The problems with @RealPeerReview – Andy Murray

Below I have translated a review by Irene Barbiera of Priscille Touraille’s book, Hommes grands, femmes petites. I apologise for not having the permission to have done this, but I felt that it was in the public interest to do so given the current online ridicule Dr. Touraille’s work is receiving on Twitter by an Anglophone audience on @RealPeerReview. Dr. Touraille’s detractors base their judgement on an abstract of one of her papers of which they have not read. They also often seem to misinterpret the abstract itself, reading it as proposing an argument for sexual bimorphism in humans based upon contemporary differentiations in food distribution. Rather than access and translate that article, for which I have neither the money nor time, I think this translation of a review of a monograph by Dr. Touraille sufficiently demonstrates that the arguments she makes are much more rigorous that the Twitter page @RealPeerReview would have you believe. To @RealPeerReview: if you agree, then considering you have publicly encouraged your +13K followers to mock Dr. Touraille’s work, I think it is reasonable to ask you to make a public apology.

I made this translation to make another point. I have had an online conversation with @okayultra, one of the moderators of @RealPeerReview. We agreed on many points: that shoddy research practices happen in social science departments (even if we cannot assess its prevalence); that public transparency would help to eliminate such practices; and that engaging the public with such assessments can have a social benefit in that it can teach people to assess arguments on their merits, and not on the basis of authority. But as much as I agree with these aims, I do not agree with the means @RealPeerReview uses to achieve them. Posting an abstract on Twitter and encouraging uses to throw tomatoes at it does not constitute constructive debate, no matter how ridiculous the abstract may seem. It does not provide a fair hearing to the researchers pilloried in this way, nor does it create public engagement with academia: it only produces public mistrust.

There is undoubtedly bad research out there, research that indeed deserves derision. Two books that, I think, constructively ridicule bad science include Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, and Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures (the latter text takes aim at the same kind of trendy theory @RealPeerReview believes itself to be exposing). But such texts are able to lay out clearly the arguments they will be attacking, thus making the target of their humour particular instances of poor argumentation, rather than an entire academic field. Such books strengthen one’s faith in academic practices to overcome bullshit and obscurantism, rather than encourage one to dismiss academia as such types of bad practice. In contrast, @RealPeerReview provides an environment where thousands of Twitter users are baited into ridiculing academic work they haven’t read. It is an ugly spectacle.

Such an environment is not solely produced by @RealPeerReview. One of the many scandals of academic publishing is its inaccessibility: it can cost >£20 to access one article. This is crippling for independent scholars (as I know!) and for fostering public engagement. When I defended an article posted on @RealPeerReview as potentially having some merit, I was informed by @okayultra that she had read it and judged it as worthless. Maybe I would have come to the same conclusion if I had read it. But that is the point, I had not and I could not read it (unless I paid the publisher for the privilege). @RealPeerReview’s followers are therefore ultimately left to @RealPeerReview’s judgement on which articles do and do not deserve public mockery. But, I ask, what authority do they have to claim such a position? As the case of Priscille Touraille’s research demonstrates, they have none.

Maybe I am too sensitive about this whole thing. But I do care about public engagement with academic research. I care a lot. If you were also shocked by how academic advice was summarily dismissed during the Brexit debates (Michael Gove claimed live on television: “The public have had enough of experts”), then you also would be concerned. I fear that @RealPeerReview may be the only contact some people have with academic research. I also fear that the site can be used to reinforce anti-intellectual prejudices. Such prejudices have real and negative social consequences, as Brexit, in my view, demonstrates.

So, @RealPeerReview, I applaud you in your aims to create greater public engagement with academics and to discourage poor research practices. I just ask you to find other means to do it.

