February 8, 2009

My review of "The 10,000 Year Explosion"

Here's the opening:

This Thursday, February 12, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, author of the 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

(I guess Darwin didn’t get the memo about race not existing. You’ll see vast heapings of praise in the press for Darwin this week. Keep in mind, though, that if he were alive today, the same people now lauding the dead Darwin would be denouncing the living one the same way they demonized James Watson in 2007.)

I’m pleased that a new book, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, demonstrates that Darwin has two worthy 21st Century successors of comparable insight and ambition: co-authors Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. (They’ve set up an official website for The 10,000 Year Explosion here).

On a rather less epochal note, the publication of The 10,000 Year Explosion marks the tenth anniversary of my invitation-only Human Biodiversity email group, which I started in 1999.

And that’s where Greg and Henry got to know each other! Peter Brimelow recently called to my attention that the inscription on the Westminster Abbey tomb of concert impresario J.P. Salomon reads, "He brought Haydn to England …" Perhaps my gravestone will read, "He introduced Cochran to Harpending."

Henry Harpending, a professor at the University of Utah and member of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the few field anthropologists (he lived for 42 months with hunter-gatherer peoples in Africa, such as the tongue-clicking Bushmen) with the mathematical skills to grapple with the current deluge of genetic data.

(Here’s Henry’s hair-raising tale of going hunting with Bushmen for the most lethal African game animal, the Cape buffalo.)

Greg Cochran, a physicist turned evolutionary theorist, is a polymath who might be the most ferociously brilliant idea man of his generation in America.

Obviously, I’m biased about their The 10,000 Year Explosion. Over the last decade, I’ve spent perhaps a thousand hours talking to Greg Cochran on the phone. Or, to be more accurate, listening to Greg, which is how I’ve gotten a sizable fraction of my best ideas. (My worst ideas are all mine.)

Cochran the conversationalist is at his acerbic best in a five part interview on the 2Blowhards blog: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.

On the first page of The 10,000 Year Explosion, Cochran and Harpending quote the reigning conventional wisdom about humanity:

"There’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization we’ve built with the same body and brain." Stephen Jay Gould

The co-authors then announce that they will undermine this standard presumption:

"We intend to make the case that human evolution has accelerated in the past 10,000 years, rather than slowing or stopping, and is now happening about 100 times faster than its long-term average over the 6 million years of our existence. The pace has been so rapid that humans have changed significantly in body and mind over recorded history. Sargon and Imhotep were different from you genetically as well as culturally."

As Greg quips, "The past may never be the same again."

More here.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Frank said...

Very interesting. I'll have to to add that book to my reading list. Possibly off topic, but here's a paper from PLoS I've been struggling with:


From the summary:

"Regions of the human genome that appear to evolve rapidly may have been under strong positive selection and could contain the genetic changes responsible for the uniqueness of our species. However, neutral (nonadaptive) evolutionary processes can give rise to signals that can be mistaken as signs of selection.....

....This leads to the provocative hypothesis that many of the genetic changes leading to human-specific characters may have been prompted by fixation of deleterious mutations."

Does this mean that the "deleterious" mutations carried with it changes that weren't all that bad? Is my interpretation too simple?

testing99 said...

Steve, when you venture out into history, you betray your weak spots.

In fact, Cortez suffered just as much as the Aztecs, from Yellow Fever and Dysentary and other diseases, which caused the loss of about 40% of his men, and he had only around 200 total during the final conquest of Mexico City.

What allowed Cortez to conquer the Aztecs and Pizarro the Incas was the habit of both peoples of exacting mass tributes in the form of captives to be sacrificed. The Aztecs mocked the Mexicas during the final assault on Tenochticlan, saying they would be enslaved in turn. Which they were and the Mexicas and other natives knew well.

However, they so hated the Aztecs (and the Peruvian Indians the Incas) that they willingly exchanged the yoke of human sacrifice for that of Spanish slavery. As bad as the Spaniards were, they did not rip the hearts out of their children on top of a Pyramid.

