Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for the gathering that resulted in this volume!
It is the battle cry for modern evolutionary biologists who see phen...moreOh, to have been a fly on the wall for the gathering that resulted in this volume!
It is the battle cry for modern evolutionary biologists who see phenotypes as the targets of selection and thus feel shut in by the reductionist, modern synthesis approach to evolution (read: population genetics). There's something here for everyone, and whether or not you agree that it's really necessary to call for an "extended synthesis," the contents of this book show that evolutionary biology is alive and well.
Perhaps the most influential book I've read about evolutionary theory since Developmental Plasticity & Evolution, I will without a doubt be returning to the wisdom in this volume over and over again.(less)
I really like Zuk's research, and I want so badly to enjoy her popular science, but this is another let down. In my opinion, the paleo-fads can be shu...moreI really like Zuk's research, and I want so badly to enjoy her popular science, but this is another let down. In my opinion, the paleo-fads can be shut down by calling them out as a form of the naturalistic fallacy: just because something is natural (in this case, an ancestral trait or environment), does not mean it is right. Another way of putting this is that paleo-enthusiasts are just not particularly imaginative about response variables. What data could we collect to test whether paleo-approaches are better than other approaches?
In Paleofantasy, instead of simply shrugging off silly claims about paleolithic adaptation, Zuk uses the opportunity to refute one of the central claims of the paleo-movement: that humans stopped evolving before agriculture and are thus unfit for the modern world. She discusses a lot of recent science documenting rapid evolution in humans; fair enough. But what is troublesome is the incredibly gene-centric view of evolution that Zuk emphasizes throughout. The story of recent human evolution isn't one that can best be summarized by humans "getting their genes into the next generation." Even if you are a die-hard modern synthesis enthusiast (synthesist?), the teleological ways that she describes adaptation have the unfortunate effect of confusing a lay audience and painting misleading views of adaptation. She also conflates "genes" with "alleles" throughout, leading to some really bizarre expositions of evolution.
A collection of some of the most egregious gene-centrisms:
p.72: "it's virtually certain it would be an evolutionary dead end for its bearer, who would be unable to mate and hence unable to pass on any genes" p.83 "...then species with small heads relative to their bodies will be less able to engulf a poisonous cane toad and thus more likely to survive and pass on their genes" p.180 "The idea that more women than men left genes in succeeding generations is supported by these new data" p.193 "I am referring instead to 'fitness,' the biological term for success at passing on one's genes" p.257 "People, both men and women, who began having children at an earlier age were favored by selection, meaning that their genes were more likely to appear in succeeding generations"
I really enjoyed Eliot's prose, especially as she walks the reader through the research with which she is most familiar (neuroplasticity). She discuss...moreI really enjoyed Eliot's prose, especially as she walks the reader through the research with which she is most familiar (neuroplasticity). She discusses many important studies that examine how the environment plays a huge role in creating and exacerbating differences between the sexes. When we're in her area of expertise, there are nuanced insights into effect sizes of differences (which she spends a lot of time downplaying and explaining how overlap between the sexes really impedes any effort to predict the sex of an individual based on a particular skill or metric).
But, especially when she strays away from the research with which she is most familiar, there seems to be an incredibly mixed message. On the one hand, sex isn't a variable that explains a lot, as variation within sex is much larger than variation between sexes, but on the other hand, she outlines very prescriptive measurements for how to treat boys and girls differently. But shouldn't we instead be studying children's strengths and weaknesses on a case by case basis? And to what end are these tips oriented? Reducing sex differences? Exaggerating them? I had a hard time discerning who Eliot's audience was or where she really comes down on issues of parenting children of different genders. And in many of the discussions of evolutionary psychology (to get at the roots of the innateness of traits, presumably), she wanders way off into the land of conjecture.