Andy Murray, 23/10/2016

 

Updates: 28/10/2016

the original Twitter conversation is here: https://twitter.com/RealPeerReview/status/789798462762070016

@RealPeerReview’s response to my criticisms are here: https://twitter.com/RealPeerReview/status/789798462762070016

As of the 28th of October, this page has had over 1000 hits. I expected it would be around 10. Thank you to those who have been retweeting this discussion, particularly @RealPeerReview. AM

 

Translation of: Irene Barbiera, « Priscille Touraille, Hommes grands, femmes petites : une évolution coûteuse. Les régimes de genre comme force sélective de l’évolution biologique », Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire [En ligne], 37 | 2013, mis en ligne le 02 septembre 2013, consulté le 22 octobre 2016. URL : http://clio.revues.org/11364

(I apologise for any mistranslations AM).

One does not need to have exceptional perspicacity to observe de visu that women are generally smaller than men. But why? How do natural selection and biological factors operate to produce such dimorphism? What is the role of culture and notably of eating habits in the formation of the differences in height between men and women? And, more generally, how does culture influence the biological processes? The vast and fascinating inquiry conducted by Priscille Touraille considers the range of theories produced by researchers who attempt to explain the dimorphism observed in certain species of animal and in humans. Against the common idea, and defended by numerous scientists, that the difference in height is a purely natural phenomenon, the author demonstrates that there is often conflicts in the data with regards to sexual dimorphism, between the biological success that selects tall women and cultural practices that lead them to being small.

In her introduction, Priscille Touraille examines the genetic aspects of growth. Researchers accord to genetic transmission considerable importance, but also to the conditioning of this by environmental factors and by nutrition especially. Failing to identify a gene for growth that is linked to sex, they have restricted themselves to environmental conditions: the proteins and especially the animal proteins being largely responsible for the growth amongst humans. But they have faced the fact that the range of sexual dimorphism in different species often results in females larger than males, showing that there does not exist in nature a unique mechanism that regulates the differences in height between the two sexes.

The first part of the book examines successively three types of theory. First, those founded upon the selection of the males, i.e., that the larger win in sexual competition as much as in animals as in humans. Chief amongst these theories is Darwinism, for which the large males will receive a greater success in the process of reproduction, even if smaller individuals will have a better chance of survival during food-shortages. From the 20th century, Richard Alexander has applied to humans this Darwinian “law of combat”. In this hypothesis, the males will be larger than the females in polygamous societies where the competition for females is more stark– theories taken apart by the empirical data collected by Phyllis Evelth who, in 1975, had demonstrated exactly the contrary: sexual dimorphism is stronger in Europe and Asia where monogamy dominates and weaker in Africa and New Guinea where polygamy is more widespread.

Next, the theory of David W. Frayer who, in the 1980s, invoked the differentiation in tasks to explain sexual dimorphism. The hypothesis is not confirmed by the data on contemporary populations. That said, if the difference in height is not directly tied to the division of labour, the latter is at the root of gender differentiation within societies, which produces the domination of males over females and their control of the resources, aspects of which the author returns to in the last part of the book.

Finally, the author reviews the theories that emphasize the female preference for large males that protect them and their offspring from predators, or who are able to cover greater distances in search of food (Owen Lovejoy). This theory, however, is contradictory, since the departed males deprive females and their young from protection.

The second part of the book analyses the most recent theories according to which selective pressure acts not only upon males, but also on females. If the theories based on “the law of combat” involve greater food requirements for the large males, primatologists have shown that those of females, increased by pregnancy and lactation, are more completely satisfied by small mothers. The physical anthropologist Katherine Ralls, for her part, sees in the “large mothers” an advantage in reproduction because, in living longer, they will have a longer productive life and have a greater and more resistant offspring. But on the other hand, female size is restricted by the limitation of resources and this will work in favour of smaller females. What P. Touraille responds is that, according to numerous studies, nutritional stress is not characteristic of dimorphic species, but on the contrary the relative height of females depends on their access to food (italicization in original AM). Ethological studies attests priority access to food resources for women in non-dimorphic species, whereas in dimorphic species, for example, in orangutans, the existence of differentiated food niches ensures priority access for males, which the author identifies as “antagonistic coevolution”: the more successful the reproduction of large males, the less success for small females (au succès reproductif des grands males répondrait le moindre succès des femelles petites).

