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Natural Selection Can Act on Human Culture

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the people-are-people-so-why-should-it-be dept.

Biotech 239

Hugh Pickens writes "Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time that the process of natural selection can act on human cultures as well as on genes. The team studied reports of canoe designs from 11 Oceanic island cultures, evaluating 96 functional features that could contribute to the seaworthiness of the vessels. Statistical test results showed clearly that the functional canoe design elements changed more slowly over time, indicating that natural selection could be weeding out inferior new designs. Authors of the study said their results speak directly to urgent social and environmental problems. 'People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term,' said Deborah S. Rogers, a research fellow at Stanford."

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In other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452370)

FTA

"We need to begin aligning our culture with the powerful forces of nature and natural selection instead of against them."
Eugenics has a place in modern culture.

Re:In other words (1)

Divebus (860563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452648)

True natural selection for humans (overcoming the elements and savage beasts) quit working right around the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Now all we have are Darwin Awards nominees. Let's just don't wipe out the planet, eh?

Re:In other words (1)

mrxak (727974) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452968)

Well, now we have other environmental factors to contend with. Too much junk food, carcinogens, ultraviolet radiation, etc. Eventually we'll probably evolve into really fat people with hearts that don't mind cholesterol and skin that doesn't get cancer.

Re:In other words (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453228)

Well, now we have other environmental factors to contend with. Too much junk food, carcinogens, ultraviolet radiation, etc. Eventually we'll probably evolve into really fat people with hearts that don't mind cholesterol and skin that doesn't get cancer.

Um, no. Fat is stored energy. The whole reason we get fat is that our bodies are adapted to make do with as little energy as possible; and the way to do that is to make sure that any extra gets stored for later consumption. Consequently, as we adapt to live in an industrial society, the overweight epidemic should pass as our bodies are fine-tuned for the new energy input/output levels; also, we should adapt to require less excercise to stay in shape.

Re:In other words (1)

cytg.net (912690) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453462)

Umm,no.
Wow that was annoying wasnt it, anyway, seems to me the gp has a valid case where as you do not. What do you suggest for the 'fine-tuning' protocol? and why in hell should we adapt to require less excercise to stay in shape?(that *could* be translated into what the gp problary ment, but im betting thats not your point.)

Re:In other words (4, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454248)

Umm,no.

Wow that was annoying wasnt it

Um, no :p.

What do you suggest for the 'fine-tuning' protocol?

Natural selection. People who stay in good shape even when eating mainly junk food are more likely to find a mate and pass their genes on than the ones who turn into human balloons while their arteries jam.

and why in hell should we adapt to require less excercise to stay in shape?(that *could* be translated into what the gp problary ment, but im betting thats not your point.)

Because we aren't getting much excercise nowadays, so requiring less of it is an advantageus feature.

The gp suggested that we'd evolve to tolerate the effects of being fat; I suggest it more likely that we evolve to not get fat in the first place, since that would require much less changes to our biochemistry (fine-tuning) than the ones required to support useless (in a post-industrial civilization) fat.

Memetics? (5, Informative)

nickovs (115935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452396)

Isn't this just memetics [wikipedia.org] in action?

Re:Memetics? (1)

vespacide2 (1235470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452492)

(Or just common sense?)
It reminds me of the study that "proved" women are more attractive when ovulating.
I swear, the next thing they are going to "prove" is that men are attracted to breasts.

Re:Memetics? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452652)

Kind of an ironic post since nobody is claiming proof.

yeah (1)

vespacide2 (1235470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452746)

but they are saying they "discovered" something. (incorrect usage of the term "ironic" btw)
what did they discover? really. that humans learn from their mistakes? that people share ideas?

Re:yeah (1)

It'sYerMam (762418) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452760)

I take it you had already worked this out before anyone else thought of it then. Even then, an important part of science is going out and testing whether what you believe is correct or not.

Re:yeah (1)

vespacide2 (1235470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452812)

I take it you had already worked this out before anyone else thought of it then.
I've worked out that people learn from mistakes and share ideas? Is that what you are asking me?

Even then, an important part of science is going out and testing whether what you believe is correct or not.
Right, which is why I mention I expect them to "discover" or "prove" that men are attracted to breasts. I mean, there haven't actually been any double-blind experiments that "prove" this. We don't really "know" do we?

Re:yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453154)

So wear do we sign up for this scientific experiment where a bunch of blindfolded, naked people of both genders are observed to see who is attracted by what?

Re:yeah (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453304)

What they dicovered is the first scientific evidence for the theory that culture evolves. The term 'scientific proof' is an oxymoron used in earnest by commentators without a clue, but in this case neither TFA or TFS claim to have proven anything.

There are many definitions for irony [google.com.au] , I was thinking along the lines of "the difference between how you might expect something to be and how it actually is". The fact that this is a nerd site enhances the irony.

Re:yeah (1)

vespacide2 (1235470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453386)

(doesn't change my point)
So, is there scientific evidence that men are attracted to breasts?
I'm serious.
Do we need scientific evidence that culture evolves?

I concede on the irony point, though.

Re:Memetics? (3, Insightful)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452554)

Isn't this just memetics [wikipedia.org] in action?
Memetics is a fun term. As a qualitative notion, it makes some intuitive sense. But what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific. If you must talk using terms like 'memetics', then you might say that this research is important in that it finally brings some quantitative investigation into memetics instead of the usual 'just-so' stories.

That said, whether the researchers' results can support their wild speculation at the end of TFA (connecting their research to global warming, religious fundamentalism, and what have you) is another thing. Such speculation is silly.

Re:Memetics? (1)

Niten (201835) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452622)

Memetics is a fun term. As a qualitative notion, it makes some intuitive sense. But what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific.

With all respect, what in the hell are you talking about? To paraphrase the Wikipedia entry, Memetics is an approach to creating models for cultural information transfer. You know, just like natural selection is an approach to creating models for evolution. Of course it's not "quantitative"; it's a model for understanding the quantitative data.

Re:Memetics? (2, Informative)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452664)

Memetics is a fun term. As a qualitative notion, it makes some intuitive sense. But what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific.

With all respect, what in the hell are you talking about? To paraphrase the Wikipedia entry, Memetics is an approach to creating models for cultural information transfer. You know, just like natural selection is an approach to creating models for evolution. Of course it's not "quantitative"; it's a model for understanding the quantitative data.

