When ideology trumps biology

If I was the late Andy Rooney, I’d say “You know what really bothers me? When science shows some facts about nature, and then someone rejects those facts because they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable for their ideology.”

Indeed, when people ignore such inconvenient truths, it not only makes their cause look bad, but can produce palpable harm. Case in point: the damage that the Russian charlatan-agronomist Lysenko did to Soviet agriculture under Stalin. Rejecting both natural selection and modern genetics, Lysenko made all sorts of wild promises about improving Soviet agriculture based on bogus treatment of plants that would supposedly change their genetics. It not only didn’t work, failing to relieve Russia of its chronic famines, but Lyesnko’s Stalin-supported resistance to modern (“Western”) genetics led to the imprisonment and even the execution of really good geneticists and agronomists like Niklolia Vavilov. The ideological embrace of an unevidenced but politically amenable view of science set back Russian genetics for decades.

Other cases in point: the denial of evolution by creationists, and of anthropogenic global warming by conservatives. I needn’t belabor these.

We see this in other areas, too—especially with issues like differences between the sexes, ethnic groups, and evolutionary psychology. The assumption here is that any research on these areas could only serve to reinforce sexism and bigotry, so not only is that research denigrated, but there is an a priori ideological assumption that all groups are genetically equal for areas like behavior, mentation, and so on.  The error of this viewpoint is that whatever the truth is, it shouldn’t—and largely doesn’t—matter in the modern world. Society has advanced to the point where we recognize that equality of treatment and opportunity is the proper way to treat men, women, those of different ethnicities, the transgendered, and so on. There’s no need to assume that a biological “is” translates into a societal “ought”. As Steve Pinker has emphasized many times, we’re well past that view.

But the opposition to research on group and sex differences continues. One of its big exponents is the author Cordelia Fine, who has written two books with the explicit aim of showing that there are no reliably accepted evolved and biological differences in behavior between men and women. I read her first book, Delusions of Gender, and found it a mixed bag: some of her targets did indeed do bad science, and she properly called them out; but the book was also tendentious, and wasn’t objective about other studies. I’m now about to read her second book, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society.  Judging from the reviews, which have been positive, it’s just as much a polemic as the first book, and has an ideological aim.

Because I haven’t finished it, I won’t judge it as a whole, but I do want to concentrate on one argument Fine makes that reviewers have found congenial.  That is her supposed debunking of the claim that men have often evolved to be promiscuous, and women to be more choosy, because of the potentially greater reproductive payoff for multiply-mating males compared to multiply-mating females. Lots of psychological studies have supported this difference in human sexual behavior, and of course it holds widely across the animal kingdom as well (there are exceptions exactly where we expect: when the reproductive payoff for multiple matings is greater for females than for males, as in seahorses). This difference between the sexes is in fact the evolutionary basis for sexual selection, and for the consequent observation of males courting females with behavior, ornaments, calls, and the like, with females choosing among displaying males. This is so common in animals as to constitute almost a biological “law”, with the exceptions proving the rule.

Fine denies this evolutionary basis, leaving her unable, of course, to explain sexual dimorphism in humans or any species. Her denial appears to be based on an early flawed experiment of Angus Bateman in fruit flies, which indeed turned out upon reanalysis to be inconclusive.  I’ve discussed this whole issue before, and you can read about it here, and how Sarah Ditum, the Guardian’s reviewer of Fine’s new book, was taken in by Fine’s bogus arguments. (Ditum is not a scientist.)

In my earlier post I pointed out the pervasive biological evidence that in both humans and other species,  the conditions for sexual selection  hold—a greater variance in male than in female reproductive output—probably explaining why men are bigger and stronger than women, and have beards and other secondary sexual differences. It also explains why male peacocks have showy tails, why male sage grouse do “jumping displays” to attract females, why male insects have weapons and ornaments, and so on. (See my bullet-point list of biological facts in that post.) Further, though Bateman’s experiments were flawed, they have been repeated properly in other species and have shown that, yes, males in general have the potential to have many more offspring than females: a higher variance in offspring number).

On February 23 the New York Times also reviewed Testosterone Rex, and the reviewer, the journalist Annie Murphy Paul, also fell for the bogus no-difference-in-reproductive-variance argument (she’s not a scientist). As she said:

Well, then, what about the even more entrenched idea that evolution has primed men to desire many and varied sex partners? Here Fine quotes the Bradley University psychologist David Schmitt: “Consider that one man can produce as many as 100 offspring by indiscriminately mating with 100 women in a given year, whereas a man who is monogamous will tend to have only one child with his partner during that same time period.” Fine expertly fillets this familiar premise, noting, among other inconvenient facts, that “the probability of a woman becoming pregnant from a single randomly timed act of intercourse is about 3 percent,” and that in historical and traditional societies, as many as 80 to 90 percent of women of reproductive age at any one time might already be pregnant, or infertile while they were breast-feeding. “The theoretical possibility that a male could produce dozens of offspring if he mated with dozens of females is of little consequence if, in reality, there are few females available to fertilize,” Fine comments. Think about it: For every man on the prowl, there simply aren’t a hundred women available to bear his child. For all men not named Genghis Khan, monogamy must have started to look like a pretty smart bet.

This is someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Humans in Western society are now socially monogamous, but in effect many are polygamous, committing adultery. Men have been shown, time after time, to be less discriminating and more promiscuous than females. And many of those women who were pregnant were not pregnant by their social mate—if indeed our early ancestors had social mates—but by “alpha” males who got more than their share of offspring, or by those who mate with other males’ mates on the sly—what John Maynard Smith called “sneaky fuckers”. Most species of birds that look socially monogamous, for instance, pairing up in the nest and cooperating in brood care, have been found by DNA analysis to actually be committing adultery all over the place, so that the appearance of pairing gives a false idea of who’s really producing the chicks.

Such is the invidious result of having a non-scientist judge a scientific argument; and yes, the Times screwed up big time.  But someone who should know better is the evolutionary biologist and blogger P. Z. Myers, who bought into Fine’s bogus argument and fallacious mathematics in a post called “Cordelia Fine is doing the math.” Myers accepts Fine’s contention that promiscuous males don’t really have more offspring than do choosy human females—females who are prevented from getting fertilized when they’re pregnant.  Her arguments are wrong—for one thing, she sets unrealistic error limits for promiscuous males to outdo monogamous ones—but Myers has always rejected biology that is ideologically unpalatable to him.

In a rare occurrence at his site, the commenters, usually a choir of osculatory praise, gave him pushback. In fact one,  “Charly”, did the math correctly and showed that males in relationships with multiple females (bigamous or polygamous) have the potential to have more offspring than do monogamous males, supporting the ideas that men are selected to compete for women. (Duh!) Charly ended his calculations with this statement: “But maybe my reasoning and math is wrong, I am sure someone will point flaws out.”

In the next comment, Myers admitted that Charly’s math was actually right—math that invalidates Fine’s argument—but then he said this:

And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters: an admission that the biology is right, at least in theory, but the person who did the calculations is immoral.  What better example can we find of someone who opposes the truth because it’s ideologically repugnant? Even Myers’s regular commenters couldn’t live with that pronouncement, with one even asking if he was all right. I won’t speculate on his state of mind, but I will say that he’s on the wrong side in this argument.

Well, be that as it may, we have two lessons from this kerfuffle.

a). Magazines and newspapers should get scientists, or at least journalists who are scientifically educated, to review books about science. Science journalists without training in math and evolution are unqualified to review Fine’s book.

b). It’s always better to accept a scientific fact than to reject it on ideological grounds. For people will know the truth, and when they see it rejected because of confirmation bias, they can see what’s going on.

It always hurts your cause to behave that way. If science finds that men and women behave differently for evolutionary and genetic reasons, or that humans have behaviors that are holdovers from selection in our ancestors, we can deal with that. Such findings do not inexorably lead to racism, sexism, or bigotry, and there’s no reason why they should. Sure, there may be a few misguided individuals who mistake an “is” for an “ought,” but society no longer works that way.  Rejecting the facts because you don’t like them, or because they go counter to your political leanings, is a sure recipe for sinking your cause. First apprehend the facts, and then just deal with them.


198 Comments

  1. Marc Aresteanu
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    The 1st Rule of Feminist Fight Club is “you do not talk about sexual dimorphism”.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Let’s come to an agreement – you don’t talk about it with your robust heavily muscled stereotypical male humanoid body, and I won’t talk about it with my wife’s gracile, lightly muscled stereotypical female body.
      There’s a reason that one of us is around 50-55kg, and the other is 90-95kg. And it ain’t because either of us is particularly feminist, or male chauvinist oinkist.

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Needs an asterisk.

      *Unless you’re transitioning

    • Jim Smith
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      If you see an ‘academic’ study where the ‘academic’ states that greater muscle strength and athletic prowess in males is just a ‘social construct’ because young males are encouraged to be athletic and engage in spports and young females aren’t you have a post-modernist feminist, that is, the nutty ones. BTW, my brother and me were gym rats. Our neighbor was sedentary. When the testosterone hit he was broad shouldered and barrel chested and had tree trunks for legs, his body frame was what is called an endomoph. Massively strong and built. Me, for all of that ‘social constructionism’, not so much, I straddled the ectomorph-mesomorph boundary.

      • mikeyc
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        Where their argument really goes off the rails is in competitions that are solely against the clock. If there were no real differences between men and women in things like strength, endurance or speed then times between men and women in running events should not differ, irrespective of social constraints on participation.

      • Johnny
        Posted March 11, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Body type influence on actual physical ability is grossly exaggerated, in general. Just look at Bruce Lee, who was capable of curling (with one arm) 110 pounds and leg pressing a thousand. That’s insane — and there are others like him. Large people give the impression of strength due to their center of gravity enabling them to lift things with a reduced need for strength, not an enormously imbued level of extra strength.

        • Kartu
          Posted March 12, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          Bruce Lee was by no means an average person.
          Muscle mass would reduce his speed, so his training never aimed at it.
          About 1% of males of his weight can curl 110 pounds, to my knowledge.

          Leg pressing a thousand, while surely doable, grand slalom skiing champs do that, seems to contradict what he was actually doing.

          But why bother with unusual men example, when you could pick unusual women? There are plenty of women who are stronger and even more muscular than an average men.

          Frankly, anatomical differences in sexes are known for so long (e.g. 3 layers of fat in female legs vs single for men) that seeing someone arguing against it raises my eyebrows.

    • Brian Salkas
      Posted April 1, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Which is a shame. We could be promoting how important diversity is because males and females have different tenancies. Especially when many sex/gender differences are not so flattering for men.

  2. Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Loved the: (paraphrase) Not every natural ‘is’ is a societal ‘ought’. Seems not everybody gets it.

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Too right: I’m anti-romantic mantis, myself. Reza Aslan doesn’t get it.

  3. Cindy
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I heard about this yesterday. I believe an observant person mentioned that the link on PZ Myers website to Amazon is a referral…if you buy the book he makes money.

  4. BobTerrace
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Subscribe – OY!

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Inconvenient Truth….where have I heard that before? Outstanding post and deserves wide circulation. The human defect that prevents acceptance of facts and truth is likely the largest flaw that holds back the human species.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I’m not qualified to comment on this post, but I want to say how excellent I think it is.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        Yes. I am not qualified to comment on the science of the specific issue but when science speaks I listen. The continuous rejection of science because of religion or just ignorance in general is overwhelming. It also has a terrible and negative affect on progress. Just look at this country and how it is falling behind. We make a very small step toward healthcare and then throw it away. Brilliant!

  6. nickswearsky
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Not surprised by PZ’s response. He goes negative unfairly and often to distract from the fact that he is yet again exposed as out of his depth on a topic. What is surprising is the number or his commenters calling him out. A bit more of that might do him some good.

    Oh, and aside from your posts that link to hi inane sight, I haven’t visited PZ in quite a while. I find I don’t miss it at all.

    • abram
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I go there occasionally just to behold the flaming trainwreck it’s become.

      • BobTerrace
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        I even got tired of viewing the train wrecks years ago and never even give his cesspool a thought anymore until it comes up here.

      • Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        I stopped going to his site years back. He was just becoming an insufferab;le arse, and his acolytes were pathetic.

      • Brian Salkas
        Posted April 1, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Is he not still a good scientist though?

    • GM
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      I’ve lost all respect I ever had for PZ, after watching him in action over the last few years (see my post below for a little bit more elaboration).

    • nickswearsky
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      “your posts that link to hi inane sight”

      Correction: your posts that link to his inane site

      Fat fingers today.

    • Harrison
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      People call PZ out quite often.

      Trouble is, those people tend to get “disappeared.”

      What’s interesting in this case is that it’s many of his regular posters. Though it shouldn’t be so surprising that they’d be willing to defend one of their own. Not as much as if Charly had been someone they didn’t know.

      Still, a remarkable miscalculation even by PZ’s standards.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      It really saddens me. I met PZ at a Sceptics in the Pub meeting in Glasgow many years ago, where he gave an excellent talk and was quite charming, politely but firmly correcting the obligatory creationist that turned up. Like many others here, I slowly became disillusioned, and haven’t been back to Pharyngula in years.

  7. Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Got to admit, I rubbed my eyes when I saw the ‘Your math is fine, It’s your humanity that’s broken’ comment.

    Even creationists and climate change deniers won’t deny their opponents humanity while conceding they are right.

    • Posted March 10, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Does the name Christopher Monckton sound (somewhat) familiar to you? He does not _deny_ global warming/climate change, his point is to prove that the results IPCC statistics are manipulated by incorrect techniques.
      There is much more to be said of this scientific journalist but I suggest interested readers to watch eloquent videos on google.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Monckton is a hired British “royal” who will say anything anybody pays him to say. He has enough scientific knowledge to make himself dangerous. Decades ago he testified before congress to the effect that research linking cigarettes and cancer was inconclusive at best. Years ago he started working the climate denial circuit. In one hearing a democratic senator went through his biography which showed he was pretty much a nobody but he had claimed some connection to a British aristocratic family and called himself ‘Lord Monckton’. At one point the family had had enough an withdrew his licence to any title.
        There seems to be a certain prestige here in America for peerdom and upper class British accents (weather genuine or contrived), though I can’t see why, as our nation was founded on the rejection of automatic privilege and authority. The republicans love him though and undoubtedly underwrite his nefarious career.

      • ratabago
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I’m a big fan of Baron von Munchausen ^W^W^W Viscount Monckton. I’ve been laughing myself sick at his theatre of the absurd since I first became aware of it during the dying days of Maggie Thatcher’s administration.

        For those that have never come across the glorious snake oil salesman Baron von Munchausen ^W^W^W Viscount Monckton before:

        Monkton has claimed that he has a treatment, patent pending, that cures Graves’ Disease, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, the flu, and the common cold, later adding food poisoning and Herpes simplex to the list. As of 2013 it was constantly awaiting a patent, as he registered for a patent annually, but never paid the registration fee, so it was never examined, and always lapsed.

        But this is less than one percent of the laughter he has brought to the world. To get an idea of the incredible breadth and depth of the inventiveness and comedic talent of the man it is well worth a visit to Climate Asylum. Climate Asylum is a site run by conservative Republican geologist Barry Brickmore. It is a pity it hasn’t been updated in years, as it is one of the few sites run by a conservative Republican where the science always outweighs ideology. Climate Asylum’s Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.

        To get some appreciation of the gloriously shallow misunderstanding Baron von Munchausen ^W^W^W Viscount Monckton has of the underlying climate science here is a detailed exposition of 125 fundamental errors in Monckton’s July 2008 Physics and Society “article”. Said “article” actually being a letter to the journals unreviewed forum.

        For those of you who are wondering why I am poking fun at Christopher Monckton’s title, it is because he has often used it to claim membership to the UK House of Lords, and therefore the authority of such membership. This claim of membership is untrue.

        • ratabago
          Posted March 10, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

          Gah! My apologies to Barry Bickmore for misspelling his name.

  8. Wonderer
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “One is her debunking of the claim that human have often evolved to be promiscuous, and females to be more choosey, because of the potentially greater reproductive payoff for multiply-mating males than for multiply-mating females.”

    Jerry, I think you left out the word males following human.

    • Wonderer
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Sorry for the lack of quote marks.

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Yes, I fixed that typo. Thanks!

  9. JackbeThimble
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I honestly think the far left’s greatest fear is that 90% of their politics is based on observing differences in group outcomes, assuming that those differences can only be the result of oppression, and using that to justify redesigning society in their favor. If science is allowed to prove that some differences in outcome are caused by preexisting differences between groups then they lose their raison d’etre.

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Except that’s a mistake, as one shouldn’t care where the origins of differences are and help regardless, and to remember that all differences will be distributional anyway, and not to discriminate based on that.

      • Alpha Neil
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        How can you know how to help without knowing what is causing the disparity?

      • eric
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s legitimate to fear that such findings will be abused. After all, Binet developed the IQ test ostensibly to get disadvantaged people more education, not to measure any sort of inherent trait…but look how his factor got abused. Now conservatives do the exact opposite of it’s intended purpose with it – they use it to claim education won’t help.

        It’s practically guaranteed that, similarly, some folk will take a developmental difference and illegitimately turn it into an ‘ought’ rather than see it as a biological problem society should overcome. However, this shouldn’t stop us from reporting the truth. It just means that all that energy and ‘social capital’ being spent arguing against these results would be much much better spent on supporting the implementation of liberal, equality-supporting policies that address them.

        • Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          “Now conservatives do the exact opposite of it’s intended purpose with it – they use it to claim education won’t help.”

          I’m sorry but I’ve never heard this claim before.

      • BJ
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        I don’t really see it that way. Shouldn’t the strongest people be doing physical labor? Shouldn’t the smartest and most capable be doing the most complex jobs? Etc. etc.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I completely agree. It’s interesting that when the far right looks at the same outcomes they only see some people pulling on their bootstraps harder than others and oppression doesn’t factor into the equation. We’re in the midst of an ideological battle where both sides are more wrong than right. Humans have all this intellectual firepower and most of the time it’s used to deceive ourselves.

