Cochran And Harpending Update Darwin: Human Evolution Is Continuing!

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

didn`t get the memo
not existing
. You`ll see vast heapings of praise in the


this week. Keep in mind, though, that if he were alive
today, the same people now lauding the dead

would be denouncing the living one

the same way
they demonized

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

Henry Harpending
. (They`ve set up an official website
for The 10,000 Year Explosion

On a rather less epochal note, the publication of
The 10,000 Year
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

Peter Brimelow

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
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

) with the mathematical skills to grapple with
the current deluge of genetic data.

(Here`s Henry`s hair-raising

of going hunting with Bushmen for the most lethal
African game animal, the Cape buffalo.)

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

Obviously, I`m biased about their
The 10,000 Year
. 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


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

were different from you

as well as culturally."

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

While Cochran and Harpending don`t have much

respect for Gould
, their book serves to complement the
much-touted Jared Diamond`s 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, showing
you what Diamond left out in his successful bid for
political correctness.

So, what happened 10,000 years ago?


Farming changed everything.

Planting crops
and raising

allowed the human population to grow
enormously. Cochran and Harpending note:

"In Guns, Germs, and
, Jared Diamond observed: `A larger area or
population means more potential inventors, more competing
societies, more innovations available to adopt—and more
pressure to adopt and retain innovations, because societies
failing to do well will be eliminated by competing
societies.` We take this idea a step further: There are also
more genetic
innovations in that larger population."

A hundred-fold growth in world population from its
pre-agriculture size to the 60 million alive during the
Bronze Age 3,000 years ago meant a similar hundred-fold
increase in the rate of genetic mutations.

Most random changes in DNA are deleterious and
eventually die out. But favorable mutations,
which improve the odds of survival and reproduction
, are
more likely to thrive and spread.

Cochran and Harpending make the crucial mathematical
point that a large population size increases the rate of
favorable mutations much faster than it slows their

"One might think that it would take much longer for a
favorable mutation to spread through such a large population
than it would for one to spread through a population as
small as the one that existed in the Old Stone Age. But … it
takes only twice as long to spread through a population of
100 million as it does to spread through a population of
10,000. "

Moreover, agriculture dramatically changed the
environment that selects which mutations turn out to be
favorable. To flourish, farmers have to be harder-working
than hunter-gatherers,

more orderly in densely crowded location

less susceptibl
e to alcoholism, and more foresighted
(farmers can`t eat the seed corn). Harpending writes of his
Bushmen friends:

"They weren`t very good at self-denial back in the early
period, and they aren`t very good at it even today:
Efforts to teach Bushmen to become herders frequently fail
when they eat all their goats."

Different cultures bring about different genes.

Therefore, different kinds of agriculture select for
different genes. For example, the "female farming"
cultures of tropical Africa,

women do most of the work
, tend to

evolve different personalities
on average than the
labor-intensive rice-growing cultures of
Northeast Asia
. As I wrote in my 1997
review of
Guns, Germs, and Steel:
"Diamond makes environmental differences [between
continents] seem so compelling that it`s hard to believe
that humans would not become somewhat adapted to their
homelands through natural selection."

Conversely, different genes bring about different
cultures, at least in the short run.

The authors illustrate their theories with countless
historical and prehistorical examples, such as the beautiful
but isolated


where 43 people possess a mutation from the late 18th
century that protects against heart disease so well that it
has increased their overall fitness by 7 percent.

Going back further in time, a mutation for

among adults emerged about 8,000 years
ago and has since spread across a vast swath of western
and northern Africa, reaching 95 percent levels in southern Scandinavia.

Lactose tolerance dramatically increased the
Darwinian fitness of people living in grasslands because
keeping cows for milk rather than just for meat produces
five times the calories. Cochran and Harpending theorize
that this lactose tolerance mutation accounts for the
remarkable spread of Indo-European languages from

to Cork.

"If this picture is correct, the occurrence of a single
mutation in a particular group of pastoralists some 8,000
years ago eventually determined the spoken language of half
of mankind."

The 10,000 Year Explosion
outlines a new type of scholarship: "genetic
in which
differences between groups
can drive major events. For
example, the astonishing conquests of the

great empires

and Peru
by a few hundred Spaniards can be explained by immune system
disparities between Old Worlders, who had been evolving in a
stew of Afro-Eurasian infectious diseases, and New Worlders,
whose ancestors hadn`t brought many germs with them when
they crossed from Siberia
to Alaska.

Most controversially, Cochran and Harpending make a
strong case that the high average IQs seen today among
Ashkenazi (Central
) Jews are the results of

Darwinian selection for mental skills
useful in the
finance-related jobs held by so many medieval Ashkenazi. I
this audacious theory
in back in 2005, but
their new write-up is the best version yet.

The 10,000 Year Explosion
features enough original ideas to launch a hundred
Ph.D. dissertations. What proportion of their suggestions
will turn out to be right, I don`t know. They`re founding a
new branch of knowledge, so it will take decades to find

Despite this density of novel notions, the book is
remarkably readable. It`s much smoother sailing than
On the Origin of Species. In fact,
The 10,000 Year Explosion scores on the Microsoft Word readability
scales as easier to read than my review of it. (One of the

"deleted scenes"
featured on the book`s website

Flesch Reading Ease score
of 45.1 and a Flesch-Kincade
Grade Level of 12.5—not bad for a breakthrough book.) The
writing style is a combination of casual and pithy, with a
joke every couple of pages.

Still, you can`t just breeze through this book. I
found myself cruising along muttering, "Oh, yeah, that
makes sense, I get it, yeah, I get that too, no problem, I
get it, I get it, I …I … I … Wait a minute, where`d that
idea come from?"
And then I have to backtrack and think
it over.

A century and a half ago, Darwin penned two gnomic but prophetic
sentences that didn`t blossom into the new field of

evolutionary psychology
until the late 20th century:

"In the distant future I see open fields for far
more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new
foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental
power and capacity by gradation."

Just as scientists still reread Darwin today to get new insights, they will be
rereading Cochran and Harpending for decades to come.

[Steve Sailer (email
him) is

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