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Old 05-08-2002, 09:23 AM
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New Human Species in Brazil?


I’m currently reading Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky edited by Peter R. Mitchell & John Schoeffel, published 2002 by The New Press, New York. The editors put the book together by transcribing tapes of Q&A sessions at public talks by Noam Chomsky held between 1989 and 1999. The book’s footnotes are on line at http://understandingpower.com/

In chapter two of the printed book, on page 65, Chomsky, in discussing conditions in Central America, says "...look at Brazil: potentially an extremely rich country with tremendous resources, except it had the curse of being part of the Western system of subordination. So in northwest Brazil, for example, which is a rather fertile area with plenty of rich land, just it’s all owned by plantations. Brazilian medical researchers now identify the population as a new species with about 40 per cent the brain size of human beings, a result of generations of profound malnutrition and neglect – and this may be unremediable except after generations, because of the lingering effects of malnutrition on one’s offspring."

Here’s the footnote for this:

54. On the new human species in northeast Brazil, see for example, Isabel Vincent,
Life a struggle for Pygmy family, Globe & Mail (Toronto), December 17, 1991, p. A15. An excerpt: “A diet consisting mainly of manioc flour, beans and rice has affected [northeastern Brazilian laborers'] mental development to the point that they have difficulty remembering or concentrating. Fully 30.7 per cent of children in the Northeast are born malnourished, according to Unicef and the Brazilian Ministry of Health. . . Brazilian medical experts have known of undernourishment in the country's poorest region for more than two decades, but they confirmed only recently the existence of a much more startling problem -- a severe lack of protein in their diet that is producing a population of Brazilian Pygmies known by some medical researchers in Brazil as homens nanicos. Their height at adulthood is far less than the average height recording by the World Health Organization and their brain capacity is 40 per cent less than average. . . . In the poorest states of the Northeast, such as Alagoas and Piaui, homens nanicos comprise about 30 per cent of the population. . . . Much of the Northeast comprises fertile farm land that is being taken up by large plantations for the production of cash crops such as sugar cane.”

Okay, I note that Chomsky refers to the Brazilian Pygmies as having 40% of the normal human brain size, while the article excerpt in the footnote says their brain capacity is 40% less then normal. Assume that the article has it right, and Chomsky, speaking from memory, reversed the percentages. We’re still talking about people with a brain capacity that is only 60% of the norm for homo sapiens.

Holy Shit! I feel an impulse to rush to northeast Brazil! (But do I want to help these people… or study them?) My questions for the Teeming Millions: To which pre-human species are the Brazilian Pygmies equivalent? And does anyone know of any studies done on this population since the one 1991 article cited? I’m really wondering what sort of society they’ve built.
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Old 05-08-2002, 10:09 AM
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You don't make a different species with different nutrition. The differences between species are heritable and can't be reversed by diet.
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Old 05-08-2002, 10:43 AM
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The article Chomsky cites doesn't say anything about a new species. It says a population and doesn't even imply there's a new species. I think Chomsky (if he actually said that and wasn't misquoted) has severely misinterpreted his source material and only used the term "species" because he's not clear on the concept.

Quote:
To which pre-human species are the Brazilian Pygmies equivalent?
None! Starving people doesn't have shit to do with making them "pre-human!" The effects of malnutrition are not in any way equivalent to going back to one's ancestral state. All human beings are the same species, and none of us are equivalent in any way to "pre-humans," no matter how poor we are or how dark our skin is.
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Old 05-08-2002, 11:53 AM
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Re: New Human Species in Brazil?


Quote:
Originally posted by Hazel
Brazilian medical researchers now identify the population as a new species with about 40 per cent the brain size of human beings, a result of generations of profound malnutrition and neglect – and this may be unremediable except after generations, because of the lingering effects of malnutrition on one’s offspring."

BobScene : Above is where the article says that it's a new species. Don't know if I buy it, but the article did make that claim.
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Old 05-08-2002, 12:45 PM
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Maybe we should first define what would be considered a "different species" Would a genetic disorder like spina biffida or downs syndrome be enough of a differentiation? XXY chromosomes, extra finger, what?(I am not trying to demean or consider these people "not human" just looking for a line). Even if someone with one of these situations WAS a different species I would still consider all of them to have the right we all do now.
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Old 05-08-2002, 01:00 PM
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Re: Re: New Human Species in Brazil?


