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This is why evolutionary psychology makes me want to scratch my eyes out. For a discipline with "evolution" in the name, it shows a frightful lack of understanding of how evolution works.
Hannah Grimm's profile photoVíktor Bautista i Roca's profile photoDennis McCunney's profile photoTimothy Matias's profile photo
I think I know how you feel. I realize that was satirical, but it was almost painful to read. Insert screen cap of Morbo from Futurama here: "SCIENCE AND EVOLUTION DO NOT WORK THAT WAY."
+Jarrod Antinoro The frustrating thing is that evolutionary psychologists aren't being ironic when they say things like that! Natural selection relies on three factors: 1)natural variation, 2)differential success as a result of that natural variation, and 3)that that variation be heritable. I find it incredibly frustrating that conclusions are drawn without any heed being paid to whether or not conditions 2 and 3 are met.
I know it's satirical, but that conversation would be closer to reality if instead that an evolutionary psychologist it was a journalist. What the study did was finding correlation between cues indicative of sexual exploitability and those indicative of sexual attractiveness.

On the other hand, usually, almost always, that I've read any divulgative text about evolutionary psychology it was just crap.

Edit: The worst ones are the articles written not even by psychologists, but by economists.
+Víktor Bautista i Roca I don't think I know any evolutionary psychologists personally, so I can't speak as to how badly their work is interpreted by the press. I do feel like a lot of the claims they make appear in their conclusions though, and not just in the newspaper. It can be very frustrating trying to verify this stuff though. For example, someone in my G+ stream shared an article about the evolution of monogamy[1] but the newspaper story didn't link to the original paper, or even give the name of the researchers, making it difficult for me to go through and check the methodology.

+Hannah Grimm The article you link is great. From some mathematicians developing a theoretical model to "Why women prefer weaker men [...] a study has found."
And the author is supposed to be a "Science Correspondent"!!!
+Víktor Bautista i Roca Augh! I know, it drives me nuts. I would love to read the actual study: mathematical models have their own problems in that they're only as good as the assumptions that underlie them, but it's a decent hypothesis at the very least. Unfortunately, all I have to go on is that the authors are from the University of Tennessee and that it was published in PNAS.

Of course, if you're making a model like that you could probably make it say anything depending on what you set the reproductive outputs of your sons to--though there might be an ESS in the idea that the value of a strong son decreases the more women are following the same strategy. That would suggest that you'd end up with a mixed population, with monogamous males increasing in success whenever the population has too many polygamous males, and vice versa.
+Hannah Grimm I spent a little time poking around on the PNAS site. The only thing I've found thus far that might be the article in question was this: "Natural and sexual selection in a monogamous historical human population" (Full text appears to require a PNAS Journal subscription.)

The point of the article does not seem the be the one the Telegraph highlighted. (It's far enough off, in fact, that I'm wondering if I missed the correct article.)

Supporting documents including methodology are here:

Source data appears to be extensive records kept by the Lutheran Church, with conclusions resulting from statistical analysis of the data using the R statistics package.

I did raise my eyebrows at the website article footer "In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, mathematicians from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville developed a model to explain why humans first began living in monogamous pairs. " (emphasis mine above)

I'm sure the statistics are valid, but whether the conclusions derived from them are is another matter.
+Dennis McCunney Hrm. That doesn't look like the right study to me, unless science journalism is far, far worse than I thought. My guess is that the study the Telegraph is writing about involved mathemeticians assigning hypothetical fitness rates to males of various types and calculating whether the fitness of a woman as measured by the number of grandkids she ended up with was better if she ended up with a male that could give her strong sons likely to hold a harem or with a male who would provide care for her child and ensure its success. Or at least, that's what I would guess.
It doesn't look like the right study to me, either, but thus far I haven't seen anything else on the PNAS site that looks like it is the right study. I'll keep poking around.

Your supposition as to the original article is a good possibility, but they'd still need underlying data for the model, and I'd like to know what it was.
+Dennis McCunney It could be a purely theoretical model, merely showing the mathematical possibility of such a trait spreading in a population. Of course, if it's purely theoretical, then drawing any conclusions from it aside from the idea that this is possible would be a grave mistake. That's the problem with the Telegraph's article--this could either be a purely intellectual exercise, or it could be rooted in actual data.
+Dennis McCunney I don't think this is the paper, unless there's a Tennessee in Finland :-)

I guess this one is the source for the divulgative articles that last weeks have talked about "evolution still working in humans".
+Víktor Bautista i Roca Yes, that's another problem. None of the authors of the paper were UT affiliates. I just haven't found anything else on the PNAS site even close.
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