The true effect came a generation later, as epidemics wiped out natives to the degree you say. But note ...

It was AFTER the empires of both native peoples had been crushed by their enemies.

Why then did they not crush them before?

Because the Spaniards showed they could be beaten, believed it, and had the advantage of acting essentially like tanks through infrantry without air cover or tanks or artillery. Mounted Spanish mailed cavalry were unstoppable by the stone weapons of the Incans and Aztecs. They could be pulled down and killed, and many were, if left unspported by native Indian infantry.

But if they had support no native Incan or Aztec warrior group could stop them. Ever. And none did.

Hanson rebukes Diamond directly on this point, noting that Cortez during the battle ran out of gunpowder, so went to a volcano to fetch sulfur. Within twenty years (in violation of Spanish orders too) the Conquistadors were creating their own cannon and gunpowder from native Mexican resources.

The natives too had a larger population than Europe, before conquest and disease. Mexico City was far larger in population than that of any European city, and cleaner and more provioned too.

What allowed Cortez to conquer was besides native allies who hated the Aztecs and used him to break them, was the cooperation and wider/deeper resources of Europe.

Had the Aztecs killed Cortez, another would have succeeded in his place. With an endless supply line running all the way back to Spain.

Had the Aztecs managed to get a giant sailing ship together, and invaded Spain, killed the Royal Family, some other group would have declared itself Royal, and simply fought till they pushed them out.

Cooperation, ordering of society, matters as much as the physcial environment and IQ. Indeed, after the first Agricultural explosion, with most everyone agricultural, HOW the agriculture was ordered, mattered more than simply the vastness of the resources.

Egypt was the modern breadbasked of Europe until the Arab Conquest. Yet Egypt's power pretty much ended around 1000 BC or so, becoming the playthings of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Despite the far greater Agricultural resources.

Because it was a society of Pharoahs and slaves, and not much else. Despite the size of the population and the wealth and the power.

Anonymous said...

Those are good points, Testing. I think Sailer was ill-served by Jared Diamond, who was practically obsessed with differences in disease resistance. The idea that Meso-American culture may have evolved to deal with constant overpopulation through constant mass murder has probably been glossed over. I suppose this is because it may serve to make it seem like violence in Mexico is completely predictable.

gcochran said...

Testing99 never fails to say something stupid. Yellow fever originated in Africa, didn't exist in the Americas before Columbus: in fact, it didn't reach the Americas until 1648. It was slow to reach the Americas because it depended upon a particular species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti.

There was no malaria in Mexico in those days either.

Cortez's expedition didn't lose a lot of people to disease: he started out with about 600. He then marched towards Tenochtitlan with about 400, leaving the rest to garrison Veracruz.

He entered Tenochtitlan with about 400 Spaniards - but then Narvaez landed with 1100, threatening to take over the expedition. Cortez left about 140 Spaniards in the capital and marched with the other 260 to attack Narvaez. Amazingly, he won (in a night attack), capturing Narvaez and persuading Narvaez's force to accompany him back to Tenochtitlan.

Things had gone sour (because of a massacre by Pedro de Alvarado) and the Aztecs soon rebelled. They almost wiped out the Spaniards.
Cortez was driven out of Tenochtitlan and lost more than 600 men.

But the Spaniards survived, and with later reinforcments from Cuba, conquered and destroyed the Aztec capital.

All this was greatly aided by the Indian allies that Cortez acquired, but a smallpox epidemic raging among the Aztecs during the Noche Triste sure helped. The leader of that attack died of smallpox within hours of its success...

Richard H said...


Ever think about releasing to the public some of these conversations of this invitation only HBD club? I think it would be fascinating, although I can think of a few reasons why you wouldn't.

Peter Piper said...

Steve says Cochran 'might be the most ferociously brilliant idea man of his generation in America'. And the man himself has the temerity to appear in the very same thread. Shameless, really.

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer says:
This Thursday, February 12, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, author of the 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

(I guess Darwin didn’t get the memo about race not existing.

