Nicholas Wade and the paradox of racism

The paradox of racism is that at any given moment, the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few months ever since receiving in the mail a new book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History,” by New York Times reporter Nicholas Wade.

Here’s what I wrote in my review of this book for Slate:

The word “inequality” does not appear in the book’s index, but what Wade is offering is essentially a theory of economic and social inequality, explaining systematic racial differences in prosperity based on a combination of innate traits (“the disinclination to save in tribal societies is linked to a strong propensity for immediate consumption”) and genetic adaptation to political and social institutions (arguing, for example, that generations of centralized rule have effected a selection pressure for Chinese to be accepting of authority).

Wade is clearly intelligent and thoughtful, and his book is informed by the latest research in genetics. His explanations seem to me 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.

I suspect that had this book been written 100 years ago, it would have featured strong views not on the genetic similarities but on the racial divides that explained the difference between the warlike Japanese and the decadent Chinese, as well as the differences between the German and French races. Nicholas Wade in 2014 includes Italy within the main European grouping, but the racial theorists of 100 years ago had strong opinions on the differences between northern and southern Europeans.

We don’t hear much these days about the Celtic, Gallic, Teutonic, and Slavic races, but these used to be a big deal. Now that Europe as a whole is relatively prosperous, Wade can lump “the West” into a single category.

My summary:

In any era, racism is typically supported by comparing two groups that are socially unequal and with clear physical differences. But both these sorts of comparisons are moving targets. . . .

That said, I can’t say that Wade’s theories are wrong. As noted above, racial explanations of current social and economic inequality are compelling, in part because it is always natural to attribute individuals’ successes and failures to their individual traits, and to attribute the successes and failures of larger societies to group characteristics. And genes provide a mechanism that supplies a particularly flexible set of explanations when linked to culture. . . .

But I think the themes of a book like Wade’s are necessarily contingent both on the era when it is written and the audience to which it is addressed. At the start of his last chapter, Wade speaks to his readers: “Imagine you, as an English speaker of European descent …” In the spirit of modern ideas in theoretical physics, one might imagine a multiverse of possible Nicholas Wades, writing in all possible epochs and for all possible audiences, dividing up humans into groups at different levels of coarseness and focusing on different economic and social outcomes. The racial explanation tuned to our social group and our time period will look oh so reasonable, while all the others will just look silly, like either historical relics or desperate attempts to shore up the status quo. . . .

At any given time, racial explanations are a convenient and natural way to explain social and economic inequality. Then, as relations between and within societies change, the racial explanations change alongside. The terms of race are simply too flexible given the limited information we have regarding the connections between genes and behavior.

P.S. The most interesting comment I got on all of this was not in the Slate comment section but by email, from Jonathan Falk, who reacted to a place in the review where I wrote, “Indeed, Wade writes, ‘Without Western production efficiencies, the countries of East Asia might still be locked in stagnant autocracies.’ Maybe, but I don’t think Toyota got where it is today by copying the production efficiencies of General Motors.” Falk informed me:

That’s certainly wrong as to the beginnings of Toyota (see in which Toyota not only copied the engine, but sourced the parts from GM’s manufacturers (who weren’t GM). The copied everything they could from the the (then) most successful automaker in the world.

Actually, that fits very nicely into the theme of your essay — We associate GM today with bloat and lethargy, but they got where they are by being a very different company, an efficient juggernaut which surpassed Ford by out-Fording them.

I remember how crappy American cars used to be in the 70s and how much better the Japanese cars were. It makes sense: U.S. auto executives were making tons of money producing the same sort of cars over and over, and Japanese executives had different incentives as they were trying to break into the market.

The funny thing is that, just as economists are trying (in my view, often in silly ways) to apply the principles of economic exchanges to all sorts of other areas of life, based on the principle that “Everyone is fundamentally alike”), here we have a science reporter doing the opposite, trying to use evolution and group differences to explain phenomena such as interest rates and business success, that seem fundamentally economic.

In both cases, there is some intellectual joy at explaining an outcome in one area based on a theory coming from somewhere else, and the sense of unlimited possibilities as all the pieces click into place. Perhaps because of my own background (and inclinations) as a statistician and political science, I’m skeptical of these all-encompassing theories. As Nate Silver might say, call me a fox.

One thing that the economists and the racists can agree on, though, is to hate on anthropology. So there should be some room for common ground here.

P.P.S. Cosma Shalizi points me to an excellent bit of old-style racism from 1377: “It has even been reported that most of the Negroes of the first zone dwell in caves and thickets, eat herbs, live in savage isolation and do not congregate, and eat each other. The same applies to the Slavs. . . .”

P.P.P.S. X points me to this very reasonable review by Arthur Allen.

180 thoughts on “Nicholas Wade and the paradox of racism

  1. Andrew does a disservice to himself by not blogging his entire Slate article; I strongly recommend reading the original rather than just his posted excerpt. However, note his opening line on this blog:

    “The paradox of racism is that at any given moment, the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous.”

    As an example of racism of the past appearing ludicrous today, I vividly recall something written in the 1940s explaining genetically why there are so few Negro basketball players!

    • “I vividly recall something written in the 1940s explaining genetically why there are so few Negro basketball players!”

      IIRC, a disproportionate percentage of basketball players were Jewish, which, of course, was a causal outcome of ‘oriental trickiness'[1].

      [1] Yes, the ‘racial classification’ of a people changed with time.

      • Tom Wolfe lampoons the Jewish obsession with how Jews used to be pretty good in basketball when it was a minor sport with little black participation in “I Am Charlotte Simmons.”

        “… four poorly postured middle-aged white sportswriters sat slouched in little, low-backed, smack-red fiberglass swivel chairs panel-discussing the `sensitive` matter of the way black players dominated basketball. `Look,` the well-known columnist Maury Feldtree was saying, his chin resting on a pasha`s cushion of jowls, `just think about it for a second. Race, ethnicity, all that—that`s just a symptom of something else. There`s been whole cycles of different minorities using sports as a way out of the ghetto.`”

  2. I think Andrew Gelman exaggerates the extent to which NE Asians might have been looked on as permanently backward in earlier eras. Probably at the popular level there was disdain for the poverty of Asia in the 19th century, but amongst racialist scholars of the time there was a different opinion of East Asians. At Steve Sailer’s blog I posted this letter from Galton which is just amazingly prescient (even if the rhetoric is a little shocking today). And I see that Sailer has reblogged my comment.

    • Pseudo:

      Galton did some great things but, in addition to thinking there were 9-foot-tall men roaming Britain, he was a bit of a proto- Don Rickles or Jackie Mason, writing things such as “Visitors to Ireland after the potato famine generally remarked that the Irish type of face seemed to have become more prognathous–that is more like the Negro in the protrusion of the lower jaw. The interpretation of that which was that the men who survived the Starvation and other deadly accidents of that horrible time were generally of low and coarse organization.” and “average negroes possess too little intellect, self-reliance, and self-control to make it possible for them to sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilization without a large measure of external guidance and support” and “The Hindoo cannot fulfil the required conditions nearly as well as the Chinaman, for he is inferior to him in strength, industry, aptitude for saving, business habits, and prolific power. The Arab is little more than an eater up of other men’s produce; he is a destroyer rather than a creator, and he is unprolific.” Also this: “One of the effects of civilization is to diminish the rigour of the application of the law of natural selection.” That last quote is amusing because it is precisely the opposite of Wade’s thesis that living under civilization made Europeans so genetically dominant.

      • Okay, but the point is that you asserted:

        “But … what if Wade had been writing his book in 1954 rather than 2014? Would we still be hearing about the Korean values of thrift, organization, and discipline? A more logical position, given the economic history up to that time, would be to consider the poverty of East Asia to be never-changing, perhaps an inevitable result of their genes for conformity and the lack of useful evolution after thousands of years of relative peace. We might also be hearing a lot about Japan’s genetic exclusion from the rest of Asia, along with a patient explanation of why we should not expect China and Korea to attain any rapid economic success.”

        And yet all the way back in 1873 fairly Galton accurately predicted the economic state of the world 140 years later, rightly distinguishing between nature and nurture (one of Galton’s conceptual breakthroughs):

        “The Chinaman is a being of another kind, who is endowed with a remarkable aptitude for a high material civilization. He is seen to the least advantage in his own country, where a temporary dark age still prevails, which has not sapped the genius of the race, though it has stunted the development of each member of it by the rigid enforcement of an effete system of classical education which treats originality as a social crime. All the bad parts of his character, as his lying and servility, spring from timidity due to an education that has cowed him, and no treatment is better calculated to remedy that evil than location in a free settlement.

        “The natural capacity of the Chinaman shows itself by the success with which, notwithstanding his timidity, he competes with strangers, wherever he may reside. The Chinese emigrants possess an extraordinary instinct for political and social organization; they contrive to establish for themselves a police and internal government, and they give no trouble to their rulers so long as they are left to manage those matters by themselves. They are good-tempered, frugal, industrious, saving, commercially inclined, and extraordinarily prolific.

        • Steve:

          One aspect with Wade’s general argument is its flexibility. As with Freudian psychiatry, Marxism, and neoclassical economics, the logic can explain anything. Wade is looking at economic inequality today and ascribing it to race. The study of differences in societies is interesting and I think Wade finds it interesting too (in his book he has some conflicting lines, at some points talking about how culture is all-important and at other places disparaging those social scientists who are interested in culture). Cramming everything (including interest rates!) into a racial framework is not so convincing to me, for the reasons I stated in my review.

          Karl Popper and others have criticized such theories as being nonscientific because they are non-refutable, but I prefer to think of them as frameworks for doing science. As such, Freudianism or Marxism or rational choice or racism are not theories that make falsifiable predictions but rather approaches to scientific inquiry. Taking some poetic license, one might make an analogy where these frameworks are operating systems, while scientific theories are programs. That’s why I wrote that I can’t say that Wade is wrong, just that I don’t find them convincing.

        • I’ve been following social science statistics since 1972, and they changed completely. Back then, in Los Angeles, the rankings on most metrics were:

          1. Oriental
          2. Caucasian
          3. Mexican
          4. Black

          Now, 42 years later, the rankings on most metrics are:

          1. Asian
          2. white
          3. Latino
          4. African-American

          So, as you can see, everything has changed!

        • This is dishonest. You know if you break down those groups by ethnicity and generation, the picture is much more complicated than you present it, e.g. some Asian groups (Hmong, Thai, Cambodian, certain Vietnamese and Filipinos) do as badly as poor Mexicans, and even the more accomplished East Asians (Japanese and Chinese) experience regression toward the mean. By the third generation, Chinese and Japanese-Americans often do no better than Whites (or worse than Whites, on some measures).

