A Taste of my own Medicine. (The Beginning of a Fish Saga.)

This doctor needs a dose of her own medicine. A simple query erupted into a full-blown quandary about how to interpret information. About a fish. Me, the doctor of ‘how to understand scientific stories’ is stumped, or at least needs to do a whole lot of reading to figure out the truth.

Here’s how it began. I found a new type of fish in the grocery store: basa. Anything new in the grocery store gets an immediate ‘buy’ from me. Once I have it in my own kitchen, I wonder what it is and how to cook it. Basa is a white fish, frozen as boneless fillets. I steamed some with some garlic and it was delicious. Then I bought more, still at an almost indecently good price. After 6 months, the prices I see are cheaper by a half than frozen sole, haddock and cod.

While delighting in what good fish cakes, chowder and sauté basa makes, a niggle of doubt crept in, and made me uneasy. How could something so good be so cheap? It defies fundamental laws of economics

So I googled. I don’t remember the results of my first search. Perhaps I was relieved to find no glaring resident evil in either the production or nutritional value of Basa so my eyes glanced off the details. If it’s in all the local grocery stores, it has to be ok, doesn’t it?

Shadows of doubt wouldn’t let my mind settle, so I asked my Facebook friends if they knew anything about this wonder-fish. I have a wonderfully eclectic mix of friends, including ichthyologists, those that hunt their own meat, organic food enthusiasts, and zealous vegans. The responses I got to my Facebook question if the fish was appropriate to eat varied from ‘full of toxins’, ‘poor labour conditions on the farm’, ‘Frankenfish’ to ‘tasty, recently introduced to NA, farmed species of catfish’.

Time to read more carefully. There is disagreement. In the top ten Google hits are an informational page from Wikipedia, and two reputable Canadian food suppliers with recipes and a description of the product. Immediately below a headline suggesting consumption of basa causes death1 is a link to more recipes. There’s a video on where the fish are farmed, a Forbes article about how popular the fish is in India2 and an interesting column from The Times.3 I like this last piece. It’s full of opposing views. Apparently, the Australians love this fish, but Americans do not. Two Canadian authorities are cited with conflicting views. The controversy surrounds how the fish are farmed. They are not genetically modified but recently introduced to NA markets from Vietnam. There is disagreement over whether the river where basa is farmed is clean or polluted (you’d think that would be easy to determine, but from 20,000 km away, it’s hard to tell), what the fish are fed, and if are they given too many antibiotics.

At this point, I’d learned a few things, including where the idea basa is full of toxins or poorly farmed came from. But I hadn’t gotten to the truth yet – should I eat it? Or is that the truth I’m seeking? I started probing because of something I call Ann’s Axiom:

If it seems to good to be true

or like it should be illegal,

it probably is

or will be soon.

Delicious fish. Cheap. The free market should push the price up because basa is a desirable commodity. But it hasn’t. What does the free market know that I don’t? Or do I know something the free market doesn’t? That would satisfy my taste for being ‘in the know’.

Ha, but knowledge doesn’t come cheap – it requires work. And reveals there’s another dimension I must add to my self-help approach on how to understand science. Taking a single story and seeing the truth behind it is a good start. But we have to go further. Finding answers to everyday questions that depend on science is also critical.

Stay tuned as this doctor swallows the cod liver oil of humility to continue the quest to understand basa, and more importantly, how to understand how to understand basa and other things, in the next post*.

* The next post may not have the answer to life, the universe and everything. That’ll take at least two** more posts.

** Multiple by two and add 40 (standard approach to estimating jobs).

1http://talk.onevietnam.org/cause-of-death-consumption-of-basa-fish/

2http://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0411/life-vietnam-yogesh-grover-aquaculture-empire-fish-basa.html

3http://www.timescolonist.com/life/ask-eric-is-it-safe-to-eat-imported-basa-fish-1.87907

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It is really in your DNA?

Corporations might be legal persons but they don’t have DNA.

This expression ‘in our DNA’ is a thorn in the eye of my scientist’s sensibilities when it’s used to describe organizations. I know, it’s just an expression that means something fundamental to behaviour, beliefs or actions. Fair enough as a metaphor.

But, I don’t like it. Because of my propensity to analyze seemingly factual statements to determine if they indeed are factual – a propensity likely influenced by both my genes and my environment.

