Category Archives: human evolution

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 […]

Is evolution “contingent” or repeatable?

Aeon is a nonprofit science and technology magazine that occasionally has some good pieces, though I’m not a frequent reader. However, several readers called my attention to a new piece by Dan Falk, a Canadian science writer, about whether or not human evolution was inevitable. Click the screenshot to go to the article: Falk poses […]

The evolutionary level of human violence

There’s a new paper in Nature about the level of intraspecific violence in humans and other species, written by José Maria Gómez et al. (free reference and download below).  The question is how often members of single species kill each other in the wild, and whether humans are outliers. It’s already gotten a lot of attention in the press, […]

Lucy may have died by falling out of a tree

“Lucy” is the skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis female, dated at 3.18 million years old and discovered by Donald Johanson’s team in 1971 in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia. Lucy has become famous because, with 40% of the skeleton recovered, all in one place, she gave a remarkably complete picture of what one of our ancestors […]

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 […]

Human evolution: a tangled bank

by Matthew Cobb Back in October, we looked at the discovery of anatomically modern human teeth in China, from 100,000 years ago. This was surprising because although archaeological evidence suggested that Homo sapiens first came out of Africa perhaps 125,000 years ago, it was thought that they hung around the Middle East, maybe venturing into […]

Human evolution in one handy gif

by Matthew Cobb Here’s the branching path from then to now, covering about 3.6 billion years (not to scale). Press the arrow to watch the gif. Some of the earlier bits are somewhat guesswork, but you get the idea. Evolution of humans — Science GIFs (@Learn_Things) January 7, 2016 JAC: Note that this animation is […]

We are not all Neanderthal: this is how science proceeds

by Matthew Cobb You may recall that back in October we reported the amazing discovery that, as I put it in the headline, “Neanderthal genes are everywhere“. Up until then, it had been thought that only those human populations outside of Africa carried Neanderthal genes, as a consequence of our ancestors having mated with our […]

Darwin’s primate tree

by Matthew Cobb This sketch of human origins was made by Darwin in 1868, and reflects the knowledge of the time. Humans are on the left, with our closest relatives, gorillas and chimps, grouped together. Darwin seems to mistakenly suggest that the gibbons (Hylobatus) are more closely related to the other apes – gorillas, chimps […]