Evolution is FALSE Because of Women!

I can’t believe I missed this post at Pharyngula. Apparently, Ann Coulter figured out that evolution was false. Why? Because Evolution is supported by biologists, you know, women. She’s suggesting that we can guage the relative merits of stupid evolutionary “Darwiniacs” and their super-smart Intelligent Design “Coulterparts” on the basis of sex ratios… and she’s right.

And I swore to myself that I would ignore Coulter and her recent craziness. Let’s take a look at what she said in her latest “book,” Godless:

Their grandiose self-conceptions to the contrary, the cult [the “evolution cult”] members are rarely scientists at all.

They’re almost always biologists—the “science” with the greatest preponderance of women. The distaff MIT “scientist” who fled the room in response to Larry Summers’s remarks was, of course, a biologist. While I’m sure there have been groundbreaking discoveries about the internal digestive system of the earthworm, biologists are barely even scientists anymore. They’re classifiers, list-makers, like librarians with their Dewey decimal system. Except librarians don’t claim the Dewey decimal system holds the Rosetta Stone to the universe. There were once great biologists, but the morally vacuous ones began to promote their own at the universities. It was sort of intelligently designed devolution. Like Marxists gradually dominating the comp lit department, biologists will only be given tenure today if they foreswear any doubts about the evolution pseudoscience. Consequently, “biologist” almost always means “evolutionary biologist,” which is something like an “ESP biologist.”

Biologists are barely even scientists? Give me a break! Biologists are the scientists. (Chemists, physicists, geologists, astronomers, etc I still love you – I’m just making a point.) No field is expanding as rapidly and prolifically as is biology. Discoveries come out every day about plant biology research, bioinformatics, the molecular structure of enzymes, medical research, stem cells, and evolution and ecology, just to name a few topics. None of this is the ancient stamp-collecting stereotype that Coulter promotes for some reality-foresaken reason emotion. Hell, even some of the hottest areas of research for chemistry involve biology (biomaterials, green chemistry, even nanotechnology), the same with physics (biophysics) and astronomy (exobiology/planetary geology). And biology is a staple of geology.

But in the fantasy world of pundit Coulter, biologists are just people who pick flowers, dry them, and attach them to cards to file away in a library of some sort. No, those aren’t scientists, those are called undergraduates taking a flower biology course, cleverly used to restock their school’s herbarium. (My perspective on this comes from being one of those undergrads in that very class, but I’m not bitter, just realistic.) My advice to you is to take a look at last week’s list of scientific articles at ScienceDaily.com, and decide for yourself what biology is, and compare it to my answer: A rapidly expanding, exciting, and experimental field of science.

Now let’s back up a bit, in her lengthy rant that somehow got bound and published and oddly filed under “non-fiction,” Coulter has purposefully suggested that biology isn’t science in part because is has the “greatest preponderance of women.” This is nothing new for her – Coulter has often stated that men are smarter than women, once gleefully referring to her own sex as “not that bright.” We already know that she’s sexist, and ironically her attacks on women as the weaker sex are self-refuting. But let’s take a look at her claim.

In her plagiarized novel Godless, Ann Coulter feebly attacked evolution and biology. Her grasp of science is exceedingly weak, yet, I think there is something we could learn from a good investigation of sex ratios in science. Let’s take a look at how many men and women are in, say, the Evolution & Ecology department that has the #1 graduate program, which happens to be the one at my alma mater, UC Davis.

Here’s the faculty page at the EVE department at UCD. Let’s count the women! Unless some names tricked me, I counted 6 women out of 28 total faculty members. That’s 21%, not too bad. Then I clicked through to all of the lab group webpages that I could, and counted everyone else working in the department, as graduate students, technicians, or post-docs. Of the lab groups that I could survey, there were 33 women out of 47, or 70%. (If you count out a computer tech guy in one lab, then it becomes 72%) Finally, the grand total of those people who I could count is 39/75 = 52%. (Rather than add that caveat of who I could count every time, just remember that this is not an exhaustive survey.)
Yes, at 52% of the EVE “scientists” at UC Davis, women are prolific, where did they ever get the idea that they could have half of these stamp-collecting jobs? I might suggest that scientists (and science students) are selected on the basis of aptitude, interest, and experience. Thus, as with biology in general, there are a lot of women in the program. Other areas of science do not have as high a proportion of women as does biology due to sociological factors.

Now, let’s take a look at the other “side” of the current public debate over evolution. At the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture, you can take a look at their intelligent design “fellows.” And guess what, they’re [almost] all fellows. Only 1 out of the 40 fellows are female, and her name is Nancy Pearcey. That’s 2.5% of the ID proponents. If you include the program directors, advisor, and staff, it doesn’t look any better (or worse?), 1/44 = 2.3%.

