Helping Reactionary Evolutionary Psychology Haters and Science Illiterates Form a Cogent Argument Against Satoshi Kanazawa



When Satoshi Kanazawa isn’t killing puppies, eating babies, and biting the heads off of chickens while on stage, he writes articles with titles like, “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” Fortunately for the Nurture Nazis, if you just read “Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women”, you have yourself a platform from which to launch a witch (warlock?) hunt. Nevermind that starting a sentence with “Why” and ending it with “?” makes it a question. Nevermind that it was someone else’s data that made these claims and not Dr. Kanazawa. And definitely nevermind the second part where it talks about black men being more attractive. Nope… just take some bits out of context and twist them around a bit and the recipe for another barrage of anemic critiques of evolutionary psychology to keep us all busy pointing out the bullshit propaganda campaign and science denial being waged at the behest of creationists and hucksters of their own dystopian socialization regimes.

Truth be told, Kanazawa’s article didn’t really do anything for me. I read it on Sunday before the flak hit the interwebs on Monday, then just moved on to the next thing. I harbor no allegiance to Satoshi Kanazawa, although I do appreciate his thinking from time to time. No, the only reason I responded to this was the barrage of tweets that passed by me today using critiques of this article as just another example of why evolutionary psychology is phrenology 2.0. But really, critiques of evolutionary psychology are Darwin critiques 2.0. Conservative biologists and conservative Christians alike have been flogging notions of evolved human behavior since his 1872 follow-up to “On the Origin of Species”, “The Descent of Man”. I know, it’s only been about 130 years; we shouldn’t rush into these things.

Below are three of the articles that I saw referenced most often today. They all pretty much follow the theme of “bla bla bla racist bla bla bla evolutionary psychology sucks bla bla bla Satoshi Kanazawa stole my lollipop bla bla bla”. In other words, they’re all agenda-driven reactionary tripe offered in lieu of substance. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as little as I did.

Oh, Psychology Today pulled Kanazawa’s article, there’s an archived copy here.

And yes, I realize that those I’m critiquing shun all logic and reason to deal in ad hominem and emotional pleas. And yes, I suspect that by calling out their lack of rigor and excessive rhetorical blather that I’ll be labeled a sexist racist boogeyman. Hopefully it’s worth that risk for the few whose agendas don’t get in the way of truth.

PZ Myers Detests Evolutionary Psychology

PZ Myers, holder of the esteemed PZ Myers Associate Professor Chair of Biology and Fear & Loathing of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Minnesota (Morris), once again bestowed upon us a critique of such whithering paranoid banality to make the weepiest of Fox News contributors… umm… weep… with envy at the propaganda drenched splendor.

Invisible superhero magician from outer space knows, I’m a fan of word games… when the game is fun. However, Dr. Myers is apparently confused by Kanazawa’s proper use of the terms “subjective” and “objective”. Kanazawa uses the primary definition (1) of subjective and the converse adjective definition (6) of objective to delineate ratings of the self (read: subject) or the other (read: object). This is particularly non-novel in this context as “objectification” based on beauty has been in the vernacular since forever. Rather than stick with the standard English definitions clearly warranted by the context, Dr. Myers mangles Kanazawa’s piece by going Plato on us and using objective/subjective in a philosophical wordfuck. This misunderstanding should be taken as a warning of how far out of his depth Dr. Myers is when leaving his field and playing quasi-science pundit in evolutionary psychology. It wouldn’t be so bad, but his sycophantic commenters demonstrate their willingness to misinterpret politically inconvenient hypotheses by regurgitating the same objective/subjective criticism ad nauseum.

Strangely, Myers also holds Kanazawa responsible for the methods by which the data were collected. That would be fine if the data were collected by a study of Kanazawa’s design, but this was a blog post asking what someone else’s data meant. But no, Dr. Myers can’t resist his emotions when it comes to his “detest” for evolutionary psychology on days when he “simply cannot bear the entire field“. Congratulations Dr. Myers, the entire field can’t bear your Utopian heartfelt, yet science bereft critiques on any day.

As Robert Kurzban wrote the last time PZ Myers waded into the depths of his own misunderstanding, “Myers’ Critique of EP: Strong Language But Weak Tea“.

Somehow, Myers gets the question of population genetics wrong too (assuming the “Out of Africa” hypothesis is correct).

Kanazawa: “For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races.”

Myers: “That makes no sense. My ancestors, your ancestors, and Kanazawa’s ancestors were all African — we share mutations with all Africans from before the time our European and Asian ancestors left Africa, and those ancestors then accumulated new mutations at the same rate as the populations left behind in the ancestral homeland. We European/Asian folk inherited a subset of the totality of human genetic variation, but there’s nothing that implies Africans are or have been mutating faster than anyone else.”

No, it makes perfect sense when you consider that the populations that left Africa ~45 KYA did not in fact “share mutations with all Africans from before the time” they left. The migratory populations were likely small and relatively isolated compared to the entire population of Africa at that time. Genetic analysis points to a very small set of common ancestors for non-African populations. If that’s the case, then it’s accurate to say that the genetic diversity in African populations would be larger because those populations didn’t experience such a narrow genetic restriction in their evolutionary tree in such recent history. If the genetic diversity was higher to begin with, and didn’t undergo restriction, the subsequent mutation rate being similar would not equalize the total genetic diversity of various populations on its own. Hopes a Funny Chart Will Make Up for Shoddy Analysis

Anna North’s critique of the article smacks of George W. Bush on the pulpit leading up to the Iraq War. If you want to attack somebody you already don’t like, just make the ‘facts’ fit your narrative.

