If you’ve ever had a violent encounter with a porcupine, it probably didn’t end well. The large rodents are most well-known for the coat of some 30,000 barbed quills that cover their backs, an evolutionary adaptation to protect against predators. Although they appear thin—even flimsy—once quills lodge in your flesh, they’re remarkably difficult and painful to get out.
Recently, a group of scientists led by Jeffrey Karp of Harvard decided to closely investigate just what makes these quills so effective. As they report in an article published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, their analysis revealed a specialized microscopic barbed structure that enables the quills to slide into tissue extremely easily but cling to it stubbornly once it’s in place.
“Sound the evo-psych bullshit klaxon!” British science journalist Ed Yong tweeted on Thursday. He was right to be concerned.
Yong’s warning pertained to an op-ed at Wired Science by Ogi Ogas. Jumping off from the string of celebrities who’ve taken naughty pictures of themselves only to have those images leaked from their cellphones and shared publicly, Ogas argues that people have a universal desire to “sext” one another. Not only that, he says, this exhibitionist urge is an evolutionary adaptation of the brain.
“The source of all this au naturel flaunting lies not in the culture of fame, but in the design of our sexual brains,” Ogas writes. “In fact, research has unveiled two distinct explanations: Female exhibitionism appears to be primarily cortical, while male exhibitionism is mainly subcortical.”
That means, one guesses, that he thinks a woman’s desire to flash is rational while a man’s is instinctual because the desire is rooted in different parts of their brains. But what is the evidence for this? What “research has unveiled” this understanding?