Monday, September 1, 2014

Re: [tt] [mta] Meme 249: Frank Forman: The Deuteronomistic Interpretation of History

Don't understand the question.

On 2014-08-06, Lincoln Cannon opined [message unchanged below]:

> Is this oldest form of historical interpretation also effective?
> On Wednesday, August 6, 2014, Frank Forman <> wrote:
>> Meme 249: Frank Forman: The Deuteronomistic Interpretation of History
>> sent 2014 August 6
>> Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy is the key chapter of the Bible. It details the
>> blessings of the who follow all of God's commandments and the curses
>> awaiting those who do not. The Bible is largely the story of the blessings
>> that do indeed follow from obedience and the curses of those who fail. What
>> is not explained is why, in the face of this history, the Jews should
>> repeatedly turn away from Yahweh and worship Baal, even to the extent of
>> dancing around the Golden Calf, something that I have never had the
>> slightest desire to do. Indeed, the Bible says very little about Baal.
>> This turning away is not explicable except on the basis of some massive
>> uncaused evil that swells up. Just as inexplicable is why the Jews should
>> just as repeatedly turn back to Yahweh. On an
>> individual basis, men will to be good or evil. Individuals are, of course,
>> influenced by the conditions and circumstances, but ultimately, they bear
>> the responsibility. No doubt, individuals can be inspired by their
>> neighbors to do good or to do evil: it is massive upswellings of good or
>> evil that need explanation.
>> A Deuteronomistic interpretation stops and just attributes events to
>> massive upswellings that come out of nowhere. Nothing at all is explained,
>> but it is nevertheless by far the most popular explanation. Its popularity
>> is almost certainly a built-in feature of human nature, going back at least
>> to the Stone Age.
>> Just roll your eyes over all the histories you have ever read, and you
>> will find the author stopping after he has gone into deeply into historical
>> forces and finds himself stumped.
>> I may have some of this wrong. Tell me, but it probably does not matter
>> much.
>> Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible, traditionally ascribed to
>> Moses. Moses was ready to lead the Jews out of Egypt into the Promised Land
>> (Canaan), with God's assistance. God had given them the Ten Commandments in
>> the Book of Exodus and heaped many more on them in the Book of Leviticus.
>> In the course of the Book of Numbers, the Jews revolted at all these rules.
>> Moses responded by having them wander in the desert for forty years.
>> Eventually, the Jews became obedient again, and God gave still more rules
>> in the Book of Deuteronomy (which means "second law"). The Jews are, at
>> last, ready to take off again, but Moses died, but not before writing the
>> summary of Chapter 28.
>> The sixth book, Joshua, describes how Joshua finally led the Jews to
>> Canaan. The seventh book, Judges (the Jews were ruled by judges, not kings
>> at the time), records a great many good judges alternating with bad judges,
>> with no real explanation why. The pattern keeps repeating itself, until a
>> great king, David, creates a unified nation. His son, Solomon, inherits the
>> monarchy. He was poised to become an even greater king, but he had too many
>> foreign wives, which led him astray. David's kingdom was split in two, the
>> northern part being Israel and the southern Judah.
>> Nothing Deuteronomistic here: Solomon was an individual sinner. It was
>> about this time that the great prophets appeared, the greatest being
>> Isaiah. Some of the told of the doom for Israel, others for the doom for
>> Judah. Sure enough, evil appeared again.
>> The northern part was conquered by Shalmaneser, King of Assyria in 721
>> B.C., God having withdrawn his protection. They became the Ten Lost Tribes.
>> The southern part lasted until Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, conquered
>> the southern kingdom in 597 B.C. and sent the Jews into what is called the
>> Babylonian Captivity.
>> Things bubble along unpleasantly until Cyrus of Persia decides that
>> religious toleration is the best strategy for his empire and allows the
>> Jews to return and rebuild Solomon's temple. Now a bit of sociobiology: in
>> bad times, allow intermarriage if the spouse will practice your religion
>> and get more total Jewish genes in circulation, even if somewhat diluted.
>> In good times, rediscover Biblical verses mandating endogamy, which is
>> precisely what happened under Ezra.
>> God, bored with waiting around for his people to resume obeying him
>> (Isaiah and some of the other prophets said this would someday happen),
>> gradually lost interest and left the Jews on their own. His name never
>> appears in the Book of Esther.
>> This is what the Bible says. Today, we know quite a bit more, esp. since
>> discovering texts written in Ugaritic, where Baal was the supreme god. He
>> was the god of rain and was prayed to in dry times, rain being
>> unpredictable in Asia. Annual flooding in Egypt was quite the opposite, and
>> Yahweh was, comparatively speaking, a nice god. In the Holy Land, a great
>> many Jews switched to Baal worship and did, as American Indians do, rain
>> dances around the Golden Calf. It is hard to tease this out from the Bible
>> alone, a book packed with obscurities. Scholars have tried to untangle many
>> of these and wind up more attacking each other than anything else.
>> There is a general consensus among the scholars who are not inerrantists
>> or literalists that the entire narrative from Deuteronomy through Kings has
>> been edited so as to smooth out the moral lessons. Most importantly,
>> Deuteronomy 28 was added to the Book of Deuteronomy. I am quite dubious
>> about this whole method, called "higher criticism," not because I am an
>> inerrantist or literalist or even believe in supernatural or superhuman
>> beings, but because no one has ever explained the process of correcting
>> Bibles. I remember, years before most academic journals dropped the
>> requirement that a dead-tree version be purchased along with the online
>> version, an article that offended right thinking so much that the editors
>> sent out revised copies and asked that libraries heave the bad issue into
>> the dumpster. (Somehow, I doubt many did. Today, the offending article is
>> just yanked from the website.) I also remember that when Nikita Khrushchev
>> was ousted and, so I was told, all the schools and government offices were
>> sent big black dates for his birthday, April 15, to cover over the red
>> dates that were already there on the calendars. So what happened to the bad
>> Bibles? How did they get rounded up? They were quite expensive to produce
>> in those days. The earliest extant Biblical text comes from a Silver amulet
>> in Jerusalem and dates to the seventh century, B.C. (William M.
>> Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book: The textualization fo Ancient
>> Israel. Cambridge UP 2004).
>> I have relied on Fred E. Woods, Water and Storm Polemics against Baalism
>> in the Deuteronomic History (NY et alia: Peter Lang, 1994) for much of what
>> I have written. The term "Deuteronomic history" refers to the Documentary
>> one of four authors or groups of authors that wrote the Books of Moses,
>> called J (Jawist), E (Eloist), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomist).
>> D (or the Deuteronomist person or committee) has been expanded to include
>> the authors, editors, redactors, and tamperors of Joshua, Judges, Samuel,
>> Kings, and even Jeremiah. Nevertheless the additional information about
>> Baal clears up a huge mystery.
>> None of this matters to my main idea, namely that praising a sudden and
>> random uprising of good people, and scoring a sudden and random infestation
>> of bad people is the oldest form of historical interpretation. WATCH FOR IT
>> Anyone who wants the entire 1611 King James Bible, with the Apocrypha and
>> in the 1767 spelling can download it here:
>> And here's the text (KJV, of course) of Deuteronomy 28:
>> 1 And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the
>> voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which
>> I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above
>> all nations of the earth:
>> 2 And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou
>> shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.
>> 3 Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the
>> field.
>> 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and
>> the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy
>> sheep.
>> 5 Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.
>> 6 Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be
>> when thou goest out.
>> 7 The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be
>> smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee
>> before thee seven ways.
>> 8 The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in
>> all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land
>> which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
>> 9 The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath
>> sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God,
>> and walk in his ways.
>> 10 And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name
>> of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.
>> 11 And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy
>> body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in
>> the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
>> 12 The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the
>> rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand:
>> and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
>> 13 And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt
>> be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the
>> commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe
>> and to do them:
>> 14 And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee
>> this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to
>> serve them.
>> 15 # But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of
>> the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes
>> which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee,
>> and overtake thee:
>> 16 Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
>> 17 Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
>> 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the
>> increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
>> 19 Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when
>> thou goest out.
>> 20 The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all
>> that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and
>> until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby
>> thou hast forsaken me.
>> 21 The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have
>> consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it.
>> 22 The LORD shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and
>> with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and
>> with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou
>> perish.
>> 23 And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that
>> is under thee shall be iron.
>> 24 The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven
>> shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.
>> 25 The LORD shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou
>> shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and
>> shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.
>> 26 And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the
>> beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away.
>> 27 The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods,
>> and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.
>> 28 The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment
>> of heart:
>> 29 And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and
>> thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and
>> spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.
>> 30 Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou
>> shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a
>> vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof.
>> 31 Thine ox shall be slain before thine eyes, and thou shalt not eat
>> thereof: thine ass shall be violently taken away from before thy face, and
>> shall not be restored to thee: thy sheep shall be given unto thine enemies,
>> and thou shalt have none to rescue them.
>> 32 Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and
>> thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long: and
>> there shall be no might in thine hand.
>> 33 The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou
>> knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway:
>> 34 So that thou shalt be mad for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt
>> see.
>> 35 The LORD shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore
>> botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy
>> head.
>> 36 The LORD shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee,
>> unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there
>> shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone.
>> 37 And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among
>> all nations whither the LORD shall lead thee.
>> 38 Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but
>> little in; for the locust shall consume it.
>> 39 Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of
>> the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.
>> 40 Thou shalt have olive trees throughout all thy coasts, but thou shalt
>> not anoint thyself with the oil; for thine olive shall cast his fruit.
>> 41 Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for
>> they shall go into captivity.
>> 42 All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume.
>> 43 The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and
>> thou shalt come down very low.
>> 44 He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the
>> head, and thou shalt be the tail.
>> 45 Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee,
>> and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not
>> unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his
>> statutes which he commanded thee:
>> 46 And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy
>> seed for ever.
>> 47 Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with
>> gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things;
>> 48 Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send
>> against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of
>> all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have
>> destroyed thee.
>> 49 The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of
>> the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt
>> not understand;
>> 50 A nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of
>> the old, nor shew favour to the young:
>> 51 And he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, and the fruit of thy land,
>> until thou be destroyed: which also shall not leave thee either corn, wine,
>> or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep, until he have
>> destroyed thee.
>> 52 And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced
>> walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he
>> shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the LORD
>> thy God hath given thee.
>> 53 And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons
>> and of thy daughters, which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege,
>> and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee:
>> 54 So that the man that is tender among you, and very delicate, his eye
>> shall be evil toward his brother, and toward the wife of his bosom, and
>> toward the remnant of his children which he shall leave:
>> 55 So that he will not give to any of them of the flesh of his children
>> whom he shall eat: because he hath nothing left him in the siege, and in
>> the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee in all thy
>> gates.
>> 56 The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to
>> set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness,
>> her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son,
>> and toward her daughter,
>> 57 And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and
>> toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want
>> of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy
>> shall distress thee in thy gates.
>> 58 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are
>> written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name,
>> 59 Then the LORD will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy
>> seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and
>> of long continuance.
>> 60 Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, which thou
>> wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee.
>> 61 Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book
>> of this law, them will the LORD bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed.
>> 62 And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of
>> heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the LORD
>> thy God.
>> 63 And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you
>> good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy
>> you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land
>> whither thou goest to possess it.
>> 64 And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of
>> the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which
>> neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.
>> 65 And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole
>> of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling
>> heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind:
>> 66 And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day
>> and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life:
>> 67 In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou
>> shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith
>> thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.
>> 68 And the LORD shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way
>> whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye
>> shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall
>> buy you.
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

