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Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago 637

Posted by Soulskill
from the on-the-shoulders-of-consecutively-dumber-giants dept.
eldavojohn writes "Professor Gerald "Jerry" Crabtree of Stanford's Crabtree Laboratory published a paper (PDF) that has appeared in two parts in Trends in Genetics. The paper opens with a very controversial suggestion: 'I would be willing to 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.' From there, Crabtree speculates we're on the decline of human intelligence and we have been for at least a couple millennia. His argument suggests agriculture and, following from that, cities, have allowed us to break free of some environmental forces on competitive genetic mutations — a la Mike Judge's theory. However, the conclusion of the paper urges humans to keep calm and carry on, as any attempt to fix this genetic trend would almost certainly be futile and disturbing."
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Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago

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  • Intel Peak (Score:5, Funny)

    by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:12PM (#41971579) Homepage Journal
    Intel peak
    And Idiocracy streak
    Comes with beard
    You hirsute freak.
    Burma Shave
  • no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:14PM (#41971611)

    *looks at the robot on Mars*

    No. No it did not.

    • yes (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:24PM (#41971777)

      *looks at this comment*

      Yes. Yes it did.

    • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:27PM (#41971823) Homepage

      Only workaround would be to require everyone to have an IQ of 100 or above to be permitted to procreate.

      But that's not politically correct.

      • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:37PM (#41972003)
        You are right; it isn't politically expedient. However, if you look at stats (work on your Google-Fu; find them yourself), you'll see that people with an IQ lower than 100 have a lot more babies than people with higher IQ. So it is not a surprise that overall there is a downward trend. Don't forget that in the distant past, people with a very low IQ were at enough of a competitive disadvantage that they were much more likely to qualify for a Darwin Award. Today, they just get welfare (or whatever it is called in other countries) and keep having kids. They are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to measures like "has a big house" or "makes a lot of money", but when it comes to the life pressure of procreation they are winning.
        • by Smallpond (221300)

          We do seem to be going out of our way to preserve people who may not deserve to survive [damncoolpictures.com].

        • Welfare has fuck all to do with intelligence - Every Roman citizen received ~30kg of grain a month from the emperor (via their local bakery), why do you think so many "conquered people" wanted to join their former enemy, were all Roman citizens stupid?
          • by CFTM (513264)

            There's a minor flaw in your line of reasoning; becoming a Roman Citizen was not an insignificant thing. You had to own land, and you had to be a man. Moreover, I'm not sure that most conquered people had the opportunity to become Roman Citizens, even those who owned land; but my Roman History is a bit hazy so there could have been avenues...

        • by epp_b (944299)

          you'll see that people with an IQ lower than 100 have a lot more babies than people with higher IQ. So it is not a surprise that overall there is a downward trend

          Oooh, what's that law called, again... y'know the one about internet discussions devolving into a comparison between real life and Idiocracy?

        • Re:no (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Evtim (1022085) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @02:00AM (#41977625)

          I am not so sure about all this. And my uncertainty has nothing to do with political correctness.

          First - who guarantees that the least intelligent people on this planet do not carry by accident the most important genes? What if a super-killer disease sweeps above us and a random beggar on the streets of Bangladesh has the genes to fight it? Who says intelligence is the most important quality ? Sure, from where I am standing it seems that it is, but the conditions may change...

          Second - why mistake collective intelligence for individual one. Our technological/scientific success (notice that I do no claim success on any other level, like making stable society , improving happiness and human dignity) is a result of the system we build for sharing, accumulating and storage of knowledge. It is not surprising then that the individual scientist , say , is on average less intelligent than Greek philosopher but now we have millions of scientist sharing and checking their findings via the established mechanisms.

          Third - this is not news as such. One of the more famous books on the subject by Jared Diamond already claimed that smaller "primitive" societies had to fight different set of challenges which likely make then more intelligent, whereas the civilized folks had to mostly fight with illnesses spreading quickly because we live(d) so cramped together.That is why our diseases were so devastating for them...

