back to article Humans becoming steadily STUPIDER, says brainiac boffin

A US biologist is of the opinion that human brainpower peaked thousands of years ago, and that our smarts have been declining ever since. "I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our …


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  1. Jamess4


    its what genes crave.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Judging some of the comments left on here I think there is some truth in this article.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A quote for a quote

        "Advances in science, he says, will eventually enable our species to figure out how to continue to maintain our civilization despite a decline in raw brainpower." - Article

        "The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections." - Idiocracy

      2. Thorne

        Re: Judging

        The genepool needs more chlorine

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Judging

          So to summarise what he was saying.

          Many years ago, the stupid, the weak would have been killed off young by natural causes, like drinking from the toilet. Nowadays these people are put in front of cameras on "reality TV shows" and then breed like rabbits, spreading their idiocy through the genepool. Rather than being killed off, they get protected.

          The solution to prevent the further decline of our mental states? IQ tests, kill anyone who scores below 90.

          1. James Micallef Silver badge

            Re: Judging

            @AC - I was going to 'thumbs up' until I saw the last paragraph.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Judging

            ... Or in a historical context, they became elevated to the European nobility. (Then bred like rabbits. With each other. Exclusively.)

          3. This post has been deleted by its author

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Judging

            Looks more like a warning about drinking the bong water

        2. Chris007

          Re: Judging @Thorne

          The last thing my Jeans need is more chlorine.

          what - oh, wrong genes :)

    2. petrosy
      Thumb Up

      Re: electrolytes:

      Thank you... that commetn made my day

    3. Andrew Moore

      Re: electrolytes:

      "Get your hands of my junk!"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice theory but it doesn't take into account the learning process which is far more important than inherited function. For instance there is no need for 1000 people to invent the wheel, just one - then pass the knowledge on.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      We invented a patent system that stops this sort of thing from happening.

      1. Chris Rowland

        Re: Except...

        Well - I've seen quite a lot of innovation generated as a way to work round patents.

        One example is the aileron. The Wright brothers invented and patented wing warping as a way pf controlling roll in aeroplanes. People didn't want to pay for using wing warping so they invented ailerons - and it was a much better way. When was the last time you flew in an aeroplane with wing warping? The only current example I can think of is paragliders.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Except...

          Paragliders, and I think, hang-gliders. Though the paraglider deforms the wing along a line which might be considered more of an aileron with a very fat hinge...

    2. John Tserkezis

      You never know...

      "For instance there is no need for 1000 people to invent the wheel, just one - then pass the knowledge on."

      The wheel is documented at the patent office, just in case anyone forgets and needs to recreate it:


    3. itzman

      yebbut those 1000 people have to be smart enough to see that the wheel is actually useful, and needs to be round.

      Civilisation dies not because most people are too stupid to understand how to keep it running, but when most people are too stupid to:

      (a) realise that it needs to be kept running at all..

      (b) recognise someone who can keep it running, as opposed to someone whop claims they can.

      We are past the tipping point now. And Darwin will be swinging into action.

  3. OldBiddie

    He's right but for the wrong reason

    It's because we're protecting the stupid. Previously they used to die from sticking their heads in the mouths of lions. Now we put fences up and make it illegal.

    1. Thorne

      Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

      Another Quote

      "The problem with America is stupidity. I'm not saying there should be a capital punishment for stupidity, but why don't we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

        "take the safety labels off"

        That's sort of what they did in New Zealand, and of course many many countries never had the safety labels in the first place. Still plenty of leading grade idiots about in both cases.

      2. Tom 7

        Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

        Taking the safety labels off just means that someone gets to sue the producer. I bet a lawyer wrote that.

        Now which problem were we talking about?

    2. JohnG

      Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

      It can't help to have tax and welfare systems specifically designed to counter the effects of evolution i.e. pay the least competent folk to stay at home and procreate while the rest go to work to pay for them.

      1. Tom 7

        Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

        The welfare system is part of the environment. So how stupid does that make the workers? In evolutionary terms it sounds like the wage slaves who whinge rather that adapt are on the way out.

        I mean if white igoods are more important to you than your genes future I'd say that puts you quite a long way down the grooming order.

    3. Andrew Moore
      Thumb Up

      Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

      I've always said that we could easily have a mass cull of the stupid simply by having their satnavs work out when they are heading eastwards on Beachy Head and then issuing the direction "Turn Right Now"

  4. Angus 2


    while I cant be sure about how the general populace from today compares intellectually with those from ancient Athens, I do know that a quick perusal at any Youtube comments stream makes believe the Athenians couldn't possibly be any thicker than the average pleb today. :/

    1. Scott 1

      Re: Well,

      That only holds true if you believe YouTube commenters are a good representative sample of humanity. If they are, we're doomed.

  5. badmonkey

    The bulk of people have not moved into cities

    until recently in our history. So...?

    It's probably true though that technological advances across all dimensions of life remove evolutionary pressures and checks against 'stupidity'. Modern culture certainly goes the other direction and encourages it [stupidity] along with the lowest common denominator thinking that a few yet rail against.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    > Although Crabtree freely admits that proposing answers to that question is "outside my comfort zone...

    Yeah, I'll bet.

    What might that include?

    * Eugenics

    * Selective education, and the push of excellence by those that can really achieve it.

    * The death of socialism or at least the curtailing of it somewhat.

    * The re-introduction of competition in schools rather then the "everyone wins therefore no-one actually does" mentality.

    * A multitude of other things....

    Nature is a cruel mistress but we have her on the floor kicking her in the ribs.

    Although we gain somewhat, we also lose.

    1. itzman

      Nah. Nature is not out. She's not even down.

      A shake of the dice, a new pandemic and that's death on a post industrial scale and only a few smarter survivors.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    So let me get this straight....

    Mankind has evolved from enlightened rural he-men to close-minded rural deviants?

