Stolen generations

Someone was quoted as saying that if you adopted an Australian Aborigine kid and raised him in England, he’d do just fine.  This is a standard prediction, or maybe really an assumption, of most social scientists: people are the same everywhere. Let me put it more precisely: If you adopted a random draw of such kids just after birth, and then treated them in the same way that local native kids were treated,  they’d end up with the same adult IQ, on average. And the same rate of alcoholism, and so forth.   Same with any other racial group, the prediction says.

But is this actually true?  The same people would say that one-day-old babies from different groups ought to act the same, and that’s certainly not true.

I would think that there was a lot of adoption of Australian Aborigines going on in Australia, back in the day.  What were the results?



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96 Responses to Stolen generations

  1. Sandgroper says:

    Worth reading what Polly Farmer said about it: “If it had not been for Sister Kate, I would have had an ice block’s hope in hell of ever leading a normal life. I owe her and all her dedicated helpers everything – for giving me the chance to make something of myself. I was one of the lucky ones.” He’s regarded by many as the greatest Australian footballer of all time – me too, but then I idolised him as a kid.

    Ken Colbung turned out OK too, considering.

    I think Polly got it about right – if young Aboriginal people have the potential to do something with their lives, then giving them a hand up is going to help a lot, just by moving them from a bad environment to a neutral environment where they have a chance to achieve genetic potential. If they don’t, they don’t.

    Not surprisingly, some of the adoptions and fostering out resulted in the kids being sexually abused, or abused in other ways, which was probably not a lot different to what would have happened if they had not been adopted. Mostly they were mixed race kids, not very bright, adopted out or fostered to not very bright, low SES families, with predictable outcomes. It’s not a launch pad for success. In these cases, it was probably not actually a huge improvement for them in terms of eliminating negative environmental influences and impacts. Probably some – better health care at least. It didn’t stop Polly from contracting polio, but those were the pre-vaccination epidemic times, and a lot more than just Aboriginal kids got it.

    The stuff about England is delusional.

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      He’s regarded by many as the greatest Australian footballer of all time – me too, but then I idolised him as a kid.

      However, did he end up with the same Adult IQ as white Australians? Seems like you shifted the goal posts. Moreover, you seem to be using anecdata.

      Also, how much white admixture did he have?

      • Sandgroper says:

        White admixture – a fair bit, but still visually identifiably Aboriginal – enough for it to cause a real stir in the white community when he married a white girl. He was not only an exceptional football player, he had noted leadership ability and was a very successful coach after he retired from playing. As a small businessman he went broke, in a difficult financial environment. My take – he is no genius, but he certainly is not stupid.

        Yes, I’m anecdating, but I mostly wanted to use Polly as an example, to quote what he said about being placed in an orphanage, and how it had given him the chance to realise his potential ability, a chance he doubts he would have had otherwise. He was not saying the environment made him what he became, he said a stable, protective environment enabled him to achieve his own potential – I think that is quite insightful of him, as is his stated purpose of the Graham Farmer Foundation – to give Aboriginal kids with ability the chance to achieve their potential.

  2. Piglet says:

    Anthropologists have discovered our brains have changed over the past 10,000 years. So much for the claim that there hasn’t been enough time for racial differences to evolve!

    The truth will come out in the end. Science > Politics.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      It always struck me that the quickest way of improving IQ when it was needed – as there’s no point when it’s not needed – might simply be selecting for bigger heads but above a certain point that would become counter-productive and there’d need to be a different method to take it further.

    • Dan says:

      “The truth will come out in the end. Science > Politics.”

      I would like to think so. But the left denies so much reality, what is one more thing? The left happily makes up fictions about gender even though gender is encoded in DNA and the chromosome for gender was discovered 100 years ago.

  3. little spoon says:

    Seems like some groups that now do poorly would function a lot better without alcohol. If somehow, no alcohol were available I think native americans and aboriginals would perform much better in society than they do now, regardless of who raised them. However, not so for blacks. They don’t have a problem with alcoholism.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Yes, a million times yes. Aboriginal communities have begged the government to remove access to alcohol. Social activists decry this as denying them their rights. Every citizen has the right to go to hell, and has the right to have access to the necessary chemicals to send him there.

      Having said that, the whole of Australia has a pretty toxic, ingrained alcohol culture, but Aboriginal people themselves know it has a disastrous effect on them and their communities.

      Somehow, the French know how to handle alcohol, Australians don’t, and for Aboriginal people it’s just a disaster. I’m not sure it does a lot for Glasgow either.

      • Whiskey Enthusiast says:

        Don’t forget the Irish. We can’t be trusted around the stuff either.

        Do we know when alcohol reached the British Isles? Seems likely we got our hands on it a lot later than the Teutons did.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I’m going to make a prediction following up on Sandgroper’s comment regarding alcoholism. Prohibition leads to all kinds of black market problems as we all know. I’ll bet one of the first really big genetic engineering improvements that will be offered to prospective human parents will to make their children far less prone to inheriting a predilection towards alcoholism. It could be marketed more easily as gene therapy, but who knows at this point. We were promised all kinds of wonderful cures to genetic diseases after the human genome was mapped but that didn’t happen. Why? Because genetic diseases are weeded out quickly and thereby are rare. But genetic predisposition to alcoholism is really common. The amerind communities sound a lot like the aboriginal ones. The demon alcohol absolutely devastates them.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “Aboriginal communities have begged the government to remove access to alcohol. Social activists decry this as denying them their rights.”

        “Having said that, the whole of Australia has a pretty toxic, ingrained alcohol culture … Somehow, the French know how to handle alcohol, Australians don’t”

        I’d suggest that would be the angle to take. Do northern Europeans have less tolerance to alcohol than southern for some reason? If that reason was established then the argument against your first point gets undermined.

      • little spoon says:

        “I’d suggest that would be the angle to take. Do northern Europeans have less tolerance to alcohol than southern for some reason?”

        Scotch and vodka have a lot more alcohol than wine.

