Menopause for thought

They're at it again. Sociobiologists are looking for evolutionary explanations for phenomena that don't seem to need them:

New Scientist: Caring grandmas explain evolutionary role of menopause

The menopause may be an ordeal for women experiencing a 'hot flash', but new research suggests it had a good evolutionary cause — freeing women to be good grandmothers.

To be fair, the article does argue that the human menopause requires a special evolutionary explanation because, in other mammals, female reproduction simply stops because of ageing, at a variety of ages. But in humans the shutdown is deliberate and early. And it is genetically controlled, meaning the genes responsible were selected by evolution.

I'm not sure how authorative this genetically controlled argument is. Personally, I had assumed that the human menopause was simply one of those age-related phenomena that is never selected against in old age because it happens after the people concerned have lived long enough to have children and pass on their genes. This still seems like the simplest explanation to me—although I freely admit I could be wrong.

But where do you draw the line? If sociobiologists feel the need to find an evolutionarily advantageous role for the menopause, why not also concoct them for Alzheimer's Disease, diabetes, baldness and wrinkles? All of these are age-related phenomena with a genetic component.

In fact, it might be kind of fun, in a totally pointless way.

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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