# Cordelia Fine is doing the math

I’m reading Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society –it’s my airplane reading for today, as I travel east — and am getting increasingly enlightened. It addresses these terrible myths about men and manliness and sex that afflict us all, and most importantly, knocking down a lot of scientific fables that seem to be readily disseminated and accepted. Here’s an example from chapter two. She quotes a psychologist who describes a common hypothetical scenario, it’s even one that I think I’ve used in the past, the idea that the reproductive capacity of men is vastly greater than that of women, because we produce lots of cheap sperm, while they are limited by all that pregnancy and child-rearing stuff. Beat your chests in pride at your immense potential virility, men! She quotes a psychologist who makes this kind of facile quantitative argument.

Consider that a man can produces as many as 100 offspring by indiscriminately mating with 100 women in a given year, whereas a man who is monogamous will tend to have only one child with his partner during that same time period. In evolutionary currencies, this represents a strong selective pressure—and a potent adaptive problem—for men’t mating strategies to favor at least some desire for sexual variety.

Then — and this is what I love about this book — she takes it seriously and introduces all the factors involved in conception and does a simple calculation, assuming a man seriously goes on a crusade to impregnate 100 random women.

So what’s the likely return on this exhausting investment? For healthy couples, the probability of a woman becoming pregnant from a single randomly timed act of intercourse is about 3 percent, ranging (depending on the time of the month) from a low of 0 to a high of nearly 9 percent. On average, then, a year of competitive courtship would result in only about three of the one hundred women becoming pregnant. (Although a man could increase his chances of conception by having sex with the same woman repeatedly, this would of course disrupt his very tight schedule.) This estimate, by the way, assumes that the man, in contradiction with the principle of “indiscriminately mating,” excludes women under twenty and over forty, who have a greater number of cycles in which no egg is released. It also doesn’t take into account that some women will be chronically infertile (Einon estimates about 8 percent), or that women who are mostly sexually abstinent have long menstrual cycles and ovulate less frequently, making it less likely that a single coital act will result in pregnancy. We’re also kindly overlooking sperm depletion, and discreetly turning a blind eye to the possibility that another man’s sperm might reach the egg first. In these unrealistically ideal condition, a man who sets himself the annual project of producing one hundred children from one hundred one-night stands has a chance of success of about 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000363.

(Number of zeroes only approximate — I just estimated from the layout on the page, which is hard to do. If only she’d used exponential notation!)

Let’s make the math even simpler and more stark.

Indeed, a promiscuous man would need to have sex with more than 130 women just to have 90 percent odds of outdoing the one baby a monogamous man might expect to father in a year.

Suddenly, my preferred reproductive strategy, monogamy and paternal investment in offspring, seems to be the best evolutionary strategy. It’s much less exhausting, too, and has given me time to do other things in my life.

Anyway, this is a delightful book that has made me question ‘facts’ I’ve long taken for granted multiple times so far, and I haven’t yet finished it. It really pays to think about one’s assumptions now and then, and it’s making me aware of how badly a lot of gender essentialism has poisoned our culture with lies.

She also takes a lot of swift, sharp pokes at evolutionary psychology, if you find that entertaining. I certainly do!

1. Siobhan says

I recommend all of her work. Delusions of Gender takes the piss out of evopsych’s post hoc rationalizations for gender inequality too.

2. says

Reductio ad absurdum can be funny, it can even be a valid arguent, but in this case it is neither, at least in my opinion. The issue is not as clear cut as presented in the OP (it may be better presented in the book, which I have not read).

The notion “Consider that a man can produces as many as 100 offspring by indiscriminately mating with 100 women in a given year, ” is strawmanishly absurd, and therefore can be easily demolished. I have indeed met people who make claims this absurd (even I did!), so it is still worth demolishing them, but there are other possibilites that are not as easily dismissed by blinding with math.

For example strategy “Consider that a man mates regularly with a woman until she becomes pregnant and then moves on to another woman who is not”. Such a man would not produce 100 children per year of course, but he would have realistic chances of producing on average more than 1 child per year.

Or strategy “Consider that a man has a harem of a few women with whom he mates on fair and indiscriminate basis”. Such a man would again of course also not produce 100 offsprings, but he too would have a fairly good chance of producing more than 1 child per year.

However a monogamous man has zero chance of producing more than one offspring per year due to his mating strategy (multiples can be omitted for the sake of this argument, because their probability is not dependent on the males strategy).

Of course nothing is simple in sociology and biology, so many other factors creep in – women are not passive, but active agents, and their choices can, did and do shape men both socially and evolutionally. Courting also has costs etc. etc. etc. However if the measurement of success is purely the ammount of offspring, the not so easy quantifiable variables are omitted for the sake of argument and only simple probability of 6% of pregnancy per mating is calculated, then monogamy is not the best strategy.

A man has higher chances of fathering more than one offspring per year than a woman, not because sperm is cheap, but because he is not rendered essentialy infertile for a year duration of the pregnancy.

