#105 - Olivia Judson - “Life Has Transformed the Planet, Which Has Gone On to Alter the Future Course of Life"

56 minutes

Episode 105 is a wholly unique show. In this episode, we depart from traditional investment themes, and instead, bring you an episode featuring Meb’s second professional love, biology. Specifically, we welcome the renowned evolutionary biologist and writer, Olivia Judson.

It turns out Olivia wrote for The Economist in her early years. Meb asks how a scientist got started writing for a business magazine. Olivia tells us of the progression that led from one article submission to several other articles, to a staff job.

Next, Meb asks about the genesis for writing Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation. (For anyone unaware, the book is written in the style of a sex-advice column to animals. It details the variety of sexual practices in the natural world and provides the reader with an overview of the evolutionary biology of sex.) Olivia tells us one of her early articles was the inspiration, though she’d been studying and researching the topic for years. She thought the book would take her only six months to write so she quit her job…she finally finished it four years later.

Meb notes how much of the book identifies a power struggle between males and females, and how this shapes evolutionary dynamics. Olivia expounds, telling us how sometimes what the male wants is not in the interest of the female (and vice versa). These differences create the tensions which affect evolutionary direction.

This leads to a conversation about Bateman’s Principle, namely, the general idea that females are pillars of virtue, while males are cads. Olivia’s book suggested this isn’t necessarily true. Meb asks for more details. Olivia starts by redefining the term “promiscuous,” digging deeper into the word in light of the term “choosy.” It turns out certain females can benefit from having multiple partners, though the reasons can vary. In any case, this awareness is much more prevalent than thought 40 years ago.

A bit later, Meb asks about homosexuality in the animal world, including questions regarding procreation and genes. Olivia gives us a fascinating answer that includes the concepts of “genetic component,” “exclusivity,” and “commonality” and how these factors might affect homosexual genes remaining in the population.

There’s way more in this fun, totally different episode: A dating party where women smelled men’s T-shirts to determine which scent they found most appealing… the male Australian Redback Spider, who actually tries to get eaten by the female during sex… Meb’s surprising discovery from his 22 and Me test that he has more Neanderthal genes than 95% of the population… Olivia’s views on gene editing… Camping on the side of a volcano in Antarctica… and whether we’ll find life beyond our world.

We end with asking Olivia about her most memorable experience in all of her research. What is it? Find out in Episode 105.

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