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Why Did It Take Farmers and Philosophers So Long to Understand Heredity?
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A curious question is: Why did selective breeding in agriculture show enormous successes here and there — e.g., corn in prehistoric Mexico, the breeding of much larger horses from the chariot ponies of the Bronze Age to the huge horses that could carry medieval knights in shining armor — but … nobody seemed to have much of a clue how to methodically go about breeding better crops and livestock until England in the 18th Century?

The impressive intellectual Gwern Branwen devotes a long essay to this question in a review of a 1986 book by Nicholas Russell entitled Like Engend’ring Like: Heredity and Animal Breeding in Early Modern England. Gwern writes:

People, both ordinary and men of leisure, have been farming animals for millennia and presumably interfering in their reproduction, and had ample opportunity to informally observe many matings, long pedigrees, crosses between breeds, and comparisons with neighboring farmers, and they had great incentive to reach correct beliefs not just for the immediate & compounding returns but also from being able to sell their superior specimens for improving other herds.

But surviving theoretical scientific discussions of heredity are baffling. People lurch between ‘only fathers matter’ & ‘only mothers matter’, endlessly elaborating on wildly speculative (and wildly wrong) mechanistic explanations of how exactly sperm & eggs & embryos connected and formed …

I suspect that many farmers’ discoveries before the 18th Century were kept as trade secrets, so there was little general advancement, despite isolated accomplishments. Note that Isaac Newton in the later 17th Century was inclined to keep his physics and math discoveries as trade secrets of his business of being a sage, and he had to be cajoled into publishing them by his more modern-minded Royal Society pals.

In contrast, Darwin’s books 175 years later are full of information sent to him by a multitude of correspondents, whom he credits by name.

The concept of “publish or perish” is much derided, but the idea that you should tell the world about your discoveries has done a lot for the world.

Gwern focuses on Robert Bakewell (1725-1795), an English sheep breeder who made methodical breeding of more productive lines of sheep fashionable. Bakewell never published anything on what he was up to, so it’s difficult to tell what exactly he accomplished. But it’s clear he was a charming host and generous mentor who exemplified for his peers the improving spirit of the agricultural revolution. Darwin cited Bakewell as showing that artificial selection worked, thus implying that natural selection could work by happenstance.

Gwern’s essay is full of interest. Here’s one paragraph on one of my favorite topics: that the British obsession with horseracing fed into the Anglo-Scottish intellectual revolution associated with names like Smith, Darwin, and Galton:

The aristocratic & government interest in racehorses & war horses gradually led to many specialized horses being kept and better record-keeping. The creation of the “stud book” and the classist superstition of “blood” in horses, where even distant ancestry from a famous thoroughbred elevated a horse above common horses, appears to have accidentally backed into success: by creating a reason to track ancestry carefully, and importantly, ensuring that a thoroughbred’s offspring with a horse not in ‘the book’ would be worth much less (regardless of their performance or true genetic potential), a closed breeding population under steady selection was created and ensured that what progress was made was not then immediately undone by careless haphazard matings. Arabian/Turkish stallions were permitted, and now that they were no longer being immediately diluted by outside 100%-non-thoroughbred horses, gradually “graded up” the closed thoroughbred gene pool towards more Arabian/Turkish genes. Further, the mania for racing was not satisfied by the stock of mature stallions so races began expanding to include younger horses (accelerating generational turnover and thus annual gains) and also mares (finally capturing critical performance data and allowing selection on the other half of the equation). Before too long, the import of full-blooded Arabian stallions was no longer particularly necessary as thoroughbred performance had thoroughly outraced them. Russell remarks that thoroughbreds, like cats or dogs, were then (and still are, based on the crudity of the racehorse genetics papers I’ve read) bred in an unsystematic and inefficient manner, but this seems to have been enough.

Our word “race,” meaning a lineage or breed, is etymologically linked to our word “race” meaning a test of speed, in part because breeding faster racehorses took up a lot of space in the English mind.

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  1. Recording and disseminating information in ancient times was hard. What is more amazing is how quickly knowledge exploded after the advent of the printing press.

  2. sz says:

    “Race”, as in a competition between runners, horses etc., and “race”, as in a major division of mankind, are wholly unrelated homonyms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first derives from Old Norse “rás”, meaning “current”, which was borrowed by late Old English with the sense “rapid forward movement”, whence eventually “contest of speed”. The second derives from the Italian “razza”, which entered English via the French “race” (e.g. la race humaine). There is no etymological link between the two words whatsoever.

    • Replies: @Liza
  3. slumber_j says:

    As with “Ahmet Ertegun,” I have a hard time believing “Gwern Branwen” isn’t a back-spelled pseudonym.

    • Replies: @Buzz Mohawk
  4. Graham says:

    Please add “not” to the sentence:

    Our word “race,” meaning a lineage or breed, is etymologically linked to our word “race” meaning a test of speed, in part because breeding faster racehorses took up a lot of space in the English mind.

    The first seems to come from Italian ‘razza’ via French; the second from Old Norse ‘ras’ (running).

    • Replies: @Hail
  5. @slumber_j

    … I have a hard time believing “Gwern Branwen” isn’t a back-spelled pseudonym.

    Actually, it may be the real name of impressive intellectual Steve Martin, as he explains here:

    • LOL: Cloudbuster
  6. Luke Lea says:

    Weren’t the English upper classes also cognisant of the importance of good breeding among themselves? They certainly talked about it a lot, especially when it came to choosing marriage partners for themselves and their children. Of course economic factors were also considered important — so-and-so had an income of so many thousand pounds a year is the sort of comment you find in the novels of Jane
    Austin and in the writings of many other authors. But heredity or “good blood” was also a major consideration. I’ve not seen much discussion of this particular topic.

  7. Anonymous[292] • Disclaimer says:

    It has to be remembered that back in those days, farm stock was, by necessity, generally multi- purpose animals.
    Thus bovines were bred for meat, dairy and draught purposes, chickens for both eggs and meat, sheep for meat and wool etc.
    The English selective breeders of the 18th century onwards generally bred for one exaggerated characteristic in their animals, be it wool production, meat, dairy etc. As is well known breeding for just one characteristic is generally to the detriment for their other characteristics not bred for. Thus, there was no incentive for the typical yeoman farmer to take this course.

    • Replies: @Hypnotoad666
  8. Anon[387] • Disclaimer says:

    I was going to mention some famous early 20th century guy on the West coast who I seem to remember didn’t publish anything about his breeding discoveries … I may be completely misremembering it. At any rate, in my attempt to Google up the guy’s name I read the George Washington Carver Wikipedia entry, because I seem to remember a famous guy, maybe Carver, visiting the guy I’m trying to remember.


    I had no idea that George Washington Carver was such a fraud. He was the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of his day.

    No Ph.D.

    No useful patents to speak of.

    The popular press mistakenly credited him with all kinds of stuff he didn’t do so they could write about a magic negro, as did politicians, his university, and others.

    And there is this weird sidebar: “There are some rumors that Carver was castrated.”

  9. Another factor is that animal breeding is a long term investment, in farming terms.

    Selecting only certain stock to breed from, means discarding most of the stock in an economically sub-optimal way, and special efforts for secluding the breeding stock, keeping them alive for many breeding cycles (so that the breeder can profit from the selectively bred stock).

