Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

A Gentle Look at Race, Evolution and Genetics: Nicholas Wade's Elevation of Science over Ideology

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

A Gentle Look at Race, Evolution and Genetics: Nicholas Wade's Elevation of Science over Ideology

Article excerpt

Although science is a serious matter and deserves the esteem it enjoys for its application of high and diligent intellect, it is appropriate to see it as a form of human activity. Because it is conducted by human beings, a sociological understanding of it is not out of order. It is even possible to take a satirical view of it. If Jonathan Swiftand Francois Voltaire were alive today, they could look down with detachment, as Swifthad Gulliver do with the Lilliputians, and spot some things that are out of whack, even hilarious.

Much humor comes from a quick revelation of an incongruity that people have accepted without question. It's like the unexpected springing of a punchline. Extended study would no doubt reveal a number of incongruities within the world scientific community during recent decades, but the one we will focus on here has to do without something quite ridiculous: the simultaneous enthusiasms for two opposites. With a twinkle in their eyes, Swiftand Voltaire could revel in the inconsistency and even hypocrisy, bringing to light once again the foibles that mark our benighted species.

They could start by noting how thoroughly Evolution has come to be accepted, not just as theory but as fact, about the development of all living things. They might then remember how scandalized the world intellectual community was a few years back by the Lysenko Affair when in 1948 the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences endorsed biologist Trofim D. Lysenko's theory that an organism passes environmentally-acquired properties on to the next generation. The Academy's (and Stalin's) imprimatur led to the suppression of Mendel's theory of heredity-through-genes in the Soviet Union as representing "bourgeois science." This suppression lasted there until the mid-1960s. Most of us won't see much funny about that grim time, but a skilled satirist can make even the bloodiest subject, like the Lisbon earthquake in Voltaire's Candide, the subject of a cosmic joke.

Gulliver, looking down on today's scientists as though they were the Lilliputians, would marvel at how advanced they are with their science of evolution, and how appropriate their feelings were about the scandal over the Lysenko matter. When, however, he sees that all of that earnest truth-seeking is offset by a simultaneous line of thought held by a well-nigh universal consensus that ignores abundant evidence, denies evolution, and is born out of ideological predilection and political correctness, he'll break into a broad grin and say, "Ha! There's a foible. Pure silliness!"

What is this incongruent line of thought? It is the insistence that "there has been no recent human evolution and that races do not exist." In his 2014 book A Troubled Inheritance, Nicholas Wade, a New York Times science advisor and writer, reports the view that "there are no races, there are only genetic gradients, or clines," with the corollary that "the clustering of individuals into races [is] an artifact." He writes that "it has long been convenient for social scientists to assume that human evolution ground to a halt in the distant past," and quotes from a proclamation by the American Anthropological Association that "race is about culture, not biology." "The social scientists' official view of race is designed to support the political view that genetics cannot possibly be a reason why human societies differ - the answer must lie exclusively in differing human cultures and the environment that produced them." Led by social anthropologist Franz Boas, the "leading social science organizations" have long embraced this view.

It is a position enforced by academic gatekeepers - the editors and reviewers who decide what ideas pass muster for inclusion in prestigious journals and books. The result is that a set of ideas can become fixed, so that change is long resisted. Wade makes this comparison: "For 50 years after it was first proposed, leading geophysicists strenuously resisted the idea that the continents have drifted across the face of the globe. …

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