Population geneticists against Nicholas Wade

A group of population geneticists saw fit to proscribe Nicholas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. Mr. Wade has issued his response to this letter, available as a pdf file.

Debate between opposing viewpoints is healthy and should be encouraged. Yet, the scientists who oppose Wade fail to offer a single fact or argument against his book. Their letter can be summarized as follows: “We are many, we hold the Big Chairs in academia, and we disagree with Wade.”

How can one respond to such an attack? One, of course, cannot. Arguments from number and arguments from authority are of no consequence. The fact that many esteemed professors want to criticize Wade’s book is unimportant. Their criticism would hold weight only if they used their unquestionable knowledge of evolutionary biology to show in exactly what manner Mr. Wade has erred or gone beyond the data. They chose not to do this, so Mr. Wade’s response that “This letter is driven by politics, not science” seems right.

Why did so many esteemed academics choose to sign such a vacuous letter? I would suggest that the 100+ signatories couldn’t agree on what exactly Wade did wrong. They only agreed with the politically correct conclusion (that seeks to downplay differences between human races in order to combat “racism”) but would not put their names to a statement of fact that they know to be wrong (that the human races are equal in all things despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary).

Human evolutionists are, like most academics, liberals and totally in line with mainstream Enlightenment values. They abhor the notion that one person could be inherently better than another due to their birth, or that one nation could be better than another due to its genes or history. They know, of course, that “equality” is impossible in biology and it is “inequality” that drives evolution, but find themselves unable to admit this troublesome fact.

They appreciate Darwinism (incorrectly thinking that it undermines Religion and the traditional world order which, like all good egalitarians, they detest), yet abhor the consequences of Darwinism (that the strong, moral, and smart should rule over the weak, immoral and stupid). Darwinism can be uses as a weapon by both Left and Right.  At present, it is the Left that uses it most effectively to undermine the people’s religious identity, foolishly aided by literal-minded fools on the side of Religion. The Right fails to use it properly, even though Darwinism is more supportive of its cause, as it fears that unwholesome associations with the National Socialist and Eugenic movements. And, let’s face the truth: leftist intellectual nepotism and the cult of Democracy has all but destroyed the conservative and reactionary intellectual traditions of the West: few good men remain that can defend Tradition in the face of Modernity.

For the time being the liberal academics are fortunate, as their science has not revealed many of the unpleasant genetic underpinnings of racial worth. They aim to perpetuate this state of affairs indefinitely (you should be sure that funding agencies will not fund a study on the genetic causes of racial differences in Intelligence or Beauty or Morality any time soon). Sooner or later, the liberal democratic project of undermining Tradition and Reason will fail, and the truth will find its champions. Wade is no friend of anti-democrats and reactionaries, but at least he seems intellectually honest to call a spade a spade. People like him want to save progressive ideology from the inevitable onslaught of biological truth  by re-framing it in a way that does not require acceptance of the myth of human equality. Rather than see in him a natural ally, the liberals of modern academia want to cling on to the fairy-tale of equality a little longer. For them, even someone like Wade is an enemy. For us, their puerile attempts at silencing even such mild opposition are simply entertaining.


Michael Eisen’s egalitarian hypocrisy on race

Michael Eisen joins the firing squad against Nicholas Wade’s new book. His argument is that we don’t know much about natural selection in humans (what was selected, what was the strength and type of selection, etc.) so Nicholas Wade’s speculations that different populations have different propensities for various kinds of behavior are unfounded.

This is of course too harsh. Wade adequately warns about the speculative nature of this part of his book and nearly always qualifies his statements with caveats. He also always stresses that genetic explanations are mediated by culture and that culture and environment may often override genetic inclinations. He argues on the plausibility of his speculations, and while someone may agree or disagree with him on specific conjectures, this hardly makes his book unscientific. There is room in science for both hypothesizing and for experimental verification/rejection of hypotheses.

No one claimed that the vitamin D hypothesis for skin depigmentation in Europeans was unscientific even though no one had the vaguest idea of which loci were involved in skin depigmentation of Europeans twenty years ago. No one claimed that it was wrong to speculate on genetic underpinnings of diabetes susceptibility before loci conferring such susceptibility were identified. Biology has a long tradition of proposing adaptive explanations for trait characteristics before the genetic underpinnings of these adaptations were understood. By Eiesen’s standard, the entire field of evolution was misguided until the genetic revolution because people could talk about selection for this or that but had no clue what the actual selected loci were (or even if they existed).

Eisen’t criticism is thus unfounded. But, egalitarians are generally hypocritical about race differences. Europeans and Africans differ in hair texture and skin color, and egalitarians see no reason to deny that genetic factors are behind these differences. But, raise even the possibility that the lower average intelligence of Africans is due to genetics, and the egalitarian Thought Police is sure to strike.

