Exclusive interview with genomic researcher Davide Piffer

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I am extremely honored that Davide Piffer (who has a blog) was kind enough to give our community an exclusive interview. While the leading geneticists in academia have explained only about 10% of the variance in IQ (or its proxy education) at the individual level, Piffer working on his own has reported near perfect correlations between the mean IQs of entire ethnic groups and their polygenic scores, making him a rock star in the HBD community. Virtually no one else on the planet is doing this kind of cutting edge research (at least not publicly).

In retrospect it makes perfect sense that aggregated data should correlate much better than individual level data. Imagine you visited every country in Eurasia and asked only the first person you met in each country their height. Such a small sample size (n = 1) from each country would tell you nothing about which individual country was taller than which, but if you averaged all the heights from the European countries and compared them to the average heights from the Asian countries, you’d learn a lot about which continent was taller. That’s because the small sample size at the level of individual countries is multiplied by the large sample of countries in each continent.

It’s the same with genomically predicting IQ. The small sample of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) sampled in each individual is multiplied by the large number of individuals sampled in each ethnic group, so while individual predictions are weak, group predictions are strong because individual error cancels out in the aggregate.

Below is my exclusive interview with Piffer. The interview has been lightly edited to remove typos and other mistakes. I began by asking him about table 5 in a 2019 paper he wrote. My statements are in red, while Davide’s are in blue.

Table 5 from the paper Evidence for Recent Polygenic Selection on Educational Attainment and Intelligence Inferred from Gwas Hits: A Replication of Previous Findings Using Recent Data

PP: I’m very impressed by your work. But the correlation between PG score & mean IQ is so high in table 5 of Piffer (2019) that it seems too perfect. What would you say to skeptics who think you cherry-picked SNPs or manipulated your formulas to get such perfect results?

DP: Thanks. I didn’t cherry pick SNPs. I used the polygenic score provided by Lee et al and you can see that different PGS construction methods lead to same results… I used EA, EA Mtag, etc, weighted and unweighted..they all give same results. Also my paper replicates my previous findings and what I had predicted from theory years ago. The IQs aren’t cherry picked either because I used the same as I used in previous papers to avoid post hoc results.

PP: In table 1 of Piffer (2019), Peruvians & Colombians seem to have higher polygenic scores than the black populations, yet in Figure 11, Africa scores higher than the Americas. So who has higher polygenic scores: sub-Saharan Africans or Amerindians?

top part of table 1 from the paper Evidence for Recent Polygenic Selection on Educational Attainment and Intelligence Inferred from Gwas Hits: A Replication of Previous Findings Using Recent Data
rest of table 1 from the paper Evidence for Recent Polygenic Selection on Educational Attainment and Intelligence Inferred from Gwas Hits: A Replication of Previous Findings Using Recent Data
Figure 11 from the paper Evidence for Recent Polygenic Selection on Educational Attainment and Intelligence Inferred from Gwas Hits: A Replication of Previous Findings Using Recent Data

DP: Peruvian and Colombian aren’t pure. They are substantially mixed with Europeans. The groups in figure 11 are natives, so they better reflect the unadmixed population. Also the latter are from low coverage genomes with fewer markers so less reliable. I am working on a high coverage version of same datasets but it will take a while due to my limited funds.

Do you have some basic experience in bioinformatics? I am just looking for someone who could run the code on their laptop because it’s taking me a week to impute each chromosome. So I need to run it on multiple computers. But hey no bother…I will do it myself, it will just take it longer.

PP: No sadly I do not have experience with bioinformatics. But I can ask my blog & twitter readers if anyone has such experience and is willing to volunteer their time.

On table 5 of Piffer (2019) the African American PGS (GWAS sig) is 1.836 lower than the NW European PGS. But since African Americans are only 76% non-white (Bryc et al. 2015), can we roughly infer that un-mixed blacks would be 1.836/0.76 = 2.416 below NW Europeans, giving them a PGS score of 46.834?

