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Human Genes Still Evolving 810

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the i-know-a-few-missing-links dept.
MediumFormat writes "The New York Times is running an article that discusses the continuing evolution of human genes. From the article: 'The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.' Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?"
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Human Genes Still Evolving

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  • by ashot (599110) <ashotNO@SPAMmolsoft.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:26AM (#14873406) Homepage
    its not that its stopped, its that 5,000 years is an insignificant spec of time.
  • Evolution stopped? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NitsujTPU (19263) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:28AM (#14873413)
    Darwin Awards aside, what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?

    Applying natural selection as a template, lets look at what it really is. Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction. Anything else that happens will allow your genes to carry on, which is how evolution works. People probably assumed that evolution stopped because they assume that most people manage to successfully reproduce prior to their death.
  • Of course (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:32AM (#14873427)
    Of course human genes are still evolving; you just have to examine what it is these days that limits people in reproductivity, and what encourages them. It's obvious that we, as a species, should ever so slightly more alcohol-resistant, because drunk driving kills a lot of young people before they can reproduce. Also, the males will become more resistant to female-hormone-like substances in their food. Then there's work-related stress (adrenaline), and last but not least war, which takes, and has been taking out a huge number of ill-fated or aggressive young men.
  • by armondf (743161) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:35AM (#14873436) Homepage
    However, there are more things killing off the *weaker* individuals too: smoking (and drugs,alcohol,etc), car crashes, HIV/AIDS, and let's not forget Modern Weapons like SCUD missiles, Nuclear warheads, GW Bush, etc.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:38AM (#14873447)
    I mean really? Come on...

    You go to college, work your arse off, earn lots of money, die without kids, the race doesn't get your genes. You're a single parent living on state benefit with 12 kids... big contribution to the gene pool.

  • by Wrataxas (745719) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:40AM (#14873450)
    Part of evolution is adaptation to the environment. We are changing the environment (civilization, medicine, technology, etc.) far faster than evolution can react to it, so to speak, given the length of a human generation. We are seriously adapting the environment to us, rather than the other way around.
  • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:41AM (#14873454) Homepage Journal
    You cannot stop natural selection, you can only change the selection criteria.

    Small children are naturally scared of spiders, snakes and the like. This is no longer such an important criterion, so it is likely to wither.

    For example, as the advertisments in London keep reminding us, colisions with cars is a a major killer of children and teens. Hopefully we'll eventually breed for kids that don't run out into the bloody road without looking.

    And finally, your argument that "weaker individuals aren't killed off" by traditional perils like disease and conflict simply fails to apply in the third world, where the majority of the human race lives. Give them a few more generations, and they will be superior to your soft white first-world ass.
  • Except... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:43AM (#14873461)
    That evolution doesn't give a toss about your concept of strength or of fitness, and guess what... poor people have more children than rich people do...

  • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:44AM (#14873466) Homepage Journal
    Genetically, we have a concept called races.

    No, we don't. Race is cultural, and is of little interest genetically.
  • Still going strong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nnnneedles (216864) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:46AM (#14873474)
    I hate to see all these comments talking about how evolution mechanisms are failing in the modern world.

    We can't escape natural selection, no matter how many pills and safety mechanisms we introduce into society.

    Women just tend to become more and more picky with whom they mate. And while things like good eye sight become less important, other things take their place. Things like having lots of money, social skills/social network, an athletic body, cooking skills and so on.

    Here in Europe, the number of babies born per adult keep falling. This means it is actually getting harder to reproduce than it was in a past, poorer Europe.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:54AM (#14873504)
    A few generations are enough, particularly in areas with high mortality rates, high levels of disease. It just doesn't apply to the individual.
  • by Florian H. (6933) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:57AM (#14873522) Homepage
    Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction.
    Actually, no. Natural selection is about having comparatively more offspring than competing selection units. To die early is a hard limiting factor in that game, but not the only factor. Living long enough to take care for your grandchildren while your (now adult) kids are out hunting probably has a major influence on your overall reproductive success, too.
  • by Riktov (632) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:00AM (#14873528) Journal

    And finally, your argument that "weaker individuals aren't killed off" by traditional perils like disease and conflict simply fails to apply in the third world, where the majority of the human race lives. Give them a few more generations, and they will be superior to your soft white first-world ass.

    Third-worlders already are evolutionarily "superior" to white first-worlders -- by their selection criteria, i.e. the genetic makeup of a "white first-worlder" is likely to be disadvantageous when placed in the third-world environment. And vice versa. This almost goes by definition. Each adapted to their own environment, and it's meaningless to say that one is superior to another unless they are in the same environment.

  • by famebait (450028) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:10AM (#14873558)
    Applying natural selection as a template, lets look at what it really is. Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction. Anything else that happens will allow your genes to carry on, which is how evolution works.

    This is a gross simplification. Sure, being killed off before reproducing is a very strong and effective form of evolutionary pressure, but not the only one. Reproductive success is also very important. Not just whether you reproduce at all: In species with sexual reproducion (where genes/traits relatively quickly can spread across through a population without the source being the sole ancestor), simply facilitating slightly more offspring that survive to reproduce will also eventually make a trait rise to prominence. This can be achieved in many ways, the most obvious ones being increased reproduction or superior nurture.

    A lot of things seen in nature (and also some seemingly conflicting drives in human behavior) only make sense in the light of sexual selection, survival boosting between related individuals, and other complex and conflicting ways that can help a gene succesfully proliferate.
  • by nut (19435) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:10AM (#14873561) Homepage
    Natural selection is the phenomena of being removed from the gene pool prior to reproduction.

