Some scientists criticize the field of evolutionary psychology.

In The evolution of rape?, PZ Myers writes:

There are days when I simply cannot bear the entire field of evolutionary psychology: it’s so deeply tainted with bad research and a lack of rigor. And that makes me uncomfortable, because the fundamental premise, that our behaviors are a product of our history, is self-evidently true. It’s just that researchers in this field couple an acceptance of that premise to a deep assumption of adaptive teleology, the very thing that they should be evaluating, and produce some of the most awesomely trivial drivel.

I’ve just finished reading an article titled “Darwin’s Rape Whistle: Have women evolved to protect themselves from sexual assault?“, and it’s everything I despise about evolutionary psychology. It’s nothing but sloppy thinking and poor science propped up by a conviction that plausibility is sufficient support for certainty.

[…]

Another way to look at it is that they are hypothesizing that women are more likely to behave in ways that invite physical attack and brutal abuse when they aren’t ovulating. That is a remarkable assertion. It also carries the strange implication that the consequences of rape can be measured by the likelihood of immediate fertilization, rather than by the toll of physical injury and emotional trauma, a peculiar thing for psychologists to neglect. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a general hypothesis that people, men and women, who can avoid violence at any time in their life, are more likely to be reproductively successful and thereby pass on their genes to subsequent generations? That’s all they’re saying, essentially, and the straining to sex it up by tying globally useful behaviors to reproductive cycles is unconvincing.

In Evolutionary psychology for the masses, Jerry Coyne writes:

Now I don’t oppose evolutionary psychology on principle. The evolutionary source of our behavior is a fascinating topic, and I’m convinced that the genetic influences are far stronger than, say, posited by anti-determinists like Dick Lewontin, Steve Rose, and Steve Gould.  Evolved adaptations are particularly likely to be found in sexual behavior, which is intimately connected with the real object of selection: the currency of reproduction.  I’m far closer in my views on this topic to Steve Pinker than to Steve Gould.  And there are many good studies in the field, so I don’t mean to tar the whole endeavor.

But, for crying out loud, let’s have the journalists and scientists show a little more responsibility when reporting on evolutionary psychology.  If there are problems with a study, describe them.  If an idea is pure speculation, say it.  If there are other explanations for a phenomenon, give them.  Let’s not gull the public into claiming that we understand something with near certainty when we don’t.   These lax reportorial standards, pervasive in evolutionary psychology, seem to be much tighter in other areas of science, like physics or molecular biology.  And this despite the enormous difficulty of demonstrating that any human behavior is an evolved adaptation.

Every time I write a piece like this, one that’s critical of evolutionary psychology, I get emails from its practitioners, chewing me out for being so hard on their field.  And my response is always the same: I’ll stop being so hard on your field when you guys start being more critical yourselves.  If you policed your own discipline better, I wouldn’t have to.

Of course, not only practising scientists see the poor logic of many evolutionary psychology arguments. Members of the general public can generally detect the logical fallacy formally known as affirming the consequent.

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Asians are not all rich.

There is a ridiculous post at 8asians titled Asian Men Have The Highest Salary that was linked from Racialicious for some reason. The author, Tim, writes:

If you were looking for another reason to date an Asian male, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just came up with one. In their latest report on earnings in the 2nd quarter of 2010, Asian men topped the charts again, making $901 in median weekly earnings. Asian women were second at $854, followed by white men at $838.

Let us ignore the often sexist stereotype that women are attracted to rich men for now and look at the issue of race and income. The data I have comes from Ontario, Canada, and the great thing about Canadian race statistics is that Asians are not all lumped together.

Average Employment Income By Racialized Group, Ontario, 2005

Men Women Total
Japanese 73079 40572 56170
Non-racialized 50255 31682 41335
Chinese 41283 30129 35717
Multiple Visible Minority 39940 29156 34613
South Asian 37198 24897 31711
Arab 36894 24258 31963
Southeast Asian 36506 24549 30619
Visibly Minority not included elsewhere 35943 26583 31201
Filipino 35323 28798 31472
Black 33497 27485 30337
Latin American 33218 22518 28145
Korean 32828 22326 27757
West Asian 30212 21660 26502

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This is why white males are so confident in themselves.

The cost of racism by resistance at Resist racism:

Another way that racism harms white people is by denying them the ability to develop their critical thinking. This is due in part to the constant, regular reinforcement that white is right. White people are raised in an environment in which they are regularly assured of their superiority. Their experts are white, like them. And they often live in segregation, thus denying them the opportunity to be exposed to other viewpoints.

What happens in a culture of white supremacy? White people assume that they are the experts. Even in the absence of any history, education or knowledge.

The most blatant example of this is when a white person (typically a white man) is pontificating about a subject and is challenged when a person of color expresses an opinion. The white person will assume that the person of color knows nothing about the subject and will strive to “correct” him or her. I’ve had this happen when a white person who was not in my field was speaking with authority about something in my field. They never assume that you might actually be knowledgeable on the subject, nor do they assume that you might have professional credentials. (I’d also note that this is a very common experience on the part of people of color. And I recently heard a anecdote about this happening to a writer of color with a white man who was discussing her book. Only he didn’t know she had written it.)

