I recently ran across an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, a high profile publication generally above reproach.  The title is “When Incest is Best: Kissing Cousins have more Kin.”  (Nikhil Swaminathan Feb. 8, 2008)  I think if you read the article you will find that headline highly misleading.  The subtitle gets it right: Study analyzing more than 200 years of data finds that couples consisting of third cousins have the highest reproductive success.

The article is reviewing the Icelandic study I refer so frequently:  An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816.  Some reviewers say that it is third and fourth cousins who have the highest reproductive success, but it is actually third cousins as the article recons cousins, which is not exactly the standard way.  But that is a quibble.  The fact is that the title should not mention incest.  Third cousin marriages are not incest.  And the rest of the title should go “Kissing cousins have more children.” 

The review in ECONOMIST magazine was titled “Kissing Cousins, Missing Children.”  Of course it should have been, “Kissing Cousins, More Children.” 

Headlines frequently fail to say what is then spelled out in an article.  I’m sure there is a headline writer who is hired to make up sexy titles … like rhyming “incest” with “best” in this case.  But it is most unfortunate that these two highly popular journals should have reviewed this very important article under what I consider misleading titles.  Together they were probably the best chance there was ever going to be to get to people the most important fact they would ever have learned after the most basic issues of personal survival and sex. 

If I win the lottery I shall spend it all on trying to get the truth out.  At least being able to cite SCIENTIFIC AMRERICAN would be a help. 

I don’t know how I missed the article.  Maybe I just forgot it.  I found it this time as I was checking over my home page and tried to access the Facebook link.  I shall have to remove that now.  I couldn’t get it to work. 

We are talking a law of nature here.  The next time I mention this, and someone says, “That’s a matter of choice,” I intend to say, “No.  It is a law of nature; whether it is a matter of choice is a theory.”  Why do things fall?  Hold an apple and you can feel its weight.  You can tell it “wants” to fall.  Nobody buys that theory.  Most would say, “Gravity.”  And that, too, is a theory.  Einstein said it is because space and time are warped.  That, too, is a theory.  Some day we may find ourselves correcting Einstein; I doubt it, but we might.  Theories are always subject to change.  But things do fall.  That is a law of nature.  That is not going away.

Similarly kissing cousins have more kids.  It’s a law a nature.  My current theory is that it is an epigenetic phenomenon with pre-zygotic components and post-zygotic components in humans but only one or more pre-zygotic components in insects.  (Yes, I’m sorry that seems hard to understand.  I’ve explained it before and will explain it again some day.  But the issue presently is that there is a theory.)  I have spent years and will probably continue the rest of my life refining the theory. 

But ultimately that is not important.  It may prove that is has something to do with chromosomes.  It doesn’t even matter if you believe the “choice” theory.  It remains a fact of nature, and getting people to understand that is the most important thing. 

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