The third part of the work concerns human dimorphism. It concerns itself with identifying the best model for explaining the phenomenon and its variations in space and time. Several physical anthropologists were interested in the effects of diet in affluent and well fed societies where the size differential plays in favour of boys (Linda Wolfe & Patrick Gray), and in other societies where it is weak and girls are less affected than their brothers by scarcity (Margaret Hamilton), notably in those where food production is in the hands of women (Claire Holden & Ruth Mace).

Obstetricians have contributed to the debate by recalling that bipedalism and upright posture led to the reduction in the size of the pelvis and therefore produced a more risky childbirth for small women, and even increased the mortality in childbirth, as confirmed by recent statistical studies for societies where caesarean section is not practiced. In high fertility societies there would therefore be produced a counter-selection (une contre-sélection) of small women and, consequently, a reduction of dimorphism (JF Guégan, Teriokhin A. T. & F. Thomas). Thus, in the human species, natural selection would be exercised for large women more strongly than in other species. But in these conditions, why are women, in fact, smaller than men?

The last part of the book returns to this question, which concentrates on the cultural factor of food and in particular the refusal of better food to women, which would explain their smaller stature. The ethnographic approach shows that hunter-gatherer societies and farmers are deprived of reproductive success when they exclude women from access to protein, which would both strengthen and limit the size of the foetus. There remain two important points. The study of the gendered consumption of proteins is developed for adults but one for children remains to be done, since child nutrition or determines their adult stature; therefore, the hypothesis of a nutritional segregation as a source of sexual dimorphism should be primarily tested on children. Secondly, archaeologists and historians have often emphasized the limits of the contributions of ethnography in understanding the development of humanity.

It is only recently that the isotope analysis of bones began to illuminate prehistorical uses of food, but it can still tell us whether to attribute human dimorphism to the millennia of food segregation and female deprivation, an intriguing question raised by this book. To my eyes, the main merit of Hommes grands, femmes petites  is to have questioned the naturalistic paradigm, often held for granted by scientists. P. Touraille shows with nuance that cultural behaviours can strongly influence the physical traits of humans and that gendered behaviours contribute to create different sexual bodies, often against natural tendencies. This book therefore invites reflection on the interaction between biology and culture that shapes everyday life. Such is the reflection initiated by the multidisciplinary approach of Priscilla and it is this method of analysis that we have to develop to understand the human condition yesterday and today.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “The problems with @RealPeerReview – Andy Murray

  1. Psi

    Perhaps in the past when the post-modernist woo was less in quantity, some kind of high brow discussion of each one was possible (I don’t think this actually was the case). The quantities being produced now (and reviewed via an echo chamber) makes lengthy deconstruction of each impractical.

    This is funding from the public purse in the majority of cases, if it is so easy to throw tomatoes, those with something worthwhile need to up their game in explaining the value of their work. Those just churning out nonsense need to accept the public are not obliged to fund them.

    In financially constrained times priorities will be drawn and the public have a right to say what those are.

    • You make a good point concerning the “volume” of seemingly strange or dubious work. But one can have a critical discussion of whole fields or methods of research. One example is “autoethnography”, which is a particular target of NewRealPeerReview. One way members of the public might be able to critically engage with this field is to be presented with the academic arguments on this concept. It is unlike to be universally approved within the field of social sciences. That said, as well as having its detractors there will be a case for its usefulness, and that case deserves a fair hearing.

    • Priscille Touraille’s work is far from “post-modernist woo”, and I find such quick assumption of bad faith to be more than a little bit wrongheaded. Touraille is in fact working very much in the mainstream of sociobiology. (Ironically, a field that the ‘anti-PC’/anti-‘postmodernism’ crowd claim to respect a great deal, at least in it’s evolutionary psychology subset.)