These are the top hits I found in a google search for ‘in our DNA’:

A company that develops marketing campaigns, has ‘innovation is in our DNA’ as a tagline1

They’re not the only ones who claim innovation is in their DNA. The University of Waterloo says the same.2

Boston University’s claim of what’s in their DNA: “It’s in our DNA: an inherent desire in each of our students, faculty, and staff to vigorously and dauntlessly pursue knowledge—and embrace the unlimited possibilities that come with it.”3

At Princess Margaret Hospital, a cancer-focused treatment and research facility, there’s a ‘why’ gene in their DNA4 while at the Texas A&M University School of Law success is in their DNA5.

Recent news stories suggest that fear of spiders is in human DNA6, while others speculate that space travel is in DNA7, or that our DNA is made of collapsing stars8.

Perhaps the reason ‘in our DNA’ grates on me is that no one completely understands what’s in our DNA.

The genome project has made tremendous inroads into sequencing and mapping human DNA. We have identified all 25,000 odd human genes and given them names and can classify them into functional groups9, but that’s sort of like taking apart a house and being able to classify its parts into nails, pipes, wires and 2’x4’s – useful information but still lacking an explanation of how it all fits together and what it does when it’s assembled.

As far as gene function goes, information is sparse: a few mutant human genes causes diseases such as cystic fibrosis or sudden cardiac death. Another handful are for simple traits, such as eye colour or tongue rolling. Generally, there is no linear map between a complex process, like innovation, and a gene or set of genes.

We are far from understanding how most human behaviours are influenced by genes. Studies on identical twins [genetically identical by definition] investigated the genetic basis to behaviour10 and found about half of any given behavioural response is determined by what’s ‘in our DNA’ and the other half a result of our environment. However, studies to link specific genes to specific behaviours haven’t been as illuminating as hoped, according to Psychology Today11. A thoughtful article on this topic, which considers studies on the propensity of a human populations to explore and migrate to new areas, the so-called restless or explorer genes, is here12. My crude summation is: there’s a tendency, it probably has a genetic component but that doesn’t fully explain the behaviour.

Might innovation be in DNA? Since there’s an on-going controversy in the business literature13 over whether entrepreneurs are born or made, I’m willing to add ‘don’t know’ the behaviour influences of all genes to ‘don’t know’ what makes entrepreneurs and surmise maybe entrepreneurship is in some people’s DNA. But not organizations.

Is it fair for me to object to ‘in our DNA’ when I don’t have an  explanation to offer? We don’t know if innovation or entrepreneurship or the ability to choose killer marketing approaches is in our genes. That’s a joy of human nature – there’s mystery in what people will come up with, given the chance.

Perhaps we should leave the mystery of what’s in our DNA for artificial intelligence to discover, much to its dismay.

——

10for example Wright, W. (1998) Born That Way. Genes. Behavior. Personality. Knopf. New York or Steen, R. G. (1996) DNA & Destiny. Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior Plenum Trade New York.

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The Problem with Processed Meat

Has news of the declaration of processed meat as carcinogenic blown over?

One answer is: I got a really good deal on bacon the other day, validating my first thoughts about the report released Oct 25, 2015 from the World Health Organization that processed meats and maybe red meat are carcinogenic:

Woo-hoo, steak’ll be cheap now.

I do love a good rare hunk of rib steak, flash fried in a bit of butter, with a side of mushrooms and onions. Mmmm. Humans are omnivores and we’ve been eating red meat since, uhm, before we were human. Also, the designation of processed meats – not red meat – as carcinogenic suggested to me that it’s a consequence of processing, not the meat, that’s the greater risk. Finally, lots of things are carcinogenic, but it depends on how much you consume and how often you are exposed. (My first scientist’s segue: the details of the announcement dwelt on the types of cancer and the amount of consumption.¹)

After a bit of data diving, I wondered if this was a good story about the fun you could have with death statistics. Then I settled down and realized only a very small fraction of the population considers statistics fun. (If you are interested, here some details about the relative significance of processed meat in the grand scheme of risk factors for mortality.² )

Adventures in epidemiology aside, I started feeling, instead of thinking. The things that are on the same list as processed meat include asbestos, smoking, sunbathing. Many of us give a healthy respect to avoiding these things, perhaps because we’ve all known someone who has died of a cancer associated with exposure to one of them. The announcement should be taken seriously.

Can we rely on efficient capital markets to take care of us? Only if demand for processed meats fall so low that they are no longer cost effective to produce will the products disappear.