The point is that memetics is not amenable to quantitative analysis. In other words, you can't derive hypotheses that you can test, unlike genetic evolution, which has been proven many times over. By studying cultural/mental content, memetics has a far more elusive target.

But it's not impossible. The research we are told about in TFA in fact does that, it (finally) does a serious quantitative study of cultural evolution, a field that until now has been almost entirely about qualitative claims, e.g., "religion is a virus". That might be true, but it isn't testable, hence it isn't scientific in the way that genetic evolution is. (If you believe I am wrong, please supply a reference to a rigorous scientific investigation of memetics, i.e., a quantitative one; thanks in advance.)

I hope this helps.

Re:Memetics? (2, Informative)

It'sYerMam (762418) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452778)

You do you realise you can make qualitative predictions, don't you? If I burn calcium, I can predict it will burn red, even if I don't know what wavelength it will be. More relevant, Tiktaalik was a qualitative prediction, as was the appearance of human chromosome 2 - two qualitative predictions very important in the field of evolution.

Re:Memetics? (1)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452914)

You do you realise you can make qualitative predictions, don't you? If I burn calcium, I can predict it will burn red, even if I don't know what wavelength it will be. More relevant, Tiktaalik was a qualitative prediction, as was the appearance of human chromosome 2 - two qualitative predictions very important in the field of evolution.
Of course. I was focusing on qualitative vs. quantitative because it seemed most relevant. But if you want to be more accurate, then the issue is that memetics is hard to subject to empirical testing, unlike genetics. And that TFA does manage to empirically test a hypothesis about cultural evolution.

Fair enough?

Re:Memetics? (1)

Niten (201835) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452864)

Here's the problem: You were lambasting memetics as fundamentally unscientific because it can't be used to make "quantitiative" predictions about reality, but here we have what is essentially a study in memetics doing just that... which you yourself admit is the case. Your objection seems to fall along the lines of (1) memetics has little empirical research behind it so far, but (2) this research is scientific, therefore (3) this research must not be memetics. It's an absolute non sequitur.

The point is that memetics is not amenable to quantitative analysis. [...] But it's not impossible. The research we are told about in TFA in fact does that

Well, which is it? The second of the two contradictory positions you take here corroborates my original point that memetics is, in fact, a useful type of scientific model.

The research we are told about in TFA in fact does that, it (finally) does a serious quantitative study of cultural evolution, a field that until now has been almost entirely about qualitative claims, e.g., "religion is a virus". That might be true, but it isn't testable, hence it isn't scientific in the way that genetic evolution is. (If you believe I am wrong, please supply a reference to a rigorous scientific investigation of memetics, i.e., a quantitative one; thanks in advance.)

There hasn't been much research in this area, and it's a shame. But from the dearth of research it does not follow that this field cannot be researched. I recommend you read Daniel Dennett's "Breaking The Spell", in which he both outlines the case for why this field can (and should) be researched scientifically, and encourages scientists to start doing such work.

Re:Memetics? (1)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452938)

Perhaps I wasn't clear.

What I was saying is this. The simple fact is that cultural evolution has not been empirically tested, so far. This is, among other reasons, because it is hard to quantify. Now, very nicely, TFA shows how this can in fact be done and we can get nice results.

I hope that is better.

Not quite (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452638)

what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific

It's scientific from that point of view, yes, but it still falls short of other criteria for defining what's scientific or not.


In the first paragraph they make the somewhat tautologic affirmation that "Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes". Oh, sure, people are more careful in adopting new ideas when survival is at stake, right?


No, not always. For instance, why was the concept of socialism so widely adopted in the economic sciences? The twentieth century provided us several examples of massive death rates in countries with socialized economies. So, there you have at least one counter argument to the thesis in the article.


Unless the scientists can show a clearly defined trend everywhere, all they have shown us is an example, not scientific proof.

Re:Not quite (1)

kamatsu (969795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452882)

Unless the scientists can show a clearly defined trend everywhere, all they have shown us is an example, not scientific proof.
While I am aware that I am, to a certain extent, quoting you out of context, I take issue with this statement on a few levels.

1) It is entirely impossible to determine any universal pattern. It is impossible to observe all the universe - Hence the only "proof" that Science can produce is a tentative proof by induction. That is, to say that the statement holds true for a specific data set, hence it can be extrapolated to other data sets and we can hope that the theory will hold. What you are trying to say is that their data sample is too small to yield valid results from which one can induce a theory. Whether this statement is true or not I don't know, it is up to the reviewing scientist to RTFA and determine how large a sample size would need to be to yield accurate results. Seeing as science is inductive, there is no way to produce a universal proof for all cases without experimentally validating ALL cases (rather difficult :P).

2) There is never such thing as a definitive "Scientific Proof", only scientific theory. Some (stupid) philosophers derived the idea that the entire universe is a figment of a consciousness. If this is the case (which it may or may not be - it is an unprovable statement) then everything science has "proven" is false - seeing as this example statement may or may not be true and cannot be proven either way, this means that scientists can never prove anything about our universe with absolute certainty. When rational, scientifically-minded people such as yourself use the term "proof" in Science, it leads people to think that "Theory" is the step below, a hypothesis - one of the major semantic exploits used by ID advocates. The quicker people stop calling Scientific theories "proofs" or "laws" the quicker people will realise that a theory that has stood for a significant amount of time and has the widespread support of the scientific community can be held to be true, tried and tested - and NOT a hypothesis - at least for all cases in which it has been observed - but every time they are extrapolated beyond these cases, their use is technically an experiment to see if the hypothesis for the theory holds true for other cases. Part of the problem that has allowed creationists to masquerade biblical stories as scientific theory is a widespread misunderstanding of scientific method, and this problem is, at heart, a problem of lazily applied terminology. end rant for today :)

Re:Not quite (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452974)

Please define 'scientific proof', from what I understand 'proof' is a term that only makes sense in axionomic systems.

You also don't have to look far to see people are cautious about change when lives are at stake, just ask any bridge builder.

Your political argument is OT and even if were relevant it falls flat when you compare modern China with Mao's cultural revolution.

Finally I don't think tautologic [princeton.edu] means what you think it does.

BTW: Your criticisim that 'it's just an example' is valid but it does not mean the study is not scientific, it simply means the theory is not as robust as one that has been tested many times in many ways. First 'examples' of this kind are known as 'scientific breakthroughs' no matter how inconsequential the subject may seem to be to outsiders.

