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EDGE: Obviously you're controversial?

CRONIN: Yes. But I shouldn't be. I'm just doing standard science.

In fact, it should be the other way round. It's people who are prepared to talk about policy and society without knowing the first thing about human nature that should be considered controversial.

EDGE: How do you deal with relativism?

CRONIN: Post-modernism and its stable-mates — they're obviously all complete balderdash, not to be taken seriously intellectually. But as a social scourge they have to be taken very seriously. Apart from the sciences, which have built-in immunity, they've taken a frightening hold on academia — on people who are influential and who are teaching future generations of influential people. It's the resulting attitudes to science that I most deplore — the view that there are no universal standards by which to judge truth or falsity or even logical validity; that science doesn't make progress; that there's nothing distinctive about scientific knowledge; and so on. One of the reasons why so much logic-free, fact-free, statistics-free criticism of Darwinism has been able to find an audience is this attitude that science is just another view so I'm free to adopt my view, any view.

EDGE: There's a lot of scientists and science writers out there communicating with the public and there's no central canon of science. When you use the word science in public discourse aren't you trying to beat somebody over the head?

CRONIN: No, absolutely not. First, there is a central canon — a very robust one. The disagreements — especially those that attract public attention — are rarely to do with core theories. They're usually about the elaboration of those theories — healthy disagreements about a core that's fundamentally agreed on. But second, and more important, the canon of science, what gives it authority, is above all its method. So, when scientists have those disagreements, there are objective ways of deciding between them. Theories must be testable and then must pass the tests. On a day-to-day basis things won't always be clear-cut; it's not an instant process. Neither, of course, is it infallible. But it's by far the best we've got and it's done a breath-takingly impressive job so far. As for "trying to beat somebody over the head" … It's not individual scientists being authoritarian. It's science being an authority — and rightly so because it is indeed authoritative. So, once people understand that there's a vast distinction between science and non-science, and the distinction lies in scientific method, they'll understand the status of current disagreements and how to assess them.

EDGE: What would Charles Darwin have thought if he knew that he was being used today as an excuse to fool around?

CRONIN: I think he'd say the same as I'm saying, which is that there's a difference between what science tells us are our evolved propensities and the moral status of our behavior. And it's fallacious to go from facts to values. So evolved propensities don't constitute an excuse.

EDGE: There are certainly no lack of critics of the "Darwin-made-me-do-it school." Many scientists doing lab work, messing around with the brain, physical body, don't seem persuaded.

CRONIN: Yes, a century and a half after the publication of the Origin and still Darwinian theory hasn't penetrated into many areas of biology. And, even among biologists who do take an adaptationist approach, all too many of them drop it rather hastily when it comes to our own species — particularly when it comes to our psychology and our behavior — and most of all when it comes to sex differences. I'm often reminded of the anti-Darwinian attitudes of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century — the period that's been called 'the eclipse of Darwinism'. Biology was rife with vulgar empiricism — dismissing adaptationist explanations on the grounds that they were teleological, going beyond the evidence, and so they weren't genuine science.

The problem's not only with the public's perception of Darwinism and sex differences. Many a scientist has also yet to be persuaded. They seem to have learned from the mistakes of the past how to make new ones. But while the earlier rejection of Darwinism was rather tragic, this one's looking increasingly like farce. It's clear which way the history of science is going from here.

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