Or should society take a more proactive approach, protecting citizens from hazard and remove processed meat from our grocery shelves?

A fantastic business model would be a new approach to producing savoury, well-preserved meats that avoided the current, toxic processing. Problem is, do we know what that is? I’ve seen some reports³ that suggests it’s nitroamines (carcinogenic in many models 4) generated during high temperature cooking of meats, or maybe other compounds (certain aromatic hydrocarbons), or the fat content, which tends to be higher in processed meats, or maybe the iron in red meat causes excess oxidation and is the culprit?

The biologist in me returns to add: We inherently relish the taste of the things that aren’t good for us. Consider sugar and fat. Donuts. Ice cream. Throw in starch and you’ve got french fries, potato chips. Then add meat. Hamburgers. Pizza. Chicken wings.

Need I go on?

Why do we salivate over fast food gluttonies and not celery, carrots and cod? Because we’re still living with the urges that kept us alive over the past centuries when food was scarce and storing up calories was the best thing we could do for ourselves. If the Neanderthals had had a ready supply of cheese puffs, say at the corner store, they might have out-competed Homo sapiens and we’d be in a very different place today. Perhaps non-existent. Or maybe Homo neanderthals would have been less completive and we’d co-exist. They might let us have cheese puffs if we were very good co-inhabitants of their domain.

I’m side-tracked. Maybe because the topic of processed meat is too complex. Too tied up in what it is to be human. Just as it’s human to get caught up in a sensational announcement about the dangers of a food group we’ve been revelling in for decades.

We learn. We find better ways. We evolve, whatever that means to us.

—–

¹ I made a trip to the WHO website so I could see the data for myself. First a few definitions. Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb and a few other things, like horse. Processed meat seems to be a broad category, including any of the above meats smoked, cured, salted, fermented or other. Already, I’m sceptical. Scientific studies tend to be very specific, not use broad groupings.

Next question, what specifically is the risk? Colorectal cancer, definitely, maybe stomach cancer too.

From the Q&A posted by WHO: “According to the most recent estimates by the Global Burden of Disease Project, an independent academic research organization, about 34 000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.”

² Considering that there are 7.1 billion people on earth ( retrieved Nov 25, 2015 from here ) and in 2012 about 56 million people died (retrieved Nov 25, 2015 from here  ), processed meats causing 34,000 deaths is a small fraction, at 34,000/57,000,000 or approximately 0.06% of annual global deaths. Of course, if you happen to be one of the people who develop cancer because of processed meats, it is significant to you and your loved ones.

Also from the Q&A posted by WHO: “These numbers contrast with about 1 million cancer deaths per year globally due to tobacco smoking, 600 000 per year due to alcohol consumption, and more than 200 000 per year due to air pollution.”

So, a person’s chance of dying because of eating processed meat is about 1/30th the risk of smoking.

It’s a bit unfair taking a global perspective on this when it really depends where you live what you are likely to die of  (retrieved Nov 25, 2015 from here) . In developing countries, death is much more likely due to cardiovascular and infectious disease, especially in children.

In Canada, it’s estimated that 9,300 people will died of colorectal cancer this year (retrieved Nov 25, 2015 from here). That’s a sizable fraction of the global number of 34,000 (9,300/34,000 or 27%).

If we add the US, where slightly under 50,000 people are expected to die of colorectal cancer in 2015 (retrieved Nov 25, 2015 from here) , we can see that the processed meat number has been overtaken by total deaths from colorectal cancer. Certainly, it’s not the sole cause of such types of cancer. Worldwide, there were 694,000 deaths from bowel cancer in 2012 ( retrieved Nov 25, 2015 from here). So, 34,000/694,000 colorectal cancer deaths due to processed meats. Five percent.

But wait, there’s another dimension to this. How much consumption are we talking?

Q&A on WHO site says: “An analysis of data from 10 studies estimated that every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18%.”

Daily? I suppose if you ate a processed meat sandwich every day for lunch, you’d be testing these levels. But occasional consumption, not so much.

³ for example, the abstract to this paper: Cross, A. J. and Sinha, R. (2004), Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environ. Mol. Mutagen., 44: 44–55. doi: 10.1002/em.20030

4 Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=658447 Nov 24, 2015

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Can Science be for Fun?

This is another instalment about my method to make sense of news stories about scientific research. It ends in a good, end-of-the week kind of way, tasty fodder for chat around the barbecue.

