I like evolution. It made me the man I am today. But most Americans do not accept evolution, and the percentage is even lower among conservatives. So I was surprised when, on August 27, a deputy managing editor of the National Review—a conservative magazine that has published numerous evolution deniers—cited evolutionary theory as a reason that women should vote for Willard Mitt Romney for president.
Kevin D. Williamson wrote, “It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis—Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap.”
Williamson notes that Romney has five sons, a bunch of male grandsons and is “basically a tribal chieftain.” And Barack Obama? “Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.” Based on the sex ratios of the two men's progeny, he then concludes, “From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama's vote.”
So I called Robert Trivers. Of the Trivers-Willard hypothesis and numerous other groundbreaking propositions that have made Trivers a legendary character in evolutionary theory and “one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought,” according to experimental psychologist and popular author Steven Pinker of Harvard University.
I told Trivers that Williamson's article tried to make the case from Trivers-Willard that all women should vote for Romney. He responded, “HAHAHAHAHA!”
In their 1973 paper Trivers and Willard sum it up: “Natural selection should favor parental ability to adjust the sex ratio of offspring produced according to parental ability to invest,” with investment including all care for the progeny, from fertilized egg to independence. “The best evidence was in red deer,” Trivers explained on the phone, “where dominant females produce 60 percent sons. But investment in mammals has a simple logic because usually the male ain't doing s—.” In this polygynous species, where a single male's harem can number 20 females, a dominant female's strong sons have a big advantage over weaker males that may spend their lives nookie-free.
When he stopped laughing, Trivers continued, “Maybe the guy should be saying that all women should try to f— [Romney]. Look, the f—er's rich. Can you f— him and get some of the money? Or are you just voting for him? They're two different decisions.”
Just as an exercise, Trivers did some analysis of Trivers-Willard in regard to Romney and Obama: “There's no way of looking at the sex ratios of progeny of these two couples and predicting anything about their relative superiority over time. It would be better put as an evolutionist arguing about the five-versus-two ratio [of the total number of children born to each candidate].
“They [women] should all want a man with money. That's so obvious we don't need to talk about the sex ratio of the progeny. But then he [Williamson] wants to double down: hey, he [Romney] produced five sons, so that proves he's the ultimate on that side of the coin. But by the same logic there's an ultimate on the other side of the coin who's a female specialist. If Obama had five girls, then we could line it up and see that they [the total number of progeny over the long term] are identical.” Williamson's invocation of Trivers-Willard would thus allow for a more balanced analysis if Romney were running for mayor of Anatevka against Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye “I have five daughters” the Milkman.
Trivers also pointed out that the National Review citation ignored the role of the candidates' mates in the production of progeny. Note to Williamson: females also contribute genetic material in reproduction.
Nevertheless, kudos to the National Review for attempting to wrestle with evolutionary theory, even if Williamson took to it with all the dexterity of a man in a straitjacket. By the way, Trivers's latest book is entitled The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. When I'm done with my copy, it's all yours, Kevin.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN ONLINE
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