What could explain this discrepancy? At a time when more than half of biology majors are female, women are strangely and exceedingly under-represented amongst antievolutionists. If you were to survey “classic” creationists of yesteryear, I don’t think you would get better numbers, especially since Pearcey would also be one of the only women counted amongst them. But considering that there are women in every hot area of science, especially biology, and intelligent design proponents claim that ID is a hot (although unresearched in the slightest) discipline, you would expect that there should be at least a FEW women. I mean, plural, at least. (Don’t make me do a racial classification of the IDers as well, you’re not going to like how it compares to actual science labs.)

We could take this several ways. (LAW) I’d like to shred up the least likely possibility first – that based upon our gender stereotypes and what Lawrence Summers called “intrinsic aptitude,” coupled with the risk-taking and entrepreneurish nature of the budding ultra-rigorous scientific affair known as Intelligent Design, that by the nature of humans themselves you will naturally see mostly men represented. This might be Coulter’s wildest dream, and who knows, the design proponents might have whispered something to that effect in her ear when they coached her in the writing of her book.

Back in reality, let’s explore some more possibilities. (CHANCE) It could have been an accident. By random chance, 1 out of 40 IDists happened to be female. Conveniently, IDist Bill Dembski has already shredded this one for me. He often gives an example of an investigation into the rigging of ballots by a politician as an example of his “probability filter.” The politician in question had put his own political party at the top of 40 out of 41 ballots, an outcome which had a probability of less than 1 in 50 billion by chance, according to the article. As 39/40 is very close to this number, I think we can effectively rule out chance in explaining this phenomenon. Thanks Bill. (Irony meters dancing, you all know what comes next.)
(DESIGN) There might be genuine classic sexism going on amongst these anti-scientists. It would certainly explain it, and in that case Nancy Pearcey might have had the hardest time asserting herself within the group, and for that I would commend her. But this is altogether too simplistic and is based upon an overt model of sexism that is more stereotypical than real.

No, there is one final and highly plausible possibility. Intelligent Design is promoted by fundamentalist Christians. Intelligent Design is accepted by them and their followers not on the basis of evidence, actual research, or logical coherence, it is accepted because it supports the heirarchies it supports, and because of the people who promote it. If a group of fifty middle-eastern anarchist lesbians had come up with ID, you can bet that the same people who believe in it today would reject it as some sort of New-Agey liberal thing. Indeed, the Islamic world on the other side of this blue sphere consider evolution to be a Christian plot.

What I am suggesting is that Intelligent Design is promoted by certain people not on the basis of their aptitude, but by the selection process that results in a preponderance of male priests. Intelligent Design is a real cultural phonomenon, and the people who are held up promoting it, who will be asked to give lectures, who will be given money, will represent the power structure of the groups of people for whom they provide arguments.

I wanted to mention here, but I’ll explain it in greater depth in the future, but I tentatively consider IDists to be intellectual puppets. Yes, in many ways each individual proponent is smart, despite their internal contradictions and dancing around logic, but so are countless other people. Flip through the websites at the UC Davis EVE department and take a look at the actual diversity within and between lab groups, of race, sex, age, and probably religion and sexual preference. (Though it is not as readily apparent in the photos.) Why aren’t these scientists being propped up? Why aren’t they being flown around the country and given money so that they don’t have to do research anymore? Because they don’t uphold cultural prejudices. Because they discover truths rather than promote “Truth?”
Our culture is prejudiced against evolution, and even science to an increasing degree. The idea that humans were created/designed separate is a cultural prejudice, passed down from illiterate nomads, periodically gracing the pages of philosophy texts. They are prejudices because they were decided before careful study could have taken place. Hinduism includes beliefs that are strangely akin to evolution, yet I would still describe them as prejudice because of the process by which they were derived.

In short, ID proponents are popular not because their ideas have merit, but because they confirm and uphold the cultural prejudices of their support base. And it comes as no surprise that their ranks reflect the power structures of those denominations. And they have certainly confirmed the prejudices of Ann Coulter.

Now back to Ann of Green Fables. From all accounts it seems that her new book is so heavy with falsehoods, bad citations, lifted and unattributed passages, and outright lies on top of misconceptions, that it can’t even pass as a book to read while intoxicated with Cannabis. And that’s pretty low. Some people get a sort of hysterical pleasure reading her stuff, even knowing how worthless it is, almost like Being John Malcovich but instead Being a Mental Patient.

