Darwin’s use of “use” and “disuse” (Part 3)

Tom Clark


Please note: this commentary, recovered on 8-Jan-2017, was originally published by the author, Tom Clark, on Science Dialogues on 14-Mar-2015.


DARWIN IS CREDITED with dethroning humans from their special place between animals and angels. As Copernicus had done astronomically, so had Darwin biologically.

Feral_horses_-_Pryor_Mountain_Wild_Horse_Range_-_Montana
Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, Montana. http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/mt/blm_programs/whb.Par.0228.Image.198.149.1.gif

But Darwin achieved continuity of humans with animals as much by humanizing animals as shrinking humans. Resisting “the too-ready ascription of action to instinct” (Beer 2009: 242-255), Darwin imagined that horses “admired a wide prospect,” baboons had “capacious hearts,” earthworms made aesthetic choices, and snails showed “some degree of permanent attachment.” He did not imagine that biology could benefit, as physics had, by abandoning animism, animals being so . . . animistic.

It was the neo-Darwinian assumption that genes and environments were sufficient causes of animals’ behavior that turned natural selection from an animate doing into a physical happening. Attributing behavior to stable causes both inside (molecules) and outside (environment) turned animals into spectators, along for the ride. Their mental lives were made redundant in the British sense of unemployed. (Compare John and Gabriel Terrell’s thoughts about self-generated, stimulus-independent, internally directed thought in their March 3 post Thinking about Thinking 2. Through the Looking Glass.)

Misreading Darwin’s use of use and disuse as simply Lamarckian enabled the neo-Darwinian demotion of both humans and animals, as meaningful roles for ancestors and Gods were, like baby and bathwater, summarily thrown out.

The word purpose is singularly inapplicable to evolutionary change … If an organism is well adapted … this is not due to any purpose of its ancestors or of an outside agency, such as “Nature” or “God” … (Mayr 1961: 1504).

The purposeful activities of ancestors were not final or ultimate causes. They were some among many causes. Yet they were bundled with God’s finality and dismissed. In the last paragraph of Origin of Species (Darwin 1860: 490) between his “entangled bank” metaphor and the poetic “endless forms most beautiful,” Darwin summarized the key elements of his theory. Two have been pushed to the edges of mainstream evolutionary thought, the ultimate activities of “the Creator” and the contingent activities of ancestors—”use and disuse.”

In the margins of an article by Wallace, Darwin wrote “use of moral qualities” (Greene 1981: 102), telegraphing a view of our moral origins that insinuated these dignifying lines of descent:

  • Life is inherently autonomous.
  • Autonomy has evolved (Rosslenbroich 2014).
  • Nervous systems support flexible, adaptive responding.
  • Vertebrates specialized in intention, allowing metabolic support for increasingly larger brains (Wrangham 2009).
  • Birds and mammals made relationships vital heritable resources (Kemp 2006), expanding autonomy by cooperating in relationships of secure dependence and interdependence.
  • Humans extended these achievements with ethics (Boehm 2012) and friendship (Terrell 2015).

The twentieth century dethroning of humanity carried out in Darwin’s name clipped human dignity more than Darwin intended. The following affirmations return to the evolutionary image of ourselves buds of autonomy and responsibility that Darwin was careful to leave on our family tree.

affirmWhen we consider the evolutionary role of animal behavior—or as we also say, ancestors’ activities—scientific theory becomes human nature mythology, the telling of which must be recognized as a moral act (Bock 1994: 8). The moral significance of our origin story hits home with the realization that how we tell this story can leverage or constrain personal and collective action toward sustainability (Clark and Clark 2012), peace and justice (Chorover 1979; Oyama 2000; Novoa and Levine 2010).

The sense we make of ourselves and each other shapes who we become, including our capacities for learning, cooperation and self-regulation. “Knowing” that intelligence is fixed inhibits learning (Blackwell et al. 2007). “Knowing” that personality attributes are inherited impels hasty negative judgments of others, foreclosing opportunities for constructive encounter (Dweck 2000). “Knowing” that free will is illusory engenders cheating (Vohs and Schooler 2008) and aggression (Baumeister et al. 2009). “Knowing” that humans are selfish by nature favors policies that crowd out reciprocity and trust, inducing selfish behavior (Bowles 2008). And “knowing” that metabolism is natural while intention remains a supernatural specter (Mayr 1982) hedges responsibility for our extended metabolism—energy consumption—compromising our ability to regulate our own inventions.

Knowing there is a choice to make and it matters what we choose to do prepares us for wising up to shared responsibilities and cooperating in the good use of resources.

Biologists rightly argue that a clear understanding of our evolutionary past must inform our plans for a sustainable future (Vermeij 2010: 253). Explaining the evolution of sighted animals as a blind process blinkers our understanding of the past, so also our outlook. Envisioning and motivating sustainable living is better served by an origin story that includes the vision and intentions of ancestors.

Evolution is not only what happened to our ancestors while they were busy making other plans. Ancestors did not plan our evolution, but their plans, successful or not, with consequences intended or not, were part of the story.

In the way he used use and disuse, Darwin recognized our ancestors’ part in how we came to be and our part in resolving where we go from here. By affirming our autonomy and interdependence, Darwin’s origin story also demands of us continued use of our moral imaginations.

References

Baumeister, R. F., E. J. Masicampo, and C. N. DeWall (2009). Prosocial benefits of feeling free: disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35: 260–268.

Beer, G. (2009). Darwin’s Plots (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blackwell, L. S., K. H. Trzesniewski, and C. S. Dweck (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development 78: 246–263.

Bock, K. (1994). Human Nature Mythology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Boehm, C. (2012). Moral Origins. New York: Basic Books.

Bowles, S. (2008). Policies designed for self-interested citizens may undermine ‘the moral sentiments’: evidence from economic experiments. Science 320: 94–112.

Chorover, S. L. (1979). From Genesis to Genocide. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Clark, T. and E. Clark (2012). Participation in evolution and sustainability. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37: 563–577.

Darwin, C. R. (1860). On the Origin of Species (2d ed.). In J. van Wyhe, ed., 2002 The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online(http://darwin-online.org.uk).

Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self Theories. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

Greene, J. C. (1981). Science, Ideology, and World View. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kemp, T. S. (2006). The origin of mammalian endothermy: A paradigm for the evolution of complex biological structure. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 147: 473–488.

Mayr E. (1961). Cause and effect in biology. Science 134, 3489: 1501–1506.

Mayr E. (1982). The Growth of Biological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Novoa, A. and A. Levine (2010). From Man to Ape. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Oyama, S. (2000). Evolution’s Eye. Durham: Duke University Press.

Rosslenbroich, B. (2014). On the Origin of Autonomy. Cham: Springer.

