Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A, B, O - it's as simple as 1, 2,3

I will never forget that day when as a biology minor our teacher revealed to us that he had to change the lesson by government order.

We had just spent several weeks on learning Mendelian genetics, and the day's course was planned to be on the immune system. More specifically, we were supposed to be introduced to the topic of blood groups. The human immune system works by differentiating foreign from bodily substances by scanning the surface of any object within the blood stream for "antigens". And arguably, the most famous antigens are the ones that coined the blood types: A, B,O and the rhesus factor.

During previous years, students were encouraged to pinch themselves with small needles and use a drop of their own blood to test their blood type. This sounded cool, but our teacher was trying hard to find an alternative exercise, so the whole class tried talking him into letting us to the exercise.

As our assumption was that the reason it got banned was either based on a previous generation abusing the "pinching devices" and/or some overly anxious parents threatening to sue the school, we pointed out that we had a nurse who was licensed to draw blood. Our jaws dropped when our teacher revealed that the law suits were not about drawing blood per se. The reason the government scrapped the lesson on blood groups was that its curricular closeness to the Mendelian laws of inheritance got a "considerable" fraction of students to find out about a certain discrepancy between them and their Dad's.


This is quite remarkable since blood group testing is not even a good method of paternity testing. Using that system, most non-paternities go undetected.

One of the reasons we were so shocked is that the very same biology curriculum taught us about females being being biased towards monogamy due to their need for a man's resources to help raise her kids. Males on the other hand were expected to cheat or run away from commitment.

This belief was a hallmark of "ethology" - the early science of animal (and human) behavior, founded by Konrad Lorenz and others (a pre-cursor to sociobiology and evolutionary psychology).

Lorenz had been the head of a big research institute associated with my school. His influence was still palpable. He was a controversial character due to his ugly involvement with the Nazis, who helped him significantly in his career and adopted some of his ideas on "domestication".

Lorenz was convinced that humans "degenerated" beautiful wild animals by domesticating them into livestock and pets. In his view, this "artificial selection" (by selective breeding) lacked the power and virtue of the "natural selection" that reigned in evolution. What Lorenz abhorred was that as result, these animals seemed fat, sick, ugly and unable to survive on their own in the wild. To the delight of the eugenics-friendly Nazis, it was a small step for him to conclude that humans were going down the same route by domesticating themselves.

Lorenz got famous by literally living with wild geese. He was always dressed in out-doorsy clothes, and fitted a beard since being a young man. Part of this demeanor sure was a clever way of "selling" his major findings (such as imprinting) to the general public. After all, you don't win the Nobel Prize just by doing good science. But part of this behavior was certainly based in his genuine belief that everything "nature" and "wild" was somehow more "noble".

One anecdote that circulated at my school was that Lorenz liked to point out that wild geese were almost romantically "faithful", while domesticated geese had degenerated into a Sodom and Gomorra of animals. For Lorenz, who always tried to find an evolutionary explanation of behavior, the only logical explanation was that the domesticated females (being fed and all) had lost their incentive to be selective, and therefore started screwing around liberally.

It soon turned out that this does not sit well with reality. Geese, domesticated or not engage, happily in "extra-pair copulations". It is just that the females are rather sneaky. in fact, they are so sneaky that even the guy who lived with them 24/7 failed to see what was really going on.

This hasn't changed to that day. Researchers nowadays use DNA testing to derive the rate of cheating in monogamous species by estimating the rate of non-paternity since it is far more reliable than observation. Ironically, much of this research was done at the very institute that Lorenz directed in his senior years.

We now understand that the initial belief that females select for resourceful males (as optimal mating strategy) is just part of what's going on. The inherent paternity uncertainty of mammalian males can easily be exploited by females by "frauding" them into raising offspring of other males. These "other" males typically use their resources for mating with many ("taken") females instead of committing to one. Since these "parasitic" males are likely to have more offspring than the providing ones, females fare well in confiding with them. This phenomenon is so common in nature that males of all species have adopted mechanisms to combat non-paternity.

Yet, this widely accepted piece of scientific knowledge still has to make it into mainstream. Most people believe that women are "naturally" more monogamous and commitment-seeking than men (despite all evidence to the contrary). Given that, it seems almost paradoxical that anything questioning this assumption gets suppressed. After all, obligatory DNA testing and school curricula that enable pupils to derive their parental lineage should do no harm if mainstream belief is true.

Although it is obvious who profits (and who doesn't) from the status quo, one can only wonder what would happen within future generations if we taught our kids biological insight into the rules that govern mating behavior instead. There are few instances in history where people got hurt by scientific revelation. But one need not go far to find suffering due to false believes (and suppressed scientific results).

9 comments:

  1. Why am I not surprised.

    Must.

    Deny.

    Reality.

    Or.

    Men.

    Rebel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post. I've read that some studies have found non-paternity rates to be as high as 1 in 10. That would mean, as an example, that of the 500 or so "friends" I have on Facebook, 50 have fathers other than who they think they are, and there's a good chance that their cuckolded "dads" don't know any better either.

    There's definitely a frightening gap between commonly held beliefs about human relationships and the truth that science is slowly starting to reveal.

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  3. Casual--

    Cuckoldry resulting in non paternity is not remotely evenly spread around in American or British society. It's concentrated at the bottom and among "former" sluts.

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  4. Well yeah Doug1, they can afford paternity tests.

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  5. "Genetic counselors have been struggling with the issue of non-paternity for years. When a child is born with a genetic disorder, the parents may go to a counselor to learn whether they should try to have more children. If tests reveal that the presumed father of the child is not the biological father, most counselors will tell only the mother."
    (Who's Your Daddy?", The Atlantic 07/08 2007)

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  6. i would bet women with more to lose are slightly less likely to fuck around, ie: those near the top of the socio-economic food chain. but with the advent of birth control and other things, the overall rate of cheating would probably be somewhat similar. the women with the most to lose by scandal (ie: the life supported by a wealthy man) would look to divorce to then live off his money while nailing young pool boys....or just be super careful about birth control.

    i've read that article by 11 mins' too btw. it's hilarious how they rationalize not harming the child/family aside from the possible harm later on in life about learning they've been lied to by their mom for how ever many years. fyi: this happened to my mom. she found out in her middle age that her mother had an affair and had lied to her de facto by omission for over 40 years. you can imagine the impact.

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  7. Just curious,are tests administered on the basis of blood type?Because if they are,even if the blood type matches the husband there is still a good chance it's not his.There are only about 4 major blood types.There is therefore a rather significant chance that a random lover has the same BT as the cuckold.

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  8. "Cuckoldry resulting in non paternity is not remotely evenly spread around in American or British society. It's concentrated at the bottom and among "former" sluts."

    Oh come come now doug, being a slut is like being a drug addict. Even doctors acknowledge that once one is a drug addict they will always toe the line of relapse.

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  9. 11minutes: scientific revelation is neither good nor bad. It can, however, be used for good or evil. And so called "scientific revelation" has served the agenda of utopian maniacs who've done more harm to the human race than any religious movement. The French Revolution, Nazism and Communism are known examples. Environmentalism is another.

    Most people can't grasp what those two words mean anyways. Religion can also be used for good or bad. As much as I enjoy reading your blog, you fall into the same trap as the rest of PUA community in taking what you've learned from and about women and transposing that narrow perspective to cover your entire value system. It's mistaken.

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