Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Gay Animal Kingdom

Fascination read - I've got to track down Roughgarden's book now, buy a copy when I get a chance.

I was really amused by the idea that, yes, here's real "controversy" in evolutionary biology - someone questioning Darwin on sexual selection. Just the sort of thing that the Discovery Institute is talking about in their Teach the Controversy campaign. Right? I can really see them calling for high school children to be taught that homosexuality is normal (or as the article puts it "[a]t last count, over 450 different vertebrate species could be beheaded in Saudi Arabia.")

The thing that really made me think was the comments about how biologists tend to react to homosexuality in other animals - as a curiosity, as animals "just having fun". I must admit that I have never been too quick to embrace the idea that, because homosexuality if widespread in other animals, that it is natural in humans because I couldn't find a good adaptive explanation for the behaviour. Sure, the "gay uncle" theory is plausible - that non-breeding relatives add survival value and contributing to the survival of your siblings gives you just as much fitness as raising your own offspring. Still, it makes a lot of sense that the adaptive value of homosexuality is in its contribution to social cohesion. Which raises an interesting point - does our modern definition of homosexuality, in which people who are gay do not reproduce, amount to selection against homosexuality? Are the homophobes, who would rather homosexuals remain in the closet, actually acting against their own interests (by increasing the chances of gays reproducing)? Interesting thought.

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