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Rebecca Watson’s Skepticon speak is NOT an instance of scholarship denialism

Posted by Z Dental Group - December 6th, 2012

I was recently forked to this post by Edward Clint that purports to uncover Rebecca Watson regulating a 5 strategy of scholarship denialism during her pronounce “How Girls Evolved to Shop” that was vicious of evolutionary psychology during Skepticon.

I watched her talk, found it entertaining, informative, wondered given we haven’t been invited to Skepticon, and we found we concluded with many of her examples of unequivocally bad cocktail psychology nonsense that’s filtered into a media by both scientists, press-release journalism, and selling sheltered as science. In sold a “pink is for girls” idiocy, that when we wrote about it during a time we came to a same conclusions as Watson that it was a foolish interpretation of a data, and a researcher who was indeed constrained this glib, incorrect, and historically-bogus interpretation was a fool. It was startling in that it was an instance of a scientist herself, not even a media, disastrously misinterpreting a information to make it mix with a specific governmental disposition about females.

The problem with this pronounce was that Watson used specific examples, generally those finished renowned by a media, as demonstrative of a whole margin of evolutionary psychology, and so competence have over-generalized about a margin as a whole. Even yet during a finish when asked if there are any good evolutionary biology papers, she suggests there expected are though that’s not what creates it into a media given they’re substantially tedious (lies are mostly some-more entertaining), it was too late. The bearing of her pronounce substantially was too one-sided, and suggested a nonsense that simpleton reporters fasten onto, and some of a some-more oddity researchers are demonstrative of an whole field, that is unfair. Edward Clint takes this as a pointer of scholarship denialism, however, and tries to fit a 5 strategy to her talk. While we determine that Watson competence have over-generalized, this isn’t denialism. Let’s go over his points and plead given we don’t consider her pronounce crosses this line.

Clint states:

The denialism brought to Skepticon was to a margin of evolutionary psychology, a abounding amicable scholarship with roots going behind to Charles Darwin himself. The censor was internet pundit and self-described feminist and doubter Rebecca Watson. Watson is famous for her blog website, as co-host of a renouned doubter podcast, and for vocalization during earthy and doubter conferences. But Watson binds no systematic training or experience. The assign of scholarship denialism is a vicious one, and we will support a explain with a infancy of evidence.

Ok, initial of all, we don’t need to be a scientist or an consultant in a sold margin to be vicious of it. At no indicate does Watson advise she’s an expert, that would have been a usually reason given such a critique is relevant. A layperson is ideally entitled to examine a field, and afterwards give a pronounce such as this vicious of a systematic disposition towards women benefaction in a field. we consider she indeed creates a constrained justification that there is a disposition problem in a interpretation of a information entrance out of these papers, and a vast PR problem for evolutionary psych in that it’s generally a biased, stupid, and nonsensical studies a media latches onto and amplifies for lay consumption. She doesn’t contend it accurately like that, though that’s how we interpreted her talk.

He continues:

The categorical points Watson wants to expostulate home are that evolutionary psychology isn’t scholarship (as indicated by a quotes in a subtitle), and that researchers concerned in it work deliberately to strengthen stereotypes and to annoy women. Watson frequently creates overly extended claims about a “they” or “it” of evolutionary psychology though serve specificity, heading her assembly to assume she simply refers to a entirety of a field, or to a vast infancy of it.

This is an astray investigate of her talk. we don’t consider during any indicate Watson indicates this duty is deliberate, malicious, or dishonest. It’s transparent that she’s exposing a systematic bias in a interpretation of a information from these studies. She is not suggesting fabrication, tweaking, or dishonesty, usually foolish conclusions, and injured examine designs, and we determine with her that in these examples, she creates a case, these sold researchers are possibly idiots or blind to bias.

Now we competence ask, how would an (apparently) consultant doubter examine a domain of evolutionary psychology to strech and support a conclusions that Watson has? The initial step should be carrying a organisation grasp on what evolutionary psychology is, and to have a operative laxity with a subject. Since we are articulate about a systematic field, this during slightest would meant reading some papers, or maybe during a minimum, some erudite reviews and meta-analyses. And they should be customary of a field, definition from creditable journals and mainstream researchers. It would be stupid to call biologists creationists and religiously encouraged while indicating to Michael Behe and Francis Collins as examples of biologists as a whole.

