Cultivating a persona of fairness and impartiality, David Buller has written a critique of theory and results from evolutionary psychology. To those unfamiliar with the primary literature, some of his claims may seem plausible. That has not, however, been the reaction of those who know this literature intimately.
This website presents a series of collective responses to Buller. It is collective because we think each scientist should respond to the research that he or she knows best. We provide links to primary sources, so that interested readers can see for themselves what the literature says.
Here is our response to Buller’s attack on the evidence for cheater detection, based on the book and his article, which appeared in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Because we were limited to 700 words, we could only address the fact that Buller has ignored 15 years worth of evidence showing that his favored alternative hypothesis is false. As time permits, we will expand this response to deal with the other problems with his argument (see Fiddick, Cosmides, & Tooby (2000) on why logic + background assumptions cannot explain our results) and the other ways in which he has misrepresented the empirical literature (e.g., it is not true indicatives need only be “natural” to elicit good violation detection). For a more complete review of the literature on cheater detection and social exchange reasoning–including a review of the evidence that refutes Buller’s alternative, deontic, hypothesis– see Cosmides & Tooby (2005), Neurocognitive adaptations designed for social exchange. Click here for a more complete (and annotated) set (annotated) of publications on this topic.
Step-children at risk; the psychology of parental care
Martin Daly and Margo Wilson have amassed a large body of evidence over a 20+ year period, documenting that step-children are at greater risk of abuse than natural children. This was part of their studies of the psychology of parental motivation. In his book and article, David Buller attacked their evidence.
A more complete reply, which fully takes on the Buller book, can be found here.
Importantly, Daly and Wilson felt there was an issue beyond Buller: in their words, “distorting what is known about family violence for rhetorical purposes could do real harm in the practical realm of child protection”. So they have also composed a piece summarizing the evidence for the “Cinderella Effect” (i.e., the claim that step children are at greater risk of abuse than natural children). That can be found here: Cinderella Effect: The Facts
Buller criticizes the evidence and theory that evolutionary psychologists have generated on mate prefences. Andy Delton, Tess Robertson, and Doug Kenrick respond, discussing why his criticisms fall short. (Their response is in Evolutionary Psychology, an open-access journal.)