To the editors:
Some feminist liberals must find a right wing conspiracy everywhere, and the otherwise excellent article on the gender gap in medical research ("The Invisible Woman," June 14) hurt itself with just that. I refer, of course, to the old but still laughable claim that any scientific discipline which focuses on the evolutionary origins of human behavior must be by definition rightist simply because some rightists misuse it. (The flip side of that argument, equally irrational, is that sciences such as sociology which emphasize the cultural elements of human behavior are a leftist conspiracy because Marxists misuse them.)
Kateri Butler and Gloria Ohland argue that "biological determinist theories" like sociobiology (and, by inference, the older ethology and the newer innatology) rise "as a response to feminist scholarship and the women's movement." All this, of course, to "defend the status quo" from feminist scholars who, no doubt, would have otherwise overthrown the government by now! They even go so far as to link modern practitioners of the natural sciences with 19th century ideologies that used pseudoscientific "explanations" to justify the exploitation of blacks and women. (Why stop there? Why not just come right out and bring up Nazi scientists who attempted to create a "racially pure" master race?)
What is interesting is that never do the authors actually try to refute the mounting evidence that human behavior is, in fact, genetic in origin. This is typical of natural science's critics, who resent the "intrusion" of biology and evolution into the discussion of human behavior and, lacking a scientific basis for attacking the intruders, are content to wage a bashing campaign where presumably every ethologist, zoologist, sociobiologist and innatologist is a windup robot for some invisible rightist conspiracy.
For those not frightened of the truth, numerous aspects of human nature are now proven facts rather than theory. Almost 30 years ago, a psychology professor at Yale named Stanley Milgram proved, much to his own amazement and horror, that we have an innate propensity to obey authority. For those interested, his experiments can be seen in his book, Obedience to Authority, available in any library.
Another example is smiling babies. At one time all the "experts" thought babies smiled to solicit attention from their mothers. But, thanks to sonograms, we now know that babies smile while still in the womb! Would anyone care to claim that "cultural influences" teach babies to smile before they are even born? Clearly, smiling is an innate response to pleasure (as opposed, of course, to the Machiavellian forced smile which is used as a ploy) which babies require no learning to know.
Finally, the findings of ethologist Jane Goodall, who spent many years observing chimpanzee behavior in the wild, suggest that warfare, which Marxists like to pretend never happened until the rise of the nation-state as we know it, has been with us forever. It turns out that our nearest living relative, once thought to be so nonaggressive and gentle, engages in such activities as warfare and even cannibalism. Nor should this surprise us, considering that, as far as we know, the Neanderthals were wiped out by the Cro-Magnons long before anyone heard of the nation-state or surplus value. In addition, prehistoric cave paintings have been found showing two lines of bowmen facing each other. Of course it is possible that the artist just imagined such an event, but that is considered highly unlikely. So much for the myth of war as a relatively modern invention, or something that is an outgrowth of culture! After all, even ants fight wars, and theirs would make ours look like dinner parties, were it not for our modern weaponry.
The natural sciences are not about taking sides in left wing vs. right wing silliness or defending the status quo. Anyone familiar with the writings of Robert Ardrey, the best known of the writers about genetic behavior, knows that those of us seeking an evolutionary understanding of human behavior find ALL political ideology to be so much utopian nonsense. All the 20th century "isms" from feminism, communism and liberalism to conservatism, fascism and Nazism have this in common: all believe human behavior is infinitely malleable, as if we were all nothing but blank slates, lifeless beings with no natural predispositions of our own. Naturally leftists resent natural science, which shows the flaws in leftist thinking, but nobody is more frightened of science than the hard core religious, who are usually right-wing. How could the right honestly embrace, for example, Desmond Morris, who pointed out in The Naked Ape that religion is nothing but a human adaptation to the primate need to grovel to the alpha ape, now known as God? If anything, natural science tends towards criticism of the status quo everywhere, which has allowed such disasters as overpopulation, pollution and the destruction of many rainforests.
None of this is any secret to people who read the papers and keep up with current events. It is only a handful of feminist liberals who need to maintain a dream world of simple solutions to complex social problems.
Director, Institute of Innatology