  10. Joseph Lapsley
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m reading right now. We’ll see. I often find Coyne valuable because of his staunch atheism, but also too wedded to ideas I believe to be wrong, on “race” for example. Fine has more evidence and is more persuasive than Coyne offers in his examples, at least so far in her book. I too,however,have questions about sex differences that her books doesn’t seem to have answers for, such as differences in gay male versus lesbian culture (often some big differences there), but we’ll see.

    • jwthomas
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Look near the upper right hand corner of the web page for a link labeled “research” for Jerry’s work email address.

  11. J. Quinton
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    “Humans in Western society are now socially monogamous, but in effect many are polygamous, committing adultery. Men have been shown, time after time, to be less discriminating and more promiscuous than females”

    The difference in sexual behavior is quite obvious when mate availability isn’t a factor. Consider gays and lesbians. I wonder what prediction Fine and her ideological kind would make about gay and lesbian sexual behavior?

    What you’d predict using evolutionary psychology is exactly what happens. What you’d predict using equalism is exactly what doesn’t happen.

    Indeed, a lot of the behavior that women deem as misogynist — like street harassment and preferring youth and beauty in mates — are things that gay men also do. Except to other men (gay men have rates of anorexia similar to straight women, whereas lesbians have higher rates of obesity than straight women).

    The sexual behavior of gays and lesbians doesn’t make sense in any framework as neatly as an evolutionary one; what patriarchy brainwashed gay men to be less discriminating in short term mates and prefer youth and beauty in men?

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      There’s another HUGE mistake in that quote: women have been shown, time after time, to be more likely to cheat.

      http://elitedaily.com/women/are-women-likely-to-cheat/1057815/

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        “There’s another HUGE mistake in that quote: women have been shown, time after time, to be more likely to cheat.”

        If that’s true it’s likely because women, even though they are less inclined to be promiscuous, are constantly bombarded by less discriminating males displaying their tail feathers at them.

        • BJ
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          Of course! It’s always somehow men’s/the patriarchy’s fault.

          • Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

            “Of course! It’s always somehow men’s/the patriarchy’s fault.”

            Why are some people always looking at things in terms of fault, and blame. Sorry but reality trumps your ideology.

            • BJ
              Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              Weren’t you the one putting fault on people? I was stating a fact. You were spouting ideology. Nice try.

              • John Evans
                Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                He provided an alternative possible cause for female infidelity (that women are presented with more explicit invitations to cheat) than the one you were apparently implying (that women are equally or more biologically programmed to be promiscuous, compared to men). Nowhere was it suggested that that was intended as an allocation of fault.

                Unless you weren’t trying to argue about biological predilection for promiscuity at all, and the only reason you asserted that women are “more likely to cheat” was to… allocate fault?

                You came into a discussion about whether social differences have biological causes (which therefore references social differences themselves merely as possible points of evidence, not behaviours to themselves be judged), and then you’re the one who brought up things being “men’s/the patriarchy’s fault”. Which ignores that the whole discussion up to that point had actually been critiquing the “it’s always the patriarchy’s fault” argument — biological essentialism is disliked by radical lefties precisely because it’s seen as *minimising* blame that they believe it’s necessary to face up to.

              • Posted March 10, 2017 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

                “He provided an alternative possible cause for female infidelity”

                Yes it never occurred to me that pointing out that women have more opportunities to cheat because of men’s less discriminating nature, was somehow assigning blame.

              • Cindy
                Posted March 11, 2017 at 7:12 am | Permalink

                It just occurred to me that prostitution would explain the 10 out of 100 women who are extra promiscuous.

                Well, that it is one explanation amongst others, not THE explanation. But definitely a factor.

              • BJ
                Posted March 10, 2017 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

                I didn’t imply anything. I stated a fact. He didn’t like it, so suggested that it must somehow be the fault of men. An alternative suggestion, yes, but alternative to what? I made no suggestions.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

                @Cindy
                “It just occurred to me that prostitution would explain the 10 out of 100 women who are extra promiscuous.”

                Yes, in our hypothetical example, that could well be so.

                But – since the definition of ‘promiscuity’ is up for grabs – is it really ‘promiscuous’ if it’s done for financial recompense in the course of work? 😉

                cr

  12. fizziks
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post, thanks!

    In addition to being rendered stupid and dishonest by ideology, these people are putting at risk all of the social progress that we have made in recent decades.

    I have said for a while now that staking the case against racism, sexism, etc., on the claim that all possible human groupings are equally distributed across all possible traits is a HUGE mistake. Because all possible human groupings are clearly not equally distributed across all possible traits, and this is not only true from a scientific standpoint but it is immediately obvious to anyone who interacts with the world. Men are on average taller than women, women on average seek monogamy more than men, East Africans are on average skinnier and better distance runners than West Africans, New Guineans have on average more bones in their noses than Koreans, etc.

    The case against racism, sexism, and all of the isms should be that all people should be treated fairly and treated well, period.

    • mikeyc
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      “New Guineans have on average more bones in their noses than Koreans…”

      Wait.

      What?

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        What is probably mean there is ‘through’ their noses .. as in:

        Nose bone

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know, but there are variations in humans about the #s of bones in the skull. The one I know about is frontal bone and occipital bone can be divided into separate parts. Never heard about the nose one. There are also differences in the presence vs absence of muscles in the lower arm and lower leg.

  13. heddle
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to email this to you, but I can’t find an email link. But I think my post will go into moderation. There is no need to publish this comment (you can if you like) but I am really just using this as a surrogate email client.

    I have done the best I can do to apologize for my posts aimed at you over the years. I have apologized on my blog. I will put the url below but this is not a bleg, it’s a genuine apology.

    http://helives.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-very-public-apology-to-jerry-coyne.html

    • Sastra
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      I have not always agreed with you, as you know, but over many years I have always respected your viewpoint, and admired your integrity.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 10, 2017 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      I’m with Sastra on this.

      I used to read your posts a few years ago. I think you were unfair to Jerry, and I certainly disagree with your presuppositionalism, but you struck me as a straight shooter. I admire your willingness to admit error and apologize.

  14. GM
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    When I got banned for good from Pharyngula, PZ was not only ideologically blinkered, but behaved in what can only be classified as extremely intellectually dishonest way. He deleted all the incontrovertible evidence that I posted showing how he and his sycophants were wrong while leaving the posts that it was refuting, making it look as if I had no adequate response.

    Fortunately I kind of expected the conversation to go that way so I have the whole thread saved as snapshots in time, which preserve the evidence for what he did. To be used as needed some day…

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      And this is a man *who teaches college students.* Oh dear, what a world we’ve created.

      Remember when he thought he was going to be among the new “Four Horsemen”? Hahahaha. He’s nothing but a hack who’s loathed by all his peers and laughed at by everyone but the .1% of ideologically driven people who know absolutely nothing about science, but like his conclusions.

  15. Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I think this is the most disturbing part (in comment 21):

    Somebody points that out and you alter the comment without attribution and question their humanity?

    So Myers didn’t just attack Charley’s humanity, he altered their comment without attribution?

    That’s really bad form. Criticise what somebody says but never alter a comment to make them look bad.

    That’s really shitty behaviour.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Could not agree more. That is about as bad as it gets. PZ has become a small little person, and I don’t mean physical size.

      • BJ
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        P.Z. has always been a petty wanna-be-intellectual. He desperately wants to be considered smart and peers with people like Dawkins, but he’s just a man who everyone who knows anything about science laughs at constantly.

        I imagine he lives a very sad and angry life.

        • darrelle
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          If that’s true he hid it well. I don’t think it is though. In the early days of his blog he was not as you noticeably as you describe. Perhaps after his readership numbers initially exploded it all went to his head.

          • BJ
            Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I never thought he hid it well at all. He was always trying to be a keynote speaker at conferences, etc. I noticed this years ago, long before the saga of his blog.

            • darrelle
              Posted March 10, 2017 at 7:30 am | Permalink

              No, in the early days of his blog he was not always trying to be a keynote speaker at conferences and other events. That didn’t happen, to whatever extent it did, until after he had achieved some notoriety. Sometime after he moved to ScienceBlogs, after he got noticed by people who were regularly invited to speak at events.

        • mikeyc
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          re: your penultimate sentence. I’m a scientist (biologist) and I disagree.

          I do think Dr. Myers has slipped a cog with his SJW nonsense and he can be a very nasty person to those he disagrees with, but when it comes to biology* he is a good writer, often has interesting scientific points to make about his topic and, when he sticks to his area of expertise -developmental biology, he is very good.

          I do think that, in addition to his inability to admit mistakes, when he is wrong about biology (as he is here) it is usually for ideological reasons. Those are serious character flaws. My opinion. YMMV

          *at the very least. He has also written some very nice pieces only tangentially related to biology (I remember his bit about the Tung boy fossil), from time to time, but usually this only happens when they have little or no social justice aspects to them.