          Likewise, some Hispanics (Colombians, Peruvians) do much better than Mexicans and Central Americans. Some White European groups do much better than others. Etc.

          But of course if you have a right-wing agenda to push, paying attention to nuance is inconvenient.

        • Seriously, you are arguing that race science in the past hasn’t been falsifiable because you aren’t terribly familiar with it, other than through biased summaries. In contrast, I own anthropologist Carleton Coon’s 1965 bestseller “The Living Races of Man,” and can compare his findings from measuring skulls with calipers and the like to those from genome research, and his glass is about 95% full.

          His big population genetics mistake was he lumped whites and blacks together as being closer to each other than they are to East Asians. The more politically incorrect reality we now know from genome scans is that the biggest divide in humanity is between sub-Sarahan blacks and the rest of humanity. Another mistake Coon made was to speculate that the Ainu of Japan had close ties to Western Europeans.

          But the number of bad guesses he made from phenotype data in the early 1960s compared to what we know now 50 years later from genotype data is impressively small.

        • Steve:

          It makes sense to me that old-time physical anthropology measurements could show a high correlation with races and ethnicities as measured by genetic distances. When I was speaking of a non-falsifiable theory I wasn’t speaking of that sort of thing. Rather, I was thinking more about how Wade is reasoning in his book.

          Wade’s model is actually pretty sophisticated: genes affect culture which affects behavior. But it’s one of those can-explain-any-possible-data sorts of theories. If a group does poorly, it’s either bad genes or bad governance that’s unrelated to genes. If a group succeeds, it could be the good genes revealing themselves, or it could be that the genes themselves changed via adaptation. And if a society is poorly governed, this can have no effect on genes, or it can adapt people to behave in an uncivilized way (as in the Middle East and south Asia) or at can adapt people to behave in a civilized way (as in China). Wade offers no particular clue on what happened to make Thais and Malays such losers, but he makes it clear that he thinks their lack of economic success demonstrates that it’s their genes that aren’t up to a world-class challenge.

          My feeling about Wade’s genetic explanations for economic outcomes is similar to my feeling about other all-encompassing supertheories: I respect the effort to push such theories as far as they can go, but I find them generally less convincing as they move farther from their home base. Similarly with economists’ models: they can make a lot of sense for prices in a fluid market, they can work OK to model negotiation, they seem like a joke when they start trying to model addiction, suicide, etc.

          To get back to the race stuff: It might be that there’s better stuff out there and I shouldn’t be reading Nicholas Wade, if so that’s another story. I reviewed his book because (a) I received the page proofs in the mail and so this gave me the opportunity to do a review, and (b) I think racial explanations are always available and so it seemed worth laying out my concerns.

        • The British tradition of Darwin-Galton-Fisher-Hamilton and their American followers have a pretty good track record at predicting the state of the world in the 21st Century. Their side doesn’t have their hands on the media bullhorn anymore, so it’s easy to get people to believe they were engaged in “pseudo-science” via mass repetition, but if you go back and look at what they said, it turns out that on the whole their predictions turned out pretty accurately so far, at least compared to rival schools of thought.

        • Similarly, from our lifetime: how well has Arthur Jensen’s 1969 meta-analysis in the Harvard Education Review worked out as a prediction of the 2013 NAEP test scores for 12th graders released this week?

          Pretty darn good, actually.

          In contrast, how has Stephen Jay Gould’s anti-Jensen 1981 bestseller The Mismeasure of Man held up? Embarrassingly badly.

          But who wants to admit how wrong they were to love Gould and follow him in hating Jensen?

          After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
          History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
          And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, 35
          Guides us by vanities. Think now
          She gives when our attention is distracted
          And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
          That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
          What’s not believed in, or if still believed, 40
          In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
          Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
          Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
          Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
          Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues 45
          Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.

        • I think the smoking gun is here:

          “He is seen to the least advantage in his own country, where a temporary dark age still prevails, which has not sapped the genius of the race”.

          Why on Earth was China and the chinamen blessed with this “temporary dark age”? What happened? A meteor? An earthquake? Do they had the bad fortune of a black President? Superior races shouldn´t be bothered by dark ages if left to their own devices, I think.

        • Steve:

          That is one way of describing the typical “Chinaman.” But there are many others, some not so flattering. What is clear to me, however, is that all of those innately “Chinese” traits and aptitudes owe a great deal to Chinese CULTURE as it EVOLVED over time.

          For example, it was Confucius, through the enormous influence of his philosophical system, who set the stage for many of the elements of Chinese “nature” that we still see, in refracted and modified form, to this very day. There wasn’t anything innately, genetically, biologically “Chinese” about Confucian thought, any more than there was anything biologically “German” about Martin Luther’s thought, or intrinsically “Arab” about the prophet Muhammad’s vision of the universe as set down in the Koran.

          Rather, it is the case that history is governed by the victors: Confucius was driven by the ambition to REDUCE OR ERASE WHAT HE DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE CHINESE CULTURE OF HIS DAY, AND INTRODUCE, CONSOLIDATE AND ENHANCE THOSE ELEMENTS OF CHINESE CULTURE HE DID HAPPEN TO LIKE AND ADMIRE. He might have failed, but he didn’t (even though he didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of his success).

          Much of historical development is simply an accident not of genes but of cultural development. Philosophers, politicians, military leaders, scientists, poets: they seize the opportune moment to change the direction of their culture, to guide the stream of behaviour as they see fit.

          None of us live in a pure state of nature. We live in a state of nature relentlessly, ceaselessly modified and transmuted through the medium of culture. We now know that some of our own genes can be switched on or off depending on our individual life experiences.

        • The relevant point is that in 1873,Francis Galton made an accurate prediction about the economic state of the world in 2014, while in 2014 Professor Gelman was unable to accurately depict that views of Galtonians in the past.

        • Steve:

          My review was about Wade, not Galton. The only place I mentioned Galton was in quoting from him on this comment thread. Given that all I did was quote the guy, I don’t see how you can say I was unable to accurately depict his views.

        • But, Andrew, you just asserted that in 1954 followers of the Galtonian tradition like Wade would have come up with some cock-a-mamie genetic explanation for Chinese poverty without you citing any actual examples from 1954 or other periods. Your readers responded by pointing out that Galton himself famously predicted the 2014 economic position of the Chinese in 1873 by attributing their “temporary dark age” to their current culture.

        • No True Scotsman?

          If Steve Sailer doesn’t like how you describe a guy you are not accurately describing historical fact?

        • Steve, I reread the 1873 Galton quote that you provided, and it doesn’t seem to me to be all that terribly insightful. One can find countless descriptions of “the Chinese temperament” that are similar to Galton’s in books published in the late 19th century. One didn’t have to be a Galtonian – or an academic racist of any stripe – to observe those same Chinese traits and characteristics Galton observed. Just read any history book or textbook from that time period.

          But Galton gives me no sense of special insight into China. You say Galton made an accurate prediction about the economic state of the world in 2014, but he gives me no indication that he anticipated what was just around the corner for China in the 20th century, no sense of the Warlord Era or Mao’s regime. You can’t read Galton’s description of what Chinamen are like (“good-natured, frugal, industrious”) and recognize Mao Zedong in that. Was Mao not a Chinese? What explains HIS character and disposition?

          The problem I have is if you simply wait long enough the passage of time will, sooner or later, give you the picture you want. Reading Galton in 2014 makes him look pretty shrewd and sharp, but if you’d read him at almost any time during the 20th century, his insights wouldn’t look all that germane and apropos to what was going on in China. He gives me no sense that he anticipated what shocks, conflicts, high drama, and horrors lay just around the corner for the “frugal,” “industrious” Chinese.

        • “You say Galton made an accurate prediction about the economic state of the world in 2014, but he gives me no indication that he anticipated what was just around the corner for China in the 20th century, no sense of the Warlord Era or Mao’s regime.”

          Galton wasn’t Nostradamus. He was making a prediction based on his view of the average hereditary nature of the Chinese, based in part on observing Overseas Chinese in non-native environments. Today, 141 years later, his overall assessment looks pretty good.

          The reason Dr. Gelman’s readers have brought this example up is that Dr. Gelman didn’t cite any actual bad predictions made by Galtonians in the past, he just said he assumed they would have made bad predictions in the past about China’s economic prospects today. In reality, the weight of Galtonian thinking was always that the Chinese were underperforming their potential.

    • I think you’re dishonest by quoting Galton and then trying to pass off his idiosyncratic views as the general opinion of “racialist scholars” or even educated people at the time. Surely if you were familiar with the racialist literature of the nineteenth century, you’d know that the most commonly accepted hierarchy at the time was White > Yellow > Black, or Caucasoid > Mongoloid > Negroid, if you wish, with some further hierarchies among the subgroups within those races. Rare was the nineteenth century European who thought Asians were equal or superior to Whites. Why not mention Ernst Haeckel, who was ever bit as highly esteemed and popular as Galton? While Haeckel always gave the Caucasoids first place (with Nordics at the top), the second rank was more debatable for him. He initially placed Amerindians second after Caucasoids, but after the Meiji restoration and Japan’s defeat of Russia, the Northeast Asians were upgraded ahead of the Amerindians. It’s arguable whether or not this was due to the influence of Romanticism, but there actually were a good number of educated people over the centuries who thought Amerindians had untapped potential, among them Thomas Jefferson, Oswald Spengler, and to some extent Madison Grant (!).

      While we’re at it, here’s Karl Marx himself on the Chinese: “It is almost needless to observe that, in the same measure in which opium has obtained the sovereignty over the Chinese, the Emperor and his staff of pedantic mandarins have become dispossessed of their own sovereignty. It would seem as though history had first to make this whole people drunk before it could rouse them out of their hereditary stupidity.”

      And here is Friedrich Engels on the Chinese character: “This is a war pro aris et focis [“for altars and hearth”], a popular war for the maintenance of Chinese nationality, with all its overbearing prejudice, stupidity, learned ignorance and pedantic barbarism if you like, but yet a popular war…”

      But when faced with the Meiji period and Japan’s defeat of Russia, there were more scholars (like Lothrop Stoddard) who were inclined to see Mongoloids as a potential rival for Whites (how could they not?), but even this was often ex post facto, and there were still plenty of intelligent people who thought Mongoloids were inferior to Whites. One such prominent person was the Nobel laureate Charles Richet, who published a book, La Sélection humaine, in which he repeated the White > Yellow > Black hierarchy.

      It should be admitted that Blacks were consistently at the bottom of all racialist hierarchies. Overall, however, Andrew’s assessment of the shifting nature of racialism is sound.

  3. When it comes to science I’ve come to the conclusion that ambiguity is public enemy number one.

    I don’t even know what is a race or an ethnicity. I suspect the title of the post is essentially capturing the effects of semantic drift.