    There would need to be careful and honest record keeping – and this would also need to be witnessed by believable objective witnesses.

    Then you need to convince other farmers (with shorter time horisons) to pay extra for your selectively bred stock – and for this to happen regularly they would need to accumulate personal experience that your selected stock will indeed breed true (on average) – i.e. experience that by paying more for selectively bred sheep you will indeed get more wool or meat – and such traits will in turn be transmitted to their offspring.

    Overall, it would probably take a few decades (with most farm animals), and rather exceptional social circumstances, for the majority of farmers to believe that it was worth the extra expense and effort to buy and use selectively bred stock.

    I think you would also need a pretty high average intelligence and conscientiousness among breeders and ordinary farmers for all this to work – as Greg Clark showed in Farewell to Alms, it probably took until about 1600 before these heritable personal factors to be present in the British population.

    • Replies: @Jack D
    , @Kratoklastes
  10. Anon[387] • Disclaimer says:


    Slate just published a condescending story on Southern white trash parents who sent their kids to private schools after Brown v. Board of Education, to keep them away from n*****s.

    The October issue of The Atlantic had a long piece by Prospect Heights, Brooklyn-dwelling left-wing journalist/novelist/playwright George Packer on how he and his wife sent their kids to very selective public schools, and finally to a private school, to keep them away from (too many) (of the wrong sort of) negros of color.

    When you peel away the bullshit, these are more or less the same story.

  11. BB753 says:

    The etymology of “race” is uncertain. In English the word came through Norman French “rasse”, from Italian “razza”. Possible candidates: a form derived from “rad-ix” (rooot), or the most likely candidate phonetically: “rati-o” (yes, the very same English noun ratio”) , used in the sense of comparing (ratio) different stocks in breeding. But it would have to sound like “ratia” to turn into Italian “razza” or Spanish “raza”, ( in Castilian, before the XVII century, sounding something like “RATSA”) either from a derived form, or the change occurred in Medieval Italian (razzo>razza).
    When referring to human races, the classical Latin term was “gens (plural” gentes”, in the sense of lineage) or “stirps” ( stock) , or “genus” (kinship).
    Some authors however especulate Germanic or even Arabic etymology.

  12. @Cloudbuster

    “Recording and disseminating information in ancient times was hard.”

    For a lot of people back then (I don’t mean Archimedes, I mean your average schlump), an even harder question was: figuring out what exactly counted as “information”. Kepler basically discovered the law of gravity before Newton did, but he didn’t know that that was what he’d done, or what he was really looking at, because at the same time he was also staring at a lot of metaphysical hoodoo and he couldn’t tell these things apart.

    People’s heads used to be filled with all sorts of zany confusing theological or neo-Platonic or Talmudic or Vedic or Koranic or neo-Confucian hooey, and for century after century, in pretty much every major civilization (we’re not talking about savages or barbarians here), it was a pretty hard slog for some ordinary dude to even figure out what constituted “knowledge,” because so many of the intellectual gatekeepers were neck-deep in abstruse non-falsifiable quasi-mystical horsesh!t. Steve is right to bring up “trade secrets” in that regard. If you lived on the manor instead of in the pig sty, and your only ticket was being literate and pretending to know some half-remembered mumbo-jumbo from some guy who claimed to know Aristotle, you’d play your cards pretty close to your vest too.

    • Replies: @Coemgen
  13. Dr. Doom says:

    It’s simple Steve. Altruism like science only shares advances in High Trust societies. Low Trust societies are filled with tyranny and corruption.
    That’s why I and others fight against multi-racial and multiculturalism programs.

  14. Jon says:

    What is more amazing is how quickly knowledge exploded after the advent of the printing press.

    A Korean actually developed a version of the printing press centuries before Gutenberg, but it didn’t spread to the masses.

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
  15. anon[278] • Disclaimer says:

    I suspect most farmers and others understood the concept of heredity, probably better than the average person today. Their race realism and emphasis on “family stock” did not come from a vacuum. But they lacked two components: the mechanism of DNA and the idea of natural selection.

  16. peterike says:

    Tangentially, for those interested in the horsey world, I highly recommend Jane Smiley’s novel “Horse Heaven.” It’s a fun read, gives you all kinds of views into different aspects of the thoroughbred world (how accurate I don’t know, but it feels as researched as a Tom Wolfe novel), and in a nice twist several of the main characters in the book are the horses themselves, each with a very distinct personality.

    • Replies: @Lockean Proviso
  17. Gather round, children. I have a question for all my Yankee friends over there.

    Here in Gross Cuckstain, the 2 Deep State industries with the most highly concentrated vermin infestation – Advertising & perma Home Office – have got together to make a piece of repulsive, pozzed out lying cr…. I mean Public Service Broadcast at the expense of the WM taxpayer.

    Still concentrating, my friends across the Atlantic? Good. Now here comes the Qs:

    In this po… Advert is a warning against bad driving.

    Now assign the demographic (in letters) to the character (in numbers):

    A – A White Man
    B – A dindu Man
    C – A White girl
    D – A black Boy

    1 – the victim of a car accident
    2 – a passenger in a car
    3 – an obnoxious, angry, incompetent driver who causes an accident
    4 – a passenger of a car

    Just listed 4 ARSE lies. There are around 6 million of them but prolly illegal to list then all

  18. @Luke Lea

    Weren’t the English upper classes also cognisant of the importance of good breeding among themselves?

    Yes, and no. Certainly Jane Austen and her contemporaries were very concerned about young ladies being “well-bred”, but when they used this term they really meant “well-raised” and had no concept of genetics or hereditary talents. At best “well-bred” meant that they came from an well-esteemed and wealthy family.

    You did not want your will-bred daughter marrying someone poor and uneducated.

    Similarly the term “ill-bred”, just means bad-mannered rather than someone of peasant stock. Similarly a “cur” was a term of abuse, likening a person to a mongrel dog.

    People in the prescientific age were certainly aware of the need to breed healthy animals which were fit for purpose. Only the best bulls were allowed to breed, the rest of the males became beef and leather.

    As stated above, the word race has two different derivations. A mill race is a channel where the speed of water is accelerated so that it can drive a water wheel. Race horses compete within a channel defined by fences.

    In England a racetrack is called a race course, so again similarities with a water course–a natural or artifial channel through which water flows or races.

  19. ic1000 says:

    Here is a link to gwern’s 2018 review of Nicholas Russell’s 1986 book.

    Origins of Innovation: Bakewell & Breeding.

  20. Sean says:

    In a groundbreaking study, biologists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have figured out why, at least in one species: genes that are good for males are bad for females and, perhaps, vice versa. The scientists studied red deer, 3,559 of them from eight generations, living on Scotland’s Isle of Rum. They carefully noted each animal’s fitness, who mated with whom, how many offspring survived, which offspring mated and with what results. Bottom line: “male red deer with relatively high fitness fathered, on average, daughters with relatively low fitness,”

    CH Waddington said something similar about this in relation to breeding dairy cattle. It has also been observed
    in thoroughbreds.

    There has been some criticism of Secretariat as a stallion, mainly because he did not produce male offspring of his own ability and did not leave a leading sire son behind, but his legacy is assured though the quality of his daughters, several of whom were excellent racers and even more of whom were excellent producers

    Man o’ War was successful at stud though, he was the grand sire of Seabiscuit, a dud at stud. Seabiscuit needed a wise trainer for him to fulfill his potential.

    Frankie Grande linked to hardcore gay PORN

    His sister

  21. @Jonathan Mason

    When I was young in England we would sometimes go to a type of horse racing called “point-to-point”or “racing between the flags”.

    These were held not on official race courses with rails, but on makeshift circuits on farmer’s fields, with real hedges for the jumps. The horses had to be thoroughbreds, but professional trainers were not allowed to enter horses. There was beer and betting.

  22. NIV Genesis 30:31 “What shall I give you?” he (Laban) asked.

    “Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.”

    34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. 36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

    37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

    Looks like Jacob knew a little about breeding what he wanted 4,000 years ago. The hocus pocus with the branches confused his competitors. He allowed only the variety he wanted to breed with matching mates.

    • Replies: @Sean
  23. The Z Blog says: • Website

    Why did it take humans so long to figure out farming? The first farmers were not appreciably different from their hunter-gatherer forebears. Even assuming that the physical form of modern humans had reached an optimum, but the cognitive side was lagging, it still should not have taken so long to master farming.

    Most likely, the answer to the sapient paradox is the answer to the tectonic paradox.

  24. @Luke Lea

    It should have been obvious by the time of Charles II in Spain. Or at least by the time he was three years old in 1644.

    What is the first document where the writer dared to say the royals family marriages were a biological hazard?

  25. Hail says: • Website

    Fun with etymology:

    race [running contest sense] – late Old English, from Old Norse rás ‘current’. It was originally a northern English word with the sense ‘rapid forward movement’, which gave rise to the senses ‘contest of speed’ (early 16th century) and ‘channel, path’ (i.e. the space traversed). The verb dates from the late 15th century.

    race [as in people regarded as of common ancestral stock] – early 16th century (denoting a group with common features): via French from Italian razza, of unknown ultimate origin.


    possibly from Italian razza, of unknown origin (cognate with Spanish and Portuguese raza). Etymologists say no connection with Latin radix “root,” though they admit this might have influenced the “tribe, nation” sense.

    Meaning “tribe, nation, or people regarded as of common stock” is by 1560s.

    So the race-as-ethnic-group (1560s, per Etymonline) follows race-as-contest-of-speed (early 16th century) by several decades. But none of these timid etymologists are willing to take a firm position on where race-as-ethnic-group came from, except to suggest the obvious relationship with the Latin languages’ razza and variants.

    • Replies: @David
  26. gwood says:

    In Downton Abbey they refer to Burke’s Peerage as the stud book.

    • Replies: @Old Palo Altan
  27. Jack D says:

    There were a lot of things that people had no idea about until relatively recently. No one connected germs with disease until Pasteur in 1860. No one connected yellow fever to mosquitoes until Finlay in 1870 and then it took ANOTHER 30 years for his theory to be accepted. Stuff that seems obvious to us is only obvious in retrospect.

    That being said, I think that animal breeding has been done for a LONG time. The Chow Chow dog, obviously the product of selective breeding, has been documented back to 200 BC and there are several other breeds that are equally old or older and highly diverged from wolves in a way that only could have been accomplished thru an intentional breeding program.

    • Agree: jim jones
    • Replies: @A123
    , @Kratoklastes
    , @Kronos
  28. Jack D says:

    You often see the opposite happen where a highly masculine dad marries a very petite and feminine Ariana Grande type or a fashion model and their daughters turn out to take after dad and are built like linebackers.

  29. In the Republic by Plato, Socrates goes on and on about the benefits of proper breeding of song birds. He uses that example because the student he’s talking to happens to sell song birds at the market.

    He then goes on to argue that society should start carefully breeding it’s citizens. He even suggests ways the government could do it, starting with boarding schools to get the parents out of the equation and increase society/government influence on the pairings.

    So the breeding and heredity was known and published way back in Greek times.

  30. Jack D says:
    @bruce charlton

    Animal breeding suffered a setback in America because resources were less constrained or constrained in a different way. When Americans arrived in the former Mexican territory they just rounded up the semi-wild populations of longhorn cattle and mustangs that had escaped from the Spanish over the centuries so there was no real effort at breeding at first.

  31. @Sean

    Wow. There’s not enough testosterone between the two of them to make one real man.

  32. I imagine that for most animals segregating breeding stock from general stock would be the problem with establishing a well-defined breed book and conformation standard. What would be required is the keeping a bunch of bovine or ovine mouths that you have to feed over time on the prospect that small improvements over generations will accumulate to create a significantly more economically beneficial animal.

    Still, I gather that general types which were more beneficial did develop, and that humans had a hand in that development, even before the advent of stricter modern breed standards. For example, the Highland Cattle is a breed noted for its long shaggy coat of hair. Apparently the purpose of the hair is to insulate the cattle against the cold and wind of the Highlands. Cattle without this insulating hair could exist in the Highlands, but would convert feed to insulating fat rather than beef – in other words, the shaggy Highland Cattle are more efficient at converting feed into beef due to their coats, and beef gets a better economic return at market than suet.

    I thought you may find these BBC series of interest, beginning with “Tudor Monastery Farm,” in which modern historians are tasked with living on a farm for a year while practicing farm and animal husbandry methods from the given era for a year and in some cases re-creating the society:

    The same historians do several of these series including “Edwardian Farm” and “Victorian Farm.”

  33. songbird says:

    I wonder how much of breeding of livestock, etc. may have been accidental – dependent on climate and the land. For instance, in Ireland there were bog ponies. Often they were pretty much wild, living off the worst land, but every now and again they’d be caught and put to work before being released again. They are said to be adapted to walking on soft, boggy land.

    I’ve heard that coon cats were the result of long, hard winters in Maine killing off the short-haired cats.

    I could potentially see the land helping to shape some breeds which were exported elsewhere.

  34. A123 says:
    @Jack D

    several other breeds that are equally old or older and highly diverged from wolves in a way that only could have been accomplished thru an intentional breeding program.

    One wonders if dogs are actually descendants of foxes not wolves. Foxes seem much easier to domesticate. (1)




    • Replies: @MEH 0910
    , @Jack D
  35. @Jack D

    So they are less fit, in the Darwin sense, then their mother. Just like he said.

  36. Why Did It Take Farmers and Philosophers So Long to Understand Heredity?

    It didn’t. Such people have long, long understood what many of the commenters here seem not to, viz that “understanding heredity” means primarily accepting that heredity cannot be understood in any systematic way. Heredity exists to be sure, but like life itself it has a rhythm not a system. There are recurrences but not rules, and there is variation upon variation all the way down the line.

    None other than Charles Darwin himself wrote several passages in The Origin of Species where he talked about the notorious difficulty of breeding stocks, the unpredictability of pairings, and the generally slight and superficial nature of the results of all man’s efforts in the direction of breed control. The process cannot be goal-seeked; you cannot simply declare “breed me a cubical cucumber” and then scientifically define a process likely to produce that result. You have to work with the possibilities that nature allows. A breed is something educed out of the founding stock, a development of its possibilities for well or for ill. It is not a topological transformation of X into Y.