Terrell, J. E. (2015). A Talent for Friendship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vermeij G. J. (2010). The Evolutionary World. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Vohs, K. D. and J. W. Schooler (2008). The value of believing in free will: encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychological Science 19: 49–54.

Wrangham, R. (2009). Catching Fire. New York: Basic Books.

Tom Clark

As a psychologist, I have been interested in the role of behavior in evolution since my graduate training at the University of South Florida.

 

 

© 2015, Thomas L. Clark. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not constitute official statements or positions of the Editors and others associated with SCIENCE DIALOGUES.

 

 


Darwin’s use of “use” and “disuse” (Part 2)

Tom Clark


Please note: this commentary, recovered on 8-Jan-2017, was originally published by the author, Tom Clark, on Science Dialogues on 7-Mar-2015.


AT CHICAGO’S CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION of Origin of Species, Julian Huxley (1960: 14) attributed to Darwin this “Lamarckian error”:

… he did believe in the inheritance of certain “acquired characters”—the effects of the conditions of life and of use and disuse.

Though Darwin had been careful to use the terms use and disusedescriptively in Origin of Species, Huxley took them as categorically Lamarckian, a separate alternative to natural selection that did not mingle with it.

Ernst Mayr also presented Darwin’s thinking about use and disuse as singularly Lamarckian, in support of which he quoted from Origin of Species (1859: 134):

There can be little doubt that use in our domestic animals strengthens and enlarges certain parts and disuse diminishes them; and that such modifications are inherited.

Underscoring his Lamarckian take on Darwin, Mayr adds (1982: 691):

Use and disuse, of course, is of importance only if one believes in an inheritance of acquired characters. This Darwin affirms repeatedly … Darwin is quite positive: “Modifications [caused by use and disuse] are inherited.”

Standing alone, the sentence Mayr quotes from Origin of Species looks like a Lamarckian match. With each step back to see it in context, the resemblance fades.

In the next sentence, Darwin (1859: 134) refers to “… the effects of long-continued use and disuse,” not one generation to the next.

In the same paragraph he places use and disuse in the situation of stable selection pressures, offering as examples the “… wingless condition of several birds, which … inhabited several oceanic islands tenanted by no beasts of prey.”

On the next page he explicitly rejects Lamarckian inheritance of mutilations.

On the following page he clarifies “long-continued,” referring to “thousands of successive generations.”

And throughout Origin of Species, Darwin uses “acquired” only in reference to species across many generations in the context of specific selection pressures, not in the Lamarckian sense of individuals transmitting from one generation to the next characteristics acquired during their lifetimes.

In context, the “domestic animals” Darwin drew to our attention were domesticated species, not his neighbor’s individual dogs. Darwin saw species acquiring traits that became heritable when long-continued activities shaped selection pressures.

Jean Gayon repeated Mayr’s Lamarckian misreading of the identical quote from Origin of Species a decade later (1998 [1992]: 150).

Gayon is in the good company of many besides Huxley and Mayr. Science educators bemoan their failure to convince students that natural selection “does not involve effort, trying, or wanting” or “organisms trying to adapt” (Understanding Evolution, 2014). When their students accurately intuit that evolution has produced animals capable of effortful adaptation and these efforts can affect selection processes, this is considered “a significant departure from a scientific understanding of how animals change via natural selection” (Kelemen 2012: 71).

Huxley, Mayr, Gayon and science teachers stumbled over that ordinary and useful habit of thought, categorizing, while overlooking Darwin’s earnest doubts about the categories of his cultural inheritance (Beer 2009: xxx). The terms use and disusegrew into their common biological usage during the Lamarckian half-century that preceded Origin of Species. While Darwin was growing up, they acquired conceptual, social and political significance beyond concrete reference to specific animal activities. For many, the terms were synonymous with Lamarckian inheritance. Lamarckism has been called use-disuse theory.

When Darwin used these terms, he knew the importance of their secondary meanings for his readers. He also recognized the scientific and public relations merits of using these familiar terms for animal behavior in a more descriptive, pared down way.

Scientifically, he advanced more modest claims of animal agency than Lamarckian use of the terms. Darwin’s descriptive use of use and disuse created conceptual space for a developmental view of evolution that was not Lamarckian.

At the same time, Darwin wanted his readers to follow his argument and not give up on it. Pushing against the constraints of traditional terms by using them in nontraditional ways, Darwin’s “generous semantic practice” (Beer 2009: 33) allowed the reader to adjust their own yoke to the terms use and disuse. From his calibrated ambiguity, readers could hear in the text such Lamarckian overtones as their sensibilities favored.

Darwin’s semantic generosity quickened after publication of Origin of Species, as he responded to waves of criticism with a strategic retreat toward inclusiveness. In Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), “anything which had been documented and accepted by a fellow scientist was included and assessed” (Vorzimmer 1963: 386). Darwin admitted for discussion a provisional hypothesis of Lamarckian inheritance that he had carefully avoided in Origin of Species. Darlington (1959: 41) complained that during this time “ambiguity … became the mode and standard of Darwin’s expression … which in the end soothed and satisfied the troubled world.”

As he changed successive editions of Origin of Species – to his wife Emma’s delight, adding “the Creator” in the second edition – Darwin remained committed to respectful, empirical inquiry that doubled as good public relations for his theory.

Bufflehead_taking_off
Bufflehead, Morro Bay State Park CA. by Kevin Cole 2008. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Male_Bufflehead_taking_off.jpg

While molecules eclipsed the behavior and development of whole organisms in 20th century evolutionary thought, accounts from Darwin’s vantage point persisted. Nobel physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1944: 113) echoed Darwin most clearly.

You simply cannot possess clever hands without using them for obtaining your aims… You cannot have efficient wings without attempting to fly… Selection would be powerless in ‘producing’ a new organ if selection were not aided all along by the organism’s making appropriate use of it….

Joining Huxley at Chicago’s centennial celebration of Origin of Species, Conrad Waddington (1959: 1636) presented a model of evolution that included animal choices.

Thus the animal by its behavior contributes in a most important way to determining the nature and intensity of the selective pressures which will be exerted on it.

Half a century on, Renée Duckworth (2009: 514) marked Origin’s sesquicentennial by reminding us that:

Changes in either the environment or an organism’s behavior can alter selection pressure. This places behavioral change on an equal footing with environmental change as a potential cause of evolutionary change … but despite the intuitive appeal of this idea, it remains largely unacknowledged in current evolutionary theory.

And Mary Jane West-Eberhard (2008: 902) rendered Darwin in contemporary terminology.

Much of Darwin’s discussion of … “use and disuse” refers not to Lamarckian inheritance but to what we would now call “phenotypic plasticity” [flexibility of the whole organism].

References

Beer, G. (2009). Darwin’s Plots (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Darlington, C. D. (1959). Darwin’s Place in History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Darwin C. (1859) On the Origin of Species. In J. van Wyhe, ed. (2002), The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk).