DP: yes…also you have unmixed native Africans in the other tables. Kenyans, Yoruba, Mende Sierra Leone, etc

PP: In table 5 Latinos have a PGS (GWAS sig.) of 48.654. Do you think this could be used to estimate the PGS of unmixed Amerindians because according to Bryc et al, 2015, Latino Americans are 65.1% white (mostly southern European), 6.2% black, 18% Amerindian, and 11% unassigned, though the unassigned is broader East Asian/Amerindian so should probably be counted as Amerindian. Since you report the PGS for Southern Europeans and since I estimate the the PGS for pure blacks at 46.834, using simple algebra, I estimate unmixed Amerindians would have a PGS of 47.510.

DP: yes, but you should also cross-check these with the other table with scores for Peruvians and Mexicans and see if they converge.

PP: Good point. In one of your data sets you find a 0.57 correlation between PGS and latitude. Do you agree with Lynn’s cold winter theory of how racial differences in intelligence evolved?

DP: in part, yes. but it doesn’t explain the low Amerindian IQ because Native Americans were in Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum and then they moved to North America at the end of it, which is also a cold region…So I think most of the differences are due to farming and civilization

PP: Well Lynn argues the anomalies can all be explained by population size. Low population races like Arctic people, Amerindians, Australoids, Bushmen, & pygmies have lower IQs than their climates predict because there weren’t enough positive mutations. Meanwhile high population races like East Asians, whites, South Asians, and West Africans have higher IQs than their climates predict. This would also explain why Neanderthals had lower IQs than their climates predict.

DP: but these SNPs are common among the races..the differences are explained by these common SNPs, not pop specific mutations. pop size is probably related to it through higher competition for resources selecting for higher IQ.

PP: I see…so then it was probably farming and civilization as you say. Just as cold climate boosted IQ because it was a novel environment to adapt to, so was farming, civilization and the literacy and numeracy requirements it imposed. Of course Amerindians also independently created civilization but most remained hunter-gatherers.

DP: yes… plus we don’t know how many of these SNPs are just life history or personality traits like C. stuff that farming selected for. most of them are related to g but a subset will also be related to conscientiousness. Emil et al in their Psych paper vetted their association with g in a sample though so I guess they must be genuine associations with IQ for the most part.

PP: Yes, because no one has given a huge sample (n = 1 million) of genotyped people a highly g loaded test. A perfect study would get a sample of 1 million people (from all over the world) and give them an extremely culture reduced test with many subtests to maximize g loading (i.e. block design, draw a person in the sand, name as many body parts as you can in 1 minute in your own language, pictorial oddities etc) and then enter the composite score, DNA and human development index of each person into a computer and have machine learning create a multiple regression equation predicting IQ using HDI & genomic variants as independent variables. By using such a diverse and global sample, one finds the genomic variants that correlate with IQ everywhere and thus are most likely to be causal.

DP: yes.

PP: Now that the neanderthal genome has been published, why haven’t you tried to estimate their polygenic score? Richard Klein argues that before about 50 kya, modern humans and neanderthals had similar intellect, but suddenly around 50 kya there was a genetic brain change that allowed modern humans to leave Africa, colonize every continent, replace neanderthals & invent art & complex technology. Testing this hypothesis was the main motivation to sequence the neanderthal genome so there’s enormous interest in their intelligence, even in mainstream science.

DP: yes that’s the next step…we’re analyzing genomes from Bronze age now, but Neanderthal would be good. But funds are limited for this kind of research and I am not working in academia.

PP: Above you rejected Lynn’s population size mutation theory on the grounds that all races have all the known IQ related genomic variants, however it also seems you have no high coverage genomes from low population isolated groups like pygmies, bushmen, australoids, arctic people & pure Amerindians. Is it plausible that high coverage genomes of these groups would show they are missing some of the IQ enhancing mutations that appeared in the last 15,000 years?

