Why Sexual Selection Matters and Why Cordelia Fine is Wrong

Yeyo's Corner

Last week The Royal Society awarded the polemic writer Cordelia Fine with their Science Book of the Year award for “Testosterone Rex”. The central thesis in the book is that the behavioral differences between men and women are better explained by culture than by testosterone and that the theoretical framework that evolutionary scientists regard as the root cause of several of the robust cross-cultural sex differences we see, namely Bateman’s principle and sexual selection, have been largely debunked, at least when it comes to humans. Since this runs pretty much contrary to the broadly held consensus in evolutionary biology the choice has naturally elicited criticism from both biologists and evolutionary psychologists.

Ad Hoc Hypotheses and Occam’s Razor

In her quest to deny that biology is responsible for sex differences in behavior Cordelia Fine has a huge advantage, she benefits from that fact (which the award has made clear) that…

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All Immigrants, or Only Some?

The NYT has an op-ed today about DACA and immigration more generally. The argument is that pointing to the economic benefits that immigrant communities provide to America distracts from the more important issue in the immigration debate: kicking or keeping people out is inhumane. It’s not enough to oppose the rescission of DACA because it’s bad policy. You have to oppose it because it’s immoral. Masha Gessen writes:

But what’s wrong with the decision to discontinue DACA is that people — not workers — will be deported. Lives — not careers — will be shattered. The problem is that it’s inhumane. As long as politicians consider it necessary to qualify the victims as ‘hardworking’ or ‘talented,’ they fail to stand up to the administration’s fundamentally hateful immigration agenda.

To a degree, I agree with Gessen’s point, especially as applied to immigrants fleeing terrible conditions at home (such as refugees). At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s necessarily inhumane for us to be selective as to whom we allow to enter the country. People who want to come here have to earn a place here by making a positive contribution to our society. Some people cannot do that. It’s reasonable to say that we don’t want those people here. Indeed, I think most people on both sides of the political spectrum would agree with me that we should prefer immigrants who have something of value to offer to us to those who don’t.

Here’s a way of thinking about this: Suppose you operate a business and you’re looking to hire some employees. You would obviously prefer to hire people who are qualified and skillful over people who wouldn’t be able to do the job you need done. And if you happened to hire someone incompetent, you would probably want to fire them. Is it immoral to ignore the adverse effects that firing or refusing to hire an incompetent person will have on his livelihood? Perhaps that person has a family to support. What about his children? Are you a monster for putting those concerns aside and doing what’s in your economic interest?

If Gessen is right, then you are. It is unacceptable for you to view your employees and potential employees merely as workers. You need to consider their personal life and the circumstances they face. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot choose to hire only competent people, nor can you fire incompetent people, and you will likely go out of business.

Gessen says that we have adopted a reductive and harmful way of viewing people: “When we agree to talk about people as cogs, we lose our humanity.” I agree that it’s reductive to focus exclusively on economics when discussing immigration, but every way of discussing people is reductive, because people are too complex for us to comprehend. Moreover, I take issue with her assertion that discussing certain groups of people in economic terms causes us to lose our humanity. People have an economic aspect. Acknowledging that does not negate all the other facets of their humanity.

For Gessen, economics shouldn’t even be a part of the equation. The way she discusses it, her opponents believe it should be the only part of the equation. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between these two extremes. We can consider the whole person when deciding who to let into our borders, including but not limited to their potential economic contributions. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is what most of us want: holism. This way, we can look after our own interests while also helping those who most need it.

“Only 2-10% of Reported Rapes are False”

I’m not going to explain why the statistic in the title is wrong. This blog post does a much better job than I possibly could at that. Instead, I’m going to explain why the false-rape statistic, regardless of its veracity, is utterly irrelevant to the way we handle sexual assault accusations.

I see people tout this statistic in response to the (true) claim that the Obama Dept. of Education’s Title IX guidance denied due process rights to those accused of sexual assault. Supposedly the low false-reporting rate means that due process protections are less necessary. This is nonsense.

Even if it is true (and it’s almost certainly not) that only 2-10% of rape accusations are false, those accused should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. For all we know, they could be part of that 2-10%. The only way to find out for sure is to thoroughly investigate the claim.

Here’s a way to think about the problems with the argument. You can rephrase the false-reporting statistic roughly as such: “90-98% of accused rapists are actual rapists.” Does it follow from this that we should treat 100% of people accused of rape as if they are actual rapists, even in the absence of proof? Surely not! Rape claims should obviously be taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean we should do away with the presumption of innocence.

Remember that to presume that a rape claim is true in the absence of evidence is to presume that somebody is a rapist in the absence of evidence. Such a presumption is unjust, because not all people accused of doing terrible things actually did terrible things.

Opposing DACA: More than Just Prejudice?

Everyone is buzzing about Trump’s decision to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The policy was put into place by Barack Obama, shielding undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children from deportation, if they meet certain conditions. Congress had repeatedly failed to enact legislation (the DREAM Act) that would accomplish basically the same thing, so Obama took matters into his own hands.

I think DACA’s policy goals are good. But I’m skeptical of its constitutionality. Because of that, I don’t necessarily disagree with Trump’s decision to end it, but I do think that it is necessary for Congress to step in and pass the DREAM Act like they should have long ago.

Of course, there will always be those who oppose anything resembling amnesty, preferring to deport thousands of people who have spent most of their lives in the United States to countries they don’t even remember. For some people, getting rid of illegal aliens is an end in itself, worth doing regardless of the costs, both human and monetary.

I think these people are either dreadfully misinformed or blinded by prejudice. Their desire to get rid of illegal aliens prevents them from asking the following important question: Is it really in our interest to get rid of all the DREAMers? Given that the policy requires that applicants be of “good moral character,” it’s not like they are running around committing crimes. If they did so, they would lose their protected status. Most of them are educated and employed, making a significant contribution to the economy. Moreover, many of them have been here so long that they’re basically American in every way except in the eyes of the law.

I have yet to see a good nonlegal argument against DACA. Generally, such arguments seem to depend on outright lies regarding the beneficiaries of DACA. References to crime and refusal to adopt our values just don’t make sense when discussing this particular policy, because the policy itself places requirements on those it shields from deportation. It’s not a blanket amnesty. It’s conditional forbearance.

Which is why it’s hard not to think that certain of DACA’s opponents are motivated more by prejudice than by anything else. For example, Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (yes, you read that right) released a letter explaining why they are in favor of rescinding DACA.

It is easier to speak publically of mercy, as we, and many, do. And, while loving mercy, who will also stand for justice to those citizens who cannot find a job due to cheaper foreign labor? Who will speak of the real cost of illegal immigration to our states? And while many non-citizens are good neighbors, who will stand for justice for Americans victimized by people here illegally who do not uphold our values and laws? And who will prevent more needless crime and death?

This is basically saying, “We should get rid of DACA because the DREAMers are stealing our jobs, committing crimes, and burdening our government.” But there is no reason to think that any of this is true. Indeed, the data suggest that deporting DREAMers would seriously hurt the economy, and that they have a low crime rate.

So what’s really going on here? Are the signatories to the EBI letter just ignorant, or is there something more sinister beneath the surface? I don’t like attributing unsavory motives to anyone without good reason. But I just can’t see any compelling reason to adopt the position that EBI has adopted. It’s one thing to oppose the abuse of executive power. But opposing reasonable protections for people who themselves have done nothing wrong is something else entirely.