          Fourth - just an example I stumbled upon last week. A documentary on the BBC showed that what the might of the civilization could not achieve in the 1970 ies indigenous people achieved millennia ago - namely to successfully develop agriculture on one of the most infertile soils on the planet turning it into one of the most fertile and stable soils. You will never guess for which region I am talking about. The Amazonian rainforest. It was amazing revelation - check it out - it's called "Unnatural history - the Amazon". Estimated 5.5 million people living along the river by the time the first Europeans arrived! With cities, roads, education, craftsmanship that rivaled European quality and organized religion. Simple people they were not!

          And the most hilarious thing is that every white supremacist I have talked with claims that WE had the more difficult challenges than the "darkies" who just had to sit beneath a tree waiting for the banana to fall, therefore we are genetically more intelligent! I tend to become a tad uncivilized (pun intended) in such discussions.

        • Re:no (Score:4, Insightful)

          by dywolf (2673597) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:33AM (#41979449)

          thus do I refute your entire post:
          the IQ metric has been upward adjsuted several times. IE, the baseline 100 point of today is higher compared to the baseline 100 they started with. this is because the collective average point has increased.
          ---
          Has intelligence peaked? No. The hypothetical Athens man being transported to today is no more or less intelligent than everyone around him.

          Has education peaked? Ahh. Here is the true reason the hypothetical Athens man would seem more intelligent.

          His quality of education is better, broader, more rounded and more in depth than the average education of today. But that is true of education frm 100 yrs ago too. By the 8th grade students used to have begun learning 2nd and 3rd languages, physics (not just concepts but math), algebra, chemistry....Now you dont learn physics til Senoir year if not college, chemistry survey (easy, no math no thinking) in junior year, and we're lucky if they even took one semester of language or learned algebra before leaving high school.

          THAT is why he would seem smarter. The capacity of intelligence isnt higher, merely the amount of training and the capability of thought. It's like anything: the more time you spend studying, thinking, learning, ie, the more time you spend exercising your brain, the better you are at using and applying it. Just like any other muscle.

      • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:40PM (#41972033) Homepage Journal

        Only workaround would be to require everyone to have an IQ of 100 or above to be permitted to procreate. But that's not politically correct.

        It would also not help. Most mental deficiencies are caused by environmental factors, not heredity. Problems in childbirth and drug (especially alcohol) use are by far the most common causes of mental retardation.

        As to the untestable hypothesis that we're getting dumber, the theorist (I almost said "researcher", duh!) has missed a few clues. The main strength of our species isn't that we're all really smart, it's that one really smart guy comes along once in a while and tames fire, invents the spear, invents pottery, invents calculus, etc, and the rest of us can learn from that person.

        There's no reason to think that random chance, barring evolutionary pressures, wouldn't even things out. I read that humans almost became extinct at one time (I don't remember how long ago it was) but that is the sort of evolutionary pressure that results in huge shifts in a species' change.

        I seriously doubt that Aristotle could have comprehended calculus or designed a Mars rover.

        That said, people sure seem stupider than they were when I was young -- but that's not nearly a long enough time for evolutionary pressures. And I would posit that people are getting smarter, not dumber, because a thousand years ago there were far more things that would hinder a child's developing brain, from lead paint that they didn't know made kids stupid, to drinking mothers, who didn't know was retarding their fetus' abilities, to falling off of horses and things like that. It's far easier to protect young brains today than just fifty years ago, and things have gotten better over the centuries as we learn.

        • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Spy Handler (822350) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:04PM (#41972445) Homepage Journal

          It would also not help. Most mental deficiencies are caused by environmental factors, not heredity. Problems in childbirth and drug (especially alcohol) use are by far the most common causes of mental retardation.

          We are not talking about mental retardation from prenatal trauma here. We are talking about the general IQ level of those who have fully functioning non-retarded brains.

          Selective pressure in favor of a certain trait results in a population with more of that trait. This is like, really obvious stuff from chapter 1 of Evolution 101. It is a well-understood and widely accepted phenomena. How do you think humans developed higher IQ than the other primates?

          • Re:no (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:26PM (#41972799)

            What's really really obvious is that if you take a human and raise them in isolation or in a primitive tribe, they might have a much lower IQ than if the exact same human was raised by the finest minds and educators in the modern world. This is a nonsensical study in particular since we have no clear definition of what "intelligence" is (hint: its not IQ). Basically he's just equating intelligence to those who weren't eaten by a tiger or killed in wars, avoided plagues, and generally got lucky long enough to procreate. I don't know about you but that's strikes me as tripe.

            We have at this point taken control of our own evolution in terms of intelligence and are developing it seperately from the law of the jungle, constructive rather than destructive evolution.

            • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

              by rk (6314) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:32PM (#41973721) Journal

              A Kalahari bushman would probably get himself killed trying to live my life for a week, and I probably wouldn't last 3 days in the Kalahari left to my own devices. What is really intelligent in one ecosystem is really stupid in another. To look at the DNA and say "this person must be smarter than the other" is complete bullshit.

              • Re:no (Score:5, Funny)

                by LordLimecat (1103839) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @06:43PM (#41974737)

                You know, I just had a great idea for a reality TV show.

              • Re:no (Score:4, Insightful)

                by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @10:56PM (#41976837)
                That doesn't follow. What our bushman knows and what you know are each a matter of knowledge, not intelligence. If the bushman was born where you were and raised as you were he may have a better chance than you at being successful, determined by his intelligence. In the bush he may be able to better correlate a set of markings in the dirt with an eatable rodent he saw once three years ago. In a bar in your home town he may be better able to correlate a certain tone of voice with a girl's willingness to go home with him. The intelligence is the same: pattern matching.
            • by jgrahn (181062)

              We have at this point taken control of our own evolution in terms of intelligence and are developing it seperately from the law of the jungle, constructive rather than destructive evolution.

              That does not make any sense at all, in several ways. (a) We have in no way taken control of our evolution; we don't even have control of our technology or economy. (b) the term "destructive evolution" is as meaningless as, say, "purple evolution".

            • Re:no (Score:5, Informative)

              by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @10:38PM (#41976763)

              What's really really obvious is that if you take a human and raise them in isolation or in a primitive tribe, they might have a much lower IQ than if the exact same human was raised by the finest minds and educators in the modern world.

              NPR ran a story on this on their "Planet Money" economics show. They talked about research looking at the effects of preschool education on child development, and the discoveries were really shocking. They took a group of poor children, then randomly selected half of them to recieve a top-notch, free, pre-school education, then followed both groups. The kids who got pre-school tested higher on child IQ tests, but what's more, the differences stuck with them all the way into young adulthood. There were also major differences in terms of better earning potential, lower teen pregnancy rates, higher rates of attending college, with the pre-school group doing better than the control group on all of these fronts.

              So yes, smart parents tend to raise smart kids. But a big part of that is that if your parents raised you well and taught you well, you raise your kids well and teach your kids well.

              It's worth a listen- it's one of the best shows on NPR, and this is one of their best episodes in my opinion: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/10/19/163256866/episode-411-why-preschool-can-save-the-world [npr.org]

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Sulphur (1548251)

            It would also not help. Most mental deficiencies are caused by environmental factors, not heredity. Problems in childbirth and drug (especially alcohol) use are by far the most common causes of mental retardation.

            We are not talking about mental retardation from prenatal trauma here. We are talking about the general IQ level of those who have fully functioning non-retarded brains.

            Selective pressure in favor of a certain trait results in a population with more of that trait. This is like, really obvious stuff from chapter 1 of Evolution 101. It is a well-understood and widely accepted phenomena. How do you think humans developed higher IQ than the other primates?

            Teachers' Unions?

          • Re:no (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Pluvius (734915) <pluvius3&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:45PM (#41973899) Journal

            Your post is proof that if we based our view of the world and our policies on what is taught in an introductory class on any particular subject, we'd be totally screwed. Eradicating low intelligence, which is based on a whole host of genetic traits and environmental influences, would be orders of magnitude harder than eradicating mental retardation, which itself is already impossible to do through eugenics. (If you don't know why, read up on Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium in relation to rare recessive traits.)

            Rob

        • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Serious Callers Only (1022605) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:04PM (#41972453)

          I seriously doubt that Aristotle could have comprehended calculus or designed a Mars rover.

