on sex and suicide bombing

Please note this post was edited (below) on 23 May 2011

David Lawson, Kesson Magid and I have just published On Sex and Suicide Bombing: An evaluation of Kanazawa’s ‘Evolutionary Psychological Imagination’. This is a critique of Satoshi Kanazawa’s 2007 paper: “The Evolutionary Psychological Imagination: Why You Can’t Get a Date on a Saturday Night and Why Most Suicide Bombers are Muslim.”

Many objections to evolutionary psychology are ideological or political. This is not the case in our paper: nothing makes me (and my co-authors) froth at the mouth more than bad science. We say:

The beauty of the scientific method is that it allows us to ask, and sometimes answer, tough questions.
Addressing the tough questions without the transparency afforded by the scientific method is not brave: it is simply cavalier.

Kanazawa’s paper is full of bad science. We are not the first to criticise him on such grounds, but it bears repeating that when there are controversial and sensitive issues at stake, we beholden to demand a high standard of scholarship and science.

EDIT 23 May 2011

In the light of another piece of “science” by Kanazawa, reported on his blog, I have decided to add to this post a list of the published academic responses to Kanazawa’s work. It really saddens me that someone who pushes an agenda to carry out controversial investigations cannot pair that agenda with quality science. As said above, with academic freedom comes responsibility.

This list was compiled with the help of colleagues. Please let me know of any additions or corrections. At last count, the 20 listed papers involved 56 separate authors.

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out of body experience from cortical activation

Monday and Tuesday I attended Social Intelligence: from Brains to Culture at the Royal Society. Lots of interesting talks around the theme of social intelligence, but one tangental note popped up in a neuroanatomy talk by Vittorio Gallese (he of the mirror neurons or “monkey-see-monkey-do cells”).

I always love crazy paranormal “phenomena” being debunked, and this was a brain substrate explanation for “out of body” experiences. The brain area in question (the temporal-parietal junction) is to do with alternative-perspective taking – our ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes and see the world from that angle.

This study by Blanke et al demonstrated that the TPJ was activated when people imagined themselves in typical OBE states, and that the ability to do so was impaired when transcranial magnetic stimulation was aimed at the same area. They also report an epileptic patient who experienced OBE’s when the focus of her seizures was in the TPJ.

More on the speakers at the RoySoc event later.