Saturday, March 5, 2016
Monday, January 11, 2016
I once read somewhere that the most interesting thing about human evolution is how everbody thinks they understand it.
I suspect it's because everyone thinks they own a piece of it. It's the story of where we came from, after all! And not just any story of where we came from - it's the authoritative, scientific story.
The authoritative origin stories are not like other stories. They are value-laden in ways that other scientific stories are not. Archaeology is routinely used in the service of nationalism, for example. Rather moreso, at least, than fruitfly genetics is, so a fruitfly geneticist, or a general biologist, might be excused for not being an appropriately critical reader of the literature on human evolution or diversity, where there is rather more at stake. It is a different and unfamiliar literature to them, and consequently requires some additional intellectual effort for a trained biologist to make sense of. Some don't bother.
Now, there have been some very insightful contributions to the scholarly literature on human variation and evolution from biologists, even fruitfly geneticists, over the years. I can think of three off the top of my head.
In science, our answers to the question of where we came from are stories that center around a descent from the apes. And our characters are already there for us: The human lineage is composed of species, just like the units of paleontology and ecology. A recent ethnographic paper by Eben Kirksey begins, "Taxonomists, who describe new species, are acutely aware of how political, economic, and ecological forces bring new forms of life into being." That is probably true, but I think generally not in the first person. That is to say, the taxonomist working with "political, economic, and ecological forces" is usually somebody else; I'm the taxonomist who is uncovering raw nature.
Back in 1945, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson was reviewing the literature on mammal taxonomy, but when he got to humans, he found it impenetrable. He had an idea why it was so impenetrable to him, as well: “A major reason for this confusion is that much of the work on primates has been done by students who had no experience in taxonomy and who were completely incompetent to enter this field, however competent they may have been in other respects”.
Granted that many of the workers in the field may have been trained principally in medical anatomy rather than in evolutionary paleontology, Simpson thought it was reasonable to expect that an expert on the species of other kinds of mammals should be able to translate freely to the literature on human evolution, because the units ought to be the same. But he misunderstood the species in our own lineage, for these taxonomic entities are not like the taxa of biology. Simpson hoped to study his ancestors dispassionately and rationally, as perhaps Vulcans contemplate their ancestors. But a purely rational and logical Vulcan approach to ancestry involves not dividing people into relatives and non-relatives, for they acknowledge that rationally and logically, everyone is related. They also do not consider ancestry beyond the twelfth generation (approximately 300 earth-years, because in the 12th generation, every sexually-reproducing organism had 4096 ancestors, which is rather a lot to track; and each contributed less than 1/40 of 1% of the genome, so none of them on average is particularly genetically significant). But we aren’t Vulcans, we are Earthlings, and we treat our kinship and descent in all kinds of meaningfully irrational (but nevertheless coherent and logical!) ways, even in science.
The classification of our ancestors is still vexed. Sure, scientists acknowledge some of our colleagues to be “lumpers” or “splitters” – interpreting anatomical diversity among the fossils to be the result of age, sex, pathology, deformation, and microevolution, thus “lumping” the fossils into few species; or conversely “splitting” them into many species by interpreting the anatomical diversity taxonomically. But there is something else going on here. This is participation in the construction of an authoritative story of our ancestry. There is simply more at stake than in the narrative of clam or deer ancestry. The units here, the species, are not comparable to the species the zoologist is familiar with, for these are not units of ecological genetics, but units of story.
The lumper story is one of the continuity and survival of the lineage; the splitter story is one of diversity and extinction of different lineages. Is the story of our ancestry like a tree trunk, or like a bush? The lumper inclines to the former; the splitter inclines to the latter. But those are significantly different shrubbery metaphors to be imposing upon the same sample of fossils.
Some decades after Simpson lodged his complaint, paleobiologist Tim White reiterated it, while reviewing a book on the history of "the" 22 species in our lineage: “Many of the putative species are chronotaxa; others are not even valid species in that sense. No one really thinks that available hominid fossils represent 22 separate species lineages in the last six million years.” Except, possibly, for the authors of the book under review.
Or perhaps they didn’t really believe it either. The assumption here that needs to be interrogated is that the fossil taxa of other groups of animals are comparable – are made the same way, for the same reasons, of the same elements – as the fossil taxa of our own ancestors. And that is the key error: Fossil animal species are units of biology; fossil human ancestors are bio-cultural units of narrative. This is not to say that they don’t overlap, and that there were no zoological species in our ancestry. The problem is that those zoological species are inaccessible to us, and so – rather like the angels sitting on the pinheads – we can see different numbers of species and tell quite different stories from the same empirical database. This is consequently not an empirical issue at all, but a hermeneutic issue.
A recent book by a historian tells readers on its cover that 100,000 years ago “at least six human species inhabited the earth.” Yet few practicing biological anthropologists would come up with the number six as the target number of species in the human lineage that inhabited the earth 100,000 years ago; and far fewer would acknowledge the particular six that the author does: Homo sapiens, H. neanderthalensis, H. erectus, H. soloensis, H. denisova, and H. floresiensis. After all, “H. denisova” has not been formally named, and is based on the genome of a Siberian finger bone, which is itself simply a variant of the Neanderthal genome, which is not clearly a different species in the first place, since recreational genomic ancestry services (for about $200) will now identify the circa 5% of your genome that ostensibly comes from Neanderthals, which sounds very un-species-like.
Is the tally right or wrong, then? It is actually neither. We can’t say, because the zoological answer is inaccessible to us. These are units of mythology, not of zoology.
Another of the six presumptive species 100,000 years ago is Homo soloensis. That name is a linguistic marker, denoting a particular set of Indonesian fossils, anatomically continuous with Homo erectus before and with Homo sapiens after. As such, it is a named place-saver for a part of the human lineage – a rivulet, or capillary, or rhizome that better represents its elements metaphorically than a tree-limb does. But in the words of Tim White, “no one really thinks” that this set of fossils represents a valid zoological species of their own. There is no Homo soloensis. In other words, the ontological status of Homo soloensis is the same as that of Mother Corn Spirit. Neither is a unit of nature, but a unit of meaning or narrative which, to a believer, is perfectly sensible in the context of a story about origins. Homo soloensis is something, but it is not a zoologically familiar species, a fact of nature, so to speak. It is a named fictive ancestor, with more symbolic than naturalistic properties. In the most fundamental way, human ancestry is self-consciously a story, and taxa like Homo soloensis and H. denisova are the components of this particular historical account.
