Get ready for Nicholas Wade’s “A Troublesome Inheritance”

Nicholas Wade’s new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, drops on Amazon today. Wade, a science writer for the New York Times, has been critical of cultural anthropology in the past — and the feeling has pretty much been mutual. Inheritance is set to create a ground swell of indignation in the anthropological community because it is one of the most biologically reductionist writings to come out in years. The AAA has, to its credit, been on top of the issue and has hosted a showdown between Wade and Augustín Fuentes. Expect more coverage from us, including a couple of guest blogs, in the next couple of months.

Anthropologists of a critical bent take deep personal satisfaction in denouncing racism and reductionism wherever they find it. These days, its rare for something as blatant as Wade’s book to appear with the blessing of a major press. So… yeah. I’m guessing that it’s going to be on.

I personally prefer to use claims, reasons, and evidence to criticize authors. When books like this appear, however, its easy for passions to get inflamed and for people to make personal attacks: Jared Diamond’s comb-over is ugly, Charles Murray’s male pattern baldness makes him look like Princess Leia, etc. We also tend to make arguments of guilt from association: Madison Grant was wrong and so are you. Both of these rhetorical maneuvers don’t do justice to the uniqueness of an author’s position or engage its particulars directly — and thus are unanthropological.

As this moves forward I hope people punch above the belt. It shouldn’t be hard, since Wade is such an easy target.

Rex

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

94 thoughts on “Get ready for Nicholas Wade’s “A Troublesome Inheritance”

  1. Wade has an enormous body of evidence on his side so that might even up the contest. However anthropologists who have spent several decades ignoring the accumulating evidence have lots of practice and will manage to convince each other. That might not hold for the wider intellectual community — big cracks are beginning to appear in the scientific anti-racism edifice.

  2. “I personally prefer to use claims, reasons, and evidence to criticize authors.”
    This is good to hear, and I hope to see a debate on such lines. I expect as much from Wade and his defenders. I don’t expect it from his adversaries, I hope they prove me wrong.

  3. So you state he is biologically reductionist, blatantly racist, and such an easy target – while his opponents are of “a critical bent.” But you hope that people hit above the belt on this one.

    Let me just suggest that this is a clue why some of us have trouble taking anthropologists (and it was my minor, BTW, so I didn’t originally have any prejudice against the field) seriously. You can’t even do the internal editing to ask yourself “how will this sound to anyone other than my pals?”

  4. I’ve had a few run-ins with people of the ‘HBD’ persuasion – hard genetic determinists who think biological evolution explains human history and culture. Their arguments aren’t very compelling and they generally have a poor understanding of, well, human history and culture, bending their limited knowledge to fit whatever selective advantage they believe was present in the population under discussion. They also react with indignation when you don’t immediately accept their claims, as if the only reason for not believing that Arabs are inherently and racially nepotistic is membership in a left-wing conspiracy. They ignore – in the sense that they are literally ignorant of – what it’s really like to live in a society with expectations of nepotism.

    There is also a strong reactionary undercurrent to what they say, and some of these folk are explicit in their support of reactionary causes (including, amazingly, monarchy). They talk of ‘gene-culture co-evolution’, but they seem to take this (actually quite sensible) idea to mean that selective advantages can be hypothesised on flimsy culture-historical grounds – that they can propose selective environments based on something cultural, environments that act so quickly and perfectly as to generate vast differences between populations at the genetic level. They have a particular and, I might say, pathological obsession with IQ.

    As far as I can tell, Wade is just another of these misguided people.

    Now, I have my own issues with socio-cultural anthropology, primarily that it is based around a vague method rather than a clearly-defined subject matter, and that the previous focus on non-literate/non-industrial/non-state societies has been replaced by a focus on subjects already covered by sociologists.. But social anthropologists could never be accused of ignoring the complexity of what they’re talking about.

    @Peter Johnson

    big cracks are beginning to appear in the scientific anti-racism edifice.

    This is transparently false. There are differences between human populations, but those differences don’t often coincide with ‘race’, certainly as it’s meant in Europe and America. Even if some strong HBD claims were true, and they don’t seem to be, that still wouldn’t undermine the simple fact that humans do not neatly sort into races, and that in any case discrimination on the basis of ancestry is still morally wrong.

  5. Anthropologists are pretty much English majors living in huts, coming up with stories. More often than not those stories are shaped by their political agendas. What it’s not is science. Pity that as science advances, the case for HBD becomes ever stronger, ever more proven out. New discoveries almost never go in the other direction. In other words, what 99% of the human race considered common sense for thousands of years prior to the advent of Cultural Marxist brain washing is, shockingly, proving true.

