Nicholas Wade has a new book out, on the reality of human biological differences. Not just differences in color, but differences in traits that have social consequences, such as personality and cognition.
The existence of such differences is obvious enough, and there’s nothing theoretically difficult about them – natural selection naturally takes a different course in different circumstances, nor does it take very long to generate differences of the kind and magnitude we see around us.
The book is generally reasonable, but Wade is not a geneticist, and it shows. His errors on genetics mostly don’t make much difference, but they make me itch, not least when it’s a subject close to my heart.
It’s like this: Taylor Anderson wrote some science-fiction books in which an old American destroyer is thrown into an alternate history early in WWII: nasty intelligent dinosaurs are fighting almost-humans descended from lemurs, but the geography is all the same. Four-stacks need fuel, and our heroes manage by building a crude refinery for oil from a field at Balikpapan, in Borneo. But, as is well known, Balikpapan oil is so light that it could be used in WWII diesel engines without any refining at all – the IJN often did so. After a mistake like that, I could take no pleasure in Anderson’s series. At least not after the first two or three books.
When Wade talks about adaptation to high altitude among Tibetans occurring in only 3000 years, it makes me itch. Sure, it’s Rasmus Nielsen’s mistake, but I itch. When he says that Ashkenazi Jews are 5% to 8% European – when the real number is at least 45%, probably higher – I know it’s Harry Ostrer’s mistake, based on an outright lie by Doron Behar, but I still itch.
He does mention, and criticize, the people who have played a prominent role promulgating falsehoods about race, mainly that there are no significant interpopulation differences: Franz Boas, Jared Diamond, S. J. Gould, Ashley Montagu, and Richard Lewontin. Bozos, all of them. Good for him.
He thinks that different populations have different distributions of personality traits (a result of different selection pressures) , and that a social institution that comes easily to some groups may not come easily, maybe not at all, to other populations, even when there are big payoffs and vigorous attempts. That is certainly what the world looks like. He thinks that this failure-to-copy is significantly influenced by genetic differences , and of course that’s very likely – although we don’t know a lot about the genetic basis of such traits at this time. IQ differences must also play a part in failure-to-copy.
He discusses the evolution of Jewish intelligence, and there he does all right, except of course when he disagrees with Henry and me There’s something mysteriously attractive about the notion there were factors that induced selection for higher IQ among Jews well before a few of them colonized Europe (Charles Murray seems to think so) : but since the non-Ashkenazi Jews don’t have unusually high IQs, the idea has to be mostly or entirely wrong. At least he doesn’t buy into the selection-for-Talmudists idea. Although I could, I guess, if anyone had any evidence that this actually ever happened.
When he mentions how the number of Jews around the Med declined so much from Roman times, possibly implying selection by differential defection from emerging Rabbinic Judaism (channeling Botticini and Eckstein), I can’t help remembering that the original Roman-era population estimate is completely bogus. When he says that there were 500,000 Ashkenazi Jews in 1500 AD, he’s just wrong. Maybe if you throw in the Sephardic Jews, but why would you do that?
He goes seriously wrong when he talks about other population differences in IQ (other than the Ashkenazi Jews) . He cites Ron Unz, of all people, and ends up dismissing the hereditarian view- Lynn & Vanhanen for example. And since IQ is so unstable and unknowable and all that, he drops it. I know that all talk about IQ is super-controversial, and maybe this is a tactical decision on his part; but I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it. Psychometrics is on solid ground, more solid than our current knowledge of personality differences.
A useful book, we may hope.