Quote:
Originally posted by Jman


BobScene : Above is where the article says that it's a new species. Don't know if I buy it, but the article did make that claim.
JMAN: sounds like you misread the OP. The book claims the above. Bob Scene states that the book's authors seems to be misinterpreting the following passage:

Quote:
Brazilian medical experts have known of undernourishment in the country's poorest region for more than two decades, but they confirmed only recently the existence of a much more startling problem -- a severe lack of protein in their diet that is producing a population of Brazilian Pygmies known by some medical researchers in Brazil as homens nanicos. Their height at adulthood is far less than the average height recording by the World Health Organization and their brain capacity is 40 per cent less than average. . . . In the poorest states of the Northeast, such as Alagoas and Piaui, homens nanicos comprise about 30 per cent of the population
No mention of a "new species" simply stating the effects of malnutrition. Perhaps the author's of the book suffer from smaller than average brains.
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Old 05-08-2002, 01:00 PM
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This is absolutely ridiculous. Chronic malnutrition does not make people into a new species. Chromosomal abnormalities do not make a new species.

A charitible interpretation: I don't know portuguese, but it might be that the word translated as "species" actually has a different meaning in portuguese, and the translator made a stupid mistake.

An more likely interpretation: The article is bunk, and Chomsky is an idiot. I know this is General Questions, but...
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Old 05-08-2002, 01:19 PM
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Something by Chomsky full of shit? Say it ain't so!
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Old 05-08-2002, 01:25 PM
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Something by Chomsky full of shit? Say it ain't so!
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Old 05-08-2002, 01:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by drachillix
Maybe we should first define what would be considered a "different species"
A technical definition (but not an absolute definition, as it varies from person to person) is a species is something that can produce fetile offspring with another. So two Horses are a species as they make little horses that can have their own little horses, but when a horse and a donkey get together, they create an unfetile mule, which is not it's own species.
i
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Old 05-08-2002, 01:46 PM
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Quoth LateComer:
Quote:
No mention of a "new species" simply stating the effects of malnutrition.
Well, calling them "Homo nanicos" sounds like a species designation to me. But then, those might just be the Portugese words for "Starving people", or some such, and the resemblence to binomial nomenclature just coincidental.
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Old 05-08-2002, 02:00 PM
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Yopu sure this isn't an urban legend?

Well, if not . .

Classification of organisms is NOT an exact science.

But the most recognized test of seperation of species is if two different species interbreed, then they are not seperate species (though they could be sub-species).

So, if you want to fly down to Brazil, and bone one of these little suckers, and one of you (I'd assume you'd be the one puking every morning since I don't know a whole lot of dudes named "Hazel", none that I hang with anyway) pops out a baby Hazel-pygmy, SHAZAM- you're the same species! (*NOTE- THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM)

As for the creation of a seperate species, the only way that I know that can happen is by natural selection. This case is more of a case of de-evolution (everybody now: "WHIP IT!!! WHIP IT GOOD!!!" ).

IIRC, a new species can only be formed over hundreds of thousands of years by adapting to their environment to SURVIVE, not get totally fucked up by some Brazzillion dollar South American multi-national dumping DDT in the Amazon and shrnking their brains.
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Old 05-08-2002, 02:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tars Tarkas
A technical definition (but not an absolute definition, as it varies from person to person) is a species is something that can produce fetile offspring with another. So two Horses are a species as they make little horses that can have their own little horses, but when a horse and a donkey get together, they create an unfetile mule, which is not it's own species.
i
So it would take a human with a specific genetic anomaly who could only interbreed successfully with someone who had the same genetic anomaly to create a new species of human? Or am I not following the anology correctly.
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Old 05-08-2002, 02:08 PM
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Brazilian medical experts have known of undernourishment in the country's poorest region for more than two decades, but they confirmed only recently the existence of a much more startling problem -- a severe lack of protein in their diet that is producing a population of Brazilian Pygmies known by some medical researchers in Brazil as homens nanicos.

Oh, and when I see the phrase "Brazilian medical experts " I get immediately susupicious!
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Old 05-08-2002, 02:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Chronos
Quoth LateComer:Well, calling them "Homo nanicos" sounds like a species designation to me. But then, those might just be the Portugese words for "Starving people", or some such, and the resemblence to binomial nomenclature just coincidental.
The latter is the case. The article has it as homens nanicos, but it should be homems nanicos, which is simply Portuguese for "small men." It is clearly not a scientific name (which in this case would be Homo nanus).

Quote:
Originally posted by Tars Tarkas
A technical definition (but not an absolute definition, as it varies from person to person) is a species is something that can produce fetile offspring with another.
Close, but not exactly. Under the Biological Species Concept, the rule is that, to be considered separate species, two forms must not regularly hybridize under natural conditions. It's OK if they produce fertile offspring in captivity, or only rarely or under exceptional conditions in nature - they still will be considered separate.