    That's exactly the mistake that most people make when they talk about evolution. It's not just down to the ability to stay alive long enough, i.e. not all selectors involve organism death.

    Some people lead long, healthy active lives and never reproduce through choice, lack of opportunity or possibly just inadequate social skills. Isaac Newton famously died a virgin.

    People may also reproduce but choose the best partner to reproduce with, thus ensuring their line dies out in the future. Or social fashions may influence the reproductive choices of generations, i.e. big is beautiful, or slender, Blonde or brunette etc.

    And lets not even start on the concept of nations and other communal groupings competing with each other...

  • by famebait (450028) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:16AM (#14873575)
    If you want to evolve

    Individuals don't evolve.
  • by nickco3 (220146) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:22AM (#14873604)
    Evolution involves the death of weaker individuals before they can breed. With soap (the yardstick of civilisation), surgery, rescue helicopters, dentistry, wheelchairs etc, weaker individuals aren't killed off so easily before they can breed.

    This is a common misconception, evolution is not really about killing off the "weak" before they breed. Evolution involves two factors: changes to the genetic structure over time, and spreading those new genes as far as possible in the environment they inhabit.

    The rate at which new changes are introduced is called the mutation rate and is independent of any level of civilisation we have acheived so far.

    The second factor is spreading those new genes as far possible, that they be successful. But what determines a "successful" gene? The environment it finds itself in. When you move from a primitive environment to a civilised one the rules of the game change. A genetic hindrance in one environment may be neutral or beneficial in the other. For example, in it's original West African environment the gene that causes sickle-cell anemia is a beneficial one, offering a level of protection against malaria. In the people with this gene that were moved to the US, it just became a hindrance. In the absence of regular malaria epidemics the incidence of the sickle-cell gene has been observed slowly falling.

    Favoured genes are not just about being stronger. Some genetic traits are highly successful because they are more sexually appealing to potential mates. The peacock's tail and the blue-eyed, blonde-haired northern European are both examples of this.

    So evolution is alive and well, even for civilised beings. The mutation rate is constant and we are still adapting to our (civilised) environment.
  • by El Sordo (917587) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:32AM (#14873625)
    You're right that the number of babies born per adult is falling in the wealthier nations, but the survival rate of the babies is also a lot higher so I'm not convinced it is actually "harder to reproduce" than it was in centuries past.

    But certainly the stagnation in population growth is a major concern for many Western nations. It seems an increasingly popular trend for governments is to dangle incentives for having more babies. It is amazing how much impact a once off "baby bonus" from the government can have on birth rates. If people are willing to have another baby to collect an extra $1000 it makes me wonder if they are having the baby for the right reasons (and of course the $1000 will be insignificant compared to the costs of raising the child).
  • by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:39AM (#14873655) Homepage Journal
    Science is bullshit.. Science could say anything

    Right, you can use science to prove anything that's even remotely true. You've got a much freer hand wirth religion, hence it's not bullshit.

    The concept of race will not go away just because science disproves of it. The concept of race will never go away just like Christianity will never go away.

    Yeah, but don't we just wish that they would.

    the only thing that passes on from generation to generation is culture.
    Have we forgotten Einsteinian physics and Darwinian Evolution? Oh wait, you Americans almost have done that.

    Cultural conservativism is the answer.

    Must be the wrong question then.

    Always follow the economy.

    Make up your mind if you're a Christian or a capitalism. Morals or Money.
  • by Yaztromo (655250) <{moc.cam} {ta} {omortzay}> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:51AM (#14873704) Homepage Journal
    The point is, this is our culture, it will not go away, it's in our genetic code to be this way, and simply by telling us its in our genetic code, or showing us our code, it's not going to change a damn thing because religion and culture are not defined by math equations.

    Bullshit. Culture has never been a static, unchanging entity. Culture is whatever we as a society wish it to be, and it changes all the time.

    Indeed, science has had an amazing impact on culture in the last 100 years. We moved from a culture of travel by foot and horse to an automotive culture. We've gone from Uncle George playing a banjo to carrying whatever music we want wherever we want on portable music devices. We've gone from having to spend hours at the library to look up an obscure fact to having information at our fingertips 24 hours a day. We've gone from candles and oil lamps to electric lights. And perhaps most noticably, we've gone from getting together with friends and family, or reading a book, or playing a board game, to sitting in front of the TV set.

    Sorry, but our culture is very heavily influenced by science. It wasn't that long ago in certain parts of the Western world where the area you were allowed to sit in on the bus was determined by the colour of your skin -- something which is no longer part of any Western culture (except in the minds of a few deluded racists who think that culture is static and unchanging, so long as they get to dictate what culture is).

    Yes, some parts of culture are sufficiently ingrained that it is hard to overcome their momentum -- but it is hardly impossible to do so. Major events and new ideas and inventions are changing culture every day.

    I'm sure 10+ years ago there were some old white guys in South Africa who were convinced that Apartheid would never end as well -- and yet here we are. Women are allowed to vote everywhere in the Westernized world as well, in case nobody had bothered to tell you.

    Sorry, but you come across as an appologist for racists and bigots with a dumb comment like that. Culture changes. Get used to it. Discrimination is not a given -- it's a completely learned trait


  • Re:ID (Score:1, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:52AM (#14873708) Journal
    [insert insightful comment about the ID joke here]
  • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:10AM (#14873764)
    What ever happened to the theory of root races and our religious traditions? Adam and Eve?

