Monday, March 01, 2010

Footballers Wives and Evolutionary Psychology

#badscience @brooklynjosh After Bjørn Østman tried to convince me of the scientific credibility of evolutionary biology in his Pleiotropy blog, I made a real effort to take it more seriously, I really did, but the latest effort from Satoshi Kanazawa PhD has put me firmly back into the sceptical camp.

Dr Kanazawa's latest "finding" associates certain behaviours and beliefs with male IQ. The UK press concentrates on the claimed linkage between IQ and male fidelity.
Dr Kanazawa suggests that this finding indicates that intelligent men place greater value on monogamy and sexual exclusivity. As with most findings of evolutionary psychology, there are several other possible explanations - perhaps intelligent men with unintelligent wives are less likely to get caught cheating, while intelligent men with intelligent wives are more fearful of cheating in the first place. (Recent examples of sports personalities cheating on their wives all seem to involve rather infantile use of mobile phone technology, followed by a mad panic when the text messages are discovered by the wife and/or the gutter press.)
In America, on the other hand, the aspect of Dr Kanazawa's research that has attracted more attention is his association between male IQ and belief - both religious and political.
Or as @brooklynjosh puts it in the Huffington Post, Educated Liberals, Atheists More likely to Label Themselves Smart.

But the strongest demolition of Dr Kanazawa's evolutionary explanation why intelligent men don't cheat on their wives comes from Dr Kanazawa's own blog, where he writes

"Highly successful men have sexual affairs, not because they want to (if what men want mattered, all men would have a maximum number of affairs), but because women choose them." [Why are we surprised, December 2009]

Dr Kanazawa argues that Bill Clinton became president so he could get laid, and predicts that at least one (male) politician will be exposed in a sex scandal during 2010. I don't think you need evolutionary psychology to make that kind of prediction, you just need a basic grasp of statistical probability. If there is a 0.01% chance of any given politician getting caught with his pants down, and there are tens of thousands of politicians across the country, then the probability of nobody getting caught is extremely small. But that doesn't mean that the behaviour is a common one. Dr Kanazawa's rhetoric relies on his readers not understanding basic probability theory.


Some male academics may believe that there is a disconnect between intelligence and worldly success. So although academics may be incredibly intelligent, they don't get laid as much as politicians and sportsmen. However, this is not because they are unattractive to women, oh no, but because intelligent men place greater value on monogamy and sexual exclusivity. And all of this is completely consistent and fully explicable thanks to evolutionary psychology.

Bah, humbug.

3 comments:

Bjørn Østman said...

After Bjørn Østman tried to convince me of the scientific credibility of evolutionary biology in his Pleiotropy blog, I made a real effort to take it more seriously, I really did, but the latest effort from Satoshi Kanazawa PhD has put me firmly back into the sceptical camp.

Kanazawa does evolutionary psychology, which is not at all the same as evolutionary biology. EP is a branch of psychology, not of biology.

Richard Veryard said...

Bjørn appears to have a clearer understanding than I do of the dividing line between biology and psychology, but I'm guessing that the following comment from his blog counts as a defence of evolutionary psychology.

It may be very hard indeed to verify, for example, the hypothesis that men's preference for younger women is an adaptive trait, but the trait is there, and so is the theory. Denying those is folly. We may not like nature's influence on our behavior, but I guarantee it's here to say.

It is one thing to acknowledge nature's influence on our behaviour, and an entirely separate thing to suggest a specific evolutionary path for the development of this influence.

I hope Bjørn will correct me if I've got this wrong, but the notion of pleiotropy surely implies that evolution can produce many traits that don't advantage the individual or the species, merely as a side-effect of some other adaptation. So we can't just automatically explain any trait on the strength of some supposed evolutionary advantage.

Bjørn Østman said...

So we can't just automatically explain any trait on the strength of some supposed evolutionary advantage.

Absolutely true. I just commented about it here.