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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Assuming we are right
Before writing this review I read the book and previous reviews. Opinions seemed to fall into two distinct categories. On the one hand evolutionary psychology is depicted as a load of dangerous nonsense, infecting clear thought with biological determinism in support of right wing political racism and sexism which is unacceptable in a neo-socialist society. The alternative...
Published on 30 Dec. 2008 by Neutral

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Arguments Against "Arguments Against EP": How SJ Gould Became an Evolutionary Psychologist and Steven Rose a Scientific Racist
Like many edited books, the contributors' approaches to the subject matter differ so as to make it difficult to provide an overall review. The editors admit as much, observing that the contributors "do not speak with a single voice" (p9). This seems to a coded admission that they frequently contradict one another. For example, Fausto-Sterling chides evolutionary...
Published on 20 Dec. 2011 by V. E. Lane

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Assuming we are right, 30 Dec. 2008
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Before writing this review I read the book and previous reviews. Opinions seemed to fall into two distinct categories. On the one hand evolutionary psychology is depicted as a load of dangerous nonsense, infecting clear thought with biological determinism in support of right wing political racism and sexism which is unacceptable in a neo-socialist society. The alternative view is that evolutionary psychology is the key to understanding universal human nature which can be determined by rejecting the blank page theory of the Standard Social Science Model and replacing it with a new model based on the evolutionary adaptation of basic human psychology of aggression, parenting and sexuality.

Evolutionary psychology is a development of the gene centred theories of Richard Dawkins and E O Wilson. In their introduction to the book Hilary and Steven Rose see in evolutionary psychology the same impulse which led to support for Social Darwinism and eugenics most of which was thought to have been discredited half a century ago. In attacking the supposed right wing agenda of evolutionary psychology the various authors also attack the presuppositions underlying it.

The contributors come from a variety of fields which evolutionary psychology claimed to over-ride in seeking to understand human nature. Dorothy Nelkin suggested the new discipline was attempting serve as a form of scientific Christianity. Others attacked Dawkins's theory of The Selfish Gene and his idea of memes while the notion of human behaviour as being partitioned between learned and instinctive is rejected on the grounds that it ignores the concept of process.

E O Wilson appears to believe he discovered that evolution was an explanation for everything, or as he put it, "science is religion liberated and writ large". Unfortunately Wilson's new theory appears to have been less of a paradigm and more of a parody. He sought to explain the human social order in biological terms. This tends to ignore changes attributable to other factors. Underlying Wilson's claims is the belief that Darwin was right, materialism is all there is and philosophy is a waste of intellect. Wilson appears not to understand that rather than liberating science from religion he has sought to replace religion with science by assuming the former is inevitably wrong and the latter inevitably right. Ultimately, of course, it remains an assumption.

That assumption needs to be questioned philosophically. Are we driven by sex, power and money or by truth, beauty and goodness? Is everything we do the expression of our basic sex drive?. Are we what we are by nature or by nurture? Evolutionary psychologists are criticised for adopting a universalist approach which avoids specific studies of variation in behaviour and relies on artificial modular analysis. They are accused of being reductionist, internally self-referring and resistant to valid social and philosophical criticism, rather than being comprehensive.

The jargon of evolutionary psychology - and it is jargon rather than terminology - is a regurgitation of ideas first peddled by Ricardo, Malthus, some of which provided Darwin with the intellectual justification for claiming evolution by natural selection. Darwin's own studies identified adaptation but no more. It was Malthus's bad socio-economic analysis which provided him with an intellectual framework within which he could wrap a new theory for the chattering classes. Anyone assuming Darwin was right tends to avoid addressing this point.

Many of the book's critics claim it has a political purpose. This is true. However, to dismiss criticism as ideology masquerading as science is an over-simplification.

Evolutionary psychology is based on assumptions which look increasingly tenuous and research which is bland to the point of meaningless. One does not have to be a creationist to wonder if there is a teleological purpose to the universe, or question the historical accuracy of evolutionary theory. Such thoughts appear anathema to those who expect everyone to share their opinions because they believe they know better. In that sense those reviewers who expected a critique of evolutionary psychology in its own terms have missed the point. For philosophers and social scientists evolutionary psychology is an irrelevance to detached intellectual study.