[tt] NYT: Hal Finney, Cryptographer and Bitcoin Pioneer, Dies at 58

Hal Finney, Cryptographer and Bitcoin Pioneer, Dies at 58


Hal Finney, a cryptographer and one of the earliest users and
developers of the virtual currency Bitcoin, died on Thursday in
Phoenix. He was 58.

Mr. Finney had been paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or
A.L.S., and was taken off life support at Paradise Valley Hospital,
his wife, Fran Finney, said. She said his body was immediately
prepared for cryonic preservation by the Alcor Life Extension
Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz., according to his wishes.

A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, Mr. Finney was
a longtime futurist who put his programming skills to work in the
service of his ideals, particularly his desire to see the privacy of
individuals protected.

In 1991, he began doing volunteer work for a new software project
known as Pretty Good Privacy, or P.G.P., and immediately became one
of the central players in developing the program. P.G.P. aimed to
make it possible for people everywhere to encrypt electronic
communication in a way that could not be read by anyone other than
the intended recipient. The program used relatively new innovations
in encryption that are still thought to be invulnerable to code

Mr. Finney wrote in 1992 that cryptographic technology appealed to
him because he worried about the ability of corporations and
governments to snoop on citizens.

"The work we are doing here, broadly speaking, is dedicated to this
goal of making Big Brother obsolete," he wrote to an online group of
fellow privacy activists.

The original author of P.G.P., Philip R. Zimmermann, quickly became
the target of federal prosecutors, who believed that the software
broke United States laws against exporting military-grade encryption

While the investigation went on and became a major cause for civil
libertarians, Mr. Finney played a more quiet role in P.G.P. to avoid
becoming a target himself. Mr. Zimmermann said in an interview that
this decision meant Mr. Finney did not get proper credit for some of
the important innovations he had made in the development of P.G.P.

When the investigation concluded in 1996 without any charges being
filed, P.G.P. became a company, and Mr. Zimmermann set out to hire
Mr. Finney as his first employee.

Mr. Zimmermann, in an interview before Mr. Finney died, said Mr.
Finney was unusual in the field because he had none of the asocial
tendencies and physical awkwardness that are commonly associated
with people in the programming world. Rather, he said, Mr. Finney
was a gregarious man who loved skiing and long-distance running.

"Sometimes people pay some price for being extremely smart--they
are deficient in some emotional quality," Mr. Zimmermann said. "Hal
was not like that."

While working on P.G.P., Mr. Finney was a regular participant in a
number of futurist mailing lists, the most famous of which gave
birth to the Cypherpunk movement, dedicated to privacy-enhancing

Following these lists, Mr. Finney became fascinated by the concept
of digital currencies that could not be tracked by governments and

He was involved in many experiments aimed at creating an anonymous
form of digital money, including his own invention, in 2004, of
reusable proofs of work. Though that system never took off, he
quickly saw the promise of the Bitcoin project when it was announced
on an obscure email list in 2008 by a creator with the pseudonym
Satoshi Nakamoto.

Bitcoin used some of the same cryptographic tools harnessed by
P.G.P. and held out the promise that participants could choose to be
anonymous when spending money online.

When the project drew criticism from other cryptographers, Mr.
Finney was among the first people to defend it. He downloaded the
Bitcoin software the day it was released. The day after that, he
took part in the first transaction on the network when Satoshi
Nakamoto sent him 10 Bitcoins.

His early work on Bitcoin and his programming background led to
frequent speculation in the Bitcoin community that Mr. Finney was
Satoshi Nakamoto, a claim he always denied.

Soon after getting started with Bitcoin, Mr. Finney learned in 2009
that he had A.L.S., and he withdrew, for a time, from active
participation in the project.

Harold Thomas Finney II was born on May 4, 1956, in Coalinga,
Calif., to Virginia and Harold Thomas Finney. His father was a
petroleum engineer.

After graduating from Caltech in 1979 with a degree in engineering,
he worked for a company that developed video games like Astroblast
and Space Attack.

As a young man, Mr. Finney developed an interest in preserving life
through cryonic freezing until better, life-enhancing technologies
were invented, said a college roommate, Yin Shih. In 1992, Mr.
Finney visited the Alcor facility with his wife to determine whether
he wanted to sign up his family to be preserved in Alcor's
"containment vessels."

"In my personal opinion, anyone born today has a better than 50-50
chance of living effectively forever," he wrote at the time.

Mr. Finney remained an employee of the P.G.P. Corporation until his
retirement in 2011, working from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.

In the last few years, Mr. Finney was able to move only his facial
muscles, but he communicated and wrote Bitcoin-related software
using a computer that tracked his eye movement.

"I'm pretty lucky overall," Mr. Finney wrote on a Bitcoin website in
2013. "Even with the A.L.S., my life is very satisfying."

As the price of Bitcoins rose, his family, to pay for his medical
care, was able to sell some of the coins he secured in the early

Besides his son, Jason, and his wife, he is survived by a daughter,
Erin Finney; two sisters, Kathleen Finney and Patricia Wolf; and a
brother, Michael. His wife, a physical therapist whom he met at
Caltech, spent most of her days caring for him in his final years.

