Mad Scientists Used To Be More Fun

I recommend that you read Annalee Newitz’s “The Rise of the Evolutionary Psychology Douchebag” to improve your own intellectual relative fitness.

Any discussion of Evolutionary Psychology needs to start with a disclaimer. The term “Evolutionary Psychology” is a brand name, or jargon, denoting a particular approach to a particular set of questions. It does not describe the entire field of research into the evolution of human intelligence, personality, psychology, and mental health.

Evolutionary Psychology, as it is properly defined, views those interesting questions to a framework that supplies most of the answers. The field assumes that all aspects of human psychology and behavior are the products of natural selection, that the natural selection occurred when we lived in some homogenized, primitive ecology, and that natural selection occurred on relatively discrete behavioral modules in the brain. The respective fields of evolutionary biology, ecology, and neuroscience generally contradict all of these assumptions.

The assumption that human behavior and culture are adaptive products of natural selection can have some negative consequences in the hands of what io9’s Annalee Newitz calls the “Evolutionary Psychology Douchebag”*. When one forgets that natural selection is not an arbiter of moral objectivity, it becomes all too easy to defend racism or sexism in society:

They believe that certain groups of people are inherently smarter than others. They write books about how rape is a natural part of human evolution. And now, with another scandal rocking the world of evolutionary psychology, we can officially welcome a new breed of mad scientist into the spotlight: evopsych douchebags….Welcome to the age of the evopsych douchebag. Science is not immune to cultural trends, and this just happens to be one of the worst.

*While I think the field of Evolutionary Psychology follows a misguided paradigm, not all people in the field are “douchebags” – nor am I particularly fond of using the term “douchebag” as an insult.

Author: Josh Witten

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