Monday, September 29, 2008

Graphs on the rise of scientific approaches to humanity   posted by agnostic @ 9/29/2008 02:16:00 AM

Well, with the first post and a response to criticisms out of the way, I'll conclude with the graphs on some ideas that are gaining in popularity in the study of mankind. Where it says "social sciences," I've only searched JSTOR for the following journal categories: anthropology, economics, education, political science, psychology, and sociology. The social sciences, basically. (And I've used appropriate neutral comparisons as before.) The reason is that if "heritability" increases in usage, that could be due to its use in genetics -- I want to see how popular it is when talking about humans. (As before, graphs have simple titles, while the full search terms are listed in an Appendix.)

Contrary to what you might think, since about 1950 academics have become increasingly interested in the genetic influence on human nature, reversing a period of decline from roughly 1930 to 1950. There is also an apparent cyclical pattern on top of the increasing trend. Just make sure you refer to the heritability of "cognitive ability" rather than of "IQ" (see below).

I've broken up the graphs on Darwin in the social sciences to make the trends clearer. There is an early phase in Victorian times when Darwin's thoughts were everywhere, especially in discussing human beings. Around the turn of the century, his ideas become less popular, as mentioned above. Around 1940, when his ideas come back due to the modern synthesis in biology, they become more popular in the social sciences as well. Indeed, since the mid-1940s, his ideas have only become more important to social scientists -- whether they like it or not.

Notice that while "IQ" goes through cycles about an increasing trend, its synonym "cognitive ability" shows exponential increase. I assume that this is because "cognitive ability" is not a politicized term, while "IQ" is, resulting in outbreaks of hysteria where many more people of any ideological background begin talking a lot about it.

The same is true of "sociobiology," which Leftist academics such as the Sociobiology Study Group tainted with negative political associations, compared to its synonym "evolutionary psychology." Now, someone will say that evolutionary psychology is different -- that it studies the mental, psychological processes rather than just observed behavior. But that's nonsense -- if you've read one of the many evolutionary psychology articles about digit ratios, waist-to-hip ratios, whether the female orgasm is adaptive, and so on, you know that mental processes and cognitive science models rarely come up, except in the study of vision.

Indeed, "evolutionary psychology" increases at just the time when "sociobiology" decreases, in the mid-1980s, showing that the former is simply replacing the latter as the preferred term.

As further evidence that a decline in usage means a decline in popularity, "evolutionary psychology" gets lots of hits in the 1890s when pioneers of psychology like William James were obsessed with integrating evolution and the study of the human mind, and takes a nosedive and lies dead once behaviorism takes over in psychology around the 1920s.

Because "evolutionary psychology" and "cognitive ability" are safe terms politically, these are the obvious choices for people who don't want to have water poured over their head at a conference -- and the data show this rational choice. Interest has continued to skyrocket, although people use different codewords. Nothing like this turned up in the first post because it is not political suicide to talk about postmodernism or Marxism in academia -- but just try bringing up "IQ". It is fascinating that academics can adhere to the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin and be taken seriously, while anyone who would do so for the ideas of Mussolini or Hitler would be made a total pariah. I wouldn't take either numbskull seriously, but most educated people will, perhaps grudgingly, give a free pass to those who revere the ideological or political figures associated with The Other Great Dictatorships and Mass Murders.

I've already made general observations in the first post, and they carry over here, especially the fact that the history of ideas seems so unaffected by the history of the entire outside world -- one more idea that Marx got wrong. There is clearly change, struggle between groups, and so on, but they are largely internal to academia. The future -- or the near-future anyway -- looks pretty bright for those interested in the biological approach to studying humans and their ways, and who believe things like IQ are important. Any students who are still considering the social constructionist, Marxist, feminist, or Whateverist approach should at least learn the new theories, if for no other reason than to be employable in 5 to 10 years. Hell, you might even consider it a kind of Pascal's Wager.


Here are the search terms I used, once again searching the full text of articles and reviews:

"cognitive ability" OR "cognitive abilities"

"darwin*" NOT "social darwinism" NOT "social darwinist" NOT "social darwinists"

"evolutionary psychology" OR "evolutionary psychologist" OR "evolutionary psychologists"

"heritability" OR "heritable"



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