Planet Earth

H. Allen Orr, most influential evolutionary biologist of all time?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMay 30, 2012 12:51 AM

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A reader reminded me of an amusing paper, Who Likes Evolution? Dissociation Of Human Evolution Versus Evolutionary Psychology. The gist of the results are below (I added some clarification):

The propositions to gauge acceptance of evolutionary psychology revolve around sex differences. One can argue whether this is an appropriate measure, but to a first approximation I think it gets to the heart of the matter. There are deep evolutionary genetic (number and size of gametes) and anatomical reasons to assume that sex differences in behavior are not exclusively a function of cultural variation. One can argue about the details of the inferences that evolutionary psychology makes (I think it is subject to the problems rife in psychology as a whole), but I don't think its ultimate underpinning in sociobiology is crazy. Nevertheless, I do think there are some empirical results which are robust enough across a range of studies and observations that we move from theoretical likelihood to concrete assessment of the probability of a particular sex difference. For example,

the idea that males on average all things equal tend to exhibit more aggression than females.

To me this seems to be very low hanging fruit among the range of hypotheses. And yet many people are not willing to admit this. This is where I throw my hands up in the air. The fact is that my friends' protests to the contrary the problems with evolutionary psychology as it is today tend to engender sneering, more than attempts to rectify the situation and produce a real inter-disciplinary science of humanity. Which brings me to H. Allen Orr. Within evolution Orr is probably most well known for a body of work which culminated in his book co-authored with Jerry Coyne, Speciation. But for those outside of evolution Orr is probably more well known for his writings in The Boston Review and The New York Review of Books. In these venues he has engaged in broadsides against Intelligent Design, the "New Atheism," and, evolutionary psychology. I assume from the results above that those who accept evolution but reject evolutionary psychology do so because they have read H. Allen Orr, a practitioner of the evolutionary arts himself, and understand on intellectual grounds biology can not tell us much about human affairs. Note: For a core cadre of literal readers: the title is sarcasm.

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