And likewise, Homo naledi, the newest major addition to our family tree. “But is it real?“ some journalists queried. Of course it’s real, you didn’t just imagine it. “But is it real biologically?” they persist. And that is my point: It doesn’t matter; Homo naledi is not an element of biology; it is an element of our origin story. It is part of the bricolage of origin story-making. There is no true or false answer to Homo naledi as a zoological species; for the category of zoological species does not apply to things like Homo naledi. The mistake here lies in assuming that Homo naledi designates a unit of zoology; that there is an underlying natural taxonomy in human ancestry that will be revealed by the proper ratiocination. If you're looking for zoological reality, look for it at the genus level. It isn't there at the species level.
Such is the long-standing taxonomic fallacy in grappling with the science of who we are and where we come from. On a bio-political terrain, a preparation in biology is inadequate to comprehend the taxonomy, for it is not biological taxonomy. To the extent that our ancestry is populated by species, those species are attempts to impose a taxonomic structure, which we assume ought to be there, upon an assortment of fossils from various times and places, with diverse anatomies, representing distinct lineages different from one another and yet connected in complex ways. There are a lot of ways of doing it, and they are all very sensitive to the conditions under which the science itself is practiced.
If the Neanderthals and the Denisovans are not like zoological species, then what might they be like? And here we return to Linnaeus. They would be at most subspecies, as Linnaeus considered unfamiliar peoples to be. In other words, the classification of extinct humans intergrades into the classification of extant humans. This fallacy – imposing taxonomic structure upon our ancestry, and mistaking the bio-political categories of our story for natural units – is the same fallacy we find at the heart of race. For race, the meaningful story is “Who are we?” rather than “Where did we come from?” but the problem is the same, mistaking bio-political units of people for zoological units of people. And those two questions are invariably intertwined, whether the answer comes from science or from any other system of explanatory narrative.
* This blog post is cobbled together from some forthcoming work, mostly Why is Science Racist? (Polity Press, 2017).
 Simpson, G. G. (1945) The principles of classification and a classification of mammals Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 85:1-349, quotation from p. 181.
 Vulcan is the “Star Trek” planet, notable for the overbearing rationality of its inhabitants.
 White, T. D. (2008) Review of The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans, by G J Sawyer and Viktor Deak. Quarterly Review of Biology 83:105-106, quotation from p. 105.
 Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962) used the term “bricolage” to refer to the available elements a mythmaker draws on, while tinkering with them to construct a resonant story. It was borrowed by molecular biologist François Jacob (1977) to argue that evolution is more like a tinkerer than like an engineer.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
The nutters at The American Renaissance are promoting A Troublesome Inheritance like mad. Likewise at The Occidental Observer. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center,
Wade’s book has been publicly endorsed by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, championed by noted white supremacists like Jared Taylor, John Derbyshire, and Steve Sailer, and tirelessly promoted on the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront .... For all of Wade’s supposed concerns about the politicization of science, his book is entirely a phenomenon of the racist, far-right fringe.
I wonder whether Nicholas Wade comes home and says, "My book is a best-seller, and the Nazis love me. Life is good.".
Of course that’s not an argument against the book. That’s just data about who likes the book very much. Now let’s recap Wade's arguments (slightly modified from my last post).
- Modern scientific views about human variation are politically correct myths produced by Marxist anthropologists, who are stifling serious discussion of human variation.
- The human species really does come naturally divisible into a fairly small number of fairly discrete kinds of people, or “races”. Human groups are fundamentally products of biological history.
- These groups have genetic distinctions that cause personality distinctions. These include “genetic adaptations” of the Chinese to obedience, Jews to capitalism, and Africans to violence.
- Economic strata and nations are also fundamentally biological entities, with their own natural proclivities.
- Global geo-political history can be understood and explained by its significant genetic component.
In Wade’s own words, he is exploring “the possibility that human behavior has a genetic basis that varies from one race to another”; “trust has a genetic basis”; and “national disparities in wealth arise from differences in intelligence”. Wade’s scholarship is poor, his arguments are spurious, his science is cherry-picked and misrepresented, he dismisses the real science, and the ideas he promotes are racist fictions.
Context is important for understanding Wade's new book. Some of what follows is derived from my essays in In These Times and The Huffington Post. A lot isn't.
Perhaps the most important discovery of early anthropology was that social inequality was inherited, but not in the same way that natural features were. You pass on your complexion to your children and you pass on your social status to your children, but you do so by very different modes. The first would eventually come to be called “genetics” and the second, “culture” – and their relationship is that, although they are often correlated, the microevolutionary processes of genetics and the historical processes of culture are phenomenologically distinct.
The birth pangs of this discovery occurred in the mid-19th century, in the works of the near-contemporaries Arthur de Gobineau and Karl Marx. Marx, of course, recognized the fact that human misery was the result of political economy and wrote an influential critique of it. Gobineau’s work was easier to understand, because he posited that civilization was the result of biology. There were better and worser peoples, and in the ten places he thought that civilization arose, it was brought by the better peoples (“Aryans”), who eventually interbred with the local yokels, thus bringing forth a decline of said civilization.
Gobineau’s idiotic theory impressed few scholars, even in an age where civilization and race had not yet been well problematized. It was seen as a transparent attempt to rationalize the existence of the hereditary aristocracy in an age when all manner of traditional class distinctions were breaking down, and people of humble origins were becoming wealthy and powerful, and republican institutions were supplanting monarchial ones. The early physical anthropologist (and polygenist, pro-slavery physician) Josiah Nott had it translated into English in 1856, but it wasn’t widely read, being mooted by the Civil War. A second English edition in the UK, during World War I, did a bit better, until it too was mooted by politics, this time by World War II. You can get it online, by the way, thanks to “The Christian Identity Forum”. (Whoever they are, the folks at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries don’t want to have anything to do with them, and identify the Christian Identity movement as “centered on a racist/anti-Semitic and white supremacy”.)
In 1969, the right-wing plant geneticist Cyril Darlington published a genetic history of the human species , called The Evolution of Man and Society. The trick, of course, is that you know a little bit of the history, but you just get to make up the racial and class genetics. So ancient Greece gets a make-believe genetic treatment, in terms of Aryan invaders subjugating local peoples and admixing with them.