Here are my simplified results for 6% probability of pregnancy per intercourse, with 2 intercourses per week. The result is average number of children:
~0,999 of a child/yr in a monogamous relationship
~1,914 of a child/yr in a bigamous relationship
~2,585 of a child/yr with a harem of three
~3,148 of a child/yr with a harem of four

But maybe my reasoning and math is wrong, I am sure someone will point flaws out.

3. says

Sorry for the gruesome bolding, I do not know how that happened, I did not write the b tag for the last sentence at all, no idea how it got there.

4. says

5. Siobhan says

@PZ

I feel like this should be at the top of the Wikipedia entries on you.

6. says

@PZ Myers #4
Why is my humanity broken? I am completely baffled at how you came to that conclusion.

7. says

PZ:

That was shitty thing to say. I know Charly, and his humanity is intact, and just fine. He got hung up on the math, and that means he’s a broken ass?

8. Czech American says

My wife and I looked at fertility treatments briefly. We didn’t do them for a variety of reasons, but I’m glad we checked it out because I was very surprised by how many basic facts about human reproduction we just didn’t know. We’re liberal believers in comprehensive sex education, but ultimately, we are products of the crappy sex ed in the US too. It was humbling.

Chief among what we learned was this. If you take a man and a women in their 20s with perfect reproductive systems, harvest eggs from the women and take a sperm sample from the man, implant a perfectly healthy sperm into a perfectly healthy egg and inseminate the woman at the perfect time, your chance of conception is about 20%.

I never would have guessed that the maximum rate of conception, even under absolutely ideal conditions, would be that low.

9. brett says

That sounds like a fascinating book. I’m always open to more good critiques of Evo Psych.

An intermediate strategy between total male promiscuity and monogamy might outperform the monogamous strategy on producing new offspring in a year. This would be more like having repeated affairs with multiple women, with two of them maybe becoming pregnant in a year versus the one pregnancy from the monogamous couple. Lower offspring survivability, could even things out again, though.

10. Rob Grigjanis says

PZ @4:

It’s your humanity that is broken.

WTF?

11. lotharloo says

@Charly:
I agree. I think the example in OP is way too strawmaned to be interesting. I have read that it is the difficulty of child bearing that makes monogamy the more viable strategy and it makes more sense than just “low probability of female pregnancy in one mating”.

12. lotharloo says

@PZ:

Yeah, WTF. I mean, seriously, you know better that strawman arguments that result in a probabilities with 0.0 followed by a bunch of zeros do not make for interesting debates.

13. says

Shiv @ 1:

I recommend all of her work. Delusions of Gender takes the piss out of evopsych’s post hoc rationalizations for gender inequality too.

I don’t. I’ve read Delusions of Gender, and it was seriously offputting, how distracted Fine’s writing was, and her tendency to go from hard science reporting to personal anecdote. That’s a personal thing, but it read to me like she couldn’t make up her mind what type of book she wanted to write. That makes it more difficult for me to parse the information she was attempting to disseminate.

14. anbheal says

One other bit of math neglected is all those child support payments. The man would need to work three jobs, and probably wouldn’t have any money left to wine and dine his prospective mates. We also must consider the women’s sexual habits — the man has no good way of knowing that the children are his. Whereas the woman always knows. And he’s sleeping with them once — they might have boyfriends or husbands they have sex with 250 times per year. Then of course we’re talking about the better part of \$40,000 in paternity tests. And of course the likely woman’s response, “I can’t believe I was drunk enough to bed down with THAT skunk — let me find the nearest abortion clinic!”

Yeah, I think the boyfriend or husband might fare better in the baby-makin’ department.

15. ajbjasus says

I’m all for busting macho male stereotypes, but the straw-manning is exacerbated by the fact that the monogamous male is part of a “healthy couple”, whilst the rampaging male encounters females with the whole spectrum of factors which affect their fertility. Lots of married couples have non optimal reproductive health, (as my partner and I know to our own detriment)

16. lotharloo says

Also the math is misleading. She calculates that the average (i.e., expected) number of pregnancies from the polygamist man is 3 while the maximum number of pregnancies from the monogamous man is at most one. This defeats her point so to “p-hack” the math she puts the bar at “the polygamist strategy must defeat the monogamous strategy by at least a confidence of 90%”. Okay fine but why is this interesting from an evolutionary point of view? Do we demand that every adaptation must have 90 percent success rate it is dismissed? So she does one more straw man at this point.

I think they are fine on both fronts. Charly is explicitly considering the question from the article, which is how a man could have the most offspring, and even notes in passing how framing things that way does things like neglect the agency of the women involved. And he’s right, taking the premise that is what should be maximized, you can do better.

So plainly people aren’t monogamous to maximize reproductive output, and it plainly has to do with something else, like actually providing for the children in question or respecting the emotional preferences of the partners involved. Nothing wrong with showing commitment can’t actually be reduced to a statistically useful way of pumping out newborns, I would think.

18. zoniedude says

Very bad evolutionary argument. The issue isn’t how many offspring you generate, but rather how many of your offspring survive to reproduce. The real issue in evolutionary terms is which strategy results in greater numbers of your offspring surviving into puberty. Add to this the well-known strategy among some animals, and in evolutionary terms we are talking here about primitive humans, of males killing the offspring of a previous father when acquiring a female.