      • Whiskey Enthusiast says:

        @little spoon,

        Farmers throughout France and Germany have been distilling this and that for quite some time. Fruit brandies, eau de vie, schnapps, marc, proper brandy, etc. They could easily have been making spirits out of grain or some other cheaper starch. They made plenty of beer out of grain. The Scots and the Irish drink a fair amount of beer, too. Gin, incidentally, is a development of Dutch genever. And we’ve all heard the line about what would happen if the Dutch and the Irish exchanged bogs for polders. It’s true.

        I think whiskey is an effect of the problem, not a cause.

      • marcel says:

        @Whisky Enthusiast:

        I must be peculiarly out of the loop, for I haven’t heard the line about “what would happen if the Dutch and the Irish exchanged bogs for polders”, and googling didn’t turn up anything obviously related. Please elaborate and elucidate.

      • Whiskey Enthusiast says:


        Otto von Bismarck or somebody else allegedly said something like “If the Dutch lived in Ireland, Ireland would be the bread basket of Europe. If the Irish lived in Holland they would drown.”

      • gcochran9 says:

        Same story with the Navajo here. And to a fair extent, with the entire state of New Mexico.

      • Anthony says:

        Does Australia have a problem with chronic alcoholism, or with binge drinking? In the U.S., binge drinking correlates with positive social indicators – it’s highest in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Of course, the states where it’s most common aren’t filled with Irish. Except Massachusetts.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      I think that is plainly the case – and applies to a certain extent in northern Europe as well.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Blacks have trouble with alcoholism, but not especially so.

  4. JayMan says:

    See also Why HBD | JayMan’s Blog. (courtesy misdreavus):

    In virtually all cases, these heritability estimates are higher than zero — often substantially higher than zero. They are not only consistent with studies of identical twins reared apart, but also longitudinal adoption studies: studies with sample sizes ranging in the multiple thousands have demonstrated consistently that adopted children, even when adopted during early infancy, resemble their biological parents to a vastly higher degree than they resemble the adults who actually raised them (i.e. “adoptive” parents).

  5. Sandgroper says: It’s probably worth glancing at the section headed “Social impact”.

    “No tangible improvement in social position.” Not surprising. Greg Clarke would not be surprised. “Most notably, the study indicated that removed Aboriginal people were actually less likely to have completed a secondary education, three times as likely to have acquired a police record and were twice as likely to use illicit drugs.” The counter given is that the kids who were ‘removed’ were more at risk in the first place. The intangible ‘social and psychological impact’ of being removed is mentioned, but no one knows what that does. Moving a kid into a risky low SES urban environment among people who discriminate against him, maybe abuse him, and without extended family acceptance and support might not improve things for him much; but then extended families can be burdensome and drag you down, ‘full bloods’ discriminated against ‘half castes’, and there is still talk of ‘race war’ between ‘black Abos’ and ‘white Abos’. (This is exaggeration – ‘race wars’ don’t happen. There is certainly resentment that ‘white Abos’ suck up government hand-outs that should go to ‘black Abos’, but it doesn’t degenerate into real organised physical violence. Gang turf fights between Aboriginal and Maori gangs happen, but then they happen between Lebanese, Vietnamese and white ‘real Aussie’ gangs too.)

    Since then, general failures have been acknowledged in Aboriginal education after many years of trying, including a program in remote communities to teach the kids in their own languages. Truancy rates are astronomical, usually anecdotally attributed to mom being too drunk or hung over to make the kids go to school. If the kids have foetal alcohol syndrome or have been sniffing petrol, actually turning up to school might not make much difference.

    But then Sue Gordon claims of the Graham Farmer Foundation that “We have the runs on the board” (i.e. evidence that providing support yields dividends) – no doubt for kids with ability, helping them to realise their potential helps. How much it helps, and where they end up afterwards, is certainly not clear.

    What no educational policy states explicitly is that success in education is a function of the intelligence of the student, provided they have a sufficiently stable, protective, non-abusive home environment. My father was a secondary school science teacher – he told me the hardest thing was ‘parents day’, when he had to explain to parents who wanted to know why their kid was not doing well, that the kid was trying the best he could with limited ability – that smart successful dad had married trophy wife mom, that regression to the mean happens, and that smart dad had a dumb kid, and paying for him to attend an expensive school is not going to change that much.

    Early in his career he taught rural mixed classes of white farm kids and Aboriginal kids at primary level, and he said Aboriginal kids were not notably dumber or more badly behaved than dumb white farm kids, but that is at primary level, where Abo kids from reasonable backgrounds don’t seem to do too badly, as long as they turn up to school and are not actually intellectually disabled. Those were the kids of real ‘bush Abos’ who had not been dragged down too much by predatory whites at that point. The difference was the Abo dads used to turn up at the house to thank him for teaching their kids, and give him gifts, boomerangs and message sticks and stuff, the only things they had to give him. The farmers didn’t thank him or give him much – a bit of still warm, quivering raw cow occasionally, maybe. I doubt many of the Abo kids did really well in algebra and calculus further down the track, though, even if they had access to a decent secondary school. But then the dumb farm kids I knew didn’t do really well at those things either.

  6. j3morecharacters says:

    …adoption of Australian Aborigines… back in the day. What were the results?
    I know that You are the one asking the questions here, but the correct question should be “What are the results of the adoption vs. non adoption?” Hopefully the answer will justify the project because it was done with good intentions and in good faith. Pity that social improvement projects based on good intentions tend to fail. Nature is so indifferent! Yet the good people never gives up.

    • Sandgroper says:

      One of the stated intentions was to make Aboriginal people disappear by genetic swamping. In retrospect that looks bad, and it didn’t work anyway. The context was that Aboriginal people had been very badly impacted by introduced disease and contact with white civilisation, and helping them to assimilate by, in effect, making them disappear was the kindest thing to do.

      The good people trying in Aboriginal education never give up, but I think it would help their exasperation if it was politically OK to acknowledge that there are group mean differences between white and Aboriginal cognitive ability, and that pretending they are just language differences is really not going to help. It is not politically OK, and so those good, ernest people are going to go on failing, largely.

      • Julian says:

        You get the same thing in NZ with differences in educational attainment between polynesians, europeans and asian students. I emailed one of the authors of the “NZ Initiative” suggesting that group differences might be as inevitable in academic achievement as they are in rugby (where polynesians are hugely overrepresented given their population numbers). I got a response that they considered the differences were cultural. Oh well, good luck to them I guess they have to try these things.

