There are a lot of things I really don’t like about evolutionary psychology, especially that it frequently spawns guys who make bullshit claims like “humans evolved so black women are less attractive“. (Oh God I can’t even believe the amount of sloppy thinking that went into that.)
However, friends of mine who like evol-psych have often told me that the actual field is more reasonable than most of the headliners, and that its findings are often co-opted by the media in ridiculous and stereotype-driven ways. And it’s worth noting that there is some criticism within the field of its own weaknesses. One such friend emailed me a piece called Offensive Inanity in the Name of Evolutionary Psychology. Snip:
Leading evolutionary psychologists … complain that a healthy scientific discipline is being pilloried for one researcher’s faults, and refuse to have their field held responsible for all the questionable pop psychology that goes by its name.
The fact is that, on the whole, the media have been very positive about evolutionary psychology, reporting a variety of tentative findings as ground-breaking discoveries and making cultural heroes of some of the most effective defenders of the approach. (…) The problem is that this success was based not so much on an interest for scientific progress and for a genuinely naturalistic understanding of human affairs, as on a taste for sweeping generalizations with hints of political and moral relevance, in particular about sexual relationships, violence, domination, and so on. The reputation of evolutionary psychology has greatly gained from this press coverage, with more students attracted, more jobs, and more research funding, but there is a price to benefitting from the kind of distorted and simplified image produced by the media.
Part of the price has been exacted when evolutionary psychologists had to play the game and, in order to benefit from it, went along with the media image, with its superficiality, distortions, and ideological overtones. This might have seemed cheap but now another part of the price is exacted when similar ideologically loaded simplifications and distortions are used not in favour but against evolutionary psychology. Still another part of the price is paid within the field itself which has, to some extent, come to imitate its own media image.
(This all reminds me of this extremely sarcastic piece that makes fun of evolutionary psychology. You’ll need to understand the concept of satire before you read it: Science reveals evolutionary origins of gender stereotypes.)
[hat tip for the Offensive Inanity piece to Michael Bishop]