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On Tue, 31 Oct 2000, David Lloyd-Jones wrote:
> > Surely both exhibit visuospatial competence, don't they, and don't both
> > presuppose the inferior parietal lobe is involved?
> I've rather liked (the appropriately named) Cathy Reason's good posts about
> how psychology tends to be a self-enclosing religious position.
Frankly, I think your response is simply insulting, so I will let it pass.
"Visuospatial competence" is not an invention, any more than language
competence is, or least was even when I was a graduate student some 40
years ago. Visuospatial activity, if that suits you better, is involved in
both catching and throwing. That one act, is, according to your scientific
perceptions "aggressive", while the other is not, is an interesting
contrast, but both activities require complex eye-hand coordinationand
neural computation, and that the parietal lobe is heavil;y involved in
both activities, That's all I said. I wasn't trying to enjoin a battle
Ralph L. Holloway
NY, NY 10027
Several correspondents have asked off-list what was meant by my comment
(snarl) re: "the media" and presidential politics, embedded as it was in a
comment on The New Yorker editors' answer to Slate. I paste here, in case any
others were puzzled, this response to one of them.
> I guess it's an off-list topic, but I'm curious how you think the media have
> gone astray on the issues of the campaign.
They've not "gone astray" on the issues; rather, they've made "the issues" a
single issue: what the voters do, or might, think, and how, or why, various
tricks of personality, preparation, style, etc., influence what the voters
think. The fraction of all media time spent on actual, analytical discussion
of issues is trivial. The issues of schooling, for example, have nothing to
do with how the voters will respond to 100,000 more teachers in America's
classrooms, or to new buidings, or the like, and nothing to do with whether
or not the in-state improvements of math scores by Texas minority kids are
real, nothing to do with "accountability" as either of the candidates defines
that. The issues have to do with how well or badly our kids do at learning
what they need to know (dreadfully!) and why; with incompetent teachers
(everybody knows that!); with critical cultural factors that affect what kids
do at home, and so on. The media discuss NOTHING of those matters and do not
ask the candidates the obvious questions. As to foreign policy, social
security, and -- especially -- "the environment," the situation is even worse.
That's the basis of my derogation of our information-age media and their role
in the politics of democracy.
--- In email@example.com, "John McCrone" <
> [Cathy Reason]
> There are certainly plenty of neuroscientists who are interested in
> psychological processes, and psychologists who are interested in the brain.
> But it's a question of how the paradigm operates. If ever criticism is
> voiced about the biological plausibility of the constructs of Cognitive
> Psychology, the paradigm promptly defines itself to be operating at a
> "different level" and thus immune from considerations of biological
> I think the point that Cathy is making is that psychology does not yet seem
> to rest firmly on its own solid foundation.
> One of the historical reasons that computer science was seized upon was
> indeed because it appeared to offer a strong causal model, a deep
> mathematics, of mental systems. But it has proved to be the wrong maths - or
> at least only a partial or superficial maths. Computer maths is based on the
> idea of discrete states, discrete components, a divorce between code and
> transcription mechanism, a divorce between memory and processing, whereas
> (IMHO) brains are dynamical systems. This means they are driven by a
> different kind of causality - one that depends on essentially continuous,
> not discrete, states and components. Furthermore, conscious brains are a
> particular kind of dynamical system - a complex adaptive system. And a CAS
> has its own family of ubiquitous causal structures - mathematical
> "objects" - such as hierarchical structure, webs of agents, anticipation,
> goals, distributed memory, etc. In short, the kind of causal structures that
> will be familiar from the writings of theoretical biologists such as Howard
> Pattee, Stuart Kauffman, Robert Rosen, John Maynard Smith, etc.
> So it would seem easy to say that the natural foundation for psychology is
> biology. It should abandon its flirtations with the computational model and
> finally put down roots where everyone always knew they should be.
Some work in computer science seems to be coming from the opposite
direction and might inform psychology in just the dynamic and more
fluid way you suggest: evolution as applied to less 'discrete' non-
binary circuits :)
Adrian Thompson has applied evolutionary algorithms to circuit design
and come up with some surprising results. His circuits do not depend on
the usual binarism of digital design, accepting and utilising the flux
in between 1 and 0. He allows circuits to be recombinant and to go
through evolutionary generations. A New Scientist article described
some of the results:
"Although the configuration program specified tasks for all 100 cells,
it transpired that only 32 were essential to the circuit's operation.
Thompson could bypass the other cells without affecting it. A further
five cells appeared to serve no logical purpose at all - there was no
route of connections by which they could influence the output. And yet
if he disconnected them, the circuit stopped working.
It appears that evolution made use of some physical property of these
cells - possibly a capacitive effect or electromagnetic inductance - to
influence a signal passing nearby. Somehow, it seized on this subtle
effect and incorporated it into the solution."
That article can be found at
Perhaps the human brain and/or mind works the same way? Neurophysiology
might not be able to fully account for mental processes because there
is some effect from physiological 'components' which we do not
recognise but which evolution has found useful. It's certainly so that
we can have an apparently fully operational brain/mind even though some
chunks of the neurophysiological apparatus are missing.
Adrian Thompson's home page (with the more intellectually cumbersome
but equally more specific original papers) is at:
>From: Herbert Gintis <hgintis@...>
>> Actually, with the new techniques of choosing among your viable
>> zygotes for the kind of child you want, and using a variety of
>> techniques to abort viable fetuses with genetic shortcomings, we
>> appear to be moving swiftly and strongly towards a new, "private
>> eugenics" as opposed to the "public eugenics" practiced by states.
>> This doesn't seem bad to me, but I'm no ethicist.
>The ethical issues are difficult. The movie _Gattaca_ is a very
>plausible extrapolation of current technological and social trends
>that makes the ethical dilemmas dramatically apparent. It's also a
>damn good movie.
In a way, we're about to see the cross-breeding of memes and genes.
Once (and "if") private eugenics becomes commonplace and most
ethical dilemmas are resolved, we may face the issue of parents
deciding what kind of child they want based not entirely on their
desires (blond hair, high IQ, etc), but also based on what is
Imagine that in the future the use of piercing adornments may
compel some parents to "select" genes for children with, for
instance, enlarged ear lobes. They may do that when memetic
pressures (and a bit of journalistic sensationalism) put the
idea in everybody's mouths (we already have "memetically
imposed" piercings, but with no interference on genes).
Other parents, who find this kind of "genetically engineered"
children "cool", may decide to follow the trail.
Bang. Memes interfering in Genes.
I wish this could be only another "just so" story, but
I'm afraid it may be more than that. I have no idea of what
could result of this process and, inspired by Herbert Gintis
comment, I'm lucky for not being an ethicist.
BBC NEWS ONLINE
Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 02:32 GMT
Cave paintings may be 'oldest yet'
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse
What may be the world's oldest known cave paintings have been discovered in
northern Italy. They are between 32,000 and 36,500 years old.
Archaeologists have found tablets of stone showing images of an animal and a
The discovery adds to evidence that people living when Europe was in the grip
of the last Ice Age were more sophisticated than was once thought.
The painted slabs were discovered in Fumane Cave, near Verona. Previously this
cave has provided stone tools and other evidence of occupation.
BBC NEWS ONLINE
Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 02:06 GMT
Commuting is 'biggest stress'
Travelling to and from work is the single biggest cause of stress for many
people, a survey has found.
Researchers have found many people believe commuting is more stressful than
problems at work or at home or even money worries.