After Mr. Finney's death, the freezing of his remains was announced
by another futurist, Max More. "Hal," he wrote in a statement
online. "I know I speak for many when I say that I look forward to
speaking to you again sometime in the future and to throwing a party
in honor of your revival."
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[tt] NS 2983: Neanderthal demise traced in unprecedented detail

NS 2983: Neanderthal demise traced in unprecedented detail
* 20 August 2014 by Catherine Brahic

GUILTY as charged. Over the years, humans have often been accused of
killing off our Neanderthal cousins, although climate change,
stupidity and even bad luck have been blamed too. Now we are back in
the frame.

A reassessment of major archaeological sites suggests that instead
of dying out 23,000 years ago, Neanderthals were gone as early as
39,000 years ago. It also looks like we shared their territory for
5000 years, steadily replacing them as we spread across Europe.

Some say the findings support the idea that our direct ancestors
pushed Neanderthals out: humans were an invasive species.

Neanderthals came to Europe some 300,000 years ago. They hunted big
game with stone tools. Their territory spanned Europe and Asia. They
left distinctive "Mousterian" artefacts.

What has not been clear is when and how they died out. Tom Higham of
the University of Oxford and his colleagues used improved techniques
to date material from 40 key sites in Europe, spanning the period
when humans reached Europe and Neanderthals vanished. They studied
three types of artefact. Two of them, Mousterian and
Châtelperronian, are probably Neanderthal. The third kind, Uluzzian,
were once attributed to late Neanderthals, but recent work suggests
they were made by humans (Nature,

Higham and his team found that every possible or definite
Neanderthal site - Mousterian and Châtelperronian - was at least
40,000 years old (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature13621).

"Until recently, I and many with me had thought that Neanderthals
survived until 30,000 years ago, or perhaps even slightly later,"
says Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "The new dates make it clear that
they disappeared 10,000 years earlier."

For Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, the
findings look clear. "Neanderthals had largely, and perhaps
entirely, vanished from their known range by 39,000 years ago."

Nevertheless some still believe Neanderthals lasted longer. "It is
highly unlikely that all the dates are of Neanderthals about to
become instantaneously extinct," says Clive Finlayson of the
Gibraltar Museum.

There are Neanderthal artefacts claimed to be 23,000 years old, but
Higham could not get any solid dates from them, so while a late
survival is possible, there is no real evidence.

Work on material from Italy seems to show human settlers pushing
Neanderthals out (see maps). Mousterian tools were common there
45,000 years ago, when human-made Uluzzian material first appeared.
By 44,000 years ago, humans were sharing Italy with a dwindling
Neanderthal population. By 42,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were

For Pat Shipman of Penn State University, this supports her theory
that modern humans acted like an invasive species in Europe, beating
the Neanderthals in a competition for resources. That's a "distinct
possibility", Higham says.

But that does not mean we murdered our cousins. There is no evidence
humans ever killed Neanderthals, and they probably didn't meet
often, says Higham.

So what role did we play? Many now suspect we were the last straw
for an already fragile species. Genetics suggests Neanderthal
numbers dropped sharply around 50,000 years ago. This coincides with
a sudden cold snap, hinting climate struck the first blow.

By 45,000 years ago, they were probably living in small isolated
groups, so were less resilient. If only one person knows how to make
a certain tool, or gather medicinal plants, losing them harms the
entire tribe. "The death of a few individuals might mean the death
of key survival skills," says Shipman. "Neanderthals need not have
been stupid or inept, just thin on the ground."

"Ultimately, there were more of us than there were of them, and we
were doing similar things and hunting similar animals," says Higham.
"Neanderthals became isolated and ultimately were pushed to

This article appeared in print under the headline "Decline and fall
of the Neanderthals"

[tt] Smithsonian: Douglas Preston: The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets

Douglas Preston: The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets
Smithsonian Magazine, 2014.9

[Thanks to Sarah for this fascinating story.]

He's the most important human skeleton ever found in North America--and
here, for the first time, is his story

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick,
Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows
along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought
in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the
skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local
archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in
the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from
the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters' lab and
spread them out on a table.

The skull, while clearly old, did not look Native American. At first
glance, Chatters thought it might belong to an early pioneer or
trapper. But the teeth were cavity-free (signaling a diet low in
sugar and starch) and worn down to the roots--a combination
characteristic of prehistoric teeth. Chatters then noted something
embedded in the hipbone. It proved to be a stone spearpoint, which
seemed to clinch that the remains were prehistoric. He sent a bone
sample off for carbon dating. The results: It was more than 9,000
years old.

Thus began the saga of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons
ever found in the Americas and an object of deep fascination from
the moment it was discovered. It is among the most contested set of
remains on the continents as well. Now, though, after two decades,
the dappled, pale brown bones are at last about to come into sharp
focus, thanks to a long-awaited, monumental scientific publication
next month co-edited by the physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley,
of the Smithsonian Institution. No fewer than 48 authors and another
17 researchers, photographers and editors contributed to the
680-page Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient
American Skeleton (Texas A&M University Press), the most complete
analysis of a Paleo-American skeleton ever done.

The book recounts the history of discovery, presents a complete
inventory of the bones and explores every angle of what they may
reveal. Three chapters are devoted to the teeth alone, and another
to green stains thought to be left by algae. Together, the findings
illuminate this mysterious man's life and support an astounding new
theory of the peopling of the Americas. If it weren't for a
harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal
thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science
Though buried far inland, Kennewick Man ate marine life and drank
glacial meltwater. Analysis of just one of his worn teeth might pin
down his childhood home. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI)
"I've looked at thousands of skeletons," says Douglas Owsley. "They
were people, and there were people who cared about them." (Grant

The storm of controversy erupted when the Army Corps of Engineers,
which managed the land where the bones had been found, learned of
the radiocarbon date. The corps immediately claimed
authority--officials there would make all decisions related to
handling and access--and demanded that all scientific study cease.
Floyd Johnson protested, saying that as county coroner he believed
he had legal jurisdiction. The dispute escalated, and the bones were
sealed in an evidence locker at the sheriff's office pending a

"At that point," Chatters recalled to me in a recent interview, "I
knew trouble was coming." It was then that he called Owsley, a
curator at the National Museum of Natural History and a legend in
the community of physical anthropologists. He has examined well over
10,000 sets of human remains during his long career. He had helped
identify human remains for the CIA, the FBI, the State Department
and various police departments, and he had worked on mass graves in
Croatia and elsewhere. He helped reassemble and identify the
dismembered and burned bodies from the Branch Davidian compound in
Waco, Texas. Later, he did the same with the Pentagon victims of the
9/11 terrorist attack. Owsley is also a specialist in ancient
American remains.

"You can count on your fingers the number of ancient, well-preserved
skeletons there are" in North America, he told me, remembering his
excitement at first hearing from Chatters. Owsley and Dennis
Stanford, at that time chairman of the Smithsonian's anthropology
department, decided to pull together a team to study the bones. But
corps attorneys showed that federal law did, in fact, give them
jurisdiction over the remains. So the corps seized the bones and
locked them up at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory, often called Battelle for the organization that
operates the lab.

At the same time, a coalition of Columbia River Basin Indian tribes
and bands claimed the skeleton under a 1990 law known as the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. The
tribes demanded the bones for reburial. "Scientists have dug up and
studied Native Americans for decades," a spokesman for the Umatilla
tribe, Armand Minthorn, wrote in 1996. "We view this practice as
desecration of the body and a violation of our most deeply-held
religious beliefs." The remains, the tribe said, were those of a
direct tribal ancestor. "From our oral histories, we know that our
people have been part of this land since the beginning of time. We
do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent,
as the scientists do." The coalition announced that as soon as the
corps turned the skeleton over to them, they would bury it in a
secret location where it would never be available to science. The
corps made it clear that, after a monthlong public comment period,
the tribal coalition would receive the bones.

The tribes had good reason to be sensitive. The early history of
museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror
stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted
fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses
and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and
shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums
were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for
the feelings and religious beliefs of native people. NAGPRA was
passed to redress this history and allow tribes to reclaim their
ancestors' remains and some artifacts. The Smithsonian, under the
National Museum of the American Indian Act, and other museums under
NAGPRA, have returned (and continue to return) many thousands of
remains to tribes. This is being done with the crucial help of
anthropologists and archaeologists--including Owsley, who has been
instrumental in repatriating remains from the Smithsonian's
collection. But in the case of Kennewick, Owsley argued, there was
no evidence of a relationship with any existing tribes. The skeleton
lacked physical features characteristic of Native Americans.