However, as drachillix speculates, if a certain human population developed some characteristic that prevented them from producing fertile offspring with other humans outside their own population - say, some chromosomal abnormality - they would be considered a separate species under the Biological Species Concept.

However, this is pretty clearly not the situation in the case mentioned in the OP.
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Old 05-08-2002, 02:34 PM
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I wonder if the problem isn't rooted in a mistranslation somwhere along the line. In English, species most often means "biological species." In my (admittedly slight) experience with Portuguese, it seems to me that espécie most often means "sort" or "type" and only more rarely "biological species." So a report written in Portuguese about a different type of human might easily be misconstrued by an English speaker as being about a different biological species of human.
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Old 05-08-2002, 03:05 PM
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What if they hybridize under natural conditions in some places but not in others? this link lists such a bird scenario http://www.stanfordalumni.org/birdsi...peciation.html with the Red-breasted and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Nature seems determined to keep from conforming to our rules.
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Old 05-08-2002, 04:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tars Tarkas
What if they hybridize under natural conditions in some places but not in others? this link lists such a bird scenario http://www.stanfordalumni.org/birdsi...peciation.html with the Red-breasted and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Nature seems determined to keep from conforming to our rules.
The fact is, there is a continuum between population-subspecies-species, and you can get all kinds of intermediate situations. In such cases it is a largey a judgement call on the part of the scientist writing the article. Some years ago the Baltimore and Bullocks' Orioles were merged (as the "Northen Oriole") because they hybridize locally on the Great Plains. More recently it was decided that the hybridization was too localized to warrant considering them the same species, and they have been split again.

This is one of the reasons some biologists opt for other species definitions than the Biological Species Concept. However, nature is not clear cut and there will always be anomalies whatever definition you choose.
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Old 05-08-2002, 04:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tars Tarkas
What if they hybridize under natural conditions in some places but not in others? this link lists such a bird scenario http://www.stanfordalumni.org/birdsi...peciation.html with the Red-breasted and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Nature seems determined to keep from conforming to our rules.
The fact is, there is a continuum between population-subspecies-species, and you can get all kinds of intermediate situations. In such cases it is a largey a judgement call on the part of the scientist writing the article. Some years ago the Baltimore and Bullocks' Orioles were merged (as the "Northen Oriole") because they hybridize locally on the Great Plains. More recently it was decided that the hybridization was too localized to warrant considering them the same species, and they have been split again.

This is one of the reasons some biologists opt for other species definitions than the Biological Species Concept. However, nature is not clear cut and there will always be anomalies whatever definition you choose.
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Old 05-09-2002, 05:57 AM
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Granted, they can presumably make babies with "regular people" and so are not technially a separate species. But it would seem that we have a group of people who are enough smaller then whatever's normal for their region that they are being called pygmies, and whose brain size is aprox. 60% of the current human norm -- due to generations of abysmally poor nutrition. And according to Chomsky, even if they suddenly and permenenly obtained good diets, it would take several generations for their desendents to get back to average human sized bodies and brains.

Meanwhile, my impression is that there are whole villages where everyone is a homens nanico. I'm wondering what their society is like. You can think of them as mentally retarded people, but I don't know of any other place where you have villages of mentally retarded people (all retarded to about the same degree) living independently. I'm wondering about their sociey. If you compared two Brazilian villages, one of "pygmies" and one of "regualar people", what would be the differences in their social structure, daily lives, etc?

And, to rephrase my other question, I'm also wondering which prehuman species had brains that were aprox. 60% the size of current homo sapiens brains.
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Old 05-09-2002, 06:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Vinnie Virginslayer
IIRC, a new species can only be formed over hundreds of thousands of years by adapting to their environment to SURVIVE, not get totally fucked up by some Brazzillion dollar South American multi-national dumping DDT in the Amazon and shrnking their brains.
Actually, less complex animals can evolve at a startling rate, like on the order of a couple of centuries. Even more complex animals like birds can differentiate enough in a millennium to be different species.
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Old 05-09-2002, 10:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by AWB
Even more complex animals like birds can differentiate enough in a millennium to be different species.
Examples, please? I am not aware of any biological species of birds that have originated in the past 1,000 years. There are probably some that have differentiated in the past 10,000 years, however.
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Old 05-09-2002, 12:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Lemur866
Chromosomal abnormalities do not make a new species.

Um, chromosomal abnormalities (also known as mutations), passed on to subsequent generations are exactly what differentiate species.

I don't believe a single additional digit can qualify as a separate species, however since the offspring is still able to reproduce with the offspring of 5-digited individuals.

