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Evolution and Human History, Part III

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This will continue my examination of Nicholas Wade's book, A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: GENES, RACE, AND HUMAN HISTORY (2014).

In my first blogpost on point, I observed and approved of Wade's observations that races are biological realities, and that their development has left more recent genetic traces than sometimes thought. Sociobiologists sometimes posit that we are adapted for a period of about 10,000 years ago. Wade convincingly makes the case that there is no reason to develop such an arbitrary line. Also, race-differentiated genetics go beyond obvious features such as skin pigmentation or hair follicles. They determine matters such as the whites of our eyes, or the phenomenon of blushing, which may well in turn mould the development of behaviors.

But in the second post, I made the case that Wade wants to press this point much further than his evidence will take it.   He wants to argue that people inherit patterns of behavior in a strong sense, that behavior (for example, the tendency to obey authority unquestioningly) varies by race, with East Asians being more inclined to enthusiastic obedience than others, and that distinct civilizations in turn are distinct largely because of their different racial composition. He spends a chapter early on acknowledging the ugly history of precisely such ideas, but maintains that science is unwittingly coming around to the inference that there is some truth to them. I don't see that it is, and his efforts at persuasion fall far short.

I add a third post because I want to say something about intelligence, or its quantization, that is, IQ.  And I'll add a fourth post to say a very few words about language.

Here is that something-about-IQ: Wade distinguishes himself from others who have made analogous arguments in that he does not stress IQ as a key part of the real or alleged racial differences on which he builds his book.   I commend him for staying out of Buck v. Bell territory.

When he does raise the issue of intelligence, it is by way of considering the work of Richard Lynn, a psychologist from Northern Ireland, and Tatu Vanhanen, a political scientist from Finland. Lynn and Vanhanen have together argued, in words of theirs that Wade quotes, that "differences in the average mental abilities of populations measured by national IQ provides the most powerful, although not complete, theoretical and empirical explanation for many types of inequalities in human conditions."

Wade points out, accurately it seems to me, that Lynn and Vanhanen are guilty of the old mistake of confusing correlation with causation. A cannot be said to explain B simply because higher A corresponds to higher B or vice versa. Does higher IQ make a nation wealthier, or are the people of the wealthier nation simply better able to score high on the tests that measure IQ? In the 1980s, East German children scored significantly lower than West German children on standard tests. The obvious explanation involves the environmental differences. The gene pool hadn't had much of an opportunity to differentiate itself, and (fortunately)  the physical separation that did exist at that time didn't survive that decade.

So ... good for Wade there. But his book is, as I hope this series of posts has shown, a very uneven one. I'll have one more point to make about the book, Sunday

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