In the weeks after the Army engineers announced they would return
Kennewick Man to the tribes, Owsley went to work. "I called and
others called the corps. They would never return a phone call. I
kept expressing an interest in the skeleton to study it--at our
expense. All we needed was an afternoon." Others contacted the
corps, including members of Congress, saying the remains should be
studied, if only briefly, before reburial. This was what NAGPRA in
fact required: The remains had to be studied to determine
affiliation. If the bones showed no affiliation with a present-day
tribe, NAGPRA didn't apply.

But the corps indicated it had made up its mind. Owsley began
telephoning his colleagues. "I think they're going to rebury this,"
he said, "and if that happens, there's no going back. It's gone."

So Owsley and several of his colleagues found an attorney, Alan
Schneider. Schneider contacted the corps and was also rebuffed.
Owsley suggested they file a lawsuit and get an injunction.
Schneider warned him: "If you're going to sue the government, you
better be in it for the long haul."

Owsley assembled a group of eight plaintiffs, prominent physical
anthropologists and archaeologists connected to leading universities
and museums. But no institution wanted anything to do with the
lawsuit, which promised to attract negative attention and be hugely
expensive. They would have to litigate as private citizens. "These
were people," Schneider said to me later, "who had to be strong
enough to stand the heat, knowing that efforts might be made to
destroy their careers. And efforts were made."

When Owsley told his wife, Susan, that he was going to sue the
government of the United States, her first response was: "Are we
going to lose our home?" He said he didn't know. "I just felt,"
Owsley told me in a recent interview, "this was one of those
extremely rare and important discoveries that come once in a
lifetime. If we lost it"--he paused. "Unthinkable."

Working like mad, Schneider and litigating partner Paula Barran
filed a lawsuit. With literally hours to go, a judge ordered the
corps to hold the bones until the case was resolved.

When word got out that the eight scientists had sued the government,
criticism poured in, even from colleagues. The head of the Society
for American Archaeology tried to get them to drop the lawsuit. Some
felt it would interfere with the relationships they had built with
Native American tribes. But the biggest threat came from the Justice
Department itself. Its lawyers contacted the Smithsonian Institution
warning that Owsley and Stanford might be violating "criminal
conflict of interest statutes which prohibit employees of the United
States" from making claims against the government.

"I operate on a philosophy," Owsley told me, "that if they don't
like it, I'm sorry: I'm going to do what I believe in." He had
wrestled in high school and, even though he often lost, he earned
the nickname "Scrapper" because he never quit. Stanford, a husky man
with a full beard and suspenders, had roped in rodeos in New Mexico
and put himself through graduate school by farming alfalfa. They
were no pushovers. "The Justice Department squeezed us really,
really hard," Owsley recalled. But both anthropologists refused to
withdraw, and the director of the National Museum of Natural History
at the time, Robert W. Fri, strongly supported them even over the
objections of the Smithsonian's general counsel. The Justice
Department backed off.

Owsley and his group were eventually forced to litigate not just
against the corps, but also the Department of the Army, the
Department of the Interior and a number of individual government
officials. As scientists on modest salaries, they could not begin to
afford the astronomical legal bills. Schneider and Barran agreed to
work for free, with the faint hope that they might, someday, recover
their fees. In order to do that they would have to win the case and
prove the government had acted in "bad faith"--a nearly impossible
hurdle. The lawsuit dragged on for years. "We never expected them to
fight so hard," Owsley says. Schneider says he once counted 93
government attorneys directly involved in the case or cc'ed on

Meanwhile, the skeleton, which was being held in trust by the corps,
first at Battelle and later at the Burke Museum of Natural History
and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle, was badly
mishandled and stored in "substandard, unsafe conditions," according
to the scientists. In the storage area where the bones were (and
are) being kept at the Burke Museum, records show there have been
wide swings in temperature and humidity that, the scientists say,
have damaged the specimen. When Smithsonian asked about the
scientists' concerns, the corps disputed that the environment is
unstable, pointing out that expert conservators and museum personnel
say that "gradual changes are to be expected through the seasons and
do not adversely affect the collection."

Somewhere in the move to Battelle, large portions of both femurs
disappeared. The FBI launched an investigation, focusing on James
Chatters and Floyd Johnson. It even went so far as to give Johnson a
lie detector test; after several hours of accusatory questioning,
Johnson, disgusted, pulled off the wires and walked out. Years
later, the femur bones were found in the county coroner's office.
The mystery of how they got there has never been solved.

The scientists asked the corps for permission to examine the
stratigraphy of the site where the skeleton had been found and to
look for grave goods. Even as Congress was readying a bill to
require the corps to preserve the site, the corps dumped a million
pounds of rock and fill over the area for erosion control, ending
any chance of research.

I asked Schneider why the corps so adamantly resisted the
scientists. He speculated that the corps was involved in tense
negotiations with the tribes over a number of thorny issues,
including salmon fishing rights along the Columbia River, the
tribes' demand that the corps remove dams and the ongoing,
hundred-billion-dollar cleanup of the vastly polluted Hanford
nuclear site. Schneider says that a corps archaeologist told him
"they weren't going to let a bag of old bones get in the way of
resolving other issues with the tribes."

Asked about its actions in the Kennewick Man case, the corps told
Smithsonian: "The United States acted in accordance with its
interpretation of NAGPRA and its concerns about the safety and
security of the fragile, ancient human remains."

Ultimately, the scientists won the lawsuit. The court ruled in 2002
that the bones were not related to any living tribe: thus NAGPRA did
not apply. The judge ordered the corps to make the specimen
available to the plaintiffs for study. The government appealed to
the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in 2004 again
ruled resoundingly in favor of the scientists, writing:

because Kennewick Man's remains are so old and the information about
his era is so limited, the record does not permit the Secretary [of
the Interior] to conclude reasonably that Kennewick Man shares
special and significant genetic or cultural features with presently
existing indigenous tribes, people, or cultures.

During the trial, the presiding magistrate judge, John Jelderks, had
noted for the record that the corps on multiple occasions misled or
deceived the court. He found that the government had indeed acted in
"bad faith" and awarded attorney's fees of $2,379,000 to Schneider
and his team.

"At the bare minimum," Schneider told me, "this lawsuit cost the
taxpayers $5 million."

Owsley and the collaborating scientists presented a plan of study to
the corps, which was approved after several years. And so, almost
ten years after the skeleton was found, the scientists were given 16
days to examine it. They did so in July of 2005 and February of

From these studies, presented in superabundant detail in the new
book, we now have an idea who Kennewick Man was, how he lived, what
he did and where he traveled. We know how he was buried and then
came to light. Kennewick Man, Owsley believes, belongs to an ancient
population of seafarers who were America's original settlers. They
did not look like Native Americans. The few remains we have of these
early people show they had longer, narrower skulls with smaller
faces. These mysterious people have long since disappeared.


To get to Owsley's office at the National Museum of Natural History,
you must negotiate a warren of narrow corridors illuminated by
fluorescent strip lighting and lined with specimen cases. When his
door opens, you are greeted by Kennewick Man. The reconstruction of
his head is striking--rugged, handsome and weather-beaten, with long
hair and a thick beard. A small scar puckers his left forehead. His
determined gaze is powerful enough to stop you as you enter. This is
a man with a history.

Kennewick Man is surrounded on all sides by tables laid out with
human skeletons. Some are articulated on padded counters, while
others rest in metal trays, the bones arranged as precisely as
surgeon's tools before an operation. These bones represent the
forensic cases Owsley is currently working on.

"This is a woman," he said, pointing to the skeleton to the left of
Kennewick Man. "She's young. She was a suicide, not found for a long
time." He gestured to the right. "And this is a homicide. I know
there was physical violence. She has a fractured nose, indicating a
blow to the face. The detective working the case thinks that if we
can get a positive ID, the guy they have will talk. And we have a
positive ID." A third skeleton belonged to a man killed while riding
an ATV, his body not found for six months. Owsley was able to assure
the man's relatives that he died instantly and didn't suffer. "In
doing this work," he said, "I hope to speak for the person who can
no longer speak."

Owsley is a robust man, of medium height, 63 years old, graying
hair, glasses; curiously, he has the same purposeful look in his
eyes as Kennewick Man. He is not into chitchat. He grew up in Lusk,
Wyoming, and he still radiates a frontier sense of determination; he
is the kind of person who will not respond well to being told what
he can't do. He met Susan on the playground when he was 7 years old
and remains happily married. He lives in the country, on a farm
where he grows berries, has an orchard and raises bees. He freely
admits he is "obsessive" and "will work like a dog" until he
finishes a project. "I thought this was normal," he said, "until it
was pointed out to me it wasn't." I asked if he was stubborn, as
evidenced by the lawsuit, but he countered: "I would say I'm
driven--by curiosity." He added, "Sometimes you come to a skeleton
that wants to talk to you, that whispers to you, I want to tell my
story. And that was Kennewick Man."

