A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History - Nicholas Wade I did listen to the whole book. I regret that.

He quotes Darwin throughout the book to make some of his points about specialization due to human development. The real great thing about Darwin's book "Origin of Species" is the book is a guide book on how to use critical reasoning in the development of a controversial idea. The author violates all of the necessary steps in order to present an argument. He gives easily shot down straw-man arguments such as "Jared Diamond says that race plays no part in civilization's growth in the development of civilizations". Now, Diamond days say that but it doesn't mean his bigger theme is wrong, geography, plant growth, animal availability and so on doesn't make a difference while race might make a small contribution. (BTW, Diamond's book is much, much better than this one).

He stacks the deck in favor of his thesis. He defines his terms to most favor his argument. Genes and clusters on the genome can determine a person's "race" (I put it in quotes only because he uses that definition for race. That gives him the most flexibility to see the world in terms of race. Scots, Irish and French would fall under that definition as a race, but he doesn't explicitly refer to that subset as a race).

He tells a lot of "just so stories" of how the Leopard got his spots, or in this case why the Chinese is less tolerant than the English (an example he does give). He does hypothesize a really rapid change in our Genome and this leads to different institutions because of different behavior because of genetic differences between races.

Science uses induction to prove, that is going from the particular to the general, the author usually doesn't go from the particular to the general (read Darwin, on how to do that most marvelously). He usually goes from the general to the general thus thinking he's proved his point. He does use some particular data but he can do that poorly, once he said "200 people of Ashkenazim descent in a hospital in Israel have a genetic variant of one gene and 1/3 of them were engineers, scientist or lawyers" much higher than the general population. Wow, that statement by itself is not enough to show anything. His editor should not have allowed that in the book. It doesn't mean that the variant doesn't map to intelligence, but you need another set of data to demonstrate it.

He uses quotes frequently and excerpts from Thomas Sowell's platitudes to support his positions. Generalities in the form of platitudes prove nothing. Sowell is best left on the pages of the "Washington Times". He also quotes platitudes from Niall Ferguson on capitalism and how the West is superior to the East because of behavior due to our genetics thru race. If you want to write a serious book, don't quote Ferguson on economics (if you ever want to see why just read Paul Krugman's blog when he points out why Ferguson is out of his depth in the field of economics).

He does quote from Pinker's book, "Better Angels of our Nature", and says the Pinker was afraid to use race and stayed away from that as explanation. That's true, but if you read the book (and I have), Pinker doesn't shy away from a whole host of other reason beyond genetic differences which explains the decline of violence over time that have nothing to do with genetic differences due to race.

Darwin, in his book, would always word the counter argument to his thesis in the best terms possible before he shot it down. This author doesn't really bring up counter arguments. If you bring up intelligence between races, you should bring up the "Flynn Effect", the fact that IQs when normalized to 1916 have gone up over 15 points. Either we have gotten a lot smarter or there is something in the culture/environment that makes us perform better on test that measure our abstract reasoning or as the author would conclude our genes made us smarter. I don't have the answer, but I do know if I were writing a book to persuade the reader to my belief I would have mentioned items that seem to contradict my thesis. There were a lot of other points the author should have brought up in order to shot down, but he doesn't. I'm left to guess he really doesn't have a good counter argument?

It's a pity the author did such a poor job. There can be some merit to his thesis, but this book doesn't provide any support for it. Unfortunately, this book will appeal to some who aren't attuned to critical reasoning and prefer generalities and platitudes, and I highly don't recommend it.