The findings, which are published to coincide with National Stress Awareness
Day on Wednesday, follow weeks of turmoil on the nation's railway network and
increasing delays on Britain's roads.
Stress has now overtaken the common cold as the single biggest reason for
people missing work.
Do your children a favour - ignore them
British dads spend 88 minutes a day with their children, compared to 11 minutes
in 1961. But, says Nicholas Lezard, never mind the quantity, where's the
Wednesday November 1, 2000
There was a rather surprising news item the other day. Professor Jonathan
Gershuny of the Institute of Economic and Social Research, who has ploughed
through tens of thousands of parents' diaries from 1961 to 1995, has concluded
that British parents now spend more than four times as much time playing, doing
homework or reading to their children. Moreover, we do more of this stuff than
This is counter-intuitive, to put it mildly. One of the proudest symbols of our
social and cultural isolation from the rest of the world is the fact that we
Brits are not meant to like children. And if we do, we are not meant to show
it. Certainly my father, on his biannual visits to see how my brother and I
were getting on in the blacking factory, would affect a distant and austere
manner, although we knew that his failure to recall our names, or indeed our
faces, was simply a bluff designed to conceal his deep affection for us. To do
otherwise would have been unmanly.
Brain screening would pinpoint schizophrenia, say scientists
James Meikle, health correspondent
Wednesday November 1, 2000
Brain screening programmes might soon be able to identify young people who are
most likely to develop schizophrenia, doctors said today.
Early warning signs picked up by scans would help develop preventative
psychiatric and drug treatments for the illness, as well as moderate the
condition if it became evident.
Researchers who have identified substantial changes in the structure of the
brain at early stages of the illness, said such alterations might occur before
the appearance of psychotic symptoms like hallucination and delusion.
A team from the Institute of Psychiatry, London, studied a group of healthy
volunteers, and 37 others between the ages of 16 and 40, from London and west
Kent, who were experiencing their first psychotic episodes. Brain scans
indicated that those suffering the illness had lower brain volume, less grey
matter containing the brain cells, and other significant differences. All the
affected participants had suffered psychosis for less than three months, and
some had not taken any medication.
Making The Cut
Every time a baby is born in the U.S., doctors decide whether its genitals are
"normal" or not. A girl born with a big clitoris is in big trouble.
by Martha Coventry
On New Year's Eve, I sit with an acquaintance and talk. We are nearing the end
of a long, pleasant evening. My friend, also a writer, leans toward me into the
little circle of privacy we've created. "So you mean what happens to African
girls?" she asks, after I tell her what I am working on. "No," I say. "I mean
what happens to children in the United States." And as I explain the details of
the story, she earnestly watches my face, then sits back, stunned. "I am
astonished," she says, and I have to agree with her. It is an astonishing
The tale begins in England. It is 1858, and the Victorian Age is in full swing.
A respected gynecologist named Isaac Baker Brown, who later served as president
of the Medical Society of London, has an interesting theory about women: most
of their diseases, he believes, can be attributed to over-excitement of the
nervous system, and the pudic nerve, which runs into the clitoris, is
particularly powerful. When aggravated by habitual stimulation, this nerve puts
undue stress on the health of women. He lists what he calls the eight stages of
progressive disease triggered by masturbation: first comes hysteria, followed
by spinal irritation, hysterical epilepsy, cataleptic fits, epileptic fits,
idiocy, mania, and finally, death.
NATURE SCIENCE UPDATE
Wed 1 November 2000
lifelines : Cramped conditions could create infertility
When people live cheek by jowl, moods sour and tempers flare. Mice react to
cramped quarters in a similar way. But new research has uncovered a more
sinister side effect of overpopulation on these masters of high-speed
Female mice reacting to the stress of chronic overcrowding develop perplexing
lesions on their ovaries, report researchers from Binghamton University in New
York. Stress can disrupt or even halt ovulation in humans, but the state of the
ovaries in these mice was a complete surprise.
When wild house mice were allowed to reproduce freely in the lab, the ovaries
of two out of seven strains became covered with shapeless white masses of
‘amyloid protein’ fibres.
Similar amyloid fibrils create debilitating plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’
s patients. The study’s originator, the late John J. Christian, had not seen
such lesions in nearly fifty years of population research on mice.
CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
HIGHLIGHTS from November 3
LESSONS FROM ALTRUISTIC TERMITES
Social insects are among the creatures teaching us that evolution is a sound
concept, but not a static one, writes J. Scott Turner, an associate professor
of biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science
Full text, subscribers only:
Neel and the Venezuelan Government
31 Oct 2000 06:21
The New Yorker response to John Tooby's article perpetuates a mistaken claim
that appeared earlier in Tierney's essay. I remain convinced that Neel had
permission from the Venezuelan government for the vaccination program in the
Upper Orinoco in 1968. My reasons for believing this are as follows:
1. Neel requested government permission, in a letter dated December 11, 1967.
2. Neel needed government approval to get the vaccines through customs.
3. Neel was working with a prominent Venezuelan physician, Marcel Roche, and in
collaboration with a prominent Venezuelan scientific organization. Roche was in
the field with Neel and carried out some of the vaccinations.
4. Neel had government permission later, as evidenced by a telegram sent to him
in April 1968, when he had arranged for additional donations of vaccines to be
sent to Venezuela, where the epidemic was still underway.
I have not been able to find a letter from the Venezuelan public health
authorities dated December 1967 granting permission for the vaccine program,
but I have a fairly compelling set of circumstances suggesting that the program
was approved. The statement that the New Yorker identified as "erroneous" was
my claim in an early email that the April 1968 telegram provided proof of
permission--obviously the timing was wrong. But I remain convinced that Neel
had permission, based on the archival record.
I must add that I have no particular stake in Neel's reputation. I am a
historian who wrote a book about his work in Japan. He disliked my book rather
intensely. If I had any evidence that he had behaved in an inhumane or
irresponsible manner in Venezuela I would not hesitate to say so. But there is
no reason to believe so. There are certainly serious questions raised by the
scientific exploitation of the Yanomami. It is unnecessary to make anything up,
which is what I think Tierney has done, as a result of having checked many of
his footnotes. I find a remarkable pattern of dishonesty in his work and
dishonesty serves no one's best interests.
George W. Bush, The Last Relativist
By Timothy Noah
Posted Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2000, at 2:07 p.m. PT
George W. Bush deplores the relativism that liberals have inflicted on American
society--the idea that nothing is right, nothing wrong, nothing true, nothing
false. In a New Hampshire speech last November, Bush decried parents who
won't defend the rules. And for about three decades, many American schools
surrendered this role. Values were "clarified," not taught. Students were given
moral puzzles, not moral guidance. But morality is not a cafeteria of personal
choices--with every choice equally right and equally arbitrary, like picking a
flavor of ice cream. We do not shape our own morality. It is morality that
shapes our lives.
You have heard this argument before. It's the standard neoconservative
denunciation of the 1960s. (To break the monotony, David Frum wrote a book this
year arguing that the culprit was actually the 1970s.) But what about Bush's
own relativism on the question of evolution? An Oct. 29 New York Times piece by
Nicholas Kristof reports:
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 01 2000
Head of the state of philosophy
The first volume of Ray Monk’s biography of Bertrand Russell, The Spirit of
Solitude, concentrated on its subject’s philosophy. This second volume,
Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness (Jonathan Cape, £25/Times Bookshop, £22;
ISBN 0 224 05172 5), deals with his private life and his radical politics.