It does not cross their minds. This is racism.

[Read the rest of this post at Resist racism.]

It does not even cross their minds that they are noticing race; this assessment occurs unconsciously.

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White people cannot know how it feels to be a person of colour.

Sometimes a white person may declare that she knows how it feels to be a person of colour, because she has spent a lot of time amongst people of colour. Other people of colour may then declare that she does not know how it feels, because she is white. The white person may then think that she is being discriminated against because of the colour of her skin, that those who accuse her of not empathizing are just making assumptions based on stereotypes about white people.

However, the argument that a person would know how it feels to be of group X because she spent a lot of time with people of group X is fallacious. If you are not of group X, then spending time with people of group X does not change the fact that you are not of group X.

For example, most people would agree that if a visible person of colour spent a lot of time with white people, it does not follow that the person of colour must know how it feels to be white. Some white people find the reverse idea more plausible, because they believe themselves to be raceless or even racially disembodied.

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Understanding racism requires recognizing faulty logic.

Truth is fundamental to justice, and the ability to reason is critical to discovering truth. One (white) anti-racist, Macon D, has severe deficits in the fundamentals of reasoning, and consequently, he has difficulties in understanding racism and implementing anti-racist thinking. Because of his ignorance of logic, Macon D continues to systematically ignore criticisms by people of colour and remains convinced of his intellectual and anti-racist integrity. Macon D uses circular reasoning, he believes that the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply to him, and he is influenced by the Appeal to Belief.

Truth is fundamental to justice.

Racism is more than just obvious manifestations of racial hatred, such as the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and the political right. Racism includes systemic racism, and implicit biases and assumptions that permeate and uphold our way of life. Understanding racism requires critical thinking skills to question what society teaches us, and it requires metacognitive skills to monitor and self-examine our own biases and assumptions. To understand racism, it is not sufficient to concentrate on activating good feelings within ourselves towards people of colour. Most racist thoughts are not hateful thoughts towards people of colour. Most racist thoughts are preconceived ideas built into a faulty worldview that Western society assumes to be true.

In other words, challenging racism is more than just philanthropy. Challenging racism—and challenging injustice in general—is part of a larger, epistemological project to find unadulterated truth.

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Common White Fallacy #6: Unfalsifiable belief systems about race

A common fallacy of white people is to have a belief system about a non-white racial or ethnic group that cannot be falsified. Wikipedia defines falsifiability as follows:

Falsifiability (or “refutability”) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. That something is “falsifiable” does not mean it is false; rather, that if it is false, then this can be shown by observation or experiment.

In other words, it is not uncommon for a white person to have an unfalsifiable belief system about race, and when shown evidence that refutes a held belief, the given white person engages in absurd rationalizations that “protects” the belief system from any possibility of refutability. For most white people, to be called racist entails being called a bad person, and since the self-concept of oneself as bad is unacceptable for most people, the given white person cannot accept the possibility that he is racist.

Often, the following scenario occurs:

  1. A white person believes some generalization about people of colour, i.e., all people of race R have property P.
  2. A person of colour of race R tells the white person that she does not have property P.
  3. The white person makes some accepting or concilliatory noises towards the person of colour, but then continues to believe that all people of race R have property P.

An example of this is when a white person makes the claim that all black people listen to rap music. If a black person says that she does not listen to rap (but listens to classical music instead, for example), the white person may accept the claim, but then rationalize, “but then you’re not really black.” This white person’s belief system about what kind of music all black people listen to becomes unfalsifiable, because if there is any black person who refutes the generalization, that person suddenly becomes “not black”, and the white person’s sweeping generalization is preserved.

Now this is a relatively obvious example. The white person will not always offer the rationalization that the person is “not really” a member of the group the white person generalized about. (This specific fallacy is known as the no true Scotsman fallacy.) Sometimes the white person will read the dissenting comment as an anomaly or even an alternative opinion that somehow does not interact with the validity of his generalization.*

Unfalsifiable belief systems are problematic, because they are prior assumptions that cannot be tested with reality. Of course, beliefs like “all people of race R have property of Pcan be tested and are falsifiable, but when the person who has the belief rejects any evidence that could possibility refute it, the person’s belief system is unfalsifiable and he cannot be reasoned with. Unfortunately, white people are often unconscious that they are making these kinds of invalid rationalizations to preserve their self-concept as a non-racist (or anti-racist) person.

Ironically, some of these white people believe that white people are more “rational” than non-white people when discussing race, because they are unable to see their own irrationality.


* This is also referred to as “not listening” to people of colour or not taking people of colour seriously.


Related post:

Common White Fallacies when Dealing with People of Colour

A white person needs to listen to the personal experiences of people of colour when they are under discussion. On the other hand, it is dangerous, and usually racist, to generalize from one or a handful of people of colour and make a general claim. These two statements do not contradict each other.

