2003.11.05 The science behind it all

Written by David Green.


SCIENCE suggests there’s hope for everyone. The stupid, the old, the ugly, the selfish. Where to begin?

Take stupidity. A famous scientist says it’s just a disease. It’s been 50 years since British scientist James Watson, along with his buddy Francis Crick, announced the discovery of DNA—the chemical code for all life. Watson and Crick explained how genetic information is passed on from one generation to the other.

A few months ago, Watson said that low intelligence is inherited and it should be curable. Don’t blame poverty and other environmental causes, says Watson, just blame the genes. He wants molecular biologists to come up with gene therapies to get rid of stupid people. Watson also thinks it would be good for genetic engineering to create beautiful people.

“People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty,” Watson said. “I think it would be great.”

Watson has taken some heat for these ideas. A bioethics expert thinks Watson’s statements should only be considered amusing. It’s not something science could or should do. A well-known geneticist said Watson’s comments about beauty should be considered daft, since beauty is such a subjective concept.

“Watson likes to annoy—no question—but he’s no fool,” the scientist added. I guess that means he’s not stupid.

WATSON’S beauty talk leads directly to another study that says ugly individuals can sometimes do better than good-looking ones. This time it’s Australian evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks at work.

He knows that peahens prefer peacocks with long, brightly colored tails, and he knows that human females prefer tall men. Those traits are supposed to lead to offspring with a better chance for survival.

But if all women went for tall men, then all males should be tall after so many generations of evolutionary selection, and all birds and fish should look pretty similar. Brooks decided to take a look at guppies. All the females liked males with bright orange spots and big tales. You could have guessed that. But there was also a group of females who liked males with black markings, and so guppies still don’t all look alike.

Stop worrying about adhering to the Hollywood ideal, Brooks suggests, because you probably have what someone out there needs. Somebody will be able to smell your beauty.

Maybe it happens like this, Brooks says. Everyone inherits a selection of immune system proteins called MHC molecules. These help you fight off disease. Men with different MHCs smell differently and women can smell the difference. More than that, they tend to prefer the smell of men whose MHCs complement their own. You might not be so handsome, but you’ve got just what I need.

THAT TAKES care of the stupid and the ugly. What else has science found to comfort us? We learned that beauty isn’t everything, but now comes a report that says it is everything—even aging beauty.

“You’d think that men would always go for 20-year-olds, but they don’t,” says evolutionary psychologist George Fieldman of Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. “Men prefer attractiveness over youthfulness when selecting a long-term partner.”

Men have always been thought to go for quantity over quality, while women tend to go for the best-quality mate. Fieldman has shown that men choose, too. They go for the woman they see as the most attractive, even if she’s twice as old.

    – Nov. 5, 2003 
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016