The general public has a tendency to misinterpret science. When it comes to questions of biology and sex more misinformation is spread. Josh Teal makes the proclamation that a study found women are biologically stronger than men. This based on data collected in a report from Duke University. What the study did was collect information on life expectancy in relation to sex . What the study discovered was that women,even under periods of extreme turmoil still were able to live longer than their male counterparts. The University of Southern Denmark also conducted a study that looked at men and women’s life expectancy under famines, slavery, extreme conditions and epidemics. Once more women were able to outlive men. The Max Plank Odense Center on the Biodemography of Aging did not make the proclamation women are biologically stronger than men. However, news articles either obfuscate or are erroneous in their presentation of the facts. Josh Teal has done this in his article for Unilad. Women have an advantage in terms of survival, rather than “biological strength.” It could be argued that the concept of biological strength does not exist. The proper term would be fitness meaning the ability for organisms to produce offspring and propagate their genes. Teal seems to confuse biological fitness with physical fitness, which are two different scientific concepts and terminologies. The only argument that could be made from Josh Teal’s position is that women have more duration based strength. Women may not be as physically strong, but can be durable in terms of longer life expectancy and better health condition. The gap between men and women in life expectancy can be related also to infant mortality. Baby boys may have a harder time reaching adulthood compared to girls. Life expectancy and total life span are not all biologically based. environment also has an impact on human survival. The report even stated that ” our findings also indicate that female advantage differs across environments and is modulated by social factors.”
Biology is not destiny, when there is a clear impact from environment and other factors. Biology certainly is not static and can change as evolution has demonstrated in the animal kingdom. Women’s survival advantage the report acknowledges does have biological underpinnings. Women no matter which part of the globe continue to outlive men. However, it should be remembered that data may not be as reliable from the ancient past to Middle Ages, because there could be gaps in record keeping. If women have a biological trait for extended life, then it should also appear in ancient history and during the millions of years of human evolution. The report also found that their was an exception with one slave population they was studied in which women did not have a reduced mortality risk. The Guardian also reported the findings, but presented them in a most ludicrous title : “Scientist Confirm What Women Already Knew Men Are the Weaker Sex .” The term weaker sex has been used against women to indicate biological inferiority. Women obviously are not biological or physical inferiors. The concept of biological superiority is not based in scientific fact. It implies that evolution has a teleological path and that has a final perfect biological morphology stage. Calling men the weaker sex in The Guardian article is ludicrous, because their is no such thing as a superior or inferior sex.
Kate Hodal’s interpretation like Josh Teal reaches the wrong conclusion. Biological strength does not hold to the test of the scientific method. If that were so, then would the longest living animals be biologically stronger than humans? There are animals that outlive humans by large margins in terms of total life span. Ocean Quahogs can reach up to 400 years old. The world ‘s oldest recorded tortoise known as Johnathan is estimated to be 187 years old. Bowhead whales can reach the age of 200 years. Scientists would not call these animals biological stronger. It seems that the term biology is used often, but few actually understand its meaning. The field of study is vast which encompasses numerous disciplines and applied sciences. Comprehending the definition of biology can elucidate why Josh Teal and Kate Hodal position is not accurate.
Biology is the study of life and its functions. That is a broad and immense task when doing a full examination of the numerous organism and ecosystems that are on the Earth. Biology has major branches that include microbiology, taxonomy, ecology, ethology, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, cytology, and evolutionary biology. Microbiology investigate microorganisms too small to see with human eyes. Bacteria, viruses, or tardigrades are organisms that are of interest to a microbiologist. Taxonomy involves the classification of animals and their relation to one another. This is particularly difficult because new species can be discovered and more could exist in the universe. Astrobiology ponders what possible life forms could exist in outer space. Ecology involves studying how organisms interact with their natural habitat. Human beings are the only organisms that can alter their environment to such a radical degree. Ethology focuses on animal behavior. Jane Goodall work and direct observation on chimpanzee behavior is an example of ethology. Genetics explores heredity, inheritance and the impact of genes on a life forms. Biochemistry takes the field of chemistry and applies to the study of compounds. Lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins function can be understood through biochemistry. Physiology explains the functions and mechanisms of an organism. This should not be confused with anatomy, which focuses on structure. Both anatomy and physiology have a multitude of applications to medicine, surgery, and sports science.
Cytology studies the cells of living organisms. Cell biology reveals that cells are the building blocks of life. Cell biology can also be extended to histology, which looks at the tissues of organisms. There is considerable debate on what should be considered living. Biologists have debated whether or not a virus is considered alive. A virus is a nucleic molecule in a protein coat and can only multiply in cells of a host. Evolutionary biology seeks to explain why there is so much diversity of life. The world has so many plants and animals which zoology as well as botany seek to describe. Natural selection and gradual changes over a period of time are theories that suggest many organisms once had a common genetic ancestor for which they branched off. Saying one sex is “biologically stronger” is not scientifically valid. It also reveals that some have a difficulty distinguishing two different terms of biological fitness and physical fitness.
