The ideological opposition to biological truth

December 14, 2016 • 10:00 am

One distressing characteristic of the Left, at least as far as science is concerned, is to let our ideology trump scientific data; that is, some of us ignore biological data when it’s inimical to our political preferences. This plays out in several ways: the insistence that race doesn’t exist (and before you accuse me of saying that races do exist, read about what I’ve written here before: the issue is complex), that there are no evolutionarily-based innate (e.g., genetically based) behavioral or psychological differences between ethnic groups, and that there are no such differences, either, between males and females within humans.

These claims are based not on biological data, but on ideological fears of the Left: if we admit of such differences, it could foster racism and sexism.  Thus. any group differences we do observe, whether they reside in psychology, physiology, or morphology, are to be explained on first principle as resulting from culture rather than genes. (I do of course recognize that culture can interact with genes to produce behaviors.) This ideological blinkering leads to the conclusion that when we see a difference in performance between groups and genders, the obvious explanation is culture and oppression, and the remedy is equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities. Yet in areas like most sports, where everyone agrees that males are on average larger and stronger than females, it’s clear that the behavioral differences (i.e., performance) result from biological differences that are surely based on evolution (see below). In sports like track and field or judo, nobody would think of making males compete with females.

But that’s not a good way to act. The Left has historically been characterized by respect for the facts, and the refusal to even consider that such differences could be based in part on genes is an unwelcome and unhealthy departure from our traditional embrace of rationality. Yes, phony biological data has been used to support racism and sexism, but remember that that is the fault of human prejudice, cooked data, and an inability to do proper experiments that have all resulted in terrible data being used to support human prejudices. Finally, of course, culture can influence behavior, including reinforcing biologically-innate behaviors if they are seen as “normal.”

To claim that there are no evolutionary differences in behavior and psychology between men and women is fatuous.  The data show otherwise, though of course for most traits we don’t know if it’s genetic. But the default hypothesis, based on observation of other species (especially primates) is that at least some psychological and behavioral differences will be based on genes that evolved via selection in our ancestors. Why is the brain immune to evolved, sex-specific differences but the body is not?

Thus, to claim, as does P.Z. Myers in a new post, that higher testosterone levels in males have minimal influence on their aggressiveness compared to the effects of culture, is a claim based not on data—which show that he’s wrong—but on ideology. And so he and his commenters try to refute the testosterone-effect notion using anecdotes: some males aren’t aggressive, Myers himself is not aggressive (!), aggression is due “mostly” to cultural difference (the “patriarchy”) rather than to biological differences, and so on. To read the comment thread is to see a bunch of progressives desperately squirming to avoid the obvious.

Well, I’m not an expert on testosterone, but what I do know is that levels of that hormone are not only correlated with aggression within and among the sexes, but that injecting it into both men and women also makes their behavior and psychology more aggressive. Thus the correlation at least partly reflects causation.

But let’s look at some data showing prima facie that there are biological differences in behavior between males and females, and that those differences reflect the working of natural selection—in the form of sexual selection—in our ancestors. To do this, we’ll use body size as an index of behavior. I’ll try to be brief.

It’s well known that in virtually all species of primates (there are a few exceptions in lemurs), and in other groups such as pinnipeds, males are larger than females. That is not cultural, but genetic; if you rear gorillas in any habitat, the males are going to grow up larger than females. You can see the data among species yourself in a 2006 paper by Adam D. Gordon (reference and free link below), showing an almost universal trend for the male/female body mass to be larger than 1 in primate species (in every species there are of course some small males and large females, but we’re talking about averages).

Why is this? It reflects evolved male behavior: the tendency of males to compete for females, and the advantage of large body size in that competition. Whether the advantage be in direct competition, so that the larger you are the more you can fight off other males (gorillas, elephant seals), or in female choice, so that females choosing large males can gain protection for her young from marauding males (also gorillas), the difference in size reflects something almost universal among animals: males, who have cheap gametes, must compete for females who have expensive gametes and invest more in reproduction.  And that is why, in study after study in humans, male sexual behavior shows promiscuous mating, while females are more selective. That’s not necessarily all biological, but some of it surely is given that our closest relatives show the same behaviors and that there is no such thing as The Gorilla and Chimpanzee Patriarchy.

Here’s further evidence that the larger size and strength of males is reflected in their behavior—and was almost certainly promoted by sexual selection:

  • In human societies studied by Richard Alexander, those societies that are more polygynous (in which males compete more intensively for females) show greater sexual size dimorphism than societies that are more monogamous. This was a prediction made before the data were acquired—a prediction derived from sexual selection theory. And it was fulfilled.
  • Among species of primates, there’s a good correlation between the polygyny of a species and sexual dimorphism: those species in which males have a higher variance in offspring number, and in which males thus compete more intensely for females, also show a greater ratio of male/female body size, even when corrected for phylogeny. (Too, in primate species in which males fight each other over females, the relative size of the canine teeth, used in battle, is larger than in species showing less direct male-male competition.)
  • In humans, as in many other species in which males compete for females, the sex ratio at birth favors males. They then die off at a higher rate due to higher risk-taking and exploratory behavior, until at reproductive age (about 25), the sex ratio is equal. Then, as males continue to die off, the sex ratio reverses, becoming female-biased at greater ages. This is exactly what evolutionary theory predicts: if there are biological differences in mortality rates, then evolution will adjust the sex ratio so it’s equal at the time of reproduction.
  • In line with the above, in humans and other primates, males show from the outset great exploratory and risk-taking behaviors, and as adults show many other behaviors that differ from those of females, such as greater dispersal. Is this due to the Primate Patriarchy? Probably not, given that these differences in behavior are shown in many species besides ours and make evolutionary sense.

As I said, some of this is in our own species may be due to culture, for culture can reinforce pre-existing biological differences that have come to be seen as “natural.” (I don’t need to emphasize here that I don’t think that what is “natural” in other primates, or what has evolved in our own species, should be accepted as the right way to behave!). Further, some have suggested that the size differences between men and women reflect ecological rather than reproductive differences—say in foraging behavior. But the data don’t support that, and they do support predictions made from the sexual-selection hypothesis. And even if ecology does play a role, that still reflects evolutionarily produced changes in some aspects of behavior.

All this is to say that body size is a proxy for behavior in our own group—primates—and that body size correlates with behavior: sexual behavior. To deny that the differences between human males and females in size and strength are evolved is to deny at the same time that differences in behavior between males and females is evolved. Only the blinkered ideologue would do that. Sadly, these ideologues continue to promote antiscientific ideas on the Internet.

I am not making claims here about other behaviors differing among the sexes, since there are no morphological correlates with other behaviors as clear as that between body size and sexual behavior. But the male/female difference in body size does reflect differences in psychology—psychology of mate acquisition. This alone shows an evolutionarily-based difference between men and women, one that is almost certainly does not rest entirely on culture, for we see the same differences in species lacking our culture. There is no Primate Patriarchy outside our own species.

And if all this be true, then it would be foolish to deny prima facie that there are other evolved differences in psychology between men and women, some reflected in morphology (why are men hairier than women?).  The conventional wisdom should never be that men and women are biologically identical in their psychology and behavior, amiable as that may be to Leftist ideology. The primacy rests not with ideology, but with data; and while we can act against what the evolutionary data tell us (as we do when we use contraception), we should not deny that the data exist, or exercise confirmation bias so we try to dismiss data that contravene our ideology while welcoming data that support it. What we need to do is accept the data, but then adjust our society so that we realize the outcomes we want from our (partly evolved) morality. And that doesn’t mean structuring our society so that morality parallels biology.

And you can bet your tuchas that the ideologues will do their best to undercut (or ignore) the data adduced above. And for similar arguments but a lot more data, see Steve Pinker’s book The Blank Slate, which has a new Afterword with a detailed update on gender.

Gorilla female and male. Females weigh about half as much as males.

h/t: Steve Pruett-Jones


Gordon, A. D.  2006. Scaling of size and dimorphism in primates II: Macroevolution.  Int. J. Primatol. 27:63-105.

319 thoughts on “The ideological opposition to biological truth

  1. I’ve often wondered why people like PZ Myers, a developmental biologist who understands evolution and genetics very well indeed, would even think that genes (and their products) don’t play a role in human behavior. It’s just weird.

      1. If he were still an active research scientist he’d have no time to be entertaining such drivel, but these days he’s no better than a Discovery Institute toady with a PhD. The credentials are just used give a veneer of credibility to the ideology he’s pushing.

        1. Yes, that’s what I’m implying. His record in terms of paper publishing in the last fifteen years is not that of an active researcher.

  2. Another leftist trope that defies the data: Ancient hunger-gatherers were far too noble to wipe out species upon their arrival at a new place.

      1. And Most Australian Megafauna, European Megafauna, probably South American Megafauna. Humans make things extinct, whether we use stone tools or metal ones.

        1. If the recent reports of Homo sapiens paintings in the Northern Territories back as far as 60 kyr are correct, the correlation between human arrival and rapid megafauna extinction is weakened.

          1. “It’s not as simple as we thought” is a strong contender for a thing which is always true.

    1. Ancient hunger-gatherers

      Oh dear, the curse of the erotic dressmaker strikes again. A Freudian slit of the first water.

  3. For PZ to claim that he is not aggressive strongly suggests that he is delusional or that he doesn’t understand that aggression is not just about physical aggression. He has no problem being aggressive towards anyone who disagrees with his slanted view of right and wrong. He is an example of male aggressiveness in the blog-o-sphere.

    And Mikeyc is right to wonder how someone who should have a grasp on biology could choose to ignore evidence. Ignoring biology does not make it go away. Maybe PZ still believes in the tooth-fairy as well….

    1. We have seen example after example of someone who is accomplished and educated in one area can be a complete disaster in other areas (Ben Carson, Linus Pauling, etc.)

    2. I read PZ’s piece a couple of times and failed to read PZ claiming that he was not aggressive. The only related words that I could find were these: “I have all of those things, but somehow have avoided fanaticism and obedience to authoritarian leaders and war mongering.”

      Have I overlooked something?

      1. I have strong doubts as to whether Myers has avoided fanaticism, considering his online behavior. And I’m a bit skeptical about him lacking obedience to authoritarian leaders, since he’s very quick to apologize if he’s reprimanded by people like Melissa McEwan.

        1. Yes, I agree w/ everything you offered. It’s spot-on correct. But it misses my question – did PZ deny aggressive behavior in the piece?

          I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss it. If you saw it, please point it out to me. Thx

    3. I remember him posting fantasies about stabbing a priest on his death bed. That seems pretty aggressive to me.

      I’ve never seen Ophelia Benson, who shares much of his politics, write anything I’d consider violent.

  4. It is my information that, interestingly enough, an example of where the females were larger then the males are the Tyrannosaurs. The largest Tyrannosaur so far found was Sue.

      1. It is my understanding that the name Sue was given after it was determined that the Tyrannosaur was, indeed, female.

        1. No. I commented somewhere here about the history. “Sue” was given when it thought that skeletal indicators were present indicating sex. Once the issue had been studied more closely, no difference could be found among specimens, so the sex of Sue is unknown.

    1. The tyrannosaurs in Jurassic Park were female.

      I’m guessing Michael Crichton was being ironic when he had one of the scientists say they were all female to make them easier to control; after all, Crichton also wrote Disclosure.

    2. Yes, and there are other examples like that. In reptiles and birds, females are often larger than the males. As a general principle, their larger size helps them to be more fecund come egg laying time, and they are more successful at defending the nest and young.

    3. I think some female tortoises are bigger than males. Probably for other reasons. Would be fun to imagine a society of tortoises and how that would work out. 🙂

      1. In many if not most tortoise species, males will contest for access to fertile females, and so males either tend to be bigger than females, or have special modifications of the plastron used to ram opponents.
        Many freshwater turtle species, on the other hand, exhibit huge differences in size between males and females, with the males being the smaller sex. Check out the second photo here –

  5. Typo? “And so he and his commenters try to refute the no-effect notion using anecdotes …” Support not refute? (Or “refute the has-an-effect notion”)

  6. Staying with the evidence and performing quality experiments is the key I take from this post. Proper science rules the day. All the rest ends up in the subjective rubbish file.

  7. Excellent post! I have always thought that liberalism was dependent on both accepting the facts as they are but, not taking the generalizations to specific cases. To accept the former, in no way denies the latter.

    1. Ideologues have difficulty moving from one level of abstaraction to another.

      The same people who insist there are no sex correlated behavioural differences because of variations within the sexes will also assume the sociological concept of male privilege applies to individual men.

  8. This reminds me of certain attitudes toward science during the Cultural Revolution in China. Well established theories were declared to be wrong because one could read “counter-revolutionary” symbolism into them. There was no regard for truth, only ideology. It is much like theology: You start with some axioms that you WANT to be true, and then you construct a fictional model of reality to accommodate those axioms, at any cost. (The same thing happened in Russia.) And that’s what creationists are doing, too.

    1. Probably one of the most tragic occurrences of promoting ideology over scientific fact was Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union. After some initial success in the 1920s, he pretty much devastated agriculture in the USSR all the way to the sixties.

      Perhaps PZ can become Putin’s advisor.

  9. I think that what terrifies the ideologues more than the mere possibility that males and females behave different, is that were it to be true (e.g. males are more aggressive due to higher concentrations of testosterone), then to what extent can males be held responsible (criminally and morally) for their behavior?

    I know you’ve blogged extensively about the problem of free will before so you’ll recognize the fear some people have of having to accept some degree of determinism.

    1. But that’s no different than accepting that our brain chemistry influences us. If people can’t accept the evidence that testosterone makes one aggressive, they also must reject that the wrong amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine result in depression.

  10. Great post. Culture and gender and race are very complex and genetics is empirically a key ingredient to that mix, but I suspect in ways that are far from superficial.

    Before age 25, I never even heard of sushi, now it is as normal a food that I would ever eat and yet so is chicken fried steak. My experience suggests the most of ‘flyover USA’ thinks sushi is repulsive and abjectly foreign, but not chicken fried steak.

    Sushi to me, is an example, like Reggae or Bluegrass or Hip-hop or Heavy Metal, where one group of people is decidedly against another group of people’s aesthetic appeal.

