November 17, 2016


Dear James:
I plan to post this reply to your excellent letter, but I shall conceal your named and email address unless you request otherwise (and if you give me permission to quote your letter, my gratitude will be extreme) and shall proceed thus:

Thank you for your letter.  I apologize for its taking so long to get back to you; I do not know where time goes off to. 

In addition to thanking you for your reply, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your candid reaction.  You find what I am saying, “Weird.”  You might have said hopeful or evil or incoherent or beyond ordinary cognitive reach or any of a number of other things; nobody else has ‘fessed up.  That’s after fifteen years of begging people to respond.  Even the doughty Robin Fox, who understands, has been most cordial and has put his amazingly great reputation on the line by putting the issue in a textbook, has never remarked what his visceral reaction is; he has simply taken up the cudgel and waded into the fray.

You also mention that your “Bayesian prior,” the expectation you bring from earlier experience, is low.  Had you been born into a place, and there are many such places, where a young man wandering away from his own village will be murdered in any village he enters and where a teenage girl who wanders away unsupervised for half an hour will be murdered by the medicine man after a bit of hocus pocus (I have an eye witness account of this sufficiently detailed so I know how he did it, and of course that is not something I’ll put on the internet.) … as I said had you been born in such a place your prior would have been quite high (“Oh, that’s why we do such horrible things; we have to keep our kinship high or die.”).  Since your prior is really an accident of birth I do not give it much weight, and you might consider unweighting it also.  

You give a quick thumbnail explanation for the “demographic transition,” whereby a population that has a rise in its wealth and education experience a simultaneous fall in fertility.  It is without question the most clear and efficient such explanation I have seen; well done.  And you conclude that the question of causality is not settled by the mere existence of the demographic transition.

You include this question referring to demographic transition: “Is there something in the studies of this effect that would suggest that I am wrong?”  I think the answer is yes.  This is rumor, but from what I have been told the famous James Watson of the double helix looked at some numbers and found that among certain African populations the demographic transition did not occur and suggested that such populations were fundamentally different and (rashly continuing, so I think) we might as well take that into account in our policy decisions.  This occasioned such uproar that he lost his prestigious job ably directing the research facility at Cold Spring Harbor.  Yet all he was doing was examining evidence, itself above reproach, from the point of view that he agreed with you.  This is mentioned on wikipedia.  I have written him, and shall do so again and see whether he objects to my impression.  I sympathize with a man whose stated intention was to push science, yet I think both he and you are wrong in this case.  Look at the edited version of the UN statistics in that lecture I gave.  Africa lies high on the line, where it is about level; other countries have moved inexorably toward the right, where a number of them fall on the steepest part of the curve. 

So yes, Watson proposes a biological phenomenon that I find counter to reality (remember the first graph which includes evidence that there is no inherited effect of anything on the existence and life span of a civilization.)  “Demographic transition does not account for the data; my own work does.

Your final paragraph introduces issues about what really constitutes humanity.  I read it with a rather sad yearning.  It is such issues that I would be happy to spend my time, and indeed I think if you were to look at my thoughts while keeping a firm grip on the Bayesian prior you would find them interesting.  But alack and alas I am stuck with fighting for brute animal survival; victory will not come, and likely the battle never properly set up, during my lifetime.  I guess that’s what I get for thinking I could be a doctor.  Any way, you ask for a “bunch of evidence” before you’d be ready even to consider that kinship and fertility drive history and that the extinction of the human species is assured if we continue business as usual.  So let’s see, how many independent lines of evidence have I offered?  This Higgs bozon has been established with two; Dark Energy with just one; Evolution … well the name means “turn out,” so any data set in which anything turns out, in other words any data at all, can be adduced as evidence; I don’t know whether you consider this to be a problem.  Relativity … we’ve got gravitational lensing, light curving around the sun, moving clocks slowing down … let’s say half a dozen.  Quantum mechanics … I can’t even count them, but wow, talk about a low Bayesian prior.  Let’s say a half dozen is a goodly number. 

The lecture includes: the Mesopotamian experience, three pooled geographical locations, Chinese dynasties, Japanese dynasties (I’m calling different countries different realities), two records of insect population collapse (I’d call that just one line of evidence), the Sibly data (1,700 studies, but call it one kind of evidence, the Iceland data, the Danish data, the Vergeer plant data taken in the context of computer simulation, the Singleton mouse data, the Cornulier vole data, the Diamond Long House Valley data, the Calhoun captive mouse data, my own published fruit fly data, the UN curve, my own unpublished fruit fly data and the Fisher dormouse data (in context with computer simulation).  That makes, if I count correctly, seventeen INDEPENDENT lines of data. 

So let me ask, how many more independent lines of data do you want before we have your “bunch”? 

Again, thank you so much for your excellent letter.  You have drawn me to think things I had not thought before.  Please do not interpret my enthusiasm as hostility.  But I am so sure of my ground and believe it to be of such importance that I may have lost track of ordinary social skills.


Linton Herbert MD    

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