It's painful to say this, because I greatly admire the work of many of these contributors, but this book was a huge disappointment to me. It is not a cohesive critique of the field at all, nor does it detail any specific excesses or flaws in actual evolutionary psychology research programs. It is largely a collection of philosophical essays, some of which are recycled arguments from the earlier sociobiology wars so well chronicalled in "Defenders of the Truth" by Ullica Segerstrale.
The arguments still seem to be motivated by the fear that a rigid biological view of human nature will leap the great divide and dominate social sciences. And the responses to these critiques seem to verify that indeed the central issues are how mutable we view culture, how we characterize cultural evolution, and what it means for social and political policy. The verification of specific scientific theories gets surprisingly little attention.
I was expecting more detailed essays on the legitimate technical issues such as the problem of confirmation of evolutionary adaptations, the problem of psychological types, the problem of psychological modules, the definition of adaptation, the developmental systems theory challenge to so-called genetic determinism, the theory of inclusive fitness, and the theory of reciprocal altruism as an explanation of human kindness.
Unless I missed it, I couldn't find any mention of the use of evolutionary game theory in EP in this book, a particularly sad omission because it is one of the most reasonable bridges between biological and social science thinking, and so its status is critical what seems to be the agenda of the critics here.
What little of the essays addresses these pretty much assumes the battle is won and argues from there. I found it unconvincing. For example, geneticist Gabriel Dover's ("Dear Mr. Darwin") critique of selfish gene selectionism is very interesting but odd in relying so heavily on his molecular drive theory and inexplicably avoiding raising many of the excellent points that others like Sober and Eldredge have made about selection dynamics at different levels. Not that I found much wrong with it, it would stand alone well by itself. But it illustrates the general problem with this book, that it makes some good specific points but never quite ties them together as a constructive (or even coherent) critique of EP.
Compared to Paul Ehrlich's "Human Natures" for example, this book is very poorly researched in my opinion, though both will likely be about as equally despised by many evolutionary psychologists, for different reasons. "Alas" because it mainly just opens up old wounds without contributing much to the dialog, and "Human Natures" because while more scholarly than "Alas," and more educational about evolution generally, it still argues largely orthogonally to EP rather than constructively about it.
Surprisingly, both books largely avoid much of the useful critique of evolutionary psychology that comes from within that very field. Understandable, I suppose critics don't trust scientists to be competent at critiquing their own field. But in this case of "Alas," especially, it would have strengthened the book tremendously.
In spite of the disappointment, there are some very good essays here, even where they may miss their mark on current evolutionary psychology. In one of the best essays, Patrick Bateson argues persuasively that the word 'instinct' has become scientifically ambiguous and even meaningless. Mary Midgley points out some of the now fairly well known weaknesses in the concept of selfish memes as a theory of cultural transmission.
Countering what many of the contributers here characterize as the conservative bias of EP, Anne Fausto-Sterling argues for a feminist perspective on science and Barbara Herrnstein Smith gives a fairly generic critique against aspects of the cognitive model of the mind. Both make good points, though a bit unfocused and neither points out that the same critiques have been made from within the field as well, such as by Geoffrey Miller. Nor do they explain why they characterize the entire field as politically conservative older white males, when that image seems to me to better characterize its populists than its researchers. There is little evidence that any of the authors went even as far as journalist John Horgan ("The Undiscovered Mind") went in interviewing or debating any of the researchers directly on any specific points for this book.
I appreciate the underlying theme of many of these authors that human nature (or as Ehrlich puts it, "natures") is complex and often oversimplified, but they authors give the impression of throwing up their hands rather than giving it a try. That seems to be the point of EP research programs, however their current status is perceived, to try to find real, testable patterns in our lives that we can use to understand and improve ourselves. It is in the specifics of testing and testability that I expected to see criticism, and found little to feed my hunger here. The reader with little time can skip the chapters if they are looking for a critique of EP and simply read a summary of Steve Rose's good final chapter arguing against ultra-Darwinism, and go from there to the technical work that supports it and to the EP work itself that deals with it. Here are Steve's main arguments against "ultra-Darwinism":
1. naked replicators are empty abstractions
2. There is a non-linear relationship between genes and phenotypes
3. Individual genes are an important level of selection but not the only one
4. Natural selection is not the only mode of evolutionary change
5. Not all phenotypic characters are adaptive
There are reasonable arguments for and against each of the above points in other literature. Unfortunately, this book lists these points without discussing them very far or how they apply to actual current EP research programs.