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Darwin’s wastebasket: “Evolutionary” explanation for female genital mutilation

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From Nature Ecology and Evolution:

Frequency-dependent female genital cutting behaviour confers evolutionary fitness benefits

Female genital cutting (FGC) has immediate and long-term negative health consequences that are well-documented, and its elimination is a priority for policymakers. The persistence of this widespread practice also presents a puzzle for evolutionary anthropologists due to its potentially detrimental impact on survival and reproductive fitness. Using multilevel modelling on demographic health survey datasets from five West African countries, here we show that FGC behaviour is frequency-dependent; the probability that girls are cut varies in proportion to the FGC frequency found in their ethnic group. We also show that this frequency-dependent behaviour is adaptive in evolutionary fitness terms; in ethnic groups with high FGC frequency, women with FGC have significantly more surviving offspring than their uncut peers, and the reverse is found in ethnic groups with low FGC frequency. Our results demonstrate how evolutionary and cultural forces can drive the persistence of harmful behaviours> MoreSupplementary information

The authors imply that they wish to discourage the practice. They might then have begun by not linking it to the Holy Grail of the fourth-rate science teacher, Darwinism.

While it is likely true that women who are held captive in this way can be forced to have more offspring, it may be useful to ask whether their cultures as a whole, survive very efficiently at all, apart from aid from other cultures—where such practices are considered a heinous crime.

But remember, all the evolutionary psychologist need aim at is Darwin’s wastebasket, for a big score. A note from The Economist underscores the problem:

More widely, the method Ms Howard and Dr Gibson have pioneered, of looking for unexpected advantages that help explain the persistence of other undesirable behaviours, might be applied elsewhere. So-called “honour killings” would be a candidate for such a study, as would the related phenomena of daughter neglect and the selective infanticide and selective abortion of females. On the face of things, these might be expected to be bad for total reproductive output. But perhaps, as with FGM, that is not always the case. And, if it is not, such knowledge would surely help in the fight against them.

The researchers’ approach may prove useful. But has anyone considered the effect of other cultures’ bailouts of cultural basket cases where such practices are normal, during historical time periods for which we have serious statistical information? That might change the picture a lot. When was the last time any of the named states sent foreign aid to North America?

Or does “evolution” mean we are exempt from asking honest questions about cultural practices now?

If anyone cares: FGM identified in medical appointments every hour on average, stats show. World Health Organisation: High-quality healthcare needed for girls and women who have experienced FGM Note: Some organizations may be co-dependent with the problem because they do not wish to confront, um, cultural issues among nation state lobbies. Stewardship warning: They may not deserve our attention or funding.

See also: Darwin’s wastebasket: Time perceptions, evolutionary psychology, and Donald Trump

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What a load of bilge. Evidently the oft'-proven maxim that that "corrolation is not causation" is unknown to the "science" of evolutionary anthropology. If mutilated women are preferred by a culture for reproduction more than non-mutilated women, it is not natural selection in operation, but sexual selection. Which makes the authors' empirical observation a meaningless and typically-Darwinian tautology: "We ... show that this frequency-dependent behaviour is adaptive in evolutionary fitness terms; in ethnic groups with high FGC frequency, women with FGC have significantly more surviving offspring than their uncut peers, and the reverse is found in ethnic groups with low FGC frequency." IOW, in cultures where mutilated women are preferred for reproduction, mutilated women have more children than non-mutilated women, while in cultures where non-mutilated women are preferred for reproduction, non-mutilated women have more children than mutilated women. No, duh. BTW, based upon what, exactly, do Janet A. Howard and Mhairi A. Gibson decry female genital mutilation as a "harmful behaviour"? If the practice is "adaptive in evolutionary fitness terms," what is wrong with it? Merely that it irritates Janet A. Howard's and Mhairi A. Gibson's too delicate sensibilities? jstanley01
Science, Embryonic Autonomy, and the Question of When Life Begins - by Ana Maria Dumitru - January 2017 Excerpt: If we define organismal autonomy to mean freedom from external control, it turns out that we can identify precisely when an embryo satisfies the definition of autonomy: from the very beginning. A recent study published by Marta N. Shahbazi and colleagues from the UK demonstrates that this newly formed cell knows what to do post-conception regardless of whether or not it receives signals from a host uterus. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/01/17222/

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