It was something created and maintained by a stratified society, a society built up by the working together of many peoples, Minoan merchants, Mycenean scribes, Egyptian masons and artists, Aegean sailors, Phoenician boat builders and also priests, each caste except the slaves preserving its own genetic independence, and hence its own separate traditions, while learning, some readily, some reluctantly, to speak the common Semitic language on which the society depended for its well-being. (p. 155)
[i]nvaders from the northern Balkans burst into the Mediterranean world. They penetrated Anatolia…. Later under the name of Dorians they invaded the centre and south of Greece….. [T] he same invaders attacked the Egyptians who threw them back. But they were able as Philistines to settle in and give their name to Palestine; and to set up colonies in Crete, Libya, Sicily, and Italy. These maritime achievements, could not, however, have been the work of the inland Aryans who knew nothing of the sea. Rather they represent the fragments of Anatolian and Balkan peoples already subjugated by Aryan invaders. (p. 155).
Each city arose from the fusion of several racial stocks speaking their own dialects and worshipping their own gods. (p. 157).
Obviously people moved around sometimes, but the idea that they remained genetically stable, much less had particular aptitudes that determined their place in a stable, rigid genetic caste system is at best non-empirical, and at worst racist bullshit.
The Homeric society… was ruled by kings who were advised by nobles (or men with ancestors) and applauded by ordinary freemen. This limitation of arbitrary government by custom was derived from the racial character and social structure of the Aryan invader of Greece. It distinguished them from most of the ancient peoples who however provided the genetic elements…. (p. 163)
And to cap it off, “The result of these developments was to make the Spartan aristocracy a pure race.” To which Darlington appended a clarifying footnote “We are often told by popular writers that there are no examples of pure races of men. We shall be noting many examples and observing the predictable similarity in their history” (p. 165).
Darlington’s work had its predecessors, like Hans F. K. Gunther’s Rassenkunde Europas, which was translated by Nazi assholes in 1927 as The Racial Elements of European History and has been digitized by modern Nazi assholes and is available here.
There are differences between The Evolution of Man and Society and The 10,000 Year Revolution, to be sure. Darlington’s work was over 750 pages of small font, erudite, tightly-spaced bullshit, while The 10,000 Year Explosion is 288 pages of ignorant, widely-spaced bullshit. Where Darlington’s bullshit about the ancient Greeks ran to scores of pages of make-believe genetics, Cochran and Harpending dispense with them in just a couple of paragraphs, noting that the ancient Greeks had colonies and that their gene pools fought off malaria. Of rather more interest to them are the Etruscans, “a somewhat mysterious people who spoke a non-Indo-European language that we have not yet deciphered.” But undeterred by such agnotological issues, they explain that the “Etruscans added a healthy dose of Middle eastern, agriculture-shaped alleles into the Roman mix. We have reason to suspect that those alleles shaped attitudes as well as affecting metabolism and disease resistance” (p. 144).
Not surprisingly, also unconstrained by relevant data, Darlington blows a bigger bag of genetic gas about the Etruscans. According to Darlington, they had a “genetic particularism [which caused] a lack of political unity” and connected them with Hittite ancestors, thus demonstrating that “the genetic continuity overrides the cultural discontinuity” (p. 238).
And there are similarities too. Darlington is very interested in the Jews. He devotes two chapters to them, and “Jews” is the longest entry in his copious index. But although he is obviously a bit too creepily interested in them, he remarks only in passing that some of them have been smart, and at least stops short of geneticizing that. The first on board that ship was actually C. P. Snow – of “The Two Cultures”, according to a New York Times article in 1969. Unsurprisingly, it generated a bit of correspondence.
And that’s really what The 10,000 Year Explosion is really all about – asserting that the idosyncracies of the Ashkenazi Jewish gene pool, which most geneticists today attribute to genetic drift, is really due to natural selection for intelligence. In the same way that some populations are genetically shielded from the worst aspects of malaria, the Ashkenazi Jews are shielded from the worst aspects of stupidity. And although the Cochran-Harpending book is not cited in Nicholas Wade’s brand-new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, their other work is, and his arguments are heavily derivative upon theirs.
Nicholas Wade is one of the premier science journalists in America, and an avid promoter of molecular genetics, particularly as applied to anthropological questions. But his professional idiosyncrasies are well known; the Anthropology News did a story on him in 2007, and he told them, “Anyone who’s interested in cultural anthropology should escape as quickly as they can from their cultural anthropology department and go and learn some genetics, which will be the foundation of cultural anthropology in the future.” A discussion of his new book about genetics and anthropology, then, should probably begin with a recollection of his last book on the subject, Before the Dawn (2007).
It was reviewed in the journal Science by Rebecca Cann, who did not exactly gush.
As a graduate student, I was amazed by the number of books popularizing human paleontology that ignored human genetics, and I often wished that there were science writers energized to follow the new insights from geneticists as closely and rapidly as others reported interpretations of fragmentary fossils. Well, be careful what you wish for.
It was also reviewed in Nature, where he was deemed to be “in step with a long march of social darwinists”. And to gauge from the new book, he still is.
The theme of A Troublesome Inheritance is an unusual one for a science journalist, namely that the scientists themselves are all wrong about the things that they are experts in, and it will take a naïf like the author, unprejudiced by experience, judgment, or actual knowledge, to straighten them out. If this sounds like a template for a debate with a creationist, well, yes, I suppose it does. That is because the nature of the intellectual terrain – the authoritative story of where we came from and who we are – lies on the contested turf of human kinship, and everybody thinks they own a piece of it.
Wade’s ambition, then, is not to popularize the science, but to invalidate the science. He explains that anthropologists, who have been studying human variation for a while, and who think they have learned something about it, have actually been blinded by their prejudices – politically-correct prejudices, that is. And his message to them egghead perfessers is that he believes the science of 250 years ago was better than that of today: There are just a few basic kinds of people, and economic stratification is just an expression of an underlying genetic stratification.
Lest you think the author is an exponent of racism or social Darwinism, he is quick to tell you that he isn’t. He’s read a book or two on each of those subjects. He doesn’t think he is a racist because a racist believes that natural groups of people are universally or transcendently rankable, whereas he only believes they are rankable intellectually. And he doesn’t think he is a social Darwinist because that was an ideologically-driven “perversion of science” to be laid at the feet of Herbert Spencer, and he is quite certain that he is not an ideologue. He is simply exploring a few propositions, such as: “the possibility that human behavior has a genetic basis that varies from one race to another”; “trust has a genetic basis”; and “national disparities in wealth arise from differences in intelligence”. Eventually he even comes around to “the adaptation of the Jews to capitalism.” And lest you think that he is using the term adaptation in the broad sense of “fit to the environment” he explains that he only uses the term in the narrow sense of tweaking the gene pool - “a genetically based evolutionary response to circumstances”.
