September 11, 2005

Not Equal? 

The scientific method is the most powerful tool we have to understand the physical world around us. But, the scientific method also implies that even long-held theories may one day be proven wrong, thus causing big shifts in many fields, also out of the scientific and technological realm. It happened with cosmology in the Copernico times; later when early chemists and physicists demonstrated that matter and energy did not behave as previously thought, and more recently with quantum mechanics.

Now, recent research works in genetics may cause a severe earthquake in the fields of antropology, and probably also sociology.

After first reading about in an op-ed on an Italian newspaper, I found a post (and this one is related too) on the blog Gene Expression dealing with the issue. In short, a team of researchers led by the noncomformist genetist Bruce Lahn (who is Chinese, and during his student years an anti-communism activist) found evidence that a couple of genes regulating the brain size in humans evolved pretty recently (the latest about 6000 years ago), and have unequal distribution around the world. Particularly, these alleles appear to be pretty rare in sub-Saharan Africa but more frequent among Euro-Asians. Two papers reporting the results of this research are published in Science, Volume 309, Number 5741, Sept 2005.

This hypothesis still needs a lot of verification before it can eventually become a working theory, but however it has a lot of deep implications. If confirmed, it will destroy the notion that all humans are basically equal, besides the superficial differencies of skin colour and features (and a few deeper ones regarding biochemistry and genetic diseases) to replace it with the notion that there are noticeable differencies in brain development between humans of different race*.

And thus, some serious philosophical rearrangement will have to be done.

* Please visit the link to understand the definition of race I'm using.


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