DP: What I am saying is that you can see a difference even at the common SNPs in their frequencies. I cannot rule out that they are also missing these mutations but that would be an additional factor.

PP: Do you agree with John Hawks’s theory that positive selection in the last 5000 years has been a hundred times faster than in any other period of human evolution because of the explosion of new mutations & environmental change? This is the exact opposite of Gould who argued we have the same bodies and brains we’ve had 40,000 years ago and all subsequent change has been cultural not biological.

DP: from a purely theoretical point of view, yes, but one would need to study ancient genomes to empirically vet that hypothesis.

PP: Is there any strong evidence in support of Michael Woodley’s theory that white genomic IQ has declined by 10 or 15 IQ points since the Victorian era?

DP: I computed the decline based on the paper by Abdellaoui on British [Education Attainment] PGS and social stratification and it’s about 0.3 points per decade, so about 3 points over a century.

It’s not necessarily the case that IQ PGS declined more than the EA PGS..if anything, the latter was declining more because dysgenics on IQ is mainly via education so I think 3 points per century is a solid estimate

Thank you Davide Piffer for this interview. As mentioned above, you can find more of Davide’s thoughts on his blog.

A near perfect correlation between ethnic IQ & ethnic DNA

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Davide Piffer looked at 2,404 genomic variants found to predict education (a rough proxy for IQ) and used these to create polygenic scores of eight ethnic groups reared in First World conditions. He then compared the polygenic scores with the mean IQ of each group and found a 0.979 correlation.

Table 5 from Evidence for Recent Polygenic Selection on
Educational Attainment and Intelligence Inferred
from Gwas Hits: A Replication of Previous Findings
Using Recent Data
by Davide Piffer, 2019

The line of best fit allows us to predict the mean IQ of any group from their PGS (GWAS sig.):

Mean IQ = 9.31(PGS (GWAS sig.)) – 358

Given the 0.979 correlation, genotype predicts IQ remarkably well: Finnish 102, Ashkenazi 108, Southern Europe 99, Estonia 100, NW European 100, African American 83, Latino 95, East Asians 105.

So while our genomic predictions of IQ remain poor at the individual level, Piffer is showing we can predict the mean IQs of ethnic groups with incredible precision, at least when they’re all reared in similar countries.

Because we have only found a tiny fraction of the genetic variants associated with IQ (or its proxy education), the margin of error for predicting any one person’s IQ remains high. But when you try to predict the average IQ of an entire ethnic group, the overestimates and underestimates cancel each other out, and there’s a near perfect correlation between the mean polygenic score and the mean IQ.

Prehistoric war

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With all the talk in the news about a potential war, it’s a good time to ask what war was like 80,000 years ago, as brilliantly depicted by one of my all time favorite movies, Quest for Fire (1980)

There were no guns so people (and I use that term loosely) would stab with spears, throw rocks or simply wrestle. Instead of dropping bombs on cities, people would try to drop boulders on folks on sitting around a camp fire by pushing it off of an above cliff.

The tribes in Quest for Fire can be divided into three main levels. 1) those smart enough to make fire (potential IQ around 80),

2) those smart enough to maintain fire but not smart enough to make it (potential IQ around 70),

and 3) those not smart enough to make or maintain it so they must steal it from more advanced tribes (potential IQ around 50).

Today every human population has mastered fire so we no longer fight wars over that, and instead (as Lion of the Blogosphere has implied) the World is divided into countries smart enough to make nuclear weapons (potential IQ around 100), countries smart enough to maintain nuclear weapons (potential IQ around 90) and countries smart enough to do neither (potential IQ around 80).

Quest for Fire as a culture fair test of fluid verbal IQ?

Another interesting feature of this film is that it could serve as a rare example of a of verbal IQ test that is both culture reduced and fluid (as opposed to crystallized). Since most of the dialogue is from no-known language ( a new language based on Indo-European roots was specifically created by Anthony Burgess ), high SES people can’t rely on their fancy education and must infer definitions on the spot.

