Friday, November 02, 2007

More On Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters

Or a reminder that they don't, despite a recent interview with Satoshi Kanazawa, one of the writers of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire — Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do. I have written about this before. Kanazawa's study is flawed and cannot be used to argue that point, and the quick check professor Mark Gelman did on the People Magazine's Beautiful People and their children found the ratio of boy and girl babies to be of the usual type.

Why am I harping about this book so much? Because I think that it is wrong to give bad science a pass in the public, to assume that it is good science because its author says so.

Read the whole interview. Note that Kanazawa's theory about the male midlife crisis is based on exactly zero evidence. It's just speculation. I could speculate on it, too, you know.

But the weirdest part of the whole interview must surely be this:

DC: Evolutionary psychology portrays us as having impulses that took form long ago, in a very pre-modern context (say, 10,000 years ago), and now these impulses are sometimes rather ill-adapted to our contemporary world. For example, in a food-scarce environment, we became programmed to eat whenever we can; now, with food abounding in many parts of the world, this impulse creates the conditions for an obesity epidemic. Given that our world will likely continue changing at a rapid pace, are we doomed to have our impulses constantly playing catch up with our environment, and does that potentially doom us as a species?

SK: In fact, we're not playing catch up; we're stuck. For any evolutionary change to take place, the environment has to remain more or less constant for many generations, so that evolution can select the traits that are adaptive and eliminate those that are not. When the environment undergoes rapid change within the space of a generation or two, as it has been for the last couple of millennia, if not more, then evolution can't happen because nature can't determine which traits to select and which to eliminate. So they remain at a standstill. Our brain (and the rest of our body) are essentially frozen in time — stuck in the Stone Age.

There you have it. The reason why Kanazawa writes with a stone tablet and a hammer.