Humans are getting stupider every day. Or maybe only researchers are?

Stanford pays this guy a salary? :stuck_out_tongue:

Consider fields like physics or engineering. Computers take care of the mundane number crunching. Freeing people to focus on the theory and application. Engineers can visualize projects with computer modeling long before they are built. Sure seems like that would make us smarter than a guy working in a lab three hundred years ago. We certainly get more research done in less time.

Not that I think “this guy” (in the link) is necessarily right, but the quality of reasoning in the OP does seem to lend some degree of support to his position.

Well, Idiocracy bears this out.

Not to mention The Marching Morons.

Of course Jim Flynnsays otherwise. Since the advent of standardised testing there’s been a steady improvement in the average scores. So much so that the tests have to be recalibrated from time to time to keep the same average.

The rise in education levels is probably not correlated to a decline in IQ. If the latter is because stupid people aren’t being weeded out of the gene pool as much (which I’m not sure I believe), then no amount of standardized learning will help that.

It seems counter intuitive that anyone would assert humans are getting dumber. Just look at all the things we use every day. Learning an Iphone or other computer gadgets. Driving cars, using GPS, there’s so much technology we’re expected to master in the modern world. Heck high school science classes are covering things that weren’t even known when I went to high school almost 40 years ago.

We’ve mapped the human genome, ventured into space and sent probes to Mars. All that and this researcher thinks we’re stupider than some hunter gatherer wandering the plains 4000 years ago?

But that’s completely irrelevant to the question. If I had my Skald-brand time machine kidnap newborn babies out of the past; say, 5000 years ago, I could teach them all that stuff. There’s a tendency to think that people were dumber in ancient times – which is almost certainly not true. They just didn’t have the millenia of accumulated knowledge. Functioning in the modern world isn’t a sign we’re smarter than before (or, for that matter, dumber).

So by that logic, people more recently descended from hunter-gatherers would be noticeably smarter, yes? Native Americans should be smarter than white folks, and people whose grandparents were New Guinea Highlands hunter-gatherers should be smarter still?

From The Independent:

Without reading the cited article, I’ll just say that this is yet another debate over the definition of “smart” (or “dumb”). I doubt that humans have lost any bio-neurological capacity to learn survival skills. As Jared Diamond makes clear in the last chapter (I think it was) in Guns, Germs, and Steel, if a New Guinea tribesman were raised in Scarsdale, he’d be great at using computers, while if he (Jared) were raised in the forests of New Guinea, he’d be great at living off the land.

Perhaps natural selection will eventually actually result in some real brain/mind changes in the human species, but it will take more than 7,000 years of villages, or 150 years of electronics in culture, to make that happen. More like 100,000 years. Long after there aren’t any New Guinea tribesmen left. And it will be a change in which we are more adapted to our environment. Silly to give this a perjorative name like “dumber”.

I suspect the researcher has decided to make a judgment call about “survival skills”. He is understandably impressed with them, and finds them so amazing that he can’t fathom that he, too, could have had them, if he’d grown up in the forests of New Guinea. In a word, he’s selling himself short.

I’ll probably get flak for this so I want to say up front that if I don’t respond to criticism it won’t be out of agreement or acquiescence. I think that natural selection for intelligence, to the extent that this is even possible, is likely an ongoing process. I say that because to the extent that one of your criteria in mate selection is that you’re able to be good friends with that person as well as good lovers, it’s likely that you will select someone who is of similar intelligence.

For example it’s hard for me to imagine a female physicist working at CERN marrying a male stripper unless he also was very bright and just happened to be a bit of an underachiever. Although I suppose the definition of “underachiever” is certainly relative and many, especially men of my age might aspire something that physically lofty.

Not sure I agree. Where I live stupid people seem to have a lot more kids.

Well, I was trying to avoid the whole “subspecies” thing. :smiley:

I googled the author to figure out just what sort of scientist he is. His publication record is pretty respectable, in the past decade or so he’s authored or co-authored about a dozen papers in Nature or Science, and about a half-dozen papers each in Cell and PNAS (two very high-impact factor journals in his field), among others. So that’s what Stanford is paying him for :). He seems to be a molecular/cell biologist though, so I’m not really sure how well qualified he is in the area of the paper in question.

