14 June 2011

From the archive: Evolution's Rainbow

White-throated sparrow Photo by hjhipster.
No new science post this week, because I'm taking my time to put together a (hopefully) particularly good, detailed article for the near future. In the meantime, let me suggest something from the D&T archives for Pride month, in advance of the Diversity in Science carnival in a couple weeks. Specifically, my review of Joan Roughgarden's survey of sexuality across the animal kingdom, Evolution's Rainbow:

This interest in the evolutionary context of diversity would eventually become much more personal. In 1998, [Roughgarden] came out as transgendered, taking the name Joan after decades spent establishing her scientific reputation under the name she was given at birth, Jonathan. In addition to the challenges inherent to gender transition, Roughgarden's expertise intersects with her identity in one awkward question: in a biological world shaped by natural selection, how can we explain the evolution of lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people—individuals who are not interested in sexual activity that passes on their genes?

Roughgarden's answer was to begin a program of research questioning the dominant way of thinking about sex in an evolutionary context. In 2004, she presented her conclusions comprehensively in the book Evolution's Rainbow, calling for biologists to re-think they way they understood and described sexual behavior throughout the animal kingdom. As another biologist with an admitted personal interest in the question, I've found Evolution's Rainbow to be a great starting point for thinking about sexuality in an evolutionary context.

For in-depth looks at three examples of "alternative" animal lifestyles and the reception Roughgarden's ideas met in the broader evolutionary biology community, go read the whole post.

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