  6. A.J. West — Thanks for your reply. In the first few sentences you argue that the scientific evidence for racial differences in behaviour is wrong. I would strongly disagree with that, but will not convince you. At the end you change tack and argue that the scientific evidence is morally wrong. Do you see that that is a completely different claim, and inconsistent with modern western philosophy of science? Scientific evidence cannot be morally wrong — first we have to accept the scientific evidence unflinchingly, and then shape that evidence into our moral stance. We cannot ignore or twist scientific evidence to ensure it is not morally wrong.

  7. ” fact that humans do not neatly sort into races, and that in any case discrimination on the basis of ancestry is still morally wrong.”

    As Wade says, when you do a cluster analysis on the genomes of people, then the clusters that form make sense.

    Take 5 clusters, then what we get are 5 continents, with each genome correctly assigned to its continent.
    When you increase the number of clusters, you get different nations clustering, increase them even more and you get villages — go far enough and you will get families. This is all common-sense, easy to understand stuff that has been known for 1000s of years.

    It’s possible that IQ is not equally distributed among different populations. If it is, then it suggests some policies. There is nothing weird or evil about that.

    “As far as I can tell, Wade is just another of these misguided people.”

    Wade is an oxbridge educated scientists(he practices journalism, however), who has worked for Nature, Science and the NYT (1000 logged articles). He’s no nut blogging from his basement.

  8. My first contact with Boazian social science methodology occurred in a physical anthropology class at Brandeis University back in the 1960s when our professor informed the class that Carleton Coon believed Europeans were descended from gorillas, sub-Saharan Africans from chimpanzees, and Asians from orangutangs. I’m getting the strong impression, reading discussions of Wade’s new book, that things haven’t improved much. A famous QM theoretician once said that QM wasn’t fully accepted among physicists until the last classical physicist died. Maybe someday, when the last vestiges of Boaz and Frankfurt School ideology have dissipated from the field, anthropology/sociology may have some hope of becoming a rational, empirically-based – dare I say scientific – discipline. But not, I’m afraid, in the years I have left on this earth.

  9. I went to Oxford, but I could easily be a nut. All kinds of people are nuts, not just the poorly-educated. Arguments from authority, I’m sure you are aware, are not convincing. I know a lot of Oxbridge-educated people – they aren’t all smart, sensible people. Wade has loopy views.

    At the end you change tack and argue that the scientific evidence is morally wrong.

    No – I said that discrimination is morally wrong, which it is, and that that is true regardless of what the scientific evidence says (and, of course, the evidence supports no claims of discrete and absolute differences between human populations on the order of so-called ‘race’).

    Take 5 clusters, then what we get are 5 continents, with each genome correctly assigned to its continent.

    Well, no, we don’t. We get all kinds of genetic material in all kinds of places, with no neat, discrete populations anywhere on earth. Only the most outrageous abstraction could lead to the conclusion that races, as they are habitually conceived of, actually exist.

  10. A.J. West writes,

    “Their arguments aren’t very compelling and they generally have a poor understanding of, well, human history and culture, bending their limited knowledge to fit whatever selective advantage they believe was present in the population under discussion.”

    That’s funny, because the last time I saw Mr. West in a discussion about a topic related to HBD, someone with a far greater knowledge of both economics and economic history was tearing down the arguments he had carefully constructed to explain the rise of Europe. Mr. West had the economically illiterate and vulgarian view that Western societies rose to predominance as a result of additional gold supplies and sugar profits from the New World.

    “There is also a strong reactionary undercurrent to what they say, and some of these folk are explicit in their support of reactionary causes (including, amazingly, monarchy)….

    As far as I can tell, Wade is just another of these misguided people.”

    Yes, as far as Mr. West can tell, Nicholas Wade is a monarchist. Or a reactionary. Or something like that. Mr. West will tell us as soon as he learns the first thing about Wade. When that happens, I’m sure that whatever adjective Mr. West finds to describe Wade won’t be good.

    Until then, I guess the default assumption for Mr. West will be that Wade’s a closet monarchist. You know, because of the company Mr. West thinks the former NYT’s science reporter has been keeping. Those dangerous monarchists who apparently gather in the field of HBD when Wade worked the science beat in New York City for two decades. Like communists, you can never overestimate the reach of their influence.

    I certainly hope that Mr. West is a little more careful and judicious in how he handles his ethnographies than in how he handles his political attacks on people he disagrees with.

  11. Folks I have approved some comments that were in moderation — apologies for the delay in clearing up the log jam. I feel like this discussion is now threatening to become uncollegial. Let’s try to keep this civil as you move forward. Perhaps it would help to focus on one concrete claim that Wade makes, rather than dealing with things at an abstract level, where things can easily drift out of control. A.J. you mentioned someone who you saw speaking live who took issue with Wade’s work — who was that, and is that talk available?

