The Loop: Quacking the nature v nurture debate

A penguin is attacking a duck Image copyright Getty Images

Welcome to The Loop, the Magazine's letters column, including the best of your thoughts from Twitter and Facebook.

Nature v nurture was the unofficial theme of the week this week. A thoughtful and poignant piece by poet Byron Vincent looks at his own upbringing as an "ex-scumbag" on a "sink" estate. He argues that a choice between adopting aggressive behaviour or being beaten up for perceived weakness is not really much of a choice. Vincent writes that the pressures of such an environment often trump even the most well-intentioned "pacifist" nature.

"I think this makes a lot of sense," says Steve from Pontypool, UK. "Is it sensible to blame and ridicule people for their own actions if they have never known any different? Values are learned from peers and family. The nation's morality is observed from a standard of person who is interested or informed in it. If you read the papers and see poor behaviour then you tend to assume in it the criminal and lawless 'underclasses' performing as normal. What makes people behave in this way is environment not a conscious choice. Byron is quite correct, as a human you adapt and you sink or swim. It does not mean that you have to like it but survival is not always the simple option, any more than toeing the line or being a 'good' or law abiding citizen is. Environment causes the issue not the person."

Pat O'Hara, from Cumbernauld in Scotland, echoes many who welcome Vincent's argument: "All those, men perhaps more than women, who have 'bettered themselves' and left one of these estates behind will know how accurate this analysis of the nature of this problem is. Mr Vincent is to be congratulated. Even if politicians accepted these arguments however, the big difficulty is identifying how this 'process' can be reversed."

But not everyone agrees.

Ted Leaf from Watford writes: "Having lived exactly the same kind of lifestyle and in the same circumstances and at the same time as the author, I reckon I have a right to argue with him. There is always another way, you could have avoided becoming drug addict, just another parasite dealer, you could have just literally walked out of the situation. I have, you could have reacted different and either done something about the problems yourself or joined with others in area to do so."

The nature v nurture topic was also broached in William Kremer's article about the evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality.

"Fascinating" was a much-used adjective in vogue on Twitter. Although Mike (@mike_f1980) demonstrates a remarkable divergence from the norm: "Interesting reading."

Elsewhere, the Magazine strayed away from a direct nature v nurture debate and focused more on just nature, such as with Michael Mosley's well-received piece about infecting himself with parasites to find out how they "manipulate" us.

Brian R Evans on Facebook sums up Mosley's modus operandi: "He is going to do something revolting, I just know it. And its all in the name of science."

But the chat was mainly dominated by mosquitoes. Well, not by the mosquitoes themselves, although that would be interesting, but about being bitten by them. And specifically how there always seems to be that one person in the family who doesn't get bitten at all - or else disproportionately seems to provide a banquet for the biting bugs.

Catherine Hunter writes: "My youngest son has never been bitten despite his dad being savaged regularly on holidays, and me and eldest son a couple of bites. We jokingly call son 'vinegar head' as his sweat has always had a vinegary odour - we put this down to mozzies leaving him alone!"

And vinegar's not the only potential remedy.

Cyrus Muema suggests that basil repels mosquitoes, Karen Boys advises drinking tonic water as it has quinine in it, which mosquitoes apparently don't like. On the other hand, Deborah Kindel recalls that she "heard coffee drinkers get bitten more often. Wonder if it is true."

True or not, it was enough to put off Paul Tarran, who seems to have taken her warning as gospel: "Right, I better cancel my coffee!!!!"

Image copyright Reuters

It was nature of a different sort in Vanessa Barford's piece about the strange subculture of duck racing. Although we're not sure yellow rubber ducks are strictly a part of the animal kingdom. Maybe we can file it under "nurture" for the pastime's rather odd sub-cultural status.

Either way it prompted a bit of investigative journalism by Rona Moody: "Who says America is credited with starting it? The three earliest races I could find - all 1988 - were in America, Australia and Scotland. Earlier than that (pre 1987), Welfare State International unleashed a pile of ducks down the river at New Lanark and the kids chased after them to be rewarded for returning them."

So, thus far we've had nature (genes), nature (animals), and now, yes, more nature (environment this time). Following still?

Specifically, it's the loneliest bus stops in the UK.

Image copyright Di Wright

"Looks like pure unadulterated paradise," writes David Ford, of the above bus stop's location in the "middle of nowhere".

"I always wondered what 'nowhere' looked like," muses Edwin Anthony. "Didn't know that roads to somewhere went past it."

William Loweth raises the valid point that it can't be that lonely with Shaun the Sheep on that wall, while Wil Munton asks: "Is the fare EXACT change only?" Less query and more schadenfreude was provided by Michael Stephenson: "I would laugh my head off if you waited till Thursday for the bus! Then it drove past FULL." Lovely. A massive puddle to drive through would presumably be the icing...

But full marks go to Sanjeev Prakash: "I found the timetable. On the bottom it says: 'Please bear with us if the bus is delayed by 1-2 days. We do our best to bring you the bus you want when you want it.'" (As long as when you want it is within two days)

A hopefully joking Michael Bell pleads: "I missed it last week, anyone passing please stop and give me a lift I am bloody cold and hungry." To which Rob Featherstone kindly replies: "Stick with it Michael only two more days to go." We concur.

But the final word, and with no neat segue-way (nor by now irritating link to nature or nurture), goes to John Macpherson about curling:

"I am currently reading through an ancestor's diaries from Paisley and came across the following entry from 15 February 1853: Caledonian Match today in Perthshire - 5,000 on the ice. It seems curling was even more popular 161 years ago than it is today and certainly popular with my relation!"

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