    PS in the 19th century the distinction was not only between northern and southern Europeans, Catholic and Protestant but also between Northern and Southern Italy. The latter seen as more backwards even though not long before Naples was the wealthiest city in Italy.

    • “PS in the 19th century the distinction was not only between northern and southern Europeans, Catholic and Protestant but also between Northern and Southern Italy”

      There still is a distinction between the two: The NYT has recently run articles on the resurgence of organized crime in Sicily and Naples and the corruption that has slowed infrastructure projects designed to make Southern Italy more attractive to tourists.

    • Ethnicity just means race. Sometimes people claims that it means culture as distinguished from descent, but they never actually use it that way. It has three uses: (1) a euphemism for race; (2) a small race (for those who don’t want to say “the English race”); (3) the category of Hispanic created by the US government, originally intended to mean the race of mestizos, but that subject made people squeamish, so they weren’t precise and the category spun out of control.

      • Actually, I think the way the U.S. government uses “ethnicity” as distinct from “race” can be generalized into a useful conceptual distinction. Think of individuals adopted as infants. They tend to belong to their biological parents races and their adoptive parents ethnicities. Thus:

        – A racial group is a partly inbred extended biological family.

        – An ethnic groups is defined by shared traits that are often passed down within biological families — e.g., language, surname, religion, cuisine, accent, self-identification, historical or mythological heroes, musical styles, etc. — but that don’t have to be. (Thus, you can be adopted into an ethnic group, but not into a racial group.)

        With most people, race and ethnicity are fairly similar, but they don’t have to be.

        • Sure, it could be useful, but I’m talking about words, not concepts. No one ever chooses the word “ethnicity” to be careful about the distinction from “race.” Everyone uses the words “race” and “ethnic group” denotationally identically, except when US forms declare “Hispanic” to be an ethnicity.

          But if you do want to talk about that concept, why use the word “ethnicity”? Why not “culture”? I’m in favor of words that are simple and don’t have the baggage of ambiguity.

        • Ethnology was a much more useful field of research than sociology. It wasn’t “raciology” or “culturalism” which is a subset of bad sociology.

          No, ethnology was what people use to make until they made junk science: Sociology.

        • “No one ever chooses the word “ethnicity” to be careful about the distinction from “race.””

          I do, because the U.S. government does.

          The U.S. government repeatedly emphasized that “ethnicity” is not the same as “race” on the last several Census forms you filled in.

        • Steve: So you see a black kid on the street & are willing to grant he might be ethnically white? BS. I don’t buy that. To those who obsesses about such things (e.g. you) both race & ethnicity are in practice determined by appearance and appearance alone. If he looks black he is black. Both ethnically & racially.

        • Then what is Obama’s ethnicity and race?

          He is culturally WASP but he is racially Black (or not? since his Mom was White).

          His kids are more genetically Black but more culturally white. You don’t go to elite private school to be immersed in Black culture.

        • Right, Obama is half black racially, but ethnically he’s awfully Yankee, Kansas Jayhawk division through his maternal grandparents. He spent eight years at a prep school founded by the Congregationalist missionary Hiram Bingham I, who inspired the rigid minister played by Max von Sydow in James Michener’s huge bestseller “Hawaii.”

    • Yeah, it’s a little like arguing that we can just laugh off all of psychology forever because of the silliness of Freud and B.F.Skinner.

      • Highly:

        You must not have been reading this blog recently. I make fun of psychology research all the time! Not all of it, just the stuff I don’t respect, where people have vague theories that can fit any data.

        And of course I have a lot of respect for research in genetics. But that doesn’t mean I have to believe the hypothesis that a decline in interest rates is evidence for a genetic shift. Speculations have their role in science, and I respect what Wade wrote as speculation. But it also makes sense to consider this in the larger historical tradition of racial explanations for social and political inequality.

        • @andrew – “But that doesn’t mean I have to believe the hypothesis that a decline in interest rates is evidence for a genetic shift.”

          no one should “believe” it or not until the data are actually in. i’m sure wade doesn’t “believe” it — he’s just proposed some ideas.

          at the same time, you shouldn’t call these ideas racist when they (and nicholas wade) are obviously not. that was just lame to be honest.

        • Hbd:

          As I wrote, I don’t say that I know Wade’s theories are wrong, I just don’t find his reasoning convincing, for the reasons I’ve given in my review and on this thread. Based on reading Wade’s book, I think he’s an open-minded person but to me he seems a bit too trapped in his theory.

          Regarding why I describe the ideas as racist, I discussed this point explicitly in my review. Racism has a sliding scale and I’m not saying that Wade’s book is anything close to the most racist stuff out there.

        • @andrew – “I just don’t find his reasoning convincing.”

          right. and like i said, you don’t have to “believe” them. (again, no one should until the data are in.)

          @andrew – “Regarding why I describe the ideas as racist, I discussed this point explicitly in my review.”

          i know. and i discussed in my blogpost why you’re just wrong about that. (^_^)

        • Hbd:

          To me, Wade’s comments follow the dictionary definition of racism. The point is not whether he characterizes a racial group as superior “in all traits.” Nobody thinks that. Even David Duke, I’m sure, recognizes black superiority in sprinting and basketball. The point is that when Wade makes his comparisons, inherent superiority is implied when he writes, for example, that the Malays can’t emulate Chinese business success because of genetics, or when he makes other such comparisons throughout the book.

  4. Don’t forget, Gelman also wrote:

    I believe (Wade) when he writes that “this book is an attempt to understand the world as it is, not as it ought to be.” If researchers ever really can identify ethnic groups with genetic markers for short-term preferences, low intelligence, and an increased proclivity to violence, and other ethnic groups with an affinity for authoritarianism, this is something that more peaceful, democratic policymakers should be aware of.

  5. As long as Stephen Jay Gould’s name and shoulder chip have been brought up in this discussion of the topic, “the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous,” here is the beginning and the end of his famous book, “The Mismeasure of Man”:

    “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin”–Charles Darwin

    • From Darwin’s The Descent of Man:

      “There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when
      carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other,- as in
      the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of
      the body,* the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the
      skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain.*(2) But it would
      be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference. The
      races differ also in constitution, in acclimatisation and in liability
      to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very
      distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in
      their intellectual faculties. Every one who has had the opportunity of
      comparison, must have been struck with the contrast between the
      taciturn, even morose, aborigines of S. America and the
      lighthearted, talkative negroes.”

      The demographics of hip-hop today would not come as a big surprise to Darwin.

    • Gould’s “Mismeasure of Man” is classic pseudoscience, an antiquarian work to undermine current science by gesticulating at obscure scientists of the distant past. It’s hardly surprising that recent research found out that Gould was more wrong than his first target from the distant past, Morton, on cranium size.

      I know he had a sonorous prose style, but Gould was a bad influence on scientific literacy in America and, sadly, the rest of the world.

  6. ““average negroes possess too little intellect, self-reliance, and self-control to make it possible for them to sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilization without a large measure of external guidance and support”

    You cite this as a howler on the part of Galton but how is the statement still not true ? The only African-populated societies today that do “sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilisation….” are a few, low-population Caribbean societies dependent on tourism and proximity to US sun-worshippers. And the bigger that island, the poorer it is. One of the earliest African societies to go independent — Haiti — performs as badly as Sub-Saharan Africa. African-descended peoples who do the best, economically, are those living in countries where the institutions were set up and the economy is primarily run by non-African peoples. Even within the USA you see this pattern : the larger the electoral constituency that’s African-American, the more likely it is to have management problems. Washington DC is pretty nice now but when it first got political autonomy it bankrupted itself and there is now a permanent IMF-like financial authority keeping a tab. Without that externally imposed constraint you wouldn’t have reversed the white flight.

    • African countries are all developing exactly the same way as Europe did. Big boom in population followed by a lot chaos, wars, the odd epidemic, some crazy leaders, some military conflicts, revolutions whilst at the same time industrializing and improving the standard of living. Go check the HDI of africa and the poverty rates. Majority of African countries are improving, some have reached middle HDI status already. The only difference is that its slower because Africa is much larger and the countries there are much much more complicated. Nigeria has like 250 different ethnic groups, how much does Korea have? Exactly.

      The difference between Haiti and the neighboring countries is Racism. It has a history of extreme racism. Its birth was a slave rebellion that isolated them. They were then segregated by how “mixed” one is. An entirely new country was formed right next to them because of racism.

      Barbados on the other hand has had very little of you people… and guess what its a first world country.

      I love how you forget how European Americans caused the biggest financial crisis in modern history. People were starving during the great depression. Greece, Iceland, Spain, Ireland. Rome… List goes on.

    • So pseudoerasmus, is this guy some inexplicable freak of nature then?

      Doesn’t culture, education, and access to information play more of a role than whatever genetic differences may exist between the races?

      This 14-year-old self-taught engineer was only ABLE to be self-taught because he had access to the relevant information i.e. there were reasonably well-stocked libraries he had access to. If he hadn’t had that crucial access, he couldn’t have done what he did.

      Culture. Education. Infrastructure. Access to libraries, schools, and other centres of knowledge. These are what really matter. Not genes alone, operating in vacuo, divorced from any social, familial, or cultural context.

  7. One of my favorite books – which I seem to have lost! – goes through European attitudes toward Jewish intelligence at the end of the 19th into the early 20thC. Some of the best quotes come from 1905, just months before Einstein’s papers came out. The gist is a massive repetition that Jews are capable of simulation, of pretending to be intelligent in the modes presented to them by the Christian societies in which they live, that they are not capable of original and creative thought. (I guess it was easy to dismiss Freud et al because those were new.) To put this in context, it wasn’t until Napoleon that Jews emerged from, were freed from limited existence and ghettoes in the heart of Europe – and from isolation in village in the east. It was difficult for these Europeans to imagine these fringe creatures could … which tempts me to turn things on their head and say that what has held humanity back is the limited imagination and intelligence of Christian Europe, which has repeatedly demonstrated that killing and oppressing in the name of their God is their default mode … but that would be wrong.

    The same has been written about Japan: imitative. Took over Chinese writing. Took over Taylorism. Can refine things but can’t initiate. That they’re very good at refining ideas is taken as saying they’re not good at coming up with ideas and that confuses a cultural reluctance (and the vagaries of history) with innate ability. It was Roman Catholic Spain which, after all, developed the catchphrase “let no new thing arise”: a lack of creative ability or the effect of the Inquisition or just some phrase used by the elites to maintain power and to justify crushing threats? (In this context, I’m reading Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta. The book acts in part as a reminder of how close 20thC Japan through WWII was to feudal, closed Japan before the Restoration and thus why they made certain decisions.)