Re:Not quite (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453482)

from what I understand 'proof' is a term that only makes sense in axionomic systems

In a sense yes, but in common speech it is often used in a more extensive manner. We aren't writing a doctoral thesis here in /.


Your political argument is OT and even if were relevant it falls flat when you compare modern China with Mao's cultural revolution.

What do you mean OT? The discussion is about how cultural ideas are selected, right? What is politics but a set of cultural ideas? And your argument is corroborating what I said, the current Chinese government has abandoned the meme of public property of the means of production.


The case of China is interesting here, because it goes against what was mentioned in the article. China changed twice their methods of production in the twentieth century, first from private property to state property and then back again to private property. Yet they still maintain very old cultural traditions that are less important to their survival.


I don't think tautologic means what you think it does.

Yes, it does. That word has two different [wikipedia.org] meanings [wikipedia.org] . I used it in the sense that I learned it in college, the only sense in which I have ever seen it used. The affirmation that "people are careful about changing X and X is important for people's survival" should be valid for any value of X, therefore it is tautologic.

Re:Memetics? (1)

HanzoSpam (713251) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453626)

That said, whether the researchers' results can support their wild speculation at the end of TFA (connecting their research to global warming, religious fundamentalism, and what have you) is another thing. Such speculation is silly.

Oh, maybe not entirely silly - but so far the data seem to show that cultural evolution isn't favoring the population the researchers think it should... [acuf.org]

why we invented religion, monogamy... (3, Interesting)

airdrummer (547536) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452650)

is religion not a collection of survival lessons, wrapped in mnemonic stories to preserve the knowledge across generations? doesn't the bible have helpful hints like "get your drinking water _upstream_ from the latrine"? in a pre-industrial pre-scientific world the only reliable way to avoid STDs is monogamy.

and what better way to ensure compliance than to tap into the natural human spirituality circuits, invoking the authority of the deit[y|ies] spinning tales of eternal damnation for transgressors...hey, whatever works;-}

and handling waste & dead animals isn't really healthy, but a dirty job's gotta get done, so a society could relegate it to a wretched underclass isolated from the larger society...oh, let's just call 'em 'untouchables'...hey, can't argue w/ success;-}

Re:why we invented religion, monogamy... (1)

Lained (1078581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453032)

ahhh.... you're a Frank Herbert fan I see :P

Not that the content of your post has anything to do with Frank Herberts Dune, but he does imply that religion is the means to pass a message along generations... to manipulate a society.
e.g: The Bene Gesserit and Missionaria Protectiva, that would take the local religions and morph it a bit (or even create a new one) so it would encompass with their plans.

Re:Memetics? (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453306)

Japan has a law forbidding showing of genitals in art; consequently, the local porn is usually censored. However, Japan also has a thriwing industry for drawn (cartoon) porn; this combined with a pre-existing disposal towards octopuses and the tentacled horror from beyond -concept of Lovecraft and formed the modern-day Japanse tentacle porn scene.

Anyone care to make a doctorate thesis about memetics using this as an example ?-)

Re:Memetics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453494)

The meme in question being your numerous mistaken beliefs about Japan, which are (I admit) shared by many people in the West?

For one thing, there's no law forbidding showing of genitals in art. We're talking about a country that has festivals where giant wooden penises are paraded through the streets, and children are encouraged to touch them for good luck. The problem is that porn is not considered art.

Secondly, "tentacle porn" is very uncommon and is considered sick by most Japanese people. The vast majority of cartoon porn consists of perfectly normal human-on-human sexual activity (and is also considered sick by most Japanese people, incidentally).

Yes (1)

hlomas (1010351) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453384)

It is precisely the concept of memetics as originally proposed by Richard Dawkins in his seminal work, "The Selfish Gene". Nothing is new here.

Is it news? (1)

justkeeper (1139245) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452402)

Isn't it what we call "memes"?

Disclaimer:Not reading TFA is one of the memes making me able to survive here!

Hmmm (2, Interesting)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452416)

This almost reads more like a political agenda than a scientific study. "We must return to nature or we are doomed," to grossly paraphrase.

Re:Hmmm (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452510)

Considering that civilization was a product of no longer being able to sustent ourselves the easy way (i.e. fishing/hunting until area deployment, then move onto another area), and that underdeveloped countries are the ones cutting down their forests and killing their endangered species for ridiculously low cash, I can't explain why on Earth a bright naturalist could advocate for returning to our roots.
 
...that's why hence I concluded that there are no bright naturalists on this planet.

Re:Hmmm (2, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452594)

returning to your roots is in the step in the wrong direction. We need to dedicate resources to finding better energy solutions and toanahe our human resources better. If we had the population today and everyone has horses it would be even more of an enviromemtal nightmare. The car when invented was considered an enviromemtal inovation.

I agree (1)

vespacide2 (1235470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452550)

It basically says "human aren't retarded" and then tries to say "so this is why we should consume less."
If somebody has gotten anything else out of this article, please let me know.
Seem like it was written at 4 in the morning by someone on a caffeine binge who got their papers mixed up and was like "Fuck it. Nobody reads this shit anyway."

Re:Hmmm (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452916)

"We must return to nature or we are doomed," to grossly paraphrase.

I'll disagree about the returning to nature part, but systems which have some type of natural selection are usually the ones that end up being more efficient in the real world than on paper. Take planned economy versus a free economy. There are just too many variables to economics to simply plan it out and force it to work. But when you have it setup in a way that businesses sink or swim simply but "natural" process then only the strongest or at least well managed businesses survive.

Now the organizations themselves on an individual level might be very centralized, but again it depends on how well your situation scales.

My response to the thesis was (1)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454284)

So designes which are more optimal change slower than those which are less optimal. Sounds like trial and error to me.

My second thought was:

We know that conservative approaches to design (small incrimental changes) tend to do a better job of creating functional items than innovative approaches because designs tend to be based on what works and subject to successive approximation rather than new ideas. That is true of software engineering, canoe building, swordsmithing etc.

In short, it dosn't sound well thought out. Can one see it as analogous to natural selection? Sure, but in this case it is artificial selection....

white man wins (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452418)

hence why whitey rules the world - everyone else is too stupid or lazy, not through genetics but through inferior cultural values.

In the Windoze world (3, Funny)

spammeister (586331) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452420)

Does that mean because Windows Vista is an inferior design to XP does that mean natural selection could play a role in "weeding out" this particular direction the Windows world is taking? Definitely an "unsustainable approach" as far as I'm concerned.

