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I talked with Rutgers University professor of anthropology R. Brian Ferguson about Steven Pinker, Napoleon Chagnon, Marvin Harris, anthropo...

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Troublesome Reviews & the Reasonable Rebels

We were just talking about Charles Murray and his firm belief that differences among "races" is genetic, as he indicated in his 2014 interview at AEI:
On this score, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning. 
The best summary of the evidence is found in the early chapters of Nicholas Wade’s recent book, “A Troublesome Inheritance.” We’re not talking about another 20 years before the purely environmental position is discredited, but probably less than a decade. What happens when a linchpin of political correctness becomes scientifically untenable? It should be interesting to watch. I confess to a problem with schadenfreude.
I looked up the reviews of "A Troublesome Inheritance" and the reviewers were not nearly as impressed as Murray.

The Washington Post
...Wade gets into trouble, however, in the latter half of the book, which he describes as more “speculative.” A whole chapter is devoted to the subject of Jewish intelligence, in which he argues that the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes awarded to people of Jewish descent can be traced to the fact that Jewish money-lending in the Middle Ages required levels of literacy and numeracy far beyond those in the general population. That specialization, and the wealth it brought, he argues, conferred upon the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe an evolutionary advantage that became encoded in complex ways in their genes. 
There is little solid evidence to support this hypothesis; moreover, the combinations of genes conferring intelligence — if there are any — are unknown. While Wade demonstrates a good deal of mastery over many of the technical issues involved, he strikes a remarkably cavalier note about the obvious social and political unease such research might engender...
Wade is of course referring to the "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" that Ferguson eviscerated.

The Boston Review
...It is not my goal to debunk every scientific flaw in A Troublesome Inheritance, but a couple examples should be sufficient to demonstrate that Wade is not only an unreliable guide through contemporary genomic research, but that science does not support his case. 
It is essential to Wade’s story that readers reject the widely held belief that humans ceased evolving before the dawn of recorded history. The truth is that “human evolution has been recent, copious and regional." 
Wade plants his flag with the first cited fact in the book, with unfortunate (for him) results: “No less than 14% of the human genome, according to one estimate, has changed under this recent evolutionary pressure.” He repeats this number twice. But what does it mean? Studies of the human genome have identified traces of selection pressure in patterns of genetic variation. Their results vary, but “if one takes just the regions marked by any two of the scans, then 722 regions, containing some 2,465 genes, have been under pressure of natural selection.” That “amounts to 14% of the genome.” 
His source is a 2009 review article by the geneticist Joshua Akey, but Wade reads it wrong. It is not 14 percent of the genome that is under selection in two studies. Rather, because there are a lot of false positives, 14 percent of regions identified as under selection in any study were also identified in a second study. The number Wade wants—the portion of the genome found in at least two studies to have been under pressure of natural selection—is 8 percent. The error suggests a glib reader cherry-picking statistics without really grasping the science...

...If Wade could point to genes that give races distinctive social behaviors, we might overlook such shortcomings. But he cannot. 
He tries. He tells, for instance, of specific gene variants that reputedly create less trust and more violence in ­African-Americans and, he says, explain their resistance to modern economic institutions and practices. Alas, the scientific literature he draws on is so uneven and disputed that many geneticists dismiss it outright. Wade also cites a 2008 paper that analyzed the genomes of almost 1,000 people from 51 populations around the globe. That paper found that people from different regions do indeed tend to have distinctive genomes. But Wade errs in saying the paper supports his idea that genetic selection has created races with particular social inclinations. 
To begin with, the 2008 study mentions nothing about race. It merely establishes that many of the slight differences between human genomes cluster by geography at many scales, including continents, and that genomes from any given location will most likely be similar, just as two people from a particular place will most likely speak with similar accents. 
Second, and far more serious, the paper’s authors specifically state that while selection may sometimes create genetic differences between populations, they saw little evidence that selection shaped the small genetic differences they found. In fact, they say the differences can be largely explained by “random drift” — arbitrary changes in genes having little to no effect on people’s biology or behavior. All of this directly contradicts Wade’s argument. Yet he baldly claims the study as support. 
And he does this sort of thing repeatedly: He constantly gathers up long shots, speculations and spurious claims, then declares they add up to substantiate his case. 
The result is a deeply flawed, deceptive and dangerous book. Its most pernicious conceit is that it’s finally safe to talk of racial genetics because “opposition to racism is now well entrenched.” The daily news — a black teenager’s killer walks free in Florida; a former Ku Klux Klansman shoots up a Jewish community center; and tearful survivors observe the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, in which 100 days of mass murder rose from ethnic distinctions pressed on the populace by European colonists a century before — says otherwise...
The Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics posted a letter in response and a whole bunch of scientists signed on:
To the Editor:
As scientists dedicated to studying genetic variation, we thank David Dobbs for his review of Nicholas Wade’s “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History” (July 13), and for his description of Wade’s misappropriation of research from our field to support arguments about differences among human societies.
As discussed by Dobbs and many others, Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not. 
We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.

