bool evo_psych;
September 9, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Please provide me with well-cited or "convincing" sources which argue against evolutionary psychology and its validity as a science, as well as sources which argue for its validity.

Hi. I personally don't see anything wrong with evopsych, but the opinion that it's a psuedoscience is one that I have been hearing quite a bit, so much so that it appears to be a majority. In an attempt to make a well-informed decision, please provide me with sources that argue its validity. Bonus points for providing sources which argue for its validity.

I would prefer if the sources are well-cited.

Thank you for your time.
posted by Evernix to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This article from the University of Texas seems to deal with both criticisms and defenses of evolutionary psychology. I don't think it is peer-reviewed, but it seems well cited all around.
posted by Geppp at 12:06 PM on September 9, 2012

To go-to on FOR is The Adapted Mind ed. Barkow, Cosmides, Tooby. The accessible version of this litany is given in the books of Steven Pinker. I don't believe there is such a thing as a go-to AGAINST; perhaps the more influential opponents might consider that more trouble than it's worth. I would be very interested in knowing of a similar concise document from the AGAINST side of these issues.
posted by bukvich at 3:03 PM on September 9, 2012

This is a fantastic, tightly argued critique of the current state of evopsych and sociobiology.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:24 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers have done thoughtful, well-researched work arguing against evolutionary psychology especially as it relates to gender issues.

The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children (2011)
Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (2005)

Here is the Ms. Magazine Blog list of their previous posts.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:03 PM on September 9, 2012

I've struggled with this question for a few years, sometimes publicly here on Metafilter. My SO is a social psychologist and researchers in her field often butt heads with evo-psych people and we've had some pretty good discussions about it. My own interest in the field stems from my lifelong interest in biology and evolution, and my take on evo-psych has evolved over time.

At the most fundamental level, the vast majority of serious biologists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, etc. believe that the human brain is a product of evolution, just like the rest of the human body (and just like the brains of every other animal on earth). There is no real dispute over validity of the discipline in general, but the devil is in the details.

The main challenges that face researchers in the field deal with technical methodological issues. Much of the work in evo-psych is adaptationist and making a strong case for a trait being an adaptation is difficult. Generally this entails making specific, measurable predictions about what you would see if a trait was indeed an adaptation. If predicted correctly, the results should be extremely difficult to explain with any alternative theory. So coming up with these predictions is very difficult, and testing them is difficult. The best studies come at the problem from many different angles, corroborating evidence, and making a case that way. It is hard and a lot of researchers in the field (maybe most) are not as rigorous with their methodologies as they should be. So that's a problem, but one faced by any social science I think. Regular old social psych and neuroscience are also facing something of a methodological crisis, with solid findings being called into question, and there seems to be a rally cry around higher methodological standards.

The field also has a PR problem in that science reporters are eager to publicize evo-psych problems but tend to overstate and oversimplify the cases made by the researchers. So the public perception of the field is very different from reality. It doesn't help things that some researchers that are good at self-promotion (see Satoshi Kanazawa) are also hacks. Again, I'm not sure that this is unique to evo-psych, but a lot of public backlash seems to stem from misunderstandings of the field perpetuated by bad journalism and bad spokespeople.

There are some critiques that you can safely dismiss, I think. Critics that still call the field "sociobiology" are frequently making arguments that have already been worked through 30 years ago. Similarly, any critiques that reference "Just So Stories" usually are making points that, in my opinion, have been refuted long ago. The most recent issue of the New Yorker has a book review that is very good example of an outdated and specious critique.
posted by AceRock at 11:26 AM on September 10, 2012

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