    The most trivially perfect example of breeding true to type would be the out-and-out cloning of one creature from another. You cannot get more purebred than that. But if cloned cats have different colorings and temperaments, then even this process isn’t entirely predictable. Ordinary breeding is at best a partial cloning. It is the attempt to replicate certain qualities in the offspring that one finds present in both parents, in the hopes that the parents’ blood will overlap and stabilize or increase the expression of that quality. But if pure cloning isn’t always predictable, partial cloning certainly will not be. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and even the manner in which it deviates from perfection isn’t always predictable.

    Farmers and philosophers understand that it’s a dance. Like politics, it is the art of the possible, and quite messy. Anybody claiming to “understand” it is imputing more precision to the matter than the matter allows.

  37. nymom says:

    I agree with this…many of the farmers and herders who were in control of these things were probably illiterate anyway. Once a printing press was available I could see information spreading faster on different farming techniques as well as animal breeding…and maybe imparted to them by the more literature village members…

    Previously with no way to preserve the information available, it just died with the people who actually used it and had to be re-discovered over and over again…

    Which could be our future again at the rate we are going. Another major destructive war, another dark ages descending on the West. We could be right back where we started, no reading, no writing, no internet, no phones…

    • Replies: @Alden
  38. Sorry, all this breeding talk got me thinking about my chance meeting with Jimmy the Greek. I’m betting a lot more fun to be around than them other blokes you’re dropping.

  39. David says:

    The OED’s 10th definition for race, substantive, is “A particular class of wine, or the characteristic flavour of this, supposed to be due to the soil.” The “due to the soil” part kind of ties in with the possible radix relationship. Of all the several dozen usages offered for race as a noun, the earliest, 1520, is in this sense. “This is a cup of good romney, and drynketh well of the race.”

    The early 16th century is when Bordeaux is becoming extremely rich exporting wine (where and how Montaigne’s family got its money to buy the estate whose name we call him by). It makes sense to me that a French word for variety of of wine, a popular export, would be carried to England to become a general term for type/origin.

    • Replies: @Hail
  40. Another factor: feed supplies. It wasn’t until the Little Ice Age that the Dutch developed the first modern crop rotation. Instead of fallowing, you “rested” a field by planting it in clover, producing high-quality hay. More than traditional methods did.

  41. @Sean

    That is the sort of fact that is initially surprising but seems very reasonable the more that you think about it.

  42. anon[920] • Disclaimer says:

    We do underestimate the huge pile of knowledge that we are standing on top of. A few years ago while visiting Yorktown, Va. I spent time with a lecture and demonstration of medical techniques circa 1777. Those medicos were doing the best with what they had; bleeding made sense in their context. Avoiding bad air made sense – “malaria” stems from an Italian term for bad air. So forth and so on.

    Most of the increases in human lifespan in the 19th century almost entirely arose from improvements in sanitation and personal cleanliness – the infamous issue of doctors with dirty hands birthing babies, the man who closed a water pump in London during an epidemic, and so forth. All radical ideas at the time, as was Mendel’s work on peas.

    The very idea of recessive genes is not intuitive or obvious, although at some point it became obvious that cousin marriage was a bad idea. That was a different thread, but it ties in here.

    The ongoing assault on HBD does not bode well for future science.

  43. Altai says:

    Selective breeding implies a degree of freedom to cast off the potential offspring of the animals displaying less of the desired traits. Throughout most of human history quantity now was a premium quality of it’s own.

  44. @Jonathan Mason

    In England a racetrack is called a race course, so again similarities with a water course–a natural or artifial channel through which water flows or races.

    Probably has much to do with the French “courir” (to run) and “course” (race, as in a competitive test of speed).

    And an academic “course” (i.e., a period of study that culminates in an examination) is a cours, which is also the plural of their word for ‘court’ in the legal sense (cour). And French ‘court‘ itself is English “short” (in time, stature etc).

    Weirdly, to do the shopping is to ‘faire les courses‘. I guess French housewives are always in a hurry to get back to their wine. ZING!

    Fucking stupid language, French.

    Thankfully they’ve given up on a lot of the stupid bits: eventually they’ll get around to modular conjugations (like English: I will go, I would go, I was going .. instead of j’irai, j’irais, j’allais).

    If you ignore the Frog words that result solely from gender-specific nouns and adjectives, and from the dumb-ass array verbiage resulting directly from stupid and primitive conjugation, the gap between Frog and English vocabulary widens even further.

    We’ve got some work to do too, though: getting rid of full conjugation in key verbs: e.g., we still conjugate ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ like fucking idiots, and we cling to stupid nonsense for the 3rd person singular in a lot of verbs –
    • I go, you go, he/she goes, we go, you (pl) go;
    • I do, you do, he/she does, we go, you (pl) go.

    (There’s the odd verb where we do something stupid for the second-person singular, but I can’t think of one at the minute… it’s 5am and I’ve got a bastard of a hangover)


  45. Liza says:

    When I was a kid, 40+ years ago, we used the term “nationality” when discussing someone’s ethnic origins. I actually recall certain conversations with my little 4th and 5th grade schoolmates as to someone or other’s “nationality”. Strange (or not) that even at that age we were conscious of these kinds of things.

    Seems everyone hated the Irish in those days, too, just by way of conversation. As I grew older I saw people as white or not, but in earlier times it was about ethnic groups.

    • Replies: @Houston 1992
  46. Anon[208] • Disclaimer says:

    Economically speaking, it doesn’t make sense to create an economy with a lot of large meat animals and huge milk producers until you have a farming economy that also produces the massive grain surpluses necessary to keep them alive, as well as feed the human population. That wasn’t possible until recent times, say, in the last century or so. Most of the grain produced in the US goes to feed animals, not food. Countries like China can’t keep their meat animals alive on the grain they grow, so they import soybeans and corn from the US to supplement. A lot of other countries around the world do this. Without a grain surplus, it makes sense to keep your animals small so they don’t eat so much. They take food right out of your own human mouth otherwise.

    Early man didn’t necessarily want larger meat animals or ones that produced massive amounts of milk a day. Animals like pigs and cows flourish best if they’re eating some of the same foods that humans eat. Pigs are an omnivore with a very human-like digestive tract that loves human food. You can feed a cow on weeds, but for building muscle mass and milk, they need whole grains like wheat, barley, oats, and corn, especially the latter. In medieval times, a time period in which crop failures and famine existed, it could be a trade-off between keeping yourself and your wife and kids alive on a small and dwindling stock of grain food, or keeping your cow or pig alive. Since it made more sense to just feed your family that grain, you starved your animals.

    Remember, in medieval times, property was concentrated in the hands of a small number of landed nobles. They had the grazing rights. A lot of the poorest kept goats for milk, not cows, because a goat needs less feed and is a far less picky eater than a cow. A lot of people don’t know that merchants during medieval times rarely owned horses. They rode donkeys or mules instead, because these animals were smaller than horses, and therefore ate less, and the capital of merchants was sunk into their shop, not land that would grow a lot of cheap fodder for an animal. Anyone who wasn’t a landowner had to pay for stabling, and would want to feed their animals as cheaply as possible, and that meant some of those animals were kept near starvation, and never grew to full size.

    • Replies: @Jonathan Mason
    , @Jack D
  47. @Jonathan Mason

    “Certainly Jane Austen and her contemporaries were very concerned about young ladies being “well-bred”, but when they used this term they really meant “well-raised” and had no concept of genetics or hereditary talents”

    I’m not so sure they really did mean that. People have been noting the physical resemblances (or otherwise) between children and parents for a long time, it would be surprising if they hadn’t noted behavioural resemblances.