    I’ve met people from many parts of this planet, e.g., Mexico, China, Spain, Germany, Ukraine, Israel and I’ve seen people who are not only willing to look into the traditions of other cultures, like trying out local beers, but are drawn to this type of inclusion. Not surprisingly, unfortunately, many people do not fit this curious approach to existence, they bear insecure nationalism when their metaphorical flag is unfurled. Whether that be a national flag, a cultural flag, a gender flag, or categorical race flag.

    1. But cultural inclusion is now one of the biggest sins it is possible to commit.

      Drop those chopsticks and back away from the table!

      1. It is good.

        I was sure that Jerry Jeff Walker wrote a song about it–“Chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried steak, tougher than a boot heel, floating in a lake…”–but can’t find it with Google. 🙁

  11. Sadly an inoculation from reality exists on all sides of the political divide. I am reminded that, per the old front page of “The Dish”, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” – George Orwell

  12. I have a different take on the P.Z. Myers post, which deals solely with the role of testosterone in producing male aggressiveness. This is the key paragraph:

    “There will be predispositions caused by hormones and cortical development, but they are going to be far less specific than “join the army, follow a charismatic leader, and have happy times killing people with your boomstick”. Testosterone makes people more aggressive? Sure. But it depends on the dose, and how it is expressed is going to be culture-dependent. Whether it makes you want to kill things or whether it makes you want to dance or create art or make love is going to be a product of your history and social environment. Testosterone is not the villain here, no more than arms are the bad guys causing wars.”


    Myers is not denying that testosterone, which exists in men as the result of their genes, does not play a role in their aggressiveness. Rather, how this aggressiveness is manifested, if at all, is dependent in part on the cultural milieu of the individual. In history, there have been warrior societies and pacifist societies. How males raised in these very different societies would surely greatly influence their incipient aggressiveness.

    So, I don’t think what Myers what is saying is very different from what commonsense and research suggest: behavior results from a combination of genes and culture.

      1. No, he’s just qualifying its effects out of existence. I have changed the description, though, to say that he thinks the effect of testosterone on aggression is minor compared to the effects of culture. And in my post I’m addressing his and other Leftists’ historical penchant to minimize or eliminate differences between sexes and groups in their behavior, not just Myer’s one claim.

        Note how the comments denigrate genes at the expense of culture.

        1. What we need is a paired analysis where each culture has a pair of male and female (average) values for aggression.

          Even if there is large cultural variation in aggression, we would almost certainly still see that within each individual culture male aggression is higher than female aggression.

    1. Yes, that’s how I read it; I think for a lot of people genetic determinism is something that they are very keen to gainsay, and often rightly so. They want to point out that genetic differences are mediated through culture, which is no doubt true.

      But, as Richard Dawkins once pointed out, that just makes us genetically and culturally determined, so it’s not that helpful to point this out. If some people, like PZ (he thinks), can resist a genetic tendency, that ability may be culturally determined and so it may be no easier to encourage that behaviour in others than if it’s genetically determined.

      But, I guess the thinking goes, our cultures have ‘evolved’ over time, so we should encourage cultures that express our tendencies to the best effect.

    2. Yes; I agree that Myers isn’t denying that testosterone is part of the equation. But I also think “Ugh. No. It’s not” is too strong a way of characterizing testosterone’s effect (which is to say “no direct effect”).

      I think PZ and Jerry are arguing about whether it’s 4 + 6 or 6 + 4 that = 10.

    3. This is how I read it as well. I don’t know PZs work well enough to know whether he generally diminishes and qualifies the effect of genes ‘out if existence’ – but to me that reading of this text seems to be a stretch.

  13. To deny that the differences between human males and females in size and strength are evolved is to deny at the same time that differences in behavior between males and females is evolved.

    Yeah, its pretty crazy. I thought pretty much everyone accepted that size and to a great extent violence had a significant biological component.

    Still, its interesting to note that something like 90% of all violent crimes are committed by males, yet our sexual dimorphism in terms of size isn’t all that big. Wikipedia tells me males are 9% taller and about 16% heavier, on average. If the same causal factor is at least partially responsible for both (size difference and difference in violent conduct), it makes you wonder why other primate species with much larger sexual dimorphisms don’t live in a state of constant, male-caused murderous bloodbaths.

    1. It is not obvious that sexual dimorphism should translate into more intra-species violence. Recall that the meerkat, which has little or no dimorphism, is one of the most murderous of species. Perhaps when difference in size is apparent, differences of opinion are settled merely by looking.

          1. I thought they were just into a little gentle earlobe nibbling.
            Then again, the term “rugger bugger” has a long enough history to raise suspicions about the effects of testosterone on them.

    2. The height and mass differences between male and female humans don’t necessarily tell the whole tale. I don’t know of any statistics or studies to reference off-hand, but from my personal experience it is not unusual for males to be 2 or more times stronger than females, depending on what muscle groups / action is being compared.

      Okay, let me take a quick look. Just browsing Wikipedia and the abstracts of the first couple of studies that popped up on a search, women are 42% to 70% as strong as men depending on upper body, lower body and different methods between studies. The data I glanced at showed that women’s lower body strength was closer to men’s (ranging from 63% to 70%) than upper body strength.

      I wouldn’t dispute those ranges for a chance selected group of subjects but my personal experience suggests to me that the differences may be greater between women and men that both train to maximize strength.

      1. There is also an average difference in body composition between men and women – so the muscle mass difference is greater than the body mass difference.

        1. Yes. Male & female muscle tissue are equal in performance but there are significant differences in muscle mass/body mass between men and woman. And likely some other differences as well, such as relative amounts of fast twitch vs slow twitch muscle.

          1. “Male & female muscle tissue are equal in performance”

            This isn’t true either. Men are stronger relative to lean mass. The reason is multivariate. Muscle fiber sizes, fiber type ratios (men typically have more relative typeII fibers, which aid in ‘explosive’ strength), and perhaps most importantly, women are less efficient neuromuscularly, meaning for max effort exercises, men can recruit more muscles to do the work than women.

            When it comes to strength training, though the general framework is the same (progressive overload), biological reality requires a bit of tweaking to get optimal results across both sexes.

        2. Men and women have a different “center of gravity” as well, probably because for a given height, men on average have a longer torso, whereas women have longer legs. Most people aren’t aware of this difference (and it doesn’t matter too much) unless they’ve played co-ed soccer, or have spent time on a road bike that’s improperly fitted for them, or given some other (usually) sports-related context.

      2. Because of the difference between mass vs. strength, I think you’re right that males being ‘twice as strong’ is not out of the ordinary for humans.

        But that’s not the issue. The issue is why if humans, with a 15% mass difference (and the corresponding strength difference) have such comparatively violent males, then why don’t gorillas, orangutans, mandrills, hamadryas baboons, and proboscis monkeys – all of which have about a 100% mass difference, and a bigger strength difference than what’s shown in humans, have even more violent males? If testosterone is driving both, then shouldn’t the equivalent percentages of male vs. female violence in those species be more like 95%, or 98%, or 99.9%?


        Perhaps a completely different way to think about it is: modern humans are probably incredibly non-violent compared to our cousin species. I doubt any ape species has an intraspecies kill rate as low as 10 per 100,000 individuals per year, which is the rate in much of the US (a rate which is high, compared to Europe’s). But still 9 of those 10 kills will be done by men. So it appears our acculturation process is about ten times more effective for women than for men. Why? Is the reason biological – i.e. testosterone makes men more likely to break social taboos against murder and rape? Or is it cultural – i.e., male violence is socially more accepted, and less punished, so its seen as more of a viable option? Well okay, I’m guessing pretty much everyone would agree its a bit of both???

        1. Yes, I think most would agree it is a product of both.

          I think there are too many other factors involved besides testosterone levels that contribute to different degrees of size and strength dimorphism in different species for there to be a correlation between relative levels of aggression and degrees of size & strength dimorphism across species.

        2. The intentional homicide rate (yearly) in some countries exceeds 80/100,000. If almost all the victims are men and lifespan is 60-70 year, this would give an approximately 10% chance for an average man dying a murder victim. That seems pretty much in the animal range to me.

          1. This isn’t correct with respect to an intentional homicide rate of 80 per 100k population: “…If almost all the victims are men and lifespan is 60-70 year, this would give an approximately 10% chance for an average man dying a murder victim. That seems pretty much in the animal range to me”

            I would say that the “average man” might have a 1% chance of being intentionally killed in their lifetime if they live in a city neighbourhood while the smaller group of gangsters has perhaps a 30% or 50% chance. Nearly all the countries with the very high rates South American/Caribbean & it’s due to in large part to the gangster gun culture in the towns & cities.

            The only country with a reported high rate of 80 or over is Honduras & it’s the extraordinarily violent gang warfare. Active ‘front line’ gang member soldiers who do the killing & dying are young males – such a person has perhaps a 3% to 10% chance of death PER YEAR at a guess. But just the same as armed robbers & burglars the world over, no active gang member remains ‘front line’ on the street into old age [if they survive that long] – they retire from the street & settle down.

        3. Chimps certainly are considerably more violent than humans – that study Prof Coyne cited a while ago indicated 9% intra species violence mortality for primates which is much higher than human societies overall. Moreover studies show that about once in a generation (every 18-25 years) chimps engage in wars of extermination of neighbouring community that are actually for complete extermination of the smaller community.

        1. So could, and do, the women. But, for an example, as one anectdote, when we are both in excellent condition there are some exercises on which my workout weight is more like 3.5 times my wifes. She lifts very well, the same exercises I do and she is very good at it. Way above average.

          I don’t mean to say that this one data point validates my claim, only that it is an example of something that is fairly normal in my experience in gyms over the years considering women and men that weight train with a purpose.

    3. I don’t know if the 16% average weight difference is correct. Anyway, what’s more significant is strength: “The women were approximately 52% and 66% as strong as the men in the upper and lower body respectively.” according to

      The average difference between men and women is massive. Given the biological cost of all that extra muscle there is no plausible “cultural” explanation for this difference. There are plenty of implausible explanations that will be peddled endlessly.

      1. Women Are Better Able Than Men to Survive Calamity, Research Finds : Anthropology: Body fat, metabolism and temperament cited in study of Donner Party death patterns.

        “I found it especially interesting that so many men died so early,” Grayson said. “They just went like flies.”

        Greater muscle mass also requires more calories, doesn’t it? Whenever I read up on dieting, the minimum for women is far far lower than the minimum for men. Gee, I wonder why!

        Also, don’t men have bigger brains than women in order to control all of that extra muscle mass?

        1. Cindy, the implication isn’t that having more muscle is “better” or makes males superior. It’s just that it’s a biological fact – and there is probably an evolutionary explanation for it. Greater survivabilty of females may also be a biological fact (rather than a social construct)

          1. I did not write that headline and I will add that I never agreed with it – that greater muscle mass is “better”, or worse. It just is.

  14. I wonder how widespread these sort of views are? The Blank Slate was published in 2002. Surely by now its work is largely done, and these people are a small isolated tribe in the modern educated world. The uneducated world never needed scientific data to demonstrate men were bigger and stronger than women.

    1. Surely by now its work is largely done, and these people are a small isolated tribe in the modern educated world.

      You’d be surprised. While sexual dimorphism in our species is too obvious for most people to deny, other forms of biological denialism still abound. For example, one of the more inflammatory chapters in The Blank Slate–the one about child-rearing–seems to have soaked very little into our zeitgeist. That is, most people still believe that parents can significantly mold their children’s characters and that heredity plays a minor role in how their brains get wired.

      Two articles implicating this position: one from a couple months ago in Time, “Super Families: Secrets of Raising Successful Children,” mentions genes in one sentence, but only to write them off, saying something vague like, “Genes play a role, but for this article we will focus on how parents treat their families.” Of course, if you read the article a certain way, it’s about intelligent, motivated people producing intelligent, motivated children (most of the parents have degrees, for example, and half are teachers).

      Another in The Atlantic, The American Obsession With Parenting, is about the disparity between high-income and low-income parents when spending time “developing” their kids. No caveat is offered to thinking this is really important. The article contains phrases like “…the simple educational activities that parents engage in with their children in or outside the home can have immense impact on how those youngsters fare in school and beyond.”

      All emphasis is on what the parents give their kids (except for their genes!): “…for a whole variety of reasons—some of which may have to do with money, some of which may have to do with stress, some of which may have to do with culture and the habits that you were raised with as a child–higher-income parents are just more easily able to convert those really high aspirations [for their children] into the actual daily habits that make those things come true.”

      So yeah. Males and females might differ in small ways, but all children are still seen as little balls of clay.

      1. Yes, another excellent example. Credit Judith Rich Harris and The Nurture Assumption as prime movers in taking down this bit of “common sense.”

      2. But consider the alternative: your kids will just turn out how they turn out. That’s A. a terrible way to get people to read your articles, B. lazy, and C. fatalistic.

        Exactly how to predict genetic effects on successful upbringing is quite poorly understood. They don’t mention it in the article not only because it’s a shallow article but also because we just don’t know which genes affect the given behaviors, much less which alleles would be preferable, much less how to measure this apart from cultural interference that is hard to quantify. It’s also hardly a fallacy to point out that rich kids have more options in life because their parents have more time and money, and that this likely plays a strong (albeit difficult to measure) role in outcomes. Even if we did know, adding genetic determinism to child-rearing also runs the risk of encouraging caste systems (She’s got sonic45978? Put her in remedial.) instead of the lazily not-entirely-but-pretty-much-on-purpose unequal systems we have today.

        All of this is to say it’s worth a shot to encourage parents to help their kids succeed, even if the exact methods are fuzzy and that one article seems specious, because we don’t know what role the genes played but we definitely know the effect of neglectful parenting. A child’s life is an experiment you can never rerun.

        1. You should read the Harris book. Your objections are off the mark and were anticipated by her.

          You should love your children and treat them well because they are human beings, but you will not influence their character or life chances much. Environment does play a role (50%?), but that comes almost entirely from their peer group.

