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Geneticists Decry Book On Race and Evolution 541

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-my-name-out-of-your-book dept.
sciencehabit writes "A best-seller by former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade about recent human evolution and its potential effects on human cultures has drawn critical reviews since its spring publication. Now, nearly 140 senior human population geneticists around the world, many of whose work was cited in the book, have signed a letter to The New York Times Book Review stating that Wade has misinterpreted their work. The letter criticizes "Wade's misappropriation of research from our field to support arguments about differences among human societies."
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Geneticists Decry Book On Race and Evolution

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  • I hadn't even heard about this book before now. Sales will probably triple each time they fuss about it.
  • I don't get it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:24AM (#47647635)

    Geneticists admit that physical appearance varies thanks to mutations and variations in the expression of the genome, so why is intellectual variability so verboten? Because it's politically incorrect?

      In other words, if white people exclusively possess blond hair and blue eyes, and Asians possess epicanthal folds and very dark hair, why is it so hard to believe that IQ, a physical aspect of the mental organ we call the brain, might vary as well?

    Seems very bizarre to me. And irrational.

    • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@aol.LISPcom minus language> on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:33AM (#47647703) Journal

      It's not just intellect.

      Remember when it was somehow racist to point out that the reason blacks are better at athletics was because they had a genetic makeup that produced stronger and longer muscles capable of higher power output?

      That was racist because to say it was to imply they had an unfair advantage.

      I think being a geneticist is a pretty impossible job. No matter what your data suggests or how you present it, you're going to be labeled a racist. You'll either be accusing a minority race that is good at something as having an unfair genetic advantage, or you'll be implying that a minority race that is not good at something is so because of genetics - and therefore their skin color.

      This is how the PC establishment thinks. If there is a conceivable way to twist and distort what is said so that it can be labeled racist, they will do it.

      • That was racist because to say it was to imply they had an unfair advantage.

        It wouldn't be racist to just state that fact, but it would indeed be racist to use it to imply an unfair advantage. It wasn't proven that every black person has better muscles than every person of any other race.

        (I'm assuming you're not just using some fringe comment or a strawman argument to fuel a persecution complex).

      • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:52AM (#47647895)

        If there is a conceivable way to twist and distort what is said so that it can be labeled racist, they will do it.

        You don't have to be PC police-y to find this stuff highly suspect. Societies and cultures have different emergent properties based on a wide variety of really complicated influences, external and internal. I mean was a Germanic tribesman shaking a bronze tipped spear any different, genetically, to a modern day Berlin banker? Not really. Therefore there must be a great deal more to it than genetics.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by geekoid (135745)

        It was racist to say because it isn't true and it was created specifically to maintain a separation of blacks from whites.

        I don't think you know what 'race' means.

    • It's because any time you start talking about genetics and race, it starts becoming politically inconvenient. You're going to have someone who inevitably decides that the findings are "racist", even if the finding is something as simple as "There are minor genetic differences between groups of people that are significant enough to support the idea of different races."

      The second you mention something like that, people are going to cry out Jim Crow or Hitler, even though no one is saying that the differences

      • even though no one is saying that the differences make anyone "superior" or "inferior" to anyone else, merely "different".

        Except, you know, the author of the book being discussed, who specifically did rank races by their superiority. (Whites are genetically predisposed to civilisation, blacks to tribal living, Chinese to business, etc.)

        Instead of what you said, I think it's the opposite: Whenever people object to the abuse of their research to support a racist/ideological agenda, people like you scream "That's political correctness!" without even attempting to understand what the objections are.

    • by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:41AM (#47647789)

      You really should publish the work you've done identifying IQ as a physical aspect of the brain, and identifying the genetic definitions of "white" and and "Asian". I'm sure the relationships are clear to you but the rest of us are stuck in a world where race is more social than genetic and IQ is merely one particular measure of a combination of dynamic mental processes.

      Or maybe you just didn't take up the required reading before claiming that actual scientists are ignoring their work in pursuit of some globally-unified set of politics.

    • by real gumby (11516)

      I think it’s because what constitutes “intellect” is so ill understood. It is uncontroversial that there is a genetic component — but what that component might be is at this point impossible to determine (since we don’t even know what the result — “intelligence” — means).