As apart as Watson’s over-generalization of her commentary to a margin we determine with this criticism, however, my interpretation of a pronounce as a whole was about how when it came to ascribing differences in duty due to sex that evolutionary psych has some vast problems with systematic disposition towards affirming governmental stereotypes about women. we consider she creates a constrained box for this, though it is possible, of course, that a cases she listed are a vivid exceptions. Clearly with courtesy to Kanazawa, a man is a crackpot, though she also had some flattering lethal critiques of other some-more legitimate researcher’s conclusions.

However, Watson seems to have usually a many extraneous bargain of evolutionary psychology and it isn’t transparent that she’s examination even one paper in a field.

This is astray and disproven by a pronounce in that she provides specific critiques and interpretations of information where they brawl with a author’s conclusions. It’s unequivocally tough to do this though reading a paper.

There are many reasons to consider this. She cited no sources during her 48-minute pronounce over what is mentioned in newspapers and other media or publicly accessible abstracts. While she derided media exaggeration in one partial of a talk, she practically devoted media reports for a bulk of it, and rather uncritically.

I don’t know this given it’s transparent from a video that her slides indeed have several of a papers adult and clearly visible. we also don’t consider she blindly devoted media reports either, as she cites specific instances, like a “pink is for girls” study, in that a media cooverage, and a author’s possess conclusions differed from a data.

At a finish of her talk, an assembly member asks Watson if there is any “good evolutionary psychology”. Watson throws adult her hands while observant “prooobably? I’m guessing yes, though it’s so boring.. given we can usually make it enchanting if we make adult everything. [...] if there is good evolutionary psychology, it’s not in a media[...]” (see index 47:30)

Setting aside a renowned anti-science opinion that usually media-hypable scholarship can be interesting, as good as a differing stupidity that a systematic margin stoical of thousands of researchers operative for decades and edition in countless creditable scholarship journals usually “probably” has some good work being done, Watson clearly reveals that she is usually informed with evolutionary psychology in a “media,” carrying moments before shown incontrovertibly how dangerous a media is.

I don’t consider she expresses a opinion that media hype is usually pointer of enchanting science. we consider her pronounce should have been narrowed, however, to privately residence how evolutionary psychology has vital disposition problems when it attempts to explain differences between masculine and womanlike behavior.

The initial work she mentions in her pronounce is vicious given it sets a tinge and is, presumably, vicious to her subject that evolutionary psychology is pseudoscientific and sexist. She cites a Telegraph letter referring to a examine finished by one Dr. David Holmes about a psychology of shopping. However, this is an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed examine conducted by a non-evolutionary clergyman paid for by a business to assistance them sell things better. This has no aptitude to Watson’s thesis, unless it’s also loyal that Colgate’s “9 out of 10 dentists advise we give us your toothpaste money” studies infer that dental scholarship is bunk.

Again this is an astray criticism, given she privately addressed that this was selling sheltered as science. Watson states:

“all of a best studies we consider are consecrated by selling centers, so no this is indeed selling sheltered as science, that is a trend that is apropos some-more and some-more renouned as mainstream new outlets proviso out any and all support for tangible reporters that know science.”

The strength of her indicate was how she changed from a obvious, BS, marketing-driven scholarship and compared it directly to actual educational evolutionary psych purporting to uncover a accurate same thing.

Supporting a unusual claims that a vast systematic domain is sexist in ubiquitous and methodologically bereft requires unusual evidence. It should entail a unequivocally serious, clever demeanour during a nuts and bolts. How is peer-review accomplished? How good does it function? Are many awful studies flitting it? How many? How easily? How is it that thousands of people, women and men, in dozens of countries opposite decades of time are all implicitly compromised in a same way? Did she pronounce to even one chairman who indeed does evolutionary psychology?