Darwin, C. (1868). Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. In J. van Wyhe, ed. (2002), The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk).

Duckworth, R. (2009). The role of behavior in evolution: A search for mechanism. Evolutionary Ecology 23: 513–531.

Gayon, J. (1992) [1998]. Darwin’s Struggle for Survival. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Huxley, J. (1960). The emergence of Darwinism. In Evolution After Darwin, vol. I: The Evolution of Life, Sol Tax, ed., pages 1–21. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kelemen, D. (2012). Teleological minds: How natural intuitions about agency and purpose influence learning about evolution. In Evolution Challenges: Integrating Research and Practice in Teaching and Learning about Evolution, Rosengren, K.S., S. K. Brem, E. M. Evans, and G. M. Sinatra, eds., pages 66–92. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mayr E. (1982). The Growth of Biological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Schrödinger E. (1944). What is Life? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Understanding Evolution, University of California Museum of Paleontology, 01 January 2014 http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_teacherfaq.php

Vorzimmer, P. (1963). Charles Darwin and blending inheritance.  Isis 543: 371–390.

Waddington, C. 1959 Evolutionary systems – animal and human. Nature 183 4676:1634-1638.

West-Eberhard, M. J. (2008) Toward a modern revival of Darwin’s theory of evolutionary novelty. Philosophy of Science 75: 899-908.


Tom Clark

As a psychologist, I have been interested in the role of behavior in evolution since my graduate training at the University of South Florida.

 

 

© 2015, Thomas L. Clark. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not constitute official statements or positions of the Editors and others associated with SCIENCE DIALOGUES.

 


Darwin’s use of “use” and “disuse” (Part 1)

Tom Clark


Please note: this commentary, recovered on 8-Jan-2017, was originally published by the author, Tom Clark, on Science Dialogues on 28-Feb-2015.


LIKE OTHER NATURALISTS OF HIS DAY, Darwin thought that when animals used their bodies in some ways and not others, doing this and not that, these activities affected the evolution of their kind. Insect wings and rodent eyes became larger or smaller, more useful or less, depending on their ancestors’ use or disuse of their wings and eyes.

Unlike his peers, Darwin imagined animal behavior influencing evolution without Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics. His most important discovery, natural selection, allowed him an alternative. Instead of direct transmission, from one generation to the next, of changes brought about by an animal’s activity within its lifetime, Darwin saw that such activity affects both how animals grow into adults—variation—and how natural selection plays out. And by way of long continued selection outcomes, characteristics expressed while growing up—specific variants—can become, somehow, more likely to develop in later generations. Hence, evolution.

Stretching to browse on trees did not cause giraffe ancestors to have offspring with longer necks. Rather, giraffe ancestors’ browsing habits swayed selection so giraffes that grew longer necks tended to have more offspring.

Giraffa_camelopardalis (5)
Photograph of Giraffa camelopardalis by Scott Harrison, Kruger Park 2006. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giraffa_camelopardalis.JPG#file

Growing up mattered. Darwin observed variation among whole animals through their lifetimes, not variation among genes. Anything that made a growing child “not absolutely similar to the parent” was a source of variation that could make a difference in selection processes and outcomes (Darwin 1857). Darwin’s view was developmental, not Lamarckian.

Darwin understood that separating variation and selection was tidier in theory than in actual lives-in-progress. He took up his discussion of use and disuse in a chapter called “Laws of Variation” with a subheading “Use and disuse, combined with natural selection” (Darwin 1859: 131, italics added). What animals did with whom was a central and natural aspect of selection, as well as a source of variation. Animal behavior comprised and induced variation that was grist for selection and also part of the mill.

So he shows us in Origin of Species (1859: 136–143) that “the wings of some of the insects have been enlarged, and the wings of others have been reduced by natural selection aided by use and disuse.”

The wingless condition of so many Madeira beetles is mainly due to the action of natural selection, but combined probably with disuse.

And,

The eyes of some burrowing rodents are rudimentary in size… probably due to gradual reduction from disuse, but aided perhaps by natural selection . . . natural selection would constantly aid the effects of disuse.

So,

On the whole, I think we may conclude that habit, use, and disuse, have, in some cases, played a considerable part in the modification . . . of various organs; but that the effects of use and disuse have often been largely combined with, and sometimes overmastered by, the natural selection of innate differences.

Animals were protagonists in Darwin’s evolutionary plots. Theirs was an unwitting participation, animal intentions being of evolution, not about evolution. Still, animals’ semi-autonomous activities affected the evolution of their own kind and of others who came to their attention. Darwin saw, for example, that arbitrary “aesthetic” preferences of pollinating insects—going to these flowers more than those—affected selection of the flowers and of the insect’s nose, used to reach that flower’s nectar.

Darwin concerned himself with mechanisms of biological inheritance but had limited evidence to go on. Mendel published his experiments on plant hybridization in 1865 but with just three citations in 35 years, they never came to Darwin’s attention. Though he eventually proposed a Lamarckian mechanism of inheritance in his “provisional” hypothesis of pangenesis, Darwin continued to view the role of animal behavior in evolution as more developmental than Lamarckian. Animal activity naturally “either checked or favored” selection (1868: 234).

His developmental view of evolution endured August Weismann discerning a “barrier” between somatic and germ cells. Weismann’s famous barrier, allowing transmission of only germ cells to the next generation, was the death knell for Lamarckism. Yet Weismann affirmed Darwin’s view that “use and disuse” affected evolution by way of natural selection.

Weismann contrasted “mere disuse” with its consequence that “natural selection ceases to act” (1889: 15–16). By this relaxation of selection, disuse induced evolutionary change. Regarding use,

. . .  the direct influence of increased use during the course of a single life [cannot] produce hereditary effects without the assistance of natural selection (1889: 91).

And with the assistance of natural selection, it can.

. . . the use and disuse of parts can have no direct share in the process. . . . The fact, however, that we deny the transmission of the effects of use and disuse, does not imply that these factors are of no importance. . . . both use and disuse may lead indirectly to variations . . .  [that change selection processes and outcomes] (Weismann 1893: 395–396).

Darwin’s developmental view fell to the margins of evolutionary thought with the rediscovery of Mendel’s experiments that began the 20th century and initiated its turn toward a molecular gaze. In an historic cultural shift dubbed “bath-waterism” (Ewer 1960: 162), evolutionary thought threw out, along with the bath water of Lamarckism, the whole organism as an agent of evolutionary change. Evolutionary science transformed our image of ourselves from protagonists in the story of life to products of natural laws and chance, from the result of ancestors’ doings to the result of chemical happenings.