A vast amount of data was collected in the 16 days Owsley and
colleagues spent with the bones. Twenty-two scientists scrutinized
the almost 300 bones and fragments. Led by Kari Bruwelheide, a
forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian, they first reassembled
the fragile skeleton so they could see it as a whole. They built a
shallow box, added a layer of fine sand, and covered that with black
velvet; then Bruwelheide laid out the skeleton, bone by bone,
shaping the sand underneath to cradle each piece. Now the
researchers could address such questions as Kennewick Man's age,
height, weight, body build, general health and fitness, and
injuries. They could also tell whether he was deliberately buried,
and if so, the position of his body in the grave.

Next the skeleton was taken apart, and certain key bones studied
intensively. The limb bones and ribs were CT-scanned at the
University of Washington Medical Center. These scans used far more
radiation than would be safe for living tissue, and as a result they
produced detailed, three-dimensional images that allowed the bones
to be digitally sliced up any which way. With additional CT scans,
the team members built resin models of the skull and other important
bones. They made a replica from a scan of the spearpoint in the hip.

As work progressed, a portrait of Kennewick Man emerged. He does not
belong to any living human population. Who, then, are his closest
living relatives? Judging from the shape of his skull and bones, his
closest living relatives appear to be the Moriori people of the
Chatham Islands, a remote archipelago 420 miles southeast of New
Zealand, as well as the mysterious Ainu people of Japan.

"Just think of Polynesians," said Owsley.

Not that Kennewick Man himself was Polynesian. This is not Kon-Tiki
in reverse; humans had not reached the Pacific Islands in his time
period. Rather, he was descended from the same group of people who
would later spread out over the Pacific and give rise to modern-day
Polynesians. These people were maritime hunter-gatherers of the
north Pacific coast; among them were the ancient Jomon, the original
inhabitants of the Japanese Islands. The present-day Ainu people of
Japan are thought to be descendants of the Jomon. Nineteenth-century
photographs of the Ainu show individuals with light skin, heavy
beards and sometimes light-colored eyes.

Jomon culture first arose in Japan at least 12,000 years ago and
perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, when the landmasses were still
connected to the mainland. These seafarers built boats out of sewn
planks of wood. Outstanding mariners and deep-water fishermen, they
were among the first people to make fired pottery.

The discovery of Kennewick Man adds a major piece of evidence to an
alternative view of the peopling of North America. It, along with
other evidence, suggests that the Jomon or related peoples were the
original settlers of the New World. If correct, the conclusion
upends the traditional view that the first Americans came through
central Asia and walked across the Bering Land Bridge and down
through an ice-free corridor into North America.

Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian
groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient
Beringia--the sea was much lower then--from Japan and Kamchatka
Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it
sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would
have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a
variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as
well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their
inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a
sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon
Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the
presumed Jomon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route
the "Kelp Highway."

"I believe these Asian coastal migrations were the first," said
Owsley. "Then you've got a later wave of the people who give rise to
Indians as we know them today."

What became of those pioneers, Kennewick Man's ancestors and
companions? They were genetically swamped by much larger--and
later--waves of travelers from Asia and disappeared as a physically
distinct people, Owsley says. These later waves may have interbred
with the first settlers, diluting their genetic legacy. A trace of
their DNA still can be detected in some Native American groups,
though the signal is too weak to label the Native Americans

Whether this new account of the peopling of North America will stand
up as more evidence comes in is not yet known. The bones of a
13,000-year-old teenage girl recently discovered in an underwater
cave in Mexico, for example, are adding to the discussion. James
Chatters, the first archaeologist to study Kennewick and a
participant in the full analysis, reported earlier this year, along
with colleagues, that the girl's skull appears to have features in
common with that of Kennewick Man and other Paleo-Americans, but she
also possesses specific DNA signatures suggesting she shares female
ancestry with Native Americans.

Kennewick Man may still hold a key. The first effort to extract DNA
from fragments of his bone failed, and the corps so far hasn't
allowed a better sample to be taken. A second effort to plumb the
old fragments is underway at a laboratory in Denmark.


There's a wonderful term used by anthropologists: "osteobiography,"
the "biography of the bones." Kennewick Man's osteobiography tells a
tale of an eventful life, which a newer radiocarbon analysis puts at
having taken place 8,900 to 9,000 years ago. He was a stocky,
muscular man about 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing about 160 pounds.
He was right-handed. His age at death was around 40.

Anthropologists can tell from looking at bones what muscles a person
used most, because muscle attachments leave marks in the bones: The
more stressed the muscle, the more pronounced the mark. For example,
Kennewick Man's right arm and shoulder look a lot like a baseball
pitcher's. He spent a lot of time throwing something with his right
hand, elbow bent--no doubt a spear. Kennewick Man once threw so
hard, Owsley says, he fractured his glenoid rim--the socket of his
shoulder joint. This is the kind of injury that puts a baseball
pitcher out of action, and it would have made throwing painful. His
left leg was stronger than his right, also a characteristic of
right-handed pitchers, who arrest their forward momentum with their
left leg. His hands and forearms indicate he often pinched his
fingers and thumb together while tightly gripping a small object;
presumably, then, he knapped his own spearpoints.

Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him
while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he
was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His
leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone
growths consistent with "surfer's ear," caused by frequent immersion
in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his
heels. I like to think he might have been a storyteller, enthralling
his audience with tales of far-flung travels.

Many years before Kennewick Man's death, a heavy blow to his chest
broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five
broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was
one tough dude.

The scientists also found two small depression fractures on his
cranium, one on his forehead and the other farther back. These dents
occur on about half of all ancient American skulls; what caused them
is a mystery. They may have come from fights involving rock
throwing, or possibly accidents involving the whirling of a bola.
This ancient weapon consisted of two or more stones connected by a
cord, which were whirled above the head and thrown at birds to
entangle them. If you don't swing a bola just right, the stones can
whip around and smack you. Perhaps a youthful Kennewick Man learned
how to toss a bola the hard way.

The most intriguing injury is the spearpoint buried in his hip. He
was lucky: The spear, apparently thrown from a distance, barely
missed the abdominal cavity, which would have caused a fatal wound.
It struck him at a downward arc of 29 degrees. Given the bone growth
around the embedded point, the injury occurred when he was between
15 and 20 years old, and he probably would not have survived if he
had been left alone; the researchers conclude that Kennewick Man
must have been with people who cared about him enough to feed and
nurse him back to health. The injury healed well and any limp
disappeared over time, as evidenced by the symmetry of his gluteal
muscle attachments. There's undoubtedly a rich story behind that
injury. It might have been a hunting accident or a teenage game of
chicken gone awry. It might have happened in a fight, attack or
murder attempt.

Much to the scientists' dismay, the corps would not allow the stone
to be analyzed, which might reveal where it was quarried. "If we
knew where that stone came from," said Stanford, the Smithsonian
anthropologist, "we'd have a pretty good idea of where that guy was
when he was a young man." A CT scan revealed that the point was
about two inches long, three-quarters of an inch wide and about a
quarter-inch thick, with serrated edges. In his analysis, Stanford
wrote that while he thought Kennewick Man had probably received the
injury in America, "an Asian origin of the stone is possible."

The food we eat and the water we drink leave a chemical signature
locked into our bones, in the form of different atomic variations of
carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. By identifying them, scientists can
tell what a person was eating and drinking while the bone was
forming. Kennewick Man's bones were perplexing. Even though his
grave lies 300 miles inland from the sea, he ate none of the animals
that abounded in the area. On the contrary, for the last 20 or so
years of his life he seems to have lived almost exclusively on a
diet of marine animals, such as seals, sea lions and fish. Equally
baffling was the water he drank: It was cold, glacial meltwater from
a high altitude. Nine thousand years ago, the closest marine coastal
environment where one could find glacial meltwater of this type was
Alaska. The conclusion: Kennewick Man was a traveler from the far
north. Perhaps he traded fine knapping stones over hundreds of

Although he came from distant lands, he was not an unwelcome
visitor. He appears to have died among people who treated his
remains with care and respect. While the researchers say they don't
know how he died--yet--Owsley did determine that he was deliberately
buried in an extended, prone position, faceup, the head slightly
higher than the feet, with the chin pressed on the chest, in a grave
that was about two and a half feet deep. Owsley deduced this
information partly by mapping the distribution of carbonate crust on
the bones, using a magnifying lens. Such a crust is heavier on the
underside of buried bones, betraying which surfaces were down and
which up. The bones showed no sign of scavenging or gnawing and were
deliberately buried beneath the topsoil zone. From analyzing algae
deposits and water-wear marks, the team determined which bones were
washed out of the embankment first and which fell out last.
Kennewick Man's body had been buried with his left side toward the
river and his head upstream.


