#1 By: Maggie Koerth-Baker, July 4th, 2013 15:39
On June 2, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller declared on Twitter that fat Ph.D. students who didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs wouldn't have the willpower to finish a dissertation, either. He later went on to claim that the tweet — and presumably, the negative reactions to it — was actually part of his… READ THE REST
#2 By: mausium, July 4th, 2013 16:38
Obviously the first time an Evo-psych "researcher" has pulled his thesis straight from his ass.
#3 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, July 4th, 2013 17:00
He's also an 'evolutionary' psychologist who thinks that 'the paleo diet' actually refers to some specific, coherent, set of food items, rather than a pretty striking range of things(this is visible in some of his other tweeting, and explains his carb enthusiasm).
#4 By: mausium, July 4th, 2013 17:12
It makes me quite sad that that field has been taken seriously, academically. It represents some of the worst, most useless (at best, at worst regressive and MRA-ish) aspects of social science.
#5 By: Chris, July 4th, 2013 17:16
I liked this story because it brings up a few interesting things.
First, clear and proper communication as a scientist is absolutely crucial. Obviously in this case the guy's just an asshole, but the point is that you really shouldn't say anything that may be construed as your professional opinion unless you can back it up. I don't know about everyone else, but this was ingrained in my education and other training. I've made gaffes, but in settings where it doesn't matter much (that's an important part of undergraduate and graduate education in any field) - you'd think someone in this guy's position would have learned his lesson by now.
But second - is a thought like this, flawed as it obviously is, completely invalid and not worth looking into? I'd argue no. Lots of anecdotal evidence suggests there may be some truth in what he said - though obviously it isn't such an absolute. And more likely it'll be far more nuanced - lack of discipline in one part of your life doesn't necessarily imply lack of discipline in another. In fact anecdotal evidence also suggests that this is the case - hence the absent-minded professor, disheveled grad student, etc. stereotypes. You'd have to do real studies to see if there's anything there, but now it's less likely that will happen.
It didn't have to be that way - this guy could have done such a study and kept his personal opinion to himself. Another reason why proper communication is important, but also a segue into the next interesting thing about this - the boundary between casual and professional communication online. Scientists tend not to talk about things the way everyone else does, to the point of sounding crass - political correctness and being gentle with your words can be a professional hindrance. Those discussions traditionally are not visible to the public - they take place in private offices and conference rooms and wherever. But now they take place on the internet where everyone can see.
I'm not suggesting that this person thought that only other evolutionary psychologists were going to see his tweet. He surely knew who his followers were and the wording of the tweet suggests he meant it as a general statement. As I said, he's just an asshole.
#6 By: Ryjkyj, July 4th, 2013 17:16
I first learned about this during the article on obesity that you published last week. I have to say, I'm glad it's not working out for him.
I'd love to say there's a fine line between respecting obese people and enabling them but quite frankly, the way most people look at the problem, there's no respect from the very beginning.
I used to work with a guy who was over three-hundred pounds and used to fall asleep at his desk all the time. People made fun of him for that but eventually he went to have a gastric bypass in the Dominican Republic (he was Dominican). Anyway, something went wrong with the surgery and he died. It didn't take very long for people to make jokes about it but it was OK because, you know: "he did it to himself."
#7 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, July 4th, 2013 17:16
Ah, but if you do it right, it allows you to pretend to be a scientist, rather than a teller of trite 'just-so' stories, without either the arduous fieldwork of anthropology or the tricky biochemistry of evolutionary biology! See how adaptive it is?
I strongly suspect that people go into "evolutionary psychology" because of evolved mechanisms for avoiding metabolic losses through inactivity that developed during periods of famine.
#8 By: mausium, July 4th, 2013 17:25
Are all "Just-so stories" worth looking into?
Sounds like a great way to blow grant money and become a tenured opinionated asshole, but as fuzzy mentions, with no money wasted on research and validity. But you've published so much in your "field"!
#9 By: ClaudioBonifazi, July 4th, 2013 17:27
soooo.... he didn't literally eat any foot, right?
#10 By: laurasbadideas, July 4th, 2013 17:34
"When asked to comment, Professor Miller replied that the university's statement was part of the same research study as the original tweet."
#11 By: Ryjkyj, July 4th, 2013 17:38
The thing is, obesity doesn't imply a lack of discipline. A lot of people LOVE to think it does but it's just not true.
Now, I see your point, and I'm not even saying it's not worth looking into. Many people are obese because of lack of discipline, ignorance or apathy but probably not as many as people think. Certainly not in the case of grad-students and PHDs.
We know that people have gotten fatter over the course of the last 60 years. We don't yet know exactly why, writes David Berreby in a fascinating long read at Aeon Magazine.
#12 By: Jonathan Badger, July 4th, 2013 17:40
Exactly -- as someone who works on genomic evolution, I dislike evolutionary psychology because it trivializes evolutionary biology to the general public and causes people to think all evolutionary studies are these ad-hoc suppositions that don't actually require understanding genes or metabolic pathways.
#13 By: agonist, July 4th, 2013 18:07
That guys needs to enroll in Twitter 101 for some common sense training about what not to tweet.
#14 By: Antinous, July 4th, 2013 18:28
My experience has been that narcissists aren't so good about recognizing when they've got a problem.
#15 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, July 4th, 2013 18:38
Narcissists are very good at recognizing when they've got a problem: it's just that they categorize it as 'under-appreciation by my inferiors' a bit too frequently...
#16 By: Jim Saul, July 4th, 2013 21:14
In 2007, Miller (with Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan) published an article in Evolution and Human Behavior, demonstrating that lap dancers made more money during ovulation.
Oh. It's that guy.
(From his wikipedia page - I tried to just link but it grabbed the first paragraph of clutter as well.)
#17 By: Andy_Havens, July 4th, 2013 22:00
Lying about his research is actually part of a larger experiment. Something to do with turtles-all-the-way-down...
#18 By: marilove, July 5th, 2013 00:06
You have got to be shitting me. What anecdotal evidence? Whose anectodal evidence? Yours? And what does this anecdotal "evidence" lead to? That fat/obese people are lazy? Why? How? You're being un-shockingly vague.
You don't think perhaps that confirmation bias, among other biases and assumptions and also just plain because humans tend to be judgmental without being conscious about it has more to do with your baseless "conclusion" than anything resembling scientific fact?
You also seem to jump to the "fat/obese = lazy and undisciplined!" conclusion without any actual evidence. Just "anecdotal" evidence, which is totally pure and not affected by any sort of confirmation bias or any other sort of bias, huh?
Puh-lease. What a thinly veiled attempt at shaming fat people, with no ACTUAL evidence to back it up. You sound like a great, critically-minded person!
#19 By: WotansWoodcraft, July 5th, 2013 03:55
He's NOT a scientist; he's a very naughty boy!
#20 By: robulus, July 5th, 2013 10:11
I think that the measure of one's ability to complete a dissertation, is one's ability to complete a dissertation. I don't see why further examination is called for.
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