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A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and…

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History

by Nicholas Wade

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155877,049 (3.51)2
  1. 00
    The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran (vpfluke)
    vpfluke: Both books attempt to show that human evolution has accelerated in the last 10,000 years. Both look at advances in Western Europe, which goes beyond culture to include genetics. Both have chapters on the success of Askenazi Jews in the last 300 years or so.

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It took me a while to get through this. Science is not my favorite reading material. That said, it was very interesting reading and worth working through it. It never made sense to me to say there are no difference between races, when the evidence is pretty plain. What differences there are will be a whole different discussion.

I don't believe in a color blind world - I don't believe its possible or practical. What is possible is to examine our own hidden prejudices and assumptions and work to get rid of them. That is only possible within the context of relationships/community. A gloriously messy proposition. ( )
  TerryLewis | Jun 12, 2017 |
I'd give this 4 stars for discussing a topic that is almost completely taboo in polite company, and for understandable reasons. I've giving 3 because of some obvious issues I found (toward bottom of this.)

Basically, there is one core argument, in two parts:

Part 1.) Genes are always under selective pressure --> genes built our bodies (well... oh, right, no caveatting) --> our brains are part of our bodies --> your brain was built by genes --> your brain has been under selective pressure, continuously.

Or, simply, 'your' brain (your ancestors' brains) were under non-stop selective pressure, the same as their immune systems, bone structures, metabolisms, skin color, and so forth.

Part 2.) Since we've been under *continuous* selective pressure, and, broadly speaking, African, East Asians, and Caucasians were separate populations for several 10's of thousands of years, each major 'continental' race has had time to diverge a tiny bit. Witness skin color, facial structure, eye and ear differences, and so on. Clearly, the genetics for our brains could -in fact, given what we know of genetics and evolution, almost assuredly must have- had small changes selected for in that same time.

(And here is where people start to really freak out.)

The author does a good job of:
a.) Making the case that this general thesis is not only possible, but highly probable
b.) Pointing out some possible examples; highlighting supporting evidence
c.) Making the case that our *values* regarding possible differences are what matter,
d.) and making the case that a race simply having e.g. an average IQ a few points higher doesn't necessary determine/conclude/etc. anything in the 'real world' either (as opposed to the world of values). Think of, though not referenced in this book, semi-recent findings that 'stick-to-it-iveness' is actually a far better predictor of financial success and even happiness than IQ.
d.) Pointing out, again and again, that *individual* persons from any race or ethnic group will succeed and fail, be violent or not, etc.

There are some definite cons with this book.
1.) It gives perhaps too short shrift to cultural influences; there are too many instances of "culture can easily be copied, so the fact that people have not means that culture must have some tie to genetically determined propensities."

Well, may, maybe not. People cling e.g. to their particular religion, sometimes for thousands and thousands of years. Now, culture is not religion (or vice versa), but it seems to me that beliefs alone can survive intact despite tremendous pressures.

2.) At times the author shifts between the 3 major continental races, the 5 continental races (including Australian aborigines and N/S American aborigines --aka, 'American Indians'), and individual, example/discussion specific ethnic groups. This is problematic: is he arguing for ethnic level differences, down to sub-sub-populations, racial differences, differences within some large subset of a race, etc.? And how to 'apply up' a finding from an ethnic group to a race?

That's the end of my review, per se. However, some additional thoughts on who this book might be for, after reading some comments on this book:

If you are someone who is unable to stomach the idea that mental traits are, at least in part, genetically determined, this will be an exceedingly tough read (and I have met some people like this, at least one of who is a somewhat close friend).

If you are someone who cringes at the very though of linking race, genes, and brains, this will be a tough read.

If you're racist, you're probably also going to find this a tough read, as you're not going to get your delusions confirmed for you.

If you think of yourself as open minded, have even considered to yourself previously that if e.g. genes can make skin or hair or metabolisms different, then the brain could have been tweaked too... well, you'll probably still find this a hard read.

Which is somewhat odd. There isn't a whiff of e.g. 'racial superiority' in here -other than one or two mentions to discredit the idea, but I mean on the authors part. There's no bigotry. (There is a statement here or there I found, well, hamfisted.) It's just subject matter that is really, really uncomfortable. We can talk about e.g. lactose tolerance, racial differences in reactions to certain medicines, disease resistances, cancer/Rickets/folate protection (e.g. skin color). No one really has a problem talking about those. But we do draw a line around the brain.

