Babies and body odor:
I have spent many years now pursuing the question of fertility and relatedness.  As I repeat so often, you can’t have one without the other.  I have done my best to lay the issue before the mighty of the earth and the mighty of science.  Sometimes somebody is gracious enough to reply although not very often.  Most would rather leave a question of monumental importance lie on the desk than risk a hard won prestigious reputation by venturing an opinion. 

Occasionally someone has been willing to deny the phenomenon but without otherwise accounting for the evidence.  I do not consider, “It’s all choice,” to count.  That question has been specifically addressed by two excellent studies and found to be unhelpful.  Besides, it’s the poor who cannot afford children who have them.  Verbal back handsprings are not effective in proving that the effect is paradoxical and do not bear close comparison with the published data.  What nobody has done has been to think about the issue and come up with a serious challenge. 

That has now changed.  I have a wonderful friend who has for years followed the issue closely and been about my most constant supporter.  And now it is she who has come up with a serious counter proposal.  I think it’s brilliant.

What she has done is to take note of the fact that studies show that women are attracted to the smell of a sweaty man more than to the smell of cologne.  That observation has been refined a bit.  Women are most attracted to the smell of the sweat of men who are related but not too closely related.  Apparently it is due to chemicals we emit called pheromones.  This goes along with the “optimal outbreeding” of Patrick Bateson.  Major histocompatibility group diversity has an optimal range.  Too little is bad for the immune system as is too much.  Apparently the smell tells the woman that not only is this a man, but he is the right man for you and not for another woman.  But this is beside her point.  We will simply take the notion “the sweat of a man smells sexy to a woman” as read.

Then she lowers the boom.  “Do these countries leading in births bathe on a daily basis?”  Is their high fertility due to greater exposure to pheromones?  Well done.  This is a legitimate challenge.  She goes on, “I still believe in the cousin marriage, but wonder if other issues make it double whammy?” 

Well there you go.  I don’t know how you would put together data on bathing rates without conducting a specific campaign of questioning people, and that would be enormously expensive not to mention require getting institutional review approval for a study on humans that would simply beg to be abused. 

A couple historical points do come to mind.  (A correspondent on the “hbd chick” blog has said trenchantly, “Data is not the pleural of anecdote.”)  The Romans, who so famously faced a fertility dearth particularly among the rich, were famed for their baths.  Colonial New England, with an enormously high fertility, couldn’t have bathed much at least in the winter.  It’s cold up there and a cabin is not easy to heat.

So on the face of it her idea seems to wash.  (Sorry.)  How much of a part that might play is beyond me, but it certainly makes sense. 

So thank you, my dear old friend.  You have done what the lords of science dared not.  I appreciate it so very much.

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