Cover image for Why men won't ask for directions : the seductions of sociobiology
Why men won't ask for directions : the seductions of sociobiology
Francis, Richard C., 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
325 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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BF698.95 .F73 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Much of the evolutionary biology that has grabbed headlines in recent years has sprung from the efforts of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists to explain sexual features and behavior--even differences between how men and women think--as evolutionary adaptations. They have looked to the forces of natural selection to explain everything from the mimicry of male mockingbirds to female orgasms among humans. In this controversial book, Richard Francis argues that the utility of this approach is greatly exaggerated. He proposes instead a powerful alternative rooted in the latest findings in evolutionary biology as well as research on the workings of our brains, genes, and hormones.

Exploring various sexual phenomena, Francis exposes fundamental defects in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, which he traces to their misguided emphasis on "why" questions at the expense of "how" questions. Francis contends that this preoccupation with "why" questions (such as, "Why won't men ask for directions"?) results in a paranoiac mindset and distorted evolutionary explanations. His alternative framework entails a broader conception of what constitutes an evolutionary explanation, one in which both evolutionary history, as embodied in the tree of life, and developmental processes are brought to the foreground. This alternative framework is also better grounded in basic biology.

Deeply learned, consistently persuasive, and always engaging, this book is a welcome antidote to simplistic sociobiological exegeses of animal and human behavior.

Author Notes

Richard C. Francis received his Ph.D. in neurobiology and behavior from Stony Brook University and the National Research Science Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. Before becoming a freelance writer he conducted widely published postdoctoral research in evolutionary neurobiology and sexual development at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Freelance science writer Francis has written an incisive and witty critique of the methodologies of sociobiology and its most current manifestation, evolutionary psychology. His main criticism is directed at the overuse of adaptation as an explanation for features of organisms, especially as applied to human sexual behavior. Francis supports his engaging and well-reasoned arguments with examples from research, including his own postdoctoral work. The cited research illustrates alternative ways of looking at behavioral patterns that take into account more factors than their adaptation, e.g., features, behavioral and otherwise, are sometimes the result of constraints imposed on an organism as a result of its evolutionary history. Often, the appropriate question to ask is how a feature came to be rather than why it exists. Francis does not deny that adaptation can be a very powerful explanatory concept, as long as it is not used dogmatically. Instead, he offers increased options for a better understanding of behavior through considering organisms in their social, evolutionary, and neurobiological contexts. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Walter L. Cressler, West Chester Univ. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A freelance writer with a doctorate in neurobiology, Francis argues that a focus on teleology has distorted evolutionary science. Rather than looking for effects, as in asking the "why" question posed in the title of this volume, one should give more attention to "how" questions that can lead to causal explanations. He critiques the teleological "why-biology" of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology by exposing its scientific limitations when compared with the "how-biology" of neurobiology. To support his thesis, Francis focuses on sexual phenomena in vertebrate animals, though he also provides a chapter on human sex differences in spatial cognition. He includes fascinating presentations of such diverse phenomena as asexual reproduction and sex changes in fish species, sound mimicry in mockingbirds, and genital erection in hyenas. Francis is careful to note that in many cases "how" and "why" biology are complementary rather than mutually exclusive approaches. Though some background in basic biology will prove helpful, this book should appeal to a wide audience. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty in the social and life sciences; general readers. H. L. Minton emeritus, University of Windsor

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Chapter 1 Darwinian Paranoiap. 1
Chapter 2 An Orgasm of One's Ownp. 10
Chapter 3 Sex without SEXp. 19
Chapter 4 Transgenderedp. 36
Chapter 5 Alternative Lifestylesp. 51
Chapter 6 Social Inhibitionsp. 75
Chapter 7 Why Does the Mockingbird Mock?p. 102
Chapter 8 Brain Ecologyp. 124
Chapter 9 Why Men Won't Ask for Directionsp. 150
Chapter 10 A Textbook Case of Penis Envy?p. 175
Chapter 11 Darwin's Temptressp. 192
Notesp. 201
Bibliographyp. 257
Indexp. 311