This article was cut to a deflating wiffle in the paper, 650 down to 400 words, here is the last version I touched.
Saturday October 21, 2006
“All men will have big willies”, said the headline of the Sun. This was the story of Dr Oliver Curry, “evolution theorist” from the Darwin@LSE research centre. “By the year 3000, the average human will be 6½ft tall, have coffee-coloured skin and live for 120 years, new research predicts. And the good news does not end there. Blokes will be chuffed to learn their willies will get bigger – and women’s boobs will become more pert.”
Where did this story come from? And does it stand up? Well, what has been represented as important “new research” is in fact just a rather fanciful essay from a political theorist at LSE, and while it’s not ridiculous, there’s quite a lot to take issue with in the science.
For example, Dr Oliver Curry seems to think that geographical and social mobility is a new thing, and that this will produce uniformly coffee coloured humans in 1,000 years. Oliver has perhaps not been to Brazil, where black African, white European, and Amerindian have lived side by side and bred together for many centuries. The Brazilians have not gone coffee coloured, they in fact still show a wide range of skin pigmentation, from black to tan. This is because skin pigmentation seems to be coded for by a fairly small number of genes and probably doesn’t blend and even out as Oliver – a political theorist, not a scientist – suggests.
What about his other ideas? Like the one that ultimately, through extreme socioeconomic divisions in society, humans will divide into two species: one tall, thin symmetrical, clean, healthy, intelligent and creative, the other short, stocky, asymmetrical, grubby, unhealthy and not as bright?
Dividing into species requires some fairly strong pressures, like geographical divisions: even then, the Tasmanian aboriginals, who were isolated for 10,000 years, can still have children perfectly easily with white Europeans. “Sympatric speciation”, a division into species where the two groups live in the same place, as Curry is proposing, is even tougher. For a while, many scientists didn’t think it happened at all. It would require that socioeconomic divides were absolute, although history shows that attractive impoverished females and wealthy ugly men can be remarkably resourceful in love.
I could go on (the full press release is at badscience.net for your amusement). But the trivial problems in this trivial essay are not the issue: what’s odd is how it became a “boffins today said” science story, all over the media, with the BBC, the Telegraph, the Sun, the Scotsman, Metro and many more lapping it up, without criticism.
How does this happen? The “research” – or “essay” – was paid for by Bravo, a bikini and fast car “men’s TV channel” celebrating its 21st year in operation. Just to give you a flavour of Bravo, tonight at 11pm you can catch the movie classic Temptations: “When a group of farm workers find that the bank intends to foreclose on their property, they console each other with a succession of steamy romps. This might go some way to explaining the “pert breasts” angle of Curry’s “new research”.
More and more, empty “science” stories are being generated by public relations companies, who team up with academics, and commission some spurious piece of “research” that will be attractive to the media, where the company is name-checked. The classic examples are the “equations for” stories. None of Dr Curry’s doubtless excellent scholarly work in political theory has ever generated media coverage like his silly futuristic essay. I spoke to friends on other newspapers (the Guardian didn’t cover the story, mercifully) who told me they had stand up rows with news desks, explaining that this was not a science news story. But the selective pressure on national newspapers is for journalists who compliantly write up this kind of commercial puff nonsense as “science news”, while religious fundamentalism of all varieties is conquering the world. Bravo!
A Polite Request:
Are you an academic who has been approached to give your name and affiliation over to commercial promotional activity like this? Did it make you feel dirty? Email me in confidence, firstname.lastname@example.org … it’ll make you feel better.
Incidentally, we discuss this issue in the Guardian Science Podcast that’s out on Monday. The excellent Dr James Randerson PhD, in particular, is endearingly indignant on the subject.
The Press Release:
EVOLUTION STUDY REVEALS WHAT MAN WILL LOOK LIKE IN YEAR 3000 AND BEYOND
Research predicts humans will have coffee-coloured skin, grow to an average of 6 Â½ feet and live for up to 120 years by the year 3000
Humans to begin to diverge into genetic â€˜havesâ€™ and â€˜have notsâ€™ within 10,000 years
The human species is set to evolve within a thousand years into a â€˜coffeeâ€™ coloured race of 6 Â½ foot giants who can live up for up to 120 years, according to a new research project released today.
Evolution expert Dr Oliver Curry of the Darwin@LSE research centre at the London School of Economics embarked on a two-month project to investigate the impact of technological, biological and environmental factors on the future evolution of man over the next 1,000, 10,000 and 100,000 years.
The report, commissioned by leading menâ€™s television channel Bravo to celebrate their 21st anniversary, predicts that the human species is set to reach its peak in the year 3000, growing taller and living longer thanks to improved nutrition, lifestyles and increased medical knowledge. They will also modify themselves â€“ through technology or otherwise – to attract partners and will therefore be better looking. â€˜Raceâ€™ will also be a thing of the past – by the year 3000 all humans will have â€˜coffeeâ€™ coloured skin.
