Humans Still Evolving

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Or so reports the New York Times. To wit:

Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

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.

Many of these instances of selection may reflect the pressures that came to bear as people abandoned their hunting and gathering way of life for settlement and agriculture, a transition well under way in Europe and East Asia some 5,000 years ago.

Under natural selection, beneficial genes become more common in a population as their owners have more progeny.

Three populations were studied, Africans, East Asians and Europeans. In each, a mostly different set of genes had been favored by natural selection. The selected genes, which affect skin color, hair texture and bone structure, may underlie the present-day differences in racial appearance.

Whole fascinating story here.

NEXT: And when you are among them and keep up the prayer for them, let a party of them stand up with you, and shake their bodies down to the ground.

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  1. I knew it was just a matter of time before I got my gill slit with webbed feet …

  2. But I thought there was no convincing proof that evolution has happened, and that evolution was a belief system that took just as great a leap of faith– nay, a larger one– than any other kind of religion.

  3. So what evolutionary purpose does hypertension and poor vision serve?

  4. Not surprising at all. I remember seeing a documentary about an experiment (though no follow-up) suggesting that, when all other factors are equal, people of European ancestry may be less likely than others to get AIDS, because Europeans are descended from the survivors of a LOT of nasty historical plagues. On a more recent note, all of us alive today have ancestors who were alive but had not yet reproduced during the 1918 flu pandemic, which also knocked a lot of people out of the running in terms of contributing to the gene pool.

    Of course, considering how Americans bend over backwards for disabilities these days, by doing things like outlawing all nut products in schools because one kid has an allergy, we may see a future wherein every single person has to wear a space suit when they go outside, not because of pollution but because there won’t be a single human left who can handle exposure to nuts, pollens or grains without instantly dropping dead.

  5. Poor vision makes you less likely to be picky about your mate based on looks, thereby increasing the likelihood (sp) that you’ll mate.

  6. Changes as late as 5000 years ago isn’t exactly the same as “still evolving”/ At least in the West I can’t see that natural selection could possibly have been in action any more recently then 500 or 600 years ago

    Is the last paragraph quoted possibly implying that race is a social construct afterall? As in racial differentiation didn’t occur until after the birth of civillization? That’d be some kind of irony

  7. Changes as late as 5000 years ago isn’t exactly the same as “still evolving”/

    It’s 250 generations; not enough to evolve into a distinct species, certainly, but enough to evolve changes big enough to notice.

  8. Mediageek, so by that logic beer is also a factor contributing to evolution. I like this – evolving and all!

  9. LOL mediageek

    Is that just your own idle speculation or a hypothesis someone has actually tried to test? Because it’s not at all unreasonable

  10. I await, eagerly, the posts on Free Republic denouncing this latest move / propaganda release in the never-ending anti-Christian Marxist plot to destroy all faith and human dignity.

  11. From the rather poor article about the interesting info:
    The finding adds substantially to the evidence that human evolution did not grind to a halt in the distant past, as is tacitly assumed by many social scientists. Even evolutionary psychologists, who interpret human behavior in terms of what the brain evolved to do, hold that the work of natural selection in shaping the human mind was completed in the pre-agricultural past, more than 10,000 years ago.

    They don’t say which “evolutionary psychologists,” and it’s definitely NOT all of them because most would say that as long as there’s sexual selection (mate selection) and differential reproduction, there will be human evolution by natural selection.

  12. F L M
    I would agree / assume so. As long as there is ANY pressure on one person to reproduce over another, there will be selection.
    On a slightly different note, I wonder whether the advances in medical technology and improvement in live birth rate, and decrease in infant mortality rate all adds up to whether or not we are truly surviving the fittest, anymore. Interesting (and scary) thoughts…

  13. In a more recent note, all of us alive today have ancestors who were alive but had not yet reproduced during the 1918 flu pandemic . . .

    You know, this doesn’t actually become true through simple repetition!

  14. This thread title seems a bit ridiculous. “Humans Still Evolving”? No shit. That’s kind of the gist behind evolution, isn’t it? The fact that its an ongoing (read: not culminating in homo sapiens sapiens) biological change. People are so retarded. My future clones will all be laughing and saying “I told you so” when everyone else is surprised to be enslaved to what replaces humanity on the top of the food chain.

  15. So what evolutionary purpose does hypertension and poor vision serve?

    This is not a “purpose,” but I read that one reason so many people have vision problems today is because we use our eyes for things they did not evolve to do–in the wild, people spent most of their time looking around huge vistas, not spending hours at a time with their eyes focused on a small, close space like a TV screen, computer monitor, or book.

    As for hypertension and stress problems, maybe that too is because we didn’t evolve to live in a complex technological society. When you’re nervous, you get jittery and find it hard to keep still. That was very useful when nervousness was caused by things like the sight of a hungry lion approaching your village (feeling relaxed at such a time would kill you), but it doesn’t help nowadays when you’re nervous about job interviews or other things where an inability to sit still is a handicap rather than an advantage.

  16. This thread title seems a bit ridiculous. “Humans Still Evolving”? No shit. That’s kind of the gist behind evolution, isn’t it? The fact that its an ongoing (read: not culminating in homo sapiens sapiens) biological change. People are so retarded. My future clones will all be laughing and saying “I told you so” when everyone else is surprised to be enslaved to whatever organism replaces humans on the top of the food chain.

  17. You know, this doesn’t actually become true through simple repetition!

    Phil, who among your ancestors died in 1918 before they had the chance to reproduce? (Hint: people who die before reproducing never become anybody’s ancestor.)

  18. It’s true.
    The women in my town are getting uglier and older.

  19. We’re all going to be bald, seven-feet tall, with giant brains. Sometime next week, I think.

  20. They don’t say which “evolutionary psychologists,” and it’s definitely NOT all of them because most would say that as long as there’s sexual selection (mate selection) and differential reproduction, there will be human evolution by natural selection.