    Gerald Crabtree, are you county Republican party chair? :)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I meant close-minded URBAN deviants :)

  9. Bernard

    Seems unlikely

    The alternative hypothesis (and in the absence of empirical testing this is a hypothesis at best) is that as the importance of intelligence rises while the need for brute strength or hardiness to disease, hunger etc. has declined selective pressure will tend to promote intelligence.

    Combine that with a reduction in the likelihood of malnourishment or disease impairing development and it seems to me that the average modern person is likely to be brighter than the average Athenian.

    It's obviously hard to measure raw mental horsepower directly (and who knows what an ancient Athenian would make of rows of people sitting quietly with pencils taking tests which purport to measure IQ) but the very fact that literacy is so much higher now and that educated society is composed of more than the small percentage of society that are male and wealthy at least hints that intelligence is higher now even if cumulative improvements in science and technology undoubtedly play a role too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seems unlikely

      You claim that the importance of intelligence rises. I dispute that, but true or not, this is irrelevant. What matters is the importance of intelligence to the ability to survive and procreate. I contend that intelligence was more important for those functions in a less regulated, more dangerous Athenian environment.

      Similarly, the application of external pressure in the form of malnourishment or disease increases the value of intelligence. The possibility that malnourishment or disease impaired individual development is irrelevant, since these are not heritable traits (unless you favour Lysenko's discredited theories on the heritability of acquired characteristics).

      The fact that literacy is higher now is a product of social engineering, and simply shows that there is a greater distribution of knowledge. That again has nothing to do with intelligence. (Otherwise how do you explain Newton's belief in the possibility of transmuting lead into gold? He certainly wasn't stupid - he was simply ignorant.)

      1. Thorne

        Re: Seems unlikely

        "You claim that the importance of intelligence rises. I dispute that, but true or not, this is irrelevant. What matters is the importance of intelligence to the ability to survive and procreate. I contend that intelligence was more important for those functions in a less regulated, more dangerous Athenian environment."

        If you look at koalas, they eat food which is nutrient poor so have evolved with a smaller brain so it requires less energy to run. Stupidity is their survival trick.

        1. Richie 1

          Re: Seems unlikely

          "If you look at koalas, they eat food which is nutrient poor so have evolved with a smaller brain so it requires less energy to run. Stupidity is their survival trick."

          Or do they eat nutrient poor food _because_ they are stupid? Maybe one day we'll see a koala say "sod this eucalyptus, I'm having a steak", and it'll start a while new line of superintelligent carnivorous killer dropbears.

          1. Shane 4
            Thumb Up

            Re: Seems unlikely

            ahhhhhh +1 for the dropbears!

            Just when I thought it was gone and forgotten, Those drop bears are back again. ;)

            What is more amusing is people still fall for it on youtube and the videos become even more rediculous,Maybe it is a sign humanity is becoming more stupid?

      2. Bernard

        Re: Seems unlikely

        Your hypothesis (and, as before, in the absence of empirical data it is only that) looks shaky to me. If selective pressure strongly pushed intelligence during periods of high uncertainty (either through prevalance of disease or because of politics) then there should be ample evidence.

        Are the North Koreans or the Ethiopians more intelligent after several generations of political instability and cyclical famine? I've seen no evidence to support that they are.

        As the commenter who replied to you points out, intelligence is an expensive trait. Brain size and weight has a calorie cost which is not insignificant. Likewise, your claim that strength, disease resistance and intelligence were ALL more important then ignores the basic role of selective pressure in propagating more useful traits at the expense of less. There is ample evidence that people are becoming weaker and more disease prone as the selective pressures on those traits fall away and I believe that, combined with an environment in which the higher calorie costs and longer adolescant development time for higher intelligence drop off, promotes brain power.

        Your point about accumulated knowledge is taken, but you'll note that I already mentioned that in my initial answer. Greater literacy and knowledge don't automatically mean higher intelligence, but it's not unreasonable to hypothesise that an environment in which literacy and knowledge are more important will put selective pressure on intelligence. As for your straw man raising and then dismissal of the idea that Newton's wacky beliefs might indicate stupidity, note that bright people are as likely to have absurd beliefs as anyone else (because they're better at articulating and fleshing them out, they could in some ways be said to be more absurd - a la L Ron Hubbard). That's not something that's likely to go away as the overall body of knowledge increases.

        1. Lord Voldemortgage

          Re: Seems unlikely

          "it's not unreasonable to hypothesise that an environment in which literacy and knowledge are more important will put selective pressure on intelligence"

          That doesn't fit with any historical human society - literacy goes with wealth, as wealth spreads, literacy rises. The illiterate have always still had babies.

          There hasn't been a point at which literacy significantly improved the chance of successful reproduction.

          Basic literacy is also not difficult to achieve - it is no reliable indicator of raw brainpower, so even if it was somehow and advantage in becoming an ancestor that wouldn't select for the higher ends of human intelligence.

      3. itzman

        Lead to gold

        Is possible with the right sort of nuclear and subatomic reactions.

        Newton wasn't theoretically wrong..

  10. Antoine Dubuc

    Hitler would be proud.

    Of the author, of course...

    I may try to reason with this lunatic, but I would give up. I'll try with you, though.

    More people means more of everything, smart and not so smart. Darwin still applies and random genetic mutations are still in vogue. What is killing the author's hopes is not genetics but his culture. What makes many people appear, well, let's say not very Athenian, is our culture. Our culture of conformance, of lame artists with lame lyrics, stupid tv shows, etc. Its as though we are being farmed for the underground. Putting a kid in jail for a picture of a burning poppycock. That Huxley and Orwell share a Joint Flawless Victory! (tm) is what makes our culture dull.

    It's the software, not the hardware.

    1. Thorne

      Re: Hitler would be proud.

      The problem is science is making up for genetic problems which in previous times would have prevented the person from breeding. Infertility, birth defects, genetic faults, butt uglyness can be corrected by science thus the person has a chance to breed.

      Now that these faults no longer stop you, Darwinism promotes traits that help you breed more. In modern society traits that use to hold you back now help you, of which stupidity is foremost. Second is being a crap parent. Traits that make you a crap parent (drug users, drunks, abusive etc) are now a good trait for breeding. In the old days, being a crap parent meant your children would be more likely to die thus ending your genetics. Now being a crap parent, society cares for your children while you devote your time to making new little rejects.

      Society has been breeding animals to achive the desired traits for thousands of years. It's about time it applied the same standards to itself.

      1. mevets

        Re: cycles

        This topic really brings out the odious cranks.

        The best living laboratory of the consequences of a less diverse genetic pool can be found amongst the surviving royals and other aristocrats. Somehow, despite generations of carefully selected traits, we have come up a bit shy of the eugenic ideal of superman. To be fair, a lot shy.

        Given the shoddy make-up of most of these individuals, it is tempting to say it is time to give the druggies and abusers a shot at it; but I suspect that might have been the problem in the first place.

        1. chr0m4t1c

          Re: cycles

          Aristocrats and royals are a really bad example, they were (are?) usually put together for political reasons and then from misguided feelings of social superiority, not because of any physical or mental capability.

          The other problem is that while physical characteristics are often transferred (two tall parents usually produce tall offspring, for example), mental ones seem to be a bit more hit and miss. I know as many smart people with dumb kids and dumb people with smart kids as I do smart-smart and dumb-dumb families.

    2. Identity

      Re: Hitler would be proud.

      Don't know who said it, but "Never argue with the stupid. They'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience."

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    This guy has already been debunked. Tests of symbolic reasoning show steady improvement in the last century. He even seems to think the height of classical Greek civilisation was around 1000BCE when it was 5th to the 2nd centuries.

    Plato didn't have to wade through reams of earlier thinkers before he could come up with a new idea. It's just like how having original ideas in computing was a lot easier in 1970, when a good engineer could design a new microprocessor, than now when it takes hundreds.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      The guy's an idiot

      "failure of any one of the [genes] gives rise to deficiency."

      Bollocks. Utter tripe. Complete and total bunk..

      He's either claiming Intelligent Design by the back door, or that evolutionary pressure on humans completely stopped selecting for intelligence thousands of years ago.

      Genes simply change, and the vast majority of changes are neither good nor bad.

      Even in modern human society, changes notably for the worse are still selected against (the mentally disabled tend not to have children) - although there is probably still some selection pressure towards being religious.

      It does appear that his overall contention is true of his educational establishment though, because he's still there spouting rubbish when he should have been thrown out by now.

      1. Goat Jam

        Re: The guy's an idiot

        "evolutionary pressure on humans completely stopped selecting for intelligence thousands of years ago"

        I don't know about thousands of years but being stupid sure seems to have been accelerating breeding in the last 50 years or so.

        I know several people who I would consider intelligent mainly due to being able to hold a conversation about something other than the latest reality TV rubbish. Most them are approaching middle age and childless.

        On the other hand there are another lot whose primary topic of conversation is the latest exploits of their ill-disciplined offspring along with what ever rubbish it was that they watched on TV last night.

        That's hardly a scientific sample of course but I'm sure I'm not the only one to experience this phenomena.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The guy's an idiot @Goat Jam

          If your assessment of peoples' intelligence is based on their recreation, please don't even mention science. You're hereby banned from using the boffin icon, you sad Sheldon Cooper wannabe ...

          ps It's phenomenon in the singular.

          1. Goat Jam

            Re: The guy's an idiot @Goat Jam

            Hey mr anonymous idiot, I clearly stated that I was judging them by their ability to hold up their end of a conversation.

            If somebody is unable to converse about anything other than how badly their kids behave, football and who was best on "Idol" last night then I feel reasonably justified in assuming they are not overly clever.

            The fact that someone enjoys football (or even Idol) is not the point. The point is whether they can also converse outside of those subjects.

            Thanks for the demonstration of someone who has an inability to hold up their end of a conversation though, it was quite illuminating.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The guy's an idiot

        "Even in modern human society, changes notably for the worse are still selected against (the mentally disabled tend not to have children) "

        This is less true than it was 30 years ago. My brother was mentally disabled by an accident and I've therefore been around the mental health environment, as it were, for a long time and seen the changes. In the 70's there was a de-facto ban on people with Down's Syndrome having children. This is not the case, so much, today.

        It's a distasteful subject, certainly, but the truth doesn't care about taste.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          @Robert Long

          True, and the morality of this remains both debatable and highly contentious.

          Either way, it's an extremely recent societal change and evolution doesn't work on the timescale of individual lifetimes, it takes quite a few Grandfathers.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Robert Long

            "Either way, it's an extremely recent societal change and evolution doesn't work on the timescale of individual lifetimes, it takes quite a few Grandfathers."

            Well, it depends on the situation. If a virus kills everyone with red hair, that's going to have an effect in one generation, and if the lake dries up the lungfish will inherit the next rainy season. So evolution can be lighting quick at times.

  12. SkippyBing

    If the Athenians were so great how come they didn't have Playstations?

    1. Thorne

      "If the Athenians were so great how come they didn't have Playstations?"

      Because they didn't have Playstations...

    2. MJI Silver badge

      They did

      How else would they watch the BDs of 300?

      1. Thorne

        Re: They did

        "How else would they watch the BDs of 300?"

        They didn't. They did reinactments instead

    3. Shane 4

      They didn't need any, Back then COD was real life! Defend the flag had a whole new meaning.

      You lose you die for real or you better learn to speak the Persian language!

  13. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    "Ancient Athenians smarter than us".

    Ancient Athenians as a bloc, or the tiny sample of well educated, well nourished, intelligent, well off Athenians who had the wherewithall to get published?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      About 300 000 people in Athens, in total, and a handful of highly regarded writers and thinkers, all of whom had the advantage of having a single language to learn, a single small society to understand, and a very small field of knowledge so that anybody with the education and time could learn just about everything that was written.

