Not your average bovid; the Saiga

13 08 2007

Gazelle
A Mhorr Gazelle, a subspecies of Dama Gazelle, on a cold February morning at the Philadelphia Zoo

Gerenuk
A male Gerenuk, taken in the summer of 2006 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park

When I think about antelope, something like a Thompson’s Gazelle, Gerenuk, or Dama Gazelle most immediately comes to mind, countless nature documentaries featuring the bovids in such numbers that they are almost easy to ignore as scenery (or as merely prey for the big cats and other carnivores). There is at least one antelope, however, that would make anyone do a double take; the Saiga (Saiga tatarica).

Saiga
A Saiga, Saiga tatarica, from Wikipedia.

By all accounts the Saiga is quite distinct from its cousins on the African plains. Preferring steppe, semi-desert, and desert habitats, the Saiga is known from Eastern Europe through Mongolia, their conspicuous nose warming air coming into the body in the winter and filtering out dust during the summer. While this aspect of the Saiga’s adaptation is certainly fascinating, it is the horns of the animals that have brought it the most attention, however, as well as the most trouble. As I noted in a post about antlers, horns, and sexual selection, research has shown that males and females of bovid species (which includes antelope) that use their horns as defense against predators both have horns, the horns prevented from getting too gaudy in males because they need to retain their defensive function. In the case of the Saiga, only the males carry horns, and this allows for the horns to become relatively large, and this has greatly contributed to the decline of the species.

Saiga
A male Saiga, from Sokolov, Mammalian Species, No. 38, Saiga tatarica (May 2, 1974), pp. 1-4

One of the primary problems that conservation officials face in Africa and Asia today is the poaching of animals for certain parts of their anatomy for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), or other ritual aspects of a particular culture. To understand why the Saiga is targeted for its horns, however, we need to first look at the problems with rhinoceros poaching. Rhinoceros horns have long been treasured by various cultures, young men in Yemen traditionally carry a dagger for defense called a jambia, and there is no better material for the handle of this weapon than rhino horn. Initially, the amount of rhino horn taken was mitigated by the poverty in the region, only the most affluent families being able to afford a jambia with a handle made of genuine rhino horn. As oil prices went up, though, Yemen (among other countries) was flooded with income from the sale of fossil fuels, and the demand for rhino-horn-handled jambias skyrocketed.

Jambias are not the only reason rhinos have been slaughtered. In addition to various ornamental products, rhino horn is valuable in TCM as a fever-reducer. When actually tested it seemed to reduce fever in rats, and Saiga horn had about the same efficacy, although author Richard Ellis rightly notes in his book No Turning Back that “Asprin and ibuprofen, for which no animals have to die, would probably work just as well.” In India rhino horn was used as an aphrodisiac, but expensive prices caused practitioners to stop prescribing it. These pressures, along with others, ultimately drove the rhino population down so low that horns were rare even within illegal trade, and demand kept going up. A substitute had to be found.

The horns of the Saiga, the species only recently recovered from population declines in the early to mid-20th century, were actively endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund as a substitute for rhino horn (also see here and here. Strangely, while the WWF is one of the groups responsible for the crash of Saiga populations, they make no mention of their actions on their website, their efforts of helping the Saiga since 1994 being extolled rather than their responsibility for the near-eradication of the animals. Nevertheless, the political destabilization of Russia and other areas in which the Saiga lived made regulation near impossible, and while some researchers claim that the plains were once “blackened” with Saiga, there are probably less than 50,000 of the animals left throughout their entire range (the Mongolian Saiga, a subspecies, being reported as having a population of less than 1,300 in a 1999 paper by Lushchekina et al. in the journal Oryx).

Indeed, the tale of the Saiga is one of the greatest tales of ecological mismanagement in history, and its implications can still be felt today. Ellis, again in No Turning Back, tells us how it is unlikely that Saiga were as well-established by the time the WWF endorsed hunting Saiga as some conversationalists claim;

By the time of the Soviet Revolution, there were only a few thousand saigas left. To forestall their total eradication, the Soviets protected them in Europe in 1919 and in Soviet Central Asia in 1924. In the 1950s commercial harvests of saigas by local groups began.

