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July 23, 2003



I like the title, but I don't think that the analogy quite captures my objection.
"Proving Colonel Mustard didn't do it with the lead pipe in the library isn't tantamount to assuming nobody did anything of the sort in the general environs with an analogous implement."

I don't think that Belle did prove that Colonel Mustard didn't do it with a lead pipe. Rather, she countered the argument that the lead pipe was found in the library because it was just the thing to bash in Colonel Mustard's head (certain hip-waist ratios are preferred because they're just the thing for reproductive advantage) by saying that the candlestick is obviously superior for the bashing in of heads which proves the lead pipe theory is nonsense (evidence of childbearing is obviously better in terms of reproductive advantage).

To continue in this analogous vein, my objections are roughly:

1) The Just So story might be true, but unless it's been established that Colonel Mustard had his head bashed in (rather than being shot or strangled) so what? Belle is basically right to be suspicious.

2) The Just Not So story doesn't actually prove that the candlestick is better than the lead pipe, it just makes a plausible argument, but plausibility is way easier to come by than truth in such a complicated dynamic system as muder (or evolution). There may well be important factors that the murderer could have noticed and seized on that the detective has overlooked (e.g. it's true the pipe is more unwieldy, but it happens to hold fingerprints much less well than the polished candlestick; I suspect, for instance, that a bright-eyed healthy child *that's not the male's* following his prospective mate ought to count to some degree against the probable success of his potential offspring. More than obvious success at producing a child counts for it? Not, I think, the kind of thing that can be settled by hand-waving.)

3) Even if the candlestick were provably better for bashing heads, that doesn't establish that the lead pipe wasn't used, or even that if it was used it must have been because of some other reason than that it was good for bashing heads. Granted, if all the lead pipe theory has going for it is plausibility, then an equally plausible alternative theory undercuts its force, but it doesn't knock it down.

Doug Muir

It's interesting to note that not one but two commentators raise the point that a male might be, well, turned off by the presence of that "bright eyed healthy child". Joshua and GP both point out that the child might not be his, and that a reproductively rational male might thus take points off because his offspring would have to share resources with its sibling.

This seems to me a remarkably feeble argument.

One, who says the child isn't his? Both posters seem to be assuming males and females dropped in from a vacuum. But if they've previously had sex, the child could well be that male's. In which case Healthy Mom would get bonus points over Nubile Cutie: she's already demonstrated competence in the key skill of passing on _his_ genes.

Sure, paternity on the veldt would probably have been a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, an evolutionarily rational male would perform some sort of calculation balancing the probability that the child was his against the potential loss due to resource sharing; and insofar as that probability is >0, the argument is weakened accordingly.

Two, both posters are also making an implicit assumption that having a sibling is a net minus for the child. This is a rather huge leap. Historically, having lots of siblings has tended to be a net plus. Yes, they may compete for resources during childhood and adolescence. OTOH, later in life they are potentially valuable allies. And they also represent alternative routes for ones genes to reach the next generation; if you can't be a successful parent, being a very successful aunt or uncle may be just as good.

So, while resource sharing with the half-sibling may be a concern, this must be set against the long-term benefit to the child of having one or more siblings. Again, we may not be able to assess this, but insofar as the benefit is >0, the argument is weakened.

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