  12. “I went to Oxford, but I could easily be a nut. All kinds of people are nuts, not just the poorly-educated. Arguments from authority, I’m sure you are aware, are not convincing. I know a lot of Oxbridge-educated people – they aren’t all smart, sensible people. Wade has loopy views.”

    Like what? Name some.

    “No – I said that discrimination is morally wrong, which it is, and that that is true regardless of what the scientific evidence says (and, of course, the evidence supports no claims of discrete and absolute differences between human populations on the order of so-called ‘race’).”

    Of course you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Are you a population geneticist? Are you even mildly informed about the subject?

    No, of course not. But that hasn’t slowed down your insistence that you’ve got it figured out.

    Even population geneticists like Cavalli-Sforza, who insist that race is not a part of their work and that it has no biological significance, produce scholarly monograms showing that in fact there are genetic clusters along the lines of the continental races. These are fuzzy sets, but they are no less real for being fuzzy. You can identify with increasing precision where someone comes from (i.e., their ancestral heritage) by looking at those clusters.

    And if you can identify someone’s ancestry in an objective way, then you can also identify whether that fact might have additional value when looking at other questions. I don’t know what they call that in anthropology, but a lot of people used to call it science.

    “Well, no, we don’t. We get all kinds of genetic material in all kinds of places, with no neat, discrete populations anywhere on earth.”

    Yes, it’s all a bit confusing when you look at the clusters. How can anyone make anything of that? It’s just a jumble. So easy to confuse sub-Saharan Africans with Native Americans. They’re all just thrown in there randomly.

  13. The issue isn’t whether or not in some obscure argument about a topic unrelated to the issue at hand X believes that s/he refuted Y. Nor does the issue concern some anonymous poster’s view that the generic ‘we’ does not view anthropologists as credible and that ‘we’ anthropologists are gifted writers who live in ‘huts.’

    The issue concerns a new book. Having not read this book, I cannot make any claims regarding the intellectual merit of its content. I can, however, discuss a few topics related to some of the discussion on this site. Before moving forward, I commend A.J. West for “fighting the good fight,” and more importantly, showing that many anthropologists are not aspiring literary critics, post-modern phantoms, nor ostriches (i.e., pretend something is nonexistent if we stick our heads in the ground).

    Some of us are receiving four-field training–meaning that we should in practice have a firm understanding of human evolution, genetics, linguistic structure, language in context, and social life.

    Turning my attention to the topic at hand, two questions arise:
    i) What is race?
    ii) In what way do human biological differences account for differences in behavior, prosperity, “intelligence”?

    Many readers will quickly point out that there are many answers to the first question. If race, as a biological term, is valid then how is it applied? At random we could pick any human population to try and figure out the answer: Are all aboriginal inhabitants of Australia a race? Are they the same race as Andamanese islanders or Papua New Guineans?

    The second question is broad. Some people, believing that human races exist, economics, politics, social mobility

    Some of the more vocal proponents of the biological existence of race. One of the most prominent forms of evidence is called ancestry informative markers (AIMs). The general claim is that you can pick someone at random, analyze their genetic material, and with a high degree of accuracy, based off of AIMS, determine this individual’s continental ancestral origin.

    Such work in genetics demands serious consideration. And while some proponents of the biological existence of race draw from such work, It seems that many, if not most, geneticists would reject that assertion.

    It is all too easy to knock-down the anthropological strawman that rejects science, and then claim that there is scientific evidence for the existence of race.

    Now deal with the real anthropologists.

  14. “Yes, it’s all a bit confusing when you look at the clusters. How can anyone make anything of that? It’s just a jumble. So easy to confuse sub-Saharan Africans with Native Americans. They’re all just thrown in there randomly.”

    That is not neat, it looks like a fallen ice cream with many flavors melting into one another.

    Nobody said you can’t determine Sub Saharan Africans to Native Americans as a cluster genetically. Who says that? The only argument is calling them different races. Why? What you are doing is trying to call different flavors of ice cream entirely different ice cream types.

    You are separating them out of your own will. You are taking a spoon of your own imagination and separating that fallen ice cream. It is not separated like that naturally and it isn’t neat.

  15. Evidence is precisely the problem with HBD! The great epistemic irony of the entire field is that its data is based on a category that has no clear or consistent objective parameters outside of a given sociocultural/historic context.

  16. bibi writes:

    [The map of genetic clusters] is not neat, it looks like a fallen ice cream with many flavors melting into one another.

