The Corner

Evolution of The Brain

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.)

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

Most Popular

Film & TV

A Sad Finale

Spoilers Ahead. Look, I share David’s love of Game of Thrones. But I thought the finale was largely a bust, for failings David mostly acknowledges in passing (but does not allow to dampen his ardor). The problems with the finale were largely the problems of this entire season. Characters that had been ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Great Misdirection

The House Democrats are frustrated, very frustrated. They’ve gotten themselves entangled in procedural disputes with the Trump administration that no one particularly cares about and that might be litigated for a very long time. A Washington Post report over the weekend spelled out how stymied Democrats ... Read More

Australia’s Voters Reject Leftist Ideas

Hell hath no fury greater than left-wingers who lose an election in a surprise upset. Think Brexit in 2016. Think Trump’s victory the same year. Now add Australia. Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison shocked pollsters and pundits alike with his victory on Saturday, and the reaction has been brutal ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More
Film & TV

Game of Thrones: A Father’s Legacy Endures

Warning! If you don't want to read any spoilers from last night's series finale of Game of Thrones, stop reading. Right now. There is a lot to unpack about the Thrones finale, and I fully understand many of the criticisms I read on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, the show was compressed. Yes, there were moments ... Read More