19. says

It is possible to have more than one child a year. My sister is 11 months younger than me. Oops.

20. says

Maybe PZ is reading too much into Charly’s avatar?

21. ChasCPeterson says

Cordelia Fine’s math is just like Cordelia Fine’s research and Cordelia Fine’s writing: obviously aimed squarely at reaching a pre-selected conclusion.
Somebody points that out and you alter the comment without attribution and question their humanity?
You’re a real asshole sometimes, and a poor scientist.

22. says

That lashing out at Charly was inappropriate, vicious, and also out of character.

So, I ask with genuine concern: PZ, are you okay? That was worrisome.

23. jupitaur says

zoniedude; ‘The issue isn’t how many offspring you generate, but rather how many of your offspring survive to reproduce. ”

Yes. And if you are just having sex with a bunch of women, but not supporting any of them, or the offspring who might be yours, then the health and welfare of your offspring is compromised. This is why we have pair bonds — because it is a successful reproductive strategy.

There’s no “royal road” to reproductive success.

24. It also leaves aside the fact that yeah, there are just about as many women as men. A harem would make sense from that PoV but also neglects the questions of security and resources.

25. unclefrogy says

I’ll will not make much of a comment about broken humanity though personal distortion may apply.
What I get out of as the point both PZ’s and the book review is the absurdity of reducing evolution to one aspect of selective pressure as some profound insight.
The proposed benefit of theoretically being able to father a 100 children a year is extremely unlikely to have been very important in evolution until some time after there was enough surplus to allow that much leisure some time after the invention of agriculture at least. Who is feeding this very busy man because it is pretty difficult to both feed yourself by hunting and gathering and at the same time spending a lot of time with mating rituals or support that kind of population density to afford that kind of behavior.

uncle frogy

26. imthegenieicandoanything says

I find this very, very persuasive.

SO persuasive that I’m (sincerely) frightened that it may be biased in favor of my own prejudices.

If any opposing math and/or bio wonk puts up figures that (reasonably) dispute these, I hope you’ll let us know about it – even if their take on it is then shot to pieces.

Again, it sounds and feels correct. The old reproductive “strategy” was clearly a sick male-fantasy w/o any merit at all (since if it had any, we’d commonly SEE it in life.)

I happen to be reading about Wilt Chamberlain recently. He’s probably the most famous and reasonably documented mass philanderer of modern times. Yet it’s unlikely all that sex got him a dozen kids outside his marriages (we also neglect to add birth control and sexual activities outside ejaculation into the vagina here – and many, many other factors.)

Anyway, THAT was always bullshit and it’s great to see it snuffed out. Having the rest of her claims supported by a disinterested confirmer would still be great,

27. says

As I see it the evolutionary strategy, if the aim is to encourage males to hang around and help look after the children , is for the female fertility to be low so that the male has to try and try and try again (isn’t it fun) in order to successfully fertilize and egg. This seems to be what has actually happened.

28. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

@PZ Myers #4
Why is my humanity broken? I am completely baffled at how you came to that conclusion.

Looks like a pattern matching error.

29. chigau (違う) says

Not like the GoodOldDays®, eh, Sven?

30. ragdish says

While I admire Fine (and similar authors) in taking a stand against misogynist science, she seems to make the same mistakes as her opponents. Is there no innate cerebral architecture that in part shapes gender? No role for endogenous factors (eg. hormones)?

When transgender neuroscientist Dr. Ben Barres explains he was born with his disposition, Fine does not address these matters. Indeed, transgender individuals present the most compelling evidence that gender is not wholly determined by sociocultural forces.

I find those either wholly committed to only nature or nurture have an a priori ideological agenda and present select evidence to support their conclusions.

For a balanced perspective championing both nature and nurture, I would encourage all to read works by Patricia Churchland.

31. Indeed, transgender individuals present the most compelling evidence that gender is not wholly determined by sociocultural forces.

You mean the guy was born with an innate love for dinosaurs and a disgust for glitter?
That’s the problem here. Trans people live in the same world as cis people. They are shaped by the same gender expectations as the rest of us and they use the shared language of gender expression if that is what suits them best*. This is not the same as gender identity. Trans people have existed in all times and places. We have evidence for them in many times and cultures**, yet they did not gravitate to the same things trans people may gravitate to nowadays.

*Note that a lot of non-binary trans people exist. If you want to use trans people for cheap arguments then they present a problem.

**If indeed they presented a challenge to the norm and were thus “noticeable”

32. rietpluim says

The mechanism of evolution is impersonal, insentient. Why would anybody choose to pass as many genes to as much offspring as possible? Most of the times I had sex, it was not for reproduction at all. And when it was, it was only after my wife and I established a long term relationship. We now have two children. We love them dearly, and we think two is enough.

33. Anton Mates says

lotharloo @16,

@lotharloo,

Also the math is misleading. She calculates that the average (i.e., expected) number of pregnancies from the polygamist man is 3 while the maximum number of pregnancies from the monogamous man is at most one.

