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Murdoch is wrong about Muslims and sex, say scientists

In Michael Wolff's biography about Rupert Murdoch, he quotes the media magnate as suggesting that problems stem from having sex with their cousins.

I spent some of my vacation with Rupert Murdoch.

I lay him down on his back in the sand and said: "Sir, please tell me a little about yourself." His words, translated often very sympathetically by his authorized biographer Michael Wolff in a book entitled The Man Who Owns The News, were quite picturesque.

As I lay glistening in the heat, Mr. Wolff shined a light on MySpace's owner: "All right, he's not quite a liberal. He remains a militant free-marketeer and is still pro-war (grudgingly, he's retreated a bit). And there was the moment, one afternoon, when over a glass of his favorite coconut water (meant to increase electrolytes) he was propounding the genetic theory that the basic problem of the Muslim people was that they married their cousins."

I will admit to finding Mr. Murdoch's alleged view faintly quaint. However, the idea of attraction to one's cousin and marrying into one's own bloodline is one that has secretly fascinated many.

Happily, Professor Diane Paul of the University of Massachusetts in Boston and Professor Hamish Spencer of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand have slipped their heads above a rather difficult parapet to suggest there's nothing wrong with marrying your cousin.

Strangely, Nevada outlawed cousin-coupling in the 19th century. CC Zoonabar

They declared that the risk of genetic defects in babies born from the unions of cousins is no greater than that in babies born to women over the age of 40.

Scientists appear to have known for a long time that cousin-coupling was not as risky an adventure as many feared. The root of society's aversion to finding a man from your clan and a spouse at your house seems to have been largely engendered by the eugenics movement.

First cousin marriages are legal in the UK, but not approved by 31 states in the US. You will be stunned to discover that Texas has not hitched itself to the cousin-coupling wagon. Whereas you might feel a frisson on hearing that Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina see nothing wrong with it at all. (You see, there really is no homogeneous entity called the South.)

Professor Spencer, had, perhaps, not read the Murdoch biography before telling the Independent newspaper: "Neither the scientific nor social assumptions behind such legislation stand up to close scrutiny. Such legislation reflects outmoded prejudices about immigrants and the rural poor and relies on over-simplified views of heredity. There is no scientific grounding for it."

Because I know many of you are great believers in science and played in your school orchestra, I can tell you that H.G. Wells, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Johann Sebastian Bach all married cousins. As did, um, Jerry Lewis.

Then there's Queen Victoria and Rudy Giuliani. No, they didn't marry each other. But they did, according to the immensely pupil-stimulating, marry cousins.

In our great new world in which nuance attempts to wrestle with swathing generalization, many are glad that science is playing a role in helping us grasp some of the more difficult issues.

However, I am skeptical about the rumor that scientists in the Middle East are trying to find a definitive conclusion as to whether the biggest problem of the Australian people is that they are largely descended from British convicts.

Although if such research were taking place, Mr. Murdoch might be very interested in sponsoring it. Mr. Wolff suggests his subject believes Britain would be a far better place without British people.

(Disclosure: Yes, I used to be responsible for the advertising for Mr. Murdoch's Sun and Sunday Times. Yes, it was great fun. Yes, I learned more than I might ever have imagined.)