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Nature Vs. Nurture: Waging War Over the Soul of Science 235

derekmead writes "Wherever determinism appears, controversy attends, raising specters of days when colonialists, eugenicists, public health officials, and political idealists believed they could cure the human condition through manipulation and force. Understanding those fears helps shed light on the controversy surrounding a recent paper (PDF) published in the American Economic Review, entitled, 'The "Out of Africa" Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development.' In it, economists Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor argue that the economic development of broad human populations correlate with their levels of genetic diversity—which is, in turn, pinned to the distance its inhabitants migrated from Africa thousands of years ago. Reaction has been swift and vehement. An article signed by 18 academics in Current Anthropology accuses the researchers of 'bad science' — 'something false and undesirable' based on 'weak data and methods' that 'can become a justification for reactionary policy.' The paper attacks everything from its sources of population data to its methods for measuring genetic diversity, but the economists are standing by their methods. The quality of Ashraf and Galor's research notwithstanding, the debate illustrates just how tricky it's become to assert anything which says something about human development was in any way inevitable."
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Nature Vs. Nurture: Waging War Over the Soul of Science

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  • by medv4380 ( 1604309 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @05:10PM (#42938829)
    Not to be picky, but the url to "An artile signed by 18 academics" is [] "cookieAbsent" doesn't exactly look like it was ever supposed to work. Does someone have a link to the actual signed article?
  • by gerddie ( 173963 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @05:24PM (#42938951)
    The wrong link in the summary should be []
  • by archatheist ( 316491 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @05:26PM (#42938975)

    Yes. The article can be found here: []

  • by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @05:55PM (#42939213)

    In that case, though, similar historical arguments hold just as as well --- highly economically advanced civilizations also formed far from the original "cradle of civilization." From the Inca and Aztec empires in South America, to continent-wide trade relations and the mound-building cultures in North America (basically "re-discovered" only after the invention of aerial photography, when people started realizing that some big oddly-placed hills were actually man-made structures), highly sophisticated and economically advanced civilizations have sprung up all over the place, from all sorts of "genetic stock." Tying genetic characteristics to economic advancement is an extremely iffy proposition, since there are far stronger fluctuations from historically contingent accidents. At best, you'll end up confusing cause and effect from correlating powerful, aggressive societies (conquering, assimilating, and intermarrying other surrounding populations) with the resultant genetic diversity of expansionist conquest.

  • by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @06:31PM (#42939431) Homepage Journal

    this is a war between scientists and a bunch of postmodernists parading around in lab coats shouting down results they don't like (cultural anthropologists.)

    Umm, no. I take it you didn't even read the summary of either paper.

    The economists claim that “the high degree of diversity among African populations and the low degree of diversity among Native American populations have been a detrimental force in the development of these regions.” In other words, that only populations with the "right" amount of genetic diversity (i.e. matching Europe) are likely to be successful. The rest of the scientific community points out that they have defined their terms in a way that gives the results that they want, and ignore existing standard means of measuring genetic diversity.

  • Re:Eric Raymond (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thomas Miconi ( 85282 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @10:41PM (#42940987)

    American blacks average a standard
    deviation lower in IQ than American whites at about 85.

    AKA the IQ of an average Scotsman in the 40s, when evaluated on a modern scale.

    Taking ESR seriously about anything scientific is a losing proposition. His antics on climate science are widely known (sees some piece of code that adjusts a timeseries for temperature increases, and immediately concludes that global warming is a hoax), but it's not common knowledge that he's also an HIV denialist. []

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