Angier's Wager? Race schizophrenia at the New York Times

"All I know is what I read in the papers," said Will Rogers. He'd get intellectual whiplash reading the New York Times' coverage of race and genes. The flood of new data on race is exposing the fundamental conflict between the Times' two roles: newspaper of record and high priestess of political correctness.

The Times' reporters keep piling up facts showing that race and genes are terribly important. The Times' pundits respond by torturing logic to reassure their readers that "the standard labels used to distinguish people by 'race' have little or no biological meaning."

For example, the NYT devoted much of the summer to saturation reporting on the Human Genome Project [http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/genome-index.html]. So heredity sure does matter, right?

Further, the Times ran an interminable 15 part series on "How Race Is Lived." Despite their political correctness, it succeeded only in confirming in exhausting detail most of the common stereotypes about the differences between blacks and whites. In the profile of two rival Army sergeants, for instance, the white one is smarter, but the black one has more masculine charisma, and thus is a better leader of men. (The one article definitely worth reading -- "At a slaughterhouse, some things never die" -- is, not surprisingly, one of the few that notices that there are more than two races in America. It documents the disastrous impact that illegal Mexican immigrants in North Carolina are having on African-American butchers. http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/race/061600leduff-meat.html) Apparently, race is pervasively important, no?

But meanwhile the Times' opinionizers have been desperately telling us that Race Is Meaningless. The Times recently ran a second laudatory review of population geneticist L.L. Cavalli-Sforza's Genes, Peoples, and Languages. [http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/08/20/reviews/000820.20ridleyt.html] This one was by leftwing English evolutionary pundit Mark Ridley (who, by the way, is not rightwing English evolutionary pundit Matt Ridley, author of Genome http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060194979/vdare. Like the previous Times' review, Mark Ridley praises Cavalli-Sforza for both

A. Using "genetic differences among people from various places to reconstruct the 'tree' of human evolution: a branching diagram of relations among different populations."

B. "Exploding the theory that races are genetically distinct."

To his credit, Ridley vaguely senses that there might be a bit of a contradiction here. But, being the kind of politically-acceptable poobah who gets invited to review books for the New York Times, Ridley assumes that this inconsistency casts some doubt on Cavalli-Sforza's half-century of scientific work on racial differences - rather than on the "No Races" boilerplate that Cavalli-Sforza shoves into all his books to keep from being lynched by the likes of, well, the New York Times. (My VDARE review of Cavalli-Sforza's two-faced book is at http://www.vdare.com/sailer_may_24.htm).

The Times' top human sciences essayist, Natalie Angier, then repeated Ridley's contention that racial differences are only "skin-deep" in a long article entitled "Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows." [http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/082200sci-genetics-race.html]

Angier simply recycles all the tired clichés that I refuted last spring in "Seven Dumb Ideas about Race" [http://www.vdare.com/cavalli-sforza_ii.htm]. For example, she writes: "[Scientists] say that while it may seem easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Caucasian, African or Asian, the ease dissolves when one probes beneath surface characteristics and scans the genome for DNA hallmarks of 'race.'"

This is balderdash. Far from confusing racial identifications, the new genetic analyses allow forensic anthropologists to pinpoint the racial origin of DNA samples left at crime scenes with revolutionary accuracy.

Yet, even before the invention of DNA tests, physical anthropologists had little trouble determining the race of skeletons. Dr. George W. Gill of the U. of Wyoming told the PBS series Nova: "The idea that race is 'only skin deep' is simply not true, as any experienced forensic anthropologist will affirm... I have been able to prove to myself over the years, in actual legal cases, that I am more accurate at assessing race from skeletal remains than from looking at living people standing before me."

When white people like Ridley and Angier assert that racial differences are only skin-deep, they are merely demonstrating that they don't respect people of other races enough to look at them carefully. White liberals tend to ethnocentrically assume that other peoples are merely white liberals with different colored skins. African Americans are far more conscious of other common racial differences - in skulls, buttocks, muscularity, and general skeletal proportions.

And they're right. Recall the last time you met an African American albino. With skin color held constant, the underlying physical differences among the races are especially vivid.

It's easy to dupe laymen about something as esoteric as genetics. So let's reduce the controversy to the concrete.

Would Ms. Angier care to wager a sizable amount against me on the racial results of the upcoming Olympics? Since she claims to believe that racial groups don't really differ, she should be perfectly happy to place her bets by random racial quota. In other words, she should be content to bet on, say, a Mexican winning the 100m dash, a Samoan triumphing in the marathon, and so forth.

In contrast, I'll bet by race: East Africans, especially members of the amazing Kalenjin tribe of Kenya, will dominate distance running. People of West African descent will rule sprints, hurdles, long jump, and basketball. Southeast Asians will do best in sports like badminton that require quickness rather than brute strength, etc.

Ready to put your money where your mouth is, Natalie?

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]

September 10, 2000