Russell was a rarity in 20th-century Britain: a public intellectual in a
culture which had created a Chinese wall between politics and philosophy and
was suspicious of words like “intelligentsia”. The award of the Nobel Prize for
Literature provided him with the foundations of a political platform.
NATURE SCIENCE UPDATE
Monday 30 October 2000
lifelines : Stemming the flow of neurons
Researchers have taken a step towards understanding the very beginnings of the
human nervous system. James A. Weston at the University of Oregon, Eugene,
Oregon and his colleagues have worked out what restricts and regulates the
different possible fates of a neural stem cell. Such insights are vital for the
development of stem cell therapies.
In the early days of a vertebrate embryo’s development, the cells destined to
innervate the body become specialised or ‘differentiate’ as they migrate from
where they are produced to where they are needed. Thus, different cell types
are eventually located in appropriate locations.
There seems to be a ‘window of opportunity’ for this to occur. The first batch
of migrating cells generate different types of neurons. Cells that migrate
later lose their capacity to become neurons. Until now, no one knew why.
Weston’s team reports in Development1 that late migrating cells with the
potential to become neurons are destroyed — apparently by their neighbours.
Some work in computer science seems to be coming from the opposite
direction and might inform psychology in just the dynamic and more
fluid way you suggest: evolution as applied to less 'discrete' non-
binary circuits :)
Adrian Thompson has applied evolutionary algorithms to circuit design
and come up with some surprising results. His circuits do not depend on
the usual binarism of digital design, accepting and utilising the flux
in between 1 and 0. He allows circuits to be recombinant and to go
through evolutionary generations. A New Scientist article described
some of the results:
I'm certainly aware of that work - I actually told the New Scientist it was
worth a feature! But while it was a startling result, it's probably not one
with deep implications for mind science. More a clever technology for
constructing analog computers.
As I admitted, I was only talking in the most broad brush terms. Of course,
computer science and neuroscience have had a tangled history right from the
start. Neuroscience gave neural nets to computer science in the 1940s (Hebb,
McCulloch, etc) and then computer science gave them back again in the 1980s.
John Holland, the originator of genetic algorithms, says he was directly
inspired by Hebb when he did his conceptor nets at IBM in the early 1950s
and now Holland has gone on to be a central figure in the understanding of
CAS principles. Stephen Grossberg is another computer scientist who has been
a dynamicist and CAS leading light right from the dawn of the computer age.
It is not that there aren't thousands of computer scientists who have a very
deep mathematical understanding of dynamism and CAS. The problem is that
there are so few psychologists or even neuroscientists who understand the
work of these guys.
[Irwin Silverman wrote]
I don't want to detract from the interesting historical
analyses in your post, but your conclusion, above, disturbs me. The
search for foundations is every bit a part of science as the finding, and
more. In fact, when a foundation is established, the next task is to find a
bigger and better one, which is why I would prefer the terms paradigm, or
model. When we have the means to fully understand "what motivating
drive minds," that is, when we have answered our major questions and have
our "natural" (ultimate?) foundation(s) in place, we will move from
science to technology - just filling in the blanks.
I'm not too sure which bit disturbs. I'm happy enough to call psychology and
sociology "sciences" even if they seem not to have settled down and are
still in search of their natural roots. And while there is some truth in the
criticism of science as being "just a succession of paradigms", I think
there really is a world out there that we can gradually bring into sharper
and sharper focus using the objectifying methodology of science. And yes,
once you finally get the picture roughly right, then the rest will be a
matter of filling in the blanks - gathering more and more detail to sharpen
the picture. I would not necessarily call that technology as technology is
the application of science. But yes (as John Horgan argues in The
Undiscovered Mind) once we can use our theories about the mind in an applied
way, then that will be our best reason to believe we are home.
from John McCrone
check out my consciousness web site
neuroscience, human evolution, Libet's half second, Vygotsky and more...
JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
Books/Medical Social Science
The Handbook of Social Studies in Health and Medicine
edited by Gary L. Albrecht, Ray Fitzpatrick, and Susan C. Scrimshaw, 545 pp,
with illus, $124, ISBN 0-7619-5617-4, Thousand Oaks, Calif, Sage Publications,
Samuel W. Bloom, PhD
A handbook has come to mean "a source book more advanced than the ordinary
textbook in a field but yet more focused than scattered periodical literature .
. . representing the major areas [of the field] at an [advanced] level."1
Albrecht and his associates admirably fulfill this definition for the sociology
of medicine. Three overarching themes govern its shape and the selection of
authors: "social and cultural frameworks of analysis, the experience of health
and illness, and health care systems and practices." Outstanding sociologists
and anthropologists, mainly from the United States and Great Britain with
selected authors from Canada, Australia, Germany, and Israel, contribute the
Handbook of Social Studies in Health and Medicine
by Gary L. Albrecht (Editor), Ray Fitzpatrick (Editor), Susan C. Scrimshaw
Hardcover (November 1999)
Sage Publications; ISBN: 0761956174
AMAZON - US
AMAZON - UK
[I don't know if this didn't survive the edit or if i missent it. so am
sending it again]
At 03:17 AM 10/31/00, David Lloyd-Jones wrote:
>"Don Lindsay" <don@...>
> > In recent discussion I offered an opinion of how casting and recieving
> > mechanisms in the brain could be linked to a 'physics calculator'.
> > Blackboard models provide a simple architecture for understanding how such
> > a system of information sharing in the brain might work.
>Here we have an attempt to find out the mechanism for something that it is
>assumed *must* be true. Don Lindsay, like everybody else in this discussion,
>assumes that throwing and catching are in essence the same mechanism.
>No evidence has been adduced for this assumption.
>I see no reason why catching and throwing should be the same brain mechanism
>of cluster of instincts, any more than seeing and hearing must be basically
>Has anybody got any evidence to back up this assumption?
I'm afraid you misread my intention. I was *not* arguing for a monolithic
caster-reciever mechanism but instead was using a rough model for how two
(actually four) different mechanisms could be used in an integrated way to
accomplish the tasks associated with such an adaptive problem as was stated
earlier. I further made suggestions that could explain how such an
caster-reciever complex of talents would not *have* to come about by the
means of an effective 'instinct integrator', although my argumentation was
very general and non-specific of any kind of neurology. At the end I
further suggested that 'integrated instincts' could be assimilated into a
new instinct by extention of 'blackboard' functionality into a dedicated
A hurdle here as I see it is that there must be a continuum of complexity
in brain mechanisms wherein, for example, 'seeing' could be called a single
instinct or a hundered depending on how far you care to reduce your level
of analysis. The basic model of Tooby and Cosmides (E.P.: A Primer) relates
the explanatory framework that I am basing this on:
It helps to fit your level of explanation somewhere in this model and mine
was most definitely in the cognitive realm. However as you traverse the
model up and down the level at which you define an 'instinct' (or
adaptation) changes, as I see it. So a collection of neurological devices
combine to form an ability and several abiltites combine to form an
instinct and so on. Obviously some more rigorous terminology is needed here
and is basically absent from my earlier commentary. However this rigor
comes about is obviously an issue on the table and a standardized sort of
lexicon is needful, e.g. at what level can we use the term 'instinct' and
be sure that our level of complexity is understood?