        • nicky
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

          Curious you mention Dawkins. I came to read ‘Pharyngula’ on recommendation by Richard Dawkins himself. Over time, that site became more and more the realm of a horde of bullying sycophants. Haven’t visited it for a few years now. I must admit I miss the ‘Friday Cephalopod’.
          I think that site suffered -among other things- from the lack of a good & clear ‘Roolz’ policy.

          • BJ
            Posted March 9, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

            Well, boy do they hate Dawkins now. He didn’t go along with them when they introduced ideology.

    • mikeyc
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      How do you know he altered the comment?

    • chascpeterson
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      That was my comment. I inferred that Myers changed Charly’s comment because Charly denied including bold tags on his/her last sentence. Stuff doesn’t get bolded accidentally; somebody has to insert the html tags. If Charly didn’t, then my inference was that PZ did.

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        His usual form is to change comments he doesn’t like to comic sans.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        That isn’t as bad as I had envisioned from first reading your comment. Not nice perhaps, but not nearly as bad as making changes that change the literal meaning of the comment, which is what I had first envisioned.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Most species of birds that look socially monogamous, for instance, pairing up in the nest and cooperating in brood care, have been found by DNA analysis to be committing adultery all over the place, so that the appearance of pairing gives a false idea”

    That undercuts Woody Allen’s line in “Manhattan”:
    “I think that people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.”

    • darrelle
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Or does it?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      That undercuts Woody Allen’s line in “Manhattan”:

      [In the voice of Private Eye]
      “underscores”, shurely, Ed.

  17. skiptic
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I am still trying to get the facts behind the predictions regarding the potential consequences of anthropogenic global warming. The consensus in the scientific community doesn’t seem as united about the consequences as it is about the warming itself. Are not many of the often cited catastrophic predictions more in the category of “extraordinary claims” that are not supported by “extraordinary evidence”?
    Is there any such evidence?

    • BobTerrace
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Will these do from NASA?

      • jwthomas
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        I thought the Trumpistas had succeeded in deleting that page. Viva #The Resistance.

    • mikeyc
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Well, yes, there is certainly (and justifiably) considerable scientific debate about the varied effects of the current rapid warming on the environment, the world’s biota and human society in general. But the debate is mostly about magnitude of those effects, not their likelihood. There is no debate that there will be consequences and that we will have to deal with them.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      The consensus is around the reality of AGW. The consequences are difficult to predict since the response of the natural world, even to such a dramatic change, is so complex. Because we can’t say for sure exactly what will unfold over 100 or 200 years doesn’t mean we can reasonably adopt a position of indifference. The possibilities are so unpleasant and potentially tragic that waiting to see how things unfold on their own would be unconscionable.
      At the same time, some consequences are already appearing in our rear view mirror. So far they seem to be telling us what we predicted for short term effects is coming to pass and that the future will bring much more bad news.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Predicting the future is hard, leading to divergent predictions.
      Speaking as an oil geologist who has spent years using the rocks from the “Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum” to guide the production of more oil, we can describe quite well what happened the last time that multiple Pg of carbon were dumped into the atmosphere in a geological instant (actually, on the order of 5ka). Arctic Ocean temperatures up to 23° C in temperature ; a significant mass extinction (which is why there was a Palaeocene flora and fauna before and an Eocene flora and fauna afterwards.
      But we can’t be precise about those comparisons, because : the carbon dump has taken a century or so instead of a few millennia ; the present carbon dump is larger ; the Arctic is somewhat more open to global circulation these days ; the Himalayas are bigger, while the Alps are smaller (probably). Predicting the impacts of those changes – you’re into the “butterfly effect” there. But it’s safe to expect the Arctic and Antarctic to warm, and a lot of ice to melt. Whether that means that $AREA$ gets warmer, wetter, stormier, is hard to predict ; and how that is perceived is another question (warmer + stormier could feel cooler by wind-chill effects).

      • nicky
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

        However, we can be confident about a sea-level rise by thermal expansion and melting of land-ice. Of course, the amount of rise is disputable. (Have sea levels really already risen by 17 cm compared to 1880?)
        However, since so much of humanity lives and human activity takes place in low lying areas, one would think the cautious approach would be indicated.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:11 am | Permalink

          Well, you do have a point that the only thing the rocks can tell us generally is the relative position of the sediment surface and sea level. To try to get a wider view, you need to string together information from wider areas, linked by horizons which we think were deposited at the same time. Classically, this would be a wide-spread ash deposit from a volcano, such as the Minoan Tuff on Santorini and the associated tsunami deposits on Crete ; in modern practice, since microfossils are much more available, typical horizons for correlation on would be FDO (First Downhole Occurrence) or acme (greatest abundance) of Verylongname complicatus var.wigglyshell. The term we use when drawing multiple-zone correlation diagrams is to “hang off” a time-horizon identifiable in each well/ field/ district, because you flatten the well or other data to have the time line at one level, and scale the rest of your data set to bring everything onto this level. Then you can often see transgressions (sea-level coming onto land at different times in different places) or regressions (the reverse) marching across the landscape. But it is a lot of work – even with modern database managing software. I never really had time to do it in any quantitative sense while also collecting the raw data at the website.

          (Have sea levels really already risen by 17 cm compared to 1880?)

          That depends where you are. In NW Scotland, Laurentia (NE Canada down to about Long Island), and Baltica, the sea level rise over the last century is negative, as the isostatic rebound from deglaciation is winning over any global effects. OTOH, if you go to SE England, the same isostatic rebound is withdrawing volume from in the mantle (well, asthenosphere) leading to local sinking of the land above and beyond any global effects. It’s inconvenient that the UK’s official tidal record (and hence, sea level measurements) are “hung off” the tide gauge at Newlyn (for perfectly good historical reasons – it’s a deep harbour near a large naval base), and Newlyn is somewhat south of the tilt axis of the country. I don’t know the precise situation in other countries, but I would expect there are comparable problems of linking together differing data from differing regions all over the world.
          What does “sea level” mean? Since the strength of gravity varies noticeably with the underlying geology (high-density rocks versus low density rocks), the distance of the sea surface from the centre of the Earth itself varies by at least several metres over the surface of the Earth, after correcting for the state of the tide.
          These complications increase the importance of the 1992 TOPEX/ Poseidon satellite measurements, covering the whole globe in a short period of time, continued by Jason-1 then Ocean Surface Topography Mission then Jason-2 and now Grace missions, all of which have increased both the quantity of data collection, and the consistency of the measurements. So for the last 25 years, we have relatively good, consistent data. Before that, the data is much poorer – though it does show similar trends as far back as instrumental records go. Obviously, since such data is inconvenient, we can expect to see Trump and his managers shut down the data collection as soon as they notice it.

  18. Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Why Darwin Matters.

  19. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    That… was simply beautiful.
    I had read PZ’s post and was wondering how it might turn out. To me, the essence of male/female psychological differences are: yes there are behavioral differences but with overlap due to variations. Further, we can accept any differences between the sexes as we accept differences between any two people. We are resolved, as a better and more just society, to value everyone for what contributions they may provide regardless of their gender, orientation, etc. etc. & … etc.

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      The best part is that multiple studies and polls have shown that women are significantly more likely to cheat than men.

      But men = bad, so that just can’t be so.

      • nicky
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        I gathered that males cheat more, but that women are less honest, more deceitful, about their cheating.

      • BDBDBDBD
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        I’m interested in that data since the self-reported (with all the problems those have) polls show that men cheat more than women. Care to share them?

    • Jim Smith
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      These psychological differences are on a bell curve for both sexes. With overlap. But the radfem nuts then try to call it an unbroken spectrum.

      PZ himself showed two bell curves a few years ago with not two sexes but two different species. Homo sapien sapiens and neanderthalis. And he said emphatically that those two overlapping bell curves proved that they were two different species. No spectrum about it.

  20. darrelle
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I left Pharyngula a long time ago. More because the commetariat had gone down hill rather than PZ. At the time I left PZ himself hadn’t obviously gone nuts with the ideology trumps facts and SJWism, though a significant and noisy percentage of the commentors had. I knew he had gone downhill, but damn. This is an eye opener for me.

    One thing I always had noticed about PZ though, even from the earliest days, is that I never, not once, witnessed him admit that he was wrong about anything. And he quite often became a dick about it when someone pointed out he was wrong about something, even in the early days. Though that is very common human behavior I always thought that was a notable failing in him.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      One thing I always had noticed about PZ though, even from the earliest days, is that I never, not once, witnessed him admit that he was wrong about anything. And he quite often became a dick about it when someone pointed out he was wrong about something, even in the early days. Though that is very common human behavior I always thought that was a notable failing in him.

      I bet he will be thrilled that he has this train in common with Trump.

      • BobTerrace
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        train -> trait

  21. chascpeterson
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Agreed; a real nadir for Dr. Myers.

    If I may, a question about the current post:

    by “alpha” males who got more than their share of offspring: what John Maynard Smith called “sneaky fuckers”.