Strangely, Saiga was not especially well-established in TCM until recently. Earlier texts like the 1597 text Chinese Materia Medica having no mention of the Saiga, but the 1989 Rare Chinese Materia Medica, and the ground-up horn of the male Saiga can be used to;

…check hyperactivity of the liver and relieve convulsion, treat the up-stirred liver wind, infantile convulsion and epilepsy; calm the liver and suppress hyperactivity of the liver-yang; it is efficacious in the treatment of dazzle and vertigo due to hyperactivity of the liver-yang; it improves acuity of vision, cures headache and conjuctival congestion; clears away heat and toxic material; and can be used to treat unconsciousness, delirium, and mania in the course of epidemic febrile disease.

So it does seem that the Saiga has been a more recent alternative to other traditional remedies, gaining the status of an “ancient treatment” only towards the end of the last century (although I am no expert on TCM and there could be earlier references than the ones mentioned by Ellis). As you probably have guessed by now, though, the major problem in Saiga conservation is that it is the males who are constantly targeted, much of remaining populations being females. This greatly reduces the amount of offspring that are likely to be produced, as well as marking a steep drop-off in genetic diversity and possibly even fitness in the species, the Saiga going through two near-extinctions in less than 100 years.

Saiga
Male Saiga skull. Note the large shelf in front of the large nasal opening. From Sokolov, Mammalian Species, No. 38, Saiga tatarica (May 2, 1974), pp. 1-4

While the earlier near-extinction of the Saiga typically gets less attention than the more recent run on their horns, I feel that it echoes recent policies in the United States to remove wolves and other animals from protection; when stocks seem to approach levels that are barely adequate, many want to open up hunting again when the animals should actually be left alone to reestablish themselves and their genetic diversity. While some are optimistic about the recovery of Saiga, I do not share the same hope that they do. Even if raw numbers of Saiga continue to rise, I worry that the decreased genetic diversity will make them more susceptible genetic problems caused by inbreeding and disease epidemics, one “bad day” in an ecological sense being able to wipe the species out.

I would be remiss, however, if I attributed the problems of Saiga conservation entirely to hunting. As I just suggested, disease and parasites can be an important factor in terms of whether populations die off or not, something that can not be planned for by merely making sure there is more of the animals next season. In 1992, Dukes, et al. published a study that showed that paratuberculosis (or Johne’s Disease) was transmittable from domestic sheep to captive Saiga and back again. Even more recently (Morgan et al, 2005) it has been found that Saiga pick up many of the parasitic worms that also infect grazing livestock along their range, both suffering from the parasites and also allowing them to spread further. Global climate change may also adversely affect the Saiga, the Saiga depending on local climatic cues to dictate their migrations. Heavier snowfall/harsher drought may cause them to have to move to new habitats or be decimated, and at present it is unknown whether they’d be able to cope with ecological changes associated with the current warming trend.

In all, things are not looking too good for the Saiga. While there has been a ban on the trade of products made from them and conservation agencies are trying hard to preserve this species, I believe that it not exists in a weakened state, which (despite population size) will make it more susceptible to extinction. Given enough time the species may recover fully, but in my own view this has “heath hen” written all over it, a species that seemed to recover until disease, predation, and weather changes were too much for the remaining birds in New England to handle. I am not suggesting that we say the Saiga is a lost cause; far from it. What I am recommending is that we actually learn something from the terribly mistakes we’ve made with this species, and stop thinking that merely because populations increase it somehow equals immediate species stability.

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Curioser and curioser… AFM wants me to blog about DDT

8 08 2007

I wonder if anyone else received a similar e-mail that just arrived in my inbox; Philip Coticelli of the group Africa Fighting Malaria mentions a new study that has come out in PLoS ONE called “A New Classification System for the Actions of IRS Chemicals Traditionally Used For Malaria Control.” The message I received featured the headline “DDT Highly Effective Against Resistant Mosquitoes: New study recommends using DDT to control #1 killer of African children: malaria,” so where the AFM stands on DDT use seems pretty clear.