    “There’s bad blood in that family” is an English phrase used about criminality, insanity, physical malady etc, and it implies heritability. Google books only goes back to 1850, but here’s an example of an early blank-slater from 1854 (“Home, the School, and the Church; Or, The Presbyterian Education Repository”), suggesting that it was a result of successive lack of education. The results are in on that experiment.

    “We talk of good and bad blood in families, and there is abundant foundation in society for this distinction ; but farther and more accurate observation would prove that it was the good or bad education of the successive generations of that family…”

    Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd (1874) contains these lines, about the feckless Sergeant Troy, illegitimate son of an earl.

    “He’s a doctor’s son by name, which is a great deal; and he’s an earl’s son by nature!”

    Which is a great deal more. Fancy! Is it true?”

    “Yes. And, he was brought up so well, and sent to Casterbridge Grammar School for years and years. Learnt all languages while he was there; and it was said he got on so far that he could take down Chinese in shorthand; but that I don’t answer for, as it was only reported. However, he wasted his gifted lot, and listed a soldier; but even then he rose to be a sergeant without trying at all. Ah! such a blessing it is to be high-born; nobility of blood will shine out even in the ranks and files.

  48. @Jack D

    No one connected germs with disease until Pasteur in 1860

    Not really: Pasteur did some good experimental work, but like Lister he gets far too much credit.

    There was a pretty forward-looking work in about 1550 (De Contagione et Contagiosis Morbis by Fracastoro) that attributed disease to ‘fomites‘ (which derives from the Latin fomes ‘tinder’) – a word that is used to this day in epidemiology.

    Frascatoro referred to seminaria morbi (“seeds of illness” – echoing Galen and other ancients), that could be transmitted over long distances without person-to-person contact, and could lie dormant.

    Similarly, Arabs from the 10th century onwards (having retained access to ancient Wog knowledge that was suppressed by the Jesus death-cult in the West) had a pretty well-developed theory of transmission of disease.

    And yet in the mid-1860s in the West, Semmelweiss was basically driven mad because the dominant clique still believed in the ascientific miasma theory – despite John Snow showing in 1854 that cholera was due to contaminated water – although Snow’s work had been attacked too.

    Semmelweiss was sacked from his post, attacked (‘deplatformed’), his work was denounced, and eventually forcibly ‘committed’ to an insane asylum.

    He died from an untreated infection in a cut on his hand while in the asylum – perhaps the most ironic death in human history.

    Lister became aware of Pasteur and did some good work: Lister was made a baron.

    And weirdly, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr) was as much in the mix as anyone (again, controversially).

    This is why people need to be very very skeptical of phrases like “the science is settled“: authority figures are authority figures because they are authoritiarian by nature… which leads them to attack good science if it results in a risk to their authority. (My “who wants that job” question again!)

    No doubt we will look back in another 50 years and see the same thing at play: authoritarian arseholes plus cliquey bullshit, suppressing correct ideas because to do otherwise would cause a loss (to them) of prestige and gravitas.

    • Replies: @Jack D
  49. Anon[208] • Disclaimer says:

    It also improved everyone’s literary taste. Just about everything written before the 1800s is unreadable, partially because there were almost no good literary style models to learn from and very few books to read, period. The awkward writing and painful formality of style produced by the majority of the people between the 1400s and the late 1700s is horrible. For example, about the person you can readily read in all of the 1600s is John Evelyn. I recently read some of the letters produced by Mary Queen of Scots, and she had a first graders’ notion of writing without the clarity of the average first grader.

  50. important to note that this horse system probably reached theoretical maximum in the 70s, with only very small and incremental improvements since then. the horse field today is probably slightly faster horse for horse than the horses from the 70s, but the fastest few horses are not.

    thus it’s probably fair to extrapolate this process to any other mammal, including humans. such that you could say, if you deliberately control who has sex with who, you could probably max out humans for whatever traits you wanted, within a known number of generations.

    horse generations are shorter, so it would take longer with people, but you could probably get there in 200 years at most, 10 generations, as long as you were more efficient than the horse breeder guys.

    this seems to happen faster than with plants. you can read all the work that agriculture guys have been doing for over 100 years in their farm labs, and the grains they produce are still slowly getting better, after many more generations than with animals. with farm animals, there’s lots of incentive and pressure to make cows and hogs and chickens better, but i’m less clear on how much effect drugs are having on them versus breeding better animals in the first place. although it’s true agriculture yields are also improved by chemicals. crop yield per acre depends a lot on chemicals.

    • Replies: @gcochran
  51. Kronos says:
    @Luke Lea

    They did, it was also an obsession of the “Cavalier” class in the Southern US. The book “ Albion Seed” goes into great detail.

    • Replies: @MEH 0910
  52. Kronos says:
    @Jack D

    No one connected yellow fever to mosquitoes until Finlay in 1870 and then it took ANOTHER 30 years for his theory to be accepted.

    For thousands of years they thought Malaria really was caused by “bad air.”

    We have inherited the word malaria from the Latin words malus aria, from Italian mal’aria through the contracted Italian mala aria which means “bad or evil air” because it was originally thought that this disease was caused by foul air, and particularly by vapors given off by swamps. It was also called “swamp fever”, and it is one of the most ancient infections known to humans.

    • Replies: @Jack D
    , @Jim Don Bob
  53. @bruce charlton

    I was going to write something along exactly the same lines – that the investment horizons in animal husbandry were short prior to the Industrial Revolution, because animal husbandry’s benefits occur relatively gradually (over the course of several generations of stock).

    In a low-productivity world, that is a risky strategy: if it doesn’t work, your output might fall far enough that your entire family could starve to death.

    People are more likely to have become aware of relative strengths (and weaknesses) of different breeds based on their productivity.

    Dairy cattle, for example: Holsteins and Fresians have been identified as good breeds for at least a thousand years, because their productivity is enormous (so much so that a cow is worth keeping for a lot longer than when she peaks in terms of ‘meat on bones’).

    Once productivity rises enough to provide a buffer, so does the ability to take on more risk and have longer horizons – and eventually price-discovery happens if there is a productivity differential within breeds.

    Intuitively, human beings know this – our biology still drives us to mate with humans that have characteristics that would be handy for survival in a pre-Industrial age.

    Buxom women with regular features and good teeth; muscular men with square jaws and heavy brow ridges.

    That is: indicators of female fecundity, and male capability for targeted violence.

    As it happens, the latter is a bad bet in a modern industrial economy.

    Women understand this cognitively, so they know it’s smarter (in terms of access to resources to raise offspring) to pair up with a weedy dork who works at a hedge fund. Their biology results in them getting wet at the idea of fucking the gym instructor, pool guy etc.

    Likewise, the man who marries a woman of impressive intellect… and winds up fucking a PA/secretary/stripper on the side once his wife gets smile lines.

  54. Alden says:
    @Jack D

    That’s basic human genetics. Grandparent through opposite sex child to same sex grandchild. It’s not always like that but usually girls look like their fathers, boys like their mothers. And the children look like same sex grandparent.

    • Replies: @Jack D
  55. Jack D says:

    Right – they knew you got sick if you went near the swamps but they assumed it was the air, not the mosquitoes.

