In his book A Troublesome Inheritance, New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade argues that longstanding geographic economic disparities can be tied to behavioral differences between races, which can be tied to genes.
It’s something of a reversal of the argument that Jared Diamond made in his book Guns, Germs and Steel. Last May, the Wall Street Journal ran a rave review of Wade’s book by Charles Murray, the author of the 1995 The Bell Curve, which was not well received in the scientific community.
In the last years of his life, Stephen Jay Gould put considerable energy into debunking The Bell Curve. I wrote with some concern about Murray’s review in this piece for the Tracker.
Murray’s main argument was that scientists are reluctant to talk about genes and race – that there’s been a sort of politically correct war against any discussion or exploration of the matter. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t automatically imply that Wade’s conclusions are scientifically justified. The argument is a non sequitur.
A very different review appeared in the New York Times last Sunday. Science writer David Dobbs takes a direct look at the argument Wade puts forward in the book. Dobbs explains clearly where the author leaves the firm ground of science into the airy realm of speculation. Here’s one tiny paragraph that packs a punch:
If Wade could point to genes that give races distinctive social behaviors, we might overlook such shortcomings. But he cannot.
Dobbs goes directly after the conclusion in Wade’s book and explains why science does not back it up. By the time he gets to the accusation that the book is “dangerous” and “deceptive”, he’s laid out a good, evidence-based case. –Faye Flam