      Compare that to today when an educated person needs to know several languages, and making a contribution to any important subject is so hard that a PhD is just a stepping stone to doing some real research.

      I think the issue here is that the subject of the article may be a typical American without any education in classics, and so has a view of the ancient world that comes more from Hollywood than reality.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "About 300 000 people in Athens, in total, and a handful of highly regarded writers and thinkers, all of whom had the advantage of having a single language to learn, a single small society to understand, and a very small field of knowledge so that anybody with the education and time could learn just about everything that was written."

        Probably not true. But what is true is that those intellectuals had the advantage of a slave-based economy and didn't have to work.

        Sparta is the extreme example of this - a whole nation's worth of people enslaved by a city that had to become a military superpower in case the slaves revolted, thereby largely throwing away the advantages of having the slaves in the first place (ie, relaxing and having fun).

    2. Ken 16 Silver badge

      he said Athenian CITIZEN

      ie: the top 2% or so of the population, slaves, women, youngsters didn't get a vote

      1. Ken 16 Silver badge


        This...IS SPARTA!!!

  14. Cucumber C Face

    All it takes...

    .. is for less intelligent people to breed faster and leave more offspring than more intelligent people.

    That would never happen in our society would it?

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: All it takes...

      Nah, that would only happen if you indiscrimatedly paid people to breed.....

    2. Thorne

      Re: All it takes...

      ".. is for less intelligent people to breed faster and leave more offspring than more intelligent people."

      Intelligent people plan for their children such as education and upbringing and as such only have one or two children normally.

      Stupid people have happy hour.....

      Smart people are fighting a losing battle

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: All it takes...

        Very true. We have 2 kids, we would love a 3rd but given the cost of education and healthcare, not to mention the 'cost' of dividing our time between 3 kids instead of 2, it isn't going to happen. Maybe adoption later. What I found sad was how much older we were (late 20's) when we had our first compared to some of the other parents giving birth at the same time, we had nearly 15 years on some of them.

        However, aren't there limiting factors such as wars, diseases, social breakdown etc that disproportionately affect the 'jeremy kyle show watching, 15 kids crowd? Any breakdown in society and it's support systems would punish those without certain skills or (crucially) the ability to learn them. Can the bargain madness crowd purify water, generate electricity, fraction oil, make gunpowder, grow penicillin, cure meat etc. The shopping @ asda in your pjs folks will be dead in months if not weeks. They can loot asda, I'll loot the library.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Trying to help

          I have 3 including twins.

          I hope it helps.

          I was early 30s at the time yet I am still one of the younger dads at the oldests school.

          As to survive yes I think we would

          1. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: Trying to help

            Good job, keep it up!

            Funny, going to a parenting class maybe 10 miles away in a more affluent area we were the youngest also.

            1. MJI Silver badge

              Re: Trying to help

              My daughter won a bursary to a private school and also she is addicted to science shows on TV

              She will be studying at least 2 sciences and maths at A level.

              One boy wants to go into IT the other has no idea yet, unless he can get paid for playing Minecraft.

        2. Shane 4

          Re: All it takes...

          Problem is those stupid folk will probably come and steal your food that you are trying to grow in your clever hydroponic setup that runs off solar power, And if you don't have any they will probably just eat you!

          Worst case scenario would be a stupid person with a gun, Ohh wait a sec.... Society is already full of them. o.O

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: All it takes...

            Guns no problem, I know where to get some from, (they are licenced and legal, I just know where they are?)

            As to stupid people, there are some near me and yes - brainless - would die out soon enough, fighting in the middle of the road should qualify.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is he married?

    Or is he advertising the opportunity to help clone some Stanford grade genetic material?

    1. hplasm

      Re: Is he married?

      Or Stepford grade. more like.

  16. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Flowers for Algernon!

    So the assumption is that there is a "brain peak" that is mysteriously reached when all the genes are right?

    That sounds like a pretty bizarre idea.

    And that point would be reached in the times of classical Greece?

    Most bizarre. Note that the ancients had exactly the same problems as we do today: retarded politicians, stupid wars, neocons, fascism, cities going from "money for everything" to "no more money, dude", throwing money out of the window to erect stuff in honor of "Gods", slavery, killing of critical philosophers, racism, bad social systems, destruction of the environment via goat herds. The evidence for particulary high intelligence is, I would say, not that great.

    An individual's à priori penchant for "high intelligence" (which btw. may go completely unnoticed as he may be reduced to a lifetime of cotton-picking) is bound to be a probability density function in a very high-dimensional space of genetic variations. There is no à priori reason to suppose that the population ensemble was clustered at a peak point and is now fanning out into "lower" regions.

    Now, brain "malformations" are generally of deleterious consequence, which would at first glance tend to support the idea that the modern brain is somehow "exactly what is needed" or that it is very fine-tuned (For what? For rapid learning and effective cooperation in a environment in which other brains of the same power are bound to eat its lunch I suppose. How does that translate into solving QCD Lagrangians in one's sleep? Beats me.).

    Anyway -- one would like to see the statistical distribution of "genetic brain anomalies" that are of no visible consequence (although they may shift perceptions or behaviour) and "genetic brain anomalies" that actually have advantageous consequences (we would however be reduced to the relatively simple tests for "advantageousness", like IQ tests and game solving. Psychopathy could be considered an "advantageous" trait, as you f*ck everyone with no remorse, right?). This would give us some idea of whether the current brain is in some very special "peak position" and whether genetic variations push it "down" that peak or whether things are more reasonable with variations exploring a hilly landscape.

    To your MRI scanners!

    Meanwhile, I'm waiting for ROTM.

  17. Thorne

    There is more than enough people on this planet. What needs to happen is giving birth should become a privilage and not a right. Drug users, the professionally unemployed, drunks and the general dead weights of society shouldn't be breeding but if you look at society we reward them with massive child support payments for their little hordes of car thieves and vandals.