    The Roman city of Ostia, near Rome, is remarkably intact even though it didn’t get buried like Pompeii because the Tiber silted up and created a swamp in the area and people were afraid to live in or near the swamp. They just abandoned the area. Rome itself was down to a few thousand people so it’s not like they needed the land.

    • Replies: @Kronos
  56. MEH 0910 says:

    Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America

    Virginia Family Ways: The Anglican Idea of the Patriarchal Family

    Individuals in Virginia were stereotyped by traits that were thought to be hereditary in their extended families. Anglican clergyman Jonathan Boucher believed that “family character both of body and mind may be traced thro’ many generations; as for instance every Fitzhugh has bad eyes; every Thornton hears badly; Winslows and Lees talk well; Carters are proud and imperious; and Taliaferros mean and avaricious; and Fowkeses cruel.” Virginians often pronounced these judgments upon one another. The result was a set of family reputations which acquired the social status of self-fulfilling prophecies.6

    Virginia Sex Ways: Male Predators and Female Breeders

    The sex ways of the southern colonies differed from New England in other ways as well. Virginians had a way of thinking about fertility which set them apart from New England Puritans. The people of Virginia thought less of the biblical commandment to increase and multiply and replenish the earth which so obsessed the Puritans, and more of breeding stocks and bloodlines. Children of the elite were bred to one another in a manner not unlike dogs and horses. Much interest was shown in blood lines. The gentry of Virginia studied one another’s genealogies as closely as a stockman would scrutinize his stud books.

    • Replies: @Charles Pewitt
    , @Kronos
  57. Jack D says:

    It’s like the discovery of America – chances are there were Europeans who reached the Americas before Columbus but it never led to anything. They were like the tree falling in the forest – if no one hears it, it’s not a sound. Pasteur’s work led people to actually take action against germs.

  58. Jack D says:

    I think that’s folk genetics and not (until now) supported by the science. Of course sometimes it takes a while for science to catch up with stuff that your granny knew.

    • Replies: @Alden
  59. Around the rapidly disappearing folk-culture of Iowa agriculture, it has long been a puzzlement how scholars of our folk-culture could be more ignorant of the ancient history of polled cattle than we rustics.

  60. J.Ross says:

    OT — nothing is memory holed if we remember it:

  61. gcochran says:
    @prime noticer

    Progress in thoroughbreds was limited, in part, by small effective population size. You don’t have to do that.

  62. MEH 0910 says:

    PBS NewsHour:

    Why domesticated foxes are genetically fascinating (and terrible pets)

    And of course, while domesticated foxes are friendlier than those in the wild, they can still be unpredictable.

    “[You can be] sitting there drinking your cup of coffee and turning your head for a second, and then taking a swig and realizing, ‘Yeah, Boris came up here and peed in my coffee cup,’” said Amy Bassett, the Canid Conservation Center’s founder. “You can easily train and manage behavioral problems in dogs, but there are a lot of behaviors in foxes, regardless of if they’re Russian or U.S., that you will never be able to manage.”

    • Replies: @Jack D
  63. Liza says:

    @sz. I was thinking the same thing.

  64. syonredux says:

    Plato, Republic, Bk. 5:

    “They are, indeed,” I said; “but next, Glaucon, disorder and promiscuity in these unions or [458e] in anything else they do would be an unhallowed thing in a happy state and the rulers will not suffer it.” “It would not be right,” he said. “Obviously, then, we must arrange marriages, sacramental so far as may be. And the most sacred marriages would be those that were most beneficial.” [459a] “By all means.” “How, then, would the greatest benefit result? Tell me this, Glaucon. I see that you have in your house hunting-dogs and a number of pedigree cocks.88 Have you ever considered something about their unions and procreations?” “What?”89 he said. “In the first place,” I said, “among these themselves, although they are a select breed, do not some prove better than the rest?” “They do.” “Do you then breed from all indiscriminately, or are you careful to breed from the best90?” [459b] “From the best.” “And, again, do you breed from the youngest or the oldest, or, so far as may be, from those in their prime?” “From those in their prime.” “And if they are not thus bred, you expect, do you not, that your birds and hounds will greatly degenerate?” “I do,” he said. “And what of horses and other animals?” I said; “is it otherwise with them?” “It would be strange if it were,” said he.

    “Gracious,” said I, “dear friend, how imperative, then, is our need of the highest skill in our rulers, if the principle holds also for mankind.” [459c] “Well, it does,” he said, “but what of it?” “This,” said I, “that they will have to employ many of those drugs91 of which we were speaking. We thought that an inferior physician sufficed for bodies that do not need drugs but yield to diet and regimen. But when it is necessary to prescribe drugs we know that a more enterprising and venturesome physician is required.” “True; but what is the pertinency?” “This,” said I: “it seems likely that our rulers will have to make considerable use of falsehood and deception [459d] for the benefit92 of their subjects. We said, I believe, that the use of that sort of thing was in the category of medicine.” “And that was right,” he said. “In our marriages, then, and the procreation of children, it seems there will be no slight need of this kind of ‘right.’” “How so?” “It follows from our former admissions,” I said, “that the best men must cohabit with the best women in as many cases as possible and the worst with the worst in the fewest, [459e] and that the offspring of the one must be reared and that of the other not, if the flock93 is to be as perfect as possible.

    And the way in which all this is brought to pass must be unknown to any but the rulers, if, again, the herd of guardians is to be as free as possible from dissension.” “Most true,” he said. “We shall, then, have to ordain certain festivals and sacrifices, in which we shall bring together the brides and the bridegrooms, and our poets must compose hymns [460a] suitable to the marriages that then take place. But the number of the marriages we will leave to the discretion of the rulers, that they may keep the number of the citizens as nearly as may be the same,94 taking into account wars and diseases and all such considerations, and that, so far as possible, our city may not grow too great or too small.” “Right,” he said. “Certain ingenious lots, then, I suppose, must be devised so that the inferior man at each conjugation may blame chance and not the rulers.” “Yes, indeed,” he said. [460b]

    “And on the young men, surely, who excel in war and other pursuits we must bestow honors and prizes, and, in particular, the opportunity of more frequent intercourse with the women, which will at the same time be a plausible pretext for having them beget as many of the children as possible.” “Right.” “And the children thus born will be taken over by the officials appointed for this, men or women or both, since, I take it, the official posts too are common to women and men. [460c] The offspring of the good, I suppose, they will take to the pen or créche, to certain nurses who live apart in a quarter of the city, but the offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret,95 so that no one will know what has become of them.” “That is the condition,” he said, “of preserving the purity of the guardians’ breed.”

    • Replies: @nymom
  65. @Jon

    There were all kinds of printing techniques before Johannes Gutenberg – – just not in – – – Europe…

  66. Sean says:
    @John Henry

    Yes. that would have the effect of selecting the most domesticated animals to breed. One theory about domestication of livestock is it was partial side effect of humans breeding their animals for unusual coat colours and markings for no particular reason apart from the fact that humans just like them. But they got the Neural Crest Syndrome

    The blaze or white stripe between the eyes is said to be analogous to redder lips in humans.

  67. American hayseed boobs must talk more about race and CLASS!

    The English drink ale and talk about class all day long and they put people who talk about race in prison.

