Shiny happy loci holding hands!

A few years back, I read Evolution’s Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden, and was a huge fan. In it, she builds a compelling argument that sex and gender are two different independently assorting quantitative genetic trains. I.e., Your sex (anatomy) and gender (behavior and sexuality)? Not actually the same thing. Also, not binary. Both (yes, sex, too) are continuous traits.

She builds a strong case for this both based on the wild variety of mating strategies out in nature (and shows how they don’t really fit into the binary gender paradigm of sexual selection) and even more thoroughly through human biology and history.

While it generated a kerfuffle about “Darwin was wrong!” (and sexual selection is really not a key piece of natural selection), the whole sex/gender division into continuous traits is really the most mindblowing part of the book.

But through it all, me and my biologist friends who read it were nearly jumping out of our chairs wanting some real scientific meat. The biggest question we had was “What is the underlying model of evolution, here?” It seemed there must be one, particularly given Roughgarden’s incredible prowess and a theoretical evolutionary ecologist. We were rewarded by hearing Roughgarden lecture on the barest beginnings of a quantitative framework a few weeks after finishing the book, but it was still just a sketch.

So I was totally jazzed to see that in addition to things percolating in the white literature she has recently published The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness.

Take that Richard Dawkins!

It appears to have just come out, so I’ve got an order in for one. But I admit, I’m pretty durned intrigued. Particularly because of the following from the book jacket:

“Building on her brilliant and innovative book Evolution’s Rainbow, in which she challenged accepted wisdom about gender identity and sexual orientation, Roughgarden upends the notion of the selfish gene and the theory of sexual selection and develops a compelling and controversial alternative theory called social selection. This scientifically rigorous, model-based challenge to an important tenet of neo-Darwinian theory emphasizes cooperation, elucidates the factors that contribute to evolutionary success in a gene pool or animal social system, and vigorously demonstrates that to identify Darwinism with selfishness and individuality misrepresents the facts of life as we now know them. ”

So, I’m curious. I’m sure sacred cows will be slaughtered left and right, but, at the end of the day, the whole will make sense as an extension of current knowledge. Although, I’m sure it will cause more than its share of controversy as well.

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