Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dumber and Dumber

Mike Barret at naturalsociety.com highlights recent research by Stanford geneticist Dr. Gerald Crabtree that suggests that the human species is growing increasingly less intelligent. I'm not sure why research was needed to arrive at what may seem to be an obvious conclusion, but here's what Barret says:
Despite our advancements over the last tens or even hundreds of years, some ‘experts’ believe that humans are losing cognitive capabilities and becoming more emotionally unstable. One Stanford University researcher and geneticist, Dr. Gerald Crabtree, believes that our intellectual decline as a race has much to do with adverse genetic mutations. But there is more to it than that.

According to Crabtree, our cognitive and emotional capabilities are fueled and determined by the combined effort of thousands of genes. If a mutation occurred in any of of these genes, which is quite likely, then intelligence or emotional stability can be negatively impacted.

“I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues,” the geneticist began his article in the scientific journal Trends in Genetics.

Further, the geneticist explains that people with specific adverse genetic mutations are more likely than ever to survive and live amongst the ‘strong.’ Darwin’s theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ is less applicable in today’s society, therefore those with better genes will not necessarily dominate in society as they would have in the past.
For his part Barret agrees with Crabtree's conclusion about declining intelligence in our species but attributes it to environmental factors like fluoridated water, pesticides, and high fructose corn syrup.

These are not mutually exclusive, however. It could be that environmental factors are responsible for at least some of the genomic degradation that Crabtree hypothesizes, or at least for accelerating it. Work on the human epigenome has shown that the complex of regulators that monitor and control the expression of genes in a cell is sensitive to environmental factors, and it's possible that the fluoride and pesticides Barret lists mutate our genes by disrupting the thousands of regulators that reside along, and are attached to, the DNA strands.

In any event, it's pretty scary. It also has a possible implication that would turn much of modern biology completely upside down. If it's true that we are actually inferior in important ways to humans who lived in the distant past then it could be that from the beginning of our existence as a species we've been devolving rather than evolving and that our earliest ancestors were actually not stupid brutes but, on the contrary, extremely intelligent.

If that idea started to gain traction it'd cause a reaction among academics something like throwing a snake into the monkey cage at the zoo because it'd mean that the entire Darwinian paradigm of human evolution is completely backwards and wrong.