May 1, 2014

Stephen Weir
c/o Quid Publishing
Level 4 Sheridan House
114 Western Road
Hove BN3 1DD
United Kingdom

Dear Sir:
Those who learn from history are doomed to be dragged along kicking and screaming while it is repeated by those who did not learn.

Forgive my quiet tone.  Imagine I am a ten year old English girl having hysterics; it would be more appropriate.  I much enjoyed learning from your book History’s Worst Decisions.  (Metro Book, New York 2009) So armed I approach my subject from a new perspective.  I make bold to start with scripture, as you do, which proves nothing, but it does provide a starting place.  I’ll steer you to the real evidence presently. 

The book of Daniel is much beloved of those who like stories of miracles and prophesies of disaster rather those who prefer cool abstract analysis, but this may be a mistake.  You know the handwriting on the wall.  Belshazzar at a banquet sees the hand writing on the wall.  Daniel interprets it as, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”  Wow.  I wish I could write like that.  But actually that is the translation of “Tekel.”  The word “Mene” comes first, and it is repeated.  According to my little brother anything important in scripture gets repeated.  It’s an ancient poetic convention of that part of the world.

When Daniel translates the key word, “Mene,” he says words to the effect of “Your kingdom has been counted.”  He’s talking demographics.

The fall of Babylon to the Medes and the Persians is attributed to the clever dodge of diverting the Euphrates, which ran under the city walls.  The invading army simply walked in along the dry riverbed.  True or not, that would be irrelevant.  Belshazzar never had a chance. 

A cursory read of the Book of Daniel shows a lot of prophesies.  Somebody was very interested in history.  I do not have the work habits that would permit me to analyze Daniel’s version of history.  (My little brother could do it, but he finds the whole matter highly distasteful.)  But the history has already been compiled over thousands of years. Here is what you get if you look at the history of Southern Mesopotamia with one question in mind, “How long do civilizations last,” and then graph chance of a civilization surviving the next fifty years against age of the civilization in fifty year increments.  
graph      Information taken from R. H. Carling THE WORLD HISTORY CHART International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The experience of Southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is the chance of an empire of any age continuing to rule locally for another 50 years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the empires. (This is a low status source, but I keep it because otherwise I would be data shopping.)  I split the Ottoman empire in two at the time they changed their method of recruiting Janissaries. 
Basically you are looking at the same information that Daniel or somebody was looking at.  So how do you analyze it?  The first obvious deduction is that there is one and only one reason societies fail, or maybe two linked reasons.  The second deduction is that there is a brick wall; nobody makes it past 300 years.  The third deduction is that societies are not destroyed from the outside; that would be unrelated to the age of the society and the line would be horizontal.  The forth deduction is that societies are not destroyed because of internal failures (wrong genes, wrong political ideas, wrong gods, wrong laws or whatever); the line would go up because of selection.  The only viable conclusion is that there is something about the very existence of a society (and by that I mean a lot of people working together for generations, be it a dynasty, civilization, empire, regime or whatever you choose to call it) that seals its doom.  It has to be demographic.  It has to be mediated by some genetic mechanism (which I have for years been at pains to demonstrate; here is my humble effort so far: Fluctuation of fertility with number in a real insect population and a virtual population M.L. Herbert & M.G. Lewis African Entomology 21(1): 119–125 (2013))

The effect of the mechanism is that if any population fails to have enough people marrying fairly near kin over a few generations fertility will collapse.  There is lots more evidence at

It’s easy to blame Belshazzar.  He shouldn’t have used sacred dishes at his banquet.  He should have had all his capable people keeping watch over the cities defenses.  But it would not have helped.  Why the banquet?  He knew he had a problem.  His father, the real king, had gone south to dedicate a temple to a god of fertility (duh?) and then had marched north and at about the time of the banquet was dying while trying to block the Persian advance. 

It was a big banquet; that’s why he needed those extra dishes, I suppose.  And he didn’t need handwriting on the wall to see his doom.  He could look at his guests.  They were all old.  It was over.

So my understanding is that societies fail when they no longer have enough capable people to run the show.  And that happens because the people running the show are not having babies.  And you are quite aware that the world’s demographic pattern indicates we are in just such a box canyon. 

I have reason to believe that the story will break this year.  And that, alas, might put you a bit on the hot seat.  People will know you knew.  People will ask what you did. 

On the brighter side you will have a lot of company.  I have only over the past couple of years alone posted more than 120 letters to experts.  Go to and check it out.  The response has been amazingly absent.  If you doubt me, write some of the people I have written.  Maybe you know some of them.  Find out what they think.  Find out why mum seems almost (and the operative word is “almost”) always to be the word. 

I had read your book looking for evidence that mistakes are made by idiots,  but generally they are surrounded by idiots as well as Belshazzar was.  After all the only one around who could and would read was a captive.  I can’t really support that from your book, but maybe having written it you might know enough to be able to say.

So let me know what you think.  I would be happy to post any remarks you care to make on the site or to guard the remarks if you prefer. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

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