Yet another book obtained for me through the Interlibrary Loan feature
of the University Near Here; so thanks to them, and thanks to the Tufts
University Hirsh Health Sciences Library for shipping it up here.
The subtitle is: "Genes, Race and Human History". The author, Nicholas
Wade, puts forth a provocative and (he admits) somewhat speculative
hypothesis at odds with most "enlightened" present-day thinking:
human genetics influence social
behavior, and (hence) different genetics, including those genes
specifying racial differences, might help explain
modes of social behavior, and (hence) help explain different historical paths
taken by different cultures.
There you have it. Sensitive souls should avert their eyes.
Wade's arguments are plausible enough to me, especially since
tentative words and phrases, such as
"probably", "most likely", and "perhaps" appear throughout.
He's most definite when refuting the "race is merely a social
(apparently an Official Position of the
American Sociological Association).
That just isn't reality-based.
Wade's book recalled my feelings
when reading Thomas Sowell's works on worldwide culture, race, and
a lot of this stuff is just the workings of dumb luck.
And when explicating the "dumb luck" success and/or dysfunction of
historical and current societies, you shouldn't ignore or
There are the various components of culture: religion,
philosophy, public morality, custom, family and social structures.
Set these against geography, climate, and (peaceable or violent)
with other cultures. Obviously, nearly all of
this is beyond anyone's conscious control.
But Wade argues, again plausibly, that genetics and evolution
is just another
factor in this mix. (And, speaking of "dumb luck", the workings
of evolution are as dumb as you can get.)
there are no simple explanations: everything interacts with everything else.
(For example, obviously, family structure can have profound effects
on which genes get preferentially transmitted to future
Put that way, and especially in the explicitly-speculative
way Wade puts it, you might say: yes, so what's the big deal?
Ah, but for some folks, Wade is treading on dangerously
heretical ground. One shot across his bow was fired
on the WSJ op-ed page back in June: "Race
in the Age of Genomics" by David Altshuler and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
which specifically referred to Wade's book as an "unfortunate
development", and implied it was engaging in "rampant speculation and
biased arguments". Altshuler and Gates are both Harvardites,
and Altshuler is a well-known researcher in human genetics.
Apparently unsatisfied with that, Altshuler went on to co-sign
an anti-Wade letter
with "more than 100 faculty members in population genetics".
They accused Wade of "misappropriation of research" and "guesswork".
again plausibly, that their letter was "driven by politics, not
Of course, in an area so driven by "peer review" for publication,
promotion, and funding, the mass-denunciation
letter is a clear signal to would-be
researchers: your "peers" will not look kindly upon any work that
might support Wade's speculations. Venture into certain areas
at your professional peril.
(Scientific American also fired a blogger
who was complimentary toward Wade's book, although that might
not have been the proximate cause.)
Ironically, I was irked by a different part of Wade's book.
Right at the get-go, he takes pains to distance himself from the
bad old racism of the bygone days, when the menace of "Social
as invented by Herbert Spencer, stalked the land. Wade's intellectual
history here is straight from the Gospel of the tendentious
Richard Hofstadter. If you've read Jonah
Goldberg or E.M.
Johnson on "Social Darwinism", you'll know a more accurate story.