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Dear Kate: I am a science provocateur

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Dear Kate,

I am an evolutionary psychologist, which, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing and society largely accepts the need for people like me. However, our evil, feminist, not-patriarchal-enough culture fundamentally doesn’t get me in particular, a special snowflake among evolutionary psycholgoists. You see, I am an Evidence Free Science Provocateur. I am quite sure all evolutionary psychologists are Evidence Free Science Provocateurs just like me, even though they are too chicken to speak the Evidence Free Truth. I have long suffered under this mantle, and derive some pride for my role in upsetting people with abject misogyny; I enjoy dabbling in the justifications of many oppressions and noxious human behaviors.

I’m also writing to you about a separate matter. You see, I’m not getting all the credit for my provocations! Where I write my blog, at, um, Schmientific Schamerican, I have complete editorial control, and have been here longer than the young upstarts at the new network. But people are mad at the manager of the blog network, who didn’t hire me, and the magazine. But my situation is entirely different than that other thing that happened in my publishing group! In the other case, someone submitted something provocative, where provocative = misogynist and not based in evidence (hooray! A kindred spirit!) and then an editor approved it (another one! I told you, we are everywhere). So someone other than the original author had to decide it was appropriate to publish. With my blog, it’s all me, baby.

So Kate, I’m writing for your advice on two matters: how can I devise an appropriate justification for my Evidence Free Science Provocations (people are already trying to copy me, I need an idea I can claim ASAP), and how can I make sure everyone understands that I OWN my hateful and problematic words?


Dear Unberable,

I must first gently tell you that not all evolutionary psychologists are Evidence Free Science Provocateurs. But like you, I am sure there are many more of them than admit it, and there are very good evolutionary reasons to be an Evidence Free Science Provocateur, which I will now make up.

For instance, as evolutionary psychologists age their mate value diminishes significantly. In order to compensate for their increasing obsolescence, it becomes necessary to draw attention to themselves by upping the ante with ever-more evidence free theorizing. Further, the internet age makes the dominance rank of science bloggers in constant flux. Evolutionary psychologists who are also science bloggers, which it sounds like you are, need to beat their virtual chests like a silverback gorilla every now and again to fight off the younger males who want to oust them. Finally, Darwin’s finches that best survive periods of drought have an increased beak hardness and a taste for finches much younger than them (a little known fact I just made up, whee!). Like Darwin’s finches, evolutionary psychologist science bloggers respond to their environments adaptively, so it must be adaptive to be an Evidence Free Science Provocateur. Or something.

As for your second question, all I can tell you is that in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, or Back in the Day, it was adaptive to be entrenched in one’s own opinions and be unwilling to entertain the possibility that being provocative isn’t useful in the absence of evidence. I know this not because I can identify any traits that would support this being adaptive, or any heritability of this behavior, or any other suggestion of a mechanism, but because it is what I want to believe. In fact, I think I’ll give this hypothesis a name: the Honey Badger Don’t Care Hypothesis.

Honey badger can get bitten by bees, and ingest the venom of a snake, and have its food stolen by scavengers. Honey Badger Don’t Care. In the absence of evidence, of editorial control, of any real constraints on your behavior, you will do whatever you want and you don’t care.

And that’s great, because evolution says so.

With warm, evidence free wishes for a happy and healthy new year,

Kate Clancy About the Author: Dr. Kate Clancy is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. She studies the evolutionary medicine of women’s reproductive physiology, and blogs about her field, the evolution of human behavior and issues for women in science. Find her comment policy here. Follow on Twitter @KateClancy.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. TeamBonoboA_Go_Go 7:23 pm 12/26/2011

    Oh well, some are better at satire than others

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  2. 2. jessicaholvert 1:46 pm 12/27/2011


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  3. 3. holly_dunsworth 4:29 pm 12/27/2011

    I’d love to see a study showing the fitness increase experienced by people who leave unnecessarily negative turds, I mean, comments on the Internets. There’s really no other way to explain it.

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  4. 4. kclancy 6:18 pm 12/27/2011


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  5. 5. TeamBonoboA_Go_Go 8:41 pm 12/27/2011

    @holly- which opinion turd? yours, mine or the OP?

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  6. 6. vernwrites 3:14 pm 12/28/2011

    Who pays you guys (used intentionally by a geezer) to do this totally unproductive work? Academics I suspect…

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