White people need to understand the basic structure behind first-order logic to avoid the errors of both (i) ignoring the voices of people of colour, and (ii) making generalizations about all people of colour based on the voices of some people of colour.

Errors in Making Generalizations about People of Colour

Fallacy: Confusing Existential Quantification for Universal Quantification (Interchangeable People of Colour)

The following reasoning is invalid:

A black person x thinks P.
Therefore, all black people think P.

This reasoning is invalid because black people are not interchangeable, and one (or any) black person is not the spokesperson for all black people. Just as with white people, black people are individuals and are diverse in thought, culture, appearance, and other properties.

Fallacy: Hasty Generalization

The following reasoning is invalid:

A black person x thinks P.
A black person y thinks P.
A black person z thinks P.
Therefore, all black people think P.

First of all, this argument is never deductively valid, no matter how large the sample size, unless the sample set is equivalent to the population set to which you want to generalize. Inductive reasoning is always deductively invalid. (Science and statistics use empirical observations to draw conclusions, but they are not making inductive arguments.*)

If, instead, the reasoner wants to make a statistical claim about the population of black people, then she may be committing a hasty generalization. The sample size may be too small, and even when the sample size is large enough, it may not be representative of the general population. For example, if you surveyed black people in certain areas of the Internet and found that most were gamers, it says nothing about black people in general.

Errors in Ignoring People of Colour

Fallacy: White is Right

The following reasoning is invalid:

A white person x thinks P.
A Chinese person y thinks not P.
Therefore, x is right and P is true.

This reasoning is invalid because a white person is not necessarily more rational than a Chinese person. Although Western culture identifies the West with rationality and logic, and the East with irrationality and superstition, this does not mean that it is true in reality. A white person is not necessarily correct when the opponent is a black person or any non-white person, either. If a person assumes that this is true, he has an implicit belief in “white supremacy”.

Fallacy: Appeal to White Belief

The following reasoning is invalid:

Most white people think P.
Most non-white people think not P.
There are more white people than non-white people (in the United States).
Therefore, P is true.

Appeal to White Belief is a racial form of the fallacious Appeal to Belief, which has the following form:

Most people believe that a claim, P, is true.
Therefore, P is true.

Appeal to White Belief and the more general Appeal to Belief are invalid because the fact that most people believe that something is true does not mean that is true. For example, if most white Americans believe that racism no longer exists in the United States, and most black Americans believe that racism still exists, then this does not mean that the whites are objective and the blacks have a persecution complex. Appeal to White Belief may appear together with the “White is Right” fallacy.

Fallacy: My Black Friend Agrees With Me

The following reasoning is invalid:

A black person w agrees with me.
A black person x agrees with me.
A black person y disagrees with me.
A black person z disagrees with me.
Therefore, y and z are wrong and stupid.

Sometimes the number of black people who disagree with the white person in question is larger than the number of black people who agree with him, and the white person still thinks that those who disagree with him do not count because they disagree. This reasoning is fallacious, because the fact that one or some black people agree with the white person does not entail that those are the “good blacks” and the rest are the “bad blacks” who are wrong and stupid. The blacks who agree with the white person may agree with him because they are different demographically from those who disagree, or their social position may hinge on being agreeable to whites.

For an example of demographic differences, Oprah Winfrey may think that any black person from the ghetto can become rich if she tried, but Oprah is of the demographic of black billionaires who started off poor, which is not representative of the general black demographic.

It is more difficult to give a concrete example of the fragile social position situation, because it posits that the agreeable blacks have or are influenced by an ulterior motive. However, this sometimes happens, as being outwardly agreeable towards authority figures is not uncommon for humans in general. (For example, you may outwardly ‘agree’ with your boss about something and your boss may believe that you truly agree with her, but your desire for job security may or may not have influenced your behaviour.) Whether or not this is true for a given situation depends on the individual situation.

In any case, the truth or falsity of your belief is not determined by the fact that some black people agree with you, or the number of people who agree with you, even if more black people agree with you than disagree. This is a variation of the “Appeal to Belief” discussed above. In the “My Black Friend Agrees With Me” fallacy, the fact that the blacks who agree with the white person are favoured over those who disagree may be influenced by the “White is Right” fallacy as well.

This reasoning is fallacious even when you substitute any non-white racial group for ‘black’. Whites should not ignore or dismiss non-white voices just because they disagree. Any criticism should be considered and evaluated seriously.


* Karl Popper‘s account of falsification is a more accurate picture of how the scientific method works, although Thomas Kuhn’s picture is more accurate than Popper’s, and others have criticized Kuhn, etc. A full explanation is much too complicated and is irrelevant to this post. The point here is that claiming that inductive logic is invalid is not the same as a criticism of science, statistics, or empiricism in general. Science, statistics, and empirical methods are very good ways of gathering knowledge.