Evolutionary medicine: my death rate delta v finally goes negative

Apologies for the slowness in answering comments and lack of podcasts this week, but I was dying and my voice was shot.

Gross talk alert: read no further if the word “mucus” disgusts you.

I read a book on evolutionary medicine in which it was admitted that nobody has yet figured out if it was more adaptive for the virus or for man that so much mucus is produced during a cold.

Mucus has a protective effect but it also embeds copies of the virus to which others in sneezing range of the cold victim are exposed.

My nose doesn’t just run, it gushes. I expel gallons of the stuff such that I am very well protected against further contagions during the course of my colds. The coating of the gunk is so thick that I could probably survive a nuclear blast. But it also means I’ve shed billions of tiny cold clones in my wake.

Oh, well. At least it’s one more bug to which I am now immune.

Then there is the fever, which is the body’s version of pouring boiling oil over the heads of invaders. The heat kills a few, but the press and relentlessness of the barbarian hoard storming your Gates of Immunity overwhelms your defenses.

And maybe there’s strategy here, especially when we’re young. Let a few enemies slip in and kill them off one by one, where their backs are against the wall. Good practice for the White Guard. What doesn’t kill us truly makes us stronger.

So, speaking of hot springs and their supposed curative effects, I wonder whether these baths are preventative not just or because of the various minerals and trace metals but because they are so damn hot that they kill off the ever-present film of germs that coat our hides.

But it’s too easy to tell these Just So evolutionary stories, a sharp criticism Stephen Gould was always wielding against the perhaps too creative legion of evolutionary psychologists, a gang who ascribe survival-of-the-fittest advantages to every human foible. Too much teleology and not enough experiment in this field.

Anyway, I yet live. The regular schedule returns next week.


  1. JH

    What doesn’t kill us truly makes us stronger.

    Indeed. That includes stinky tofu too. Rumor has it that stinky tofu cures cold in a matter of two days. ^_^

  2. Joy

    It’s said that taranchulas carry goo in their bellies that resembles sputum (industrial phrase) and that if you fry enough of it and eat it you slowly start to grow a duplicate limb for every one you’ve already got and your bum starts to form a point at the back, (pygidium) Before you know it you’ve grown hairs everywhere in atractive stripy shades that would make a caterpillar jealous; and the fangs!!

    Colds are spread through the eyes. Mostly from hands rubbing the eyes that have come into contact with the critters. You clearly haven’t been discrittizating properly.

    Physio orders:
    Stick to boiled egg and soldiers with hot tea for the next three days with hourly tea top ups and. finnished off with only one hot toddy. Too much alcohol will bring on and prolong a cold.
    Oh, and smoking will continue to inhibbit your cillia (wafting hairs) that help form the escalator for the goo. Setting you up nicely for a chest infection and what could be sillier.

  3. That was, in all probability, the famous H1N1 flu strain. (H1N1 has been dominating tested URIs by some ridiculous proportion like 18,000 to 40.)

    Congratulations, you’ve survived the Great Plague and Panic of 2009.

    Don’t be surprised if you’re still feeling crappy for a while, it seems to hang on. (*cough*)

    Joy, you definitely deserve some sort of prize for the word “discrittizating”.

  4. Ari

    Whatever you have is going around my office. It’s an evil beast. Good to hear that you survived!

  5. Briggs


    I would eat some if I had it. I actually now like the grilled version. I figure if I can assimilate the bugs that live in the tofu, I can live through anything.


    I never discuss my discrittizating activities in mixed company, certainly never in public.


    I am now a carrier. Beware!


    I think I got it from the dreaded, bad-music-infested F train.

  6. Briggs

    Thanks, John M!

  7. SezaGeoff

    Legions of critters are a “horde”, whereas the ones that you are secreting away to keep all to yourself are a “hoard”. I guess due to your generosity in spreading them around, you meant horde.

  8. Briggs


    I’m going to fire my copy editor.

  9. Mike B

    Who here has a birthdate that is a negative number in SAS?

    How many people here know how SAS handles dates?

  10. Briggs

    Mike B,

    With SAS lies the way to madness.

  11. Mike B

    Yeah, I know. And as it turns out, WordPress ate my funny comments in brackets. BTW, my birthdate is a negative number in SAS, as is anyone’s born prior to Midnight Jan 1, 1960.

    Matt, I for one would be very interested in a series of posts on an introduction to R. I’d like to get out from under the yoke of the SAS man.

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