    I thought that, in the current parlance of behavioral ecology, alpha males and sneaky fuckers were defined by their different reproductive strategies: alpha males are those that win at the prevailing armaments-or-ornaments games among rival males, while ‘sneaky fuckers’ were those that instead achieve some success via alternative atrategies such as masquerading as females or the old hide-and-rush. I’m not sure that either term applies to the example given of extra-pair copulation in socially monogamous birds.
    Perhaps someone more up to date on the relevant literature could set me straight.

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right, of course; I’ll fix the post. Thanks.

      • Christopher Moss
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:53 am | Permalink

        “Yes, you’re right, of course; I’ll fix the post. Thanks.”

        And that’s what PZ should have said to Charly!

  22. Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    For me, the salient feature of much of the “100% of any variance in behavior between the sexes is due to socialization” crowd is their self-serving inconsistency. You will not hear a lot of concern from them about the greater rates of autism, learning disabilities, homelessness, lower overall life expectancy, or suicide in men compared to women, nor the decreasing numbers of men in higher education.

    However, on their reckoning these negative effects must also be due entirely to negative socialization of men based upon their gender, aka sexism. These differences are deviations from the “50/50” ratio of male/female representation that should be observed in any large enough group that is free from sexism, and therefore would be 1) prima facie evidence of sexism and 2) are problems to be solved.

    It’s as if the “100% socialization” viewpoint is used selectively to focus attention on and to fix social inequities that appear to favor men over women. But when women seem to be doing better in certain areas, often by great margins, these people see no problem to be solved and nothing to be concerned about.

    Therefore, modern feminism (or significant strains of it) more resembles a lobbying group that uses any means necessary to advance the interests of women, rather than a rational, evidenced-based set of humanistic and ethical principles used to guide behavior.

    • Cindy
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      But when women seem to be doing better in certain areas, often by great margins, these people see no problem to be solved and nothing to be concerned about.

      In which case women are still oppressed due to *benevolent sexism*

      It’s as if no one in the whole entire world has any agency except for cishet white males.

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        “It’s as if no one in the whole entire world has any agency except for cishet white males.”

        Excellent point. No possible set of facts seem to be able to falsify certain feminist views.

      • BJ
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        That’s exactly right! And why, if I have such power, do I choose to live my life this way? I can have *anything!!!*

        Oh, right. I forgot, it’s my duty to hide the patriarchy conspiracy.

        • Richard
          Posted March 10, 2017 at 2:17 am | Permalink

          Sshh! The first rule of the patriarchy conspiracy is that you don’t talk about the patriarchy conspiracy!

    • John Evans
      Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      If they never talk about men’s issues, how can you be so sure that they are hypocritically hesitant to ascribe them to socialisation? You can’t have it both ways…

      I’ve actually seen a lot of discussion lately about how “feminism is good for men too”, how rigid gender roles are harmful to men who don’t fit into them just as much as they are for women and trans folk. How the push to be emotionally-reserved and self-sufficient is a direct contributor to mental illness, unhappiness, low self-esteem, stress, suicide & homelessness (because what are you going to do, cry for help like a little baby?), and how toxic ideals of masculinity in young poor men prime them to reject options which could better their opportunities.

      Say what you like about that argument, I don’t think your accusation of hypocrisy stands up. Plenty of feminists (male and female) believe that their ideology is relevant to problems faced by vulnerable men as well.

      • Posted March 13, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        “If they never talk about men’s issues, how can you be so sure that they are hypocritically hesitant to ascribe them to socialization.”

        The silence is rather deafening, isn’t it? If you spend a lot of your professional time going around collecting incidences of underrepresented women, and immediately ascribing those to sexism, but then completely ignoring incidences that favor women that occur right under your nose, then the charge of hypocrisy is not unreasonable.

        The feminists I am criticizing tend to believe that a gender bias in a population is evidence of sexism, full stop. The lack of 50/50 ratio is all the evidence you need. So if 70% percent of partners in Big Law are male, Big Law must be sexist. But if 70% of college students are female, then where is the automatic conclusion that this is due to sexism favoring women, which must be the case if one ascribes to the 100% socialization theory? A few commentators have raised this issue, but almost all of them have received heavy criticism from the feminist establishment as a consequence. They are usually written off as token feminists or crypto-misogynist conservative shills.

        More commonly from mainstream feminism, there is at best indifference, and at worst, gloating. And with regard to this “I laugh at male tears” behavior, you may actually be correct about some feminists not really being hypocritical, as this indifference/haughtiness is entirely consistent with a belief that women are inherently superior. Coupled with the idea that society is set up to favor men in all circumstances, that could allow one to conclude that Big Law must be sexist, while higher education must have been more successful in combatting sexism, and is now simply reflecting the natural superiority of women. In fact, under this view higher education may still be materially sexist against women despite their dominance, as the natural ratio (the ratio of women to men in the absence of sexism) may actually be closer to 80/20, given the innate dullness of males.

        What I am essentially saying is that outright sexism is automatically assumed when the bias favors men, but rarely admitted when the bias favors women. Or, if the bias favors women, the explanation becomes more nuanced in a way that somehow flips the situation into yet another example of sexism against women (e.g. women get better grades because they have to work harder to overcome a perception bias against them), or even blames the men themselves (more men are homeless because men are generally more stupid and less resourceful than women).

        The practical effect of this is to try to label every bias that favors males as a problem to fixed, and to walk past any bias that favors women and quietly accept it as a part of the status quo. Taken to its logical conclusion, men will never have more than 50% representation in any population, and women will have the potential to enjoy majority representation free of any concerns about sexism.

        Now, it may very well be there are some innate differences that translate into more men being homeless or suicidal, or having greater incidences of learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Perhaps men are the weaker sex in many areas, and therefore we could never expect the golden 50/50 ratio in certain domains. But we only seem comfortable discussing the possibility of innate differences when in the context of those differences favoring women. I can’t see a professor being railroaded off campus if they suggested that men don’t live as long as women because women are inherently more robust, and therefore much of the difference in life expectancy b/t men and women is not due to maltreatment of men. But if that same professor suggested that the reason there are more men at the elite levels of the STEM subjects is because of a different distribution of innate ability between the genders, they would probably lose their job just for raising the hypothesis.

  23. Posted March 9, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I find it fascinating that Myers’s ideology leads him firstly to deny differences in mating strategy between men and women, then to the notion that human beings are naturally monogamous.

    It’s like he’s been reading the bible or something.

  24. DrBrydon
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Not surprising. As far as I can tell, the entire post-modern project has been about side-stepping unpleasant facts.

  25. peepuk
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    One could describe PZ-Meyers and Pine reasoning as Neo-Lysenkoism; to put ideology before truth.

  26. John Nunes
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Here’s one of the worst examples of ideology trumping science I’ve ever seen and a through deconstruction of it:

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2005/09/know-thy-enemy-newtons-rape-manual.php

  27. Mark R.
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this well-reasoned post. Great comments as well.

  28. kelskye
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps part of the issue is that people simply haven’t grasped the IS-OUGHT gap, or that the IS-OUGHT gap is ignored on other issues (the “born this way” argument on homosexuality, for example) so it’s hard to make the distinction of when a fact carries a normative value.

    Or it could simply be a quirk of our language. We don’t distinguish between facts and values in our language, so we implicitly take on one when we take on the other. Describing someone as eccentric or weird have a similar descriptive value, for example, but have very different normative connotations.

    The point being that since our language on the gender debates is inherently tied to normative standards, we shouldn’t be so harsh on those who reject the descriptive component when it comes with an abhorrent normative component.

  29. Chadwick Jones
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I stopped reading PZ’s blog years ago because of stuff like this…

  30. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    “If I was the late Andy Rooney …”

    Et tu, boss, abandoning the subjunctive mood?

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Oy, that’s just a bad sentence. If I were the late Andy Rooney, I wouldn’t be able to say anything, because I’d be dead!

    • compuholio
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      Could you elaborate for a non-native speaker? I’d like to improve my writing style.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        It should be “If I were…” since it’s conditional.

        One of those very obscure grammatical rules (I know the usage but I don’t even know the correct grammatical terms for it).

        See Wikipedia ‘English subjunctive’ for more. But frankly, probably most English speakers wouldn’t notice it. In terms of improving your writing style most other things are more significant.

        cr

  31. Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    There’s no need to assume that a biological “is” translates into a societal “ought”.

    Indeed. And not just because fairness demands it. But because “is” statements about groups are at best descriptions of averages, which don’t apply to every member of the group.

    Even as uncontroversial a statement as “Africans reflect less light than Scandinavians” isn’t true in every case. There are, after all, albino Africans.

    Exactly why anyone even cares about group characteristics is mystifying. After all, we don’t befriend, marry, or hire groups – we do those things with individual people.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      “Africans reflect less light than Scandinavians”

      That seems a very odd way to put it. I would have thought the obvious way was “Africans are darker than Scandinavians”. Or is ‘darker’ one of those terms that might make the politically sensitive feel ‘unsafe’?

      (Not gettin’ at you, OldMugwump…)

      cr

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        Lower albedo. 🙂

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          Higher libido — oops, let’s not open that politically incorrect can of worms. 🙂

          • Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

            And now you know why I said “reflect less light “.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

              Point made.

              🙂

              cr

  32. BJ
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Another mistake with all the quotes from the article: women are significantly more likely to cheat on their partners than men.

    But since men = bad and women = good, this can’t be, so we’ll just pretend the opposite is true at P.Z. Academy (ha, like he’d ever have anything more than a teaching job at some no-name school).

    • mikeyc
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      “…women are significantly more likely to cheat on their partners than men.”

      Evidence for this assertion? I don’t disbelieve you but if you’re going to call them out on a factoid with your own, you should back it up.

      • BJ
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Well, here’s the first link i found. can get the actual studies if you need them.

        http://elitedaily.com/women/are-women-likely-to-cheat/1057815/

        • Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

          Thank you!

          • BJ
            Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

            No problem 🙂

        • nicky
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          However, we can be confident about a sea-level rise by thermal expansion and melting of land-ice. Of course, the amount of rise is disputable. (Have sea levels really already risen by 17 cm compared to 1880?)
          However, since so much of humanity lives and human activity takes place in low lying areas, one would think the cautious approach would be indicated.

          • nicky
            Posted March 9, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

            This comment belongs to no 17 above, in response to gravel-aidan. I do not know how to remove it frm here.

        • nicky
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

          I do not see any evidence there that women are more likely to cheat then men.
          And I do not believe it either.
          Why is there a whole prostitution industry catering for men, but very little for women?

          • BJ
            Posted March 9, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

            Because women can get sex a whole lot easier than men.

        • Posted March 10, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          I am perplexed; there is written:

          “Through the study, he found 6.4 percent of women, compared to 9.8 percent of men that year, had two or more sexual partners.”

          Another source linked in the article, “Infidelity lurks in your genes”, claims:

          “Over the past two decades, the rate of infidelity has been pretty constant at around 21 percent for married men, and between 10 to 15 percent for married women, according to the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago’s independent research organization, NORC.”

  33. Craw
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post.

  34. Richard Sanderson
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    It is hard to believe there are creepers who still post at Pharyngula.

    The quicker the atheist/skeptic/humanist movement can completely disassociate from dregs like CJ Werleman, Dan Arel, and PZ Myers, the better.

  35. GM
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    It looks to me that we should seriously begin to talk about the OUGHT-IS fallacy just as much as we talk about the IS-OUGHT fallacy. The former has been so severely neglected that people don’t even think it exists. But it puts the problems in such simple terms that it clarifies a lot of the issues in these discussions.

    When, for example, I have been explaining here (and elsewhere) how being transgender or intersex is a disorder, because it severely hurts reproductive fitness, a predictable response is to accuse me of being a transphobe.

    However, I have only stated what IS, I have not said anything about the OUGHT part (for the record, I don’t think trans people should be discriminated in any way, which, of course, does not mean that they get to impose arbitrary nonsense such as pronouns on the rest of us).

    Yet people are very quick to commit the reverse fallacy — going from the OUGHT (trans people OUGHT not to be discriminated) to the IS (trans people are perfectly normal as the rest of us).

    That is just as much a problem for society as the IS-OUGHT fallacy, if not more so. It is a lot less of a problem for whatever protected group we are discussing, but for society as whole, the disconnect from reality that this type of thinking establishes is arguably more dangerous.

    This is in fact exactly the same thing creationists do. Their motivation is essentially the argument of consequences — if evolution is true, belief in God is undermined and the moral foundations of society crumble, therefore evolution has to be false; the factual correctness of the theory has always been a secondary concern for them, the moral implications are what they have a real issue with.

    It’s also what motivates climate change denialism (and the more general denial of the reality of the broader sustainability crisis) — if we really have a big sustainability problem, it means that free market capitalism has to end if we are to save ourselves from a catastrophe. But that is ideologically unacceptable, therefore the scientists have to be wrong.

    The SJWs operate on precisely the same principle.

    • Posted March 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Countries that have tried socialism have found that it is more damaging the environment than capitalism.

  36. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    “if we really have a big sustainability problem, it means that free market capitalism has to end if we are to save ourselves from a catastrophe.”

    That seems to be blindingly obvious to me, not just about free-market capitalism but about all economies.

    It seems to me that economies of any sort only work while they are ‘growing’, otherwise they slump into depression. Yet, even more obviously, ‘growth’ cannot continue indefinitely.

    But the economists seem to have no more control over economics than meteorologists do over the weather.

    I don’t know the answer to this. More emphasis on ‘sustainability’ would certainly help, but vested interests are usually opposed to such.

    cr

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      That was in reply to GM, of course.

      cr

    • GM
      Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, of course, it should be blindingly obvious, laws of thermodynamics and of conservation of energy and matter being what they are, but somehow it isn’t.

      Which is precisely why getting in the habit of expecting the world to conform to your wishful thinking is so disastrous.

      And why SJWs are just as, if not more dangerous than creationists — they promote that kind of thinking even more than them

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      “if we really have a big sustainability problem, it means that free market capitalism has to end if we are to save ourselves from a catastrophe.”

      The conclusion may seem “blindingly obvious” to you, but I think you’re reading your own IS-OUGHT fallacy into it. I don’t see what sustainability has to do with markets or capitalism.

      If we have a really big sustainability problem, then industrial civilization has to end. Or at least undergo a radical transformation.

      This is equally true if the economic system is communist, fascist, or Venusian. I don’t get the connection to markets or capitalism. (The Soviet Union was hardly a paragon of environmentalism.)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

        I said it applied to all economies…

        cr

      • GM
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        One can in theory have a sustainable industrial civilization, it will have to be of small size and running a steady state economy though.

        The problem with a free market economy is that there is nothing to stop expansion of the environmental footprint, which isn’t really driven by the free market economy itself, but by the internal innate human drive to hog material resources and maximize material consumption relative to others (the evolutionary factors behind the evolution of such behavior should be obvious).

        A system is therefore needed that puts some brakes on that, and free market capitalism isn’t it. This the problem with free market capitalism.

        The reverse however is not true — it in no way follows that other types of economies are automatically sustainable, and indeed, usually they’re not (the Soviet Union was just as much driven by the growth obsession/madness and just as blind to the consequences as its western competitors, the only difference were the methods used to achieve it). Again, because of innate behavioral characteristics.

        • Posted March 10, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          Or as Yale economist Nordhaus puts it, market economies have trouble with externalities.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          That’s exactly how I would have put it.

          cr

  37. Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    The fact that males can potentially have many more offspring than females should not be controversial. Likewise, in this statement:

    Men have been shown, time after time, to be less discriminating and more promiscuous than females.

    I get the “less discriminating” part, and I just as well get the “greater variance” part stated elsewhere. What I don’t get is how men can, on average, be more promiscuous than women. Wanting to be more promiscuous, yes, but to actually succeed in being promiscuous they’d need a partner, and that should automatically raise the arithmetic mean of women’s promiscuity to the exact same degree, at least if we limit our considerations to heterosexuality.

    What am I missing? Anybody help me out?

    BTW, one suggestion that has been made for higher averages for men is that men exaggerate their exploits in surveys; another is that women are socially conditioned to feel ashamed for having lots of partners, and thus under-report their exploits in surveys. The point is, it would have to add up on both sides of the ledger, right?

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      The same applies, of course, to BJ’s repeated, inverse claim that women cheat more than men. I fail to see how that is mathematically possible unless the difference is all lesbian encounters.

      • Adam M.
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Well, it’s not reciprocal cheating if one of the people is single. 🙂

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        Consider this; one person in 100 mates with, say, ten others out of a possible 100 others, but those ten others only mate with that one person.

        Insert gender where you see fit, but you should be able to see that the one is more promiscuous and less discriminating than the ten.

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      “The point is, it would have to add up on both sides of the ledger, right?”

      That’s not really how you need to consider it. If for example you have 100 men and 100 women, and each man has sex with the same 10 women. You’d end up with 10 with 10 partners each, and 10 women with 100, but 90 with none. While those numbers average out on both sides to 10 partners you would still say the average woman was less promiscuous. I hope you get my point if it’s not clear.

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        In other words both men and women in total are having the same number of interactions, fewer women are having multiple interactions.

        • Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          “Hello, darlin’, fancy comin’ back to my place for a bit of interaction?” Interaction is the new coffee.

          • Cindy
            Posted March 9, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

            Just don’t ask in an elevator.

            • BJ
              Posted March 9, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

              Hahahaha. Asking if you would like to have coffee is sexual harassment! And, damn it, I’m going to try and build a whole career on it.

            • Posted March 10, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

              A practical answer and a better place than in an elevator:

              Julian was pouring wine for the girl he had met on the promenade an hour earlier.
              – Say when – he smiled.
              She replied sulkily:
              – To-night at 10, room 223.
              .-

            • Dan
              Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

              *triggered*

          • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

            ““Hello, darlin’, fancy comin’ back to my place for a bit of interaction?” Interaction is the new coffee.”