There are far better intellectual critiques of the concept. What this book does is to attack the pretentious nature of the discipline (if indeed it is a discipline), denying its claim to introduce a new way of thinking about, or an understanding of, human nature. It is at times polemical rather than neutral but it was designed to cricitise evolutionary psychology for claiming to provide a model which is applicable outside its own terms. For many, people such as Wilson and Dawkins are fanatics who have long since given up any serious notion of competing in the marketplace of ideas but have sought to monopolise the market with scientism. Straw men they may be but they are well known scarecrows.

This is not a book which will appeal to those who share evolutionary psychologists' assumptions and are unwilling to have their assumptions questioned. It will, however, appeal to those who are able to distinguish between polemics and purpose. Hopefully there are still people who can read a book they dislike without dismissing it as rubbish.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Arguments Against "Arguments Against EP": How SJ Gould Became an Evolutionary Psychologist and Steven Rose a Scientific Racist, 20 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (Paperback)
Like many edited books, the contributors' approaches to the subject matter differ so as to make it difficult to provide an overall review. The editors admit as much, observing that the contributors "do not speak with a single voice" (p9). This seems to a coded admission that they frequently contradict one another. For example, Fausto-Sterling chides evolutionary psychologists for sexism in viewing the female orgasm as a mere by-product (women "did not even evolve their own orgasms" (p176) she complains) while Gould (p103-4) chides them for purportedly viewing every trait as an adaptation and ignoring the possibility of by-products.

Some chapters are essentially irrelevant to the project of evolutionary psychology. One, that of Dawkins-stalker (and part-time philosopher) Mary Midgley, critiques the separate field of 'memetics'.

A singularly uninsightful chapter by 'disability activist' Tom Shakespeare and a colleague seems to say nothing with which an evolutionary psychologist would disagree. Only at the end of their chapter do they make the obligatory reference to 'just-so stories', and, more bizarrely, to the "single-gene determinism of the biological reductionists" (p203). Yet, evolutionary psychologists emphasise to the point of repetitiveness that, while they may talk of 'genes for' certain characteristics as a form of shorthand, nothing in their theories implies a one-to-one concordance between single genes and behaviours.

Indeed, the irrelevance of some chapters to their supposed subject-matter makes one wonder whether some contributors have ever actually read any of the primary literature in the field - or whether their entire knowledge (or lack thereof) of evolutionary psychology is filtered through to them via the critiques of their fellow contributors.

Annette Karmiloff-Smith's chapter is a critique of what she refers to as nativism, namely the belief that certain brain structures (or modules) are innately hardwired into the brain at birth. This chapter, perhaps alone, may have value as a critique of some strands of EP.

However, the nativist thesis she associates with evolutionary psychology is rejected by many evolutionary psychologists (e.g. Human Evolutionary Psychology) and not integral to evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology posits that behaviour have been shaped by natural selection to maximise the reproductive success of organisms in ancestral environments. It therefore allows us to bypass the proximate level of causation by saying that, how ever the brain is structured and develops in interaction with its environment, given that this brain evolved by a process of natural selection, it must be such as to produce behaviour which maximises the reproductive success of its bearer under ancestral conditions. (This is sometimes referred to as the 'phenotypic gambit'). The issue of nativism is therefore bypassed.

Stephen Jay Gould's Deathbed Conversion to Evolutionary Psychology

Undoubtedly the best known contributor is the late Stephen J Gould. Such is his renown that he evidently did not feel the need to actually contribute an original chapter to the volume, but rather felt it sufficient to recycle a NYT book-review. It is a critical review of a book (Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Penguin Science)), itself critical of Gould, a form of academic self-defence. Neither the book nor the review by Gould deal primarily with the field of evolutionary psychology, but rather address more general issues within evolutionary biology.

Yet the most remarkable revelation of Gould's chapter - especially given that it appears in a book ostensibly critiquing evolutionary psychology - is that the best-known and most widely-cited erstwhile opponent of evolutionary psychology is apparently no longer any such thing. On the contrary, he now views evolutionary psychology as potentially "quite useful" (p102).

Most strikingly, he acknowledges that "the most promising theory of evolutionary psychology [is] the recognition that differing Darwinian requirements for males and females imply distinct adaptive behaviours centred on male advantage in spreading sperm as widely as possible... and female strategy for extracting time and attention from males" (Ibid.). In other words, he accepts the position of evolutionary psychologists in that most controversial of areas - innate sex differences!

