The annual meeting of America’s Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association has heard a damning critique of the sexual selection theories of Charles Darwin.
Joan Roughgarden, a biologist at Stanford University, says that the accepted notion that male animals compete for mates, while the females choose males with care, is “locker room bravado projected onto animals.”
Sexual selection asserts that males want to have sex with as many females as possible to pass on their genes, whereas females want to find the best genes, and therefore only mate with a small number of males.
Dr Roughgarden asserts that the function of sex is mostly social, a position that has been heavily criticised by other evolutionary biologists.
Last year she published a paper in the journal Science
“The whole reason for sexual reproduction in the first place is to share genes, and a male and female who mate are committing themselves to a common investment at the very beginning,” Dr Roughgarden said in Science last year.
“So therefore, they embark upon the enterprise of mating from a co-operative standpoint, from a standpoint of common investment and common interest.”
Gay news source Metro Weekly reports that Dr Roughgarden’s appearance at the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association in Washington DC is another sign of increasing confidence in being out of the closet in a profession that is perceived to be deeply prejudiced.
The LGVMA annual meeting was held as the American Veterinary Medical Association’s held its annual convention.
“This was the first time we’ve advertised to the broader convention,” Tim Withers, a former president of the gay group, told Metro Weekly.
“Before LGVMA existed, the AVMA was very culturally conservative.
“Most of it was very rural, agricultural. Fifty years ago, most veterinarians were white men.”
The gay vets invited all of their colleagues to hear Dr Roughgarden put forward her theories on sexual selection.
Her views are controversial. She advocates ditching an entire section of Darwinian theory.
Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago professor of ecology and evolution, expressed scepticism towards Dr Roughgarden’s theory in a review of her book, as quoted in Science:
“She is wrong,” he wrote.
“[Darwin's] theory is powerful and largely correct. Yes, there are nuances of behaviour that require special explanation, or that we don’t yet understand.
“But nobody, least of all Darwin, ever claimed that evolutionary biology is characterised by ironclad laws.
“Nevertheless, some generalisations, such as the pervasive competition of males for females, can be powerful and useful.”