        “But the system is not reaching everyone

        NZ has one of the largest gaps in the world between high- and low-performing students
        The 2009 PISA study of 15-year-olds showed NZ has one of the widest ranges of reading scores in the OECD

        Māori and Pasifika students are consistently less successful than Pakeha and Asian students at all three levels of NCEA and they do not perform as well in international tests of achievement”

      • gcochran9 says:

        I don’t see how you could spend a lot of time on this (aboriginal education) and not see the pattern in front of you. But people do, certainly in the US as well. Here’s a fun quote: “There is no logical reason to expect that the number of minority students in gifted programs would not be proportional to their representation in the general population. ” (p. 498) Frasier 1997
        Of course this never happens, never has happened, but still it’s gotta happen.

        This is secondhand, but an interesting story. There was once a graduate student in anthropology at UNM who was very interested in Australian Aboriginal education. I believe that’s what he wanted to do when he got out. He did a lot of digging into the subject, including mimeographed stuff that never got published, and much against his will came to the conclusion that Aboriginals really were different from Europeans, really did have significantly lower intelligence. It drove him nuts – he actually had to be hospitalized. Dropped out of the program.

      • misdreavus says:

        If black people can accept HBD, and if gay men can come to the conclusion that they suffer from a mental illness, I wonder what his problem was. At least he had a choice!

      • j3morecharacters says:

        A gifted students program I’m familiar with (TAU) does comply with Frasier (1997)’s criterion. They recruit gifted rappers, gifted marathon runners, gifted graffiti artists in addition to more conventionally gifted students.

      • Sandgroper says:

        So you do have some gifted marathon runners – I thought so 🙂

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        I don’t see how you could spend a lot of time on this (aboriginal education) and not see the pattern in front of you. But people do, certainly in the US as well. Here’s a fun quote: “There is no logical reason to expect that the number of minority students in gifted programs would not be proportional to their representation in the general population. ” (p. 498) Frasier 1997
        Of course this never happens, never has happened, but still it’s gotta happen.

        It is difficult to get someone to understand something when his livelihood depends on not understanding it.

      • Terrymac says:

        ‘Māori and Pasifika students are consistently less successful than Pakeha and Asian’
        I tried to get a copy of the Bell curve at my local library here in NZ..I could only get a book refuting the Bell Curve. So I tried to locate one on the national library, but still no luck. There may be one hidden some where. I do have a copy from Amazon though.

      • Hayrick says:

        I am with you sandgroper.(I think)
        We are evolving fast as a city based societies in most of the world, this implies a blunting of many of our sensory organs and a predilection to being governed concomitant with more limited and controlled options (risk reduction) and I dare say… abstract thinking.
        Aboriginals have selected for a more sensitive sensory organs to recognise small changes in the natural environment, language skills and a predilection for an egalitarian way of life with the maximum of uncontrolled options (more risk and variability) and organic thinking.
        Decision making processes and brain skills are different.
        We should stop making them like us and allow them to take more advantage of their skills. It is good to see that many rangers looking after country are now aboriginal but we do not recognise or pay for the special skills needed.
        We are just thick city slickers worshipping the written word & virtual paper.
        The aboriginal alcohol problem follows on a repression, a subservience to mandarin power and an alien lifestyle, not due to an inherent incapacity.
        Change will take time, if attempted.
        Unfortunately white aboriginals tend to be put forward to speak for all, they are conflicted and most often live in cities where the power and the paper ‘wealth’ resides.

  7. Patrick Boyle says:

    All of this discussion about Australian Aborigines seems to proceed under thee assumption that we have all the time in the world. From a historical perspective it seems to me that that the Aborigines are only going to be around until the political climate changes. They only exist now because the island continent is controlled by prosperous social liberals from Europe.

    Not so long ago European attitudes were different. The Tasmanians were simply exterminated. The very primitive Tasmanians lived at the pleasure of the colonizing British. And the British in those days were considerably less sentimental than they are today.

    It is easy to imagine a number of scenarios in which public opinion in Australia might change. For example it almost changed about seventy years ago. Had the Japanese, who had just effectuated the ‘Rape of Nanking’, succeeded in their invasion of Australia, would there be any Aborigines today? The Japanese are now tame but what about the Chinese? The Chinese have plenty of people already. They may not see the need to maintain a small foreign and troublesome population.

    It wouldn’t take a foreign invasion either. If there was a major economic downturn in Australia the English colonist native population could have a change of heart. They could decide that under the new harsher economic conditions they could no longer afford to ‘carry’ the Abos. A ‘New World Order’ for that part of the world might be initiated by a nuclear war on the India-Pakistani border for example. Or Islamic terrorists might switch from passenger jets to container ships. Globalization might crash overnight.

    No one can predict such things.

    Primitive people like the Australian Aborigines are probably not long term inhabitants of this planet. They exist now in a time of peace and prosperity – a time between major conflicts. But they have no means to defend themselves against changing conditions. It’s hard for me to imagine the Aborigines surviving this century.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I don’t understand your cynicism regarding a return to racial cleansing. I actually think such a possibility is very remote. If there was runaway population growth, which there isn’t, most countries in the world are dropping below replacement level, I could see the possibility of a return to brutal times. An economic downturn will hasten the population decease, it sure worked that way in ex communist countries. I’m with you that the shit is going to hit the fan in Africa and maybe the middle east, but Australia or China? In my opinion very unlikely.

      • aisaac says:

        We wouldn’t need purposeful genocide to eliminate, or nearly eliminate groups that don’t function well. We would only need an economic downturn combined with the elimination of the welfare state and things would work out that way. Sort of like what Greg Clark says happened to the medieval English lower class, they left few descendants despite the gas chamber shortage of the middle ages.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        dave, you must be too young (or too ancient?) that you dont remember that only twenty years ago the FAO (and The Economist) was pondering if China would be able to feed itself. The current general prosperity is very exceptional, chances are that it will not last.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        We are not anywhere close to the malthusian limits as we were during the middle ages nor is there any reason to believe THAT part of the world is near approaching one. It would take a spiraling black swan event for that to occur and I would put very long odds on that happening.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        What has happened since those bleak predictions J3more? A green revolution, nobody thought India would be feeding itself. Nobody predicted that people would choose to have smaller families at the rate that they have. I am neither pessimist or optimist, I try to stay informed. Ugly stuff will happen, I am not saying that it won’t. If people want to see the real data on what I’m talking about please spend an hour or two over at Hans Rosling’s site Gapminder. It is loaded with graphs that clearly demonstrate that we are not about to get sucked back into the malthusian trap of human misery, excluding Africa. Read Steven Pinkers “The Better Angels of our Nature,” you don’t have to agree with everything he says but you may moderate your worst case scenario viewpoints. Give me facts to support your bleak predictions and I will listen.

