VariKin Findings: Frequently-used kinship terms evolve slowly

— by Maisie Ford Language is constantly changing. As new words are born or enter a language, old words fall out of use. Linguists have known for a long time that some words endure longer than others. Some core vocabulary, like numbers, names of common animals/plants, and words for parts of the body can be … Read more

on classification [scrapbook]

Darwin, in The Descent of Man Every naturalist who has had the misfortune to undertake the description of a group of highly varying organisms, has encountered cases (I speak after experience) precisely like that of man; and if of a cautious disposition, he will end by uniting all the forms which graduate into each other as … Read more

definitions of evolution [scrapbook]

Evolution is not changes in gene frequencies. Genes are part of a network of developmental causes that lead to the manifestation of traits that have general properties in common across individuals while retaining individual differences. Evolution is change in the frequencies of alternative developmental causes that yield variations in developmental trajectories (a phrase that is more cumbersome than ‘‘changes in gene … Read more

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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a rather disheartening game of bingo

Backlash isn’t really the right word. Evolutionary Psychology Bingo. I fully expect to see this linked-to, emailed, and generally be the object of a bit of discussion online. On the one hand, I’m all for the satirisation of poor science (a more biting example appeared last week), especially poor science that uses the tools (evolutionary … Read more

evolution 2007

Radio silence for the last couple of weeks as I was in New Zealand at the Evolution 2007 meeting. Yes, there is internet access on my small island home, but I’m not one of those superstars who can multitask a big conference and blogging. So before it all dribbles out of my brain, here’s a … Read more

the two cultures revisited (ad nauseum)

A short while ago I attended one of a series of talks set up to create some dialogue between evolutionary and interpretive approaches in archaeology. I was only able to attend the last of the series, but others who attended earlier talks reported that the presentations themselves (one from each of the two “styles”) were interesting and informative, but that the discussions that took place afterwards, where, ostensibly, the dialogue was to get into full swing, were quite fraught, full of misunderstandings and tense “science versus post-modernism” exchanges.

Which is, as always, a shame. I think to most scientifically-minded archaeologists and anthropologists–indeed anyone in the social sciences who appreciates the scientific method–the lack of useful dialogue, collaboration, and proper communication with our colleagues who have other approaches is felt as a keen deficit. From afar, we can observe the wealth of rich material (dare I say “data”?) collected by social anthropologists (for instance). More importantly, we can observe their ability to contextualise, interpret and suggest new or alternative hypotheses for what we, with the necessity of abstract or simple models, are sometimes missing in our approaches.

However, after attending the last talk, I don’t think that they (“they” being in this case those in the social sciences who probably prefer the term humanities) really feel any keen need for such dialogue in the other direction. I could be (and would be delighted to be) very wrong about this. I got the sense of a lamentable misunderstanding how science as applied to human affairs. Misunderstanding the scientific method is of course a more general malady, from the sub-editors at the Evening Standard right on through to nutritionists with dodgy qualifications.

But at this talk there were some SHOCKERS.

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