I was not kind in my assessment of Jesse Bering’s story about the evolutionary psychology of homophobia. He was quite irate with me and several other people who pointed out the tattered fabric of his evidence. Now he has gone scurrying back to the author of the study he described, Gordon Gallup, and gotten his take in a rather tendentious interview. Between the two of them, unfortunately, they still can’t manage to address anyou of our criticisms. It’s a very weird conversation: here’s how he handles me.
One common complaint lodged against evolutionary psychology is that its methods, which typically do not track the claimed fitness benefit, are inadequate for testing its hypotheses. PZ Myers, in surveying your homophobia studies, writes:
They know nothing about heritability, they’ve shown nothing about differential survival or fecundity … Is this to be the fate of evolutionary psychology, that it shrivels away into irrelevancy as its proponents overhype (sic) feeble, pathetic data sets?
Myers is, of course, notorious for such over-the-top statements—like the Jim Bakker of New Atheists, a caricature of sweat, histrionics and stage glitter, he sees religious conspiracies as often as evangelicals see the Devil.
Oh, man, glitter! I just knew I’d been forgetting something for my stage show.
Despite that useful bit of information, however, it’s dodging the issue with irrelevancies. I did not accuse Gallup or Bering of committing some religious conspiracy, nor did I even mention religion in my complaint. I said there was no evidence to back up their claims that homophobia conferred a fitness benefit, or even that it was a heritable trait. I know, expecting evidence of an evolutionary psychologist may be a sign of hysteria, and certainly is over-the-top, but I would expect that a reply to shoot me down would be the presentation of evidence to show I was wrong.
They don’t do that.
Instead, Gallup mentions a series of papers he’s published that have nothing to do with homophobia. For instance, he claims that they’ve “shown that a person’s voice is also related to fitness.” But they haven’t! I looked at the paper: it’s another self-reporting exercise in which they determined that people perceive women’s voices as more or less attractive in different stages of their menstrual cycle. Again, there is no attempt to examine inheritance, or whether this perception actually affects survival or fecundity…so we’re right back at my original complaint.
I’m not even going to touch Bering’s unwarranted moral indignation at the idea that Gallup might be a homophobe, which is not only irrelevant but wasn’t even suggested by any of his critics, or his silly conclusion that he’ll do anything to understand why gay men and women are bullied and murdered around the world…as if all of his critics are somehow just fine with the oppression of homosexuals.