Nicholas Wade in Britain’s SPECTATOR

Nicholas Wade has an excerpt from A Troublesome Inheritance in The Spectator. [The genome of history | DNA explains more than you think, May 17, 2014]

I’ll reiterate my view that it’s fruitful to think of this as a British v. American dust-up. The British competition-based paradigm (Adam Smith, Darwin, etc.) was fairly dominant in the natural and human sciences and in associated intellectual spheres from the 19th Century to the stock market crash of 1929.

But after 1929, businessmen couldn’t afford to fund intellectuals anymore, so the prestige of competition-based thinking plummeted. Only governments could pay for scholars in the mid 20th Century, so intellectuals in the 1930s quickly generated lots of rationales for why competition was bogus, as proven by all those busted businessmen who can’t ante up for universities anymore, and central planning by the government was ideal both in practice and theory. One side effect was the collapse in prestige of the Galtonian tradition and the rise to dominance of the Boasian.

Here’s something that’s hard to keep in mind simultaneously: both Galton and Boas were pretty good guys. They both made contributions. When one’s worldview like Galton’s was riding a little too high, like Galton’s was early in the 20th Century, the other served as a corrective. They still do.

 The Boasian worldview became too dominant later on in the 20th Century, in part because America became so rich and powerful compared to Britain. But both nature and nurture are important.But the subtext to a lot of this struggle is a fairly adolescent struggle for turf dominance over the past. When you look at the combatants, it’s pretty obvious that the breakdowns tend to be British v. American, WASP v. Jewish, and country boy v. city boy. There are many exceptions (e.g., Robert Trivers), but the natural biases are hardly invisible.