The most poignant outcome? The researchers brought Kennewick Man's
features back to life. This process is nothing like the computerized
restoration seen in the television show Bones. To turn a skull into
a face is a time-consuming, handcrafted procedure, a marriage of
science and art. Skeletal anatomists, modelmakers, forensic and
figurative sculptors, a photographic researcher and a painter toiled
many months to do it.

The first stage involved plotting dozens of points on a cast of the
skull and marking the depth of tissue at those points. (Forensic
anatomists had collected tissue-depth data over the years, first by
pushing pins into the faces of cadavers, and later by using
ultrasound and CT scans.) With the points gridded out, a forensic
sculptor layered clay on the skull to the proper depths.

The naked clay head was then taken to StudioEIS in Brooklyn, which
specializes in reconstructions for museums. There, sculptors aged
his face, adding wrinkles and a touch of weathering, and put in the
scar from the forehead injury. Using historic photographs of Ainu
and Polynesians as a reference, they sculpted the fine, soft-tissue
details of the lips, nose and eyes, and gave him a facial
expression--a resolute, purposeful gaze consistent with his
osteobiography as a hunter, fisherman and long-distance traveler.
They added a beard like those commonly found among the Ainu. As for
skin tone, a warm brown was chosen, to account for his natural color
deepened by the harsh effects of a life lived outdoors. To prevent
too much artistic license from creeping into the reconstruction,
every stage of the work was reviewed and critiqued by physical

"I look at him every day," Owsley said to me. "I've spent ten years
with this man trying to better understand him. He's an ambassador
from that ancient time period. And man, did he have a story."

Today, the bones remain in storage at the Burke Museum, and the
tribes continue to believe that Kennewick Man is their ancestor.
They want the remains back for reburial. The corps, which still
controls the skeleton, denied Owsley's request to conduct numerous
tests, including a histological examination of thin, stained
sections of bone to help fix Kennewick Man's age. Chemical analyses
on a lone tooth would enable the scientists to narrow the search for
his homeland by identifying what he ate and drank as a child. A
tooth would also be a good source of DNA. Biomolecular science is
advancing so rapidly that within five to ten years it may be
possible to know what diseases Kennewick Man suffered from and what
caused his death.

Today's scientists still have questions for this skeleton, and
future scientists will no doubt have new ones. Kennewick Man has
more to tell.
tt mailing list

[tt] NS 2983: Google's fact-checking bots build vast knowledge bank

NS 2983: Google's fact-checking bots build vast knowledge bank
* 20 August 2014 by Hal Hodson

The search giant is automatically building Knowledge Vault, a
massive database that could give us unprecedented access to the
world's facts

GOOGLE is building the largest store of knowledge in human history -
and it's doing so without any human help.

Instead, Knowledge Vault autonomously gathers and merges information
from across the web into a single base of facts about the world, and
the people and objects in it.

The breadth and accuracy of this gathered knowledge is already
becoming the foundation of systems that allow robots and smartphones
to understand what people ask them. It promises to let Google answer
questions like an oracle rather than a search engine, and even to
turn a new lens on human history.

Knowledge Vault is a type of "knowledge base" - a system that stores
information so that machines as well as people can read it. Where a
database deals with numbers, a knowledge base deals with facts. When
you type "Where was Madonna born" into Google, for example, the
place given is pulled from Google's existing knowledge base.

This existing base, called Knowledge Graph, relies on crowdsourcing
to expand its information. But the firm noticed that growth was
stalling; humans could only take it so far.

So Google decided it needed to automate the process. It started
building the Vault by using an algorithm to automatically pull in
information from all over the web, using machine learning to turn
the raw data into usable pieces of knowledge.

Knowledge Vault has pulled in 1.6 billion facts to date. Of these,
271 million are rated as "confident facts", to which Google's model
ascribes a more than 90 per cent chance of being true. It does this
by cross-referencing new facts with what it already knows.

"It's a hugely impressive thing that they are pulling off," says
Fabian Suchanek, a data scientist at Télécom ParisTech in France.

Google's Knowledge Graph is currently bigger than the Knowledge
Vault, but it only includes manually integrated sources such as the
CIA Factbook.

Knowledge Vault offers Google fast, automatic expansion of its
knowledge - and it's only going to get bigger. As well as the
ability to analyse text on a webpage for facts to feed its knowledge
base, Google can also peer under the surface of the web, hunting for
hidden sources of data such as the figures that feed Amazon product
pages, for example.

Tom Austin, a technology analyst at Gartner in Boston, says that the
world's biggest technology companies are racing to build similar
vaults. "Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and IBM are all
building them, and they're tackling these enormous problems that we
would never even have thought of trying 10 years ago," he says.

The potential of a machine system that has the whole of human
knowledge at its fingertips is huge. One of the first applications
will be virtual personal assistants that go way beyond what Siri and
Google Now are capable of, says Austin.

"Before this decade is out, we will have a smart priority inbox that
will find for us the 10 most important emails we've received and
handle the rest without us having to touch them," Austin says. Our
virtual assistant will be able to decide what matters and what

Other agents will carry out the same process to watch over and guide
our health, sorting through a knowledge base of medical symptoms to
find correlations with data in each person's health records. IBM's
Watson is already doing this for cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering
Hospital in New York.

Knowledge Vault promises to supercharge our interactions with
machines, but it also comes with an increased privacy risk. The
Vault doesn't care if you are a person or a mountain - it is
voraciously gathering every piece of information it can find.

"Behind the scenes, Google doesn't only have public data," says
Suchanek. It can also pull in information from Gmail, Google+ and
Youtube."You and I are stored in the Knowledge Vault in the same way
as Elvis Presley," Suchanek says.

Google researcher Kevin Murphy and his colleagues will present a
paper on Knowledge Vault at the Conference on Knowledge Discovery
and Data Mining in New York on 25 August.

As well as improving our interactions with computers, large stores
of knowledge will be the fuel for augmented reality, too. Once
machines get the ability to recognise objects, Knowledge Vault could
be the foundation of a system that can provide anyone wearing a
heads-up display with information about the landmarks, buildings and
businesses they are looking at in the real world. "Knowledge Vault
adds local entities - politicians, businesses. This is just the tip
of the iceberg," Suchanek says.

Knowledge vault

Richer vaults of knowledge will also change the way we study human
society "This is the most visionary thing," says Suchanek. "The
Knowledge Vault can model history and society."

Google already has a way to track mentions of names over time using
historical texts, measuring the popularity of Albert Einstein vs
Charles Darwin, for instance. By adding knowledge bases - which know
the gender, age and place of birth of myriad people - historians
would be able to track more in-depth questions, such as the
popularity of female singers over time, for example.

Suchanek has already carried out a version of this kind of
data-driven history. By combining a knowledge base called YAGO with
data from French newspaper Le Monde, he was able to show how the
gender gap in French politics changed over time. This was only
possible because YAGO knows the gender of every French politician,
and can apply that knowledge to names mentioned in Le Monde. He will
present the work at the Very Large Databases Conference in Hangzhou,
China, in September.

It might even be possible to use a knowledge base as detailed and
broad as Google's to start making accurate predictions about the
future based on analysis and forward projection of the past, says

"This an entirely new generation of technology that's going to
result in massive changes - improvement in how people live and have
fun, and how they make war," says Austin. "This is a quantum leap."

This article appeared in print under the headline "Welcome to the

[tt] NS 2983: First samples of Antarctic lake reveal thriving life

I just read a novel about Antarctica, _Hollow Earth_, which is about Nazis
who escaped to underground Antartica and had atomic bombs.

NS 2983: First samples of Antarctic lake reveal thriving life
* 20 August 2014 by Peter Aldhous

THE popular image of Antarctica as a frozen, almost lifeless desert
needs a makeover. For the first time, water from a lake beneath the
ice has been found to harbour a vibrant microbial ecosystem.

