Open letter to : Mathew James Connelly part 1.

I read your book Fatal Misconception (Belknap Press, Cambridge, Mass.  2008) with great interest.  It recounts events, so many of them regrettable, during a time when there was a spirit of imposing population control on poor populations.  I appreciate how well referenced your book is, and have great respect for anyone who can say he or she has changed an opinion on the basis of new evidence.

Part 1.

You report that despite saturation efforts to reduce population growth in poor countries, and at great human cost, the maximum effect is hardly greater than one child less per couple in a community.  It was a bad idea that didn’t even work.

You do rightly report that the best way to get a girl to grow up into a woman who bears fewer children is to send her to school.  Thereby, however, hangs a subtlety you may not be aware of.  The issue is one you properly finger as referring to a group of people as a race, a hoard, swarm, a peril or whatever.  I will use the word race as being the least objectionable although still very objectionable.  The word comes from a millrace, a place where water is directed against the blades of a water wheel.  The implication is that each drop is like another, and together they can behave in a coherent way.  True enough of millraces, but people are individuals.

So consider girls in high school.  I had no sisters, but from my distant observation of them it seemed to me that they spent about a tenth of their energy out competing us boys in their grades and nine tenths of their energy falling in love.  Of course it regularly ended in tears and wise parents would council, “Don’t cry.  There are lots of other fine young men out there.”  In short, the parents considered boys a race.  She did not.  There was just the one. 

Given the observation that education correlates with limited family size, it is easy to consider girls as a race.  Just divert the stream into schools and out they come enlightened, empowered, proud, independent and prepared for careers and for limiting their family sizes.  But dewy eyed adolescent girls turn out to be right and nurturing parents and social scientists are wrong.  Boys are not a race.  Neither are girls.  It is the individual that matters.

It is known to science (On the Regulation of Populations of Mammals, Birds, Fish, and Insects.  Richard M. Sibly, Daniel Barker, Michael C. Denham, Jim Hone, Mark Pagel SCIENCE VOL 309 22 JULY 2005 page 609) that the growth rate of an animal population is related to its size.  As size increases, growth rate rises rapidly as inbreeding is escaped, soon falls, and then just about levels off below replacement.  This effect is genetic and relates to the mating pool size and is independent of the environment.  So it is the act of sending the girl to school and exposing her to a larger mating pool that reduces her fertility, not the education she incidentally collects.  Wild animals are generally illiterate. 

I’m sorry.  I don’t like it either.  But truth must be served.

There was a study done in Denmark that showed that out to 100 kilometers, the distance apart a couple was born and the size of the town they lived in influenced their family size.  A close examination of income and education revealed no effect.  (Human Fertility Increases with marital radius. Rodrigo Labouria and Antonio Amorim.  GENETICS volume 178 January 2008 page 603).  A later study done by the same group showed the same relationship between mating pool size and fertility that the animal studies had.  A study in Iceland (An Association Between Kinship And Fertility of Human Couples.  Agnar Helgason, Snaebjoern Palsson, Daniel F. Guobjartsson, Pordur Kristjansson and Karl Stefanson, SCIENCE vol 329 8 February 2008 page 813) showed the same curve again.  The effect accumulates over generations.  Again there is no evidence for any effect of anything on family size except for the single genetic factor of kinship.  At I have accumulated a lot of other evidence. 

This effect is simply the most important thing science has ever found.  Think about it.  An individual or a society can manage reasonably well without knowing the details of evolution or being able to derive the equations of relativity, but how many children there are will have a profound effect.  So let me emphasize: the demographic transition of falling fertility with time IS DUE TO INCREASING MATING POOL SIZE AND NOTHING ELSE!

The history of community wide birth control efforts you described is so littered with bad results from good intentions and from intentions that might not have been so good that I hesitate to speak on what would actually work.  But in fact controlling family size is cheap, easy, sure and safe.  If you want a small family, marry somebody as distant as tenth cousin.  If you want a large family, marry a third or fourth cousin.  Going out past 10th cousin is probably a bad idea, since the damage accumulates over generations and it would be abusive to commit your children to a fertility plan they might not appreciate. 

To me the amazing thing is that this well founded science seems to be unknown to the people who might implement it.  You never describe it entering the debate, but are concerned with the old discredited techniques.  Meanwhile our public policy, including the efforts of government, medicine, science, the media, marketing, entertainment and everywhere else I look seem to be single mindedly devoted to having us all marry somebody far less related than 10th cousin. 

Maybe population control has not died out.  Maybe it has finally found a truly effective weapon and has gone into hiding.  (This I do not believe.)


Linton Herbert MD

Ps.  I shall be posting this letter in two parts on my web site.  I should be happy to hear from you and to post any reaction you might have.

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