Robert Kurzban

The Evolutionary Psychology Blog

By Robert Kurzban

Robert Kurzban is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite. Follow him on Twitter: @rkurzban

Regrettable Coverage

Published 5 December, 2013

It is always sad, during this, the holiday season, which fills our lives with joy and love, to see people get as angry as some did because of one particular article in the October issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Andrew Galperin and colleagues’ paper entitled, “Sexual Regret: Evidence for Evolved Sex Differences” drew on three samples, and investigated what people regret when it comes to prior sexual behavior. Putting it very roughly, more men regret that they didn’t and more women regret that they did. In the words of the authors:

… women reported more numerous and more intensely felt sexual action regrets than men did, particularly regrets involving ‘‘casual’’ sex …  men reported more numerous and stronger sexual inaction regrets than women did, particularly regrets involving failure to engage in casual sex or the pursuit of a relationship that delayed sexual activity or precluded better sexual opportunities

Erin Gloria Ryan was, it seems, not amused. She wrote about the work in a piece entitled: “Women Are Hard Wired To Feel Bad About Being Sluts, Says Suspect Study.” In typical fashion from my experiences reading Jezebel, the piece opens with some false, hysterical claims, including that substitute for good writing, ALL CAPS to make her point emphatic. She writes: “A new study claims that women are HARD WIRED (sic) regret casual sex whereas men are HARD WIRED to think random sex is great.”

While Galperin et al. do motivate their work with an evolutionary approach, neither the word “hard” nor the word “wired” appear anywhere in the piece. Further, the authors explicitly acknowledge that there are “social factors that might moderate or exacerbate evolved dispositions in each sex to regret certain sexual experiences.” My sense is that this idea is the sort of thing that the author of the piece favors, given what I take to be her favored explanation, which is that “… civilizations place high value on controlling female sexuality and humans are social creatures with an aversion to ostracization.” I’m not quite sure how feeling regret saves someone from ostracism – or ostracization, as Ryan would have it, but in any case, the venom in Ryan’s piece seems to have invited similar tones from the people who commented on her brief remarks, which comments included the usual name-calling, epithets, and use of ALL CAPS for emphasis. One writer seems to have taken Ryan at her word that the authors of the study used the term “hard wired,” writing:

Besides the fact that this “study” is a bunch of misogynist evolutionary psychology bullshit, I also really hate the phrase “hard wired.”

Other comments strike similar tones, with some inexplicable animated gifs thrown in for good measure, including Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and I think Rita Hayworth.

What is clear from the Ryan piece is that she’s very upset about the work. She’s not the only one. Amanda Hess at The XX Factor at Slate also wrote a piece about the paper, saying that “the reasoning employed here is primitive, at best” and ended her article with these provocative remarks:

A study of the sex lives of 200 college students can’t actually tell us anything about how our early ancestors shacked up, and vice versa. It could, however, speak to the masturbatory tendencies of some scientists.

From the last sentence, alluding to the behavior of the scholars as opposed to the ideas, it seems that Hess is sufficiently angry not to worry about getting personal, never mind worrying about understating the full sample size by 24,625.

A third person irritated by the work is Jon Marks, who posted the following remark on a facebook site called BioAnthropology News: “Another argument for barring psychologists from talking about human evolution.” Marks is so miffed he wants to gag the members of a whole field. When asked to explain this rather strong position for silencing his fellow members of the academy, he explained this way:

Humans are the products of their evolutionary and cultural history. Taking a psychological snapshot of this population in the here and now affords no valid inferences about the origin of whatever results you find. Further, given the troubled history of the Universal Generalization in human evolutionary studies, serious students of the subject tend to be more circumspect. Hope that helps

I’m afraid that this explanation doesn’t help me much, but, passing on, Eric Michael Johnson commented on the post, remarking that it “sounds WEIRD,” and linked to his piece in Scientific American. In that piece, Johnson wrote:

The fact that empirical differences exist on identical psychological studies when replicated cross-culturally should make evolutionary researchers take caution (especially Evolutionary Psychologists who are most guilty of essentializing these studies)

To put this in context, I might note that there is a second article in the very same issue of Archives, by Rammsayer and Troche. This article analyzed the data from “156 male and 136 female undergraduate psychology students ranging in age from19 to 30 years.” The dependent measures were a series of self-report measures. These measures asked subjects about both their attitudes and their own behaviors.