Our story changed from processes of selection that naturally had the benefit of vision and other senses and capabilities for the past 600 million years to “blind” selection the whole way; from an understanding that manners maketh the man, and action maketh the organism, to an understanding that tiny entities inside us make us who we are; from a story at the scale of organisms and lifetimes to a story about molecules across eons; from a story that includes growing up to a story that moves from one adult generation to the next by incantations of genes, environments and their so-called “interactions” (genes, of course, interact only with intra-cellular environments); from plot without humans to humans without plot; from a story teeming with human agency and meaning to a story of eggs regarding chickens as merely a way to make more eggs; from a story that tells us of life’s expanding autonomy, so what we do matters, to a story that tells us choice is a comforting illusion so we have no say in the course nature takes.

Among the ideas slanting these images of ourselves has been a misreading of Darwin’s use of use and disuse as simply Lamarckian.

References

Darwin, C. (1857). Letter to Asa Gray, 5 Sept. http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2136.

Darwin C. (1859). On the Origin of Species. In J. van Wyhe, ed., (2002), The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk).

Darwin, C. (1868). Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. In J. van Wyhe, ed., (2002), The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk).

Ewer, R. F. 1960 Natural selection and neoteny. Acta Biotheoretica13:161-184.

Weismann, A. (1889). Essays Upon Heredity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Weismann, A. (1893). The Germ Plasm. New York: Scribner.


Tom Clark

As a psychologist, I have been interested in the role of behavior in evolution since my graduate training at the University of South Florida.

 

 

© 2015, Thomas L. Clark. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not constitute official statements or positions of the Editors and others associated with SCIENCE DIALOGUES.

 

Human biogeography 3. Defining the agenda

John Edward Terrell


Please note: this commentary, recovered on 15-Jan-2017, was originally published in Science Dialogues on 12-Feb-2015.


Abstract – Human biogeography is not a thriving scientific enterprise. Why? In part because our species is remarkably talented at niche construction and highly inventive at adapting our socially learned ways of making a living and staying alive to meet the challenges and opportunities around us wherever we find ourselves on the planet. Nonetheless there is political as well as scientific need in the 21st century for an inclusive biogeographical perspective on human diversity recognizing that we are a globally distributed species whose diversity is framed by isolation-by-distance constrained by our social, economic, and political networks, and whose impact on the environment and our own sustainability is substantial and critically in need of informed restructuring.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series at SCIENCE DIALOGUES


POSSIBLY THE FIRST ATTEMPT IN RECENT YEARS to put humans on the agenda of biogeography was in 1974 at a small invitational conference in Washington, D.C. with this goal supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and organized by William Fitzhugh at the Smithsonian Institution and John Terrell at Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (Kolata 1974). Human biogeography was provisionally defined by the organizers as “the study of the size, distribution, and population structure of, and the interactions among, human populations found in similar or divergent habitats, and of the conditions and events leading to the development and maintenance of similarities and differences among human populations living at various points on the earth’s surface” (Terrell 1977c: 5).

In 2012 the University of California Press published the first modern textbook in English on how and why we are distributed as we are globally, Alexander Harcourt’s Human biogeography (2012). As one reviewer noted about this book: “to study such patterns effectively one must not only work with an immense body of data, but also effectively employ theories and methods from both anthropology and biogeography” (Banks 2013: 39). Further, much of human diversity, as Harcourt emphasizes, is not about genes determining human behavior or even influencing what we do, but rather about our socially mediated interactions with the world (Hart 2012: 330).

Units of analysis

The biologist Richard Levins, one of the attendees at the Washington conference in 1974, pointed out that comparing the geographical distribution, variation, and demographic characteristics of human beings with these dimensions in other species is problematic. Biogeographers commonly then and now use taxonomic species as their units of analysis since (by definition, at least) species cannot interbreed. But what characteristics should be used to delimit appropriate human units for comparison given that all of us can at least potentially interbreed even if circumstance, preference, or spatial remove may keep Homo sapiens from being a panmictic species (Caspari 2003)?

When the science writer Gina Kolata reported in Science in 1974 on this conference, she noted that selecting the appropriate human units might be contingent on the research question being asked. If so, then defining the units might be done, for instance, by parsing linguistic, genetic, or cultural traits as the salient diagnostic characters (Kolata 1974). However, the crux of the issue raised by Levins and others at the conference remains. When it comes to variation within our species are the units however defined biologically meaningful? For example, are human groups defined linguistically (i.e., as ethnolinguistic populations) also biologically discernible, informative, and more than ephemeral (Kelly 2002)?

The answer is probably negative. The partitioning of people by language, for instance, is perhaps more extreme in the New Guinea region of the southwestern Pacific than anywhere else on earth. Although it has long been conventional to say that linguistic differences can be used to map biologically persistent populations, research on both cultural and genetic similarities and differences among communities in this part of the world has shown that their diversity when mapped geographically is structured most clearly not by language but rather by isolation-by-distance constrained by social networks and local environmental conditions such as ground slope and topographic ruggedness (Terrell 2010a, 2010b).

Systematic human biogeography

Although, as Barth remarked, it has long been conventional to talk about diversity within our species by presupposing there are discrete aggregations of people on earth that can be labeled as human populations, ethnic groups, and the like, it is probable that many of those attending the 1974 conference were fully aware of the challenges of defining units of analysis in the human sciences. They were not merely trying to map these sciences into the research agenda of species biogeography as then understood and practiced in the biological sciences. Yet it is also true, as John Terrell noted in the introduction to the resulting conference volume, that our human environment is not just a social construct: “People are [also] elements in a far more complex system, at best only partly of man’s design . . . within which a change in anyone element or relationship is likely to effect changes, of a greater or lesser degree, in all the others” (Terrell 1977a: 245).

Although the phrase has won few converts, Terrell suggested at the conference that such networks of interactions might be called geographic systems:

a geographic system is the interactive configuration among the size, distribution and interaction structure of a set of local populations and the elements and interaction structure of the area of their occurrence, analysed as a complex of intercommunicating variables within which a change in any one variable or relationship is likely to effect changes, of a greater or lesser degree, in all the others. (Terrell 1977b: 65)

Key here is the qualification “a greater or lesser degree.” As Herbert Simon once remarked: “To a Platonic mind, everything in the world is connected with everything else—and perhaps it is. Everything is connected, but some things are more connected than others” (Simon 1973: 23). What Simon had in mind were complex hierarchical systems: a broad class (physical, chemical, biological, social, or artificial) exhibiting what he termed “loose horizontal coupling” permitting “each subassembly to operate dynamically in independence of the detail of the others; only the inputs it requires and the outputs it produces are relevant for the larger aspects of system behavior” (1973: 16).