    Or we could, because of technology, be seeing “unnatural” selection.

    For instance, the really nasty forms of juvenile diseases like asthma used to kill off those afflicted before they could reproduce. Now that they can be cured, or at least the fatal symptoms alleviated, the evolutionary pressure limiting their spread has been removed.

    So what evolutionary purpose does hypertension and poor vision serve?

    Again, now that poor vision means you have to wear lenses or have instant corrective surgery instead of not being able to find food, poor vision should become more common.

    Hypertension, however, usually causes problems after reproduction has occurred, so there’s no change in its status.

  21. This is not a “purpose,” but I read that one reason so many people have vision problems today is because we use our eyes for things they did not evolve to do…

    And remember…poor eyesight and hypertension are problems that affect people more as they get older — and therefore are less likely to affect the sexual selection that drives evolution. If the bad genes only manifest themselves *after* most people are out of their most, ehm, productive years, then they are going to exert much less pressure on natural selection.

  22. Beat me to it Larry A.

    And might I join the chorus decrying the headline. *Of course* humans are still evolving. That’s just about the most basic feature of natural selection: any time you have imperfect copies and death you have evolution. The real shocking headline would have been “Humans no longer evolving!”.

  23. Dilbert: Am I the only honest one left?

    Dogbert: Your kind tends not to reproduce.

    (Apologies if you remember when I posted this several months ago.)

  24. The real shocking headline would have been “Humans no longer evolving!”.

    The Onion story, under a picture of Chimpenstein W. Hitlerburton, natch, practically writes itself.

  25. In a more recent note, all of us alive today have ancestors who were alive but had not yet reproduced during the 1918 flu pandemic.

    Phil, who among your ancestors died in 1918 before they had the chance to reproduce? (Hint: people who die before reproducing never become anybody’s ancestor.

    One could have a father who died in 1916 (as long as one was conceived before then). Or a grandfather who had his first kid in 1915, then your ancestor in 1920.

  26. Or a grandfather who had his first kid in 1915, then your ancestor in 1920.

    But neither your grandfather not your born-in-1920 ancestor died in 1918, is the point I am trying to make.

  27. SY: That would need to be the case for all of your ancestors of the relevant generation, which is actually not that unlikely given over 6 billion people in the world.

    The statement is obviously false on face, however, because there are people alive now who lived through the 1918 pandemic. If you are 90 years old, none of your ancestors died in the pandemic without reproducing.

  28. The statement is obviously false on face, however, because there are people alive now who lived through the 1918 pandemic. If you are 90 years old, none of your ancestors died in the pandemic without reproducing.

    True enough. Let me change my earlier statement to this: “Most people who are alive today, and all people who will be alive in the year 2050, had ancestors who lived through the 1918 pandemic without yet having reproduced.”

    And the bigger point, of course, is that we still have diseases and epidemics that affect evolution. Had the 1918 epidemic, or smaller, more localized epidemics, not occurred, the gene pool would obviously be different today. Who knows what interesting mutations some of the dead might have instead been able to pass on to their kids?

  29. In related news: http://www.fox6.com/entertainment/weird_news/story.aspx?content_id=002419D7-5B12-4AA7-8E1A-04B314D0D3FB&rss=weird

    “Caveman Blondes Also Had More Fun”
    A report from the University of St. Andrews, published this week in Evolution and Human Behavior, says north European women evolved blond hair and blue eyes to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males, the Sunday Times of London reported.

    The most interesting part of the article is where it mentions that “natural blondes are likely to be extinct within 200 years.” PETA must be notified immediately.

  30. the phrasing on that bit is kinda fucked, ain’t it?

    “evolved…to make them stand out”

    rather than “because it made them stand out”

    or am i missing something?

  31. So what evolutionary purpose does hypertension and poor vision serve?

    Poor vision serves the purpose of being better than no vision.

    Hypertension? I have no idea. Perhaps the whole theory needs to thrown out.

  32. I think you’re making the assumption that problems related to poor eyesight are only related to poor eyesight. Perhaps they have some otherwise unknown benefit, like the tendency toward sickle cell anemia that also provides an advantage in avoiding malaria.

    I don’t think we’ll get so far that the whole human race will be less fit. It’s just that when the next huge disaster hits, a lot more people will die.

  33. It’s a 5-paragraph “article” from a local San Diego Fox News station. I think you’re expecting a bit much. Still interesting, though.

  34. It’s not that our vision is getting worse for a reason. It’s getting worse because it lacks a reason to stay sharp.

    20,000 years ago, when we lived as hunter-gatherers, there was survival pressure favoring those with good vision. But as soon as specialized trades emerged, people with bad vision could make a living by sharpening arrowheads, etc., so the selection pressure dropped off dramatically. As a result, genes that happened to bestow so-so vision got to stay around, and that situation continues to this day. (My vision sucks, I’m not complaining.)

    Here’s the best part, though: you could say the same about raw brain power. Our brains evolved intelligence as a weapon, when we were wild. We’re not wild anymore. Any idiot can survive and have kids. So, like vision quality, it’s likely that our brain power (processing speed, however you quantify it) has been dropping for a few thousand years.

    Sure, society’s knowledge increases constantly, but that’s because it only takes so many smart people to keep inventing and discovering things, and like a ratchet, that knowledge tends to only move forward. But just in terms of the basic thinking ability of our species, there’s every reason to think we’re getting stupider. As with vision, there’s simply no survival pressure anymore to keep that trait sharp.

    If there’s any selection pressure on humans right now, it may even favor stupidity: the kind of stupidity it takes to not use condoms.

  35. There’s nothing in the theory of natural selection that says organisms should by now be devoid of flaws.

  36. dhex,

    I think it would be clearest this way:

    says north European women evolved blond hair and blue eyes (in order) to make themselves stand out

    The most interesting part of the article is where it mentions that “natural blondes are likely to be extinct within 200 years.”

