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back to article Humans becoming steadily STUPIDER, says brainiac boffin

A US biologist is of the opinion that human brainpower peaked thousands of years ago, and that our smarts have been declining ever since. "I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our …

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@Robert Long

True, and the morality of this remains both debatable and highly contentious.

Either way, it's an extremely recent societal change and evolution doesn't work on the timescale of individual lifetimes, it takes quite a few Grandfathers.

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Re: @Robert Long

"Either way, it's an extremely recent societal change and evolution doesn't work on the timescale of individual lifetimes, it takes quite a few Grandfathers."

Well, it depends on the situation. If a virus kills everyone with red hair, that's going to have an effect in one generation, and if the lake dries up the lungfish will inherit the next rainy season. So evolution can be lighting quick at times.

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Re: The guy's an idiot @Goat Jam

Hey mr anonymous idiot, I clearly stated that I was judging them by their ability to hold up their end of a conversation.

If somebody is unable to converse about anything other than how badly their kids behave, football and who was best on "Idol" last night then I feel reasonably justified in assuming they are not overly clever.

The fact that someone enjoys football (or even Idol) is not the point. The point is whether they can also converse outside of those subjects.

Thanks for the demonstration of someone who has an inability to hold up their end of a conversation though, it was quite illuminating.

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If the Athenians were so great how come they didn't have Playstations?

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"If the Athenians were so great how come they didn't have Playstations?"

Because they didn't have Playstations...

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MJI
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They did

How else would they watch the BDs of 300?

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Re: They did

"How else would they watch the BDs of 300?"

They didn't. They did reinactments instead

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They didn't need any, Back then COD was real life! Defend the flag had a whole new meaning.

You lose you die for real or you better learn to speak the Persian language!

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"Ancient Athenians smarter than us".

Ancient Athenians as a bloc, or the tiny sample of well educated, well nourished, intelligent, well off Athenians who had the wherewithall to get published?

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Anonymous Coward

About 300 000 people in Athens, in total, and a handful of highly regarded writers and thinkers, all of whom had the advantage of having a single language to learn, a single small society to understand, and a very small field of knowledge so that anybody with the education and time could learn just about everything that was written.

Compare that to today when an educated person needs to know several languages, and making a contribution to any important subject is so hard that a PhD is just a stepping stone to doing some real research.

I think the issue here is that the subject of the article may be a typical American without any education in classics, and so has a view of the ancient world that comes more from Hollywood than reality.

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he said Athenian CITIZEN

ie: the top 2% or so of the population, slaves, women, youngsters didn't get a vote

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Trollface

Also

This...IS SPARTA!!!

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"About 300 000 people in Athens, in total, and a handful of highly regarded writers and thinkers, all of whom had the advantage of having a single language to learn, a single small society to understand, and a very small field of knowledge so that anybody with the education and time could learn just about everything that was written."

Probably not true. But what is true is that those intellectuals had the advantage of a slave-based economy and didn't have to work.

Sparta is the extreme example of this - a whole nation's worth of people enslaved by a city that had to become a military superpower in case the slaves revolted, thereby largely throwing away the advantages of having the slaves in the first place (ie, relaxing and having fun).

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All it takes...

.. is for less intelligent people to breed faster and leave more offspring than more intelligent people.

That would never happen in our society would it?

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Re: All it takes...

Nah, that would only happen if you indiscrimatedly paid people to breed.....

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Re: All it takes...

".. is for less intelligent people to breed faster and leave more offspring than more intelligent people."

Intelligent people plan for their children such as education and upbringing and as such only have one or two children normally.

Stupid people have happy hour.....

Smart people are fighting a losing battle

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Re: All it takes...

Very true. We have 2 kids, we would love a 3rd but given the cost of education and healthcare, not to mention the 'cost' of dividing our time between 3 kids instead of 2, it isn't going to happen. Maybe adoption later. What I found sad was how much older we were (late 20's) when we had our first compared to some of the other parents giving birth at the same time, we had nearly 15 years on some of them.

However, aren't there limiting factors such as wars, diseases, social breakdown etc that disproportionately affect the 'jeremy kyle show watching, 15 kids crowd? Any breakdown in society and it's support systems would punish those without certain skills or (crucially) the ability to learn them. Can the bargain madness crowd purify water, generate electricity, fraction oil, make gunpowder, grow penicillin, cure meat etc. The shopping @ asda in your pjs folks will be dead in months if not weeks. They can loot asda, I'll loot the library.

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MJI
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Trying to help

I have 3 including twins.

I hope it helps.

I was early 30s at the time yet I am still one of the younger dads at the oldests school.

As to survive yes I think we would

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Re: Trying to help

Good job, keep it up!

