Rebecka K. Hahnel-Peeters, Sarah Massie, Angela Polito, Nina N. Rodriguez, Nehemiah Rodriguez, Brianna Ruff, Aaron T. Goetz, Cari D. Goetz, Aaron W. Lukaszewski, Joseph H. Manson, Elizabeth G. Pillsworth, John Q. Patton, & Eric Schniter
On April 30th, 2020, Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences (EBS) published an editorial by Gordon Gallup (‘To Salvage Human Intelligence, Evolutionary Psychologists May Have to Practice What They Preach’) which was elicited for a special issue about future perspectives in the field of evolutionary sciences. We contacted the journal about its procedures for writing a commentary and were welcomed to submit a response. On May 31st, 2020, we submitted our commentary for review, which was sent to action editor, Satoshi Kanazawa, who then sent it to two reviewers. On June 15th, 2020 Dr. Kanazawa rejected our commentary without providing us the opportunity to revise based on his and the reviewers’ comments. In order to ensure our commentary could still be read by anyone interested, we published the response as a preprint. After feedback and encouragement from academic peers, we wrote a letter to the editor on the basis of moral obligations to (1) defend our discipline from being used as a dog-whistle for eugenic arguments and (2) advocate for science as open discourse. On October 27th, 2020, we submitted a letter to the editor to EBS for publication. On November 13th, 2020, the editor-in-chief of EBS, Catherine Salmon, informed us that the journal does not accept letters to the editor. It was important to us that the contents of our letter be made public because we believe open discourse around controversial issues, particularly ones with troubling moral implications, is important. Therefore, we decided to publish the letter here:
"October 8, 2020
Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Recently, Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences elicited opinion pieces about future perspectives in the field of evolutionary sciences, of which Gordon Gallup’s essay, ‘To Salvage Human Intelligence, Evolutionary Psychologists May Have to Practice What They Preach’ was one. While the essay represents Gallup’s opinion, we, as evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists, and social scientists, find the claim that some individuals should reproduce more than others in order to “salvage human intelligence” to be morally abhorrent and far from reflective of the field of evolutionary psychology, present or future. Upon reading the preprint of Gallup’s essay, we submitted for review at this journal a commentary critiquing the scientific merit of his claims and refuting, on theoretical and empirical grounds, key points of his arguments. However, since our commentary was rejected, we felt compelled to respond again—this time, on moral grounds.
The field of Evolutionary Psychology (EP) has been notoriously targeted by critics who often conflate findings from EP as prescriptions produced by the field for how humans should behave. While critics of EP are sometimes misguided about its core tenets, we acknowledge that individual researchers within the field may also espouse different, and sometimes fringe, viewpoints. We hope to convey to individuals from all scientific disciplines that most evolutionary social scientists do not accept Gallup’s line of thinking. Importantly, we do not think controversial topics (e.g., intelligence) should be exempt from empirical inquiry. In fact, some of the most important programs of research may address contentious topics and wade into the waters of social unacceptability, or political incorrectness.
Eugenics-based views of human behavior are denounced by most evolutionary social scientists. The implications of these dangerous ideas are not only that they can impede our pursuit of knowledge—as detailed in our original critique of the scientific premises of the essay—but more importantly, they can (and have historically been shown to) cause real and significant harm to targeted groups of people. The core premise of Gallup’s argument is erroneous; but more insidiously, he relies on the same faulty logic utilized by so many others, past and present, who have sought to control, dominate, or exterminate specific groups of human beings. Gallup asserts that since evolutionary psychologists uniquely understand the complexities of evolutionary theory, they are uniquely positioned to reverse the purported decline of human intelligence. This assertion is grotesque, but it is also logically fallacious, committing the naturalistic fallacy and confusing that which empirically is (at least according to Gallup) with that which morally ought to be. Even if we accept the premise that evolutionary psychologists demonstrate by their choice of academic field a higher-than-average intellect (even amongst other academics), and even if we accept the obviously inaccurate argument that this tiny subsample of the human population could change the evolutionary trajectory of the species by choosing to have more children, this still does not and cannot lead us to the conclusion that they ought to do so.
Gallup's argument is ultimately pro-natalist—encouraging a desired subpopulation to do their part by breeding for the good of the species—but pronatalism is the flip side of eugenicist’s coin. Typically, eugenic arguments center on the discouragement or inhibition of reproduction in specific groups. Pronatalism, as a eugenicist argument, encourages specific individuals to have more children (e.g., by providing government incentives to specific groups of people). Eugenicist notions have presented themselves enough times in history to demonstrate that it leads down an inevitable path of harm. A path that segregates people based on race, religion, gender, or culture, and is still a humanitarian problem today as it has been in the past.
There are tangible dangers in the argument proposed by Gallup in his opinion piece. Who decides what is 'desirable' for a species? It is not Gallup’s place (nor anyone else’s) to misuse evolutionary science in support of their own opinion. The implied eugenicist conclusion promoted by Gallup is incorrect in its scientific premises and irresponsible on moral grounds. As scientists studying the interaction between evolution, genetics, culture, and natural selection, it is imperative that we uphold a high standard of rigor and vigilance when communicating the topics we choose to research. We believe it is important to maintain the integrity of the field of evolutionary psychology by denouncing both Gallup’s version of eugenics and his effort to justify it as a legitimate empirical conclusion.
In the spirit of open discourse, we consider this to be a living document to be continued in the comments below: