RE: JASSS Critical Review of Thought Contagion

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 06 May 1999 10:59:52 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 06 May 1999 10:59:52 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: JASSS Critical Review of Thought Contagion
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B20224BE3@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 09:40 AM 5/6/99 +0200, Gatherer, D. (Derek) wrote:


>The premises in my book that led to
>the possibility of the taboo increasing the rates of "gay genes" were that
>there is negative inclusive fitness for phenotypically expressed
>homosexuality (e.g., for a homozygous recessive gene) and that the genes
>had nevertheless achieved a non-zero *equilibrium* prevalence. There are
>various scenarios that could give rise to this situation, but as I said
>before, the topic requires a full-length paper. One of those scenarios,
>however, is that the gene is a recessive one that confers advantage in the
>heterozygous state, perhaps by improving abilities at same-sex
>bonding/cooperation, perhaps by numerous other mechanisms.
>As I showed on Tuesday, the problem with the heterozygote advantage
>hypothesis is the extreme degree of disadvantage to the non-homosexual
>homozygote that would be required to sustain the present equilibrium level.
>Even if you posit q as being as low as 0.2, instead of the more standard
>0.32, then you still by q = s/(s+t) need to have a selection coefficient
>against homozygous heterosexuals of about 0.25. This would certainly be a
>noticeable phenomenon, if some 64% of the population (at p = 0.8 for
>heterosexuality) were 25% subfertile. Taboos are not relevant in any case
>to this model.

You are still misrepresenting my thesis. I do not say that the taboo can
make such a gene rise from *any* prevalence level. I especially do not say
that it can make prevalence rise from present levels, just from lower
levels that may have existed millennia ago, prior to the taboo. Nor,
incidentally, do I assume that there is *one* gene involved, but that
perhaps many genes of, say, a combined q of .1 could rise to a combined q
of .2 and quadruple the rate of repressed homosexuality. The math I have
done on this indicates that the taboo can indeed increase the prevalence of
such genes. However, I continue to see only more reasons not want to
publish such material as part of a listserver argument with you. It belongs
in a suitable paper.

>Regardless of
>mechanism, there certainly could have been thousands of generations for the
>gene or genes to reach approximate equilibrium by the time the taboo came
>along. I do not, however, assume that that pre-taboo equilibrium level
>would have been equal to rates estimated for the modern populations that
>show the proposed genetic effects of thousands of years of the taboo. Nor
>do buy into what Laumann et. al. (1994) and Michael et. al. (1994) call
>"the myth of 10 percent," but consider a more likely value of q to be 0.2.
>Now, one version of your premises do not assume that homosexuality genes
>without the taboo are at an equilibrium prevalence, but deal with a
>declining prevalence being halted by the taboo.

Incidentally, they do not discuss q values. The q of .2 mentioned above is
merely the value corresponding to the assumption that their levels of about
4% having homosexual sex in the past 5 years corresponds to homozygosity
for a single gene.

>But the taboo, crucially, will never, under any circumstanceas at all, act
>to increase the frequency of the hypothesised homosexuality allele. Whether
>we assume homsexuality to be declining or at equilibrium, that fact is
>(Someone writing privately also gave the
>impression that "MemeLabbers" were in fact running coordinated attacks on
>my work as a territorial offensive.)
>Well, what can I say? Of all the ridiculous conspiracy theories you have
>peddled over the last couple of years Aaron, that one is just the best of
>all! If anyone criticises, or even fails to wholeheartedly agree with you,
>then they must be:

If more neutral observers had not commented privately, I might seriously
consider the possibility that I was paranoid--though still not rule out the
proverbial possibility that someone is "out to get me."

>a) religiously motivated (you referred to me)

I never said that you "must be" religiously motivated simply because you
fail to wholeheartedly agree with me. Rather, I have pointed out how your
own memetics work has argued against what you see as "militant atheism."

>b) attempting to reduce your book sales (to Paul)

I certainly did not claim that Paul was trying to reduce my book sales. In
fact, when Paul told me privately about the ad agency that told him about
my Y2K memes article, he enthusiastically informed me that the agency now
had a bright shiny copy of TC in its research library.

>c) trying to decry memetics so that sociobiology may flourish in its stead
>(to Dawkins)

Again, I do not say that such critics "must be" doing this. Yet the
possibility should be pointed out in some circumstances.

>d) desperately intimidated by your mathematical prowess (Paul and Sue)

"desperately"? I don't think so. While someone else did convey privately a
remark about "intimidation," my own position is that I don't know whether
Paul is intimidated or not. However, I do not see any scientific or
intellectual reasons why Paul has so persistently and severely distorted my
technical work.

>e) engaged in a territorial offensive (to MemeLabbers in general)

Again, I do not say that my critics "must be" engaged in such a territorial
offensive. But I am not going to naively pretend that such things do not
happen in academia. Your own comments have pointed to agendas based on
personal alliances with "MemeLabbers."

>The 'my critics have ulterior motives' defense is beginning to wear a bit
>thin. Maybe the real reason we criticise you is because we are enthusiastic
>pursuers of the truth (ie. scientists) and pouncing on bad ideas is what the
>dear British taxpayer pays us for.

It would of course "wear thin" instantly to anyone who is a recipient of
such comments. However, I have also received much honest intellectual and
scientific criticism, and indeed have benefited from it both before and
after publication of my book and articles.

Now, if I thought that "the real reason" you criticize me is because you
are just "enthusiastic persuers of truth" who so happen to also have a
behaviorist orientation, then I would expect to see you pouncing on
"internalist memetics" (memes in the brain theory) as expressed by
Blackmore. But I don't.

--Aaron Lynch

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)