The Troublesome Ignorance of Nicholas WadeRoundup
tags: racism, genetics, Nicholas Wade
On May 5, one day before Nicholas Wade's new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History came out, I appeared with him in a webinarsponsored by the American Anthropological Association. It was a striking experience. I expected there to be a strong back-and-forth debate about the research on human genetics and how we interpret it, and about human evolution and what we know about it. This was not the case.
Wade argues that there are definable and genetically identifiable groups we can identify and label as biological races in humans today. He would not provide a definition for what he meant by "race" or a specific number of races that we have (he goes back and forth between three, five and seven). Wade relies on a teeny slice of the overall available data on human genetics to support his case. In short, he suggests that believing in biological races (especially African, Caucasian and East Asian) is just common sense. Wade then states that evolved differences in these races are the key explanation for social differences in histories, economies and societies between them -- why "Chinese society differs profoundly from European society, and both are entirely unlike a tribal African society" (p. 123). Wade argues that it is genetic differences and separate evolutionary histories that help us understand why Chinese dynasties lasted so long, why it was so difficult for the U.S.A. to instill democratic social institutions in Iraq after the war and why so many Jews win Nobel prizes.
In making these assertions Wade ignores the majority of data and conclusions from anthropology, population genetics, human biology and evolutionary biology. In the webinar he was even adamant about refusing to even interact with any data or analyses that in any way demonstrated that his simplistic assertions were wrong. Wade just ducked every question that challenged him.
Wade's approach is particularly dangerous because his argument is that he is just a defender of scientific truth and that a cabal of left-leaning academics is obfuscating reality with oppressive, even fascistic, denials of the truth about race. Unfortunately, he is either ignorant of the actual data and diversity of research or he is willfully avoiding them.
Wade's book misrepresents genetic and evolutionary data; his pronouncements about race and what it means are sweeping the Internet with glowing reviews from true believers. Charles Murray (co-author of The Bell Curve) wrote a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal championing Wade as the voice of reasons against a sea of left-leaning, lying academics. Jared Taylor of the hyper-conservative and openly racist magazine American Renaissance congratulated Wade on his blow to the supposedly fascist left that is academia.
There is one place I do agree with Wade: We need to get together and, fearlessly and accessibly, tackle what the social and biological sciences actually tell us about genetic variation, race, evolution and why it all matters. Wade does not do this in his book, nor did he do it in our conversations. So to assist in actually getting this going, I offer a few basic bits of information....
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