Funny, going to a parenting class maybe 10 miles away in a more affluent area we were the youngest also.

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MJI
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Re: Trying to help

My daughter won a bursary to a private school and also she is addicted to science shows on TV

She will be studying at least 2 sciences and maths at A level.

One boy wants to go into IT the other has no idea yet, unless he can get paid for playing Minecraft.

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Re: All it takes...

Problem is those stupid folk will probably come and steal your food that you are trying to grow in your clever hydroponic setup that runs off solar power, And if you don't have any they will probably just eat you!

Worst case scenario would be a stupid person with a gun, Ohh wait a sec.... Society is already full of them. o.O

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MJI
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Re: All it takes...

Guns no problem, I know where to get some from, (they are licenced and legal, I just know where they are?)

As to stupid people, there are some near me and yes - brainless - would die out soon enough, fighting in the middle of the road should qualify.

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Anonymous Coward

Is he married?

Or is he advertising the opportunity to help clone some Stanford grade genetic material?

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Happy

Re: Is he married?

Or Stepford grade. more like.

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Terminator

Flowers for Algernon!

So the assumption is that there is a "brain peak" that is mysteriously reached when all the genes are right?

That sounds like a pretty bizarre idea.

And that point would be reached in the times of classical Greece?

Most bizarre. Note that the ancients had exactly the same problems as we do today: retarded politicians, stupid wars, neocons, fascism, cities going from "money for everything" to "no more money, dude", throwing money out of the window to erect stuff in honor of "Gods", slavery, killing of critical philosophers, racism, bad social systems, destruction of the environment via goat herds. The evidence for particulary high intelligence is, I would say, not that great.

An individual's à priori penchant for "high intelligence" (which btw. may go completely unnoticed as he may be reduced to a lifetime of cotton-picking) is bound to be a probability density function in a very high-dimensional space of genetic variations. There is no à priori reason to suppose that the population ensemble was clustered at a peak point and is now fanning out into "lower" regions.

Now, brain "malformations" are generally of deleterious consequence, which would at first glance tend to support the idea that the modern brain is somehow "exactly what is needed" or that it is very fine-tuned (For what? For rapid learning and effective cooperation in a environment in which other brains of the same power are bound to eat its lunch I suppose. How does that translate into solving QCD Lagrangians in one's sleep? Beats me.).

Anyway -- one would like to see the statistical distribution of "genetic brain anomalies" that are of no visible consequence (although they may shift perceptions or behaviour) and "genetic brain anomalies" that actually have advantageous consequences (we would however be reduced to the relatively simple tests for "advantageousness", like IQ tests and game solving. Psychopathy could be considered an "advantageous" trait, as you f*ck everyone with no remorse, right?). This would give us some idea of whether the current brain is in some very special "peak position" and whether genetic variations push it "down" that peak or whether things are more reasonable with variations exploring a hilly landscape.

To your MRI scanners!

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for ROTM.

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There is more than enough people on this planet. What needs to happen is giving birth should become a privilage and not a right. Drug users, the professionally unemployed, drunks and the general dead weights of society shouldn't be breeding but if you look at society we reward them with massive child support payments for their little hordes of car thieves and vandals.

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Childcatcher

@ Thorne

You know the Daily Mail comments section?

This isn't it.

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Re: @ Thorne

So perhaps the solution isn't the friendliest or most PC, but the problem at the base of it is genuine. We have a largely egalitarian society where we aim to have the better off subsidise the not so well off (not a bad thing if it isn't abused). I firmly believe a child should have the same chance in life, the same education (tailored to their skills \ talents) and healthcare irrespective of how rich their parents are. So we tax and distribute that revenue in social spending. The problem arises when people abuse those social schemes. Not all do, probably not even a majority, but a significant number of people do. That money is meant to feed and clothe children, not buy booze and fags. The stories I hear from friends who are teachers, social workers etc about the state that some parents send their kids into school in, unwashed, dirty clothes, unfed. There is simply no excuse. I don't advocate ending social support but we need to consider how it is implemented to ensure it is as hard as possible to misuse the funds. In the states 'food stamps' / EBT / WIC cannot be spent on lottery tickets, booze, fags etc, WIC even gives you vouchers which detail explicitly what they are to be used for, i.e. 1 gallon whole milk, 1 lb cheese etc and that is all they can be used on. What is wrong with that?

There are those who truly cannot work, and sure they need to be supported, it's only right to do so. There are also plenty of people who do not want to work or have made themselves unemployable, why the hell should we support them?