Since this is 1859 we are talking about, Darwin is going by a rather archaic definition of the word "race". The first usage of the word "race" in the book refers to "the several races, for instance, of the cabbage", and discusses "the hereditary varieties or races of our domestic animals and plants". The book title isn't referring to human biodiversity, but biodiversity in general.


Anonymous said...

Two greatest idea men? Oh come on, get off it. Few have heard of them and few care. Darwin's tree of life recently took a battering. What's next?

Fred Karno said...

Well, I wouldn't blame Steve if he'd never actually read [i]OTOS[/i]. Is there any important scientific/technical work published before, say, WW1, that would still repay serious study in the modern day?

Tod said...

Anonymous B.B. said:-
"Darwin is going by a rather archaic definition ... the word "race"...isn't referring to human biodiversity, but biodiversity in general"

Darwin clearly did use 'race' for discussing human biodiversity in his later work.

"… the races of man differ from each other and from their nearest allies, in certain characters which are of no service to them in their daily habits of life, and which it is extremely probable would have been modified through sexual selection (Darwin, 1936 [1888], p. 908).


albertosaurus said...

I ordered and read this book as soon as it was published. I also ordered Lynn's latest book on IQ (The Global Bell Curve)and a
another book on IQ called "Understanding Human History" by Michael Hart which carries an endorsement by Harpending.

I hadn't read much in the IQ and genetics literature for some time (Rushton and Jensen a decade ago). I read the Lynn and Hart books first as a warm up for the Cocheran/Harpending book.

So I can say with some authority, If you can only read one race/genetics book this year make it this one.

"The 10,000 Year Explosion" is unlike the Lynn or Hart book, very well written. It abounds with anecdotes and gracious phrasing.

Cochran is indeed the current heavy weight champeen of new provocative scientific notions. The two most notable being the theory of infectious homosexuality and the theory of Ashkenazi smarts. This book elaborates on the Ashkenazi IQ selection theory. They have been marshaling evidence for the last couple years and currently the theory is highly plausible if not yet completly overwhelming. I suspect they will continue to work on this theory.

Its always fun to read attacks on Steven Jay Gould. I must have nearly a dozen Gould books. I enjoyed reading them years ago before I understood much about Gould's biases and I still enjoy them today - but in a different way.

The major thesis of the book is that Gould is wrong about human evolution stopping 50,000 years ago. After a chapter or two citing a lot of well known evidence for continuing human evolution, it's obvious that Gould was wrong. Indeed it's hard to remember why anyone could ever have accepted this idea at all.

Gould's method was to proceed from his political views (he was a Marxist) to his scientific views and thus his interpretation of biological evidence. In his imaginings all races were equal. This led him to require that there be no evolution since the emergence of modern man some 50,000years ago. Racial differences for the good Marxist are necessarily just fortuitous epiphenomena of culture not deep differences that arise from genes.

Anonymous said...

testing99 said...
Steve, when you venture out into history, you betray your weak spots.

This accusation is hilarious, when you consider the source.

Anonymous said...

I read this book during the first week after it came out. I agree with its main thesis - of course human evolution didn't stop during the Stone Age. The authors present a convincing case that it accelerated considerably after the invention of agriculture. In other words, Steve Jay Gould was a liar. But you knew that already.

I have no idea if the authors are right about introgression of Neanderthal genes into the gene pool of modern-looking humans. It's the kind of thing that could be proven or disproven by new evidence within our lifetimes though.

I must say that I didn't buy the authors' idea that the lactose tolerance gene could have been responsible for the spread of IE languages. They accept the Kurgan hypothesis that places the IE homeland in what's now eastern Ukraine and the adjoining bit of Russia. However the modern epicenter of lactose tolerance lies very far from that region, in Denmark. Why? I think that they dismiss too lightly the theory that the spread of IE languages could have been facilitated by the domestication of the horse. All the other nomadic steppe conquerors of settled lands (Scythians, Huns, Mongols, the original Turks, etc.) rode into history on the backs of horses. Why should the story have been different with the proto-IE folk?

