Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: John Derbyshire Reviews The Reviews
[JD Note: In what follows I use the abbreviations “HBD” and “BIP.” The first stands for “Human Bio-Diversity,” a field of discussion embracing all those aspects of human nature that can reasonably be supposed to have some biological component. “BIP” stands for the collection of human traits that can be put under the heading “Behavior, Intelligence, and Personality.” This abbreviation is ad hoc from me, but the near-equivalent “ABC” is quite current: “Affect, Behavior, and Cognition.”]
In February last year, I wrote:
A few weeks ago I had lunch with a senior editor at a major publishing house…My lunch companion observed: “Books don’t cause a stir anymore.” Being naturally argumentative, I tried to think of a counter. Nothing fictional came to mind, but I said I thought Steven Pinker’s last had been much discussed. Likewise Charles Murray’s last. “Nah,” said my editor. “A brief buzz in high-end outlets, that’s all. Not like it used to be.”
[The Book: An Elegy, Taki’s Magazine, February 21, 2013.]
That’s a guy who knows his business. Our expectations lag behind reality, though. Those of us who are older and bookish still suppose that a striking book by a well-credentialed author will set the chattering classes a-chattering, as The Bell Curve did twenty years ago.
Alas, my editor friend was right: this just doesn’t happen any more. People hoping that Nicholas Wade’s race-realist book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History would take America by storm were therefore hoping for too much.
It may be, as some of my friends in the HBD-sphere darkly suspect, that there is a conspiracy in the Main Stream Media to ignore Wade’s book. But I doubt it; and the notices so far support my doubt.
By way of comparison, French economist Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, published March 10th in the U.S.A., is much more Cultural-Marxist-compliant than Wade’s book: It argues for major wealth redistribution through punitive taxation. If the Establishment were suppressing books they don’t like and trumpeting ones they do, Piketty would be a media star by now.
In fact, his book’s been decently well reviewed. But it is not exactly a sensation. I doubt it’s a big topic of conversation around office water coolers, except perhaps at the Center for American Progress.
“A brief buzz in high-end outlets, that’s all.” That’s the book business nowadays.
Troublesome Inheritance seems to be selling decently well. A strategically-timed review by Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal the weekend before publication date (which was Tuesday, May 6th) gave the book a major boost, to #21 in the Amazon sales rankings at noon on Monday.
At the time of writing (Saturday evening, May 10th) the Amazon rank is still #124, which is very respectable for a pop-science book. There have been several more reviews and some publicity events.
Nevertheless, I have to concede, the New York Times, traditional pace-setter for the nation-wide MSM and book stores, has not yet reviewed this book, although it’s by one of its own.
Here are my random notes on the book’s reception so far: not a review of the book—I already did that on VDARE.com—but a survey of the publicity, reviews and background topics.
The first promotional event was a “webinar,” a one-hour discussion via Skype, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association on Monday, May 5th, the day before publication.
The other principal party to the webinar was anthropologist Agustín Fuentes, author of a book titled Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature.
The major myths being busted by Prof. Fuentes include, according to the book’s Amazon blurb:
- humans are divided into biological races;
- humans are naturally aggressive;
- men and women are truly different in behavior, desires, and wiring.
One five-star reviewer of Prof. Fuentes’ book calls it “a takedown of conventional thinking on a number of topics.”
I suppose it depends what you mean by “conventional.” The view promulgated with unflagging zeal in all our schools and colleges, by all MSM outlets, and by corporate HR departments everywhere, is that race is a fiction, aggression is a consequence of poverty or childhood abuse, and men and women are indistinguishable on the BIP traits except when socially conditioned otherwise. That is current conventional wisdom. And Prof. Fuentes is a champion of it.
It helps to know here that anthropology is the most politicized of the human sciences, even more so than sociology. Indeed, the AAA caused a stir three years ago by dropping the word “science” from their mission statement.
I watched the whole hour of the AAA webinar. I wish I could get my hour back. Wade was offline due to technical difficulties much of the time. Fuentes waved his arms and made the case that there is no such thing as race! as well as it can be made. There is so much genetic variation! And most of it is in Africa! (Which I guess is why so many Africans look like Koreans.)
The sound quality was terrible.
Also promotional, later in the week came a piece by Wade himself in the May 9th edition of Time magazine, summarizing the arguments of his book.
On to the reviews.
Several HBD bloggers have been posting lists. The indefatigable HBDchick has a list with key extracts. (Some more promotionals by Wade, too: this 19m48s interview on CBC radio for example, in which Wade presents his case and medical anthropologist Duana Fullwiley gives a somewhat hesitant rebuttal.)
Alfred at Occam’s Razor has also been tallying reviews, categorizing them as positive, mixed, and negative. He notes an odd-bedfellows aspect of the reviews: Creationists—in this case Tom Bethell at The American Spectator—lining up with the Cultural Marxists against Wade.
