Science. Gone. Wrong.

Ya'll know I'm in love with evolution. It does for me what no mere human could - it understands, it explains, it supports, it gives me a safe place from which to explore the world. And just as you'd hate to see a loved one hurt, so I hate seeing my beloved evolution twisted and battered in the service of mediocre relationship advice.

This particular instance, the abuser is Carol Jahme, The Guardian's "Evolutionary Agony Aunt," and her dating tips for men.

There's so much wrong with this I hardly know where to begin. But I gotta say something because I know many people will read her stuff and think, "Oh yes! That makes sense!"


Take smell. It's undoubtedly true that in laboratory conditions human females can differentiate genetically compatible, virile males from lesser specimens; they even prefer different smells at different times in their menstrual cycles. However, this is only reliably true when (1) the woman is naturally cycling and not on birth control (and research from the Guttmacher Institute indicates that 2 out of 3 women who don't want to get pregnant are on hormonal birth control); and (2) the man isn't wearing antiperspirant, deodorant, aftershave, and/or cologne (I don't have data on the percentage of men who use deodorant, but can we agree that it's most of them?).

Let me make this perfectly plain: there is no reason to believe that smell is a biological factor in attraction among most twentyfirst century, industrialized, hyperhygienic singles. It MIGHT be that it is, but the evidence doesn't exist. There are experiments that can be done to test it, but, to my knowledge, they haven't been done. If they have, let me know. Certainly none of the studies she cites indicate that smell plays a role in dating.

... I wrote a big specific rant about the rest of it, but it was tedious and not even a little bit funny so I deleted it. It boils down to this:

I know that couching otherwise obvious advice in terms of science gives it a kind of legitimacy that mere common sense couldn't. But really, if you need evolutionary science to tell you "be an original person who likes to have fun," or "don't objectify her," then there are OTHER things wrong with you - things that could be explained by evolution... in the same way that a rabbit can be killed by a 747 hitting the ground at terminal velocity. It's just more parsimonious to focus on proximate causes, okay?

(And can I add this was in the SCIENCE section of the Guardian? SCIENCE! UGH!! No wonder evolutionary psychology gets a bad rap!)

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