Networks human biogeography

Folk human biogeography presupposes that groups of some kind exist (perhaps simply because people say they exist), and similarities among such corporate players on the world stage of history can be attributed to common ancestry, adaptive convergence, or diffusion (which in the biological sciences is often called admixture) across the boundaries that supposedly exist between such corporate entities (Bashkow 2004). Systematic human biogeography interpreted the way Simon has described complex systems similarly also would appear to take for granted the presence of subsystems needing to communicate with one another but only in so far as inputs and outputs are relevant to the behavior and survival of the system as a whole. Yet harkening back to Levins’ concern in 1974: how should we define boundaries and systems in human biogeography?

Proximal-point analysis of the Solomon Islands and neighboring islands to the northwest (John Terrell, Smithsonian Conference, 1974).

Although not given much attention at the conference in 1974, an alternative strategy using graph theory was showcased during one of the presentations then (Terrell 1977c), and it is now widely recognized that Simon’s way of thinking about systemic relationships is not the only way to think about the dynamics of loosely-coupled systems. In 1973, for example, Mark Granovetter (1973) used graph theory—now more generally known as network analysis—to examine how the strength of our ties with others can determine our social mobility, the diffusion of ideas, the political and economic organization of society, and on a more general level, the cohesion of society writ large.

Network analysis enables us see the world around us as one of connections that shape observed phenomena, rather than as one where the intrinsic properties of predefined entities—groups, populations, tribes, systems, and the like—determine the behavior and outcomes of human interactions. Today network analysis in biogeography holds promise, but is still far from conventional (e.g., Kivelä et al. 2015; Radil et al. 2010; Terrell 2010b).

Conclusion

As Shakespeare asked, what’s in a name? It could be argued that anthropology, ethnology, or Erdkunde in the 19th century was simply another name for what would now be called biogeography focused narrowly on one species, namely us (Terrell 2006). This synonymy would be harder to assert for anthropology, human geography, and biogeography in the 20th century in part because the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas and his many prominent students in North America were generally successful at least within the academy at promoting the view that culture (i.e., social learning) is the cardinal trait uniquely defining us as a species (Lewis 2008)—although this historical claim can be contested (Koelsch 2003; Verdon 2006, 2007). What about the 21st century? Is there gain or advantage to be had today by still seeking to unite at least some of the elements of these realms of study under the neglected heading human biogeography?

Martinus Beijerinck in his laboratory, 12 May 1921. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mwb_in_lab.JPG. US.PD. “Beijerinck was a socially eccentric figure. He was verbally abusive to students, never married, and had few professional collaborations. He was also known for his ascetic lifestyle and his view of science and marriage being incompatible. His low popularity with his students periodically depressed him, as he very much loved spreading his enthusiasm for biology in the classroom.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martinus_Beijerinck.

There is at least one practical reason to do so. While it might seem contentious, it could be said that science as a human activity is more tribal than our species itself. From a social scientist’s point of view—given that we do not naturally come in kinds—it seems astonishing that some geneticists today, for instance, would accept the old folk belief that human groups—geneticists call them populations—are so biologically isolated, and interactions, biological or otherwise, among people living in different places on earth are so rare, that it is proper to assume our biological similarities from place to place must be due to “sudden or gradual transfers of genetic material, creating admixed populations” (Hellenthal et al. 2014: 747; also Elhaik et al. 2014). Perhaps if there were a discipline called human biogeography, it would be more difficult for biologists to overlook what social scientists can tell them about our species, and vice versa.

Acknowledgments

I thank Eric Clark, Mark Golitko, John Hart, and Kevin Kelly for comments on the working draft.

References      § = suggested further reading

Banks, W. E. (2013). Review of Harcourt, Human biogeography. Quarterly Review of Biology 88, 39–40.

Barth, F. (1969). Introduction. In Barth, F. (ed.) Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of culture difference, pp 9–38. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Bashkow, I. (2004). A neo-Boasian conception of cultural boundaries. American Anthropologist 106, 443–458.

Caspari, R. (2003). From types to populations: A century of race, physical anthropology, and the American Anthropological Association. American Anthropologist 105, 65–76.

Castree, N. (2009). Charles Darwin and the geographers. Environment and Planning A 41, 2293–2298. §

Cox, C. B. and Moore, P. D. (2010). Biogeography: An ecological and evolutionary approach. 8th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Elhaik, E., Tatarinova, T., Chebotarev, D. et al. (2014). Geographic population structure analysis of worldwide human populations infers their biogeographical origins. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4513.

Fuentes, A., Marks, J., Ingold, T. et al. (2010). On nature and the human. American Anthropologist 112, 512–521.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology 78, 1360–1380. §

Harcourt, A. H. (2012). Human biogeography. Berkeley: University of California Press. §

Hart, J. P. (2012). Why we are what and where we are. Science 338, 330.

Hellenthal, G., Busby, G. B. J., Band, G. et al. (2014). A genetic atlas of human admixture history. Science 343, 747–751.

Kelly, K. M.  (2002). Population. In Hart, J. P. & Terrell, J. E. (eds.) Darwin and archaeology: A handbook of key concepts, pp 243–256. Westport, Ct: Bergin & Garvey. §

Kivelä, M., Arnaud-Haond, S. and Saramäki, J. (2015).  EDENetworks: A user-friendly software to build and analyse networks in biogeography, ecology and population genetics. Molecular Ecology Resources 15, 117–122.

Koelsch, W. A. (2004). Franz Boas, geographer, and the problem of disciplinary identity. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 40, 1–22.

Kolata, G. B. (1974). Human biogeography: Similarities between man and beast. Science 185, 134–135.

Laland, K. N. and O’Brien, M. J. (2011). Cultural niche construction: An introduction. Biological Theory 6, 191–202.

Lao, O., Lu, T. T., Nothnagel, M. et al. (2008). Correlation between genetic and geographic structure in Europe. Current Biology 18, 1241–1248.

Lesser, A. (1961). Social fields and the evolution of society. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 17, 40-48. §

Lewis, H. S. (2008). Franz Boas: Boon or bane? Reviews in Anthropology 37, 169–200.

Odling-Smee, F. J., Laland, K. N. and Feldman, M. W. (2003). Niche construction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Radil, S. M., Flint, C. and Tita, G. E. (2010). Spatializing social networks: Using social network analysis to investigate geographies of gang rivalry, territoriality, and violence in Los Angeles. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100, 307–326. §

Simon, H. A. (1973). The organization of complex systems. In Pattee, H. H. (ed.) Hierarchy theory: The challenge of complex systems, pp 1–27. New York: George Braziller.

Stocking, G. W., Jr (1987). Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press.

Terrell, J. E. (1977a). Biology, biogeography and man. World Archaeology 8, 237–248.

Terrell, J. E. (1977b). Geographic systems and human diversity in the North Solomons. World Archaeology 9, 62–81.

Terrell, J. E. (1977c). Human biogeography in the Solomon Islands. Fieldiana: Anthropology 68, 1–47.

