Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I hate arguments from nature!

I know I have talked about this before, but this kind of thing just keeps coming up.

The latest was an address given to the APA (an organization known for being totally objective and politically unmotivated, grr...) by Professor Roy Baumeister. Here is the link since I am in the wrong browser to make it look good.


It is long and will probably be boring unless scientifically justified sexism gets you off. Shorter version:

Men exist more at the extremes of the bell curve, both high and low. This explains why men get lower GPAs (where the top is fixed) and higher salaries (where the bottom is fixed). He isn't exactly clear whether the bell curve is supposed to be intelligence or achievement of personality or all of those things. Nevertheless, it is the people at the top, mostly men, who have driven human history and progress and women and dumb men have gone along for the ride. He appears not to believe that prejudice or patriarchy are as satisfying as a naturalistic explanation for achievement diferences. For instance, white women didn't produce any real music in the 18th or 19th centuries but black men did, despite both groups being in some way oppressed.

I could go through this point by point, but who cares? Let me simply say that I have two issues with this.

1: It is totally speculative. Sure, his explanation could be right (I doubt it, but I won't get into that). But there are a lot of other perfectly workable explanations out there. To take the music example, white women may have produced less music because they already fit into a cultural context that limited their creativity, while black people in general had to reinvent their cultural context, which led to a flourishing of creativity (a la Harlem Renaissance). There is no way to prove his point, and that is pretty much true of all behavioral-evolution hypotheses. We can always guess, but we can't really ever know.

2: He ignores the cultural context in which he is speaking. Oh look, what a nifty theory! It explains the facts so well! Wait, it already fits in with preconceived and sexist notions of gender? Well that must totally be a coincedence! Right. Just like the gas I had today and the big greasy pizza I had yesterday are totally coincedental events. Clearly no causality here. Move along.

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