How to issue a science report without science

Having just finished raking fundamentalist belief systems over the coals to reveal their hypocrisy, I was looking at some university press releases. And out jumps one from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Heath. It was so remarkable I at first doubted it was authentic. But it turns out it was distributed by UMNewsService and unless it is so droll that the put-on is over my head, it shows exactly why the public is so skeptical of “scientific” pronouncements.

The press release is entitled “Shopping differences between sexes show evolution at work,” and you can read it on Eurekalert! It purports to describe a project of Daniel J. Kruger, a Research Assistant Professor, at the Prevention Research Center and a Faculty Affiliate of the LIFE Program, Institute for Social Research. Nowhere can I find what the project is; there is no mention of a publication or the nature of the research he is doing. It therefore must be solely the video posted on YouTube. (You can link to the video at the bottom of the press release.) That video is the kind of ridiculous performance you normally only see on local TV news–a fluff piece that no one pays much attention to and no one remembers. That would have been embarrassing enough, but look at what Dr. Kruger actually says.

He maintains that there is a gender difference in the way men and women shop. This is all based on personal anecdotal evidence as he readily says in the video, which he undoubtedly scripted. What is the nature of the difference? In a nutshell: women take more time and compare quality; men hurry in, select what they want, and hurry out.

So why is this siginificant? Well, he says, it shows the evolutionary relic of human behavior in hunting and gathering times. Women had to slowly pick the fruit for quality. Men went off and killed the meat source and hurried back. What is the evidence of this paleo-behavior? We are left in the dark.

This is how the release ends: “Of course these behaviors aren’t genetically determined and don’t apply to everyone, but there are consistent broad themes, Kruger said.”

So if they aren’t genetically determined, how does this show “evolution”? Or is this cultural evolution? And by the way, how could H. sapiens (or their ancestors?) have so quickly evolved these gender differences, but after many millennia during which the species abandoned hunting and gathering, they were unable to “evolve” other, more advantageous behaviors?

How is any of this science?

Could there be a sillier press release? Why would Michigan have promoted this exercise? Is there now a university policy of YouTube or perish?

If there is some explanation, I’d really appreciate hearing it.

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