Or we just put separate M$ design teams on a deserted islands on the Pacific and whoever can build a canoe to get them back to society wins?

Re:In the Windoze world (1)

mce (509) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452500)

Does that mean because Windows Vista is an inferior design to XP does that mean natural selection could play a role in "weeding out" this particular direction the Windows world is taking? Definitely an "unsustainable approach" as far as I'm concerned.

It could play a role. But that does not imply that it will lead to the desired result.

One thing that I often notice when topics like natural selection (and evolution) are being debated, is that people cite an example in which the "stronger" or "better" animal or system has lost to claim that this proves selection and survival of the fittest are nonsense. But this is a fallacy. Reversing the logic: it is not because natural selection is at work that better designs always win. Selection is a statistical phenomenon in any case and - as noted in the article - it can also be ofset by "external" factors that influence or (radically) change the environment. E.g. Microsoft has so much resources/power that they surely can push Vista to take over even if XP is better. On the long run, doing this might not be best for Microsoft itself, but that's another matter.

Re:In the Windoze world (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452744)

Natural selection has a great deal of randomness involved. Some features that occurs may be completely irrelevant, which means that they neither improve nor decrease the ability to survive. In other cases a change may be balanced out by another so the survival rate is still the same as before.

This means that it's only over a long time that survivability and evolutionary changes can play a role. OK, in the software world a long time is measured in the scale of minutes to a few years - but in the matter of living things like humans it's best measured in generations. A change that occurred many generations ago induced a gene that causes the disorder Hemochromatosis [cdc.gov] . This was a useful gene for people when the food was very low in iron, but today we have food with a lot of iron and therefore this gene is a bad thing. However in this case the treatment is very simple compared to many other diseases and disorders.

The same goes for computer programs - a feature that is essential for the usability in one generation can be a really big problem in the upcoming generations. It may also be that a feature may be useful in the short term, like the ability to call out warnings. Unfortunately when humans are involved warnings tends to lose their edge over time, but the computer software will not understand this. So in that perspective all those warnings that Vista bloats us with are useless.

As for the canoe example - the canoes used by the pacific islanders are completely different from canoes for river use. And they have the sibling the Kayak, which is very useful for the environment where it originated, but it's not so useful when it comes to long-distance travel. Differences in material used is also important. The materials used by a Kayak may not survive for long close to the equator (it may draw sharks) while it is the best solution for arctic environments.

So the conclusion is that there is no perfect canoe - it depends very much on where it is used, and sometimes an insignificant difference between two individuals may be irrelevant in any other environment than the precise home environment of the specific canoe where it may prove a very useful feature.

Same goes for humans. In central Africa people tends to have large noses while in arctic regions the nose is small. The reason is that a large nose can allow for more heat to escape while a person is breathing while a small one is useful for conserving the heat.

Long-term (3, Insightful)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452462)

Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term.
Oh, it'll work out very well in the long term, that is, assuming the entire race isn't annihilated. The most sustainable cultures on Earth will survive. I think the quoted researcher meant to say medium term.

Re:Long-term (2, Insightful)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453262)

I think you misunderstood the quoted researcher.

Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term.

(Emphasis mine). The researcher is saying that European/North-American/etc. culture is currently operating in an unsustainable way, and that this works in the short-term (i.e. we are "developing" and "improving" our lives), but that in the long-haul, any culture that hopes to survive must operate in a sustainable way. If they don't, they will consume all available resources until their way-of-life disintegrates around them.

Aikon-

Re:Long-term (2, Interesting)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453416)

Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term.

(Emphasis mine). The researcher is saying that European/North-American/etc. culture is currently operating in an unsustainable way, and that this works in the short-term (i.e. we are "developing" and "improving" our lives), but that in the long-haul, any culture that hopes to survive must operate in a sustainable way. If they don't, they will consume all available resources until their way-of-life disintegrates around them.

Aikon-

That very quote calls into question the researcher in question as a scientist. There is no evidence that Western Civilization is unsustainable. Intuitively, it seems like it must be. However, Julian Simon made a bet with Paul Ehrlich that resources were becoming less expensive. Paul Ehrlich and several colleagues selected five metals in 1980 that they felt would rise in price over the next decoade. Julian Simon bet them that they would fall or stay the same. Julian SImon won the bet, all five metals fell in price. THis bet does not prove the sustainability of Western Civilization, but it does suggest that the intuitive feeling that it is unsustainable is flawed.

Re:Long-term (4, Interesting)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453628)

Have you taken a look at Western Civilization's fossil-fuel consumption? These are resources that by their very definition are not replenishable. And, quite frankly, all the metals in the world won't do you squat if you don't have the energy to drive them around or build anything with them. Beyond fossil fuels, there are other important resources, such a food. Notice how the deserts (in North America, sure, but in China in particular) are growing? They are losing arable soil at an alarming rate, and yet their population is increasing all the same. Food doesn't grow on trees, you know ;) In all seriousness, what happens when you go to the market to buy food for your family and find that vegetables have gone up in price 10-fold because China has started importing en masse?

These are just two particular examples, but there are many more.. do some research on the renewable water table levels in Asia; you might be surprised how dry some of their mega-aquifers are. There's no point in trying to defend the "sustainability" of a fossil-fuel based society/economy. Even if the space program takes off and we fly to Titan to rape her resources [slashdot.org] , we're just prolonging the same situation: a dependence on a resource that is fundamentally limited in quantity.

----- Note that the above is the end of my point, and what follows is just additional ranting; do not make reference to it when defending the discussion at hand, as I am well aware that I am now talking about time-scales on the thousands or tens-of-thousands of years. -----

When you get down to it, nuclear power; there is a finite amount of suitable radioactive material in this world that, assuming our use of nuclear power continues to rise, will one day run out (of course this is much longer-span than fossil-fuels, but the time it takes is the only difference).

North-America (which I can speak to directly since I live there) lives in a wasteful, consumerist society. We are wasteful of our environment, we are wasteful of our resources, of our energy, of our food... In the "long term", unless we leave this planet, our energy consumption must be limited to a "solar quota", i.e. the amount of sunlight the Earth receives, as that is the only "input" energy this world has. Everything else is simply consuming solar energy that was stored a long time ago.

----- And now for some wild hyperbole, simply because its fun. -----

Actually, if you really get down to it, there's no point in anything since anything we do contributes to the eventual heat death of the Universe, and there is only a finite amount of energy (assuming a finite Universe) that we can consume even if we had ideal means of obtaining it.