          I seriously doubt Democritus or Archimedes would agree with you.

          The article is bunk though. First there's no proof that intellect has declined, only speculation. Then there's the silly idea that there are no selective pressures today. There are, but they are working in different areas, and death as an outcome doesn't really matter to evolution unless it is very early, all that matters is reproduction.

          As a counterpoint to his specious argument about Ancient Greece being the pinnacle of human evolution, we could look at all the foolish endeavours, demagogy, rotten politics, incessant warfare, slavery, genocide and ignorance which prevailed at the time, and feel that we have collectively come a long way.

          • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Zordak (123132) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:18PM (#41972687) Homepage Journal

            As a counterpoint to his specious argument about Ancient Greece being the pinnacle of human evolution, we could look at all the foolish endeavours, demagogy, rotten politics, incessant warfare, slavery, genocide and ignorance which prevailed at the time, and feel that we have collectively come a long way.

            Yes, because, ALL--- no wait, MOST--- well, no, not really, SOME--- ah, screw it.

            Absolutely, because we're much better at pretending we've eradicated those things than the ancients were.

        • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:26PM (#41972801)

          I don't know, but Archimedes came awfully damned close to inventing it [wikipedia.org], despite his culture's lack of essential background concepts.

          • by knarf (34928) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:33PM (#41973737) Homepage

            Look at that Archimedes palimpsest [wikipedia.org]. There we have a book made of parchment, in which Archimedes philosophised himself towards calculus. Scraped out at a later stage and reused... to write a prayer book. From the conquest of knowledge to the submission of free thought, on one piece of parchment.

            It puts in mind that lizard, sitting in the sun on top of the remains of a launch platform built by a civilisation now long gone, thinking (or at least doing the lizard-equivalent of it) 'what a nice basking spot someone made me here'.

            • by hawkfish (8978) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @07:52PM (#41975451) Homepage

              Look at that Archimedes palimpsest [wikipedia.org]. There we have a book made of parchment, in which Archimedes philosophised himself towards calculus. Scraped out at a later stage and reused... to write a prayer book. From the conquest of knowledge to the submission of free thought, on one piece of parchment.

              It puts in mind that lizard, sitting in the sun on top of the remains of a launch platform built by a civilisation now long gone, thinking (or at least doing the lizard-equivalent of it) 'what a nice basking spot someone made me here'.

              The book may have been common at the time it was made (950) but by the time of the reuse (1229), the Byzantine Empire was pretty much kaput. The date is from a period when the empire had lost Constantinople itself, so to claim that a book like that should be preserved when the containing society was under violent attack and disintegrating seems culturally myopic.

              More damning to our modern culture is the following:

              Sometime after 1938, one owner of the manuscript forged four Byzantine-style religious images in the manuscript in an effort to increase its value.

              The effort needed to recover the underlying text for these pages was much more heroic. I'd say that in this case, moden greed was much more destructive than some poor sod trying to make peace with mortality under circumstances that most of can't even begin to imagine.

        • it would help (Score:4, Interesting)

          by r00t (33219) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @01:58AM (#41977609) Journal

          Most mental deficiencies are caused by environmental factors, not heredity.

          This does not matter much; it is random noise. In the long term, across generations, only the inheritable component matters.

          That said, people sure seem stupider than they were when I was young -- but that's not nearly a long enough time for evolutionary pressures.

          Actually it is long enough, given two facts: you are old enough to have generations younger than yourself, and the selection pressure is huge enough. Evolution is normally slow because the environment changes very little. You don't tend to have high selection pressure when nothing special is happening. From an evolutionary perspective, the human population is being devastated by birth control. (it can only be overcome via mental changes, and evolution dictates that this will happen) We also face selection pressure related to diet changes, new diseases, prison (it prevents reproduction normally), and the changing value of menopause.

      • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:27PM (#41972813)
        You assume a work around is needed. Intelligence is not the only measure of a man. Live a happy, honest, hardworking life while only having an IQ of 80, and I'd say you've done better than most geniuses.
        • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DM9290 (797337) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @07:25PM (#41975169) Journal

          You assume a work around is needed. Intelligence is not the only measure of a man. Live a happy, honest, hardworking life while only having an IQ of 80, and I'd say you've done better than most geniuses.