I had the pleasure of living for a while in a less than wonderful area in the north west, a neighbour had 7 kids, about a year apart, she was 22. She smoked, she drank (she spent half her life in the pub), she didn't work, she didn't pay rent. Here's what kills me, she didn't give a flying **** about her kids. She didn't feed them, I fed them at least half their meals and their teachers (for the older ones) fed them breakfast and the school fed them lunch. Social services wouldn't do anything because it would look bad in the press or something similar (I have sympathy for them in some cases, they seem to have to go with the flow of public opinion based on whether their last screwed was leaving a kid with bad parents or taking them away from good parents). People say that nobody has kids for benefits because the cost of kids is higher than the benefits, thats true if you are a good parent (which these people probably are), not everybody brings their own kids up to such high standards. Seriously, tell me why that person should continue to get social assistance? I'm not advocating sterlising 'the underclasses" or anything so draconian or elitist, but there is a hell of a problem and it does need addressing for everyones benefit.

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Stop

on the other hand...

if you license breeding to "desirables", what you get is a production of good little drones who will sit in your call centres, buy your consumer tat, watch EastEnders and never have a single original thought. Be honest, those are the people you'd give licenses to, right? The ones who support and enforce the status quo?

I say, the ones who manage to survive and thrive without becoming bit-parts in a 1984 Apple ad are the ones we want. The ones who are smart enough to work the system instead of be consumed by it. The ones who choose not to conform. The ones who can still think, instead of just regurgitate Paul Dacre's foul opinions on the Register's comment boards.

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Trollface

I say that being able to spell privilege should be the first criterion of this privilege.

Also I love the idea that in a society of pure geniuses, we'd have all the factories and production lines stocked with people who would rapidly become incredibly bored and frustrated. And of course, it's all genetics that lead to crime, not social factors or education. Why is the government not funding phrenology research in this most vital of times?

I have to admit when I was at university I was young and I thought that breeding should be limited to the intelligent. I made two assumptions, 1) That this would be good for the world, 2) that it'd mean I got more sex.

I now disbelieve the first one and I know the second is false.

Oh to be young and dumb again.

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That will teach you to take art history ;-)

Personally I don't see the issue as 'stopping less intelligent people breeding', although some people do. I see it as looking at how our social programs (which I approve of in theory) and our political system are shaping our future. It's both right and economically prudent to ensure all kids are well educated (and that can mean a phd or an electricians course, I know which pays better, depending on their natural talents) and have access to great healthcare. Now to do that, in a capitalist society (probably the 'least crap' type we can manage right now) you have to take money from the middle and the top and redistribute it to those at the bottom. Again, I have no problem with this, makes sense on every level. The problem comes with that percentage of people who are utter c**ts. People who make bad decisions, often knowingly. People who given the choice between a few pints or feeding their kids choose pints every time.

Removing social spending isn't the answer, neither is eugenics, perhaps refocussing the delivery of social spending and being able to ban people (and only these people) from having kids when it has been proven they cannot look after them. When teachers have to feed kids because their parents refuse to look after them whilst gladly taking their benefit money, that makes me sick. The most important job we have is to be good parents, I am sure theres plenty better than me, but I try and theres a hell of a lot worse.

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Vic
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> dead weights of society shouldn't be breeding

Why don't you get started on that B-Ark construction?

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

No babies for you, Ada Lovelace.

And no Isaac Newton -can't have impoverished single mothers having kids, can we?

AFAIK the latest research indicates that any woman who drinks any alcohol regularly should not be having babies. We don't drink or take drugs and our kids are all in professions - i.e. postgraduate qualifications that take years to achieve. So I have some sympathy for the argument. But as the Chinese have found out, bringing up single kids with a huge sense of entitlement has its own problems. There really are no easy answers.

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Good genetics, good environment and most likely decent parenting, well done!

If the poor comment was directed at me, I probably wasn't clear enough :-) It's not about income, it's about ensuring help has the desired effect. When you make the choice to become a parent (and save a few exceptions there is a choice involved at some point) you start being faced with the choice of doing something your kid needs vs doing something you want. Your responsibility as a parent is to ensure the kids needs are met before your own wants. People doing this should be given a warning and some support, if it continues the yes they should lose their kids and the right to have more, unpopular as this view sounds even to me. I never understand why cats are afforded more protection than kids.

Being poor is beside the point, being a bad parent is not acceptable.

The severity of the problem is the tone this sets for the kids lives, their role models (not low income, but bad parents) are shit, the majority of the kids will grow up falling into similar lifestyles. A few hundred years back natural causes \ starvation would limit the poor (good and bad) but thats not right, we try and help people. A significant number of people take that help and use it as its intended which is great. Another significant faction of people don't and that simply isn't right. Not feeding your kids so you can go to gala bingo, have a drink or smoke is just not acceptable to me, I think to you also, no?

Oh and yeah single kids, thats why we had two :-) Income and number of kids isn't the issue, it's a minority of people who are terrible parents abusing the system and their kids.