    Tweet from 2015:


    Tweet from 2015:

  68. @Anon

    I was going to mention some famous early 20th century guy on the West coast who I seem to remember didn’t publish anything about his breeding discoveries … I may be completely misremembering it.

    I’m not sure if you were thinking of Luther Burbank (for whom the California city is named), but he was a bona fide American genius — the Edison of plants, if you will — who deserves to be better remembered. I mean, he invented the plumcot for God’s sake!

    George Washington Carver, by contrast, has become a household name for inventing every pointless thing you could possibly do with a peanut except the one thing they’re actually good for — making peanut butter.

    Luther Burbank (March 7, 1849 – April 11, 1926)[1] was an American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants over his 55-year career. Burbank’s varied creations included fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables. He developed (but did not create) a spineless cactus (useful for cattle-feed) and the plumcot.

    Burbank’s most successful strains and varieties include the Shasta daisy, the fire poppy (note possible confusion with the California wildflower, Papaver californicum, which is also called a fire poppy), the “July Elberta” peach, the “Santa Rosa” plum, the “Flaming Gold” nectarine, the “Wickson” plum (named after the agronomist Edward J. Wickson), the freestone peach, and the white blackberry. A natural genetic variant of the Burbank potato with russet-colored skin later became known as the russet Burbank potato. This large, brown-skinned, white-fleshed potato has become the world’s predominant potato in food processing. The Russet Burbank potato was in fact invented to help with the devastating situation in Ireland following the Irish Potato famine. This particular potato variety was created by Burbank to help “revive the country’s leading crop” as it is slightly late blight-resistant. Late blight is a disease that spread and destroyed potatoes all across Europe but caused extreme chaos in Ireland due to the high dependency on potatoes as a crop by the Irish.[2]

  69. @Anonymous

    It has to be remembered that back in those days, farm stock was, by necessity, generally multi- purpose animals.

    It’s probably worth considering as well that farmers would be facing very localized conditions and therefore selecting for different characteristics for their crops and farm stock — e.g., resistance to local pests, diseases, local food sources, local soil conditions, etc.

    If you really looked hard at the old variations, I bet you’d find that local farmers did a better job at selecting for their own conditions than we give them credit for. (It’s another question, I suppose, whether they worked out the rules of selective breeding or just followed folk-wisdom heuristics).

    Modern selective breeding programs got to reap (pun intended) the benefit of all this localized selection when it came time to develop our current modern strains — which are selected to be hyper-productive in a rarefied, industrial setting. Modern crops are designed to be bathed in fertilizer and insecticide, to receive optimal water, and to be picked and packed by machine. Our industrial crops probably wouldn’t last a day in the harsh conditions of Medieval peasant farms.

    • Replies: @Liza
  70. nymom says:

    The only problem with this idea is that today our ‘best and brightest’ are often men like Jared Kushner and Bill Gates…both probably very nice men in person; but, not the sort of ‘best in breed’ you would need in a place like ancient Greece where warfare was often how the city survived its neighbors.

    • Agree: Houston 1992
    • Replies: @Nachos 'n Beer
  71. Liza says:

    And that is why some farmers have reverted to the old varieties in both crops and animals.

    • Replies: @Sean
  72. @MEH 0910

    Individuals in Virginia were stereotyped by traits that were thought to be hereditary in their extended families. Anglican clergyman Jonathan Boucher believed that “family character both of body and mind may be traced thro’ many generations; as for instance every Fitzhugh has bad eyes; every Thornton hears badly; Winslows and Lees talk well; Carters are proud and imperious; and Taliaferros mean and avaricious; and Fowkeses cruel.” Virginians often pronounced these judgments upon one another. The result was a set of family reputations which acquired the social status of self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Boucher is an interesting surname.

    Some guy named John Bourghchier was born in Wiltshire, England. Then the name changed to John Bourchier. Then Burcher and then Beezer and then Beezer married a Lampley and the Lampley married a Paxson.

  73. Kronos says:
    @Jack D

    They also realized (like in Hong Kong) that it was mainly seasonal. That it coincided with the spring/summer. (Peak mosquito breeding.)

  74. Jack D says:
    @MEH 0910

    Dogs have been domesticated for 10,000 years. You can breed domesticated traits into foxes in a few generations but its not the same as 10,000 years of hanging around humans. Dogs are crazy tuned into humans – they read our body language, our emotions, etc. It’s nuts how tuned in they are.

  75. Kronos says:
    @MEH 0910

    Thanks. I have it on audible but it’s a real pain to transcribe it.

  76. OT:

    Maybe they’re afraid of Justin Trudeau copycats?

    • Replies: @Cagey Beast
  77. This is a fairly new field. No one has mentioned Gregor Mendel, but he didn’t publish until 1866. The Punnett Square wasn’t published until 1905. The New Jersey College of Agriculture (now the Cook Campus of Rutgers) wasn’t founded until the Morrill Act of 1862.

  78. Sean says:

    Yes, if you ceaselessly select for one thing as with the breeding of turkeys for giant breast meat you get problems like male turkeys than crush the hens if allowed to mate naturally. The optimum solution for turkeys would require something diversion by augmenting other less obvious qualities in order to bridge the gap. One dimensional breeding (or pure natural selection) cannot do that.

  79. Hail says: • Website

    This is a cup of good romney, and drynketh well of the race.

    A “Mitt Romney 2012” slogan that could have been.

  80. @gwood

    In fact (rather than the fictional world of Downton f-ing Abbey) the English aristocracy never refer to Burke’s Peerage at all. Why should they need to use some vulgar reference book to tell them who they and their cousins are?

    In contrast, the German nobility actually do refer to the Gotha and similar publications as stud books. I used to hear them say this with enthusiasm as they would almost run to their bookshelves to make sure that Graf This or Freiherr von That was actually who he said he was.

    Why the difference? Because the English aristocracy is open to new talent, so not everybody of interest will be in a “stud book”. In Germany, in contrast, the aristocracy was an almost hermetically sealed closed system, particularly at the higher levels, and it was therefore unthinkable that a mate for your son or daughter would not be found in one or another of the relevant genealogical reference works.

    It’s breaking down now, and more’s the pity.

  81. @Liza

    What region of the US? What was the primary grievance with the Irish ? Forty years ago politicians of Irish Catholic descent were popular enough to win elections or hold high office : Governor John Connolly, JFK, RFK, Teddy K, Robert MacNamara, Hugh Carey , Pat Moynihan, Tom Foley , Tip ONeill

    • Replies: @Liza
  82. @Kronos

    In Pride and Prejudice, Sir William Lucas says that he had thought of “fixing in London, because I am fond of superior society”, but was afraid that the air would be bad for Lady Lucas.

    • Replies: @Kronos
  83. Kronos says:
    @Jim Don Bob

    Well that was actually a real concern. London historically had awful air pollution. (It was also a favorite method for Charles Dickens to kill off characters. They get ran over by a carriage in the fog.)

    This thing alone killed 12,000 people in a few days.

    • Replies: @Old Palo Altan
  84. . . . horsing around, sheepishly

  85. @nymom

    not the sort of ‘best in breed’ you would need in a place like ancient Greece where warfare was often how the city survived its neighbors.

    That approach gives rise to the Rep. Dan Crenshaws of the House of Representatives. He was a Navy Seal.

    He will protect us!