Terrell J. E. (2006). Human biogeography: Evidence of our place in nature. Journal of Biogeography 33, 2088–2098. §

Terrell, J. E. (2010a). Language and material culture on the Sepik coast of Papua New Guinea: Using social network analysis to simulate, graph, identify, and analyze social and cultural boundaries between communities. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 5, 3–32.

Terrell, J. E. (2010b). Social network analysis of the genetic structure of Pacific Islanders. Annals of Human Genetics 74, 211–232. §

Terrell, J. E. (2014). A talent for friendship: Rediscovery of a remarkable trait. Oxford: Oxford University Press. §

Verdon, M. (2006). The world upside down: Boas, history, evolutionism, and science. History and Anthropology 17, 171–187.

Verdon, M. (2007). Franz Boas: Cultural history for the present, or obsolete natural history? Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 13, 433–451.

Vincent, J. (2009). Ahead of his time? Production and reception in the work of Alexander Lesser. American Ethnologist 15, 743–751.

Wade, N. (2014). A troublesome inheritance: Genes, race and human history. New York: Penguin Press.

Watson, J. B. (1990). Other people do other things: Lamarckian identities in Kainantu subdistrict, Papua New Guinea. In Linnekin, J. & Poyer, L. (eds.) Cultural identity and ethnicity in the Pacific, pp 17–41. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Wilson, E. O. (1978). On human nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, E. O. (2012). The social conquest of the earth. New York: Liveright (a division of W. W. Norton).

© 2015 John Edward Terrell. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. The statements and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not constitute official statements or positions of the Editors and others associated with SCIENCE DIALOGUES.

Human biogeography 2. Human diversity

John Edward Terrell


Please note: this commentary, recovered on 15-Jan-2017, was originally published in Science Dialogues on 5-Feb-2015.


Abstract – Human biogeography is not a thriving scientific enterprise. Why? In part because our species is remarkably talented at niche construction and highly inventive at adapting our socially learned ways of making a living and staying alive to meet the challenges and opportunities around us wherever we find ourselves on the planet. Nonetheless there is political as well as scientific need in the 21st century for an inclusive biogeographical perspective on human diversity recognizing that we are a globally distributed species whose diversity is framed by isolation-by-distance constrained by our social, economic, and political networks, and whose impact on the environment and our own sustainability is substantial and critically in need of informed restructuring.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series at SCIENCE DIALOGUES.


GENETIC EVIDENCE BOTH MOLECULAR AND METRIC now supports instead two robust observations about the biogeography of our species. First, our global physical diversity is structured not by geographic isolation, but instead by isolation-by-distance constrained by social, economic, and political networks (e.g., Lao et al. 2008; see also below) and the specifics of local geography. Said less awkwardly, people as a rule are similar to those nearby and differ from those living farther away. Second, we are proficient at crossing the lines we draw between ourselves and others. Social, cultural, economic, and political barriers are only as real as we want to make them, and social realities are in constant flux and renegotiation (Bashkow 2004).

To infer, as Nicholas Wade and others have done, that we have normally lived in isolated tribal groups until quite recently—say, before globalization—resurrects what the anthropologist Alexander Lesser once dubbed the myth of the primitive isolate—the belief that there were savage tribes before and after 1492 that were circumscribed, timeless societies having few and mostly hostile dealings with one another (Lesser 1961; Lewis 2008; Vincent 2009).

Ethnic stereotypes

Fredrik Barth has remarked that practically all social science reasoning rests on the notion that there are discrete groups of people on earth that can be variously labeled as populations, ethnic groups, societies, cultures, or races (Barth 1969). This way of charting our diversity—commonly called typological or categorical thinking—takes it as self-evident that things naturally come in different kinds, or types, that may legitimately be labeled as such. From this perspective, the words we use to describe things are like empty containers into which we can put things once we have grasped the essential meaning of these verbal containers.

Bild aus Seite 541 in “Die Gartenlaube.” Image from page 541 of journal Die Gartenlaube, 1887. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Die_Gartenlaube_(1887)_b_541_2.jpg

From this perspective, it would seem self-evident that different kinds of people live in different parts of the world. After all, who could possibly mistake an African for an Asian or someone of Irish descent? Nor is this just a Euro-American way of parsing real or assumed geographic variation within our species. The anthropologist James Watson reported half a century ago, for example, that people he knew well in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea had no difficulty pointing out to him how they saw themselves as different from other people in neighboring places despite the fact that these many small communities were intermittently marked by relocations, realignments, and the patriation of immigrants who had been expelled by hostile neighbors from their own lands—so much so, Watson related, that “to the literal-minded genealogist, the long-term kinship and continuity of each such group seem confused, even compromised” (Watson 1990: 17). Yet despite the demographic instability of these communities, he found that people there were generally quite confident they could draw lines between themselves and others for “no matter how permeable their boundaries or how checkered the history of their membership, they will consider themselves and will be thought to be distinct ethnic units” (Watson 1990: 18).

Group selectionism

The belief that people come in recognizable different types, kinds, or races is often paired with the notion that we are inherently selfish, intolerant, and aggressive—in a word, that we are all bullies at birth needing years of nurturance to become kind and socially adept humans. In this vein, the biogeographer Edward O. Wilson has written that when asked if humans are innately aggressive, he replies: “This is a favorite question of college seminars and cocktail party conversations,” he writes, “and one that raises emotion in political ideologues of all stripes. The answer to it is yes.” (Wilson 1978: 99).

The Emin Pasha Relief Expedition under attack from an African natives. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Emin_Pasha_Relief_Expedition_under_attack_Wellcome_L0034831.jpg

Recently Wilson underscored one of the major assertions behind this way of thinking about ourselves: that competition among groups rather than cooperation has been a powerful driving force behind the evolution of our species and our behavior as individuals. As Wilson has recently phrased the thought: “Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group was a principal driving force that made us what we are. . . . Each tribe knew with justification that if it was not armed and ready, its very existence was imperiled” (Wilson 2012: 62).

This is not the place to argue against such understandings of what it means to be human (Terrell 2014). Briefly put, as Robert Sussman has written: “To say that humans have a propensity for violence says nothing. We also have a propensity for nonviolence. In fact, the norm, or statistically more common behavior, within human groups is cooperation and among human groups is peace. Violence, both within and among societies, is statistically abnormal” (Sussman in: Fuentes et al. 2010).

Acknowledgments

I thank Eric Clark, Mark Golitko, John Hart, and Kevin Kelly for comments on the working draft.

References      § = suggested further reading

Banks, W. E. (2013). Review of Harcourt, Human biogeography. Quarterly Review of Biology 88, 39–40.

Barth, F. (1969). Introduction. In Barth, F. (ed.) Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of culture difference, pp 9–38. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Bashkow, I. (2004). A neo-Boasian conception of cultural boundaries. American Anthropologist 106, 443–458.