      You can take issue with the ‘food discrimination’ hypothesis of sexual dimorphism all you want, and in fact, there is a great deal of evidence that seems to contradict it. But to say her work is beyond the pale of good science, and to automatically pillory her as a feminist ideologue is simply kneejerk and reactionary. It’s ironic to see many self-described “rationalists” behave this way.

  2. Pingback: On sex differences in height and food discrimination (why the hypothesis is ridiculous) – Site Title

  3. This is a very civil and courteous contribution to the discussion, and I applaud the attempt to convey value in this specific instance. At the same time, it appears that there are some “apples and oranges” issues that are being conflated.

    First, @RealPeerReview is medium-constrained: that is, they are forced to limit their “contributions” to the academic discourse in the same way that everyone else is – 140 characters at a time. Your criticism about their approach is heavily influenced by this mediated boundary and, comparatively to some of the more rabid people “on the other side,” I believe their approach is considerably more tame.

    Second, Twitter is not a medium for debate. I believe you are correct that the discourse should not devolve into pointing and mocking, but Twitter rarely provides the means for a more longitudinal approach. Having said that, though, most of the insane treatment of academic concepts have been thrust out into the world via incestuous, collusionist “peer-reviewed” journals that, in turn, gain headlines in the mainstream press. These outlets simply do not understand that the “Journal of Biology” and the “Journal of Gendered Biology” are not the same thing, don’t have the same scientific rigor, and should not be considered equally valid.

    Third, and moving out of the metacommunicative and into the communicative analysis, there are good reasons why the article in question would fail even a cursory pass at a scientific peer-review (many of which were eloquently stated in their rebuttal to this blog post).

    This article – like so many of its ilk – makes what I call the “Assume a Can Opener” approach. That is, if you make a claim or an assumption that is based upon an imaginary parameter (or set of parameters) you can easily wind up in a conclusion that is not based on reality or practically useful. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assume_a_can_opener

    Too many of these types of articles, including the one in question here, make claims that are either tautologically constructed (and therefore allowing for no falsifiability) or demonstrably invalid. This article happens to fall into that category, no matter how few histrionics are located within the body of the work itself. Your argument is that there is internal consistency within the article; but that alone is not enough. There must be external consistency as well.

    This brings us to…

    Finally, the abstract. The abstract of a piece is designed specifically to provide the reader with enough information to determine whether or not the article itself is worthy of consideration. It is supposed to be a factual and accurate summation of the study, its purpose, its findings, and its conclusions.

    If it is not, then it is fraudulent and has every right to be ridiculed on that basis. If it is, and the text is internally inconsistent or fails to pass even rudimentary scholarly muster, it has every right to be ridiculed on that basis. Either way, an abstract is a perfectly valid text to deconstruct for validity and reliability.

    To me, I think it’s about time that these kinds of academic pieces are brought under the kind of scrutiny that should have prevented them from getting published in the first place. When you publish your articles in the academic journals you are expected to contribute to the body of literature in some meaningful way. What @RealPeerReview has done is picked up where the journal editors left off, and if the editors had been doing their jobs they would have shielded the authors from embarrassing themselves in the first place.

    • Thanks Mr. Metz. There is a lot of good stuff here to consider, so I will not reply for a few days (Im also currently away from home). But Ill get back to you when I can.

    • Dear J,
      I will briefly respond to several points.
      On Twitter. It sets constraints, I take the point and I should have dealt with this in the original post. On NewRealPeerReview’s response to my blog I commented briefly that I believed the actual presence of a blog post to be a positive development, as it allows for further discussion.

      I also accept the point on the “echo chamber” nature of many academic forums and publications. But I never set out to deny that dodgy research is made. Just that NewRealPeerReview is not the best means to communicate the problems of such research to the wider public.

      On the quality of Touraille’s work: first, as I responded to another commenter, I never set out to advocate Dr Touraille’s work, but rather to claim that it is credible research. That said, I cannot see how your “assume a can opener” point applies here. The aim of an academic book review is to situate a work within a wider academic literature in order to assess its importance. I think the above book review does this, and reasonably concludes that Dr Touraille’s contributes meaningfully to an ongoing debate.

