Responsa: Nature versus Nurture

Responsa: Nature versus Nurture


Howard Adelman

In response to my piece on Tim Hunt, I was pleased to hear from those who supported my view. Two readers’ reactions deserve a more extended reply.

  1. Nature versus Nurture

The Response

I agree about Tim Hunt.  100%.  But I even agree with Lawson and what he said.  You don’t.  You said, “If he accepted a biological determinism in a war against social norms that condemned such behaviour, his false consciousness might make it very difficult for him to perform his job”.  It was not false.  

So, I disagree.  It is the truth-tellers imperative to tell the truth.  He was doing his job just fine.

Lawson, looking at his men, had concluded that they were biologically inclined to be assertive (duh, they are soldiers who are obliged to fight and kill now and again)…some maybe even get aggressive now and then.  And that hormone is indiscriminate in it’s object once focused.  That is the testosterone speaking.  NOT his hormone but theirs. Tell me he is wrong.

He is employing the scientific method of observation and, eventually, conclusion.  He observed that aggressive young men often assert themselves where they are not wanted.  It does NOT mean he accepted the behaviour, only that the behaviour existed and he postulated (after observation) that it was likely natural in some sort of way for immature but large and healthy young men….the sort of way we want on the football field and the battlefield but not in the mess hall.  He was saying, in effect, “We have this force that we try to harness but it sometimes spills over into socially unacceptable places.”  That does NOT make him incapable of doing his job. Ste one:  he sees the difference.  It makes him a keen observer and a truth-teller.

The harangue that followed did more to hinder his efforts because he is telling a truth and no one listened.  And what they heard, they condemned.  Who would want that job?

They are both victims of politically-correct (morally wrong!) hysteria.

My Reply

Is Lawson a “truth-teller” in drawing a conclusion about biological determinism re some healthy strapping young males?

But first, how do you establish such truths?

The scientific method is one of observation and conclusion? I am afraid we disagree. Your simplistic empiricism does not accord with a current prevailing version of science inherited from Karl Popper and others. Simply put, science is NOT about simply observing and drawing conclusions. Science is about being confronted by puzzles, about formulating hypothesis to explain the dilemma, and then seeking, NOT to prove the hypothesis, but to falsify it. Generalizing simply from what one claims to be common sense observations – such as observing the behaviour of strapping young testosterone-driven young lads in the military – is a generalizing that possibly could explain their harassing behaviour. But does it? In this case, we have had lots of science to assess whether such a generalization is correct, though undoubtedly many agree with you and hold the same view as you based on their common sense observations. But, TO REPEAT, common sense observation and generalization is NOT the foundation for science.

Evidence for Testosterone Induced Behaviour

John Money (he is at Johns Hopkins in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences), about whom I have written and published before, but on the behaviour of pedophiles and his testimony as an expert witness in legal trials, in his book The Development of Sexuality and Eroticism in Human Kind, holds a scientific rather than common sense generalization version of your thesis. You might read him for a proper scientific support for your belief.

However, this is not the predominant view of science at this time. Note, the issue is about determinants of behaviour. There seems to be little doubt that biological factors play a key role in whether humans express their sexual behaviour in the direction of pedophilia, homosexuality and heterosexuality. If that was the question, then the answer is well known now and widely accepted – these factors influence, but do not determine behaviour. So the question becomes: if this factor is a determinant of behaviour, do social factors enhance or repress such expressions that society may deem unacceptable?

Currently, the homosexual expression of biological drives is now considered acceptable, partly because they seem immune to alternative social conditioning such as repression. Pedophilia is not considered acceptable. There is some debate on whether pedophilia can or cannot be controlled by strong social norms of enforcement against such behaviour. In the case of heterosexual drives expressed as bullying or even harassment, the prevailing social norms have shifted to intolerance. In this social shift, are we trying to repress what is only a natural propensity?

The general conclusion is that, although heterosexual social attraction is indeed natural, the form of expression in terms of cat-calling, harassment, and even, and especially bullying – the case Lawson was discussing – is not. Research seems to indicate that the primary determinants are NOT biological in this case, but social and individual factors that encourage or discourage such behaviour. More interesting, a key influential factor is not simply an institutional norm inhibiting aggressive behaviour in testosterone-filled young men, but the response of targeted females.

If they act as simply aggrieved women indifferent to the perpetrators’ drives and forces, bullying and harassment does not decline and, often increases. However, if the targeted victims make claims to reduce harassment by not simply referring to their own victimhood, but to the way that the bully or harasser has been conditioned by such norms, if the targeted victims, thereby, demonstrate a concern with how prosocial behaviour is encouraged and not just how anti-social behaviour is discouraged, bullies and harassers much more readily alter their behaviour. For example, a paper in the last issue of the Journal of Human Behaviour in the Social; Environment undertook a proper comparative study and drew something like this conclusion. This research in itself reinforces the conclusion that biology is not the key determinant of harassing or bullying heterosexual young men with an excess of testosterone.

In some, the pretty-well overwhelming conclusion of science at this time is that biology is NOT the key determinant in male bullying and harassing behaviour. Current scientific work has concentrated on how to shift from a culture that was either permissive or even encouraged such behaviour to one which discouraged such behaviour. The continuing research predominantly holds the view that in cases of harassment and bullying, biology, though clearly an influence on such behaviour, is not the key determinant in spite of a widespread conviction, such as yours, that it is. The reference that you offer to support your conclusion is NOT science but common sense impressions and generalizations, which, unfortunately, are often erroneous. But there are some scientists who support your view and you might want to read them so that you can come back with some solid and more scientific arguments.

  1. Is Nigel Short a Sexist?


In relationship to your article, here is an example only a few months ago – of hypocrisy with a clear-cut sexist comment, but I do not think anything happened to Mr. Short such as stripped of his title…

Look at his tweet and I included several articles for you to draw a societal conclusion… please do, because I don’t understand how he got away with this.

Best Regards

Checkmate! This Grandmaster Wins Award For Most Sexist Claim

By D’Arcy Maine | Apr 22, 2015

Are you ready to have your eyes roll completely to the back of your head today? If not, take a moment to prepare yourself because that’s EXACTLY what’s about to happen.

Meet Nigel Short, a British chess grandmaster, whose recent claims in an article in New In Chess magazine are raising eyebrows around the world. Short, ranked No. 64 in the world, proclaimed that men are better than women at playing chess because, ahem, their “brains are hard-wired very differently.”

So that sounds super scientific and stuff.

He furthered his ridiculous argument by explaining his wife has a “much higher degree of emotional intelligence” but that she “doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to maneuver the car out of our narrow garage.” OK then.

Because it’s 2015 and blatant sexism isn’t exactly the most accepted thing anymore, the article was widely criticized. But not one to simply apologize and let the whole thing blow over — perhaps men’s brains aren’t wired to do so — Short continued to embarrass himself with an appearance on Sky News.

Here is Mr. Shorts tweet:

My Reply

My reply is too long to include in today’s blog. Tomorrow I will write about Nigel Short, whether his remarks constituted sexism, and, however, they are characterized, does he deserve to be punished in any way for uttering such remarks, including stripping him of his status as a Grand Champion?

I also want to write about racism and the response that forced Rachel Dolezal to resign from her position with the NAACP. That will wait until Sunday. Only then will I return to my main concern – the use of “hysterical” shaming to bring down the mighty through public humiliation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s