          You've also done better than most people with an IQ of 80.

      • Re:no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cream wobbly (1102689) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:30PM (#41972867)

        Interesting that you missed the more obvious point: that the data collected by the individual measures only historical artefacts created by those who were able to put their stamp on history; i.e. those with higher intelligence, or put another way: those whose mental capacity was stretched by the need for developments in every single area of study, including exploration, religion, the establishment of modern science and medicine, etc.

        Perhaps among those artefacts is a study showing how the people of 4000 B.C.E. show a greater mental capacity that degenerates like Socrates, Plato and such like.

    • by Progman3K (515744)

      If Einstein were alive he'd be laughing too

    • Re:no (Score:5, Funny)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:15PM (#41972651)

      I get the feeling that the scientist who did this study is single and cannot get a girlfriend. Lets try to make people panic so girls will date Nerds as their civic duties.

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:20PM (#41971671) Journal

    That explains the Kardashians.

    I was wondering about that.

    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tony Isaac (1301187) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:31PM (#41971873) Homepage

      Yes, and members of Congress!

    • by rwa2 (4391) *

      *whew*

      Now I don't feel so bad about not getting most of the jokes in Shakespeare without referring to the Cliff's notes.

      I'm *so* relieved. Sort of.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        *whew*

        Now I don't feel so bad about not getting most of the jokes in Shakespeare without referring to the Cliff's notes.

        I'm *so* relieved. Sort of.

        Here's a hint: they're all sexual innuendo or fart jokes.

  • Flynn effect? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:20PM (#41971681) Journal

    What about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect [wikipedia.org]

    "The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day."

    Sure IQ is not Intelligence. But, this publication should relate somehow to this effect.

    • Re:Flynn effect? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tylikcat (1578365) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:23PM (#41971745)

      Especially since the Flynn effect is likely not tied, or at least not exclusively tied, to genetics.

      (Though mind you, with epigenticis trundling along, the distinction is dwindling.)

      • Re:Flynn effect? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:32PM (#41972903)

        I don't agree with this theory necessarily, but there is a nontrivial theory that explained the Flynn effect in terms of decreased inbreeding. The idea is that inbreeding was more common in the recent past, due to decreased geographic mobility and being tied to specific regions closer to extended families, and that even mild inbreeding decreased intellectual ability on average. With increased mobility and decreased inbreeding, you'd see a fairly rapid increase in intellectual ability. Advocates of this theory sort of tied the magnitude of the Flynn effect to the magnitude of decreases in inbreeding in different locations.

        The problem with this model is that as far as I know, the Flynn effect isn't limited to the lower end of the intelligence distribution. I.e., it's not just the lower tail that's being pulled up, it's that the upper tail that's being stretched out at the same time.

        I have serious problems with the idea that increased urbanization is somehow isolating us against natural selection. This presumes that natural selection is the primary evolutionary driver of cognitive ability, which may be totally off. There is such thing as social selection (e.g., sexual selection), in which social factors drive the evolution of traits. There's a lot of convincing theory that social selection processes were more important to the evolution of human cognitive ability than natural selection.

        Also, as a really basic issue, individuals really low in cognitive ability are not reproducing at higher rates than others--the exact opposite is true. We tend to fixate on certain ranges of cognitive ability, but over the entire range, cognitive ability is positively associated with reproductive success and offspring survival, even in recent times.

  • by tylikcat (1578365) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:21PM (#41971699)

    Having read only the popular article so far, I confess, it sounds rather speculative.

    But more to the point, there is an assumption that intelligence is itself is a single quantifiable thing, and that the intelligence that did so well on the African savannah, or in ancient Athens would do equally well in our circumstance. (For that matter, that this "intelligence" would be the primary contributing factor to who lived or died.)

    That there are genetic differences relating to intelligence seems highly likely. That they produce more or less of a single linearly quantifiable intelligence seems rather less likely. That selection pressures have greatly changed (as everything else about our environments have greatly changed) seems something like overhwelmingly likely.

    What this means, and what conclusions can be drawn... seems speculative to the point of parlour games.