    BTW, GM overtook Ford because Ford refused to make different models or even different colors of cars. It wasn’t efficiency but a flowering of production that Billy Durant combined in one legal structure – with a mess of production organization. That model better fit a world in which more people could afford more, in which labor savings devices (like gas stoves and hot water heating) had freed up significant time during the working day, and the “luxury” of a car in red or blue with different features moved into the mass market. (It was very difficult for Edsel to convince his father to change.) Ford was always, always more efficient at production. (Still tends to be, btw. That’s an example of company heritage carrying forward; Ford plants, like the Taurus line in ATL, were competitive in hours per car with the Japanese. But Ford had 6 year or longer production cycles – versus 3 to 4 – and other issues. GM’s response has always been toward implementing technology. It’s interesting to see how these long-lived behemoths reflect their founding, but that’s a very long story.)

    • I also think ideas about East Asian creativity will get at least modified eventually. There does seem to be an acceleration in Asian Nobelists since 2000 — at least in chemistry. There are at least 3 Japanese Fields Medalists and Fields unlike the Nobel is quadrienniel. In Japanese industry I see a lot more inventiveness & creativity than people suggest. The Japanese have excelled in food science since the early 20th century having discovered not only umami but also invented MSG (I supposed that would be a mixed blessing but it’s used all over the world). Then there’s robotics which everybody knows about. There’s also polymer injection molding which is not nearly as sexy.

      • I agree. In general, I don’t find Japanese claims to be uncreative all that convincing — e.g., Toyota attributing their efficiencies to the American Edward Deming — they seem more like propaganda to make Americans feel better about themselves and not worry enough about Japanese exports.

        • Right now, the Japanese seem to define themselves as uncreative in big things, although they seem highly creative in small things. I wouldn’t be surprised if, say, the currently culturally self-confident Koreans develop a national self-image for themselves of being creative in big things.

        • Steve:

          Toyota copied when it made sense economically to do so, and they innovated when it made sense economically to do so. As I wrote in my above post, it seems a lot more fruitful to explain economic behavior via economics rather than pulling out racial stereotypes.

        • Of course it’s true that Toyota did it out of profit-maximising reasons. But you seem to think that standard economic rationalisation cannot incorporate sociobiological factors. But not everyone can just will themselves into executing just-in-time production, otherwise it would have already happened. You need a certain amount of labour quality or human capital. So then we revert to what best represents human capital. I think IQ does — you can ask how much you can improve IQ in the poorest countries by alleviating environmental deficits like malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency, disease loads, and there’s a lot of room for that. But even if you take a more environmentalist view of IQ than warranted, that would still be progress in terms of recognising the importance of IQ as a robust proxy for human capital.

        • Pseudo:

          Remember that this particular discussion arose from Wade’s statement, “Japan and China, two of [the West’s] chief economic rivals, show no present sign of being better innovators.” This is one particular racial stereotype that even most of the commenters in this thread do not seem to buy.

        • The issue is that we don’t have a reliable way to measure current creativity. Japanese spokesmen have repeatedly asserted Wade’s view that they aren’t very creative when it comes to big breakthroughs, and they may very well be right. But it’s hard to tell for sure.

          We do have reasonable ways to judge past creativity. With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back and say with a reasonable degree of confidence that Brunelleschi and Shakespeare and Newton and Galton and Einstein were really creative. When we do that we don’t come up with many historically creative individuals for the 1500-1900 era from outside the West. The main exceptions are in Japan, where the culture was progressing at a steady clip, although not exploding like in Europe. The rest of the world was kind of stuck in cultural stasis.

          Why that was is a really interesting question.

        • The emphasis on IQ being the driving force (or is it the result?) of human capital/human progress is strange considering how blunt an instrument IQ is; IQ adherents seem to be hereditarian true believers. Binet’s original (binary) intelligence tests were intended to help and improve those who needed help rather than to label in order to limit them. The rank ordering of national IQs, a number which presumably is fixed in time, verges on religious fanaticism for justifying/perpetuating the status quo.

        • +1

          But that would be inconvenient to Steve’s flavor of argument where race is tied to stereotypes of behavior, good or bad, and a malleable view of racial or ethnic correlates wouldn’t fit his theories.

        • Race would have to explain about 60,000 percent of the variation in outcomes for it to justify the amount of time Sailer spends talking about it. I’m not a professional statistician, is that even possible? Are Sailer’s racial obsessions themselves a product of his racial heritage? Given his worldview, wouldn’t it be strange if race was such a critical driver of everything in the world, and yet his own thoughts on the matter (which seem to constitute about 99% of his thoughts in general) were not racially determined, but rather a function of some free-floating mentality?

        • I’m not sure of that 99% estimate. He does devote a fair bit of his time to Misogyny, Liberal-hate and Antisemitism. So it’s not as if race monopolizes his thoughts.

    • Jonathan: “It was Roman Catholic Spain which, after all, developed the catchphrase “let no new thing arise””

      And therein goes another stereotype from the Elizabethan Black Legend.

  8. ”But that doesn’t mean I have to believe the hypothesis that a decline in interest rates is evidence for a genetic shif”

    If it were ONLY the very long-run decline in interest rates, that fact in isolation should not be held as so suggestive. But it’s the combination of corelative findings which suggest that Gregory Clark may be right about the “domestication” or the “pacification” or (my preferred term) the “embourgeoisement” of the English population. Not only the decline in interest rates (interpreted here as increased patience), but also the decline in violence, rise in numeracy (as inferred from age-heaping data), and the most important correlate, the clear evidence that the non-aristocratic rich had higher fertility rates than other strata of society and must have repopulated them through downward mobility.

    This is a demographic change but genetic change is by definition a population-genetic effect, i.e., change in frequency of some trait within a population. It could be via selective pressure as in the Clark example but it could also be via what in the social sciences is referred to as self-selection. And self-selection is always cited as a kind of cultural or environmental change rather than a genetic one but if social stratification is substantially genetic then self-selection is also a change in the population frequency of some trait. And a good illustration is another point you make :

    ”how different can the Flemish and the Walloons be, really?

    Walloons & Flemings may not be super-hyper-different, but small differences in population frequency of some trait may matter. I offer an historical example of ethnic selection/attrition to illustrate.

    One of the most enduring myths about European economic development is that the riches of the Americas or the East Indies were crucial to it. Thus the Dutch East India Company is frequently cited as a contributor to (and, by sillier people, the primary determinant of) Dutch wealth in the Golden Age. Never mind there is a problem with timing for this thesis, and that spices were a small part of the overall Dutch industrial mix. More important than spices was the influx of people fleeing the Counterreformation. After Antwerp fell to the American-bullion-fattened armies of the Holy Roman Emperor, Protestants in Flanders were given the choice of exile or recantation. As it so happened, Flemish Protestants were disproportionately merchants and craftsmen, and the loss of the future Belgium was the glory of the Netherlands.

    Back to Belgium : the loss to Belgium was felt differentially. The Flemings remained much more agricultural than the Walloons into the early 20th century. And where was the first industrial area of continental Europe outside the English North and Midlands, in the early 19th century ? The Sillon industriel of Belgium — in the French-speaking Catholic Wallonia.

    But of course Fleming & Walloon fortunes were reversed in the 20th century, but here the point is that the average characteristics of Flemings and Walloons always seem to diverge, at least since the Reformation.

    • And I’m not saying the Flemings and the Walloons must be genetically different, but there’s no reason to rule out some differences in population frequencies which show up as differences in “social phenotypes”. And people mightn’t be so resistant to the idea if their image of “genetic change” wasn’t mutation from a sci-fi movie.

    • Pseudo:

      My point about the Flemings and the Walloons (aside from being an in-joke for my friends in Leuven) was not that they have no difference but that (a) this is the sort of comparison that old-time racists would’ve used but that Nicholas Wade had no interest in, and (b) if you were to use Wade’s approach of taking economic success as an indicator for positive genetic traits, then Vlaanderen and Wallonie would keep switching back and forth as to who has (by inference) the better genes.

      • But I’m not saying there must absolutely be consequential population-frequency differences between Flemings and Walloons. I’m just saying there’s no reason to rule them out a priori. Of course the socioeconomic differences between Flemings and Walloons are minor, in the greater scheme of things, and well within the range of noise. But what’s interesting about the differences between the two populations is the persistence of those minor differences, even if they get inverted now and then.

        “if you were to use Wade’s approach of taking economic success as an indicator for positive genetic traits,”

        The correlation between income & IQ, for example, is much smaller within countries or groups than between countries & between groups. So if you’re just singling out a few rich people the predictive power of IQ isn’t great. But at the level of whole countries the correlation is pretty high, and the relationship is quite persistent.

        • Pseudo:

          Indeed, the historical differences between Vlaanderen and Wallonie are interesting and we can be sure that many many books have been written on the topic, in particular the fascinating feature that the two groups seem to take turns being the leader, unlike the usual setting where there is one dominant and one subservient ethnic group for a long time. And I could imagine that genetics could be part of such comparisons. But this is a far cry from Wade’s approach, which is to take an existing economic disparity and from there to form a sweeping inference about genetic differences between populations.

      • But then you cite the Tutsis and Hutus. Now, the Tutsis rulers of Rwanda and Burundi put out a lot of perfectly understandable propaganda about how there are no differences and it’s just a misunderstanding caused by Belgian divide-and-rule tactics. And yet, the minority Tutsis once again rule both countries, just as their self-images of themselves as cruel, cunning in the arts of command, and born to rule suggest. Moreover, Paul Kagame, the Tutsi dictator of Rwanda, has waged brilliant piratical raids into Congo, all the while maintaining the plaudits of the Great and the Good in the West, something no poor Hutu pulled off.

        • The Tutsi and the Hutus resemble the whites and Indians in Latin America, where, despite centuries of inbreeding and occasional propaganda campaigns about how we’re all La Raza Cosmica, more or less white people still have 98% of the good jobs, except when there are occasional revolutions or the shorter masses use their majority to elect a leader.

        • Those “whites” and “mixed whites” outnumber everyone in Latin America. “mestizos” can pass for white entirely in many cases. So even in mexico “white” would outnumber the hell out of everyone.

          On top of all of that. Wealth and good jobs are passed through generations.

          Nice nitpick and leaving out parts that don’t gel well.

        • +1

          Steve Sailer’s analogy is absolutely inane. There’s no comparison between the Hutu-Tutsi & White-Indian stories.

        • “more or less white people still have 98% of the good jobs”

          Absolute nonsense. What an ideologue you are. While, yes, there is a correlation between “Whiteness” and SES in Latin America, it’s nowhere near as strong as you claim. Not unless you think people with non-White ancestry ranging from 30-60% are “White.”