          1. Environment does play a role (50%?), but that comes almost entirely from their peer group.

            From their peer group, and from the little random happenings that influence their life course, which no one can foresee or control. (These have been postulated to explain the differences between identical twins, whose genes are the same and whose peer groups are often similar.)

            To address quarterniondoug’s criticism of this view being “fatalistic”: Yes, it is, but I don’t think “fatalism” deserves the overwhelmingly negative connotation that our culture ascribes to it. At least, I’m not sure it’s much worse than our culture’s outlook, which is that “life is what you make of it”/”anyone can do anything”/”you’re only limited by your laziness”. Most people think this worldview is thoroughly optimistic, but there is a shadow side to it. It attributes people’s failures to their character in a very personal way, and it promotes arrogance and condemnation among those who succeed; whereas an appreciation for the role that luck plays in life outcomes–“luck” referring to everything from the shuffling of genes to the occurrence of opportunities–would more likely promote humility and compassion.

            As for this view promoting laziness, I think that’s as short-sighted as blaming marijuana use for laziness. Marijuana use (or any other external factor) doesn’t make people lazy; people just are lazy.

        2. Pinker doesn’t claim you can’t influence your children. He only points out (backed up with science) that the degree to which many people think you can influence a child is exaggerated, often greatly. And many of those people are professionals in the fields education and psychology.

      3. I’ve been reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and I’m only about four chapters into it, but the degree and frequency of violent behavior in the extended family (and throughout the culture as a whole) is appalling. Both men and women are violent, and it seems to be a culturally acceptable response to violations of clan loyalty, and even to mild insults or impoliteness, especially from strangers. Much of what I’ve read so far seems to be consistent with an utter lack of development of impulse control.

        The spin in the book (so far at least) seems to be that the pervasive violence is a product of cultural influences and bad parenting. However, the neuroscientist in me wonders whether many of the Scots-Irish hill people have an inherited neurodevelopmental disorder that affects areas of the brain that are responsible for executive function, impulse control, etc. Apparently Vance’s folk and culture are also quite suspicious of outsiders and especially “elites,” so it’s unlikely they’d ever agree to participate in biomedical research studies.

        1. I’m not familiar with Hillbilly Elegy but it sounds a lot like some of Thomas Sowell’s work. Roughly*, Sowell claims the violent honor subculture of white Southerners originated in certain parts of Scotland and England, and was brought to the United States by immigrants from those areas. He notes that this culture was appropriated (gasp!) by blacks and carried by both blacks and whites to Northern urban areas. This appropriation would be one indication the culture is not rooted in genetics. That it largely died out among both black and white Southerners, and in the British Isles where it originated, is another.

          *See Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell.

  15. Sorry, I think that I have lost the plot.
    Are we discussing the effects of testosterone on only human or all animal behaviour?.
    The specific quotes of Prof Myers and PCC(E) do not s seem to me to be about the same thing.

  16. “The Left has historically been characterized by respect for the facts,”

    I do not agree. Must I cite decades of propaganda and lies about, say, Stalin?
    The sad truth is that all parts of the political spectrum have always had a selective approach to facts. And it’s not always deliberate dishonesty: it’s often strong commitment and bias at work.

    1. Thanks for calling out such an outrageous generalization. Further counter examples abound.

      Though I would say some of the public figures I admire most for their integrity would put themselves on the left.

  17. Great article! Its funny because we all know by now not to try to get an “ought” from an “is”. But this is just getting an “is” from an “ought”. The right has done this in nasty ways too with things like climate denial, big bang denial, and of course evolution denial.
    Heres a list of other leftist is’s that come from oughts.

    – less wealthy groups ought to only be less wealthy because of a white patriarchy, so that is the reality.
    – We ought to be able to say that all cultures are equal, therefor they are.
    -We ought to be able to blame all inequality in oppression, there for we can.
    – we ought to not associate all Muslims with terrorism, therefore Islam and terror are not correlated.

    1. A pet peeve of mine is that in many cases it makes sense to derive our ‘oughts’ from our ‘is’s’. Biologically, we have little choice. Humans are probably never going to adopt a morality or ethic that says its wrong to eat recently killed plants and animals, even if some other intelligent species that used photosynthesis would. We just aren’t biologically in the situation where we can decry predation of other plants and animals as absolutely morally forbidden under all circumstances. And we have too few kids for human moms to adopt a spider’s “ought” of ‘you ought to eat the slowest of your babies as they’re running away from you, just to regain your strength.’

      The trick is to not derive oughts from irrelevant, unnecessary, or biased is’s. Its extremely easy to come up with a false “is” based on our biases and then use it to justify an “ought” that matches our preconceptions. Or to just engage in post-hoc reasoning, and start with the rule you want and pretend to reason back to some ‘fact’ to justify it. That’s the stuff we have to avoid. But deriving some morally acceptable behavior based on the fact that we are social omnivores that require a lot of parental training to survive and succeed…that’s pretty much unavoidable.

      1. Hume’s dictum is a purely linguistic/logical one. If you think you can derive an ought from an is, you are smuggling in some other proposition, or aren’t understanding the words the same way he was, or I do.

        Either way, it weakens the argument, as it does for Sam Harris in his Moral Landscape where he asserts the denial.

        1. I think it is important to note the difference between saying you “can’t” versus you “shouldn’t.” It may be true that you “can’t” logically do it “without smuggling in some other proposition,” but people often mean that you “shouldn’t” regardless of what other propositions you smuggle in. And I think that was the position Sam Harris was denying.

          1. Sam Harris has spilled ink and wasted time on this issue that would have been better spent explaining his ideas.

            So I am saying you can’t and you shouldn’t. Isn’t it better to make the “smuggled proposition” explicit? Then you can explore that rather than stumbling over Hume’s logically unassailable statement.

  18. One of the clearest pieces of evidence for sexual dimorphism in the brain seems to me to be the higher incidence of autism among men.

    You don’t have to accept that autism represents the ‘extreme male brain’ hypothesis to accept that that a correlation between autism and a higher preference for systematising among men might be more than coincidental.

    Autism is a developmental disorder. It is detectable in early infancy long before any (poor) socialisation could effect brain plasticity.

    1. Just a quick reply without relevant links: Women are biologically protected from developing autism. Therefore there has to be a super strong genetic foundation for them to develop it. Additionally females on the autistic spectrum also express it differently and often aren’t diagnosed.

          1. But this case may hold some water. Black immigrants to Sweden reportedly have called autism “the Swedish disease” because of its high incidence among their children (much higher than in their countries of origin, and also than among native Swedes).

      1. Women are biologically protected from developing autism. Therefore there has to be a super strong genetic foundation for them to develop it. Additionally females on the autistic spectrum also express it differently and often aren’t diagnosed.

        Both of these facts would also point to a difference between male and female brains.

      1. Being on the autistic spectrum is one of the reasons why I reject the blank slate.

        The blank slate hypothesis is based on the assumption that everyone is either born exactly the same at birth, or else abnormal since environment alone cannot account for their differences.

        An understanding based on neurodiversity reflects the fact there is variation in neurotypes, most of which are not actually pathological, and this variation is largely genetic.

        That doesn’t necessarily map onto sex differences but it does sink the idea we would all turn out the same if we had exactly the same upbringing.

        1. To clarify this, the blank state hypothesis assumes that that there is a normal brain, with no predispositions, or at least no predispositions which are not universal.

          And where brains don’t fit this model they can be bracketed off to one side.

          On the other hand accepting that brains are varied – though some are more typical than others – means recognising there is no ‘normal’ (blank) brain against which other brains can be measured and that innate traits are distributed more along the lines of a distribution curve.

          A blank slate is like assuming there is something like a normal height and everyone who does not fit this ideal is either a giant or a dwarf.

  19. Good post. And of course there are genetic differences among humans of different ancestral lineages (call them ‘races’ if you wish). The fear of the left is that these biological differences could be used to justify unfair socioeconomic policies or outright persecution. But given equal opportunity and rights under the law, why should these biological differences matter?

    1. This is where they really get it wrong in my opinion. As you say, in the context of how we treat each other and how our institutions provide for us all our biological differences should not matter. That is simply an ethical judgement.

      The reasoning that we should treat men and women (or any other groups) as equals because there are no significant differences between them is, among other problems (i.e. that there are obvious significant differences), simply not necessary and wouldn’t be a good idea even if it were true. Arguing that line of reasoning gives legitimacy to the other side of the argument. That if there are differences then it is okay to treat people differently. That would be the bigots & misogynists.

      I think it is much better to simply argue that treating certain groups of people differently because of biological differences is just bad ethics.

  20. Lost in selection or the splipery slope of the selfish gene

    If there are differences between sexes, what does that have to do with Rights. Because men are stronger than females does that meaning that women should earn less money than men, dose that mean they should not vote, they should stay at home, that women are smarter than men. None of those differences can deny women there Rights as humans and that for the Left is the important issue. Maybe people who are not from the Left may say that because of those differences then rights should be different, it’s in our genes. Are you on the slipery slope of justifying sexism. Because men have more testosterone than women makes them more prone to more fanatics than women. Women are less fanatics?

    If races are different in the phenotype what does that have to do with Rights. Does that mean that some races are better than other races? Are you on the slipery slope of justifying racism, it’s in the genes it must be true. Who defines who’s the genetically better race? I’m sure that answer will be more cultural than genetic.

    The testosterone reductionism is just as bad a the selfish gene reductionism.

    1. Well, if some group was biologically predisposed to alcoholism, I’d think society was reasonably justified in putting some additional resources into helping them avoid it. Training, awareness, early detection of problems, etc. We don’t have to restrict anyone’s rights to drink, we can just put more positive, help-focused resources on that group to improve their chance of successfully avoiding their predisposition.

      Likewise if one group (say, males) is biologically predisposed to some negative behavior (say, violence), then society would be reasonably justified in early warning measures, training, awareness, etc… resources focused on that group. I kinda hesitate to say that, given that resources in our society are already tilted towards men. But at least in terms of anti-violence training, awareness, and support, I’m not sure a full ‘title IX-type’ resource or funding parity fits the reality that the vast majority of violence is conducted by men aged 16-40 or so.

  21. Evopsych tends to concentrate on alpha male strategies to the neglect of beta strategies but beta male strategies can be effective in certain circumstances.

    Ostentatiously pushing an ideologically correct narrative is a useful way of signalling that, if you ever do find a mate, you are unlikely to wander.

  22. Are there any evolutionarily-based innate (e.g., genetically based) behavioral or psychological differences between ethnic groups?

    It may be difficult to show them, with upbringing dominating behaviour and psychology. But can someone point to one that’s known? (And I wouldn’t think “drinking/not drinking milk as an adult” would count.)

  23. Isn’t the fact that women and men tend to prefer each other as sexual and romantic partners a solid example of there being mental differences between the sexes?

      1. Hormones are a product of genes and genes are a product of evolution.

        Should all behaviors be tracked back to the chemicals that produce them without connecting the chemicals to their genes?

          1. I think that you’re arguing, then, that there is no such a thing as a mental self, just chemical effects.

          2. And tall people aren’t really tall but have only had higher levels of growth hormone than average. Correct, too?

    1. Not if the relevant “program” says only: Fall in love with someone who is the opposite sex. Could be the same exact genes and anatomy, but expressed in opposite ways in the two sexes. And of course, a mutation or environmental variable could produce the opposite effect, resulting in homosexuality. Obviously, this is not determined by one gene, though.

  24. Myers:Testosterone makes people more aggressive? Sure. But it depends on the dose, and how it is expressed is going to be culture-dependent.

    How Myers says: that higher testosterone levels in males have no influence on their aggressiveness, is a claim based not on data—which show that he’s wrong—but on ideology.?

    I cannot find the word “patriarchy” either. I think your arguments in this post are correct but irrelevant at least to Myers post. Tries to point something else. That culture channels things according to some socially established principles. As you admit too, some times just..

    …culture can influence behavior, including reinforcing biologically-innate behaviors if they are seen as “normal.”

    Actually I cannot see the disagreement.

    Probably you don’t like his style. And there is no female somewhere near to fight for, to serve as an explanation!

    1. I’ve revised that to say the genes have some effect, but that effect is severely qualified. And my post was not just about his claim, as I said above If you read it, it’s about the general claim, which both Myers and others make repeatedly, that there are no clear evolved biological differences between the sexes.

  25. There’s another argument – almost as bad – but worth mentioning.

    This is because the society is itself deeply sexist, racist, whatever, by simply attempting to get answers to the questions we shall encourage their use for nefarious purposes. Otherwise reasonably well informed people make this argument. For example, Philip Kitcher suggests that people to be affected by a research project (even in pure science) should be able to “veto” the existence of the work for this reason. (I don’t know how on earth one figures out this in general.)

    I think this is wrongheaded also because if there *are* such differences one wants to do something, maybe, to ameliorate them, and the only way to do that is to honestly try to find out what they are.

    The other mistake I see constantly is a corollary to the “there are no differences” – namely people expecting perfect sex, race, etc. ratios, and automatically assuming nefarious bias if there is a substantial deviation.

    On that note, as an example. Andrew Irvine was skeptical of the claim that there was an imbalance in philosophy hiring by sex: as of the time of his analysis he was right, there isn’t any, granted the numbers of PhDs and even granted the numbers of available graduate students going in (no differential drop out in graduate school). He was able to show that it was, if there is any, sexism at the who opts for a philosophy *undergraduate* degree. And that might be sex linked for any number of non-sexist reasons. Maybe women are more “practical” for the reasons of sexism people talk about – i.e., for example concerns about child support, etc, etc. Conclusion there is: run the analysis carefully before drawing conclusions!

  26. Politically, the nature-nurture debate cuts both ways. Certainly, racists and some conservatives have argued that certain races are less intelligent than others due to genes while most gay people (presumably on the left of the political spectrum) believe that sexual orientation is determined exclusively by genes.

    1. Left and Right both believe that practices ‘against nature’ can be corrected: they just disagree on what is natural.

      For the Left is is a return to a communal way of living from which we are alienated by capitalism; for the Right it is the heterosexual family unit.

    2. “…most gay people (presumably on the left of the political spectrum) believe that sexual orientation is determined exclusively by genes.”

      I find this fairly difficult to believe. Do you have any data to support this assertion?

        1. The better alternative to “genetic gayness” is the idea that sexual orientation arises from hormonal and emotional development interacting with genes but not from a given set of genes. It seems to be stably fixed fairly early on in life but may change throughout a lifetime, though probably not voluntarily.

        2. It’s not about what I believe (that it is likely a combination of genetics and intra-uterine hormonal/immunologic milieu), but about what “most gay people believe.” I would expect that “most gay people” do not believe that “sexual orientation is determined exclusively by genes.” My question is this: Do you have survey data which show what “most gay people believe” or are you guessing?

          1. I can’t find a poll, but the Guardian says this:

            “Over the past decade the idea that we are “born this way” — or that our sexuality is genetic — has become increasingly important. The mantra has become a political strategy, in particular for gay and lesbian communities, who see it as a way to protect themselves from discrimination.”


            I am not saying this is a biological truth. Other factors may be involved in addition to one’s genetic makeup. But, it seems to be the belief of the gay community.

          2. Ok. Though, “born this way” could include intra-uterine environment. It’s really the word “exclusively” that makes me question it. I would guess (with no data) that most gays would agree with “born this way,” but not necessarily with “exclusively” due to genes*.

            *Of course, the intra-uterine environment would still be due to genes (the mother’s), but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

          3. Are there *any* traits in humans which are strongly genetic in this sense?

            There’s a debate in the philosophy of biology literature specifically about the claim “genes cause traits”, with some folks thinking the norm of reaction for at least some species’ traits shows that this claim is false.

  27. I don’t know how the same people who reject the idea of sexual differences in behaviour reconcile this with championing transgender rights.

    If you have the body of a boy and are raised as a boy where does the mismatch between appearance and identity happen if not the brain?

  28. PZ Myers and his faction around him (from Greta Christina to Rebecca Watson) are modern intersectionalists (their extreme variant are known as “social justice warriors”), who are highly invested in the race concept. Their writing is riddled with references to it (“check your white privilege”; “whiteness” etc) and it’s the foundation for their identitarian beliefs. They are similar to Neo-Nazis in this regard, with one important difference: they have inversions of Far Right beliefs. Like Far Right identitarians, they also believe humans are best characterized by races (and sex/gender etc); that such races make for identity worth protecting and should keep to themselves (here “cultural appropriation” comes in); and that some are superior and some are inferior (whites/males are oppressors). However, to them the good and superior identity-categories are minorities, and they believe in a strong form of social construction, which creates reality to an important degree. All of this is highly dubious, to put it mildly.

    This faction’s luminaries like Laci Green (“sex [!] and gender are social constructs”) or Kristi Winters (“facts are socially constructed”), might on the surface appear as if their views are elastic – and they create space for “oppressed” new identities as they emerge steoreotypically on Tumblr. However in practice, they are obsessed with sex, gender and race and it infuses their every waking hour, and it’s not correct to characterize them as “blind” to it. On the contrary.

    To understand the intersectionality movement a bit, to which PZ Myers et al belong, we has to look into its origins in postmodernism, radical feminism and Critical Race Theory in particular. The modern movement is an offspring with significant innovations, and most proponents only know the tenets via “safe spaces” comment section osmosis, which makes it a bit challenging.

    Originally, the left and the civil rights movements rejected race conceptions and wanted to overcome it. Scholars in Harvard Law, notably Derrick Bell, found that this “colorblind” approach of Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t work. Races exist by virtue of culture believing they exist. Instead of trying to be colourblind, we should be aware of the “system of oppression” (in modern lingo) according to this ideology. This became, in the internet age “check your privilege”, where “white” and “males” in particular should be made aware that they, too, have “race” and “gender/sex”. Far from trying to get away from it, these people bath in such concepts all the time. The awareness of who one is, and the circumstances of it are strongly influenced by the postmodern condition.

    Kimberlé Crenshaw originally proposed Intersectionality within that Critical Race Theory framework to highlight the plight of those individuals who fall between the cracks of anti-racist and feminist discourse. She starts with the same assumption that humans belong into important categories, but wanted to “fix” the problems that occur. She found that anti-racists would downplay “black on black” crimes, especially rape and domestic violence. And she found that feminists are mostly well-educate white women who visit those postmodern “-studies” courses, hence the particular problems black women face are being overlooked and downplayed (since they are mostly being beaten and raped by their spouses who tend to be of the same “race”).

    Richard Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” could be viewed as an intersectional approach, but of course, it isn’t really one, since Dawkins is not an identitarian. However, this shows what makes modern Intersectionalists different. They have taken Crenshaw’s idea and turned it upside down. Now the intersectionalists, PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson on the frontline could have taken it as an intersectional approach, yet instead of applauding him, they were most critical.

    The subverted, modern Intersectionality became a glue between different identity groups. Like Marx and Engel’s “[workers] proletarians of all countries, unite!” [against the bourgeoisie] it wants minorities and people in the “oppressed” category band together under one ideology (still nameless, but perhaps “intersectionality social justice”, sometimes “Woke Culture” crops up) and show solidarity with one another. Hence, such people side with Muslims (as one of the “oppressed”) and don’t care one bit about people trapped within the respective category. Thereby, they subverted Crenshaw’s original take, which is ironically much more like the criticism against the “Regressive Left”.

    Critical Race Theory also contains radical feminist belief in “Patriarchy Theory” which is compatible, since it all is based in postmodern psycho-analysis. You see this in beliefs like “internalized misogyny”. One last bit. This ideology is also explicitly anti-Enlightenment, anti-rational and the people who supported it, from AronRa to Stephanie Zvan – knowingly or without doing their research – have caused considerable damage.

    I accept the clustering and concede that it is of legitimate concern for population geneticists, yet reject the “race” conception. The common concept is fraught with historical pseudoscience and detrimental in most circumstances. I follow Lewontin’s argument. We have ethnicity to convey a mix of culture, genetics, origins that is more accurate, and I can call out features if I want to identify some person (just as I can say “the ginger over there”).

    1. Good summary, and I agree–“ethnicity” is a very useful concept.

      The intersectional folks’ obsession with race and identity lends credence to the horseshoe theory of politics: go far enough left and you end up back on the right.

    2. This is an excellent elucidation on what I merely call “post-modernist SJW bullshit”.

      Does PZ realise just how much people laugh at him, these days. He is like the racist grand-parent at the wedding. Unwelcome and an embarrassment.

  29. Back in the day, when I was foolish enough to bother with PZ Myer’s bog, I wrote much the same about body size and sexual selection. The commenters immediately set upon me with amazingly uninformed comments and persona attacks. When I pointed out that Darwin himself wrote of sexual selection (the term which they found seemingly sexist, without explanation), they were incredulous. The insults and ridiculous arguments followed until, like most sane people, decided I’d had enough and left. Never looked back. Hope PZ enjoys his little crowd of sycophants.

    1. Yes, I went through the same phase but his attacks on Richard Dawkins, PCC, Michael Shermer, Richard Carrier and just about anybody else I had ever heard or listened too finally put me off.
      Apparently, face to face, he is a quiet and moderate man but his blog gives the impression of being by somebody highly aggressive.
      Possibly due to his cultural background…or something.

      1. He went after Carrier? I thought Carrier was totally on board with the Atheism+ and radical feminism. What happened?

        1. Myers was a big fan of Carrier, until it was revealed Carrier didn’t behave himself at conferences. Google it, especially the letters with Lauren Lane. Lol. Now PZ and Mr. Jizz hate one another.

          Carrier is known as THE JIZZLER for a reason.

  30. The left has long adopted the scientific methodology of Stalin’s pet scientist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, a methodology that evaluates scientific theories by their conformance to a political ideology and actively suppresses dissent.

  31. A rejection of sexual dimorphism in behaviour is the last bastion of human exceptionalism.

    Proposing epicycles of enculturation to explain away behavioural differences doesn’t disguise the fact the blank slate is the heliocentrism of biology.

  32. Pinker wrote a new afterword for The Blank Slate, dealing with gender?

    I find Pinker’s essays so good that it’s almost worth buying the book again, just for the afterword. I’m gonna have to go find a bookstore somewhere nearby to sit and read it!

    1. Ooh boy. I almost feel like I’m committing a crime by reading the new afterword inside the bookstore… almost, because I have 3 old copies of the Blank Slate in my bookshelf.

  33. I expect Myers will write a post in response and it will consist largely of ad homs.

    The comments BTL will be pretty unhinged.

    It might be best if someone with the know-how can archive the response and the original post so FTB don’t get the clicks.

  34. This silliness of ignoring facts because of ideology has bothered me all my life. Just because we’ve screwed up in the past (I wasn’t allowed to do long jump because my bone headed teachers in elementary school thought it messed up females so they couldn’t have children), just means we need mechanisms to correct for bias.

    I swear, in the West, we are now selecting for stupid anyway as there is no reason to be intelligent and being intelligent can actually be detrimental.

  35. Oh and I wanted to add that if hormones do not affect behaviour than I guess they do nothing to our brains so this whole depression thing is just made up, right?

    And when I was taking Tamoxifen – boy did it affect my physiology and my brain. I was exhausted all the time and I won’t even start on the physiological affects. So, ladies, I’ve had a glimpse of menopause and it’s really no fun at all. But I guess we ladies are just making that up?

    1. The zillions of hormonal receptors in your brain alone suggests that hormones will effect the brain.
      People who are transitioning from female to male will start taking testosterone. They report very clear effects on their sex drive, mood, confidence, and at times feelings of aggression. This is hard for the T-deniers to deny.

  36. While we’re having a (justified) go at the regressive left, and in concordance with PCC’s headline, we shouldn’t let the authoritarian right off the hook. I can’t think of any biological reason against contraception, abortion or voluntary euthanasia. I’d go further and say that, while the regressive left’s stance is mostly an absurd nuisance, with occasional victims, the authoritarian right’s stance causes real suffering on a vast scale.


    1. Biology says nothing against euthanasia whether it be merciful and voluntary or cold-blooded murder. If anything biology and nature are very much in the pro-murder camp. What you’re talking about are ethical and moral questions, and for that we turn to our secular liberal values which biology may inform but does not dictate.

      1. Umm yes, I may have swerved a bit off topic there. My attention was drawn by the phrase ‘ideological opposition’ which I think could very well apply to the whole ‘pro-life’ movement (because, IMO, they don’t have one scientific or rational fact to stand on).


    2. I have very mixed feelings about euthanasia. I fear about vulnerable people for whom the concept of “voluntary” is almost or entirely meaningless. Imagine a future in which there still is a stigma for leaving your disabled child in an institution, but no stigma for euthanazing him.

      1. Put whatever safeguards on it you like. It is utterly obscene for a fully coherent, intelligent adult to be forced to die in agony because their wish to end their suffering is prohibited because of somebody else’s religious fetishes.


        1. I am not religious, but I agree with religious people when I see their convictions as reasonable and humanistic.

          The problem with euthanasia is, once it is allowed for cases in which few reasonable people would object to it, it then seems to keep expanding.
          Prof. Coyne says that introduction of euthanasia in some European countries proved that fears were unfounded, but other sources give me other thoughts.

          For the Netherlands: “Initially the annual total hovered at around 1,900, but since 2006 it has increased by an average of 15% a year. In 2013 the number of euthanasia and assisted suicide cases stood at 4,829, nearly three times the 2002 figure.

          About Belgium:

          “In the Netherlands, Belgium’s northern neighbour, euthanasia is legal for children over the age of 12, if they have the consent of their parents. But if the Belgian bill is passed in the lower house of parliament, Belgium will be the first nation in the world to lift all age restrictions…

          A senator who voted against the bill, Christian Democrat Els Van Hoof, thinks it is based on a misplaced idea of self-determination – that everyone has the right to make decisions not only about how they live, but also about how they die. She disagrees, and fought successfully, with a group of other senators, to restrict the scope of the bill to children with terminal illness suffering unbearable physical pain.

          “In the beginning they presented a law that included mentally ill children,” she says. “During the debate, supporters of euthanasia talked about children with anorexia, children who are tired of life – so how far does it go?”
          In the case of adult euthanasia, she fears a “slippery slope” is already in evidence…”

          Both sources include scary bar graphs pointing upwards.
          All disability activists that I know are against euthanasia. They know very well that once it is allowed, it is likely that all who cannot ever live independently will be pressured to die.

          1. Then it is incumbent on you (and everyone else) to build safeguards to protect people. But it is not reasonable, nor just, to ensure that the vast majority of us, who happen to live to old age, be forced to suffer miserably at the end of our lives because you fear a slippery slopes.

            As for bar graphs that show acceptance of assisted dying growing over time, that seems like a good thing, not a scary one. More people are able to end life on their own terms. Why do you think that is a bad thing?

          2. If a suffering person has been denied quality care and efficient pain relief, he will of course want to die. But, to me, it is as much “on their own terms” as a prisoner who in desperation hangs himself in his cell. We rightly criticize Mother Theresa that she offered no pain relief in her institutions, but I do not see here any wish for better pain management and care, be it by advance of science or by better funding; only calls for more euthanasia.

          3. You, frankly, have no right to dictate the terms of the end of my life. This is a conversation about whether I have the right to end my life on my terms and an attempt to change the topic to pain medication is simply arm-waving distraction.

            You pose a false choice between pain medications and assisted suicide. In many cases they are the same thing.

          4. The problem is that it is not just about YOUR life. It is about vulnerable people to whom you do not seem to belong presently. With the same success, you can try to convince me that slavery should be allowed because you are dreaming to be sold.

          5. I see both your sides.

            Maya definitely has some valid concerns. One concern would be that insurances companies, rather than pay hundreds of thousands for cancer treatment, instead tell a patient that they will only cover euthanasia, because it’s cheaper.

            Overall though, I think that very stringent regulations are the answer, not a denial of personal liberty and a sentence of suffering. That woman with the inoperable brain tumour was doomed to die, and no amount of painkillers or kind words would have helped her. Sometimes death *is* the most merciful.

            Now, a case could be made that there is bit of a slippery slope fallacy here as well. There are *lots* of things that we should disallow in order to protect people. Brilliant comedienne Joan Rivers died from plastic surgery gone wrong. There are many many people with BDD – body dismorphic disorder. Should we ban plastic surgery in order to protect those who are vulnerable?

