Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Kanazawa Question. Part I.

Is whether I should write about professor Satoshi Kanazawa or not. On the one hand, I have already done so to the tune of thousands of words on this blog, and he is not that interesting.

On the other hand, he has offered himself as the face of the kooky kind of evolutionary psychology, often called Evolutionary Psychology with capital letters, the kind which discusses male virility, big-breasted babes and coy women, the kind which demands to be taken seriously as a biological science, without actually doing any gene research, for instance. Or very much properly controlled empirical research, either. Never mind. The Evolutionary Psychologists plan to take over all social sciences (they actually do plan this)! Then everything will be explained by big-breasted but coy women and men who hump all day long!

Most of it would be quite hilarious except for the fact that Kanazawa now writes a blog on Psychology Today (without allowing comments, by the way), and what he says in those blog posts of his is pretty dangerous stuff. The Men's Rights Advocates worship him as a semi-god, and anything like that must be based on some sort of woman-bashing. And bash women Kanazawa does, most excellently. For instance, men have created EVERYTHING: art, literature, technology, just to impress women and to get them to fuck them. And because our Pleistocene-based genetic makeup (of which we have no actual evidence) is fixed as it was 30,000 years ago (see post below for more on this), this is how things shall always be. Take that, you stupid women.

That is all pretty bad, isn't it? Kanazawa also argues that sexual harassment is a natural guy thing, whether guys treat you as one of them or whether they treat you as a coy object to be impregnated, and all this appears to deserve some attention.

On the third hand, it might be better to just let Kanazawa go on, because what he says is such bad PR for the whole field of Evolutionary Psychology that we might get better evolutionary psychology sooner. What do you think? Are readers able to judge really stoopid stuff when they see it?

I'm not convinced of that, and because nobody else will stoop to writing about Evolutionary Psychology and especially Kanazawa's misogynistic versions of it I probably should. The minute someone properly qualified wants to pick up the task I shall do a Snoopy dance. (Though what "properly qualified" might mean in that field is most unclear.)

Are you with me so far? Let's go and get acquainted with Satoshi Kanazawa, The Scientific Fundamentalist. Yes, that's what he calls himself. His blogs also tell us that he is giving us the hard facts about evolution. That's because he has a time-machine which allows him to flit back-and-forth to the Pleistocene era and because he has Secret Knowledge not yet available for geneticists. Mmm.

Hard Scientist.

That's how Kanazawa sees himself. But his tone is all wrong for a scientist. I know many social scientists, and almost to a person they are fairly humble creatures when it comes to their actual work, admitting uncertainties and discussing alternative ways of looking at problems. I have never met one who would yell at you about him having all the truths, standing there with his arms folded ready to punch the first person questioning anything. He is almost threatening, you know. Anyone who criticizes him is already in the wrong, because he holds the TROOF!

That doesn't sound like a scientist to me. It sounds like a religious fanatic, actually.

The ethical scientist.

Kanazawa argues that it is important to make a distinction between "what is" and "what ought to be". He is only addressing the former! That means he is very very neutral, very scientific (and don't look at his data!). Of course "what ought to be" often translates into "what is" over time and so on, but the basic premise is clear enough: He is going to avoid value judgments.

And then he writes a post about why modern feminism is illogical, unnecessary and evil! That is a value judgment, my fried friend (left that typo in as it's funny). That scientific neutrality didn't last very long, did it now?

What about all those hard facts

Kanazawa alone controls? His recent book, called Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters*, has been criticized for statistical mistakes which refute the results of the study the title refers to: In fact, we have NO IDEA if beautiful people have more daughters than ugly people. Kanazawa appears to have ignored this criticism altogether, going on as if his conclusions still apply.

One of his blog posts discusses the ideal waist-to-hip ratio and its universality in all cultures:

The outcomes are remarkably uniform in every experiment in every country; most men prefer women with a .7 waist-to-hip ratio, and most women prefer men with a .9 waist-to-hip ratio.

But in fact at least two studies have demonstrated that this presumed universality of the .7 ratio is false (I haven't checked on the .9 ratio). Men in different cultures choose differently, and extending allowable ratios towards a humanly impossible wasp waist in one study made that the most preferred choice of many men.

I am not sure why Kanazawa ignores the studies which contradict his argument. Perhaps he isn't following literature outside his own writings that much? Or perhaps his "hard facts" can never be changed by evidence. Who knows?

A few more examples:

In a different post Kanazawa argues that women have always had a longer average life expectancy than men:

However, in the only two biologically meaningful measures of welfare – longevity and reproductive success – women are and have always been slightly better off than men. In every human society, women live longer than men, and more women attain some reproductive success; many more men end their lives as total reproductive losers, having left no genetic offspring.

But this is in fact, untrue, if we look at historical evidence. That women currently live longer, on average, is true. But this was not always the case. (Incidentally, note the use of extreme values in his reproductive success argument. He compares women to the worst of men, not to the great inventors and sperm-flingers he usually talks about. Now those guys have it good!)

Later in the same post Kanazawa states:

Women used to be a lot happier than men despite the fact that they made much less money than men. The sex gap in happiness (in women's favor) has declined in the past 35 years as the sex gap in pay (in men's favor) narrowed. Now women make as much as, sometimes even more than, men do. As a result, today women are just as unhappy, or even more unhappy than, men are. As I explain in a previous post, money does not make women happy.

That quote has not just one but three errors. First, women were not "a lot happier than men." Second, women today do NOT earn as much as men, on average (check out my series on the gender gap in earnings). Third, the construct "as a result" is incorrect, because the study Kanazawa refers to explicitly rejected the idea that women in the labor force or high-earning women were the cause of the supposed increases in female unhappiness.

These are by no means the only examples of questionable "facts" in Kanazawa's posts, but they should suffice to demonstrate that just calling facts "hard" ain't necessarily so.

That's it for Part I of the Kanazawa question. Part II addresses a few additional problems with his approach and Part III his biases.
*The Amazon reviews of the book are fascinating, because someone is trolling them. Also, see this discussion there.