Thursday, April 7, 2011

Evolution and Rape?

[trigger warning, potentially]

I thought we were done with this, but apparently not.

When people ask me why I am extremely critical of Evolutionary Psychology, it is so easy to point them to articles and events like this- some professor or other decides to claim that things like rape are adaptive behaviors. This idea is, of course, ludicrous for multiple reasons.

I am glad that other scientists (and other entomologists even!) levy similar criticisms against Evolutionary Psychology as I do. One that I constantly make goes along this line: "Simply demonstrating ubiquity of a behavior or trait in a species does not demonstrate or explain its evolutionary origin, nor does it necessarily make that trait an adaptation."

Buggirl makes a similar point-
Sure, all current human behavior has been shaped by our evolutionary past. But to argue on top of that truth that everything we do is not only adaptive, but must have been selected for somehow, is ridiculous and reductionist.  There isn’t any data in these studies that shows that behavior is heritable, or that it conveys fitness benefits.  It’s usually just “This happens a lot. Ergo, it must be important evolutionarily.”
I want to take a second and say something sort of tangential as well.

As many of you know, I am going to be an entomologist.
So I have an insect biology book I picked up a while ago, written by one of the (now deceased) biggest deals in entomology- H.E Evans

I was reading through it and kept seeing "Thornhill" cited over and over...naturally, the only "Thornhill" I knew of was rather infamous.

I did some digging and realized that it was the same Thornhill.
Once again, I agree with buggirl when she says this:
Randy Thornhill is cited copiously through the papers of Shackelford. Who is this Thornhill dude, anyway?
Thornhill claims that rape is an adaptation by low status men to reproduce.  He’s a pundit that shows up on TV to talk about women’s estrus cycles and tips at strip clubs.
He’s an entomologist.
No. Really.
The source of his insights about women and sexuality? These insects.  Scorpionflies.
Wait a minute, Bug Girl,” you may be thinking.  ”This dude used his observations of forced copulation in insects to theorize about rape in humans?”  Why, yes, he did go there.
And I don’t know how he got from point A to point B either, because he seems to have passed through Points Q, R, S, and 42 along the way.
This pretty much highlights my thought process when I realized this, especially the bolded bits- glad to see I am not alone in thinking that this is a very unsatisfactory comparison.

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