The 10,000 Year Explosion

The subtitle is How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution and the authors are Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending.  I do think that such topics should receive open debate but, as with Greg Clark's book, I'm not convinced.  There is plenty on dog breeding, lactose intolerance, Genghis Khan and his children, the difficulties of settling the Andean Highlands, and just-so stories about medieval Ashkenazi Jews.  What's missing is a sense of what the hypothesis does not explain, what its limitations are, and also what exactly is being claimed beyond the particular cited examples.  The stories of "lots of recent change overall" and "current groups differ" are jammed together but of course they are very different.  Epigenetics don't receive much attention, even critically, and the lower levels of Ashkenazi social achievement before 1800 are dismissed quickly.  It's fine and indeed correct to claim they were oppressed but that opens up many doors to explain many other observed correlations.  The authors report that we have Neanderthal genes even though this seems to fly in the face of recent discoveries and more importantly the evidence that such interbreeding (if it occurred) mattered is extremely speculative.  Perhaps the authors are right but the reader is not given the tools to see why their understanding is a superior one.

Razib liked this book (see the first Amazon review) and I suppose it is a good introduction to this point of view, but overall I didn't come away feeling I obtained a superior understanding of the issues.


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