Re:Long-term (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453844)

Uh, yeah, that was my joke. The researcher used the word "work" in reference to the narrow definition of Western culture, whereas I broadened it up to include the whole human race.

Re:Long-term (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453374)

You know, I watched the comedy Idiocracy a long time ago and Initially thought that it was not possible. As time goes on, I think it was more of a omen than comedy. They have one good point in that movie. the Stupid have lots of children, the smart tend to have very few or no children. This rapidly depletes the Gene Pool of the smarter people. Creating a society of idiots. [imdb.com]

Honestly it feels like that is where we are heading. I know historically we have always been there, but it just seems worse because we live it today.

The number of children born with genetic defects (not major, bot minor that will propagate further in the populace over time) is higher than children born without them. Sure a lot of that is environment as well, but that goes back to my original point, the poor are usually not the smart and they are forced to live in older homes with lead paint and asbestos in industrial areas with higher air pollution. The smart typically can find a way to make enough money to afford the non lead home away from the oil refineries and steel mills. This is not racist it's a economic fact that affects the life of the smart and not smart. Yes I know LOTS of not smart that have college education and are CEO's CFO's and upper managers but those are the anomaly today. Big business used to make sure the men at the top got there by being the best of the best instead of buddies or frat brothers or being known.

Natural selection and evolution is going bad in the human race because of the past 50 years of making sure everything is "safe" and building for the lowest common denominator instead of what should be done. Watch, in 500 years we will be a planet with a very high concentration of morons, watering the fields with electrolyte enhanced sports drink and watching the getting kicked in the groin show.

Re:Long-term (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454512)

So what will happen is the Stupid will vote, but a few of the Smart will still control everything...

Maybe the species might split eventually, but I don't think the Smart are that smart are they?

Re:Long-term (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453610)

Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't inequity and excess consumption exactly what drives natural selection?

Rats, or any other species, will reproduce themselves until they run out of food and turn to cannibalism. Humans are doing just the same thing. We just get the added irony of being able to observe the process.

"Natural" Selection (1, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452488)

Natural selection, vs Intelligent boat design: The new debate

But seriously, this approach on first glance says to me that these scientists don't understand the word natural in the term Natural Selection, and probably don't understand scientific method very well either. I mean for fuck sake, human beings have time and time again built bigger and better designs over time in many areas. Anything that can be engineered. Boats, Bridges, Buildings. You name it. That's nothing new. Misapplying statistical analysis, based on fitness criteria with 20/20 hindsight sounds like junk science. to me.

(Note: I do not have time to read the article right now and I'm having to assume the summary is accurate...which in itself ain't very scientific. Perhaps I'll take a look at the actual article tomorrow).

Re:"Natural" Selection (4, Informative)

talljosh (1240964) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452530)

But seriously, this approach on first glance says to me that these scientists don't understand the word natural in the term Natural Selection, and probably don't understand scientific method very well either.

Based on my understanding of the biological process of natural selection, natural selection would roughly translate in this instance to the boats which are most well-suited for thir environment surviving long enough to reproduce while those less well-suited dying off before they can breed.
I agree: the observations would seem to be better explained by good design practices than by some form of natural selection.

Re:"Natural" Selection (1)

mysticgoat (582871) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454480)

natural selection would roughly translate in this instance to the plans for boats which are well-suited for their environment surviving long enough to be taught to younger planners while those less well-suited are forgotten before they are taught to anyone.

Fixed that for you.

I happen to agree with the corrected version. Especially in this instance, since an aspiring apprentice boat builder would seek training from the guy whose boats survived the really bad storms, and shun the builder whose boats sink if they go outside the lagoon.

Re:"Natural" Selection (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452600)

When scientists begin to say that boat designs are the product of natural selection, the creationists win.

I'm sure you've all heard the example of the submarine evolving from the boat. The creationists know there was an intelligent designer overseeing that process. If scientists shift ID into engineering and call that natural selection, then there's absolutely no reason to remove the Designer from human origins either.

Re:"Natural" Selection (2, Insightful)

26199 (577806) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452872)

The "natural selection" they are talking about is exactly the same for cultural traits as for genetic traits. Good traits => higher chance of host surviving and passing on said traits. Bad traits => lower chance of host surviving and passing on said traits. This clearly applies to canoe design, regardless of whether other factors are involved because of actual engineering work. It's inescapable that if you do something that kills you then you won't be around to teach others to do it.

The important part is that they compare variation over time of functional and non-functional aspects of canoe design, and show that functional aspects have changed more slowly. They make the analogy to biological evolution where slower change is an indicator that the traits are being selected for, i.e. are subject to evolutionary pressure.

At this point I don't know enough about either field to comment, and apparently it's a controversial idea, but it certainly seems to me to be an argument worthy of attention.

Re:"Natural" Selection (1)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454354)

Or maybe:

Joe here makes better canoes than Jim so I will buy them from Joe.

Next year:

Jim has copied Joe's designs and charges less so now I will buy then from Jim.

Next year:

My friends tell me that Joe's new canoes are just a little better than Jim's because he has made some tiny improvements. I guess I will go back to buying them from Joe.

The fact of the matter is that it is generally harder to improve on a good design than a bad one. Yet people want something that is functional and often people learn from their mistakes.

I think the term "natural selection" is misapplied in this case because it is looking at technical developments moreso than cultural developments. Ultimately, however, culture is extremely complex and it is next to impossible to evaluate functional aspects of culture in a statistically valid way.

Evolution/design (0)

nick255 (139962) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452506)

So if evolutionary processes can be observed in a system where design is clearly involved (e.g. making canoes), where does that leave arguments that the observation of evolution must imply a lack of a designer?

Re:Evolution/design (5, Insightful)

Cairnarvon (901868) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452532)

That's a beautifully convoluted straw man you have there.

Nobody's saying evolution necessarily implies a lack of a designer.
In the case of the evolution of life, we're saying a designer is not necessary at all to explain what we're seeing, and in fact introducing a designer creates a whole host of new problems that need answering without adding any value.

If you want to imply a designer, the burden of proof is on you to provide evidence. Until someone can point to something that couldn't have arisen without intervention from a designer (irreducible complexity in a real sense, I suppose; the examples the ID movement has brought on have all been debunked, though), invoking one is just bad science.