So, as you can tell, not only did the research similarly use self-report data – something that Ryan fumed about – but the sample was far more narrow and far smaller than the Galperin et al. article’s sample.

The methodological criticisms that are invoked are really just smoke screens for the real reason that critics don’t like the papers. If their concerns were with the samples, then they would not be fretting so heavily over evolutionary psychology, which actually does better in drawing broader samples than the relevant comparison discipline.

Now, it’s true that UCLA issued a press release for the latter study, while as far as I know there was no release for the other one. Perhaps Ryan, Hess and Marks would froth as much over the Rammsayer and Troche piece as they did over the Galperin et al. piece.

For some reason, I doubt it. But I hope they don’t read it, against the chance that reading another article reporting data about human sexual behavior makes them even angrier. After all, ‘tis the season of peace and love.

References

Galperin, A., Haselton, M. G., Frederick, D. A., Poore, J., von Hippel, W., Buss, D. M., & Gonzaga, G. C. (2013). Sexual Regret: Evidence for Evolved Sex Differences. Archives of sexual behavior, 42(7), 1145-1161

Rammsayer, T. H., & Troche, S. J. (2013). The Relationship Between Sociosexuality and Aspects of Body Image in Men and Women: A Structural Equation Modeling Approach. Archives of sexual behavior, 42(7), 1173-1179.

  • Puzzle Pirate

    You are responding to the Jezebel piece as an adult would. But the problem is you’re not dealing with an adult, you’re dealing with a hysterical child. The Jezebel piece doesn’t deserve the respect you’re giving her.

    Agree & amplify insted http://heartiste.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/when-women-stop-loving-beta-males/

    • ianw19

      I wish you were right, but, from my experience in college, the ignorant vitriol in that Jezebel article is representative of how many academics view evolutionary psychology. I took a “Sociology of Gender” class in which the professor approvingly assigned readings that compared evolutionary psychology to Nazism.

      I don’t think we should dismiss the Jezebel article’s author and commenters as fringe kooks. These are college students and recent college grads who’ve been taught to think this way by Feminist professors. Let’s address it.

  • Daniel Conroy-Beam

    I’d like to see some estimate of the frequency with which EP critics use the word “hardwired” relative to the frequency with which evolutionary psychologists do the same. I imagine that would be fairly easy to compute–aside from the risk of dividing by 0.

    Could be interesting with some other words/phrases too: “Pleistocene”, “Innate”, “Genetically determined”, “Ought”.

    • David Frederick

      My response is to post comments like this for lay persons/people not familiar with what ev psych actually is:

      Emotions have evolutionary roots. Anyone who has a pet can see clearly that fear is an evolved emotion. Fear evolved because it motivates us to avoid dangerous people, situations, and predators. Disgust evolved to help us avoid parasites. I don’t think anyone doubts that motivations are evolved. If you are hungry right now, it is because across evolutionary history we developed a system to motivate us to seek calories when our energy supplies were low. Social attitudes towards different behaviors and towards these emotions and motivations can change them, but that doesn’t erase the fact that our evolutionary history helped produce them.

      Social emotions evolve in animals. Dogs don’t feel “SHAME” the way
      that we feel shame, but shame helps animals navigate is social
      hierarchies. Dogs have a whole host of deferential behaviors that they
      engage in when they violate a social rule. The way shame is experienced
      differs to some degree across cultures, but it is has a critical
      evolved component that helps people navigate social interactions. Guilt,
      embarrassment, anger, regret, are important motivational systems.

      If you actually read the scientific article, you can see the authors
      don’t assign 100% of the explanation for sexual regrets to our
      evolutionary history. They ascribe some aspects to our evolutionary
      history, not all of it. In other words, they are typical evolutionary
      psychologists, who see culture emerging from biology and culture shaping
      biological responses, and view culture as a critical determinant of
      human social behavior. While the news articles overemphasize some
      differences, the radical claims in this blog post promoting the outdated and socially constructed nature vs. nurture paradigm don’t bring us any closer to understanding the complex evolutionary, hormonal, neural, and social influences on sexuality.

  • Hugo Mercier

    It’s a shame you have to spend time on that sort of things… but in the spirit of possibly not having to spend even more, maybe you should avoid the word ‘hysterical’? For good or bad reasons, it has relatively ugly sexists undertones I believe, or at least it can be interpreted as having them (I’m not saying you meant any such thing obviously, but some people might attribute them to you — cf. stereotype of evolutionary psychologists).

    • rkurzban

      Ok, I see your point. Still, my choice of word had to do (only) with the writer’s tone, and I didn’t mean to imply anything sexist by the term; I regret the implication.

      • Hugo Mercier

        I’m sure you didn’t indeed. it’s just that these things are easily misinterpreted — and not necessarily only by people out to get you.

      • nilsm

        At some point, when men talk negatively about what women say, write or do, an accusation of sexism will inevitably surface. It’s unavoidable.

      • Liam

        I don’t think people take issue with you taking issue with the tone they used, merely with you using a word that has been used to dismiss women for centuries.

        There is also a question mark over whether you would have used the term had you been talking about someone who was ostensibly a man.

        That said, what you call “hysterical” I believe is just the style of the site.

    • David Frederick

      Thanks for the critique, Rob. A bunch of similar articles have popped up on the web. I’ve made a few attempts to engage… but we’ll see (my comments remain “in moderation”). http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2013/12/04/sexual-regret-is-about-culture-not-evolution/#comment-697673

      I was going to make the same note as Hugo (using “hysterical” to refer to the woman’s comment and “miffed” to refer to the man’s comment could be interpreted as sexist given the historical uses of the word hysterical to silence women who are upset by implying they are crazy).

      • Days of Broken Arrows

        Except that the Jezebel article’s tone could, in fact, be accurately described as hysterical. There is no need to apologize for that.

        What this post could have done, though, is link to the original study and more clearly point out where Amanda Hess went wrong when it came to how many people were surveyed. The average layperson isn’t going to understand the details by Googling the abstract.

        • Liam

          The issue is not whether the tone needed to be talked about or not, it’s with the use of a word that has sexist connotations.

          If I call someone a “faggot” over them being an asshole and then someone says that that word has homophobic connotations it is irrelevant whether that person was in fact being an asshole or not. The issue is that I used a homophobic word.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      What reason is there to think that it has such undertones? I am not disagreeing, but I wonder why you think so. I am unpersuaded that every word that can be painted as harmful is to be assumed so. The essential question is, does the average hearer detect negative sexual bias regardless of usage or context or alternately does it prejudice attitudes? I will not take anyone’s word for this, no pun intended.

      • David Frederick

        http://disabledfeminists.com/2009/10/13/ableist-word-profile-hysterical/

        the etymological meaning is that my failure to put a baby in my
        uterus (which has independent will and agency inside my body) has caused
        it to become angry, loose itself from its mooring, and start floating
        around inside of my body until it bangs into my brain and starts making
        me unreasonably upset.
        There’s also a strong historical tradition of labeling women as
        “hysterical” in order to silence, marginalize, or even kill them. During
        the Roman Catholic inquisitions, thousands of European women were tortured and burnt as witches
        because they were thought to show signs of hysteria. But it was during
        the Nineteenth Century that things really got going. Some doctors
        considered the force of the uterus so powerful that it might overcome
        the brain and cause a woman to have pathological sexual feelings, “requiring” the physicians to “medically manipulate” the genitals in order to release the woman from control of her uterus.

        That’s a whole big mess of etymology and history, so let’s unpack that a
        bit. When I am told I am hysterical, there is both 1) the implication
        that I am excessively or unreasonably emotional AND 2) the implication
        that my condition is unique to my femaleness. It’s also 3) implied that
        hysterical statements (or even statements from hysterical people) should
        be discounted and hysterical people need to change in order to
        participate in the discussion, or should be removed from it entirely.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

          Thank you for your reply, David. I am familiar with the etymology and history. However, meanings and usages change over time, often radically so. For that reason, the history alone does not compel acceptance of your assertion that 1-3 are in fact implied. There is even a fallacy named for this error, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy .

          As I said, the question is what do typical hearers actually detect? As someone who has used and heard the word many times, I recall no time where I meant or understood it to be a sexist slur or even having anything to do with gender whatsoever. Now, I might be anomalous that way, so I am more than open to hear the evidence. So far I’ve seen none, just assertions about implications.

