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December 2, 2011

L'esprit de l'avion

Near the end of my talk at UCSF (see my December 1st posting) one of the researchers introduced the matter of the proximate cause of death. He seemed to reject my (very conventional) view that cancer cells caused death by interfering with the function of vital organs, e.g., the liver. Another participant said many cancer patients die as a result of a cytokine storm or sepsis.

What I should have said was that as an evolutionary theorist I had no interest in how cancer victims died, merely that juveniles with cancer died--of any proximate cause--while still juveniles. For example, if a young African gazelle, physically impaired by leukemia, is killed by a predator, then its death has the same impact on the composition of its gene pool as it would if the leukemia had directly caused its death.

There are no certified pathologists performing gatekeeper duties for gene pools. The genes of animals with genetic defects leading to juvenile cancer are eliminated as long as the animal dies--from any proximate cause--before it reaches the reproductive age.

Note: The French expression "L'esprit de l'escalier" usually translated as "staircase wit" refers to a person's thinking of a witty response to a dinner table conversation only as he departs the host's flat. Because I only thought of this response while flying home to the East Coast I've altered the French for my title.

Comments and questions to the author ... are welcomed here.

© 2011 by James Graham