    No thanks to all the Catherine Zeta Joneses and Natalie Portmans and Kiera Knightleys. Hoes.

  37. All of us alive today have ancestors who were alive but had not yet reproduced during the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

  38. So, science has proved the Bible to be correct. The first “man” appeared about 6000 years ago.

  39. Jennifer:

    I’m 34 and and I have no ancestors who lived through the 1918 flu without yet having reproduced. Both sets of grandparents had already had children before 1918, and my parents were borm after 1918. So, my grandparents lived through the flu, but they had already reproduced. My parents did not live through the flu (they were not yet born).

    And yes, my parents were very, very old when I was born. Actually, they are even older today.

  40. Poor vision isn’t so much “poor” vision but being near sighted. There’s no such thing as just genes but genes + environment… the theory might be because we spend so much time indoors looking at things close to us (like you are now) pushes our eyes toward development for a near focus versus a far one.

    There definitely is a genetic component that we can’t run away from. I’m not sure how much testing has been done on this hypothesis as you’d likely have to try to force near/far sightedness on a child early on and if you jump to other cultures so many variables pop out it’s hard to get a statistically significant study.

    Things like hypertension have to be looked at from a cost-benefit analysis. Consider Testosterone… it’s a poison that allows men to shine and show off how fit they are in their youth but suppresses immune function and causes a whole slew of problems later in life. Are the problems of earlier death in high testosterone males later in life adaptive by themselves? Nope. But when you consider the current-time benefit given before the future cost it starts being clearer.

  41. All of us alive today have ancestors who were alive but had not yet reproduced during the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

    Natural selection won’t help you survive an earthquake, but it could help you survive an epidemic.

  42. No Star,

    You might be able to make the case (though if we are still evolving, how long will it last?). That said, the Bible listing pi as 3 pretty much exposed it for the fraud it is.

  43. Bowle-

    I’m not convinced that intelligence is no longer as useful as it once was. If anything, people have more opportunities to pursue careers that depend largely on mental abilities rather than physical abilities. Which is not to say that a farmer doesn’t need to think (quite the opposite). Rather, a farmer has to make his physical and mental abilities work together. A modern professional can pursue a career that relies entirely on intellectual and personality traits.

  44. Natural selection won’t help you survive an earthquake, but it could help you survive an epidemic.

    It seems to me that someone who, by dint of natural selection, is stronger, faster, more resistant to disease and infection, etc., has better odds of surviving any natural disaster.

  45. Holy crap. Here’s another monkey wrench to throw into our evolutionary gears:

    http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/7770534/detail.html

    H.S. Proposes Going Fragrance-Free

    BOURNE, Mass. — A Cape Cod high school may soon be the first in the state free of all colognes, perfumes, scented deodorants and body sprays.

    The Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School committee met Monday night to discuss the fragrance ban for staff and students proposed by Superintendent Barry J. Motta. . . .Strong fragrances can irritate people with asthma, trigger headaches, and cause respiratory and neurological symptoms. Motta said he did not know about the possible effects of perfumes and colognes until one of his staff members said they suffered from chemical sensitivity.

  46. I agree with thoreau in that I don’t think intelligence is less useful. If anything, it might be as useful as it *ever* was. That’s not to say it’s more useful than ever – but certainly not less useful. Still, I’m not sure that intelligence (among the general population) is a bigger consideration – the truth is that a majority of people would still choose mates that have significant social status, wealth (perhaps acquired through intelligence), good looks, or some other variable as likely as they would choose intelligence. At least that’s what I’ve learned in my experience (that intelligence isn’t everything).

  47. So, science has proved the Bible to be correct. The first “man” appeared about 6000 years ago.

    Science can prove anything we want it to if we pay attention to only small bits of it at a time and interpret them broadly enough.

  48. When we say “intelligence,” what do we mean? Making people with different goals work together is usually more important for group survival than, say, the ability to visual complex mathematical concepts, but which one do you think of when it comes to intelligence? And which is a more likely sexual selector?

  49. Good point, Charles. “Intelligence” can manifest itself in many different ways. Social intelligence, emotional intelligence, raw computational ability, artistic talent, etc.

  50. “Is that just your own idle speculation or a hypothesis someone has actually tried to test? Because it’s not at all unreasonable”

    I just made it up on a spur of the moment. But perhaps I should conduct an experiment this evening wherein I go out on the town sans corrective lenses and quaff a few brews to see if it gets me anywhere…

  51. “Science can prove anything we want it to if we pay attention to only small bits of it at a time and interpret them broadly enough.”

    I don’t care what you do to crunch the numbers, science will never be able to prove that Uwe Boll movies are good.

  52. Interesting article. Thanks for linking to it.

    I write for the Samizdata blog and we have been hit by a bunch of comments from some nutter from Majority Rights, which sounds like a white racist group. No doubt these guys will use the NYT story to justify their “genetic realism” dreck.

  53. a href=”http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=379134&in_page_id=1770″>Some go forward, others go back, evidently.

    mediageek,

    Those people are retarded.

    Really!

  54. Poor vision is not a product of evolution but de-evolution. Like the band Devo. Seriously, people wear glasses and contacts that just makes vision worse but allows them to see long enough to copulate and pass on their poor vision genes.

  55. But perhaps I should conduct an experiment this evening wherein I go out on the town sans corrective lenses and quaff a few brews to see if it gets me anywhere…

    Yes! Get to it, mg! Thanks for volunteering. Look forward to the report.

  56. Phil, who among your ancestors died in 1918 before they had the chance to reproduce? (Hint: people who die before reproducing never become anybody’s ancestor.)