    No one disputes that some of the variances for ancestral population structures can, and occasionally do, overlap. The same is true of all kinds of categories that scientists work with all the time. Historical languages, for example. Or physical anthropology in hominid evolution. You can make out broad patterns even while admitting that, up close, many things aren’t so clear.

    To take your metaphor, one would think that scientists would be interested in reconstructing the fallen ice cream cone to answer questions about why it fell the way it did. But you can’t ask those kinds of questions if you deny the very existence of ice cream flavors.

    It’s funny how you guys have turned into a bunch of creationists. Now you’re looking for “neat” categories, as if any category in any social science can ever be neat.

  17. It seems naive to assume that there are any “facts” about these issues that will convince those of an oposite persuasion. Rather, “facts” become “real” based on people’s understanding of the world. Such facts enable communities of understanding (where faith and science cannot be told apart). What this current “debate” suggests is communies of shared disbelief in the rhetoric of the other side. As I see it (as a four-field trained ethnographer),the reality of fact/belief/disbelief resides in a community of subscribers, who often enough are looking to see themselves in a good light (smart, educated, true believers etc). And as a Dutch philosopher put it in a discussion of mimesis; it is only in a representation that people (individuals and groups) acquire full correspondence with themselves. Some will look to Wade’s book for that affirmation, others will use it to fuel their disbelief and distrust as they affirm a membership in a separate community. Even before it was out, the book fueled schismogenesis among the Internet savy public

  18. TNT writes:

    “Before moving forward, I commend A.J. West for “fighting the good fight,” and more importantly, showing that many anthropologists are not aspiring literary critics, post-modern phantoms, nor ostriches (i.e., pretend something is nonexistent if we stick our heads in the ground).”

    Pray tell, what “good fight” is this? I mean, beyond the monumentally important task of demonstrating that anthropologists are not literary critics, post-modern phantoms, or a species of large, flightless birds.

    “Such work in genetics demands serious consideration. And while some proponents of the biological existence of race draw from such work, It seems that many, if not most, geneticists would reject that assertion.”

    Well, of course “many geneticists” do. They value their jobs. They also want to be able to get research grants in the future. (A few of them may even have genuine qualms about the science.)

    Anything related to race and genetics is a toxic subject in the Anglosphere, and even a qualified point about the topic has the potential to ruin the person’s life who makes it. So most geneticists, quite sensibly, either stay away from the subject or make ritual public denials about race. (You would think a handful of anthropologists would be interested in these sort of public rituals, but apparently not.)

    And this is where someone like Nicholas Wade is valuable. He’s an important reporter working for a well-known newspaper, and thus is able to get a broad sense of a developing field of study when new work is published.

    Take, for example, this NYT’s article by Wade that he wrote twelve years ago: “Gene Study Identifies 5 Main Human Populations”

    Despite the large shared pool of genetic variation, the small number of differences allows the separate genetic history of each major group to be traced. Even though this split broadly corresponds with popular notions of race, the authors of Science article avoid using the word, referring to the genetic patterning they have found with words like “population structure” and “self-reported population ancestry.”

    But Dr. Feldman said the finding essentially confirmed the popular conception of race. He said precautions should be taken to make sure the new data coming out of genetic studies were not abused.

    “We need to get a team of ethicists and anthropologists and some physicians together to address what the consequences of the next phase of genetic analysis is going to be,” he said. [My emphasis added.]

    But based on the remarks here at this site, I guess the anthropologists still don’t want to play ball. Or as Dr. Alan Goodman, a physical anthropologist at Hampshire College, is reported in the article as preemptively saying: “there is no biological basis for race.”

    Keep fighting the good fight, boys.

  19. “Nobody said you can’t determine Sub Saharan Africans to Native Americans as a cluster genetically. Who says that? The only argument is calling them different races. Why? What you are doing is trying to call different flavors of ice cream entirely different ice cream types.”

    Alright then, don’t call them races. Call them whatever you darn want to.

    The simple fact of the matter is this:

    The two clusters have different allele distributions. Different allele distributions will result in different average phenotype for each cluster.

  20. “It’s funny how you guys have turned into a bunch of creationists. Now you’re looking for “neat” categories, as if any category in any social science can ever be neat.”

    We’re looking for no such thing. If my memory is correct, then Wade himself refers to race as a fuzzy category in his book.

  21. Leif Jonson,

    “It seems naive to assume that there are any “facts” about these issues that will convince those of an oposite persuasion. Rather, “facts” become “real” based on people’s understanding of the world.”

    For TNT’s sake, I certainly hope you’re not an anthropologist because he assures me that they are not “post-modern phantoms.”