I'm glad to have been exposed to the research she covers in this book, and I think that Eliot is an important voice in a popular dialogue that purports that men and women are polar opposites, but I still felt that the book played into the hands of those who are invested in looking to biology to explain and legitimize sex differences in themselves and their children.(less)
I thought this text book was over simplified and hard to follow. I feel like most of the textbook is focused on the basics, stuff that general biology...moreI thought this text book was over simplified and hard to follow. I feel like most of the textbook is focused on the basics, stuff that general biology courses cover in a few weeks max, and the rest of the book is condensed into a few really dense chapters. I would have liked to see a lot more about environment and epigenetics, and a greater focus on the methods used to study genetics in the modern era (these were squeezed into the ends of a few chapters, but it would have been better to see them throughout).
The definitions were often bad. Defining microevolution in terms of genetic changes without any mention of the phenotype, for example, is just bizarre.
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone trying to learn or teach human genetics.(less)
"What good is a science that doesn't tell us anything new?"
This is the book-I-wish-I-had-written of the year. Jordan-Young tackles a huge literature a...more"What good is a science that doesn't tell us anything new?"
This is the book-I-wish-I-had-written of the year. Jordan-Young tackles a huge literature and comes out on top. She takes us through carefully and comprehensively, clearly explaining the concepts her audience needs to understand to navigate the data on the organizational hypothesis (the hypothesis that prenatal hormone exposure shapes human sex-linked behavior).
And the message she relays is important. Not surprisingly (at least from my variation-is-everywhere point of view), studies contradict themselves, definitions change, null results aren't reported. One great example that she gives is studies that split the line between homo- and heterosexual at literally every point on the Kinsey scale. Though ostensibly finding results linking hormones to homosexuality, these studies actually inherently contradict one another.
She concludes by arguing that any search for meaning in development that ignores all of the other components of human development is flawed at the outset.
A wonderful quote, on a reaction-norm take on this research: "In short, gender can be reconceptualized as an "effect" rather than a mere fact, something that *requires explanation* rather than something that *explains* the social world."(less)
I feel bad about this, since I think so highly of Marlene Zuk. She is an iconoclast and a truly rational voice in the hubub of sexual selection litera...moreI feel bad about this, since I think so highly of Marlene Zuk. She is an iconoclast and a truly rational voice in the hubub of sexual selection literature.
But this book was horrible.
First and foremost, for a book with a title that includes "sex" in it, there is very, very little about sex. Only one chapter deals with the sexual life of insects.
The rest of the book is an untidy cavalcade of "look how cool this insect is" and "see? isn't research on insects important and applicable?" It really felt like nine disjunct blog postings rather than a cohesive narrative that made it worth the 9.99 for kindle.
And aside from the snore-worthy content and completely misleading title, Zuk commits the all-too-common error of talking about genes in a Dawkians manner. Insects do things to get "their genes into the next generation", the only important source of variation comes from mutation, genetic investments, etc. etc. The usual stuff that ignores the fact that genes are followers rather than leaders in evolution and are overly literal and liberally applied interpretations of simple genetic models. The most ridiculous line: "In evolutionary terms, loss of life is not nearly as injurious as loss of reproduction" The gene-centrism has gone too far if this can slip through the cracks.(less)
hate to use the pun, but felsenstein makes it impossible to see the forest through the trees. i'm not sure for whom this text would be useful, honestl...morehate to use the pun, but felsenstein makes it impossible to see the forest through the trees. i'm not sure for whom this text would be useful, honestly, because it neither provides a solid intro for the lay reader nor gives anything but a sort of nostalgic retrospective for those already in the know.(less)
An amazing, clearly-worded treatise on the affairs of women in the professional and academic spheres. Though many research programs have rejected the...moreAn amazing, clearly-worded treatise on the affairs of women in the professional and academic spheres. Though many research programs have rejected the null hypothesis of no difference between the sexes, Valians steps back to re-think this question in the light of what she calls "gender schemas", the hypotheses individuals have about the sexes that influence their opinions of individuals independent of any observations.