The oddity here is that Creationists are almost all religious, while Cultural Marxists of course loathe religion. Apparently the Creationists hate Darwin so much they will happily link arms with types like Richard Lewontin and the shade of Stephen Jay Gould—both actual Marxists, come to think of it—if it means they can get a kick in at old Chuck.
Along with these handy lists of reviews, some of the more diligent HBD bloggers have been posting, or re-posting, their own summaries of the background topics—the science that informs Wade’s book. There’s a lot of overlap here, but it’s handy to have these summaries bookmarked if you want to write something or get into an argument.
Jayman did a particularly good job on this, I thought. Eschewing false modesty he calls it “the ultimate intro to HBD for people who have been woefully misled all their lives.” Steve Hsu explains how the cute diagrams of genetic clusters are made.
The book is generally reasonable, but Wade is not a geneticist, and it shows. His errors on genetics mostly don’t make much difference, but they make me itch, not least when it’s a subject close to my heart.
Cochran—co-author with Henry Harpending of the 2009 book The 10,000-Year Explosion, which covers some of the same ground as A Troublesome Inheritance—proceeds to chide Wade for some factual carelessness, but gives an overall endorsement of the book’s central thesis:
He thinks that different populations have different distributions of personality traits (a result of different selection pressures) , and that a social institution that comes easily to some groups may not come easily, maybe not at all, to other populations, even when there are big payoffs and vigorous attempts. That is certainly what the world looks like. He thinks that this failure-to-copy is significantly influenced by genetic differences , and of course that’s very likely—although we don’t know a lot about the genetic basis of such traits at this time. IQ differences must also play a part in failure-to-copy.
(Wade mostly avoids talking about IQ.)
One of Wade’s key data points is the rapid economic growth of East Asia in the past half-century: “In the early 1950s Ghana and South Korea had similar economies and levels of gross national product per capita. Some 30 years later, South Korea had become the 14th largest economy in the world, exporting sophisticated manufactures. Ghana had stagnated.” Wade approvingly quotes political scientist Samuel Huntington’s statement, “South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline. Ghanaians had different values.” And Wade attributes these attitudes toward thrift, investment, etc., to the Koreans’ East Asian genes.
This all fits together and could well be true. But … what if Wade had been writing his book in 1954 rather than 2014? Would we still be hearing about the Korean values of thrift, organization, and discipline? A more logical position, given the economic history up to that time, would be to consider the poverty of East Asia to be never-changing, perhaps an inevitable result of their genes for conformity and the lack of useful evolution after thousands of years of relative peace. We might also be hearing a lot about Japan’s genetic exclusion from the rest of Asia, along with a patient explanation of why we should not expect China and Korea to attain any rapid economic success.
That has caused various HBD blogs gleefully to post quoted remarks going way back into the 19th century by observers marveling at the intelligence and industry of East Asians, contrasted with the dullness and sloth of Africans: this one, for example, from a different statistician.
Down at the least science-y end of the conservative commentariat, the main thing on display is nervousness and signals of willingness to go into race-cringe mode. Here was Ross Douthat in Nicholas Wade’s own paper, the New York Times:
Most of the reviews so far have come from the political right: Charles Murray raves, Robert VerBruggen has some anxieties; Anthony Daniels critiques. I would very much like to read a Ta-Nehisi Coates review.[Links added]
I think I can spare you the wait, Ross. I have managed to get an advance copy of Coates’ review. Here is the opening paragraph:
Black black black blackety-black! Blackety blackety blackety blackety black! Black blackblackblack blackblackblack—black!
Anthony Daniels’ review in The New Criterion disappointed a lot of people, including me.
I’m a fan of Daniels, a/k/a “Theodore Dalrymple,” from thirty and more years ago, when I used to enjoy the snippets from his notebook as a jailhouse doctor in the London Spectator (where we once or twice shared space). We also have some slight personal acquaintance.
As a medical man, Daniels is certainly not science-ignorant. Further, having worked with the underclass in one of Britain’s most multiracial cities, he knows the realities of life in a multiracial society. [Tell the truth about the Lozells riots. By Theodore Dalrymple, Telegraph, October 26, 2005]
In all the years I’ve been reading Daniels, though—and he writes a great deal—I can’t recall the faintest sign of HBD awareness. Somehow he has come through with his faith in “the psychic unity of mankind”—in human beings as identical blobs of putty to be molded by social forces—intact.
That’s all right, I guess. But it makes for a sour review. A careless one, too.
Daniels takes lengthy issue for example with Wade’s Figure 3.1:
Quite early in the book, the author produces a map to illustrate the supposed interplay between genetics and culture. It is a map of Europe showing the distribution of the population with and without lactose intolerance …
There is something very odd about this map. The further one moves in Europe from the land around the Baltic, the more prevalent lactose intolerance becomes, until in France it is very high. But France is notoriously the country that produces more varieties of cheese than the rest of the world put together …
That is just a lazy sliding over the difference between “relative” and “absolute.” The map says nothing about lactose intolerance in France being “very high.” Neither does the source paper from which Wade took it. (Third illustration here.) It only shows relative levels of lactose intolerance in Europe, with the area around the Baltic having none and southern France having more.
