Gad Saad Ph.D.

Homo Consumericus

Katie Holmes is Taller Than Tom Cruise: This Proves that Men Are Not Taller Than Women…No It Doesn’t!

Personal Anecdotes Do Not Falsify Evolutionary Theory.

Posted Apr 13, 2009

Recently, one of my fellow PT bloggers, Dr. Stephen Mason, put up a post titled Gender: Equal Not the Same. My point is not to discuss the specific contents of his post but rather to address the relevance of personal anecdotes (as posted by his readers) in evaluating the veracity of evolutionary theory. Several readers posted comments wherein they provided anecdotal examples from their personal lives that were meant to invalidate evolutionary-based statements. For example, when Dr. Mason mentioned that men are more likely than women to prefer hardcore pornography, a woman posted a comment suggesting that she very much appreciates this form of pornography. A man posted his feelings of indignation, as he seemed to imply that he was nothing like the "stereotypical" male that Dr. Mason was describing. Another woman retorted that she is in a relationship with a wonderful and loving man who in no way fits the "sexist stereotypes." Oh no, Mr. Darwin. Your theory has been invalidated by these good people's personal anecdotes. I need to send off a mass email to all of my evolutionist colleagues to advise them that evolutionary theory is dead. Or not.

Natural and sexual selection yield changes in the frequency of genes that are maintained in a given population. An extension of this fact is that many evolutionarily based facts are meant to be understood as being veridical as an average or mean of the relevant population. For example, there is a sexual dimorphism in humans such that on AVERAGE, men are taller and heavier than women. This is a biological fact that is uncontestable. That almost ALL women who have ever played or will ever play in the WNBA are taller than me does not in the least bit invalidate this fact. On AVERAGE (and many other things equal), women prefer high-status men as prospective partners. This does not mean that low-status, lazy, and submissive men will never mate. On AVERAGE, men prefer to mate with nubile young women rather than post-menopausal octogenarians. This does not mean that elderly people do not experience satisfying and meaningful sexual unions. Homo sapiens are a sexually reproducing species. You will find few people who disagree with this fact. This does not mean that an exclusively homosexual preference does not exist within the repertoire of possible sexual preferences. That priests and nuns take vows of celibacy also does not falsify the fact that humans are a sexually reproducing species. The most basis drive of all organisms, including humans, is to survive. That survival is a key tenet of natural selection is not invalidated by the fact that some individuals commit suicide. Gene-environment interactions along with the associated norms of reaction and behavioral plasticity ensure that there will be individual differences in many behavioral phenomena and at times phenotypic expressions. This is precisely why evolutionary theory does not in any way imply genetic determinism.

Personal anecdotes, as vivid and meaningful as they may be to their owners, do not "falsify" evolutionary facts. Personal anecdotes are best reserved for family reunions, campfires, diaries, and memoirs. They are not integral elements of the scientific method. I suggest that those who are constantly "offended" by evolutionary theory because it is inconsistent with their life experience spend the necessary time to master its central tenets first. Knowing the theoretical formalisms and scientific evidence might help in assuaging their misplaced indignation, outrage, and hurt feelings.

To those readers who might be inclined to post puerile ad hominem attacks subsequent to reading this post, I'll spare you the effort: I know, I know. All evolutionary psychologists, including many of the women scientists who have helped shape the field, are sexist pigs promulgating tired sexist stereotypes. ☺

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