    The summary text asks, perhaps rhetorically, "What made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?" I think it's a hangover from obsolete religious thinking - the great chain of being, the lower and higher forms of life, with Man at the pinnacle, made in God's own image, the crowning achievement of Creation.

    Most Christians seem to have managed to accept evolution as a historical fact, but still wish to give Man special status. Evolution is how God created us, eh? But that still makes us the aim and end purpose of evolution, the special species, the one beloved of God and made in his image. No wonder the idea is widespread that evolution has somehow stopped, or finished, having now produced us.

    Of course evolution hasn't finished; we're still evolving, along with everything else that's alive. But that means that in time we'll be gone, perhaps replaced by one or more descendant species, perhaps merely extinct and forgotten save for a few relics in deep space and a thin layer of mildly radioactive isotopes to be discovered by future geologists. It means that there's nothing special about us, we're just a blink of an eye in the Earth's history... Not something most people are too happy to believe.

  • by SigILL (6475) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:11AM (#14873767) Homepage
    This is a very good point that quite a lot of people don't seem to get. Anything that causes a person not to reproduce is (eventually) selected against. For example, being sensitive to the meme "there are too many people on this world" is an evolutionary disadvantage and will eventually be removed from the genepool. The same goes for high intelligence (being that intelligent people often don't reproduce).

    That's probably also why religion is so prevalent in human populations: the evolutionary advantage it gives should not be underestimated.

    So if you consider people like you to be a good addition to the human gene pool, breed! :)
  • by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:23AM (#14873804) Homepage
    2. Knowingly allowing, accepting, and encouraging reproduction of individuals, who...shouldn't (No, I don't mean Bush). There's some bad genes out there. Some that shouldn't be passed on. While we're at a point where we can curtail some of this through prescreening parents for likely inherited traits, we continue to become more accepting of people with, well, bad genes. Aren't we effectively letting people piss into the pool?

    Ah yes, we have heard that one before, haven't we?

    This might just invoke Godwin's law, but this is the exact type of argument that was used to legitimize the holocaust and forced stilarisation projects in the 1940s.

    Sorry but it doesn't work like that.

    While you are right that there are genes that are a disadvantage at least in specific situations, those will be weeded out over time due to such individuals being less attractive. There is no need to 'not allow' those to reproduce.

  • Eugenics is Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak@@@eircom...net> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:39AM (#14873842) Homepage Journal
    While we're at a point where we can curtail some of this through prescreening parents for likely inherited traits, we continue to become more accepting of people with, well, bad genes. Aren't we effectively letting people piss into the pool?

    No. No. No. Eugenics is not just wrong. It's painfully stupid.

    Why does evolution work? What is the secret. The secret my friends is randomness.

    Randomness is the process which drives evolution. The universe is a vast, unpredicable chaotic system. It is only by randomly searching through many possible solutions that a species can hope to adapt to any enviornment.

    The minute you take out randomness, by taking away genes or introducing them, you've stopped evolving, and have started specialising. And guess what happens to specialist species when their enviornment changes? That's right. They die.

    Evolve dolphins with bigger lungs so they can dive deeper, kill off all lesser lunged dolphins. Then earths 02 levels drop by 2%. Ooops. Specialised, deep sea feeding dolphins are dead meat. With a random system, there would still be some lower lung capacity dolphins around.

    Think this doesn't apply to people? Ask yourself this? Can you say with certainty what genes will be beneficial or detrimental to humanities survival in 1 million years time? What about 10,00 years time? 100 years? 10 years? Who would have predicted even 20 years ago that "geek" traits would be in such demand? Can you say what genes are beneficial or detrimental right now!?

    Yet you want to throw out the single most powerful aspect of evolution. Random chance. It's got us where we are today, and if you think anyone can engineer an entire planet and its ecosystem half as well as random evolution, I'd like to see you try.

    For an example of the superiority of evolution over engineering, just check out evolved antennas [wikipedia.org]. NASA seems to think random evolution is just fine.
  • VERY SLOW ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by willtsmith (466546) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:43AM (#14873852) Journal

    Lets put it this way, humans are not going to ever loose their pinky finger if modern society goes on the way it is.

    I don't think you can expect any MAJOR changes in an evolutionary model that does not ELIMINATE unfavorable characterists. We live in society's in which pretty much everybody reproduces and most of those reproductions end up reproducing themself. For those who cannot cope with society, we have public assistance and jail.

    If anything, I believe modern evolutionary pressure (the last three hundred years) is producing more of the genes from people who have poor family planning skills and just cannot grasp or accept birth control. I fear what this pattern may produce in 20,000 years where people with less cognitive skills have 3-4 times more children than those with more cognitive skills. That and the other pressure for religious fanatics to have more children than those who take rational views of the world. Those with deep intellect could be forced to create a "Zardoz" society to protect themselves.

  • by afaik_ianal (918433) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:46AM (#14873862)
    I don't think it's completely insignificant, given that according to TFA, Asian and European genes started to specialise about 6600 years ago. (Did I interpret that correctly?)

    I'd say it is highly likely that evolution has slowed down over the past couple of hundred years. As we learn to treat more and more genetic diseases, less pressure is placed on removing those genes. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

    Strangely, if you ask people which genes you expect to be more successful, people will normally say intelligence. But look around you. I don't mean to be a flamebaiter, but the people having lots of babies are not the "intelligent" people. Normally, people from "less intelligent" families, who are more intelligent than their peers, are seen to be "breaking the cycle". They seem to go on to have many less children than their less intelligent brethren. I'm just saying what I think appears to be the case here; I don't have any hard data to back it up.