Re:Evolution/design (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453388)

Considering the people that live around here, The designer is asleep at the wheel, the evolution bus is heading for the ditch.

Re:Evolution/design (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453750)

How do you know that fat tubs of lard screaming about how life isn't fair wasn't his eventual goal? Of course that would mean that Michael Moore is the most evolved creature on earth!

More correctly (2, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454446)

Postulating a designer poses fundamental problems for scientific epistomology without solving any problems.

This means that the existance of a designer or lack thereof doesn't really have to do with the question of evolution. There may be a designer or not, but one cannot scientifically postulate one way or the other.

ID states that an intelligent designer *is necessary* to explain certain things.
Mainstream evolutionary theory states that an intelligent designer *is not necessary* to explain things. It does not postulate the lack of existance of such a designer though.

Re:Evolution/design (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22452780)

A lot of people seem to be confused about what "evolution" is. Evolution is the theory that, in a population with variation in its traits, any of those traits that are advantageous will tend to be reinforced over time. It doesn't say anything about genetics or mutation, and it certainly doesn't say that monkeys can give birth to humans. It doesn't care what the traits are, as long as they can be passed from generation to generation. If tall people can reach and gather more fruit, then tallness will be reinforced. If short people figure out they can climb the tree and gather even more fruit, then climbing will be reinforced. If some group [wikipedia.org] decides that celibacy is good behavior, they're not likely to pass that trait on to their progeny.

Evolution was scary at first because it introduced a process that could lead to specialization, and speciation, without every organism having to have been created from whole cloth. Now, even the creationists and ID people believe that tall parents will have tall children, and the scary part of evolution is the lie that your great grandmother was a rhesus monkey.

Saying that the preservation of "good traits" canoes is evolution of canoes is silly because it's not the canoes that are evolving. Canoes pass no traits on to their progeny because they don't have progeny. The preservation of canoe traits is evidence of evolution in the creator of the canoe. "Evolution" in this sense is a metaphor.

Re:Evolution/design (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453096)

<Sigh> Read The Selfish Gene [google.com] . Do individual genes have progeny? No. Cells do, whole strands of DNA do. Yet, it is the gene that is the basic unit of natural selection in biology, always competing with other genes, even within the same strand of DNA. Individual genes "make" cells do the replication job for them. Genes that are the most successful are the ones that get themselves replicated the most. Similarly, the canoe designs that are the most successful are the ones that get humans to make the most of them. That is how canoe designs replicate. This is not a metaphor; this is literally natural selection, plain and simple.

That brings me to the next point: you seem to have difficulty differentiating between Natural Selection [wikipedia.org] and Evolution [wikipedia.org] . What you attempted to describe was the former, and it equally describes all manner of competing replicating objects: genes, memes, inventions, ideas, products, &c. The latter, however, deals with the evolution of life, and does imply that your great grandfather was an ape (you are one too, after all). And your great great...great grandfather was an ape that humans and chimpanzees share as an ancestor. It's not scary. It's pretty damn remarkable. Get over yourself.

Re:Evolution/design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453340)

Read your own Wikipedia sources. They state that evolution is a change in the inherited traits from one generation to the next, natural selection is a process by which that change my occur ("Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population, either non-randomly through natural selection or randomly through genetic drift.")

Evolution does NOT imply on its own that humans came from apes. While it is easily observable that a species evolves traits within the species, many scientists still search for a so-called "missing link" to prove a large-scale evolution between species. You may assert that both are equally proven, but the difference in the nature of proof and the probabilities involved should at least not be ignored, and this is the basis on which many people find grounds to reject such evolution. It it not true that the majority of those who reject evolution in this sense also reject the former sense.

Now the claim of this article, as far as I gathered, is not that canoes evolve, but that human culture does. The assertion that it is genes that do the evolving and so canoes can evolve might have had some ground were this not the case. However, human culture is not a biological entity, nor an inanimate object like the canoe, but something within the human; the question is whether "evolution" is really the right term for this (it has to be only metaphorical), and what this really says about the possibility of human evolution in a modern society (where we don't usually weed out the worst of us).

So Obvious It Hurts (1)

Zygamorph (917923) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452546)

Well duh!

This reminds me of the study that determined:

  1. Women walk differently from men; and
  2. The reason is that they are built different.

Aside from bowing to the creative gods of proposal write ups that got paid to watch women walk by I wondered if research money could have been spent more wisely. This appears to be another example.

Maybe its just my godlike point of view :-), but I thought Darwinism ( a.k.a. selection of the fittest) applied to everything. If you have some system, biologic, economic, social, whatever, that is better adapted to the environment then it has an advantage and will tend tobe more successful than a competitor that doesn't. Where the discussion comes in is what is "an advantage" and "what is success". Darwinism tends to define "success" as "continues to have descendants", that doesn't even mean same species. Short term gain versus long term pain means that in the short term the thing "succeeds" but in the long term it doesn't. Its an on going process that will never end can not be stopped.

The idea that mankind is the "winner" on planet earth should be qualified with "at the moment". Dinosaurs were "the winners" longer than we have been and they eventually failed. seems kind of obvious that the jury is still out on us.

Re:So Obvious It Hurts (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452632)

The idea that mankind is the "winner" on planet earth should be qualified with "at the moment"
Winner? We are smarter, but we aren't nearly as many as, say, the ants.

Re:So Obvious It Hurts (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452868)

I would gladly take the resources of man-kind over the resources of ant-kind in a war(not that I actually want to, ants are mostly either beneficial or benign).

This is leaving aside the semantic question of what constitutes an individual for ants.

this "research" is just a circular argument (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452552)

People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term

So they start off looking at canoes and then make the seemingly unconnected statement that "unsustainable approaches ... won't work in the long term" and are therefore (wait for it, this is good) unsustainable!

I don't know anything about canoe design, nor about sociology - if that's what this is, but from the quality of their conclusions I can;t see any worth to this study, except possibly that they all got a nice holiday in the pacific islands all paid for from a grant.

Re:this "research" is just a circular argument (1)

thogard (43403) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452628)

It doesn't matter what you don't know about either sociology nor canoe building. It turns out that when the 1st Europeans ran into the Polynesians they insisted in teaching them the new way to navigate which worked very well for local navigation but wasn't very good for long voyages but the older ways quickly seemed to have been forgotten and now the navigation of the ancient Polynesians trade routes is completely mystery to nearly everyone.

Maybe I need to research this. I need a good sail boat, a bit of cash, sat modem and some dive gear and I'll let you know how it goes in a few years....

