Category Archives: human biology

A lovely graph that tells our story

by Matthew Cobb I came across this beautiful graph in an article in the journal Cell this week. It shows declining levels of genetic variability among 51 populations of humans across the planet, plotted against the distance of each population from East Africa: The data in the figure are from a 2008 paper in Science […]

Researcher: Human sense of smell better than everyone thinks; may rival that of dogs!

John P. McGann of the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University has spent fourteen years looking at the olfactory (smelling) system of mammals, and has published a new paper in Science suggesting that what we think we know about our own sniffing ability, compared to the reputed Super Sniffers of dogs and rodents, is wrong. McGann suggests, […]

The evolution of sexual dimorphism in humans: Part 2

In a post one week ago, “The ideological opposition to biological truth,” I argued that sexual dimorphism for body size (difference between men and women) in humans is most likely explained by sexual selection, and that it also reflects behavioral differences between males and females: males compete for females, and greater size and strength give males an advantage. […]

The world’s oldest woman, and only living person born in the 19th century

Meet Emma Morano of Italy, who was born in 1899 and has attained the status of both “oldest living person” and “only person born in the 19th century”. She turned 117 on November 29. Click on the screenshot below to go to a video of the world’s oldest woman. Be sure to turn the sound […]

Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia

A question I’m always asked in popular lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” The answer I give is “Yes, but we have good evidence for such evolution in only a handful of traits: evolution of earlier reproductive maturity in females, later menopause, and selection for reduced blood pressure and a few other […]

Race as a “social construct”: trouble in Brazil

As I’ve written somewhere (but can’t remember where), it always amused me that when I wrote an NIH grant application, I had to specify my “race” (black, Pacific Islander, white, Hispanic, etc.), but then, in the instructions, it said something like “These categories are taken to be social constructs only, and are not biological.” That statement […]

The sociological religion of no biological differences between the sexes

As a biologist, I’ve learned that there are two related issues that are taboo for academics to discuss openly. The first is the issue of “races”—or genetic differences between human populations. Cultural anthropologists tell us that races are “social constructs.” Well, there’s a bit of truth in that, insofar as there is no finite number of […]

Natural selection reduces years of schooling among Americans

As I’ve often said, the question I’m always asked after my public lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” And my answer is always the same: “Yes, but the evidence we have for evolution occurring right now involves traits that aren’t that interesting.” When people ask that question, what they really want to know […]

An amazing tale of identical twins (two pairs!) swapped and raised apart

Reader Dorsa Amir called my attention to a story by Susan Dominus in today’s New York Times magazine, “The mixed-up brothers of Bogotá.” It tells a bizarre tale of swapped twins that gives clues about the genetic basis of human behavior. It turns out that two pair of identical twins were born in Colombia at the same time, […]

Guest post: Pulling the Plug on Power Posing

JAC: We met Dorsa Amir a while back when she sent us photographs of the Barbary macaques she worked on in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains (she also sent a photo of her orange tomcat Emerson). She recently called my attention to Amy Cuddy’s popular TED video on “power posing”, as Cuddy’s conclusion about hormones and behavior is relevant to Dorsa’s […]