November 29, 2006

Dog and Man at Yale

A reader writes:

Nice story on NOVA last night about the evolution of Dogs and Man at Yale. Most interesting points for me were

1) how selection for tameness ended up yielding, as a surprise by-product, extraordinary variety of weird appearance characteristics in dogs, and

2) how man developed superb sniffers, hunters, runners, pointers, herders, etc., not by deliberately breeding in the modern sense, but simply by inevitably shaping the social environment, mostly food supply and mating chances, of the nearby hounds.

All implications for human evolution were passed over until a final bit on how dogs may help us identify genes for human narcolepsy and other genetic diseases.

And the Victorian invention of deliberate inbreeding for pure appearance, not performance, was characterized as "racist eugenics," of course.

Greg Cochran's theory is that just as selecting for new personality traits in wild animals that you are trying to domesticate often introduces new physical looks, the famous diversity of looks among Europeans (red and blond hair, blue, gray, and green eyes) are by-products of natural selection for new personality traits favorable to survival in Europe. Blue eyes, for example, might possibly be a by-product of selection for something like shyness.

Most theories of European hair and eye color focus on sexual selection (like the peacock's tale) rather than natural selection, but Cochran says he is averse to thinking about sexual selection on the grounds that it too often turns out to be a conceptual dead end. It's too random. Clearly, examples of sexual selection exist now and then, but Cochran believes that relying on sexual selection for explanations encourages lazy thinking, a little like in the Stanley Harris cartoon where a scientist has filled the left and right sides of the blackboard with equations but in the middle he has only written "A miracle happens here."

I'm not sure I agree, but, generally speaking, disagreeing with Cochran is not typically a winning strategy.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

No comments: