Bad Science

Dan Agin is the editor and publisher of ScienceWeek and wrote the book Junk Science (Agin 2006). Ben Goldacre is the author of the The Guardian’s weekly ‘Bad Science’ column and is due to publish a book of the same name (Goldacre 2008). They both rightly target things like alternative medicine and intelligent design as examples of bad science. However, Agin and Goldacre both consider evolutionary psychology junk science. They are profoundly wrong; not only is evolutionary psychology valid science, it is the most popular evolutionary hypothesis for human behaviour (Laland and Brown 2002). In his book, Agin trots out the usual ‘we don’t know everything so we don’t know anything’ and ‘we can’t identify the gene so it can’t be the genes’ myths. He also states that, ‘Not only is evolutionary psychology a junk science, but its conclusions are politically incendiary and dangerous’ (p. 247). Far more dangerous is his dismissal of the best hypothesis we have for understanding human nature. Agin also includes a chapter on race and IQ, and deals with the uncomfortable conclusions by claiming that neither race nor IQ exist. Races exist (Entine 2001; Goodrum 2002; Sarich and Miele 2004; Stowe 2006; Sewell 2007d and Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi and Piazza (1994) show that races are genetically distinct (but absurdly—and in the name of political correctness—insist on calling them ‘clusters’). Regarding IQ, over ten years ago experts in intelligence research, Neisser, et al. (1996) and Gottfredson (1997) published in an attempt to put an end to such misinformation. Agin (2007a) includes five ‘facts’ about race and/or intelligence, all five of which are untrue! Whilst Agin (2007b) is entitled ‘Goodbye Selfish-Gene’. When the title is patently false, it’s not a great start to an article. The units of replication, the genes, are selfish, regardless of whether the vehicles (whether individuals or higher-level units) display altruism. Either Agin doesn’t understand this basic fact that Richard Dawkins got right over 30 years ago (Dawkins 1976), or he is downright dishonest. Goldacre states that he finds evolutionary psychologists amusing, ‘their claims sound a bit like “just so” stories, relying on their own internal, circular logic’. Evolutionary psychology uses inference to the best explanation (abduction), a perfectly valid scientific method. See Holcomb (1996). It is true that evolutionary psychology seeks to explain current phenomena by reference to past events, but so does the big bang theory. It is also true that evolutionary psychologists observe data before constructing a theory, but so did Newton. No doubt Goldacre is pandering to The Guardian’s politically correct readership, but PC science is not science at all. Agin and Goldacre would be the first to support evolution when attacking creationism, but seem unable or unwilling to accept that their own minds have evolved, too. Nor do they offer their own alternative hypotheses (this is generally a good idea when criticizing a hypothesis). Agin and Goldacre are guilty of junk junk science.