New York Times Science Pens Book Linking Genetics, Race

Chris Reed Contributor
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Nicholas Wade, a British-born science reporter and editor for more than 30 years with The New York Times has released his latest book, in which he depicts blacks with roots in sub-Saharan Africa as genetically less adapted to modern life than whites and Asians.

His Penguin Press book “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History” arrived in bookstores on Tuesday, May 6.

Wade’s main thesis is that “human evolution has been recent, copious and regional.” He writes, “Though there is still a large random element, the broad general theme of human history is that each race has developed the institutions appropriate to secure survival in its particular environment.”

Blogs that focus on genetics — in particular those which see racialism as a given of life — have been anticipating the book’s publication since review copies were distributed in mid-winter. Some wondered if it would prove a cultural bombshell — “The Bell Curve” on steroids. That 1994 book argued that racial differences were key to understanding intelligence.

Yet to date, Wade’s book has drawn relatively little attention from the mainstream media and prominent pundits.

In a review on The Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages, “Bell Curve” co-author Charles J. Murray called the book “historic” for its honesty about racial differences but also questioned some of Wade’s reasoning.

In Slate, Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, said the book’s central theories were “simultaneously plausible and preposterous: plausible in that they snap into place to explain the world as it currently is, preposterous in that I think if he were writing in other time periods, he could come up with similarly plausible, but completely different, stories.”

On his “Marginal Revolution” blog, George Mason University economics professor and regular New York Times contributor Tyler Cowen said he was disappointed with the book — not because he disagreed with its main theses — but because it was not as well-argued as he hoped. Cowen specifically faulted Wade because his “discussion of intelligence and its evolution should have been drenched in the Flynn Effect. It wasn’t.”

The Flynn Effect is a term coined in “The Bell Curve” to describe the volumes of research by New Zealand scholar James R. Flynn showing that IQ scores have been steadily rising around the world for decades, but in an uneven fashion.

Wade’s first book about how genetics have shaped history — “Before the Dawn: Recovering the History of Our Lost Ancestors” — got a largely positive critical response in 2006. The Times’ own review, however, questioned his repeated assertions of the “hard truth” of racial differences.

In “Before the Dawn,” Wade wrote that sub-Saharan Africans were generally less likely to have two alleles — genetic DNA codes — associated with cognitive skills. The book triggered feuding between Wade and anthropologists that continues to this day.

Correction: Wade tells blogger Luke Ford that he retired from the Times 2 years ago, but still contributes articles to the paper. Neither Wade nor the Times returned earlier requests for comment on the matter.