Regional change

Jared Diamond thinks that people in different parts of the world can and have evolved in different directions, depending on local selective pressures. He thinks that people in Eurasia and Africa evolved resistance to various crowd and tropical diseases, and that people that were not exposed to those infectious diseases – such as Amerindians and Polynesians – were very vulnerable to them. He thinks that that vulnerability played a part in European conquest of the Americas. All of which is correct: we know some of the genetic basis of those differences in susceptibility. I doubt if if he would argue against recent work that shows regional adaptation to cold and high altitude.

He also thinks that regionally different selective forces could and probably have caused average differences in intelligence of different groups. He does not think that everybody must be the same – does not think that evolution stops at the neck.

However, he believes that there is some principle that ensures that the intelligence differences created by those regionally varying selective pressures are the opposite of what current measurements show.

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69 Responses to Regional change

  1. Erik says:

    Would you consider putting this series of posts in a GGS category for easier reference? Right now they’re posted in “Uncategorized”.

  2. Clay says:

    What he believes and what sells books are not necessarily the same.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      what he believes and what he wants other people to believe are not necessarily the same

      • helenahankart says:

        The career of Steven Jay Gould is testament to the principle of patronisngly believing that your audience wiull turn into fascists if they are allowed to understand biology.

        • helenahankart says:


        • gcochran9 says:

          Gould didn’t understand biology.

          • helenahankart says:

            And he wanted to share this gift with others

          • What do you mean? Sure Gould was an IQ and race denier. Many other biologists rejected dinosaur extinction due to impact event, just because they didn’t like it, either.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Gould was wrong ( at great length) on general evolutionary questions too.

              • For every biologist we can pick some questions where’s they are wrong. They don’t even have to be right on everything; after all, as Rutherford said, it’s stamp collecting, not science.

            • Uniformitarianism (anti-catastrophism) was a explanatory principle, a relic of the purge of Biblical explanation from scientific explanation. To avoid miraculous explanation, geologists committed themselves to explanations which admitted only forces which they could observe in the current environment. They carried this too far. At least, that’s how it seems to me. We see impact craters on the Moon and Mars, so even impacts exist in the current environment.
              Gould was different.. He would introduce vague concept (“spandrel”, punctuated equilibrium) to the discussion as some major revision to the New Synthesis (natural selection + genetics), then, when challenged, qualify and redefine until his major revision became the addition of a semi-colon to a footnote of someone’s comment on Darwin.

  3. feralplum says:

    ‘there is some principle that ensures that the intelligence differences created by those regionally varying selective pressures are the opposite of what current measurements show’

    So, Intelligent Design of intelligence but not height, pigmentation, or immune systems? Who or what is this ‘principle’ which guarantees all groups have the same IQ but not their constituent members?
    If we form a group of noticeably different IQ, may we provoke a miracle?

    • Ian says:

      Darwinism, but only below the neck.

    • ilkarnal says:

      No, could be as simple as relaxed selection in non-hunter gatherer environments. Easier lyfe, meaning genetic load gets sloughed off slower.

      Of course, it wasn’t really easier lyfe. But you could be forgiven for thinking it was from a modern perspective.

      • Diamond’s suggestion isn’t absurd. Two considerations:
        1. Perhaps civilization means domestication and only leaders need to be smart. Against this, of course, is the correlation between reproductive success and status. Leaders impregnate the pretty sheep.
        2. Perhaps there’s a difference between narrow IQ and broad IQ. IQ tests were originally designed to predict success in school. Murray finds Gardener’s multiple intelligence thesis worthwhile. The correlation between verbal and math SAT is not 1. They measure somewhat different things. Murray suggested giving greater weight to spatial relations so colleges would admit more Asian Engineering majors. Maybe tests of academic IQ don’t measure the facet of nervous system function (broad IQ) that computes the trajectory of a spear aimed at a running warthog or the facet that stores in memory the scent of hidden food.

    • Jim says:

      Complex natural processes do not produce simple patterns let alone simple patterns that conform to our moral wishes.

      • Jim says:

        If it were observed that in all human populations there was considerable variation in height but that the average height of all human populations was exactly the same that would be inexplicable. But that a priori extremely unlikely pattern is supposed to be true of intelligence. I suspect the reason so many believe this about intelligence is that to many intelligence isn’t just a natural property but a moral property, a virtue. So they cannot conceptualize intelligence in a naturalistic manner like they conceptualize a morally neutral property like height.

