or any other branch of psychology) may not live up to the strictest of definitions of science. But to call evolutionary psychology arm chair speculation is unfair. Again, Kanazawa and Miller’s research could turn out to be nothing but arm chair theory. I haven’t evaluated the research. But extensive research, rigid application of the scientific method, and peer review separate professional psychology from home speculation. A professional evolutionary psychologist must examine statistical research, make falsifiable predictions, and subject their work to review of fellow scientists. The process of evolutionary psychology is not a mere practice of saying “oh, maybe that stems from this” but a tedious process of making predictions and testing them.

But “Men also have a universal preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio”? [Emphasis mine.] I’ll open this up to the readers: Should I even bother to provide evidence that this isn’t the case?

I was a little surprised at how much of a response this particular bit got (see comment here). I’m also surprised no one pointed out the most obvious deviation from this “rule”: gay men. Gay men are not even attracted to women, much less blond ones. So some men are less attracting to large breasts than other men. Some men prefer chubby women. So what? The use of the word “universal” is probably the hang-up for people here. No, people don’t conform 100% to these rules. Does that make the conclusions drawn any less valid? No. Much less the entire field of evolutionary psychology.

But there is an important lesson to be learned here: we can predict the behavior of individuals based on the past behavior of individual with perhaps enough certainty to do well at gambling. But probably not well to do well at life. We may be able to accurately say “most women prefer cooking shows to sports” or “most men would rather spend money on power tools than handbags” but there will always be exceptions.

To go off on some armchair theorizing of my own: there seems to be a rise in pornography based around non-blond women with many different body types. Some of this might be due to the Internet making it possible to produce and distribute porn profitably without marketing to the lowest common denominator. But perhaps men are adapting as we become aware of the fact that just because a woman is blond and has perky tits doesn’t mean she’s actually young. Or not. I have no idea.

We are currently living through the largest wealth disparity in the history of mankind.

It’s my understanding that the middle class developed along with globalization and industrialization. It might be true that there’s a larger gap between the top 2% and the bottom 2% (or whatever) than ever before (this seems probable as there is more for the top 2% to have than ever before). But are the middle classes of “industrialized” nations not much, much closer matched? And do they not take up the majority of the population?

I can never tell if the largely male population of Evolutionary Psychologists are trying to invent and rationalize some class-based stratification of sexuality because they have a little extra money and need come up with an excuse to get with multiple partners or because they are trying to come up with an excuse for why they can’t get a date at all.

I suspect it’s the latter.

Oooooo burn!

So here’s my advice, you armchair theorists of the world. Lighten up with all the “women act this way, men act that way” talk and get out there and talk to people you actually want to have sex with as though they were people and not aggregate collections of statistically observable behaviors interpreted through the lens of your personal bias. It’s not sexy.

See above for why statistical predictions don’t make good practice in day to day life.

BTW, 100 years ago, similar genetic behavior theorists were trying to convince the populace at large that polygamy was a sign of the inferiority of the poor (they’re having all the sex, which we know because they make so many babies) and trying to get them sterilized because of it.

Scientists were saying lots of incorrect things 100 years ago. Should we discount discount science altogether because of it?

Also: Kanazawa and Miller haven’t made, at least in the articles in question, any value judgements or policy recommendations.

I’m not sure what this point has to do with “human nature.” Period. Is religious affiliation genetically coded? No.

Did you even read the article? Kanazawa and Miller say the Muslim tendency towards suicide bombing isn’t caused directly by religion, but by the absence of sex. Is that correct? I don’t know, but it does answer your question.

Ditto. Actually, I slept through the rest of these until…

What, you didn’t have a problem with the notion, expressed in point 9, that all men care about is sex? That all of our accomplishments, dreams, and ambitions are nothing more than cheap ploys to get laid?

Look, if ever there was a phrase that was designed to bait the political opposition, it is “political incorrectness.” It serves as a umbrella term meant to signal that the author is setting out to offend people, then act as though he is surprised when people get offended. Then he points the finger at them, saying, “You’re too easily offended.” Some people are too easily offended; that doesn’t make these guys any less asinine. It is always an indication that the author is trying to start some very public drama.

I basically agree. The framing of these theories as “politically incorrect” is a marketing ploy. And it seems to have worked.

To address the whole of your objection to the section on sexual harassment: I think you’re way off the mark in your interpretation of what was being said in that section. They say that women “legitimately complain” about harassment. I don’t believe they were trying to *excuse* sexual harassment (any more than they were trying to excuse suicide bombing), but try to get to the bottom of why it happens.

And that is the goal of evolutionary psychology: not to justify bad behavior, but to explain it. One can only hope that with a better rational understanding of our problems, we can find new solutions. From the interview with Kanazawa:

As a scientist, I am not interested in Utopian visions (or any other visions for society). But it seems to me that, if you want to change the world successfully, you cannot start from false premises. Any such attempt is bound to fail.