    That wasn’t your statement, Jennifer, and we’ve gone over this before. Your statement was: In a more recent note, all of us alive today have ancestors who were alive but had not yet reproduced during the 1918 flu pandemic.

    This is simply false, unless you’re surmising that the flu killed — and only killed — every single childless person on the planet.

  57. At least some studies find that myopia and high intelligence are highly correlated.

  58. Ron Bailey,

    So where are the reports correlating high intelligence to frequent masturbation?

  59. In less than 100 years we’ll have:

    1) Electronic brain implants billions of times more powerful than the human brain,

    2) Electronic eyes with far better than 20/1 vision (and able to see in infrared and ultraviolet),

    3) Replacement knees/hips/arms/legs/hands/hearts/lungs/kidneys/etc. that are far better than the flesh/blood/bone versions.

    I’m afraid I can’t get excited by comparatively far more minor changes that happen over the course of many millenia.

    🙂

  60. You know, in my mind’s eye, I often imagine Ron reading these threads, doing his best to post relevant, informative, and interesting information, and then he reads some of our posts, rolls his eyes, and sighs with mild exasperation.

  61. This is your regular layman’s ‘Darwinistic’ bullshit. The fact that our ancestors didn’t have the know-how we now have AND VICE VERSE isn’t in any way a proof of some kind of human evolution OR degeneration taking place. (That was a sentence in bad need of some editing, but I don’t have the know-how.) What the hell does EVOLVE mean in this context anyway? Things change, ok? So do all definations of fitness, intelligence & such.

  62. Poor vision in most cases means near sightedness. Some people would be near-sighted no matter what their living conditions might be, but many people become near-sighted due to spending lots of time on tasks that require focusing on near objects rather than far objects. Whether it’s a tool maker in a village with no electricity or a programmer in a modern metropolis, a lot of humans survive by engaging in tasks that require focusing on near objects. In doing so, we tend to degrade our ability to focus on objects far away.

    If anything, the existence of near-sightedness is consistent with an evolutionary scenario. Once our ancestors began to specialize, some people became craftsmen of various sorts. Focusing on near objects can actually put a strain on you. Try holding a small object a few inches from your eyes and try to see it clearly.

    I will speculate that for people whose ancestors had adapted to hunting, working full time as a craftsman must have put some strain on the eyes. Developing near-sightedness when working at a craft might actually be a boon. Those who went into trades could develop near-sightedness for their work, and those who didn’t require it would be more likely to retain good vision at long distances.

    It would also be consistent with Ron’s anecdote that high intelligence and nearsightedness may be correlated: Those who pursued technical careers, or crafts, would need a sharp mind coupled with the ability to work on objects at close distances.

    Of course, this is all speculation.

  63. Media:
    heh! 🙂

    Ron is of strong constitution if he merely sighs! some of the bullshit/snarky comments thrown at him (unfairly) roll off his back like water off the back of the proverbial duck!

    smacky: depends on when one masturbates. for example, research has shown that it is very useful for getting a seat on the bus!

    🙂

  64. In other words, an eye that can change its optimal working distance in response to strain could be an adaptation to a society where different people adopt different economic specialties with different visual requirements.

    Of course, that’s total speculation.

  65. It’s nice to see everyone implicitly agreeing that intelligence is hereditary.

    I agree with thoreau in that I don’t think intelligence is less useful.

    “Useful” doesn’t equate to reproductive success.

    Reprinted from The Atlantic:
    Bright, well-educated American women of all races are having fewer children, a phenomenon the author believes may affect national productivity and the gene pool
    http://www.mugu.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/herrnstein-birth

    Then there’s the “Flynn Effect,” which I think is temporary, being based on improved nutrition.

    My prediction [fanfare] for the not-so distant future: an increasingly wide distribution of intelligence (flatter distribution), with more people at the high end due to increased mate-selection opportunities, and FAR more people at the low end due to lack of dying from stupidity.

  66. I’ve got a question about the 1918 flu epidemic.

    Although it was widespread, was every single person on the planet exposed to it?

    Perhaps in large cities there was +90% exposure, but where people in rural areas exposed to it?

    What I am trying to says couldn’t someone have survived the epidemic through luck/lack of exposure rather than good genes?

  67. Screw evolution. Just think about what had to happen for us to exist at all, just in the material sense. A whole universe had to come into being with physical laws conducive to our existence. Stars had to form and explode to create the atoms that allow for the complex chemistry needed for life. A solar system had to form in the right way. Etc.

    Just imagine–in the Big Bang model, the very substance of each of us (of everything) was there, when it happened. We are, all of us, made up of matter created billions of years ago. We are a bunch of walking and talking supernovae remnants. How freakin’ cool is that?

    Therefore, I’m not going to quibble over silly studies showing that we’re still “evolving”. We’ve been doing nothing else for 13.7 billion years, and I think we’ll be doing the same for a bit longer. Even if we end up helping the process along.

    Ex-Star Pro Libertate

  68. It would also be consistent with Ron’s anecdote that high intelligence and nearsightedness may be correlated: Those who pursued technical careers, or crafts, would need a sharp mind coupled with the ability to work on objects at close distances.

    My speculation would be that intelligence might be correlated to nearsightedness not so much because of object-distance factors, but because of concentration, be it visual or mental (i.e. not focused on an object). Whether you realize it or not, most people’s facial muscles tighten in certain areas when concentrating, even when concentrating on an abstract (not visually present) concept (or even when gettin’ it on). When people concentrate or think carefully, often their brows furrow or the space between their eyes creases – this would probably affect the optical nerves, I would imagine. I’d bet that the same muscles in the face and upper cranium that cause migraine headaches are also responsible, to some extent, for vision impairment, or more specifically, myopia. So to some extent your Catholic grandmama may have been correct – so stop touchin’ yerself!