The punch line of the book, however, is not really about anthropology at all, but about history. Towards the end of the book, Wade finally confronts his bête-noire, the biologist Jared Diamond, whose 1997 best-seller, Guns, Germs, and Steel, took a self-consciously anti-racist approach to the subject of human history, and concluded that the answers to the big questions about how the modern social-political-economic world came to be as it is lie in the domains of geology and ecology. Wade rejects this, because he believes the answers lie in the domain of genetics. Actually, though, they’re both wrong, for the answers to those questions lie in the domain of history.
Guns, Germs and Steel was admired by biologists, but generally ignored by historians. Why? Because it wasn’t a very modern approach to history. If history is reducible to nature (ecology and geography in one case, genetics in the other), then history doesn’t really happen. You just wait long enough, and eventually it merely unfolds. Why? Because the explanations for things lie outside of the relations among the things themselves, but lie instead in nature. The historian William McNeill pointed that out in his review of Diamond in the New York Review of Books, judging that book to be “a clever caricature rather than a serious effort to understand what happened across the centuries and millennia of world history.” And finally, McNeill lowered the boom on Diamond’s politically correct, biologized history: “I conclude that Diamond … has never condescended to become seriously engaged with the repeated surprises of world history, unfolding lifetime after lifetime and turning, every so often, upon single, deliberate acts.” When Diamond objected that his book was profound and scientific, McNeill reiterated, arguing that historians have “more respect for natural history than Diamond has for the conscious level of human history. He wants simple answers to processes far more complex than he has patience to investigate.”
For the most part, though, historians were dazzled by Diamond’s erudition, relieved that he wasn’t a racist, impressed by the story he told, and they treated the book politely and deferentially. And A Troublesome Inheritance is the racist chicken that has come home to roost. Wade explicitly opposes his book to Diamond’s, and attempts to explain the big picture of human history not in terms of the shapes of the continents, but in terms of the innate qualities of the people inhabiting the continents. History is not history, you see, it is genetics.
At the heart of A Troublesome Inheritance is a simple dissimulation. Wade repeatedly asserts that his interlocutors are mixing their politics with their science, but he isn’t, for he is just promoting value-neutral, ideology-free science. And yet the primary sources for Wade’s discussion of the history of human society are Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington. One gets the impression that either Wade is lying, or he wouldn’t be able to recognize ideology if looked him dead in the eye and slapped him silly.
Before advancing his thesis, Wade prepares the way, explaining that – unlike what anthropologists have concluded – first, race is biologically real; second, the course of human history is biology; and third, this is all ideologically neutral.
The problem, he believes, lies with the anthropologists, who have been ideologically corrupted, sometimes by their Marxism, sometimes by their desire to be politically correct, sometimes by their persecuted Jewish origins. There is no indication that Wade realizes it, but this argument was originally put forward by a segregationist activist in the early 1960s named Carleton Putnam. It was bullshit then, and it’s bullshit now. Moreover, it was political then, and it’s political now. In fact you can download it from the friendly folks at the Christian Identity Forum for free, or buy a copy for just $12.95 from Nicholas Wade’s supporters at the American Renaissance.
But that raises the question: When Wade makes the argument that the topic is so political that anthropological science has been ideologically corrupted by anthropological politics, how do we know that Wade’s vision is not also political? If you have already acknowledged that you are on political terrain, we should have some evidence that your own science is less politicized, especially when your views are so convergent with those of certain political extremists. And when you consider that the most genetically knowledgeable reviewers of Wade’s work have found remarkably little value in his ideas about the subject, it does seem that Wade is rather more politicized than the anthropologists, not less.
But this raises the odd question of just how a science journalist can position himself so self-consciously against the science he reports on. Imagine a journalist writing a book claiming that chemists are all wrong about chemistry. Would such a lunatic even find a publisher? But anthropology is a special science, and he does find a publisher. Why? Because, contrary to his own misbegotten contention, it is indeed political; it’s politics all the way down. That doesn’t mean that there is no knowledge, of course, only that we have to be extra careful in evaluating the diverse kinds of data and conclusions, because there are more variables at work.
Wade quickly notes that IQs differ geographically, and doesn’t question the assumption that this is a precise measure of small differences in innate brain power, but does reassure his readers that “a higher IQ score doesn’t make East Asians morally superior to other races.” But moral ranking isn’t the issue; intellectual ranking is at issue. And if you believe, as Wade does, that Africans have less of this innate brain power, on the average, than Europeans do – which implies that a randomly chosen African is likely to be constitutionally dumber than a randomly chosen European - well, that made you a racist in 1962, and that makes you a racist now.
Wade lays out his ideas about race in Chapter 5, as a rhetorical exercise in selective and mis-reporting. His centerpiece is a 2002 paper, published in Science by a group led by Stanford geneticist Marcus Feldman, which used a computer program called Structure to cluster populations of the world by their DNA similarities. When they asked the computer to cluster peoples of the world into two groups, the computer gave them EurAfrica and Asia-Oceania-America. When they asked the computer for three groups, the computer gave them Europe, Africa, and Asia-Oceania-America. When they asked the computer for four groups, it gave them Europe, Africa, Asia-Oceania, and America. When they asked it for five groups, it gave them essentially the continents. And when it asked the computer for six, it gave them the continents and the Kalash people of Pakistan. (They asked the computer for many more clusters, but only published the results up to six.)
Wade misreported these results as validating the five races in The New York Times back in 2002. In an important edited volume from 2008 called Revisiting Race In a Genomic Age, Deborah Bolnick explained the misinterpretation of the results from Structure, and the senior author of that study, Marcus Feldman, also explained those results quite differently than Wade does. In fact, I’ve heard Feldman say that Wade has totally misrepresented his work and misquoted him. Why, then, does Wade persist in this genetic misreporting? Perhaps for the same reason he persists in his anthropological misreporting. In Chapter 6, Wade casually explains that among “the Yanomamo of Venezuela and Brazil, aggressive men are valued as defenders in the incessant warfare between villages, and those who have killed in battle – the unokais – have on the average 2.5 more children than men who have not killed, according to the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon,” citing Chagnon’s 1988 paper that indeed made that claim. And yet, although that claim has been definitively shown to be bunk – that is to say, not robustly derivable from the data – Wade continues to repeat it, most recently in The New York Times last year. There is, again, a direct parallel to arguing with creationists here: they have their story and they will stick to it, and reality just doesn’t matter to them. (And just between you and me, I’d be very interested to find out what Napoleon Chagnon thinks of this book!)