      • The Flemings and Walloons speak different languages and thus don’t intermarry much. Since they don’t have a lot of relatives on the other side of the ethnic divide, they don’t have a lot of mutual family feeling, so they don’t feel much joint sense of ownership of the state of Belgium. Thus, there tends to be a lot of ethnic squabbling and ethnic machine corruption, and plenty of people would like the country to break up into more endogamous pieces.

        • So, Sailer, I’ve never heard your family name before. Are you possibly a different race from white people whose family trees haven’t entangled with yours anywhere recently? And if you are a different race from other white families, is yours superior or inferior to those that have produced great scientists and entrepreneurs and such. Because it’s really important that we all know where we stand.

  9. The argument you’re applying seems to be the argument from contagion: If this argument resembles some bad argument from the past, then by contagion, this is a bad argument. Now it would actually be simplistic to call this a fallacy because there is a Bayesian logic to it. If indeed there are hundreds of attempts to base some argument on a certain type of evidence, and all of those arguments were falsified, then we should adjust our priors, and not be particularly enamored of yet another argument in that vein.

    However, logically speaking, the argument from contagion does fail, because an argument’s soundness doesn’t rest on how much it resembles failed arguments from the past. In fact, if you set your mind to it, you could probably jump to any subtopic in any social science discipline, randomly select a paper, and through sufficient archival searching, claim that it fails by contagion.

    The issue with genetics in particular is that our knowledge is much better than it used to be. Now a hundred years in the future it will be even better so we’re not at some utopian state, but current analyses are sufficiently better than older analyses that we can’t say that Wade is just like a nineteenth century scientist.

    Moreover, the ideology of race egalitarianism, like all ideologies, is a human construction. It would be pretty odd if nature went out of its way to exactly align with its tenets. And it would be pretty odd if nature went out of its way to completely falsify its tenets.

    • Chris:

      My point is not that Wade’s argument is similar to bad arguments from the past, it’s that Wade’s logic is itself contingent on its time and its audience, hence my thought experiment of the multiverse of possible Nicholas Wades. The same logic by which 2014 Nicholas Wade celebrates “the West” and describes Chinese people as intelligent but uncreative, is the logic that in other eras would praise other prosperous regions and consider other divisions such as that between northern and southern Europeans, a distinction that was so popular among racists of a century ago.

      • “consider other divisions such as that between northern and southern Europeans, a distinction that was so popular among racists of a century ago.”

        But that division remains perfectly valid in so many ways !

      • Right, you are falling for the framework of SJ Gould and cohorts that the WASP scientists of the bad old days were both morally and scientifically bad, unlike their sainted selves. Gould was a master propagandist, but a mediocre scientists an ideologically and ethnically biased historian.

        Right, the reality is that the Darwin-Galton-Fisher-Hamilton tradition is one of the great accomplishments in science, and it excited much envy and insult, but we shouldn’t take our eyes off of the fact that their glass was 80% full instead of obsessing over the 20% empty.

      • “My point is not that Wade’s argument is similar to bad arguments from the past, it’s that Wade’s logic is itself contingent on its time and its audience…”

        You’re making a breathtakingly bad argument.

        First – past predictions based on racial differences actually hold up quite well. You yourself cited a series of predictions by Galton above that seem to have been almost entirely borne out (apparently you didn’t intend that interpretation for some reason*).

        Second (and more importantly) the past in 2014 includes the entire past of 1914 and 1814. The nature of science is supposed to be that it includes data as it becomes available. In 1914 the 20th century hadn’t happened yet. In 2014 it has. Wade’s argument is not “at this very second this is the state of the world therefore this is what you can say about the genes of all populations”. Wade’s actual argument is that in 2014 we know the current state of the world and we know what the world was like in 1914, too so we can make more accurate statements about people.

        You’re implying “well, Wade’s argument looks really sound now (and basically at all times in the past) but things could change real soon and Wade would look foolish”. Great. The only problem is that it hasn’t bothered to happen yet and there’s no indication that it will in the future. Who’s looking at the world today and betting that Africa or Haiti will overtake China in wealth?

        “The same logic by which 2014 Nicholas Wade celebrates “the West” and describes Chinese people as intelligent but uncreative, is the logic that in other eras would praise other prosperous regions and consider other divisions such as that between northern and southern Europeans, a distinction that was so popular among racists of a century ago.”

        Of course the differences between northern and southern Europeans matter! It’s hard to fail to notice differences between Greece and Germany, for example. On the other hand if you’re comparing those countries to Haiti then Greece and Germany start to seem much more similar. That’s what having a sophisticated, non-simplistic world view is about.

        * Your Galton quotes

        “average negroes possess too little intellect, self-reliance, and self-control to make it possible for them to sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilization without a large measure of external guidance and support”

        Fair grading of this gives it an evaluation of completely correct.

        “The Hindoo cannot fulfil the required conditions nearly as well as the Chinaman, for he is inferior to him in strength, industry, aptitude for saving, business habits, and prolific power.”

        Fair grading of this gives it an evaluation of mostly correct (Galton seems to have underestimated the “prolific power” of many groups under industrial and post industrial conditions). The Chinaman seems to have developed his country to a significantly greater extent than the Hindoo has developed his. Overall the Chinaman seems to have more aptitude for saving, better business habits and superior industry to the Hindoo not to mention that, unlike India, there isn’t a significant problem with outdoor defecation.

        “The Arab is little more than an eater up of other men’s produce; he is a destroyer rather than a creator, and he is unprolific.”

        Mostly correct with the caveat that Galton didn’t foresee oil funded welfare and its role in funding a population boom.

        These quotes were chosen by you apparently to demonstrate the failure of Galton’s predictions. A fair reading of them absent the modern gasp of horror in noticing things seems to show them as correct.

        • I should probably know better than to join in. I guess I don’t, though. To pick just one part of your comment, you assert that “fair grading” of the following quote says that it’s “completely correct”:

          “average negroes possess too little intellect, self-reliance, and self-control to make it possible for them to sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilization without a large measure of external guidance and support”

          Galton’s claim is far too vague to support your certainty. Is it just average negroes at issue, or are the 50% of above-average negroes implicated, too? How are intellect, self-reliance, and self-control measured? Did Galton actually measure all three in a reliable, accurate way? Has anyone else? If so, are people from other races with similar quantities of intellect, self-reliance, and self-control similarly beset? What counts as a “respectable form of civilization”? What counts as a “large measure” of guidance and support? What does “external” mean, exactly?

          It’s absurd to claim that a statement as vague as Galton’s can only be fairly graded as completely correct.

        • Doesn’t this description also fits 99% of Western history as well, since, until the 19th century, European countries were not much better off in terms of civilization, rule of law and democracy than the worst-ruled SSA country. I highly doubt that life in 16th-century France (wars of religion, persecution, massacres, epidemics, tyranny, corrupt rulers living in luxury while the population starved, etc.) was better than in today’s world-ruled African countries.

        • Yeah, the Sistine Chapel and the Great Zimbabwe – practically indistinguishable.

          Do you think you’re fooling anyone with that or do you just write stuff like that for the tiny snort of moral superiority?

        • Steve Johnson:

          I believe that Wade is interested in a larger audience than those people in 2014 who would endorse statements such as “the Arab is little more than an eater up of other men’s produce” etc. But, sure, your comment does illustrate that there are people even today who have no problem making such statements. This illustrates my general point that racism is and probably will remain an available way for people to explain political and social inequalities.

          Steve Sailer:

          I agree that there are differences between life in northern and southern Europe. My point was not to deny these but rather to point out that Wade doesn’t talk about them. Recall the thought-experiment of the multiverse of all possible Wades. He’s addressing white people who speak English in 2014 is not interested in distinctions between European races, indeed he never brings up the concept, he only talks first about Caucasians and then about an undefined “West.” I expect that a Wade of a different era would’ve been full of theories about the genetic differences between the Teutons and the Gauls, etc., but today it doesn’t seem to come up for him, partly because statements such as Germans being inherently warlike would sound silly today.

        • Wade is addressing 21st Century Americans: he’s worked in America, writing for the New York Times since 1983. Continental-scale racial differences are massively important in contemporary America as a glance at the New York Times on any given day would suggest. That doesn’t mean racial differences of sub-continental scale aren’t of interest, but they are more subtle than continental-scale ones.

    • “The argument you’re applying seems to be the argument from contagion: If this argument resembles some bad argument from the past,”

      Worse, many of the arguments from the past that the new arguments resemble have turned out to be pretty accurate, which make them more unforgivable.

      • For example, if you’d sat Francis Galton, Rudyard Kipling, and Cecil Rhodes down to draw up a racial map of the world to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1901, they would have come up with something quite similar to the racial map of the world drawn up from genome scans in 2014.

        “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?”

  10. Gelman wrote:

    the racial theorists of 100 years ago had strong opinions on the differences between northern and southern Europeans.

    I rather think that if the architects of the eurozone had heeded those old ethnic prejudices, the EU wouldn’t be in shambles today. Remember PIIGS.

    My impression is that ethnic and racial stereotypes can be pretty tenacious. For example, negative ideas about Jews, Africans, and gypsies seem to have remained similar for centuries.

  11. So, I’ve read your Slate article, and the excerpts on a few different blogs, and at first I thought it was pretty good, and then I didn’t, and now I think it’s pretty good, so perhaps by the time I’m finished writing this I’ll have changed my mind again. (I’m reminded of the White Queen telling Alice, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”)

    Oh, and I should preface this: I haven’t read Wade’s book.

    Consider this sentence:

    But I think the themes of a book like Wade’s are necessarily contingent both on the era when it is written and the audience to which it is addressed.

    This is not an argument only against Wade’s book but, it seems to me, a fairly damning critique of the social sciences generally. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a field that isn’t open to this dismissal, except perhaps physics and mathematics.

    But maybe this is not so much of a problem? There’s lots of bad science out there, and we are probably all a little too credulous, but it doesn’t seem so fair to title your review “The Paradox of Racism” like this is a critique specific of racism, and not a fully general counterargument.

    Also, it seems not so cool to throw around the word racist:

    But I characterize his book as racist based on the dictionary definition: per Merriam-Webster, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

    Sure, maybe he’s technically a racist, but Martin Luther King was also technically a criminal. Is Wade representative of racists? I don’t think so. Imagine: I could write a review of The Selfish Gene and call it the “Paradox of Sexism” and tell readers that Dawkins is, based on the dictionary definition, a sexist, but so what? Is that good for anything other than misleading readers (and guaranteed page views)?

    • Adbge:

      Martin Luther King’s criminality (i.e., he broke the law and went to jail for it) is central to his work and it is indeed relevant to discussions of his views. He was willing to break the law as part of his political actions. Civil disobedience.

      Similarly, Wade’s racism—his repeated comments about creativity, intelligence, tribalism, and so forth of different groups—is central to his argument. Indeed, his basic approach seems to be to find an economic disparity somewhere and then decide in what way he wants to attribute it to race.

      Dawkins, I don’t know so much about. I had not heard about his sexism and I don’t know if it’a a central part of his argument or something that’s just a personal belief of his that doesn’t directly bear on his work.

      • @andrew – “Wade’s racism—his repeated comments about creativity, intelligence, tribalism, and so forth of different groups”

        that’s not racism. not even according to the merriam-webster definition you quoted.

        as i said in a blogpost in response to your slate column:

        “an individual or a group of individuals may be superior to others in certain traits such as creativity or intelligence or athletic ability or whatever, but that doesn’t necessarily make them superior to others *overall*. and it’s extremely unlikely that any one individual/group is superior to all others in all traits, so no population is the most superioriestest of all.

        “just because gelman apparently can’t hold those two thoughts in his head at the same time doesn’t mean that nicholas wade can’t. i certainly can.”

    • “Consider this sentence:

      But I think the themes of a book like Wade’s are necessarily contingent both on the era when it is written and the audience to which it is addressed.

      This is not an argument only against Wade’s book but, it seems to me, a fairly damning critique of the social sciences generally. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a field that isn’t open to this dismissal, except perhaps physics and mathematics.”

      Actually, it applies to physics too. Physics only works for what we’ve observed so far.

  12. We don’t hear much these days about the Celtic, Gallic, Teutonic, and Slavic races, but these used to be a big deal. Now that Europe as a whole is relatively prosperous, Wade can lump “the West” into a single category.

    No, you are doing that. You actually can’t do that in reality, as seen here and here.

    Did you see my comment to you, which you can see in full here? I would hope so. If so though, it is unfortunate you wouldn’t consider mine one of the more interesting you received.

    • Jay:

      It’s not me who was talking about “the West,” it was Wade. He really does lump “the West” into a single category. At first he talks a lot about Caucasians but at some point he dismisses South Asians and Middle Easterners. I don’t recall him ever being precise about what is the West. Clearly it includes England and I assume Germany and France, I’m not sure if Russia and Italy and Iberia and central and southeastern Europe get included. But I assume ancient Greece and Rome get grandfathered in.

      Also, I hadn’t seen your comment earlier but I just read it. Regarding the tone of my review (you wrote, “The tone of Gelman’s review sounds overall approving of Wade to me”), I wouldn’t say I’m approving of Wade but I do get the sense that he is intelligent, thoughtful, and sincere. Nonetheless, as I wrote in my review, I think his arguments are highly contingent on the time he is writing and the audience he is writing for. He’s taking today’s economic disparities and then sticking them into his racial framework. To me, the results, statements such as claiming east Asians are intelligent but not creative, are as laughable as earlier claims about the French race and the German race and so on. I think it’s very natural to try to explain differences between countries as resulting from differences in individual characteristics—I suspect that racism is always going to be one of our go-to explanations of group differences—and some of these explanations may well be correct—but I don’t find Wade’s arguments convincing, in large part because they are so time- and audience-bound, that in different settings the arguments could go in different ways.

      • I appreciate your willingness to engage. (That might speak to my experience on this matter.) I have Wade’s book – I have advanced copy, but I haven’t made my way through it yet. Of what I have read, I find that he does get some things wrong. Some of that is inevitable, but I think a popularizer needs to be as accurate as possible about the details.

        Nonetheless, as I wrote in my review, I think his arguments are highly contingent on the time he is writing and the audience he is writing for. He’s taking today’s economic disparities and then sticking them into his racial framework.

        Allow me to quote Chuck on this one:

        “Put it this way – Gelman is saying that if people since say, 1890 had applied Wade’s genetic explanations for the fortunes of nations at each point, then we wouldn’t see the theories converging on anything.”

        We are working on a paper in which we show that a large chunk of the global variance in the 2014 “Social Progress Index” (50 some measures) and GDP (“the fortune of nations”) can be explained by 1800s cognitive ability. See here for the correlations between national cognitive ability from the 1800s, early 1900s, and 2000s. So, in short, you’re wrong. If someone in the 1800s applied a HBD perspective, they would have correctly predicted much about our current world.

        (emphasis mine)

        Or, for that matter, you can see a paper reviewed by me that finds much the same:

        “Racial Reality” Provides My 150th Post | JayMan’s Blog

        I suspect that racism is always going to be one of our go-to explanations of group differences—and some of these explanations may well be correct

        Now I took issue to that in my comment to you on Slate, and you have repeated here. You really are going to proclaim that believing in heritable group differences – which you yourself admit may well be correct – is racism? It is racist to believe a fact about the world? I’d appreciate a yes or no answer to this question in particular.

        • Jay:

          I think Wade’s claim that east Asians are intelligent but not creative is silly, perhaps an indicator of Wade’s generation more than anything else. Back in the old days, “made in Japan” indicated that something was a piece of crap.

          And, hey, Wade’s just one guy, he’s entitled to make some mistakes. But that’s my problem with his book, it’s his personal speculations, expressed explicitly to an audience of white people, but he’s presenting it as science.

          Finally, as I wrote in my review, I’ll go with the Merriam-Webster definition, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

          Heritable group differences obviously exist. Nobody denies that many traits including skin color, height, etc etc are somewhat genetically inherited, and there seems to be little doubt that various cognitive and behavioral traits are as well. The issue is the “inherent superiority” which I do see in many of Wade’s remarks about creativity, intelligence, tribalism, and so forth. As I also wrote, I do think Wade could be correct. I don’t think racist beliefs are necessarily false. I think racism is a way of thinking about the world, it’s an approach to understanding the world in which group differences in economic and social status are explained as resulting from inherent individual-level characteristics.

        • @andrew – “But that’s my problem with his book, it’s his personal speculations, expressed explicitly to an audience of white people, but he’s presenting it as science.”

          no. not at all. you obviously didn’t read the book carefully enough:

          “Readers should be fully aware that in chapters 6 through 10 they are leaving the world of hard science and entering into a much more speculative arena at the interface of history, economics and human evolution. Because the existence of race has long been ignored or denied by many researchers, there is a dearth of factual information as to how race impinges on human society. The conclusions presented in these chapters fall far short of proof. However plausible (or otherwise) they may seem, many are speculative. There is nothing wrong with speculation, of course, as long as its premises are made clear. And speculation is the customary way to begin the exploration of uncharted territory because it stimulates a search for the evidence that will support or refute it.”

          Wade, Nicholas (2014-05-06). A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (p. 15). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

        • Hbd:

          Wade does offer many helpful qualifiers of this sort, nonetheless it is my impression that the book as a whole presents many speculative claims as if they are more science-backed than they are. For example it is in the second-to-last chapter of the book that he asserts without qualification that the business success of overseas Chinese, relate to their Malay, Thai, and Indonesian neighbors, is “genetically shaped.”

          And when he writes, “There is clearly a genetic propensity for following society’s rules and punishing those who violate them,” connecting this to differences in racial groups, that seems to me like speculation expressed as fact.

          But, overall, yes, I should give Wade credit for labeling much of his book as speculation, so it was on balance unfair of me to say he is presenting it as science. A better way for me to put it is that I am concerned that a general audience—people who might not even read the book but would hear about it, people like David Brooks—might think that this is solid science rather than speculation. But if that’s the case, I can hardly blame Wade given that most of the time he offers a disclaimer.

        • And, from an earlier point in Wade’s chapter 1 than HBD Chick quotes:

          “Since much of the material that follows may be new or unfamiliar to the general reader, a guide to its evidentiary status may be helpful. Chapters 4 and 4, which explore the genetics of race, are probably the most securely based. Although they put the reader on the forefront of current research, and frontier science is always less secure than that in the textbooks, the findings reported here draw from a large body of research by leading experts in the field and seem unlikely to be revised in any serious way. Readers can probably take the facts in these chapters as reasonably solid and the interpretations as being in general well supported.

          “The discussion of the roots of human social behavior in chapter 3 also rests on substantial research, in this case mostly studies of human and animal behavior. But the genetic underpinnings of human social behavior are for the most part still unknown. There is therefore considerably room for disagreement as to exactly which social behaviors may be genetically defined. Moreover, the whole field of research into human social behavior is both young and overshadowed by the paradigm still influential among social scientists that all human behavior is purely cultural.”

      • Any discussion of racial groups will encounter the usual advantages and disadvantages of splitting versus lumping.

        For example, the extraordinary performance in Olympic basketball of small countries from the Balkans (e.g., Croatia) and Baltic (e.g., Lithuania) has a lot to do with people growing very tall in those grimy ex-communist countries. So, splitting makes sense in that context.

        On the other hand, lumping is also convenient for many uses. By the way, Darwin appears to have originated the distinction lumpers v. splitters, just as Galton originated nature v. nurture:

  13. I recall a while back reading Razib Khan’s review of “When Histories Collide”, which was skeptical of Crotty’s claim that Ireland was unsuitable for individualistic capitalism. This was a time when people were talking about the “Celtic Tiger”. Then the crash happened and Ireland started to seem like it never really had its house in order. My experience reading it after that was quite different.

    Prof. Lynn teaches in Ireland and was apparently originally inspired by the relatively low IQ scores there. They appear to have been a big beneficiary of the “Flynn effect” since then, but haven’t closed a similar economic distance with England.

  14. There’s something about race that people can’t resist. I don’t know whether this is in Wade’s book or not, but regarding Jews, there was an intervention that more or less speaks directly to his thesis, namely, that of the decline of the Jewish population of the ancient world from 5 million to 1 million due to the requirement (post 70AD, after the destruction of the temple) of learning to read the Torah (this is outlined in “The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History”). Most Jews quit the religion rather than do this, and the ones that were left were literate in a world that was almost entirely illiterate, an attribute that served them well after the Arab conquest of the Middle East, where Jews formed the bulk of the bureaucracy of the Caliphate. Anyway, whether this is genetics (culling those who didn’t like to read) or cultural (two millenia of high levels of education) is probably unknowable (though I would lean towards the cultural, on the grounds that religious belief and educational ability are inversely correlated, but that’s my prejudice). Still, an important case study.

    Incidentally, Jews made up about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire, but clearly this numerical percent did not carry over to modern times. I mention this because the wikipedia article on “Jews” attributes this failure to multiply proportionally to various repressions throughout history (from the Romans to the Nazis). While these did of course happen, the big cutback was through the edict of the Jewish rabbinical class itself.

  15. My goodness, what a collection of responses to Andrew’s review of Wade’s book. A lot of dancing around concerning race and IQ to the point that I wonder when the first comment dealing with miscegenation and its “obvious” deleterious effect on IQ, creativity, ambition, economic well-being, etc. will pop up. Just to remind everyone, Loving v. Virginia happened in 1967, within the lifetime of many of the contributors to this blog.