    1. Anomalous Cowturd

      @ Thorne

      You know the Daily Mail comments section?

      This isn't it.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: @ Thorne

        So perhaps the solution isn't the friendliest or most PC, but the problem at the base of it is genuine. We have a largely egalitarian society where we aim to have the better off subsidise the not so well off (not a bad thing if it isn't abused). I firmly believe a child should have the same chance in life, the same education (tailored to their skills \ talents) and healthcare irrespective of how rich their parents are. So we tax and distribute that revenue in social spending. The problem arises when people abuse those social schemes. Not all do, probably not even a majority, but a significant number of people do. That money is meant to feed and clothe children, not buy booze and fags. The stories I hear from friends who are teachers, social workers etc about the state that some parents send their kids into school in, unwashed, dirty clothes, unfed. There is simply no excuse. I don't advocate ending social support but we need to consider how it is implemented to ensure it is as hard as possible to misuse the funds. In the states 'food stamps' / EBT / WIC cannot be spent on lottery tickets, booze, fags etc, WIC even gives you vouchers which detail explicitly what they are to be used for, i.e. 1 gallon whole milk, 1 lb cheese etc and that is all they can be used on. What is wrong with that?

        There are those who truly cannot work, and sure they need to be supported, it's only right to do so. There are also plenty of people who do not want to work or have made themselves unemployable, why the hell should we support them?

        I had the pleasure of living for a while in a less than wonderful area in the north west, a neighbour had 7 kids, about a year apart, she was 22. She smoked, she drank (she spent half her life in the pub), she didn't work, she didn't pay rent. Here's what kills me, she didn't give a flying **** about her kids. She didn't feed them, I fed them at least half their meals and their teachers (for the older ones) fed them breakfast and the school fed them lunch. Social services wouldn't do anything because it would look bad in the press or something similar (I have sympathy for them in some cases, they seem to have to go with the flow of public opinion based on whether their last screwed was leaving a kid with bad parents or taking them away from good parents). People say that nobody has kids for benefits because the cost of kids is higher than the benefits, thats true if you are a good parent (which these people probably are), not everybody brings their own kids up to such high standards. Seriously, tell me why that person should continue to get social assistance? I'm not advocating sterlising 'the underclasses" or anything so draconian or elitist, but there is a hell of a problem and it does need addressing for everyones benefit.

        1. Tom 7

          Re: @ Thorne

          you say its a problem - she's just spreading her genes more effectively in the environment that's around you and her. She adapted - you haven't - she wins so get over it or become a dole scrounger breeding machine yourself or do you prefer self importance to eternity?

          1. Rampant Spaniel

            @ tom 7

            You are right 'she' has adapted, but she has adapted to an environment we have created which I think is the point we are really discussing here right? We provide social support (which is officially A Good Thing) to try and ensure some level of equality. The benefits to society as a whole are that in theory we get the best out of everyone no matter what their parents income is and frankly it is the right thing to do. If the response from some people is to breed like rabbits and shirk parental responsibility, that needs dealing with. The point is what to do about the abuse of the system. Do we

            - withdraw social programs. This would be a bad move, social unrest, a general decline in health and education etc not to mention it undermines the basis of a society, that we are stronger together.

            - ignore it and carry on, again not ideal, ignoring problems tends not to work.

            - try and ensure that help is used correctly by changing how it is delivered and cracking down on people abusing help.

            The deciding factor on who is a good parent and who is a bad parent is not income, it is what a parent does with that income and how they take their responsibilities as a parent. If we put the effort into providing resources to help people bring up their children we should put some effort into ensuring they actually do that right? The victims there aren't taxpayers, it's the kids who deserve decent parents but get a waste of space. I have nothing against people having lots of kids (if they do the job well they have my upmost respect, 2 keeps me busy and broke, I have no idea how people cope with 6-8!) or their level of income, I care deeply about kids being subjected to shit, couldn't care less, parenting. I think that social spending is one of the best uses of taxes, but squandering it is a serious crime. We get to make a lot of choices in our lives, we don't get to choose our parents, I got lucky with hard working, loving parents. Everyone deserves that, people who neglect their responsibilities and don't change, they deserve serious punishment.

    2. dogged

      on the other hand...

      if you license breeding to "desirables", what you get is a production of good little drones who will sit in your call centres, buy your consumer tat, watch EastEnders and never have a single original thought. Be honest, those are the people you'd give licenses to, right? The ones who support and enforce the status quo?

      I say, the ones who manage to survive and thrive without becoming bit-parts in a 1984 Apple ad are the ones we want. The ones who are smart enough to work the system instead of be consumed by it. The ones who choose not to conform. The ones who can still think, instead of just regurgitate Paul Dacre's foul opinions on the Register's comment boards.

      1. Thorne

        "I say, the ones who manage to survive and thrive without becoming bit-parts in a 1984 Apple ad are the ones we want. The ones who are smart enough to work the system instead of be consumed by it. The ones who choose not to conform. The ones who can still think, instead of just regurgitate Paul Dacre's foul opinions on the Register's comment boards."

        You have the unemployed mother and her current defacto, six to eight kids all to different fathers. Mum and "current Dad" spend the day at the pub playing pokies. The younger kids have been taken into foster care. The older ones roam the streets at night. The charities provide the food, pay the rent and the social security and child support is spent on drink, smokes and gambling.

        This is playing the system and being bright isn't required. Welcome to the new generations of society

      2. Shane 4

        There would be NO system if we ALL worked the system and lived off others hard work.

        Old days had it right, If they were anarchic they were outcast from the village and left to fend for themselves, Soon toughened them up if they survived!

        I think Rhonnie Johns - Chopper - had it right society needs to,

    3. Thecowking

      I say that being able to spell privilege should be the first criterion of this privilege.

      Also I love the idea that in a society of pure geniuses, we'd have all the factories and production lines stocked with people who would rapidly become incredibly bored and frustrated. And of course, it's all genetics that lead to crime, not social factors or education. Why is the government not funding phrenology research in this most vital of times?