In fact the overall absolute level of lactose intolerance in France is low by world standards—20 percent, according to the coarser cut shown in this report. And yes, Sweden is lower at 4 percent. Denmark’s figure is given as 2 percent here. “Very high” would be Thailand at 96 percent or Nigeria at 91.
I got those numbers and links in three or four minutes’ googling.
Does Dr. Daniels not have access to the internet?
He is on better ground with homicide rates. But not much better. Here is what Wade writes:
The homicide rate in the United States, Europe, China and Japan is less than 2 per 100,000 people, whereas in most African countries south of the Sahara it exceeds 10 per 100,000, a difference that does not prove but surely allows room for a genetic contribution to greater violence in the less developed world.
Here is what Daniels responds:
The statistics that the author uses are suspect. He says of the United States that its homicide rate is less than 2 per 100,000. The last time I looked the rate was 4.7 per 100,000—itself a very sharp decline of recent years. But a paper not long ago suggested that if the same resuscitation and surgical techniques were used as were used in 1960, the homicide rate in the United States would be five times higher than it is today, that is to say 23.5 per 100,000. The new techniques in surgery and resuscitation are unlikely to have reached much of Africa, where (the author says) the homicide rate is 10 per 100,000. In other words, either the statistics in Africa are unreliable—which in my opinion is very likely—or the statistics prove precisely the opposite of what the author wants to prove. Either way, his point is vitiated.
Here both author and reviewer have been sloppy. Wade provides a reference for his numbers: the U.N.’s 2011 Global Study on Homicide. It’s on the internet, and there’s the link. Country figures are in Table 8.1 on pages 92-96 (but see also Map 1.1. on page 20).
From Table 8.1 the rates per 100,000 are:
- United States: 5.
- Europe: from 0.0 in Monaco and 0.3 in Iceland to 10.5 in Greenland and 11.2 in Russia; mode somewhere between 1 and 2.
- China: 1.1.
- Japan: 0.5.
- Sub-Saharan Africa: from 1.5 in Somalia (eh?) and 1.9 in São Tomé and Príncipe to 38.0 in Zambia and 56.9 in Côte d’Ivoire; mode looks to be 15-20.
So Wade is wrong on the U.S.A. but right on the others.
Daniels is not blameless, however. Instead of “the last time I looked,” why didn’t he bring up Wade’s reference, as I just did?
His point about the effect of different levels in medical care is a good one, although he should have named that “paper not long ago.” I’d like to read it. [See In Medical Triumph, Homicides Fall Despite Soaring Gun Violence, By Gary Fields and Cameron McWhirter, WSJ, December 8, 2012]
Another point Daniels might have made contra Wade is the very different age distributions in the various regions, homicide being mostly a young man’s game, and sub-Saharan African populations being younger than European or East Asian ones.
Further, Wade and Daniels both—and anyone else venturing into national data tables—should have applied the Sailer-PISA rule:
BIP-related statistics for a multiracial society are near-meaningless unless you disaggregate by race.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us, for example, that
From 2002 to 2011 … the average homicide rate for blacks was 6.3 times higher than the rate for whites.
[Homicide In The U.S. Known To Law Enforcement, 2011, Highlights.]
A little algebra on the overall figure of 4.7 for year 2011 yields a likely rate of 17.8 per 100,000 for U.S. blacks—neatly corresponding to the sub-Saharan African mode—and 2.8 for U.S. “whites,” a term which in BJS papers includes Hispanics.
The U.S. homicide rate for non-Hispanic whites may indeed therefore be below 2, corresponding just as neatly to the European mode.
I wish Wade had made this argument.
But those homicide numbers comprise a single sentence in a book of 278 pages. If Wade’s slip vitiates his homicide point—which is, after all, only that the numbers “allow room for a genetic contribution”—he has literally scores of others.
Picking nits with a book under review is standard reviewer practice. (I picked one with Wade’s book in my own review.)
Nevertheless, something is owed to an author’s overall theme.
The things Nicholas Wade has written about are either established facts, like:
- All BIP traits are highly heritable.
- Human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.
- A species with worldwide distribution develops regional variants showing different statistical profiles of heritable traits. Our species is not an exception to this rule.
Or else Wade’s suppositions are reasonable, like:
- Patterns and frequencies of BIP traits in a population will contribute to shaping that population’s social practices. They will not likely be totally determinative—but they will contribute.
- Humans are highly imitative and culture can turn on a dime. When, to its own disadvantage, a less-successful culture fails to imitate a more successful one, biology may be preventing them from doing so.
Facts and suppositions like these can be the basis for speculations and hypotheses that we can test against reality.
That’s what science journalists write about, to explain to the general public what’s been going on in the labs and research institutes.
Nicholas Wade is one of the best science journalists we have.
I wish him success with A Troublesome Inheritance.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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