        • Academics owe their income and status to their certified exceptional IQ. It costs them as much to say that men and women and regional varieties of human have the same IQ mean and variance as it would cost Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to assert that all humans are equally wealthy, once you really understand the true meaning of “wealth”
          It’s bogus generosity, like “I would have invited you to my party but I lost your contact information”.

      • RCB says:

        Central limit theorem is sort of an example of simplicity produced from complexity: sums of random variables drawn from just about any arbitrary distribution yield a normal distribution. Ie the bell curve. Presumably this is why many different things in nature show a bell curve, despite multitude of different complex causes underneath.

  4. AppSocRes says:

    Diamond seems to be a poltroon. He observed the travails of brave and forthright scientists, researchers, and other intellectuals, e.g., Pauling, Watson, Wilson, Herrnstein, Harpending, and Cochrane, who advocated for honest presentation of research findings. He compared their fates in the public arena with those of poseurs like Stephen Jay Gould. Then he chose to skulk about on the edges of truth, grasping for evanescent popularity and fame, rather than risk all with forthright honesty. He got his paltry reward for promoting orthodoxy over truth. Eventually, he’ll get more appropriate payback, as his name and work fade from view while those who fought the good fight gain luster with time. Already acquaintances of mine who once lauded Diamond at every opportunity no longer mention him and sometimes seem embarrassed when his sillier claims are brought up.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      We are all ignorant children of our times. GGS was written in 1997 and times were very different. Bullshit runs amok these days in ways we do not recognize and it did in other ways back in 1997. Diamond wasn’t a coward or even an outright liar (my opinion). He wrote a highly speculative book, and lets just say it hasn’t aged well. He is now 79 years old. Is he going to learn new tricks now? Nope.

      The wishful thinkers just love human equality. They even think our brain is magically exempt from evolution. Cochran is a very articulate voice speaking out against this bullshit but guess what, popular beliefs are like bad weeds, hard to kill.

    • Unladen Swallow says:

      Regarding Diamond, I agree he has begun to fade already, I think Gould is still more popular and his books cited more often among social science types despite being dead for a decade and a half. Watson has been labeled a thought criminal and can’t even talk about non-IQ related issues, and Wilson hasn’t bothered for years, he strictly writes environmental tracts now.

      Pauling? I know that he was a highly regarded chemist but later became the guy known for his theory that Vitamin C could cure every ailment under the Sun after he botched the structure of DNA. I don’t think he ever got a water pitcher poured over him or had “sit-ins” against his teaching classes. Are you thinking of Sarich and Wilson at Cal- Berkeley? Or Arthur Jensen at the same?

      • dearieme says:

        “Pauling? I know that he was a highly regarded chemist”: very highly. Outside chemistry less so. Like many people opposed to the Vietnam war he was right that it had always been folly and that it ought to be stopped. On the other hand, like many opposed to that war he had the oddest notion of why it had been fought: ‘he delivered a speech in which he proclaimed that the American people were finally learning the truth about the Vietnam War and the United States’ “cold blooded” ambition to retain control of Southeast Asia as part of a Western capitalist “economic sphere.”’

        I’d be astonished if there were any worthwhile evidence that the US government ever had any practical clear-headed ambition for the war other than a hope that it would lead to re-election first for JFK and then for LBJ.

        • Ursiform says:

          Probably closer to France’s ambition to retain an economic sphere.

          Once people get into fights the other side becomes the enemy, and of course you have to fight the enemy. Few people have the ability to step back and ask if the other side being the enemy results primarily from walking into an unwise fight with them..

  5. Jim says:

    Other than his statement in “Guns, Germs and Steel” has Diamond elsewhere repeated his assertion that the populations of New Guinea have evolved higher intelligence than whites?
    Or is that statement the only one he has made regarding differences in average intelligence between human populations?

  6. RCB says:

    To be honest, I doubt Diamond actually believes that.

  7. Reziac says:

    If a difficult environment selects for best intelligence, explain the average IQ of Australian aborigines, 40,000 years in one of the toughest environments on Earth, and with no invaders to knock them down, either. (Hint: it’s 59.)

  8. The Z Blog says:

    The principle at work here is the one that says that Diamond does not which to be cast into the void. He’s not alone in this. The game seems to be that these guys will walk the reader up the river’s edge and then claim there is no river. Charles Murray’s histrionic over reaction to Trump is a variation of this. Since Murray was foolish enough to acknowledge the river, he has scream and wave his hands, pretending to now fear the river.

