Oh dear, some journalists should only write about the Spice Girls…
It is well-known that most journalists write mostly nonsense most of the time. Happily, this is normally about things like Posh Spice, the g-spot or Iraq. But Zoe Williams clearly has greater ambitions, for she writes nonsense about sociobiology.
This article is so bad that it is hard to know where to start when discussing it. Take this claim:
“There are logical problems with it which it doesn’t take a degree in zoology (even from Oregon) to determine. First, it relies, as so many of these theories do, on the egregious notion that, while women’s fertility is all downhill from the moment they start enjoying The Archers, men suffer no deterioration of sperm quality till they’re one day older than Charlie Chaplin. This is a misconception so basic that it’s incredible to hear scientists still peddling it…”.
Right. But no it doesn’t. What it relies on is the fact that women have a far greater investment in their genetic material than do men, so it pays them to get it right in a way in which it doesn’t pay men to get it right. Crudely, if a man has sex with a bad genetic risk, he can have sex with a good one the next day. If a woman has sex with a bad genetic risk, she too can have sex with a good one the next day, but if she’s already pregnant, it’s too late for her genes.
Also, there’s an irony in Williams’s comment here. The fact that she talks about the quality of older men’s sperm, suggests that she accepts the logic of the argument. In other words, the quality of the older man’s sperm only becomes relevant if the argument works were there no deterioration in quality. But, of course, then it becomes a purely empirical question. Is there enough deterioration in quality, that it will prevent the gene for fancying old men from propagating…?
The rest of the article is just as bad.
Take this claim:
“The fact that women have more to gain, biologically, from promiscuity, and men have more to gain from fidelity is very rarely touched upon…”.
Here’s Helena Cronin on the same matter:
“Give a man fifty wives, and he can have children galore; but give a woman fifty husbands – no use at all. For men quantity pays, for women quality pays. In the evolution of our species, many men didn’t breed at all whereas most women did; and some men vastly outbred others whereas women had about equal numbers of children. Thus, men’s stakes – their potential gains, potential losses – were immensely higher than women’s. So, generation after generation, down evolutionary time, natural selection favoured men with an appetite for multiple mates and a disposition to strive mightily for them. And, generation after generation, down evolutionary time, natural selection favoured women who chose prudently – for resources, protection, good genes.” [What Philosophers Think, Continuum, 2003].
So who’s right? Helena Cronin, Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics, or Zoe Williams who is… errr.