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BIOLOGICAL RACE AND THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN DIVERSITY

Is biological race a mere myth or a troublesome fact better left unexplored? Some might suggest that, properly conceived, race is neither fable nor farce but rather a potential windfall for both science and society.

Some would see any notion of “race” recede unceremoniously into the dustbin of history, taking its ignominious place alongside the likes of phlogiston theory, Ptolemaic geocentricism, or perhaps even the Iron Curtain or Spanish Inquisition. But race endures, in one form or another, despite its obnoxious—though apparently captivating—dossier.

In 1942, anthropologist Ashley Montagu declared biological race “man’s most dangerous myth,” and, since then, most scientists have consistently agreed (Montagu 1942). Nevertheless, to most Americans in particular, heritable race seems as obvious as the colors of their neighbors’ skins and the textures of their hair. So too have a determined minority of researchers always found cause to dissent from the professional consensus.

Here, I recount the latest popular skirmish over the science of race and attempt to reveal a victor, if there be one. Is biological race indeed a mere myth, as the academic majority has asked us to concede for more than seven decades? Is it instead a scandalously inconvenient truth—something we all know exists but, for whatever reasons, prefer not to discuss in polite company? Or is it possible that a far less familiar rendition of biological race could prove not only viable but both scientifically and socially valuable as well?

RACE REVIVED

“The productive questions pertain to how races came to be and the extent to which racial variation has significant consequences with respect to function in the modern world.”

I have no reason to believe that Nicholas Wade, longtime science editor and journalist, is a racist, if “racist” is to mean believing in the inherent superiority of one human race over any other. In fact, he expressly condemns the idea. But in the more limited and hopefully sober context of the science of race, Wade is a veritable maverick. Indeed, his conclusions that biological human races (or subspecies, for these purposes) do exist, and conform generally to ancestral continental regions, appear remarkably more consistent with those of the general public.

In his most recent and certainly controversial book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, Wade immediately acknowledges that the vast majority of both anthropologists and geneticists deny the existence of biological race (Wade 2014). Indeed, “race is a recent human invention,” according to the American Anthropological Association (2008), and a mere “social construct,” per the American Sociological Association (2003). First to decode the human genome, Craig Venter was also quick to announce during his White House visit in 2000 that “the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.”

But academics especially are resistant to biological race, or the idea that “human evolution is recent, copious, and regional,” Wade contends, because they fear for their careers in left-leaning political atmospheres and because they tend to be “obsessed with intelligence” and paralyzed by the “unlikely” possibility that genetics might one day demonstrate the intellectual superiority of one major race over others.

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Biological Race and the Problem of Human Diversity Skepticism and the Nature of the Mind The Mote in Thy Brother’s Eye Searching for the Yowie, the Down Under Bigfoot ...and much more.
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