This month’s Seed Magazine has an interesting article on Joan Roughgarden and her theories on sexual selection. While she makes some valid observations, some think that her conclusions are a step too far ahead of the data. PZ Myers, for example, in a well-argued piece on his blog.
Both PZ Myers and the original article are well worth reading. I like the lightness of touch and the flashes of wit and irony that the author of the article (Jonah Lehrer) has brought to bear on the topic. For example:
As this list of activities suggests, having homosexual sex is the biological equivalent of apple pie: Everybody likes it. At last count, over 450 different vertebrate species could be beheaded in Saudi Arabia. You name it, there’s a vertebrate out there that does it.
And I think Myers is right when he argues that:
Roughgarden is an awkward case that provokes a difficult split in people’s opinions. She is 100% right that homosexuality is common and that its prevalence ought to be regarded more seriously as an indication of an interesting and enlightening phenomenon in evolution. However, she’s completely wrong in rejecting sexual selection: in rejecting a simplistically heterosexual view of nature she swings too far the other way, adopting a simplistically homosexual view instead of a messy, complex, and almost certainly more correct mixed view.
By the way, if you want to read more about the 450 species who are ignoring the disapproving looks of God and Allah, then the best serious book to look out for is Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl. If you want to laugh out loud at life’s rich tapestry, then go for How Animals Have Sex by Gideon Defoe, one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long, long time.