October 7, 2015

Ana Viseu
Universidade Europeia

Dear Ana Visu:
I see (Integration of Social Sciences into Research is Crucial, Nature vol.      525 no. 7569 September 17, 2015 page 291) that you have an interest in interdisciplinary research but have found disappointment in trying to implement it.  I have good news.  There is a textbook that was published this year, Evolution and the Social Sciences.  That sounds like it should be just what you are thinking about.  It is a sociology text, which is one discipline, basing its findings on evolution, a word so commonly used in the biological hard sciences as virtually to identify that field. 

The book is largely a history of ideas from that perspective.  The best chapter is 19 “Marry in or Die out” by Professor Robin Fox of Rutgers.  He wrote many years ago the book, Kinship and Marriage, which is a foundation document for modern anthropology, still used as a text today.  What the professor has done, with breathtaking abstract intellectual force, is to extend that concept to kinship, marriage and fertility.  This is a field where I have taken an interest for many years, but his insight blows even me away.  I had taken the position, “In order for any sexually reproducing species to have adequate fertility for survival, average mating must be retained within a remarkably tight community.”  In humans, that seems to amount to about a hundred families at equilibrium, somebody said that virtually all the villages listed in the Domesday Book in England still exist.  You certainly cannot say that for form of government, dynasties or noble houses.  In fact dynasties seem not to break a 300 year barrier.  According to Newton the brick wall is 9 generations of 32 years each.  Well and good.  But the professor points out that traditional societies opt for a smaller group and faster reproduction, exceeding equilibrium.  He also, brace yourself, pursues the concept down to the level of bacteria.  I never had the courage even to consider that possibility.

Of course all rich countries are laboring against a rate of reproduction that is already so low as to be problematic and eventually lethal.  From my read of the evidence things are going to get worse, very badly worse, very soon.  So the Fox’s analysis is as vital and current as it is bold and daring. 

So what is the mechanism that reduces fertility among couples that are not kin enough?  To date there is one, count them one, paper that addresses that question.  It’s mine, with the help of a friend.  “Fluctuation of fertility with number in a real insect population and a
virtual population.”  I shall attach a copy. 

Feature that.  We’re dying because we no longer marry kin (back when we married cousins there were plenty of babies) and the only person who even whimpers “mechanism” is a fat, balding, burnt out old doctor working on his own time with his own funds. 

Gripe, gripe.  The fact is that the effect is real and with the publication of that text available without apology.  By the way, I was swapping notes with a fellow on a blog called “hybrid chick,” and I began to suspect he was Brazilian.  I asked and he confirmed that.  My own web log has a statistics package that lets me know what countries my guests are from.  Although I live in Florida, Brazil consistently scores very high for attendance.  I do not know why.  And here you are in Portugal and also pushing against the frontiers of what the mind can engage.  Puzzling, but well done.  I wish you all the best in future endeavors.  If frustration is your destiny, feel free to get frustrated trying to get somebody to talk with you about kinship, marriage and fertility.  If so, I would be happy to be of any assistance I am capable of, including working through the evidence. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

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