October 17, 2006

"Men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises."

The BBC prints this report of a supposedly scientific theory that to me reads like some ridiculous racist fantasy:
Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics expects a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass to emerge....

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

But in the nearer future, humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts, while life-spans will have extended to 120 years, Dr Curry claims.

Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.
Come on. He's just making this up, isn't he?


OddD said...

Nah, he's not making it up.

He cribbed it from The Time Machine.

Revenant said...

The bit about splitting into two species is ridiculous. We didn't do that during the tens of thousands of years that humans were widely dispersed across the globe -- we're certainly not going to do it, through natural means at least, now that crossbreeding is relatively common and growing steadily moreso.

The bit about secondary sexual characteristics becoming more pronounced is likely true, however. Of course, if current trends continue people will be able to alter their own appearances to look like pretty much anything they want long before evolution significantly changes our appearance.

downtownlad said...

The goblin creatures sounds bullshit to me. But the rest sounds right.

Todd said...

Yeah, I read "Brave New World" too. [I have not read "Time Machine" but I've read about it.]

Garage Mahal said...

humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

I'm afraid its already happened, Bush met with Boortz, Hannity, Ingraham, Gallagher, and Medved today.

Im guessing it was all a nice circle jerk over signing of the torture bill.

What a great day, huh Ann.

altoids1306 said...

Yes, he is making it up. But he is highlighting some trends, although exaggerating them beyond credibility.

Probably a more realistic scenario would be the creation of a racially-blended class of cosmopolitan professionals, who have little allegance to any nation, but shift their assets and their persons around the world according to their self-interest. They would be taller, smarter, more beautiful, etc, etc, because people with those traits are likely to find each other and marry - at law school, in executive meetings, etc. There is an excellent Economist article on this phenomenon of winners marrying winners - those who have won the genetic lottery are likely to seek out equally talented mates to perpetuate their genetic advantage.

The rich are always in a position to attract the beautiful, and the best specimens of the "normal" gene pool would be picked up by the cosmopolitans. The end result would be a race of super-humans, tall, smart, beautiful, and the rest of humanity, which would stay more or less the same.

Two reasons why this probably won't happen:

Birth rates: The professional elite don't reproduce enough. It's much more likely the genes will just die off.

Gene diffusion: There's no clear boundary between the elite and non-elite. Those smart/tall/beautiful genes will diffuse into the general gene pool. Once upon a time, nobility only married nobility. But that didn't make them into a genetically distinct sub-species, because there was enough cross-breeding. Contrast that to ethnicity, which, until recently, did not have much inter-breeding due to geographical or cultural barriers.

Henry said...
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Henry said...

Ummmm. Why does the London School of Economics employ an evolutionary theorist?

Editor Theorist said...

Oliver Curry is a bright guy IMO (I work in the same field of Evolutionary Psychology) and he will have good scientific reasons for saying whatever it was he said - but whether that was accurately reported by the newspapers is another matter altogether...

Revenant said...

Why does the London School of Economics employ an evolutionary theorist?

Evolutionary theory has a wide range of applications, and economics is very much among them.

I'm oversimplifying more than a little here, but basically anything that changes over time in response to selective pressures can be studied from an evolutionary perspective. Businesses, economies, product lines... you name it.

he will have good scientific reasons for saying whatever it was he said

It was probably just a SWAG that got misreported as a real prediction.

Tom Morris said...

The LSE employ a number of scientists and scientifically-minded staff because they are one of the top colleges for philosophy of science - they host the Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, for instance, and have numerous postgrad degrees in philosophy and history of science.

The Right Reverend Rabbi Judah said...

Two holes in this theory, Ann:

First off, the tendency of elites to cherrypick from the less-than-elite gene pool. Think Anna Nicole Smith, for example, or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Second, the fact that within years, if not months, the Raelians will have perfected human cloning and we’ll all look like either Brad Pitt or Pamela Anderson.

Ann Althouse said...

The linked article notes the "Time Machine" connection.

Pogo said...

So in the future all men will either look like Buzz Lightyear or Danny Devito.