  69. north European women evolved blond hair and blue eyes to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males

    Most likely the sexes are reversed because:
    – there’s far more differential reproduction among men than women, esp in pre-industrial societies,
    – “females” are always biologically scarce, and “males” generally aren’t. (sort of a corollary of the above).

    Blonde hair (and light skin) are part of the neoteny complex – http://www.neoteny.org probably has something on it.

  70. Just imagine–in the Big Bang model, the very substance of each of us (of everything) was there, when it happened. We are, all of us, made up of matter created billions of years ago. We are a bunch of walking and talking supernovae remnants. How freakin’ cool is that?

    Such a belief is indeed cool, but will obviously lead to the moral degradation and eventual collapse of society as we know it.

  71. “Although it was widespread, was every single person on the planet exposed to it?”

    There was at least one town that, at the beginning of the outbreak, posted roadblock at all entries and turned away anyone who showed up. Evidently they were spared the flu. I would imagine there were other such situations.

  72. MLFM, the article I linked to is only 5 paragraphs long, I’m sure you’ll survive with your sanity intact if you read it.

  73. A report from the University of St. Andrews, published this week in Evolution and Human Behavior, says north European women evolved blond hair and blue eyes to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males, the Sunday Times of London reported.

    dhex,

    Actually, now that I think about it, this whole thought is completely false and poorly written. Nobody ever “evolves something to make themselves stand out” – either the women were born with blonde hair and blue eyes, or they weren’t. They didn’t pick those characteristics in themselves to appeal to men – nobody picks their own traits. The article clarifies this incorrect phrasing later: the gene was a mutation that happened to become popular among the opposite sex.

    If choosing had anything to do with it, wouldn’t all contemporary women will themselves to have longer legs, thinner waists, and thicker hair? WTF.

  74. I’ve got a question about the 1918 flu epidemic. Although it was widespread, was every single person on the planet exposed to it?

    Doubtful; not every European was exposed to the Black Plague, either. Nonetheless, I subscribe to the belief that a mass epidemic which kills tens of millions of people in only a couple of years will have effects on the gene pool, and in its own way affect evolution.

    Especially considering that, unlike the regular flu, which mostly kills infants, the elderly and those already weak for some other reason, the 1918 epidemic apparently was most fatal for people in their late teens to early 40s.

    That wasn’t your statement, Jennifer, and we’ve gone over this before.

    Yes, Phil, which is why an hour and a half before you pointed this out I made the following correction: Let me change my earlier statement to this: “Most people who are alive today, and all people who will be alive in the year 2050, had ancestors who lived through the 1918 pandemic without yet having reproduced.”

  75. “A report … published this week in Evolution and Human Behavior, says north European women evolved blond hair and blue eyes to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males…”

    no, they didn’t. I hate this phrasing of the way evolution works, because it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

    blond hair, like every new characteristic of organisms, was the result of a random mutation. if the characteristic provides superior fitness (reproductive success) over existing characteristics, it will become more widespread in the population, and may spread to other populations by gene flow (reproduction with individuals of other populations), or the mutation that resulted in the characteristic may occur more than once independently. the researchers posit that the blond hair mutation may have increased in frequency as a result of sexual selection – increased attractiveness to mates. as noted, women don’t usually have trouble finding mates, but blond women may eventually have blond male descendants, which might have been more attractive to females than brunette Neanderthals, because of the novelty of blond hair. evolution is a two-step process: mutation, then selection. Mutation is random, selection (sexual or natural) is not, although characteristics may be eliminated from populations by random chance, especially if their frequency is low.

  76. Yes, yes. As previously admitted (and dhex was the first to jump on it, so no one else try to take credit), the 5-paragraph article from what is actually a San Dieo TV news station gets its phrasing wrong.

  77. I heard about the blonde women thing on the radio a few days ago. What bothered me about it is the contention that “being different” somehow gave the women an advantage.

    That’s not supported by evidence of human social structure. Our brains do spend more time noticing and analyzing visual appearances that are different, but the historical human response to people who look different is usually to ostracize them, not mate with them.

    But maybe people were different back then. (Ha!)

  78. zach,

    I hate to steal dhex’s thunder, but I don’t think his quibble was with the logic of the article. He was criticizing the grammar of the article. I pointed out the falsity of the statement first.

    *just pulled a muscle patting myself on the back*

  79. That’s not supported by evidence of human social structure. Our brains do spend more time noticing and analyzing visual appearances that are different, but the historical human response to people who look different is usually to ostracize them, not mate with them.

    But maybe people were different back then. (Ha!)

    linguist,

    That was before groupthink and MSM became prominent in modern society.

  80. Presumably the Evolution and Human Behavior study found evidence that led it to conclude that the blonde gene was popular for mating.

  81. “but the historical human response to people who look different is usually to ostracize them, not mate with them preferentially.”

    I should have said. Of course they mate. On the sly. Heh.

  82. I’m glad to see that my ideal Aryan features are indicators of good breeding and evolutionary success. I guess Hitler wasn’t too far off!

    – Josh, except for the Jew-exterminating thing…that’s not so cool

  83. to conclude that the blonde gene was popular for mating.

    Obviously it did find such evidence. How they interpret that evidence is where I’m suspicious. Blondes being more fruitful and therefore ending up more common in some scandinavian nations could be the result of many different things.

    The authors of the study (which to be honest I haven’t read, but this was what was reported) claimed the reason for their success was simply that they looked different.

  84. Dhex and smacky had better argue about who noted the logical error first, or the spirit of this thread will have been lost.

  85. In other words, an eye that can change its optimal working distance in response…

    Of course, that’s total speculation.

    I don’t think it is actually. I was reading some stuff awhile back that blocking part of the field of the apeture during youth can cause the eye to grow in length asymettrically. This was done with animals; I don’t remember what species. I also don’t feel like searching at the moment so it could all be crackpot stuff.