“Misleading” is being kind; this is creationist-level bad science. Most significantly beneficial alleles confer far smaller reproductive advantages on their holders, on the order of a few percentage points. The most strongly selected traits in the human genome that I’ve heard of, such as lactose tolerance in Northern Europeans and sickle-cell in West Africans, have only given their carriers a 10-20% edge in the number of children they successfully raise to adulthood. If promiscuous men really managed to father three times as many children as monogamous men? Or even just 90% more children? Or 40% more children? That would be huge. The “promiscuity gene,” if there was one, would be one of the most beneficial hereditary traits we’ve ever seen.

Now, to my knowledge, no one’s ever shown that the typical man would gain that kind of reproductive edge (or any edge at all, once parental investment is factored in) from being promiscuous rather than monogamous. But by accepting that hypothetical edge and then dismissing it as adaptively inconsequential anyway, Fine gives her readers a totally unrealistic impression of how big a selective advantage has to be to “matter” to evolution.

34. logicalcat says

@PZ Myers

It would be nice if you answered Charly’s question up above (#6 post).

35. ragdish says

32. Giliel

I am repeating what Ben Barres and several of my patients who happen to be trans have said. And I am specifically addressing the issue of gender identity and not gender roles. The love of dinosaurs and pink sandals are social constructs. The evidence among transgendered individuals is most certainly not cheap arguments. I dare you to tell them that their identities are wholly the product of culture. Do it and see how long it takes before your progressive mantle is disrobed.

36. brett says

@31 starfleetdude

Coyne makes a good broader point, although his argument about infidelity and humans is probably wrong. Cuckoldry is quite rare among human beings, and that’s in a society with tons of potential social contact with strangers and opportunities to hide infidelity (versus a tightly knit group of dozens of related people in constant close contact with each other). There was a big compression in y-chromosome lineages versus x-chromosome ones about 4000-8000 years ago, but that was probably linked to the rise of stratified agricultural societies with high inequality.

37. says

I am surprised that so many are missing the point. You want to claim that Fine is making a strawman argument, but the whole point is that she is addressing a common, and fallacious, claim that males can reproduce far more profligately than females. She’s right! That whole a man can produces as many as 100 offspring by indiscriminately mating with 100 women is bullshit, and she ably tears it down with her calculation. If you want to argue with it, do so by carrying out a more thorough and detailed calculation incorporating more variables…but it still makes her point, that we’ve been accepting bogus rationales for male promiscuity and investment for over a century, without thinking them through, because they feed a patriarchal bias. Reality is far more complicated than that.

Inventing scenarios under which a man can increase his reproduction rate by dehumanizing women doesn’t help. I could argue that if I shackled 5 women in my basement and raped the non-pregnant ones every night, I too could exceed the rate of reproduction in the Fine scenario. But once again, it carries an ugly assumption: that women’s autonomy can be ignored and they can be treated as wombs under my control. That women are not equal participants in the act of reproduction. That we can just pretend that they will not resist, that masculine control is total, and that this is an evolutionarily viable means of perpetuating the species for human beings.

We can find examples of such horrors in our history. That does not make them an optimal strategy.

38. says

Oh, and Coyne? Seriously? Don’t bother, especially not when he’s promoting a bias of his own and unironically complaining about ideology trumping biology.

39. seleukos says

You really don’t see the problem with questioning someone’s humanity when they point out that the math is not as clear cut as in the OP (when not comparing an inherently extreme assumption such as 100 children in a year from 100 one-night stands with basic monogamy)? If a behaviour is ethically abhorent, call it out as abhorent. If a behaviour is mathematically wrong for what it purports to do, call it out for that. But you shouldn’t use misleading math as proof that something abhorent also doesn’t work. That’s creeping into alternative facts territory, and it makes me uncomfortable to see it coming from such a progressive blog.

Scenarios where men have 4 wives aren’t something from the dark recesses of history; it’s acceptable practise in several (though by no means all) Muslim countries. The current Sultan of Brunei has 13 children from 5 wives, and I suspect he’s not done yet. The current King of Saudi Arabia also has 13 children, from 3 wives, and he was the 25th of innumerable (I see 43 listed by name in Wikipedia, with mention of almost a hundred elsewhere on that page) children by his father and his 20+ consorts.

By all means, call it out as socially unacceptable and morally wrong. But don’t tell me Ibn Saud would have had anywhere near so many children if he were monogamous – or that any one of his wives could have given birth to as many children if she were polyandrous.

40. logicalcat says

So Charly dehumanized women?

41. brett says

@38 PZ Myers

Nobody in the thread was saying that the “man can impregnate 100 women” claim was right, but that the broader point – that a promiscuous man can father more offspring than a monogamous one – might be. Even if it’s just 2-3 children a year instead of one, that’s a huge reproductive advantage, unless it gets evened out by a lower survival rate to adulthood for the promiscuous man’s children.

I can absolutely imagine a promiscuous man getting two or three women pregnant in a year without coercion (especially in a time before reliable birth control).

42. recapitulation says

There are plenty of examples that can be used to argue that, if given the chance, men will use women to maximize their own fitness, and the way to do this is polygamy.