Today, I’ll look at this story about a research study on how flavours are perceived in different situations. The news story focuses on an experience you may have had – drinking tomato juice on an airplane. I chose this article because when I first read it, it seemed of general interest and not about a currently controversial topic (at least, I’m not aware that tomato juice or drinking of same has been linked to any particular issues).

Let me briefly summarize the news story: Airlines serve lots of tomato juice to on-flight guests, many of whom said they don’t drink tomato juice in other situations. The news story highlights a research study that tested whether loud noises, such as those experienced on an airborne airplane, could impact the perception of taste. In the study, volunteer test subjects listened to noise through headphones that simulated being in an airplane and then were asked about how a bunch of food samples tasted. The same people were asked how the same things tasted on another day without the noise. Perception of sweet tastes were inhibited by listening to noise, while the perception of umami, the rich, savoury flavour in tomato, was enhanced 20%. The news article closes with speculation on other factors that might influence juice consumption.

The five simple questions that form my method for accessing any story:

  1.  What do the numbers really mean?
  2. Are all facts from a reliable source? Are the quotes in the context that they were intended?
  3. What is ‘proven’ and what is inferred from the facts?
  4. What else is at stake or who else could benefit by the reported conclusion?
  5. Why haven’t you heard about this before? Or if you have, why hasn’ t something been done about it?

Applying these questions to the tomato juice story:

1. The numbers. The article talks of the consumption of 1.7 million litres of tomato juice in one year. Is that a lot, if the same airline transports almost 90 million people in the same time period? For this discussion, it’s more significant that people state that they don’t normally drink the juice when not flying but do drink it in the air. The umami taste was enhanced by 20% by listening to noise. I’m not sure what that means in functional terms. I can easily image inhibiting taste – the sample tastes bland, not sweet. What is enhanced taste – more intense taste? And is that necessarily a good thing? There is certainly such a thing as too salty, too hot and too sweet for many of us. I don’t think it’s simple to relate the perception of taste to the desire to consume tomato juice.

2. A reliable source. The scientific study cited was from the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance which is a publication of the American Psychological Association, the worlds largest association of professional psychologists. If that isn’t enough, there is the impact factor for each scientific journal which reflects how often other scientists acknowledge the work in the journal. This journal has a respectable impact factor, if not a top ranked one.

3. What is proven? The scientific study demonstrates that the umami taste, found in tomato juice, is perceived more strongly on a background of loud noise. This doesn’t explain why people want to drink it on a plane. Despite the title, this limitation is clearly outlined in the news story.

4. Who could benefit from the report? More people might want to drink tomato juice after reading the article but it’s unlikely to have a big impact on juice consuming habits. There are no specific brands associated with the story. The story did get considerable coverage in the press, with many news services running a piece, highlighting the researcher and Cornell university. The area, of how food tastes and ways to make food tastier, is big business so  these findings might be important for planning airline menus which could benefit many interests.

5. Why haven’t you heard about this before. Obviously this doesn’t fall into the ‘someone needs to do something about this’ category. But it is interesting to know that noise can effect how our food tastes.¹

The news article caught my interest because it was about something I knew nothing about. If my method of reading articles about science is going to be useful, it has to be useful for many circumstances. After the analysis, I’m enjoying the story for the shear joy of learning.

Isn’t that cool?

New knowledge about human is interesting. Why is there a link between how things taste and what we hear? What evolutionary setting made this an advantage? I can imagine that it would be a good idea to not be so wrapped up in our lunch that we ignore the sound of a sabre tooth tiger crashing through the jungle in our direction, i.e. loud sounds divert attention away from food.

But it makes me wonder, what other non-intuitive influences does modern technology have on the way we perceive our environment?

¹ The study would imply that in other situations where there was loud noise certain things might taste better. I haven’t noticed that the beer tastes better at rock concerts I frequent, but there might be other factors involved.

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Scientific Self-help

What can you do about a report on millions of dead bees in Ontario?
This post may not be what you expect but it could give you the power to understand articles like the one with this headline: ‘37 Million Dead Bees in Ontario‘.

What could empower you to understand the science behind such stories?

Wisdom. The wisdom to put stories into the right context and make your own decisions.

Back to the bees. I’ll use this story as an example of a method I’m developing for non-scientists on how to interpret articles on social, environmental or other issues based on scientific findings. My method helps you understand and make informed decisions about the issues. The wisdom comes from something you already know how to do – ask questions.