      • Ian says:

        What has happened since those bleak predictions J3more?
        Dave, you’re a “rational optimist”. I’m also rational and optimistic… but I believe that progress is not an unavoidable feature of human history.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Contra Fukuyama, history has not ended. Remember King Croesus on the pyre crying out “Solon, Solon!” – No man can be counted happy until after his death. It is too early to count China, Australia, Aborigines, as happy. I share aisaac’s view.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        My remarks were not prompted by any analysis of the current world political situation but by a the well known statistical phenomenon of ‘Gambler’s Ruin”. I just finished Vaclav Smil’s book on China’s development so if anything I’m in an optimist mindset at the moment. I wouldn’t presume to try to predict the ups and downs of various nations and social movements in the new century. I don’t want to be a laughing stock like Paul Erlich.

        Gambler’s Ruin is the basic reason why you are unlikely to break the bank at Monte Carlo. Even if you are engaging in a fair game at the casino, if you have less money than the house, you will lose. Or rather you will go bust. Your winnings are a random walk. You can play for a long period of time winning some and losing some, but sooner or later, you will have a long losing streak and go bust.

        This phenomenon is explained better in Haup’s “Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck”.

        The point is the smaller your purse or the smaller the population the sooner you go bust. I’m told a language goes extinct every three weeks (or is it three languages go extinct every week?). Large populations endure. Small ones disappear. I used to have a Packard.

        Many of the tiny human groups that are beloved of anthropologists are going away. A few years ago the Hutus tried to kill all the Tutsi with nothing more than machetes. They indeed killed a lot of them in a remarkably short period of time. Had they instead targeted the Mtubi pygmies, there would be no more of those particular pygmies. Some pygmy groups reported that their neighbors were hunting and eating them in the recent Congo War.

        I don’t know how much longer the pygmies or the Australian Aborigines will last and I certainly don’t know how they be finished off. But I don’t think they will be available for study forever. That’s the way to bet.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        You are a very bright guy Patrick Boyle and I look forward to more conversations with you but I’m afraid your ‘Gamblers Ruin’ analogy makes no sense. I happen to know quite a bit about gambling. Anybody you thinks they can win at a casino (excluding actual skill games like poker) is mathematically retarded. The odds are fixed so that over the long run the house always wins. That has nothing to do with the following; for the aboriginals to go extinct they either have to all be murdered or they have to stop having sex with each other, neither of which is going to happen. However, all bets are off on what happens to the hunter gatherer groups scraping by in Africa. A reminder is in order as to what happened to the extinct Neanderthals. Around 6 billion humans are somewhere around an average of 1.5% Neanderthal. That means that the sum total of neanderthal genes alive in human cells adds up to 90 million humans, that is a far cry from extinct. I’m a tiny bit amerind, Sandgroper is a tiny bit aboriginal, and we are a long long away from being alone. Will cultures go extinct? yep. Will large populations of people who are of more recent hunter gatherer backgrounds? nope.

        I can’t seem to make this second point clear, but i will try again. People are hopelessly self centered because they can only look out from their own eyes. They rarely see or even care about the big picture that is humanity moving through time. They see that their life is harder than their parents life was and they mistakenly externalize that to mean we are all going to hell in a basket. No,no and no. Because you are the owner of two old cars, you live in an apartment, and your vacations are shitty does not come close to life on the malthusian edge of surviving. Harder times (not hard times, none of you KNOW what real hard times are) directly effect family size except for crazy backwards places like Africa. The big picture doesn’t include you, you are going to die soon and be forgotten. The big picture requires human population to get way down below current levels and it is going to happen. Why? Because of harder times average family size is dropping like a rock, Mexico has gone from an average of 6 children per women to 2.2 in one generation. Call me a foolish Paul Erlich #2 if you like but the numbers at Gapminder don’t lie, but our eyes do all the time.

    • Sandgroper says:

      PB, sometimes I wonder which planet you’re living on.

    • Sandgroper says:

      The sad part is, 14 years later, Cathy is diabetic. And she doesn’t live in a stupid way, she still trains and watches her diet, a lot better than a lot of people do. She obviously understands this is a particular problem for Aboriginal people. How well that has been enunciated publicly, in terms of genetic differences, is something else.

    • Jim says:

      All over the world primitive people face bleak prospects as the environments in which they can survive are steadily encroached upon. Even the Sentinel Islanders face probable extinction in the not too distnt future. Sooner or later outsiders will come to these islands and the diseases only which they will bring may wipe out the indigenous inhabitants.

    • Anthony says:

      If the white Australians, under the influence of long-term poor economic conditions decided to quit “carrying” the Abos, they’d probably do what the Americans did – give them reservations on land the Whites don’t care for, and let them fend for themselves. Those Abos who preferred to integrate into white Australian society would end up having fewer and fewer kids survive to adulthood, and blend in, but the ones out on the reservations would end up with a stable, if reduced, population.

      On the other hand, if China or Indonesia invades, they might go for extermination, even if they don’t deliberately intend to exterminate the Abos.

      • Hayrick says:

        You are obnoxious Anthony. If we quit carrying the Abos (as you say) make no mistake they will survive. It was their country for 50,000 yrs before we came along. We cannot survive in it so we hug the coast.
        If climate change happens you will be the first to go.
        In case of invasion from anywhere in Asia, expect the same. The Aboriginal worldview is closer to the many Asian world-views than ours and they respect antiquity, you on the other hand may be considered as dispensable arrogant white trash – an upstart! Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew said as much, though slightly more politely.