This book has made me think critically about my own behavior and the behavior of other people in my field (biology). I'll be gifting this book a bunch. (less)
At the end of this book, it's still not entirely clear what McCaughey wants. 13 pages before the end, she does say "We must demand not only better sci...moreAt the end of this book, it's still not entirely clear what McCaughey wants. 13 pages before the end, she does say "We must demand not only better science from the HBE theorists, but a better understanding of science in our culture at large." Well who doesn't agree with this?
She does make some compelling arguments. For one, the notion that men can embody some false narrative about their caveman tendencies (i.e. what she refers to as the Caveman Mystique) is no doubt a problem. Furthermore, that the science behind evolutionary psychology is often male-driven, tenuous, and worth critical examination is a point made by many many people. What, then, is the solution??? She offers very little insight, leaving her criticism without substance in an unfortunate number of cases.
Indeed, in many parts of this book, McCaughey commits the same crime of which she accuses HBE scientists and popularizers alike: she ignores variation. For one, I think that it is a stretch to claim that evolutionary biology has stepped in as the secular basis for morality in America. When less than half of Americans even believe in evolution or that humans descended from apes, this claim is farfetched to say the least. Secondly, I will not deny that the caveman mystique exists, but aside from frat boys and the frat-minded playboy subscribers, how extensive is this embodiment? Surely wide enough to merit a critique, but so pervasive that it even represents a significant chunk of men? Finally, where are the scientific dissenting voices arguing against the vapid claims of sex differences evolving in the pleistocene? She brings up a few, but dismisses them all. Some HBE researchers may have simple, evolutionary untenable and typological, views of the sexes, but McCaughey has a simple, typological view of HBE scientists! Many, many voices of scientists (many self-identifying as feminists) are shut out of her critique.
It's hard not to get the feeling that she is anti-science. Sure she defends science and HBE scientists, but it isn't clear how genuine this is. What kind of evidence would convince McCaughey of adaptive human behaviors, perhaps some of which are sex linked? I would have liked to see her confront this question, but have the feeling the answer would be "none whatsoever." Her alternative "hypothesis" that there may have been a bisexual free-for-all in human history, and that this narrative is as valid as the heteronormative one that she criticizes is one such example. Surely, diversity in sexuality is often ignored by scientists (but not always, either…there are plenty of books discussing such diversity), but to ignore all comparative research and ethnographic knowledge of human and animal behavior to suggest something as asinine as a bisexual orgy is groan-worthy and exactly the type of claim that makes her out to be against scientific inquiry into the evolution of human behaviors in the first place.
Maybe what we need is popularization of a detailed understanding of the naturalistic fallacy…science ought to be silent on morality. She gives plenty of examples of scientists overstepping their bounds, and I of course agree that science is created by individuals with biases, preconceptions, etc. That voices from science studies should be able to step up and critique the findings of science and the popularization of these findings is completely fair. But how? How to go about addressing popularization of scientific findings? How to go about popularizing the "homo textual" masculine identity she espouses in the last chapter? This book feels like a bread sandwich, with two slices of haughty critique and not a thing in the middle.(less)
I am glad that I read this. Having taken so many classes where Dawkins outlook is dogma, I'd gotten to the point where I accused him of being more of...moreI am glad that I read this. Having taken so many classes where Dawkins outlook is dogma, I'd gotten to the point where I accused him of being more of a determinist than he actually is.
Nevertheless, his is a point of view that sees the phenotype as serving the gene rather than vice-versa and mutation as the source of adaptive phenotypic novelty. It is one where males must be promiscuous and females coy in service of their own genes. Many scientists have moved past these points of view, and it would be a mistake to judge someone for a world-view that existed 34 years ago.
BUT, Dawkins' view is professed with very little trepidation or room for future discovery (and indeed many of his footnotes from 1989 read along the lines of "well it turns out..."), which I think is irresponsible for an authority in a subject to profess to non-authorities. Maybe I'm just an insufferable graduate student.(less)