Bryan Caplan  

Some Evolutionary Food for Thought

Barkley Rosser on Armen Alchia... Henderson on Alchian...
Further evidence that social scientists underestimate the power of evolution, courtesy of Marlene Zuk:
[A] new field called experimental evolution is showing us that sometimes evolution occurs before our eyes, with rapid adaptations happening in 100, 50, or even a dozen or fewer generations. Depending on the life span of the organism, that could mean less than a year, or perhaps a quarter-century. It is most easily demonstrated in the laboratory, but increasingly, now that we know what to look for, we are seeing it in the wild. And although humans are evolving all the time, it is often easier to see the process in other kinds of organisms.

Humans are not the only species whose environment has changed dramatically over the last few hundred years, or even the last few decades. Some of the work my students and I have been doing on crickets found in the Hawaiian islands and in the rest of the Pacific shows that a completely new trait, a wing mutation that renders males silent, spread in just five years, fewer than 20 generations. It is the equivalent of humans' becoming involuntarily mute during the time between the publication of the Gutenberg Bible and On the Origin of Species. This and similar research on animals is shedding light on which traits are likely to evolve quickly and under what circumstances, because we can test our ideas in real time under controlled conditions.

Most social scientists' reaction to genetic explanations for human variation remains a strange combination of wishful thinking and neurotic feeling.  Open your minds, my brothers and sisters.

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Ken B writes:

BRAVO! I wish I could put that in 60 point font.

I suppose nothing 'radicalized' me intellectually more than the dishonesty and thuggery directed at E O Wilson in the 80s, over just this issue. I suppose it's petty of me to still gloat to see sociobiology and evolutionary thinking triumph in discipline after discipline, to the consternation of the soft-minded, but frankly I don't expect to ever stop.

Peter writes:

I don't think anyone has a major problem with evolution explaining physical changes in people, but where most people (rightly) balk is in attributing behavior to evolution.

Tracy W writes:

Peter: who, with a brain, would bulk at attributing behaviour to evolution?
(note, the link you give is to a party game and it says in the title that it's mocking pop evolutionary psychology).

But the idea that our behaviour has nothing to do with the likelihood of our reproductive success is vastly implausible. It also is vastly implausible that our behaviour has nothing to do with our genes (when have you ever seen a rock congregate in the kitchen at a party?). So how can evolution not have affected behaviour?

Ken B writes:

Depends what you mean by behavior Peter. You mean talking? Clear genetic basis. You mean breathing? You mean having sex? You mean a baby crying when it's hungry, you mean a baby following movement with its eyes? All those things clearly have a genetic basis and are not merely morphological.

Bostonian writes:

Since intelligence is highly heritable and is correlated with educational attainment, the children of college graduates will be smarter than those of high school dropouts. Since intelligence is correlated with income, the children of the rich are on average smarter than those of the poor.

If evolution is still occurring in humans, it is possible that the one standard deviation difference in IQ between whites and blacks in the U.S. exists because their ancestors evolved in different environments.

No liberal or "compassionate conservative" wants to think about these patterns. People like Steve Sailer are considered beyond the pale.

Jacob AG writes:

For those interested in evolution and economics, I recommend Jason Collins' excellent blog, "Evolving Economics," at

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Most social scientists' reaction to genetic explanations for human variation remains a strange combination of wishful thinking and neurotic feeling.

Perhaps their reaction has evolutionary reasons as well. That is, it is determined by evolution as well. And if everything is determined by evolution, there is no reason in things and all explanations are delusive.
Perhaps, as neuroscientists claim, the self is a illusion as well.

Mark Brophy writes:

I lost 7 pounds in 2 weeks without being hungry because I ate a paleo diet and exercised two hours each day. My body hasn't mutated to digest wheat and dairy. Has your's?

Joe Cushing writes:

Mark Brophy,

My body has mutated to digest dairy. I am not lactose intolerant. Before people milked cows, most of us became lactose intolerant around age 5 when it was time to be weened off of mothers milk. Many people from Africa are Lactose intolerant because their ancestors didn't live in a milking culture.

I get what you are saying though. I greatly limit grain consumption in my diet and I cut out the 3 gallons of milk consumption per week that I used to drink. I still eat dairy though.

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