    • newyorker says:

      I think that when the shtf, abos would have an advantage, at least the ones least tied to the cash economy and who still remember how to live off the land. It will be the rest of us that are screwed.

  8. Peter Connor says:

    The good ship Lollipop could have rough sailing in the next century. Soil depletion, aquifer depletion and desertification continue at a steady pace, with inevitably Malthusian results at some point. No matter how great the seeds are, you can only get what’s there in the soil. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for accidents. For example, recent research shows that the drought on the US west coast could continue for decades, and has as recently as the 16th century.

  9. GoneWithTheWind says:

    Ironically I think the biggest problem that the adopted Australian Aborigine would have would be the result of someone telling him he is an Australian Aborigine and therefore should … That is the guilt trip or false expectations or hyped resentment would be the undoing.

  10. dearieme says:

    Having lived in Australia I’m more than happy to give Australians endless advice on how to improve their country, except for one topic. I wouldn’t dream of telling them what to do about the Abos. Over the years lots of Aussies have tried all sorts of things, without success. It’s heart-rending seeing Abos living in drunken, violent squalor – but solution have I none.

  11. Julian says:

    I don’t know, but it seems there are neural differences that suggest innate differences?

    “The suggestion that there are inherent differences, not just between individuals, but between races, is even less acceptable. There is now evidence, however, that one group of people may indeed have a superior mental capacity, in at least one respect, to everyone else – and some of it comes form the eight-year old Sherilee.

    Sherilee has an astonishingly accurate visual memory. She scores 100 per cent on tests designed to measure how much individuals can remember of what they see. The only clue to the cause of her remarkable ability is her race: she is an aborigine, and aborigines have a proven ability to remember the exact location of objects that far exceeds that of other ethnic groups. They can find their way across deserts, locate water holes and identify animal lairs with an uncanny accuracy. They also perform about 50 per cent better on visual memory tests than, for instance, Caucasians.

    What is the aborigines’ secret? To some evolutionary psychologists, the answer is relatively straightforward. The aborigines were, for about 4,000 generations, or 80,000 years, hunter-gatherers in the deserts of Australia.

    That is enough time for natural selection to have worked on increasing the accuracy of aborigines’ memory, because if you could not find your way through the desert, or to the waterhole, you would starve, and so would your children. In the competition to stay alive, an accurate memory would – to put it mildly – have been an advantage.

    Are today’s aborigine children the inheritors of that process? It has certainly been speculated that their extraordinary visual memories are the result of genes selected over thousands of years by evolution.

    Clive Harper, a professor of pathology in Sydney, may have discovered evidence that it is more than just a theoretical possibility. He found that the visual cortex – the part of the brain used in processing and interpreting visual information – was about 25 per cent larger in aborigines than in Caucasians.”

    Ed Miller, a finance professor who also published a number of papers on psychometrics in the 90’s, had a paper about this too.

    “A sample of adopted and fostered aboriginals (typically of mixed European and aboriginal ancestry) children in Adelaide that had been reared in the homes of Australians showed performance on tests of conservation of quantity and conservation of weight that was significantly poorer than the norms for Europeans, although on other tests, including serration, the Nixon test, and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary test, the performance approximated European norms (Dasen, de Lacey, & Seagrim, 1973). The majority of the children were also reported to be below average in school work, and most were reported to experience particular difficulty with math. Since being raised in a European background controlled for differences in the environment, that aboriginal performance was below European norms is strong evidence for a genetic difference….

    However, Dasen (1972) was unable to reproduce in the same populationthe de Lemos results for better performance in the partly white aboriginals (and again found poor performance), leaving the situation unclear. An examination of the Dasen (1973) results shows that the part-aboriginal children generally did do better than the full aboriginal children (except on conservation of length tests) although the differences were not statistically significant. It is not known whether the difference between the two studies is statistically significant, or if it might better be attributed to sampling variability. Taking the two samples together, some support for a genetic difference can be deduced.

    Of course, aboriginals need not do poorly on all tests. Kearins (1981, 1986) reports on experiments measuring memory for spatial location of objects. She found that aboriginals did better than whites. Since this was true of aboriginal who were at least a couple of generations removed from their original lifestyles, while these did not differ much from those who were less acculaturated, it appears likely that there is a genetic difference here. Kearins argued that this spatial ability was very useful for pathfinding in the desert. However, Drinkwater (1976) did not find such an advantage for a sample of non-desert aboriginals, although Kearins pointed out that even performing at the white level was impressive, since the aboriginals in general did not do this well.

    Additional evidence of aboriginal superiority at spatial relations is supplied by Kearins (1988). She found that when day care children (4 to 4.5 years of age) were asked to indicate by pointing the direction to their home, 58% of the aboriginal children were correct while none of the university day care center children could do this and only 5% of those in an urban blue collar center, while the aboriginal children were significantly worse at knowing their addresses, ages, or at counting than were the white children. The aboriginal children were also significantly better at the kindergarten game of fishing (catching artificial fish) which required speed and manual dexterity.

    A possible explanation for the aboriginal advantage in spatial memory is provided by (Klekamp et al.,1994) who report that Australian aboriginals have a larger visual cortex than Caucasians.

    The brains of Australian aborigines also show a prominent lunate sulcus at a higher rate than in other races (Baker, 1974, p. 293), which Baker notes indicates that “the visual area does not extend nearly so far round the posterior end of the occipital lobe on to its lateral surface” in Europids as in Australids. …. Also the percentage of skulls with fronto-temporal pteriorn or one or both sides is much higher in Australids (and Negrids) than in Europids of Europe (Baker 1974, p. 299). It is not known what the implications, if any, of these morphological differences are for brain function…

    brain sizes, which is reported to be about 85% of that for the normal European (Baker, 1974, p. 292), with some of the smallest brains reported in normal people being found among them (Coon, 1962, p. 411). The most recent work (Klekamp et al., 1987) confirmed earlier work by finding a statistically significant difference in fresh brain weight with aboriginal brains averaging 1241 grams, versus 1421 for Caucasians. Harper & Mina (1981) reported statistically signifucant (p<.001) brain weight differences (from the same set of brains) in paired samples matched for age and height.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Julian: “The aborigines were, for about 4,000 generations, or 80,000 years, hunter-gatherers in the deserts of Australia.”