            How many things should we ban to protect those among us who are vulnerable? How much of a nanny state do we want?

          6. There is a liberty issue at the heart of this, and freedom to end one’s own life on their own terms should not be interfered with. By all means, provide drugs and care to ease suffering, but an individual should be allowed to make the decision.

            It isn’t always physical pain that leaves one desiring death. Seeing dementia coming at you might be one reason, and there are others.

          7. Once you become dependent on other people, you lose most of your liberty. Even such a normal, accepted and short event as birth can lead to people bossing you around and pushing “informed consent” forms into your face, and withdrawing care from you until you sign that no matter what happens to you and the baby in the process, it will be none of their fault.
            And in theory, the newborn and his mother are among the most valued members of society, its future. I can only fancy what happens to people with incurable disabilities.

          8. “The problem is that it is not just about YOUR life.”

            It is about my life, and the lives of everyone else who might want to end his/her life under relevant circumstances. Your ban-on-euthenasia, as far as I can tell, has no limits on who it applies to.

            If it does, and people like me are not covered by your slippery-slope ban, then please articulate the rule so we can evaluate it more carefully.

          9. My “ban” has no limits, because the pro-euthanasia advocacy here also seems to have no limits. In principle, I do think that there are cases where euthanasia is appropriate. I am concerned, however, with its tendency to expand ever more beyond these cases, and by what I see a denial in my opponents about this. You tell me that I am imagining, I cite to you facts about linear and exponential increase in euthanasia cases, and you now say that this is a very good thing. Your theory that euthanasia is always according to the patient’s free will and best interest is unfalsifiable. The only option you are giving me to support my opinion is to summon the spirits of euthanized people to testify that they are now regretting. With such zealous opposition, I indeed start to think that the best is to impose a 100% ban and to make suffering people collateral damage.

          10. If I were suffering unimaginable pain at the end of my life and I begged you over and over to end my life, would you? Or would you watch me suffer?

            If you did end my life, should you go to jail for doing it?

          11. “Your theory that euthanasia is always according to the patient’s free will and best interest is unfalsifiable.”

            No, my argument (not a “theory”) is that laws need to protect the innocent from harm. But they must not prevent prevent people from having access to end-of-life decisions that you are uncomfortable with. I care not a whit that you are uncomfortable in comparison to the profound “discomfort” that you are willing to inflict on your fellow humans.

            You cite a linear and exponential increase in euthanasia cases and simply assert that this is a bad thing because it must be a lot of innocents being murdered. Or something. Well, I am not willing to take your assertions on faith. If you can’t demonstrate that these are actually murders then I have no reason to think they are anything more than people taking advantage of a better way to die.

            You simply have no right to demand that we all shuffle off this mortal coil according to your protocol. Take it upon yourself to articulate real protections for real victims. (Do we not have laws against murder?)

          12. GB, I agree with your several posts here defending freedom to end one’s life. Well argued.

            [Laws] must not prevent prevent people from having access to end-of-life decisions that you [Maya] are uncomfortable with.

            Two out of three firearms deaths in this country, ~20,000/year, are suicides. Would you deny these people access to the end of life decisions that they made with laws restricting guns?

          13. I would have access to guns tightly controlled and I would have access to well-managed end-of-life options easily available. I don’t see blowing-your-brains-out as a reasonable argument against gun control.

            I imagine, although I have no evidence one way or the other, that gun suicides would drop if there were other end-of-life options. I don’t know how much. But guns are not generally purchased for the purpose of suicide.

          14. We are not in a situation where this is an option:

            I would have access to guns tightly controlled and I would have access to well-managed end-of-life options easily available.

            If we are floating utopian hypotheticals, why not bliss filled immortality? In the U.S. enlightened end of life laws are likely a long way off. In the meantime, how sincere are you about letting people spare themselves an agonizing existence?

          15. Death by gun can sometimes be tricky not to mention messy. It’s something I would do only if, at the end of life, there were no other options. I don’t think that restricting gun ownership because people won’t have access to kill themselves isn’t a very good argument for gun ownership.

          16. … I don’t think that restricting gun ownership because people won’t have access to kill themselves isn’t a very good argument for gun ownership.

            There are too many “nots” there to parse (“isn’t” should be “is”?), but I assume you mean having the ability to kill oneself is not a good reason for gun ownership rights?

            The primary reason we in the U.S. have a right to guns is for self defense. But a gun is also a sure way to end your own life when you want to. I count that as a point in favor of gun rights, and an option I am glad to have.

          17. So we should make sure all drugs are legal too and readily accessible in case of suicide need. Also, ropes. And special courses on how to properly block the exhaust in a car for that kind of death.

          18. I agree. We are not in a utopia. I am unable to restrict easy gun access. But I can advocate for what I think is the right thing, no?

          19. “I indeed start to think that the best is to impose a 100% ban and to make suffering people collateral damage.”

            *Collateral damage*?

            I’m sorry but you just walked into my blanket curse, which is that everyone who opposes voluntary euthanasia (and ONLY them) should die screaming in agony and begging for relief which is denied them. That would be totally fair and just, would it not?

            My mother died of cancer of the throat. She had always believed in voluntary euthanasia and she asked – demanded – that they put her out of her suffering. Didn’t get it, thanks to laws passed by politicians afraid of the religious lobby.

            I’d better leave this debate now before I get personal.


          20. I’m sorry your mother went through that and you had to witness her pain.

            Let me take up some of this argument for you.

            Let’s say that pain is not the issue. That the pain management given to me is perfect and I feel no pain. But I can’t move, I can’t use the washroom and need 24 hour/day car to look after my every biological need. I also can’t read or even think clearly and communication is a chore. Eventually I will die but I don’t want to live the rest of my days in misery. Why should I not have the ability to end my life or with the help of loved ones, end it without those helpers going to jail for the rest of their lives for showing me this kindness?

          21. Oh, there’s one other thing that’s relevant. Suppose one has led a generally good life. I happen to think the manner in which one leaves it really does matter, far beyond the immediate events – I would not want my last thoughts to be anguished. That kinda invalidates my entire life experience. This matters far more to an atheist than to some religoso who thinks there’s more to come in the afterlife. And that’s another reason why *I* should be the person who decides when it’s properly time to leave the party.


          22. “Didn’t get it”

            Sorry to hear that. Sounds tough. My mother was prescribed increasing doses of morphine so she avoided much suffering. By morning, she was with the garden fairies. Not so bad.

          23. @rickflick

            Your mother was more fortunate (relatively) than mine. Yes, plenty of morphine, but it can’t hide the fact you’re choking, and it gave her terrible hallucinations. I rather hope someone eventually cranked the dose up way past 100 but I felt it better not to ask (since that would have been a crime, of course).


          24. “since that would have been a crime, of course”

            I overheard the doc give instructions to the night nurse before he left the hospital. He told her to increment by some specific amount whenever mom looked too uncomfortable. He did not specify a maximum dose. I think this is probably an indication that he was aware of legal constraints, yet also knew what was morally necessary. I have to assume that for many docs this is the way they have of dealing with the injustice and inhumanity of the religious lobby.

          25. @maya

            I do apologise for getting personal. But euthanasia (or denial of it) is an issue which could affect any of us.


          26. It was all my fault. I worded my opinion in an insensitive way, not thinking how it could be hurtful for some. As an excuse, I can only say that this discussion was a major cultural shock to me.

          27. Maya, I think I’ve read all your comments on this topic. None of them struck me as insensitive.

            Of course we should avoid deliberate, gratuitous cruelty, but in general, censoring oneself out of “sensitivity” is not a good thing.

          28. @rickflick

            “I think this is probably an indication that he was aware of legal constraints, ”

            ‘legal constraints’ being a rather mild way of describing a potential murder charge.

            In fact such charges are quite rare (at least in this country – NZ), probably reflecting the general public mood and the extreme reluctance of juries to convict in this type of case.


          29. Of course you’ll see more people choosing not to suffer every year. The population increases every year, among other reasons. This does not indicate a slippery slope with respect to implementation criteria.

            And “pressured to die”? I assume those exerting the pressure will be the same as those on the great and powerful death panels which hang over all our heads.

          30. “The problem with euthanasia is, once it is allowed for cases in which few reasonable people would object to it, it then seems to keep expanding.”

            The reason it seems to keep expanding is the same as the reason gay marriage keeps expanding – it was previously verboten.


          31. It matters why the curve flattens. If it is becuase anyone who wants the option has the option, then that is a “good” flattening. If it flattens because of legal restrictions based on fears of slippery slopes or the commandments of deities, then that is a “bad” flattening.

            It is pretty much a mathematical certainty that there will be flattening at some point, regardless of the reason.

          32. “I am not religious, but I agree with religious people when I see their convictions as reasonable and humanistic.”

            Well, I don’t. Most of the anti-euthanasia arguments mounted by religious people are false, fake, phony. They try to invent plausible ‘humanistic’ arguments against voluntary euthanasia because if they admitted the true reason for their opposition, which is that their *religion* forbids it, nobody else would go along with them. They are unethical, they are deceitful, they are dishonest, they are liars.


          33. “They are unethical, they are deceitful, they are dishonest, they are liars.”

            Careful, you’ll make baby Jesus cry.

          34. I think it is better to act humanistically because of ignoble reasons, than to make fatal mistakes with pure mind and heart. I only wish the husband of Terri Schiavo to have been truly religious.

          35. Michael Schiavo: You wish he had been “truly religious” – can you expaid on that remark please? What do you mean?

            I’m getting a bit angry here, but I MAY be misunderstanding you. Please explain carefully what you mean!

          36. I am sorry to have been unclear. From what I have read, Schiavo’s husband all the time claimed that he wanted end of her life for her own good, and based on her own wishes expressed to him beforehand, which of course was orally and not verified by any independent witness. In fact, he had a girlfriend whom he wanted to marry; and even if he had obtained a divorce, he would not be able to marry her in a church.

            What I meant was that Michael Schiavo was religious enough to wish to marry in a church, but not enough to abstain from ending the life of his comatose wife.

          37. This is a typical blog headline from one side of the ‘argument’ at the time: “Michael Schiavo Kills Wife Then Marries Mistress In Catholic Church”

            For this headline to be an acceptable expression of reality then you have to believe that a husband with a wife in a vegetative state should remain sexually faithful until his wife dies or he divorces her.
            The headline also contains the idea that he killed her – someone whom I would consider already dead [in my layperson sense not legal sense]

            As an ex-RC atheist & anti-theist [especially the RCC] I understand very well that MOST RCs don’t follow their religion to the letter. Most RCs in fact are NOT “truly religious” [to use your term]. It is not surprising that Michael remarried in a Catholic Church given that by the letter of the Catholic religion there are few officials within the church who pass your test of being “truly religious”. Right?

            BTW are you an atheist or theist or what? What religion?

          38. I am an atheist. I do not understand why so many people think I am lying about this.
            I think people in the position of Michael Schiavo should have the opportunity to get a divorce. As far as I know, being locked in an unwanted marriage has motivated many homicides in history.
            I find the blog headline accurate. To me, you are presenting a false dichotomy. One can leave his partner and find a new one without ending the life of the first partner.
            I agree about most RCs (and also members of other religions).
            I wonder whether the church officials who presided over Schiavo’s second marriage had any choice about whether to perform the ceremony.

          39. To find that headline “accurate” you must think…

            [1] …that Michael’s girlfriend was indeed his mistress [to be clear you believe he was cheating on his wife even though she was in a vegetative state]

            [2] …that he killed her

            I didn’t know until you mentioned it that many people believe you are lying about being an atheist. I didn’t know this was a thing with you. Perhaps you have explained previously in other posts on this site how & why this confusion arises, but I don’t follow every comment on WEIT enough to know this. It seems as if you might be either an ex-RC who can’t express him/her self well in English or you are not an atheist at all, but a fifth columnist or even worse you are merely a troll with no opinion who enjoys causing trouble for troubles sake

            I don’t know what is true about you, but I’ve decided you write in a way that lacks empathy. And I mean totally without empathy like a teenage boy or a lawyer. I hope this lack of empathy is a language glitch caused by English not being your first language…

            FYI I haven’t enjoyed our exchange & I don’t get a picture from it of who you are & what you believe – thus I don’t trust you.

          40. I don’t know what is true about you [mayamarkov], but I’ve decided you write in a way that lacks empathy. And I mean totally without empathy like a teenage boy or a lawyer. I hope this lack of empathy is a language glitch caused by English not being your first language…

            Empathy is overrated and causes more problems than it solves. Maya obviously has a different opinion on this subject than you or me. Your, my, and others’ arguments don’t persuade her, so you resort to ad hominem attack? That won’t work either. She has expressed herself clearly, openly, and honestly – you just need to accept she hasn’t been convinced up to now.

          41. You’ve written your vehicle off on the bend – “Thank you” is the riposte of a child. Clarity & openness: you don’t do these things

          42. @Carl – Thanks I wasn’t sure if Maya was a ‘she’

            Not ad hom at all! Maya uses the idea that someone isn’t “truly religious” as part of her argument. This suggested to me that Maya has a particular stance informed by her own past in a thread where people speak of very personal matters [including myself to the degree I’m able to say here]. Maya IMO isn’t giving a purely rational argument & neither [IMO] is anybody else because this sort of stuff is very personal. Maya has preserved her right to say nothing about her history, but still allows herself to use “truly religious” as part of her argument.

            The ad hom you see is me asking if it’s a language thing or some other ‘detachment’ that she needs to reveal. We are speaking of the process of death which is personal & ‘loaded’ for many people & Maya [it seems to me] is not engaging.

            I am being utterly honest & pertinent too [rather than ad hom] when I say I don’t trust her – what Maya writes doesn’t add up to a whole number because she’s obviously leaving important stuff out. There’s gaps big enough for a truck to drive through.

          43. @ carl & Maya

            I found this Maya blog:

            And the most recent post relates to this thread. What troubles me is the final sentence of that post states that “Every life that is preserved is worth the effort” – in the broad context of what Maya is writing about that may be true, but in individual cases preserving lives [including human lives] is not optimal to well being. It patently isn’t true to say “every life that is preserved is worth the effort” The preservation of a life is always at some cost & that isn’t allowed for in the statement!