As Steve has said in his review, the book is written in a fun, witty, but down-to-earth style. The authors' ruminations on the circumstances surrounding the birth of the state in peasant societies are a particular gem. I'm curious about which one of the authors was responsible for most of the humor. Looking at the pictures on the back flap, I'm guessing that it was Harpending, though of course I could be wrong.

Moxy said...

...the theory of infectious homosexuality

Yikes! Reason enough to continue avoiding public toilets.

As for Gould, I know he was a leftist, but was he really a Marxist?

Blode032222 said...

Gould was affiliated with Science for the People, which E.O. Wilson identified as a Marxist group.

How do you feel about this?
"Marx and Engels were quick to recognise what Darwin had accomplished and to exploit its radical content", remarks Gould (Ever Since Darwin, 1978) adding that "Darwin was, indeed, a gentle revolutionary". But Gould also distils out the more conservative elements in Darwin’s work and presents them for criticism. Darwin was an "intellectual radical" but a "cultural conservative".

That is of course the magazine of the Socialist Party of England and Wales - i.e., the party that's to the left of ultra-multicult New Labour. The Party praises him to the heavens (he's really the academic equivalent of the current President).

For his whole life, science was a means to an end for Gould. That end was the usual: enforced equality, the shrouding of facts that might help "reactionaries", obtaining praise by "liberal" college students (i.e., the type who show their liberalism by screaming "redneck" at everyone less affluent than them), etc.

He manufactured lies about Goddard out of whole cloth - like the one that Goddard had doctored photographs of psychometric study subjects he didn't like to make them look "sinister". That's right, folks, IQ isn't just a tool created to shore up capitalism, it's actually a tool we evil greedy types use to make dumb people seem "sinister". Because everyone knows every capitalist's worst nightmare is not an evil genius, but an evil imbecile.

Gould was a self-parody for most of his career.

RKU said...

Yes, indeed. Gould was a very, very "bad person."

It's too bad we don't have automatic "bad people" detectors to help us avoid these sorts of problems in the future...

Hee, hee, hee!

Anonymous said...

I think I mentioned this before, but Gould always came across in his columns and TV interviews as a laid-back, likeable raconteur, the kind of guy you'd love to have as your professor--and then I met him and found out he was just a nasty, abusive little creep with a monstrous ego. His unflattering cameo on The Simpsons didn't even begin to suggest how obnoxious he really was (but at least the show deserves credit for depicting him as lazy, vain, and pompous).

E. O. Wilson, on the other hand, was just about the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. A real old-fashioned Southern gentleman.

mnuez said...

Steve, this is as good a time as any to again express my appreciation for what you do. Thanks.


P.S. A thought just came to me, I'll email you.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Gould theorize that evolution proceeded in rapid bursts? Why wouldn't the the spread of humans into vastly different and widely separated environments, such as happened during the last 50,000 years, have spurred substantial evolutionary development among the many isolated populations? If humans were selected for various body types and skin colors during this period, why wouldn't they have been selected for various aptitudes and behavioral traits as well?

Blode032222 said...

Why wouldn't the the spread of humans into vastly different and widely separated environments, such as happened during the last 50,000 years, have spurred substantial evolutionary development among the many isolated populations?

It would, unless you repeat to yourself "Human equality is a contingent fact of history" several times a day before breakfast. Gould believed in equality the way Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception. The difference is, Original Sin is an intangible, non-measurable part of their theology, so it makes perfect sense to understand their Holy Virgin with faith alone. Human abilities are measurable and measurements are averageable, so what Gould said several times a day before breakfast is demonstrably false. Which makes him a liar.

But what would you expect from an academic radical? These people welcomed new departments on campus which consider Cleopatra VII (the Ptolemy!) to have been black.

Anonymous said...

I liked their book. As I read through it, I kept noticing things which confirmed how right Rushton is in his racial differences theory. These guys know Rushton is right too, but pull their punches to some extent. I guess I understand why they did so.