            Is that a Clockwork Orange reference, sound like it. :p

            • Posted March 10, 2017 at 5:36 am | Permalink

              No, it’s not a Clockwork Orange reference, Mike. I’ve never actually seen or read it, it occurs to me. It’s more like a typical 60s Cockney sparrer wide-boy’s attitude to women encapsulated in this dialogue from some cool 60s film.

              Young woman: Do you think a girl should go to bed with a boy even if he doesn’t love her?

              Young man: No…unless it’s me.

            • BJ
              Posted March 10, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

              Or it could be a reference to Rebecca Watson attempting to make an entire career out of ruining conferences and a community because someone asked her if she’d like to have coffee, and that was so totally sexual harassment and stuff like, right, guys? Let’s starts Atheism Plus! Aaaaand it’s already over. Oh well. I guess when your “intellectual firepower” is Richard Carrier, P.Z. Meyers. and nobody else, you won’t stand much of a chance.

              Sorry, I just love making fun of that crowd. They thought they were starting a movement that would change the face of atheism; like every other SJW movement, it devolved into infighting, purity tests, and eventual crumbling of the foundation.

        • nicky
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Mike, you are correct.
          The most typical example would be prostitution. A rather small number of females having a very high number of male ‘partners’.

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        You are saying fewer women than men are promiscuous, but those who are are very promiscuous.

        • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          “You are saying fewer women than men are promiscuous, but those who are are very promiscuous.”

          I’m not saying anything, I was just answering the question asked. :p

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

        I think that’d have to be the ‘median’ woman or the ‘typical’ woman or even ‘most women’ that are (in your example) less promiscuous, but not the average.

        (This is of course what happens when you try to average a discontinuous and erratic distribution. For an extreme example take my proof that I am above average – I have two eyes, two arms and two legs. Due to the existence of unfortunate individuals with only one, the average for humans must be less than 2.0, hence my statistical superiority).

        cr

    • Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Mike Paps,

      Unfortunately, no, if the average is the same on both sides then I would not say that the average woman was less promiscuous, that is precisely the point. (Apart from that I do not think that your model is a realistic description of human behaviour.)

      mikeyc,

      Consider how the men who do not have sex in your model contribute to that average. For every “but those ten others only mate with that one person” you must have (perhaps involuntarily) non-promiscuous men on the other side, meaning the average is again the same.

      “Less discriminating” is about what one wants, not about how many partners one actually manages to have.

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        You make a good point. Assuming only heterosexual pairings and perfectly balanced groups, you can prove that the average number of partners from group 1 (females) equals the average number of partners from group 2 (males). Consider this: draw a node for each individual, females on the left, males on the right. Then connect a pair of nodes with a line to denote a sexual encounter. Since we assume only heterosexual pairings, every line begins on the left and ends on the right. So the number of lines jutting out of lefthand nodes equals the number of lines jutting out of the righthand nodes. The average number of partners is just this count divided by the group total. Since we assume the group totals are equal, the average number of partners must be equal as well. Notice that this proof holds regardless of how we connect nodes on the left with nodes on the right.

        However, note that this proof does *not* hold in general if we only consider the average over those nodes (people) who actually acquire mates. For an easy example, suppose we have 3 female nodes and 3 male nodes. 2 females mate with all 3 males, and the third female mates with none. Averaging over those mated nodes only, the female average is 3 partners and the male average is 2 partners. For the same reason, the proof in the above paragraph doesn’t hold if we do not assume balanced groups.

        I don’t know what the technical definition of “promiscuity” actually is, as it relates to population dynamics. I have used the naive version of the word above.

        You make an excellent point too that measurement error often enters into any measurement on sexuality among humans. I am not familiar with the literature on this particular topic, but I am well acquainted with the measurement error induced by exaggerated self-reporting in sample surveys, an effect that remains present even in anonymous surveys. Correcting for such bias is difficult, and sometimes impossible.

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

        You make a good point. Assuming only heterosexual pairings and perfectly balanced groups, you can prove that the average number of partners from group 1 (females) equals the average number of partners from group 2 (males). Consider this: draw a node for each individual, females on the left, males on the right. Then connect each pair of nodes with a line to denote a sexual encounter. Since we assume only heterosexual pairings, every line begins on the left and ends on the right. So the number of lines jutting out of lefthand nodes equals the number of lines jutting out of the righthand nodes. The average number of partners is just this count divided by the group total. Since we assume the group totals are equal, the average number of partners must be equal as well. Notice that this proof holds regardless of how we connect nodes on the left with nodes on the right.

        However, note that this proof does *not* hold in general if we only consider the average over those nodes (people) who actually acquire mates. For an easy example, suppose we have 3 female nodes and 3 male nodes. 2 females mate with all 3 males, and the third female mates with none. Averaging over those mated nodes only, the female average is 3 partners and the male average is 2 partners. For the same reason, the proof in the above paragraph doesn’t hold if we do not assume balanced groups.

        I don’t know what the technical definition of “promiscuity” actually is, as it relates to population dynamics. I have used the naive version of the word above.

        You make an excellent point too that measurement error often enters into any measurement of promiscuity among humans. I am not familiar with the literature on this particular topic, but I am well acquainted with the measurement error induced by exaggerated self-reporting in sample surveys, an effect that remains present even in anonymous surveys. Correcting for such bias is difficult, and sometimes impossible.

        • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          Apologies for the double post! My mistake.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

        Well, given that theoretical imbalance, (which was in fact the explanation I first thought of), which side is most ‘promiscuous’ is really a matter of taste and definition. Strictly ‘on average’ it should even out as you say.

        Speaking as a man, thank heavens for promiscuous women, I say. (Or at least, fervently did when young, single and hard up).

        cr

      • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        “Unfortunately, no, if the average is the same on both sides then I would not say that the average woman was less promiscuous, that is precisely the point. (Apart from that I do not think that your model is a realistic description of human behaviour.)”

        If only 10 of the 100 women are engaging in intercourse with multiple partners, while 100 of 100 men are, 91% of the most promiscuous of the 200 are men. You then wouldn’t therefor say men are more promiscuous? How do you defend that opinion, it seems ridiculous on it’s face, no offense meant. And I agree it’s not a very realistic model, I exaggerated for clarities sake, my point remains the same.

        • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

          I wanted to add that I’m not saying any of this is the case I’m just answering your question about how one side of the equation could be more promiscuous even though each interaction require a person to interact with.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

          “You then wouldn’t therefor say men are more promiscuous?”

          Errm, not necessarily, since the 9% of women that are promiscuous are spectacularly more so than the men. Looks like the women are pros, the men are just amateurs. Therefore, to find someone *really* promiscuous, you need to find a woman.

          Depends on whether you count quality or quantity (I’ll happily avoid defining which attribute I call ‘quality’ 😉

          cr

          • Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

            “Therefore, to find someone *really* promiscuous, you need to find a woman.”

            Yes in my exaggerated example women are the most promiscuous, (but not moreso overall) and if your standard for promiscuity requires 100 sexual partners they are the only ones who are promiscuous. :p

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted March 10, 2017 at 12:15 am | Permalink

              Depends whether you award points for promiscuity exponentially or logarithmically 😉

              cr

      • rich lawler
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        There is an excellent and brief two-page paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution by Hanna Kokko and Michael Jennions (“It take two to Tango”) that addresses this very problem. In their words, “Popular surveys uncritically report that men have more sexual partners of the opposite sex than do women. These only show that humans can deny logic, not that they can defy it.” But averages aren’t what matters in sexual selection theory, it is the variance in male mating success and its concomitant effect in creating sexual dimorphism. (Also note that in the sexual selection literature, sometimes “mating success” is used as a stand-in for “conception success”).

        Fine’s argument (that PZ Myers discusses in his post) appears to be based on the work of Dorothy Einon (“How many children can one have? Hum. Evol. Behav. 19: 413-426), who wrote an interesting paper on the seemingly low fertility of human females. Her study suggests that while men can have more offspring than women, the extreme differences between the sexes in reproductive success are likely to be exaggerated. She uses Ismail, a Moroccan emperor purported to have sired 888 children, as a case study…a topic discussed on this blog at one point.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 10, 2017 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      Wow, Alex, you may have started the next Monty Hall problem. 🙂

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 10, 2017 at 1:51 am | Permalink

        Ohmigods.

        I now have an intuitively satisfactory explanation of why switching is better, but it took me ages to work it out.

        cr

  38. Milton Zmijewski
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Human race should named Homo delusionus.

  39. Matthew North
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I use to, daily, click on Pharyngula, (Myers blog), but after so many times at being disappointed and even disgusted by his self righteous, regressive-left mindset, I can no longer stomach going there. I’m an admirer of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Peter Boghossian, Christopher Hitchens, and pretty much everyone Myers despises in the atheist / liberal scientific world who doesn’t tow his brand of left politics. I only occasionally visit Freethought Blogs now.

  40. Matthew North
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    PS.

    Now if you will excuse me, I have to go light some candles at my Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, four horsemen shrine.