    • by radtea (464814) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:45PM (#41972137)

      What this means, and what conclusions can be drawn... seems speculative to the point of parlour games.

      And yet the very facts you adduce lead one almost trivially to the same conclusion as TFA: if anything remotely resembling "intelligence" is both heritable and results in a reproductive advantage, then it is almost certain that we have the least of it of any generation in recent (evolutionary) history.

      Nor does one have to go back 6000 years. a few hundred will do, when the human population started its several-ten-fold expansion from a few hundred million to getting on for 10 billion today. That tells us the selective pressure of all kinds have been essentially zero in the past ten-ish generations.

      Since we have posited that something vaguely resembling "intelligence" was selected for, and has not been selected for in the past 10+ generations, we can be certain that a lot of dumb people survived to breed who would not have done so previously (me, for example, if we include various kinds of social sagacity in the multi-factor definition of "intelligence").

      I've pointed this out in the past on /.: if you grant those two assumptions--even slightly heritable intelligence and an even slight selective advantage for the more intelligent--the complete absence of selection in the past several hundred years necessarily implies we ain't too bright, on average, compared to our historical ancestors.

  • by concealment (2447304) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:21PM (#41971705) Homepage Journal

    As soon we form fixed civilizations, natural selection is no longer in effect.

    For a few millennia, perhaps, we get by with early social selection, which shows people selecting mates for admire for bravery, intelligence, wisdom and strength. This puts the wealthiest, smartest, most healthy and most attractive into the same elite breeding pool.

    After that, society gets faddish. Think of Rome in its final days. People no longer pick the best, but the most popular. That means people who are good salespeople, drama queens, hip cats, etc.

    Thus begins the long slow path to Idiocracy.

    • At least, modern civilization does. I buy the study's argument if you remove the mass-education system we have from the equation, as it was in, say, the Middle Ages where monks and elites were the only ones who had a chance of studying anything. (Cue all the people lamenting the state of education in the US, but still.) But once you add mass education into the mix, you will unearth and/or create plenty of smart people that way, rather than just by the stupid people dying off.
  • Easy... (Score:4, Funny)

    by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:24PM (#41971767)

    1. Find the link between the genotype and intelligence.

    2. Sequence a lot of old bones.

    3. Sequence a lot of living people.

    4. Profit...?

  • Duuuuh! We see this trend everyday, people refusing to think further than what the TV tells them to, people relying on safety measures and warning signs instead of common sense, people preferring to do mindless repetitive tasks instead of thinking of ways to improve their work/life.
  • by killfixx (148785) * on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:25PM (#41971793) Journal

    As the years progress, an ever increasing majority of people are forced, through various agencies, into a state of poverty which becomes a self perpetuating cycle of ignorance and...well, stupidity.

    On the flip side, an ever decreasing minority of wealthy families become smarter and more wealthy.

    Most of my evidence to this is conjecture, but only because I haven't had enough time to read all the supporting studies. This is because I have to spend an inordinate amount of time working to afford the bare necessities of survival.

    This is, in my opinion, an example of man knowing what the best course of action is (spreading around the wealth to insure societal betterment, not just allowing a few to control the best resources), but being too shortsighted and greedy to "do the right thing".

    I am also to blame, but as I get older I have found ways to counteract those mistakes.

    I blame our much of mans greed AND ingenuity on how short lived we are. With more time, we would have less impetus to be rash and brazen while young. Given us more time to contemplate how to be more effective cohabitants.

    I feel sorry for our kids...

    • by killfixx (148785) *

      Damn!

      "I blame our much of mans greed " subtract "our"

      "Given us more time to" subtract "n" from given...

      I really need to proof!

  • Seems like something that can be tested. You could either: (A) find a society which doesn't have cities or agriculture and see how intelligent they are (which seems odd, since if they haven't developed cities or agriculture, it sounds like a mark against them - though there are environmental reasons they might not have done so) - for example, the Khoisan in South Africa (i.e. the original natives of South Africa before Central-African people and European people moved in; admittedly, the Koisan probably did
    • Umm, but that is a completely different genetic stock of humans.
      Testing a tribal African (for example) today can tell you little about that same tribe 2000 years ago and even less about a very distantly related European ancestor 2000 years ago.