      Your time scales are off by miles. The earliest reliable evidence for humans in Australia is dated to 48,000 years ago.

      If AJ West is right
      (and I have no strong reasons to suppose otherwise), Aboriginal people might have occupied desert areas very much more recently.

      Surviving in the desert for a long time before you evolve special spatial memory to enable you to survive there is a bit like being in the water a long time before you learn how to swim. Maybe people moved into desert areas because they could, once they had the stone tools to enable them to survive there, and because population explosion pushed them there.

      In which case, when did the special brain adaptations develop and why?

      • gcochran9 says:

        It probably wouldn’t take all that long, actually.

      • Julian says:

        Sandgroper ***Your time scales are off by miles. The earliest reliable evidence for humans in Australia is dated to 48,000 years ago…. Aboriginal people might have occupied desert areas very much more recently.

        In which case, when did the special brain adaptations develop and why?***

        Thanks for the comments. Good question. Would the link with Denisovans have contributed in some way? Razib Khan commented a few years ago:

        “When I was a freshman at university I took a biological anthropology course. The instructor threw out a question to the class. He noted that some paleoanthropologists observed a continuity between the skulls of Australian Aborigines and some Southeast Asian erectine populations. Australian Aborigines are a very robust people, and have been less affected by the trend toward gracility which has been the norm over the past 10,000 years for most human populations.”

        Actually, I see you guys discussed that a bit in the comments to an earlier thread.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Julian – mmmph. Chris Stringer seems to have a real talent for being wrong about things. That might be an unfair comment, but it’s an impression I have. He seems to be quite good at explaining things that are already known, but not so good at guessing things that are not yet known. I remember him being absolutely certain that modern humans have no Neanderthal admixture, just before it was announced that we do. In fact I think I recall he was still certain there is none even after it was announced. He’s obviously caught up now, though.

        I have seen some very gracile ‘pure’ Aboriginal people, I might say, from the Kimberley region. That’s irrelevant, but your link to Razib’s comments reminded me. I have, and not that long ago.

        I was thinking that what I said before was a bit dumb – people moving into drier areas is not like being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool. It might look quite sudden against a time scale of 10,000s of years, but in terms of human generations it can’t be like that. Australia has gone through cycles of some very dry periods going back a long way since human arrival, and it’s a flat dry continent anyway, most of it.

        I was a bit surprised to be reminded recently just how high the archaic admixture in Aboriginal people is. I did wonder if different brain morphology might have derived from that, but who knows. Skull shape is a bit more in that direction.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Chris Stringer was a strong early proponent of Out-of-Africa, which is mostly correct. It may not be as recent as he thought, and there was certainly some mixing with archaics, but he’s closer to correct than Wolpoff was.

          That said, it seems to me that the expectations of most people in the field leaned in directions that were unlikely, so that results (mostly from ancient DNA) were almost always a surprise. People ended up having experimental data lead them by the nose – but there are worse things than that.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Papuan skulls don’t look all that different to me, but I’m no skull expert.

      • Classic Aboriginals of the old Australid type are skeletally gracile but nonetheless Australian skulls are robust for a contemporary human race. The ‘Murrayan’ type of Birdsell’s trihybrid theory is more robust postcranially but notice that Bulbeck explains this by Berger’s and Allen’s rules rather than by a separate migration event.

        Papuans and island Melanesians since someone mentioned them are close to Australians being effectively the same race modified by the adoption of vegecultural practice’s since an extremely early date.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Bones – yes, I meant skeletally (post-cranially) gracile.

    • little spoon says:

      Do we know about the spatial memory of Melenesians? How about people with very high Dravidian ancestry in India? Knowing that might help give an indication of where and when this spatial capacity developed.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I don’t know. I have never heard anything about Melanesians having the special powers that at least some Aboriginal people have. Papuans don’t have the notable quickness, agility and dexterity evident in Aboriginals.

        It might also be elucidating if people in the Kalahari can do similar stuff with eyesight and spacial memory.

      • M says:

        Jared Diamond thought the Papuans had special mental qualities? A lack of large populations of well intentioned / exotifying Whites (perhaps with a dash of Aboriginal ancestry) may be why the Papuans seem, to “lack” special mental qualities of the Australian Aboriginals…

      • Sandgroper says:

        Diamond claimed Papuans are the most intelligent people in the world. He’s obviously wrong, by any objective systematic measure of intelligence.

        I try to be careful about folklore, as opposed to factual objective measures like visual acuity. Visual acuity in Aboriginal people, in the absence of eye disease like trachoma, is reportedly so well known and unsurprising among eye specialists that they don’t even bother to talk about it, much. Myopia in Chinese is not controversial, just like so-called ‘Asian cancers’ like naso-pharyngeal carcinoma are not controversial. I don’t see why it should be surprising, or elicit comparisons with Natty Bumpo.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Jared Diamond claimed Papuans are the most intelligent people in the world. He’s obviously wrong.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Having said that, anyone who watches 7s rugby knows that Fijians are big, fast, agile and have excellent ball handling, and that Papuans are not as big, not as fast, not as agile, and less good ball handlers. So it doesn’t seem as simple as just saying ‘Melanesians’. Direct comparisons between Melanesians and Aboriginals in Australian football are difficult because there are not many Melanesians playing the game, but Nic Naitanui is 6’7″, 200 lbs, a very high leaper and as fast as lightning on the ground; and he’s not that unusual for a Fijian in terms of size, strength, speed, agility and ball handling, judging from Fijians who play rugby. Polynesians who play rugby tend also to be big, strong, fast and agile, and Fijians are not pure Melanesian, and I don’t know how they stack up genetically against mainland Papuans – more Austronesian admixture, I think, certainly more than PNG highlanders, who don’t have any.

        Of course, I might just be saying that because I’m a West Coast Eagles fan.

    • Patrick Boyle says:

      If the studies you cite are indeed accurate as to the brain anatomy differences in Aborigines, that would be very interesting. But I would be careful.