    If you follow that through, mankind is likely to get less healthy, and less intelligent.
  • by Fallingcow (213461) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:08AM (#14873937) Homepage
    Exactly right.

    Evolution doesn't necessarily mean "good"--or at least not in any sense that we'd usually use the word.

    Common misconception.
  • Re:First Post (Score:1, Insightful)

    by 80 85 83 83 89 33 (819873) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:08AM (#14873938) Journal
    IF survival depended on mod points, then all slashdotters would evolve to be able to post within two minutes of the story submission appearing, seeing as how almost all of the highest rated comments are posted within a very narrow window of time.
  • by Peter Mork (951443) <Peter.Mork@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:11AM (#14873950) Homepage

    Race is cultural, and is of little interest genetically.

    At the risk of sounding abrasive, that statement is a simplification. It is true that there is more genetic variability within a 'race' than between 'races', and that one cannot determine 'race' using a DNA test. However, there are very real medical conditions that are exhibited more frequently in specific 'races' because those conditions have a genetic basis. These differences are of interest genetically.

  • Less intelligent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:12AM (#14873954)
    But who would you say is intelligent? It seems to me like you are confusing making a carreer for yourself with beeing genetically superior in terms of intelligence.

    How many great minds are not being spent looking for food on garbage dumps in Africa? Or go their whole life without ever getting access to even basic education? If you examine the phd's of the world and compare their genes to the genes of the homeless, it would be very surprising if you found any regular difference.

    Genetically, you are not in any way inferior because you spend your days trying to survive starvation, or flip burgers for minimum-wage at McDonalds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:13AM (#14873962)
    You are giving examples of genetic dispositions in ethnic groups, but the term "races" applied to humans is still not defined in any meaningful way.
  • by GuloGulo (959533) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:50AM (#14874094)
    It's nice to know that a post composed primarily of logically flawed, inaccurate arguments still gets +5.

    Without disagreeing with you, what part of your argument refutes the idea that the concept of race is not supported by genetics?

    All you've done is give examples of genetic anomalies that are present in populations. Those genetice anomalies are a response to environment, and have nothing to do with the race of the individual.

    To explain it to you so you understand, if you moved groups of different "races" around, they would eventually develop similar genetic anomalies.

    I think you're trying to wedge a social argument into a discusiion of genetics, but none of what you say is supported by fact.
  • by dtaciuch (229229) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:11AM (#14874184) Homepage
    The question of "race" is problematic, as the parent post itself shows. For examples of race, the poster gives "African-American," "Chinese," and "Jewish."
    Which of these are "races"? Is race determined by continent of origin? Country? Region (Tay-Sachs affects the Ashkenazi Jews--are they a separate race from the Sephardic)?

    Of course there are genetic differences between groups. But these variations do not match up very well with conventional (cultural) concepts of race, which are often based simply on skin color or other physical attributes, and sometimes on national origin.
  • by mikeplokta (223052) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:34AM (#14874268)
    No, it can only be selected if there is genetic differentiation in it. So if susceptibility levels to the "full world" meme vary for different alleles of the same gene, the less susceptible versions will be selected for. But if that genetic variation doesn't exist, it can't be selected for.

    It works the other way round, too. Anything that has evolved has clearly been subject to inheritable differences in the past, and it probably still is, unless the selective pressure for it is so strong that the population is essentially homeogenous. This is the strongest argument for there being a genetic basis to intelligence level, since intelligence has clearly evolved in the fairly recent past.
  • by ianscot (591483) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:39AM (#14874296)
    The influenza epidemic of 1918:
    "killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years, more people in a year than the Black Death of the Middle Ages killed in a century."
    The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History [amazon.com], by John Barry

    If you're looking for a massive plague that would have conferred resistance on survivors, that would suit the argument.

    (And yet we're looking at the bird flu now. Also the pandemics of 1957 and 1968 [cdc.gov]. The picture's muddied by modern vaccination practices, which were having some grab by '57.)

  • by AndersOSU (873247) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:52AM (#14874357)
    Strangely, if you ask people which genes you expect to be more successful, people will normally say intelligence.
    People might say that intelligence ought to be a successful gene, but by your own argument people are idiots...

    On a related note Social-Darwinism is something that is best regarded extremely cautiously, if not ignored all together. Based on thousands of years of civilization it doesn't seem that socially undesirable people have a particularly hard time procreating. People lacking intelligence fall squarely into that camp. Now we just have to wait a couple of hundred years to see if widespread use of contraceptives will change this. My thought is that it won't.

    Back to intelligence and evolution, I am not an evolutionary biologist, but is seems unlikely that intelligence maps 1:1 with genetics. Even if it did intelligence is something that is very hard to quantify. The intelligence required to solve differential equations would not be a survival trait in Sub-Saharan Africa, while the intelligence required to find the best fishing spot is not a survival trait in the U.S.

    Anytime you start talking about intelligence it is crucial to recognize the tremendous role that environment has on the individual. Even if I granted that IQ tests were able to measure intelligence, (I don't,) I could not argue that two equally intelligent people from different cultures would have the same score. Now try to define culture, and try to explain to me how the U.S., or any first world country, is a contiguous culture.