I assume I was contacted because I mentioned how National Geographic made some errors in their cover story on Malaria over a month ago, although Bug Girl and Ed Darrell are probably much more capable bloggers to handle this one. Still, when I get the chance I’ll have a look at the article and write up some thoughts, despite that fact that even if DDT has proven effective against mosquitoes thought to be resistant, the efficacy of the product doesn’t assuage my concerns about its toxicity.





A different kind of White Shark

8 08 2007

Australia is known for its populations of Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), but this week news broke of a different “white shark”; a male Grey Nurse (or “Sand Tiger,” Carcharias taurus, as we call them stateside) Shark that is entirely white.

White Nurse
An image of the all-white male shark, from The Daily Telegraph.

Normally these sharks, like many others, exhibit the classic “dark on top, white on bottom” counter shading, with some darker spots over the dorsal half of their body, but this one is being heralded as “albino.” Albinism is a genetic disorder by a lack of pigment in the hair, skin, and eyes of mammals, the eyes appearing red because there is no pigment in the eye to “cover up” the blood vessels in the back of the eye (we’d all look this way if we lacked pigment in our eyes, which actually occurs every now and then). What is more likely is that this is a shark exhibiting Leucism, which is caused by a reduction in all kinds of skin pigment (albinism just deals with melanin). While I’m not sure what an albino shark’s eyes would look like, the eyes of the shark in the picture seem to be no different from those of normal sharks, which is characteristic of Leucism rather than Albinism as well. Perhaps the most famous examples of leucism are alligators; they appear to be a creamy-white color with blue eyes, almost like giant versions of a white-chocolate alligator I once received as a treat when I was younger.

Still, the presence of such a shark does raise some interesting questions. It seems to be more skiddish than other sharks of its kind nearby, so did its bright coloring make it more attractive to predators (i.e. larger sharks), requiring it to be more shy? How did it get to grow to such a size if it was so conspicuous? Why hasn’t it been seen previously? Why hasn’t another case been seen previously? We might not be able to get answers to any of these questions, but the presence of a potentially leucistic shark is definitely exciting.





Eugenics, re-framed

1 08 2007

Perhaps the most anticipated book of this past summer (other than the conclusion of the Harry Potter series) was Michael Behe’s Edge of Evolution, which was universally panned by reputable scientists and didn’t seem to make much of a splash at all. I didn’t expect there to be anything especially groundbreaking or novel in Behe’s work, and although I’m sure ID folk will be citing it for some time, it hardly succeeds in it’s task of demoting evolution. It was much to my surprise, then, to find out that there’s another book full of potential woo dressed up as science coming out in a few weeks, John Harris’ Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People.

As much as I would like to withhold judgment until I actually get a chance to read the book, I have to say that the synopsis and early supporting reviews scream “EUGENICS!” at me, even though I’m sure the author and his supporters are careful not to use the “e” word. According to the inside cover, the book is based off of a set of lectures given by Harris (“the Sir David Alliance Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester School of Law”) at Oxford last year. Here’s the summary currently available via the amazon.com page;

Decisive biotechnological interventions in the lottery of human life–to enhance our bodies and brains and perhaps irreversibly change our genetic makeup–have been widely rejected as unethical and undesirable, and have often met with extreme hostility. But in Enhancing Evolution, leading bioethicist John Harris dismantles objections to genetic engineering, stem-cell research, designer babies, and cloning to make a forthright, sweeping, and rigorous ethical case for using biotechnology to improve human life.

Human enhancement, Harris argues, is a good thin–good morally, good for individuals, good as social policy, and good for a genetic heritage that needs serious improvement. Enhancing Evolution defends biotechnological interventions that could allow us to live longer, healthier, and even happier lives by, for example, providing us with immunity from cancer and HIV/AIDS. But the book advocates far more than therapies designed to free us from sickness and disability. Harris champions the possibility of influencing the very course of evolution to give us increased mental and physical powers–from reasoning, concentration, and memory to strength, stamina, and reaction speed. Indeed, he supports enhancing ourselves in almost any way we desire. And it’s not only morally defensible to enhance ourselves, Harris says. In some cases, it’s morally obligatory.

Whether one looks upon biotechnology with hope, fear, or a little of both, Enhancing Evolution makes a case for it that no one can ignore.