If one scores much higher on an English vocabulary test than they do on a test like this, it implies either they were educated beyond their ability and/or cognitive decline (since their fluid verbal IQ was presumably good in the past to have acquired high crystallized verbal IQ).

Just from watching the above clip, readers can test themselves by defining the words “wogaboo” “dominyai” and “Ka Ka Ka”.

Luce (2019)

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pumpkin person rating: 9/10

I recently watched Luce (2019) and I proclaim it one of the best films of the year. The film is about a light skinned African child soldier who is adopted by upper-class white parents and blossoms into the star of his high school. The white teachers and peers crown him their Golden boy because he is bright, articulate, polite, athletic, and has a nice smile. He is constantly asked to give speeches to the entire school, and much like Obama, held up as an example of the American dream.

However his history teacher, portrayed flawlessly by Octavia Spencer, begins to worry that Luce is too good to be true. As a dark skinned overweight black woman like Oprah, she had to claw her way up the ladder using hard work and brains, not having the luxury of being a light skinned male with upper-class white parents.

Realizing this teacher is a problem, he mysteriously starts charming her mentally ill younger sister, even suggesting the teacher invite her to school to see one of his speeches.

Of course the last thing this dignified teacher wants is for the white suburban school to know she has a schizophrenic sister with what appears to be an IQ around 70, resulting in one of the most graphic and humiliating scenes in movie history.

Was this all part of Luce’s master plan? The film doesn’t say, forcing the viewer to decide whether Luce is a misunderstood victim of society’s expectations, or a charming sociopath manipulating everyone.

The film is so good that a racist might assume it was written and directed by whites, but in fact the director and writers are black. When I learned this, I immediately suspected (correctly) that the director and co-writer was born in Africa, because such talent is more likely to be found among elite immigrants than the native population of any race.

However the Nigerian director (Julius Onah) gives much of the credit to his co-writer JC Lee who looks like a scrawny giggling Australian aboriginal with ripped jeans, though I suspect he’s African American.

The 100 most influential LIVING people of all time (2019 edition)

(rough draft)

Here is the complete list ranked from most influential to least influential:

03_13

1.Tim Berners Lee: played the leading role in developing the internet; the most influential technology on the planet

2. George W. Bush: president of the United States during the 9/11 attacks and the start of the war on terror.

3. Barry Shein: played a key role in the development of the internet

james_watson-dna_swiff

4. James Watson: helped discover the structure of DNA, revolutionizing the fields of biology, anthropology and law.

5. Steve Wozniak: Helped launch the technology revolution

6. Paul Mockapetris: played a key role in the development of the internet

clinton

7. Bill Clinton: President of the World’s most influential country at the peak of its influence

8. Bob Kahn: played a major role in the development of the internet

9. Khalid Sheikh (Shaikh) Mohammed: considered a mastermind of the September 11th attacks which dramatically changed the World

10. Vint Cerf: played a key role in the development of the internet

11. Mikhail Gorbachev : played a key role in the fall of the Soviet Union

12. Leonard Kleinrock: played a key role in the development of the internet

13. David Ho: The man who saved us from AIDS

14. Bill Gates: played a key role in launching the computer revolution and saved millions of Third World lives

15. George Soros: Instrumental in advancing leftist policies in America and Europe

16. John Klensin: played a key role in developing the Internet

17. Michael Froman: the man who chose Obama’s cabinet

18. Oprah: Created confession culture &  a more intimate form of media communication, paving the way for social media and reality TV. Broke the taboo over discussing sexual abuse, leading millions of victims to recovery. Even back in the 1980s, popularized a genre of talk show that’s been credited with mainstreaming LGBT people. Played the decisive role in electing the first black president and first black First Lady of the United States; a President who brought health care to millions of Americans. Her televised book club has been credited with making literature accessible to millions.