Notwithstanding Gould's arrogant tone (rather than admit he was wrong he instead implies he had maintained this stance all along and even that it was his constructive criticism which led to advances in the field and the development of evolutionary psychology from sociobiology), his backtracking is a welcome development. Given that he passed away only a couple of years after the current volume was published, one can almost characterise his backtracking as a deathbed conversion.

On the other hand, his criticisms of evolutionary psychology have not evolved at all but merely retread familiar gripes with which evolutionary psychologists dealt long ago. For example, he repeats the tired charge of 'ultra-Darwinism', whereby evolutionary psychologists purportedly view every trait as an adaptation (p103-4).

This claim is easily rebutted by simply reading the primary literature. For example, Daly and Wilson see the high rate of homicide of stepchildren, not as adaptive, but as a by-product of discriminative parental solicitude, whereby parents care less for such children (The Truth about Cinderella: A Darwinian View of Parental Love (Darwinism Today)). Donald Symons argues that the female orgasm is merely a by-product of the male orgasm (The Evolution of Human Sexuality). Similarly, the authors of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (Bradford Books), are divided as to whether rape is an adaptation or a by-product of men's greater desire for commitment-free sex.

[Evolutionary psychologists generally prefer the term by-product to Gould's coinage 'spandrel'. The invention of jargon to baffle non-specialists (e.g. referring to animal rape as "forced copulation" as the Roses advocate: p2) is the preserve of subjects suffering from 'physics-envy', according to 'Dawkins' First Law of the Conservation of Difficulty'.]

Gould then claims sociobiological theories are inherently untestable. Yet one only has to flick through copies of journals like Evolution and Human Behaviour, Human Nature or Evolutionary Psychology to see evolutionary hypotheses being tested every month.

As evidence, rather than citing the academic literature, he cites Robert Wright's claim in a work of popular science, (The Moral Animal), that our sweet tooth evolved "in an environment in which fruit existed but candy didn't". Bizarrely he chides Wright for citing "no paleontological data about ancestral feeding" (p100), ignoring the fact that Wright is a populariser not an academic. (Gould evidently believes we need "paleontological data" to demonstrate that fruit is not a recent invention and that chocolate bars are.)

Straw Men and Fabricated Quotations

Rather than countering the claims of actual evolutionary psychologists, contributors resort to misrepresenting and caricaturing evolutionary psychology. In the case of co-editor, Hillary Rose, this crosses the line from rhetorical deceit to outright defamation of character when, on p116, she attributes to David Barash an offensive quotation violating the naturalistic fallacy by purporting to justify rape by reference to its biological function.

However, Barash simply does not say the words she attributes to him on the page she cites or any other page in The Whisperings Within. (I know. I own a copy of the book.) On the contrary, after a discussion of the adaptive function of rape among mallards, he merely ventures tentatively that, although vastly more complex, human rape may be analogous.

This completely fabricated quotation is merely the most egregious example in the volume of the rhetorical tactic of constructing of 'straw man', or attributing to evolutionary psychologists views which they never in fact asserted so as to render the task of attacking evolutionary psychology less arduous.

Is Steven Rose a Scientific Racist?

Finally, I will deal with the curious case of Steven Rose, the book's other editor. Unlike Stephen J Gould, he does not repent his sins and embrace evolutionary psychology. However, in maintaining his crusade against evolutionary psychology and sociobiology and all related heresies, he apparently inadvertently performs a transformation in many ways even more dramatic, and more far-reaching in its consequences, than that of Gould. To understand why, we must examine Rose's position in more depth.

Steven Rose is not a creationist. He is therefore obliged to reconcile his opposition to evolutionary psychology with recognition that the brain is a product of evolution. Ironically, this leads him to employ evolutionary arguments against evolutionary psychology.

For example, Rose defends group-selectionism (p257-9), even claiming that "selection can occur at even higher levels - that of the species for example" (p258).

Similarly, in the book's introduction, coauthored with his wife Hillary, Rose rejects the evolutionary psychological concept of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness ('the EEA'), contending that sufficient time has elapsed since the Pleistocene for complex adaptations to have evolved (p1-2) and pointing to "changes produced by artificial selection by humans among domesiticated animals... in only a few generations" and "significant changes in... beaks and feeding habit in response to climate change" among the finches of the Galapagos Islands "over several decades" (p2).

Finally, Rose rejects a modular model of the human mind (p260-2), pointing to the absence of a direct one-to-one relationship between hypothesised 'modules' and particular areas of the brain identified by neuroscientists.

