Cover of North American Hardcover edition

Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How Evolution has shaped the modern world will be published as a hardcover and ebook in North America in March 2012. They have recently posted the details and the cover image on their website. The details are also becoming available on Amazon.com and I imagine pre-orders will soon be possible.

 

If you are not in North America, or desperate to get a copy before March, I still recommend you buy the Australian version, available from these suppliers.

Great news from the ARC

SEX LAB member Dr Michael Kasumovic has been awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award by the Australian Research Council for a project entitled Re-evaluating evolution by examining developmental plasticity in response to the social environment. This comes two weeks after Mike won a Discovery Grant for a project on crickets.

In addition, Dr Angela Crean from the Bonduriansky Lab at UNSW was awarded a DECRA for her project  More than meets the egg: environmental effects on sperm quality, sperm competitive success, and offspring fitness, and Dr Christopher Turbill (now of University of Western Sydney) won a DECRA to work at UNSW on a project called Oxidative stress as a physiological constraint on the pace of life histories.

DECRA grants provide three years’ salary plus $40,000 per year in research funding. It is fabulous to know we have Mike and Angela here for the forseeable future, and we are hoping to continue to build our associationw ith Chris.

 

 

No, Harold Camping. You listen to ME!

Camping peers into the future. Admits he's not very good at it.

Harold Camping is back in the news, but for partly the right reasons. If you’ve blocked the sheer banal stupidity from your mind, you might recall that Camping was the American preacher who predicted that the world would end on May 21st.

Camping had previously made a similar prediction, based on pseudonumeric bible babble that the world would end on some unremarkable date in 1994, but this time he was pretty sure. So sure, in fact, that his fervent preaching had divided families and cause many people to completely discount their futures with an all-or-nothing bet on the rapture coming. According to Camping, believing in the May 21 rapture was a prerequisite to being saved by God.

After the 21st of May came and went unremarkably, I suggested the only dignified thing for Harold Camping to do would be to admit he was wrong and to devote himself tirelessly to helping those he had led astray to rebuild their lives and relationships. Instead, Camping behaved far more predictably. He modified his prediction, saying that the rapture had quietly begun and that it would end in the much-anticipated apocalypse on October 21st.

Happily for those of us who stopped believing in soothsayers, the tooth fairy and power balance bracelets some time ago, and who rather like it here on earth, Camping is just one of a long line of bullshit artists who have consigned themselves to the ignimony.

But I do want to say something in Camping’s favour. Continue reading No, Harold Camping. You listen to ME!

What I think about when I think about sex

Queen Victoria. Not known for her easygoing views on sex.

The Victorian era (1837–1901) delivered explosive progress in technology and agriculture, transcendent changes in art and literature, and profound growth in rational and progressive thought. Important foundations of modern utilitarianism, feminism, socialism, and democracy were laid in Victorian England. And Charles Darwin’s great works on evolution forever changed human understanding of what it means to be alive. Nonetheless it is not a time that is known for an equally freethinking and liberated attitude to sex.

Today, Queen Vic and the time of her reign evoke stultifying prudishness. Biology has been lugging Victorian baggage for the last 150 years, only recently entering its own sexual revolution. While Darwin’s books transformed scientific thinking about reproduction, the stuffiness with which his fellow gentlemen naturalists thought about sex lingers today, distorting the ways in which people understand love, sex and reproduction.The euphemistic view that sex is a necessary act that happens for the ‘perpetuation of the species’ prevails in scientific papers and nature documentaries alike. Elsewhere, we wallow in the sanitised view that sex is a happy and co-operative event, best discussed discreetly, seen in soft-focus and not too close up.
 
But for most animals, mating involves one part co-operation and several parts exploitation. ………[This article was written for the new website of my publisher, NewSouth Books. The full text of the article can be found here].

ARC Success for the SEX LAB

Yesterday’s ARC Grants announcements held two pieces of particularly good news for the SEX LAB.

1. Dr Michael Kasumovic was awarded a Discovery Grant for a project titled  “Adaptive plasticity and evolution: linking the genotype and the environment to understand phenotypic evolution and expression”. This is the  first genomics project ever funded in our lab.

 

SUMMARY: Different environmental signals alter when and where specific genes are expressed, thereby altering the phenotype. This project will examine the differences in the timing and use of genes in response to cues of competition that result in differences between the sexes. This will increase our understanding of the role of genes in sexual evolution.

2. Rob Brooks and Barnaby Dixson were awarded a Discovery Grant for the first ever human project funded in our lab. Project title: Body size in the 21st century: integrating evolution, economics and culture.  

SUMMARY: This project will study how evolution and biology interact with culture and economics to shape two important aspects of our world and our lives: the unfolding global obesity crisis and the complex, nuanced judgments people make about body shape. This research will inform the public health issues of obesity and body image problems.

For more on body research and to take part in our preliminary research projects, visit www.bodylab.org.

 

 

Seven billion reasons to be a feminist

The key to dealing with the challenges of population growth will be to educate and empower women and girls, like little Danica Camacho, the Philippines' symbolic seven billionth baby who was born 31 October 2011. AFP/Erik De Castro

I first published this piece in The Conversation on 1 November 2011 as part of their series on the world’s population reaching 7 billion.

I had better write fast. Sometime between my deadline to submit this story and the time it goes live, the estimated world population will exceed 7 billion for the first time ever.

As I stare at the population clock, I am paralysed at the sheer speed at which the number of people grows. I am terrified at how our world might support all those lives.

But the biggest challenge of all is how to elevate the lives of more than one billion people already alive who eke a living from less than $1 per day, so that they live a life free of famine and preventable disease.

Since at least 1798, when Thomas Robert Malthus argued that population would soon outstrip agricultural production, pessimists have foretold famine, disease and conflict if population growth isn’t reined in.

But some economists and demographers don’t see the problem this way. To them, Malthus was a crank who never grasped the ambit of human ingenuity. Industrialisation, slave-powered Caribbean sugar colonies and the New England cod fisheries revolutionised food production in the 19th Century. Green revolution supercrops staved off Malthusian misery in the 1960s.

Yet we need only look at the appalling famines in Somalia and neighbouring countries to see what happens when too many people try to scrape a living from the land. The great biologist EO Wilson puts it sharply: “The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology or land-use management is sophistic.” Continue reading Seven billion reasons to be a feminist