      A lot of Western literature about primitive peoples have always been filled with hokum. And it is usually confused and contradictory hokum too. I think it will take some time to get all our cultural stereotypes separated out from our verifiable science.

      I’m reminded of the Clint Eastwood movie where Chief Dan George sneaks up on Eastwood from behind and says ‘It takes an Indian to do something like that’ – implying that genetically Amerindians are better at walking silently over broken ground. This was a common theme in many Westerns. In the ‘Stalking Moon’ the Indian villain was nearly supernatural in his ability to sneak about.

      There is a lot of guff about Indians in our popular culture. The deadly tracker who can follow Butch and Sundance over rock at night is discovered inevitably to be an Indian. In Schwarzenegger’s team the only one who can sense the invisible alien is Amerindian Sonny Lanham.

      But in ‘Last of the Mohicans’ all white Natty Bumpo can move and sneak around like an Indian simply because he was raised among the Indians. This is more like ‘Tarzan” who was as strong as an ape because he was brought up as an ape.

      In Kipling’s story ”Kim” the protagonist is trained to be able to identify objects after only seeing them once. So are the supposed ‘visual memory’ advantages of Aborigines something innate or is it a skill that everyone has and can develop? Richard Feynman thought that humans could identify smells nearly as well as dogs but we just didn’t use that particular skill. He seemed to have proved it too.

      I have an average memory but with a few mnemonic tricks I have been able to stupefy credulous others with my ‘super memory’. Stage magicians do this sort of thing better yet. So I wonder how many of the amazing desert mental skills of the Aborigines are real and how many are confabulations.

      • Jim says:

        There is nothing in the least bit surprising about a people like the Australian Aborigines or North American Indians having unique adaptions to the way of life that they have followed for tens of thousands of years. That is exactly what biology would predict for any other species. What would be biologically inexplicable would be for the different human populations which have lived under very different conditions not to have such unique adaptions.
        Human beings are not transcendental beings existing independently of biology. Human beings are biological organisms – that is their fundamental nature.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Myopia in Chinese is uncontroversial. Visual acuity in Aboriginal people in the absence of eye disease is equally uncontroversial among eye specialists. You don’t talk about this stuff in public, because implying genetic difference is implying genetic difference. That is, you can talk uncontroversially about Chinese being short sighted because they don’t mind, they know they are, maybe they put it down to reading all those books or something, but you can’t talk about Aboriginal people being ‘different’, even when ‘different’ means ‘better’. They can track because of long continuity of culture, obviously – wisdom of the elders, that sort of stuff. Culture does not allow you to see things on the horizon that other people cannot see, so it doesn’t get talked about.

        Learning tricks doesn’t let you read the bottom line of a Snellen chart without glasses, unless you memorise it. If you are seeing it for the first time in your life, you can’t have memorised it.

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        They can track because of long continuity of culture, obviously – wisdom of the elders, that sort of stuff.

        I would expect that over time, even tracking abilities would become more hard wired. 20-40 generations might be enough to select from standing variation, although visual acuity might also be the driving force as it would allow such individuals to see small disturbances in the trail at long distances.

  12. Greying Wanderer says:

    @Whiskey Enthusiast
    “I think whiskey is an effect of the problem, not a cause.”

    Yes, agree – stronger fix.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “Levon Ennis was born to an Aboriginal woman in Sydney in 1969, who was told that he died at birth. Within weeks, Ennis was sent to Britain, where he was adopted by a middle-class family”

  14. Gerard says:

    Does anyone seriously think that when humans first discovered how to make alcohol (as opposed to e.g. ingesting it accidentally from rotting fruit) there wasn’t a significant selection process started right there and then, that continued for many generations? And that when it was introduced to Europe there wasn’t a similar disaster? No need to feel guilty: Europeans paid their dues back before there were any progressives to wring their hands about it.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      If a population lived somewhere there was an unusually large amount of rotting fruit then maybe the people there might have started adapting to it even before the invention of alcohol?

      Higher tolerance fruit-drunk guy out-running lower tolerance fruit-drunk guy when chased by lion?

  15. Pentagon says:

    If environment and education were the sole reaons for the iq level, the average would have the same punctuation in every city, then a small group of lower and higher, due to economic level.

  16. Greying Wanderer says:

    @Little Spoon
    “Scotch and vodka have a lot more alcohol than wine.”

    The reason I think alcoholism may be related to some people getting a bigger hit from alcohol – and it’s just a guess – is what seems to me an analogy with adrenaline.

    I think if it was studied you’d find people with a propensity to engage in dangerous activities (like particular sports) get a bigger hit from adrenaline than the average person. The risk gets them high. In certain extreme contexts: violence, combat etc you’ll see individuals who are acting particularly bravely but what’s actually happening is they’re high as a kite on adrenaline, literally out of their tree.

    It’s just a guess but I think the same may be true with alcohol although as mentioned above if it was agriculture related then black Americans should have it worse than northern Europeans.

    On the other hand if it was true that particular groups got an extra hit from alcohol then that last point would be a clue as the cause would have to be something that both mid-latitude farmers and West Africans had some adaption for but not others – something to do with processing sugar?

    • little spoon says:

      This chart shows alcohol consumption by race in the US:

      I think Alcohol consumption is difficult to compare between races because the effects of alcohol are not the same for races on average. Whites have higher tolerance, so they can drink more without it fucking up their lives. It doesn’t seem too uncommon to see Northern European people who are profoundly addicted to alcohol still function at a high level. White alcoholics can get advanced degrees or hold down demanding jobs etc. Native Americans allegedly have the same rate of heavy drinking as whites and this completely ruins their ability to function collectively. I believe the case is similar for Abos- it’s not just that they drink a lot, it’s that their tolerance for it is very low. If an IQ 115 Scotsman drank 5 drinks of Scotch every night, that wouldn’t be great for his health, but he has a decent chance of functioning fine in the world. If an IQ 70 Abo does the same, it seems to destroy any chance of functioning in modern society.

      As for the thrill of it, also difficult to asses. I think blacks have lower tolerance, but they drink less.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I think your take on this is pretty right. One sensible, intelligent Aboriginal person I heard talking about this said that alcohol affects Aboriginal people more badly, and when they drink they have a real talent for random bad behaviour in public and getting themselves into trouble. It does not mean that Aboriginal people drink more – per capita on an annual basis, they actually drink less.

