Monday, February 20, 2012

Intrigued, but Not Yet Convinced

So far, Survival of the Sickest has been an entertaining and fascinating read.  Personally I find this book to be more accessible than Why Zebras Don't Get Uclers, mainly because there are fewer references to medical jargon and long-winded explanations of bodily functions.  That being said, I also find the book to be far less convincing than Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.  While Zebras was admittedly a bit tedious for me to read, I felt myself nodding my head in agreement to many of the points raised.  When reading Survival of the Sickest, the tone of the book and literary techniques used to prove ideas (such as the link between sunglasses and a decrease of melanin) reminded me of The Tipping Point or Freakonomics.  Books like the The Tipping Point are very mind-opening and encourage the reader to view seemingly common things in a unique perspective, but they have also come into debate for being too superficial in reasoning or lacking a wider medical perspective.  

Likewise, the arguments I have gleaned so far from Survival of the Sickest are undoubtedly interesting, but seem more like information that I would tell someone as a fun fact, and not necessarily something that I would be prepared to defend if prompted to.  For example, while I find the evolutionary and historical links of iron levels, diabetes and the Ice Age to be particularly compelling, I am not convinced.  With an unprecedented level of migration and interracial marriages occurring in the past thousands of years, it is difficult to concretely pinpoint the cause as being purely genetic or due to evolutionary reasons. Especially since we are learning abut the sociology of medicine, it seems important to also consider how other social factors, besides from race and gender, could have contributed to certain genes being perpetuated.  All things considered, I still find this book to be completely fascinating and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book and see whether some of my concerns are addressed further on.   


  1. Casey, I agree with you and felt that Survival of the Sickest was much more easier to understand and read than Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Even though I am not studying biology, I was able to understand the scientific parts of the book. I found myself following and agreeing with Moalem's examples and arguments, but at the same time questioning how realistic and scientific there are (as with the case about sunglasses, melanin and vitamin D). Furthermore, Moalem doesn't seem to take into consideration all the other social factors that can be affecting us, especially compared to the other two books we have read. He stresses the genetic differences between races and contributes this to how we evolved depending on the time and where we lived. While this seems important to understanding our past and what we currently might be more prone to, there is a lot more mixing of ethnicities today. I think it would be interesting to further research what the effects of a more diverse gene pool are due to this mixing of ethnicities.

  2. I agree with this argument because there does not seem to be enough detail or supporting research to back up the claims that Dr. Moalem is making. He does mention some really great points but it seems just that; he is just mentioning them. He does not really get into full explanations, and you can say that the point of this book was not to give too much detail, but then how can you make such broad and over arching claims about the causation of events such as the Ice Age and diseases like Diabetes which have been researched for years and are still being extensively researched today. Obviously if there is still being intense work done on these topics, no direct causation has been found.