    Wow, that got ranty, but in short intelligence is at best loosely tied to genetics, and arguments of intelligence and evolution, if followed to their logical conclusion, lead directly to eugenics and racism.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @09:57AM (#14874384)
    Intelligence is one thing, IQ is another. That being said, it's well documented (though not politically correct to acknowledge it) that the reproduction rate tends to be inversely proportional to IQ. People with lower IQ tend to have more kids. Since IQ has a high heritability factor, that leads to the conslusion that the average IQ of the human race is likely to decrease in the future.
  • by malsdavis (542216) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:29AM (#14874602)
    "Anytime you start talking about intelligence it is crucial to recognize the tremendous role that environment has on the individual. Even if I granted that IQ tests were able to measure intelligence, (I don't,) I could not argue that two equally intelligent people from different cultures would have the same score."

    I think this is the problem. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no universal "intelligence" co-efficient which can be higher in one person and lower in another, due to genetic or otherwise. Intelligence can be sub-divided into X number of categories (common examples being: Common-Sense, Creativity and Analytical Ability) but it is still far more complex than easily measurable characteristics like each person's genetic value for hair-color, height or metabolism etc.
  • by Warg! The Orcs!! (957405) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:39AM (#14874671)
    It is a conceit of the intelligent that intelligence drives human evolution. The skeletons of early hominids show evidence of the support of unproductive individuals within communities. Skeletons with broken but healed limbs, crippling arthritis, debilitating head wounds show that individuals that had been injured or were elderly were cared for by their peers/relations. The intelligent thing to do would be to ditch the dead weight and ease pressure on resources. Instead the human attributes demonstrated are compassion and co-operation. As for man getting less-healthy, no-one can tell which genes will be be favoured by the whims of nature and the wider the gene pool the better. In Europe sickle cell anaemia is an illness, in malarial zones it's an eveolutionary adaptation that aids survival. Who is to say what's healthy and what isn't. We have survived and prospered through our abilities to communicate and co-operate. Intelligence has followed on the coattails of our advancement and has not driven it. If a near-extinction meteor impact were to occur, would the species' best hope of survival lie with a select group of the Intelligensia or a select group of fertile people with excellent parenting skills? Think on this: You, dear reader, may regard yourself as intelligent and may pride yourself on your ability to read PERL or code in binary but that doesn't make babies. It is true that the "intelligent" breed less. The brutal fact is the geekier you are the less likely you are to reproduce and so when you have finished that algol compiler you've been working on and want to pat yourself on the back for being clever, remind yourself that you are not the pinnacle of human evolution and just an offshoot. The single mother successfully stretching out her budget raising four kids is more likely to leave an indelible imprint on the evolution of Man than you are.
  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:44AM (#14874725) Homepage Journal
    what made people think that evolution stopped with the modern era?

    That would be mathematics. Given the size of the gene pool, the time it takes a mutation, even a favorable one, to become dominant is approximately forever.
  • Re:VERY SLOW ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gulthek (12570) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:45AM (#14874733) Homepage Journal
    Oh man. I sure hope you're in the group that isn't producing a lot of offspring.

    Quick bullet point summary:

    * Poor != stupid
    * Wealthy != intelligent
    * Evolution != progression to a superior being
    * Evolution == reaction to environmental stress
    * Religion != absence of rational thought

    If "intelligent" people are choosing not to have offspring, then their genes are commiting suicide, and good riddance.
  • by hackstraw (262471) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:52AM (#14874792)
    its not that its stopped, its that 5,000 years is an insignificant spec of time.

    Most all domesticated animals have less than 5,000 years of genetics in them. Horses, dogs, cats, pigs, cows, chickens, etc.

    5,000 years is a very significant amount of time for selective breeding.

  • Re:pretty obvious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by visionsofmcskill (556169) <visionNO@SPAMgetmp.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:57AM (#14874847) Homepage Journal
    In fact, natural selection has clearly operated at a huge scale, when Europeans settled every corner of the globe, while indiginous populations have disappeared or mingled. Genes associated with those Europeans have spread, while many others have nearly disappeared.

    This is an example of group selection, and it has selected many genes at once; some of them may have helped Europeans in their conquests, others may have just been along for the ride.

    Are you of the Nazi philosophy? They also believed in the genteic supiriority of the aryan (european) race, and also thought such was a justification in the might is right sense.

    Evolution is a much larger and longer process, requiring thousands upon thousands of generations and much more powerfull selection factors than just being more technologicly advanced at the time.

    Much more importantly, your statements actually reflect a dirth of knowledge in history during and prior to the 17th-20th centuries. In the last 300 years or so, the europeans have been very succesfull, but i assure you, they didnt suddenly evolve a supirior genetic make-up in that time to cause so. One would have to argue that the european war making and technical advantages were from beter gene makeup, from there you would have to defend european advances against their basis... since a great portion of the european knowledge base they improved upon derived from asia and africa (gunpowder, paper, algerbra, the compass, etc...), at which point it becomes painfully obvious that genes have little to do with it.

    Would you conisder islam and/or the moors to have been geneticly supirior as they took over much of southern europe and old rome for a time? Would you consider ghengis khan and the hordes he left behind equally geneticly supirior when they conquested more of the known world than has ever been done before? How about the japanese conquest of asia? the egyptians & nubians who ran for 10000 years or more? etc...