“History is bunk” said Henry Ford, and Wade is not too keen to worry about getting his history right, either. He presents the reader with Linnaeus’s 1735 classification of humans into species, rather than his 1758 classification of humans into subspecies (which is more important, since that is the work with which biological systematics officially begins). He also says that “Linnaeus did not perceive a hierarchy of races,” although that is hard to reconcile with Linnaeus's terse descriptions of Europeans, Asians, Americans, and Africans for either covering (wears tight-fitting clothes, wears loose-fitting clothes, paints himself with fine red lines, anoints himself with grease) or governance (law, custom, opinion, caprice). Sounds pretty hierarchical to me.
Moreover, says Wade, the 18th century American craniologist Samuel George Morton “did not in fact believe … that intelligence was correlated with brain size.” Nevertheless Morton does characterize “The Caucasian Race” in Crania Americana (1839) as follows: “The skull is large and oval…. This race is endowed for the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments.” And for “The American Race,” Morton records, “The skull is small…. In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge….” Sure sounds like he thought they were correlated.
Wade’s admiration for Morton seems to be based in large part on his uncritical reading of a bizarre 2011 article that made some unfounded claims against the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Wade actually quotes approvingly an especially false statement from that paper, “Morton, in the hands of Stephen Jay Gould, has served for 30 years as a textbook example of scientific misconduct.” But that statement is doubly false: Morton’s work is not at all presented as a paradigmatic example of misconduct, and indeed, even Gould explicitly said it was unconscious bias, not scientific misconduct. The paper quoted by Wade had bogus citations in support of that statement: a book of mine that did not cite Morton at all on the subject of scientific misconduct, and a book by C. Loring Brace that explicitly cited it as not scientific misconduct. I’ll let Gould speak for himself here: “Yet through all this juggling, I detect no sign of fraud or conscious manipulation.” [S. J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 1981: 69].
When Wade gets around to Darwin, he makes some impressive misstatements as well. Darwin of course wrote The Origin of Species in 1859 and avoided the topic of people (which is probably why the book is still readable today). But Wade keeps on: “Humans were covered in his second volume, The Descent of Man, which appeared 12 years later.” It’s hard to imagine The Descent of Man being Darwin’s “second volume” of anything, since he published two books (On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects and The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication) in between them. And frankly, The Descent of Man was two volumes by itself.
Wade’s treatment of social Darwinists is surprisingly cursory, given that he had been accused of being one of them in the pages of the leading science journal in the world. Historians today appreciate that only in hindsight was social Darwinism monolithic and nameable, and it was significantly different from eugenics, at very least because the social Darwinists wanted less government interference, and the eugenicists wanted more. The movements are united by the fact that they both assumed that the (visible) social hierarchy was an expression of an underlying (invisible) natural hierarchy; the “haves” were simply constitutionally better suited to “having” than were the “have-nots”. As will become clear, Wade really does fall in with them.
Perhaps the most unhistorical aspect of Wade’s racial theory, presented at the end of Chapter 4, is that he seems to be oblivious to its origins and antecedents. Wade claims to speak on behalf of Darwinism to legitimize his ideas, like many of the discarded ideologies he discusses early in the book. But when he tells us that there are three great races associated with the continents of the Old World, and intermediate hybrid races at their zones of overlap, he is merely repackaging the pre-Darwinian Biblical myth of Ham, Shem and Japheth, the sons of Noah, who went forth, became fruitful, and multiplied. The people Wade thinks are the least pure live precisely where the oldest fossil representatives of our species are known – East Africa and West Asia. The idea that the human populations of Lagos, Oslo, and Seoul are primordial and pure is wrong (and creationist); those are simply the furthest, most extreme, and most different from one another.
On p. 58, Wade names his adversaries for the first time: “Marxist academics”. On p. 68, he goes after Ashley Montagu, attributing his anti-racist writings significantly to his Jewish origins. (And for what it’s worth, Montagu fit nobody’s definition of a Marxist.) On p. 119, Wade tells us that Montagu’s book, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth, relied heavily on Richard Lewontin’s 1972 genetic work. Perhaps the edition Wade skimmed indeed cited Lewontin’s work, but the first edition of Man’s Most Dangerous Myth was published in 1942, so I suspect that it was based on other data and arguments. For a book about the engagement of race and genetics, it’s kind of odd that Wade seems to be oblivious to all work in the area prior to Lewontin’s. And for a book that takes race as its central subject, it’s kind of odd that Wade doesn’t seem to be familiar with the source of Montagu’s campaign against the word “race” – which was derived from We Europeans, the 1935 book by the British biologist Julian Huxley and anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon. Neither of them was Jewish, and not much in the way of Marxists, either.
It is when Wade ventures into evolutionary waters that his scholarly weaknesses become most evident. His presentation of the evolutionary theory is reductive and freshman-level; it is hard to find a book on evolution today that fails to mention epigenetics, but this is one such book. But to acknowledge the plasticity or adaptability of the human organism would be to undermine the theme of the independent, unforgiving external world exacting its selective toll on the human gene pool. Flexibility and reactivity are not in Wade’s evolutionary arsenal – he constructs evolution as gene pools adapting to given external circumstances. That is only a few decades out of date.
Similarly, he explains that “The words adapt and adaptation are always used here in the biological sense of a genetically based evolutionary response to circumstances” (p. 58). Sure, except that that defines most adaptation (which really refers to the fit between an organism and its surroundings, of which a small subset is actually genetic) out of existence.
Evolutionary biology perhaps takes its biggest beating when Wade breezily tells us about ants. “In the case of ants, evolution has generated their many different kinds of society by keeping the ant body much the same and altering principally the behavior of each society’s members. People too live in many different types of society, and evolution seems to have constructed these with the same strategy – keep the human body much the same but change the social behavior.” Of course he is comparing one species of humans with over 20,000 species of ants – that is to say, an orchard of apples with an orange. By the next page (66), Wade actually appreciates the idiocy of the comparison, and concedes, “With human societies, institutions are largely cultural and based on a much smaller genetic component.”
Wade also places a lot of emphasis on “in-groups” and “out-groups,” repeatedly asserting that we have an innate desire to support the ins, and to distrust, despise, or harm the outs. Some data on domestic violence might disabuse naive readers about the validity of such a facile generalization. So might some data on the flexibility of group membership, not to mention the constructed nature of the groups themselves. Here’s a glib thought from p. 50: “...an inbuilt sense of morality evolved, one that gave people an instinctive aversion to murder and other crimes, at least against members of their own group.” If you think there’s an instinctive aversion to “murder and other crimes,” you need to watch “The Godfather” again. (Sure, that was fiction, but then so is A Troublesome Inheritance, although less honestly labeled.) If you try to weasel through with the phrase “your own group” then you need to think about the formlessness, situation-dependence, and segmentary nature of the “group” – What is Michael Corleone’s group? The Corleone family, the New York mob, Sicilian-Americans, urban immigrants, Americans, or Earthlings? Group membership is actually quite flexible and, as we now say, constructed. And there certainly doesn’t appear to be any inborn aversion to lying, embezzling, insider trading, fraud, graft, or usury – so on what basis can we reliably assert anything inborn about other particular crimes?
On p. 49, we learn that “The urge to punish deviants from social norms is a distinctive feature of human societies.” Except that societies don’t have urges, of course. And the people who compose societies can rationalize, or get away with, all kinds of things. It is not merely that human social life involves rule-governed behavior; it is that rules are also there to be bent and circumvented, so that people can be both obedient and pragmatic simultaneously—which is why more thoughtful and knowledgeable writers don’t go quite so easily from the punishment of deviants to the invention of a simple genetic/mental module for it. Moreover, if you remember first-wave sociobiology from the 1980s, one of the things the sociobiologists used to say was that there could be no group selection in humans since it requires coercive mechanisms in order to be a stable evolutionary strategy. Apparently those coercive mechanisms were there after all, and those sociobiologists were all wet. (As an ironic aside, first-wave sociobiology also cast itself consciously against anthropology, and Wade’s only blurb on the jacket for this awful book comes from E. O. Wilson, himself.)
Perhaps the most appalling feature of all is that Wade hasn’t even got the guts to own his thoughts, sprinkling the prose with disclaimers like, “Given the vast power of culture to shape human social behavior....” Or, “a society’s achievements … are largely cultural in essence.” And, “culture is a mighty force, and people are not slaves to innate propensities.” If the influence of culture has been so mighty and vast, then it stands to reason that that is what you should be reading books about; not this one. At best, Wade’s labor has effectively been to fabricate a small tail to wag a mighty big dog.
Wade’s neuroendocrinology is just as bad. His representations of hormones and their actions and regulation are what one would expect to see in Cosmopolitan: oxytocin is the hormone of social trust: monoamine oxidase is an aggression gene. Wade clearly wants readers to believe that their activities are set by natural selection, in spite of disclaimers like “It is not yet by what specific mechanism the oxytocin levels in people are controlled” (p. 53). And he has no reluctance to invoke science fiction where there is no science: after explaining to readers that he thinks African-Americans have a higher frequency of a violence gene, he mollifies them with the thought that other violence genes (that he hasn’t invented yet) may be higher in whites. “It is therefore impossible,” he intones, to say on genetic grounds that one race is genetically more prone to violence than another.” But in the very next paragraph, he clarifies, "that important aspects of human social behavior are shaped by the genes and that these behavior traits are likely to vary from one race to another”.
It does seem to me that the focus on the ontology of race is a red herring in this book. Wade relies a lot more on other inaccurate invocations of genetics that are even more radical, and more importantly, political. He overstates the isolation of prehistoric populations. More importantly, what scholars think are changes in ways of life, Wade thinks are changes in genes and brains that lead to changes in ways of life. Thus, “a deep genetic change in social behavior underlay …. the transition from an agrarian to a modern society.... Most likely a shift in social behavior was required, a genetic change that reduced the level of aggressivity common in hunter-gatherer groups.”
And for all his rhetorical interest in races as natural categories, somehow the only group that merits their own chapter are ... the Jews! The Jews seem to be central to the book’s meta-narrative, as one very sympathetic blogger on "White Identity, Interests, and Culture" explained: "I can’t think of any prominent race denial figures who are not Jewish. The backbone of the race denial movement was a specific radical Jewish subculture that had become entirely within the mainstream of the American Jewish community by the early twentieth century.... There is excellent evidence for their strong Jewish identifications, their concern with specific Jewish issues such as anti-Semitism, and for their hostility and sense of moral and intellectual superiority toward the traditional people and culture of America. Jonathan Marks is a contemporary example of this long and dishonorable tradition. The rise of the left to elite status in American society, beginning with universities, is key to understanding the race denial movement and the stifling political correctness that is all around us today."
Why is Wade so interested in the Jews, anyway? His staunchest defenders sure are, too. But the nature of their interest is highly anachronistic. (Actually the Jews are of some legitimate scholarly interest today in what we might call “the anthropology of genetics” – for example, in the recent excellent work of anthropologist Nadia Abu el-Haj, and historian Veronika Lipphardt.)
And finally, his view of the origin of the industrial revolution in England involves mutations in the upper economic classes for “nonviolence, literacy, thrift and patience” and their diffusion by gene flow into the lower classes in Late Medieval times. This is a slightly new spin on a set of old prejudices, but hardly science, much less modern or value-free science. Wade doubles down on this a few pages later, too: “The burden of proof is surely shifted to those who might wish to assert that the English population was miraculously exempt from the very forces of natural selection whose existence it had suggested to Darwin.”
Afraid not. The burden of proof still lies with the disseminator of outmoded, racist ideologies masquerading as science. Wade simply believes he can construct his own reality by selective reading, misrepresentation, and continuous repetition. This is a golem of science journalism, a powerful monster running amok under its own impetus, burdened by neither responsibility nor wisdom.
We write books for a reason. So, given the abysmal quality of the scholarship, misrepresentation and dismissal of the relevant science, and the embrace by the most reprehensible elements in modern politics, what do you suppose was Nicholas Wade's motivation for writing A Troublesome Inheritance? Does he really believe his own lies, or is he merely pandering?
Saturday, May 31, 2014
There are three interesting differences between Nicholas Wade’s new book A Troublesome Inheritance and The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray twenty years ago. The first is that The Bell Curve really did try to make itself look like science. Herrnstein was a real psychologist, and it was a big fat book with statistics and graphs. And several critical volumes later, we know that it was bullshit from top to bottom.
Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance, by contrast, doesn’t even try to pretend to be science or to look like science. It is purely a work of the second- (and sometimes third-) hand: Here is a scientific conclusion I heard about. Wade even tells the reader that the second half is "speculative," which makes it sound as if the book belongs in the genre of racist sci-fi.
