Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Science news, my large skull, prominent eyebrows, and hairy arms

We non-Africans seem to be between 1 and 4 percent Neandertal, sez the news (folks with my physical characteristics might have a bit more). Cliff Notes version at the link, but more interesting commentary by John Hawks especially, and by Razib Khan.

Usual cautions apply about a brand new study possibly being completely wrong.

Razib notes the study somewhat weakens the Out-of-Africa thesis, that a new strain of humanity evolved in Africa 50-100k years ago and swept away every hominid in its path with almost no interbreeding. We now have some interbreeding. What the study doesn't eliminate is that the Out-of-Africa theory could still be mostly correct, and especially that a genetic change could've driven it. My opinion, which doesn't amount to much, is that the multiple, independent emergences of civilization (agriculture and pastoralism) only in the last 12k years doesn't make statistical sense if hominids had all the mental tools to pull it off for hundreds of thousands of years. Some genetic change must have happened recently, and likely drove the Out-of-Africa movement.

Hawks notes that if we continue to insist that Neandertals were separate species from humans, then that makes non-Africans a hybrid group, and not pure human either. I expect we'll see broader classifications, pronto.

Hawks also notes that we can't yet exclude Neandertal genes in Africans, but just that the amount may be smaller.

I expect it will only take idiot racists a few years to reverse the characterization of Neandertals as dummies we mostly outcompeted, and instead claim them as having giving a frisson of superior genetic value exclusively to non-Africans. Gag me.

And speaking of gagging me, there's the whole reaction of people claiming to demonstrate an open mind as to whether African genetic factors makes Africans intellectually equal or less-than-equal to whites. I find it potentially revealing that the two possibilities they're open to are that Africans are intellectually equal to non-Africans, or that they're somewhat less intelligent, but they never discuss the possibility that Africans could be intellectually superior. I expect that if confronted, these open-minded types would protest muchly, "yes, yes I am ready to consider Africans as having potentially superior intellectual genes on average." What their hearts say in the matter is likely different.

Especially relevant is if we're talking about high achievers at one end of distribution curve of talents, then the greater genetic diversity among Africans might actually give them an edge. As I said in an earlier post, the fact that academia is not being dominated by malnourished African villagers suggests that genes take second fiddle to socioeconomic factors.

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