The method consists of asking these five questions which can be applied to most news stories:

  1. What do the numbers really mean?
  2. Are all facts from a reliable source? Are the quotes in the context that they were intended?
  3. What is ‘proven’ and what is inferred from the facts?
  4. What else is at stake or who else could benefit by the reported conclusion?
  5. Why haven’t you heard about this before? Or if you have, why hasn’ t something been done about it?

Before applying these questions to the story, let me say:

  • I don’t know if bees are being killed by neonicotinoid pesticides sprayed on seeds and planted in the fields. What I do know is how to analyze the way the evidence is presented.
  • This is not a judgement on the value of the story. I chose it as an example because I saw it on Facebook recently. My plan is to follow with many other examples. 

1. What do the numbers really mean?
The implication of the title is that a large number (37 million) of bees have died.

How many bees are there in Ontario? If there are 37 billion bees in Ontario, then the death of 0.1% of them is not all that significant. If there are 37.4 million, then we are indeed in trouble as we’ve lost 99%. Here’s an interesting article with numbers about Canadian bee populations. From these, I make the Canadian bee population to be about 70 billion.

In what time frame did the 37 million bees die? Under normal circumstances, bees would die all the time. How long would it take for 37 million to die of natural causes (whatever those are). How unusual is it for an entire hive to die? This article reports losses over the past decade of over-wintering colonies.

2. Are all facts from a reliable source? Are all the quotes in the context that they were intended? and
3. What is proven and what is inferred from the facts?
The article cites the findings of a study publication (Oct. 2013) in a scientific journal. The journal, PNAS, is very reputable. The study shows that at a certain dose, the neonicotinoid pesticides can change the level of a protein in the bees responsible for mediating immune response. And that makes the bees more susceptible to viral infection. This is cause and effect.

However, I understand from other sources, such as this CBC story, that the question about the neonicotinoids is whether a sufficient dose reaches the bees to have the effect that the scientific paper describes. The pesticides are sprayed on the corn seeds, which are planted in the ground, so how much pesticide gets to the bees, even if some is airborne in the planting process?

The article quotes one of the study authors on the significance of the work as it ‘will allow additional toxicological tests to be defined to assess if chronic exposure of bees to sub-lethal doses of agrochemicals can adversely affect their immune system and health conditions’. In other words, the scientists are not concluding that their work shows the pesticides are killing bees on the farm – their work was done in a laboratory and not directly applicable to the field. It is only by inference that the same effect might happen in the field.

4. What else is at stake or who else could benefit by the reported conclusion?
Bees are important, for many reasons, including pollination of our food crops. But what else is at stake? One of the criteria for certified organic food is that it is GMO free. Thus both producers of organic food and GMOs have a stake in this issue.

5. Why haven’t you heard about this before? Or if you have, why hasn’ t something been done about it?
There is a wealth of information about the impact of neonicotinoids on bees, for example, from the Ontario government (with links to many other sources) and from the government of Canada . Investigations are on-going.

Is asking questions useful? (punt intended) Maybe you feel less satisfied than if you believed the story, or that it’s too much work to be a skeptic. Asking questions helps to see all sides of the story, lets you decide, even if you decide there isn’t enough information to decide.

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Isn’t Adaptation a Good Thing?

I can’t explain how I just came across this article posted on the CBC website in February,  but I’m glad I did.

The title and tag-line are evocative : ‘Cities causing genetic changes in plants, animals. Wild things may be changing at a genetic level to survive in modern cities.’ Genetic changes, but not necessarily mutations due to environmental mutagens, or changes engineered by man1. The changes discussed may be old-fashion advantages brought out by the selective pressures of the environment. They could be traits that have existed in a population for generations but are now more prevalent because they confer an advantage. I think this is exciting – a real life example of adaptive evolution. Not just some stuffy theory with no relevance to real life. It’s also exciting to me because it means life will go on. Not that I had any doubt it would, but having evidence of adaptation in several species is great.

Two examples provided in the article are:

  • a variant gene in fish that makes PCBs less toxic to them and
  • shorter wing span in swallows that likely allows them to be more nimble and dodge traffic.

Hooray – the birds and fish are surviving. Perhaps there shouldn’t be PCBs or traffic in their environment in the first place, but, well, there are. We are working on decreasing both of these things, but meanwhile, the birds and fish are doing okay.

