Genes, Race, and Human History

Thursday, May 08, 2014

DNA molecule display (Christian Guthier/flickr)

Fewer ideas have been more toxic than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade draws on new evidence from the mapping of the genome to give an explosive new account of the genetic basis of race and its role in the human story. In A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human HistoryWade draws on the work of scientists who have made crucial breakthroughs in understanding recent human evolution.


Nicholas Wade

Comments [18]


0.2% of the population and 30% of the Nobel Prizes….

Jun. 01 2014 09:11 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Michael Hudson, your comment about my comment is asinine.
When Leonard poses the policy question at 30:08, Wade is first bewildered, then goes on to say something like 'genes that affect behavior are not immutable' and 'politicians would benefit from knowing what behavior has a genetic component, in order to focus their efforts'...These comments are not only contradictory, but they raise questions about Wade's own thoughts about 'drawing policy' from his science, and about his simplistic notions about politicians' (or anybody else') ability to parse 'genetic' vs. 'non-genetic' behavior...

May. 09 2014 10:41 AM
Michael Hudson

"Suspect. But Leonard's policy question hit it on the head. What's the point?"

Your comment is asinine.

Wade's argument is a scientific argument.
Wade's detractor's arguments are scientific arguments.

If it's ok to draw policy from Wade's detractor's science, why is it not ok to draw policy from wade's science?

May. 09 2014 02:19 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Suspect. But Leonard's policy question hit it on the head. What's the point?

May. 08 2014 11:27 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

It's hard to compare one community's "intelligence" with another's, as the reality is that there are MANY kinds of "intelligences" (plural) and that each counts in different ways in different places. As much as Nicholas Wade admires the kind of intelligence shown by the Jews, and suspects genetic origins for their unusual number of Nobel Prise winners, it's important to ask what other intelligences matter on earth.

What would America and the world be like without our musical culture's deep Black American roots, for example. I'm not "comparing lists", just offering one example. I personally think these things show that the genius at the center of any "culture" is more deeply rooted in history than we think, probably not so much "genetic", as originating in primal ideas of "how to live" that humans can only pick up straight from the deep roots of their own human cultures.

Every intelligence has it failings too, a sobering fact, just "missing" things about "how to live" that others find automatic. Consider our culture's greatest icons of intelligence, our great universities, our economy's amazingly diverse technologies and the complex and high level specializations that make them work, our great networks of highly educated, cultured and successful families. They all have a sobering acknowledgment to make these days. We are exclusively responsible for designing and managing the expert systems of the whole world, that are clearly now out of our control and running amuk.

No, it's not "intelligent" to squander the earth, but it's as clear as can be that the designs for "how to live" on earth, the "expert systems" that WE as the natural world's "experts" built and manage, are now very rapidly destroying the whole earth as welcoming place to live. Our systems are doing so by measurably ever faster progressing steps. We SAY we care and it's not our intent, but we also clearly don't even see quite where to begin to fix it.

We *ARE* like the Sorcerer's Apprentice in that way, with all our Nobel Prizes, the brilliant institutions of science and the arts they come from, the still more fabulous and impressive great towering cities and their rich cultures dotting the landscape everywhere on earth these days, none of which have any idea how to stop growing. Well, I don't know,... Who are you supposed to call for that? Ghostbusters?

May. 08 2014 02:22 PM
Frank Fourth from Harlem

@emjayay, what they were fishing for is why are more small jawed people surviving. Maybe they are fishing in the wrong pond. But to just say that they are surviving is obvious, the question is, why?

May. 08 2014 01:06 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

No, hjs, we are all humans. Asians aren't less "true" humans than Africans, and Europeans aren't less "true" humans than Asians. Homo sapien sapiens, modern humans, whatever you want to call us.

May. 08 2014 12:56 PM
Frank Fourth from Harlem

If the researchers were at the University of Utah they must be Mormons?

So if they were at the University of Minnesota they must be Lutherans?

Talk about NYC parochialism.

May. 08 2014 12:53 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

Amy, well maybe sort of on the lactose tolerance topic.

I'm no expert, but evolution happens a lot based on survival of populations in tough times. Europe happened to have animals which could be domesticated. People who started trying animal milk to get through winter or a bad harvest etc. and could tolerate lactose survived. Others didn't survive, or did survive but were not well fed enough to reproduce as much. It's more about not starving and being able to reproduce than calcium.

So today European populations are at least 80% lactose tolerant into adulthood and Asians for example are about the opposite. I think maybe there is a lot of toleration of some but not a lot, so it's not entirely a black and white issue.

May. 08 2014 12:51 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

I highly recommend the book "The Story of the Human Body" (2013) by Daniel E. Lieberman if you are interested in this general topic. Engaging, comprehensive, and incorporating recent science. I took Biological Anthropology in the 90's so I know something about the topic but this includes a lot of stuff I hadn't thought about plus updates.

May. 08 2014 12:43 PM
Dennis Dinzeo from Las Vegas, NV

What of our Neanderthal heritage..................will our Neanderthal genetic component (or lack thereof) be the basis for future racism?

May. 08 2014 12:39 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

No Leonard, our jaws are not getting smaller from not eating raw meat . And not because we aren't personally fighting each other for mates (as much) or biting other people like the guest seemed to say. How can you discuss evolution and not understand how it works at all?

If jaws are getting smaller it is because more small jawed people are surviving and mating and successfully raising children who do the same thing than larger jawed people. And I doubt that the incidence of impacted wisdom teeth is any different now than one or two thousand years ago.

May. 08 2014 12:35 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Did lactose tolerance develop in European & Semitic populations as a way to get more calcium when they didn't get as much Vitamin D from sunlight?

May. 08 2014 12:34 PM
Amy from Manhattan

My dentist at the time told me the same thing about wisdom teeth decades ago. But *Whose* jaws are shrinking? Is this happening in different populations all over the world at the same time? Since new traits like this are passed down to descendants & not across, how is it spreading? And how is it a survival advantage when impacted wisdom teeth can lead to infection & death? Is this an instance of evolution that could only happen once we had the technology to extract teeth safely?

May. 08 2014 12:30 PM
antonio from baySide

How difference is 'species' and 'race' in todays terms; Based on these findings...

Given all the exploring, conquering and willful commingling humans have demonstrated, how can we really believe any sort of purity...

Like aboriginals in Australia have some so called european traits (e.g. hair) ; Isn't that proof we have never been pure ?

May. 08 2014 12:25 PM
Jim B

Please ask the guest to clarify what he means by race, as I was under the impression that the concept of race was a cultural construct.

May. 08 2014 12:21 PM
Jim B

Please ask the guest to clarify what he means by race, as I was under the impression that the concept of race was a cultural construct.

May. 08 2014 12:19 PM

Since Asians and Europeans seem to have mated with other hominids and Africans didnt, aren't pure Africans the only true humans.

May. 08 2014 12:08 PM

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