Mar 162013

nowheretogoIn today’s Guardian newspaper geneticist Steve Jones has a short column replying to a 7 year old child who had asked “Will humans evolve into a new species?“. Jones is known in the UK as the media’s favourite geneticist and evolutionary biologist; he is a frequent guest on media shows and contributor in print media. Unfortunately, although very polished, and far from incompetent, he really isn’t very good with the details. He seems to be a self-confident man and often promotes his personal (not very mainstream) views at the expense of what evolutionary geneticists in general think. I don’t like this much, especially when the places he does it are looking for science information as currently understood rather any one person’s views.

Replying to the 7 year old today he first talked about how the speciation process is driven primarily by natural selection (I’m not going to address that in this post though many would be uncomfortable with that idea too). In the second part of the column he goes on to run out his view that evolution has stopped for humans. I’m actually not going to pick apart this silly idea, though many others have, but really just to encourage him to publish as soon as possible. I haven’t found any academic paper in which he puts forward this view, though he has been talking about it in the media for approximately 20 years. If this idea were true it would be important, very important, and very interesting. I would love to read that paper. He should gather his evidence and publish it as soon as possible in a peer reviewed open access scientific journal. Or else shut up.

Some other scientists’ views on Steve Jones’ ideas:

Human evolution stopping? Wrong, wrong, wrong
No Virginia, evolution isn’t ending
Evolution, why it still happens (in pictures)
Steven Jones is being silly
Not the end of evolution again!
Some comments on Steve Jones and human evolution

May 062008

John Hawks has a nice post concerning evidence for human population size in the stone age. This work relates to Behar et al “The Dawn of Human Matrilineal Diversity” and the press releases and coverage that it has received. Careful reasoning and analysis like he provides though is unlikely to dent more sensational headlines of which there seem to be plenty. All seem to pick out a small size for humans about 70,000 years ago and e.g. “Humanity’s Brush With Extinction“. Hawks however mentions that “The paper itself does not provide any tests of the number of ancient humans indicated by the mtDNA phylogeny.” He then goes on to use the data in that paper to see what can be deduced about population bottlenecks in humans. The post is more like a research article in many ways, carefully outlining the assumptions made. I particularly like his clear treatment up front of “effective population size”, something that I see frequently and incorrectly translated as “probable number of individuals” even by scientists who should know better.

Strangely AminoPop seems confused about what species is under discussion, and their cartoon is labeled with “Homo erectus” instead, which had much more than just a brush with extinction!