Evolution, Gender and Rape: Reviewed in Ethology, January 2004.
An expose of another outrageous book by evolutionary psychologists,
a book having many similarities with the Bailey book,
reveals many deep problems in the field of academic psychology.
An earlier book by evolutionary psychologists Thornhill and Palmer (A Natural History of Rape) and the spectacle surrounding that book prompted academic and social outrage just as the more recent Bailey book has done. Thornhill and Palmer grossly corrupted and misused biology and so too have many other evolutionary psychologists (such as Bailey)... and with disturbing success appropriating biology for repressive ends. The outrage over the Thornhill and Palmer book has now led to a response in the form of a new book, Evolution, Gender and Rape, edited by Cheryl Travis. Attached below is a review and commentary on that new book by prominent Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden, Ph.D., which illuminates the sorry state of the field of academic psychology these days:
"...we must demand that the academic quality of psychology improve. The psychology major has long been a 'gut' major, often the easiest on campus, a safety net for students who can't major in anything else. Now the price is evident - an under-qualified profession. We should recommend that the psychology major now include a year-sequence in basic biology covering the topics of biologic categories and classification, molecular genetics and physiology, and evolutionary biology and ecology. We cannot continue to tolerate the simplistic biologic misinformation taught in the psychology curriculum unless we are prepared to overlook the harm and social injustice that psychologists are causing. In 20 years, a new generation may be better informed."
- Joan Roughgarden, Ph.D.
Volume 110 Issue 1 Page 76 - January 2004
Evolution, Gender, and Rape. A Bradford Book
Reviewed by Joan Roughgarden
Travis, C. B. (ed.) 2003: Evolution, Gender, and Rape. A Bradford Book,
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 454
pp., $24.95. ISBN 0-262-70090-5.
In 2000, the latest 'evolution-made-me-do-it' excuse for criminal behavior
from evolutionary psychologists appeared in, A Natural History of Rape:
Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion by Thornhill & Palmer (2000) (TP). TP
claim that rape is an evolutionary adaptation wired into the male psyche. The
now-familiar press conferences and talk-show appearances of celebrity-scientist
wannabes accompanied the book's release. The book and its publicity spectacle
prompted academic outrage and provoked a response, Evolution, Gender and Rape
edited by Cheryl Travis that systematically refutes TP, from soup to nuts.
Twenty-three contributors from disciplines ranging from anthropology, biology, psychology, and sociology, through zoology express a disdain for TP that taxes normal standards of professional courtesy. Here's a sample of phrases taken from beginning to end, spanning all the contributors:
Thornhill and Palmer are 'wrong altogether' (p. 81); TP 'pay scant attention to the subjectivity...of pain' (p. 95); In TP, 'care to resist overgeneralizing...is no where to be found' (p. 96); TP employ 'uninformed use of self-report' (p. 96); 'Is there something inherent in...evolutionary psychology that attracts racists' (p. 105); 'when evolutionary psychology kept its claims modest and its head down, charity commended giving the new movement the benefit of the doubt. But...evolutionary psychology turns out to be pop sociobiology with a fig leaf.' (p. 141); TP's 'insubstantial suggestions would not be taken seriously in other areas of evolutionary studies' (p. 163); TP 'dehumanize...human courtship' (p. 165); TP 'wonder why their work inspires hostile reactions...[and suggest] they stand in a line of thinkers that extends back to Galileo, a line of fearless revolutionaries dedicated to science and truth. We offer a harsher alternative. They pretend to scientific rigor when they have none; they misunderstand the positions of those whom they lambast; they blunder into sensitive issues...and employ language and images that...[produce] pain and humiliation for women' (pp. 165-166); 'Thornhill and Palmer's book is utterly lacking in sound scientific grounding.' (p. 173); TP are 'fiddling with the data. This is not the way that scientists normally behave.' (p.183); TP are 'guilty of indifference to scientific standards. They buttress strong claims with weak reasoning, weak data, and finagled statistics' (p. 185); TP have 'increased resistance to evolutionary analysis, ill represented the process of science, and encouraged harmful [rape] prevention suggestions' (p. 191); TP 'camouflage their unstated ideological agenda, deflect attention from obvious flaws in their logic...and inflate the importance of their own work. They succeed only in diminishing the stature of science and fueling anti-intellectualism by the public.' (p. 192); 'It is surprising to see so little attention devoted [by TP] to acknowledging and responding to peer criticism of which they have long been aware' (p. 192); TP's proposals for rape-prevention education are 'laughable from the practical perspective' (p. 198); TP is 'a work that is offensive, scientifically flawed, misguided [and] reckless' (p. 202); TP is 'just another silly and unwarranted extension of evolutionary psychology's preposterously reductionist sociobiology written by two vainglorious and self-promoting researchers who have never done any research with actual human beings' (p. 221); TP contains a 'dreadfully poor understanding of nature, of history, and of ''natural history''' (p. 222); TP is 'appallingly badly written' (p. 222); TP is 'bad science, bad writing, and bad politics-makes you wonder...how such a work was vetted through a reputable university press' (p. 222); 'Thornhill and Palmer's use of evidence is so selective that it may well constitute scholarly fraud.' (p. 225) 'You see, Thornhill and Palmer hate men...the best example I can find of male-bashing masquerading as academic pseudo-science.' (p. 231); If TP were right, 'then the only sensible solution would be to lock all males up and release them for sporadic, reproductive mating after being chosen by females. Thornhill and Palmer offer a far more 'misandrous' account of rape than anything offered by their nemeses, radical feminists...Feminists, by contrast believe men are capable of doing better' (p. 231); 'naturalizing and universalizing rape...makes sexual aggression inevitable to masculinity' (p. 357); 'I found the most stunning thing...is how little the authors engage with the large number of previously published critiques' (p. 363) 'Their argument is thus founded on fundamental mistakes' (p. 364); TP are 'astonishingly tone deaf' (p. 370); TP's 'understanding of culture is so profoundly oversimplified as to be unbelievable' (p. 373); 'reading this kind of thing is like stepping into a time machine to return to the 1920's to 1950's when ''analogies and comparisons between cultural and biological evolution were commonplace''' (p. 373); TP 'present themselves as the sad but implacable bearers of the bad news...[that] rape is really the biological imperative' (p. 377); 'I find them both disingenuous and insidious' (p. 377); 'their account actually amounts to an incitement to rape' (p. 378); and finally, 'their work neglects the past 25 years of literature in the nascent field of evolutionary psychology, as well as in social psychology and sociology' (p.384).