I grew up with one foot in the mormon church, and it makes perfect sense to me. “Bring’em Young” had 56 children with 16 of his 55 wives. Drooling polygamists leering at adolescent girls in rural Utah chapels may be monsters, but their motivation is in their “id” somewhere.

43. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

While I admire Fine (and similar authors) in taking a stand against misogynist science, she seems to make the same mistakes as her opponents. Is there no innate cerebral architecture that in part shapes gender? No role for endogenous factors (eg. hormones)?

When transgender neuroscientist Dr. Ben Barres explains he was born with his disposition, Fine does not address these matters. Indeed, transgender individuals present the most compelling evidence that gender is not wholly determined by sociocultural forces.

You’re conflating “gender” used to mean “gender identity” with “gender” used to mean “content of gender roles.”

44. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

And I am specifically addressing the issue of gender identity and not gender roles.

WELL WE AREN’T, GENIUS.

45. says

Is there no innate cerebral architecture that in part shapes gender?

Maybe. Evidence is weak and highly variable. This is addressed in Fine’s book.

No role for endogenous factors (eg. hormones)?

Yes. But it’s far more complex than you imagine. This is addressed in Fine’s book.

When transgender neuroscientist Dr. Ben Barres explains he was born with his disposition, Fine does not address these matters.

46. Jessie Harban says

@PZ, 38:

I am surprised that so many are missing the point. You want to claim that Fine is making a strawman argument, but the whole point is that she is addressing a common, and fallacious, claim that males can reproduce far more profligately than females. She’s right! That whole a man can produces as many as 100 offspring by indiscriminately mating with 100 women is bullshit, and she ably tears it down with her calculation.

The claim that males can, hypothetically, reproduce far more profligately than females is correct. The idea that promiscuity is a more successful reproductive strategy for males is not, but Fine’s calculations show nothing of the sort.

The idea that male promiscuity means mating exactly once with each of 100 partners and producing 100 children is, indeed, a straw man. First, at 3% conception rate per intercourse, he’d statistically father 3 children, which outperforms the monogamous man. Second, he can mate more than once with each partner, thus boosting his odds— doubling it to 2 nights with each partner gives him 6 statistical children, while the monogamous man is unlikely to have more than 1.

Fine’s own math just doesn’t hold up— barring multiple births, a monogamous man can have, at most, two offspring per year while a promiscuous man with 100 partners will statistically have 3— and he can improve that easily simply by mating more than once with each.

Of course, that doesn’t mean male promiscuity is a good reproductive strategy— making a fallacious argument against a claim doesn’t make that claim true. It’s just that if you wanted to demonstrate that male promiscuity is a poor reproductive strategy, you don’t start by assuming that just because a man is physically capable of having 100 partners means he will. Where are these women coming from? Why are they so willing to have a fling with some random dude? If anyone who wanted to mate could simply conjure a partner out of the ether, then most of evolution would be debunked.

If you want to argue with it, do so by carrying out a more thorough and detailed calculation incorporating more variables

The ironic thing is that Fine’s argument is bullshit specifically because it doesn’t incorporate variables that exist in the real world.

If the only variables you consider are the likelihood that one act of mating causes pregnancy and the number of partners a man has, then the more partners he has, the more children he has. That’s simple math.

If you want to argue against male promiscuity as successful reproductive strategy, you need to incorporate other variables, like the effort required to find a new partner, the effort required to maintain relations with an existing partner, the likelihood of your children surviving to adulthood with or without paternal support, and so forth.

but it still makes her point, that we’ve been accepting bogus rationales for male promiscuity and investment for over a century, without thinking them through, because they feed a patriarchal bias.

Wait, hold up. There’s a gigantic difference between: “Is it a successful reproductive strategy?” and “Is it the right thing to do?”

Even if male promiscuity did, somehow, magically, always result in more offspring than monogamy, that would say absolutely nothing about what any person in our current society should do.

If the goal is to dismantle patriarchal notions that men have a right to ignore their existing responsibilities in order to pursue more sex, there’s got to be hundreds of better ways than telling men: “Statistically, you will have fewer children if you do that.” I doubt most of them even care how many, if any, children they have.

47. Jessie Harban says

@46:

Is there no innate cerebral architecture that in part shapes gender?

Maybe. Evidence is weak and highly variable. This is addressed in Fine’s book.

Wait a minute. If genders themselves are socially constructed, how can there possibly be an innate cerebral architecture of gender?

48. says

I see that PZ did not get the point of my post at all and that he apparently reads this topic. So I decided to clarify after all (now whith emphassis – I hope the bolding stays where I put it and does not creep somewhere else this time – but there is going to be a lot of it):

I was not trying to make any moral arguments or statements about reality whatsoever, I was not advocating for promiscuity or having harems and how superior it is or any similar MRA shit. I just like tinkering with stats and probabilities (it is a part of my job after all) so I tried to check the math in the article using the assumptions and data from it. And I found out what I wrote. I was trying to be clear that in reality there is a bunch of confounding factors that are completely omitted in the article and as a consequence therefore omitted in my comment too. Either I expressed myself really poorly or PZ did not read or understand that part of my comment and took the rest as some MRA fantasy about objective superiority of sleeping around (but monad f.e. understood evidently exactly what I meant to say).