As for penile measurements, isn't the EU Standard Genital Length Requirement in place yet? Well, perhaps they can just use existing banana standards.

Minimum requirements
* The minimum length permitted is 14 cm and the minimum grade permitted is 27 mm.
* For all classes, 10% by number not satisfying the sizing characteristics, up to a limit of 1 cm for the minimum length of 14 cm.
* bananas produced in Madeira, the Azores, the Algarve, Crete and Lakonia which are less than 14 cm in length may be marketed in the Community but must be classified in Class II.
* Under no circumstances may the defects affect the flesh of the fruit.
* skin defects due to scraping, rubbing or other causes, provided that the total area affected does not cover more than 4 cm2 of the surface
* a sufficient portion of crown of normal colouring, sound and free from fungal contamination

Al Maviva said...
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Al Maviva said...

Ah-nuld is an untermensch?

I guess in a world populated entirely by Steven Hawking's offspring, perhaps, and only perhaps. But you can't build your body up the way he built his up without having a *ton* of raw physical talent. If he's genetically inferior, I suppose many pro athletes and olympians are genetically inferior, too.

I believe it's a mistake to consider the strong and athletic genetically inferior to the weedy MENSA set, unless you can somehow show me how physical attributes have been permanently and irrevocably rendered unimportant to survival. Yeah, it's easy to sit in your black (size small) turtleneck at Caribou and talk like the physical has been rendered obsolete, but until you can change the nature of physics and guarantee that that ugly physical world will never bite back, the strong have an advantage and shouldn't be considered inferior. Besides, Ah-nuld has generated a pretty good career for a guy you think is clearly inferior, wouldn't you say? What makes you so sure he's a moron?

MadisonMan said...

Why does the London School of Economics employ an evolutionary theorist?

Why should only Economists get paid to throw out wild theories that can never be proven?

Bruce Hayden said...

It would be interesting to see, though none of us will live that long.

Part of the reason that I doubt at least part of it is that it somewhat is based on the assumption that the superior caste breeds based on outward physical characteristics. But probably a more important factor in such breeding is brains and proximity. I would suggest that the brainier the elite get, the less important outward appearances will be to them, and the more important intellectual attraction will be.

So, yes, you will have some Anna Nicole Smith's sneaking in based on their looks. But far more of that presumed elite will likely marry the person who sat beside them in those elite schools.

Indeed, it is already happening to some extent. The easiest way for a woman to marry a doctor is to go to medical school. And it is trivial for one to marry an engineer - if she becomes one herself.

Ditto for money. For a number of very good reasons, money marries money. Partly, it is proximity, partly it is similar life experiences, partly it is safety, and partly it is social acceptability.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add that if there is such a beautifying effect, I would suggest that it will work more on the women than on the men. At least in the past, female mating desirability seems to have been more focused that male mating desirability. The more beautiful, symetric, etc. a woman was, the more desirable she was for marriage. But with males, there were two roads to success: physical attractiveness; and success.

And, more and more right now, male physical attractiveness is having less and less to do with success than it ever did before. At one time, the biggest, strongest, male would be expected to be the most successful. But now, that brainy geek is far more likely to suceed and make millions (or billions) of dollars.

And, again, women often marry men just like the guy who married dear old mom (and, ditto in reverse for the guys). Yes, there is apparently a built in drive in a lot of women to mate with that well-endowed Adonis, but there is just as strong a drive to marry the guy just like dad - and in this case, dad is more likely to be that brainy nerd than another well-endowed Adonis. I should also note that with genetic testing, the brainy geek is not overly likely to want to raise the extra-marital kids of the well-endowed Adonis.

Balfegor said...

Re: altoids:

Once upon a time, nobility only married nobility. But that didn't make them into a genetically distinct sub-species, because there was enough cross-breeding.

Or because there was too much inbreeding. If the Spanish Hapsburgs hadn't degenerated as quickly as they did who knows what they'd be now? Like Gollum, perhaps. With massive underbites. Goblin Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire!

