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links for 2006-10-19




"many instances of altruistic behavior can be found in nature." i was very dissappointed that, considering the title of the book and having made this statement, the reviewer fails to provide even one example. i doubt i'll ever get around to reading the book,and i've always been curious about this, so can anyone provide an example of altruism in the (non human)animal kingdom? working definition: taking a known risk to life or limb for the benifit of another creature,not of the risk-takers immediate genetic family/mate(in other words, that it is clearly of no evolutionary benifit to the risk-taker). i'm sure when i hear an example of such behavior i'll say to myself "of course!why didn't i think of that!",but i honestly can't think of any examples offhand.

There are a number of animals that sound a warning, drawing attention to themselves, when they see a predator. I think that would qualify as altruistic.


wouldn't those be herd animals, that is, animals whos survival without the herd is in danger? i'm looking for behavior that doesn't benifit the animal or its family) in ANY way. one could also postulate (ahem. my brontosaurus theory...)that,as far as evolution is concerned, its the survival of the group thats important, in which case evolving such behavior in individuals would benifit the group. or am i defining altruism too narrowly?

How about this or perhaps you can find something here that meets your criteria.

update: I posted the links Jonathan, I just haven't mastered the interface here. It certainly brought a smile to my lips to hear you refer to me as two different people, but you had nice things to say about both so, hey that's good.

Read When Elephants Weep for many examples of altruistic behavior in animals. Also, Wright's The Moral Animal deals with this issue.


thanks, anon. i think the adoption of one species by another (as cats by dogs, etc.)pretty much fits the bill and, as i thought, it was something i knew about but just couldn't recall. its funny,i can rationalize the adoption of humans by humans as filling an emotional need (and therefore providing a benifit)but that gets harder and harder to do the farther down the evolutionary "ladder" you go. unless you want to talk about animals having emotional needs-an interesting subject in itself, i'm sure. as would be the relationship of emotional needs to evolutionary ones. whatever, i digress. thanks. this brings me to something else, though- maybe i should apologize for not just googling "altruism" myself. its not laziness exactly-more like a vestigal, pre-computer behavioral pattern where, if i'm sitting at a table with a bunch of people and i want to know something thats relevant to the discussion, i'll throw the question out to the other guests before getting up to get a dictionary. i realize this approach is less relevant in the computer realm, and also that its not the first time ive done it, so i only hope no one thinks im rude-or stupid-and that others also find the questions interesting. my thanks to you and norm for getting involved without calling me nasty names. :)


and thank YOU, sam. i really am interested in this subject and didn't know there were books about it (as opposed to articles in scientific american, etc.) and, just to be ornery, what if i were to FURTHER narrow the definition of altruism to exclude behaviors that are probably purely instinct based, essentially robotic and non-conscious, and only allowed those which are specifically INTENDED to help the other creature? :) be back monday, folks. the computer free zone calls.

off topic: look at this: " Benedict said the West was witnessing "a new wave of Enlightenment and secularism, in which only that which can be tested and calculated is considered rationally valid, and in which individual freedom is erected as a fundamental value to which everything else is subordinated.

"In this way, God is excluded from culture and public life", he said.

"It is not difficult to see how this type of culture represents a radical and profound separation not only from Christianity but more generally from the religious and moral traditions of humanity," he said.

This mean Western culture "is unable to undertake a real dialogue with other cultures in which the religious dimension is strongly present. Nor is it able to respond to the fundamental questions about the meaning and direction of life," he said. "

so pretty much, we need to stop regarding individual freedom as fundamental, redefine rationality, and come to conclusions about the meaning and direction of life (meaning no more questions) to let god back into culture. he makes a better argument for atheism than dawkins does, even if its just because it comes from the pope. i know id rather have those western values than god in my culture.

The Altruism Equation this is news? E.O. Wilson explained the biological roots in 1978 in On Human Nature and even earlier than that in Sociobiology. I read On Human Nature in high school in the 1980s.

"many instances of altruistic behavior can be found in nature." i was very dissappointed that, considering the title of the book and having made this statement, the reviewer fails to provide even one example. i doubt i'll ever get around to reading the book,and i've always been curious about this, so can anyone provide an example of altruism in the (non human)animal kingdom?

Yes, see E.O. Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning book "On Human Nature" [1978]. sites alturism in social insects, of course, but also in prairie dogs. also goole "prairie dogs altruism"

Thanks, Norm. I'll definitely keep sending traffic your way. We have a different readership, so we're continuing to spread the dialogue that will lead to meaningful change.


655,000 Iraq War Deaths: Watch Ideologues Slander Good Science

Last week the esteemed medical journal The Lancet released an epidemiological study concluding that 655,000 Iraqis died from war-related injury and disease from March 2003 to July 2006. This shockingly high figure has drawn attacks from the Bush administration and right-wing pundits. Speaking as a medical doctor, I wish to set the record straight. The Lancet study is sound science. The study followed a strict, widely accepted methodology to arrive at its sobering conclusion. The study is being attacked not on scientific grounds, but for ideological reasons. People may not realize that The Lancet is the world's most prestigious medical journal. Prior to publication, the Iraq study was subjected to a thorough peer-review by specialists in the field of epidemiology. Three of the study's authors, Gil Burnham, Shannon Doocy, and Les Roberts, are doctors at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The fourth author, Riyadh Lafta, is on the faculty of Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. Under dangerous conditions, researchers conducted a cross-sectional cluster sample survey involving a total of 1849 Iraqi households, in 47 different neighborhoods, in 18 regions across Iraq. The survey documented a four-fold increase in the crude mortality rate from the pre-invasion to the post-invasion periods and, in addition, characterized the causes of death...

The IraqBodyCount site I have always considered reliable, and yet they are questioning the figures released from the Lancet Study.

Do the American people need to believe that 600,000 Iraqis have been killed before they can turn to their leaders and say "enough is enough"? The number of certain civilian deaths that has been documented to a basic standard of corroboration by "passive surveillance methods" surely already provides all the necessary evidence to deem this invasion and occupation an utter failure at all levels.
A new study has been released by the Lancet medical journal estimating over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq. The Iraqi mortality estimates published in the Lancet in October 2006 imply, among other things, that: * 1. On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms; 2. Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment; 3. Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq; 4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued; 5. The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive "Shock and Awe" invasion and the major assaults on Falluja. * If these assertions are true, they further imply: * *incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began; *bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis; *the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas; *an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year. * In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.

Hi Jo, the IraqBodyCount only take into account fatalities reported in the Media. It is at best a rough estimate.

The Lancet study takes into account how on an average anm Iraqi household has lost how many loved ones as a result of this invasion.

Hi Kes,

Au contraire, it is the Lancet study figures which are a rough estimate. The Lancet study uses statistics to come up with their figures. The IraqBodyCount is doing their best to just stick with the facts.

What's clear is that no one really knows the truth right now.

Hi Jo, I did not know that. Thanks for the revelation : >


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