  22. TNT writes,

    Have you read Wade’s book?

    Yes, two of them. Before the Dawn and A Troublesome Inheritance. I’ve also read most of his articles over the last decade as well.

    What is race?

    Wade calls them “clusters of variations.” In simplest terms, it’s any group that has both a genetic and geographical or sociological reality. These clusters can change depending on your unit of analysis, but one of the most obvious ways they stand out is when they are divided by continent.

  23. Anon at 8:19 am writes,

    We’re looking for no such thing [i.e., “neat” categories]. If my memory is correct, then Wade himself refers to race as a fuzzy category in his book.

    Well, I was just quoting a poster who compared an illustration of genetic clusters to a “fallen ice cream” cone and said it wasn’t “neat.”

    Look, by all rights, anthropologists ought to be thrilled by this new science. They should be in the intellectual vanguard pushing it. This is their chance to show the solid scientific underpinnings of their field, as it allows them to both ground their discipline in biology and also demonstrate this new science’s limitations in explaining all cultural diversity.

    But so far it appears that most anthropologists, when presented with solid scientific facts, would rather loudly declaim “Unclean ! Unclean ! Unclean !” Like I said, you’ve become creationists.

  24. “Alright then, don’t call them races. Call them whatever you darn want to.”

    So I can call them genetic clusters? Oh thanks man, thank you for giving me permission to call genetic clusters exactly what they are, instead of adding/constructing a different meaning to what they are and then imposing that onto individuals from birth without consent.

    “The simple fact of the matter is this:

    The two clusters have different allele distributions. Different allele distributions will result in different average phenotype for each cluster.”

    What? Anthropology as a whole and I deny the existence of genetic clusters and average phenotypes. Yup, how dare you even argue against that. How dare you. You shall be sent to the dungeon.

  25. There is no way to test the viability of “race” objectively because we really have no idea of what “race” is. Historically, this idea was based purely on subjective assessment of appearances. And, as a social construct, this is how it is still understood today. More recently, with the many remarkable advances in genomics and population genetics, it’s been possible to meaningfully speculate regarding possible correlations between biologically determined genetic features and culturally defined capabilities, such as intelligence, and I suspect that this is really what Wade is writing about. He can’t be writing about race, because this concept was formulated prior to the development of the sort of genetic research he cites and is meaningless in this new context. It would be like modern chemists still using terms like “phlogiston” or biologists referring to the “life force.”

    From what I’ve read in Wade’s book so far, he makes no attempt to actually define the term “race,” using it as though we already were in perfect agreement as to its meaning. But as he himself so enthusiastically demonstrates, that is certainly NOT the case. So why doesn’t he begin by defining it? Imo, for the simple reason that there is in fact no definition that modern biologists and/or social scientists would find acceptable.

  26. Well, this has rather blown up in my absence. I should probably say that, properly speaking, I am not a social anthropologist, and that these days I spend more of my time with epigraphy than ethnography.

    The folk understanding of race is that people fit into certain categories based on their ancestry, not merely genes. That human genetic material has a finite number of early origins is hardly surprising, but the use of the term ‘race’ to describe the variants isn’t in keeping with how the term is usually used – and, more importantly, it seems that humans rarely (if ever) fit into such neat categories. My only familiarity wide Wade’s more recent work is from Charles Murray’s rather biased review, so I’m not sure if Wade uses the term consistently throughout the book. However, it appears that he uses it to refer primarily to the early origins of human genetic material, not to living human populations now. People do not fit neatly into boxes, even if their individuals might (possibly).

    I’m going to read this book, just as I’ve read Cochran and Harpending’s 10,000 Year Explosion. As with that work, it appears to be a mix of evidence and absurd speculation – speculation that, while doubtless enticing to the loopy fringe, is not very sensible or reasonable. It’s this kind of stuff that discredits the book, but it’s the main draw for a lot of these HBD people. Such speculation isn’t rare in the HBD world; it’s the HBDer’s bread and butter.

    Murray gives the impression that Wade attempts to explain the decline of violence in the modern world in terms of genetics, and Jennifer Raff, on twitter, says the same thing. Steven Pinker spent nearly 700 pages showing that the genetic contribution to such things was extremely small, if even present, and that an enormous range of socio-cultural factors were in fact behind this long-term trend. (That this book is hardly a favourite of the anthropologist has not escaped my attention, and Pinker was recently featured alongside Wade in a joke list of important anthropologists on this very site.) Wade apparently thinks he can explain this extremely complex process in terms of genetic change, but he can’t, because it’s not possible to do that. This is just the kind of non-explanation that happens when you assume genes to be more important than social factors.

    Murray seems to think that it’ll be a historic book, but it seems to be another typical work attempting to replace social science with biological science, instead of melding them.

    @Pincher Martin,

    If you need me to show you examples of loopy/idiotic Oxbridge alumni, then perhaps you don’t know any Oxbridge alumni. My favourite example is probably Nick Griffin, a Cambridge graduate and (former?) leader of the British National Party. But there are plenty of others.

  27. If in fact we really wanted to test for a correlation between biologically determined abilities acquired through inheritance, and intelligence, there is in fact a perfectly objective way to do that, though I doubt it’s ever been tried. (Note, by the way, that I did NOT use the word “race” in the above sentence, for reasons given in my previous comment.)

    Find one of the many re-segregated schools in the USA, occupied exclusively by “African-American” students from the same ghetto neighborhood.
    Give them all the same IQ test.
    Then test their DNA along a five point scale, where each is categorized according to his/her ancestry: 1. 100% African; 2. 75% African; 3. 50% African; 4. 25% African; 5. only traces of African ancestry.
    If there is a correlation between where the students fit on the 5 point scale and their IQ score, then that would strongly suggest a correlation between biological inheritance and intelligence. Since all students would be presumably from the same socio-economic background, that would not be a variable, as is so often the case with other attempts to test for the same correlation.

    I have a strong feeling that no significant difference between students with mostly African and mostly non-African biological roots would be found. But it would take some courage to run such a test because, as it seems, very few actually want to risk seeing their preconceptions so clearly falsified.

  28. Victor,

    You don’t get off to a good start here:

    There is no way to test the viability of “race” objectively because we really have no idea of what “race” is. Historically, this idea was based purely on subjective assessment of appearances.

    Rubbish. We do have ways of objectively classifying races. If you can’t bother to read Wade’s book to find out how, then at least read the thread you’re posting in.

    As for your nonsensical notion that races were “based purely on a subjective assessment of appearances” – first, there’s nothing subjective about physical appearance, and, second, if it was “based purely” on “physical appearance,” then why did men like Theodore Roosevelt speak of the “German race” and the Dutch race and use the plural when talking about the “white races” or “European races”

  29. Mr West,

    I didn’t question your point that well-educated men can be loopy. I questioned why you would assume such a thing about Nicholas Wade when you didn’t know the first thing about him or his ideas.

    You continue to make assessments about a book you haven’t read, and a respected journalist you know nothing about, based on your only slightly less informed view of the movement you believe he is part of.

    The folk understanding of race is that people fit into certain categories based on their ancestry, not merely genes.

    Yes, that is the folk understanding and there is something to it, too.

    Just as Darwin was able to intelligently speculate about the selection process for evolution without knowing the first thing about genes, so many people once understood that ancestry was critically important to the nature of all creatures without knowing about the tenets of heritability. Population genetics is now telling us that there was something to those popular notions, that they weren’t all just social constructs.

  30. Pincher Martin, your red herrings (e.g. what is the good fight?) do not add intellectual substance to this discussion about Wade’s book. .

    I specifically asked if you’ve read Wade’s latest book. You respond tells me that you are aware of his past work. I still wonder if his ideas have developed along with recent studies in genetics or otherwise. It could very well be the case that Wade, in his latest book, cites the latest advances along with recent studies in genetics. At this point I have no reason to believe otherwise and I will review the matter once I get my hands on a copy of the book.

    Given the tone of your posts, I initially asked you to answer two questions:

    i) What is race?
    ii) In what way do human biological differences account for differences in behavior, prosperity, “intelligence”?

    It delights me that you did provide a concise response.

    The following definition, that you attribute to Wade, is worth analyzing:

    ““clusters of variations.” In simplest terms, it’s any group that has both a genetic and geographical or sociological reality. These clusters can change depending on your unit of analysis, but one of the most obvious ways they stand out is when they are divided by continent.”

    Before reviewing the definition, I must mention that a senior researcher, Victor Graur, has already pointed out that the term ‘race’ predates contemporary research in genetics. What is telling from your response is that the term is absent. In its place we have ‘cluster of variations.’

    Is there a valid reason to divide clusters by a given location?

    Group X is a race if group X resides in Y location & share N genes?

    My household is a group that shares a geographic location. While my wife is not a consanguine, I do, indeed, share genetic material with my children. Me and my children are recognized as a group, a family, by the American authorities at various levels: city, county, state, federal. Our neighbors also recognize us as a family. And more importantly, other ethnic X also recognize us as fellow ethnic X.

    Does the aforementioned make us a race?

    We fit the criteria: we are a group that shares genetic and geographical or sociological reality (I’m not sure what is meant by sociological reality but I will assume socially shared understanding or recognition of a given phenomona).