            A hard line sanctity-of-life approach is needlessly cruel & of course the other end of the spectrum with a free-for-all is equally worrying. I don’t think it’s reasonable to be at either end of this spectrum. The subject of how to close the book on a human life with maximum dignity will always defy the rulebook & I rail against Maya’s [seeming] black & white approach.

            I have only ever seen such a black & white attitude from religious and/or political ideologues – hence my distrust

          44. I understood mayamarkov’s position to be one concerned with not killing people who don’t want it. Which, of course, is not objectionable. She goes too far, in my view, by advocating policies that will interfere with those who, by their own decision, do want to die.

          45. @Carl: Thank you very much for the support!

            @Michael: Yes, this is my English blog. My ancestors were Orthodox Christians, but my parents are/were not, and I have never been.

          46. @Carl: you write: “I understood mayamarkov’s position to be one concerned with not killing people who don’t want it. Which, of course, is not objectionable. She goes too far, in my view, by advocating policies that will interfere with those who, by their own decision, do want to die.”

            I understand that to be her position too. And the bit where she goes too far in your opinion & mine is what my responses are about.

          47. Openness & clarity: …which is the road you didn’t take & the road you still don’t take despite prompting from me twice. Do you & me a favour & open up – as far as I can tell you are not being honest [in the courts hereabouts where I live, part of giving testimony includes expressing the whole truth which must include any special interests or stances you held & hold.] – if you’re an atheist now I strongly doubt that you always were. And the path matters.

            You do not present a coherent picture behind your anonymity & I think you should do something about that! Do it here or admit you are a troll or Devil’s advocate or whatever.

            There is a LOT of personal testimony above about the terrible unfolding of painful end of life & yet you do not reveal anything at that level of involvement. I could write about war from personal experience & how I have seen comrades given a merciful bullet rather than suffer an inevitable [most probably] death. And of course it’s about judgement when we get to “most probably” situations where there isn’t time to form a committee & adjudicate.

            I think you’re a lawyer type or the teen who hasn’t been at the coalface of horrible reality. Prove me wrong why don’t you?

          48. By the bullet I mean severely injured comrades on the battlefield who are begging to be ‘finished off’. Sometimes they are purposefully overdosed & sometimes it is realised they are underestimating how they might be rehabilitated if they can be whisked away. The point is someone at that moment has to do a ‘triage’ [to be polite] in the field. Real life is messy.

          49. I cannot know whether I am a lawyer type, but I am not a teen (I am 45).
            What is true, I have not been near a “terrible unfolding of painful end of life”.
            But I know cases whether those who should be nearest and dearest have taken the decision to dispose of a person whom they are expected to love.

            My parents had a colleague whose newborn son with Down syndrome was terminated by his father (the child’s grandfather). This grandfather, a doctor with a good position, ordered the nurses to undress the baby to see him properly and then shouted: “Why is there no fresh air? Open the windows, now, to change it!” Nobody dared to contradict him. The baby died of pneumonia several days later. I do not know how this affected the doctor’s relationship with his son.

            I knew an old lady (now deceased) who was living her last years all alone. Her husband had died, and their only daughter had died even before them. She had a kidney condition. Doctors had recommended treatment abroad, but her father told her: “(Her name), I put on the balance you, on one side, and the money, on the other, and unfortunately, the money prevailed.”

            In the condo where my father lives, one flat became a murder scene. An old lady living with her son and his friend was beaten to death, presumably for the sake of her money. It is unsolved, because the police cannot prove who exactly did it, her son or the friend or both.

          50. Your examples seem like very poor ones to support laws against someone ending their own life, or voluntarily getting help from someone in the endeavor. Two are outright murders.

      2. On one hand we have countless people dying in pain and unnecessary misery every day. On the other hand we have your imagined future.

        My feelings aren’t mixed in the least. It is obvious where the real problem is.

          1. And of course I agree with GBJames et al absolutely on this one.

            The statistics that so alarm maya are mildly hopeful but unfortunately don’t go nearly far enough. There are still millions of people who are denied the option of a more comfortable death for ideological reasons.


      3. In the middle ages, cats were tied together by their tails to watch them fight, or mounted on a post for the community to enjoy watching it burn. Now, if our pet is dying of some illness or old age, we are expected to mercifully have it put down. We can’t very well be hypocritical and cruel by sitting by and watching our loved ones writhe in agony for serval days so that we avoid looking like we jumped the gun. Reasonable people should be able to implement safeguards to prevent illegal euthanasia.

        1. So far, the ever-upward graphs of euthanasia statistics seem to show that the safeguards are failing.

          Pets are different. We do not want to watch them suffer. But humans are entities with the same status as those who do not want to watch them suffer.

          1. “…the ever-upward graphs of euthanasia statistics seem to show that the safeguards are failing.

            Not at all. It shows that assisted dying is becoming more available. You assume that an increase is a bad thing. You need to demonstrate that this represents an increase in people being killed against their will. At that point you’ll have a point. Until then, you’re just advocating for suffering.

          2. I think you are putting too much burden of proof on me. How on earth am I to prove that people are being killed against their will, after they are killed? How if they are so disabled that they are unable to talk? Maybe the victims of the T4 program also were in unbearable suffering and wanted to die. (I am sure this was the case, once the program was started.)


            “In 2014, the Belgian Society of Intensive Care Medicine Council issued a statement paper about the administration of sedative agents with the direct intention “of shortening the process of terminal palliative care in patients with no prospect of a meaningful recovery”… The Statement holds that shortening the dying process by administering sedatives “beyond what is needed for patient comfort can be not only acceptable but in many cases desirable”… The Statement further stipulates that shortening the dying process with use of medication may sometimes be appropriate “even in the absence of discomfort”… that the final decision lies in the hands of the medical care team, and that the document applies to children as well as to adults…”

            J Med Ethics. 2015 Aug;41(8):625-9. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2014-102387. Epub 2015 Jun 3.
            First do no harm: intentionally shortening lives of patients without their explicit request in Belgium.
            Cohen-Almagor R.

          3. “I think you are putting too much burden of proof on me.”

            Not at all. You are the one who wants to limit my ability to end my life on my own terms because you assert a slippery slope. The burden is entirely on you as far as I’m concerned.

            “How on earth am I to prove that people are being killed against their will?”

            I don’t know. But you are the one making the assertion so it behoves you to demonstrate that the problem actually exists.

          4. Very late to this discussion so I should probably not enter it, but since it seems so one-sided–Maya, I agree with you that there are reasons that warrant reservations about euthanasia. People here are arguing essentially that other people will always do the right thing, morally, when confronted with a horrible decision, but we know that’s not true. Ending a life is the ultimate decision (esp. for atheists) and thus demands the greatest certainty that it’s the right thing to do.

            I don’t want to reopen this thread as I think everyone has already expressed their opinions, often more than once. Just wanted to let you and others know that you’re not the only one here who shares your concerns. (And commend you for maintaining so much poise in the face of comments that got increasingly emotional and even ad hom.)

          5. What Diane G said.

            Maya has some valid concerns, as do those of us who would choose to avoid suffering.

            In either case, there will be casualties, as it were. There is no perfect system – the best we can do is to have very strict regulations, imo.

            And Maya might be off-putting to some because she is brutally intellecutaly honest and often blunt. If it means anything Maya, I enjoy your contributions here and always look forward to your comments, even if I do not always agree with you!

          6. I just want to respond to this:

            “People here are arguing essentially that other people will always do the right thing, morally, when confronted with a horrible decision.”


            There is no doubt that people sometimes do the wrong thing. That is why we have laws against murdering people. The problem here is that the “slippery slope” argument pretty much assumes that because sometimes people do the wrong thing we must never let people end their own lives. That is pure poppycock, in my opinion, and a morally horrific position.

  37. I’d suggest that “the patriarchy” is not a purely cultural phenomenon but arises from genetics. A lot of men are bad at thinking their way out of giving in to base instincts, which I’d classify as one of the risky behaviors Jerry mentions. And it seems to me mot being able to see the problems with simply gratifying your every desire would lead one to assume dominance, or at least try to.

    In fact, I’d suggest there is a “Gorilla Patriarchy”. The difference is that we hold them to a lower moral standard. They don’t have the capacity to think their way out of imposing male dominance.

    My layman’s armchair two cents, anyway.

    1. I believe that “patriarchy” is conceived of as a human phenomenon that comes from a reasoned rather than an evolved desire to oppress the other sex. But I’m not quite sure as I’ve never seen an explicit discussion of that.

    2. @beef… I don’t know why men would be any worse than women in terms of “thinking their way out of giving in to base instincts”. You seem to be making the case that women are more “cultural” than men. I don’t think there is any evidence for that and it seems extremely implausible.

      1. Not at all. Of course all humans are selfish. But one of the things under discussion here is that men and women have different instincts. Men’s instincts – to amass a harem, to be dominant, to be aggressive – are precisely the things that lead to a patriarchy. So it seems to me it’s fair to say “the patriarchy” arises out of genetics at least as much as culture.

        1. But if you go that route you end up needing to add “being a member of a harem” as an attribute of women’s “instincts”. You can’t just posit biological motivation to one sex.

          1. Why? Men can, and frequently do, use their sexually dimorphic advantage to control women. That’s part of “the patriarchy”. Also, some women may (and again, frequently do) decide they’ll have to “make do” with being part of a harem, rather than risk having no mate or no child-rearing partner. That doesn’t mean they instinctively would prefer to be in a harem, ideally.

          2. (For clarity: my “why” was in regard to “needing to add being a member of a harem as a female instinct”. I of course agree that both sexes have biological motivations for certain behaviors.)

          3. Well, this is my point. It makes no sense to claim biological causes for the behavior of one sex but cultural causes for the other.

            You asserted that men are “worse than women in terms of “thinking their way out of giving in to base instincts”.” There’s no way to support that claim without differentially attributing biology to the sex attitudes of men and women. Harems don’t provide the evidence you would need to support the claim.

          4. I’m not claiming biological causes for one sex and cultural for the other, nor did I claim men are worse than women at squelching instincts.

            I really didn’t say anything at all about women and their instincts, which they of course have.

            My only claim was that men’s biological instincts (which many men have a hard time controlling) probably have a lot to do with the emergence of a patriarchy, ergo patriarchy is not best described as a purely cultural phenomenon. (I then went on to note that what we call “patriarchy” in humans does exist in other ape species.)

          5. OK. But I think you’re making a distinction while claiming to not make a distinction. “Men have a hard time thinking…” only makes sense as an assertion if “women don’t have a hard time thinking…”

  38. ” in study after study in humans, male sexual behavior shows promiscuous mating, while females are more selective.”

    Makes perfect sense. By being promiscuous, a male can sire hundreds of offspring, occasionally more. A female would produce about the same number of offspring whether one active mate, or many. Since, in humans at least, a stable mate provides better for the young, there is no selective pressure for her to be particularly promiscuous.

    1. Though apparently not the case in some other species, where a female mates with as many males as she can get. (Just my recollection from watching Attenborough specials on TV). I suspect (I didn’t take note) that this relates mostly to species that produce large numbers of offspring, whereby those from the ‘best’ male will presumably be most successful.


  39. I agree that what our relatives do is not necessarily what we should be doing (and even the term ‘should’ is a culturally variable definition), it often explains what is happening inside our heads. We need to work constructively with our instincts rather than insist they don’t exist.

    In the battle of ideology vs biology, biology eventually wins.

  40. An interesting side thought about competition for mates. Darwin noted that males universally competed for females, and this was partly out of scarcity, a fertile female was a relatively rare encounter for any particular male.

    He also observed, apparently somewhat puzzlingly, about human competition between females to enhance their attractiveness (grooming, fashion, beauty shops etc). This is the same force at work, whereas a sexually available female is what males competed for, the development of long term mating and shared child care in humans created a complementary scarcity: males who showed promise as reliable and willing to be long term providers are the scarce commodity here. Hence a whole new form of competition different from most of the animal world.

    1. It would be truer to say that males “usually” compete for females. In jacinas and some phalaropes, females are larger than males and fight other females for their possession. In the jacina at least, females defend territories where they keep harems of males who mate and care for nests. This unusual situation arises because jacinas live in a food-rich habitat (marshes) and a female is are able to lay many, many more eggs than she and one male could brood. Females able to win a territory and recruit several males, each of which cares for a different nest, will have a reproductive advantage and have her genes favored by natural selection (compared to monogamist females).

      1. And of course in seahorses and pipefish, in which males brood the eggs, and females make eggs faster than males can brood them, males are the sex that makes more reproductive investment and, sure enough, in those species it’s the female who is brightly colored and ornamented. A good example of the exception proving the rule.

  41. PZ Myers has endorsed pseudo-science for a while now. All for the sake of his illiberal, regressive left SJW agenda.

    Pathetic and sad. I’m happy that he is now irrelevant and a figure of ridicule.

  42. Here is an evolutionary response to the extreme blank slate claim that there are no genetically based differences in mental attributes between individual humans. There are obvious differences in mental abilities between humans and our closest primate relatives. Bluntly, people are smarter than chimps, and quibbling about how to define or measure intelligence doesn’t change that reality. But for that chimp/human difference to arise by natural selection, there must have been in the ancestral human lineage significant genetically based differences in intelligence on which selection could act. To claim that there are not now any such genetic differences between individuals is to claim that we have arrived at some sort of singularity, with the rather depressing corollary that there is no possibility of continued evolution.

  43. There’s also a broader issue here: surely some feature of male biology clearly makes males more inclined towards aggression, and even if Myers is right and this feature is not testosterone; well, then, that just means it’s something else.

    1. I tell my biology students that the biggest genetic predictor of violence is the presence of a Y chromosome. Although most men aren’t violent, most violent people are men.