Of course nothing is simple in sociology and biology, so many other factors creep in – women are not passive, but active agents, and their choices can, did and do shape men both socially and evolutionally. Courting also has costs etc. etc. etc. However if the measurement of success is purely the ammount of offspring, the not so easy quantifiable variables are omitted for the sake of argument…

To the best of my abilities and understanding I have taken the numbers and assumptions from the article and have shown that the point of the article is inaccurate in its own framework because it only evaluates absurdly simplified claim (and now I note that I made a mistake by taking 6% probability instead of 3%, but it would not change the point, only the numbers). And now I am some inhumane monster for that? Seriously? Do I have to write an even longer comment to be clear or do I even have to write all of the possiblities (thus rendering any discussion moot) so my humanity is not questioned?

And I even said that yes, such absurd claims are indeed made and they are worth destroying. But what is also worth pointing out is, that reality does not consist only of absurd claims and opponents of progress do not only make absurd and easily demolished claims. So energy should also be directed at evaluating at those not-so easily demolished claims. As many subsequent commenters did by explicitly pointing out things I did not (not due to lack of knowledge, but due to time constraints and self-restraint in trying to be conscise and on point – see those three “etc” in my first comment?).

I still considered the agency of women being the most important factor in all this so I took the care to point that one out before etcetering the others.

I mean, it is not as if I wandered here out of the blue with Slymepit nickname and made my first comment ever.

49. KG says

PZ,

Occasionally, you make really crass mistakes – as surely we all do, but most of us less publicly. Accusing Charly of losing his humanity was one of yours. The right and rational thing to do in such a case is to own up and apologise.

50. rietpluim says

He we are, discussing a hypothetical scenario in which men try to produce as much offspring as possible by having lots of promiscuous sex. This may be entertaining as an intellectual exercise, but it still is a scenario in which women are reduced to gene passing machines. Though it is meant to be a rebuttal of misogynist ideas, it still feels uncomfortable.

51. cartomancer says

The whole argument here is premised on the notion that human men actually ARE innately and instinctively more promiscuous than human women. Is there actually any evidence at all that this is so? I’m not sure there could be, given how hard it is to disentangle cultural and social factors in human behaviour from biological substrates.

Were we sat in Plato’s academy or Aristotle’s peripatos we would be trying to come up with biological arguments to support the opposite conclusion – why women are more promiscuous than men. In Athens it was obvious that women – lustful, irrational, uncontrolled women – were the promiscuous sex. Why else would healthy societies need strict laws to keep tabs on them and prevent their ilegitimate children from getting in on precious citizenship rights they don’t deserve? It was just as obvious that the traditional Greek extended family – the oikos – was by far the best reproductive strategy for raising humans to adulthood. Harems are for silly, effeminate easterners like the Persians, and as for the Spartan custom of raising children communally – well, look how that turned out (Aristotle was convinced that Spartan society was demographically unsustainable, and he was probably right).

52. Taemon says

#51 rietpluim, the same goes for men. The fact that they don’t balk at being reduced to gene passing machines suggests that the uncomfortableness lies in society, not in the hypothetical scenarios per se.

53. cartomancer says

From a cultural point of view, though, I am curious as to where this modern notion that male heterosexual promiscuity is normal and innate and to some extent laudable comes from. It is not an idea that has a terribly long history. Sure, there have always been double standards between what men and women are allowed to get away with sexually, and a lack of interest in sex has generally been seen as weird in males, but this idea that having as much sex as possible with as many partners as possible is what men naturally want to do is somewhat new. This emphasis on frequency and variety as markers of success. It is not essential to patriarchal thinking – indeed, the traditional model of patriarchy tends to have male heads of household content with the sexual options available within the household, and frowns heavily on adultery because of its disruptive effect on patriarchal power structures.

54. lotharloo says

@starfleetdude:

Well, Coyne is really the last person who can comment on this. I genuinely have more respect for slympitters than Jerry Coyne who:

* Champions free speech but consistently and silently bans commenters for minor offenses
* Declares that twitter banning sexist, and racist assholes such as Milo goes against freedom of spech even though it is a private company but bans people for far less severe offenses on his blog because it is his blog!
* Pushes far right policy positions (such as the “one state solution”) on his blog, and bans anyone who disagrees strongly
* Pitifully defends neo-nazi, racists, and sexists while at the same time rails against articles that try to promote women in Hijab, while wrongly thinking they actually promote Hijab.
* He has no clue about the social issues, and his comment section is fully of ignorant fools who just wail against SJW, feminism, and so on.
* He is a fan boy of Sam Harris and cannot stand any criticism of Sam Harris’ idiotic arguments. Guess what happens if you criticize Sam Harris? Yep, banned!
* He is totally clueless about politics (his “Hillary wins!” post is one example) but once again, bans people who know better than him and correct him.
* In fact, he is totally clueless about many topics, but if you correct him too strongly, you are rude and you get banned.
* Declares that people let ideology influence their science while at the same time peddling ideology-driven assumptions as science. The most clear example of that is his claim that “male on average slightly stronger than women because men had to fight over women.” While this claim might be true, his “evidence” for such an enormous claim is really pitiful.