      The closest thing we have to get any kind of results about Greeks 2000 years ago is a current day Greek.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:31PM (#41971877)

    Agriculture and cities tend to mean individuals do not need to be able to fend for themselves as much, but it does mean they need to be able to work together and look towards the future more. Farmers need to plant crops at the right times every year, need to save seeds, plant enough to survive through winter and trade some away for other stuff, city builders need to organize the whole city for future growth, etc. That means evolution will naturally tend to emphasize long-term planning and intelligence rather than the brute strength which was almost required to survive at all before the invention of cities and agriculture. If anything, modern life emphasizes intelligence more than it did millenia and centuries ago, when strength and survival skills would have been required and emphasized. Our intelligence is, in fact, the very reason we aren't as strong or physical capable as our primate ancestors were. In fact, if it weren't for our ability to live in society, our intelligence would be nearly worthless. The whole reason our intelligence gives us an advantage is that we are able to use tools and organization in order to overcome obstacles that would be otherwise physically beyond us.

    A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, along with his or her progeny, whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate

    Yeah, a Wall Street executive who is homeless and hungry is sure going to attract lots of mates. (/sarcasm) Simply because our decisions now are different from what they were 3000 years ago, does not mean the intelligence required is any less so. Or any more, for that matter.

    • by killfixx (148785) *

      To counter you last argument....
      HP Failed Execs [bing.com]

    • by green1 (322787) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:46PM (#41973101)

      Yeah, a Wall Street executive who is homeless and hungry is sure going to attract lots of mates. (/sarcasm) Simply because our decisions now are different from what they were 3000 years ago, does not mean the intelligence required is any less so. Or any more, for that matter.

      Things aren't quite the same though, as a society we prop up the lowest classes of people through various initiatives, from welfare, to homeless shelters, etc. The result is that the poorest people are still "rich" by the standards of cavemen. This leads to an interesting problem in society though, the poorest people, those with the least education, tend to breed far more than the richest people who are usually more career focused and have few, if any, children.
      Intelligence is still required, and you are right that it is different things we must think about than thousands of years ago, but the consequences of both failure, and success are also quite different. Evolution is no longer picking the top tier of civilization to procreate the most, but instead we are concentrating more of the reproduction of the population in to lower economic groups.

  • It's a coincidence that our downward trend started around the time that widespread, organized religion started to take hold? :)
  • by InvisibleClergy (1430277) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:32PM (#41971897)

    ...people have been thinking that the past was the "golden era", and that the people of the past were so much better.

  • by kilodelta (843627) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:32PM (#41971899) Homepage
    Of that horrid book, The Bell Curve. And yes, progress still seems to be occurring, we have for example these little handheld computers. That counts for something.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:32PM (#41971903) Journal

    âoeI would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000BC 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,â Professor Crabtree says in a provocative paper published in the journal Trends in Genetics.

    The average Athenian lived a life of drudgery and was illiterate.

    Citizenship was hereditary (or very rarely granted by democratic vote) which made the "average citizen" a much different class of person than the average Athenian.
    It's like saying that if the average Harvard student were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive.

    • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:37PM (#41972001)

      ...The average Athenian lived a life of drudgery and was illiterate...

      Those illiterate drudges didn't leave any writings behind.

      This guy seems to have studied the people who did write, and the people they wrote about, and came to the astonishing conclusion that the interesting people 2000 years ago were very bright and intellectual. Bah.

      • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2NO@SPAMgdargaud.net> on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @04:07PM (#41972491) Homepage

        This guy seems to have studied the people who did write, and the people they wrote about, and came to the astonishing conclusion that the interesting people 2000 years ago were very bright and intellectual. Bah.

        Yeah, it's like people who go "music nowadays is shit, look how good Mozart or Beethoven were". Well, duh, you pick up the best two the 18th century and compare it to whatever came out this year, so it's no surprise. Maybe you should compare them to the very best that came out in the 20th. Or wait another 88 years and compare it to the best of the 21st.

