About a month ago, Rebecca Watson gave a lengthy presentation at Skepticon critiquing evolutionary psychology. Her talk has re-ignited online debate regarding the scientific validity of the field, and recent discussions have brought many defenders out of the woodwork. If you have not seen her talk, you might first want to check it out:
Readers of this blog know my thoughts on evolutionary psychology. Quite frankly, I am getting tired of writing about it. However I think this theory of psychology is important to challenge, so I feel some responsibility to stay involved in the discussions. Aside from Rebecca’s sarcastic tone and her choosing some of the most laughable examples from recent evolutionary psychology research, I see little wrong with her talk. There are no serious errors in her logic, and this more entertaining approach is probably just the kind of discussion that needs to be had for laypersons to begin to understand some of the problems with evolutionary psychology. If you are looking for what I believe to be a more carefully reasoned examination, and more technical set of arguments, I kindly ask you to read my own critique of evolutionary psychology.
I am not at all surprised to see proponents of evolutionary psychology reacting to Watson’s critique with anger and vitriol. According to Kuhn and Popper, scientific theories are supported by demarcated conceptual communities that tend to take the favored theory and its implicit philosophical assumptions for granted. It becomes very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to challenge the theory from the inside. This is due to the fact that its adherents will be psychologically invested in protecting their cherished scientific worldview – that’s just how theories and paradigms seem to work. So when a worldview is being attacked, it is unlikely that we will seriously entertain the possibility of our being mistaken. We react not necessarily with better reasons, but by dismissing the assailant or returning the attack.
Many, for example, want to censor Watson based on her apparent lack of scientific credentials (she has a communications degree). My thought is this: if you do not like what she has to say, you ought to engage her in debate, based on your own reasons. You should not try to dismiss an argument because they do not work within that field, or you don’t like what they have to say. By this logic of ‘specialized credentials, ’ we might follow a slippery slope where we decide that only experts in evolutionary psychology should be able to critique their own, which would be absurd since conceptual communities naturally gravitate toward insular thinking that serves to reinforce its own biased set of assumptions. It is for this reason that we need not less, but MORE people challenging theories from the outside.