55. says

How is monogamy a better strategy? (in discussed context)
It isn’t neither for men, nor for women.

Imagine a tribe split into man/women pairs.

Cheating men are more likely to get more kids.
Cheating women are more likely to get kids from the guy they like more than their partner.

It is win for both sexes, but one wins quantity, other one quality.

I’m puzzled what is there to argue about, isn’t it obvious?

56. steve oberski says

Hey PZ,

If Charly recants his heretical views will he be admitted back onto the island ?

Perhaps after performing some purifying rituals as prescribed by the tribal elders ?

Or is it off to the gulags for the deviant after a show trial as a warning for other dissenters ?

Did you know that the Politburo considered publishing a fake issue of the Pravda exclusively for Lenin to stop him worrying about the current political situation and intervening in them ?

Do you think this analogy is OK or do you think my humanity is broken ?

57. Michael says

@55 lotharoo
You’re mistaken about some of your ideas of free speech. Free speech means that you can say what you like, but does not mean that other people have to listen, nor more importantly, are they obliged to ‘give you a platform’.

Coyne has his own site, with his own rules. He is totally within his rights to ban anyone he wants if they break his rules, no matter how minor. Similarly, you don’t have the right to speak at a university, unless you are invited, and if you are you have to play by the rules, eg. no hate speech.

So if PZ wants to ban me, etc. for saying that I also agree that he owes Charly an apology, then he can.

58. lotharloo says

@Michael
Read my comment again. Jerry Coyne believes Twitter should *not* ban people like Milo and believes that it goes against freedom of speech even though Twitter is a private company. But he argues the opposite when it comes to his blog.

59. Michael says

@59
I was referring to your first two points.
1. It’s his site, his rules.
2. I don’t use Twitter, but my understanding is that it is inconsistent in applying it’s rules (if it has any). So two different people behaving similarly receive completely different consequences.

60. logicalcat says

@57 steve oberski

Sounds like your ability to form a useful analogy is whats actualy broken here.

61. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

He is totally within his rights trivially is not, in fact, literally violating any law by choosing to ban anyone he wants if they break his rules, no matter how minoron an arbitrary basis, which has no bearing on whether or not he’s deserving of contempt and I’m wasting your time by dragging in this fossilized red herring, thus demonstrating either that I’m arguing in deliberate bad faith or too fucking stupid and servile to understand the difference between “can” and “should”.

FIFY, Michael.

62. lotharloo says

@Michael:

1. It’s his site, his rules.
Yes, sure. We can disagree on this but I argue that anyone who advocates for freedom of speech, for the benefit of exposure to different ideas, for having intellectual debates and so on should not ban people willy nilly, specifically if they correct him on points where he got it wrong. In other words, he is totally within his rights to act like a child and we can criticize him.

2. I don’t use Twitter, but my understanding is that it is inconsistent in applying it’s rules (if it has any). So two different people behaving similarly receive completely different consequences.

So wait a second. You dont like that “twitter is inconsistent in apply its rules” but it does not bother you that “Jerry Coyne is also inconsistent?” Or when it comes to twitter it is no longer “their site, their rules” but when it comes to beloved Jerry it is suddenly “his site, his rules, no questions, no criticism?”

For the record, I believe he has the right to do whatever he wants but we also get to criticize him for his actions. Same with twitter, if you think twitter is inconsistent, you can criticize him. What you cannot do is to make up silly reasons to argue that ‘twitter banning Milo goes against freedom of speech”. So basically, Jerry wants to advocate freedom of speech at other people’s expense. He does not want to deal with even a slightly nasty comments on his blog, but he wants other to deal with harassment in the name of freedom of speech.

63. says

I do apologize to charly for jumping down their throat on this matter.

I should be more accustomed to the reductionist approach that simplifies problems by throwing away 99% of the variables, something that I was pointing out in my post — it’s endemic, and it is a particularly popular approach when dealing with implications of sexism in science.

64. says

By the way, one of the things Coyne does that make his site unreadable to me is to smugly announce that he is above these personal frays and that he’s going to demand more civility, while then allowing slymepitters to say whatever they want about people like me in the comments, which are a cesspit of even worse attitudes than his own. And what do I see here?

You don’t get banned for liking Jerry Coyne, but I’ll ask that you all refrain from either sneering at him or defending him. Just let him be.

65. rietpluim says

@Taemon – Fair enough, but the scenario still assumes that the men want to reproduce as much as possible, where the women are only a means to an end.

66. ragdish says

I purchased Testosterone Rex and I admire Fine’s style of writing. I have just started reading. I did a simple search of the book and nowhere does she address the complex matter of gender identity especially as it pertains to innate dispositions among transgender individuals. PZ could you direct me to the relevant pages? Could you please make me eat crow?

Although Fine briefly and correctly references prominent gender difference researcher Margaret Young, I find that Fine ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I encourage all to read this article:

I cannot find any passages wherein Fine addresses gender differences in neuropsychiatric disorders. This is where honest and serious gender difference researchers concentrate their efforts on this matter.

