By Nicholas Wade
In Defense of A Troublesome Inheritance
Posted: 05/29/2014 6:02 pm EDT Updated: 56 minutes ago
Three attacks on my book A Troublesome Inheritance have appeared on The Huffington Post's blog this month. For readers puzzled by the stridency and personal animus of these compositions, I'd like to explain what is going on.
The issue is how best to sustain the fight against racism in light of new information from the human genome that bears on race.
My belief is that opposition to racism should be based on principle, not on science. If I oppose racism and discrimination as a matter of principle, I don't care what the science may say because I'll never change my position. As it happens, however, the genome gives no support to racism, although it does clearly show that race has a biological basis, just as common sense might suggest.
Many social scientists, on the other hand, have long based their opposition to racism on the assertion that there is no biological basis to race. I doubt they personally believe this and suspect that they oppose racism on principle, just as I do. But they believe that other people, less enlightened and intelligent than they, will not abandon racism unless told that everyone is identical beneath the skin.
So whenever someone points out that race is obviously biological, defenders of the social science position respond with attacks of whatever vehemence is necessary to get the inconvenient truth-teller to shut up.
For many years this tactic has been surprisingly effective. 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. I witnessed the effects of this intimidation during the 10 years I was writing about the human genome for The New York Times. 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.
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.
Here's Jennifer Raff's effort. Read the comments, especially by Chuck (from whom I borrowed that Darwin quote in my last column).
Here's Agustin Fuentes' piece, and here's a picture of Professor Fuentes, who looks like he should be playing goalie for Argentina's World Cup team.
And here's Marks' piece in the HuffPo.
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.
It would try the reader's patience to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the three reviews, so I will address just the principal arguments raised by each. Let's start with Raff, who asserts, "Wade claims that the latest genomic findings actually support dividing humans into discrete races." In fact, I say the exact opposite, that races are not and cannot be discrete or they would be different species, but it's easier to attack an invented statement.
By denying the existence of race, social scientists are intimidating biologists from pursuing this path. This is particularly exasperating given the fallacious nature of the belief that race must be denied if racism is to be quelled. The geneticist Theodore Dobzhansky observed, "People need not be identical twins to be equal before God, before the law, and in their rights to equality of opportunity." Unlike identical twins, we are not all clones. We exist as different races by virtue of our evolutionary histories. The recovery of this history is a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry, and from this advance of knowledge unimagined benefits may accrue.
Read the whole thing there.