      Abstracts: I agree that they can be assessed on quality and potentially mocked. but you do not take into account that they can be misread by their mocking audiences (as Dr. Touraille’s was). Communication is a two way process: there are responsibilities both on the sender and the receiver of a message. I, and others writing on NewRealPeerReview’s site, believed that it was the receivers who were at fault.

      Finally, I also read your blog post, which takes us to a different subject entirely. Your analysis on how much contemporary discourse on identity politics shifts from communication to metacommunication clarifies a lot of experiences I have had (there is little more frustrating than being told: ‘can you even say that, being xyz’) Such reasoning has, I agree, no place in a scientific study. I would say, however, that there are some cases of changes in the metacommunication concerning identity politics that do seem important. Intuitively, I think it is right for instance, that we refer to ‘native americans’ rather than to ‘american indians’. Trying to fathom the criteria whereby such changes seem appropriate in some cases and not in others seems highly complex. For instance, maybe one of the criteria is that the metacommunication should allow people to speak as social equals. But that is a statement that itself would need a lot of unpacking. Im sure Habermas’s notion of ideal speech situations, and the criticisms made of it, may be a place to start if one wants to think through these issues.

      I hope this helpful,
      Andy

      • Hello Mr (Dr? – I wish to use the correct salutation),
        Yes, this is very helpful, and it is nice to be able to have a civil discourse on topics such as these – it is becoming more and more rare. I’ll narrow down my response to avoid those that have been “asked-and-answered” to try to achieve brevity (not one of my strongest suits).

        We actually have multiple levels here of analysis – the communicative (Touraille’s work), the metacommunicative (the review) and the meta-metacommunicative (your translation). The abstract itself is also metacommunication (it talks about the article too), so talking about the abstract is meta-metacommunication as well. I point this out for the sake of clarifying which form we’re discussing. To that end, I wonder upon which level you’re basing your conclusion – not a slight, I genuinely am not sure.

        Beginning at the communicative state, permit me a brief sojourn into a parable: when I was in high school I once went to my physics teacher with an idea on the nature of time and how time travel would be possible, based upon (what I thought at the time) was a very simple and elegant reasoning. He asked me to what gave me the idea that the universe worked that way, and when I explained, he said, “that’s very interesting, but how would you test that assumption?”

        I was stunned. it hadn’t occurred to me at the age of 16 that I would need to test the assumptions, I only needed to test the conclusions. He smiled at me, and said, “You may be right. The universe could very well work that way, but until you can test both the assumption and the conclusion I’m afraid all you have is science fiction.”

        Touraille’s research has the means to test the assumption as well as her conclusion. This is what I meant when I said it falls into the “assume a can-opener” category. The piece omits major bodies of literature that squarely put her assumptions in the realm of fantasy – just like my 17-year-old model of a universe that supported time travel (I was never able to test those assumptions, btw 😉 )

        Touraille omits those assumptions because she doesn’t believe she has to. She simply needs to assert that they are correct and true because in her mind, such background research is at best ancillary to her conclusion, and at worst something that would have prevented her from writing this piece in the first place. Instead, she would have had to write another piece defending her model from the inconvenciences of centuries of sociological, anthropological, biological evidence. Who wants that kind of trouble?

        That’s why it may seem that her research is valid internally, because it’s tautological in nature – the conclusions support the assumptions designed to arrive at the conclusions. As scientific research, however, it is far from credible, IMO. It fails on every level of scientific inquiry – the scientific method, qualitative inquiry, empirical inquiry, etc. Like my ill-fated high-school attempt at becoming the next Einstein, this is more science-fiction than science.

        This brings us back to the meta-communication of the abstract, and whether or not it is mock-worthy. Like most humor, the more you examine something the less funny it becomes, but with abstracts like these the abstract is just forehead-slapping. When an academic scholar writes an abstract like that it is a time to stop and reflect on just what it is that they wrote.

