Getting grumpy about PMS paper

On 11 August 2014, Michael R. Gillings published a paper in Evolutionary Applications entitled “Were there evolutionary advantages to premenstrual syndrome?” There is a strain of thinking that is common in the general public, but is also frequently found among academic researchers that I call adaptionism. This line of thinking assumes that, if a biological phenomenon exists, it must be there as the result of natural selection – i.e., be adaptive. This makes things like PMS seem like a great, evolutionary mystery to be “solved”.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects up to 80% of women, often leading to significant personal, social and economic costs. When apparently maladaptive states are widespread, they sometimes confer a hidden advantage, or did so in our evolutionary past. –from the abstract, Matthew R. Gillings (DOI: 10.1111/eva.12190)

I could spend pages on the problems with this approach to such a question. Fortunately for you and I, Kathryn Clancy, who is far more knowledgable on the relevant evolutionary anthropology than you and I, gutted this paper for The Daily Beast earlier this week:

…the fact that PMS is heritable and variable tells us nothing about whether women with PMS have more children than those who don’t, and this is the true test for adaptation. This crucial point—the third and most crucial condition for natural selection—is absent from the paper.
Kathryn Clancy



Disproving adaptionist assumptions

Intense predation as a significant selective pressure in our evolutionary lineage is inconsistent with the existence of snoring and toddler tantrums.

Dawkins vs Wilson, Nothing to See Here

Hostilities between EO Wilson and Richard Dawkins have heated back up with Dawkins’ scathing review of Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth. People seem to be laboring under the delusion that the current spat between EO Wilson and Richard Dawkins reflects a throwback to a traditional academic cage match between intellectual giants defending their theories with acerbic rhetoric.

In now thoroughly refuted 2010 paper in Nature, Wilson and colleagues attempted to overturn much of the modern understanding of natural selection theory and altruism, known as inclusive fitness theory. Wilson’s new book (apparently, I have not been graced with a copy) continues this line of argument. Dawkins got testy with Wilson then and now:

. . .unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory.
-Richard Dawkins

The problem is, as David Sloan Wilson pointed out in 2010, the debate isn’t about the evolutionary theory that experts currently recognize. This debate has less similarity to a rigorous debate between the intellectual giants of their field and more to a couple of old guys arguing whether the Yankees or the Mets are better based on their vague memories of the 1972 season. Continue reading “Dawkins vs Wilson, Nothing to See Here”

REPOST: Imagine if Sex Were Only for IQs Over 120

At the request of my co-blogger Mike, I’m reposting this article which originally appeared at Science 2.0 on 30 December 2008 where some authors of the paper in question respond in the comments during the run-up to the publication of their book The 10,000 Year Explosion.

Unfortunately for all of us still breathing braniacs, the title only applies to those of us who are also medieval Ashkenazi Jews, according to the authors of the 2006 paper “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence”.

Discussing “race” and intelligence is always a touchy subject and definitely not politically correct; but science should not be fettered by the chains of political correctness like a mangy circus lion.  It must run free across the intellectual savanna, striking down the juvenile wildebeest of ignorance. Following articles on the biology and significance of race by Michael White, Massimo Pigliucci, and moi, my attention was directed to “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence”.  Thanks to press attention from biological research bell-weathers like The Economist and the New York Times, as well as discussion on National Public Radio, this paper has gained Goodyear AquatredTM-esque traction on the internet. Continue reading “REPOST: Imagine if Sex Were Only for IQs Over 120”