September 22, 2014

Michael Shermer at
Scientific American
75 Varick St. 9th floor
NY 10013-1917


I loved your “Infrequencies”   It is the sweetest story involving an anomalous event I have ever heard.  Add my voice to the many who I am sure are thanking you for sharing. 

Such stories almost always involve unhappy things.  I have had a number of anomalous events myself.  My present life’s goal has made progress a half dozen times and more because of lucky breaks that seem almost impossible, finding relevant data mostly.  I keep the data and sweep the event into a special corner of my mind where it doesn’t threaten my objectivity but where I can pull it out and relish it on occasion.

Alas, my work has led me to be skeptical in the extreme.  The point is that fertility depends on mating patterns.  Marry kin, say third cousin out to sixth cousin, and you are likely to be blessed with children.  Go out past eighth cousin and your chance is reduced.  That is based on what appears to be an impeccable study published as An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816. 

In the next generation, the same effect holds.  Roughly speaking your children if you marry non kin compared with marrying a third cousin are reduced by about 20 to 25 percent.  Assuming they marry out past eighth cousin – and it doesn’t matter whether it is tenth cousin or somebody from the far side of the world – instead of third cousin you lose another 20 to 25 percent.  It does not take many generations for the progeny to drop below replacement levels.  We are well into that process, as you can tell from looking at the birth rate of developed countries, which has been below replacement for a generation.  There is strong evidence that this continues to accumulate and even accelerate.  You may want to check out to see what I have been putting together.  

The point is that there are a million women who will cry themselves to sleep tonight because they can’t have a baby.  Civilization after civilization has gone down the siphon because their professional class died out.  And I alone so far have lifted my hand to change that.  If there really were a connection between strong human emotion and anomalous events I should have more than a few lucky breaks.  If emotion can, at an extreme, power a half watt radio, and if there are a couple billion lives that have been shattered, that makes a gigawatt.  It should all be at my disposal.  I could raise great ships from their watery graves, cleave mountains (given a little time), part the seas (all right, that might be pushing it).  At least I could inspire lots of intelligent experts to join me in the lonely quest. 

But it does not happen.  So far as I can tell, if I write someone who is perfectly capable of understanding this, and if that night he lies beside a heartbroken wife, he will not even make the connection. 

Sorry this is such a downer of a response to such a wonderful tale.  Treasure moments of wonder and mystery, but continue to follow the evidence. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

There have been 98 visitors over the past month.

Home page.