Author: Brian Boutwell

Evolutionary Conflict and the Family

Let me be as blunt as possible, most of the beliefs you have about parents, and the socializing effects they have on children, are more wrong than you can possibly fathom. If you read my first installment on this topic, then the kickoff to this discussion sounds familiar. In fact, we’ve journeyed through the wilderness of parenting effects in three separate essays, now. Is there really a need for a fourth? I think there is, and the reason why is so that I can show you the absurdity lurking behind the idea that parental influences on children are large, prominent, and long lasting. The absurdity of it, in fact, is utterly staggering, stupefying, and as we will see, blazingly obvious once we pause and remember that humans, too, are a product of evolution. When I read first read Matt Ridley’s book The Red Queen, I remember being shocked at the ideas he was proposing. In the book, Ridley promised to take the reader down a rabbit hole regarding how human nature evolved (and the role …

The Bermuda Triangle of Science

This is an essay about how to avoid carpet-bombing your career as a scientist. The academy, in general, is a wonderful place to work, but not everyone plays nice. Veer too far from carefully charted courses and someone may slip quietly up behind you and slide a cold piece of steel in between the ribs of your budding research career. They’ll do this believing that they are serving public interest by snuffing out dangerous research agendas, but that won’t make any difference to you. It’ll be your reputation that will suffer grievous injury. What in the world might elicit such harsh rebuke from a community of otherwise broadminded, free speech spouting scholars? What is so verboten that it constitutes academia’s Bermuda Triangle, a place where careers disappear more often than ships in the actual Bermuda Triangle? In one word, it’s race. Now, had I written this a decade or more ago, general intelligence would have topped the list of forbidden academic fruit. This is not to say that intelligence research has magically become mainstream. It …

How To Have An Opinion Worth Hearing

I listen to you time and time again, while you tell me just what’s right… Kansas City, by Marcus Mumford   Political seasons have a way of swinging wide the floodgates for opinions across a great many topics. Experts on guns, abortion, market economies, foreign policy, crime, climate change, and taxation emerge from the woodwork. These and other subjects fill political stump speeches, campaign narratives, and op-ed columns. The proclivity for loudly voicing one’s thoughts is endemic in the public too. Social media sites have made opinion expression a cottage industry that runs 24/7, 365 days per year. Since anything worth doing is worth doing well, I’d like to offer a bit of what I hope will be useful advice if you’re looking to jump into the fray of opinion sharing. Surprisingly, I think many folks underestimate what they would need to do in order to gestate a truly informed opinion. It’s a tall task, to be sure, but I’ve devised a simple instrument that might help. Below is checklist that can be consulted prior …

How to Find a Parenting Effect

Like religion and politics, parenting can be an emotionally charged topic.  I argued previously that parenting did not represent a monolithic predictor of child development.1,2,3,4 More precisely, I stated that even if it was, most research on the subject would never allow you to know it because of a problem replete in the social sciences: genetic confounding.  The larger intent of my previous essay, in fact, was to address the perils of correlational research and encourage you to think carefully the next time you saw a headline proclaiming that X causes Y (e.g., bacon causes cancer). Parenting effects provided a suitable avenue for making that point given the proliferation of deeply confounded “parenting studies” which trade on unintelligible correlations between parenting styles and child outcomes. I want to take a slightly different approach this time around.  If parenting effects really existed, and you wanted to find them, where would you need to look? You know already where not to look; a correlation between a parenting style and child behavior, for instance, simply does not provide …

Why Parenting May Not Matter and Why Most Social Science Research is Probably Wrong

I want you to consider the possibility that your parents did not shape you as a person. Despite how it feels, your mother and father (or whoever raised you) likely imprinted almost nothing on your personality that has persisted into adulthood. Pause for a minute and let that heresy wash across your synapses. It flies in the face of common sense, does it not? In fact, it’s the type of claim that is unwise to make unless you have some compelling evidence to back it up. Even then it will elicit the ire of many. Psychologists especially get touchy about this subject. I do have evidence, though, and by the time we’ve strolled through the menagerie of reasons to doubt parenting effects, I think another point will also become evident: the problems with parenting research are just a symptom of a larger malady plaguing the social and health sciences. A malady that needs to be dealt with. In terms of compelling evidence, let’s start with a study published recently in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.1 …

How criminologists who study biology are shunned by their field

  – But what’s puzzling you, is the nature of my game. “Sympathy for The Devil” The Rolling Stones I am a criminologist by training, which means that I make my living trying to better understand the causes of criminal behavior.  My research specialty in particular is something my colleagues and I call biosocial criminology. What is that, you ask? The simplest way to answer that question is to clarify what it is not — biosocial criminology is not one thing. It encompasses various flavors of psychology, biology, genetics, and neuroscience all aimed in the direction of understanding why human beings engage in a host of disreputable, dangerous, aggressive, and, of course, illegal behaviors. The logic for approaching the study of crime in this manner is simple. Human beings perpetrate criminal behavior and humans are biological creatures. Simple reasoning would require that biology should play some role in the production of crime. For decades, however, our traditional criminology colleagues disagreed with us. They sternly rejected the chain of thought that I just described and chided …