    Alternatively, factual discussions about IQ are bad for people at the top of the IQ pyramid, in the same way that discussions of economic inequality are bad for the super rich.Just as we now have a taboo against bashing the rich, we have a taboo against talking about IQ too much.

  9. Realist says:

    While it may well be true that a difficult environment selects for high intelligence. It sure appears to me that there was further influence on high IQ peoples. It is hard to reconcile a harsh environment producing a white race that made such astounding advancements in math and science to put men on the moon and other great achievements.

    • Insightful says:

      Siberia is MUCH harsher than Europe. Therefore, logic dictates that Siberians are the most intelligent people on Earth!

    • Rosenmops says:

      A harsh environment could also be blamed for lack of progress–for example you might argue that the Inuit were so busy finding food and not freezing to death that they didn’t have time to invent an alphabet, etc .

  10. helenahankart says:

    Is it possible that harsh environments select for high intelligence–that then causes said folk to leave the harsh environment? Thinking “Hey, I’m smart, why am I putting up with this shit?”

    • Insightful says:

      If you think England is a harsh environment, try living in Florida for the rest of your life without air conditioning!! Now that is suffering!!

      • ziel says:

        I’d think though that in the case harshness caused by heat and humidity and the pathogens that come with it, there isn’t a lot you can do about it without modern technology. But alleviating cold really only requires some foresight and planning and self-discipline and the smarts to put it all together. Shelter, fuel, and preserved food should do the trick, so long as you planned adequately.

      • Rosenmops says:

        The coastal areas around Vancouver BC have a moderate climate, not unlike England’s. The Natives there did have wooden shelters, and they stored food for the winter (dried salmon mostly). They could travel by canoe along the coast. But that is about it.

        Sure, there were lots of mountains inland. But the Fraser Valley was fertile and easily accessible and they never tried farming. They never built cities. They had a tribal culture and the tribes attacked one another (but also traded). Maybe getting rid of the tribal culture, having a moderate climate, and a reasonably high IQ are all required to make civilization.

        I suppose the sub saharan Africans didn’t need to store food because they didn’t have seasons. Maybe having seasons drives a population to get smarter. And that terrible heat in Africa–maybe they were just too hot to do anything much.

        • dearieme says:

          “I suppose the sub saharan Africans didn’t need to store food because they didn’t have seasons”: you seem to be underestimating the size of subSaharan Africa. There are certainly seasons in the Cape, in Natal, on the veldt, in the parts of East Africa subject to the monsoon. West and Central Africa I know less about but presumably the savannah south of the Sahara has seasons?

          • dearieme says:

            Would anyone care to look up the numbers?

          • Jmo8 says:

            There are seasons in much of Africa south of the Sahara, primarily the dry and (comparatively)wet/rainy seasons (with similar ones perhaps in much of tropical South Asia/the Indian subcontinent). Much of sub-saharan West Africa (and somewhat extending across to the east), both the Sahel and savannah regions (and the range of zones labeled in the climate map below as: “semi-desert”, “steppe”, as well as “savanna grassland”,and dry season forest, or, as termed in the link, “woodland savanna”) has significant dry seasons lasting roughly half the year when little food can be grown/much less edible grows and hunting generally traditionally increased (as also often happened during cold seasons in temperate zones) and in preparation for which grain/food typically had to be stored, in traditional granaries, among the various local tribes. The savannah and sahel form a large belt and including for example: Mali, Senegal, Burkina faso, the Northern and central halves of Ghana and Nigeria, Niger at the Western end. ” make up a large area of the continent (the savannah and Sahel regions of west (some parts of East Africa instead, I believe less typically, have two smaller of each (dry rainy periods) per year)

            an African climate some map:

  11. G.M. says:

    Pls do more podcasts, gcochran. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, your pal, G.M.

  12. mapman says:

    “He thinks that people in Eurasia and Africa evolved resistance to various crowd and tropical diseases, and that people that were not exposed to those infectious diseases – such as Amerindians and Polynesians – were very vulnerable to them.”

    True. But let’s not forget how the primary cause of it. Getting resistance to “crowd” diseases requires large cities a.k.a. advanced civilization. Had the Amerindians and Polynesians created one to support high population densities, it could have been played the other way around, with the invaders getting sick and dying. But that did not happen. For a reason.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I don’t think large cities were required, just fairly high population density = that plus time and exposure to sources, like domesticated animals and various bugs scattered over Eurasia and Africa.