The second difference is that The Bell Curve took us all more or less by surprise, because we thought that we had put to rest the nested set of falsehoods that ideologue psychologists like Arthur Jensen had been saying even earlier in the century: that IQ measures an innate, linear and generalized brain force that some people have more of and some people have less of; that IQ is largely determined by one’s genetic constitution; that since some groups score worse than other groups on IQ tests, it means that they are genetically condemned, on average, to be less intelligent. Actually, it turns out that although isolated for decades in an intellectual racist ghetto, those kinds of things were still being said; and The Bell Curve cited over twenty papers each by Arthur Jensen, and by that new scientific racist on the block, Phil Rushton. A Troublesome Inheritance, by contrast, was being promoted months in advance; and although the scientific community didn’t get advance copies as quickly as the white supremacists did, we did have some prep time, so that we didn’t have to be totally reactive after its publication.
The third difference is possibly the most important, and it is that Nicholas Wade’s book is coming out in the age of the internet and social media. Back in 1994 there were a lot of naive reviewers who said, “Well, this sounds fishy, but it seems true, and these guys seem to know that they’re talking about....” But in 2014, any reviewer who wants to be minimally conscientious has ready access to some quick and strong critical responses to the book. I wrote two of them: one for In These Times, and one for the American Anthropological Association, which came out in the Huffington Post.
Agustín Fuentes had his critical comments in Psychology Today and the Huffington Post, and debated against Wade on a AAA podcast, showing pretty clearly that Wade did not know what he was talking about, and has egregiously misrepresented the state of scientific knowledge about human diversity. Alan Goodman had his critical comments published in Counterpunch. And Jennifer Raff, a post-doc who actually works on the DNA of ancient human populations, wrote a strong critique on her blog and the HuffPost. The point is that there are substantive criticisms out there on the web for naive, or just curious, reviewers and readers to draw on – which weren’t so easily accessible immediately after the publication of The Bell Curve.
|Yes, conspiracy nuts. That would be me and Alan Goodman presenting Ashley Montagu |
with the Darwin Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, circa 1994.
I think this has had an effect, because there aren’t too many reviews out there saying that Wade’s rubbish is erudite and sounds possible and darn it all, just might be true. There was one early one, I think. You’ve got the positive reviews by political radicals and by the political theorist who co-authored The Bell Curve, and a couple of graduate students in evolutionary psychology who will probably be wishing they had known a lot more about the subject before posting that review, when they eventually hit the job market. And then you’ve got the negative reviews by everyone else. Geneticist H. Allen Orr. Geneticist Jerry Coyne. Sci-tech writer Ian Steadman. Biological anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson. Biologist P. Z. Myers. Writer Patrick Appel. Science writer Pete Shanks. Editor Brian Bethune. The X. Arthur Allen. Science historian Nathaniel Comfort.
Now, in an act of apparent desperation, Mr. Wade is taking on his critics.
Let us review the main points of the book, shall we?
- · Racism is bad, and there have been abuses of science in the past.
- · Everybody else sees human variation as a bio-political issue, but it really isn’t.
- · Modern scientific views about human variation are politically correct myths produced by Marxist anthropologists, who are stifling serious discussion of human variation.
- · The human species really does come naturally divisible into a fairly small number of fairly discrete kinds of people, or “races”.
- · These races have genetic distinctions that cause personality distinctions.
- · So do economic strata and nations.
- · Global geo-political history has a significant genetic component.
(Just to show you I’m not making this up, Wade actually purports to be exploring “the possibility that human behavior has a genetic basis that varies from one race to another”; “trust has a genetic basis”; and “national disparities in wealth arise from differences in intelligence”.)
The idea that there is a conspiracy to prevent discussing human diversity within the academy is particularly bizarre, since that has been a regular – indeed, central – part of the curriculum of biological anthropology for many decades. After The Bell Curve, the American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists produced position papers on race, so that the public could know what we have learned about it, the state of the science of human variation, so we can move on.
Wade dismisses both statements categorically. Even if they summarize the data and scientific knowledge that we possess, they are, says Wade, the products of politically deluded minds. Unlike his.
Wait a minute, isn't that a political statement?
Interestingly, though, the most positive reviews of Wade’s book have come from political extremists, of the sort that you wouldn’t want to invite to family reunions.
Makes me wonder whether his claim to political neutrality is just amazingly stupid, or a simple lie. For what it’s worth, history can sometimes be illuminating: the paranoid claim that you can’t talk about human variation on campus because of the commie thought-police was put out there first in the early 1960s by the segregationists; then revived by Jon Entine in his horrid 2000 book, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It; it isn’t even original with Wade.
The taboo on race in the study of human variation is directly parallel to the taboo on creationism in the study of human origins. We used to think it was true, we now know differently, and to talk about it today marks you as someone who is ignorant of the science, and is irrationally committed to an outmoded and false understanding of biological anthropology.
What does Wade have to say in his defense?
It takes only a few vigilantes to cow the whole campus. Academic researchers won't touch the subject of human race for fear that their careers will be ruined. Only the most courageous will publicly declare that race has a biological basis. ... The understanding of recent human evolution has been seriously impeded, in my view, because if you can't study the genetics of race (a subject of no special interest in itself), you cannot explore the independent evolutionary histories of Africans, East Asians and Europeans.
There is an element of truth to that. It’s not in the accusation of vigilantism, since the position opposite to Wade's is the normative position of the community of scholarly experts. It’s not in the courage to talk about race as a natural category (“has a biological basis” is a vacuous statement, since there is a biological basis for everything; the scholarly issue is whether races are primarily categories of nature or of social history). It’s the last statement that contains the element of truth. And it’s not in the first clause; the study of the genetics of race is an old research program in biological anthropology, and I’ve written about how it killed itself off. No, it’s in the thought that “you cannot explore the independent evolutionary histories of Africans, East Asians and Europeans.” If you believe that there are “independent evolutionary histories of Africans, East Asians and Europeans” then you misunderstand human evolution, for human histories are not independent of one another. They may be separate to varying extents, but they are also biologically connected in all kinds of interesting ways, and if you aren’t prepared to acknowledge that, then you don’t know enough to be taken seriously. Nor are they units of nature, to be taken for granted. The idea that the continents somehow represent natural units of human biology is empirically false, and when you read up on the history of the continents – the intellectual history, not the geological history – you quickly see how it could not be otherwise.