19. Yogen Dalal: played a key role in developing the internet

xi

20. Xi Jinping: presiding over the rise of China with economic policies that turned the Iraq war to China’s advantage.  The fear that China duped America in trade deals helped inspire Trump to run for President.

iger

21. Bob Iger: helped shape American media for decades thus paving the way for a black president and gay rights.

22. Gerald Levin: consolidated mass media in America

23. Michael Eisner: influential media mogul

putin

24. Vladimir Putin: Although his direct influence on the election of Trump has been greatly exaggerated, according to commenter Tenn he has changed the world’s geopolitical landscape more in recent years than has any other individual.

dorsey

25. Jack Dorsey: the founder and CEO of twitter

donald

26. Donald Trump: the man who ended political correctness.

27. Rupert Murdoch: his global right-wing media empire has changed the World

28. Mark Zuckerberg: created the most influential social networking forum

rubin

29. Robert Rubin: His advocacy for financial deregulation helped pave the way for the populist uprising that gave us Trump

30. Barack Obama [impact score 160]: First black in recorded history to ever be the most powerful human on the planet. Brought dignity and status to over a billion blacks. Brought healthcare to millions of working Americans. Saved America from a great depression and the world from an apocalyptic war with Iran, and achieved gay rights.  Some foreign policy blunders combined with the controversy over his birth, helped pave the way for Trump.

31. Angela Merkel: played a major role in changing the demographics of Europe

32. Bashar Hafez al-Assad: in power during the Syrian refugee crisis

33. David Plouffe: played a key role in electing Barack Obama president

34. Katie Couric:  The woman who destroyed Sarah Palin’s political ambitions, thus paving the way for Obama to get elected

assange

35. Julian Assange:  In spite of  (or perhaps because) he is “autistic” according to a character in a Jonathan Franzen novel, the Nordic Assange advanced his ethnic genetic interests by helping Trump get elected.

36. Mohammed Mana Ahmed al-Qahtani: Accused of being one of the 9/11 co-conspirators

37-41. The Dancing Israelis: Their behavior on September 11th 2001 inspired countless conspiracy theories

42. Ramzi bin al-Shibh: accused of being a key facilitator in the 9/11 attacks

43. Efraim Halevy: served as director of Mossad during a period of great change

colin

44. Colin Powell:  Helped pave the way for the first black President by normalizing the idea of black military leadership.  In 2003 he became the top salesman for transformative neocon foreign policy.

45. Phil Donahue: paved the way for Oprah, by pioneering the provocative daytime talk show, the most important counter-culture movement of the late 20th century

46. Ricki Lake: The Jewish Oprah; helped mainstream gays by hosting one of the more edgy Oprah style talk shows in the 1990s

47. Henry Kissinger: According to Wikipedia, “Kissinger played a prominent role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. During this period, he pioneered the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, orchestrated the opening of relations with the People’s Republic of China, and negotiated the Paris Peace Accords, ending American involvement in the Vietnam War.

48. Ian Wilmut: first person to clone an animal

clone
[from Left to right]Poo Muming, director of the Institute of Neurosciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Sun Qiang, the director of the Nonhuman Primate Facility of the Institute of Neurosciences, center, and Liu Zhen

49-51. The Primate cloners: first people to clone a primate, paving  the way for human cloning

paabo

52.Svante Paabo: Sequenced Neanderthal DNA

53. Bradford Parkinson: The father of the Global Positioning System, which revolutionized how we navigate

54. Abe Karem: invented the predator drone, transforming the nature of warfare

gloria

55. Gloria Steinem: The mother of feminism; by paving the way for women, challenged gender roles, thus indirectly paving the way for gays too

56. Barbara Walters: trail blazer and iconic role model for women in media; helped make news more celebrity focused

57. Madonna: paved the way for an entire generation of provocative female performers such as Lady Gaga inflaming Muslim rage against America and helped make sexual deviance culturally acceptable, paving the way for gay marriage.