However, the research also predicts that after 10,000 years mankindâ€™s reliance on technology will allow genes to degenerate; for example, the immune system will deteriorate through an over-reliance on medicine. Looking further into the future, 100,000 years from now, thousands of years of mate choice and sexual selection will create greater and greater genetic inequality, which could see humans diverge into two separate sub-species â€“ a genetic upper class and a genetic underclass.
1,000 years from now
The Bravo Evolution Report indicates that people of the year 3000 will have reached the peak of human enhancement, leading the longest, healthiest and most accomplished lives in the entire history of the human race. Improved nutrition and understanding of the human body will see people grow taller, with men reaching an average height of between six and seven feet, while life spans will also be far greater, with humans living for up to 120 years.
Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates, the accomplishment of which will be aided by cosmetic surgery and advanced body modifying techniques. As a result, men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, athleticism and the classic signs of high testosterone such as a square jaw, deeper voice and a bigger penis. Meanwhile, women will exhibit lighter-coloured skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, symmetrical features and smooth hairless skin.
Across both sexes, regional variations in skin tone are also expected to be smoothed out as humans move towards having a uniform â€˜coffeeâ€™ coloured skin tone. However, eating processed foods means that there is less chewing to do, so future humans will have less developed jaws and shorter chins.
10,000 years from now
While mankind reaches a peak in 1,000 yearâ€™s time, further in the future the outlook for mankind is bleak and as the report predicts that the human species will pay the genetic price for its overwhelming reliance on technology. Spoilt by the gadgets around them, the research predicts that humans may come to resemble domesticated animals. Many key skills such as communicating and interacting with others will be degraded, and emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect are predicted to diminish leaving humans less able to care for others or perform in teams.
Far away from the peak experienced in the year 3000, humans will look more juvenile. This might make women look younger and more attractive, but it would be yet another factor, following on from the impact of human losing their jaw structure due to a lack of chewing, in men becoming â€˜chinless wondersâ€™.
There is also a very real danger the human reliance on technology leading to defects in genetic make-up and diseases – such as cancer not being weeded out of the gene pool. The increasing obsession with hygiene and reliance on medicine are also likely to lead to deterioration in the immune system.
As the size of infants continues to rise, natural mothers will also be forced to resort to caesarian sections. A rise in genetic engineering may allow humans to replace faulty stretches of DNA and may also lead to more genetic uniformity as humanity strives for perfection.
100,000 years from now
Much further in the future it is predicted that sexual selection â€“ that is, being choosy about with whom one mates – will create more and more genetic inequality. With the genetic elite moving in ever more exclusive circles and losing contact with the rest of society, it is expected that new varieties of human will be created.
Mankind may be divided into two distinct sub-species â€“ the â€˜gracileâ€™ descendents of a genetic upper class and the â€˜robustâ€™ descendents of a genetic underclass. The genetic â€˜havesâ€™ will be tall, thin, symmetrical, clean, healthy, intelligent and creative. The genetic â€˜have-notsâ€™ will be short, stocky, asymmetrical, grubby, unhealthy and less intelligent.
The Bravo Evolution Report was researched and prepared by Dr Oliver Curry, of the Darwin@LSE research centre at the London School of Economics.
Dr Curry comments: â€˜The Bravo Evolution Report suggests that the future of man will be a story of the good, the bad and the ugly. While science and technology have the potential to create an ideal habitat for humanity over the next millennium, there is the possibility of a monumental genetic hangover over the subsequent millennia due to an over-reliance on technology reducing our natural capacity to resist disease, or our evolved ability to get along with each other. After that, things could get ugly, with the possible emergence of genetic â€˜havesâ€™ and â€˜have-notsâ€™.â€
Johnny Webb, Director of Programmes at Bravo says, â€œThe Bravo Evolution report makes fascinating and rather uncomfortable reading, and it is amazing to think that in just one thousand years time away everything will be so different.â€™
Notes to editors
The Bravo Evolution report was commissioned by Bravo to celebrate its 21st anniversary.
Bravo has been entertaining men since 1985, and is the UKâ€™s leading entertainment destination for men 16-44. Now in its 21st year, Bravo premieres an eclectic and award-winning blend of programming covering an expanse of genres that boast the cutting edge original productions I Predict A Riot hosted by James Brown and the gritty documentary series The Real Football Factories with Danny Dyer.
Home to a multitude of exclusive crime documentaries and raw factual entertainment, Bravo is a mix of high-octane action as well as the home of covert operation drama David Mametâ€™s The Unit starring Dennis Heysbert, cult smash Dog The Bounty Hunter and hit US comedy Itâ€™s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
It is the exclusive sporting home of Serie A Italian football presented by James Richardson, and is responsible for bringing the massively successful Emmy Award-winning Ultimate Fighting Championships to the UK.
Dr Oliver Curry is available for interview
For further information please contact Peter Mountstevens, Kat Taylor or Matt Beake or Lesley Land at Taylor Herring on 0208 206