The Worst Paper Ever Written: A Tribute

This incredible 2007 paper by Satoshi Kanazawa published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology (free access - HT Crooked Timber) is the worst piece of academic work I have ever come across. It's so bad it's actually great*. So great in fact, that despite suffering from severe sleep deprivation I feel I have the moral duty to present an abridged version to you - lest you are too busy to read the whole thing and you miss out on a true gem of scholarly endeavour.

Below are selected, edited excerpts from the paper, arranged in such a way so as to preserve the flow of the reasoning and cover the main ideas expressed by the author. For the most part, I am quoting Kanazawa verbatim. My 'contributions' and comments appear in bold or in parentheses, marked DC.

Brace yourselves:



I discuss how one’s difficulty in dating might be connected to the current world war.

Introduction (DC: including the unavoidable drivel that signal the paper is written by a great antrhopologist):

Social and cultural factors impact human behavior only through the evolved human nature. The evolutionary psychological imagination reminds us that, in the words of inimitable Laura Betzig, “people are animals” (Betzig, 1997).

Amazing insight #1:

If you are chronically spending every Saturday night alone, despite valiant and persistent effort to find a date, then chances are there’s something wrong with you, at least in this area of life.

(DC: But don't despair brother!)

You may be comforted to know that you are not alone in your plight; there are losers like you everywhere in the world, and for the same reasons. (DC: yeah, you are all busy playing Super Mario Galaxy)

The root of the problem

Your personal troubles are not entirely your own doing; there are larger forces at work to keep you alone on a Saturday night. For example, if you consistently find yourself dateless, chances are you are a young man, not a young woman. On any given Saturday night, more young men than young women find themselves dateless.

This is because humans are naturally polygynous. The mathematical consequence of polygyny is most obvious in societies that sanction and practice (simultaneous) polygynous marriage, such as many African tribes and Muslim societies in the Middle East. If every married man has four wives, for example, it means that, given a 50-50 sex ratio, three-quarters of men are left mateless. A large majority of men in such societies are in the same situation as you are; they find themselves alone on a Saturday (and every other) night.

The more polygynous the society, the more young men face the distinct possibility of ending their lives as complete reproductive losers. Such is the mathematics of polygyny.

The problem

Thomas L. Friedman predicted that the first major war in the 21st century, after the end of the Cold War which characterized the latter half of the 20th, would not be fought between nations. It would instead be declared by what Friedman called “super-empowered angry men”.

In his September 13, 2001, NYT column, Friedman once again predicted that the events in New York and Washington two days earlier signified the start of World War III. Nearly six years later, we are still in the middle of World War III.

It appears that, for our current enemies, the murder and destruction is the goal, rather than means to political goals. Why? (whyyyyyy?) Why are our current enemies in World War III so different from traditional terrorists?

The diagnosis

While suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, when religion is involved, it is always Islam.

What distinguishes Islam from other major world religions is that it sanctions polygyny, and, as we saw earlier, polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status, who are most likely to be left without reproductive opportunities when older men of higher status marry polygynously. Polygyny therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates because they have little to lose and much to gain by doing so, compared to men who already have wives.

However, polygyny by itself, while it increases violence, is not sufficient to explain suicide bombings. The other key ingredient is the Koran’s promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam.

This creates a strong motive for any young Muslim men who are excluded from reproductive opportunities to commit suicide bombings. Now a vague promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven may not sound so appealing if they have even one real mate on earth, which monogamy in the context of a 50-50 sex ratio mathematically guarantees. However, for young, low-status Muslim men who are excluded from any mating opportunities because of polygyny among older, higher-status men, even such a vague promise in the afterlife begins to be appealing in light of their bleak reproductive prospect on earth.

My theory is cool, and I'm cool by association

Sometimes the evolutionary psychological imagination allows you to see things that few others do. On March 11, 2004, ten bombs exploded nearly simultaneously on four crowded commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring almost 1,800.

Within minutes of the explosions, the Spanish government publicly accused ETA for the terrorist act. And I immediately said to myself, “No, it ain’t ETA. It’s Muslim suicide bombers.” (DC: Kanazawa repeats this last sentence three times in the space of a paragraph)

(The kabalistic significance of the date -- that March 11 is the calendrical opposite of September 11 -- had not occurred to me or many others at first.)

Oh my research is so relevant to current events - approaching the grand finale

It is instructive to note that the Iraqi insurgents, who commit suicide bombings on a daily basis, have actually killed more than six times as many Iraqis as Americans (2,466 American troops vs. 6,004 Iraqi military and police personnel plus 10,131 civilians, as of January 29, 2007). It is as if the Iraqi insurgents are trying to eliminate as many of their intrasexual rivals (fellow Iraqi men) as possible, rather than killing American troops (the infidels and occupiers).


Maybe the Muslim suicide bombings are not “terrorist” acts, as the term is usually used. Maybe it has nothing to do with Israel or the American and British troops. Maybe it’s all about sex, as everything else in life is. Men do everything they do in order to get laid (Kanazawa, 2003). Maybe young Muslim men are no exceptions.


And in case you missed it, let me repeat this last, most fundamentalist (sic) of insights:

Men do everything they do in order to get laid (Kanazawa, 2003).


*My theory is that this paper is meant as a joke, a sneaky critique of modern sociology/anthropology/psychology. Failing that, it may have been written to attract some publicity for Kanazawa's new book. At the very least, it's an active bid (pick me! pick me!) for the Ignobel prize. That said, Kanazawa has had other dodgy work published in the past. Who knows, maybe the world is going bonkers after all.

by datacharmer | Wednesday, December 05, 2007
  , | | The Worst Paper Ever Written: A Tribute @bluematterblogtwitter


  1. donkeykong Says:

    I just read through your post, and I haven't read the paper itself. But personally I think it's quite an interesting connection (maybe not theory) between polygamy and bombings. Why do you think it's so rubbish?

  2. roar Says:

    its rubbish because most Muslims practice monogamy in actual practice. The European colonization of the Muslim world and its re-structuring into modern 'independent' nation-states has meant that Islam has been removed from law and policy and exists in name only as 'the state religion'.

    Muslims do not date, they marry. Muslims do not like being killed, attacked, robbed and threatened by foreigners with big them stupid...but it tends to upset them for some reason.

    If the 'theory' had any substance there would be alot of suicide bombers around, not just the handful we have bee told about. There are a billion Muslims, if half of them are sexually the theory makes are in Big Trouble.