The evidence that I think you are seeking would begin in rather technical
sensory-motor nervous system research and through the kind of explanation
that I gave to the *exact* adaptive problem to be solved and this was begun
in the thread before I jumped into it. Perhaps eventually someday such an
architecture will be collapsed and neural architectures can be traced right
onto adaptive problems but we are nowhere near such a one to one
correspondence yet, except for in limited sensory and basic bodily function
domains, although work is here progressing at an incredible rate, thank in
part to the kind of models I illustrated, but even then the level of
complexity is daunting to a non-neurologist. This of course gives the lie
to claims against a sort of absurdist reductionism because even at the most
atomic level, the level of complexity is huge and needs some interpretation.
Donald Charles Lindsay
Grover Beach, Ca.,USA
Toto, I don't believe we're in Africa anymore...
More UCSB team fact-checking
Severe Misrepresentation of Key Evidence in Chapter 5
PT's Chapter 5 argument rests on the claim that Edmonston B vaccine
virus could cause a measles epidemic, an extraordinary claim with no
scientific support. However, in a crucial Chapter 5 passage, PT
reports the results of an autopsy of a boy who died after being
vaccinated with Edmonston B. The autopsy allegedly revealed that the
vaccine virus had moved to the patient's respiratory tract, a portal
from which it could infect others, and, we are led to believe, cause
an epidemic. Here is the passage in full:
"I have found only one case of a person suffering from 'sub-clinical'
measles, where it 'simmered'for months. This happened to a boy with
leukemia who was inoculated with Edmonston B vaccine virus - not
natural measles. The boy went 20 days without showing rash, than
burst into a full body eruption that lasted weeks. When the skin
lesions vanished, the disease did not. He died three months after
vaccination, with Edmonston virus in his throat and conjunctivae.
That meant not only that the vaccine virus killed him (his leukemia was in
remission and did not return), but that it had moved to a portal -
the respiratory tract - where he could infect others. John Enders of
Harvard University, the creator of the Edmonston vaccine, conducted
an autopsy. It revealed gaping inner wounds caused by the virus" (p.
At the end of this passage, PT cites a 1959 article by John Enders et
al., pp. 875-881 from v. 261 of The New England Journal of Medicine:
"Isolation of Measles Virus at Autopsy in Cases of Giant-Cell
Pneumonia Without Rash."
However, when I read the cited article, I saw that it differed
radically from PT's description. It is actually an attempt to
demonstrate that a particular disease condition, giant-cell
pneumonia, is caused by measles virus. None of the children
described in the article even received the Edmonston vaccine - they all
suffered from regular measles. Confused, I wondered if PT had actually been
describing a different article, and if he had cited the wrong one
unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally, to thwart hapless
fact-checkers). Then a fellow fact-checker showed me another article
cited by PT (Anna Mitus, Ann Holloway, Audrey Evans, and John
Enders . "Attenuated Measles Vaccine in Children with Acute
Leukemia," American Journal of Diseases of Children 103, pp.
413-418). This article is much closer what PT describes, but as
usual, PT finds it necessary to embellish and distort:
PT says: "I have found only one case of a person suffering from
'sub-clinical' measles, where it 'simmered' for months. This happened
to a boy with leukemia who was inoculated with Edmonston B vaccine
virus - not natural measles."
Misrepresentation: First, although PT acknowledges that this
'sub-clinical' case had received Edmonston B vaccine virus, he still
wrongly refers to it as a case of "measles." Edmonston vaccine virus
is designed to stimulate immunity to measles, and in so doing must
produce an infection with some side effects. In people with immune
systems devastated by AIDS or leukemia, these side effects can be
dangerous (though not, as PT imagines, contagious). But it is simply
wrong to say that someone experiencing these side effects is
suffering from measles. Indeed, the article's authors belabor the
point that the virus found in the patient was vaccine virus, not
measles (see below). Actually, PT continually equates vaccine with
disease throughout his book, as if he wants to emblazon this equation
in the minds of readers. Why? I suppose to condition readers
to think of vaccine administrators as evil disease-spreaders.
Second, ironically, although PT alleges this case of non-measles to
be the only case of sub-clinical measles he's heard about, there are
examples of this sub-clinical measles in other articles in PT's
bibliography. For example, that first article I described above (the
one PT cites wrongly) describes three cases of sub-clinical
measles! Case 1 "presented no signs or symptoms characteristic of
measles;" Case 2 presented "no symptoms or signs of measles;" Case 3
presented "no rash or other signs suggesting measles" (pp. 875-876).
PT says: "He died three months after vaccination, with Edmonston
virus in his throat and conjunctivae. That meant not only that the
vaccine virus killed him (his leukemia was in remission and did not
return), but that it had moved to a portal - the respiratory tract -
where he could infect others."
Misrepresentation: The leukemia patient indeed died three months
after vaccination, with Edmonston virus in his throat and
conjunctivae, and the vaccine virus did apparently kill him. Does
this mean that he could have infected others? PT says so - but totally
omits that the article's authors reach the opposite conclusion! The
authors are interested in knowing whether the virus in the patient's
virus is the vaccine virus or measles, so they run several tests
which indicate an absence of measles, e.g. they analyze the effects of the
virus present in the throat and conjunctivae and find them to be
"characteristic of the vaccine virus and not of freshly isolated
strains from patients with measles." They then note another piece of
evidence, the virus' failure to infect other susceptible persons,
suggesting that they're dealing with vaccine virus and not
"The serum of a susceptible sibling who was in contact with this
patient, and who did not contract measles, was also tested. No
antibodies were demonstrated. This result provides additional
evidence that the infecting agent was the attenuated vaccine virus,
since it has been demonstrated that this agent does not pass readily
to susceptible persons in contact with vaccinated individuals" (p.
No wonder PT leaves this out. His apparent rule of thumb: "When the
opinion of knowlegable experts directly contradicts your own, omit
PT says: "John Enders of Harvard University, the creator of the
Edmonston vaccine, conducted an autopsy. It revealed gaping inner
wounds caused by the virus."
Misrepresentation: Enders is the fourth author on this paper, but
nowhere does it say that he was the one who conducted the autopsy.
Nor does it say anything about "gaping inner wounds." The actual
account of the autopsy is far less dramatic:
Postmortem examination revealed leukemic involvement of certain
viscera and giant-cell pneumonia. Giant cells containing eosinophilic
intracytoplasmic and intranuclear inclusion bodies were also found in
the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Preliminary histological
examination of the brain showed a small fresh hemorrhage in the white
matter of the frontal lobe, microscopic hemorrhages near the wall of
the third ventricle, and protein-rich deposits perivascularly in the
pons and midbrain. The origin of this material is uncertain. There
was no evidence of glial response nor clear-cut demyelination.
Why does PT invent the image of the Edmonston B co-creator surveying
the destructiveness of his creation? The paragraph immediately
following PT's "gaping inner wounds" passage begins "Measles is a
horrible way to die," and consists entirely of descriptions of the
suffering endured by measles victims. Then, PT goes right back into
discussing the actions of Neel and Chagnon and insinuating that they
started a measles epidemic among the Yanomamo. Thus, PT's invented
image of Enders' autopsy helps him portray his scientist targets as
maximally evil: Enders observed firsthand that in 'susceptible' (or
at least leukemic) patients, the virus vaccine caused infection of
others and gaping inner wounds, but nevertheless, neither he nor
anyone else prevented the administration of this violently contagious
vaccine to another 'susceptible' population, the Yanomamo. The only
problem is that all important elements of this portrayal are false.