If criticism of Wade-like speculation is that “we shouldn’t speculate on things we don’t know for sure”, then the same criterion should also apply to those who speculate on the opposite end: that all human populations are statistically equal in intelligence, beauty, kindness, time preference, and a variety of other such traits. Mais non, if someone claims that human groups are equal and only differ in skin color, hair texture and other “skin deep” traits, he is usually lauded as a sensitive, progressive, and socially conscious scientist even though he has absolutely no reason to make such claims. By Eisen’s logic, if consistently applied, proponents of human genetic equality should be chastised, but of course neither he nor anyone of the Politically Correct Clan ever complain about egalitarian rhetoric. It is only those who propose hypotheses about genetic inequality and how it came to be that are singled out for victimization and name calling.

There is really no limit to the hypocrisy of the egalitarian mind when it comes to race.

The problem is that – for the moment at least – that’s about all we can say. It turns out to be far easier to demonstrate that there has been a fair amount of recent natural selection acting on the human population, than it is to pinpoint specific examples, or to rigorously evaluate specific hypotheses. The reason is that different types of evolution (drift, positive selection, purifying selection) leave different fingerprints in the genome, and we can use these to estimate how prevalent each of these forces has been in human history, and, to a lesser extent, identify regions of the genome that have been subject to certain types of selection. – See more at: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1609#respond


Wade and Piketty: the hypocrisy of the leftist mind

The unprecedented animus against Nicholas Wade’s Troublesome Inheritance has a simple cause: leftist ideology. Many leftist reviewers like Agustin Fuentes, Jennifer Raff, Jon Marks, pretend that their disagreement with the book is scientific and that “science” simply does not accept the concept of biological human races.

Another book, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century has been warmly accepted by leftists because it makes the argument that whenever the rate of return on capital R exceeds economic growth G, then wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of the rich. Wealth begets wealth; capital begets a greater share of capital.

Leftists who support Piketty disregard the fact that his argument is basically identical to that of Wade. Where Piketty emphasizes material wealth, Wade emphasizes genetic wealth. A rich capitalist will see his capital grow by R>G just because he has a lot of capital. A smart or otherwise socially advantageous person will see his capital grow by R>G just because he is smarter. Ceteris paribus, a rich person will enjoy a greater return on his capital than a poor one, and a smart one will enjoy a greater return on his capital than a dumb one.

It is completely non-controversial that behavioral traits like intelligence or time preference are partially genetically controlled. It is also non-controversial that traits that are genetically controlled and important for survival and reproduction (as behavioral traits doubtlessly are) will be exposed to natural selection. Even if natural selection is weak, populations that experience limited gene flow between them will reach different levels of propensity for various traits just by chance. Spooky action at a distance may happen in quantum mechanics but does not, generally, happen in biology.

From these observations it naturally proceeds that human populations may have differences in genetic propensities. These differences will then be seeds in a process of ever-greater social differentiation. If a race is only 1% more intelligent than another, this does not mean that it will be only 1% more accomplished. In one generation, perhaps its members (assuming equal population sizes) will achieve on average 1% more, but human productivity depends on both the ability of the human actor in one generation, but also of the accumulated capital (both economic and intellectual) on which his future achievement is based. Over many generations, a 1% genetic advantage in individuals will translate into a great social advantage as success breeds success.

If you wanted to invest your money in stocks, you’d pick the stocks which might do ~1% better each year, because over many years they would give you a higher return. In the same way, if you want to bet on people, you might want to invest in people that are ~1% smarter or capable, because over many generations they will be able to accomplish much more, than the (slightly less) capable.

The logic of the argument is inescapable: small genetic differences are all it takes for grand social differences to arise. But, while the leftist mind is willing to accept this argument for economics and to acknowledge the fact that capital accumulates more capital for itself, it is unwilling to accept it for genetics and to acknowledge that the slightly more intelligent and capable will end up building a much greater civilization than the more disadvantaged ones.

This is why the leftist mind has to resort to either of two claims: that races aren’t real, they’re skin deep, etc. which is then used to deny racial differences (because how can differences exist between entities (“races”) that have no reality?). Or, to claim that races or at least “populations” are real, but they are exactly the same in all genetic predispositions, an incredible argument for any biologist to make, as it denies the fact that evolution that proceeds randomly or under different selection pressures will invariably lead to statistically different outcomes, and that neural-behavioral traits are not a special “kind” immune to from the forces that shape all other traits shaped by evolution.

