Green Beards, Altruism and Kinship – Halfway through Behave by Robert Sapolsky

Kin selection is the theory that we behave more altruistic towards people who share our genes—-given we believe in the darwinian paradigm that the overarching aim for an organism is to further its genes, of course.

Or as John Haldane humorously concluded while working on the mathematics of kin selection:

“I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.”

The idea being that brothers and sisters share genes by 50% and cousins 12,5%. The math being something like this:

1 person = 8 cousins (12.5×8=100)

1 person = 4 nephews (4×25=100)

1 person = 2 siblings (2×50=100)

The Green Beard Effect started as a thought experiment that would explain why we exhibit altruistic behaviors towards people who share a genetic trait with us, i.e a green bearded person favors another green bearded person over someone else. It’s is a poor mans version of kin selection.

The behavior has been confirmed studies on fire ants in 1998.

… and a Review of Behave by Robert Sapolsky is coming soon!


Thoughts on: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot

HeLa cells was the first immortal cell line ever discovered. This mean that they can survive and multiply forever in labs given they are provided with cell culture. Without this amazing discovery modern medicine would look very different.


HeLa stands for Henrietta Lacks. The name of the poor tobacco farmer from which the cells come from. This book tells the story of the cells and the Lacks family, (which I quite a ride!) but also the history of patient consent.


📝 What made the HeLa cancer cells so special was that they allowed researchers to do all kinds of experiments on them that would never be allowed to do on live humans.


📝 HeLa led to the polio vaccine in a time when people died in droves from it. Only one of many HeLa contributions!


📝 The Tuskegee Study: In the 30s scientists studied how one died from syphilis. Black men where observed dying from syphilis without intervention. (Yes, a cure existed.) “Doctors where doing experiments on black people. Watching them die.” That was the word on the streets when the study came to public knowledge. No wonder black Americans where distrustful of scientists!


📝 All cancers originate from one cell going wrong. Scary thought. Memento Mori I guess!


📝 People in prisons volunteered to inject Henrietta’s cancer cells into their arms to see how healthy people rejected to them. These patients fought off the cancer. (I would not volunteer for that 😬)


📝 Modern gene patenting inhabits research. (No shit, Sherlock! 🕵️‍♂️ 😒)


📝 The Lacks family have seen nothing of millions of dollars being made from HeLa-cells. They are still piss poor.



What made things worse was the Lacks family’s lack of education. When hearing about Henrietta’s cells being cloned in London, her daughter thought actual copies of Henrietta was walking on Trafalgar Square, when i reality it was only her cancer cells that was cloned. The stress made her sick. So much unnecessary suffering could have been avoided by education.


What are you reading this week?



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