The population maelstrom:
Edgar Allan Poe wrote “A Descent into the Maelström” about a fishing boat sucked down into an enormous whirlpool.  The image of an enormous flush toilet is quite compelling, and it is a great read.  Poe quotes one Jonas Ramus, who describes the fury of the vortex and the howling and bellowing of whales caught in it. 

The maelstrom exists.  At one time I thought I was going to have a chance to visit it, but that never worked out.  You can get a feeling for the landscape by checking Google Earth at 68o 15’ 44.45” N 14o 14’ 30.06” E and clicking on a few pictures or just read the story.  The actual location is 67o 48’ N 12o 50’ E.  There is a narrow channel with a rock shelf.  When the tide moves through the narrows, the fact that the world is revolving means that the water is already revolving as is flows.  The narrowing of the channel makes the water turn faster.  I once tried to explain the effect to a barber in whose chair I was sitting.  I extended my arms and legs and had him give me a spin.  I drew in my limbs and sure enough spun faster.  When he brought me to a halt I noticed that passers by had stopped on the sidewalk to stare.

Years later I read that the maelstrom had been verified in a sort of a way by computer.  Water on one side of the channel was found to move at most couple of miles an hour faster than water on the other so there would be a sort of a whirlpool but no deep vortex.  The tidal currents are swift, largely because of the underlying shelf, which would not contribute to the Coriolis Effect that causes what rotation there is. 

On the other hand I did pass through the Straights of Messina between Sicily and Italy aboard the tall ship Sea Cloud.  On the Italian side we had pointed out the rock from which Scylla threatened Ulysses.  The other monster there was Charybdis, who swallowed huge amounts of water, drawing in hapless ships.  We saw nothing of Scylla, but there were indeed whirlpools.  Tide passing between the island and the peninsula was forced by the narrow channel to spin.  There were merrymakers in open motorboats that came out to hail the Sea Cloud.  So far as I could tell they were unaware of the whirlpools but when the great keel of the tall ship would strike one you could fell the shock of the torque coming into the hull. 

And there were whales.  Ramus was right on that one.  We were told that the whales were there because they had to come that way to get from one side of Italy to the other, but why the great leviathans commuted regularly between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian I do not know.  The ones we saw did not seem to be moving purposefully. 

Such whirl pools do not really suck things down.  If you are drinking old fashioned whole milk that has not been homogenized and try to stir the cream into the milk you will wind up with bits of butter that float to the bottom of the little whirlpool you make, but my experience is that they are not sucked in. 

The dominant model for population dynamics is the “melting pot” theory.  If you throw a lot of different kinds of metal into a crucible and melt them, assuming they are not volatile and do not react with the walls of the vessel or the atmosphere above, all the atoms of the different metals are still there in the same proportion after they have fused and formed a single alloy.  This observation holds for genes, too.  Assuming that genes are neutral, that is that genes have no effect on the organisms that carry them or that different versions of one gene have identical effects, then it matters not at all whether the genes remain at different frequencies in isolated populations or whether those populations are mixed.  The proportions overall will be unchanged. 

This seems obvious, but the idea was formalized as the Hardy-Weinberg Law.  The mathematics of the Law is above question.  The assumptions are patently absurd.  The whole point of having genes is that they have effects, and the whole point of evolution is that different genes have different effects.  If you add to that, the fact we have now established, which is that genes must cooperate and that they cooperate with certain genes better than with other genes, the whole rationale for the melting pot being a neutral even collapses.  The Iceland data alone prove that fertility is a direct result of the relatedness of the parents.  If there is insufficient relatedness, there must be insufficient fertility.  A melting pot mating strategy minimizes relatedness and catastrophically reduces fertility. 

Melting pot proponents carry on unperturbed.  The Hardy-Weinberg Law is not questioned. 

Think of it this way.  Suppose you are well intentioned but are convinced that humans are incapable of rational choice, that humans are irresponsible and must be compelled by force of law to make the decisions you think they ought to make.  You observe, quite rightly, that a lot of people die in automobile accidents.  So you have a law passed that requires cars to have front seat airbags, which have been proven under certain circumstances to save lives.  Soon after your law is passed it becomes clear that airbags are killing children.

Undeterred, you get a law passed that requires children to travel only in back seats and in specially designed carriers.  Then some sentimental legislator decides that the sight of a baby coming home from the hospital for the first time in its mother’s arms is a nice thing he does not want to have lost and has the law tweaked so a mother can carry her infant home in her arms.  What to do?  You are losing power.  You must recover the initiative. 

So you take as a given that you are right.  You must be obeyed.  So you assume that a driver taking mother and child home for the first time has exactly the same risk of wrecking the car as a distracted driver who is in a hurry and is nattering away on the cell phone.  Then with a trivial amount of arithmetic you can come up with the number of babies killed in their mothers’ arms on that iconic trip.  With this number you can hammer through the legislation you like.  And you do not even have to find a single case to support you. 

No, I am not saying I am against car seats and air bags.  I am saying that just because you have calculated an emotionally charged number based on an assumption does not mean you have proved your assumption.  While this fallacy may have produced a laudable result in the case of car seats, it has had a terrible effect on our thinking about populations.  The Hardy-Weinberg Law is used to support the assumptions upon which it is based, which of course it cannot.

At one time I thought “population maelstrom” might be a better term than “melting pot” for the process of mixing populations.  Immigrants are lured in, not to have their genes simply diluted into a greater gene alloy, but to be swallowed and lost.  But I need another term.  Maelstrom is too kind.  Tidal whirlpools do not really suck things in and cast them into oblivion.  That only happens in real life.  The word “toilet” does come to mind.

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