Frankly, I don’t find her kind of microencephaly appealing. She honestly believes that men are innately smarter than women, an idea based on horrible studies done long ago. Do you know where the idea that men had much larger brains (and higher intelligence) than women came from? Studies comparing the brain size of Young Men and Old Women. Actually, that wasn’t where it came from – it came from the culture and some “scientist” came up with this biased study to confirm their beliefs at the time, and it endures to this day. Just like the “Men Pursue and Women are Coy” idea that was came from a study done on fruit flies. Fruit flies!!

I wonder if Coulter descended from the small-headed women they selected for that study…

Finally, Ann Coulter is propped up herself because she echoes the beliefs of her ideological support base. Make no mistake, if any politically visible man stated that men were smarter than women he would be lambasted. Actually, Coulter did us the favor of bringing up Lawrence Summers at Harvard, who did just that and was walked out on by prominent female biologists (I would have walked out too). Coulter, instead, gets cheers because as a woman, she is supposedly able to denigrate her own sex. It’s sexist no matter who says it.

But she is right, there is something that we can learn from the demographics of biology versus the anti-biology known as Intelligent Design / Creationism. But it’s not what she had in mind. At 52% female compared to 2.5%, we can plainly see that some selection process is occurring in how anti-evolution activists are picked by their supporters. But even if we pick just the department faculty, we get 21% female. Maybe someday when Hannah Maxson at Cornell becomes an official ID proponent, their percentage will double to 5%, but by that time the remaining 31% of graduate students and such will have long since graudated and gone on to become successful scientists. Heh, and there will be countless more men joining their flock.

To conclude, Ann Coulter opened up a subject that she probably shouldn’t have – the implications of sex ratios in scientific fields. We find that the top graduate program in Evolution & Ecology in the country has a ratio of women-to-men that we might expect from a field that prizes actual aptitude over cultural prejudice. We find that the Intelligent Design proponents have a sex ratio that you would expect from a cultural movement rather than a scientific one. But I didn’t need to go through all of this evidence, logic, and prose. From Coulter’s point of view all I had to do was point out that I, as a man, am therefore smarter than her, and therefore right. But my mind doesn’t work that way, and neither does science.

No amount of claiming that biology is increasingly feminized so therefore evolution is false will change reality. And the reality is that Ann Coulter is a sexist bloviating pundit with less knowledge about biology and science than she has about history or humor. Except as a spectacle.

I think [women] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote.

That’s not funny.

Update: PZ Myers is worried that The Panda’s Thumb wouldn’t fare too well when looking at the sex ratio. (It has also been noted that the Skeptical Inquirer magazine is populated by old men.) Taking a look at its crew, I count 2 women out of 30, or 6.7%. I would have thought that Eugenie Scott (She’s hella cool) would be considered a contributor, as I seem to recall her posting things there, but that would only bring it up to 9.7%, which doesn’t sound so good when compared to the numbers within the EVE department here and the Disco Institute. But it is still better than the DI. And besides, there are only 30 members of the Thumb, so a smaller sample size is not as useful for making conclusions.
I would like to clarify and say that a skewed sex ratio doesn’t say much about the field by itself, for example there are a lot of men in engineering and physics, which is believed to be due to sociological reasons about the appeal of the field. (In physics, though, Lisa Randall is pretty prominent.) But, as PZ points out, there are quite a few female bloggers at Science Blogs, so things are looking up. But I do wonder, from reading the Thumb, why there aren’t more female bloggers at the thumb? It could have to do with the inception of blogging, and social attitutes toward computers in the previous decade. I do not know too much about the Thumb’s history, but it sounds like many members came from old online chat groups before blogs existed. Maybe a thumbite could enlighten us?
I thought about the sex ratio of the IDists half a year ago, wondering if it had any implications. A scientific concept will rise and fall based upon the weight of the evidence and logical coherence of the arguments. Intelligent Design does not hold up to scrutiny; it doesn’t even hold its own. But if it was logical, if there was evidence that supported it, and if there was a scientific hypothesis involved that could and has been tested, the preponderance of men wouldn’t matter. However, as we are dealing with a cultural movement rather than a scientific one, I feel that the composition of the proponents can be instructive. And I think that their highly skewed sex ratio is explained very well by what I laid out. Truthfully, it is not an argument against ID in and of itself, but it does explain the observation.
The Panda’s Thumb is an exercise in science journalism, and it is my fond hope that in the near future more female human beings will join the crew, found crews of their own, and bring more unique points of view to the discussion. Hey, if you have two X chromosomes, this might be a great time to apply to join the Thumb!

