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The Perversion of Science by Evolutionary Psychologists

Posted on December 26, 2011 by James Kohl.

In discussion of domain-specific modules, which I continue to insist do not exist, on Sunday, December 25th, 2011, I was asked by a member of the evolutionary-psychology yahoo group:

“…how many times has your model been cited?

My model refutes the existence of domain-specific modules. See for example:

From fertilization to adult sexual behavior: M Diamond, T Binstock… – Hormones and Behavior, 1996 Research has established the broad mammalian developmental plan that genes on the sex chromosomes influence gonad development which determines gonadal hormone production (or its absence) leading to modification of the genitalia and simultaneously … Cited by 28

Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology  JV Kohl, M Atzmueller, B Fink… – Neuroendocrinology Letters, 2001 – The effect of sensory input on hormones is essential to any explanation of mammalian behavior, including aspects of physical attraction. The chemical signals we send have direct and developmental effects on hormone levels in other people. Cited by 52

The scent of eros: Mysteries of odor in human sexuality JV Kohl… – 2002 – Page 1. “This is science at its best, with adventure ideas, and lots of facts…You will never look at your lover or your family the same way again.” —Helen Fisher, Ph.D. Cited by 40

No citations are listed for my award-winning Handbook of the Evolution of Human Sexuality book chapter: The Mind’s Eyes: Human Pheromones, Neuroscience, and Male Sexual Preferences. Minimally, it was cited in Gay, straight, and the reason why: The science of sexual orientation  by Simon LeVay, who wrote: “This model is attractive in that it solves the “binding problem” of sexual attraction. By that I mean the problem of why all the different features of men or women (visual appearance and feel of face, body, and genitals; voice quality, smell; personality and behavior, etc.) attract people as a more or less coherent package representing one sex, rather than as an arbitrary collage of male and female characteristics. If all these characteristics come to be attractive because they were experienced in association with a male- or female-specific pheromone, then they will naturally go together even in the absence of complex genetically coded instructions.”

LeVay is a neuroanatomist and he appears to understand the issue of modularity which is addressed by my model. It eliminates any “domain-specific modules from consideration of sex differences, which means they could not have evolved via sexual reproduction.  With regard to these non-existent modules, the number of citations to particular works may not be as important as is who cites it.

This obvious fact might be better represented among by experts, like LeVay, who have not cited my works, but who — in this case — included citations to work by  a “champion” of evolved mental modules (which do not exist). See, for example: Processing of Body Odor Signals by the Human Brain and the citation to Kanwisher et al (1997)  The fusiform face area: a module in human extrastriate cortex specialized for face perception, which is Cited by 3165.

If opinions are based on the number of citations to such works, clearly evolutionary psychologists who accept the opinion of Kanwisher (because it’s cited 3165 times) will need to continue to ignore the biological facts that I have detailed, and this statement of fact from the open access review article by Pause (full text is free).  She writes (with my emphasis):

“In fact, all studies investigating the processing of natural complex human chemosignals found neuronal networks involved, which are specialized for the processing of social rather than olfactory information. It is up to future research to investigate whether the specialized network responsible for the processing of human chemosignals within the central nervous system has a correlate in a specialized receptor system for social chemosignals (Brechbühl et al. 2008; Liberles and Buck 2006).”

The evolution of this specialized receptor system is clearly indicated in the transition of an odor receptor from food odor detection to social odor detection in primates, including humans. Genetic variation in a human odorant receptor alters odour perception A Keller, H Zhuang, Q Chi, LB Vosshall Cited by 121

It is unfortunate that those who depend on the number of citations to works by others to validate their opinions will probably not look further than spurious indicators of scientific worth. Most of them would, instead, help to promote the acceptance of psychobabble and “Just-So” stories that negatively characterize discussion groups like the evolutionary psychology group and its participants, especially those who have no published works to be cited by anyone. I suspect that is the reason few discussants have any scientific evidence they are willing to cite. Opinions are comparatively easy to support, as is indicated by the number of citations to the Kanwisher et al., (1997) report. If you believe in “mental modules” you share that ridiculous belief with thousands of others.

Crediting extreme gullibility to all evolutionary psychologists is difficult to avoid, but it also discredits much of social science. The links above make it easy to predict the acceptance of Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology as a result of data that has already accumulated across the published works of scientists, which cannot readily be compared to the opinions of evolutionary psychologists.

For example:

Pause (2011) “The role of chemical communication in humans might have been strongly underestimated as chemical communication between humans usually does not reach the level of conscious processing.”

can be compared to:

Kohl et al. (2001) “The importance of the human sense of smell has been largely underestimated… the affect of pheromones on our emotions is linked to the effect of pheromones on the hormones of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis – an unconscious affect.”

And  the citation to Stevenson (2009) by  Pause (2011) “…social communication might be one of the most important functions of chemosensory perception in humans (Stevenson 2009).”

— is actually to Stevenson (2010) which cites the first edition of my 1995 book.

Given any reasonable comparison between biological facts and psychological theory, it should be clear that those psychologists who cling to theories must be among the lesser-evolved descendents of ancestors that barely survived among members of societies, who like the individuals of insect societies, communicated with chemical signals, but evolved to make human scientific progress.

Clearly, you won’t find researchers like Pause anywhere among scientific illiterates. I’m sure she’s too busy helping others to make scientific progress all the while I’m “slumming.” If I had to teach or acquire funding, I could not waste my time trying to explain the importance of chemical communication to those who may find more meaning in the number of citations to my works, all the while they miss a paradigm shift predicted in this quote from Lewis Thomas, that we mentioned on page 24 of the 1995 and 2002 editions of The Scent of Eros: Mysteries of Odor in Human Sexuality. “I should think we might fairly gauge the future of biological science, centuries ahead, by estimating the time it will take to reach a complete, comprehensive understanding of odor.”

Since the evolution of odor receptors provides a clear evolutionary trail that can be followed from microbes to humans, it is fitting that this quote has been widely mentioned, including during the presentation of the 2011 Genetics Society of America Medal to John Carlson. But it is unfortunate that so many people here cannot seem to follow a trail that is as important as the nose on their face is to the evolution of human behavior.

Here are two more quotes for comparison in this regard.

Diamond, Binstock & Kohl (1996) “Hypothetically we can also envision organization of a response that is activated by conditioning stimuli initially paired to elicit organization. For instance, Jakacki, Kelch, Sauder, Lloyd, Hopwood, and Marshall (1982) have shown that prepubertal children secrete luteinizing hormone (LH) and presumably gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in a pulsatile manner, well before physical evidence of sexual maturation is apparent.”

McCarthy & Arnold (2011) “Changes in gonadal hormone levels over the lifespan and other dynamic changes likely condition sex differences and enhance or suppress them over time.”




James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl

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