Drawn out of my deep blogging slumber by PZ Myers’s magnificent slam of bad evolutionary psychology (leaving the question of good evolutionary psychology open, since this is all about “…rigor and careful analysis…”). It’s a long post that criticizes arguments made by Jerry Coyne (who weirdly enlisted Steven Pinker to do the heavy lifting) and worth reading for more than the few excerpts I pull out here.
My favorite part, responding to a particularly lame rhetorical move made by Coyne:
Please. Have I ever said that we shouldn’t study gender or racial differences? No. We know there are going to be differences. The catch is that they have to be studied very, very well, with rigor and careful analysis, because they are socially loaded and because science has a deeply deplorable history of using poor methods to reach bad conclusions that are used as ideological props for the status quo. I’m not putting up roadblocks against scientific research; I would like to put up roadblocks to sloppy, lazy ideological nonsense touted as scientific research. I should think every scientist would want that.
What I am most taken by is the phrase I quoted for my title, “with rigor and careful analysis.” You could just read this as redundancy, repetition to make a point about why scientists can’t be “sloppy” or “lazy” (it may be that they can be “ideological,” so long as they are careful and vigorous enough to be sensibly so, but that’s an argument for another day and I have to confess that “ideology” is not a subject I care to get into in general). But you could also read it in a way so that they appear to be two different things; “rigor” alone, then, is not enough for doing science well, but you also have to add this other thing called “careful analysis.” Going out on a limb farther than I probably should: Coyne and Pinker don’t lack for rigor, but it’s PZ Myers who comes off as the really careful one here…
(Comment threads at both places are extensive. If I were forced to pick between which comment thread community to join, were I to ever do something like join a comment thread, the one at Pharyngula would win hands down. Somebody named Jason gamely tries to take on some of the more stridently scientistic commenters with some references to Spivak, but there’s not much traction to be gained here. For all my talk about ‘friendship with the sciences” and the importance of dialogue, this is a good reminder that some of them sure don’t make it easy.)