The attacks on my book come from authors who espouse the social science position that there is no biological basis to race. It is because they are defending an ideological position with a counterfactual scientific basis that their language is so excessive. If you don't have the facts, pound the table. My three Huffington Post critics -- Jennifer Raff, Agustín Fuentes and Jonathan Marks -- are heavy on unsupported condemnations of the book, and less generous with specific evidence.
Speaking just for myself, all of my condemnations of the book were entirely supported. There is hardly anything I’ve enjoyed more in the last few months than quoting this horrid anti-intellectual book to my friends. Why? Because I think Wade can speak for himself, and when he does, you hear words that are familiarly ignorant and racist. I don’t like ignorance and racism, and correcting them is kind of my job.
Despite their confident assertions that I have misrepresented the science, which I've been writing about for years in a major newspaper, none of these authors has any standing in statistical genetics, the relevant discipline. Raff is a postdoctoral student in genetics and anthropology. Fuentes and Marks are both anthropologists who, to judge by their webpages, do little primary research. Most of their recent publications are reviews or essays, many of them about race. Their academic reputations, not exactly outsize to begin with, might shrink substantially if their view that race had no biological basis were to be widely repudiated. Both therefore have a strong personal interest (though neither thought it worth declaring to the reader) in attempting to trash my book.
There is a self-interest at work, but it’s the same self-interest that we have vis-a-vis a creationist. We have devoted our adult lives to understanding the subject of human origins and diversity. The only appropriate way for you, as an amateur, to challenge the authority of science on the subject is to show that you know more than your biological anthropology interlocutors, not to impugn their scholarly credentials (that you have none of, in any event). It’s also weird, again, coming from the standpoint of scholarship, that Mr. Wade is first discovering our work, from our webpages, and that “many of [our publications] are about race”. Then I must say that I find it odd that he didn’t read them before he published a book on the subject.
And hey, when did statistical genetics – which Mr. Wade doesn’t speak for, anyhow – suddenly become the only relevant intellectual area? The fact is that statistical genetics doesn’t support Wade – as indeed the history of the statistical genetical study of human diversity, and the work Wade himself cites, both show. Wade makes reference to the 2002 study in Science that used a computer program called Structure on the human gene pool.
Raff and Marks take issue with one of these surveys, which used a computer program to analyze the clusters of genetic variation. The program doesn't know how many clusters there should be; it just groups its data into whatever target number of clusters it is given. When the assigned number of clusters is either greater or less than five, the results made no genetic or geographical sense. But when asked for five clusters, the program showed that everyone was assigned to their continent of origin. Raff and Marks seem to think that the preference for this result was wholly arbitrary and that any other number of clusters could have been favored just as logically. But the grouping of human genetic variation into five continent-based clusters is the most reasonable and is consistent with previous findings. As the senior author told me at the time, the Rosenberg study essentially confirmed the popular notion of race.
Two fairly big things wrong there. First, Wade's unscientific reasoning, which is quite different from that of the authors. Wade says that since the runs for K<5 and K>5 yield racial nonsense, then we should accept the run at K=5 as being racially meaningful simply because it fits in with his a priori notion of human diversity. If that logic had been used in the paper itself, it would not have been publishable. The correct conclusion is that unless you have a better (i.e., independent) reason, you have to assume that the result at K=5 is just as racially nonsensical as the rest of them. In science, we don’t juggle variables until we find a result that we like and then say that it is correct because we like it. Second, “the senior author” was Marcus Feldman of Stanford, whom Wade indeed quoted in 2002 in the Times: "Dr. Feldman said the finding essentially confirmed the popular conception of race.” Except that I’ve heard Feldman specifically deny having said that to Wade, claiming he was abjectly misquoted there.
In fact, it was at the very conference that inspired Deborah Bolnick to write her trenchant critique of the racial abuse of Structure. So I don’t think Wade knows the statistical genetics, quite frankly, any more than he knows the biological anthropology. Geneticist Jeremy Yoder is none too satisfied with Wade's treatment of the Structure work, either.
I honestly also don’t think that the ontology of race is the most important stupid idea in the book – it’s kind of a red herring beside the stupider idea that the industrial revolution in England was driven by the genes for “nonviolence, literacy, thrift, and patience” that Wade imagines to have arisen as mutation in the upper classes in the Middle Ages, and then diffused by gene flow into the lower classes. As I mentioned above, even Wade tells the reader that he's speculating, in which case we either judge it as science fiction, or place it in context of all of the other genetic theories of history that have been proposed and rejected.
But let’s return to try and make some sense of what Wade means by “race” in his rebuttal.
[R]aces are not and cannot be discrete .... In fact, the races are not demarcated at all. They differ only in relative allele frequency, meaning that a given allele may be more common in one race than in another. ...
Humans cluster into five continental groups or races, and within each race there are further subclusters. So the number of human races depends on the number of clusters one wishes to recognize.... [T]his has no bearing on whether or not races exist.
Once again, there is truth here, but Wade can't identify it. There is geographic structure in the human gene pool, but that is not race. There, I said it. I’ve said that every semester for thirty years. Nobody denies that there is geographic structure in the human gene pool. But if you call that “race” then you are using the word “race” in a new and heretofore unprecedented way. It's similar to the way some geneticists were redefining it in the 1960s, but then realized it was intractable. Why? Because if the only factor that determines the number and kinds of clusters that you see in the human gene pool is how closely you examine it, then race (as genetic cluster) is not a natural feature, but a bio-cultural construction. The most relevant variable is simply the scope of your analysis, which is arbitrary. The genetic clusters are real, but there's no sense in calling them races. They're just arbitrarily-sized clumps of allele frequencies. Or, for lack of a better word, "populations".
What’s the alternative? That the human gene pool is homogeneous? No anthropologist has ever thought that.
The lesson here is a basic one at the undergraduate level in biological anthropology: Discovering difference is not race; discovering geographic difference is not race; and if race is all you can think about, then you aren’t going to get very far in understanding the nature of the human gene pool.
But as I said, I think race is a bit of a red herring here, since when all is said and done, the only people who merit their own chapter in Wade’s book are the Jews. And yes, we do have a lot of familiarity in the history of anthropology with people who are obsessed with race and with Jews. We can just add Mr. Wade to that list of unscholarly writers who don’t know the modern data or literature on human diversity, and who mistake their feelings and prejudices for thoughts.
So who actually likes Wade’s book anyway, aside from Charles Murray, some snot-nosed evolutionary psychology students, and the white supremacists? I suspect that even other elitist Etonians are running away at full stride, rather than be caught in such company.