Implicitly, therefore, unlike many of his co-contributors, he accepts an evolutionary approach to human behaviour and psychology. If Rose is right on these matters, it would suggest, not the abandonment of an evolutionary approach to psychology, but rather the need to develop a new evolutionary psychology stressing the importance of these factors (namely group selection, recently evolved adaptations and domain-general mechanisms).

Actually, this new evolutionary psychology may not be all that new and Rose may find he has unlikely bedfellows.

Group selectionism (which implies that conflict between groups such as races is inevitable) has already been defended by figures such as Philippe Rushton (e.g. in his papers, 'Genetic similarity, human altruism and group-selection' and 'Genetic similarity theory, ethnocentrism, and group selection': Rushton 1989; 1998) and Kevin Macdonald (e.g. in his book, A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy).

Similarly, the claim that sufficient time has elapsed for significant evolutionary change to have occurred since the dawn of agriculture necessarily entails the belief that sufficient time has also elapsed for different human populations (i.e. races) to significantly diverge in their psychology, behaviour and cognition (see 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution and Race: The Reality of Human Differences).

Finally, rejection of modularity is consistent with an emphasis on the general factor of intelligence, as championed by psychometricians, behavioural geneticists, intelligence researchers and race theorists such as Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, Chris Brand and Philippe Rushton.

(Indeed, Rose himself acknowledges that "the insistence of evolutionary psychology theorists on modularity puts a strain on their otherwise heaven-made alliance with behaviour geneticists" (p261), incidentally contradicting his acknowledgement, just a few pages earlier, that "evolutionary psychologists are often at pains to distinguish themselves from behaviour geneticists and there is some hostility between the two": p248. See Kanazawa 2004 the alternative view that general intelligence is itself a domain-specific module.)

Therefore, in rejecting the tenets of mainstream evolutionary psychology, Rose inadvertently advocates, not so much a new form of evolutionary psychology, but rather an old form of scientific racism.

Of course, Rose is not a racist. On the contrary, he has built a minor literary career smearing those he characterises as such.

However, descending to Rose's own level of argumentation (i.e. guilt by association), he is easily characterised as such. By rejecting many claims of evolutionary psychologists - about the EEA, group-selectionism and modularity - he ironically plays into the hands of the racists he purportedly opposes.

If his friend and comrade Stephen Jay Gould in his contribution to the current volume underwent a deathbed conversion to evolutionary psychology, then Steven Rose's conversion proves even more dramatic and he may find his bedfellows less good company than he expected.


Kanazawa, S. (2004) 'General Intelligence as a Domain-Specific Module' Psychological Review 111(2) 512-523

Rushton P (1989) 'Genetic similarity, human altruism and group-selection': Rushton 1989 Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12(3) 503-59

