De-evolution imminent, claims scientist

The first sentence of this actual news story from the Daily Mail would make HG Wells proud:
The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

UPDATE: For those who want to move past the silliness and actually consider whether there's any science to this story at all, Bad Science's Ben Goldacre wrote a column for The Guardian that's a good place to start. Link


  1. This is inane nonsense. Who can predict how human civilization will exist 500 years from now, much less HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of years??

    Sensational headline, nothing more. Shame on the Daily Mail!

  2. All right, soo …

    all of the sudden the rate of evolutionary change is to jump up like nothing in the next 1000 years, within as few as half as many generations as in the last 1000 years or the 1000 years before those or the 1000 years before those, in which no remarkable evolutionary change occured.

    No matter what, this study/paper whatever is scientific junk.

  3. This scenario is premised on the following conversation NOT happening on a regular basis:

    ELOI #1: Ew, check out that Morlock guy over there.
    ELOI #2: Yeah, he’s all big and hairy and uncultured.
    ELOI #1: And he’s all sweaty and gross.
    ELOI #2: So gross. So gross he’s… kind of hot.
    ELOI #1: Back off, I saw him first.

    So no, I don’t think we’re going to be splitting off into two subspecies any time soon.

  4. Color me skeptical for three reasons. Firstly, according to the article, the speciation would occur in about 100,000 years. One of Curry’s assumptions is that our basic human environment, social and political norms, etc. will be stable enough throughout this time to allow this kind of natural selection to occur. Given the rate at which our politics, technology, and environment are changing, I highly doubt our world will be recognizable 1000 years from now, much less 100,000.

    Secondly, even if marriage and normal interaction between social classes was made impermeable, there will never be a shortage of upper class men willing to have sex with lower class women in private.

    Thirdly, it’s the Daily Mail.

  5. Nonsense. The process may be beginning, but other technologies will intervene.

    In the end humanity will consist entirely of supergenius goddess-like women and the servorobots that cater to them.

    Let R. Stevens be your prophet in this matter.

  6. Great, more “science” for the goddamn racists. Such SPECULATIVE discourse has no beneficial effect that I can imagine, and feeds conveniently into racist schemas. Thanks for coming out, Daily Mail.

  7. Just to get it over with: “I for one welcome our new Eloi overlords.”

    I personally am confused about how it is this “top scientist” (an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics named Oliver Curry) thinks he can determine anything about the relative genital size of the “attractive, intelligent ruling elite” thousands of years in the future.

    Then again, he pretty much seems to be part of that whole Kanazawa nonsense that was posted here a while back. (Kanazawa is also an evolutionary psychologist at LSOE, which makes me wonder what that department is teaching over there. Or maybe what’s in their kool-aid.) In other words, it strikes me as being about as likely as The Beginning Was the End is.

  8. At the risk of joining the chorus on this: there’s go good evidence for this occurring at all. The only substantial difference that we can tell that moder technology has made is that people with disabilities are more likely to survive and reproduce. The fraction of the population that is blind has gone up drastically in the last few hundred years. Similarly, being deaf at a young age or from birth used to just eliminate you from the gene pool. It doesn’t do that anymore. And there are many examples of specific diseases connected to specific alleles such as phenylketonuria. So if any substantial trend has been occurring it has been a trend to have weaker physical bodies.

    Furthermore, it appears that in many countries, smarter more educated people reproduce less(this is arguable since this sort of thing is based on standardized test scores or level of education which have strong sociological elements). But if that trend continues we’ll just end up really stupid but good looking. But none of these trends are strong enough to change the overall makeup of the species for the indefinite future. And there’s no good reason to expect some sort of speciation event within 100,000 years. Our generation time is much too long for that.

  9. I think he has this backwards. I would more expect an intelligent, goblin-like race and an attractive, moronic race. Like sysadmins on one side and fashionable celebrities on the other sid… ohmygawd! It’s already happened!

  10. Well, thinking about what I wrote before, that was of course not quite correct. One could kickstart evolution and perhaps produce the mentioned result, but that would require non-ethical (though perfectly natural) measures. I will spare you the details, just wanted to appease the hairsplitters – such as myself. ;)

  11. ahh, the Idiocracy scenario is on it’s way.

    I think our society is in decline not a separation of intelligence.

  12. Plus, it’s still “evolution”, even if it’s evolving into something shorter, dumber and hairier. I’m not sure what “de-evolution” would be.

  13. I believe the second group of supposed “future humans” already exists. They’re called Daily Mail readers…

  14. I read this a while ago in Nation Geographic and even then I thought it was really hollow. This idea seems to be saying, as long as things continue exactly on the path we’re on now, this is what humanity could become. But the path we’re on now, it’s more realistic to look towards Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity, the melding of humanity, AI and nanites, which according to him, could begin as soon as 2045. Maybe the splitting of the human race will be the result of the rift between modified humans and naturals or Luddites, but Oliver Curry’s idea doesn’t seem to acknowledge technology at all. In any case, it’s getting a lot of replay since Drudge linked to it.

  15. This calls for a personality quiz. I want to know who my descendants will become. I’m a 6′ 1″ androgynous male who is about 20lbs overweight. I’m also a tad socially awkward. So, maybe goblin if I marry someone shorter than me?

  16. Ah, the good ol’ Morlock/Eloi theory.

    Technically that’s not de-evolution. It would be divergent evolution (evolution in which a species diversifies into two different ones).

  17. I must also admit skepticism…if the culture of modern celebrity has taught me anything, it’s that intelligence and attractiveness are frequently inversely proportional.

  18. sure, tall and pretty has its advantages, but small and goblin-like is sooo good for getting at those hard-to-reach places…oh i just can’t decide…

    and yeah #10…this is from an ‘evolutionary psychologist’ (is there even such a field?) at a school for ECONOMICS…whattaya expect

    and #20 the daily mail is much more reputable than the weekly world news (which sadly just published its last issue), though it’s no new york post, that’s for sure…;)

  19. I thought the Eloi were supposed to be pleasure seeking morons, not “highly intelligent” in any way at all. I remember commenting on this when the story first came out.

  20. They got the caption wrong. Their “highly intelligent and wealthy Eloi” is a Morlock, played by Jeremy Irons. Their photos illustrate the differences between Morlocks…and Morlocks.

  21. “De-evolution” implies that we were on a teleological plan “forward” and that humans are somehow slipping “backwards” or something. How can an evolutionary psychologist not get one of the basic premises of evolution?

  22. It sounds like more of a description of how the world is at present than how it might be in the future. MLK said that the arc of history bends toward justice, and he was probably right. Wells couldn’t set a story with such a plot in the present because we are essentially blind to the stark class divisions which currently define human existence, so it was more plausible to use the future.

    And it is class division which is at issue here since humans are no longer really so much influenced by the kind of evolution which leaves a morphological imprint.

    A useful analogy may be drawn from the world of computing. My Dell inspiron may be phsically identical to yours, but they may be as differnt as night is from day if the hard drives run different programs. (I realize the analogy is limited since there are plenty of computers which aren’t physically similar, but the overall point is still valid.)

    In light of the fact that we are currently living in the age of engineerd (imagineerd, if you prefer Mr. Doctrow) life forms, it is a bit difficult to imagine that a traditinal form of evolution will re-establish itself and divide humans in to two distinct life forms over the course of the next 100,000 thousand years.

    Personally, the possibilities that the present or near-present offers are far more exciting. I am convinced that within my lifetime there will be a day when I can buy a cloned baby Michael Jackson or Arnold Schwartzneger and raise it as my own child. Given the proliferation of pirated content of one kind or another, this may prove to be the only viable way for a celebrity to make a decent living in the future. How much money do you suppose you could make by holding the rights to even a Tiny Tim, Carol Channing, or John Malkovich?

