Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Man's Evolution, Woman Evolve Too

Evolution is true but people with large followings should fear the cultural consequences of their adaptive tales. I'm talking specifically about people who explain human evolution and even more specifically about this:

[Please go there and grapple with it if you wish, or just go there, get the gist and come back.]

It's not that Jerry Coyne's facts aren't necessarily facts, or whatever. It's that this point of view is too simple and is obviously biased toward some stories, ignoring others. And this particular one he shares in this post has been the same old story for a long long time.

What about the other side of the body size sexual dimorphism story?

What about the women?

Selection could well be the reason they stop growing before men and why they end up having smaller bodies than men, on average.

Perhaps men can make babies while growing, but perhaps women can't. Energetically, metabolically. So reproduction wins over growth. We reach sexual maturity and stop growing. Is that just a coincidence?

Why doesn't this (and other tales) fit alongside the big-aggressive-males-take-all explanation for sexual dimorphism? #evolution

Not only is it absent, but selection on women's bodies be the driving force (if such a thing could be identified) and, yet, it's as if women don't exist at all in these tales except as objects for males to fight over or to fuck (but *thankfully* there's that female choice!).

Knowledgeable people aren't objecting to facts, as Coyne suggests. They're objecting to biased story-telling and its annoying and harmful consequences, which Coyne doesn't acknowledge or grapple with in his piece.

Check out the discussion that ensued starting here:

UPDATE: Last night Jesse Singal at NYMag wrote a thoughtful piece about it: 


Holly Dunsworth said...

Jesse Singal at NYMag wrote a thoughtful piece about it:

Ken Weiss said...

Jerry Coyne is pretty much of a dogmatist when it comes to evolution, and seems to stress what amount to simplified Just-So stories proffered with great vehemence. Perhaps he is driven to stridency by the feeling that creationists must be met front-on at every turn. His writing also suggests that he likes the attention he gets with this often over-the-top way of approaching the subject. It also seems to be the kind of dogma that doesn't want to open even a tiny crack in a deterministic Darwinian account of life. We know that most adaptive stories are not provable in the usual sense, and that local quirks, chance, and the nuances of mutational variation and behavior etc, as well as local often shifting ecologies make post hoc stories mostly speculative. When that happens, the speculators' biases are typically woven into the fabric of their explanations. A common, often implicit approach is to assume that some function observable today is the reason for the trait when it evolved. We see this all the time, even from very knowledgable scientists. Biologists have let themselves be backed into this sort of corner by their fierce and legitimate opposition to the forced gobbledygook typical of creationist accounts, and often also their insistence that chance is only a trivial player in the history of life, etc. It's a major weakness in the life sciences, when the fact of evolution understood in a tempered way should be one of its central strengths, even if specific causal explanations often cannot be proven by any serious standard.

Peter said...

I very much like this post, and the subsequent post by Jesse Singal highlighting the distinction between the presence of sex differences and the reasons for (or "stories about") about those differences.

However, surely it's worth noting that there are sound mathematical grounds (Bateman's principle) for believing that the reasons for sexual differences will be predominantly male-driven. Given that the variance in male reproductive success is much higher than the variation in female reproductive success (because females are the limiting sex), then natural selection will always be stronger on male traits, and so the resulting narratives will be male-driven.

Guille said...

It's pretty much a fact that sexual dimorphism has been driven primarily by selection on men rather than on women. A look at our DNA clearly shows higher variance in reproductive success among men than among women, variance in reproductive success is what drives evolution. Also polygynous species in all mammal order tend to be larger in size than related less polygynous species, a clear example how selection on size of males have not only increased sexual dimorphism but also female size due to antagonistic selection on females. Sexual selection theory remains controversial mainly because its conclusions (men are more aggressive and promsicuous) are unpalatable to many progressives, not because of lack of evidence.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Coyne fucking destroys you:

Anonymous said...

Comment approval is for idiot's who don't have the courage of their convictions.

Anonymous said...

Dogmatism involves a refusal to change one's mind in light of new evidence. Since there is no evidence to support Holly Dunsworth's claims, there's nothing dogmatic about adhering to a well established scientific theory. Dogmatism involves rejecting evidence based theories based on ideology.

Karst said...

You might want look at the more recent posts by Jerry Coyne, in which he responds and discusses the evidence. In actual fact he has long been a critic of just-so stories in evolutionary psychology.

Holly Dunsworth said...

How to react to the argument that critiques of evolutionary biology/sociobiology/evopsych are not purely ideological in nature?

1. Try to understand the argument of someone who is on the same team, who also values the scientific perspective, evidence, and the truth

2. Freak out, dig in, misinterpret and misrepresent the argument and the science, attack the person

The ideological opposition to biological truth

The evolution of sexual dimorphism in humans: Part 2

The second link includes the neato quote, "I don’t propose to engage in a dialogue with Dr. Dunsworth about this..."

Holly Dunsworth said...

Oops. I forgot the one that goes in the middle: I get pushback on the sexual-selection theory for sexual dimorphism
No wonder his supporters think I'm an idiot. They think my playful title was a typo. Gosh, now on top of explaining myself (and many many others) over and over and over again, I'm supposed to explain an Internet meme joke as well?

Holly Dunsworth said...

My favorite comment is the one above that calls us idiots when he realizes his comment "Jerry Coyne fucking destroys you" is going to be moderated before/if posted. Everyone I know with "courage of their convictions" is named Anonymous.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Wouldn't it be strange if I wrote a blog post that claimed to refute something Jerry Coyne publicly wondered about fruit fly evolution and I only cited Wikipedia and some CDC data to make and close the case?

And wouldn't it be even stranger if some of my friends went at Jerry Coyne and called him an idiot, or told him to give up his credentials, as a result?

Holly Dunsworth said...

regarding Bateman's Principle: Paradigms are like glue

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