One of the scientists interviewed for the CBC article disagrees, and is quoted as saying he thinks it might be a bad thing, because selected new phenotypes are often associated with other changes, such as decreased life span, sensitivity to other stressors or less reproductive capacity. I can see that’s a possibility. As an example, consider primate evolution from quadrupedal to bipedal.

This whole walking upright thing has its drawbacks. Sure, we can now reach to put things in the overhead bin in the airplane, but we might have fewer back problems if we’d stayed walking on all fours. That of course would put many chiropractors and massage therapists out of work and might endanger their offspring’s chances of going to university. But that might allow them to explore career options at the local college and, after one thing leads to another, decrease poor indoor ventilation conditions in many homes and workplaces, thereby lowering the incidence of asthma complications and increasing the prevalence of asthma (by increasing survival of those with it).2

My point? Yes, adaptation, by selected trait, is likely to have associated consequences. I can’t think of a reason they are more likely to be a liability, like decreased life span or reproductive power, than an asset. There are observations that certain drug-resistant bacteria are less reproductively fit than their non-resistant cousins, but I can’t find any reason to believe this is a universal phenomena. The only fundamental reason I can think of for decreased reproductive capacity in multi-cellular organisms is that most creatures are more interested in mating with another creature that is the same as they are, so if the new variant appears different, it may have a problem getting a date.

Overall, the article described great science and made interesting observations on the interaction of species with the environment. But it makes me optimistic, not pessimistic. Don’t get me wrong, these observations in no way justify polluting the environment. However, they do suggest we will survive our errors long enough to right them.

1. It might interest that this is the same kind of genetic change that proponents of genetically modified organisms claim we have been doing for centuries with our crops and domestic animals. Selection of a naturally occurring variant with a desirable trait.

2. Have I mentioned that I believe in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things?

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A Romp* through Science Fiction, Theory and Fact

Wonderful stories about a new theory on menopause appeared in the media yesterday. I first saw it here.

Menopause, as a topic, is about as socially awkward as puberty with saggier skin, but at least the drinking is legal. When faced with this topic, I do what writers do when they wouldn’t be caught dead admitting something directly effects them, I make up stories about it. Two of my published short works were inspired by menopause.

But enough about me. As a scientist, menopause fascinates me. Humans are the only species who lose the ability to reproduce as they age – every other old female animal (and plant, bug, starfish etc.) is still biologically capable of producing babies till the day she dies. From basic scientific theory**, this makes sense for the living world, so why have humans opted out? In order for living things to keep being living things, they must reproduce. The purpose of any given organism is to propagate its genes through its offspring. And, in order to adapt to changes in the environment, certain genetic traits are selected through time – survival of the fittest.

If you accept that these biological theories apply to people, then the question is – Why? Why do 50-ish women shut down hormonally, lose the ability to conceive and all the other nasty physical and emotional consequences that come with it? Evolutionary theory insists there must be some selective pressure for this, some survival advantage that genes dictating the shut down must have. Why would it be better for the survival of the species and a person’s own genes to stop making more of them?

Some theories relate to the ability to raise children. Rather than dying in childbirth at 48, a woman who goes through menopause and survives into her sixties is there to raise her younger children and help with her grandchildren, thereby propagating her own genes. This makes sense to me. The new theory that inspired this blog post suggests that the selective pressure relates to men choosing younger women as the mothers of their children and menopause genes becoming prevalent in humans because there was no resultant pressure to weed them out. But I think there has to be more to it than that. There needs to be a positive selection pressure.

This is where I get to leap into science fiction. Post menopausal women are different, their goals and perspectives on life are not the same as those driven by breeding urges. Maybe the survival advantage older women have is the ability to provide wisdom, to tell good stories. In ancient times, they were protected and revered, ensuring the survival of the post-menopausal.

My stories inspired by menopause appear in :

Twisted Tails III  In ‘Post Apocalypse’, a woman who cannot have children must find her purpose in a small, isolated tribe of people.

In the Amprosia anthology, my story ‘What Ails You’ is about a woman in a future society who tries to retain her youth and the price she pays for imitating the biology of other species.

———-

*And when I say romp, I mean a tumultuous, random, mostly fun with a few serious bits, kind of brief outing. This video of tigers playing is the perfect metaphor for the way I see science fiction, theory and fact interacting. There’s a lot of weight being thrown around, sometimes the three are going in the same direction, sometimes not. It looks like fun, until someone tries to exert dominance and then the teeth and claws come out. Besides, who doesn’t want a story to end with a cute animal video?

** (For more background on these theories, this is a start  )

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