Clearly this is because of (particular, here in the US) a history -and a present- of racism. But that is not a reason to run away from this kind of stuff, nor, despite some comments here, is “that's racist” an argument or disproof. ( )
  dcunning11235 | Oct 17, 2016 |
The perfect book for Whites to fantasize about how genetically-superior they are; while providing no evidence and while their culture slowly declines. ( )
  ftalke | Nov 5, 2015 |
Good for a resource for scientific racism.
1 vote sbalicki | Mar 14, 2015 |
Wade presents many lines of evidence for his hypothesis that human evolution has continued in the past 10,000 years, resulting in genetic changes that can detect racial and geographical groupings reliably. He thinks this information is not well known because of a "politically correct" bias in academia that regards race as a social construct. There are studies of individual genes known to promote aggression, genes that lead to the thicker hair in Asian people, and to lactose tolerance in Northern Europeans. In most studies it appears that populations do not move far from their homes, and it is possible with comprehensive genome screens to distinguish Italians from English. Not entirely convincing, I have seen contradictory reviews about this contemporary book. ( )
  neurodrew | Feb 8, 2015 |
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Science and science journalism are different things. Though each is valuable, they require at least partly different skills. Science demands unrelenting skepticism about purported facts and theories, and science journalism demands an ability to make the complex clear. Despite my admiration for his work as a journalist, I’m afraid that Nicholas Wade’s latest book reminds us of the risks inherent in blurring the distinction between these endeavors. A Troublesome Inheritance goes beyond reporting scientific facts or accepted theories and finds Wade championing bold ideas that fall outside any scientific consensus.
A Troublesome Inheritance has been roundly criticized by scientists and journalists alike. Biologists such as H. Allen Orr and Jerry Coyne have pointed out its many scientific problems. Statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman has identified the “naivete” in Wade’s eagerness to assume a genetic cause for any change in social behavior. Following their debate, the anthropologist Agustin Fuentes observed, “Wade ignores the majority of data and conclusions from anthropology, population genetics, human biology and evolutionary biology.” Even Wade’s former newspaper, the New York Times, carried a review panning the book. Unfortunately, readers lacking a background in science or journalism may not so easily spot Wade’s many errors. This could lead to even more troublesome issues given the excitement the book has generated among those predisposed to accept its conclusions.

“Wade says in this book many of the things I’ve been saying for the last 40 years of my life,” said David Duke, the white nationalist politician and former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, on his radio program on May 12, 2014. “The ideas for which I’ve been relentlessly villified are now becoming part of the mainstream because of the irrepressible movement of science and genetics.” Duke devoted his “blockbuster” show to a discussion of A Troublesome Inheritance and celebrated how Wade bravely took on the “Jewish Supremacists” and their “blatant hypocrisy over race and DNA.” There have also been multiple lively discussions about the book at Stormfront.org, the online forum Duke created and one of the most visited white supremacist websites on the net with about 40,000 unique users each day.
While there is much of interest in Mr. Wade’s book, readers will probably see what they are predisposed to see: a confirmation of prejudices, or a rather unconvincing attempt to promote the science of racial difference.
added by lquilter | editNew York Times, Arthur Allen (May 15, 2014)
There is little to recommend here. This book is as crassly anti-science as any work of climate-change denial or creationism. And like those odd birds, Wade adopts a radical relativism of expertise. Sure, all the relevant experts say one thing, but he’s going to tell you the truth.
The reigning intellectual orthodoxy is that race is a "social construct," a cultural artifact without biological merit.

Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, what is known by geneticists has increasingly diverged from this orthodoxy, even as social scientists and the mainstream press have steadfastly ignored the new research. Nicholas Wade, for more than 20 years a highly regarded science writer at the New York Times, has written a book that pulls back the curtain.

It is hard to convey how rich this book is. It could be the textbook for a semester's college course on human evolution, systematically surveying as it does the basics of genetics, evolutionary psychology, Homo sapiens's diaspora and the recent discoveries about the evolutionary adaptations that have occurred since then. The book is a delight to read—conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few decades.
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