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Your Stupid Minds! Stupid! Stupid!

Scientist Confirms Your Suspicions: Humans Really Are Getting Dumber

OK all you “those kids today!” naysayers, it appears that you’re at least partially right about the decline of humanity. A study by Stanford University geneticist Gerald Crabtree has found that humanity is getting stupider… albeit very, very gradually. Human intelligence peaked about 2,000 years ago, says Crabtree, and we’ve been on the slow train to Stupidville ever since.

His study, published in Trends in Genetics, hypothesizes that this decline in intelligence over time comes from the fact that, as the world gets safer, intelligence and good judgement have become less and less critical to survival and are therefore less likely to be passed on genetically.

Says Crabtree,

“I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to suddenly appear among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companies, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues.”

But it’s not all as dire as it sounds. The study notes that humanity relies largely on “generational knowledge transfer,”  or the passing down of accumulated knowledge over time, so even if individuals keep getting stupider that doesn’t necessarily mean society as a whole is doomed to Idiocracy-level dumbness. Crabtree also thinks that “We’ll be able to deal with this problem with a range of humane and ethical solutions,” which sounds a little dystopian-future to me, but OK.

(via: Death and Taxes, io9)

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  • Kieron George

    BS, Human intelligence peaked about 20,000 years ago. Along with cranial capacity.

  • Bri

    2,000 years ago? Human intelligence began to descend the same time period Christianity began to rise? There’s more then a couple joke in there. (Although io9 said 6,000 so probably not) And also, Crabtree calculated that the 2,000 to 5,000 genes that code for human intelligence will start to degrade appreciably in about 3,000 years — about 120 generations from now. So yeah, And there wasn’t even any statistics to prove his point. It was all hypothesis. Basically he said that there really aren’t any evolutionary pressures in place to encourage us to evolve into a more intelligent species as there were thousands of years ago. Which is arguable.

  • Captain ZADL

    The sum total of intelligence in the world is a constant.
    The population is increasing.

  • Captain ZADL

    The sum total of intelligence in the world is a constant.
    The population is increasing.

  • thecynicalromantic

    I would wager that if an average citizen of Athens of 1000 BC were suddenly to appear among us, he would have no idea what the fuck was going on.

  • Anonymous

    See, you know it’s true when the smart scientist guys starts with “I would wager…”

    I’m going to remain skeptical until I hear something about his methodology. It sounds really tenuous at the moment.

  • Kaarel Jakobson

    Okay, so what about the Flynn effect? I thought IQ scores were always gradually rising?

  • venturesister

    This is just theory, not scientific fact. We don’t know for certain what makes humanity “intelligent” and we don’t have DNA records from the entire global population 2,000 years ago. Even if we’re not as clever about survival skills as an ancient Athenian, modern science has provided us with dental care, antibiotics, a longer life span, and tampons. On the long shot the theory is correct, I think it’s a fair trade.

  • Anonymous

    No surprise there. Just look at all the stupid conservatives spewing their post-election nonsense.

  • Nikki Lincoln

    The idea that the world is safer so you don’t require as much intelligence to survive makes sense. If this ties in with intelligence being genetic, then yea, there will be more dumb people in the future. However, there are still a lot of intelligent people and it’s likely than many of them will want to pair up and mate with someone that they can also have intelligent conversations with so there will still also be plenty of highly intelligent people. It likely means that the average is going down but we’re not doomed to just be content with our comfort like the people of Wall-E. There will still be innovators out there.

  • Anonymous

    I like how he used Athens as an example, clearly trying to play to the idea of enlightened Classical civilization. Athenians also believed in slavery, women as property who could not be educated, only letting while male birth citizens vote and violent suppression of unpopular speech :P Not saying they’re rock stupid, but I think the average Athenian would have a tough time sounding intelligent out here.

  • Anonymous

    It sounds like they’re talking about the innate capacity to understand concept, retain facts, and innovate. These talents are independent of education — they form the ability to be educated. IQ tests run into these problems all the time. A poor subject won’t think there’s anything wrong with a broken comb because that’s all they know. The inability to recognize that it is “broken” is irrelevant to the subject’s intelligence, but it counts against them when others try to quantify it.

    And, correct me if I’m wrong, but do we know EXACTLY what genetic sequence results in intelligence? I’m not saying his theory is incorrect, but I’m skeptical about how confident he can be about his findings at this time.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds pretty suspect to me, especially when you factor in the effect health and nutrition (pre-natal and in childhood) have been shown to have on intelligence.

  • Anonymous

    Just watch some reality tv, these people’s ancestors should have been eaten by wolves.

  • silvergray

    …did they go back in time and have them answer a survey or something?

    …or maybe somebody today took an entrance exam test left over from some school in Athens back in 1000bc, and didn’t pass.

    what? How? is this even quantifiable?

  • Joe Jordan

    this book is wrong; this is not how genetics works. Also, Randall Munroe also said this, some time ago:

  • Awesomepie

    This is ridiculous. Why is this even getting press?

  • Galina Redkina

    Average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC? You mean average slave-owning Athens-born male of considerable fortune? That’s a very biased sample, thank you.

    While pressures of natural selections have weakened, stupidity of ancients doesn’t survive millenia. Modern stupidity is much better documented and preserved.

  • Canisa

    Average Citizen from Athens in 1000BC:

    A broad range of ideas: “Athens is the best country in the whole world. Athenians are plainly superior to all other people. Women are irrational creatures and are the property of their male relatives. Slavery is totally okay. Only the landed should be able to vote. It is reasonable to execute people for saying things the majority of people do not agree with. Empirical observation of physical phenomena cannot provide substantive knowledge. It would be a good thing if everyone in Persia were to die.”

    Yep, sounds legit so far.

    A clear-sighted view of important issues: “I understand the mechanisms, significance and potential solutions to climate change. The global financial crisis is something I am familiar with and concerned by. Social justice and marginalisation are problems that I think need to be solved. I am familiar with the geopolitical situation of the world. I know what Tibet is all about. I have an informed and in depth knowledge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Religious tensions between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and various denominations thereof are things that I am totes up to date with.”

    Somehow I doubt our hypothetical Athenian time traveller is gonna deliver a line like *that*. Bonus points for the fact this total asshat of a ‘scientist’ apparently claimed that human intelligence peaked 2,000 years ago, then followed it up with an example from 3,000 years ago. Personally I would say that if your experiment has an error margin of 50%, it’s a bad experiment.

  • Life Lessons

    I think this article is stupid, terrible, and should be ignored. We are getting dumber as a species? Oh good grief. I can’t take any study seriously that says that why should you?

  • Magic Xylophone

    Okay, but please don’t use “theory” in the colloquial sense here, because that just lends credence to the dismissal of evolutionary theory by the Intelligent Design crowd, true exemplars of the march toward stupidity.

  • Magic Xylophone

    Intelligence = Egalitarianism. Smart people throughout history have been horrible bigots.

  • Jinian

    Scientists: just as foolish as everybody else.

  • Rob Buckley

    An Athenian from 1000BC? The (Very) Late Bronze Age, for which we have relatively little evidence of anything, particularly not their intellectual life, apart from the entire collapse of Mycenaean civilisation across the Mediterranean? I think our scientist might be thinking of Classical Athens or between roughly 550BC and 300BC, which is when there actually was theatre, philosophy and literature. Oops.

  • Anonymous

    I link that comic every time someone brings up that regrettable film. I tip my hat to you.

  • Anonymous

    Define “intelligence.”

  • Joe Jordan

    hah, it’s a film! even worse..