h. allen orr thinks that nicholas wade should’ve tread more carefully in A Troublesome Inheritance:

“There is, however, another distinction that Wade doesn’t seem to appreciate at all. He’s right that political sensitivities shouldn’t distort scientific truth: the facts are the facts. But as Pinker notes, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be particularly careful when discussing race. History has shown that this is an especially dangerous subject, one that has resulted in enormous abuses. There is nothing unscientific about recognizing this and treading carefully.”

sometimes i think i must’ve read a different version of the book than all these reviewers. here’s an excerpt [kindle edition pgs. 71-72]:

“Races are a way station on the path through which evolution generates new species. The environment keeps changing, and organisms will perish unless they adapt. In the course of adaptation, different variations of a species will emerge in conditions where the species faces different challenges. These variations, or races, are fluid, not fixed. If the selective pressure that brought them into being should disappear, they will merge back into the general gene pool. Or, if a race should cease to interbreed with its neighbors through the emergence of some barrier to reproduction, it may eventually become a separate species.

“People have not been granted an exemption from this process. If human differentiation were to continue at the same pace as that of the past 50,000 years, one or more of today’s races might in the distant future develop into a different species. But the forces of differentiation seem now to have reversed course due to increased migration, travel and intermarriage.

“Races develop within a species and easily merge back into it. All human races, so far as is known, have the same set of genes. But each gene comes in a set of different flavors or alternative forms, known to geneticists as alleles. One might suppose that races differ in having different alleles of various genes. But, though a handful of such racially defining alleles do exist, the basis of race rests largely on something even slighter, a difference in the relative commonness, or frequency, of alleles, a situation discussed further in the next chapter.

“The frequency of each allele of a gene changes from one generation to the next, depending on the chance of which parent’s allele is inherited and whether the allele is favored by natural selection. Races are therefore quite dynamic, because the allele frequencies on which they depend are shifting all the time. A good description is provided by the historian Winthrop Jordan in his history of the historical origins of racism in the United States. ‘It is now clear,’ he writes, ‘that mankind is a single biological species; that races are neither discrete nor stable units but rather that they are plastic, changing, integral parts of a whole that is itself changing. It is clear, furthermore, that races are best studied as products of a process; and, finally, that racial differences involve the relative frequency of genes and characteristics rather than absolute and mutually exclusive distinctions.'”

i dunno, but that seems pretty careful — and reasonable — to me. i guess maybe wade could’ve been even more careful — and not publish the book at all!

also, previously: human biodiversity, racism, eugenics, and genocide

(note: comments do not require an email. treading carefully.)