These just-published results on the recent and continuing evolution of the human brain are going to cause a lot of fuss. Scientifically, there is nothing very remarkable about them.
They are telling us that:
(1) Human evolution, including the evolution of the brain, did not come to a screeching halt when modern man emerged from (as we now believe) Africa around 50,000 years ago, and scattered to populate different regions of the earth, with very different environments.
(2) Evolution, including brain evolution, did not proceed in precisely the same direction, at precisely the same rate, in every human group, in every region and environment.
From anyone acquainted with elementary biology, these two propositions will come as no surprise. They none the less are a lance right through the heart of the current “Blank Slate” model of human nature, on which all our current social policy is based — which, indeed, forms the foundation of the Standard Social Science Model, with all its blather about “social
constructions” and “power relations.” Blank Slatism will be a long time
a-dying, for reasons to do with politics and wishful thinking, but it is now on the retreat, and all the battles will be, for the Blank Slaters, rearguard actions.
This will be true whether or not Lahn’s results survive peer review. There will be plenty more results where these came from, and they won’t all fail on peer review. This is hard science, atoms and molecules; and in the long run, science talks, B.S. walks. (“B.S.” there stands for “Blank Slate,” of course. What did you think?)
[An interesting irony here, one I rather enjoy, is that the Intelligent Design people should have no trouble accepting these results. Serious I.D.-ers do not deny the reality of micro-evolution within a species, which is what we are talking about here. They only deny that evolution can bring about new species, that it explains the Origin of Species. So I.D.-ers and orthodox Darwinists like myself are on the same side here, standing up for science, while the Blank Slaters — for example, practically the entire Humanities faculty of every American university — are the redneck fundamentalists with their heads in the sand!]
There’s going to be a fuss, though. Bruce Lahn is Chinese (original name Lan Tian). As a young student in 1988, he got into trouble with the authorities at Beijing University for trying to organize democracy demonstrations. He prudently left China to study at Harvard. Whatever persecution he suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, though, will seem like nothing compared to what he’s going to get from the massed legions of Political Correctness. If he still has the instinct of prudence he showed 17 years ago, he might want to consider going back to China for a while. (Which would not interrupt his work: he has a very well-equipped lab at Sun Yat-sen University in Canton.)