Ten politically incorrect truths?

by on July 6, 2007 at 1:15 pm in Science | Permalink

I’m not sure they are all true, or for that matter politically incorrect, but here is the list.

Thanks to a loyal reader for the pointer.

Jack July 6, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Handwaving, handwaving, handwaving. Anyway, Kanazawa has a poor grasp of statistics (cf. Gelman’s Comment in J Theor. Biology).

adrian July 6, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Re Muslims and women:

Polygamy is not widespread in the Muslim world, I think the stats for Egypt were like 1% of marriages or something. And most Muslim terrorists are educated and live in the west, and probably wouldn’t have trouble finding a girl if they really wanted to. Anecdotally brown males are in more demand from white girls than, for example, east asian males. Yet east asian males don’t do much terrorism (Cho excepted). No guys, the problem is not Islam’s legalization of polygamy – the problem is Islam.

Re men liking blondes:

Not among all races, I believe darkish Italian/Greek/Persian beauty would predominate if there was a world survey.

jason voorhees July 6, 2007 at 1:52 pm

The polygamy angle is consistent with the Hudson and Den Beer’s hypothesis from their book Bare Branches – that imbalanced “effective” sex ratios can encourage violence in young men.

pawnking July 6, 2007 at 2:18 pm

After reading this, I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote: ‘Interesting, if true. And interesting, anyway.”

v July 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

“Seems like you can find an “evolutionary” explanation for anything.”

Isn’t the point of a theory to use it to try to explain phenomena and then to predict results? This claim that evolutionary theory is so capable of universal application thus it is incorrect seems nonsensical. Gould’s point with his Just So stories (where I assume this argument is coming from) also had this flaw in that he didn’t seem to grasp wide application is good or that it is a necessary preliminary to the next step (ie. specific predictions)…This article seems to do a good job in showing how controversial predictions such as those made by Trivers-Willard hold up when empirical records are examined…

Jacob Christensen July 6, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Regarding the blondes: Young Scandinavian women often dye their hair black. Go figure.

Cyrus July 6, 2007 at 3:11 pm

#3 (women benefit from polygyny) is only true if you hold the woman’s control over household resources a constant. However, polygyny tends to flourish most in strongly patriarchal cultures. This makes sense: in the limit where the man has arbitrary authority over the household resources, acquiring additional wives does not dilute this authority.

However, where household resources are shared, the potential cost of acquiring an additional wife is much greater. Each additional spouse is another person who must be trusted not to squander or otherwise dissipate the household resources. Marriages of equals are hard enough when two people are involved.

tom s. July 6, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I pay no attention to any writer who lists “PhD” in their byline. Both of those authors do, and the effect is additive.

- Tom Slee, Ph.D.

Alex J July 6, 2007 at 4:50 pm

#7 (What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals) is indicative of the whole problem with these “truths”. Pick a couple of data points. Create a simplistic model. Tout the answer as fact. Art is filled with examples where someone’s work gets better as they get older. Beethoven’s late music far surpass his earlier works. Mozart’s fame rests on his last few symphonies, piano concerti and the Da Ponte operas. Among first rate classical composers, Stravinsky is the only example I can think of off the top of my head who peaked early on. It holds true for great literature too. The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s greatest novel. The writing of Dickens never dropped off. etc.

The problem with their reasoning is that they only look at the 20th century (and even then only looked at a limited number of fields.) The reason rock musicians peak early has more to do with the cultural and stylistic characteristics of rock. A 50 year old Peter Townsend smashing a guitar and talking about how he wants to die before he ‘gets old’ is a silly image to think about. Out of the biggest names in jazz, many(Coltrane, Monk, Mingus) died early (which I suppose proves that they do their best work at a young age >_>). But even then their work often was improving until they died. A Love Supreme is a better album than Giant Steps.

jb July 6, 2007 at 5:28 pm

The Muslim one would make more sense if polygyny was at all prevalent anymore. Maybe it is in Afghanistan or Sudan, or for wealthy Saudis, but in the urbanized states–Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, etc–polygyny is very rare. That’s because people are poor and wives are expensive.

TO July 6, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Alex–didn’t you just do what you accused them of doing relative to the age-productivity curve? That is, pick a few anecdotes and generalize the hell out them?

Michael B Sullivan July 6, 2007 at 6:03 pm

What’s the evo-psych explanation for why I want to punch evolutionary psychologists? Maybe on the veldt, smug idiots drew tigers to the tribe or something.

David July 6, 2007 at 6:11 pm

This thread is so timely. I was just wrapping up my treatise on the evolutionary reasons women talk more than men…

David July 6, 2007 at 6:26 pm

Couldn’t the hormones that “indicate fecundity” also cause the development of large breasts?

David July 6, 2007 at 7:04 pm

Also, can’t Paul McCartney’s drop in productivity be better explained by the breakup of the Beatles?

samson July 6, 2007 at 8:08 pm

Ponder the following “politically incorrect truth” (see bullet #4 in the article linked):

[...] Islam [...]tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. [...]

So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. [...]


The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.

It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings.

Perhaps efforts should be made to convince a mufti to issue a fatwa that the Qur’an does not contain any promise of “72 virgins”.

PS: This explanation of suicide bombing is weak; LTTE suicide bombers (Tamil secessionists fighting in Sri Lanka) are neither Muslim, nor dreaming of virgins in paradise. In fact, these suicide bombers are frequently women.

Addendum: A quick Google search turned up this Boston Globe article on hypotheses of the motivation and rationale of suicide bombers. Alarmingly, the Psychology Today article to which I linked above implicitly attributes the evolutionary explanation for predominantly Muslim suicide bombers to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, an explanation markedly different from the one the Boston Globe article purports Gambetta posits. Furthermore, the Boston Globe article highlights data on suicide bombers used by a University of Chicago Political Science professor Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win, data that apparently contradicts the evolutionary explanation of predominantly Muslim suicide bombers (the data reveals that not even a majority of all suicide bombings are carried out by Muslims).