As I understand it he posits that we’re “coasting by” on the intelligence genes that we garnered in the first million years or so of our evolution, but that we haven’t really been depending on as much in our modern society. I’ll buy that civilization may be slightly reducing the selective pressure for intelligence. Flint knapping or hunting probably requires more intelligence and skill than operating an iPhone or visiting the grocery store. But once you reach a basic level of intelligence, you’re not going to see a corresponding increase in fitness. In other words, if you graph x=intelligence, y=fitness you’ll get a curve that quickly approaches a horizontal asymptote once you reach a reasonably normal amount of intelligence. Hunter-gatherer Newton just isn’t going to be gathering that many more berries or killing that many more deer than Hunter-gatherer Joe. Paleolithic Einstein isn’t going to be making spearheads that are really any better than Paleolithic Moe. It’s difficult to imagine how extremely high intelligence is selected for.

The same is still true in our society, the difference is in our case we all benefit from the Newtons and Einsteins from across the world that hang out at the far end of the intelligence bell curve. We don’t need to be Steve Jobs to have an iPhone, we just have to be clever enough to scrape together a few hundred bucks.

This is true as long as there are enough resources for everyone. But when times are tight, Newton’s and Einstein’s intelligence may give them an edge in finding scarce resources - or figuring out how to hide/take them from everyone else.

Possibly, though there are any number of other factors that should be taken into consideration when discussing such a hypothetical. Physicality and social intelligence would play just as vital a role.

Indeed, and the paper in question is in Trends in Genetics; the Trends in journals all tend to have a high impact factor and to be very difficult to get published in. The dismissive opinion quoted by Max the Immortal seems to be quite baseless.

That does not make the guy necessarily right,of course, but it does make him not an idiot and not just pulling things out of his ass.

And of course scientific journals aren’t above publishing papers with sensational conclusions to boost citations, increase readership, and (less cynically) drive discourse/research. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next month or two they publish a paper in response to this, supporting the opposite viewpoint. This was actually an important purpose of early journals: if you read archived issues of Nature or Science from the 1800’s you’ll find a lot of back-and-forth between gentleman scientists, on topics as profound as evolution or physics or as mundane as whether a wasp really can’t sting you when you hold your breath. They actually functioned similarly to message boards like this one.

Some journals today - new ones and lesser known ones - might occasionally resort to such tricks to “boost circulation”, and no doubt you are right that it used to happen a lot more in the past, but I very much doubt whether this is much of a consideration for already well known, high-prestige journals such as the Trends series. Note also that subscriptions to nearly all academic journals these days are very expensive, and most, or often all, of the potential subscribers are academic libraries. Librarians, always on tight budgets, do not take out new subscriptions on impulse or because some journal their users would otherwise rarely want manages to gin up a bit of publicity.

You’re right, Nature and Science (and most moderately respectable journals) probably aren’t too worried about boosting their subscription rates: anyone who has a need to read them probably already has access one way or another. But they do create buzz and rack up citations, which is what really matters for their impact factor/prestige anyway.

A classic example from my field is this paper in Science by Boris Worm et al. The Cliff’s Notes version is he looks at a variety of current and historical fisheries data and concludes that the world will run out of seafood before 2050. It’s an interesting paper with lots of good data, but his conclusions are debatable to say the least. But it generated quite a stir when it came out and garnered a ton of citations. Just about every marine/fisheries scientist I knew (myself included) read it, formed an opinion about it, and kept up with the inevitable responses (published in Science of course), even if it didn’t relate directly to their research. I’m sure their advertisers love that kind of thing. I imagine just about every week there’s a similar article for some other field. Nature and Science (and probably Cell too, although that’s pretty much outside my field) can get away with this pretty frequently because, well, they’re Nature and Science. More specialized journals probably can’t get away with it as often but occasionally making a splash is good for a publication.