Human races are real: a rebuttal to Jennifer Raff’s review of Nicholas Wade’s “A troublesome inheritance”

Reading Jennifer Raff’s review of Nicholas Wade’s book on race, I could not help but admire the heights of delusion to which an intelligent human mind will rise in defense of its prejudices.

Dr. Raff writes:

Racial groupings differ from culture to culture. For example, although in the United States Chinese and Japanese peoples are usually viewed as one “race” (Asian), they are seen as members of different racial groups in South Africa.

Does the fact that someone recognizes sedans and hunchbacks while another only “cars” invalidate the distinction between “sedans” and “hatchbacks” on one hand, and “cars” and “trucks” on the other?

She continues:

Wade can’t settle on a definite number of races because he can’t come up with a consistent, rigorous definition of what “race” means. He uses terms like “major race”, “race”, “subrace”, “group”, or “population,” but doesn’t provide any serious, objective ways to distinguish between these terms for arbitrary groupings of people arbitrary groups.

These groups would be arbitrary if they depended on the author’s whims and not on an objective criterion. If, for example, Nicholas Wade arbitrarily divided humans into Afro-Australians (the inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia) and Eurasians, then this would indeed be arbitrary because genetic research has shown that Australian aboriginal peoples are more closely related to East Asians and Europeans than they are to the similarly dark-pigmented Africans. If he divided humans into blue-eyes and dark-eyes, then he would group many Europeans with Sub-Saharans, and this would be wrong because despite the similarity of brown-eyed Europeans with Nigerians in this one trait, this is due to retention of a plesiomorphic condition and is not useful in the taxonomic division of mankind.

The races proposed by Wade in his book are valid and the fact that he does not commit to a particular number simply shows that he applies the division most useful for the topic he discusses. Surely, if he wants to discuss differences between Jews and non-Jewish Europeans, the level of granularity African-Asian-European does not suffice. Astronomers recognize an entire hierarchy of celestial bodies, and sometimes may discuss the difference between stars (who have enough mass to start fusion) and planets, and other times the difference between rocky or gas planets or main sequence stars and red giants. Hopefully there is no equivalent to Dr. Raff in astronomy that would chastise astronomers for classifying heavenly bodies simply because they can’t come up with a number N of their different kinds.

Continuing on this theme, Dr. Raff writes:

But Wade and Murray are both wrong. Structure didn’t simply identify five clusters. It also identified two, three, four, six, and seven clusters. (Rosenberg et al. 2002 actually identified up to 20 divisions, but 1-7 are the primary ones they discussed. They also divided their worldwide sample up into regions, and then ran structure within those regions, to look at more fine-scale population structure.)

Surely, the fact that the five continental races don’t appear when using two, three, or four clusters is no argument against the recognition of five races, because it is logically impossible for five groups to be separated into four bins. It is similarly impossible to fit five groups into six or seven bins if none of the bins are allowed to be empty, as some groups will be by necessity divided across bins.

Suppose that we were dealing with a species that did have biological races (hopefully Dr. Raff accepts the existence of such species, because if she disagrees in the concept of race altogether, then that makes her other arguments superfluous). How would such a species behave differently in a structure analysis than humans do? The individuals of such a species would be divided in some way whether there were two, or three, or twenty clusters.

The simple fact is that with enough clusters, Asians/Europeans/Africans split from each other and are thus separate races. Finer divisions appear as more clusters are allowed and thus there are subraces and sub-subraces in humans. At some level of clustering the ability to distinguish finer racial divisions wil break down, either because they don’t exist or because the data or algorithm lacks power to detect them. It is perfectly reasonable to declare that these clusters are races, recognizing both that they can be further divided at higher levels of resolution or united at lower ones.

Dr. Raff continues:

Finally, the creators of structure themselves caution that it will produce rather arbitrary clusters when sampled populations have been influenced by gene flow that is restricted by geographic distance (i.e. where more mating occurs between members of nearby populations than between populations that are located farther apart, a pattern we geneticists refer to as isolation by distance). As this pattern applies to the majority of human populations, it makes the results of structure problematic and difficult to interpret in many cases.

Surely the possibility of arbitrary clusters does not mean that these particular clusters are indeed arbitrary. No matter what analysis is performed on human data, distinctions between Africans, Europeans, and Asians appear. Such experiments have been repeated so many times, and in so many ways, that it is impossible to overlook the evidence.

I would urge Dr. Raff to cite any reputable analysis of large-scale human data that failed to find the distinction between the major human races (the Caucasoids, Mongoloids, and Negroids). Surely, if these races are arbitrary, they might appear when using one dataset or data type or algorithm but fail to appear when using another. If they are arbitrary, due to some fault in a particular dataset, or a deficiency in a clustering method, then they might not appear when a “good” dataset or algorithm is used.