JCM July 6, 2007 at 8:58 pm

Desmond Morris said the same in ” the Naked Ape” and nobody made a scandal

iam July 6, 2007 at 10:41 pm

All this does for me is reinforce the brilliance of the line: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must necessarily be in need of a wife.

The world is at least as full of pompous asses now as it has ever been. And so it shall ever be.

Kieran July 6, 2007 at 11:51 pm

With posts like these Tyler’s in danger of turning into Glenn Reynolds for economists with a sweet tooth for bad EP.

David Lundquist July 7, 2007 at 7:59 am

If blond hair evolved here in scandinavia due to the fact that the women here had to use more clothes to keep warm, one would also wonder why there arent loads of blonds in say siberia. Interesting article, but I highly doubt the validity of some of it’s claims, should be a fund conversation starter though :)

fustercluck July 7, 2007 at 2:14 pm

Just to reiterate, the claim isn’t regarding terrorism in general, nor does it use the word “all.” Yes, there is extreme and grisly violence in northern Africa and yes, the Tamil Tigers might also use suicide bombers to push its agenda. I still contend that the majority of suicide bombers are students of an intentionally warped form of Islam that drives groups like al-Aqsa, Hamas, Hizbollah, al-Qaeda, etc to do what they do, a lot of it driven by example from the Palestinian intifadas.

Robert July 7, 2007 at 3:49 pm

The key about suicide bombing: “where religion is a factor”

A better analysis of suicide bombing could probably be found in “Dying to Win” by Robert Pape

Other than that particular point and the point about mid-life crisis (which I consider to be a bunch of hogwash), I rather liked the article, though I would say “old news” to a couple of the points. I suppose it isn’t old news to everyone, though.

John Quiggin July 8, 2007 at 5:40 am

The article does a pretty good job of confirming the thesis that the more “politically incorrect” a hypothesis, the more incorrect it is in the usual sense of the term.

Slocum July 8, 2007 at 10:05 am

This article seems to do a good job in showing how controversial predictions such as those made by Trivers-Willard hold up when empirical records are examined…

Yes, but. The effects are statistically significant but otherwise rather small. So highly attractive people are just a little more likely to have a girl as a first child (not enough to notice the trend unless you actually gather the stats). And why just the first child (I assume the effect must be smaller or disappear entirely for subsequent children or the reported statistic wouldn’t have been just for the 1st).

The problem with all of these ‘truths’ is not that there is nothing to them, but that they account for a much, much smaller percentage of ‘human variance’ than people like Miller and Kanazawa seem to imagine. Equating female attractiveness with youth and beauty only is ridiculous. Do they really imagine that an attractive, smart, wealthy woman has no higher marriage value than an equally attractive, dumb, poor woman? Or that kindness, humor and mental stability in no way factor into men’s mating choices? Likewise do they really believe that male attractiveness lies only in status and power? If so, how do they explain, say, teenage girls filling their rooms with posters of Johnny Depp rather than Bill Gates?

Yes, youth and beauty matter more in women than men and wealth and status matter more in men than women. But female status and male youth and beauty are not even close to irrelevant. And there are many other factors that matter a great deal in mate selection (intelligence, humor, kindness).

And, BTW, Paul McCartney has been writing new songs and releasing albums all along. In the past three years, he’s released two pop/rock studio albums with new songs and a well received classical work:


How is it they can’t even get simple things like that right?

David July 8, 2007 at 2:45 pm

Becuase it wouldn’t fit the conclusions of the article, that’s why.

Nathan Zook July 9, 2007 at 1:12 pm

There have always been suicide missions during war, and their history is quite honorable. Yes, we have made use of them during our wars. What is different with the current (and I do mean current) spate of Islam-inspired barabarism is that it is directed at civilians. Adding it to the article is a transparent and desparate attempt to make their work appear more relevant, that is, to raise their status and hope of attracting mates.

What I love is their set of assertions:
1) Men are substatially bigger than women
2) Polygamy is good for women
3) Polygamous societies are more violent, including rape.

OOhhh. Too bad. Violent societies are always bad for women. Thank-you for playing.

Tyler July 9, 2007 at 5:14 pm

Do middle aged men buy shinny red convertibles to attract a younger mate or is it that their children are at the age they are leaving the house and the man/family is finally to a point in life where he is financially secure enough to buy the sports car he wanted since he was sixteen?

JSK July 11, 2007 at 8:26 am

“What is different with the current (and I do mean current) spate of Islam-inspired barabarism is that it is directed at civilians. ”

You mean like U.S. carpet bombing? Or is that ‘honorable’ christian-inspired barbarism?

Nathan Zook July 12, 2007 at 2:07 pm

JSK: I did not know that Kissinger was Christian.

More to the point, it was the VC that violated the Geneva conventions, our pursuit of their military operations was permitted by the conventions and required operationally. That the US has always hesitated and avoided military targets positioned amoung the civilian populace is to our credit. That we have sometimes been compelled to pursue these targets is saddening but necessary. While I do not doubt that Christian values have affected these descisions, they have acted uniformly to delay, rather than advance the action.

about dimorphism April 21, 2008 at 8:55 pm

For most countries, height dimorfism is not 10 % but around 7 % (generally between 6 and 9 %). Mass difference of 20 % is more accurate. There are other incorrect ‘facts’ as well but don’t bother to mention them now.

A comparison between species would be good to compare dimorphism (is 20 % much or little)…

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