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Re: @ Thorne

you say its a problem - she's just spreading her genes more effectively in the environment that's around you and her. She adapted - you haven't - she wins so get over it or become a dole scrounger breeding machine yourself or do you prefer self importance to eternity?

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Facepalm

@Thorne

I was going to post about how I agree with your basic sentiment though I completely disagree with the attitude expressed... then I realised that Rampant Spaniel had already said what I had in mind (only much more eloquently than I could hope for)

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FAIL

"I say, the ones who manage to survive and thrive without becoming bit-parts in a 1984 Apple ad are the ones we want. The ones who are smart enough to work the system instead of be consumed by it. The ones who choose not to conform. The ones who can still think, instead of just regurgitate Paul Dacre's foul opinions on the Register's comment boards."

You have the unemployed mother and her current defacto, six to eight kids all to different fathers. Mum and "current Dad" spend the day at the pub playing pokies. The younger kids have been taken into foster care. The older ones roam the streets at night. The charities provide the food, pay the rent and the social security and child support is spent on drink, smokes and gambling.

This is playing the system and being bright isn't required. Welcome to the new generations of society

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@ tom 7

You are right 'she' has adapted, but she has adapted to an environment we have created which I think is the point we are really discussing here right? We provide social support (which is officially A Good Thing) to try and ensure some level of equality. The benefits to society as a whole are that in theory we get the best out of everyone no matter what their parents income is and frankly it is the right thing to do. If the response from some people is to breed like rabbits and shirk parental responsibility, that needs dealing with. The point is what to do about the abuse of the system. Do we

- withdraw social programs. This would be a bad move, social unrest, a general decline in health and education etc not to mention it undermines the basis of a society, that we are stronger together.

- ignore it and carry on, again not ideal, ignoring problems tends not to work.

- try and ensure that help is used correctly by changing how it is delivered and cracking down on people abusing help.

The deciding factor on who is a good parent and who is a bad parent is not income, it is what a parent does with that income and how they take their responsibilities as a parent. If we put the effort into providing resources to help people bring up their children we should put some effort into ensuring they actually do that right? The victims there aren't taxpayers, it's the kids who deserve decent parents but get a waste of space. I have nothing against people having lots of kids (if they do the job well they have my upmost respect, 2 keeps me busy and broke, I have no idea how people cope with 6-8!) or their level of income, I care deeply about kids being subjected to shit, couldn't care less, parenting. I think that social spending is one of the best uses of taxes, but squandering it is a serious crime. We get to make a lot of choices in our lives, we don't get to choose our parents, I got lucky with hard working, loving parents. Everyone deserves that, people who neglect their responsibilities and don't change, they deserve serious punishment.

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There would be NO system if we ALL worked the system and lived off others hard work.

Old days had it right, If they were anarchic they were outcast from the village and left to fend for themselves, Soon toughened them up if they survived!

I think Rhonnie Johns - Chopper - had it right society needs to,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unkIVvjZc9Y

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Coat

obvious...

“...if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us...”

Wouldn’t this require a time machine? I’m not a US biologist, or anything like that, but I would think that if anyone, from any point in the past, constructed a working time machine, he would be the brightest person alive.

Even if he was thick, he would be able to use his invention to eliminate the competition and safely secure the smartest person award.

I think Mr Crabtree should stick to his eugenics work and leave the space-time business to others more skilled in the art.

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I propose a global "shag a nerd" movement for obvious reasons. Also to get humanity's collective IQ rising again, I suppose.

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"I propose a global "shag a nerd" movement for obvious reasons. Also to get humanity's collective IQ rising again, I suppose."

Speaking as "a nerd" (if by that you mean a programmer), I think I'd rather keep my choice of who I sleep with my own, rather than have people legally foisted upon me.

Thanks anyway!

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Boffin

Hmmmm

Boff a prof

Grapple with a geek

Get under the desk with the helpdesk

Get between the sheets with the elites

On your knees for PHDs

Get boffing with a boffin

Perhaps I should have taken that job in marketing after all...

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Boffin

There's an excellent response to this in the Guardian

In the GrrlScientist blog:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/grrlscientist/2012/nov/14/1

Pretty thoroughly refutes this by my reading and an interesting read by itself.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's an excellent response to this in the Guardian

Arguments on both sides are qualitative, and therefore unprovable.

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Weren't the ancient Greeks ...

... mostly idiots?

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first impression upon reading this article

Bollocks, with all due respect.

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Vic
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Re: first impression upon reading this article

> Bollocks, with all due respect.

ITYF the word "bollocks" contains all the respect due...

Vic.

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ha ha. stoopid prof don't no sheet from shinola. of coarse peeps is smarter now.

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Headmaster

It's simple...

...you can't fix stupid!

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