      Of course looking at our two closest kin– the Chimpanzee and the Bonobo, it seems like aggression is less prevalent in societies where resources are plentiful, sex is plentiful, and societies are egalitarian or matriarchal:

  44. Wow. I think the point is missed quite thoroughly here. Both in the article, and in many of the comments.

    I’m not aware of anyone on “the left,” even PZ (who is indeed becoming unbearable, veering into outright zealotry on occasion), who denies anything of what you have said. Of course testosterone *correlates* with aggression. Of course biological sex *correlates* with size and muscularity. Nobody is denying that.

    The problem occurs when the brute biological fact becomes translated into a social fact. We note that “average female is smaller and physically weaker than the average male,” and then we decide that women are not qualified for a job which requires physical strength – even if the particular woman applying to a job happens to be quite physically strong.

    This is what “the left” is opposing: using general correlations to justify discrimination in specific cases.

    Similarly, the example of testosterone and aggression. Take two men with same testosterone levels, one from a tribal culture of Papua New Guinea, and the other from, say, Finland. Expose them to the same extremely emotional stimulus (for example, finding another man in their wife’s bed). Observe the resulting behavior. Is the level of violence going to be the same? Is the level of aggression going to be the same?

    Obviously, social and cultural factors can greatly modify the effects of testosterone. It still correlates with aggression, but there are non-biological factors which affect the outcome far more than any single hormone. Denying that is, indeed, a simple denial of reality.

    1. “This is what “the left” is opposing: using general correlations to justify discrimination in specific cases.”

      Except of course, when “white (cis) males” are correlated generally into a group and are told to check their privilege.

      Or when people of certain skin tones or sex/gender/chromosomal arrangement are correlated generally into a group, and singled out (discriminated for) for affirmative action types of policies.

      I think this double standard is what is most annoying to many people who don’t care much for SJW types. I also think this annoyance is getting stronger world-wide even among those who previously would have felt some affinity for SJW-lite types of causes.

      I think this is a big part of the reason why the world is seeing Breitbart, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Brexit, Geert Wilders, etc. etc. Then throw in religion: Fundamentalist Christian or even “mainstream” Christian versus Radical or even “mainstream” Islam vs Israel just trying to not be blown off the map.

      What’s remains of the “Left” should get its feces together and offer a viable alternative.

      1. I think this double standard is what is most annoying to many people who don’t care much for SJW types. I also think this annoyance is getting stronger world-wide even among those who previously would have felt some affinity for SJW-lite types of causes.

        I agree.

        And lying for Jesus, Oops, I mean for their chosen SJW cause.

    2. “This is what “the left” is opposing: using general correlations to justify discrimination in specific cases.”

      That may indeed be all that PZ was trying to say in his post, though he left plenty of room for reasonable people to reasonably misinterpret him. If you add in the context of things he has said and written over the past several years there is much more room for a different interpretation than yours.

      Also, as you may already be aware, nearly everyone here self identifies as being on the left of the US left-right political spectrum, and as liberal. Not all, but a large majority, and Jerry certainly does.

    3. Take two men with same testosterone levels, one from a tribal culture of Papua New Guinea, and the other from, say, Finland

      You’d have to also include women from Papua New Guinea and Finland for this test to be meaningful. The issue is whether men are more aggressive than women, not whether men from one society are more aggressive than another.

  45. The “blank slate” strikes again. Many can’t handle that there really are *statistical* differences between the sexes.

    If there were no such differences, why, say, have women’s divisions in sports?

    1. Womens’ sports is a good place to keep your eye on considering the recent push for the acceptance of trans athletes who almost always dominate the field when allowed to compete with non-trans women.

      1. Oh yeah. What many can’t accept is that women’s divisions were created because of statistical differences between the sexes. The idea of letting a “transgender woman” compete in the women’s division is a complete joke. I have no problems with it going the other way though, as the “men’s division” is really an open division.

          1. As one would expect if they were recently women.

            In that respect blueollie’s correct, male athletes have nothing to fear from transgenders, whereas female athletes do.


  46. This is a serious issue.

    A couple Of “friends” on FB recently argued (very smugly I might add) that race has no biological reality.

    I noteed to them that all the racial differences that allow us to speak about “race” in the first place are genetically controlled and therefore “a biological reality”.

    I also noted that they were likely the result of sexual selection: Prominently displayed features on the part of humans which we are most focused on (faces), and they developed very rapidly from the original population of Homo sapiens (unless one believes in multiple origins of Homo sapiens).

    They simply wanted to deny this. One (who is a biology professor!) claimed that it resulted from genetic drift (full stop), with no additional data adduced.

  47. This is a problem of long standing. Way back in the earlier part of the last century, there were arguments of the nature vs nurture variety. The liberal (nurture) stance was bolstered by anherents to the tabula rasa idea that was promulgated interestingly enough by Freudians. This was opposed to the social Darwinists who used evolutionary language to justify racism. Obviously both camps missed the point that, while there is great variation in human capabilities and aptitudes, everyone should be given the opportunity to pursue vocations of their choice and we should do what we can to even the playing field (e.g., guarantee everyone a good education, adequate food, etc.).

    I once got into a heated argument when I was in college in the 70s for asking whether it mattered whether women were on average, a bit intrinsically worse at math than men (I don’t know whether this is true or not, it was the subject of a magazine article about test scores). While women scored on average less than men on standarized math tests, there was great overlap in their performance and plenty of women scored very highly. The difference in the means certainly didn’t mean we should discourage women from math and science careers. It might mean that we should develop programs in primary and secondary school to be sure that girls had good math training and that we should try to eliminate any bias (conscious or unconscious). The person I was arguing with supported the idea that we shouldn’t even do research on differences between the sexes because absolute equality (in ability, mind you, not legal rights or opportunity) was the only acceptable reality.

    Annoying then, annoying now.

  48. I think Myers’ concern is with reductionism in particular and not entirely unjustified. Reading his comments, I don’t think that one need presume that he is arguing for a blank slate.

    The relationship between testosterone, aggression, and mode of sociality is complicated and we do no one any favours by representing it in a simplistic fashion. Also, drawing a straight line between hormones and behaviour without considering the modifying effects of culture, context, character, etc. is unhelpful. Reading him as charitably as I can, I suspect this is Myers’ concern here.

    The causal connection between testosterone and aggression, for instance, is a very complicated one. Masculinization occurs on a great many fronts and isn’t merely a matter of quantity of testosterone in one’s system at a given time. From what I gather, there is also a much more direct relation between testosterone and dominance than with violence. Of course, status competition and dominance will often be expressed violently, but in many contexts and cultures it is unlikely to be. For instance, the differences between a culture of honour and a culture of dignity will be illuminating here.

    We also need to be careful of big floppy terms like ‘competition’, ‘aggression’, ‘bonds’, etc. in these contexts, as a lot of mischief is done with the equivocations they permit.

    A number of Herbert’s claims seem demonstrably wrong to me, in part because he isn’t guarded enough in his framing. The suggestion that men are peculiarly vulnerable to their environment just doesn’t seem to match reality: no, men are peculiarly vulnerable to particular realities, women to others. There is a reason, for example, that social justice movements cluster in female-dominated social and academic contexts: women have a greater care instinct and are much more resistant to male modes of competition, preferring indirect competition. The bonds in female groups tend to be much more intimate and direct and much less tolerant of disagreement and confrontation, for example. Note, it isn’t that women don’t compete—women can be fiercely competitive—but that they are typically differently competitive. Likewise, it isn’t that women aren’t drawn to prominent leaders, but that both leadership and our attraction to leaders are gendered phenomena. Male groups seldom exhibit the dynamics that surround ‘queen bees’, for example.

    Attributing everything to testosterone doesn’t work. However, the hormonal differences between the sexes really are an elephant in the room of the modern discourse around gender and the refusal to face biological sex differences is the main reason why gender studies will wilfully continue to fail to understand human reality. We won’t understand why people behave in the way that they behave and why societies take the forms that they take if we don’t pay a lot of attention to hormonal (and other) differences between the sexes.

    One of the things that most frustrates me in these discussions is that unguarded or careless framing gives people an excuse to dodge the challenges biology poses to a ‘creationist’ progressive ideology.

  49. “This is exactly what evolutionary theory predicts: if there are biological differences in mortality rates, then evolution will adjust the sex ratio so it’s equal at the time of reproduction.”

    Nice theory, which deserves to be true, but alas, it’s not – at least not in general.

    The sex ratio theory of Sir Ronald Fisher predicts that the sex ratio at conception evolves until an equilibrium is reached where the cost of raising daughters equals the cost of raising sons. So if sons have higher mortality than daughters before they become independent of parental care, then this reduces the cost of sons (unless parents care much for dead sons) relative to daughters, and a male-biased sex ratio at birth is predicted. So far so good, but it does not imply an equal sex ratio at the time of reproduction. It takes some maths to show this precisely, but that’s how it is.


    1. From a selfish gene point of view, what advantage is there for equal M/F ratio? I think if the organism is pair bonding, it would guarantee a good chance of finding a mate. If not the consequences could be battles to the death for opportunities. If they are polygamous all bets are off.

      1. Selfish genes “want” to maximize the number of copies of themselves. If the sex ratio is not equal, a selfish gene should encourage its “vehicle” to produce members of the rare sex, since that sex is more likely to find a mate. Such selfish genes will proliferate until there is no longer a rare sex, that is, when the sexes are equally numerous.

        Polygamy has no effect, since it does not change the *average* number of mates, only the *variance* in the number of mates.

  50. How we got to this level of nonsense is rather straightforward, and sad.

    Feminists fought for equal rights.
    They won.
    But then we still had feminists with careers dependent on sexism. Unfortunately for those feminists, the demand exceeded the supply of sexism.
    And so in comes something like the wage gap, a crude comparison between men and women along some quantified dimension.
    Woo! A difference that seems to favor men is found! A new supply of sexism has been uncovered! But in order to see it as sexist, you must squint (not zoom into relevant variables).
    And one of those relevant variables is sexually dimorphic traits. Well, can’t have that… so we must simply assume whatever phenotypic dimorphism we see must be due to culture (sexism) and not biology.

    And now that they’re being deliberately overly skeptical when it comes to one causal connection and overly gullible with another, they have to indulge obscure postmodernist language designed to counter a subservience to logic, reason and conceptual coherence.

    You’ll notice SJWs like PZ become very loose with the meanings of words or the opposite depending on the context of the argument.

    Are you arguing for FreeSpeech? Well, even though you mean the principle and the problem of self-censorship… SJWs will stick to the official codified right which protects your speech from government coercion.

    You’re critiquing the actual instantiation of the feminist movement with the trigger warnings, safe spaces, BS stats, lies, denial of biology, shaming rhetoric, etc? Well, you’re wrong because “Look up feminism in the dictionary. How can you be against that?”

    But somehow drunk sex is rape and misusing a pronoun is marginalizing your existence and actual violent abuse.

    Look out for this abuse of language. I don’t even think they notice it. Some of it is intentional, but once you’ve repeated enough and let it guide your behavior, you really do lose sight of your own incoherence.

    1. Well, actually, yes, there is a wage gap between men and women and only about 80% of it can be explained away by such factors as part-time work, difference in experience and thus, difference in career pace. The rest is unaccounted for and therefore, it is quite possible that it is due to pure and raw sexism. But there is more.

      The aforementioned factors are actually also due to sexism, since the reason why most women who want a family can’t have a full-time job is because 90% of the household chores and the responsibility of child rearing still befalls them. What Hochschild has called the “second shift”, that is, the second day of work that starts early in the morning, when women have to help the kids get up, bring them to school, and then, after the day of work, rush to get them back, bring them to extra-curricular activities, to the doctor, etc., and then, take care of the housecleaning after the kids have finished their homework and eaten their evening diner. Worse, women who do comnbine a full-time career and a family are actually often stigmatised as being bad mothers and wives or people doubt very much that they can actually do both in a satisfactory way. So, they are constantly requested to show that they are not sacrificing their family for their own greedy ambitions. Because an ambitious woman is obviously suspicious! But, since only a minority of women can do combine a full-time career and a family life, most of the others will go for a part-time job, thus, spending less time in the workplace than their male colleagues. It follows from that that their career is progressing more slowly and that they often can’t even hope to reach higher-level positions of responsibility, because it would encroach on their household chores and child rearing responsibility.

      So, no, this is not some sort of imagined plot by feminists fearing to loose their revenue and status. It is very real. And has pretty much nothing to do with biological data about the body size/sexual behavior ratio. It has more to do with the fact that motherhood and household chores are not valorized like the male professional career is. By the way, it goes the other way as well. A man who’d want to work part-time in order to share more fairly household chores with his wife or girlfriend will be looked down upon by his colleagues and friends who’ll make him understand that he is somehow falling down from his position, by indulging in such worthless activities as cleaning the house, taking care of a sick daughter/son, helping children do the homework, go to school talk with the classroom teacher about the behavior of his son/daughter, etc. This is one of the main reason why men are so reluctant to go part-time and start participating in household responsibilities.

      1. I think you’re actually providing a great example of bad feminist thinking, where the conclusion is already known and must be confirmed.

        So, essentially, you’re assuming differences in seeming interests and motivations have to be due to sexism (cultural pressures) rather than sexual dimorphism and the “natural” dynamics which stem from it.

        So, first off I directly was referring to the wage gap as presented in the mainstream. Whether we like it or not, the meme propagating is the 77cent/dollar meme, not 77 cents/dollar which can be reduced by 80% if we factor out the most basic variables. But if you insist… I have some issues with your take…

        And then there’s that 20% you claim is left. So, for starters, I’d recommend you watch The Gender Equality Paradox documentary. There might be more biology at play than we admit.

        And secondly, do you not think that much of this discrepancy is due to also male proficiency in STEM fields (whether due to higher variability in distribution or positive systematizing effects of testosterone) and in fields, like business, which demand a lot of time investment and can be highly stressful?
        I’m not sure if men or women are on average better at coping with stress… but I do know men have better reasons to abandon their hobbies and social lives to gain money and power than women do: sexual market value. Maria Sharapova’s career didn’t increase her value through her success nearly as much as someone like Roger Federer. Social status is very very important to men’s reproductive success and thus I would assume men have more reason to be motivated to sacrifice for it. I know it’s taboo in feminists circles… but hypergamy in humans is a piece of the puzzle. I think a further question to raise is whether it matters that men are more predisposed to effort when it comes to gaining power or that they learn through their interaction with society, in which women are naturally predisposed to preferring powerful men, to put in more effort. If the motivational difference is innate, is it okay? What about if the motivational difference is learned but shaped by innate biological factors? I think this sort of interactionist thinking is what’s largely missing from your feminist take on the issue. You seem to believe treating the sexes differently is sexist itself… but what if the sexes are different and people are treating them as fairly as they see fit within their dimorphic conception of human sexes?

