A new book on the evolution of human races has been published recently and population geneticists have written a letter to the New York Times to refute the contentions of the author. The book is titled A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History and the author is Nicolas Wade. It has been reported that the book suggests that there are biological differences among humans that constitute true races and these result in social, economic and behavior differences. The scientists who refuted the ideas presented by the author are population geneticists, which means they study genetics of populations in an evolutionary sense, and they have reportedly stated that they feel their research has been “hijacked by Wade to promote his ideological agenda.”
Almost 140 population genetics who are considered as senior leaders in the field signed the letter to the New York Times and the letter is now available online. Some of the more well known scientists are David Goldstein from Duke University, Michael Hammer from the University of Arizona and Evan Eichler from the University of Washington in Seattle. The letter to the New York Times says that Wade provides an incomplete and inaccurate account of the research on genetic difference among humans and Wade speculates that natural selection has recently; that is, in the last 10,000 years, led to differences in IQ tests and economic development. The letter also says that the scientists who signed the letter are in agreement that there is no support for Wade’s conjectures from the field of population genetics.
Wade has subsequently issued a statement defending his book and stating that the opposition to the book is politically driven. Wade said he believes that many of the population geneticists who signed the letter likely did not even read the book. Wade’s view that there are three to five human races runs counter to many prevailing views of social scientists. Many academics hold that human variations that are often presented racially are socially constructed.
This controversy about genetics, evolution and race has a very long history and books are written that stir up the controversy from time to time. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, published in 1994, was a more recent book. This book was met soundly with criticism from academics and the general public.
One of the very earliest books on race, titled Types of Mankind and published in 1854, is one of the sources of modern views of races in humans. It can be argued that this book was instrumental in installing the modern version of racism that has an origin in the era of European colonialism and American slavery. In this book, the authors attempted to establish a “scientific” basis for three races, which were termed Caucasian, Mongol and Negro.
However upon reading the book, one finds that the authors are mostly discussing the many instances of exceptions to the rules of race they are attempting to instill. The information they present on various tribes and cultures most often refute the rules for each of the three categories of race. Their attempt to squeeze the great diversity of humans on all continents into three categories of race ultimately fails, yet the legacy of this book keeps reappearing. The entire book Types of Mankind is available online (see source below).
Opinion by Margaret Lutze