        It is important not to conflate – Native Americans seem a better model for Aboriginal behaviour in this, although maybe not in everything. African Americans are not analogous – genetically and in terms of heritable behaviour it does not make sense. People tend to conflate a lot of the ‘black’ issues, frequently wrongly or inaccurately.

        A lot of Chinese have very low tolerance for alcohol – more than a little bit makes them feel bad, but they just feel sick, it does not translate into random violence and bad public behaviour; much less so than binge drinking among young white dumb males or Aboriginals.

        I was just looking at national murder rates – Greenland is way up there, African level, it’s 50% higher than Papua New Guinea, not as stratospheric as some African and South American countries, but it’s very high. Does anyone understand that?

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        Isn’t this well known to be related to a metabolic pathway that gives Caucasians and Asians a better ability to metabolize alcohol and most drugs. (The famous red faces etc of some Asians being due to an inability to metabolize the results of the first step in alcohol metabolism.)

        I have heard that it is well known in medical circles that you have to prescribe lower doses of many drugs for most aboriginal populations and African Americans. Perhaps I am wrong, however.

      • szopeno says:

        Damn, I can’t reply under posts below, so I reply in the post above hoping the reply will somehow end up in proper place…

        I always wondered whether certain DISabilities to tolerate alcohol may be actually advantageous in certain environment. For example, I have GIlbert’s syndrome, meaning that I cannot even end up being really drunk – I start throwing up much ealier. Some of my friends became heavy drunkers – I am virtually abstinent. In not so distant past that would mean that my ancestors would avoid heavy drinking, sothey would have lower death rate from resulting brawls and accident, and they would save more money instead of wasting them on vodka. Do you think this actually has some sense (well, aside from problems with making sense from my poor English… 🙂 )

      • Sandgroper says:

        Yes, it makes sense.

    • panjoomby says:

      good points. some folks metabolize ETOH quickly & thoroughly & get all the good & less of the bad, others leave it in mid-process for awhile as the rather toxic metabolite acetaldehyde (depending on how well one’s genes set up certain enzyme production).

      OT but along these lines, i’ve always wanted to research cognition under the effects of epinephrine – or under corticotropin releasing factor – i.e., how well do people think when under stress or under fight/flight simulation… some smart people do not think well under pressure/stress, some do. should be measurable, but it’d be hell getting it thru an IRB:)

      similarly, maybe ETOH reduces cognition more in some people than it does in others.

    • Gilbert P says:

      Gilbert’s Syndrome? This is a wind up, right?

  17. syon says:

    General information, Matthew White’s range of estimates for Aboriginal losses since the coming of the British to Australia:

    Australia (1788-1921) 240,000 [make link]
    Mark Cocker, Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold (1998)
    Australian mainland
    Ongoing frontier war: 2,000-2,500 whites and 20,000 Aborignies KIA (“best guess”, probably higher)
    General population decline: from 1M (1788) to 50,000 (ca. 1890) to 30,000 (1920s)
    Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee (1993)
    Decline of the Aborgines
    From 300,000 (in 1788) to 60,000 (in 1921)
    Extermination of the Tasmanians
    From 5,000 (in 1800) to 200 (in 1830) to 3 (in 1869) to none (1877)
    Clodfelter: 2,500 Eur. and 20,000 Aborignies k. in wars, 1840-1901
    Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country (2001): 20,000 Aboriginies intentionally killed by whites.

  18. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Does anyone understand that [Greenland]?”

    google says Inuit / alcohol

    also mentions Impaired Glucose Tolerance

    • Sandgroper says:

      I’ve had a brilliant idea – I could start a global centre for indigenous studies, to study indigenous medical problems and disseminate modern medical knowledge to all indigenous people, to help them to avoid the problems of alcohol and diabetes.

      Except it seems like someone already established one, and that is not what they do.

      They have a centre for traditional medicine though – well, I’m sure that must help really a lot.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “Except it seems like someone already established one, and that is not what they do.”

        that’s a shame as this impaired glucose and type 2 diabetes thing seems to correlate quite well at first glance (judged purely by google searches anyway)

        if alcoholism was related to sugar processing in some form and someone could prove the connection in northern Europeans (as i think it applies there too even if at a much lower level) then that might get it past the PC filter

  19. Sandgroper says:

    While I think of it, it is not irrelevant to mention that up to about 1970, Australian authorities also had a policy of stealing white children, notably when their mothers were basket cases. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the adopted-out white kids turned out to be basket cases too. This was not just an Aboriginal thing. I suppose the lesson learned is that when basket cases have kids, stealing them might not help much, although there are notable exceptions. Leaving them with their mothers doesn’t help much either, and sterilising basket cases is not an option. Sweden tried that. Disabled girls are still sometimes sterilised when they are children, allegedly to protect them from predators when they are in ‘care’ facilities (“they might get raped (they do), but at least they won’t get pregnant”) plus it avoids ‘difficulties’, but being dumb enough to be dysfunctional doesn’t count as disability – otherwise half the country would be on a disability pension, including the Prime Minister.

    Aboriginal Filmography

    Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) – Stretches credibility somewhat, but an approximation of the issue,
    and worth watching for Everlyn Sampi’s performance, if nothing else.

    Ten Canoes (2006) – Outstanding film. Warning – everyone in the film is stark naked.

    Sampson and Delilah (2009) – Great film. Yes, Alice Springs really is that grim.

  20. Greying Wanderer says:

    sugar processing and alcoholism again

    An alternative to the idea that people who get a bigger hit from alcohol might be more likely to drink too much and develop alcoholism that way is that maybe some people process sugar slower and so the effect of the alcohol is delayed.


    If it takes x units of alcohol to get a person drunk and that person processes sugar rapidly they might be drunk at exactly x units. A person who processes sugar slowly might drink x units but at that point they only feel the effect of x/2 units so they carry on drinking and end up 2x units before the effect of the first x units hits them fully and they end up blind drunk.

    So in this case agricultural (or in some regions forager?) adaptations to process glucose or fructose as efficiently as possible for nutritional reasons might then inadvertently act against drinking too much alcohol?

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