    I think “good enough” is good enough for most traits and as mentioned before, “bad” isn’t nescessarily relevant if it doesn’t prevent successful reproduction.

    Natural selection won’t help you survive an earthquake, but it could help you survive an epidemic.

    Like if you can keep a cool head and remember to stand under a door frame while others panic and go outside.

  86. I, for one, don’t need to see hard scientific evidence to conclude that scandanavian blondes are hotties.

  87. “We’re all going to be bald, seven-feet tall, with giant brains. Sometime next week, I think.”

    Dammit, Ken Wilber has been getting around…

  88. Of course, I can’t render an opinion as to the cavewoman version.

  89. Class is in session.

    Rather than reply to any particular details, I’ll address some of the themes.

    1) You had ancestors alive during the 1918 flu. Really. You did. If this is not painfully obvious, then just stop reading.

    2) Selection is a probabilistic process. For example: the flu (or plague or AIDS) did/does not kill everyone who is infected. We each have a probability of being killed by some event. Whether it’s an infection, or being chased by a tiger, or dodging buildings in an earthquake.

    If all people have the same likelihood of being killed by an event, then this event is “neutral.” It does not change the population (unless the population is small, but Genetic Drift is beyond the scope of this course).

    If different people have different genetic makeups that lead to different probabilities of surviving an event, then selection can take place. People who have genes (actually alleles) making them resistent to the flu, or make them more agile (resistant to earthquakes or tigers) will have more offspring in the presence of these events, than people who do NOT have these. Really, that’s by definition. If your genes (alleles) don’t help you to escape the tigers and have more kids, then they don’t provide a selective advantage.

    Now, not all the people with flu/tiger protection will survive the flu/tiger. Nor will all of these people have more kids. Likewise, not all of those who lack this advantage be eaten by a tiger. But, the probabilities will be different, and over the course of many generations, the number of people with “good” genes will increase (as a percentage) and those with the “bad” genes will decrease.

    The definition of good and bad will change with the environment. It’s good to be Samoan when calories are scarce. Not so hot when there’s a McD’s every 3 miles.

    Rare events are exceedingly unlikely to have a significant effect on populations, unless they are really, really big. If all the redheads happen to be at a convention when the earthquake hits, you could eliminate all redheads from future generations. One could argue that redheads were “less fit” because their conventions made them more susceptible to earthquakes. This sounds silly, but sexual selection is based on arguably superficial choices made by mates. Sexual selection has a huge influence on populations.

    3) Different races have different distributions of genes (alleles to be precise). This is self-evident. We have different colors, heights, shapes and BMI. Politically-correct academics will point out that this is just a distribution, and that there is more variation between individuals of a given race, than between races. This is true. That does NOT mean that there is no genetic basis to race. These same PC professors will then request grant money to find the genes that determine IQ, mental health, and a preference for hemp. Doctors routinely use race for differential diagnosis.

    4) How long/well you live is of absolutely no consequence. All that matters is how many kids you have, and how many they have. If your early death will provide a corpse to feed your children, and thereby increase the number of offspring you have in your lifetime, then this is a selective advantage. Many insects go this route. What happens to you in your old age is of little or no relevance. (BOCTAOE Grandparental contributions to the fitness of offspring is measurable.)

  90. Fundamental misunderstanding in the article:

    to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males

    Women compete with one another to get the “best” male, and compete with one another to keep “their” little sperm factory on the reservation and dragging home the protein, but, when it comes to impregnating women, there is no such thing as male scarcity. One male can (and will) do for a whole village, if he is the only male in town.

    In a tribe with half blond women and half brunette, it doesn’t matter how many men there are; all the women will be pregnant if they make themselves available.

  91. “Yes, Phil, which is why an hour and a half before you pointed this out I made the following correction: Let me change my earlier statement to this: “Most people who are alive today, and all people who will be alive in the year 2050, had ancestors who lived through the 1918 pandemic without yet having reproduced.”

    So, Jennifer – are you saying I’m going to die prior to 2050? I won’t even be 80 years old by then! That’s horrible! Or, maybe you need to review the logic of your statement one more time…

  92. In a tribe with half blond women and half brunette, it doesn’t matter how many men there are; all the women will be pregnant if they make themselves available.

    To quote the late, great Madeline Kahn in “Mixed Nuts”: Men will have sex with a tree.

  93. *chuckle* I think it’s pretty clear what Jennifer was trying to say. A pity that your puny minds can’t comprehend it. Your mothers were hamsters and your fathers smelt of elderberries!

    Stop nitpicking before you embarrass yourselves any further!

    😉

  94. I shitch in a bucket.

  95. Stop nitpicking before you embarrass yourselves any further!

    Again, take away the nitpicking and we have about 4, maybe 5 comments total in this thread.

  96. the part of Jennifer’s comment (which I think she corrected, or attempted to) is not if any of us had ancestors that survived the 1918 epidemic, but whether or not said ancestors had reproduced yet at the time of the epidemic

    btw, an epidemic that is worldwide in scope is a pandemic

    bubba, that’s not entirely accurate. how long you live and how well you live can influence reproductive output. if you don’t reproduce, then your fitness is zero. of course, one must live long enough to become capable of reproduction. how well off you are might attract more mates to reproduce with. look at Donald Trump. I’m pretty sure women aren’t attracted to him because of his physical appearance.

  97. MLFM, the article I linked to is only 5 paragraphs long, I’m sure you’ll survive with your sanity intact if you read it.

    I did read it, and I gave some, but not all, reasons for doubting their hypothesis.
    Although men typically have higher death rates from things like famines, the M/F ratio in modern places with famines aren’t significantly different than anywhere else – a few percent. Also, most researchers agree that evolution based on sexual selection operates more on males, human and otherwise, than on females because males have far more variation in their rates of reproduction.

    As far as the sanity – too late!