Re: Bruce Hayden:

the superior caste breeds based on outward physical characteristics. But probably a more important factor in such breeding is brains and proximity. I would suggest that the brainier the elite get, the less important outward appearances will be to them, and the more important intellectual attraction will be.

Possibly. I wouldn't count on the "trophy wife" phenomenon going out of date any time soon, though. Elite men are still men after all.

The other issue here is that there's been some research (how solid, I do not know) indicating that better looking people are, on average, cleverer that ugly-looking people. Given the choice between a lovely woman (or man) with brains and an ugly woman (or man) with brains, most people would choose the lovely woman/man.

Dave said...

A couple of thoughts:

1) Arnold is no idiot, his body notwithstanding. We may mock his accent, decry his movies, and denigrate him as a political hack; nonetheless, he has managed his career well, amassed a fortune just shy of a billion dollars, most of which fortune is tied to real estate, and not the vicissitudes of popular culture. He had the business savvy and foresight--intelligence!--to divine the fact that the annuities promised by real estate ownership were more predictable than are royalties and/or fees associated with acting in movies. All of this foresight and financial acumen takes a certain degree of intelligence, which, it is safe to say, is beyond the reach of most of man. Is he as intelligent as Stephen Hawking? Likely not, but exceptional intelligence is not required to create wealth; above average intelligence is. There is a world of difference between being above average and being exceptional.

2) As to the question of whether elites are genetically endowed with beauty: the more likely explanation is that they have the money and education with which they can lead a healthy lifestyle (gym workouts, spas, facials, dentists, cosmetic surgery, abstemiousness, etc.)

Bruce Hayden said...


I don't deny the existance, and presumably the continued existance, of trophy wives. That is part of why I suggested that the elite women are likely to get better looking faster than the men are. For one thing, it is much more acceptable for women to marry up than men to (meaning that the women married down).

And I think that we are seeing some of this right now - with women starting to have a serious problem with finding men at their level or higher, as they have become a majority in most colleges and even in medical and law schools.

But that might just engender even more resistance towards women marrying up into the elite through their looks. I would expect that with a shortage of peer males already for the elite women, mothers, sisters, etc. are going to put increasing pressure on their males to marry within class. Obviously, this won't eliminate the trophy wife syndrome, but arguably may work to reduce it.

Dave said...

I should qualify what I mean by "elites" in my comment. I think "elites" is actually a relatively broad label that could be applied to, for example, most, if not all commenters on this blog.

My guess, though I have no evidence for it, is that all or the majority of commenters on this blog have a college education, an income in excess of the world average, access to healthcare that is the envy of the most people in the world, etc. I would further suggest that the average Althouse commenter has more in common with Schwarzenegger than he or she has with, say, the average Malawiian. By that definition, "elite" status is relatively easy to achieve, given an adequate education and American citizenship.

Freeman Hunt said...

women starting to have a serious problem with finding men at their level or higher, as they have become a majority in most colleges and even in medical and law schools.

Here, I think women have made an error in assuming that the characteristics that make a person attractive are the same across genders. I think that women, as a population, put a high value on success (or potential to succeed) in a mate. Men, not so much. While men, like women, seem to put a high value on intelligence and physical attractiveness, professional success doesn't seem to be very important to most men.

In a way, it makes sense. If I'm a professional male with a large income, it is of little consequence to me whether my wife is also a professional or not. What does that add to my life when I already have the income side taken care of? I might rather find a partner to take care of other things, such as family, to better balance the division of labor within the marriage.

Professional women (as a group) find themselves in a bind when they decide to follow the same professional trajectories as men, but eschew the familial divisions of labor that professional men have chosen. If professional women, like professional men, would go for highly attractive, highly intelligent non-professionals, they'd have no problems finding mates. If they don't want to do that, they don't have to, but they shouldn't project their wants in a mate onto men and be surprised that they are competing for mates with non-professionals.

Richard Dolan said...