      I have to admit when I was at university I was young and I thought that breeding should be limited to the intelligent. I made two assumptions, 1) That this would be good for the world, 2) that it'd mean I got more sex.

      I now disbelieve the first one and I know the second is false.

      Oh to be young and dumb again.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        That will teach you to take art history ;-)

        Personally I don't see the issue as 'stopping less intelligent people breeding', although some people do. I see it as looking at how our social programs (which I approve of in theory) and our political system are shaping our future. It's both right and economically prudent to ensure all kids are well educated (and that can mean a phd or an electricians course, I know which pays better, depending on their natural talents) and have access to great healthcare. Now to do that, in a capitalist society (probably the 'least crap' type we can manage right now) you have to take money from the middle and the top and redistribute it to those at the bottom. Again, I have no problem with this, makes sense on every level. The problem comes with that percentage of people who are utter c**ts. People who make bad decisions, often knowingly. People who given the choice between a few pints or feeding their kids choose pints every time.

        Removing social spending isn't the answer, neither is eugenics, perhaps refocussing the delivery of social spending and being able to ban people (and only these people) from having kids when it has been proven they cannot look after them. When teachers have to feed kids because their parents refuse to look after them whilst gladly taking their benefit money, that makes me sick. The most important job we have is to be good parents, I am sure theres plenty better than me, but I try and theres a hell of a lot worse.

    4. Vic

      > dead weights of society shouldn't be breeding

      Why don't you get started on that B-Ark construction?


    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No babies for you, Ada Lovelace.

      And no Isaac Newton -can't have impoverished single mothers having kids, can we?

      AFAIK the latest research indicates that any woman who drinks any alcohol regularly should not be having babies. We don't drink or take drugs and our kids are all in professions - i.e. postgraduate qualifications that take years to achieve. So I have some sympathy for the argument. But as the Chinese have found out, bringing up single kids with a huge sense of entitlement has its own problems. There really are no easy answers.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Good genetics, good environment and most likely decent parenting, well done!

        If the poor comment was directed at me, I probably wasn't clear enough :-) It's not about income, it's about ensuring help has the desired effect. When you make the choice to become a parent (and save a few exceptions there is a choice involved at some point) you start being faced with the choice of doing something your kid needs vs doing something you want. Your responsibility as a parent is to ensure the kids needs are met before your own wants. People doing this should be given a warning and some support, if it continues the yes they should lose their kids and the right to have more, unpopular as this view sounds even to me. I never understand why cats are afforded more protection than kids.

        Being poor is beside the point, being a bad parent is not acceptable.

        The severity of the problem is the tone this sets for the kids lives, their role models (not low income, but bad parents) are shit, the majority of the kids will grow up falling into similar lifestyles. A few hundred years back natural causes \ starvation would limit the poor (good and bad) but thats not right, we try and help people. A significant number of people take that help and use it as its intended which is great. Another significant faction of people don't and that simply isn't right. Not feeding your kids so you can go to gala bingo, have a drink or smoke is just not acceptable to me, I think to you also, no?

        Oh and yeah single kids, thats why we had two :-) Income and number of kids isn't the issue, it's a minority of people who are terrible parents abusing the system and their kids.

    6. James Micallef Silver badge


      I was going to post about how I agree with your basic sentiment though I completely disagree with the attitude expressed... then I realised that Rampant Spaniel had already said what I had in mind (only much more eloquently than I could hope for)

  18. mevets


    “...if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us...”

    Wouldn’t this require a time machine? I’m not a US biologist, or anything like that, but I would think that if anyone, from any point in the past, constructed a working time machine, he would be the brightest person alive.

    Even if he was thick, he would be able to use his invention to eliminate the competition and safely secure the smartest person award.

    I think Mr Crabtree should stick to his eugenics work and leave the space-time business to others more skilled in the art.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I propose a global "shag a nerd" movement for obvious reasons. Also to get humanity's collective IQ rising again, I suppose.

    1. h4rm0ny

      "I propose a global "shag a nerd" movement for obvious reasons. Also to get humanity's collective IQ rising again, I suppose."

      Speaking as "a nerd" (if by that you mean a programmer), I think I'd rather keep my choice of who I sleep with my own, rather than have people legally foisted upon me.

      Thanks anyway!

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


      Boff a prof

      Grapple with a geek

      Get under the desk with the helpdesk

      Get between the sheets with the elites

      On your knees for PHDs

      Get boffing with a boffin

      Perhaps I should have taken that job in marketing after all...

  20. Stephen 10

    There's an excellent response to this in the Guardian

    In the GrrlScientist blog:

    Pretty thoroughly refutes this by my reading and an interesting read by itself.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's an excellent response to this in the Guardian

      Arguments on both sides are qualitative, and therefore unprovable.

  21. John H Woods Silver badge

    Weren't the ancient Greeks ...

    ... mostly idiots?

  22. Anomalous Cowshed

    first impression upon reading this article

    Bollocks, with all due respect.

    1. Vic

      Re: first impression upon reading this article

      > Bollocks, with all due respect.

      ITYF the word "bollocks" contains all the respect due...


  23. Johnny Canuck

    ha ha. stoopid prof don't no sheet from shinola. of coarse peeps is smarter now.

  24. Dire Criti¢

    It's simple... can't fix stupid!

    1. Thorne

      Re: It's simple...

      Yes you can but the side effects are fatal

  25. Anonymous Coward


    Genetics is a fascinating subject, as is the related ability of species to adapt to new environments.

    Who could have guessed that the internet, for example, would so quickly become overrun with cats?

  26. Eddy Ito

    "One could argue that anything that occurs in Nature must be good for us," he says, "but this line of reasoning is quite incorrect."

    Of course one could equally argue that anything that occurs in Nature must be bad for us. Just look at the earthquakes, tidal waves, tropical mega-storms, wild fires and tornadoes then add in other fun things like grizzly bears, lions, etc. and let's not forget other increasingly stupid people. Would prof. Crabby find this line of reasoning to be equally incorrect?

