A Troublesome Book on Inheritance

With organizing a conference this week, I haven’t had time yet to read Nicholas Wade’s new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, but the reviews are kind of stunning. Here’s one from Slate. Basically, genetics has proven that blacks are dumber than whites and whites are dumber than Asians, and those left-wing humanities baddies are trying to suppress these uncomfortable truths.

Oooooh, I haven’t heard such trenchant criticism since…The Bell Curve.


13 thoughts on “A Troublesome Book on Inheritance”

    • Thanks. I knew the book was out and was already planning a longer piece–but it was that io9 article that made me think I had to at least log in on the book.

  1. Don’t forget IQ and the Wealth of Nations, by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen.


    A related paper by same authors sums it: http://www.rlynn.co.uk/uploads/pdfs/Intelligence%20and%20the%20Wealth%20and%20Poverty%20of%20Nations.pdf

    Remember that both above were written before major economic improvements in former USSR countries and South Korea. It would be very interesting to see the statistics using today’s GDP figures.

  2. While the fighting rages there is something in these books we should not overlook. There really are disparities in measured IQ and with it success. We need to ask what can be done about it. Clearly it is to everyone’s advantage when people are more intelligent and more successful. Where nature fails nurture can succeed. I’m an engineer, but I’m told there are many studies showing stimulation can raise IQ well above genetic expectations. How to get parents trained in stimulation and their participation is an issue for social work.

    • I’m not actually sure about your axiom. Paul Tough, for example, suggests that “grit” and determination are better predictors of academic success than intelligence.

      Would humanity be better off if we focused on our biology or if we focused on our humanity?

      • I agree that IQ alone can not predict academic success for individuals. Medical problems, study habits (grit and determination), social skills, all affect outcome. But again this is not about individual results. This is about large samples and correlation of “success” with IQ. I don’t think one has to go very far to see that IQ is a predictor for academic success. The Bell Curve attempts to study this with tact assumption that environmental effects are the same across sample groups. The bell curve distribution of IQ in a group shows how many in the group have the IQ necessary for academic success. And it also explains how social problems associated with low IQ affect some groups disproportionately.

        The tact assumption that environment is the same across social groups could undercut the above. That gets into the thorny issue of racial culture. For example the assertion that Asian cultures emphasize school work. Making them more successful academically. And possibly higher average IQ due to more stimulation. But woe to anyone who suggests that black culture has lower emphasis on school work. With lower academic success. And possibly lower IQ due to lower stimulation. No one in their right mind would dare publish such a study.

        We can not fix a problem if in denial that the problem exists.

  3. Stimulation improves IQ of young children. This leads to possibilitg that low IQ results from low stimulation due to poverty. Low IQ can lead to poverty and the cycle continues. Statistics used in these books are probably accurate but cannot establish cause and effect.

  4. It is rather ironic that you posted an image of Bell Curve since Murray’s review in the Wall Street Journal, I think, ignited this particular brush fire around this book. I recommend the review since it displays just about every eugenic dream and bit of genetic misinformation in one easily digested space. The best bits are those telling the readers that critics, such as those who disagree with genetic determinism, are simply politically correct fools. See WSJ05/02/2014 http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303380004579521482247869874?KEYWORDS=Charles+Murray&mg=reno64-wsj

    Sample paragraph: Mr. Lewontin turns out to have been mistaken on several counts, but the most obvious is this: If he had been right, then genetic variations among humans would not naturally sort people into races and ethnicities. But, as Mr. Wade reports, that’s exactly what happens. A computer given a random sampling of bits of DNA that are known to vary among humans—from among the millions of them—will cluster them into groups that correspond to the self-identified race or ethnicity of the subjects. This is not because the software assigns the computer that objective but because those are the clusters that provide the best statistical fit. If the subjects’ ancestors came from all over the inhabited world, the clusters that first emerge will identify the five major races: Asians, Caucasians, sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans and the original inhabitants of Australia and Papua New Guinea. If the subjects all come from European ancestry, the clusters will instead correspond to Italians, Germans, French and the rest of Europe’s many ethnicities. Mr. Lewontin was not only wrong but spectacularly wrong. It appears that the most natural of all ways to classify humans genetically is by the racial and ethnic groups that humans have identified from time out of mind.

    • So what is the problem with the quoted paragraph? This is purely a technical issue. What happens when random samples are sorted by a program. A program that knows nothing about a sample’s history. If the sorted results are mated with the self identified race and racial groupings observed then that is just the way it is.

      Look at it this way, take pictures of people. Show only a patch of skin. Sort into several colar groups. Now mate the pictures with self identified ancestry. I’m certain there will be far more people of African ancestry in the darkest colored group than those with European ancestry. This result has nothing to do with racial views or prejudice. It is sorting by genetic expression of genes.

  5. My example of sorting by just skin color alone could produce an interesting grouping. The darkest skinned group could include a number of people with Indian heritage. I do not know if this is a result of migration from Africa or parallel evolution.

    The history of human migration points to shared ancestry farther back than self identification. For example the Indo-European migration. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_migrations So DNA studies like A Troublesome Inheritance may actually bring people together.

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