        1. Yep, I believe that treating the sexe differently is sexist, especially when this difference is based on mere stereotypes and behaviors that reinforces these stereotypes. The example you give about Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer are a perfect illustration of this sexism. Female professional tennis is no less impressive and make as much for a show than male professional tennis. The difference in physical strength here can’t really justify the different treatment they get.

          The fact that there is dimorphism doesn’t have to justify the present gendered division of social roles. It can explain it, but certainly not justify it. For the simple and good reason that biology doesn’t tell us that it has always been so and should remain forever so. Biology tells us that human behavior evolves over time and can oscillate between different opposing poles, such as egoism vs altruism, xenophobia vs openness to others, cruelty vs compassion, or, a tendency to impose hierarchies between people or to treat them more equally. Feminism is therefore probably also a product of evolution, as is the present emphasis our societies put on Human Rights and democracy.

          So, eventhough, men are maybe more predisposed to make efforts to gain power or dominate at present, this doesn’t mean it has to be like that forever. Evolution means that we can change and we can even make conscious changes. Don’t forget that evolutionary psychology talks about average. This means you can find women that are willing to put as much effort into such pursuit as men, even if there are less of them (one of the reason being that those who show these behavior traits are not encouraged in this path). And if we, as societies, decide to encourage that kind of women, then, we’ll see progressive changes in the balance between men and women. It might take time, indeed, maybe many generations, but I see no reason why we couldn’t make this come true.

          1. What’s interesting to note is that women in developing nations tend to choose jobs that will net them money – which is why you see so many women from say, Brazil, going into engineering.

            However, take away those financial considerations, look at modern first world nations, and women eschew STEM in favour of the humanities, caretaking etc.

            The reason that there are not more women in STEM right now is not because of sexism. It is simply a case that women are not as interested in the same things that men are. Male and female brains *are* different. Socialization can only go so far.

          2. Again, I’m not saying that there is no biology at work here, but some here seem to think that biology is a given once and for all and that women are destined, forever, to be uninterested in power struggle or science and engineering. Moreover, your description cannot be considered a proof that the difference in male and female brains is the sole or even the main decisive factor here. Biology can only go so far.

          3. some here seem to think that biology is a given once and for all and that women are destined, forever, to be uninterested in power struggle or science and engineerin

            I don’t see anyone here making that argument.

            Yes, women do tend to be more nurturing and more interested in the humanities than men. No, this d0oesn’t mean that women should be forced into child-rearing and home-making. We can acknowledge that there are differences without forcing people into stereotypical gender roles.

            And it is worth while to note that greater numbers of women go into STEM in traditionally patriarchal societies such as Brazil – you’d think that such male dominated cultures would socialize and shame women into becoming nothing but home-makers! Meanwhile, in the developed world, where women have a full range of choices, and are not living in a macho, patriarchal society, that more women choose the humanities over STEM…

          4. Biology or not, there is still sexism in STEM Enough that it is off putting to women. A more interesting study would be to see how many women enter STEM then leave it. As a highly ambitious woman who likes competition and hard work, I really see a lot of bad behaviour from women and men.

          5. I’m fairly sure that men in general are more ‘mechanically minded’, and this does not seem to be solely a result of social constructs (though not denying they may play a part). Take motorsport for example – this is a field of competition where strength differentials should be miminised, since driving a car fast does not require great strength. Yet the proportion of women in motorsport at all levels is small. It seems that most women are just not interested in that sort of thing.
            (As a motorsport enthusiast myself, I find that disappointing).

            I think some of the same factors may apply in science and engineering, which tend to be ‘mechanical’ disciplines.


          6. I wonder on what you base this certainty. Basically, you seem to have decided that there is no social factors acting here and that it is all genetic. And not only that, but you seem to be saying that since genetic is involved, one should not go against it and do nothing about this apparent disbalance in interest in STEM among boys and girls.

            Actually, it has been fairly well shown that the so-called lack of interest that women seem to show in STEM and some sports is pretty much a social construct, even though there might be some evolutionary elements of behavior at play here. When you are constantly told at school that it is ok for you not to be thriving in math and science or in technic classes, because you are a girl and that there is no reason why should worry too much about that, then yes, you aren’t going to develop much interest in it, especially if you seem to have no particular skills in it, or you might even completely loose interest in it. After all, if it’s not a girl thing, why put too much efforts in it? And the other hand, one can see that if girls are encouraged to take an interest in it and to put some efforts in it, they do so all the way into adulthood. So, it is not because men might be generally more “mechanically minded” that one should not try to change this state of things. Science only tells us how thing are at a given time, it doesn’t tell us how thing should be. And also, what evolution tells us is that living beings do change over time, so, there is no reason why this disparity between men and women should remain so forever.

          7. “you seem to have decided that there is no social factors acting here and that it is all genetic”

            Did you read what I wrote? I specifically did NOT say that.

            What I did say was that, unlike more ‘physical’ sports, there should presumably be very little strength-related disparity in ability. But there seems to be far more disparity in numbers (i.e. shortage of women in motor sport) than would be accounted for by social factors. In our society almost every woman drives a car, so there doesn’t appear to be any initial barrier.

            The other – quite different – issue, is whether a disparity in gender-related careers is a bad thing. *IF* most women ‘naturally’ prefer more people-oriented occupations and most men ‘naturally’ prefer more mechanical ones, why would that be bad and why should we want to change it? Not everybody has to be good at exactly the same things. There are things that I’m not interested in and are crap at and I would deeply resent any attempts to insist that I be ‘good’ at them.

            I absolutely agree with Diana that there should be no social barriers to women who want to taking up STEM occupations, (or conversely to men taking up traditionally-female occupations). But if – after all barriers had been eliminated – it still turned out that (as I suspect) more men gravitated towards the ‘technical’ careers and more women towards the ‘humanities’ – what of it? If I’m wrong and there were equal numbers that’s fine with me too.


          8. Well, I believe I did read you correctly, yes. I’m not talking about physical, but about behavioral differences, that are not systematically linked to morphology. Moreover, you base your argument on personal perception of what women and men do, not on actual data.

            Moreover, the issue about whether it is a bad or a good thing that there are gender-related differences in career path is actually is indeed a totally different issue. And actually, not all socio-cultural barriers have been lifted up with respect to women’s participation in STEM. Far from it. Studies regularly report how women are discriminated against in those fields, usually already as university students, what kind of social obstacles they have to go up against (which men don’t), etc.

          9. cr: “this does not seem to be solely a result of social constructs (though not denying they may play a part).”

            Ariane Beldi: “you seem to have decided that there is no social factors acting here and that it is all genetic.”

            How you get there from what I said baffles me.


      2. “Well, actually, yes, there is a wage gap between men and women and only about 80% of it can be explained away by such factors as part-time work, difference in experience and thus, difference in career pace. The rest is unaccounted for and therefore, it is quite possible that it is due to pure and raw sexism.” It’s also quite possible it’s not. People make choices in life. e.g. leave work to have children. That’s a choice. I assume it gives rewards not measured in dollars. I made a choice to work fewer hours, earn less, not get promoted. Far fewer males choose part time than females. e.g. the Netherlands (very progressive): 27 percent of males and 76% of females work part time.

        1. Well, if you’d read the rest of my post, you’d see that is pretty much what I said. And I also said that this choice is in great part motivated by social factors, which are, actually, yep, grounded in a sexist conception of gendered roles in society.

  51. Like some people alluded to, the only people who believe this nonsense don’t have kids. But I have another suggestion.

    PZ Myers and the gang need to go back into dating world. Just spend an hour on Tinder and come back and tell me sexual selection doesn’t dictate sexually dimorphic traits.

  52. According to the genetic bottleneck theory, between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, human populations sharply decreased to 3,000–10,000 surviving individuals. It is supported by genetic evidence suggesting that today’s humans are descended from a very small population of between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs that existed about 70,000 years ago.

    Some evidence points to genetic bottlenecks in other animals in the wake of the Toba eruption: the populations of the Eastern African chimpanzee, Bornean orangutan, central Indian macaque, the cheetah, the tiger, and the separation of the nuclear gene pools of eastern and western lowland gorillas, all recovered from very low numbers around 70,000–55,000 years ago.

  53. I might have a hypothesis (that would need testing, I guess) about the reason why some people are so keen to ignore scientific data, especially in the field of biology, that could threaten their ideological stance. I think it has to do with the way we perceive nature at our scale (both in term of temporal and sensible perception)and how we tend to consider that nature is the autority over everything else.

    Indeed, to most people, nature, that is, the physical world we are part of, appears as something incredibly stable and permanent, that seems to have always been as we know it since our birth, even if there can be sudden terrible events that can throw lives upside down (like, for example, an earthquake, a landslide or a tsunami devastating everything on the way). Because even in such instances, we get the feeling that things usually get progressively “restored” to how they were before, even if individual lives have been changed forever because of various losses. So, most people have the impression that whatever is “natural” is both ancient and permanent or if it can evolve (as many people now accepts the idea that changes can happen in nature), it does so only extremely slowly, over millions of years. So, nature is kind of conceived as this massive gigantic entity (of which we are part without being really part of it) that changes only extremely slowly and can’t be reversed, or only at an immense cost. By the way, this is also probably why so many people resent as terribly dangerous various scientific advances like biotechnologies, for instances, as they believe that fast changes imposed on nature can only be the receipe for doom.

    Thus, when you tell feminists or social science researcher, with some ideaological biases, that biological data show that, on average, women are less muscular and smaller in size than men (always on average), they will hear that this is pretty much a given once and for all. Women have always been smaller and less muscular, and will always be so, unless we can overcome the massive weight of nature, which seems almost impossible. And since it has always been so, it seems to follow logically that men should be given roles in society that requires physical strength, while women should be given tasks that requires less strength. These people get the feeling that such data actually validates a gendered role division of society, because they believe that if it is in our gene, then, there is pretty much nothing that can be done about it, unless we want to risk a major disaster. And that is, I believe, the main reason why they prefer to ignore these data or discredit them as scientifically invalid.

    In a way, they fall in the same “call to nature” pitfall than many conservative people who adhere to the idea that the present gendered role division of society is rooted in nature.

  54. A good prior is 50 % biology, 50 % culture for complex behaviors. Now we are analyzing differences within a population, but we can see in other species (say, differential coloring) that sexual differences exist in large clades.

    I would also expect complex traits to be polygenic, and if any differences correlates with the polygenism in height that seems likely. This would mean that it won’t be easy to tease out. (C.f. autism, where massive sequencing has just started to suggest key alleles.)

    Speaking of priors, since we can’t tell body length in Australopithecines very well from current fossil records it isn’t conclusive but suggestive: new Laetoli footprints of a likely long. likely male. individual suggest a “considerable” sexual difference:

    Our results are consistent with considerable body size variation and, probably, degree of sexual dimorphism within a single species of bipedal hominins as early as 3.66 million years ago.

    [ ].

    It would be interesting to see how the many likely complete individuals in the Dinaledi Chamber sort out in body lengths.

  55. Jerry, I fear that you are incorrectly assuming that if someone disagrees with YOUR interpretation of the data, it must be based on ideology – especially if it agrees with something we would like to be true. (Reality is not ALWAYS against our ideological preferences.) As a geneticist, I am insistent that human races do not exist – on scientific grounds, not ideological ones. It is indeed possible to probabilistically assign people to subpopulations based on allele frequencies. However, these populations are (semi-)arbitrary subdivisions (based either on geography or pre-defined numbers of group) of a continuum, not true divisions that represent reality. Globally, we are a single population, just not one that is completely randomly mating without geographical bias. Furthermore, in the world of personal genomics and “precision medicine”, the concept of race is scientifically unhelpful, as it is almost certain that everyone carries potentially important genetic variants that are atypical for their “race”. (e.g.

    The same is true to a lesser-extent for human sex, which is not a binary digital state but another (albeit extremely bimodal) continuum. The point being that INDIVIDUAL men and women might buck the trend. Men are bigger than women. True or false? True ON AVERAGE, False as a universal truth. Depending on the meaning of “men” and “women”, the same statement can therefore be perceived as true or false whilst still agreeing with the science.

    I think PZ Myers ignores this distinction when criticising the original article when it states that “Young males have qualities that specialize them for this essential function.” And I think you are ignoring this distinction in going after PZ. He is not ignoring differences between sexes, he is merely pointing out that (in this case) they are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain violence:

    There will be predispositions caused by hormones and cortical development, but they are going to be far less specific than “join the army, follow a charismatic leader, and have happy times killing people with your boomstick”. Testosterone makes people more aggressive? Sure. But it depends on the dose, and how it is expressed is going to be culture-dependent. Whether it makes you want to kill things or whether it makes you want to dance or create art or make love is going to be a product of your history and social environment. Testosterone is not the villain here, no more than arms are the bad guys causing wars.

    You are right to go after ignoring data on ideological grounds – but you appear to be in danger of are ignoring nuance on the ideological grounds that scientific data must always be uncomfortable. It’s almost always “more complicated than that” and when someone has a backlash against simplistic biological excuses for complex human behaviours, it need not be driven by any ideology beyond pedantry, which is the hallmark of a good scientist.

    What would be a more useful target is the cause of this whole kerfuffle – people arguing across each other because of semantics and/or the desire for conflict (or is that your testosterone?), rather than trying to reconcile apparent differences in opinion that are due to being “divided by a common language”.

    Online communities are dangerous echo chambers. We have to especially careful when criticising something we are pre-disposed to disagree with. When we disagree with someone, I think we learn a lot more if our initial assumption is a misunderstanding, rather than jumping straight to “I’m right, they’re wrong” justifications. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

    1. It is a small point but I’m wondering how variation based on geography is not variation that “represents reality”.

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