        In this case, the author deliberately attempts to side-step any attempt at actual scientific vigor: “From a gender theory standpoint, nutritional inequalities should be suspected to be present as an inevitable consequence of the gender order.”

        Let’s read that slowly. She wants to take a”gender theory standpoint,” which insists that inequalities “should be suspected to be present.” Not only that, it’s an “inevitable consequence.” It is this single sentence that has every right to be mocked every which way. Any editor worth his/her salt should have been able to catch this phrase as scientifically unsupportable. Moreover, it certainly exposes “gender theory” to be the clothes-less emperor that it is: a model of the universe with no scientifically supportable tenets.

        Most importantly, the author is highly guided by her obvious politicized motives: “Setting the problem another way has direct concern for contemporary public debates stuck to a particular social/biological articulation of gendered identities.” The author explicitly intends to obfuscate the scientific inquiry in preference for a political discussion.

        I said it was my opinion that the abstract deserved to be mocked, and those are my reasons (speaking for myself).

        Thank you for reading through my blog post. I know it’s long and aimed towards a reduced audience type. I appreciate the consideration. Looking back over this reply I can see that I still have a long way to go to wrestle the “brevity bear.” *sigh*

      • Dear J,
        Dr is the correct title but Andy is the preferred salutation.

        Thanks for this. You have explained the ‘assume a can opener’ argument more clearly, and I can now follow the reasoning. But I still do not see how it applies to a study which we know only through a book review. You claim “The piece omits major bodies of literature”. BUt how do you know this? What studies are they? If you do have expertise here, great. But I am a layman in this field. All I can do is assume that this review is written in good faith by an expert, and I can use my own judgement as to whether its conclusions seem logical based on its internal reasoning. Based on that to me it seemed that the reviewed book makes a contribution to an ongoing debate. Am I missing something here?

        Furthermore, it is worth noting that your criticism of this research is more sophisticated than that found on NewPeerReview. There, people were mocking the idea that starved women would be more fertile, which is not Dr Touraille’s argument. Surely the fault here is on the receiver of the message, not on the sender?

        As for political motivations, I do not see how this invalidates the science, even it might set one’s alarm bells ringing. For instance, I would be suspicious of any scientist claiming to have found evidence against climate change if he was funded by large oil companies. But that in itself would not invalidate his or her research (even if it may explain any problems or oversights within it). Furthermore, if a scientific conclusion does have broader social or political impact, why not state it?

        some things to consider, anyway.
        Andy

      • Hi Andy,

        (For some reason WordPress wouldn’t allow me to reply to your last message, and I just got your note about not being able to reply – that’s okay, I should get back to work as well 😉 )

        NRPR does a very good job of outlining the arguments of Touraille’s article, and the review you translated implicitly omits any mention of research that would fundamentally contradict the basic assumptions that a “gender theory” approach takes. Touraille takes evolutionary biology and “Darwinism” (which is not, in itself, a theory, but I do not know if this is Touraille’s error or Barbiera’s – I assume it’s the former).

        This is where we get into sticky territory – are we reviewing the review, or the article? I confess I do not have the desire to read the article that has such a poor abstract of itself 😉 so I must deal with what I have to work with.

        Having previously sat on a number of editorial boards for peer-reviewed journals, and seeing this type of work presented repeatedly, this is a classic case of cherry-picking supporting articles (reading from the review, now). The review states that Touraille concludes that Elveth (1975) “took apart” the evolutionary explanatory power of sexual dimorphism by showing the inverse of ‘expected’ Asian and European dimorphism.

        It’s worth noting that Evolution does not say anything about sexual dimorphism or expected rates of such. It explicitly focuses on the adaptability for fitness of survival based upon the environmental conditions. An orthodox read of the Theory would, therefore, attempt to ascertain the environmental conditions for which survival was achieved by having an inverse sexual dimorphism in (not really a surprise here) radically different environmental conditions.