    I'm even willing to concede that "an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC" would be far smarter than the average person of today without any proof. Mostly it's because he's selected such a small sample of the population of Athens as citizens only made up something like 15% of the general population. The general population, being slaves and other folks without access to education, wasn't likely dominated dominated by great thinkers. But hey, drop that average Athenian citizen in down town New York and see how long he survives. 10 to 1 says he couldn't make ten blocks by himself.

    I propose an equally asinine theory. The amount of intelligence in the world is fixed and all the people are forced to live with the little piece they were born with. That means that the only intelligence for newborns is what is simultaneously given up by someone dying and as long as the birth rate exceeds the death rate people will get stupider. The only questions remaining are, was prof. Crabtree born in the morning and was it this morning?

  27. Cartman

    Does Mrs Crabtree teach in South Park? This theory is a parody, right?

  28. Esskay

    "[a] citizen from Athens... would be among the...most intellectually alive of our colleagues..."

    ...until a moment or two later, when he or she would presumably walk out in front of a moving bus.

    How we measure "intellect" changes over the years - we're probably less intelligent in some areas, but have adapted to value skills that are more suited to the environment in which we live. Like bus avoidance.

    I've often wondered how it would be to try the reverse hypothetical - to be plonked back in the ancient greeks time. And tell them about atoms, molecules, penicillin, internal combustion, etc... much of our knowledge has built on what the best and brightest have discovered over 1000's of years - whilst as individuals we may not have the same capacity as ancient greeks, we instead have the communication ability to work together with our neighbors and share advancements without instantly trying to kill each other (most of the time).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But would they be able to fill in a tax return?

      As creatively as a modern Greek?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But would they be able to fill in a tax return?


    2. Vic

      Re: "[a] citizen from Athens... would be among the...most intellectually alive of our colleagues..."

      > And tell them about atoms, molecules, penicillin, internal combustion, etc...

      ...And be branded a nutjob who needs locking up for his own good?


  29. Coen Dijkgraaf
    IT Angle

    The Marching Morons by Cyril M. Kornbluth

    "The Marching Morons" is a science fiction story written by Cyril M. Kornbluth, originally published in Galaxy in April 1951

    It describes a world where intelligent people having less children than dumb ones and hence just getting out-bred, and without natural selection eliminating enough of the dumb people before they can procreate (e.g. earning a Darwin Award) the same genetic concept applies.

    So this theory is hardly a new one.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      IT Angle

      Re: The Marching Morons by Cyril M. Kornbluth

      Did he also do a short story called "The Little Black Bag" about a doctors bad from this world that gets sent back in time and is very useful, until its owners activate a remote kill switch?

      1. Coen Dijkgraaf

        Re: The Marching Morons by Cyril M. Kornbluth

        Yes, Cyril M. Kornbluth did write a short story called "Little Black Bag", I haven't read it though.

        The story is available as part of the Gutenberg project.

  30. Scott 1

    Me fail IQ test? That's un-possible!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He seems to assume that intelligence is the only trait that helps reproduction

    Being clever didn't help early man all that much individually, but it did help collectively. i.e., if your environment changed and you risked starvation, the clever guy might have an idea for the group to go somewhere else or do something different that got them out of their jam.

    But the strongest guy(s) in that group still got most of the women and had most of the offspring, so his intelligence was not always passed along.

  32. The Alpha Klutz

    hes a proper idiot if he think he can look at number of genes and extrapolate out brainpower

    its like trying to extrapolate penis length from number of penis hairs. nice idea, but misses the point entirely.

  33. Peter Murphy

    The argument fails even by its own standard.

    If I understand it, Professor Crabtree is trying to point out that the Athenians of 1000BC are brighter than people today. But his problem is that the ancient Athenians that got themselves in the history books for being "smart" - blokes like Sophocles, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Socrates and Pericles - actually lived in the 400s BC. So if there's been a decline in intelligence since 1000BC, why did all the big names occur 600 years later?

    The argument sounds suss to me.

  34. Steve Brooks

    Test, go through and list the number of ancient greeks you know by name, Plato, Archimedes, Aristotle etc, not exactly plebs right? Yes compared to the average 20th centrian these guys would still come out pretty smart. Now it's 2000 years in the future, name the pre-spacesettled humans you know the names of, ooh Einstien, Heisenburg, Hawkins. Gee they were brainy back then! Looking back from our point in the future the only ancient people we know anything about personally were the outstanding's of that era, does this really need explaining?

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Counter argument?

    This is just a theory - what are the counter arguments against it?

    I thought that genetic mutations could lead down countless evolutionary roads, some a dead-end, some disastrous and others advantageous?

    Surely it would be more accurate to theorise that our intelligence is adapting to conditions, rather than deteriorating?

    Whilst hunter gathering activities potentially further intellectual ability, surely mathematics, reading, writing and art would be just as beneficial?

    Short of inbreeding, there's every chance two adults with low IQ could produce a child with high IQ - in fact, it happens all the time.

    It all goes back to that age old question: "Nature or Nurture"

    If a brain is left to stagnate, with very little stimulus from an early age, does that result in a stupid individual?

    Conversely, if the brain is stimulated from an early age with problem solving tasks, would that result in an intelligent individual?

    Gaaah, this is worse than discussing politics or religion!

  36. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    visions of the world's population...

    docilely watching reruns on televisions that they can no longer understand or build

    How many could already? I could design and *construct* one, given the parts - though it would have to be a CRT type and it assumes that there's an industry base to create all the components. If I had to start from scratch, even knowing the principles, there would have to be a lot of experimentation in the glass-blowing, metallurgy, and phosphorescent chemistry areas at the very least.

    There's no great intelligence required to understand complex technical systems, but to build and maintain those systems there's an awful lot of thinking going on up front...

