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Dept. Of Scientific Fact

National Review offered some rather unusual scientific facts about Mitt Romney's many sons. Science!

Posted on August 23, 2012, at 3:12 p.m. ET

Illustration by John Gara/BuzzFeed

Illustration by John Gara/BuzzFeed

National Review yesterday published Kevin D. Williamson's epic essay, "Like a Boss," urging Mitt Romney to cultivate an image as an icon of prosperity and fecundity, rich in money and in male offspring.

In passing, Williamson shared the news that "The offspring of rich families are statistically biased in favor of sons — the children of the general population are 51 percent male and 49 percent female, but the children of the Forbes billionaire list are 60 percent male."

This led Williamson to some pretty stark analysis, in terms of the presidential race:

1. "[Mitt] Romney has 18 grandchildren, and they exceed a 2:1 ratio of grandsons to granddaughters (13:5)."

2. "Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes."

At which point, Williamson concluded, "From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote."

Williamson called this "scientific fact," and you may be surprised to learn that Williamson is relying on real social science here. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather thin social science. It's also — less unsurprisingly — social science that has led to some liberal conclusions.

Williamson's "fact" about the connection between prosperity and boys is in fact the "the Trivers-Willard hypothesis." (Not, in fact, fact.)

And it's not clear that Williamson understands what the hypothesis is.

Lee Cronk, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Rutgers University and one of the leading American experts on the Trivers-Willard hypothesis explained it a little differently in a 2007 article:

In its broadest formulation, the Trivers–Willard hypothesis is that natural selection should favour parents who bias their investment in favour of the sex of offspring with the best reproductive prospects. ... The bottom line is that natural selection is predicted to favour mothers who bias investment towards sons when in good condition and towards daughters when in poor condition.

Cronk then reviewed the facts. "While it is possible that some Trivers–Willard mechanism(s) have some impact on conscious decisions about the allocation of parental investment," he wrote in very science-sounding language, "the literature reviewed above provides, at best, only mixed support for that idea."

So, there's "at best, only mixed support" for the idea that this has anything to do with the conscious decisions and actions taken by parents, a presumption in Williamson's mind that leads him into discussion of George Romney and American Motors and Mitt Romney and the Olympics and Bain.

That's not all. Cronk's conclusion might be the most upsetting part to Williamson. Looking at the most extreme of gender-biased environments, Cronk concluded:

When social hierarchies are extreme enough and rigid enough to produce such effects [of extreme sex biases], perhaps social planners would do better to focus on the problem of inequality itself rather than on specific effects such as sex-biased preconception gender selection.

Williamson went in the other direction:

Some Occupy Wall Street types, believing it to be the height of wit, have begun to spell Romney’s name “Rmoney.” But Romney can do better than that — put it in all caps: R-MONEY. ... You want to make it rain? R-MONEY is going to make it storm, like biblical. Rappers boast about their fat stacks: R-MONEY’s fat stacks live in a beachfront house of their own in the Hamptons, and the bricks in that house are made from tightly bound hundred-dollar bills. You have a ton of money? R-MONEY has 200 metric tons of money if he decides to keep it in cash.