  98. It is pretty clear what she should have said… but it is not at all clear to me that she is sharp enough to even realize the flaw in her statement. It’s mildly amusing to mock stupid people, I guess…

  99. Obviously it did find such evidence. How they interpret that evidence is where I’m suspicious. Blondes being more fruitful and therefore ending up more common in some scandinavian nations could be the result of many different things.

    The authors of the study (which to be honest I haven’t read, but this was what was reported) claimed the reason for their success was simply that they looked different.

    I think when they said “different” they meant “strikingly different”, i.e. good different. Like, “I’ve never seen hair like yours before; let’s mate”, or “I’ve never seen eyes of your color; let’s mate”. Not, “I’ve never seen so many weeping sores on a person before; let’s mate.” (unlikely scenario)

  100. Pretty tame for a thread with the E-word in its title, actually.

  101. zach:

    I or we could try arguing with jaded, but I figured it was Dave W. or just some (other) antievolutionist trolling.

    I suggest jaded read On the Origin of Species by Chas. Darwin and This is Evolution by Ernest Mayr, before he embarrasses himself further.

  102. all the people jumping on the bandwagon to laff at the Intelligent Designer types (and note – i think they are full of rubbish on most fronts)

    IDers don’t deny INTRAspecial evolution. they deny interspecial evolution

    so, the fact (or evidence thereof) that humans are evolving has exactly zero to say for or against the IDers “argument”.

  103. all the people jumping on the bandwagon to laff at the Intelligent Designer types (and note – i think they are full of rubbish on most fronts)

    IDers don’t deny INTRAspecial evolution. they deny interspecial evolution

    so, the fact (or evidence thereof) that humans are evolving has exactly zero to say for or against the IDers “argument”.

  104. Most people who are alive today, and all people who will be alive in the year 2050, had ancestors who lived through the 1918 pandemic without yet having reproduced.

    How about this: Brothers and sisters I have none, but that man’s father is my father’s son.

  105. whitster:

    thanks for giving us something to argue about.

    ID’ers don’t deny microevolution. they can’t. this has been observed repeatedly in morphological characters and in molecular characters. perhaps this is what you meant. you were probably trying to spell intraspecific (versus interspecific)

    ID’ers don’t deny macroevolution either, but creationists do.

    ID’ers mainly argue against origin of life without intervention by some sort of intelligence, a god or advanced extraterrestrials. Once life was started by this intelligence, it was free to evolve (within certain limits), but they claim certain characteristics (according to Behe, molecular characters such as enzymes and flagellar motor) are “irreducibly complex” and therefore couldn’t have evolved.

    what was your point again?

  106. Of course we are still evolving. This is not necessarily good. I grew up in a dirt poor rural town. When I went back to my 10 year reunion a few years ago, numerous classmates had 2, 3, or 4 children.

    Then I look at my educated peers from college and grad school. I think we have about half a dozen children between the whole lot of us, none older than two!

    The only thing that is going to save us from breeding ourselves into ignorance is genetic engineering.

  107. Not, “I’ve never seen so many weeping sores on a person before; let’s mate.” (unlikely scenario)

    I dunno. There’s gotta be a website devoted to that somewhere on the ‘Net.

  108. Chthus,
    The Hebrew language is action, function, verb based, unlike Greek and by extension English which is object, subject based. A usefull description for an Hebraic cultural mindset gives a things function, not so much a blueprint.

    Then there is this from the Ask the Rabbi web site:
    http://ohr.edu/ask/ask287.htm

    “A fascinating footnote for the mathematically-minded: The Vilna Gaon enlightens us to the fact that the value of “pi,” 3.1415, is hinted in this verse. In Hebrew, each letter has a number associated with it. In the above verse, the word “circumference”(kav) is written one way “kuf vav heh” which equals 111 but it is pronounced a slightly different way “kuf vav” which equals 106. (That is, there is a stated value and an actual value.) The ratio of these two numbers equals the ratio of 3 (“pi” as stated by the verse) 3.1415 (the actual value of “pi” to the 10,000th). [ie. (111 / 106) x 3 = 3.1415]”

    Sometimes it pays to dig a little deeper.

  109. I was taught blondes were more common in Northern Europe because the light skin/light hair made more vitamin D.

    Of course what they didn’t teach was why eskimoes in general have darker colored skin and hair.

    But the idea that blondes are more common due to them looking different doesn’t seem logical. Since blondes have been a majority in Scandanavia for a long time, wouldn’t the desire have switched to the rare raven haired beauties of the fjords?

  110. Worth checking out.
    My longer post seems to have been blocked for some reason.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4661402.stm

  111. The above post relates to the theory that (not yet proven) increases in autism spectrum disorders are the result of changes in selection pressures in our high-tech society. Not very social autistic spectrum types didn’t used to have much contact with each other, but due to their success in high-tech fields, they are now having more babies, and leading to an increase in autistic spectrum types including full-blown autism.

    That’s the theory at least.
    Another good link

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=1&q=http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/baron-cohen05/baron-cohen05_index.html&e=9797

    Talk amongst yourselves.

  112. Native NYer:

    since mutations are random, advantageous mutations do not always occur in a population.

    however, you might notice that Eskimos, Inuits, etc. do have lighter skin than Africans.

    mutations/ novel characteristics can be advantageous without being “perfect” (whatever that means) or ever mutating again to become even more advantageous. natural selection will act to increase the frequency of a novel mutant gene if it is more advantageous than other genes already present in the population

  113. “So where are the reports correlating high intelligence to frequent masturbation?”

    Smacky,
    Ron is too busy to answer that question right now.
    Don’t ask, doing what?

    Sadly, I am not.

  114. I was reading some stuff awhile back that blocking part of the field of the apeture during youth can cause the eye to grow in length asymettrically. This was done with animals; I don’t remember what species.

