Men, Science, and Evolutionary Theory

"Men, Science, and Evolutionary Theory," review of Men: Evolutionary and Life History, by Richard Bribiescas, Forbes Magazine, 26 Februaruy 2009.


Imagine Larry Summers making that statement when he was president of Harvard, instead of the much milder query he raised about the capacity of women in science that was surely one factor in his ousting as president. Yet here is a Yale professor, published by Harvard University Press in the new paperback edition of Men: Evolutionary and Life History, going much further than Summers in the opening sentence of his book.

The difference is that Richard Bribiescas speaks as a scientist, not as a university president. He is a biological anthropologist who has the equivalent of a degree in biology and more. Even though he uses the mantle of science to encourage non-biologists like Larry Summers and this reviewer to accept and act on what he asserts, he has, from science, an authority the rest of us lack.

A biological anthropologist is quite different, utterly different, from a cultural anthropologist, who, believing that culture, not biology, makes us different, would never make this statement. Bribiescas hardly alludes to the cultural argument, but no reader can be unaware that the way he begins is spitting into the prevailing wind of feminism and gender-neutrality in Western societies. The charm of his book is that he utterly ignores the opinion, or prejudice, against it and proceeds as if all he has to do is explain, and you will agree.

The science in question here is the current version of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. That theory says that human beings (for the book title speaks of men, not males) are dominated in their lives by the need to get their genes into the next generation. If you can do this, you have “survived,” even if or despite the fact that you die.