Caspari, R. (2003). From types to populations: A century of race, physical anthropology, and the American Anthropological Association. American Anthropologist 105, 65–76.

Castree, N. (2009). Charles Darwin and the geographers. Environment and Planning A 41, 2293–2298. §

Cox, C. B. and Moore, P. D. (2010). Biogeography: An ecological and evolutionary approach. 8th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Elhaik, E., Tatarinova, T., Chebotarev, D. et al. (2014). Geographic population structure analysis of worldwide human populations infers their biogeographical origins. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4513.

Fuentes, A., Marks, J., Ingold, T. et al. (2010). On nature and the human. American Anthropologist 112, 512–521.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology 78, 1360–1380. §

Harcourt, A. H. (2012). Human biogeography. Berkeley: University of California Press. §

Hart, J. P. (2012). Why we are what and where we are. Science 338, 330.

Hellenthal, G., Busby, G. B. J., Band, G. et al. (2014). A genetic atlas of human admixture history. Science 343, 747–751.

Kelly, K. M.  (2002). Population. In Hart, J. P. & Terrell, J. E. (eds.) Darwin and archaeology: A handbook of key concepts, pp 243–256. Westport, Ct: Bergin & Garvey. §

Kivelä, M., Arnaud-Haond, S. and Saramäki, J. (2015).  EDENetworks: A user-friendly software to build and analyse networks in biogeography, ecology and population genetics. Molecular Ecology Resources 15, 117–122.

Koelsch, W. A. (2004). Franz Boas, geographer, and the problem of disciplinary identity. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 40, 1–22.

Kolata, G. B. (1974). Human biogeography: Similarities between man and beast. Science 185, 134–135.

Laland, K. N. and O’Brien, M. J. (2011). Cultural niche construction: An introduction. Biological Theory 6, 191–202.

Lao, O., Lu, T. T., Nothnagel, M. et al. (2008). Correlation between genetic and geographic structure in Europe. Current Biology 18, 1241–1248.

Lesser, A. (1961). Social fields and the evolution of society. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 17, 40-48. §

Lewis, H. S. (2008). Franz Boas: Boon or bane? Reviews in Anthropology 37, 169–200.

Odling-Smee, F. J., Laland, K. N. and Feldman, M. W. (2003). Niche construction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Radil, S. M., Flint, C. and Tita, G. E. (2010). Spatializing social networks: Using social network analysis to investigate geographies of gang rivalry, territoriality, and violence in Los Angeles. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100, 307–326. §

Simon, H. A. (1973). The organization of complex systems. In Pattee, H. H. (ed.) Hierarchy theory: The challenge of complex systems, pp 1–27. New York: George Braziller.

Stocking, G. W., Jr (1987). Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press.

Terrell, J. E. (1977a). Biology, biogeography and man. World Archaeology 8, 237–248.

Terrell, J. E. (1977b). Geographic systems and human diversity in the North Solomons. World Archaeology 9, 62–81.

Terrell, J. E. (1977c). Human biogeography in the Solomon Islands. Fieldiana: Anthropology 68, 1–47.

Terrell J. E. (2006). Human biogeography: Evidence of our place in nature. Journal of Biogeography 33, 2088–2098. §

Terrell, J. E. (2010a). Language and material culture on the Sepik coast of Papua New Guinea: Using social network analysis to simulate, graph, identify, and analyze social and cultural boundaries between communities. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 5, 3–32.

Terrell, J. E. (2010b). Social network analysis of the genetic structure of Pacific Islanders. Annals of Human Genetics 74, 211–232. §

Terrell, J. E. (2014). A talent for friendship: Rediscovery of a remarkable trait. Oxford: Oxford University Press. §

Verdon, M. (2006). The world upside down: Boas, history, evolutionism, and science. History and Anthropology 17, 171–187.

Verdon, M. (2007). Franz Boas: Cultural history for the present, or obsolete natural history? Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 13, 433–451.

Vincent, J. (2009). Ahead of his time? Production and reception in the work of Alexander Lesser. American Ethnologist 15, 743–751.

Wade, N. (2014). A troublesome inheritance: Genes, race and human history. New York: Penguin Press.

Watson, J. B. (1990). Other people do other things: Lamarckian identities in Kainantu subdistrict, Papua New Guinea. In Linnekin, J. & Poyer, L. (eds.) Cultural identity and ethnicity in the Pacific, pp 17–41. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Wilson, E. O. (1978). On human nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, E. O. (2012). The social conquest of the earth. New York: Liveright (a division of W. W. Norton).

© 2015 John Edward Terrell. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. The statements and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not constitute official statements or positions of the Editors and others associated with SCIENCE DIALOGUES.

Human biogeography 1. Historical rivals

John Edward Terrell


Please note: this commentary, recovered on 15-Jan-2017, was originally published in Science Dialogues on 28-Jan-2015.


Abstract – Human biogeography is not a thriving scientific enterprise. Why? In part because our species is remarkably talented at niche construction and highly inventive at adapting our socially learned ways of making a living and staying alive to meet the challenges and opportunities around us wherever we find ourselves on the planet. Nonetheless there is political as well as scientific need in the 21st century for an inclusive biogeographical perspective on human diversity recognizing that we are a globally distributed species whose diversity is framed by isolation-by-distance constrained by our social, economic, and political networks, and whose impact on the environment and our own sustainability is substantial and critically in need of informed restructuring.

This is part 1 or a 3 part series at SCIENCE DIALOGUES


THERE OUGHT TO BE A NICHE in the economy of evolutionary biology for a research specialization called human biogeography, but use any search engine you favor and these two words as your key terms. You will find that while human geography has existed long enough to give rise to many sub-specializations (Castree 2009), human biogeography does not exist as a thriving scholarly enterprise, has given rise to no subfields, and is rarely noted as a possible contender for competitive research funding. Why? There are several reasons for this apparent truancy in the academic arena as well as an important lesson to be drawn for evolutionary biology.

Historical rivals

While the roots of modern species biogeography date back into the 18th century and before (Cox and Moore 2010), it has been conventional in Euro-American circles to treat human beings as apart from and even above the natural world (e.g., accounts of Creation in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament). Perhaps for this reason, diverse research specializations such as ethnology, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, geography, physical anthropology, and the like took hold in the 19th century and early lay claim to much, if not all, of that century’s growing information about our own species diversity in its several dimensions—biological, cultural, social, ecological, economic, and linguistic (Stocking 1987). It seems possible—although perhaps difficult to prove—that seeing global human biodiversity as comparable in interesting ways to the diversity, relative abundance, and spatiotemporal distributions of other life forms has generally not been deemed appropriate or worthy. Alternatively, it might be argued that human biogeography was being practiced at least in the 19th century, but under the labeling physical geography, anthropogeography, or Erdkunde (Koelsch 2004). Whatever the explanation, other sciences have largely preempted the stage when the biogeography of human diversity is given serious attention.

