Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Darker Shade of Pale

Home Truths from Abroad.

I'm sure I have seen Steve Jones on TV. I'm sure he is the “expert” regularly trotted out when matters concerning genetics are hot topics. He is, according to the Times, “The leading geneticist Steve Jones”.

Good enough for me.

Steve is explaining this week “how the world's population is blending into a single shade”. What's he's not explaining is how the world's population got to be so many different shades in the first place. This is probably a wise move as it might lead him into speculating on the origins of race in human populations. This, as you know, is mostly a taboo subject - for many, and sometimes good, reasons.

Steve explains how because of today's modern lifestyle with its almost limitless opportunities for travel and intercourse (in the sense of interaction) with people from all over the globe, we are all becoming a bit browner and much more racially homogeneous. From his tone you can conclude that he thinks this is a generally good thing.

Me too.

My own family are a fairly cosmopolitan lot. I have grandparents with English, Norwegian, Scottish and German genes. My children can add an infusion of more English and some Irish. Their children are shortly to add some South American and Jewish (via Ecuador) genetic material.

We are certainly getting about.

This exchange of genetic material is good for us. Nature loves diversity. It keeps us moving forward in the survival of the fittest stakes. Our browner children will be better equipped to deal with life's problems caused by genetic deficiencies – like my skin problems owing to my very fair, mostly northern European skin.

Things are looking up – evolution-wise.

Three paragraphs from the end of the article, Steve gets really interesting. He reminds us that “most readers will see on their way to work tomorrow more people than the average member of the human species would, until recently, have seen in a lifetime”.

I'm tempted to type that again – it's so profound.

He goes on to explain that, “For 99% of our past we were hunters and gatherers – rare and not particularly successful primates that gathered berries, hunted wild animals (and were hunted by them – Steve forgets to mention this important point) and flirted with extinction.” He goes on, “. . . . for most of history we lived in tiny, isolated groups, married the boy – or girl next door and lost diversity as a result. If the few hunter-gatherer tribes still left a few decades ago were any guide, any attempt to join another group, let alone exchange genes with it, was likely to be met by death”.

The implication here is easy to see.

The racial characteristics that we see today must have been present in the human population when we were very small in number. Steve asserts, though he doesn't explicitly state it, that we stayed in small very genetically homogeneous groups for most of human history. Therefore if racial characteristics are recent – they simply wouldn't exist. He, therefore, prescribes a mechanism to explain race in human populations – remembering that no matter which race we belong to we are all almost genetically identical. Steve says that we just didn't move around from group to group. We stayed put and interbred with our “home” population.

Thanks, Steve for that brilliant insight.

So, can you tell us how we managed to populate the planet in a very short space of time?

Just imagine: somehow we have to explain how we got from a small bunch of evolutionarily-challenged apes who disliked others of their own species for the purpose of breeding so much that we avoided them at all costs. Does this make any sense to you?

Me neither.

One thing that we do know about humans is that they would rather procreate than do almost anything - except run away from hungry lions. Given the chance, hunter-gatherers spying a loose female on the horizon will do what comes naturally.

Steve says no.

Somehow we need to explain how these “home-loving” HG's (hunter gatherers) managed to populate an entire planet in less than 2500 generations.

Computer says crap.

We are getting to the point where some very respectable scientific theories need to be either explained better, challenged or discarded.

Lest , dear reader, you assume I am making this up – or have lost what little marbles I ever had; I suggest you have a look at:

and then try to explain how such a racially diverse population of humans developed in so short a time; and how a tiny number of people whose very existence was challenged on a daily basis by predation, disease and starvation could possibly fill the earth in so short a time? Some part of this has to be wrong.

Either the DNA evidence is puppy-plop or the archaeological evidence is dog-dung.

Think about it Steve (as I hope you are reading this ) and let me know.


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