    Most new genetic development is resultant of mating selection pressures and epidemic disease immunity's. We have had countless plagues sweep the world until the mid 20th century (anti-biotics, medicine, etc..) which aggresivly thinned out those ill-equipped to survive them. We have also semi-steadily reduced those who are geneticly pre-disposed to extreme anti-social behavior (not necesarily criminal behavior but "impaired" or "stunted" behavior), and we can expect as time marches forward for those who are less capable of intergrating with the essentials of modern society will be less likely to reproduce, etc...

    However, the shifts in political / population drifts are not in any way related to some sort of genetic supiriority, and even more importantly, genetics is more of a massive numbers game than a conquest (distribution) model. In the long run the asians are currently "winning" with massive genetic presence in the human species, and europeans are next to last.

    Dont confuse genetics with politics.... its a really bad idea... which has resulted in some really bad consequences.

    consequences we are still paying for.

  • by zx75 (304335) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @10:58AM (#14874850) Homepage
    Run your "analysis" again, but replace intelligence with wealth. I think your correlation to negative birth rate will be much higher.

    It just so happens that in the already wealthy western world (which on the whole has a much lower birth rate than poorer nations) income is partially related to intelligence, in the fact that university graduates on average make more money than non-grads.
  • by norman619 (947520) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:01AM (#14874883)
    "I don't mean to be a flamebaiter, but the people having lots of babies are not the "intelligent" people. Normally, people from "less intelligent" families, who are more intelligent than their peers, are seen to be "breaking the cycle". They seem to go on to have many less children than their less intelligent brethren. I'm just saying what I think appears to be the case here; I don't have any hard data to back it up." You are speaking as if we actually know how to measure intelligence. What is intelligence? How much money you have and what education you have access to do not define your intelligence. It only shows you have had access to loads of information. Ignorance does not equal lack of intelligence. The people in the poorer nations don't have the luxury of studying things that do not help them and their families survive. Here in the US we are very lucky. Most people seem to forget that. Most of us will never know what it is to truly struggle. You can not base intelligence on social situation. Your capacity for learning has nothing to do with where you live or how much money you make. It has everything to do with your genetics. What your parents passed on to you and what harmful eviornmental factors you may have been exposed to. So again don't mistake ignorance for lack of intelligence.
  • Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danpsmith (922127) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:05AM (#14874923)
    I remember reading the story in Ishmael about the jellyfish's history of the world. Basically the jellyfish is the highest evolved creature in the story and it ends with "And then, there was the jellyfish!" And at the time I read it (13), it was an eye opener because I believe I had thought like a lot of people think still that we were just the top of the food chain and nothing better would ever come along. I guess from the tag of this article most people haven't read that book or had that thought, that perhaps we aren't the most evolved thing Earth has ever seen, and we'll probably be a more primal species like a monkey is to us in a matter of millions of years. I can't believe anyone actually thought evolution stopped.
  • by jafac (1449) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:09AM (#14874947) Homepage
    Latex allergies mean - - no condoms (other materials are definately not as effective).

    Therefore, more offspring.

    Latex allergy is a genetic condition. So some of those offspring will also be allergic to latex.
  • by XenoRyet (824514) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:12AM (#14874965)
    You are considered a failure if you do not make 40K+ a year and work morethan 10 hour days along with your 1+ hour commute = no time for family. And then you get the work that follows you home the Crackberry that assumes you are at it's beck and call 24/7 etc....

    For the record: I make over 40k a year, work less than 8 hours a day, commute 10 minutes, and have plenty of time for my family, or would if I had children. I drive an economy car, and don't even have a blackberry. I don't think I'm a falure in anyone's book.

    Also, in the 1800s the purpose of children wasn't some moraly high-minded family value, it was cheap labor. Fact of the matter is you don't have to pay your son to till the field for you. I think I prefer todays societal standards to that.

  • by XenoRyet (824514) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @11:30AM (#14875157)
    I think there's a bigger picture here. Aside from education, inteligence, or any other valued trait of the human race, I think simple self-awareness stands a very good chance of being selected out.

    A non-self aware creature breeds every time it is able. A self-aware creature, such as a human, breeds only when it chooses. We humans still choose to fairly often, but I would think on the grand scale, our self-awareness would be slowly (even for an evolutonary process) be selected out.

    It might be cyclical though. If we selecte away from inteligence (the "ability to reason" kind, not the "I'm smarter than you" kind) then civilisation will fall, making it much harder to live, and the ability to reason will become more of a survival trait again, and thus be selected back in.

    It's this kind of thing that makes thinking about the evolutionary mechanics of inteligence useful. Using it to try to argue that some subgroup is/will be more or less inteligent is silly. We're in the evolutionary game as a whole species.

  • Re:pretty obvious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rabtech (223758) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:20PM (#14875742) Homepage
    That isn't what he is saying. Natural selection doesn't always "select" the better gene... or in this case it isn't acting on whether one gene is better than another. A group is simply wholesale overridden by another for whatever reason (such as war or colonization.)

    That action is, in fact, natural selection at work but not in the limited way we typically think of it. It has nothing to do with whos genes are superior, a master race, or any of that other crap. However the fact is that european/western genes are some of the most widely-spread (as a group).
  • by vertinox (846076) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:32PM (#14875906)
    Genetically, you are not in any way inferior because you spend your days trying to survive starvation, or flip burgers for minimum-wage at McDonalds.

    Right, but given your current income level at McDonalds... Chances are your potential mating partners will be.

    That or at least be dog ugly. Your options are kind of limited with a girl when they find out that you've been taking them to McDonalds for your dates only because you were getting an employee discount.
  • Re:VERY SLOW ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Enigma2175 (179646) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:51PM (#14876119) Homepage Journal
    Oh man. I sure hope you're in the group that isn't producing a lot of offspring.