  • I imagine that in the modern World, an individual draws not just from their own intelligence, but from collective intelligence through advanced communications. In a way, we've become thin peer-to-peer clients in a much more powerful supercomputer.

  • Some Flowers for Algernon anyone ?

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:33PM (#41971927)

    I am not sure I can buy in to his hypothesis. Our perceptions could be skewed because most of what we know about the ancients was left behind by the more intelligent and intellectual members of those societies. I don't think humans are less intelligent today than they were in the past. It only seems that way because we have YouTube.

  • The word intelligence means different things to different people. It is like a stretchable sock. You can stretch it to prove anything you want.

    If you define intelligence as the ability to survive off the land, then these soldiers trained to eat ants and bees to elude capture would be the most intelligent of all. They are the ones that have used all the inventions like writing, formal schooling, training from professionals to the task of surviving in the wild. If you define it as the ability solve abstract

  • Greg Cochran over at West Hunter has a pretty damning critique [wordpress.com] of this paper.

    Cochran's review:
    In two recent papers, Gerald Crabtree says two correct things. He says that the brain is complex, depends on the correct functioning of many genes, and is thus particularly vulnerable to genetic load. Although he doesn’t use the phrase “genetic load”, probably because he’s never heard it. He goes on to say that that this is not his area of expertise: truer words were never spoken!

    His general argument is that selection for intelligence relaxed with the development of agriculture, and that brain function, easier to mess up than anything else, has probably been deteriorating for thousands of years. We are dumber than out ancestors, who were dumber than theirs, etc.

    The first bit, about the relaxation of selection for intelligence in the Neolithic -. Sure. As we all know, just as soon as people domesticated emmer wheat, social workers fanned out, kept people from cheating or killing their neighbors, and made sure that fuckups wouldn’t starve to death. Riiight -it’s all in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the online supplement.

    Why do people project a caricature of modernity back thousands of years before it came into existence? Man, he doesn’t know much about history.

    Nor does he know much about biology. If he did, he’d understand that truncation selection is what makes such complex adaptations possible. If only the top 85% (in terms of genetic load) reproduce, the average loser has something like 1 std more load , so each one takes lots of deleterious mutations with him. But then, he’s probably never heard of truncation selection. I’m sure they never taught him that in school, but that’s no excuse – they never taught me, either.

    If his thesis was correct, you’d expect hunter-gatherers to be smarter than people from more sophisticated civilizations, which is the crap that Jared Diamond peddles about PNG. But Crabtree says that everyone’s the same – stepping on the dick of his own argument. Of course, in reality, hunter-gatherers score low, often abysmally low, and have terrible trouble trying to fit in to more complex civilizations. They do a perfect imitation of being not-smart, amply documented in the psychometric literature. Of course, he doesn’t know anything about those psychometric results.

    Which reminds me of secret clearances: it used to be that having a clearance mean that you were entrusted with information that most people didn’t have. Now, it means that you can’t read Wikileaks, even though everyone else does. In much the same way, you may have the silly impression that having a Ph.D. means knowing more than regular people – but in the human sciences, the most important prerequisite is not knowing certain facts. Some kind soul should post the Index, so newbies won’t get themselves in trouble.

    He doesn’t even know things that would almost support his case. Average brain size has indeed decreased over the Neolithic- but in every population, not just in farmers. He might talk about paternal age effects, and how average paternal age varies – but he doesn’t know anything about it. He ought to be thinking about the big population increase associated with agriculture, and the ensuing Fisherian acceleration – but he’s never heard of it.

    He even gets the peripheral issues wrong. He talks about language as new, 50,000 years old or so – much more recent than the split between Bushmen/Pygmies and the rest of the human race. Yet they talk. He says that the X chromosome isn’t enriched for cognition and behavioral genes – but it is (by at least a factor of two) , and the reference he quotes confirms it.

    Selection pressures and mutation rates can vary in space and time. Intelligence could decrease – it

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:36PM (#41971989) Journal

    ...that "Morons from Outer Space" was a documentary....

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:48PM (#41972195) Journal

    Civilization rises to the point where television is invented. Then it collapses.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @05:09PM (#41973393)

    I can safely say intelligence did not peak 2000 years ago.

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