    It was cats.
    They were made unable to see horizontally because there brains were never exposed to that view. It basically caused them to be retarded. Much like the famous girl (whose name I can’t recall offhand) who was not exposed to language until puberty. She was rendered literally not capable of learning grammar. Interesting stuff.

    R.C. Dean points out another flaw in the researchers’ explanation for blondes. Competition among women wouldn’t seem to be the answer here. Unless, for instance, those tribes had adopted monogamy or some other form of organization…or, the ruling class for some reason decided that blondes were better, causing their status to be raised. I think that’s plausible.

  115. linguist and R C-

    Women may not have had to compete to have sex in the past (or today, arguably?), but if men were scarce then women certainly had to compete for attention. Scarce men may have been more than happy to get laid with each and every woman in the tribe, but they’d probably procure more food for their favorites. And that would have a big impact on how many successful offspring those women have.

    I suspect that men were scarce in days of old because they took on the more dangerous tasks of hunting and fighting. Then again, child birth was pretty dangerous as well. Anyway, if men were scarce then women certainly had to compete.

  116. At our recent atheist meeting, Dr. Gene Kritsky, “Dr. 17 Year Locust,” had a one-word answer to Intelligent Designers as to whether there is proof humans have evolved from monkeys: “hemorrhoid.”
    Looking forward and toward places where the sun DOES shine, it will not be as interesting documenting how humans are evolving, rather how human minds are co-evolving with Google.

  117. Is most of this about the ancestor that died in 1918 before they had a chance to reproduce? Jeez. I read it, laughed a bit and moved on.

    It’s mildly amusing to mock stupid people, I guess…

    I guess I’m stupid ’cause I glossed-over the other logical implications and went with what I felt was the most probable intended meaning.

    There’s no hope for me now. 🙁 Was there ever?

    Of course what they didn’t teach was why eskimoes in general have darker colored skin and hair.

    What is the answer to that? I’ve wondered about it especially in the context of explanations for having lighter coloring. Don’t they get a lot of vitamin D from whale blubber or something? Free to laugh if that is a stupid speculation.

  118. The most interesting part of the article is where it mentions that “natural blondes are likely to be extinct within 200 years.” PETA must be notified immediately.

    In the spirit of this thread, I’d like to point out that natural blondes will never “go extinct” unless someone kills every single person with the certain recessive gene. The dark-haired alleles don’t beat the blonde ones to death and discard them, so the recessive genes remain, just paired in such a way that it causes hair that’s a lighter shade of brown than two dominant genes would produce. Meanwhile, all it takes to produce a blonde is two people with one copy of the recessive gene producing a child who happens to have failed to pick up the dominant gene from either parent. This is a recipe for a much decreased number of blondes, but not a complete extinction.

  119. The “natural blondes will go extinct in 200 years” thing is a joke. Literally – it’s a hoax.

  120. Scarce men may have been more than happy to get laid with each and every woman in the tribe, but they’d probably procure more food for their favorites. And that would have a big impact on how many successful offspring those women have.

    Mebbe. But in competitions among females in a pack structure (such as human society), the crucial determinant isn’t which female a given male likes best, its which female is dominant within the female hierarchy.

    Its not up to the males to decide who the alpha female is, and the alpha female’s crumb-crunchers will always be fat and sassy.

  121. The whole business of making quasi-scientific and quasi-darwinistic assumptions conserning the modern society is a hoax and a joke, and it’s unbelievable how many people actually buy it. I can understand that such ideas appeal to the white, black and purple supremacists, but that normal intelligent people… One noted scientist (Dr Ramachandra I think) sent an article titled ‘Why Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ to one influental socio-darwinist journal. He did it just for laughs and to demonstrate how easy it is to come up with such theories. They actually publushed the article and were very exited about his ideas.

  122. biologist,

    There is a greater diversity of thought amongst IDers than you describe. For example, some do indeed deny macroevolution – though they may wish to keep such thoughts within the fold of the ID community.

  123. Phil,

    Heh.

  124. Mebbe. But in competitions among females in a pack structure (such as human society), the crucial determinant isn’t which female a given male likes best, its which female is dominant within the female hierarchy.

    Where is it written that humans live in a pack-structured society? This is news to me. I don’t believe it, frankly. And exactly how is the “dominant human female” selected? Whoever has the best hair and nails and cell phone accessories? Pshhh. Please. (Or am I just being fat and sassy now, R C Dean?)

  125. “Poor vision makes you less likely to be picky about your mate based on looks, thereby increasing the likelihood (sp) that you’ll mate.”

    Tried dating blind women geek? That won’t work either, since they would hear you talk.

    Blind AND deaf, there you go.

  126. “Tried dating blind women geek? That won’t work either, since they would hear you talk.”

    I’m not the one who’s blog title is misspelled, at least.

  127. Hope you get MS and can’t get the drug needed to treat it because the FDA won’t approve it, amazingdrx.

  128. On second thought, better make sure they can’t read braille either! Good luck with ALL that.

  129. Hope you end up dating geek, spook.

  130. Hope you end up dating geek, amazingdrx.

    Hope he pitches and you catch.

  131. Hakluyt:

    of course, you’re right. there is a wide variety of creationist types also, including those that deny microevolution. not all evolutionary biologists agree on every topic either. see: Gould and Eldredge on punctuated equilibrium. Also, I embarrassed myself by referring to Mayr’s book This is Evolution (sic). Unfortunately, I conflated the titles of two different Mayr books, What Evolution Is and This is Biology.

    thanks for reminding us that no generalization is worth a damn, including this one.

    I should have added the caveat “in general”, but I assumed that was understood.

  132. Ooops. Wrong thread. I blame that on my slow evolution.

  133. biologist,

    Get a grip.

  134. biologist,

    BTW, the term “generally” wouldn’t help, for obvious reasons.

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