It's interesting that Curry projects masculine physical and sexual prowess as the defining characteristic of the upper class. For a long time, in fiction and movies, and more dangerously in racist propaganda, it was always the reverse: the blue collar guys were cast as the uber-masculine types (Marlon Brando yelling for Stella), while the upper class was typically portrayed as effete and pampered. In its ultimate expression, the same characteristics of uber-masculinity took on a racist cast -- in the US, where they were projected onto black males in the role of untermenschen to explain the supposed threat they presented to the purity of white women; and in Europe and Russia, where they were projected onto Jews to justify pogroms and persecutions.

Curry just flips the stereotypes -- what was once characteristic, even definitive, of the untermenschen is now the glory of the male upper class. He imagines that the physical characteristics in men now deemed desirable will stay constant, even though they are of relatively recent vintage as an upper class ideal. Perhaps it will, but that seems to be a very shaky foundation for anything that trumpets itself as science. I don't know of anything that warrants such an assumption, and thus wouldn't count on characteristics that essentially smack of fashion as remaining constant over such a long period.

As science, it all sounds quite ridiculous to me; as a trope in fiction or film, it got tiresome a long time ago; as racist caricature, no one will miss it and all are thankful that it lost any force a long time ago. I have no doubt that Curry can offer "good scientific reasons," as editor theorist says. But "reasons" in this context are the sort of thing one offers in support of non-scientific (sociology, anyone?) rather than scientific arguments, since it seems clear that there is no way to test or prove Curry's "reasons." From a scientific perspective, they remain just a conjecture, which is another word for fiction.

Those who find this sort of thing impressive may also be interested in purchasing lots of farmland in Ohio, since the climate change nutjobs are projecting, with at least as much scientific rigor, that it will soon be prime Atlantic ocean beachfront. You know how real estate is -- got to get in early while the getting is good!

Bruce Hayden said...


But how many of us would be in that elite in 100 years? Many here may be included in such because of the luck of where they were born. But I would suggest that we are seeing a mass movement of brains into the elite around the world right now. And that third world is getting more competitive every day.

My parents were shocked at the difference a decade or so made to the cities in China. Some 20 or so years ago, when they visited, the cities were clean, and the people dirt poor. When they returned maybe five years ago, the cities were dirty, the traffic was horrendous, and there were a lot more people who weren't dirt poor.

Meanwhile, the country has some of the best engineering schools in the world, and a lot more Chinese there become engineers than do here. India is not that different. Sure, there is a lot of grinding poverty in those countries still, but what is significant to me is how far they have traveled in such a short period of time.

And with them, as here, the emerging elite is primarily based on brains, not looks, etc. By the end of the century, I fully expect there to be a lot more rich countries in this world, some maybe as rich as ours.

I think that you can already see an ethnic and national leveling going on. As a patent attorney, I have more foreign born than American born inventors, and that hasn't changed through my last three employers and now self-employment.

knoxgirl said...

It's another Karl Pilkington moment! This theory sounds like it was conconcted from "Clan of the Cave Bear*" where there's all these dark, squat people, then here comes this tall, slim, blonde who advances mankind...

Bruce Hayden said...

Richard Dolan

I think that part of my complaint is that up until recently, there was a fairly good correlation between physical size, etc. in males and their success in life. They were dominent, and through their superior physical assets, able to maintain their position.

But now, the disparities in income are getting so big, and so much of it is based on other characteristics, that this former ideal is likely to prove counterproductive for those who fall prey to it.

It is one thing if the uber-male and his less attractive counterpart make comparable amounts of money. Then, it is likely that women (and their children) would benefit by picking the uber-male. But what happens if the disparity is 10-1, 100-1, 1000-1, or at the extreme today, 10,000 or more to one? We have a lot of very brainy nerds with immense wealth now, and the trend would seem to be making this worse.

Bruce Hayden said...

The reason that I don't see a lot of successful women picking attractive less accomplished males is that part of the mating strategy for human females is to find the best mate for providing resources for her children. It has been that way since we became monogamous, and that is tens of thousands, and more likely hundreds of thousands, of years of evolution.

Yes, there will have to be some marrying down by women due to the demographic facts. But there is still a lot of evolutionary pressure on them to marry up, and today, that doesn't mean marrying for looks. (But possibly having sex for that reason is a different story).

The Right Reverend Rabbi Judah said...