Autism is not a product of culture. There has to be innate gender differences to explain in part why autism is far more prevalent among males. What is Fine’s stance on this and other neuropsychiatric conditions? Rather than solely scrounging evidence to back her apriori ideological stance (nothing wrong with that), Fine needs to take a step back and acknowledge the need to support neuropsychiatric research into innate gender differences. Alas, I find that all is not fine with Fine thus far. But, I’ll finish the book and hope she changes my mind.

67. ragdish says

Oops. I meant Margaret McCarthy and not Margaret Young. Sorry.

68. ragdish
How about you say clearly whether you meaN gender identity or gender expression or gender roles. Complaining that we can’t read your mind is quite rich.

69. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

Autism is not a product of culture.

How autistic behaviors are expressed is. This is documented. You need to do a little more reading.

70. says

How autistic behaviors are expressed is.

How does that address the point: “Autism is not a product of culture. There has to be innate gender differences to explain in part why autism is far more prevalent among males. “?

71. clitus says

I like Jerry Coyne. Sometimes I sneer at him. Right now I’m (sort of) defending him. I’m completely at peace with the concept of leaving him be. How about you?

72. jefrir says

There has to be innate gender differences to explain in part why autism is far more prevalent among males.

Autism is diagnosed more in males – this is not necessarily the same as being more prevalent. The diagnostic criteria are based on the way it presents in males, the expressions of autistic behaviour, and the ways these are reacted to, can be different in boys and girls, and some doctors will go so far as to refuse to diagnose girls with autism, because, well, everyone knows that’s a boy’s thing, right?

73. ragdish says

74. jefrir

Could you provide evidence to back up your statement? Here are the diagnostic criteria:

https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/diagnosis/dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria

Please educate me in regards to the male gender bias in these criteria. I’m not being sarcastic here. You’re implying that all developmental psychologists, pediatric neurologists and psychiatrists are practicing sexism.

74. Vivec says

@76

That being said, if autism expresses itself differently among males and females, does that not in part imply an innate difference?

Not necessarily. The social experiences between men and women are different, so that alone isnt proof of innate differences.

75. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

If this pans out to show equal gender prevalence, then I’ll eat the crow boiled and not fried.

Since a large majority of people with two X chromosomes identify as female, and a large majority of those with one identify as male, if autism were linked to one or more recessive genes on the X chromosome it could, in principle, still have a higher prevalence in male identified people than female identified people. This wouldn’t support any claims at all about the content of Gender Roles or the social institution of a Strict Gender Binary being Biological Determinismed.

That being said, if autism expresses itself differently among males and females, does that not in part imply an innate difference?

Only if one assumes that being autistic means being completely insensible to cultural influences. You’d think I’da noticed.

76. There has to be innate gender differences to explain in part why autism is far more prevalent among males.

Remember when only men got heart attacks and everybody knew what the symptoms look like?

77. recapitulation says

I agree, Kartu O (56). It doesn’t matter if men and women’s brains are identical. Our bodies are different in ways that influence the kinds of strategies that influence the number and/or quality of our offspring. If we play the very same game, but with predictably different hands dealt us, we’ll play differently. To deny this is to proclaim that humans have somehow graduated beyond the reach of natural and sexual selection, which sounds creationist to me. We are animals, and our biology permeates all aspects of our lives. Just look at the online lekking phenomenon through your Jane Goodall goggles. It IS obvious. Nothing negative about online courtship – I think it’s very effective.

78. recapitulation says

Rationally speaking, perfect monogamy would be absolutely ideal, in terms of fairness. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a wonderful partner, and being in a great pair is the absolute best way to be an effective human reproducer. The synergy that comes with a good pairing blows other strategies out of the water. Not everyone gets to be so lucky, and some people have it and blow it. That’s life.

79. says

Cheating would still be a better strategy (if “more offspring” is the goal)

80. says

ChasCPeterson has been banned.

I’ve learned that he has been contributing lies about me at Coyne’s blog, and that’s just the breaking point. Two things:

• I do not ever edit people’s comments, as Peterson claims, and did not do so in this case. Yet somehow the slyme at Coyne’s blog are now asserting that I often do so. Thanks, Chas.

• I also do not shadow ban people, another claim that’s being promoted there. When I ban someone, I say so. Transparency is my goal.

You can disagree with me, but skulking off to some other blog to lie about me to my back is simply intolerable. Bye.

81. chigau (違う) says

golly

82. says

PZ:

I’ve learned that he has been contributing lies about me at Coyne’s blog, and that’s just the breaking point. Two things:

• I do not ever edit people’s comments, as Peterson claims, and did not do so in this case. Yet somehow the slyme at Coyne’s blog are now asserting that I often do so. Thanks, Chas.

• I also do not shadow ban people, another claim that’s being promoted there. When I ban someone, I say so. Transparency is my goal.

Jesus, that’s low. I didn’t think Chas would go that low. Fuck.

83. Vivec says

Good riddance.

84. Kyle Kistner says

PZ: My grandfather had 42 children. You have obviously become blinded by ideology.

85. Kyle Kistner says

It should be noted, the strategy of the reasonable ‘promiscuous’ man is to have four or five women reproducing at all times.

86. says