2018-04-09 12:06:59 UTC
By MICHAEL BARONE, April 6, 2018 6:30 AM
Science may serve communities better than well-meaning peoples good
I am worried, writes Harvard geneticist David Reich in the New York
Times, that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of
substantial biological differences among human populations are digging
themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive
the onslaught of science.
Reich was responding to anticipated resistance to his forthcoming
book, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science
of the Human Past. The well-meaning people Reich references are
those who argue that race is a social construct, that there are no
significant genetic differences among people of different racial
ancestry. Maybe there are differences in appearance and other physical
traits, these people say, but there definitely arent any in
Such people responded with rage and fury to the publication in 1994 of
Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murrays book, The Bell Curve. That
book, solidly based on the then-available psychological research,
explored differences among races in intelligence as measured by
rigorous IQ tests.
Herrnstein and Murrays conclusion was that those differences are the
result of both nature and nurturegenes and environmentin as yet
unknown proportions. They predicted that research like Reichs would
provide a clearer understanding of just how much is genetic.
Reich obviously wishes to avoid the demonization endured by Murray,
who was shouted down at Middlebury College just last year. Reich is at
pains to say that his findings should not be used to justify racist
practices, such as the slave trade, the eugenics movement, and the
He also makes a point that is obvious to the ordinary person but that
heand some of his critics who wrote to the Timesthinks needs
reiteration, which is, as one reader put it, differences in
individuals vary far more widely than populations. When we are
comparing traits of people with different genetic ancestry, we are
looking at averages, such as the differences between American whites
and Asians IQ scores. (Asians, on average, are higher.) But within
the white and Asian populations, there is wide varietywhich can be
represented as a bell curve.
The assumption of well-meaning people is that ordinary Americans
arent capable of grasping this. My view is that they understand it
very well. They have learnedfrom school, from work, from everyday
life, from public eventsthat there is a wider variation within each
measured group than there is among measured groups.
To take a concrete and accurate example, they suspect that even if
blacks might on average score lower than whites on average in
intelligence tests, it does not change the fact that former president
Barack Obama is a highly intelligent person. Indeed, you can read
reams of anti-Obama commentary and look in vain for claims that he was
not smart enough to be president. . . .
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