Animal Rights(was Re: Need Safeguards for Gene-Tinkered Foods)

Rich Young young at serum.kodak.com
Fri Jul 9 12:04:07 EST 1993


In article <21i45c$j5e at news.u.washington.edu> toby at stein.u.washington.edu (Toby Bradshaw) writes:
>In article <C9uy4M.7E4 at dartvax.dartmouth.edu> James.F.X.Wellehan at dartmouth.edu (Jim Wellehan) writes:

[...]

>>> >I'd like to bring up lemmings, who sacrifice themselves to make more
>>> >room in an ecosystem.
>>> 
>>> If you can document that lemmings use such reasoning, I'm all ears.
>>
>>I didn't say they used reasoning.  I just think it's an interesting
>>behavior.  They breed to overpopulation, and then there is mass
>>suicide.  (This seems like a great niche for a pathogen.  It would save
>>the lemmings some trouble.)  Is there a potential human parallel?
>
>I don't think the case is even made for lemmings.  Do you know
>of any documentation (we've all heard the "legend")?

	I'm glad someone else is skeptical of this, as well.  I'm reasonably
	certain that the "lemmings-committ-mass-suicide" thing is an urban
	legend.  I seem to remember that overpopulation does, indeed, 
	result in migration of large numbers of lemmings, some of which
	die attempting to cross rivers and such, but it's no more a "mass
	suicide" than the wildebeest who die in their annual migrations 
	across the African plains while crossing rivers.

[...]

>Try to imagine a scenario where humans decide on mass suicide for the
>benefit of the ecosytem.  What evolutionary forces could produce such an
>outcome?  None that I'm aware of.  Do you really believe that 1) lemmings
>commit "suicide" in order to "benefit the ecosystem" as opposed to
>benefitting themselves (assuming the suicide really happens at all), and
>2) that any species, save perhaps man, operates for the benefit of another
>species or for the environment as a whole?  If so, you'll have to convince
>a lot of skeptical evolutionary biologists.  The reason is that the first
>"cheater" prospers inordinately from such a system.  The first lemming to
>say "To hell with suicide" is going to leave a disproportionate share of
>offspring.  A "to-hell-with-suicide" allele will spread like wildfire
>through the lemming population, at the expense of the "altruistic" allele. 
>Not to say that altruism doesn't exist in animals; it does.  In the cases
>I'm aware of, when the "altruism" is studied closely, it turns out to
>increase inclusive fitness, and is not, therefore, strictly altruistic. 

	This paragraph is very Dawkins-like, as in "The Selfish Gene"...a
	work I find very convincing, by the way.

	I now return you to your regularly-scheduled arguments...   :^)


-Rich Young

(The views expressed herein do not reflect those of Eastman Kodak Company Inc.)



More information about the Bioforum mailing list