Christopher Ryan, 9/1/2010:
Megan McArdle Really Hates Sex at Dawn | Psychology Today: But still, every party has the red-faced, humorless, easily-offended type. Yesterday, at The Atlantic web site, Megan McArdle provided a stellar example. Her comments begin strangely, with the admission that she's "in the middle" of the book. Note the urgency to condemn it publicly, even before reading the damned thing! And boy, does she lash out:
"It reads like horsefeathers . . . like an undergraduate thesis," "breathless rather than scientific," "cherry-picked evidence stretched far out of shape to support their theory," "they don't even attempt to paper over the enormous holes in their theory."
Ouch! And that's just the first paragraph. But wait, it gets worse. The second paragraph is worth quoting in full, as it's really a perfect expression of the bug-eyed panic the book provokes in some people:
For example, like a lot of evolutionary biology critiques, this one leans heavily on bonobos (at least so far). Here's the thing: humans aren't like bonobos. And do you know how I know that we are not like bonobos? Because we're not like bonobos. There's no way observed human societies grew out of a species organized along the lines of a bonobo tribe.
Got that? Humans aren't like bonobos because we're not like bonobos. No way! So there! Case closed....
Ms. McArdle hasn't read even the first half of the book very closely. Pages 77 and 78 contain a table listing some of the major similarities between humans and bonobos, many of them unique to these two species. Hard to imagine how she managed to miss that. In the discussion of her article, she flatly states that chimps are genetically more closely related to humans than bonobos are, which is not only just plain wrong, it's something we explain very early in the book (along with a graph, no less, on p. 62).
Agree with our thesis or disagree with it, nobody who knows anything about primatology would argue that chimps are genetically closer to us than bonobos are (they're equidistant) or that humans and bonobos don't have a great deal in common—particularly in terms of our sexual behavior and anatomy. (The table appears below.)
Later in her comments, she writes, "If you're going to use evolutionary psychology, you need to deal with human jealousy, which is indeed pervasive. You can't leave it out just because it doesn't fit your model."
Chapter 10 of the book is called: "Jealousy, A Beginner's Guide to Coveting Thy Neighbor's Spouse." How does one miss an entire chapter in a book you're writing about publicly?
I'm not familiar with Ms. McArdle's work, but if she's got a gig at The Atlantic, which is one of the most respected magazines in the country, presumably this is far below her usual intellectual standard.
Wonderful as it would be if Ms. McArdle's opinion of our book were to change when/if she gets around to actually reading it, I'm not holding my breath because I don't think she's responding to the substance of the book at all; she's responding to what it makes her feel, which is something entirely different.