Rushton, J. P. (1998). Genetic similarity theory, ethnocentrism, and group selection. In I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt & F. K. Salter (Eds.), Indoctrinability, warfare, and ideology: Evolutionary perspectives (pp. 369-388). Oxford: Berghahn Books.
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44 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars War of the Roses, 17 Oct. 2000
A.P.Jackson (Cambridge (UK)) - See all my reviews
Alas, Poor Darwin is a disparate collection of essays by scientists, philosophers and social commentators all attacking the emerging field of evolutionary psychology. It's a familiar set of complaints: evolutionary psychology is "simplistic", "reductionist" and "adaptationist". But many of the attacks are just political and there's a blatant attempt to smear the subject with morally bankrupt beliefs like eugenics. So what exactly are the nasty ideas advocated by these deluded evolutionary psychologists? Well, er......
1) The mind is what the brain does.
2) The brain is a biological organ that shows enormous adaptive complexity.
3) The only known non-miraculous mechanism that can account for the origin of adaptive complexity is natural selection.
4) Hence, many (though certainly not all) aspects of our psychology are likely to have been moulded at least in part by natural selection. The brain is not a general all-purpose problem-solving device. It solves some classes of problems brilliantly and others surprisingly badly. The evolutionary psychologists are simply asking why? Their answer, in broad terms, is that the brain (and hence the mind) is brimming with specifically evolved features that are adaptively useful - or at least were in the ancestral environment in which we evolved. Furthermore, these features are likely to be present in all neurologically normal members of our species. They include not just things like visual awareness and the other senses, but many other psychological attributes such as sexual desire, the emotions, the ability to gauge the mental states of others and perhaps even the way we think about logical problems.
5) Because different mental adaptations are specialised to solve different types of problems, the mind is likely to be modular. In this view for example, the capacity for language is a specifically evolved mental feature whose adaptive complexity clearly reveals the fingerprints of natural selection. By contrast, the idea that language just emerged as a non-selected by-product of a general increase in brain size (Stephen Jay Gould' s "spandrel" theory), seems utterly ridiculous and really is a "Just So Story".
I'll take Hilary and Steven Rose seriously when they provide examples of societies with no anger or sexual jealousy; societies whose members smile when they are disgusted; societies where young men are more sexually attracted to 90 year old women than to 20 year old women or societies where no one wants to form friendships and alliances. Of course evolutionary psychologists accept the importance of "learning" and "culture" to influence our minds. But "culture" doesn't just float around us like some mysterious ectoplasm. It's the product of interacting minds, the product of our brains. Now the adaptive complexity and developmental plasticity of the human brain are precisely those features that make culture possible - but these are both evolved properties that need explaining in their own right.
Like the proverbial curate's egg, this book is good in parts, though indigestible when taken whole. The worst essay is from the postmodernist Charles Jencks. His contribution is little more than pretentious hot air. Indeed, it's so daft that at first I half thought it might be an Alan Sokal-style hoax. Can the scientists do any better? Some, like Patrick Bateson have important and subtle things to say. Others such as Gabriel Dover are content merely to attack straw men. But mostly the authors just ritually condemn the usual suspects. Pinker, Dawkins, Wilson et al are WRONG, so there! But what's the alternative? All we get is a lot of hand waving about how it's so very, very complicated. This is not to say that individual evolutionary psychologists have got it all right. Like any science, there is good work and bad work. Predictably, the Roses criticise Randy Thornhill's theory about rape. Fair enough; but there is much better than this. For example, Simon Baron-Cohen's insightful studies on autism are first rate, and clearly influenced by the ideas of evolutionary psychology, yet they don't get a single mention in the whole book. Steven Rose in particular should reflect that his own field (the biochemical basis of vertebrate memory) was initially dismissed by many biochemists as cranky and ironically, "too reductionist". There was good reason for this scepticism as some embarrassingly dire stuff was done in the very early days. But that doesn't mean that the whole enterprise was fundamentally misguided. Indeed today, with proper controls, the field is perfectly respectable.
So, the evolutionary psychologists may well be wrong about specific details and some of their theories probably are too simplistic; but it's a start and at least they're doing experiments. As for the claim that it is morally pernicious, well this is just the naturalistic fallacy. But if you really do insist on a moral message, it could be argued that evolutionary psychology caries a cautiously positive one: that the wide cultural variations between different peoples are more apparent than real, because fundamentally, deep, deep down, our minds are all built to the same basic recipe.
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Scientific infanticide, 22 Oct. 2005
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
If this book was a compilation of short fiction, it would deserve the highest marks. It's creative in style, vividly presented, with inventive characterization. There are villains galore, tarnished heroes, even a ghost to add a metaphysical aspect. The language is animated and mesmerizing. The authors all exhibit a fine sense of invention in dealing with their chosen subjects and the persona involved. In one sense, this book is a treasure. It's hard to know where one could find such a collection of provocative and beguiling essays in one binding.