    “The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison [!] in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored”. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision held this prohibition was unconstitutional, overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.”

    Once again, look at Andrew’s perspicacious comment: “the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous.” Dangerous as well.

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  17. Pingback: Roundup of Book Reviews of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance | Occam's Razor

  18. Re: Toyota

    The Japanese auto companies, especially Toyota, made a big deal about how dependent they were upon an American statistician: W. Edward Deming:

    Personally, I’ve always suspected the Japanese poormouth their own creativity to not provoke American protectionism. But maybe I’m being overly cynical and the Japanese really aren’t very creative, just like they’ve been claiming to not be creative my whole life. I don’t know — creativity is hard to measure well.

    • A quick look at their arts will show you that isn’t true,especially in the fields of animation, visual design, music, etc. They do love to recycle our culture and our ideas, but that’s just another form of creativity really. To be creative is to create connections between things.

      • How can you deny the creativity of classic Japanese cinema like Kurosawa and Ozu ? Even in cartoons & animation the Japanese are more creative than usually imagined. The schlock that’s widely known is selected by external demand — the graphic arts version of Godzilla as opposed to the less popular Kurosawa. There are indeed more idiosyncratic animation styles in Japan that are not so well known outside the country. For an example google “Dameoyaji” in google images.

    • I actually tend to think the Japanese poormouth their entire country and economy to avoid more aggressive American pushing of “multiculturalism”.

      A stagnant Japan that isn’t doing so well isn’t a blatant disproof of the value of diversity.,

      A clean prosperous safe Japan is. Much better for no one to really think too hard about Japan.

      • The amount of intellectual contortion in that argument is spectacular. You really think the Japanese care so much whatever happens to the thesis of multiculturalism?!

        • The Japanese don’t give a whit about the thesis of multiculturalism.

          The United States sure does and will work damn hard to destroy your country if you show it up too noticeably.

          South Africa, Rhodesia…

        • US destroyed SA for not having multiculturalism?! That’s just crazy. That’s like saying people hated Hitler because he was a teetotaler.

          And for the record, it wasn’t just the US!

  19. I think the key point is that Wade wants to have it both ways. By invoking genes and culture he is able to explain rapid shifts (because culture can change on something other than a multi-generational time scale) and yet imply (using genes) that there’s some kind of permanence to the arrangements.

    There’s a great piece in the book “The Swerve” where the author quotes a Vatican functionary travelling in Germany. We have an Italian marvelling at the carefree, lazy, laid-back, pleasure seeking life and character of Germans. Comparing it to the high-strung, perfectionist workaholic Romans.

    The British conquered the planet – the shipbuilders of the Tyne and Clyde were renowned for hard work and quality. Now those regions are the new Detroits, full of lazy bums…

      • He wants it both ways in that he wants to use mutability when it suits him, but imply long term effects when it suits him, without explaining his mechanisms and models.

        • All understandings of history include mutability and long term effects whose mechanisms are generally not well explained. Wade’s interest in Darwinian selection as one mechanism offers more hope for specifying models that can be falsified or validated than most other approaches.

  20. Jacques Barzun, the late, great Columbia scholar described “race” as a 19th c invention in Race: A Study in Superstition. This was true when he first wrote it in 1937, and it’s just as true today. Epigenetics aside, the unspooling of the skein of the genome has effectively abolished it. It just takes some time for everybody to catch up with this.

      • Sailer, you have to descend from your faux-superior stratosphere to make whatever point it is that you are trying to make have a point.

        To many statistically minded people, the stereotypes of race amount to little more than model overfitting and the narcissisms of small differences — distinctions that seem trivial but are the obsessive concern of bigots everywhere in talking about the “other” — the focus of their hatred — whether by racists, religious fanatics or rigid propagandists for ideology and belief. It’s all contemptibly familiar bullshit, played out in myriad forms across space and time. One might feel pity for the progenitors of this nonsense but for the realities of the misery that is inflicted as a consequence and the despicable lies, rationalizations and patent falsehoods that are advanced to justify that misery.

        • Take a look at today’s New York Times: how many articles not written by Nicholas Wade deal with questions of race: ten? twenty? Isn’t it time we tried to understand this topic of obvious broad interest more scientifically?

  21. Pingback: Sentence of the day | NYU Stern Economics

  22. That’s just abject nonsense. (1) Even Charles Murray in The Bell Curve cited a range of heritability estimates for IQ between 0.4 and 0.8 and worked with the median figure of 0.6 — which most hereditarians would consider pretty low for developed countries (for any heritable trait, which is almost all). (2) Heritability is lower in worse environments and higher in better environments. Thus even the most hereditarian of hereditarians would give a lower estimate for Africa than for African-Americans. Third, there is almost nobody, not even the most hardcore hereditarians, who would dispute that malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency & high childhood disease loads lower IQ. (3) Consistent with the previous observation, the correlation between growth rates and IQ is <0.6. (4) It's true that most hereditarians would argue that while the lowest IQs in the world might move up when the worst environmental degradations are removed, there is probably a lower ceiling on potential IQ for some groups than others. What, exactly, is inconsistent with that view ? (5) Last : IQ is an excellent measure of human capital, see the ungated version of the paper from above

  23. I have just read the full article in Slate. If you want to know why some societies are different from others you need to read “The Explanation of ideology” by Emmanuel Todd. This is an anthropological text. There you will find out why Walloons and the Flemish population of Belgium don’t get on too well. It’s for exactly the same reason that Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland don’t get on. The same reasons the Basques and some Scots want independence. It’s the reason why the Czechs and Slovaks had a divorce. It’s the same reason why Germany in 1800 comprised over 300 separate political entities whilst England had been a single country since 950. It’s the same reason that Europe has so many countries whilst China, the same size as Europe, is a single country but never managed to absorb Korea. Wade has confused cause and effect in believing that the Chinese accept authority because they had a long line of authoritarian leaders. You will find potential authoritarian leaders in any society. In England they were swatted away by a society that valued liberty. In China, and Germany, and Japan, and and and ….. they were welcomed with open arms because that’s what society wanted. Society’s needs come first, the type of government comes second. Todd explains all this and much more.

  24. @ Andrew Gelman

    I think I have a somewhat interesting quote concerning your “But I assume ancient Greece and Rome get grandfathered in.” from an above comment of yours. But it seems a bit off-topic w/r/t the main topic, so please feel free to delete it.

    The quote comes from the book “The Egyptology” (“Die Aegyptologie”) by the 19th century Austrian egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch who had this to say in the chapter “The Egyptian Race” (“Die Aegyptische Rasse”) – translation is mine, as is all the bad English (I have already quoted this in another context somewhere):

    “Afrika is the home country of a black native population, and though immigration of lightskinned races (of the red, yellow, and white ones) to the eastern and northern countries of the great continent did already push back the indigenous N.* population toward the interior [of the continent] from the earliest times on, or mixed with N.* blood, the general home right of the blacks is in no way affected by this. Even though there is an attempt to view Egyptians as degenerated N., any historical proof that might serve as a backup for this desccendence is lacking. The view propagated by the elders and commonly held in the past that the Egyptians were a colony of the priest state of Meroe, hardly needs any more refutation, as the foundation of this state by semitic-hamitic immigrants belongs to the most recent history of Egypt. The foundations of this state were borrowed from Egyptian models, after the pharaonic reign in Kush was broken at about the beginning of the 11th century B.C., and a new empire under indigenous priest kings of kushitic origin was created from its ruins. After these lines were already finished [literally: were already finished in the sentence], I received R. Virchov’s valuable treatise “The mummies of the kings in the museum of Bulaq” [reference omitted]. The studies undertaken by the famous anthropologist on the mummies of Egyptian kings showed “that in the form of the bodies of these outstanding personalities there is not a single trait that would evoke even remotely the admixture of N. blood.” He adds, “If we didn’t know which personalities we are concerned with, we’d have no concerns to recognize the similarity of these mummies’ heads with European heads. Even though the deformation that necessarily accompanies the desiccation might seem highly defacing and even more so scary, there is without any doubt a certain a trait of kinship in these faces. One can concede that civilization plays a role in the assimilation of persons. It blurs [in the sense of: removes] the character of wildness, it refines the forms, especially of the bones, and gives a more noble appearance to the [facial] traits. All this fits with the heads of the kings, but certainly they do not owe their appearance solely to the fact that they belonged to an educated people with milder customs; without any doubt, there is in their distinctiveness a feature of race. And even though one might not call it a European one, not even an Aryan, one can go to such lengths as did Blumenbach with his Caucasian race, or some of the more recent [researches] with the postulation of a Mediterranean [mittelländisch] race.”

    *As a principle, I do not spell out or use the N. word other than in direct quotes. Here, it is complicated by the question if it corresponds to the German cognate. I am not a native speaker of English, but it is my impression that the English version is more violently racist in its connotations than the German one. Which is not to say that the German expression is not clearly pejorative – it is, and (for an example) a survey of Africans in Vienna showed that they clearly disapprove of the notion (in Erwin Ebermann: Afrikaner in Wien”).