Nature and nurture

Human biogeography has not been successful at establishing itself in the academic arena and marketplace in part also because it became increasingly apparent during the 19th century that our species is remarkably talented—to use today’s terminology—at environmental niche construction (Odling-Smee et al. 2003) as well as strikingly inventive at adapting our socially learned (i.e., “cultural”) ways of making a living and staying alive to meet the challenges as well as the prospective opportunities around us wherever we have found ourselves on the planet (Laland and O’Brien 2011). Hence centering research exclusively on the biological, epidemiological, and ecological side of being human might be asking us to overlook many and possibly most of the probable reasons accounting for our presence and impacts on local and regional environments as well as the global biosphere.

Folk human biogeography

Despite the growing sophistication during the 19th century of scientific ways of studying and interpreting human diversity in its many dimensions, older commonsensical ways of understanding our global variation as a species continued to hold sway in the public arena (Lewis 2008). Many of these old ideas survived the 20th century (Caspari 2003) and remain popular today. Two notions, in particular, are often voiced although there is by now more than sufficient evidence to the contrary. The first is the belief that we are an inherently tribal species. The second is the conviction that we are by nature untrustworthy, self-centered, and prone to violence.

The anthropologist Gustaf Retzius at work between circa 1870 and 1890. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antropologen_Gustaf_Retzius_i_f%C3%A4rd_med_att_m%C3%A4ta_h%C3%A4rjedalssamen_Fjellstedts_huvud_-_Nordiska_Museet_-_NMA.0052720.jpg PD-1923

For example, Nicholas Wade recently insisted that after we began leaving Africa around 50,000 years ago and started colonizing the rest of the world, we subsequently evolved in isolation on each of the earth’s major continents into biologically distinct races, which both popular wisdom and Wade say are three or so in number (Africans, Asians, and Caucasians) because “human evolution has been recent, copious and regional” and these dispersing human pioneers broke up into small tribal groups as they spread out across the globe. “The mixing of genes between these little populations was probably very limited. Even if geography had not been a formidable barrier, the hunter-gatherer groups were territorial and mostly hostile to strangers” (Wade 2014: 78).

Such interpretations may be appealing in their simplicity, but they are more in keeping with folk wisdom than with available research findings.

Acknowledgments

I thank Eric Clark, Mark Golitko, John Hart, and Kevin Kelly for comments on the working draft.

References      § = suggested further reading

Banks, W. E. (2013). Review of Harcourt, Human biogeography. Quarterly Review of Biology 88, 39–40.

Barth, F. (1969). Introduction. In Barth, F. (ed.) Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of culture difference, pp 9–38. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Bashkow, I. (2004). A neo-Boasian conception of cultural boundaries. American Anthropologist 106, 443–458.

Caspari, R. (2003). From types to populations: A century of race, physical anthropology, and the American Anthropological Association. American Anthropologist 105, 65–76.

Castree, N. (2009). Charles Darwin and the geographers. Environment and Planning A 41, 2293–2298. §

Cox, C. B. and Moore, P. D. (2010). Biogeography: An ecological and evolutionary approach. 8th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Elhaik, E., Tatarinova, T., Chebotarev, D. et al. (2014). Geographic population structure analysis of worldwide human populations infers their biogeographical origins. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4513.

Fuentes, A., Marks, J., Ingold, T. et al. (2010). On nature and the human. American Anthropologist 112, 512–521.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology 78, 1360–1380. §

Harcourt, A. H. (2012). Human biogeography. Berkeley: University of California Press. §

Hart, J. P. (2012). Why we are what and where we are. Science 338, 330.

Hellenthal, G., Busby, G. B. J., Band, G. et al. (2014). A genetic atlas of human admixture history. Science 343, 747–751.

Kelly, K. M.  (2002). Population. In Hart, J. P. & Terrell, J. E. (eds.) Darwin and archaeology: A handbook of key concepts, pp 243–256. Westport, Ct: Bergin & Garvey. §

Kivelä, M., Arnaud-Haond, S. and Saramäki, J. (2015).  EDENetworks: A user-friendly software to build and analyse networks in biogeography, ecology and population genetics. Molecular Ecology Resources 15, 117–122.

Koelsch, W. A. (2004). Franz Boas, geographer, and the problem of disciplinary identity. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 40, 1–22.

Kolata, G. B. (1974). Human biogeography: Similarities between man and beast. Science 185, 134–135.

Laland, K. N. and O’Brien, M. J. (2011). Cultural niche construction: An introduction. Biological Theory 6, 191–202.

Lao, O., Lu, T. T., Nothnagel, M. et al. (2008). Correlation between genetic and geographic structure in Europe. Current Biology 18, 1241–1248.

Lesser, A. (1961). Social fields and the evolution of society. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 17, 40-48. §

Lewis, H. S. (2008). Franz Boas: Boon or bane? Reviews in Anthropology 37, 169–200.

Odling-Smee, F. J., Laland, K. N. and Feldman, M. W. (2003). Niche construction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Radil, S. M., Flint, C. and Tita, G. E. (2010). Spatializing social networks: Using social network analysis to investigate geographies of gang rivalry, territoriality, and violence in Los Angeles. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100, 307–326. §

Simon, H. A. (1973). The organization of complex systems. In Pattee, H. H. (ed.) Hierarchy theory: The challenge of complex systems, pp 1–27. New York: George Braziller.

Stocking, G. W., Jr (1987). Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press.

Terrell, J. E. (1977a). Biology, biogeography and man. World Archaeology 8, 237–248.

Terrell, J. E. (1977b). Geographic systems and human diversity in the North Solomons. World Archaeology 9, 62–81.

Terrell, J. E. (1977c). Human biogeography in the Solomon Islands. Fieldiana: Anthropology 68, 1–47.

Terrell J. E. (2006). Human biogeography: Evidence of our place in nature. Journal of Biogeography 33, 2088–2098. §

Terrell, J. E. (2010a). Language and material culture on the Sepik coast of Papua New Guinea: Using social network analysis to simulate, graph, identify, and analyze social and cultural boundaries between communities. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 5, 3–32.

Terrell, J. E. (2010b). Social network analysis of the genetic structure of Pacific Islanders. Annals of Human Genetics 74, 211–232. §

Terrell, J. E. (2014). A talent for friendship: Rediscovery of a remarkable trait. Oxford: Oxford University Press. §

Verdon, M. (2006). The world upside down: Boas, history, evolutionism, and science. History and Anthropology 17, 171–187.

Verdon, M. (2007). Franz Boas: Cultural history for the present, or obsolete natural history? Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 13, 433–451.

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