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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  June 2009

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE June 2009

Subject:

Re: "Our brains are fluid and plastic"

From:

mart <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 28 Jun 2009 08:10:57 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (330 lines)

if i recall, hawks links to michelle malkin (right wing talk host i think)on his blog.  his blog often is fairly interesting especxially on issues like 'out of africa'/multiregional  theory, but there is also some questionable stuff on there.   

the UNC/Duke sociology and genetics faculty really have some highly questionable people.  studies from there use fairly complex data analyses, but on very shoddy research designs (exceedlingly small sample sizes, self-reporting type psychological questionaires, etc.)  to try to find single-gene (typically seretonin, etc.) influences on behavior (eg gene plus no family breakfast=gang membership).  
my fave is the guy who is learning beahviro genetics on the job (since thats not his field) and so he does linear regrtessions to correlate child performance with iq scores.   thats since he can only solve linear regressions---and you get results--- so dealing with higher order effects isn't neccesary. there'sd another one in Va. too (who also specializes in average state iq scores/percantage blacks on the state budget---keeps him out of jail!).  

 its quite similar to 'general equilibrium' modeling in econ, which uses vast firepower to find answers to ill-posed problems (eg maximizing or projecting GDP).  

most of theses single issue types are too lazy to try to deal with formulating well-posed problems and solving them.  but that is partly a function of the organization of research, which favors publish/perish so you have to find something you can 'solve' (even if the result is thrown out in 5 years---you only live once, so what if you're wrong? you got your tenure!!!   i wonder whether that 'gay gene' stuff by levay, etc has ever been replicated---probably there are mixed results).  