        Touraille’s rejection of Lovejoy’s hypothesis (i.e., departed males deprive females and their young from protection) is unclear, as it’s not stated explicitly in Barbiera’s review. However, even a prima facie approach to this rejection appears to be premature. The females would have no choice but to stay close to the Alpha Male in such polygamous societies because of the lack of protection. The claim that the hypothesis is contradictory needs substantial support and itself does not pass intellectual muster. One would hope that an adequate reviewer would reflect some academic attempt at reconciling this, but this could very well be a fault of Barbiera’s.

        The second part of the book, from what I glean from both the review and NRPR, is what I call “gender theory phrenology.” By focusing on a single item – nutritional intake – which is in and of itself a smaller Venn circle inside the broader Evolutionary and Athropological circles, Touraille must first explain why nutrional ethology vastly outweighs other factors. These factors include, weather, resource access and management, environmental threats (or lack thereof), etc.

        Instead, Touraille identifies the outcome by a value-laden term: “antagonistic coevolution.” The term, as defined in the review, is “the more successful the reproduction of large males, the less success for small females.”

        Here is where her scientific integrity really falls apart. What she has explained is an inverse relationship/correlation. This is a claim that needs to be tested. However, it does not appear – either by representation via the Review or NRPR – that this claim has been tested in any fashion. Moreover, she has identified this condition/claim as one that involves intent: “antagonism.” That is a claim that also needs to be tested. If it had been tested, it would have made lightyears of progress for gender theory and would be news-worthy in and of itself.

        However, Touraille’s errors begin to compound rapidly. She takes this value-laden, untested claim, and then extrapolates to human dimorphism. She appears to ascribe (again, this could be Barbiera’s fault, but I don’t think so) theoretical advances to fields that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. “Obstetricians” do not “contribute to the debate by recalling that bipedalism and upright posture” did anything. That’s just not what Obstetrics do. I really want to see a single study by the Society of Gynecological Surgeons where the “recollection” of posture “contributes to the debate.” This is the equivalent of saying, “studies have shown” or “experts say,” while actually meaning nothing at all.

        Touraille takes her phrenology to its logical absurdity. From the review: “In the human species, natural selection would be exercised for large (I assume “tall”) women more strongly than in other species.” But why? What evolutionary benefit would tall women actually reap? If, in fact, there is no need for women to aggressively protect their “clan,” because they are physically incapable of reproducing as fast as males, why would a tall female actually achieve some sort of evolutionary advantage?

        From a purely evolutionary perspective, it would seem that the naturalistic explanation of survival of the fittest applies in beautiful elegance. The perpetuation of larger males as dominant sources of protection would mean that smaller, less threatening females that are attractive to said males would be the most promising way to survive. “Why are women, in fact, smaller than men?” indeed.

        Worse, Touraille infers intent in her analysis. She evidently equates “food segregation” with “female deprivation,” but that, too, is a claim that requires diligent and rigorous testing. Where was it? That would be a major research project and to think that it was “accidentally” overlooked by the reviewer seems a stretch.

        While I agree with Barbiera that such a question is “intriguing,” the evidence of Touraille’s approach simply stacks up like a house of cards. She does not “show” anything, much less “cultural behaviors can strongly influence the physical traits of humans and that gendered behaviors contribute different sexual bodies, often against natural tendencies.” Instead, she asserts this, explicitly implies “antagonistic” intent, and yet fails to provide any evidence of her own.

        Hence the reason why I mock. 😉

        As far as my criticism, re: RNPR, we all have our approaches. 🙂 If other people are misrepresenting what Touraille said, well, all I can say is that this is the Internet, and hit-and-runs are not uncommon. 🙂

        Before I close my (yet again, too long) response, let me address the political issue.

        It’s a fair point that research should have implications beyond just the self-congratulatory. To that end, and taken at face value, there is nothing wrong with identifying the implications for future research.