To clarify my point, I never said Arnold was a moron, or that he was somehow genetically bereft. I meant only that he came from a less-than-elite socio-economic background and still managed to marry into the moneyed elite.

It's obviously difficult to question the intelligence of someone who can neither act nor govern yet succeeded in putting together a successful career in Hollywood and Sacramento.

Same goes for Anna Nicole, who, yes, married a pervert, but made sure he was a billionaire and close to kicking the bucket first.

Revenant said...

As a Californian I would strongly take issue with the idea that Arnold can't govern. He's certainly done a better job than either Davis or Wilson did.

Sanjay said...

The women, what about the women?

I dunno, species split up of course, and it's not always geographic diversity that does it. And I suppose for people if such a species split emerges the divide is as likely to have its origins in class and economics as anything else -- but as to one group being somehow godlike attractive and the other being dumpy, I rather imagine each group will be prone to thinking the other is the dumpy one, no?

Daryl Herbert said...

"Racist" is the wrong word.

Eugenics is not always about improving one race and battling other races. It can be about improving the human race, without making irrelevant distinctions.

Let's face facts: successful people mate with other successful people. They are successful because of intelligence, physical and psychological health, social skills, work ethic, and other things that we like to think are 100% socially constructed products of the environment. Why do we like to think that? Because if we admitted just how large a role genetics might play in all of those things, we'd have harder time justifying our "meritocracy."

Work ethic and social skills are in some way genetic? Well... yes. They very well might be. As a scientific-minded rational skeptic, we can't dismiss this out of hand just because it's inconvenient to political or religious views. Not enough study has been done of this, primarily because of ethical concerns. An interesting piece of evidence is the "Seed" project chronicled by David Plotz of Slate, in which extremely successful men donated to a "genius" sperm bank. Children born of their seed, at least anecdotally, were very successful as well.

And all of this is true for successful people of all colors. A black man from humble roots who nonetheless gets a degree and then a high-paying job, is probably not going to go back to those roots to find a mate. He's going to choose from the other successful people around him. Same as for whites, asians, etc.

We're moving forward into a future that looks a bit like our past: successful people in all countries more resemble each other than they resemble the poorer people in their own countries. And those rich people are going to mix with each other, across national boundaries.

Jeremy said...

Personally, I'd just like to see increased use of the word goblin in the MSM.

Freeman Hunt said...

An interesting piece of evidence is the "Seed" project chronicled by David Plotz of Slate, in which extremely successful men donated to a "genius" sperm bank.

I looked this up and read some of the articles in the series. I thought it was strange how Plotz and others quoted in his articles seemed to think that geniuses were extremely exotic. There are plenty of home grown (non sperm bank) uber geniuses around. Haven't Plotz or those quoted met any of them? If so, were they really so much in awe? Bizarre.

AlaskaJack said...

Concerning Arnold, I think he has a degree from the University of Wisconsin. If so, this probably explains why he is able to consistently out-flank his political opponents.

MadisonMan said...

I think he has a degree from the University of Wisconsin.

From the UW-Superior, if I'm remembering correctly. Just a stone's throw from Duluth. I'm trying to recall what the degree is in. I'm failing. IMDB says it's International Marketing of Fitness and Business Administration (1979)

kettle said...

How about some Francis Galton, and some regression to the mean?

How about a slightly more realistic take on what we actually know about statistics and probability theory, and how this might apply to predicting future evolutionary trends?

It is quite dicey, from a strictly mathematical point of view, to make generalizations about the respective roles of genes and environment on development and success. This area certain needs deeper study, and analysis, but at the moment we still lack the data, and even the computing power to deal with the massive scale of this problem. For the moment we still don't have anywhere near the understanding or the requisite data to use statistical research in this vein as a basis for making public policy decisions. We should remain rational and sceptical about this subject for a long time to come.

However, I have nothing against batshit-crazy predictions! They can be quite entertaining to read.

(note: these 'genetics' are arguably even more complex than those used to guess at genetic risk factors; it's necessary to also take into account constantly fluctuating trends, as well as internal personal preferences. phew...)