As Jeff Goldblum (as Ian Malcolm) said in Jurassic Park, “The lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here, uh… staggers me.” The phrase “a genetic heritage that needs serious improvement” especially set off warning claxons in my head, and even if Harris himself doesn’t fully commit to eugenics in this area, it seems that the grounds would become ripe for it. Also note how it isn’t stated who, exactly, would be receiving all these beneficial treatments or how such “improvements” would be extended to the majority of the world’s population that cannot even afford simple medicines, much less eugenic treatment regimens.

The idea that we can somehow improve humankind through our understanding of science (“better living through [bio]chemistry,” if you like) is hardly new, and even in such works as G.G. Simpson’s The Meaning of Evolution the author hints at a time when we may be able to guide our own evolution, though the means during the time the book was written and revised (early 1950’s) were lacking. Even though we have come a long way since that time, I sometimes have to wonder if we even really understand what we’re messing with when we consider cloning. I don’t know how scientific this new book is going to be, but the synopsis makes it sound like through eugenic breeding or medical innovation we can reach some sort of Platonic ideal where everyone is beautiful, healthy, and intelligent, living a long and happy life. HIV/AIDS and cancer are mentioned as two diseases that we may be able to eliminate, but somehow I doubt that all disease would just disappear because we engineered ourselves a different way, and if there were lots of human clones, lack of genetic diversity could make populations more susceptible to disease.

While Harris may be able to tackle some of the superficial ethical objections in the book, I doubt that he fully considered or deconstructed the more functional objections, mostly being that it seems that trying to improve ourselves would probably make the human species weaker, not stronger, as well as leading to some unsavory (and dangerous) social/political consequences. I probably won’t be able to check this book out immediately when it is released on the 17th, but I’ll be interested to see the reviews of any other science bloggers if they get the chance to read it.





Thursday Book Notes

26 07 2007

Last night I finished Our Inner Ape, and to be honest I didn’t find it especially impressive. It reminded me a bit of other pop-sci books dealing with animal intelligence like Inside the Animal Mind (the companion volume to the PBS special) where anecdotes were put forward without much else. While I think behavioral observations have a lot to tell us and point to more animals being merely a bundle of behaviors that must always be spoken of in the passive voice. Still, de Waal takes his observations of chimpanzees and bonobos in captivity and takes them to be the rule, extrapolating from them his main thesis; humans are a “Janus Head” that combines the aggressiveness (even at times bloodthirstiness) of chimpanzees and the more social/sexual habits of bonobos. de Waal does note that each species works on its won continuum and rightly notes that despite notions like American individualism we are a highly social species (one of the worst punishments is isolated confinement or banishment), but he seems to present a bit of a false dichotomy between chimpanzees and bonobos, clearly favoring the bonobos. Even though de Waal does temper his statements, he definitely presents chimpanzees as more vicious and bonobos as more peace-loving (something that is becoming contested as we observe bonobos in their own habitat), he clearly favors the bonobos as an ancestral model for our behavior. In any case, I could understand what de Waal was trying to get at in the book and it does have some good content, but I think that what’s good in it gets mired down by the false “Janus Head” dichotomy that is the main theme of the work. A Primate’s Memoir remains the best popular book on primates I’ve read yet.

I also got halfway through Survival of the Sickest before passing out, drooling on my pillow (it wasn’t so much an effect of the book as it being a late hour when I was reading it). It’s a short work, only about 200 actual pages before the glossary/notes/bibliography with larger spacing and font than I’ve seen in other books, so it was easy to get through the first 100 pages in a short amount of time. As for the content, there is some very interesting material in the book (like how inheriting a disease that keeps iron in the body locked up may have helped some people survive the bubonic plague), but I don’t care much for the style. As I opined to my wife, it’s the “Mountain Dew of pop-science books.” The overall strategy in the chapters is to present a reader with a particular medical dilemma, then spend a few pages going back to its roots, only then to return to the original topic and sum up the significance of everything. This isn’t a bad strategy, but it’s a bit overused in the book. The writer throws in plenty of pop references in an attempt to make the book more accessible to those not familiar with science, but overall I just felt that the rhetorical strategies were annoying and even showed a lack of respect for the reader. It’s written in something of a fast-paced MTV style, and while I get the impression that writers like Gould and Sagan respected the intelligence of their readers, I get the feeling from Survival of the Sickest that I’m only supposed to be dazzled and little else. The writer is also at their best when discussing genetics and medicine, forays into geology (and as I wrote about earlier, human evolution) are typically marked by misunderstandings or misrepresentation. I don’t have a problem with the actual content/premise of the book, but the style in which it is presented doesn’t appeal to me at all. Looking at the amazon.com reviews of the book, however, I guess I’m in the minority, and perhaps it could serve as a fair primer for people unfamiliar with evolution (just make sure they read some more accurate books, too!).