    Let’s say that I am the son of a Swedish man of Scandanavian and Samii heritage, and a West African mother whose heritage is subsaharan African, Mediterranean, and Semitic. My wife is an American, considered Anglo-American but her mother has some Native American heritage while her father is the child of the union between a Punjabi man and Mexican woman.

    Would my children and I still be a race?

    You might not find the aforementioned scenarios to your liking. It just happens that such scenarios are common.

  31. Hello everyone. I’ve turned manual comment moderation back on in order to more closely moderate this post. Several of the comments that have been submitted are moving towards a violation of our comment policy because they 1) do not assume good faith 2) criticize and denounce rather than explain and convince and 3) are abusive, mean, and call people names.

    I’ll be working to clear all of your comments out of the queue (short and productive comments are the easiest to approve, longer ones that walk the line between just having a negative tone and calling people names require more focus and thought). Thanks for your patience.

  32. “Then test their DNA along a five point scale, where each is categorized according to his/her ancestry: 1. 100% African; 2. 75% African; 3. 50% African; 4. 25% African; 5. only traces of African ancestry.”

    You would have to account for epigenetics too. Which will take a few generations from starting the research.

  33. and then account for the gene/environment difference because someone might just need a different environment to achieve the same thing as the other person depending on genes.

    It is exceedingly complicated. No where near what Wade suggests, because he selects his evidence to push what he wants.

    The thing is that even if things are hereditary like height, the entire average difference between two groups can be environmentally caused thanks to epigenetics. Height and IQ have been increasing on average and height is more hereditary than IQ IIRC.

    Peoples IQs have been tested to change by more than 20 points too, you can go check for yourself. Also you can wake up one day and have a new mathematical or artistic ability. Its called acquired savant syndrome. The structure of your brain changes depending on what you do with it. Playing games, exercising, meditating, eating certain foods can change it directly in few weeks. Just google it, if you don’t believe me.

    The point is that psychological traits are absolutely nothing like other physical traits. Saying oh look there are average differences in hair color, lip shapes and skin tones so there must be meaningful psychological ones is foolish.

    You can’t wake up one day and have a new athletic ability you did not have before, you can’t change your height after you are an adult, but with the brain and its structure, the abilities you have can change rapidly even over night, no matter the age. Peoples entire personalities can change, they can score low on tests one day and then do well the next. Just because there is a average likely hood/correlation of groups given certain conditions do not mean that they as a group can’t change massively.

  34. I didn’t question your point that well-educated men can be loopy.

    You asked me to ‘name some’ crazy Oxbridge alumni. So I did. Again, argument from authority is a logical fallacy.

    Population genetics is now telling us that there was something to those popular notions, that they weren’t all just social constructs.

    No, it’s telling us that all kinds of populations were mixing even way back in the Pleistocene, and that, for example, West Eurasian DNA is found even in Khoisan-speaking groups (probably as a result of the Cushitic expansion into Africa). It’s telling us that our genetic material comes from all over the place. That’s why Cavalli-Sforza doesn’t believe in race: he actually knows what he’s talking about.

  35. Prof. Blub: Sorry but I don’t get the points you’re trying to make. My test corrects for bias based on socio-economic status and environmental influence, and should thus be a relatively clean test of the oft-made assertion that biology (i.e., “genes”) is a predictor of intelligence. Since we would be dealing with a relatively large population, evaluated statistically, I don’t think the possibility of someone suddenly becoming more (or less) intelligent overnight would be a factor. And while epigenetics may well be an important factor in human evolution, I don’t see it’s relevance in this situation.

  36. Pincher Martin sez, and I quote: “We do have ways of objectively classifying races.”

    No, actually we don’t. You think we do. Wade thinks we do. But only because you both take the word “race” for granted, assuming ahead of time that you (we) understand what it means, but we don’t. The problem isn’t that of classifying races, the problem is understanding what race is in the first place. You can’t classify something that does not exist. And you can’t bring it into existence by classifying something else.

    We have ways of classifying populations. We have ways of classifying populations biologically. That’s what population geneticists do. And while it’s true that certain of these classifications give us something very roughly similar to certain venerable “racial” distinctions, that by no means tells us that these are “racial” classifications. All it tells us is that certain traditional ways of classifying human groups on the basis of racial stereotypes (NOT science) do happen to coincide with certain classifications done by population geneticists. So, yes, people with slanty eyes do likely have at least some Asian heritage in their genomes. And people with “negroid” features do likely have a least some African heritage in their genomes. And yes, certain discoveries made by the alchemists are in fact consistent with the findings of modern chemistry. But no one in his right mind would confuse the two.