          • David Frederick

            I think your argument is totally gay and retarded. (see what I did there? Not all, but many people, would perceive the negativity of those words as being linked to some specific group, further devaluing those groups).

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            No, I’m not sure I see what you did there. Words like “gay” and “retarded” are widely understood to be pejorative insults when used in certain ways. I am asking for evidence the same is true of “hysterical” and I challenge the assumption that it is.

          • Daniel Conroy-Beam

            There seems to be an important distinction between the pedantic “You ought to use the word as it was originally intended” argument and the argument that one ought not use a word because of its original meaning (or use). The former argument is the argument that most people think of as being the fallacy in the first place (which the Wiki page’s wording implies). The former also explicitly and necessarily denies that the word can have a new meaning whereas the latter merely asserts that the word’s history is important. So while “hysterical” may not imply sexism to the average listener, that people are disturbed and offended upon learning its history seems reason enough to abandon it regardless of whatever new meaning it has.

            Additionally, I’m not sure the average or the average listener is necessarily the person who should decide the acceptability of a word. “Hysterical” does have its more offensive connotation to and does offend individuals in-the-know; which, by the way, is not an insignificant population. Shouldn’t some amount of knowledge of a word should grant some amount of privilege in determining its acceptability?

            And frankly this is a word that offends at least some people and has many inoffensive synonyms. In cases like this the cost to the speaker of avoiding the word is next to zero but the benefits to at least some listeners are quite large. The calculus seems to be working out.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            So while “hysterical” may not imply sexism to the average listener, that people are disturbed and offended upon learning its history seems reason enough to abandon it regardless of whatever new meaning it has.

            The conclusion does not follow. This is the crux of the fallacy. History is history. What we make now, today, is not intrinsically tied to the past. We should modify our language use when it is harmful, not when we imagine it could be. Language evolves, and at some point, the words are no longer recognizable compared to the past (which is one reason many people have a hard time reading Shakespeare).

            “Hysterical” does have its more offensive connotation to and does offend individuals in-the-know

            I dispute this claim. I have never seen such sentiment expressed, save by social justice activists who have a personal stake and benefit in controlling discourse. That does not make them wrong or disingenuous (I assume sincerity), but it suggests that the number may be trivially small and the effect a self-fulfilling prophecy, as opposed to an existing problem. Again, I will stand to be corrected on the facts, but up to now, no evidence has been proffered.

            Shouldn’t some amount of knowledge of a word should grant some amount of privilege in determining its acceptability?

            Are you suggesting an elite committee gets to decide what words are acceptable to everyone else? No, I think I will not vote in favor of pedant-run lexical hegemony.

            Language is, by nature, a shared code which many must agree on and that almost no one word will be agreed-upon by every individual. We must then decide about usage with consideration of the magnitude of harm done (if any) weighed against the benefit, not merely by whether or not we are able to locate a group of people opposed to it.

            And frankly this is a word that offends at least some people

            Please define “some”.

          • Daniel Conroy-Beam

            I should say I’m not terribly interested in spilling a lot of pixels on this. I think the use of “hysterical” here is much, much less important than the sorts of ideologies and actions Rob is critiquing. But it is nonetheless important and worth mention.

            I fear you missed my point slightly. The etymological fallacy (and its crux) is irrelevant here because the argument against the use of “hysterical” doesn’t assume the meaning of “hysterical” hasn’t changed.

            The word “hysterical” has a history.
            Knowledge of that history offends some people.
            Some people know of the word’s history.
            We shouldn’t use words that offend people.
            We shouldn’t use the word “hysterical”.

            None of this appeals to the actual meaning(s) of the word.

            Where we seem to disagree is whether enough people know of and therefore are offended by the history of the word and whether the costs of offending people actually outweigh the costs of losing the word.

            On the latter: it seems the costs of losing the word are extremely low given the availability of less offensive synonyms: http://thesaurus.com/browse/hysterical.