    Oh, wait, Dan is fully into “invade the world, invite the world” of the Clinton-Bush-Obama-Romney faction of the globalistuniparty.

  86. @Cagey Beast

  87. Anonymous[375] • Disclaimer says:
    @Jack D

    Bruce Willis’s daughter with Demi Moore is a famous example of this. She inherited her father’s masculine strong chin and jaw:

    • Replies: @Jonathan Mason
  88. @Anon

    Economically speaking, it doesn’t make sense to create an economy with a lot of large meat animals and huge milk producers until you have a farming economy that also produces the massive grain surpluses necessary to keep them alive,

    The cows in England when I was growing up there lived in the fields and ate grass. I think they got hay when there was snow on the ground.

    • Replies: @Alden
  89. @Anonymous

    She inherited her father’s masculine strong chin and jaw:

    But a very weak nose and uneven eyes. But given her breeding, she probably can still get dates.

  90. Liza says:
    @Houston 1992

    Midwest. I don’t know what the primary grievance with the Irish was. I was a child. Later in life, I paid no attention. Then when I married my husband told me how hated the Irish were.

  91. Jack D says:

    Short answer: NO.

    We don’t have to wonder about such things – we have DNA. Even back in the day, you could breed dogs with wolves but not with foxes. Dogs are not even a separate species – they are just a subspecies of wolf.

  92. Jack D says:

    Pigs eat garbage which is unfit for human consumption. Cows have 4 stomachs so they can eat cellulose such as found in grass, which is indigestible to humans.

    Feeding cows or pigs food (grain,soy) that humans can eat directly is a shortcut that is necessary for factory farming but originally the point of keeping animals was that they could convert items unfit for human consumption (grass, garbage) into human food (meat,milk). In places like Tibet or Lappland, growing food crops is impossible due to the climate so herding is the only way for humans to survive.

    In many other countries cows are still largely grass fed. If you buy Irish butter it is bright yellow and tasty because the cows eat grass and not grain. American cheese is dyed orange to look more like cheese made from grass fed milk.

    • Replies: @Alden
  93. @peterike

    Thanks, I just reserved it at the library. Maybe my daughter will enjoy it too.

    I’ve had good luck with books recommended in comments on here, including recently “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500-2000” by Jacques Barzun.

    • Replies: @Sam Malone
  94. Coemgen says:
    @The Germ Theory of Disease

    …so many of the intellectual gatekeepers were neck-deep in abstruse non-falsifiable quasi-mystical horsesh!t…

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  95. Anon[121] • Disclaimer says:

    There was obviously some understanding of selective breeding many thousands of years ago. Farmers may have been unclear on details and mechanisms, but they understood the basics. The fact that there were cattle to breed in the 18th century and not aurochs is all the proof needed.

    • Agree: BB753, Alden
  96. Alden says:
    @Jack D

    Our daughters are clones of paternal grandmother. Sons clones of maternal grandfather.

    It was also in my college anatomy book, things like baldness, hemophilia other genetic inheritances, grandmother to grandsons. College anatomy vs your opinions.

    I’ve also noticed it in famous people. The Kennedy’s son John looked like Jacqueline and her father, John Bouvier. Daughter Caroline looks like her father JFK and paternal aunts.

  97. @Kronos

    My father happened to be in London when this happened.

    He said that if you stretched your arm out in front of you, your hand disappeared from view.

  98. Alden says:
    @Jack D

    Irish, French, Danish and some European butter tastes better than American butter because Irish Danish, French and other European butter has 90% butter fat instead of American butter with only 80% butterfat. Nothing to do with what they eat. The more fat the better everything tastes. Why fried meat tastes better than boiled meat. Why butter and margarine on noodles rice bread potatoes vegetables makes them taste better.

    Grass fed animals in Denmark, France and other countries when the grass is dead and covered with snow 5 months of the year isn’t possible Not much snow in S Ireland but even there the grass is dead in winter. In the winter dairy cattle eat hay, dried grass and silage, which is grass.

    Grass fed only applies to beef cattle, not dairy cattle. It’s just a marketing term designed to fool the idiots who shop at Whole Foods Gelsons Bristol Farms because they think it’s high status.

    All beef and dairy cattle eat grass all day unless it’s dead and covered with snow. In winter they eat hay and silage aka dried and preserved grass.

    Only beef cattle live in feedlots where they’re fattened for slaughter. That’s the last few months of life.

    Pigs don’t eat garbage anymore. They eat grain feed similar to what beef cattle eat in the feed lots.

    Natural free range chickens eat their own manure off the ground. Warehouse raised chickens just eat the grain feed they’re given.

    Used to be a lot of old people who wouldn’t eat chicken because they grew up on farms and saw the chickens slurping up the manure all the time.

  99. It’s a good question, and much could be said. First, as Jack D points out, selective breeding has clearly existed long before the English country gentleman and his thoroughbred obsession. But breeding Chow dog pets is different from breeding livestock, and what Steve’s question presumably refers to is quantitative improvements in livestock productivity of the last couple of centuries: faster horses, meatier steers, woollier sheep, milkier cows, etc.

    But is more the same as “better”? Try offering today’s prizewinning racehorses to Genghis Khan’s minions, who used horses to conquer the known world. They would laugh at you. The modern racehorse is a hothouse flower: fragile and fussy, dependent on specialized conditions and feed. How could such beasts carry you on a yearlong raid over the mountains to plunder faraway villages and carry off your new wife, all while feeding on nothing but steppe grass? The Mongols’ unassuming looking, but hardy and versatile shaggy ponies were clearly better for conquering the world. Yeah, the thoroughbred will outrace the Mongol pony over a quarter mile of idealized conditions, but this is like saying that a drag racer is “better” than the car you actually choose to drive because the drag racer does a faster quarter mile.

    And while livestock breeding is more interesting and fun, there have also been massive changes in plant breeding: modern grain cultivars can yield hundreds of percent more than traditional cultivars. But this too involves a bit of misdirection. While the volume of yields has increased, the actual nutritional quality of the plants has not. So it’s not really true to say that modern breeds are “better”, it is merely true to say that modern breeds have ruthlessly emphasized volume at the expense of everything else. And as the modern obesity and allergy malady epidemics show, everything else matters too.

    Gwern Branwen may dismiss traditional breeding as “wildly [if colorfully] wrong”, but those ancient breeding decisions involved local environment, subtle traits, and long term needs of the owners. According to Branwen, those decisions were wrong because they didn’t yield the most at that moment. But this simple minded use of a narrow criterion is merely a temporary and self-limiting exploitation of the mutilfaceted bloodlines provided to us by our ancestors’ now vanishing folk wisdom.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  100. keypusher says:

    Here’s Gwern’s review, if anyone is looking.

  101. Alden says:
    @Jonathan Mason

    Too many sissy city boys who’ve never been on a farm in their lives pontificating that most cattle don’t eat grass, dried grass hay, and preserved grass silage.

  102. Alden says:

    The farmers taught their children who taught their children who taught their children.

  103. @Anon

    Anon said:

    “And there is this weird sidebar: “There are some rumors that Carver was castrated.”

    Well, did you ever listen to his voice? It sure sounds plausible to me:

  104. @Lockean Proviso

    Thanks for mentioning “From Dawn to Decadence”. I somehow missed ever hearing about it before, but have seen its high recommendations and put it on my wish list.

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