Natural selection avoidance? Nice trick (5, Insightful)

Hope Thelps (322083) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452584)

People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption.

Nonsense. People haven't "learned to avoid natural selection", they've been subject to it. In the short term natural selection has favoured these "unsustainable approaches" which have helped in providing decent life expectancy and thus breeding opportunities for billions of people, in the long term natural selection may not favour this approach (by definition, it won't if they are in fact unsustainable). That's natural selection at work. There is no avoiding it.

Re:Natural selection avoidance? Nice trick (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453740)

Agreed, and the notion that "inequlity" is not sustainable is laughable. If equality was the norm, nothing would have a competitive advantage, be it an organism or an idea. The easily observable evolution of organisms and ideas over time indicates that inequlity has been sustained for a long, long time. Temporarry means of making things "equal" such as the unatural redistribution of wealth through culturally imposed schemes such as communism or socialism are unsustainable.

Of course (1)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452610)

Since culture is heritable and mutable, and affects survival and reproductive prospects at the levels of individuals as well as populations, it would be surprising if it weren't a target of natural selection.

Obviously he's not familiar with the Darwin Awards (2, Insightful)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452654)

Technology has been a boon to nature selection. The less survival worthy seem to find testing the limits of technology irresistable. Their valiant attempts to test those limits is helping to insure the security of the gene pool. If we really want to improve the gene pool we need to go wide with a TV show, "American Darwin". The contestants compete to come up with the most extreme way to commit suicide on national TV. No takers? Obviously you haven't seen Jackass.

culture intelligent design is.... (1)

arpad1 (458649) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452660)

So the problem is evolution in human cultures and the solution is intelligent design?

Isn't intelligent design in a culture more accurately referred too as authoritarianism? I'm sure somewhere Joe Stalin is smiling.

What a waste of research effort (1)

alex_vegas (891476) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452686)

Okay, canoes have gotten better over time, and we can fit a mathematical model to it. How is that knowledge at all novel or useful? Is there really any doubt that technology improves over time in 2008? Is it really at all surprising that a mathematical model designed to fit things which improve over time can be fit to the data about technology improving? Next thing, people will be talking about how the historical rates of improvements in jet engine speed and cpu speed mean that we'll soon be transcending humanity....

Bad Science or Bad Reporting? (5, Insightful)

europa universalis (1081469) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452698)

So if I get this right... the outcome of their research is that over time, pacific islanders tried to make better and better boats?
By not changing features that worked well and changing features that failed?
Doesn't natural selection have to be done by nature for it to be natural?
Isn't this just selection?

For what it's worth, I suspect that the original paper had to do with the applicability of the mathematical models for predicting the rate of change, or something. To imply that divergence was shaped by a winnowing process during migration from island to island, they would have demonstrate that the alterations under consideration actually had improved seaworthiness. Otherwise, the divergence is just random drift, and it's just a demonstration that the pacific islanders knew what the critical elements of outrigger design were, and didn't mess with them too much. Saying that "natural selection could be weeding out inferior new designs" is just saying "shucks, we didn't disprove our hypothesis."

[previously on the 'firehose' thingy by accident, whatever that is]

It's called "The Market", dummies. (2, Insightful)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452718)

It's amazing how smart people can be so daft. Of course the same forces apply in many fields. In biology it's called "natural selection", in economics it's called "the market", in engineering it's the trend towards a design monoculture (whether it's the internal combustion engine or Windows). Hell, even Rush Limbaugh knows about economic Darwinism.

The study itself is an interesting confirmation that market forces would lead to the same results over a long enough time period even when the available communication channels are biologically slow. But the conclusion that this is some kind of new revelation indicates to me that the communication channels between Stanford and the real world may also be biologically slow.

It's called "Science" (1)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453782)

The study itself is an interesting confirmation ...

Gosh. Who would imagine that a part of science would be to confirm existing theories?

But the conclusion that this is some kind of new revelation ...

Well, it is. No one else had done such a study up to this point. Just because the revelation is "it's exactly what we expected" doesn't mean it wasn't a revelation. Up until the study was actually done, anyone who claimed to "know" what the result would be would invariably be speculating. Now, one could argue about the degree of uncertainty. But, every time another one of these studies are done instead of merely assuming the answer is know, the better capable of reducing the future uncertainty when speculation is invariably done.

But, yea, let's insult the nice scientists because they do studies to confirm things instead of boiling everything down to a system of unchanging beliefs. How's that working out for you?

Re:It's called "Science" (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454144)

I think you're arguing against a different point than the one I made.

I did not say that the study was not valuable. I was referring to the quoted conclusion:

"People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term," said Deborah S. Rogers, a research fellow at Stanford.

The fact that market forces worked for Polynesians, and the fact that market forces and evolution behave similarly, is not a new revelation. The current situation that Deborah Rogers is decrying is the result of the same forces of selection that she was measuring.

humbug (4, Insightful)

ph0rk (118461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452720)

I am beginning to grow less and less fond of the application of terms from evolutionary biology to the study of culture.

In 99% of instances, cultural schemas do not need to be 'fit' in a darwinian sense to spread through diffusion or other processes - they can be spread due to power imbalance or just because whatever new widgets one makes once they follow the ways of whatever look cool.

I suppose that "cultural evolution" is somewhat shorter than "culture change over time", but that does not mean that when using the former term we should try and treat it like biological evolution - it just doesn't follow. Assuming that getting to the island they can't see over the horizon but know are there is an urgent crisis, then yes, they will probably have a somewhat linear progression of canoe design, keeping the innovations that worked around longer. To assume otherwise is to assume the early Polynesians were idiots. Why this becomes a problem is it is difficult if not impossible to determine what the urgent issues are for past cultures, and you'll need a few more examples to make a stronger case.

Even then, you may have an interesting theory about efficiency of design when under long-term pressure, but how the heck do you apply it to more ephemeral cultural components like religion or etiquette?

Humbug yourself. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452748)

In 99% of instances, cultural schemas do not need to be 'fit' in a darwinian sense to spread through diffusion or other processes - they can be spread due to power imbalance or just because whatever new widgets one makes once they follow the ways of whatever look cool.

That's all "fit" in the Darwinian sense means: the idea that Darwinian "fitness" means anything but "this is what propogates". A peacock's tail is all about looking cool. Looking cool happened to be evolutionarily selected for in peacocks.