            On whether a sufficient number of people find the word offensive: well, whether you personally have ever seen someone take offense to the word is irrelevant. What matters if we can demonstrate a significant proportion of people are upset independent of our experiences. On this I recognize both (1) the burden of proof is on me (and those here who agree with me) and (2) that “significant” is vague. I don’t care enough about this to really work these problems out now. If I fail to convince you for that reason, so be it. For now I’ll say: I recognize that it’s offensive. David Fredrick and Hugo Mercier seem to have independently recognized this as well. Others have expressed similar concerns on Facebook. If we independently found the thought of “hysterical” being offensive to have merit, the population of like-minded individuals might be larger than it appears here. There’s obvious concern that the broader feminist community would find it offensive (and some suggestions of that from David Fredrick’s link). And you admit that social justice activists would be upset as well. Especially given the apparently low costs of abandoning the word, this seems like a substantial community could find this word offensive. That the word’s history both concerns and offends a historically (and presently) marginalized group (women) should lend only more weight to the offended community. Should someone be tarred and feathered for using “hysterical” in a context like this? Certainly not. But at least avoiding the word seems worthwhile.

            As far as the committee: I didn’t propose a committee. I don’t know where that came from. I merely asked whether some knowledge of a word should privilege one in deciding its acceptability. Certainly we wouldn’t want non-English speakers to evaluate whether a word is acceptable to use, correct? And presumably this is because they don’t understand the meaning (barring translation). So knowledge does give privilege to some extent. The question is whether that extends to knowledge of a word’s history. I would contend that it does because history has potential to offend. Therefore, the opinions of those who know more about a word’s history should weigh more than the opinions of those who know less. You seem to disagree. I don’t know why.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            etymological fallacy (and its crux) is irrelevant here because the argument against the use of “hysterical” doesn’t assume the meaning of “hysterical” hasn’t changed. …
            None of this appeals to the actual meaning(s) of the word.

            Well first, I do not believe you. Two other people in this thread that objected to the word before you clearly stated that the word does carry a sexist meaning (even if connotative not denotative): Hugo and David. I notice that you took time to engage me, but not to correct either of them. Therefore, and secondly, I feel like this is a largely semantic argument straining to find a way to defend the position rather than flowing from any reasonable argument or evidence.

            A word’s only job is association. A symbol that stands for a meaning. You are arguing that people dislike or are uncomfortable with a word because of its association (by way of the past). If that’s true, I fail to see how that is different from a connotative meaning. A connotation is defined as “an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning”. I would say that discomfort with the past is a feeling or idea. So I conclude that the genetic fallacy applies.

            Again, I question the significance of the statement that some people are offended for the rather strangely specific reason you give. Even in this discussion two others who are opposed to the usage don’t agree with you. Moreoever, the statement “some people x…” is by itself trivial and useless. Some people think flouride is part of a CIA mind control scheme. Some people think Obama is a secret Muslim. These statements are true and irrelevant. Yours may be relevant, but I’ve not yet seen any reason to think so.

            On whether a sufficient number of people find the word offensive: well, whether you personally have ever seen someone take offense to the word is irrelevant. What matters if we can demonstrate a significant proportion of people are upset independent of our experiences.

            Actually, it isn’t irrelevant. I am an English speaker and a consumer of quite a lot of culture in which language is part of the mode. I am equally an authority on vernacular English as any other cohort English speaker. That doesn’t mean my appraisal is sufficient to decide on the harm of a usage as I could be wrong, and therefore I must remain open to evidence of such harm; but to call my experience irrelevant is to fail to understand how language works.

            re: cost
            I think you are not examining cost from a relevant perspective. Language is something that belongs to millions of people, not just you or me. Controlling language confers power and influence, so cost of change could be bestowing that power and influence on some groups or individuals potentially at the cost of other groups or individuals. Feminism in particular has been excellent in its analysis of how controlling language is a form of power. We should not here imagine it is not significant.

            You also suggest plenty of inoffensive alternatives exist. Actually many of these words are at present just as offensive, or potentially so: mad, crazy, frenzied, neurotic, frantic, and emotional all refer in current, recent, or distant history to mental illness and are therefore potentially offensive and ableist. The rest of the synonyms are not the same meaning or close enough to mirror the usage: agitated, distraught, violent, vehement… none of these mean “hysterical”. I see exactly zero acceptable alternatives, that is, if we keep to the logic of your arguments.

          • Molly Elson

            Well, Edward, it appears that you have the privilege of being a man, so you may not have ever been manipulated to feel crazy or hysterical. Just because you have not experienced it does not mean that it is not still relevant today.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            I have suggested no argument that my direct personal experience is necessary to accepting the claim being made. The first words I wrote in this discussion were not to disagree, but to ask for such evidence that may be outside my own experience: What reason is there to think that it has such undertones? I am not disagreeing, but I wonder why you think so.

