Friday, May 11, 2012

I Am Evolution

Last updated June 24, 2020

I am Holly Dunsworth and I am a biological anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island. My research and teaching are primarily concerned with scientific narratives of human evolutionary history, how those narratives are formed, interpreted, and employed, and how they impact culture and society. I help to refute narratives of, and myths about, human evolution that support sexist and racist views of human that everyone can claim human origins and evolution for themselves and so that no one can rely on it to oppress others. Here are some of the topics I have worked on... 

  1. Human races are not like dog breeds, and to claim that they are is to employ a racist strategy for perpetuating inequity.
  2. Human babies are not born when they’re born because of limitations to gestation length and fetal development imposed by the bipedal pelvis (a,k.a. the ‘obstetrical dilemma’); gestation and fetal growth are limited by metabolism and energetics as they are across primates and mammals (EGG hypothesis). There is no ‘obstetrical dilemma.’
  3. Human babies do need care but it’s not because they evolved to be born early or prematurely; they’re born relatively and absolutely larger than all primates, after a longer than expected pregnancy. Early birth/truncated gestation cannot be a “solution” to the so-called “obstetrical dilemma” because humans are not born early and gestation is not truncated. Without this solution, there is no dilemma to solve.
  4. Women’s hips are not a compromise between bipedalism and childbirth; they are adapted to multiple functions. Childbirth interventions are not evolutionary imperatives due to the so-called ‘obstetrical dilemma’ which doesn’t exist.
  5. Women’s hips are not genetically programmed to be more capacious than men’s; they develop differently because they contain the virile and active gonads and genitals that take up space inside the pelves of females and the soft tissues of the female pelvic floor are replete with estrogen receptors which likely affect pelvic bone development and remodeling throughout life (VAGGINA hypothesis).
  6. Women are, on average, shorter than men because of menstruation’s effects on bone growth.
  7. Men are not taller than women because their tall masculine male ancestors won the competition for mates and produced tall male offspring; continued male growth at puberty, past the point when females stop, is a by-product of estrogen’s effects on all human long bone growth and growth plate fusion.  Estrogen is biphasic, causing long bone growth until its levels increase enough to cause long bone fusion, which ends growth. Different levels of estrogen expression and exposure, causing sex differences in the timing of long bone growth cessation, are due to sex differences in evolved reproductive physiologies. In all human bodies ,fertility depends on a delicate balance of estrogen. Without ovaries pumping out the high levels of estrogen involved in monthly cycling,  bodies without ovaries have no choice but to continue growing past the point that bodies with ovaries stop.
  8. All biology is evolution. To categories growth and development as merely "proximate" and to elevate behavior to "ultimate" is not merely an unnecessary convention, but it is contributing to the persistence of unscientific and harmful just-so stories about human nature.
  9. Nobody on Earth but Homo sapiens knows that sex makes babies or has a concept of paternity, not even Koko, the famous “talking” gorilla. This makes us different from other animals in profound ways and must have impacted humanity for as long as we've made the connection between intercourse and procreation.

Below is a list of some of my favorite Mermaid's Tale posts and otherwise. Many of them are resources for the points I've made above. I've organized these links according to the morphology of the folktale (via Landau via Propp) which is the structure of my current book project--a biographical human evolutionary tale called I Am Evolution. Thanks to Anne and Ken for bringing me on to the MT in 2009! Thanks to everybody for all the good times and here's to many more,

Initial Situation (evolutionary thinking)
Hero (introducing [your name here])
Change (life in utero)
Departure (birth)
Test (childhood)
Donor (puberty and young adulthood)
Transformation (adulthood, the joys)
Test Again (adulthood, the oys)
Triumph (aging, wisdom, reflection)


Where I appear in others' productions...


5random1 said...

If you are Holly Dunsworth who spoke and wrote "this i believe" for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, May 11, 2008 then I thank you so very much for what you spoke, what you wrote.

I too, now, I am evolution.

Thanks Holly!

Holly Dunsworth said...

That's me :) Thanks for your kind feedback and thrilled to read it!

The link's up there in that list (under "Elsewhere") in case you ever want to listen or read again.

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