From [Anti]Scientific American:
A new book examines the insidious effects of scientific investigations into race
By John Horgan on October 17, 2019
A dozen years ago I flew to Europe to speak at a conference on science’s limits. The meeting’s organizer greeted me with a tirade about James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix, who had just stated publicly that blacks are less intelligent than whites. “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours,” Watson told a journalist, “whereas all the testing says not really.”
At first I thought my host, a world-famous intellectual whose work I admired, was condemning Watson.
After all, what has James Watson ever done for science?
But no, he was condemning Watson’s critics, whom he saw as cowards attacking a courageous truth-teller. I wish I could say I was shocked by my host’s rant, but I have had many encounters like this over the decades. Just as scientists and other intellectuals often reveal in private that they believe in the paranormal, so many disclose that they believe in the innate inferiority of certain groups.
That 2007 incident came back to me as I read Superior: The Return of Race Science by British journalist Angela Saini (who is coming to my school Nov. 4, see Postscript). Superior is a thoroughly researched, brilliantly written and deeply disturbing book. … Saini calls “intellectual racism” the “toxic little seed at the heart of academia. However dead you might think it is, it needs only a little water, and now it’s raining.”
Saini argues that racism is implicit within the concept of race. “Race is at its heart the belief that we are born different, deep inside our bodies, perhaps even in character and intellect, as well as outward appearance,” she writes. “It’s the notion that groups of people have certain innate qualities” that can “define the passage of progress, the success and failure of the nations our ancestors came from.” Yes, that’s what Watson was saying.
Like sexism, racism is a personal topic for Saini, who is of Indian descent. …
But scientific racism–an oxymoron if ever there was one–is a relatively recent, localized phenomenon. It emerged in Europe during the so-called Enlightenment and accelerated after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
After all, what did the Enlightenment or Darwin’s Origin of Species ever do for science?
“It is no accident that modern ideas of race were formed during the height of European colonialism,” Saini writes, “when those in power had already decided on their own superiority.”
“The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling.” That was Kant. Darwin came from a family of abolitionists and was progressive for his era. He nonetheless believed, as Saini puts it, that “men were above women, and white races were above all others.” Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, supported abolition but said, “The highest reaches in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins.”
Race science has nonetheless recently re-emerged, heartening white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other bigots. Saini shows how wealthy benefactors and organizations such as the Pioneer Fund, founded in the 1930s to promote “race betterment,” have enabled this resurgence. They fund and help disseminate research—via journals such as Mankind Quarterly and websites such as Unz Review–that supposedly establishes the innate inferiority of certain races.
Those who espouse this ideology call themselves “race realists.” …
Race, as Saini shows, has always been an arbitrary way to categorize people, motivated primarily by political rather than scientific goals. Yes, some genetic markers and heritable diseases, like sickle cell anemia, tend to be associated with certain populations, a fact exploited by 23andMe and Ancestry.com and by scientists tracing human evolution. But numerous studies have revealed that there is far more genetic variation within than between races, however they are defined. A 2002 study found that 93-95 percent of the genetic variation occurs within rather than between geographically distinct populations.
Individuals within one subracial group (e.g., Swedes) tend to be about as similar to each other genetically relative to the rest of the human race as a Swedish uncle is to his Swedish nephew or a grandparent to a grandchild compared to the rest of the Swedes.
Is that a lot?
No, when compared to how similar two identical twins are. Yes, more or less, compared to most other factors in human life and society, which, as I may have mentioned once or twice, tends to be quite complicated and multi-factorial.
Given this enormous variability, it is absurd to make gross generalizations, as racists do, about the character and capabilities of certain groups. “The racial categories we are used to seeing on census forms don’t map onto the true picture of human variation,” Saini writes.
That’s why the Obama Administration trashed those old racist Census categories during its 8 years in power. Oh, wait, it didn’t do that.
She herself can be categorized as black, brown or Caucasian. The concept of race “is useless, pernicious nonsense,” geneticist Mark Thomas tells her.
David Reich, a much more productive geneticist, however, told her the opposite.
… Saini also worries about the insidious effects of identity politics and of ancestry testing, which has “helped reinforce the idea that race is real.” “Have pride in where you live or where your ancestors come from if you like,” she says, but “don’t be sucked into believing that you are so different from others that your rights have more value.”
Good luck, Angela, with your Eurasian privileged hair.
Race realists” have viciously attacked her, as she disclosed in her recent Scientific American column “The Internet Is a Cesspool of Racist Pseudoscience.” (For a similar view, see this New York Times essay, “Racists Are Recruiting. Watch Your White Sons.”)
But I believe, and hope, that Superior will provoke others, including progressives, to re-evaluate their attitudes toward race. She has certainly made me re-evaluate my views. I now see research on racial differences in an even more negative light than I once did, which I didn’t think was possible. As long as racism still infects our societies, it confounds attempts to disentangle the relative contributions of genes and environment to racial inequality.
I once suggested that, given the harm done by research on alleged cognitive differences between races, it should be banned. I stand by that proposal. I also agree with Saini that online media firms should do more to curb the dissemination of racist pseudoscience. “This is not a free speech issue,” she writes in Scientific American, “it’s about improving the quality and accuracy of information that people see online, and thereby creating a fairer, kinder society.”
Both Angela Saini and Amy Harmon are ladylike “Well! I never …” pearl-clutchers who subscribe utterly to the conventional wisdom of their era and have never had an idiosyncratic thought.