Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance argues that the genetic differences between racial groups explain why the West is rich and Africa is poor - but beneath the new science lies an old, dangerous lie.
BY IAN STEADMAN PUBLISHED 20 MAY, 2014 - 11:34
Before getting into quite why Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance - a book which argues, among other things, that Jews possess a genetic “adaptation to capitalism” - is racist, it may be worth thinking back to the summer of 2012.
Viewers of the BBC’s coverage of the Olympics on 10 August would have been surprised, between heats in the 200 metres, by a short video explaining how the slave trade made black people into better athletes ...
Spot the problem? Congratulations - you’re better at this than Nicholas Wade, former deputy editor of Nature, writer for the New York Times and Washington Post, pop-sci author and pusher of the hypothesis that: a) there is a biological basis for race, and b) racial differences explain cultural and societal differences.
In this, he is partly correct - at least, in the way he defines “race” - but in oh-so-very-many other ways he is not. Frankly, it may well be that A Troublesome Inheritance is most useful as an illustration of the gap between the popular understanding of racism and the reality of how it operates. Wade very clearly does not consider himself, or his conclusions, to be racist, writing that "no one has the right or reason to assert superiority over a person of a different race". Yet this book is ultimately racist, because it does exactly that.
Of course, at the 2012 Olympics, black men achieved all 8 spots in the 100m final for the 8th straight Olympics, but who is counting?
This is most obvious during the (numerous) sections of the book where Wade uses language that can best be described as “unfortunate”. We are told that, as a consequence of genetic analysis, “an individual can be assigned with high confidence to the appropriate continent of origin”. Furthermore, it is “perfectly reasonable” to classify all humans into one of five “continental based races”, while “classification into the three main races of African, East Asian and European is supported by the physical anthropology of human skull types and dentition”. ...
Then there’s the money shot:
"Populations that live at high altitudes, like Tibetans, represent another adaptation to extreme environments. The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process.”
And lest you be in any doubt that this isn’t a political tract disguised as science writing, Wade believes that the current scientific consensus is “shaped by leftist and Marxist political dogma”. (Plus, he’s been given the cover feature in this week’s Spectator to argue his position, which is always a science writing red flag.)
A Troublesome Inheritance begins with a history of Darwin and the theory of evolution, an overview of how natural selection works, and an explanation of how eugenics was the “perversion” of Darwinism (including a shout out for New Statesman founders and eugenics fans Sidney and Beatrice Webb - always appreciated). As an opening, it comes across as an attempt to make clear that this new, scientific conception of race isn’t the same, but it’s a bit like saying Father Christmas and your dad aren’t the same person. They both get to screw your mother.
Wade is keen to argue that humans, like all animals, are subject to evolutionary pressures, and that this evolution continues to happen. There are discussions of studies showing how different human populations carry certain genes more than others (for example, Finns disproportionately carry the HTR2B gene, linked with a tendency towards violent behaviour when drunk), but between the science there are bizarre asides where he attacks those he perceives as suppressing these findings - like Marxists, “who wish government to mold socialist man in its desired image and [who] see genetics as an impediment to the power of the state”. (These statements are not given citations.)