After I finish Survival of the Sickest tonight I’m not sure what I’ll be on to next. I have a stack of books next to the couch (and I still need to finish A Cold Look at Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs), but I do want to read Demonic Males and Forley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf in the near future as well. On top of that I still have to read my books by Cope, Mantell, and Darwin, so I definitely am not suffering for lack of options. Then again, I should probably start Quammen’s Song of the Dodo now that my wife has finished it, going through it chapter by chapter so I can pin down any mistakes as Bora had suggested so long ago. At least I’m petsitting this weekend so I’ll have all day Saturday to feed my mind.





New England Journal of Medicine Peddles Kitty Woo

26 07 2007

In the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, out today, there is a new “Perspective Article” entitled “A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat.” It is clearly a puff piece, describing how a resident cat named Oscar at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island curls up to patients that only have a few hours to live. The tone of the article is a bit more mystic however, suggesting that Oscar sniffs the air in order to figure out when someone’s “time” is, acting like a feline Grim Reaper (although to the best of my understanding Death does not purr and nuzzle those about to die, despite his well-known fondness of cats).

Still, the fact remains that this particular cat has attended 25 people who died shortly after Oscar curled up to them, and the cat generally ignores other people. This has led Yahoo! to put the story “Oscar the cat predicts patients’ deaths” on the front page, referring to the NEJM article as if it were some kind of new paper or research. The only real rationality in the Yahoo! story is found in this quote;

Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa’s article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.

If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it’s also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.

Still, I’m sure plenty of people will latch on to the story as proof of psychic connections with animals, ESP, and other woo despite the fact that an observation has been made but no actual research has been done. I’m not even sure if there have been any studies about how animals react towards the sick or dying, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that pets can pick up on signs that we may miss (my parents’ dog knew my mother was pregnant with me before she did, at least that’s how the story goes). Hopefully someone will have a look at this case and determine what is actually going on, but I have the feeling that even if such a study was undertaken many people would ignore it in preference of ideas about special connections with animals.

Update the 1st: Aydin brings up something I didn’t think about at first; maybe Oscar’s actions are a variation on those of Clever Hans the horse. For more, visit Snails Tales.

Likewise, Julia pointed me to a BBC article where it states that Oscar becomes quite upset if he’s removed from the room. This is likely an important clue, and (as morbid as it sounds) maybe there is some sort of chemical/pheromone/scent or something else about the dying that attracts this cat. It would explain the behavior of selecting and being affectionate with those who are about to pass away. Hopefully someone will look into this, and I’d love to see if a reason could be found for Oscar’s behavior.





Freudian Field Day; 10 Idiotic Assertions in Psychology Today

10 07 2007

Update: Bora had kindly put together a short-list of other bloggers who have addressed the intellectual poverty of the article. Have a look here.

There’s been a little bit of a stir in the blogosphere in reaction to a recent evolutionary psychology article entitled “Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature” that showed up in Psychology Today. I honestly am not terribly familiar with evolutionary psychology outside of how contentious it is (scientists like Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, among others, regarding it as junk science), but at the moment I suppose I take something of the middle ground; our evolution certainly affects our mind today, but figuring out what has and has not changed is the trick. Case in point, I recently watched the first few installments of the BBC program The Human Face hosted by John Cleese. In the discussion of professional models, it was said that a particular look that models can give works so well because it is basically the face that women make before orgasm, so we’re naturally more attracted to such a face. I really have no idea if this is true, and overall it seems a bit too simplistic to me; everyone doesn’t just go helpless with euphoria when we see such an image (at least, I know I don’t). In any case, I’ll be going through the 10 assertions the authors of the Psychology Today list, giving my thoughts on each.