    Some comments:

    a) If I understand you correctly, you prefer to see these conceptualizations of the world in terms of races not so much as non-scientific in the Popperian sense, but rather as programmatic (as in Lakatos). I am not sure what Lakatos would say, but I think that concerning concepts that cannot be directly refuted or verified, a look into the historic track record of the program might be informative. Here, it is interesting how we have ideas “proved” by phrenological studies resemble modern ideas about how certain character features (i.e. the putatively extraordinary characters of Egyptian kings) correspond to concepts of races. Also, it seems to me that those loose references to “blood” and admixture of “N. blood” could almost directly be replaced by “genes” to make the more or less same ideas acceptable in current discussions about race (see, for example, the ideas out there how the IQs of African-Americans are in between white Americans as black Africans because of the admixture of whites). Repeating the same stuff with different notions might be at least a warning sign that one is rather trapped in a world view than one is following cutting-edge research.

    b) Perhaps I should note that IMO the reference to Blumenbach clearly establishes that the author is not some fierce race monger (as the fact that he is Austrian at about the end of the 19th century might suggest). Blumenbach DID have a theory about the degeneration of races, but the degeneration was first and foremost an esthetical degeneration, and he explicitly was opposed to the idea that this degeneration implied any moral inferiority. Without any doubt, Brugsch could have found plenty of theories along these lines if he had wanted to. That he referred to Blumenbach shows that this was not his intention. Which, again, makes the quoted passage interesting w/r/t current discussions.

    c) Ancient Egypt has long been a point of contention when it comes to the question where it belongs to. Specifically, I’d note that it plays a significant role in pan-African ideas as they developed partly as an answer to colonialism. Most famously, I think, it was Cheihk Anta Diop who claimed Ancient Egypt as an African civilization – meaning that not it not only constitutes a basis for an African notion of culture, but that it was itself formed from Africa. Well-known claims involve his insistence that the Pharaohs were black, and that there is a kinship genealogical relation between the Egyptian language and most (if not all) other African languages (he claimed such a relationship specifically between Egyptian and Wolof, see the second volume of UNESCO’s “General History of Africa” where he has a chapter along these lines. I do not think that linguists take this idea seriously (Egyptian and Wolof are not even the same language family, and Théophile Obange who argues for similar language kinships is rather ridiculed at). And following Barry Kemp’s “Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization”, I gather that questions concerning the Pharaohs’ skin color are a piece of microgenetical information that is simply lost in history. But again, you have here examples Europeans and Africans who both think that Ancient Egypt is an important foundation of their perceived cultural heritage (as it might well be) and who argue – as a consequence – along a racial view concerning the population (or at least the kings) of this civilization.

    d) Brugsch gets the stuff about Meroe half right, half wrong. Right in that Egypt was certainly not a colony of Meroe and also much, much older than Meroe. Right also in that Egypt had a huge influence on Meroe. Wrong in that it was not the Pharaonic reign above Kush that was broken, but the reign of a “kushitic” (or “Nubian”) Dynasty of Pharaohs over the whole of Kush and Egypt that was broken. I.e. there was a Dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs starting with Piankhy (or Kashta, it’s somewhat complicated) that actually originated from Kush, the “black Pharaohs”. Now, it’s not that Brugsch ignored this, but rather that this simply was not known when he wrote his book. Still, I’d be interested in how he’d update his conceptualisation of the “Egyptian race” knowing that there is scant evidence for “Caucasian” Pharaohs (that is, apart from phrenological gobbledygook and some talk about “blood”), but a plausible claim that there has been at least a Dynasty of black ones.

    e) I don’t exactly know what to make of the claim that culture has an influence on appearance. Anyway, the idea that the Ancient Egyptian people was ‘educated’ is a strange one. What we see today as Ancient Egypt are largely the remains of a tiny educated class. For example, in “Personal Identity and Social Power in New Kingdom and Coptic Egypt,” (BAR International Series 2031 (2009)), Mary Horbury states that no more than 1 percent of the Ancient Egyptians were literate. But also note that Brugsch isn’t in fact interested in Egyptians so much as in their kings. It seems plausible to me that the idea that – whatever the people – the elite (the “outstanding characters” of the kings) must be at least somewhat European (Caucasian, Mediterranean, or whatever) rather than African, fits perfectly into a more general idea during European imperialism that those wild tribes everywhere in Africa need European leaders to be slowly guided into civilization. But there is simply not enough information in the quote for such a broad conclusion. Still, people viewing the human beings through concepts of races might be interested in the history of such claims – and specifically in instants of their wrongness or lack of actual evidence (i.e. concerning the Pharaohs).

    f) Speaking of an Austrian Egyptologist and Egyptian kings, what do you think about the new Queen of Austria who yesterday won the Eurovision Song Contest, Miss Conchita Wurst?

    Here is a link to Brugsch’ book:

  25. Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist or a biologist, so I may be wildly off the mark.

    – Since the discussion seems to be mostly about intelligence, should we not take the longer view and note that IQ scores in Sub-Saharan Africa are not in fact much different from European scores from earlier eras, when Europeans also used to grow up in cognitively simpler environments? Many articles such as Wicherts et al (2010) point out that scores from Sub-Saharan African countries are comparable to what you would have found in the UK and other European countries circa 1950. Surely, post-WW2 Europe was not a cognitive wasteland with barely functioning institutions.
    – Do we have evidence that, as far as intelligence, industriousness, etc. are concerned, different groups truly faced different selective pressures? I understand that some have suggested that this is what happened to European Jews. That’s a plausible (if just-so) story. But do we know for a fact that people in, say, France, faced greater selective pressures for intelligence than people in Mali? Or is the alleged difference due to other factors (founder effects, etc.)? Or is it just a black box (“people in country X have higher IQs than in country Y, and therefore they must have better genes”)?
    – I find it disingenuous for people to claim that, if proven true, these claims will not lead to some groups being considered superior to others. We all know that when we say that some people are more intelligent, industrious, creative, etc. than others, we mean that they’re better than them in a way that is very relevant to participation in economic and political life. If you’re convinced that most Blacks are bordering mental retardation and are genetically predisposed to do so, then taking away their civil rights and having “literacy tests” sounds more attractive (after all, do we let children vote? And it’s to their own benefit since they don’t know what’s good for them.). It’s not difficult to find sources that clearly show that these “differences” are really about ranking the “races”. E.g. It’s not hard to imagine what would happen if that kind of chart were in wider use. That doesn’t mean the claims are not true, but promoting the idea that some ethnic groups are systematically inferior when it comes to a trait that is considered essential in a society usually seems to lead to discrimination against this group.

    • “But do we know for a fact that people in, say, France, faced greater selective pressures for intelligence than people in Mali?”

      They faced different selection pressures. See John Reader’s “Africa: Biography of a Continent” for an eye-opening account of how very few parts of Africa ever went through what Wade calls “the Malthusian wringer” due to tropical disease burden and competition with wild animals such as elephants that kept the population well below the carrying capacity of the land. Reader even finds an island in Lake Victoria with lower disease burden and no wildlife competition. The local economic culture on the island — high density intensive farming — resembles that of, say, southeast Asia more than most of the rest of Africa.

      In general, Americans know remarkably little about Africa. We are supposed to believe that black history began in 1619 on the docks in Jamestown, when there are in reality major continuities between African and African-Americans.

  26. I just wanted to point out, using simple economic facts, one of the reasons that American cars seemed so bad in the 1970s, as Andrew correctly states. You need to remember that the price of gasoline skyrocketed in the 1970s (Arab oil embargo and all that). Japan and Europe were used to high gasoline prices (think taxes) and produced cars made to get good mileage. American producers were used to low gas prices and made cars that fit that mode. When gas prices surged (and the government imposed mileage standards on cars) American producers were not equipped to produce high quality gas sipping cars. And in their rush to change the nature of their cars they came out with lots of clunkers. You also need to remember that GM dominated the market and was very close to a antitrust prosecution for many years. If GM they got too efficient (in the 50s or 60s) and knocked out American Motors or Chrysler they would have been in trouble. So they had incentives to become less efficient (since foreign competition was not really something they worried about or Antitrust authorities would have taken seriously).
    That does not explain why Japanese cars are more reliable than European or American cars at this point in time. But it does explain the low quality of American cars in the 70s and early 80s.When gas prices came down, American SUVs were king.

  27. Andrew, one of the things that you forgot to mention in your review is that we’ve seen this all before. In the doldrums of the early 1990’s, we got ‘The Bell Curve’. I bet that in the next deep economic crisis, we’ll get yet another pile of steaming BS.

  28. Andrew says:


    Toyota copied when it made sense economically to do so, and they innovated when it made sense economically to do so. As I wrote in my above post, it seems a lot more fruitful to explain economic behavior via economics rather than pulling out racial stereotypes.”

    Just as **everybody** did. I’ve heard that since the UK industrialized, no country has industrialized without both (a) erecting trade barriers, and (b) shamelessly stealing any and all intellectual ‘property’.

    For example, the New England textile industry got started with a tour of English mills by a US engineer with a photographic memory.

    • Right, although I would argue that the Japanese invention of just-in-time manufacturing is an epochal accomplishment. Yet, the Japanese generally attribute it, at least in English language publications, to the American Edward Deming. Whether they are just pulling our legs is beyond my capacity to determine.

  29. It is astonishing that no-one has made this point, but if the map of world GDP etc looks vaguely (very vaguely, handwaving a lot of important stuff like China and India and Argentina and Sweden and Russia) similar to one from 1901, this is what you would expect if rich and powerful countries tried to stay that way. Rich and powerful organisations and families do, and so do individuals. They don’t have perfect success, but they do better than evens. Why would you expect anything different with nations? (As a kicker to this, someone upthread pointed out that it doesn’t really hold water to say that Europe industrialised because of empire. There is truth to the idea that empire didn’t hugely benefit the imperialist, but you also need to deal with the degree to which it harmed the colonised.)

    Another important point is that if you actually believe in “human biodiversity” rather than racism, you’d surely be interested in correlations with genetic differences other than the canonical set of “races”. This is the flip of Andrew’s point that racism overfits its data; as well as trying to force race to explain literally everything, it insists that everything be explained by the selection of races you can easily insult on a subway train. If there isn’t a commonly used slur for it in the English language, they’re not interested.

    We know that intragroup genetic diversity is actually usually higher than intergroup, so why limit yourself? Why, given the enormous power of the biostatistics toolset to play with, would you insist on defining your terms of reference on the basis of “which offensive caricatures sold well to illiterates 130 years ago”? If you think you’re doing genetics, why even care about these loose, waffly, politicised, unscientific notions? Isn’t that, in a word, stupid?

    The answer, the obvious, obvious answer: you’re not practising science or anything close to science, you’ve already decided your answer, now you’re looking for a justification. I see the closest analogue to HBD as being PIE, the Paedophile Information Exchange. People who, for whatever reason, have a serious problem that makes them unacceptable to society, desperately trying to justify themselves by patching together bits and pieces of other, better, people’s work into a pseudo-scientific ink cloud.

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  34. White Americans are obsessed with calling other white Americans racist. It appears to be irresistible. A feedback loop of sorts: if someone points out that we’re spending an awful lot of time & energy insulting each other and attributing the most vicious motivations to our fellows, then that provides an even juicier opportunity to assert the wickedness and racist racism of our fallen brethren. “Why shouldn’t I do the decent thing and lambast racist fascist supremacists? Are you suggesting we go easy on hateful, vile race-bigots? What are you, a Klansman? I’ve caught one! I’ve caught one!”

  35. ”””U.S. auto executives were making tons of money producing the same sort of cars over and over”””

    Complacency. Lack of innovation. Lack of progress. A reason why tenure shouldn’t exist? I’ve read papers from XXX statisticians and they’re running a Gibbs sampler for 30,000 iterations without any evidence of model evaluation/checking (evident by choice of priors), with extremely diffuse “non informative” priors, and they’re reporting results like it’s the truth. And my only thought is, “you’re a tenured professor at a top university?”. You don’t need a PhD to know that much. Also, not may be it’s only funded academics that have the privilege to let a sampler run for that long. Reasons like that are why I was “fired” from one job.

    Contrary, Japanese automakers got successful because they had a desire/perhaps necessity to be successful.

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