Nicholas Wade vs. the anthropologists

This sort of thing has a lot to do with why, if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t have bothered with anthropology. Reading a review like Jon Marks on A Troublesome Inheritance, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that refusing to consider the implications of Wade’s argument has everything to do with protecting the academic turf anthropologists have carved out, and nothing to do with scientific inquiry or truth.

It would be one thing if Marks just thought Wade was wrong; he’s a geneticist (as is Greg Cochran, who was also unnerved by some of the sources), Wade isn’t. But he doesn’t even bother to argue with the thing, he just calls it “idiocy,” “fundamentally anti-intellectual,” and “as crassly anti-science as any work of climate-change denial or creationism.”

If you’re paying attention, Marks tells us what this is actually about: “Wade’s book is of a piece with a long tradition of disreputable attempts to rationalize visible class distinctions by recourse to invisible natural properties.”

What really chaps the good professor’s ass is that Wade has violated political dogmas, not scientific ones — because genetics itself, to Marks, is a political dogma. I’m not exaggerating.

Note that the review also appears in a labor rag. And that he once tried to get someone fired over Wade’s invitation to speak at a Leakey Foundation audience on one of his earlier books. And that Savage Minds has declared war on A Troublesome Inheritance, in between unbelievably stupid posts about anthropologists as “scholarly hipsters.”

Further Reading

The AAA debate between Wade and Agustín Fuentes is online, and can be streamed here. It’s worth a watch. More debate here, and here’s Steve Sailer’s old piece on reading Marks’ Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History.

I also can’t resist linking to this epic rant from A.J. West back in January on why he regrets studying socio-cultural anthropology:

I want to emphasise that I am not in any way a political conservative and I don’t oppose the social and political aims that have become entrenched parts of anthropology departments.  But I don’t think those aims are what anthropology is about, I don’t think obscurantist pseudo-philosophy is a good way to achieve them, and I don’t think writing obscure academic texts about how humans are now trans-human feminist cyborgs empowers minority groups or the working class, or achieves any worthwhile aim in any sphere of human activity.

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19 comments

  1. Another good one about our Troublesome Inheritance, the drama has not been dissapointing so far.

    Just one quick edit, you write: ‘because genetics itself, to Wade, is a political dogma.’ (Should read ‘to Marks’ obviously)

    Thanks for the read!

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  2. Typo: “because genetics itself, to Wade, is a political dogma”

    Should say: “because genetics itself, to Marks, is a political dogma”

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  3. Thanks for this post, particularly the link to A.J. West’s rant. I too was a (cultural) anthro major and a leftist at the time — no coincidence. The discipline is too much of a ‘political science’ which negates the latter. Frank Miele’s interview with Napoleon A. Chagnon at skeptic.com is a good summary of the sorry state of affairs.

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  4. The problem here is that both Wade and Marks are taking extreme sides on an issue where the truth does happen to be in the middle ground (not that this isn’t always the case).

    Wade is attributing too much of the observed differences among populations in human behavior and mental ability to biology, while Marks is claiming that there are never any biological differences.

    I hate these kind of arguments, because people end up claiming that simply because one side is wrong the other is right, but in this case, both sides are wrong.

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  5. I think cultural anthropology could really make a comeback if they’d just drop the prejudice against noticing patterns. For example, a few years ago I pointed out that the basic setup of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Fiddler on the Roof” are identical — man with five daughters can’t afford any dowries. An anthropologist friend sent this back putting them in perspective:

    http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/03/pride-and-prejudice-and-fiddler-on-roof.html

    I’d love to read a book by a comparative anthropologist on classic stories: E.g., Here’s what’s different between the upper class Russia of Anna Karenina and the middle class France of Madame Bovary, here’s how Romeo and Juliet differs from West Side Story, etc.

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  6. “Marks is claiming that there are never any biological differences.” I don’t think you understand this argument. It is not that biological differences do not exist. Instead, the argument is that the differences between these so-called races–black, white, Asian, etc.–are not biological (since they cannot be isolated and measured in a scientific way) but rather are cultural. The biological differences that do exist–allele frequencies, clades, gene pools, etc.–are not commensurable with the “races” as defined by these race theorists.

    The only differences between these “races” that can be found are statistical ones, which are derived from distinctions that are made socially, not scientifically. In other words, the researcher independently sorts people into races based on observable (phenotypic) differences, family origin, etc. In effect, this is “cooking the books”: The researcher will find differences between groups that he himself or one of his allies has already isolated! It’s like determining that two birds belong to the same species, and then justifying why they belong to the same species, rather than finding out first if they can reproduce viably (the scientific test for reproductive speciation).

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    1. How is it they ‘cannot be isolated in a measurable way’ when (despite the obvious categorizable differences observable to the eye), races can be identified by their dna or skull structure. How can race specific disease like sickle cell exist? if you modern anthros want to merely change the definition of the word race because you got all weepy last time you saw shindlers list I suggest you leave the sciences altogether in favour of creative writing or interpretive dance…

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  7. You guys cant get in your heads the simple fact that genetic cluster does not equal race. You are the ones adding the race part at a certain point of clusterdness or which ever fst distance out of an extremely small percentage difference in the same alleles is enough to start calling somebody a different race. It works the same way with animals of such low genetic diversity. That is why “colored” means mixed in South Africa but “black” in USA. Thats why there was a 2% rule for being black, or why Obama changed from mixed to black or why there is an “other” option, or why you get to friggin chose it, or why somebody else decided to classify you. It is a social construct no matter how hard you try to say otherwise.

    First it was hard coded fundamental differences without averages, with “white” intelligence and then “black” intelligence is proof of “race”. Then when that got shot down into the ground, it became temporary average differences and genetic clusters must mean race. Never mind how much of the differences are caused by environment.

    Its you guys that have been moving goal posts this whole time.

    Also there are no race specific skull shapes or diseases. Only temporal frequency differences in everything which is shared. Its not like German Shepards vs Rotweilers, its like German Sherpards, Rotweilers Jack Russels and Wolves vs German Sherpards, Rotweilers Jack Russels and Wolves… and then a whole load of German Sherpards, Rotweilers Jack Russels and Wolves in between them.

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    1. My god, you fuckers just NEVER shut up. It goes on and on and on and on and on. There’s always a comeback, there’s always a “but” and there’s always a heavy dose of cognitive calisthenics and sophomoric sophistry. But fuck it, the only way to end this endless cycle of obscurantism is to shoot each one of you in the head. Then finally, FINALLY we’ll get some fucking peace.

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