    Quick bullet point summary:

    * Poor != stupid
    * Wealthy != intelligent

    Actually, there are many studies that inversely correlate intelligence (or at least IQ scores) with poverty rates. While wealthy != intelligent, if you are intelligent you are more likely to be wealthy.

    * Evolution != progression to a superior being
    * Evolution == reaction to environmental stress

    Evolution is the progression to a being that is more suitable to the environment in which it resides. Superior? For the environment it is in - yes!

    * Religion != absence of rational thought

    You're right, religion is a "selected suspension" of rational thought ;-)

    If "intelligent" people are choosing not to have offspring, then their genes are commiting suicide, and good riddance.

    Very true. Just because intelligence was a trait that was selected for in the past does not mean it will continue to be a useful trait in the current environment (although I suspect it still will be).
  • by fallenangel150974 (309240) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:04PM (#14876251)
    Aside from your un-necessary abuse of developers you make some valid points. However your initial rebuttal is based on a poor understanding/presentation of evolution/logic. I agree in simple terms that if a individual is dead weight then it is logical to drop them. However, this doesn't account for the emotional ties which as anyone will testify often overides the most logical minds. In addition you are also assuming that individuals with "broken but healed limbs, crippling arthritis, debilitating head wounds" are dead weight, which is frankly clobblers.

    Lets deal with the extreme case first, someone 'no longer making sense, dribbling into their loin cloth' type mental incapacity, this is most likely to onset later in life due to injury or disease and therefore emotional attachment comes into play. Secondly if nowt else they are likely to either a) able to recognise threats and alert the rest or you or b) not recognise threats meaning whilst they are being eaten the rest of you can make a clean getaway.

    With eldery or permenantly disabled individuals the often have life experience, such as 'don't eat the red berries from the blue bush' which can benefit the group enormously and it is a gross simplification, for which read just plain wrong, to say 'If you can't get around, you're no use'.

    Finally with broken limbs your arguments reaches new lows, these people are only out of action for a few months and they have years to make up for what they cost the group. You'd dump your best hunter just because a boar broke his arm last time he went out? now that really would be stupid.

  • by arminw (717974) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:10PM (#14878020)
    .....Aside from education, inteligence, or any other valued trait of the human race, I think simple self-awareness stands a very good chance of being selected out.....

    Do you really think that the builders of the pyramids, the great wall of china, the gardens and mathematical skill of ancient Babylon, were any less intelligent then the people who design computer systems or any of our other modern technologies?

    Evolution seems to be a very broad term, being applied to mechanism of adaptation of humans and other creatures to the evolving of one celled creatures into complex living systems.

    What other creatures are "self aware"? Is education necessary for intelligence? Can intelligence even be objectively measured without relying on the educational, cultural experiences of both the examiner and the examined? If and "intelligent" being from another planet came, could we measure its intelligence?

    Dolphins and Elephants appear to have a large measure of what has been called intelligence. Do they reproduce every time they are able or are there other consideration that enter whether they "choose" to reproduce? Might be a good research project for someone.
  • Re:Original paper (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tgibbs (83782) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @04:32PM (#14878214)
    I don't think we need the original paper, I learned this in high school biology. Evolution never stops, there is no perfectly evolved thing

    However, evolution doesn't really seek perfection--it is prone to find a local optimum, where any deviation from the mean reduces fitness, and get "stuck" there. So instead of a continuous climb, most species could be sitting at the summits of local fitness peaks, changing only in response to changes in the environment (or, in the modern world, relocation to a different environment) such as new diseases, new foods, changes in climate, etc.

  • by Warg! The Orcs!! (957405) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:53PM (#14879262)
    Genetically, yes. Societally, memetically, and technologically, no.

    Societally? "Of or relating to the structure, organization, or functioning of society."

    Really? You think so?

    Technologically? Perhaps not depending on how much you advance technology. Once you've published your work it's there for everyone to use. Maybe you can console yourself in the afterlife that some new widgety thing was your idea as you observe the single mother's descendents enjoying its fruits.

    Memetically? Now that's a good one. If a meme can be defined as "A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another" then I need to ask how you intend to pass on your units of cultural information and how you intend it to be of greater significance to those units passed from parent to child. One of the toughest challenges we face today is the battle against socially divisive memes passed from parent to child where children are taught from birth to despise members of different cultures. I really want to know the secret of your memes' kung-fu.

    Perhaps I was unduly harsh towards geeks but this was deliberate, to stress the point that cleverness is not the be-all and end-all of human evolution, it's a bonus. I read slashdot almost every day and go through many, many posts by some very clever people. People cleverer than me certainly. There is a trend though for posters to try to out-clever each other: to competitively display some greater comprehension of the minutiae of linux, windows, bits and bytes and I admit I find it entertaining. But one must not get carried away with cleverness as the sole measure of humankind's advancement. We tend to focus on brain size when assessing the remains of early hominids but there's no guarantee that bigger is better. Neanderthals had large brain capacities, as large, if not larger, than Cro-Magnons. Dolphin brains, to switch mammals, are huge.
      What of the invisible evolutionary changes in our bodies. If there was a sudden global pandemic of say Bird Flu for want of a better example, would being clever guarantee you survival? What if it turned out that the natural selection criteria for survival was a better blood supply to the brain and so those who survived had a larger brain cavity than those who died. This might look in the fossil record like a selection for intelligence but would be no such thing. Human evolution might be determined in the future by ANY genetic mutation - a change in kidney mechanics, being taller, being fatter, being browner. The events that push evolution are normally physical. The mental developments follow - we have bigger brains because we learnt to walk on two legs and not the other way around. But back to my main assertion: the primary attributes that have brought us to this point in evolution are Compassion, Communication and Co-operation. Those and the ruthless elimination of competing species.
  • by kraut (2788) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:30PM (#14879774)
    > How can we possibly think that different human races could evolve to look so different but did not evolve differently at all internally?
    For example, because there isn't any evidence that people are actually significantlu different internally? Can you show me any evidence that hair colour - probably as significant a genetic trait as skin colour - has any other ramifications apart from likelihood of sunburn?