  37. “You asked me to ‘name some’ crazy Oxbridge alumni. So I did. Again, argument from authority is a logical fallacy.”

    All I asked was for you to name some of Wade’s “loopy views.” I did not ask, “Like who? Name some.” I asked, “Like what? Name some.”

    “No, it’s telling us that all kinds of populations were mixing even way back in the Pleistocene, and that, for example, West Eurasian DNA is found even in Khoisan-speaking groups (probably as a result of the Cushitic expansion into Africa). It’s telling us that our genetic material comes from all over the place. That’s why Cavalli-Sforza doesn’t believe in race: he actually knows what he’s talking about.”

    The mixture of continental genetic clusters was marginal and restricted mostly to the edges of the continents. Like nearly every other biological category, it’s a fuzzy set. But it’s clearly a set. Even Cavalli-Sforza agreed they were distinct.

    Cavalli-Sforza is an old dude. He was debating the physicist William Shockley in the seventies about these issues. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that he would be reticent to characterize his recent work in such a way that would contradict his liberal politics.

    Here is Wade on Cavalli-Sforza’s 1994 study:

    In 1994 , in one of the earliest attempts to study human differentiation in terms of DNA differences, a research team led by Anne Bowcock of the University of Texas and Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford University looked at CA repeats at 30 sites on the genome in people from 14 populations. Comparing their subjects on the basis of the number of CA repeats at each genomic site, the researchers found that people clustered together in groups that were coincident with their continent of origin. In other words , all the Africans had patterns of CA repeats that resembled one another, all the American Indians had a different pattern of repeats and so on. Altogether there were 5 principal clusters of CA repeats, formed by people living in each of the 5 continental regions of Africa, Europe, East Asia, the Americas and Australasia.

    Many larger and more sophisticated surveys have been done since, and all have come to the same conclusion, that “genetic differentiation is greatest when defined on a continental basis,” writes Neil Risch, a statistical geneticist at the University of California , San Francisco. “Effectively, these population genetic studies have recapitulated the classical definition of races based on continental ancestry…

    So ignore what Cavalli-Sforza is telling you to appease your political sensibilities and look at his work.

  38. Bibi,

    “You would have to account for epigenetics too. Which will take a few generations from starting the research.”

    Why? If an admixture study of IQ holds up on its own, you don’t have to account for a more complex answer. If it doesn’t hold up, then you can look for other explanations.

    Occam’s Razor and all that.

  39. Bibi writes,

    “Peoples IQs have been tested to change by more than 20 points too, you can go check for yourself.”

    People have been known to grow eight inches after high school, too. It’s extremely atypical.

    Longitudinal studies of IQ have shown it’s a highly stable characteristic. One of the most famous of these studies is the Scottish Mental Survey, which began in 1932 and is still ongoing.

    Also you can wake up one day and have a new mathematical or artistic ability. Its called acquired savant syndrome.

    These conditions are so rare as to be outside the range of cognitive science. They’re hard to verify and study.

    Typically, when scholars study a general characteristic in the population, such as height, they don’t begin with Robert Wadlow. These oddities may tell us something about the characteristic, but one ought to acquaint himself with the normal range of the characteristic before moving to the abnormal as the model for understanding the trait.

    The point is that psychological traits are absolutely nothing like other physical traits. Saying oh look there are average differences in hair color, lip shapes and skin tones so there must be meaningful psychological ones is foolish.

    There’s not the slightest reason to believe that man’s psychological traits are any more separated from evolution than his physical traits, regardless of what the superstitious Alfred Russel Wallace and the politically-motivated Stephen Jay Gould wanted you to believe.

  40. Victor,

    “The problem isn’t that of classifying races, the problem is understanding what race is in the first place. You can’t classify something that does not exist. And you can’t bring it into existence by classifying something else.”

    Using some other name for race doesn’t help your argument. Races were rarely considered discrete categories in Western scientific discourse. They were always biological populations.

    So when you say we have ways to classify “populations” but not “races,” you simply making a semantic objection. You’re objecting to any discussion of race based on some taboo for using the word by waving your gads and stamping your feet.

    A race by any other name is still a race. Call it a population group. Call it a cline. Call it a subspecies. Call it a rosy, ripe tomato, for all I care. You’re still just using a euphemism for the word race if you’re talking about the genetic clusters that correspond to the old anthropological categories which were largely associated with continental populations.

  41. CORRECTION:

    “So when you say we have ways to classify “populations” but not “races,” you’re simply making a semantic objection. You’re objecting to any discussion of race based on some taboo for using the word by waving your hands and stamping your feet.”

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