Dr. Raff makes a rather bizarre comparison:

Wade’s perspective fits with a larger pattern seen throughout history and around the world. Folk notions of what constitutes a race and how many races exist are extremely variable and culturally specific. For example, the Bible claims that all peoples of the world are descended from Noah’s three sons, mirroring the popular concept of three racial divisions (Caucasians, Africans, and Asians). On the other hand, the five-part division of races seems most “logical” to Wade.

Computer programs and evolutionary biology don’t separate humans into the races of the Bible. The fact that biblical notions of human differences don’t correspond to biology is not a good argument against the division of humans into Caucasians, Africans, and Asians. Antique classifications have been rejected in other fields of study (we no longer divide matter into the Four Elements, or group whales with fish). The five-part division of races is perfectly valid because the data shows it, while many folk notions of race (such as the notion that Barack Obama and a Nigerian are both “black” or that a Tamil Indian, a Kenyan, and a Papuan are all part of a “colored” race) do not stand up to scrutiny and don’t appear when analyzing genetic data.

I would add that the oft-used argument that human variation is “clinal” or “continuous” is not a very useful one. Human weight is continuous, but scientific associations have standards of what constitutes an “obese” or “underweight” person. Human voice pitch is continuous but musicians recognize that one person is a “soprano” and another an “alto”. Even if they were arbitrary, divisions of continua are useful. Stellar mass and luminosity or the shape of galaxies or the wind speed of a storm are continuous, and scientists still classify stars, galaxies and storms.

The human races are less arbitrary than many phenomena classified by scientists: no one has clustered the symptoms of psychiatric diseases to show that the recognized syndromes are as distinct as human races, and there are intense arguments about the taxonomy of mental illness. Would Dr. Raff argue that all classification of mental illness is unscientific?

The argument from the continuity of human variation carries little weight against the notion of human races. Moreover, Dr. Raff completely overlooks racial mixture as a cause of clinal variation in humans. There are genetic intermediates between Europe and Asia because of mixture between Caucasoids and Mongoloids, most recently as a result of the Mongol Empire. Race illuminates such mixtures while models of human history where gradients are formed by people marrying their neighbors do not. It is not because of marriage partnerships at a small scale that Central Asians became intermediate but because of racial mixture, just as racial mixture formed the Mestizos of Mexico or virtually all inhabitants of India.

Some scientists ascribe to the “biological race doesn’t exist” idea for convenience, because they don’t want the hassle that even someone as exalted as James Watson might experience as a result of saying the wrong thing about human differences. If the discoverer of DNA, a Nobel winner, at the end of a long and productive career in science can get in trouble for his scientific opinions, what kind of signal is sent to the lesser members of the scientific ecosystem? Only a fool would not get the memo: keep politically controversial opinions to yourself, or else…

Others, like Dr. Raff, seem thoroughly indoctrinated into this way of thinking, and promote it not because of either a political motivation or a fear of the consequences, but because they truly believe it. Scientists are not immune to prejudice; in the past, the dominant prejudice was to think that a White person was superior to a Black person only because of their race. Today, the dominant prejudice is that of Equality: that different human groups are exactly equal and it is inconceivable that one group has a higher genetic worth than another. Asserting this position makes one a part of the new in-group of Progressive and Enlightened people.

The silliness of the new orthodoxy cannot be overstated. The dumbest of statisticians knows that when a process with a random additive component is repeated many times, the end result is more often different than identical. The dumbest of evolutionists knows that when populations of animals are subjected to different selection pressures due to different natural and social environments, they become different from each other, and don’t maintain “spooky entanglement at a distance” in all their aptitudes and adaptations. Human inequality is a contingent fact of history.

So, when Dr. Raff writes:

Human biological variation is real and important. I’ve studied it my entire professional career. We can see this variation most easily in physical traits and allele frequency differences between populations at extreme ends of a geographic continuum. Nobody is denying that. Let me repeat this: no one is denying that humans vary physically and genetically.

and also:

There is a great deal more in this book that also needs to be critiqued, such as Wade’s assertion that the genetic differences between human groups determine behavioral differences, resurrecting the specter of “national character” and “racial temperaments”.

It seems that she is willing to acknowledge genetic differences between human populations but not genetically influenced behavioral differences. How plausible is it to think that our regional evolution kept our neural-behavioral apparatus untouched? That the one thing most crucial to our survival and reproduction (our brain and the behavior it produces) remained immune from the normal processes of evolution?

Nicholas Wade is far from the villain that Dr. Raff and other liberal scientists portray him to be. He is a liberal himself, and wholly committed to the project of Equality as his rebuttal reveals. But at least in this one thing, that human biological races are real and that different races have some genetically influenced behavioral differences, he is entirely right.