Thornhill and Palmer are guilty of all allegations and they deserve to hang. But before stringing them up, let's reflect.
Evolution, Gender and Rape does not offer new findings so much as provide an interdisciplinary digest of established results. Zoologists may not know much about the comparative anthropology of sexual coercion, and scientists may not know much about proven techniques in rape-education programs. To bridge these disciplinary gaps, this book is necessary handbook for anyone from all the disciplines, anthropology through zoology, concerned with sexual coercion. The book is readable, fast paced, often humorous, and the chapters hang together, overall a great success.
A success in scholarship that is, not politics. Evolution, Gender and Rape preaches to the choir. No press conferences heralded its release, nor were the authors featured on Oprah. TP's crime is political, not scholarly. A scholarly refutation leaves their political project intact. Even if their academic corpses were dragged through the streets, they would be followed by other warriors in their cause.
As a biologist, psychology looks to me as a discipline without standards, professionally bankrupt, harboring a clique of dumbly insensitive bigots. TP do not violate the standards of their discipline, they exemplify it. Not only have TP corrupted and misused biology, so too have many other evolutionary psychologists. Indeed, one of the book's chapters focuses solely on another evolutionary psychologist, D. Buss, whose writings distort sexual selection theory to claim biologic support for sexist gender stereotypes. In human-sexuality psychology too, the name of biology is used in vain. The incoming chair of psychology at Northwest has recently published a book defaming gays and transgendered people that is not only homophobic and transphobic, but misogynist and racist as well. Evolutionary psychologists and human-sexuality psychologists cross-cite each other, and are positively reviewed in right-wing screeds like the National Review. Psychologists defend each other's 'right' to publish homophobic and sexist theories under the cover of academic freedom. They give each other jobs for such work, and back each other up when criticized at the National Academies and at individual university departments. Reactionary psychologists are ignorant of science, yet are with disturbing success appropriating biology for repressive ends. As a biologist, I say no! I want my science back!
The next steps are threefold. First, social scientists must get over worrying about biologic determinism. Biologic determinism is here to stay. The issue is who tells its story and what they say. The technical problem with TP is not biologic determinism, but biologic universalism. The material dimension of our temperament and thinking is becoming increasingly evident. Someday, instruments will show how our brains differ before and after seeing a movie, or eating chocolate. Someday instruments will tell what suite of genes express when we read, talk, laugh, and lust. Genes for 'free will' might even trarnscribe when we feel empowered, and fall silent when we feel constrained. So what? Evolution, Gender and Rape's concluding chapter argues that TP should be discarded because it stands in the 'lengthy tradition of biological determinism'. No. Attacking TP because of biologic determinism plays into their hands. TP can respond dumbly, as they have, that their critics are in denial of nature, and then proceed to ignore them wholesale. It's time for social scientists to get their hands dirty and learn some science, for otherwise they will continue to be ignored.
Secondly, we must demand that the academic quality of psychology improve. The psychology major has long been a 'gut' major, often the easiest on campus, a safety net for students who can't major in anything else. Now the price is evident - an under-qualified profession. We should recommend that the psychology major now include a year-sequence in basic biology covering the topics of biologic categories and classification, molecular genetics and physiology, and evolutionary biology and ecology. We cannot continue to tolerate the simplistic biologic misinformation taught in the psychology curriculum unless we are prepared to overlook the harm and social injustice that psychologists are causing. In 20 years, a new generation may be better informed.
Finally, critics of evolutionary and human-sexuality psychology should realize that they're dealing with a political fight more than an academic dispute. We must organize as activists to oppose this junk and get out of our safe comfortable armchairs, for much is at stake.
Thornhill, R. & Palmer, C. 2000: A Natural History of Rape:
Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
This page is part of Lynn Conway's
"Investigative report into the publication of
J. Michael Bailey's book on transsexualism
by the National Academies"