      Now if we were just talking about suceptability to some disease (and as we learn more, a lot of diseases turn out to be clusters of different diseases with similar symptoms) that wouldn

    • by geekoid (135745)

      That's not it at all.
      He makes claims like: Genetics show the are 3 to 5 races; which is factual wrong.

    • by jodido (1052890)
      Because IQ is a function of many things and no one knows what role the brain plays in it. Do you think "intelligence"--which no one can define--is as simple as eye color?
    • by ecorona (953223) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:34PM (#47648291)
      Allow me to poke some holes in your argument against the original researchers. There are some traits that can be explained by 1 gene, a combination of 2 genes, 3 genes,.., 500 genes, etc. The more genes that are requires, the more "complex" a trait. Intelligence is a very complex trait. Now consider the fact that there isn't a lot of genetic variation across different human populations. The more complex a trait, the more genetic variation is required to create significant different across populations. It's not political correctness that keeps me from adopting your opinion. I simply can not assume that intelligence (which is not even properly defined in most cases) differs to any significant degree across human populations until I see research that shows this is the case. So many genes influence intelligence that it would be unlikely for any one human population to have been founded on all the bad ones. Not enough time has occurred since different human populations began populating the earth for a large difference in all of these genes to emerge. As a scientist, I can't take the definition of "intelligence" for granted either. I also can't just lump all "complex traits" in one bin and say, "if that one is different across human populations, then these others are different too". This is a much bigger and more complex issue than you realize.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Artifakt (700173)

      First, you can take sample populations that 'exclusively possess" a particular feature, and they turn out not to. That is, it may be common for Danes to be blonde, but you can look at a large group of people from Denmark and see many people who don't have blonde hair, or otherwise don't fit whatever model of how that group should look someone is offering. You can try to filter your sample, for example, looking only at people who have records of descent from natives to that area going back five or ten genera

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:33AM (#47647709)
    Ideally it wouldn't matter. If one racial group had a greater number of more intelligent people than another then - so what? After all we have the same situation with things like height, strength, and so on. You might find that Chinese are under-represented in basketball, but a Chinese basketball player who could make the grade would be given exactly the same encouragement and opportunity as anyone else. Same should go for IQ.
    • by Type44Q (1233630) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:23PM (#47648197)
      But that would be a reasonable approach/attitude, and as such, isn't nearly as useful as political correctness for causing doubt, creating conflict and playing "divide and conquer" at the societal level. You know, blacks vs whites, men vs women, straights vs gays, etc etc (in short, all the myriad ways the elites keep us distracted and squabbling with each other about stupid shit, instead of identifying the actualthreats to our happiness and well-being...).
  • Genetics affects your mental attributes, but isn't the whole story. Environment affects your mental attributes, but isn't the whole story. Culture and self-determination facets of the environment affect your mental attributes, but aren't the whole story. People of different cultures have statistical differences in mental attributes. There's a bunch of people who get upset by these facts, and a different bunch of people who like to exaggerate them. And anyone who was named as being involved in any of this is

  • by chihowa (366380) * on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:37AM (#47647751)

    While I don't agree with this guy's conclusions myself, this type of hyper-PC bullshit storm is why being in academia is so obnoxious. Science should be determined by the evidence available and the best interpretation of it at the time, not by people's feelings or politics.

    Secondly, someone citing your work doesn't mean you agree with their conclusions (or especially their politics). The correct response, if you care enough, is to follow up by pointing out where their interpretation falls short. The incorrect response is to write some whiny letter crying about how seemingly racist conclusions were drawn from your publications and it deeply offends you.

    I mean, come on: "We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures." What a pathetic retort. But I bet they feel better now, and that's all that really matters.

  • why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:48AM (#47647855) Homepage

    what is globally accepted in animal breeding, that certain behavioral tendencies accompany accompany genetics right along with certain physical characteristics, is the worst taboo to apply to people.

    which is ridiculous. populations living in specific social environments will SELECT FOR and AGAINST various physical and behavioral traits... and those traits which are successful in a specific society will then go on to build the society that those traits are best adapted to. like a feedback loop.

    is there something totally crazy here?

