[Marxism] Review of A Troublesome Inheritance | American Anthropological Association

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 16 08:02:59 MDT 2014

(The author of this review of Nicholas Wade's "A Troublesome 
Inheritance" is Jonathan Marks, an anthropologist who wrote brilliant 
take-downs of Napoleon Chagnon's memoir. Wade, a supremely annoying 
sociobiologist and NY Times science reporter, wrote a glowing review of 
the memoir. I deal with the Wade-Chagnon connections here: 

At the heart of A Troublesome Inheritance is a simple dissimulation. 
Wade repeatedly asserts that his interlocutors are mixing their politics 
with their science, but he isn't, for he is just promoting 
value-neutral, ideology-free science. And yet the primary sources for 
Wade's discussion of the history of human society are Francis Fukuyama 
and Samuel Huntington. One gets the impression that either Wade is 
lying, or he wouldn't be able to recognize ideology if looked him in the 
eye and slapped him silly.

Wade lays out his ideas about race in Chapter 5, as a rhetorical 
exercise in selective and mis-reporting. His centerpiece is a 2002 
paper, published in Science by a group led by Stanford geneticist Marcus 
Feldman, which used a computer program called Structure to cluster 
populations of the world by their DNA similarities. When they asked the 
computer to cluster peoples of the world into two groups, the computer 
gave them EurAfrica and Asia-Oceania-America. When they asked the 
computer for three groups, the computer gave them Europe, Africa, and 
Asia-Oceania-America. When they asked the computer for four groups, it 
gave them Europe, Africa, Asia-Oceania, and America. When they asked it 
for five groups, it gave them essentially the continents. And when it 
asked the computer for six, it gave them the continents and the Kalash 
people of Pakistan. (They asked the computer for up to seventeen 
clusters, but only published the results up to six.)

Wade misreported these results as validating "the five races" in the New 
York Times back in 2002. In an important edited volume from 2008 (called 
"Revising Race in a Genomic Age"), Deborah Bolnick explained the 
misinterpretation of the results from Structure, and in the same book 
the senior author of that study, Marcus Feldman, also explained those 
results quite differently than Wade does. Why, then, does Wade persist 
in this genetic misreporting? Perhaps for the same reason he persists in 
his anthropological misreporting. In Chapter 6, Wade casually explains 
that among "the Yanomamo of Venezuela and Brazil, aggressive men are 
valued as defenders in the incessant warfare between villages, and those 
who have killed in battle - the unokais -- have on the average 2.5 more 
children than men who have not killed, according to the anthropologist 
Napoleon Chagnon," citing Chagnon's 1988 paper that indeed made that 
claim. And yet, although that claim has been definitively shown to be 
bunk - that is to say, not robustly derivable from the data - Wade 
continues to repeat it, most recently in the New York Times last year. 
There is, again, a direct parallel to arguing with creationists here: 
they have their story and they will stick to it, and reality just 
doesn't matter to them.


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