Does anyone know if the Open Forum on 'Darkness' is still to be held at the
AAA's annual meeting. I can't find it listed in the official programme. The
only item of a similar descripttion is
Thursday, November 16, 2000 12:15 PM to 1:30 PM FIELDWORK IN HIGH CONFLICT
ZONES: PRAXIS, ETHICS, AND HUMAN RIGHTS (AAA Committee for Human Rights) Chair:
Lucia Ann McSpadden. Papers: Carolyn Nordstrom, Tom Greaves, Victoria Sanford,
Les Sponsel, Kimberly Theidan, Robert Hitchcock, Judith Maxwell
PDF of the programme
Q: Why is the AAA holding an open forum regarding the allegations?
A: "One of the roles of the Association is to serve as a forum for discussion
and debate on issues important to the anthropological community. As a
scientific and professional organization we are committed to a fair and
impartial discussion of the issues raised by the book."
Q: When and where is the open forum being held?
A: "The Open Forum will be held on Thursday, November 16 at 6:15 p.m. in
Continental Ballroom 4 of the San Francisco Hilton and Towers."
ARCHIVED DOCUMENTS AT THE AAA
Report of the Special Commission to Investigate the Situation of the Brazilian
Terry Turner (Chair), Bruce Albert, Jason Clay, Alcida Ramos, Stephan
Schwartzman, Anthony Seeger (members), Claudia Andujar, Manuela Carneiro da
Cunha, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami (consultants)
I. PREAMBLE: THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE ASSOCIATION
The American Anthropological Association is an organization of researchers,
teachers and professionals concerned with culture and cultural differences. The
ability of a group to define and live according to its own shared cultural
meanings and values is a fundamental human right. When a people's legal rights,
social or cultural self-determination are denied, or its mode of life or
physical existence are threatened because of its cultural differences from
other groups, this Association has a legitimate concern with such abuses, and
both a right and an obligation to speak out against them, regardless of where
in the world they occur.
1995 Annual Report
Commission for Human Rights
During 1995, the AAA Commission for Human Rights continued to develop its three
charges from the Executive Board: conceptual framework and issues, education
and networking, and mechanisms for action.
As part of the work of the Commission on conceptual framework and issues,
Leslie Sponsel (Chair) organized and will chair a session invited by the
Commission for the 1995 AAA annual meeting on "Human Rights: Universalism
versus Relativism." Most of the members of the Commission are participating in
this session: Patrick Morris and Terry Turner are giving papers while George
Appell, Carole Nagengast, and Ellen Messer are discussants. Other participants
like Wilcomb Washburn, Richard Schweder, Jennifer Schirmer, Carolyn
Fluehr-Lobban, and Elvin Hatch were invited because as anthropologists they
have previously published important statements on the issue of universalism
versus relativism in human rights. Cultural relativism is a major factor which
has severely retarded anthropological involvement in human rights since the
Executive Board's 1947 statement on the UN Universal Declaration of Human
"I Fight Because I Am Alive!"
A Yanomami Leader Speaks
Statement by Davi Kopenawa Yanomami on the Situation of the Yanomami in Brazil
Text of an interview of Davi Kopenawa Yanomami by Terence Turner in Boa Vista,
Roraima, Brazil, March 1991
By Terence Turner and Davi Kopenawa Yanomami
Transcribed by Bruce Albert and Translated by Terence Turner
Alarmed by reports of the desperate situation of the Yanomami of Brazil, the
American Anthropological Association resolved to take the unprecedented step of
appointing a Special Commission to investigate the situation and recommend
actions that might be taken by the Association in support of the Yanomami. Davi
Kopenawa Yanomami, the chief spokesman and leader of the Brazilian Yanomami,
served as a consultant to the Commission, and this interview was recorded as
his contribution to its report. Turner, who travelled to Boa Vista as chair of
the AAA Commission, conducted the interview in Portuguese. Davi, in his
replies, occasionally used Yanomami terms and expressions. Bruce Albert, an
anthropologist who has worked with the Yanomami for many years and who is also
a member of the AAA Commission, transcribed the entire text of the interview
and provided glosses for the Yanomami expressions. Turner translated the
interview into English.
The Yanomami Report
Terence S. Turner
In late 1990, the situation of the Yanomami on the Brazilian side of the
Venezuelan frontier was desperate. In spite of a long campaign by a dedicated
Brazilian NGO, the Commissão pela Criação dum Parque Yanomami (Committee for
the Creation of a Yanomami Park), and pressure by international human rights
and indigenous support organizations, the Brazilian government seemed to have
decided against creating a single Yanomami reservation. Instead, it was moving
towards breaking up Yanomami territory into 19 small enclaves, leaving the
larger part of Yanomami country as free and open "corridors" which could be
used by gold miners who were already invading the Yanomami area, bringing
malaria, massive ecological damage, and general social disruption. Amidst an
international outcry by activists and anthropologists, AAA President Annette
Weiner decided to appoint an ad hoc committee to investigate and report to the
Executive Board with recommendations on what the Association could and should
do. This was the Special Commission to Investigate the Situation of the
Brazilian Yanomami. Terence Turner was appointed as head, with power to appoint
New Life for the Yanomami
Association Plays Key Role in
Major Shift in Brazilian Policy
by Terry Turner
Chair, Special AAA Commission to Investigate the Situation of the Brazilian
In a historically unprecedented initiative, the President and Executive Board
of the Association in February of this year established a Special Commission to
investigate the situation of the Brazilian Yanomami. The Yanomami of Brazil
were and are rapidly perishing as the result of a massive invasion of their
territory by miners, supported by federal and local government policies that
violated constitutional guarantees of indigenous rights and defied the orders
of Brazilian federal courts. The Commission conducted an investigation and
submitted a report, which was adopted by the Executive Board at its May meeting
in Washington. The report's recommendations, including the publicization of the
Commission's findings in the media and their communication to US government
representatives and concerned international and non-governmental bodies, were
implemented. These measures were timed to coincide with the visit of President
Collor to Washington in mid-June. Important coverage in press and radio media,
including Op Ed columns in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune
and radio interviews on NPR and the Latin American Service of the Voice of
America, was achieved. Directly inspired by briefing papers prepared by a
member of the Commission and drawing upon its report, a number of governmental
figures, including eight Senators and President Bush, brought pressure on
Collor on the Yanomami issue.
Interview with Davi Kopenawa Yanomami
Talk between Davi Kopenawa Yanomami (DY) and Terence Turner (TT)
in Boa Vista, March 1991.
Transcribed by Bruce Albert and translated into English by T. Turner.
PART ONE: AN APPEAL FOR SUPPORT
DY: I want to send my message, this message, to our friends, the other
indigenous peoples, and to our white friends too, those who stand by our side,
who support us. I want to communicate my news and my message, my feelings and
my needs. My full name is Davi Kopenaua Yanomami. The village I live in is
called Watoriketheri. It is in the Mountains of the Wind.
Steven D'Aprano writes:
>On the contrary. It is very, very good writing, if you have a hidden
>agenda to perform.
>As propaganda, its far too effective to be just random bad writing.
We have no interesting disagreement. As simple correction: I did not
say it was random bad writing, just bad writing; and this can
encompass a multitude of sins. Also, I would agree it is excellent
propaganda. The paragraph that begins with, "It cannot be determined
with any accuracy how many died after receiving the vaccination." is
a wonder of rhetorical legerdemain. Not only does it say one thing
but implies something far stronger, but does so by mentioning the key
facts that actually exonerate Dr. Neel's actions. A bit like making a
slam contract with no aces.
