July 15, 2012
to be posted on nobabies.net

Thomas Davies
University of Exeter
Treliever Road
Cornwall TR10 9EZ

Dear Thomas Davies:
I was much taken with Illuminating Vertaberate Habitats NATURE vol. 487 no. 7405 July 5, 2012 page 9 reviewing Biol. Lett. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2012.0126(2012).  I remember the first street lights in my own childhood neighborhood.  Can’t say I much liked them.  Not only was the mercury vapor light ghastly, but somehow the presence of the lights violated something holy about the night.  I was in great measure comforted by the opportunity to inspect the fallen insects on the sidewalk below, many or which I had never seen in spite of having spent a fair part of my life exploring the local woods. 

My own interest is in fertility and kinship at a population level.  Here are some references, lest you think I have taken complete leave of my senses. 

On the Regulation of Populations of Mammals, Birds, Fish and Insects, Richard M. Sibly, Daniel Barker, Michael C. Denham, Jim Hope and Mark Pagel SCIENCE vol. 309 July 22, 2005 page 609

An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816

Human Fertility Increases with marital radius. Rodrigo Labourian and Antonio Amorim.  GENETICS volume 178 January 2008 page 603

Comment on “An Association Between the Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples,” Rodrigo Labouriau and António Amorim SCIENCE vol. 322, page 1634b December 12, 2008

I think a reasonable and prudent person looking at the data presented would concur, “Yep.  Fertility depends on kinship.”  Or rather as Patrick Bateson pointed out years ago there is such a thing as “optimal outbreeding.”  Gene pool size is like everything else.  You can have too much or too little.

Humans nowadays are in a double bind.  We are paying the price of having had too many children in the past at hazard to the biosphere and the price of not having had enough children in places where they could have been most productive, in the rich countries.  It would seem that a widespread understanding of normal fertility would be a good thing, but that is quite possibly only a dream. 

More to the point, while we might debate, “There are too many babies in the world,” I doubt we would have much trouble coming to a consensus on, “There are too many malaria carrying mosquitoes in the world.” 

You immediately latch onto my drift. 

I am conducting some experiments to try to run down the mechanism of the effect already established in the references.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even find a referee to pass judgment on my first paper.”  I was hoping to include in my second paper, assuming that ever sees the light of day, along with my experimental results the question of whether lights and gene pools could work together.

In other words imagine a malarial swamp.  You spray it.  The number of mosquitoes falls.  The gene pool is now smaller, fertility goes up, and you wind up with more mosquitoes than ever.  This is well known.  A. J. Nicholson mentioned it a hundred years ago or so.  So what I would propose, given a platform, would be to set up lights in the swamp to lure the mosquitoes on long treks away from home in hopes of churning up their gene pools and accomplishing a fertility reduction without using chemicals at all. 

Rational self interest of course would dictate that I keep this idea close until I could announce it when it would do me the most good.  But I lack the moral spine.  (I think the Scots call the defect “saftness.”)  There are so many people dying of malaria, and of course other insect born diseases, that I do not have the stomach to be discrete.  So if you wish to pursue your interest in street light bugs in a direction that will help a lot of people, you have my blessing and whatever help I can give.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

NOTE: The professor was kind enough to respond. 

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