Testing the Controversy

An Empirical Examination of Adaptationists’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Science

Abstract

Critics of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology have advanced an adaptationists-as-right-wing-conspirators (ARC) hypothesis, suggesting that adaptationists use their research to support a right-wing political agenda. We report the first quantitative test of the ARC hypothesis based on an online survey of political and scientific attitudes among 168 US psychology Ph.D. students, 31 of whom self-identified as adaptationists and 137 others who identified with another non-adaptationist meta-theory. Results indicate that adaptationists are much less politically conservative than typical US citizens and no more politically conservative than non-adaptationist graduate students. Also, contrary to the “adaptationists-as-pseudo-scientists” stereotype, adaptationists endorse more rigorous, progressive, quantitative scientific methods in the study of human behavior than non-adaptationists.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Somewhat ironically, many members of the religious right object to adaptationism because they view it as a liberal conspiracy antithetical to their own worldview (Pinker 2002). In this sense, adaptationists are characterized as holding two sets of diametrically opposed political views, and are simultaneously ostracized by both the political right and left.

  2. 2.

    Levene’s test for equality of variances indicated that the two groups violated homogeneity of variance assumptions, F = 4.18, p < 0.05. We conducted the t test assuming heterogeneity of variance and used the appropriate adjusted degrees of freedom. The test was also significant if we assume homogeneous variance, t 166 = 2.07, p < 0.05.

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Acknowledgements

For online survey programming and helpful guidance, thanks to Holly Victorson. For help recruiting participants, thanks to: Daphne Bugental, Lorna Cunningham, Michael Dougher, Robert Kurzban, Norman Li, Steven Neuberg, and Todd Shackelford. Thanks also to Steven Neuberg, Ilanit Tal, Holly Victorson, and two reviewers for their helpful comments on a previous draft.

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Correspondence to Joshua M. Tybur.

Appendix: Attitudes Toward Science Items

Appendix: Attitudes Toward Science Items

Factor 1

  • Science is the best tool for understanding how the world works.

  • Certain aspects of the human condition (e.g., love, hate, jealousy) will never be adequately understood with science alone (reverse).

  • To understand human behavior accurately, quantitative methods are almost always better than qualitative ones.

  • Scientific progress effectively weeds out bad theories and generates good ones.

  • Scientific methods are the only legitimate tools for making reliable inferences about the world.

  • Many aspects of human nature are irreducible and outside the scope of contemporary scientific inquiry (reverse).

  • We must use strong scientific methods to truly understand social problems like racism, sexism, and sexual assault.

Factor 2

  • Scientific researchers are inherently biased, and effects of their ideological motives should be critically considered.

  • Scientists overestimate the degree to which they understand the world.

  • Science is often used as an excuse to support the status quo.

  • Scientific researchers often manipulate their results to support their ideas.

  • Many academic papers reflect how the author wishes the world was rather than how it actually is.

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Tybur, J.M., Miller, G.F. & Gangestad, S.W. Testing the Controversy. Hum Nat 18, 313–328 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-007-9024-y

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Keywords

  • Adaptationism
  • Political attitudes
  • Sociology of science