    Of course my ultimate fantasy is to clone myself hundreds of times and then carefully monitor the outcome. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had been allowed to continue on with my flute lessons. How far could I have gone? Would I have amounted to more than what I am today had I been doted on by loving parents? What would it be like to have a black or asian father and mother?

    Of course I realize that the world would have to be quite a different place for this to happen thus making interpretation of results rather difficult.

  23. There is no such thing as “Devolution”. If this some how did happen, which it never would, it would still be evolution. Just like a mole who is almost blind hasn’t “devolved”, it’s evolved just like anything else.

  24. Evolve into two species? Piker:

    “The question that will decide our destiny is not whether we shall expand into space. It is: shall we be one species or a million? A million species will not exhaust the ecological niches that are awaiting the arrival of intelligence.

    When we are a million species spreading through the galaxy, the question “Can man play God and still stay sane?” will lose some of its terrors. We shall be playing God, but only as local deities and not as lords of the universe. There is safety in numbers. Some of us will become insane, and rule over empires as crazy as Doctor Moreau’s island. Some of us will shit on the morning star. There will be conflicts and tragedies. But in the long run, the sane will adapt and survive better than the insane. Nature’s pruning of the unfit will limit the spread of insanity among species in the galaxy, as it does among individuals on earth. Sanity is, in its essence, nothing more than the ability to live in harmony with nature’s laws.

    The expansion of life over the universe is a beginning, not an end. At the same time as life is extending its habitat quantitatively, it will also be changing and evolving qualitatively into new dimensions of mind and spirit that we cannot imagine. The acquisition of new territory is important, not as an end in itself, but as a means to enable life to experiment with intelligence in a million forms.”
    — Freeman Dyson

  25. I live in the vicinity of lots of ugly dim witted goblin like creatures, but they seem a lot better adapted to the urban environment than I am. They can eat the food-like materials that issue from the many garishly coloured KFC / Macdonalds / Chicken Bazooka / Grot-u-like type outlets. They can be entertained by mainstream ‘entertainment’ and frightened by ‘news’. They drive the economy with their debt and their mindless gewgaw purchasing power.
    I do none of those things. I think perhaps I am not as fit as them for my environment!


  26. Evolutionary psychologists I believe study how psychological traits evolved in a population. Since human psychology is the one best understood, they tend to focus most on humans. It’s also a term that seems to have been co-opted by what looks to me like some folks who straddle the line between crank scientist and crank philosopher, in that they have some speculation that they either don’t research well or that isn’t researchable but they claim is scientific (which is an idiotic claim to make). It’s all looking to me a lot like the same old pig with new lipstick on.

    Devolution isn’t a technical term, but if it were it might refer to the emergence of traits in a population that had previously been selected against to the point of them no longer being expressed in the population.

    I suppose this could happen either by the traits being regressive but persisting in small quantities in the population until the selection pressure against them disappears or by genetic mutations that cause the trait to reoccur in the population after it has been removed, and the selection pressure that caused it to be removed has at this point disappeared. (An example would be a species like the naked mole rat that has practically lost the use of their eyes; their ancestors probably had functional eyes, but there is no longer a selection pressure for sight and as such a sightless naked mole rat is as or more fit, evolutionarily speaking, as a sighted one. You might have to go back to the Burgess Shale to find the last sightless naked mole rat ancestor, though.) Either way, the idea that this reversion is in any way to a ‘lesser’ life form is of course mistaken, coming from a confusion of evolution and progress.

    When DEVO talks about devolution, though, it is sublime. ;)

    Pyros, it’s a mistake to claim that natural selection somehow no longer applies to humans. Evolutionary pressures still exist, it’s just that for us they aren’t as simple as the coloring of moths for camouflaging themselves on trees. The problem is that you can’t look at the past few generations and expect to find long-term evolutionary trends (and that holds true even for moth coloring); you have to compare humans to those of thousands of years ago (or longer) and see where the morphological changes occur. As a very tenuous hypothesis, I’d tend to say something like human fingers are longer on average today than they were 20,000 years ago, as milennia ago there (maybe) were fewer tools around that required fine manual dexterity to operate (and skill in tool operation looks to me to have been a trait that has made a human more likely to reproduce over the last several thousand years).