            Additionally, it is patently not true that a person has to have been the target of an action to be aware that such things happen and to recognize them as immoral. I have not been the target of racial slurs; I nonetheless recognize them as common in the US and horrible. There are several words I do not use because I believe they are harmful, even if they’d not target someone like me, even if they’re still in common use.

          • Liam

            And this is the argument that is typically used by 11 year old boys to justify using “gay” as a synonym for shitty.

            I am also more than open to hear evidence. I think the assumption that the word has radically shifted in meaning entirely requires evidence and all you are giving is assertions that it is. That is less parsimonius than the word perhaps shifting a small bit. I personally have never heard the word used to refer to men. This implies to me that while the word is no longer used to refer to womb issues it is still frequently used as a female exclusive word for crazy, even if people do not explicitly know its origin.

            It is notable that the author of this post regrets using the word.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            It is also the argument being used by those objecting to the use. It’s pretty much the standard argument in these discussions, so the fact of it being used by those taking positions we don’t like is not relevant. It’s also a garden variety use of the well-poisoning fallacy.

            If I read you correctly, you believe that I am asserting that the word has “radically shifted” in meaning over time. I am not. It is those against usage who are asserting there is a recent change. The fact of the word’s meaning and usage are established. Check any reputable dictionary and you will see no mention of gender. I do not cite dictionaries as a prescriptive authority, but as a record of actual usage in the culture. The burden of proof is thus upon those arguing against all the existing, clear evidence to the contrary.

            I personally have never heard the word used to refer to men.

            Then you are deeply isolated. A few seconds googling and I found dozens of examples of the word being used to apply to men, to abstractions like “supporters of…”, and men and women unironically applying it to themselves. This includes people calling President Obama and Glenn Beck hysterical; it includes literate liberal women like Rachel Maddow using the word (also notable in that speaking to millions of people is her profession).
            Have you never seen the play or movie The Producers! ? In the original Gene Wilder’s character shrieks about being wet and hysterical, and the meaning is obvious. That was 1968. So far as I know, that is still the dialogue in all the subsequent stage runs and adaptations.

            One of the better known works of W.D. Snodgrass is the poem titled “The Poet Ridiculed by Hysterical Academics”; that was 1987.

            Just in the last few months feminist Amanda Marcotte wrote an article called “Simple Answers To Overwrought, Hysterical Questions”. There are 266 comments. None of them take exception to usage of “hysterical” even though its in the headline.

            In 2012, linguist and ardent leftist Noam Chomsky also penned an article using the word, ” The Hysterical American Decline” on Salon.com.

            There’s just no indication of this controversy in the general culture. Unless there is contrary evidence which can explain all of this, then this discussion is just a waste of time.

          • Liam

            I checked some dictionaries, most seem to give both definitions (some you have to pay attention when reading as they say things like “suffering from hysteria”, which obviously doesn’t go into what hysteria as a diagnosis is.

            Can you give some examples of it being used about men? You have given examples of it being used in a gender neutral fashion.

            I have a more important question anyway,since we seem to have gone into cherry picking examples territory. Why is this word so important to you exactly? Can you not just use a different word? Surely the fact that a group of people clearly feel affected by this word should be enough for you to use a different word? Or is “PC gone mad” the issue?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            Please cite one dictionary which gives “both” definitions. A psychological disorder like “hysterical blindness” also does not in any way refer to gender or gender issues, and is not relevant.

            I gave two examples of it being used about men; it has been used to describe the President and Glenn Beck. Those are men. But seriously, spend thirty seconds with google, you can find as many examples as you like.

            I have done no cherry-picking, please explain why you would accuse me. I referred to reference materials and to obvious and typical examples from culture. Culture and language are integrated things. The word has no particular important to me, and my usage of it or not is not really the point.

            Surely the fact that a group of people clearly feel affected by this word should be enough for you to use a different word?

            Unless there is no such group. A handful of individuals in a country of over 300 million (and more globally, among 0.5-1 billion English speakers) do not get to control language use.

        • Purple Penguin

          1) Which can be true
          2) Wrong, it doesn’t imply that
          3) What’s wrong with that?

          • Damien Johnson

            small internet.