"Our discovery proves that water is habitable space, even if it's at
sub-zero temperatures and there is no sunlight," says John Priscu of
Montana State University in Bozeman. He co-led the US team that
drilled into Lake Whillans, 800 metres beneath the west Antarctic
ice sheet.

The finding is good news for astrobiologists hoping to discover life
elsewhere in the solar system: in the ocean beneath the frozen
surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, for instance, or clinging on under
the Martian polar ice caps.

Antarctica is home to about 400 subglacial lakes, many of which are
linked in drainage basins. Priscu calls it "the planet's largest

Lake Whillans (see map) is one such lake. As it fills up with water
from inland, the ice above swells. About every three years, the
pressure builds up so much that water rushes out into the Southern
Ocean, like fuel being siphoned from a car's tank.

Priscu's team broke into Lake Whillans in January 2013, using hot
water to melt a 60-centimetre-diameter hole through the ice. The
water used was kept sterile using filters, heating, ultraviolet
light and hydrogen peroxide. That should lay to rest any suggestion
that the microbes found were contaminants from the surface.

Such doubts have dogged claims about life in Lake Vostok in eastern
Antartica. A Russian team took samples from the lake in 2012, but
they used non-sterile kerosene as the drilling fluid.

In any case, the sheer numbers of microbes found in the samples from
Lake Whillans argue against contamination. "We were surprised by the
cell densities we observed," says Priscu's colleague Brent Christner
of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "They are very similar
to what you'd find in low-nutrient lakes on the surface or in the
open ocean."

The team found almost 4000 species of single-celled organisms
(Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature13667). Most seem to be feeding on
sediments on the lake bed, laid down when the area was last ice-free
and under the ocean, at least 120,000 years ago.

Many of the microbes convert ammonium to nitrite. The most common
species, accounting for about 13 per cent of the DNA sequences
found, takes that nitrite and converts it to nitrate. Others seem to
feed on methane.

Whillans is not necessarily representative of other subglacial
lakes. For instance, Lake Vostok is thought to have been completely
cut off, including from other lakes, for at least 15 million years.
That means any microbes there may have to feed instead on chemicals
released as bedrock is ground away by the surrounding ice. "What we
have is one point on the map. We need more," says Martin Siegert of
Imperial College London.

"We've got to get down and sample these lakes," says Priscu. But it
will be hard to reach lakes nearer the centre of Antarctica, where
conditions are harsher, without contaminating them with drilling
fluid. Siegert heads a team that was thwarted in its 2012 efforts to
reach Lake Ellsworth by boring through 3 km of ice. He hopes to try
again in a few years.

Exploring beneath the ice of other bodies in our solar system
will be an even tougher challenge. Still, finding a
flourishing ecosystem beneath Antarctica boosts the idea that life
may exist beyond Earth. "I believe the implications for life
elsewhere in our solar system are significant," says Edward Goolish
of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

This article appeared in print under the headline "Life thrives
under Antarctica"
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We'd better evolve smarts, esp. if Marshall Brain is right and half of the
population will not be able to compete with ever-higher technology like

NS 2983: Brain drain: Are we evolving stupidity?
* 20 August 2014 by [11]Bob Holmes

Bob Holmes is a consultant for New Scientist based in Edmonton,

[Leader: It would be stupid to ignore a drop in human intellect" added.]

We've got smarter and smarter in the 20th century, but now there are
signs that IQs have begun to fall in countries such as the UK and

IN DENMARK, every man is liable for military service at the age of
18. Nowadays, only a few thousand get conscripted but all have to be
assessed, and that includes doing an IQ test. Until recently, the
same one had been used since the 1950s. "We actually have the same
test being administered to 25 to 30,000 young men every year," says
[19]Thomas Teasdale, a psychologist at the University of Copenhagen.

The results are surprising. Over this time, there has been a
dramatic increase in the average IQ of Danish men. So much so that
what would have been an average score in the 1950s is now low enough
to disqualify a person from military service, Teasdale says.

The same phenomenon has been observed in many other countries. For
at least a century, each generation has been measurably brighter
than the last. But this cheerful chapter in social history seems to
be drawing to a close. In Denmark, the most rapid rises in IQ, of
about 3 points per decade, occurred from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Scores peaked in 1998 and have actually declined by 1.5 points since
then. Something similar seems to be happening in a few other
developed countries, too, including the UK and Australia.

So why have IQ scores been increasing around the world? And more
importantly, why does this rise now seem to be coming to an end? The
most controversial explanation is that rising IQ scores have been
hiding a decline in our genetic potential. Could this possibly be
right? Do we face a future of gradually declining intellectual

There's no question that intelligence - as measured by IQ tests, at
least - has risen dramatically since the tests were first formalised
a century ago. In the US, average IQ rose by 3 points per decade
from 1932 to 1978, much as in Denmark. In postwar Japan, it shot up
by an astonishing 7.7 points per decade, and two decades later it
started climbing at a similar rate in South Korea. Everywhere
psychologists have looked, they have seen the same thing.

This steady rise in test scores has come to be known as the "Flynn
effect" after [20]James Flynn of the University of Otago in New
Zealand, who was one of the first to document the trend. Much has
been written about why this has been happening. There may be a
cultural element, with the rise of [21]television, computers and
mobile devices making us better at certain skills. The [22]biggest
IQ increases involve visuospatial skills. Increasing familiarity
with test formats may also play a role.

The general view, though, is that poor health and poor environments
once held people back, and still do in many countries. Wherever
conditions start to improve, though, the Flynn effect kicks in. With
improved nutrition, better education and more stimulating
childhoods, many people around the world really have become smarter.

We have, after all, changed in other ways: each generation has been
taller than the previous one, probably because nutrition has
improved. So although height is thought to have an even larger
genetic component than intelligence - taller parents tend to have
taller children - the environment matters too.

If better nutrition and education have led to rising IQs, the gains
should be especially large at the lower end of the range, among the
children of those with the fewest advantages in their lives. Sure
enough, that's what testers usually see. In Denmark, for example,
test scores of the brightest individuals have hardly budged - the
score needed for an individual to place in the top 10 per cent of
the population is still about what it was in the 1950s. "It was the
bottom end that was moving up. The top end hardly moved at all,"
says Teasdale.

If social improvements are behind the Flynn effect, then as factors
like education and improved nutrition become common within a country
their intelligence-boosting effects should taper off, country by
country. "I've been predicting for some time that we should see
signs of some of them running out," says Flynn. And those signs are
indeed appearing. It seems we are seeing the beginning of the end of
the Flynn effect in developed countries.

Similarly, the [23]increases in height are also tapering off. But IQ
scores are not just levelling out but appear to be declining. The
first evidence of a small decline, in Norway, was reported in 2004
[24](see chart). Since then a series of studies have found similar
declines in other highly developed countries including Australia,
Denmark, the UK and Sweden. The latest evidence, reported last year,
comes from the Netherlands and Finland ([25]Intelligence, vol 41, p
817). Should we be worried? Not according to Flynn and Teasdale. The
evidence remains sparse and [26]sometimes contradictory, and could
just be due to chance.

Underlying decline?

Even if they are not down to chance, such small declines could be
attributable to minor changes in social conditions such as falling
income or poorer education, which can easily be reversed, says
Flynn. But these are invented hypotheses for a very small
phenomenon, he points out. "You'd want to be pretty certain that
phenomenon was actual before you scratch around too hard for

There is a more disquieting possibility, though. A few researchers
think that the Flynn effect has masked an underlying decline in the
genetic basis of intelligence. In other words, although more people
have been developing closer to their full potential, that potential
has been declining.

Most demographers agree that in the past 150 years in Western
countries, the most highly educated people have been having fewer
children than is normal in the general population. The notion that
less educated people are outbreeding others is far from new, as is
the inference that we are evolving to be less intelligent. It's even
the theme of a 2006 film, [27]Idiocracy.

"This is a claim that has been made for over a century now, and
always with the most horrific prediction of what might happen if we
don't stop it," says [28]Bill Tucker, a historian of psychology at
Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. This idea led to [29]the
extensive eugenics programme in the US, with its forced
sterilisations, which in turn helped inspire the "purity" policies
of Nazi Germany.

This unpleasant history, though, doesn't mean there is no genetic
decline, some argue. Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster, UK, a
psychologist whose work has often been controversial, has [30]tried
to calculate the rate of decline in our genetic potential using
measured IQ values around the world in 1950 and 2000. His answer: a
bit less than 1 IQ point, worldwide, between 1950 and 2000. If the
trend continues, there would be another 1.3 point fall by 2050. Even
if he is right - and it's a big if - that is a tiny change compared
with the Flynn effect. Would small declines like this even matter?