Turn it around, you can just as easily study biology in economic terms and talk about the effect of market forces on genes. They're the same forces.

Re:Humbug yourself. (1)

ph0rk (118461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452898)

What counts as fit for a cultural schema? diffusion or more artifacts? do oppositional uses of the schema count? They can be latent for a generation or two and resurface, flash in the pan like a fad then vanish a few years later, etc. The ev-bio terms just don't fit the phenomena very well. (Though the market forces may fit better, as long as one is primed for a measure of irrationality).

Looking cool does the genes that make the peacock's tail look neat a benefit - it gets more peacock tail and gets to be transmitted to more little peacocks and so on.

Wearing your polo shirt's collar popped up does not (if it gets the wearer more tail) mean the wearer's offspring will have popped collars, because culture doesn't really work in that way. If popped collars are a larger trend and -everyone- wears them, then individual transmission is the wrong place to examine this type of replication of trends anyway.

When there is a problem the researchers can actually identify (a selection pressure, one could call it) this works great. When there isn't, it is a waste of time. With past cultures particularly, there are many examples of diffusion happening in ways that is not easily explained - the terribly slow diffusion of pottery in the Americas for example. Cooking pots were clearly a better design then hide or carved stone, but took far longer than would be expected to spread - there was likely resistance, but what and why?

reframing this issue in the terms of evolutionary biology might get a new publication or two, but doesn't actually contribute anything of note.

Re:Humbug yourself. (1)

IdleTime (561841) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453138)

Look at the Nordic countries. They have evolved as societies beyond for instance what USA has. They all rank high on Human Development Index, low on religion, high on happiness, and if you look at statistics over at nationmaster.com, you'll find them on top of almost every statistics and way above USA except in economy and military, even though some of them surpass USA economically in certain areas..

I think this is a clear indication of cultures evolving.

Re:Humbug yourself. (1)

klovn (761128) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454392)

Evolution implies a movement both in time and more importently toward and idea of improvement - and that's what's wrong - the idea of improvement is imagined and culturally dependent/created. Besides that it seems that "evolution" has become the right of the priviledged - Look at the Nordic countries, there are massive problems with racism and ethnic minorities are excluded from society and denied the same rights as the majority.

Re:Humbug yourself. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454176)

What counts as fit for a cultural schema?

One that succeeds.

Wearing your polo shirt's collar popped up does not (if it gets the wearer more tail) mean the wearer's offspring will have popped collars

What does the wearer have to do with it? It's the polo shirt "species" that's being selected here, not the preppie.

When there is a problem the researchers can actually identify (a selection pressure, one could call it) this works great. When there isn't, it is a waste of time.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Even if you don't know the cause of a phenomenon documenting it provides more information for later researchers who may be able to identify it.

Re:humbug (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452948)

I sort of hope that the paper is more about a demonstrated increase in biological success that is correlated with the possession of superior technology, and that the important point is the demonstration of the effect(rather than the elucidation). So it isn't so much "hey, obvious idea!" as it is "hey, decent statistical support for obvious idea!", and the canoe designs happen to change slowly enough to make the observation of the effect easier.

Therefore... (1)

flyneye (84093) | more than 6 years ago | (#22452854)

Therefore upon scrutiny of the worldwide automobile industry,we are in a state of De-evolution.

"Oh daddy,we're all devo"--Mark Mothersbaugh

         

First time? (1)

muxecoid (1061162) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453074)

Working on my thesis on evolutionary models. I have lots of references related to evolution of cultures.

first time ever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453166)

I love it when scientists write a report and then say "we were here first!", when all they really did was some secretarial scut work to document what everyone already knew anyway.

Controversial? (1)

The Second Horseman (121958) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453336)

Yeah, partially because it's kind of a reach - refining design with a goal in mind isn't the same as the random outcome of selective pressures on organisms causing genetic traits to be selected for or against in a population over time. There's no notion of progress in the idea of evolution through natural selection. On the other hand, humans refining canoe design actually IS intelligent design. It's not random. And people are lazy, in a good way. Why change something that works, especially something you need for survival? The only reason stuff changes as much as it does in the west now is that modern consumer culture is driving it.


You can change your behavior, you can't change your genetic makeup. That's why culture, language and the technology that goes along with it gives humans such an advantage.


One reason this sort of thing makes people uncomfortable is that it's hard do this sort of work without reminding people of folks like Herbert Spencer and his (pre-Darwin) attempt to explain how complex systems evolved. TSpencer thought there was a notion of universal progress and a scientific basis for morality, and thought humanitarians merely interfered with the struggle between (or within) societies.

If this is true... (1)

PingXao (153057) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453450)

If this is true, what manner of natural selection explains Hannah Montana in US "culture"? 5 million little girls can't be wrong. If you want to argue Disney is manufacturing un-natural selection on American children, well.... OK.

The Selfish Gene (1)

Ninja Engineer (224395) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453650)

This is not news. Read "The Selfish Gene", especially the 30th anniversary edition. Then you will realise that OF COURSE Natural Selection (the true meaning of which is much different than what your Grade 5 teacher told you) can act on Human Culture, just like it acts on anything else involving life and living organisms.

I am surprised that thiw has not been brought up by any of the previous posters, or at least none that I noticed.

The basis of these (1)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 6 years ago | (#22453718)

natural selections, market forces, memetics is that world doesn't tolerate failure.
A success of a scheme increases it popularity. The marginal but superior technology or meme will dominate long-term while less-adapted or relevant things will fade into obscurity.

not NATURAL selection (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453728)

It's not NATURAL selection -- that denotes outside forces doing the culling. It's human choice driving design changes.

The only natural selection that may be at work here is the drowning of crews that're too stupid to recognize their boat is full of holes.

this is old news to anyone familiar with Hayek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22453906)

F.A. Hayek already figured all of this out over 30 years ago.

Old News (1)

veritasnoctis (1241068) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454064)

Have these scientists never heard of the Scottish Enlightenment theories of social evolution? Of Adam Ferguson, for instance? Or the more recent F.A. Hayek? Social evolution is old news. Theories of social evolution preceded theories of biological evolution.

Except (2, Informative)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454172)

> "Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time...

But only if you ignore the fields of evolutionary anthropology, sociocultural evolution and human sociobiology.

Human Culture? (1)

thewiz (24994) | more than 6 years ago | (#22454208)

Since when did we have culture around here?

The only human culture will be when nanites turn us into GreyGoo Yoplait.
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