It could be construed as a "sub-species", as could the isolated, starved population if it could be differentiated from the larger, less isolated whole.
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Old 05-10-2002, 12:39 AM
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Quote:
Close, but not exactly. Under the Biological Species Concept, the rule is that, to be considered separate species, two forms must not regularly hybridize under natural conditions. It's OK if they produce fertile offspring in captivity, or only rarely or under exceptional conditions in nature - they still will be considered separate.
Wouldn't geography alone be enough to make a species, then? As an example: Consider as our two populations the inhabitants of North America and of Europe. Yes, individuals of the two populations are perfectly capable of interbreeding, but a North American is much more likely to breed with another North American than with a European. Even in the cases where a North American and a European do breed, one might argue that the one had first become a member of the other population.
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Old 05-10-2002, 01:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Chronos
Consider as our two populations the inhabitants of North America and of Europe. Yes, individuals of the two populations are perfectly capable of interbreeding, but a North American is much more likely to breed with another North American than with a European.
That's what you think, Chronos

I can't say I'm too impressed. Chomsky has discovered kwashiorkor.

Quote:
and this may be unremediable except after generations, because of the lingering effects of malnutrition on one’s offspring.

All I can say is, cite? I am aware of some evidence suggesting that poor nutrition during pregnancy can cause health problems to crop up much later in the baby's life. However, I'm unaware of any medical evidence indicating that your poor nutrition will somehow affect your grandchildren.
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Old 05-10-2002, 02:02 AM
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We all have chromosomal abnormalities so, um, the poster you were replying to was exactly right. Alot of them get passed on to subesequent generations and the great vast majority of the time do not end in new species.

Quote:
Originally posted by Ms. Lois


Um, chromosomal abnormalities (also known as mutations), passed on to subsequent generations are exactly what differentiate species.

I don't believe a single additional digit can qualify as a separate species, however since the offspring is still able to reproduce with the offspring of 5-digited individuals.

It could be construed as a "sub-species", as could the isolated, starved population if it could be differentiated from the larger, less isolated whole.
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Old 05-10-2002, 08:03 AM
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Truth Seeker I think Chomsky may be right about the effects of malnutrition. Consider Europe in the middle ages. We know from the size of the suits of armor, and the size of the chairs, that people of that time and place were shorter and smaller then the Europeans of today. The increase in height and size came about gradualy. The average hight/size of adult humans has, I gather, been increasing very slowly throughout history. The increase was caused (mainly or entirely?) by improved nutrition.

During the middle ages, there must have been at least some people who got plenty to eat, and a not too unbalanced diet. Yet that minority appearently had children about the same size as everyone else. Throughout history, there must have been a few people here and there who got resonably good nutrition. Yet they don't seem to have had extra-big, extra-tall children. Surely this would have been noticed if it was occuring; we'd have some sort of record of it. It would seem that it's true that it takes a number of generations of good nutrition to undo the damage done by generations of poor nutrition.
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Old 05-10-2002, 08:17 AM
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So what's the definition of "species"? The African pygmies aren't considered a separate species, so why should these Brazilian people?
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Old 05-10-2002, 08:29 AM
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P.S. I'd guess that the children of the minority who got good nutrition were probably a bit bigger and taller then was average for the time and place -- but doesen't it seem unlikely that they produced children who were the average hight/size of today's developed-world humans? I don't find it at all hard to believe that it takes generations of good nutrition to undo the damage done by genrations of bad nutrition. OTOH, perhaps I'm wrong to think that people in the past who got plenty to eat (the rich and powerful) were getting good nutrition? Maybe they were getting lots of food, but not enough... what? Protein? The right mix of vitamins/minerals? But it seems likey that the rich and powerful would have been able to get plenty of meat, which should have provided enough protein at least.
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Old 05-10-2002, 08:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ratatoskK
So what's the definition of "species"? The African pygmies aren't considered a separate species, so why should these Brazilian people?
Yes, agreed, they're not really a separate species! As I said in an earlier post, "Granted, they can presumably make babies with 'regular people' and so are not technially a separate species. But it would seem that we have a group of people who are enough smaller then whatever's normal for their region that they are being called pygmies, and whose brain size is aprox. 60% of the current human norm -- due to generations of abysmally poor nutrition."

I think the point is that there is a group of people in Brazil who have diverged so far from the norm that they appear to be a different species. In appearance, and in brain size, they're as different from the average developed-world human of today as the average developed-world human of today is different from, I'd guess, whichever pre-human species immediately proceeded Neanderthal. Homo Whatever. I don't really know my prehuman species that well.

I think the point is that the existance of this situation is an indication that something is wrong. No group should be that deprived.
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