      • eccles11

        It’s a possible “genetic fallacy” to assume all uses of that word necessarily carry its original connotations. We’re someone to hear on the news something like “mass hysteria erupted as listeners tuned into a radio broadcast of war of the worlds”, I doubt many would consider that to mean “50% of the population has become irrationally excited”

        • David Frederick

          It’s also common sense to not use words that are traditionally used to stigmatize certain groups in academic debates (and, more generally, not to infer the emotional states of the speaker, which aren’t readily observable). Bitchy, hysterical, gay, retarded, etc. are pretty good examples. This didn’t seem like a controversial point to me…

          • eccles11

            Indeed, other words you should refrain from using in this case: Stupid, dumb, moron, bastard.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

            I am a bit curious how far we’re willing to take this. What shall be added to the banned words list? Lame (formerly a synonym for disabled), fool (fool is defined as a “stupid” person, an idiot), imbecile, mad/madden, pardon, cover song… presumably all synonyms for body parts that have been used as slurs or insults? I am sure we could easily produce a list of a least hundreds with origin stories that offend at least “some” people.

            I ask in all seriousness.

          • eccles11

            Perhaps David is the best person to ask such a question. I have no idea how to structure a language based on every individuals subjective offense.

          • Liam

            You might be best off asking the affected groups. I am not certain how people with intellectual, physical or mental disabilities feel about those words.

    • tu_ne_cede_malis

      Bitches be histrionic

    • Purple Penguin

      “Hysterical” isn’t sexist, it just decribes a behavior. And since we’re talking about Jezebel here, it is the word to use.

  • Ricky

    Thanks Rob. ISimikarly ‘ve been feeling uncomfortable with some coverage of the recent PNAS article on sex differences in human connectivity. Yes there are problems with both the press coverage and the article itself, but the fervour with which bloggers have torn it apart down to the minutiae of methodological problems got quite irritating. Not wanting to even believe it was accurate was the default view. The fact that the very same bloggers in the uk wrote and retweeted an article about Maslow’s theory of self-actualisation, a topic not relevant in mainstream psychology for many years now, in relation to Mandela confirmed this uneasy feeling I was having.

  • ianw19

    Oh! I know the perfect holiday song for this occasion:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zN98EibnrI

    (Spoiler Alert: It’s ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’)

  • Francesco Di Nocera

    Nature is not politically correct. Period.

  • Robert King

    I’m happy to find my blog attracting opprobrium from both gender feminists and mras

  • Pingback: Jezebel thinker gets schooled twice this month | Julian O'Dea

  • pean4510

    The whole of these conceptions or preconceptions
    about education can be summarized by the Christian scripture “In the beginning there
    was the word and the word became flesh”. Obviously this passage connotes
    intelligent design of sorts and it makes little difference if the transition from
    word to flesh was instantly or took a trillion years. It still connotes
    intelligent design as we have known the concept. I am a person of limited knowledge, at lease
    in philosophy but was trained in the physical sciences where cause and effect
    has been proven to be a valid reality, and accepted by most of us. Thus, I
    believe that after creation, our present conditions are a product of our design
    projected through cause and effect–our learned proficiencies, and the documented
    evolutions, all caused by our god given ability to think – our progress as we
    have learned to define them.

    The real problem of our concepts
    of mental evolution lies with our attempts to combine mental evolution with
    what we are calling cognition especially the learning aspects of cognition
    where we have applied most of our energy to concepts involving race which does
    not exist, and other mental aspects thought to be related to our physical
    evolution, not realizing trillions of such studies have served to only distort
    our findings.

    The only concept of learning as
    related to cognition is that we learn by doing. By doing we evolve via
    reasoning (proven validity), language, memory (all aids to communications),
    problem solving and perception (realizing what we already know). The rest is
    our attempt to complicate things- a concept involving self – actualization, a
    concept we created with our god given ability to think.

    Of all the animal creatures of the
    present earth, only we humans can transfer knowledge from one generation to
    another. Thus our mental evolution was born. SOLVE THE SELF ACTULATION AND
    RELATED PROBLEMS AND YOU SOLVE THE EDUCATION PROBLEM.

    John V. Patrick, author of Dogma:
    Deconstruction of our mental evolution and psyche pean4510@aol.com

Copyright 2013 Robert Kurzban, all rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinions of the editorial staff of the journal.

Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)
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