Biological fitness and physical fitness are not the same. Josh Teal confuses the two. Biological fitness describes how successful an organism at producing offspring and promoting a certain genotype. Physical fitness refers to the ability to perform certain exercise under fatigue. A stronger and faster person can be physically fit, but if they do not leave offspring in terms of biological fitness they are not successful. The term survival of the fittest is the most misunderstood term in evolution. Charles Darwin did not coin the term, it was Hebert Spencer. The image of violent struggles or vicious competition are associated with the animal kingdom, yet organisms are more complicated in terms of behavior. Animals exhibit cooperation, competitiveness, and social organization. Survival of the fittest does not mean that a “superior” organism has a greater chance for survival. There are animals that were bigger and stronger, but when extinct. The dinosaurs were the largest animals that ever walked the Earth. They could not survive the dramatic change in environment that occurred with a meteor strike and perished.
The assumption is that the physically strong would be able to survive longer. The weakest could have high biological fitness if they are able to produce enough healthy offspring.
The smaller mammals would emerge and eventually become the dominant force on land. Australopithicines would appear and gradually humanity would branch off into its own species. Sex selection also plays a role in biological fitness. Organisms have a certain method of selecting mates. Microorganisms in comparison would have high biological fitness. Bacteria can multiply fast, but does not contain strength or intelligence comparable to a human being. Insects can reproduce more offspring than people. Humans may want to think of themselves as a superior species, but it too could be subject to mass extinct. Some have even speculated it will come by its own doing.
Environment can have a huge role in life expectancy. The reason men die earlier is that they take more risks, get into dangerous situations, and expected to sacrifice themselves for a greater good. The culture of expendable males has not disappeared and it is something women will never have to endure. The selective service remains proof of that. Women will most probably never have to register for the selective service. Males are represented more in dangerous occupations such as firefighting, law enforcement, construction, and the military. Modern technology has reduced the cases of higher fatalities in the past, but risk has not been completely eliminated. From another perspective of health men are put under more stress to be providers and leaders of society. At the same time they are not allowed to express emotions in a healthy way, which could manifest in mental health disorder or chronic illness. Men do not have it so simple when viewed from this perspective. Simply living in poverty or horrible conditions can kill a person. The enslaved in Trinidad had low life expectancy, because of horrible working conditions and no healthcare. The free peoples who emigrated to Liberia did not live long due to not having immunity to diseases present in the country. Physical and mental abuse can destroy a person. Survival is not linked solely to one’s genes; environment is an important factor. The female enslaved in Trinidad had shorter life expectancy due to environment. This throws off the other recorded data. Women may just live longer because they do not do anything dangerous and avoid risk.
It is obvious that there is a difference in durational and physical strength between the sexes. Even though that data is from the past, male and female life span have a gap. There are biological factors for why this is. Women produce offspring, so from a point of survival it would only make sense that they evolved to live longer. The reason why men are on average are stronger was to fight other males for mates. This can be seen in other organisms which exhibit sexual dimorphism. Women did not need to fight over men to acquire a mate. Genetically the X chromosome may provide a benefit of protection. A harmful mutation on the x chromosome would not be a threat seeing as a woman has another. The Y chromosome does not provide that benefit. Oestrogen can enable protection of blood vessels. Sexual dimorphism is flexible. There can be men that outlive women and women who are stronger than men.
There is no way to account for individual health condition of every individual in the data. Collecting information on the enslaved in Trinidad would be the most difficult. Slave owners rarely cared about the health of their captives, just as long as they were productive. Preexisting conditions can effect both men and women, which would change life expectancy outcomes. This may be a factor that could have altered the data collection. The study also just took past sample from a few countries. The pattern could still remain, but there could be differences. Asia and Oceania were not represented in the sample set because it was not available for 1820 to 1882. What can be stated with certainty is that women on average have durational strength according to life expectancy and life span data.
The notion of a biologically stronger sex is also wrong,because it implies orthogenesis. This now discredited theory stated that organism evolve slowly in a teleological direction. Human evolution is not progressive; it functions more like a tree with multiple branches. The morphology of human beings can change depending on environment and genetics. That does not imply that there is a special purpose for it or a perfect final form. Nature has not intended a perfect form for humanity. Unfortunately, when the general public thinks of human biological evolution the March of Progress comes to mind. The image that appeared in Life Nature Library has since become ingrained in popular culture. Appearing in 1965 it shows humans evolving in a linear direction. The discovery of numerous primate species has made it more obsolete. Currently, it is thought that humanity emerged 200,000 earlier than previously thought.
New information and discovery of fossils is changing what biologists have though about evolution. Men and women are physically and biologically different, but their evolution is not that much different. men and women are not separate species. Science is still attempting to answer the question what makes us human.
The study does show that women have durational strength. It does not demonstrate biological strength. This as a concept cannot be measured. Making such claims of one sex being better than other is nothing more than a revived pseudoscience. The irony is that now their are claims saying women are superior. This pitiful attempt at humor is very telling : ” By the way, fellas, in case you get all angry and insecure, we’re talking biological strength.” There are plenty of women who have some brawn power, but they do not make men feel insecure. Some get much admiration. The method of this study was not incorrect. The challenge is collecting data and how reliable it is. The question is would the patter continue in the following centuries. There is always a risk that civilization could be destabilized by war, climate change, pandemics, and food shortages. This would dramatically reduce the global population. Human beings cannot control natural disasters,but they can create either positive or negative social conditions. Low quality healthcare systems, poverty, and violence are not created by accident. Inequality and oppression can form environments of poor health. Women higher survival rate during periods of turbulence may be based on avoiding danger and genetics for longevity.