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58. Howard Stern: revolutionized American radio and helped make American culture more vulgar and sexual

59. Tina Fey: her impersonation of Sarah Palin helped cost her the election, paving the way for the first black president

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60-61. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: brought down a U.S. president and inspired a generation of journalists

62. Bill Moyers: played a key role in the Vietnam war

63-80. The neocons: Largely the visionaries and intellectual influence behind the extremely transformative foreign policy of the Bush43 administration

81. Tang Jiaxun: By opposing the Iraq war, helped position China to be one of its biggest winners.

82. Howard Kohr: executive director of the AIPAC during a critical period of U.S. foreign policy

83. Steven J Rosen: One of the top officials at AIPAC during a critical period of U.S. foreign policy

84. Dick Cheney: powerful Vice President during the transformative Bush administration

85. George Tenet: CIA director during a critical period of U.S. history

blair

86. Tony Blair:  Dragged Britain into war with Iraq & brought Clinton style third way politics to the UK

88-90. chad hurley steve chen and jawed karim: created youtube which revolutionized media

91-92. Google guys: launched the World’s most powerful search engine

93. Jimmy Wales: Changed the way the World shares knowledge

94. Khieu Samphan: played a critical role in the Vietnam war

95. General Khamtai Siphandon: played a key role in the Vietnam war

96. Paul McCartney: the leading living member of the most influential rock band of all time

yoko

97. Yoko Ono: Advanced her ethnic genetic interests by inspiring the World’s most influential rock stars to inspire the hippies that ended the war in Asia.

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98. DJ Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell: the father of hip hop

99. Reed Hastings: co-founder of Netflix. Revolutionized the way we watch movies and TV.

100. Bernard Munyagishari: accused of playing a key role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

New evidence supports Richard Lynn's cold winters theory

One of the single best predictors of a population’s IQ is the winter temperature of their ancestral environment, with colder ancestral winters predicting higher IQ today. Explaining this correlation, Richard Lynn proposed that higher IQ evolved in colder environments because you had to figure out how how to build shelter, sew clothes, make fire, hunt animals etc.

To me this makes good sense, but critics would point to the cold adapted Neanderthals who are generally considered less intelligent than modern humans, as evidence of the cold not requiring much intelligence. After all the Neanderthals survived the ice age just fine until our own species invaded their territory.

Or did they? New research suggests that our species was not to blame for the Neanderthal extinction.

The Guardian’s science editor Ian Sample writes:

The Neanderthal population was so small at the time modern humans arrived in Europe and the Near East that inbreeding and natural fluctuations in birth rates, death rates and sex ratios could have finished them off, the scientists claim.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/nov/27/bad-luck-may-have-caused-neanderthals-extinction-study

But why were their populations so small to begin with? Probably because they weren’t smart enough to adapt to the cold so their death rates remained too high for their population to grow. Despite the fact that their short muscular physiques were exquisitely adapted to the cold per Allen’s rule, it was a problem they never fully solved.

Skate away…

I hope all my fans, trolls and haters are enjoying the holidays! Here’s a wonderful song to get you in the Christmas spirit:

This song is especially meaningful to me because I really do live on a river I can skate away on. Well technically it’s a canal. It’s literally the World’s longest skating rink and I get to live on it.

Do I deserve to live here among the well-heeled and white bred; those who listen to Mozart and sip the finest Cabernet?

To quote the late great Daniel Seligman:

The connection between IQ and achievement has one positive implication. People who are at the top in [North American] life, are probably there because they’re more intelligent than the rest of us, which is doubtless the way most of us think it should be.

I love skating as fast as I can under the full moon of a cold January night..

then getting a nice warm beaver tail, to give me just enough energy to skate home.

And then sticking in a nice atmospheric horror film as I sip my well-earned signature homemade hot chocolate.

Yum.

I think I’m going to make some of that right now.

Researching the genomics of intelligence using extant & extinct humans

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Lion of the Blogosphere has an interesting article up about the genomics of height and intelligence. He writes:

Height, like intelligence, is a complicated polygenic trait involving hundreds, probably thousands, of genetic variants.