I determine with Clint here that she needs some-more justification before she castigates a whole field, however, we do consider that she creates a constrained justification that (1) evolutionary psych has issues with injecting governmental disposition towards women into a conclusions – and this is indeed not an unusual suspicion given a prolonged story of psych and disposition towards women, non-whites, immigrants etc (I would advise a examination of “Mismeasure of Man”) . If it been totally eradicated, I’d be shocked. Her unwell was she universal this smirch to evolutionary psych as a whole, and not usually this subset of papers traffic with sex differences in duty in that a commentary always seem to heed with a many new governmental biases. (2) we consider she shows, and this is not in dispute, that commentary that strengthen a classify about women are widely circulated in a innocent media, and this is harmful.

Finally, let’s residence Clint’s critiques that this indeed represents a 5 tactics.

Clint Writes:

In 2007 Scienceblogs author Mark Hoofnagle wrote an oft-cited letter about 5 ubiquitous strategy used by denialists to boar confusion. John Cook strong these a bit for an letter in 2010 that discusses meridian scholarship denial.

It is useful to bring Hoofnagle here given Rebecca Watson demonstrates all 5 of these in a singular display and given meridian scholarship and evolutionary psychology have a lot in common.

Watson’s denialist tactics

1. Conspiracy theories
Watson frequently spoke of a shadowy, disband “they” of evolutionary psychology. When she cited researchers by name, they were reason as examples of a they, and not renowned as a subclass. She also mostly spoke to their devious, incorrigible intentions. Not usually that they’re mistaken about their explain or that their process is flawed, though that they actively wanted to annoy women and strengthen damaging stereotypes. Thousands of people in dozens of countries, women and organisation all operative together toward goals such as fortifying rape as “natural” and therefore good (see video indices 20:07, 22:43, 23:41, 35:40, 36:08, 38:40). No justification was presented that could settle these apart motives in such a vast group, and as we shall explain, they are wholly false. Mark Hoofnagle wrote a following on Scienceblogs about swindling theories; not Watson’s, though his difference fit equally good here:

[...] But how could it be possible, for instance, for any scarcely any scientist in a margin be operative together to foster a falsehood? People who trust this is probable simply have no unsentimental bargain of how scholarship works as a discipline.

The problem with Clint’s investigate is that during no indicate does Watson pertain conspiratorial duty to these scientists customary of a denialist argument. we consider she’s ascribing a systematic disposition towards women, and given a issues that scholarship has had in a past with systematic disposition towards less-valued groups in society, this is not possibly out of a area of probability or even startling that it’s still determined in psychology. This is where a reading of SJ Gould’s “Mismeasure of Man” would come in accessible to know how these biases are propagated. What was unusual was how Gould, in his outline of a scholarship behind alleged-differences in races, showed that a researchers weren’t fabricating or being undisguised deceptive, though were led by disposition into over-interpreting data, throwing out unsuitable data, and methodological errors that would attest their before conclusions. Conspiracy in scholarship is honestly absurd, though bias in scholarship is a unchanging struggle, and one should, if anything, consider a participation until proven otherwise. Contrast this to a tellurian warming conspiracism of cranks such as Inhofe, who report a whole margin as a “hoax”, that suggests active dishonesty for an alterior motive.

Denialist swindling theories are non-parsimonious. That is they lift some-more questions than they answer, given they’re generally being used to explain a absence of data, rather than fit together existent information into an reason of reality. This is given it’s so absurd when denialists pronounce about tangible conspiracies, like rapist conspiracies, or a assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Those are not “conspiracy theories” in a complicated parlance, given they yield an reason that fits a data, a formula of investigation, motives, etc. They don’t emanate some-more questions, like, “how could all those thousands of people keep quiet.” The answer is they can’t. Just ask Lance Armstrong, a tobacco companies, or any mafiosi that’s had their operation dismantled by a snitch. Secrets are flattering tough to keep.

Watson is not proposing a non-parsimonious swindling speculation here, instead she’s demonstrating examples in that authors are clearly overinterpreting their information to heed to governmental assumptions about women. This is apart from an unusual explain about psychology, it’s been demonstrated in a past, and is something psychologists should be on unchanging ensure against, given it is some-more expected than not that during some indicate disposition will enter their interpretation of data. Watson’s box is flattering solid, in regards to these examples, that a disposition is plain to see.