Unfortunately, instead of fiction, this series purports to be works of science. The authors are well-known in the scientific community. Yet each blithely ignores the actual expressions of those scientific peers they heartily condemn. They simply categorize without evidence, or twist words to fit some preconceived niche. They have no qualms about inserting words and meaning into a science that they both fail to comprehend nor have worked in themselves. The common target of these authors is the new science of evolutionary psychology, a derivative of Edward Wilson's Sociobiology, published a generation ago. Without reserve nor hesitation, the authors condemn this nascent field as "determinist," "fatalistic," or "simplistic." In short, just plain wrong.
What compels a task force of scientists to attack an emerging science? Wilson's 1975 call for further research in animal behaviour resulted in a wealth of new information - but much of it on "other" animals. The authors here ignore that work entirely. The basic issue, of course, is how dependent human behaviour is on the evolutionary process. It's impossible to discern what alternative to evolution there is in determining our roots. Certainly, none of these essays proposes other mechanisms. What is terribly awkward about these essays is not simply that they're wrong, but wrong and misleading in so many ways.
While all of these essays are built upon contrived issues and arguments, three stand out as particularly noxious examples of politicized science. [We will pass over the departed Gould's final sally attempting to restore his discredited idea of "punk eek."] Hilary Rose attempts to discredit Darwin on the basis of his being a man of his times. Her essay reminds us that there is a clear distinction between a "feminist scientist" and a woman researcher such as Helena Cronin. Steve Rose carries politicization of science to almost desperate extremes in the concluding essay, asserting evolutionary psychology is an "ideology" [which it most certainly is not]. He, along with the other authors, falls back on the tired and tiresome cliché of EP research as "Just So" stories. Of all the essays in this set, it is Mary Midgley's on memes that evokes the deepest emotions. Hilarity, compassion, resentment, unease, all arise as a result of reading this wandering, facile attempt disparage something she's wholly unable to understand. She begins with a wrong definition of the term, then wanders, phantom-like, over the philosophical countryside "in her stout British walking shoes" to arrive - simply lost in her own rhetoric. Her presence in this collection is an embarrassment to friend and foe alike.
The only value this book has is its demonstration of the mind-set of a few self-deluded and outmoded commentators. The title itself is a giveaway. "Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology" is no more valid than "Arguments Against Cosmology," or "Quantum Physics" or "Paleoanthropology" or whatever science is striving for standards in assessing elusive evidence. The book does not, can not, even answer its own opening question: "Why is this book important?" None of these authors work in the field [Midgley, for example is a "philosopher"], and none deal directly with the research involved. They are outsiders, sniping away at a science they neither comprehend nor are qualified to critique. How then, do they expect a reading public to take them seriously? If you must read this book, do so, but don't encourage such twaddle by spending your money on it. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good scientific objections to EP marred by politics, 31 Oct. 2000
By A Customer
I came to this book coloured by my impression that Steven Rose makes overly simplistic objections to Dawkins-like gene-centric biology. However the majority of arguments concentrate on the scientific failings of evolutionary psychology (EP). The concept of the evolutionary origins of traits is beyond doubt but EP takes a much more simplistic view that 'any' identifiable trait can be given a 'just-so' explanation that is often clearly over-simplistic. However the articles are also coloured by the 'Science Wars' between the natural and social sciences and also political concerns. The political objections are mostly unfair and involve picking on people from a different social context in the past to smear future practitioners without addressing the scientific arguments directly. The social science objections are generally an internal scientific debate that is irrelevant to most. Despite a number of straw men there are valuable objections to Pinker-like language of thought theories and specific simplistic EP theses that stress extreme nativist ideas which have been widely criticised (e.g. Elman et al., Rethinking Innateness). The contributors generally accept the value of EP but criticise the current naive practice of it (which, in some ways, reflects the glib evolutionary arguments that can sometimes be seen in biology) even if some writers do commit the naturalistic fallacy and conflate the scientific and political (of course sociologists of science might say the two are inseparable but then leave themselves open to the same objection).
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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to read unless you already know about EP, 24 Feb. 2002
By A Customer
This book's remit (outlined in its introduction) is to warn the reader of a new intellectual school of thought known as "Evoloutionary Psychology". We are told that "EP" is fast becoming a new force behind political and social thought, in the western world at least, and the book goes on to explain why the authors believe this is a dangerous and undesirable development.
I am a "layperson" who is interested in such things; but confess I found the book difficult to read and gave up after a few chapters. Fortunately I had borrowed the book from the library and had not wasted my money.
Basically I think to get anything out of this book you first need to have read about the ideas of "EP" because only then can you judge whether "Alas, Poor Darwin" makes a fair point in issuing its warning.
I hope to read up on "EP" and return to this book later, but at the moment I would not recommend it to anyone who, like me, is not an intellectual.
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28 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Negative and malignant, 5 Dec. 2000
By A Customer