Nonetheless much good propaganda remains bad prose because it cannot
stand a close reading. This is not always true. Rachel
Carson's "Silent Spring," also published in the New Yorker, is a
great polemic; it is also great prose. Not so with Tierney. When you
reread the article in light of the New Yorker's response the writing
becomes increasingly opaque. Just what is Tierney's conclusion
regarding the link between the vaccinations and the epidemic?
Whenever you provide evidence for a correlation you must continue
with an evaluation of what this correlation reveals. The problem with
Tierney's writing isn't that his evaluation is flawed but that no
such evaluation is really given. Remember 7th grade English?
Paragraph: opening sentence, three supporting sentences and
conclusion? Well Tierney offers a sequence of paragraphs with no
Nor is this the only instance where the article appears disjointed
and inconsistent. After mentioning Vitalio Baltasar's claim that his
son died "after being vaccinated by Chagnon" Tierney continues by
saying that "Neel and Chagnon tell a different story." But different
how? Neel and Chagnon's account is fuller and provides more details
but does not disagree with the brief facts mentioned by Vitalio
Baltasar. Or consider the paragraph that talks about the "unforeseen
consequences" of the filming of *The Feast.* After describing how
this led to a new alliance and a subsequent attack on a third village
the paragraph ends with:
> One day, when Asch tried to film a doctor who was treating a sick
> man from the village of Mavaca, Neel interrupted him. "I don't want
> any of this," he said. "You're here to document the kind of study
> we're trying to make. Anyone can walk into a village and treat
>people. This is not what we're here to do.
This just seems like blatant non sequitur.
I push this line to fuel what I openly admit is outright speculation.
I'm thinking that in the original draft Tierney included more
substantive claims. The New Yorker did in fact perform some rigorous
fact checking and returned the draft asking for further references.
Tierney instead rewrote the draft by deleting a number of "facts" but
keeping the overall structure intact. The result is an article that
is factually correct, but badly fragmented, with conclusions being
replaced with innuendo. At this point the New Yorker committed a
severe error in editorial judgment. There was perhaps a desire for a
timely appearance for the article, just after the Turner and Sponsel
email had begun to make a splash and before Tierney's book was
actually published. Rather than ask for further rewrites the editors
decide to rush this revised draft into print.
As I said, this is idle speculation, but I mention this because I'm
truthfully puzzled by The New Yorker's actions. They are in fact
known for their fact checking and they are generally free of both
political correctness and postmodern cant. So what the hell happened?
Regards, A B Carter
On Wed, 1 Nov 2000, Michael E. Price wrote:
> More UCSB team fact-checking
> Severe Misrepresentation of Key Evidence in Chapter 5
Is anyone chronicling all of this material, including the UCSB and
Michigan results and the numerous individual contributions. Would it be
worthy to send this material to the publisher in the hope that they will
see fit to withdraw the book. I realize the possible downside is that the
material may be used for editing, but wouldn't that result in virtually no
book at all?
November 1, 2000
IS COLD CASH DEFILING PURE SCIENCE?
from The Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) - A funny thing happened to Dr. Jerome Kassirer at a recent
lecture to medical students about financial conflicts of interest for
doctors: It turned out the free buffet was provided by a major drug company.
Kassirer had a blunt message: Medical schools and training programs ``must
teach that there is no free lunch. No free dinner. Or textbooks. Or even a
>From freebies for medical students to research funding that can taint study
results to the growing practice of marketing prescription medicine directly
to consumers, drug companies have a growing and sometimes unseemly influence
on doctors, according to articles, studies and editorials published
Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The relationship between research and industry appears to be under growing
scrutiny. The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine wrote an
extraordinary critique in May, saying science is being compromised by the
growing influence of industry money.
Re: Nicholas Humphrey's message of 17-10-00 about religious behavior:
The books by Nicholas Humphrey and Robert Hinde are highly recommended. May
I also suggest looking at another relevant book:
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGIOUS BEHAVIOUR, BELIEF, AND EXPERIENCE (1997) by
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi & Michael Argyle.
Dept of Psychology
University of Haifa
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 21:37:54 -0400
Subject: RE: [evol-psych] Re: A religious instinct?
I'm astonished that in this sophisticated discussion group, no one has yet
thought to cite Robert Hinde's important new book on the psychology of
religion, "Why Gods Persist: a Scientific Approach to Religion", Routledge,
1998. I'm also somewhat surprised that no one has thought to cite my own
book on the same subject, "Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search
for Supernatural Consolation", Basic Books, 1996.
Commentary on 'Alas, poor Darwin' from the Amazon.co.uk web page
The author, Hilary Rose/Steven Rose h.rose@... ; s.p.r.rose@...,
10 July, 2000
While welcoming Larry Brown's "must read" recommendation - we were a bit
saddened by his use of the word 'smeared'. A loaded term to say the least. The
historical record documenting the profound continuities of the ideology of
'biology as destiny' is formidable. Historically eugenics has been the other
side of the coin of genetics. History as surely we know has to be confronted
not denied. In consequence eugenic denial is no solution for either
contemporary geneticists or for evolutionary psychologists who draw so heavily
on a geneticised narrative. Incidentally we make very clear the improvement of
EP over sociobiology in that EP argues that there is one human race and thus
disassociates itself from the often racialised discourse of sociobiology. It
gender narrative remains narrative is unreconstructed - above all see Thornhill
and Palmer's rape book.
Further Brown goes on to demonise our discussion of eugenics by associating it
solely with the Nazis. Historians of eugenics have shown that there was an
active policy of sterilisation, predominantly of women, and particularly in the
Scandinavian countries right up until the mid 1970s. To confine eugenics to the
Nazis is to fail to confront the widespread commitment to eugenics by left,
liberal and feminist intellectuals right up to the death camps. Incidentally
the word eugenic /s is used three times in the book and readers are invited to
judge for them selves.
"That Hogben was one of the first among the British left to spot the inexorable
and fascist direction of eugenics and became one of the most powerful voices
against the new trend in the thirties is a happy irony." (INTRO - H ROSE AND S
ROSE - PAGE 6)
"The Nazi genocide of the Gypsies and the Jews generated such world-wide
revulsion that many felt that this of itself would terminate such evil racism.
Certainly the widespread support during the nineteen thirties for eugenics by
left and liberal intellectuals, feminists, geneticists and welfare reformers
faded in the face of the horror of the death camps. Thus to dissociate science
from racism became a crucial cultural objective at the end of the 1939-45 war."
H. ROSE PAGE 112
"The ontogeny of evolutionary psychology's ways of thinking about the living
world - its roots in sociobiology and before that eugenic and social Darwinist
thinking, discussed by Hilary Rose and Ted Benton - goes a long way towards
explaining both its current agenda and its biological misconceptions. " S. ROSE
Richard Stanford (richard.stanford@...) from UK , 31 October, 2000
Good scientific objections to EP marred by politics
I came to this book coloured by my impression that Steven Rose makes overly
simplistic objections to Dawkins-like gene-centric biology. However the
majority of arguments concentrate on the scientific failings of evolutionary
psychology (EP). The concept of the evolutionary origins of traits is beyond
doubt but EP takes a much more simplistic view that 'any' identifiable trait
can be given a 'just-so' explanation that is often clearly over-simplistic.
