November 16, 2011
To be posted on

Claudia Moreau
Universté de Montréal
PO Box 6128, Station Centre-ville
Montréal QC
H3C 3J7

Dear Claudia Moreau:
I am desolate to learn that I have missed the 12 International Congress of Human Genetics.  (Life on the Fertile Frontier Ann Gibbons SCIENCE vol. 334 no. 6056 November 4, 2011 page 582)  It is all the worse now that I see you had a poster describing how the families on the frontier expanding across Quebec had more babies than those who stayed in the core.  I should have liked to have said, with feigned insouciance, “It was founder effect.”  “Founder effect” of course means that when a small segment of a population moves into a new area its overall diversity drops a bit with the founders being somewhat more closely related than the average of the population from which they drew. 

Just today I mentioned to a cab driver, “You know, people always used to marry cousins.”

“Yes, of course.”

“And there were lots of babies.”

“Of course.”

“Now nobody marries cousins.”


“And there aren’t enough babies.”

“That’s right.”

“So if we want to get the babies back, we need to go back to marrying cousins.”

“I see what you mean.  You know there is this prejudice that marrying cousins gives you bad babies, but it isn’t true.” 

It all seems obvious on the face of it.  I have put a whole lot of evidence together at  The most recent summary is the “Orlando Meeting,” notes I prepared to show my assigned mentor in hopes of getting another professional perspective.  I was waiting to pick him up in baggage claim when he told me over the cell phone he wasn’t coming.  That has been just about the only reaction I ever get from the well paid. 

The founder effect is exploited by just about every traditional society that has ever been studied, although if they understand it as well as my cabby they have not yet told the anthropologists. 

I thought you might be interested to know that the phenomenon you described is not because of some cloudy psychological or economic trend.  It is nothing but straight forward, if unrecognized, biology.

Let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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