Nicholas Wade and race: building a scientific façade

There have already been many critiques and biting reviews of Nicholas Wade’s new book, Troublesome Inheritance, which claims to show that most cultural, political, and economic differences in societies around the world is actually the result of racial difference. This response very usefully explains how his most basic premise–that the concept of ‘race’ accurately and usefully describes human biological variation–is untrue.

Violent metaphors

“…for he has no right to give names to objects which he cannot define.” –Charles Darwin

Do “races” exist as meaningful biological categories? Physical anthropologists and human biologists have been studying race (i.e., blacks vs. whites, or Europeans vs. Asians) for centuries. For most of that time, they subscribed to the perspective that race was a taxonomic category, and they sought to identify the biological characteristics (such as cranial shape or skin color) that characterized and defined these different groups. This perspective assumed that each individual was a member of a single racial category, that the differences between racial categories were biological, and that these categories were predictive of other traits (such as ancestry, temperament, intelligence, or health).

But it gradually became clear that this understanding was not scientifically sound. Groupings of people by skin color did not produce the same result as groupings of people by skull shape…

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