    > They use diagrammatic puzzles with a missing part. You could hardly argue that any level of college education could help you find the missing peice of a puzzle.
    College education perhaps not, but you'd have to be wilfully stupid not to see that early childhood training on puzzles wouldn't have a significant impact. At least if you've spent time with a toddler; I'll excuse your ignorance if you haven't. Small children will soak up input, the more they get, the more they absorb (within boundaries, of course); hence, it would be extremely difficult to make a good case that early childhood (aka "cultural") training wouldn't have a significant impact.

    > It is documented that Sub-Saharan Africans have an average IQ of about 70.
    References, please. Aecdotal evidence (i.e. my personal acquaintances) suggests that 80% of Nigerians are medical doctors or accountant; the remaining 20% work in IT. This is now documented, on slashdot ;)

    > Thinking of it in terms of mental age, an adult with an IQ of 70 has the mental age of an 11 year old. I could drive, work on the farm, and shoot a gun before the age of 11. Having an IQ of 70 does not make you retarded, it is just that there is a strong correlation in America that people with low IQ are also retarded.
    All I'll say is that I'm very glad you were on the other side of the atlantic, shooting and driving, when you were 11. Given the lack of thought in your understanding of IQ test, I hope you'll stay there until you grow up. Whether that's 40, 60, or 80, I don't mind; patience is a virtue I'm eager to adopt.

  • by Aixi (959943) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @03:25AM (#14881309)
    How was this modded UP!? I feel so strongly about what you wrote I'm trying to make a rare comment which'll probably never see the light of day on /. Still, a fellas gotta take a swing when people get outright dangerous spreading the kind of crap you're spouting. I don't know where to start, your comments are so off the wall I can't tell if you get this stuff off of T.V. or not. Certainly not slashdot, which I read everyday, and I've not heard this kind of total crap before. First of all NOBODY has done ANY survey of AFRICAN I.Q.s There are 54 countries and a plethora of territories in Africa, a BILLION+ people, and more than 5,000 tribes who are culturally, linguistically and genetically differentiated - and range from the absolutely languid to those who make the Swiss seem relaxed. The total number of languages and dialects is UNKNOWN. In Nigeria alone there are more than 470 distinctive languages and dialects. English is NOT the majority language on the continent as almost EVERYONE has a primary native tongue and may or may not ADDITIONALLY speak - from broken to fluent - English, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Afrikaans, or German, as a second or third tongue, though most people speak at least two languages other than European ones because of the local variety. So give your CNN (which I watch a lot) viewpoint a rest. I never cease to marvel at the rude comments people make about how badly "Africans" (which ones?) speak English on TV when interviewed. How many languages do you speak other than your native tongue? And how many of those, if any, do you speak fluently? The point is any of the IQ tests you might refer to - Raven's math matrices or not - are administered in European languages and anybody with an IQ over 12 who has looked at or read the extensive literature on the construction of those tests knows they are culturally loaded and biased in a lot of ways, including how the math questions are constructed (context not content). And No, they have not been fixed. (I took one for fun a few weeks ago and if that's fixed I think you mean "fixed". When you say "Asians" are you making the same hand-waving racial and langauge generalization as before? Or do you differentiate between Asian-Americans (a complex category) and Asians outside of America? Does that include Turkmen, Mongolians, Burmese, and Malaysians - or did you have a well-picked few in mind? Give me a break pleeease! I'd like to see you take an IQ test in a second language you don't speak well and do as well. Set your time machine for the 21st century dude and bring your mind back from its comforting romantic and historical Victorian travels about Africans (or did you really mean "Blacks"?) having IQs lower than your own. More relevantly, do you personally know anything about the University of Witwatersand? And its tests? (in Afrikaans) For that matter do you know anything about Afrikaans and how South Africans of non-European descent feel about it even though they're were required to learn it? Or about South Africa and its pre- and post-apartheid educational and ethnic research? These are the same kinds of folks who were researching how to build a genetic virus that would selectively eradicate the native Zulu and other native African tribal populations in South Africa so they could inherit the land. And despite all you've seen on American TV (Wow!) including 'Tsotsi' just winning an academy award, believe it or not, your argument went deep south in a blasted hurry the moment you put "University of the Witwatersrand" and "(a liberal college in South Africa)" in the same sentence. What planet do you live on? On a personal level I'm from Nigeria and went to poor but good schools in Lagos. I've learnt English as a second language and was, as far as the results of intellectual efforts were concerned, a wee bit more than average with respect to my classmates - many of whom were and are seriously smarter than I was or presumably am. My IQ, when then tested, was 183. So give me some oxygen fella, unless you've been running some massive covert

"It's ten o'clock... Do you know where your AI programs are?" -- Peter Oakley