Steve Sailer of course loved the Wade book and reprinted Charles Murray's own review on his blog, where we get Murray's list of his favorite evolutionary psychology and race science books - my highlights:
 In 1998, the biologist E.O. Wilson wrote a book, "Consilience," predicting that the 21st century would see the integration of the social and biological sciences. He is surely right about the long run, but the signs for early progress are not good. "The Bell Curve," which the late Richard J. Herrnstein and I published 20 years ago, should have made it easy for social scientists to acknowledge the role of cognitive ability in shaping class structure. It hasn't. David Geary's "Male/Female," published 16 years ago, should have made it easy for them to acknowledge the different psychological and cognitive profiles of males and females. It hasn't. Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate," published 12 years ago, should have made it easy for them to acknowledge the role of human nature in explaining behavior. It hasn't. Social scientists who associate themselves with any of those viewpoints must still expect professional isolation and stigma.  
"A Troublesome Inheritance" poses a different order of threat to the orthodoxy. The evidence in "The Bell Curve," "Male/Female" and "A Blank Slate" was confined to the phenotype—the observed characteristics of human beings—and was therefore vulnerable to attack or at least obfuscation. The discoveries Mr. Wade reports, that genetic variation clusters along racial and ethnic lines and that extensive evolution has continued ever since the exodus from Africa, are based on the genotype, and no one has any scientific reason to doubt their validity.  
And yet, as of 2014, true believers in the orthodoxy still dominate the social science departments of the nation's universities. I expect that their resistance to "A Troublesome Inheritance" will be fanatical, because accepting its account will be seen, correctly, as a cataclysmic surrender on some core premises of political correctness. There is no scientific reason for the orthodoxy to win. But it might nonetheless.
And of course the word "orthodoxy" which race science proponents like to use to dismiss any and all criticism of their claims.

A recent article in the Washington Post discusses the similarities between the lingo of defenders of the Confederacy and that of of contemporary race science, called The Reasonable Rebels by Eve Fairbanks.

I had already noted that Bo Winegard, Quillette's primary race science proponent, used the term "Equilitarianism" which he appears to have gotten directly from the White Citizen Council's own Calton Putnam.

And the race science world is very tight-knit - Murray mentions David Geary's Male/Female - Bo Winegard co-wrote the paper using the term Equalitarian with... David Geary.

The Fairbanks piece discusses how similar-sounding are contemporary IDW arguments to those of the supporters of Confederacy. I especially liked this:
All of this is there in the reasonable right: The claim that they are the little people struggling against prevailing winds. The argument that they’re the ones championing reason and common sense. The allegation that their interlocutors aren’t so much wrong as excessive; they’re just trying to think freely and are being tormented. The reliance on hyperbole and slippery slopes to warn about their adversaries’ intentions and power. The depiction of their opponents as an “orthodoxy,” an epithet the antebellum South loved.
Yep. What were we just saying about Charles Murray using "orthodoxy"? And speaking of Murray...
Many reasonable-right figures find themselves defending the liberties of people to the right of them. Not because they agree with these people, they say, but on principle. Sam Harris, a popular podcast host, has released three lengthy shows about Charles Murray, a political scientist who is often booed at campus speeches and whose 2017 talk at Middlebury College ended when students injured his host. Murray argues that white people test higher than black people on “every known test of cognitive ability” and that these “differences in capacity” predict white people’s predominance. Harris repeatedly insists he has no vested interest in Murray’s ideas. His only interest in Murray, he claims, rests in his dedication to discussing science and airing controversial views. 
But Harris’s claim is implausible. Hundreds of scientists produce controversial work in the fields of race, demographics and inequality. Only one, though, is the social scientist nationally notorious for suggesting that white people are innately smarter than people of color. That Harris chooses to invite this one on his show suggests that he is not merely motivated by freedom of speech. It suggests that he is interested in what Murray has to say.
He sure is. And Sam Harris agrees with Murray.