Fake experts are not featured prominently in Watson’s talk. However, during a finish Watson cites several feign experts whose opinions on a scholarship are unsuitable with established, uncontroversial knowledge. She implores a assembly to examination Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a book seeking to transparent a radical amicable constructionist perspective of gender differences. While Fine creates some reasonable points about some injured studies, erudite reviews have criticized Fine for cherry-picking studies as examples that are fair to her finish and ignoring a rest

Watson goes on to advise Greg Laden’s blog. Laden is a bioanthropologist who is on record uttering unscientific opinions such as that organisation are testosterone-damaged women.

Clint acknowledges these examples are weak, and in sold picking on Greg is unequivocally usually a smear. we consider it’s tough to interpret his post on “men as testosterone-damaged women” as serious, as he himself says:

e. Or whatever. Other people were some-more courteous about it and objected to a matter given it is wrong. Well, that’s good, given it is in a approach wrong, given it is an oversimplification. But it was not meant to be a outline of a biological and informative processes compared with a growth of sold personality, culture, and society. we am a small astounded that people suspicion it was such a statement, given it is so apparently a acknowledgement designed to poke certain organisation in a eye.

It was a shock-statement, not a vicious matter of systematic fact, and it’s astray of Clint to be dismissive of Laden over such a triviality. Only a MRAs seem to take that matter seriously, and they, as a group, should be abandoned whenever possible. As apart as Cordelia Fine, we have a good bargain of difficulty vocalization with any certainty on her position in a margin as a non-expert myself. However, reading Diane Halpern’s examination in Science (no denialist rag) we find it to be more-nuanced that Clint’s quote suggested. Halpern writes:

Cleverly created with enchanting prose, Delusions of Gender and Brain Storm enclose adequate citations and finish records to vigilance that they are also vicious educational books. Fine and Jordan-Young ferret out exaggerated, unreplicated claims and other stupidity per examine on sex differences. The books are strongest in exposing examine conclusions that are closer to novella than science. They are weakest in unwell to also indicate out differences that are upheld by a physique of delicately conducted and well-replicated research.

I consider a book described by an consultant reviewer as a “serious educational book” though injured in one courtesy shouldn’t be so simply dismissed, as this reviewer in Science, while critical, was mostly certain about her book. we consider a feign consultant moniker should not be practical to possibly of these two, and frankly, deliberation loyal feign experts out there like Monckton, a avowal is rather laughable.


3. Cherry picking
As summarized in partial II, Watson singular her citations to stories that seem in a ubiquitous media and vicious renouned scholarship books. She focused on some of a misfortune probable examples that could be found, such as a interviews (not publications) with a ashamed Satoshi Kanazawa, instead of focusing on mainstream, creditable researchers. She also singular her citations to a sub-topic of sex and gender differences. While it is distinct that she competence select a slight subject to benefaction to a conference, she frequently creates her claims about a margin in general, not merely as it pertains to sex and gender differences. For example, she rehashes Stephen Jay Gould’s “just so stories” criticism, (long debunked by biologists and others), though afterwards uses as examples usually sex and gender claims.

Now here we determine with Clint, Watson should have singular her remarks to evolutionary psych and a “sub-topic” of sex gender differences, as it’s transparent that there is some-more to evolutionary psych than this stupid “girls like pink” crap. But I’m also going to remonstrate with him that Stephen Jay Gould’s critique has been “debunked” formed on his supposing link we indeed determine some-more with Gould than we do a author. While Gould was clearly proven wrong in a few instances, we consider his critique of “just-so stories” is indeed quite-compelling, and is an try to try to equivocate a inequitable bargain of evolutionary mechanisms to try to find a purpose to any behavior, or any evolutionary modification. This critique reads truer to me than many of a post-hoc explanations I’ve seen in evolutionary biology, and if anything should be internalized by researchers in this field. To reject a probability that one is revelation a “just-so story” though adequate justification is to reject a nothing supposition prematurely. While it is transparent from a letter that this evolutionary psych can have a hypotheses tested, and even that Gould was wrong in one instance, doesn’t meant that it’s a bent in a margin and one that needs to be addressed.