However the articles are also coloured by the 'Science Wars' between the
natural and social sciences and also political concerns. The political
objections are mostly unfair and involve picking on people from a different
social context in the past to smear future practitioners without addressing the
scientific arguments directly. The social science objections are generally an
internal scientific debate that is irrelevant to most. Despite a number of
straw men there are valuable objections to Pinker-like language of thought
theories and specific simplistic EP theses that stress extreme nativist ideas
which have been widely criticised (e.g. Elman et al., Rethinking Innateness).
The contributors generally accept the value of EP but criticise the current
naive practice of it (which, in some ways, reflects the glib evolutionary
arguments that can sometimes be seen in biology) even if some writers do commit
the naturalistic fallacy and conflate the scientific and political (of course
sociologists of science might say the two are inseparable but then leave
themselves open to the same objection).
a.p.jackson@... from Cambridge (UK) , 17 October, 2000
War of the Roses
Alas, Poor Darwin is a disparate collection of essays by scientists,
philosophers and social commentators all attacking the emerging field of
evolutionary psychology. It's a familiar set of complaints: evolutionary
psychology is "simplistic", "reductionist" and "adaptationist". But many of the
attacks are just political and there's a blatant attempt to smear the subject
with morally bankrupt beliefs like eugenics. So what exactly are the nasty
ideas advocated by these deluded evolutionary psychologists? Well, er......
1) The mind is what the brain does.
2) The brain is a biological organ that shows enormous adaptive complexity.
3) The only known non-miraculous mechanism that can account for the origin of
adaptive complexity is natural selection.
4) Hence, many (though certainly not all) aspects of our psychology are likely
to have been moulded at least in part by natural selection. The brain is not a
general all-purpose problem-solving device. It solves some classes of problems
brilliantly and others surprisingly badly. The evolutionary psychologists are
simply asking why? Their answer, in broad terms, is that the brain (and hence
the mind) is brimming with specifically evolved features that are adaptively
useful - or at least were in the ancestral environment in which we evolved.
Furthermore, these features are likely to be present in all neurologically
normal members of our species. They include not just things like visual
awareness and the other senses, but many other psychological attributes such as
sexual desire, the emotions, the ability to gauge the mental states of others
and perhaps even the way we think about logical problems.
5) Because different mental adaptations are specialised to solve different
types of problems, the mind is likely to be modular. In this view for example,
the capacity for language is a specifically evolved mental feature whose
adaptive complexity clearly reveals the fingerprints of natural selection. By
contrast, the idea that language just emerged as a non-selected by-product of a
general increase in brain size (Stephen Jay Gould' s "spandrel" theory), seems
utterly ridiculous and really is a "Just So Story".
I'll take Hilary and Steven Rose seriously when they provide examples of
societies with no anger or sexual jealousy; societies whose members smile when
they are disgusted; societies where young men are more sexually attracted to 90
year old women than to 20 year old women or societies where no one wants to
form friendships and alliances. Of course evolutionary psychologists accept the
importance of "learning" and "culture" to influence our minds. But "culture"
doesn't just float around us like some mysterious ectoplasm. It's the product
of interacting minds, the product of our brains. Now the adaptive complexity
and developmental plasticity of the human brain are precisely those features
that make culture possible - but these are both evolved properties that need
explaining in their own right.
Like the proverbial curate's egg, this book is good in parts, though
indigestible when taken whole. The worst essay is from the postmodernist
Charles Jencks. His contribution is little more than pretentious hot air.
Indeed, it's so daft that at first I half thought it might be an Alan
Sokal-style hoax. Can the scientists do any better? Some, like Patrick Bateson
have important and subtle things to say. Others such as Gabriel Dover are
content merely to attack straw men. But mostly the authors just ritually
condemn the usual suspects. Pinker, Dawkins, Wilson et al are WRONG, so there!
But what's the alternative? All we get is a lot of hand waving about how it's
so very, very complicated. This is not to say that individual evolutionary
psychologists have got it all right. Like any science, there is good work and
bad work. Predictably, the Roses criticise Randy Thornhill's theory about rape.
Fair enough; but there is much better than this. For example, Simon
Baron-Cohen's insightful studies on autism are first rate, and clearly
influenced by the ideas of evolutionary psychology, yet they don't get a single
mention in the whole book. Steven Rose in particular should reflect that his
own field (the biochemical basis of vertebrate memory) was initially dismissed
by many biochemists as cranky and ironically, "too reductionist". There was
good reason for this scepticism as some embarrassingly dire stuff was done in
the very early days. But that doesn't mean that the whole enterprise was
fundamentally misguided. Indeed today, with proper controls, the field is
So, the evolutionary psychologists may well be wrong about specific details and
some of their theories probably are too simplistic; but it's a start and at
least they're doing experiments. As for the claim that it is morally
pernicious, well this is just the naturalistic fallacy. But if you really do
insist on a moral message, it could be argued that evolutionary psychology
caries a cautiously positive one: that the wide cultural variations between
different peoples are more apparent than real, because fundamentally, deep,
deep down, our minds are all built to the same basic recipe.
Child-killers: is it in the genes?
By TOM MORTON
Saturday 6 May 2000
IT'S A STORY everyone knows: how Cinderella lost her mother as a little girl,
was humiliated and mistreated by her stepmother, and ultimately rescued from a
dysfunctional stepfamily by a handsome prince with an eye for a slipper.
The story dates back at least to the 16th century in European folklore, and is
thought to be much more ancient, possibly originating in the Middle East or
Asia. Many other folk tales feature a cruel step-parent: think of Hansel and
Gretel, whose stepmother bullies their father into abandoning them in the
For many contemporary social critics, the growing number of stepfamilies in
Western societies is a symptom of moral decline, the legacy of easier divorce
and loss of respect for family values. Yet stepfamilies have always been
around. The prefix "step" comes from an old English root related to
"bereavement". Before the arrival of antibiotics, anaesthetics and the rest of
the arsenal of Western medicine, it wasn't uncommon to lose a spouse early in a
marriage and then remarry. What we call blended families have been around a lot
longer than the Brady Bunch.
But a controversial new theory would have us believe that the stereotypes of
cruel or heartless step-parents that run through folklore have a biological
basis. A pair of Canadian psychologists, Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, claim
that children are up to 100 times more likely to be abused or killed by a
step-parent than by a genetic parent. The husband-and-wife professors at
McMaster University believe the heightened level of violence suffered by
stepchildren is a product of evolutionary programming.