1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)

One of the first things that strikes me about this article is that it isn’t especially tentative nor does it back up it’s sources; things are simply said to be as they are and we’re expected to believe what the authors are saying is true. Beyond that, the general hypothesis is that blond women remind men of young women, young women with large hips and a small waist being able to be better reproductively, and therefore they are more desirable sexually. On top of that, large breasts are supposed to be good age indicators, the amount of sag telling males how old the woman is. This, I must say, just sounds stupid; surely there are better indicators of age than breast size in relation to “sag”, and while I’m not an expert, isn’t there a large amount of natural variation in female chests anyway? The authors seem to be confusing correlation with causation, raising a “just-so story” to the level of fact. Likewise, their discussion of blue eyes sounds equally dubious;

Women with blue eyes should not be any different from those with green or brown eyes. Yet preference for blue eyes seems both universal and undeniable—in males as well as females. One explanation is that the human pupil dilates when an individual is exposed to something that she likes. For instance, the pupils of women and infants (but not men) spontaneously dilate when they see babies. Pupil dilation is an honest indicator of interest and attraction. And the size of the pupil is easiest to determine in blue eyes. Blue-eyed people are considered attractive as potential mates because it is easiest to determine whether they are interested in us or not.

This seems more of a reaction to modern eye color variations (which can be artificially achieved through contact lenses) than the effects of something evolutionary; I doubt there was a bias in our hominid ancestors towards blue eyes (if blue eyes were even common enough then). It also raises the question of blue eyes in populations where they nearly never occur today; is there any significant change in attraction to an individual solely because of eye color? What is people just like the color blue, or like blue eyes because they are unusual? The authors don’t put forth any alternative hypotheses.

2. Humans are naturally polygamous

The first thing that irked me about this discussion is that no distinction was made between what science may or may not tell us and morality, i.e. that whether our species was polygamous throughout our evolutionary history does not dictate whether it is good or natural today. As for the argument itself, the authors point to the mild sexual dimorphism between men and women and suggest that bigger, stronger males monopolized the females, females also preferring big and strong males. No alternate hypothesis was given for the variations, nor was it mentioned that it is unlikely that only the biggest, strongest men mated. Thinking back to what I’ve come to learn about sexual selection and the book A Primate’s Memoir, a hyper-masculine male may be highly aggressive (even abusive) in addition to being the biggest and strongest, and just because one male tries to monopolize all the females does not mean that other males never get the chance to mate (less privileged males may keep up longer term relationships with females and produce offspring surprisingly often).

3. Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy

Continuing with their assertion that it’s better for females to share a wealthy man (or, in terms of past history, one that can provide protection), the authors assert that monogamy benefits men because a “poor” wife is better than no wife at all. Again, outside of “protection” the authors make no qualifications as to what females actually benefit from sharing a dominant male, and polygynous mating structures do not necessarily guarantee the safety or well-being of the females. While it might be true, in a thought experiment, that less-masculine males would benefit more from a monogamous or polyandrous mating structure than a polygynous one, the authors provide no evidence to support their claim and the overall reasoning is rather shallow.

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim

The title seems more like a matter of statistics (I wonder if they considered Kamikaze pilots during WWII), but the authors contend that Muslim men are engaging in terrorism to quench their sexual desires. Rather than being a product of religious brainwashing, the authors assert that Muslim suicide bombers are primarily doing it so they can receive 72 virgins when they arrive in heaven. They show nothing to support this at all, nor do they look at the motives of suicide bombers from other cultures and time periods. The authors case is highly dubious, at best.

5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce

Once again, the authors don’t do much other than say “This is how it is, deal with it.” No statistics are given as to divorce rate, family makeup, etc., and they try and make the case that since fathers must pass their wealth and power onto their sons they are more likely to stay involved in the family. This model seems to assume that the family has only one child that is the “heir” to his father’s legacy, and overall it seems like it has more to do with culture than “evolutionary psychology.” Indeed, the model assume that the son actually inherits wealth and power from the father, but no qualification/quantification is made of what this would look like (i.e. making sure the son gets through college before divorcing?)