Finally, maybe the IDists will balance out over time, I expect that if they’re going to survive in this country that they’ll have to. As the views of society change and patriarchy loosens its grasp, more women will be represented. But I’ll wager that it is going to be a lot slower coming than even the sex ratio in physics. I would bet a bottle of Wyders Raspberry Cider with Bill Dembski on that. But I doubt I’d see a drop. 🙂

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

4 thoughts on “Evolution is FALSE Because of Women!”

  1. The following comment from your blog indicates that you are as misinformed as Coulter:

    “But in the fantasy world of pundit Coulter, biologists are just people who pick flowers, dry them, and attach them to cards to file away in a library of some sort. No, those aren’t scientists, those are called undergraduates taking a flower biology course, cleverly used to restock their school’s herbarium.”

    You probably are not aware of the fact that plant systematics is a dynamic area of biology and has contributed much to the general field of systematics. Pick up any biology journal these days and you will see phylogentic trees in use in many contexts. You ought to thankful that the “flower pickers” kept the field of systemtics alive.

    You also know nothing about herbaria and the value of collections. The plants you collected were not just filed away to collect dust. Herbaria are used not only in systemtics but in ecology and conservation biology (a hot topic you failed to mention). Also, herbarium collections provided much of the data that validated the effects of atmospheric CO2 increase on plants.

    I also doubt that “flower biology” professors are the only ones that use undergraduates to help them.

    I applaud your efforst to discredit Coulter, but your ignorant comments on other areas of biology are counter productive.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, but that bit about pressing flowers was a joke! You’re right, plant systematics uses the pressed plants, as well as ecology, as it provides a record of populations of species over time. Indeed, many unergraduate courses teach the students while stocking collections of samples – I took an entomology course that did the same thing. Anyway, my joke was limited to the collection part of the process – which Coulter seems to think that that is all biology is. I thought to mention that the scientists in this scenario were the herbarium personel that use the samples for research, but oh well. I’m sure you had to find something to criticize. – KJM

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  2. Great article! I’ve been hearing a lot about the latest filth to ooze out of Ann Coulter, and your criticism was quite enjoyable.

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  3. Ann Coulter’s remarks were focused on people like biology high school teachers, not on people like biochemists and microbiologists. Michael Behe, Ph.D. is a microbiologist who demonstrated that irreducible complexity in molecular biology is irrefutable evidence for intelligent design, not for gradualism. Even Stephen Jay Gould agreed with this premise and abandoned gradualism for punctuated equilibrium, which does not address the major flaws in neo-Darwinian theory. Ann Coulter may not have a Ph.D. in biology, but she certainly made a lot more sense in her remarks about Darwinism than you are making about her. At least she knows the difference between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. People like you always blur the differences deliberately to favor your agenda. Rather than turning people against Coulter, you are encouraging them to like her even more. You failed to accomplish your goal.

    Where to begin? I don’t see how she was directing her statement at high school biology teachers, she was very clearly talking about biologists, she said nothing of teachers in this passage. Next, Michael Behe is not a microbiologist, he is a biochemist, who since writing his book Darwin’s Black Box, has barely churned out any research except a flawed computer model in 2004. His concept of Irreducible Complexity is not evidence for design simply because it ignores changes in function, and at a more complex level, is not nuanced enough to apply to evolvable organisms, a problem that Behe said he would fix years ago and has never tried.

    Gradualism and Punctuated Equilibrium are macro-evolutionary concepts, referring to the broad patterns of what-evolves-into-what, and Irreducible Complexity is molecular biology concept that stakes a claim about the unevolveability of certain molecular structures via microevolution. So it seems that you misunderstand the macro-micro distinction yourself, what was your Ph.D. in? Stephen Jay Gould’s position on gradualism and punctuated equilibrium don’t undermine evolution, no more than one’s position on neutrino production in nuclear fusion undermines nuclear physics. It is because we don’t know enough from the fossil record to definitively state that the gradual or punctuated patterns apply that there is such disagreement about it. Disagreement about the fact that we evolved from other organisms, there is not.

    So Robert, you defend Coulter’s remarks on biologists, am I to understand that you agree with her implication about the number of women in biology? Or that biologists are just stamp collectors? She didn’t talk about anything else, here. If there is some other passage that you would be willing to defend instead, then by all means, post it here, or email it to PZ Myers, because no one can seem to find much factual content in Coulter’s recent book. If you want to defend a passage, we’re all ears, but if you want to just leave claims dangling, then I’ll just chop them off.

    Thanks for stopping by, and let me know what those “major flaws” of neo-Darwinian theory are. No one seems to be able to describe these “major flaws” that they keep bringing up. – KJM

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