Bruce G Charlton MD
Department of Psychology
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: 0191 222 6247
Fax: 0191 222 5622
Injustice, inequality and Evolutionary Psychology
As biological knowledge of "human nature" continues to grow, political theory
policy will increasingly need to take account of Evolutionary Psychology in
to pursue its goals. This essay stands as an example. Socio-economic
perceived to be unjust, but the reason for this is not obvious given the
stratification. It is suggested that "the injustice of inequality" has an basis
instincts that evolved to promote co-operation in small-scale, egalitarian
societies with immediate-return economies. Modern Homo sapiens has been
by natural selection to live in such societies, and has "counter-dominance"
instincts that are gratified by equal sharing of resources and an equal
resources. However, there are also phylogenetically older "dominance" social
(status-seeking, nepotism, mutual reciprocity) deriving from pre-hominid
these tend to create inequality under "modern" conditions of economic surplus.
human instincts and gratifications are intrinsically in conflict under
conditions. The radical implications of this analysis are explored. These
for a Berlin-esque view of politics as an endemic negotiation of irreducibly
a clarification of the deficiencies of right- and left-wing political theory;
and a rationale for
politics to concentrate primarily on the "micro-level" psychology of subjective
of individuals in their local context, rather than the conventional emphasis
level policies based on abstract statistical analysis of aggregated population
On October 5 I wrote:|
> ...several key human Warren
Sarle responded with the query:
> attributes that are adaptations are missing from the
> sociobiology/behavioral ecology/ev psych portfolio of behaviors,
> based on self-interest, kin altruism (Hamilton) and reciprocal
> (Trivers). These include strong reciprocity (helping and hurting
> when there is no reasonable probability of future payoffs), empathy,
> and insider/outsider behavior when the groups have low
So what do you find unpersuasive in Richard
Alexander's explanation I
recently had time to retrieve Alexander's book from the library and
reread it for the first time in several years. So here are some key
quotes and my critique of the assertions made in the quotes.
of these phenomena in _The Biology of Moral
Quote from p. 3: "ethics, morality, human conduct, and the human
psyche are to be understood only if societies are seen as collections of
individuals seeking their own self-interest..."
Critique: This is of course the model of human action in standard
economic theory, and I have spent my whole life dealing with its
inadequacies and proposing alternative models more in line with the
empirical evidence on human behavior. As I said above, Alexander's
description of human behavior ignores strong reciprocity (spontaneously
contributing to social goals and punishing shirkers and other
non-contributors when there is no reasonable probability of future
payoffs for the individual. We now have lots of behavioral evidence in
favor of the existence of strong reciprocity, as well as its ability to
foster sustainable cooperation when self-interest would lead to social
breakdown. See, for instance Herbert Gintis, "Strong Reciprocity and
Human Sociality", Journal of Theoretical Biology 206 (2000):169-179
and Ernst Fehr and Simon Gaechter, "Cooperation and
Punishment", American Economic Review 90,4 (2000). See also my web
It also believe that empathy and shame are counterexamples to Alexander.
Indeed, sociopaths who have neither empathy nor shame can be considered
as "self-interested" in Alexander's sense in that they refrain
from harming other human beings only if they calculate that the personal
costs (e.g., of being caught) exceed the benefits flowing from harming
Quote from p. 34: "That people are in general following what they
perceive to be their own interests is, I believe, the most general
principle of human behavior."
This is false for the same reason as in my critique of the previous
quote, since people who punish violators of group norms often
"perceive" their actions to be for the benefit of the group,
and understand quite well that it is not in their own self-interest.
But there are other problems with Alexander's statement. (a) If I am
addicted to smoking I might perceive that I am not acting in my own self
interest when I smoke, and do it anyway. (b) I may
"perceive" it in my own interest to help the poor, or
contribute to environmental groups, or perform other prosocial acts when
in fact it is not. If humans systematically misperceive their
self-interest, as in this case, and if the misperception is very likely
in a prosocial direction, then violations of self-interest might be
central to human social cooperation, even were Alexander's statement
correct (which it is not).
Quote from p. 77: "Moral systems are systems of indirect
This is the first statement of Chapter 2, "A Biological View of
Morality." It is not an aside, but Alexander's fundamental
explanation of moral systems. By "indirect reciprocity" he
means almost exactly what Robert Trivers calls "reciprocal
altruism," but which in fact is just enlightened long-term self
interest. It is fundamentally wrong. The evidence is that virtually all
moral systems exhort forms of altruism that do not reduce to self
interest, even in the long run, and large numbers of people subscribe to
and to some extent follow these non-self-interested principles.
I should note that even criminals and psychopaths often exhibit
non-self-interested behavior, as when, for instance, a man takes revenge
on his "enemies" and then kills himself.
Of course, a lot of human behavior is self-interested, and some
non-self-interested behavior is just random noise in the behavioral
system. But the types of systematic prosocial behavior promoted by strong
reciprocity, shame, empathy, and identification with "insiders"
is, unless I am mistaken, the key to the particular strength of human
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My new book Game Theory Evolving (Princeton, 2000) from
The issue you identify is perhaps worth ranting about. But it is certainly worth
thinking about. May I suggest the following possible approach?
The key question (in my suggested approach) is: What attributes enhance the
survival and reproduction of memes? I'm sure there are many. But at least one, I
suggest, is relevant here: A meme is more
likely to reproduce if it is simple. When a simple meme has strong predictive
and explanatory value, we call it "elegant." Physics is largely composed of
elegant memes. When a simple meme has little
predictive or explanatory value but spreads like wildfire nevertheless, we call
it "simpleminded" and worry about the average IQ of the electorate. Simple
memes, no matter how seemingly brainless,
spread faster than complex memes. As Exhibit A in support of this hypothesis, I
cite political television advertisements in the current U.S. election cycle. As
Exhibit B, I note that psychology and
environmental biology, both of which inherently require complex memes, have yet
to attain a level of respect comparable to that of physics. As Exhibit C, I note
that legal writing instructors, in
teaching law students how to write arguments that will persuade judges,
typically urge that students use language at a ninth grade level or lower. (On
this scale, George W. Bush's arguments in the
first Presidential debate averaged a 6.2 grade level; Al Gore's a 7.4 grade
level. Even at 7.4, Gore was perceived by some to be "talking down" to the
electorate.) [The numbers are from memory; I
don't have the reference in front of me.]
Viewed from this perspective, the "media problem" is not one of fault. Even if
one newspaper writes a detailed policy analysis, that meme is less likely to
spread to its readers or to other media
outlets. There is no evidence whatever that punishing the press (through
ridicule, ranting, or otherwise) will change this fact. Unfortunately, it is
likely that most important political, social, or
economic issues require complex memes for optimal resolution. The real question
is: How can we foster the survival and reproduction of complex memes in a
society in which Joe Sixpack is the primary
decisionmaker? To answer this question, we need further study of the ecology of
memes. If we cannot find an answer, there is yet a further question: Are
democracies for this reason inherently
Paul Gross wrote:
> Several correspondents have asked off-list what was meant by my comment
> (snarl) re: "the media" and presidential politics, embedded as it was in a
> comment on The New Yorker editors' answer to Slate. I paste here, in case any
> others were puzzled, this response to one of them.
> > I guess it's an off-list topic, but I'm curious how you think the media
> > gone astray on the issues of the campaign.
> They've not "gone astray" on the issues; rather, they've made "the issues" a
> single issue: what the voters do, or might, think, and how, or why, various
> tricks of personality, preparation, style, etc., influence what the voters
> think. The fraction of all media time spent on actual, analytical discussion
> of issues is trivial. The issues of schooling, for example, have nothing to
> do with how the voters will respond to 100,000 more teachers in America's
> classrooms, or to new buidings, or the like, and nothing to do with whether
> or not the in-state improvements of math scores by Texas minority kids are
> real, nothing to do with "accountability" as either of the candidates defines
> that. The issues have to do with how well or badly our kids do at learning
> what they need to know (dreadfully!) and why; with incompetent teachers
> (everybody knows that!); with critical cultural factors that affect what kids
> do at home, and so on. The media discuss NOTHING of those matters and do not
> ask the candidates the obvious questions. As to foreign policy, social
> security, and -- especially -- "the environment," the situation is even worse.
> That's the basis of my derogation of our information-age media and their role
> in the politics of democracy.
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