Dr. Bruce Lahn, whose research on the genetics of race and intelligence, human evolution and brain size created a storm of controversy, is no longer feeling so motivated to continue the investigation.
Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal (subscription only):
The data showed that evolution had continued in recent millennia. A statistical analysis of DNA patterns suggested that new mutations in each of the two brain-related genes had spread quickly through some human populations. Evidently, these mutations were advantageous among those populations — just as the genetic variant promoting milk digestion was advantageous to early Europeans. Dr. Lahn and his team further observed that the new mutations are found most frequently outside of Africa.
What the data didn’t say was how the mutations were advantageous. Perhaps the genes play a role outside of the brain or affect a brain function that has nothing to do with intelligence.
While acknowledging that the evidence doesn’t permit a firm conclusion, Dr. Lahn favors the idea that the advantage conferred by the mutations was a bigger and smarter brain. He found ways to suggest that in his papers. One mutation, which according to his estimates arose some 40,000 years ago, coincided with the first art found in caves, the paper observed. The other mutation, present mostly in people from the Middle East and Europe, and estimated to be 5,800 years old, coincided with the “development of cities and written language.”
That suggested brain evolution might have occurred in tandem with important cultural changes. Yet because neither variant is common in sub-Saharan Africa, there was another potential implication: Some groups had been left out.
These fascinating observations made many people uneasy. Genes that differentiate between groups of people always do. After all, we like to think we’re all born equal. Must the illusion be shattered?
More recently, Dr. Lahn says he was moved when a student asked him whether some knowledge might not be worth having. It is a notion to which he has been warming. Dr. Lahn says he once tried testing himself for which version of the brain genes he has. The experiment’s outcome was blurry “but it wasn’t looking good,” he says. He hasn’t tried testing himself again.
I feel kind of sad that Dr. Lahn no longer feels comfortable doing the kind of research that he feels driven to do especially since he doesn’t appear to have any racist motives (being Chinese himself). It’s always the trendsetters and risk takers who make the greatest contributions but catch the most flak. Very depressing to think that those of us too scared to go out on a ledge aren’t encouraging others who are willing to go out there for us.
NB: Some more info about Dr. Bruce Lahn at Gene Expression.