4. Impossible expectations of what examine can deliver
Some of Watson’s criticisms would un-make many sciences were we to take them seriously. For instance she says (13:27) “they never tell us what genes” as if this is a grand complaint of evolutionary psychology. There are scientists creation in-roads in this area, though tracing a trail from genes to structures to duty is difficult-to-impossible, solely in a box of illness and disorder. Further, we positively don’t reason any other sciences to that standard, even a ones for that genes and instrumentation are critical. Does anyone know precisely that genes make a cheetah fast, and accurately how they accomplish that? The peacock’s feathers, a fish’s gills? Shall we toss out all a evolutionary biology for that we do not have genetic bases identified? we should consider not. Cognitive scholarship also focuses on models divorced from earthy things like genes and even neurons, though no one doubts that genes and neurons make cognitive capabilities probable (which is given genetic illnesses can exceedingly impact them).

While it’s loyal that it would be irrational to predicate a genetic reason for any trait given so many traits are polygenic, and we have a unequivocally deficient bargain of a duty of most of a genome, this critique shouldn’t be discharged so easily. Eventually this margin will have to incorporate genome-wide investigate into a bargain of tellurian behavior, nonetheless Clint is right, not any anticipating in biology that’s vicious or value edition about needs to be explained down to a final atom.

At 15:41 Watson derisively explained her perspective of a process of evolutionary psychology as picking a behavior, presumption it is evolved, and afterwards find “anything” in a past that competence be applicable to it. Setting aside a oversight of her summary, she seemed to be balking that such an supposition is usually totally finished up. Yes, Ms. Watson, it is. That is how scholarship works. It is not famous what a answers are before starting, so a researcher creates as good a theory as they can and afterwards tests it.

Yes, though a genuine critique here is a deficiency of contrast a nothing hypothesis, as we explained above. This should be a vicious member of supposition testing. She also has a indicate that if there are too many explanations for a data, all of them consistent, a anticipating isn’t of sold value.

At 13:39 Watson says that we can’t know adequate about a apart past to make assessments of what competence have been adaptive. She refers to movement in meridian and “environment” and that a lives of a ancestors also “varied”. In other words, evolutionary psychologists can’t make any assumptions. We can’t assume women got profound and organisation didn’t, or that predators indispensable to be avoided, or that living indispensable to be cumulative by sport or foraging; these are genuine assumptions evolutionary psychologists use. If we were to toss out evolutionary psychology for this reason, we contingency also toss out most of biology, archaeology as good as paleoanthropology. Much caring contingency be used in determining what can and can’t be insincere about a past, though archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, biologists and evolutionary psychologists know this utterly well.

This is a current point.

Last though not least:

5. Misrepresentations and judicious fallacies
Please see territory V. 25 False and dubious statements finished by Watson. In that list, equipment 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20 and 25 are dubious statements. This is not a extensive list. Watson creates magnanimous use of judicious fallacies. we will report usually one for a consequence of brevity.

The naturalistic fallacy. One can frequency find a some-more primitive instance of this misconception than in critique of evolutionary psychology, and Watson’s remarks were no exception. She spelled it out clearly during 38:30 “men developed to rape… it was used as a good it’s healthy for organisation to rape”. The problem to Watson is that some evolutionary psychologists examine a phenomena of rape as a intensity adaptation, or a product of adaptations such as a use of assault to obtain what one wants. Watson assumes that if rape is about sex, and sex is good given sex is natural, afterwards rape contingency be healthy and therefore good. This is an stupidity of course; it’s any shade of wrong from a rainbow of ultimate wrongness.

Yes, though Watson was describing it as a healthy misconception herself! You dual are indeed similar with any other.

I also consider that his list of feign or dubious claims by Watson is value reading and it unequivocally should have been a starting indicate for a contention about Watson’s talk. They indeed have a lot of common belligerent between them, and honestly evolutionary psych needs a arise adult call to a open picture problem. Instead Clint clumsily tries to fit a strategy of denialism to her talk, and in my opinion, fails. Yes there are problems here, and he raises current points. But a participation of denialism is not one of them.

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