    But you are right in that Mr. Curry’s claims (at least to me) seem to be much more about certain status quo conditions, and making arguments to perpetuate or exascerbate them, than it is about how people are going to have “evolved” in 10,000 years. That’s kind of what I was trying to get at with my crack about genital size: “Hey! you’re at the top of the heap now, so guess what? In 10,000 years, your descendants are all gonna have huge penises or cute perky breasts, etc.! Keep on keeping on!” Except it’s all BS — but people tend to be less skeptical of the prophecies that they want to hear.

  27. “De-evolution” was my language, not Curry’s. He is clearly just doing his duty now for the future. ; )

  28. I saw this story written up on the BBC’s news website a couple of weeks ago. And I was really quite surprised at how such drivel could be propagated by a supposedly-serious news organisation. It’s total fantasy, and encouraging this kind of nonsense is what makes people so willing to dismiss serious studies made by serious scientists.

  29. Yeah and, also, I don’t think that the whole world will have coffee-coloured skin, etc., as those with waning traits tend to be more desireable, that is to say many scientists think that redheads will die out within 500 years because of recessive traits, however being more rare and thus more desireable, these kinds of things fluctuate up and down. Therefore as very pale redheads for example are more rare, they will be more desiareable and then flourish, this is just one example however.

  30. I almost want to hug some of the posters here! The fact that so many people latched onto the horrible term ‘de-evolution’ warms my heart. If a creature that is dumber and ugly is able to reproduce and survive in an environment where a “higher being” goes extinct then that creature has evolved.

    This entire prediction is sort of silly in my opinion. It is hard to quantify the evolution of a creature that is itself conscious of its evolving and may in the future be able to change the genetic code of its offspring as it desires. Adding intelligent beings into the equation screws up all sorts of evolutionary predictions. I mean who would have predicted that dogs would have become as varied as they are today in basically a split second in evolutionary time (a Chihuahua and a German Shepherd are the same species and could theoretically mate).

    Add in the possibility in the creation of AI and advances in medicine to dramatically increase the age that humans can live *and* mate (which has already achieved amazing successes) and you have to wonder why anybody would think that they would have any credibility in predicting the future of human evolution. This almost sounds as silly as the 18th, 19th, and 20th century scientists who thought that population growth was going to exceed the worldwide food supply. Of course, most of them ignored the possibilities of technological advancement screwing up their predictions.

  31. “I thought the Eloi were supposed to be pleasure seeking morons, not “highly intelligent” in any way at all. I remember commenting on this when the story first came out.”
    Dude, how old are you?

  32. RStevens @39:

    Prophecy is all about being first, my good man.

    Gilbert @46:

    Don’t forget what the title of that story was.

  33. Hasn’t it already happened long ago in various virtual worlds? I’m a n00b on Second Life, and it appears that the only “normals” are the brand new people such as myself. With more experience and virtual accessories, skins, whatnot, people seem to become either hyper-sexy, or mega-bizarre. I’ve seen plenty of both in just a few days.

    There are some creative exceptions, though. I met the owner of a mall who affected the look of a slighly portly, dandified fellow who sported a white goatee and a cane. One of my companions greeted him with “Wow! you’re the first old person I’ve ever seen here.”

    He replied kindly enough… and as he typed, a detailed steampunk typewriter popped up in front of his hands.

    Still, I’d put him in the “attracive, intelligent ruling elite” class for now.

  34. At the risk of committing an ad hominem argument, “An evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, writing in the Daily Mail…” comes close to being a refutation all by itself. Not that the LSE doesn’t have its strengths and virtues; but evolutionary psychology isn’t one of them.

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