poetics, time, body disruption and marginally queer solutions

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

By Annalee Newitz, AlterNet

I was intrigued to learn last week that one of the United Nation's leading candidates for Iraqi leadership is Dr. Hussain al-Shahristani, a nuclear chemist and former science adviser to Saddam Hussein. Al-Shahristani spent more than a decade in Abu Ghraib prison for refusing to participate in Hussein's weapons program and finally escaped during the Gulf War.

Despite President George W. Bush's virulently antiscience agenda at home, the president is touting al-Shahristani for the job because his status as a scientist makes him a religious and political nonpartisan. But this move also underscores the extent to which science is deeply bound up with a political agenda. Even ultra-groovy, science porn magazine Seed - which is usually about as political as an issue of Cosmopolitan - has a cover story this month on how readers can "vote science" in the coming election.

Of course, voting science, or even sticking to a science party line, isn't as easy as you might imagine. As Stanford University evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden points out in her new book, Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People (UC Press), the factions that divide the scientific community are practically religious in their dogmatic adherence to particular interpretations of nature. Roughgarden's book is a challenge to more than a century's worth of scientific inquiry into "sexual selection," a term Charles Darwin used to describe the way mate choices contribute to the evolution of a species. She explains that there are two camps in the debate over evolution, each with its own political agenda: One argues that the survival of a species is secured solely through sexual selection, while Roughgarden and others argue that survival is more properly understood as a result of social cooperation.

Strict sexual selectionists hold that females guide the evolution of their species by choosing the "fittest" mates to father their children. Richard Dawkins enshrined this idea in his influential book The Selfish Gene, which postulates that genes compete (selfishly) for their own preservation, fighting with other genes for the opportunity to survive through the offspring of the species' choosy ladies. From this point of view, the only players in evolution are heterosexual reproducers.


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