6. Beautiful people have more daughters

The authors contend that because males have historically been privileged and promiscuous, they produced more sons that went on to become privileged themselves, a kind of artificial selection for males that would cause a higher ratio of males to be born than females. Little is said of infanticide or males being favored over females in families, so once again the authors seem to connect two dots to make a line without trying to plot any more points to see if the results make sense.

7. What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals

This one might have a grain of truth to it, but once again it is lost because the authors reduce everything to sex. Using Bill Gates and Paul McCartney as examples, the authors contend that much like Jackass-like feats of stupidity and crime, male “genius” tends to peak at an early age. Why? Because we all want to bad to impress women. Even if we were to argue that artists, scientists, musicians, etc. stayed active and creative all through their lives, the authors argue that the “best work” of all these men occurred early on in their lives because they were in competition to secure notoriety in order to obtain a mate. I wonder what Charles Darwin would say to them about this. I found the last few sentences of this point especially wanting;

Women often say no to men. Men have had to conquer foreign lands, win battles and wars, compose symphonies, author books, write sonnets, paint cathedral ceilings, make scientific discoveries, play in rock bands, and write new computer software in order to impress women so that they will agree to have sex with them. Men have built (and destroyed) civilization in order to impress women, so that they might say yes.

Yes, nothing gets women hotter than developing a new computer language or studying the flavors of quarks. While “male conquest” may have been significantly evidenced in the past, the authors don’t think about the societal context in which many men (especially within the past few centuries) create their “great works.” Can it really be all about sex and have nothing to do with having to establish oneself in science, art, etc. or other factors like an openness to new ideas? I don’t want to sound overly idealistic and I’m sure (especially in the realm of modern music) that sex does have a part to play here, but I would hardly argue that all of male artists, musicians, scientists, and writers were only driven by their sexual desire, their intellectual prowess declining as their desire did.

8. The midlife crisis is a myth—sort of

This point was a bit odd; men go through a mid-life crisis because they desire to replace their menopausal wives with a younger wife, once again having sex trump every other potential factor. Because the authors are so sex-obsessed, the “mid-life crisis” is said to have nothing to do with a man wanting to reclaim his own youth or get a “do-over,” but instead he just wants a woman along the lines of the one discussed in asinine assertion #1. I’m certainly not an expert on the “mid-life crisis” but reducing it to sex does a disservice to a complex issue.

9. It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male)

Here the authors again make the assertion that every male would have sex with as many women as possible if it were feasible to do so, the primary reason for obtaining a political office being gaining sexual power (have a look at the Washington Monument; what are trying to say to the world?). This seems to run counter to their assertion that influential men do their most important work while young while being potentially in-agreement with or counter-to their “mid-life crisis” argument depending on the age of the man and his marriage. We should fully expect powerful men to try and have sex with as many women as possible, they say; why should we expect otherwise?

10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

The last point is a bit confusing; men abuse and intimidate other men, so why should they treat women any different? Men try to achieve power through competition in the workplace and once they have that power they try to use it to get women to sleep with with in one-night-stands, women taking great offense to the despicable male behavior. The authors make no distinction between abuse/intimidating/hazing etc. amongst men in competition and they way they treat women at work (nor do they say that such behavior is unacceptable), sex being the most important factor in their view.

While the authors of this may have had a few inklings of insight, it was all lost in a flood of male sexuality that seems like an attempt to justify sexually motivated aggression on the part of males. Women are not considered outside their roles of sex objects that males strive to obtain, giving the whole article (and probably the book the article promotes by the same authors) of rather lop-sided view. If this is the best evolutionary psychology has to offer, than I would have to join others like Niles Eldredge who regard it as worthless and even dangerous. It would be foolish to say that our evolutionary history has not influenced the way we are today, but asserting that such selected behaviors dictate the whole of the human experience, that sex rules all and we cannot hope to ever escape our desires, cheapens us all. As much as I disagree with much of what the authors of this article wrote, I could have at least given them some points for mentioning that finding out reasons behind certain behaviors should not endorse immoral or otherwise despicable actions, but the authors of this study would rather tell men that they’re pre-programmed sex maniacs than try and do anything constructive.