Friday, January 27, 2012

Hot flash (not hot flashes) of the week: Who stops at red lights?

Well, dear MT readers, we hate to shock your tender sensitivities, but some times we feel absolutely forced to confront you with truths that you may wish were kept hidden.  So here goes:

A new paper by Shutt et al., in Biodemography and Social Biology, reports from a whopping sample of  612 men and 601 women, adolescents or very young adults, who self-reported about their sex-purchasing activity (was this marketing research?), that males pay for hookers much more than females do. We were blown away by this finding, but then even more impressed by the fact that this contemporary US survey of whopping size proved evolutionary theories about sex and parental investment.  Men  can just say screw the consequences (so to speak), while women are left changing the nappies (while the guys are out screwing other consequences).

But then why are the women in the trade, given these evolutionary 'drives'?  Are they all forced, and if so how does that relate to evolution, since part of evolutionary theory is that males want their women to be chaste so they know who's the father of their children?  Or is this a financially viable career option for those who can't get a comparable job in banking (a similarly moral profession)?  Madams themselves are female, and they're doing the organizing. 

Our point is not to question the results of this paper, given their sample and the question they asked.  Rather, it's to question their relating this to more general theory.  Whether or not the behavioral evolutionary theory itself has merit, this seems like a misrepresentation of what we can, and can't, actually say about how evolution really worked as contrasted with how we think it might (should, or even 'must') work, and what kind of data we'd really need to say it. These kinds of data are possibly consistent with that theory, but hardly constitute strong support (or not) of it.  But publication of such speculations, which is routine these days, can give an impression to readers who don't know enough to be skeptical, that we know more than we really do.  The burden for such misrepresentations rests on the scientists and the journals that publish the work.  And when it comes to evolution-based determinism regarding behavior, history clearly proves that can have dangerous societal implications, in which the powers that be decide who's OK and who's not, and what to do (to them) about it.  Are hookers hookers because of their genes?  Are the guys customers because of their genes (that is, the genes that 'make them do it', not those they shed in their business transactions)?  If their genes made 'em do it, is it something 'we' have a right to 'treat'?

Science representing itself as representing something generic and fundamental, should at least have data that are appropriately representative of that principle.  There are many reasons that males and females may have different reasons for stopping, or not stopping, at red lights.

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