Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray says the new book by veteran science journalist Nicholas Wade is going to have an explosive impact. The book, titled A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, And Human History, demolishes what Murray calls the “orthodoxy” around race and genetics: the idea that evolution has given us no meaningful genetic differences among the races. Murray writes:
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.
The title gives fair warning: “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History.” At the heart of the book, stated quietly but with command of the technical literature, is a bombshell. It is now known with a high level of scientific confidence that both tenets of the orthodoxy are wrong.
As the story is untangled, it will also become obvious how inappropriate it is to talk in terms of the “inferiority” or “superiority” of groups. Consider, for example, the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. What are the ideal points on these continua? They will differ depending on whether you’re looking for the paragon of, say, a parent or an entrepreneur. And the Big Five only begin to tap the dozens of ways in which human traits express themselves. Individual human beings are complicated bundles of talents, proclivities, strengths and flaws that interact to produce unexpected and even internally contradictory results. The statistical tendencies (and they will be only tendencies) that differentiate groups of humans will be just as impossible to add up as the qualities of an individual. Vive les différences.
Murray warns that Wade is probably about to be steamrollered by the kill-the-messenger brigades — that Wade’s faith in people’s ability to calmly accept and reflect on science is misplaced:
Before they have even opened “A Troublesome Inheritance,” some reviewers will be determined not just to refute it but to discredit it utterly—to make people embarrassed to be seen purchasing it or reading it. These chapters will be their primary target because Mr. Wade chose to expose his readers to a broad range of speculative analyses, some of which are brilliant and some of which are weak. If I had been out to trash the book, I would have focused on the weak ones, associated their flaws with the book as a whole and dismissed “A Troublesome Inheritance” as sloppy and inaccurate. The orthodoxy’s clerisy will take that route, ransacking these chapters for material to accuse Mr. Wade of racism, pseudoscience, reliance on tainted sources, incompetence and evil intent. You can bet on it.
Well, Charles Murray should know. Anyway, read the whole review. I’m not often drawn to science books, and I have a deep unease about anything to do with genetics and race, but Murray’s review made me want to read this one.