    • Re:why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:57AM (#47647943)

      and those traits which are successful in a specific society will then go on to build the society that those traits are best adapted to. like a feedback loop.

      The evidence for this is actually pretty inconclusive, which is where some of the disagreement stems. It's easy to hypothesize this, but hard to prove it. In particular, many evolutionary biologists are skeptical that historical-timescale social changes and changes in genetic makeup are closely tied.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        You have pointed out the only really good explanation I've read on this. So thank you for that.

        Timescale. Great point. I hope someone mods you up.

  • Each of the people whose research the book used came up with their own interpretation of the data they collected. In each case, their conclusions are based upon what data they collected, and not what others collected.

    An interesting comparison would be for those same people to review the SUM of the data Wade used (since they have access to it), and publish THEIR conclusions. Don't just say, "My research does not support that!", because you might not have been looking at N factors that other researchers looke

  • *RING* *RING*

    Callee: Hello?

    Caller: Hello, Dr. X, this is Dr. Y from [insert watchdog group name]. How are you today?

    Callee: Uh, ok.

    Caller: We're doing a survey. Your paper "[insert name of paper]" is cited in a NYT Best Seller that justifies taking babies of some races and putting them into blenders for smoothies. Do you oppose taking babies of some races and putting them into blenders for smoothies or not?

    Callee: (Thinking to himself: "This guy is obviously nuts but then half of academia is nuts a

  • by Zanadou (1043400) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:09PM (#47648065)

    Now, nearly 140 senior human population geneticists around the world, many of whose work was cited in the book, have signed a letter to The New York Times Book Review stating that Wade has misinterpreted their work.

    Guys, he can "misinterpret" your works as much has he likes, that's the whole point of "original research" and "original opinion". He takes your works and forms is own conclusions. It's him, not you. As long as he cites you.

    Hell, you don't have to agree with him. Obviously.

    • by quantaman (517394) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:33PM (#47648909)

      Now, nearly 140 senior human population geneticists around the world, many of whose work was cited in the book, have signed a letter to The New York Times Book Review stating that Wade has misinterpreted their work.

      Guys, he can "misinterpret" your works as much has he likes, that's the whole point of "original research" and "original opinion". He takes your works and forms is own conclusions. It's him, not you. As long as he cites you.

      Hell, you don't have to agree with him. Obviously.

      He's a reporter, he wasn't claiming to be doing "original research", he was claiming to communicate the existing research.

      And just like he's allowed to write about, and misinterpret, their research, they're also allowed to call him out for misrepresenting their work.

  • by Prune (557140) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:22PM (#47648183)
    The same scientists publish things such as proof that testosterone levels vary by race ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/s... [sciencedirect.com] ) then create a politically correct shitstorm when someone dares note that this has behavioral implications. How ridiculous can this get?
  • by sudon't (580652) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:45PM (#47648371)

    "Unfortunately many social scientists have long denied that there is a biological basis to race."

    This is not my field, but clearly, people from different parts of the world look very obviously different. I've never understood how that could not be biologically, or genetically, based. It just seems logical that there might be other differences. This is true of every other animal, when populations become separated. It is unfortunate that people immediately start ranking traits as superior or inferior.

    I haven't read the book, but the author's statement that, "opposition to racism should be based on principle, not on the anti-evolutionary myth that there is no biological basis to race," seems eminently sensible. It's always disappointing when politics influence research, but it happens far more often than many people think.

  • by nut (19435) on Monday August 11, 2014 @07:00PM (#47651509) Homepage

    I see so many posts here using IQ and intelligence as if they were interchangeable synonyms. They are not.

    IQ tests have no basis in science. IQ tests have never been benchmarked against anything except earlier IQ tests.

    IQ tests cannot be proven to exclude cultural bias.

    IQ tests cannot be said to measure intelligence in any precise way, unless you define intelligence as the ability to do IQ tests.

    If you demonstrate that different races perform differently in IQ tests, you haven't proven anything about race and intelligence. You have only proven something about race an IQ tests.

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