    And of course it could be argued that intelligence is less of a requirement for survival when one has everything organised, available, safe... nice for the Eloi but watch out for the Morlocks!

  37. bobbles31

    I wonder if by "average citizen" he means, the subset of all Athenians that are not slaves and not the sum of all people that live and work in Athens. I believe this to be an important distinction because it is essentially like saying the average person at Cambridge University is genetically disposed to high intelligence (not counting all those people who clean the floors, cook food etc etc)

  38. Aron

    Idiocracy arrives

    If cities are making people less intelligent then imagine what political propaganda, fake stories and hysterical information on Facebook is doing to young minds. We'll be having a good laugh on the 13th December 2012.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Idiocracy arrives

      Yes, but wait till 21st!

  39. ewozza

    Previous Research

    Here is some previous research into this pressing problem.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If Greeks were so clever, how come we waited 2000 years for the Internet?!

    Answer me that - Ha, you can't can you.

    Descartes, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Hippocrates.... lick my hairy balls - I have the interwebs!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If Greeks were so clever, how come we waited 2000 years for the Internet?!

      Probably for the same reason we waited that long for the microwave.

  41. Robert Grant

    Natural selection faux pas

    He reckons we started selecting against different characteristics when we moved into cities? We STOPPED selecting a long time ago, as selecting only works if people die before they can procreate. Nowadays almost anyone can find someone and live long enough to do that. Selection has pretty much stopped, at least in the places I've lived, and been replaced by ideas of equality and grace.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so this guy is all for forced selection ? Eugenics again.

    1. Thorne

      You could always make the illegal drugs legal with a built in contraceptive. No more crack babies and less stupid people breeding

  43. FunkyEric

    Just another point...

    We used to have lots of wars to kill off the stupid people younger. Now they just sit in their council estates / trailer parks / etc getting paid to do nothing except breed more stupid people. No wonder it's getting increasingly hard for the working classes to support them. Admittedly there are some stupid people in the working classes, because someone has to do the dull mudane, smelly jobs, but clearly we have too many of them at the moment. Losing a few million of them here and there wouldn't be a great loss to humanity. However our society frowns on this kind of thinking because then there wouldn't be enough people left to buy all the shit that it produces making "money" to keep the clever people happy. All rather counter-productive really.

    1. robin48gx

      Re: Just another point...,_1st_Earl_Haig

      Your eugenics implementation hero then I presume.

  44. annodomini2


    If the article correctly presents the researcher's hypothesis, then he has ultimately failed before he has begun, simply because he has assumed that all genetic mutation is to the negative!

    If all genetic mutation was negative, life (as we know it) wouldn't exist on this planet!

    The only postulate that would verify his claim is that 'stupid' people have more children, with 'intelligent' people having fewer or none. Resulting in an increasing proportion of 'stupid' genes in the pool.

    Given we have no accurate measure of intelligence, as far as I am concerned it's all speculative bulls**t!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Assumption

      "If the article correctly presents the researcher's hypothesis, then he has ultimately failed before he has begun, simply because he has assumed that all genetic mutation is to the negative!"

      No he hasn't. He's saying that bad mutations have a bad effect. Not going on about good mutations is taking a what-caused-it approach rather than a what-didn't approach. Before anyone tries to argue he's glossing over things that don't agree with him, I think that's untrue too.

  45. John Savard

    In Like Flynn

    How does he account for the Flynn effect, then, where they've had to keep adjusting IQ scores downward to keep the average at 100?

  46. Some Beggar

    Has he bothered to test this hypothesis?

    There are still a reasonable number of hunter-gatherer groups dotted around the world who would not have been subject to this proposed decline. Compare their intellect to that of people in the industrialised world ... there's your proof one way or the other.

    Am I missing something?

    1. Thorne

      Re: Has he bothered to test this hypothesis?

      Not really

      The more primitive societies are still evolving. Modern society is de evolving.

      A stupid tribesman who kicks a lion in the balls gets eaten. A stupid bogan who kicks a lion in the balls get rescued by the keeper and posts the video on youtube.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thats why shakespeare is so difficult

    Back then they were cleverer and had bigger vocabs...

  48. robin48gx


    Thos new generation, poncing about, painting on the cave walls, we had to fight the giants, thirty of us in coordinated attacks with our newly developed spear throwers.... this new lot are getting weaker and stupider by the generation......

  49. Sirius Lee

    Another apocalyptic warning

    Are research grant agencies only handing out funds to researchers that predict an apocalyptic future? Is it really the case that mutations only have a deleterious effect? Is it not at all possible that some will have a positive impact?

    And isn't nature vs nurture rammed down our throats at every opportunity? I'd guess that my teenage sons have more exposure to mind expanding ideas than any Athenian ever did and that their experience of the world is richer than said Athenian as a consequence. I'm sure that on the whole they were closer to the earth than people alive today except those whose livelihood depends upon it in which case their comprehension and appreciation of the earth will be off the charts by comparison. Wanna rely on farmer Plato or farmer Giles? I'll go with Giles, thanks.

    And finally, there are billions of humans alive today - many times the number alive in 1000BC. As a consequence there is greater scope for diverse mutations and for good ones to spread rather than keeping it in the family (though maybe some inbreeding also made a positive contribution to intellectual capacity if only by weeding out defects).

  50. Identity

    I've been saying this for years!

    But I ascribe it to pollution — though that's an untested hypothesis...

  51. James Gosling


    I see stupid people!

  52. Alistair

    I find it odd that

    a) it took to the middle of page two to find a reference to my favourite tagline:

    The sum total of intelligence on the planet is a constant.


    b) that it took to the middle of page three to find a notation that mutations can be both negative and beneficial.

    But perhaps that is just proving the the hypothesis.

    /runs and hides under a rock from the downvotes.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What would we do without stupid people?

    Without 'em we couldn't yell "LOOK AT THAT" and then grab their popcorn when they did.

  54. Vic Sub

    Obviously some XKCD is in order

This topic is closed for new posts.