“Kanazawa’s latest Psychology Today post aims to prove that black women are ugly and also full of themselves”

The title of the post was “Why … ?” Dr. Kanazawa looked at some data and asked some questions based on the data. The data (however flawed) showed  that black women were perceived as less attractive on average, and that their self-perceived attractiveness ratings were higher than average. Given those data points, it’s scientifically appropriate to ask why there’s a disparity. One of the obvious answers is that the data aren’t that great. However, Kanazawa simply said: “It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others.” Sure, Anna North might be employing hyperbole for effect, but using a hackneyed literary device to distort someone’s words so you can then call them a racist to get more page views is cheap theater – I can feel my shoes being pulled by the sticky mess on the floor of this Jezebelian nightmare as I try to escape its mire.

The F Word Blog Should Have Added a Funny Chart

But in this case, the “f word” in question is “feminism”, so humor will be optional at best. Fortunately, Josephine Tsui kept us in amygdala mode by issuing a “Bad Science Alert“.

“Evolutionary Psychology has been riddled with debate of whether they are using scientifically sound methodology.”

Truth: Social scientists, postmodernists, social constructivists, and blank slaters have been riddled with debate on methodologies for portraying evolutionary psychology as scientifically unsound.

“Evolutionary psychology often uses the method of biological determinism.”

Truth: This argument is pure straw-woman.

“The truth of the matter is that scientist don’t know what makes the links between behaviour and genetics and you can’t postulate one from another.”

Truth: The inability to point to a specific “gene expression X” in a given circumstance does not preclude drawing links from behavior to genetics. The non-human animal field of behavioral ecology engages in such science daily without charges of gross methodological foul-play. However, the anti-evolutionary psychology camp denies that humans are animals by placing Homo sapiens outside the realm of evolved behavioral mechanisms. Applying their social constructivist bent in their direction, it is likely that this exceptionalist anthropocentrism derives from millenia of socialization by monotheistic domination.

“What Satoshi Kanazawa doesn’t realise is that attractiveness is a result of socialised behaviour.”

What Josephine Tsui doesn’t realize is that attractiveness is an integrated framework between socialized behavior, domain specific learning differentials, and evolved biases and heuristics reflecting game theoretic principles of parsimoniously maximizing survival and reproduction in sexual species. Rather than cite the billions of studies that completely refute Josephine Tsui’s remark, I’ll just reference the Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast. Dr. Robert Burriss lists multiple studies on multiple pages (and he’s funnier than a chart). Heck, even I managed to cobble together an article about how butts and breasts are overrated, but that cross-cultural markers of attraction have been measured empirically.

“What he doesn’t realise is that it’s not that Black women are less attractive, it’s that all of his test subjects are inadvertently selecting for characteristics that are socially popular. What is currently socially attractive is a western ideal of attractiveness. You cannot predict the level of attractiveness by society (and people’s behavioural decision) by a group’s genetic dispositions.”

So close! What we have here is a testable hypothesis (or three). Unfortunately, it’s stated as fact.

So I Guess I Gotta Make the Arguments for the Haters

It’s true. These incessantly oblique critiques of evolutionary psychology have become so predictable that I feel sorry for their authors. The likes of PZ Myers have the tired and impotent formula down, but every time an inconvenient article comes out, a wave of neophytes jumps in to demonstrate their complete lack of understanding on all things based on evolutionary theory. It’s worse when they’re non-scientists.

So… I realize that agendas come before facts, but just in case someone with an agenda also wanted to throw in a fact (or question whether something is a fact)…

  1. The data here seem ripe for scrutiny. At this point, we have no idea who the interviewers who rated the students were. The attractiveness ratings would have been altered by varying degrees of prior familiarity between the individuals… whether the interviewers were of a certain age… the same sex or opposite sex breakdown… ingroup/outgroup… interviewer race… et cetera. There are simply a lot of variables that bring the reliability of attractiveness data into question. Perhaps this information is available, but it wasn’t in Kanazawa’s article, and I couldn’t find it on the study’s website. However, we also can’t reasonably write it all off to culture just because we don’t know these variables.
  2. Black women don’t have higher levels of testosterone than white women. Not only are they not higher, a 2005 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that: “Serum estrone sulfate, estradiol, androstenedione, and testosterone levels were significantly lower in African-American women than in Caucasian women.” It’s important to note that this was in pre-menopausal women. Many of the studies on female androgen levels are in post-menopausal populations. For some reason, PZ Myers and the rest of the internet spent all day whining about the things that Kanazawa didn’t say, and ignored the pièce de résistance – that the little that he actually did say appears to be wrong. Perhaps Kanazawa had other research in mind, but… it wasn’t referenced.

Ironically Racist?

It’s a mathematical oddity that Kanazawa is being relentlessly accused of being a racist because of the piece he wrote. In the title he was very clear that this data showed that black women were rated as less attractive than the other categories, but black men were rated as more attractive than the other categories. That forces me to ask, if the black men don’t count for anything in the calculus, and just the notion that a group of women was rated as less attractive than others was enough to get the title of racism, then what’s the difference between racism and feminism? And… if the postmodern feminists have enough power to turn an Asian dude who admits black guys are more attractive into a racist, how is that a demonstration of the oppression of women we’re required to assume underlies theories of pervasive patriarchy?

Psychology Today Lost Points (Today)

I subscribe to a few blogs on Psychology Today. We don’t know the full story, but it appears that Kanazawa’s piece was yanked because of political backlash. Upon reading how little Kanazawa actually brought to the article by way of explanation (beyond sharing the data), this all seems like a misguided case of shooting the messenger. The data are the data. If Psychology Today cares more about politics than data, why bother hiring PhDs? Censorship of opinion is bad enough, censorship of [scientific, non-private] data is doubly ugly.

Never forget:  It’s Only “Good Science” if the Message is Politically Correct