    --- On Sun, 6/28/09, Jon Beckwith <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> From: Jon Beckwith <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: "Our brains are fluid and plastic"
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Date: Sunday, June 28, 2009, 9:32 AM
> 
>  
> Michael-  I am suspicious about Hawks
> in terms of where
> he is coming from.  Witness his statement after the
> first
> Microcephalin paper appeared in Science.
> 
> 
> New Scientist
> 
> September 17, 2005
> 
> 
> "Whatever advantage these genes give, some groups have
> it and some
> don't. This has to be the worst nightmare of people who
> believe strongly
> there are no differences in brain function between
> groups," says
> anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin in
> Madison.
> 
> 
> I agree with you that scientific reports on genetics
> and behavior
> should not be rejected out of hand, but given its long, sad
> history, we
> certainly should look at them suspiciously. 
> Particularly, when it
> is coming from people who have a history of getting things
> wrong or have
> known biases.  For example, when the study of Caspi et
> al came out
> reporting a correlation between an MAOA polymorphism,
> individuals with it
> being exposed to child abuse and subsequent anti-social
> behavior, the
> data seemed OK to me, although in such cases, one awaits
> replication.  Problem is that attempted replications
> have given
> different results.  I was also suspicious because I
> was on a panel
> with one of the authors of that paper, who expressed some
> views that
> sounded quite classist to me
> 
>           
> Now, we have
> to look at this new study that reports MAOA as the
> "Gangsta
> gene."  I'm not sure the article is out yet
> in Comprehensive
> Psychiatry.  Does anyone have a copy? 
> 
>           
> As far as
> EvPsych goes, I just don't see this as providing
> scientific evidence for
> anything.  I never say never, so maybe some day
> scientists in this
> field will develop approaches that will allow them to make
> hypotheses
> with more backing, but right now is not the day.  
> 
> 
>                                   
> Jon
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> t 08:25 AM 6/28/2009, you wrote:
> 
> From
> University of
> Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks.
> 
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
> 
> Sent to you by Michael via Google
> Reader:
> 
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
> 
> 
> 
> "Our brains are fluid and
> plastic"
> 
> via john hawks weblog by John
> Hawks on
> 6/26/09
> 
> 
> For some reason, it's "bash evolutionary
> psychology" week.
> First, Sharon Begley writes a 7-page essay in
> Newsweek,
> "Don't
> Blame the
> Caveman.", and now David Brooks gamely takes on
> the subject in
> the New York Times:
> 
> "Human Nature Today". 
> 
> 
> Brooks' target is Geoffrey Miller's new book,
> 
> Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior. I
> haven't seen
> Miller's book yet, maybe they'll send me one. I
> have a feeling there's
> more to it than Brooks' two-paragraph synopsis. 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> We are all narcissists, Miller asserts. We spend much
> of our lives
> trying to broadcast our excellence in these traits in order
> to attract
> mates. Even if we’re not naturally smart or
> outgoing, we buy products
> and brands that give the impression we are.
> 
> 
> 
> 
> It seems to me that an evolutionary analysis of
> consumer behavior is
> a tall order. You have to account for the fact that nature
> didn't set up
> the mall; a lot of clever advertising people did. Just as
> David Kessler pointed
> out for
> restaurants, stores are busy trying to exploit innate
> biases toward
> products and to manipulate learned responses to them. Some
> of it is a
> novel environment, other parts are fairly old applications
> of information
> foraging. The combinations of old and new, cultural
> variations, and
> varying levels of group participation may make cooking a
> better analogy
> than foraging. 
> 
> 
> Putting the intrinsic challenge aside, I think David Brooks
> shoots wide
> of the mark. He lists a catalog of alleged excesses in
> Miller's book, and
> tries to pivot into the point that evolutionary psychology
> in general is
> overreaching in its interpretations of human behavior.
> These
> "criticisms" of evolutionary psychology are
> hardly new. Some of
> them may have some force yet, but in Brooks' hands they
> hardly slap
> harder than Ann Landers' famous "wet noodle":
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> But individuals aren’t formed before they enter
> society.
> Individuals are created by social interaction. Our
> identities are formed
> by the particular rhythms of maternal attunement, by the
> shared webs of
> ideas, symbols and actions that vibrate through us second
> by second.
> Shopping isn’t merely a way to broadcast permanent,
> inborn traits. For
> some people, it’s also an activity of trying things
> on in the
> never-ending process of creating and discovering who they
> are.
> 
> 
> 
> So what? Many kinds of sexual and status displays in
> nature are
> highly learned -- bowerbirds construct displays from
> physical objects,
> many songbirds learn songs based on features of the songs
> they hear.
> They're all trying to create and discover (which is
> highfalutin' way to
> say, learn) what to do. That doesn't mean that the
> behaviors don't evolve
> under selection -- it just means that an evolutionary
> account of the
> behaviors must explain the learning mechanism. 
> 
> 
> In humans, there's no question that status displays are
> part of mating
> and social competition. The outcomes of mating and social
> competition
> influence fitness. What remains unknown is the extent to
> which learning
> may be influenced by innate biases. How do we choose who to
> copy? Why do
> we respond to some signals (nowadays, products) and not
> others? Is
> familiarity enough -- old-fashioned, blank-slate type
> learning? How much
> do developing minds depend on cues other than repetition? 
> 
> 
> Nobody really knows the answers to these questions, at
> least not well
> enough to persuasively test hypotheses about the evolution
> of human
> minds. But Brooks implies that such questions aren't
> worth asking. He
> thinks that it's enough to claim that humans aren't
> "hard-wired" -- as if that (false) dichotomy
> actually conveys
> any information. In doing so, Brooks confuses the currency
> of evolution
> (that would be, fitness) with the currency of individual
> fulfillment.
> They're not the same, and in many cases they work
> against each other.
> 
> 
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
> 
> Things you can do from here:
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> Subscribe to john hawks weblog using Google Reader 
> Get
> started
> using Google Reader to easily keep up with all your
> favorite
> sites
>  
> 
>  
>  
> Jon Beckwith
> 
> Dept. of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
> 
> Harvard Medical School
> 
> 200 Longwood Ave.
> 
> Boston, MA 02115
> 
> 
> Tel. 617-432-1920
> 
> FAX 617-738-7664
> 
> e-mail [log in to unmask]
> 
> website
> <
> http://beck2.med.harvard.edu/>
> 
> At my website you can find the
> Spring 2008
> syllabus of a
> course I teach, Social Issues and
> Biology.  Go to
> "People", then to me
> and click on the Microbiology 213 line.
> 
> 
> Related: My book, a memoir: Making
> Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science, Harvard
> University
> Press (2002)  Harvard
> University
> Press. 
> 
> 
> 
> 
>  
> 
> 


      

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