It was interesting to see the New York Times pick up the Nazca boobies story: Researchers studying the fact that Galapagos booby juveniles kill neighbouring nestlings now claim their work will help us understand child abuse:
“It’s not just humans, and it’s not just a pathology associated with captivity,” Dr. Anderson said. “Maybe the cycle of violence is generalizable, and we may have other research models to work with in ways we can’t work with humans.”
Because “abused children grow up to be abusers,” right? Even if that were usually true (it isn’t; it’s just “often” true), the boobies would not shed any light. For one thing, a booby juvenile is likely the survivor of a lethal nestling war with its sib. (Its parents can only raise one newly hatched chick. That’s the usual way with these birds.
Instead of wasting time on a “Darwinian” explanation (= why the behaviour helps pass on selfish genes), the researchers might have noted that in general birds learn early lessons most emphatically (in this case: Kill chick), whether those lessons pass on selfish genes or not. If the behaviour doesn’t endanger the colony, there will be no impact.
Now, as to understanding child abuse, most abusers harm children entrusted to their care, not children they happen to notice on the street. So it isn’t even a similar situation. About randomly harming other people’s kids, in most societies most of the time, it would be a good way to make the poet’s adage come true:
Bacon’s not the only thing
That’s cured by hanging on a string …
Try explaining how that promotes one’s selfish genes.
What’s spooky is what passes for insight in Darwin’s world.