History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Krugman’s nonsense on darwinism

June 9th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Razib Khan is a sad case of the Darwinian fundamentalist/fanatic (someone from Moslem background who suses Darwin fanaticism to proof his ‘secularism’) who gets rewarded for it by the Darwin establishment: blogger at Discovery. Since, without training, I can track down the flaws in population models, I am not impressed. His take on Gould is predictable. But he usefully cites the views of Krugman, whose opinionated prejudice against Gould is sad, and revealing. I read Krugman twice at week on the economy and respect his views, so a little disrepect is OK, I guess. Now we know that Krugman is a sucker for mathematical models in economics. (serious joke, but read Kuttner on econo-math models). That’s the problem with being super smart. I have studied the realm of mathematical economics (not very thoroughly) and can see the way sucess in understanding this field mathematically induces delusion about what economics really is. Abstract models based on higher calculus are not properly founded in reality. Whatever. I think Krugman has learned this somewhere and has reveerted to real intelligence, visible in his Times commentary.

But his views on Darwinism are an interesting indication of the way the hyper-smart can’t get disentangled from the swan song of selectionist oversimplifications. This strange situation is crippling advance from Darwinism, when it gets the endorsement of the super-smart idiots spawned by our eductional non-system.

I think he has missed the point with Gould (who I also find frustrating) who took Eldredge’s brilliant insight and muffled it, turning it into an adjunct of Darwinian theory. What should have been on the table with ‘punctuated equilibrium’ theory was the real nature of evolutionary theories, starting with the man who first proposed the right approach (then confused it with his acquired characters theory), Larmarck.
Krugman indulges in some arrogant dismisal of the those who dislike mathematics, with what connection to Darwinism we don’t know (unless the obvious reference to the Hamiltonian strain of population genetics math, etc…), but the insinuation that preference for Gould is some kind of ‘evolution for poets’ syndrome is ridiculous. It is the obsession with reductionist methods like those in physics that has misled the whole profession and made a fetish out of the illusion of evolutionary mechanics.

In any case, I fault Gould for cowardice. His realization that the Synthesis was over was followed by seeming retraction, and a failure to halt the paradigm in its tracks. Instead we had a generation of the Dawkins cult and the triumph of the ‘smart stupidity’ that Krugman also exhibits, next to an entire generation of Darwinina true believers, like Razib Kahn.

I would say The Mismeasurement of Man is one of the most commonly cited books on this weblog over the years (in the comments). It comes close to being “proof-text” in many arguments online, because of the authority and eminence of the author in the public mind, Stephen Jay Gould. I am in general not particularly a fan of Gould’s work or thought, with many of my sentiments matching the attitudes of Paul Krugman in this 1996 essay:

….Like most American intellectuals, I first learned about this subject [evolutionary biology] from the writings of Stephen Jay Gould. But I eventually came to realize that working biologists regard Gould much the same way that economists regard Robert Reich: talented writer, too bad he never gets anything right. Serious evolutionary theorists such as John Maynard Smith or William Hamilton, like serious economists, think largely in terms of mathematical models. Indeed, the introduction to Maynard Smith’s classic tract Evolutionary Genetics flatly declares, “If you can’t stand algebra, stay away from evolutionary biology.” There is a core set of crucial ideas in his subject that, because they involve the interaction of several different factors, can only be clearly understood by someone willing to sit still for a bit of math. (Try to give a purely verbal description of the reactions among three mutually catalytic chemicals.)

But many intellectuals who can’t stand algebra are not willing to stay away from the subject. They are thus deeply attracted to a graceful writer like Gould, who frequently misrepresents the field (perhaps because he does not fully understand its essentially mathematical logic), but who wraps his misrepresentations in so many layers of impressive, if irrelevant, historical and literary erudition that they seem profound.

Tags: Critique of Evolutionary Economy · Evolution

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Enezio E. de Almeida Filho // Jun 10, 2011 at 6:26 am

    The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias

    Jason E. Lewis et al


    Stephen Jay Gould, the prominent evolutionary biologist and science historian, argued that “unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm” because “scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth” [1], a view now popular in social studies of science [2]–[4]. In support of his argument Gould presented the case of Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century physician and physical anthropologist famous for his measurements of human skulls. Morton was considered the objectivist of his era, but Gould reanalyzed Morton’s data and in his prize-winning book The Mismeasure of Man [5] argued that Morton skewed his data to fit his preconceptions about human variation. Morton is now viewed as a canonical example of scientific misconduct. But did Morton really fudge his data? Are studies of human variation inevitably biased, as per Gould, or are objective accounts attainable, as Morton attempted? We investigated these questions by remeasuring Morton’s skulls and reexamining both Morton’s and Gould’s analyses. Our results resolve this historical controversy, demonstrating that Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould. In fact, the Morton case provides an example of how the scientific method can shield results from cultural biases.

    This PLoS paper on Gould and Morton is Open Access:


  • 2 Darwiniana » Krugman’s Darwinism // Sep 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    […] Here is a post on Krugman’s darwinism: http://darwiniana.com/2011/06/09/krugmans-nonsense-on-darwinism/ […]

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