Yes, argues Michael Woodley, a psychologist at Free University of
Brussels (VUB) in Belgium. This kind of evolution would shift the
bell curve of intelligence, he claims, and a small shift can lead to
a big drop in the number of high scorers. For example, if mean IQ
fell from 100 points to 97, it would almost halve the number of
people who score above IQ 135. "It's a leverage effect," Woodley

Would this really matter? People who score highly in IQ tests
[31]are not always the most successful in life. In any case, with so
many confounding factors, it is far from clear whether the "evolving
to be stupid" effect is real. For example, it has been suggested
that caesarians allow [32]more bigger-brained babies to survive than
in the past.

A definitive way to settle this issue would be to look at whether
gene variants associated with higher IQs are becoming less common.
The trouble with this idea is that so far, despite huge effort, we
have failed to find any specific gene variant linked to
significantly higher IQs in healthy individuals.

"Boy, a lot of investigators have spent a lot of time looking for
that stuff, with some pretty big samples and sophisticated
methodology," says [33]Ronald Yeo, a psychologist at the University
of New Mexico in Albuquerque. "Of course it doesn't mean that there
aren't genes that are important. It's just there are so many of them
and they each have so little effect."

Yet Woodley thinks his team has found clear evidence of a decline in
our genetic potential - and he claims it is happening much faster
than Lynn's calculation suggests. Instead of relying on fertility
estimates, Woodley looked at a simple measure: reaction time.
Quick-witted people, it turns out, are exactly that: smarter people
tend to have quicker reaction times, probably because they process
information more quickly.

Back in the 1880s, the polymath Francis Galton measured the reaction
times of several hundred people of diverse social classes in London.
A few years ago, Irwin Silverman of Bowling Green State University
in Ohio noticed that the reaction times Galton recorded - an average
of about 185 milliseconds between seeing a signal and pushing a
button - were quite a bit quicker than the average of more than 250
milliseconds in modern tests, which began in the 1940s.

Woodley's team reanalysed Silverman's data, factoring in the known
link between reaction time and intelligence. When they did this,
they found that reaction times had indeed slowed over the century,
by an amount corresponding to the loss of one full IQ point per
decade, or more than 13 points since the Victorian era
([34]Intelligence, vol 41, p 843).

Critics have been quick to attack Woodley's analysis, arguing that
Galton may not have measured reaction times in the same way as later
investigators. If Galton's apparatus had a button with a shorter
range of motion, for instance, then he would have measured shorter
reaction times. What's more, Silverman points out that there is no
obvious downward trend in the post-1940 data, as there should be if
Woodley is right.

In [35]a detailed response published in June, Woodley maintains that
today's brains remain slower even after accounting for all these
other explanations. But even if he's right about reaction times, the
correlation between IQ and reaction time is not an especially strong
one: reaction time explains only about 10 per cent of the variation
in IQ.

"Probably every generation moans about the new generation being less
intelligent, and every upper crust moans about the lower classes
out-breeding them," says [36]Kevin Mitchell, a neurogeneticist at
Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. "The basic premise is that IQ
levels are dropping. And I don't see any evidence for that, which is
why I find the whole debate a bit odd."

Trouble ahead

The coming decades should provide a definitive answer. If what we
are seeing in countries like Denmark is merely the end of the Flynn
effect, IQ scores should stabilise in developed countries. If
Woodley and his colleagues are right, we should see a continuing

Even if we are evolving to be more stupid, it is far from clear
whether we need to worry about it. Flynn thinks the problem may just
take care of itself, as societal improvements such as better
healthcare and more promising employment options bring down
fertility rates in every stratum of society.

But don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. In the longer term,
there may be an even more fundamental threat to our intelligence. We
humans mutate fast - each of us has 50 to 100 new mutations not
present in our parents, of which a handful are likely to be harmful,
says [37]Michael Lynch, an evolutionary geneticist at Indiana
University in Bloomington. In the past, harmful mutations were
removed as fast as they appeared, because people unlucky enough to
inherit lots of them tended to die young, before they had children.
Now, things are different. Fetal mortality, for example, has
declined by 99 per cent in England since the 1500s, Lynch says.

This means that populations in developed countries are accumulating
harmful mutations. Over tens of generations, Lynch has calculated,
this will lead to a large drop in genetic fitness ([38]PNAS, vol
107, p 961). With so many genes contributing to brain function, such
a decline might well drag down our brainpower, too. The only way to
stop that might be to tinker with our genomes. Given our ignorance
about the genetic basis of intelligence, and the ethical
complexities, that is a long way off.

Coming back to the short-term, though, there is an obvious option
for those concerned about intelligence levels. "If you're worried
about it, the answer is what the answer has always been," says
Mitchell. "Education. If you want to make people smarter, educate
them better. That won't make everybody equal, but it will lift all

This article appeared in print under the headline "Stalled"

Are humans evolving to be dumber? A few researchers argue that this
has happened over the past century or so (main story), but it could
have been going on for much longer. One thing is certain: [40]our
brains have been shrinking for at least 10,000 years. An average
European woman today, for example, has a brain about 15 per cent
smaller than that of her counterpart at the end of the last ice age
[41](see diagram).

It has been suggested that with the rise of agriculture and towns,
and increased division of labour, people could survive even if they
weren't as smart and self-sufficient as their hunter-gatherer
ancestors. But smaller doesn't necessarily mean wimpier, says
[42]John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison. Brains are costly to operate, so evolution is likely to
favour increased efficiency. Modern brains might do just as much
with a smaller package, Hawks thinks.


Leader: It would be stupid to ignore a drop in human intellect
* 21 August 2014

The long-term rise in IQ scores might be coming to a halt, but we
should focus on improving social conditions rather than worrying
about idiocracy

THE US Immigration Act of 1924 imposed limits on the number of
people from a wide range of "undesirable" ethnicities who could move
to the country. Some of the staunchest supporters of the act were
eugenicists, who believed that the fecundity of poor people was
reducing the overall health and intelligence of the nation. They
wanted to stop "inferior stock" from Europe, including Italians,
Czechs and Poles, further weakening the US's superior "old stock".

They were, of course, wrong. Poor performance by immigrants on IQ
tests had nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with
poverty. Malnutrition, poor health and lack of education all depress
IQ. As social conditions have improved, IQ scores have shot up in
country after country, in what is called the Flynn effect. In the
US, they rose by 3 points per decade between 1932 and 1978.

But concerns about populations getting dumber persist. Idiocracy, a
2006 comedy film from Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge, takes
the premise that natural selection pays little heed to intelligence.
The result is a darkly funny future in which the stupid, having
outbred the smart, now spend their days guzzling junk while gawping
at utterly inane TV.

Idiocracy drew little comment on its initial release, but has become
a touchstone among those who despair at what they see as relentless
dumbing down of social and political discourse. "The comedy that's
becoming a documentary," is the refrain.

Now we are starting to hear suggestions that there is science to
back up Idiocracy's premise. In some countries, the long rise in IQ
scores has come to a halt, and there are even signs of a decline.
The reason, according to a few researchers, is that improving social
conditions have obscured an underlying decline in our genetic
potential. Perhaps we are evolving to be stupid after all.

Many people will find that idea unpalatable. They can, for the
moment, take solace in the knowledge that the evidence for such a
genetic decline is as yet weak. The apparent reversal of the Flynn
effect in a handful of countries could well be a blip rather than
the start of a global trend (see "Brain drain: Are we evolving

But we should keep an open mind. It could turn out that the decline
is real but has nothing to do with genetic changes. It could be a
warning sign that junk food is beginning to affect children's
development, or that educational reforms are having the wrong
effects. So we should keep an eye on trends in intelligence. In
fact, it would be stupid not to.

But there remains the question of what we are measuring. IQ is one
measure of intelligence, but it is not the only one. And people with
high IQ scores can still believe and do things that are irrational
and illogical - in a word, stupid (New Scientist, 30 March 2013,
page 30). Nor are people with high IQs necessarily the most
successful or socially productive. Other qualities, including
"grit", self-control and mindset, are vital too (8 March 2014, page

Given the grim precedents for judging people by poorly formed ideas
about intelligence and heredity, we need to be sure about what's
going on before jumping to take action. What is clear already is
that success in life is due as much to privilege as to intellect,
despite what some rich people might prefer to believe. So for now,
at least, we would do better to focus on helping poor people to
overcome their disadvantages than to worry about the prospect of

This article appeared in print under the headline "Dumber and
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