Evolutionary inheritance

Sometimes completely random questions pop into my head.  Yesterday my completely random question was, why has it been common throughout history that inheritances go to first born male children (if that is in fact true across most cultures)?  Actually, it wasn’t a completely random question, the seed of the idea was planted when I was talking to Jo about “little r” for mosquito populations.  I had never really thought about it before, but the strategy of bequeathing wealth to an eldest male could make sense from an evolutionary point of view.  I’m sure many people with evolutionary backgrounds have thought about this before (and probably studied it in substantial detail).  Boiled down, there are two patterns that need to be explained, 1) choosing to leave resources to male over female children, and 2) choosing to leave resources to elder over younger children.

I know that the first choice has been discussed in animal populations to explain biased sex ratios within families.  When one sex has more variable realized fitness than the other, high resource parents should try to have the more variable sex because their offspring will have enough resources to develop into high quality individuals that can be highly competitive for mates.  Conversely, low resource parents should try to have the less variable sex.  Extending this theory to resource investment among siblings, parents should biasedly invest resources into the siblings that are of the more variable sex.  In human populations, male reproductive fitness is (or at least historically was) more variable than female reproductive success, and so from an evolutionary point of view, parents should have been more willing to leave their inheritances to males than females.  Fitness in modern society is governed by very different factors from that in the past, and so whether this conclusion still follows today is unclear.

The logic for the second choice was a little less obvious to me, until I started thinking about fitness in terms of “little r”.  For anyone unfamiliar with my use of the term “little r”, I am referring to the intrinsic rate of growth of a population (e.g. dN/dt = rN).  Number of offspring births is obviously important to this value, but perhaps less obvious is that the timing of these births is also very important in a growing population.  An individual who has three births spread out over 20 years, is much less fit than an individual who has three births spread out over 10 years, because the latter individual has a shorter generation time.  First born children on average are more important to fitness than latter born children, and so evolutionary theory should favor leaving inheritances to elder over young children.  Add to that the fact that younger children have more risk of dying before reaching reproductive age, and the effect only gets stronger.

I wonder if there are any other species that have inheritance-like events.  I would be super interested in learning whether this logic holds up for other species.

Do you think Google Scholar makes us more scholarly scholars?

If you’re pressed for time, just read my title.

I was thinking about Google Scholar and what it means to be able to “click” and find an article from 1944 in less than a minute (or request it through ILL in as much time and have it the next day).

As an undergrad, it was part of my job in the lab to get these old research articles for the graduate student I worked with. This involved physically going to the library (at least at this point the catalogue was digitally searchable so I knew where to look!) and getting out a book containing a compilation of several months of journal volumes. Then, I actually opened real pages, and would stand at the photocopier making photocopies of these pages, turning them one by one in the volume, pressing it down to make sure the text in the crease of the book was not too distorted. Then, I would take the photocopies back to the lab, and sit in this great old leather office chair, highlighting relevant pieces of information for the grad student.

Prior to my beginning graduate school, there was the timely advent of Google Scholar. (In beta in 2004, useable in 2007 to find some papers, and from there it has grown to the beast it is today).

GoogleScholarLogoI now will rarely print unless there’s a table or figure I want to spend more time with, or need to make extensive notes. I often highlight and take notes using Papers.

Today, I found a citation of interest in an article I was reading, highlighted the text on the computer screen using the trackpad, copied the title into Google Scholar and 15 seconds later was reading it online.

I have a few thoughts about this, some germane our recent pub meeting about how articles are found and cited.

First, not every article Google Scholar finds is relevant, and it finds a LOT, so effective Google searching is a new skill unto itself.

Second, a lot of the articles that are found, are also interesting, making it easy to find tons of other cool stuff, and get really distracted in the process. I have termed this “going down the rabbit hole” and need to stop myself from following some interesting line of thought oftentimes to avoid too many detours.

Third, finding where you’ve read what you’ve read becomes even more difficult.

Fourth, organizing this stuff is a problem all its own. I’d love to hear how you all cope, particularly you PIs who must have thousands and thousands of articles you’ve read at this point! I use keywords the file name in addition to saving articles consistently by lead author last name and date, and some description of the title.

Fifth, does any of this save time doing research that’s already been done? With the push to publish (or perish) there are an increasing number of articles coming out daily and it feels a bit overwhelming to sort out the good science from the chaff.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about whether this level of access has made us any smarter or better informed than before.



Monica Appreciation

This morning I received another cheerful e-mail from Monica Arismendi reminding me that it’s my turn to blog. But I have to admit that I’m not feeling particularly inspired at the moment, perhaps another casualty of the summer doldrums.

So instead, I just wanted to take a page from Lauren Cator’s book and express my appreciation for the work that Monica does. When I was responsible for the CIDD seminars, Monica played an important role in making sure everything ran smoothly. Monica also helps me with the reimbursements for my trips to Africa. I’ve given her receipts that are hand-written in Swahili, for money that was spent in shillings, and she has somehow managed to make magic happen in the Employee Reimbursement System. And she does it all with a smile :o)

Thanks Monica!

Filing the one trillionth complaint against the US medical system

I’d like to file the one trillionth complaint against the US medical system for being non-transparent, expensive and idiotic. I’m healthy and young but with a recent unlucky proclivity of finding myself in urgent care facilities. Once with four breaks in the palm of my left hand and once with the characteristic rash and muscle aches of lyme disease. Once in America, and once in the United Kingdom. I’m taking it as an opportunity for a comparative analysis of US vs. UK healthcare systems.

Being treated for lyme disease and being treated for a broken hand starts the same: you wait an hour for 15 minutes with a healthcare provider who then gives the same advice as you’d get from Ask Jeeves, the only difference is Jeeves can’t write prescriptions. In America you pay $254.50 for this (after insurance), which on the itemized bill is a fraction of the total cost for an “Encounter with Mr. X, PA” ($580, insurance pays $325.50). If you add the X-rays (applicable for a broken hand, but not lyme) you will pay an additional $135, of which insurance covers none, despite the fact that the insurance plan costs $3,054/yr. In the UK, as an American tourist, you pay $0, with or without X-rays, with or without drug treatment and with seeing a real doctor rather than a nurse or PA.

In America, the price of getting an X-ray varies wildly. The cost in New York is different than in Pennsylvania, which is different than in California. If you look at Nerdwallet’s listing of out-of-pocket costs for X-rays across the states, you can get an X-ray for $15 at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY while the same X-ray costs $898 if you were to get it at Radiology Outpatient Imaging Services in Mountain View, CA. In the UK, X-rays cost the same if you were to get them in Edinburgh, London or Brighton, $0. Even if you decided to pay for private care not sponsored by their government healthcare system, the variance in prices would be much lower than in the US: the median price is 101 pounds, with the lowest price 75 pounds and the highest 120.

With 2/3 of all US bankruptcies a result of exorbitant medical costs, here’s an alternative to paying US healthcare bills: the next time you break a hand, get sick or need a surgery, buy a plane ticket to London and pay the affordable private rates available in a system free from insurance companies. If you leave on Friday, your plane ticket costs less than the State College medical bills for a broken hand ($538 vs. $580).