    • dearieme says:

      “Had the Amerindians … created one to support high population densities”: it had not occurred to me that anyone would think the Aztec capital a mere village. Nor that anyone could fail to think of at least a couple of potential reasons why the Americas seemed less plagued by lethal infectious diseases than the Old World.

  13. Stary Wylk says:

    I have noticed that persons who wear knit caps, stocking caps, in summer behave stupidly. In a popular article, long ago, it was noted that more intelligent students put out more heat. Perhaps greater intelligence causes the brain to literally run hotter so intelligence above a certain level is actually contra-survival.

    • Ursiform says:

      People who wear stocking caps in summer may be stupider to begin with.

      If better brain organization leads to higher intelligence the smart brain doesn’t have to run hotter.

  14. kot says:

    Test — are the timestamps on these comments accurate?

  15. says:

    Recently there were people ridiculing the desires of some Chinese parents through genetic engineering to make their future children able to have social alcoholic drinks. They glossly overlook the the associated fatal effects of the same trait of unable to drink alcohol, that the risk of having esophageal cancer.

    With the news initially coming from Nature journal which often publishes journal papers on life sciences, it is suspicious that the editor concerned did not know this and omitted to show the other side of the picture.

    genotype (A;A) increased risk of esophageal cancer; East Asian ancestry;

    genotype (A;G) worse hangovers; increased risk of esophageal cancer (non-drinker 3.7x, heavy drinker/smoker 130x); East Asian ancestry;

    genotype (G;G) Normal hangovers. Normal risk of Alcoholism. Normal risk of Esophageal Cancer.

    The disease had been traced to the variant of ADHL2 with genotype (A;G). Those with genotype (A;A) are so sensitive to alcohol that a small amount will make them sick, with the results that most of them are non-drinkers with lower risk level. Those with genotype (A;G) are able to train to suppress ‘alcohol flushing’ but the alcohol by-products still damage the bodies.

    Strangely the distribution of the alcohol intolerance ADHL2 A allele is very regional, mostly in East Asia. Though tea drinking is popular there but historically alcoholic drinks were readily available. The Asian societies also have a romantic view of ‘drunken poets’ and alcohol drinking were not prejudiced against. With such fatal effects the A allele variant is absent from the 1000 genome dataset for Europe and African populations, at 0.3 percent for the Americas and a whooping 17.4% for East Asia. As a result, more than half of the global esophageal cancer cases are in China.

    • says:

      With such fatal effects the persistence of the A allele in East Asia must has conferred some yet unknown great advantages to the population. This could speculated to be directly or indirectly to IQ because of the more than two thousand years practice of imperaial court examinations for selecting imperial court officials. Other regions might have some other exclusive factors for improving IQ.

      To test the theory using the OECD PISA results there are only 11 data points with non-zero fraction of A allele, the result is statistically significant, bearing in mind the small sample size. The variations among the 11 populations are enough to show the trend.

      PISA3 = +478.613*rs671A +408.045; # n=11; Rsq=0.9388; p=9.236e-07

      Note this is overall group effects and it has no inference on the effects of individual drinking habits. Another interpretation is that population with higher percentages with A allele, less 15 yo are likely to be affected by their previous night’s drunken orgies when they sit for the PISA tests.

      So what the Chinese parents wished for might be to dumb down the IQ of their children. Given that most CEOs are only moderately high on IQ that might be the easier way to get rich.

  16. reiner Tor says:

    I heard that coming out of the closet is always difficult, but you just have to gather your strength.

    So, here’s my coming out: I found Diamond’s thesis of superior PNG intelligence plausible. I actually was arguing before that while it was possible that there were different innate abilities (I was obviously unaware of the relevant literature), we might actually find that People of Color or, for example, hunter-gatherers were more intelligent. It was my own idea, so when I read it in Diamond’s book, I felt vindicated.

    Okay, I was dumb. Maybe I still am. But at least I no longer have this secret. I might now even organize a Former Believers in Diamond’s Dumb Theses Pride Parade, or something. Or at least participate, if someone else organizes it.

  17. Nikolas Persson says:

    Jared Diamond has no problem demeaning European accomplishments and excusing every other people because he doesn’t consider himself European.

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