This is a horrible book. It refuses to say anything positive about anything, sticking to the safe and easy territory of distorting and attacking its target. At least evolutionary psychologists put their heads above the parapet by testing hypotheses. Moreover, Alas Poor Darwin reeks of smug condescension yet almost wholly lacks insight. It is in any case attacking a straw man -- the absurd evolutionary extremist who naively believes that genes determine everything simply does not exist. It gets lots of facts simply wrong. And to cap it all, much of it is badly written.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deconstructs the claims of evolutionary psychology..., 20 Nov. 2000
By A Customer
There is a long history of seemingly neutral and objective scientific theories which, in retrospect, are seen to have been shaped by the social, economic and cultural biases of their day. In fact, it would be fair to argue that, in the life and social sciences, this is normal rather than exceptional... particularly when the issues at stake impact closely on questions of public policy or social organisation. The contributors to Alas, Poor Darwin start from this understanding to deconstruct the currently fashionable science of 'evolutionary psychology'. In this multi-disciplinary book, the empirical basis, the theoretical rigour, and the social implications of this new science have been subjected to a sustained and sceptical critique. The continuities with earlier cases in which 'science' has been used to legitimate unjust social relations will be evident to most readers with a background in the history of science.
Alas, Poor Darwin is bound to be controversial because it is hard-hitting and, in places, uncompromising. This is a strength rather than a weakness. 'Ideological' sciences have tended to thrive when informed critics are unable to honestly express their views; thus the case for a rethinking of evolutionary psychology has been put firmly and clearly in this book. While the chapters, inevitably, are of variable quality, the best of them are very good indeed. The book as a whole is well conceived and edited; it holds together well. Alas, Poor Darwin is a 'must-read' for students of science studies, of psychology, of gender studies, of sociology, or of human evolution.
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15 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing challenge to a pseudo-scientific idea, 12 Feb. 2001
By A Customer
This book is a refreshing antidote to some of the wilder and more misplaced claims of evolutionary psychology. The basic premise of ep is that many human traits appeared at a time (round about the Stone Age, though why the Stone Age is supposed to be so special, I'm not sure) when they had a specific evolutionary purpose; they may no longer be useful, but they linger on. One such example might be male promiscuity - a belief in the evolutionary basis for differences between the sexes is a staple of ep thought.
But the belief that we are all prisoners of our genes has been challenged by the startling discovery that the human genome contains only 30,000, not 100,000 genes. Perhaps once more the idea that human behaviour is shaped to a large extent by our environment is about to make a comeback.
Many of the essays in this collection are excellent; one or two overstate the case. The two most pertinent points are made, I think, by Stephen Jay Gould and Hilary Rose. Gould's objection to evolutionary psychology is simple, but devastating: it can't be proved. Gould gives as an example Robert Wright's argument that a sweet tooth may cause obesity now but must have arisen as an adaptation because, as Wright puts it, "Our fondness for sweetness was designed for an environment in which fruit existed but candy didn't." As Gould explains, this is "pure guesswork in the cocktail party mode". Evolutionary psychology can take any modern observed phenomenon and say it's the result of an evolutionary adaptation: an entirely circular, and therefore utterly unscientific, argument.
This is really at the heart of Rose's objection too. In a lovely phrase, she refers to "the contrast between the authoritarian certainty about Pleistocene psychology and the flexibility of the political projects." In other words, right-wingers use EP to justify their beliefs, while left-wingers use it to justify theirs. Rather like modern day Christians and the bible, true believers in EP are able to pick and choose whatever suits their particular project.
Mary Midgeley's essay on memes is a devastating attack on that particular idea.
My only objection to the book is that a couple of the essays were poorly-written in an unnecessarily opaque academic language. A fine book, and like Kenan Malik's recent Man, Beast and Zombie, one which provides a rigorous intellectual challenge to the madder claims of the modern Darwinists.
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12 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Questioning evolutionary psychology, 5 Dec. 2000
By A Customer
This book leaves evolutionary psychology little room to maneouvre. With convincing arguments from five sociologists, a neurobiologist, an ethologist, a psychologist, a philosopher, a geneticist, an interdisciplinarian, an architect and a medical scientist, evolutionary psychology is branded the unwanted new kid on the block. However, the Roses probably exhibit premature misplaced generosity when they designate evolutionary psychology the status of a new discipline. According to Ulrichs International Periodical Directory (Bowker, 1998) only the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology exists and so far there are no related derivatives.
By berating the apparent handwaving of the contributors, A.P. Jackson (below) could be accused of missing the point. In this case, alternatives would only be relevant if the idea would be to seek to wholly fill the explanatory niche left by evolutionary psychology. And since as Nelkin and others argue, EP is a theory for absolutely everything this makes it hard for alternatives to thrive unless they were to be accused of the same evils. Besides, chapters by Gould, Bateson, Ingold and Karmiloff-Smith provide specific empirical data or material which directly counter the claims of the evolutionary psychologists.
Thoroughly recommend this book.
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Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology
Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology by Steven Rose (Paperback - 2 Aug. 2001)
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