When you compare our trifling selves with the generation that landed in Normandy, invented the atomic bomb, and wrote The Big Sleep, it doesn’t look good. You could easily get the impression that the United States went straight from a Golden Age to one of cardboard, skipping silver and all the other metals.
But when you consider that people must have had 48 chromosomes back then, rather than the current measly 46, much is explained.
Theophilus Painter, a prominent cytologist, had investigated human chromosome number in 1923. He thought that there were 24 in sperm cells, resulting in a count of 48, which is entirely reasonable. That is definitely the case for all our closest relatives (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans).
The authorities say that that Painter made a mistake, and that humans always had 46 chromosomes. But then, for 30 years after Painter’s work, the authorities said that people had 48. Textbooks in genetics continued to say that Man has 48 chromosomes up until the mid 1950s. Many cytologists and geneticists studied human chromosomes during that period, but they knew that there were 48, and that’s what they saw. Now they know that there are 46, and that’s what every student sees.
Either the authorities are fallible and most people are sheep, or human chromosome number actually changed sometime after World War II. No one could believe the first alternative: it would hurt our feelings, and therefore cannot be true. No, we have a fascinating result: people today are fundamentally different from the Greatest Generation, biologically different: we’re two chromosomes shy of a load. . So it’s not our fault !