David Sloan Wilson: Evolutionary Psychology in the Media

David Sloan Wilson

What follows are the first few paragraphs of a fabulous Huffington Post blog post by David Sloan Wilson (pictured left), perhaps the leading evolutionary theorist alive today, on the subject of evolutionary psychology in the media...

Evolutionary psychology, once the darling of the public media, has been dumped in a recent Newsweek article by journalist Sharon Begley. Return accusations are beginning to fly from evolutionary psychologists, who accuse Begley of willful distortions and scientific incompetence (e.g., 1, 2).

As usual for romantic quarrels, there are legitimate grievances on both sides that get lost in a hail of recriminations. I have always had a love-hate relationship with the school of thought that most people associate with the term "evolutionary psychology." When it appeared in the late 1980's, it made some great points but also got other things profoundly wrong. Begley's article made some cheap shots but it also made some fair shots about evolutionary psychology that need to be acknowledged.

As for the public media, covering science must be one of the toughest journalistic assignments. First, one must understand the nature of the scientific process in general terms. Then, one must master the specific topic that is being reported. Finally, one must convey what is genuinely newsworthy to a general audience--the fair shots--while avoiding the cheap shots that get people's attention but become part of the problem in the long run. Judged by these standards, the Newsweek article scores rather low.

Here are some issues that need to be resolved to get the romance between evolutionary psychology and the public media back on the right track.

Click HERE to read the rest of this post (a good quick overview of the current state of the discipline).

ALSO SEE: David Sloan Wilson's other Huffington Post contributions, especially his 6-part "Atheism as a Stealth Religion" series and his 13-part "Truth and Reconcilation for Group Selection" series.  Both are excellent!