        Coupled with the poor abstract, the obvious researcher bias, a deeper examination of the flaws in the logic, the lack of explanatory power and research diligence, not to mention the fact that it appears all such articles aim to manipulate public policy, it struck me as odd and telling.

        If Touraille is right (and even insane ideas can turn out to be right with the proper methodology), then the impacts of what she is saying has profound impacts on the scientific community. It would have implications for evolutionary biology, anthropology, interpersonal relationships, cultural and societal creation and maintenance, as well as medical treatments. However, her first go-to application is public policy.

        Needless to say, such a misdirection is highly troublesome and curious to me. Either it understands the implications in those fields (and deliberately avoids them because the claims cannot withstand scrutiny), or it doesn’t understand the implications in those fields (and therefore should not be attempting to represent them).

        Your example of climate change is an excellent one, I think, because too much of that research (on both sides of the scientific argument) are written explicitly to influence policy, rather than further the body of scientific literature. Just look at the failed attempts to legislate “Intelligent Design,” too, as a “legitimate” pseudo-scientific approach designed not to elicit further inquiry, but stifle it in favor of legislative policy.

        I see this as precisely the same type of approach, so yeah, my flags were raised.

        Thanks again for your patience.

        J

      • Dear J,
        Do you dictaphone this stuff during your commute? Cumulatively, Ive read more words from you this week than I have of the actual research papers Im currently meant to be ploughing through.

        I think at this point I have to stop also. I do not disagree with anything youve said concerning the politics of research. As for the stuff on evolution, my knowledge does not go beyound what I learned at school, so Ill remain silent. I will say, however, that I value the longer explanations that you and NRPR give on your distrust of such research, because someone who does know about the subject could potentially respond to you both in a constructive way in these blog forums.

        A final note: my spoken and written French can be quite shaky (you expressed confusion over the word “large” instead of “tall”: Ive think Ive made a common error in French-English translation there).

        A

      • Hi Andy,

        No dictaphone here. Just cursed with a case of literary elephantitis exacerbated by a very high typing rate. 🙂

        I’ve enjoyed our conversation as well. Don’t worry about the translation part – I was thinking to myself that I wish I could still have command of French as well as you obviously do (it’s been years since I spoke fluently).

        Cheers, and all the best,
        J

      • Thanks J, all the best.
        A

      • btw, I perhaps won’t be able to make any more responses for a few days (I just don’t know!).
        A

  4. Craw

    You endorse some sort of negative kin selection, that men carrying a gene leave more descendants if they reduce the fertlity of their mates. This seems pretty crazy. Wouldn’t a gene that led men to murder their mates spread like wildfire? I think that theory would deserve mockery, don’t you? But it’s the same theory.

    You contradict standard theories of sexual selection, where dimorphism has a genetic basis. Do peacock males have brighter feathers because they hog the pigment rich foods? Isn’t that mock worthy?

    • Dear Craw, I don’t endorse Touraille’s position (I have to be humble here: I am an art historian by training). I just claim that it is credible research. Reading the review itself, I do not see it as arguing that reduced food distribution increases the fertility of women. My reading of it is that communities with such forms of food distribution, thus smaller women, had better survival chances under certain key conditions. That is very different to claiming “a murder gene” you describe. Indeed, the article claims there is no such single gene for dimorphism. So no, I do not find it “mock-worthy”.

      Note: Ive corrected typos that altered the meaning of this comment.

      • Rando

        I’m just a twitter rando coming here from the real peer review mentions, and, unless I missed something, the discussion is about this tweet

        right?

        They don’t seem to be ascribing the “reduced food distribution increases the fertility of women” claim to the article, at least in the original tweet.

        Am I not getting something?

      • Rando

        Hi! I left a comment with a linky (to real peer review’s twitter)
        Was it eaten by filter?

      • Sorry Rando, it’s taking me a while to moderate and approve the comments. Ill add the link to the article, thanks for sharing.
        A

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