It’s interesting how the discussion has changed in recent years from genes to genetic variants. I even go further and now use the term “genomic variants”.

Lion continues:

But unlike intelligence, it’s not politically incorrect to study the genetics of height, or to assume that if a particular ethnicity is very tall or very short, then it’s because of genetics.

Because if you say a person or ethnicity is genetically smarter, we equate this with genetic superiority, a concept many people find offensive.

But in a way calling a group genetically taller also implies genetic superiority. Height is right up there with intelligence as one of the most universally valued traits. Not only do most women not want to date a guy under 5’9″ but sperm banks don’t even accept their sperm because they’re considered genetic trash.

The culture is awash in height supremacist metaphors: We “look up” to those we admire and “look down” on those we disdain. Taller men make more money, achieve more education, and are more likely to lead corporations and entire nations. “Standing tall” is a metaphor for having dignity.

But of course intelligence is what makes us human. Height is not.

Lion continues:

Thus, it’s interesting that scientists have discovered a single genetic variant that contributes to Peruvians being short.

The same techniques could be used to investigate intelligence. It would be beneficial to study the smartest ethnicity (Ashkenazi Jews) and extremely low-intelligence ethnicities like Aboriginal Australians and southern African Bushmen. I’m sure if we did that, we could discover additional genetic variants related to intelligence.

Scientists are working hard on exactly this, but because it’s politically incorrect to label any extant human populations “low intelligence”, they are instead focusing on extinct ones like Neanderthals. From a New York Times article about Svante Paabo, who played a major role in sequencing the Neanderthal genome:

 Reconstructing a Neanderthal genome was a tour de force, we can all agree, but why does it matter?

Paabo spends only a little time directly addressing this question. He argues that the Neanderthal genome can serve as a counterpoint to our own. It enables Paabo and his colleagues to draw up a list of mutations that our ancestors acquired after they split from Neanderthals. Among those mutations may be changes that led to our capacity for language, symbolic thought or the other traits that make us uniquely human.

Popular-archaeology.com states:

 These genes may hold key clues to the behavioral differences between modern humans and the extinct, archaic human species. According to Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute, they could constitute “a catalog of genetic features that sets all modern humans apart from all other organisms, living or extinct.”

“I believe,” he added, “that in it hide some of the things that made the enormous expansion of human populations and human culture and technology in the last 100,000 years possible.”

Steve Hsu writes:

What Homo Sapiens accomplished in 50-100k years far outstrips Neanderthal accomplishments over a much longer period of time.

So Pääbo is hoping that by studying the genomic variants that distinguish virtually all anatomically modern humans from virtually all Neanderthals, he’ll discover why our species colonized the entire planet, invented civilization and went to the moon, while Neanderthals languished in the stone age for hundreds of thousands of years.

All this assumes the biggest evolutionary changes occured after we split from Neanderthals some 500,000 years ago, but before human races split from each other, maybe 70,000 years ago for people outside of sub-Saharan Africa, maybe 150,000 to 250,000 years ago for the various groups in sub-Saharan Africa .

But what if the biggest changes are very recent? In 2007 sciencemag.org stated:

Plentiful food has made it easier than ever before to survive and reproduce in many parts of the world, so it’s tempting to think that our species has stopped evolving. But a controversial new study says that isn’t so. Far from slowing down, human evolution has sped up in the past 40,000 years and has become 100 times faster in the past 5000 years alone, according to the analysis.

So should we think of the last 5000 years as half a million years of evolution?

From a 2007 article in REUTERS:

Human evolution has been moving at breakneck speed in the past several thousand years, far from plodding along as some scientists had thought… In fact, people today are genetically more different from people living 5,000 years ago than those humans were different from the Neanderthals who vanished 30,000 years ago …

But if they were more similar to Neanderthals, why are they considered members of our own species, and if so much evolution has occurred in the last 5,000 years, how did we manage to look fully modern by 195,000 years ago (the age when our species first categorically appears in the fossil record)?