  41. Dan
    Posted March 9, 2017 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    If you are still surprised by PZ’s behavior, then you’re not paying attention. He was already like this back in the early days of Pharyngula. When this small town professor suddenly became a top science blogger, he became as much a troll as the creationists he used to debate in IIDB and Usenet.

    I have known of him far too long to be surprised by this.

  42. Posted March 9, 2017 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Great post Gerry, especially needed in the times of Trump’s theft of the truth from the world.

  43. BDBDBDBD
    Posted March 10, 2017 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    “Humans in Western society are now socially monogamous, but in effect many are polygamous, committing adultery. Men have been shown, time after time, to be less discriminating and more promiscuous than females. And many of those women who were pregnant were not pregnant by their social mate”

    I got a bit confused by your use of tense there so I wasn’t sure about what time period you’re referencing. In contemporary meta-analyses, it seems to me that non-paternity rates are extremely small, maybe 1% at best in most samples.

    • Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:55 am | Permalink

      We’re talking about our distant evolution, when behavioral differences and morphological differences evolved, not now.

  44. Neil Faulkner
    Posted March 10, 2017 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    An excellent post, and a welcome and necessary retort to Myers. The one point on which I would dare to disagree with PCC is on his reference in the last paragraph to “a few misguided individuals”. Unfortunately there are more than a few. There are lots of them. And they don’t so much mistake an ‘is’ for an ‘ought’ as seize on any ‘is’ they can conscript into promulgating their own self-serving agenda.

  45. HaggisForBrains
    Posted March 10, 2017 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    I glanced at the headline to this post, and thought, “Oh no, what’s the President done now”.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 10, 2017 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Hahahah. The word “trump” jumped out at me as well and my brain kept trying to make the headline parse as having to do with Trump. Took about 5 tries to read it correctly.

  46. Posted March 10, 2017 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Excellent post.

    The more I see this problem of ideology over truth, the more it occurs to me that it cannot be resolved with reason and rationality alone. What have those in common who are affected by it, compared to those who don’t? It seems to have something to do with personality traits. Here are three, I found useful:

    Fox vs Hedgehog
    The ancient greek Archilochus wrote the “fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. Isaiah Berlin revived the metaphor, and Phil Tetlock found it useful, too (see YouTube). For most of the time, the hedgehog was seen as preferable, but Tetlock makes a good case that in forecasting and punditry, foxes may be better. Perhaps, there’s more to it. Ideologies and views are often like a special area of expertise, which give the indiviual both confidence, as well as social status among likeminded individuals. Things like feminism or “gender” can become lenses through which everything is analysed. The hedgehog cannot help but apply his one trick, and his survival relies on it,but a fox can approach things form many sides. Pundits or bloggers have audiences, and if they are not careful, their hedgehog one-sidedness gets more entrenched by an audience, until it becomes peer pressure to comform. It’s interesting that P.Z. Myers gets flak from his commenters (I suspect it’s not out of principle, but because he was too rude in this special case).

    Feeler vs Thinker
    This one has occasionally a bit of a pseudoscience taste to it, though I still found it useful in a descriptive sense. It says that some people are more concerned with the implications, associations or judgement of a message, whereas other people are more concerned with the factual part of it (it has nothing to do with intelligence or empathy). For example, some people already dislike that a condition is described as “not normal”, leading to euphemisms like “neuro-diversity”. They “hear” ostracism, shunning, or maybe even eugenics. To other it’s about distribution in the population, and whether the condition harms or hinders the individual, with no implied judgement what do with such people. My take to this is that some people seem to place greater emphasis on different sides, layers or functions as described in communication models (consider Organon Model, or Four-Sides Model etc). Especially, the factual vs the conative function seem to be important.

    Soldier vs Scout
    Julia Galef proposed this classification which touches on similar themes. The soldier is in the heat of battle and must defend his hill. He’s tribalistic and his identity is intertwined with his surroundings. The scout, by contrast, moves about driven by curiousity. She wants to know what the situation is, and think later what to do about it (the “ought” part). You can find more on this, by asking your search engine.

    Aside of aspiring to become a Thinking Scout Fox, what could we do? As you can see, this mindset has a flaw, too. It might be too independent, and the “just the facts” attitude leaves a void that is quickly filled by prejudice and tribalism, leading to uncharitable interpretations. The “it’s their fault!” attitude doesn’t really help. We could perhaps do better, too.

    We could be picking up other people where they are, assuage fears and take a bit of time to explain what it all means. I’m annoyed by disclaimers and hedges as anyone is, but I come to think they are simply necessary when I want to reach other personality species.

  47. nate
    Posted March 10, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Looks like at least a couple of the PZbots took issue with this post. I was especially tickled by the chap that ranted about how readily Jerry bans people from posting here, for I was banned from Pharyngula a few years ago for the horrible crime of questioning Rebecca Watson’s ‘elevatorgate’ story.

  48. Natalie Angier
    Posted March 10, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    You know as well as I do that peacocks and male sage grouses are NOT good analogies for human males, or for human mating systems generally. Peahens do not display for peacocks, as women do for men, and peahens and sage grouse hens raise their chicks on their own. We are not a lekking species, there is mate choice on both sides, assortative mating is real, etc., etc.

    • BJ
      Posted March 10, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      That was a very interesting post! Thank you.

  49. Posted March 10, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I am a feminist and a liberal. I live in a very liberal town in Oregon. I also got my degree in Psychology. I took a lot of gender classes, but the one I felt gave me the most answers about current sex and gender issues was Hormones and Behavior. A science class. So, I really enjoyed this post as well as the prior one you linked. I still have misgivings about science being the end all be all and Evolutionary Psychology was not highly respected at the university I attended. However, from my life experience and that one science class, I believe it is a mistake to deny biological differences in the sexes. Of course I am still totally on board with the theory that socialization has a big impact on sex and gender behaviors. I joined in on a thread posted on a social networking site that had been posted locally. Many of my friends joined in. It was a thorough logging of all the ways that men are socialized to randomly proposition women for sex on the same social networking site. I thought what I had learned on your blogs would add a great angle to the conversation so I posted on the feed. Crickets. Wow, I really hope that people just got busy and had already lost interest in the conversation. Rather than it being a sign that liberals cannot make room for this aspect of the argument at all in their conversations. I hope it is the former, because the latter is too disappointing.

  50. Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    🐾

  51. Posted March 10, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    These truths are not a problem simply because you cannot apply statistical truths to one individual person. Men are in general physically stronger than women; every man is not stronger than every woman.

  52. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted March 11, 2017 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    P Z is strange. I postulate that something peculiar happened with R Watson, and a bit of his brain got turned inside out.
    Or soomething.

  53. Luke Vogel
    Posted March 11, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Excellent piece. Thank you.

  54. reasonshark
    Posted March 12, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I won’t say Delusions of Gender was a wholly convincing book, especially it’s reliance on too many anecdotes and not enough on statistical data. However, to me it was an eye-opener and a consciousness-raiser. Consider just how easy it is for stereotypical views to sneak into almost any social interaction, even affecting the way parents communicate with unborn offspring.

    The thought of mass-producing people’s future lives – however unintentionally – is deeply saddening. More and more do social behaviours and attitudes seem like needlessly self-limiting self-fulfilling prophecies on a social scale. There’s considerable room for improvement if we want to lift ourselves to our full potential.

    As for the “ideology trumping facts” issue, it’s certainly a curious strategy. Surely the whole point of an ideological position is that the world ought to work a certain way, and therefore any evidence that it doesn’t is necessary for the ideologue to see what needs to be addressed. Just say “yes, that’s how it works at the moment, but I think it needs correcting because it should be like this, so here’s what I’m going to do about the world as it works at the moment…” Saying “NO! That’s NOT how the world works!” when it obviously does work like that is an exercise in futility.

    I’m not saying that changed focus is necessarily desirable – ideologues can cause a lot of damage trying to set the world “right” – but at least it’d be a trivially easy way to reconcile ideology with facts.

  55. Harrison
    Posted March 12, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    PZ in his notpology to Charly tossed an accusation that this site hosts certain unpleasant commenters with whom PZ has a negative history and whom he claims are allowed to run rampant on here saying whatever they like which he feels is unfair and makes the site “unreadable.”

    Meanwhile I’ve read this entire comment section and seen nothing directed at PZ that is even one iota as hateful and venomous as the sort of invective he puts out everyday. Or even what he gave to Charly.

    • Cindy
      Posted March 12, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Of course. Absolve oneself of guilt by claiming that it’s everyone else who is behaving badly. Why, you’re just a victim and you just can’t understand why people say such mean things!


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Biology > Ideology Extreme vetting is already a thing […]

  2. […] mention this story because I recently came across this blog post (see here) on Fine’s new book, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. I have read her […]

  3. […] When ideology trumps biology […]

  4. […] When ideology trumps biology […]

  5. […] When ideology trumps biology […]

  6. […] Coyne’s negative review of Cordelia Fine’s new book on the biology of sex/gender. Stuart Ritchie’s negative review. […]

%d bloggers like this: