Treating evolutionary psychology as a sledgehammer

Via Lindsay Beyerstein, Chris at Mixing Memory has a piece responding to another by Will Wilkinson.  Wilkinson’s piece for Cato tries to examine what evolutionary psychology tells us about politics and economics. 

As one who is tired of the endless stream of just-so evolutionary psychology stories that pop up in popular discussions, I was pleased by Chris’ rejoinder.  But judge for your self.

“There is something about evolutionary psychology (EP) that makes it very attractive to non-psychologists (and to undergraduate psych majors — you should see them rushing to register for EP courses). I’ve never been entirely sure what it is about EP that makes non-experts find it so fascinating, and more often than not, swallow it’s claims without hesitation. Perhaps it’s the simplicity and intuitiveness of many of the explanations. Cheating is bad, and harmful, therefore it is adaptive for us to have evolved a mechanism for detecting it. That’s pretty simple and intuitive, right? Of course, this is one of the many reasons that most psychologists don’t seem to find EP very attractive. The explanations generally rely on little more than intuition bolstered by sketchy, usually non-experimentally derived data. A careful review of the EP literature would give a scientist little confidence in its claims. However, there are plenty of non-psychologists who are happy to read some trade books on EP, and treat it as gospel. Doing so leads them to come up with all sorts of nonsensical arguments about human behavior.”