Nicholas Wade: Genes, culture, and history

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Nicholas Wade never met a genetic just-so story that he didn't like. For a partial survey, see "The hunt for the Hat Gene", 11/15/2009, where I observed that he pivots smoothly from mere over-interpretation to complete fabrication:

Nicholas Wade is an inveterate gene-for-X enthusiast — he's got 68 stories in the NYT index with "gene" in the headline — and he's had two opportunities to celebrate this idea in the past few days: "Speech Gene Shows Its Bossy Nature", 11/12/2009, and "The Evolution of the God Gene", 11/14/2009. The first of these articles is merely a bit misleading, in the usual way. The second verges on the bizarre.

Now Mr. Wade has packaged a large-scale version of this move as a book, where a somewhat tendentious account of human genetic diversity transitions into a fictional narrative proposing genetic explanations for essentially every aspect of human cultural, social, and economic history: A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, 2014.

Reviews have been predictably mixed. There have been critical ones:

Andrew Gelman, "The Paradox of Racism: Why the new book by the New York Times' Nicholas Wade is both plausible and preposterous", Slate 5/8/2014
Arthur Allen, "Charging Into the Minefield of Genes and Racial Difference", The New York Times 5/15/2014
H. Allen Orr, "Stretch Genes", The New York Review of Books 6/5/2014
Agustin Fuentes, "The Troublesome Ignorance of Nicholas Wade", The Huffington Post 5/19/2014

And enthusiastic ones:

John Derbyshire, "Nicholas Wade’s A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE—A Small, But Significant, Step For Race Realism", VDare 3/14/2014
Steve Sailer, "The Liberal Creationists", Taki's Magazine 4/30/2014
Charles Murray, "'A Troublesome Inheritance' by Nicholas Wade", The Wall Street Journal 5/2/2014
John Derbyshire, "Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: John Derbyshire Reviews The Reviews", VDare 5/11/2014

 H. Allen Orr's review notices Wade's characteristic rhetorical method:

A Troublesome Inheritance cleaves neatly into two parts. The first is a review of what recent studies of the genome reveal about our evolution, including the emergence of racial differences. The second part considers the part that genetic differences among races may play in behavior and in the social institutions embraced by various races. These two parts fare very differently. [...]

Wade’s survey of human population genomics is lively and generally serviceable. It is not, however, without error. He exaggerates, for example, the percentage of the human genome that shows evidence of recent natural selection. The correct figure from the study he cites is 8 percent, not 14, and even this lower figure is soft and open to some alternative explanation. [...] It would be unfair to suggest that these sorts of mistakes undermine Wade’s main claims in the first part of A Troublesome Inheritance. But they do suggest that he is not the surest guide to a technical literature. [...]

In the latter half of A Troublesome Inheritance, Wade ventures into far more controversial territory. His claims are, in outline, simple enough. [..]

Crucially, Wade says that “evolution in social behavior has necessarily proceeded independently in the five major races,” reflecting their geographic and thus genetic isolation. The net result of all of this, during settlement as well as other events in recent evolutionary history, is that the continental races might well come to differ genetically in social behavior. [...]

Wade devotes much of his book to showing how this evolutionary thesis can help explain all manner of differences among peoples. These include why some peoples are tribal and others modern (modern life requires, among other things, extending trust to non-kin), why some are violent and others less so, why some are poor and others rich, why some are innovative and others conformist, and so on. [...]

These are big claims and you’d surely expect Wade to provide some pretty impressive, if recondite, evidence for them from the new science of genomics. And here’s where things get odd. Hard evidence for Wade’s thesis is nearly nonexistent. Odder still, Wade concedes as much at the start of A Troublesome Inheritance:  

Readers should be fully aware that in chapters 6 through 10 they are leaving the world of hard science and entering into a much more speculative arena at the interface of history, economics and human evolution.

It perhaps would have been best if this sentence had been reprinted at the top of each page in chapters 6 through 10. [...]

This strategy lets Wade move in a kind of intellectual no-man’s-land where he gets to look like he’s doing science (so many facts about genomes!) while covering himself with caveats that, well, it’s all speculative.

Given the lack of such caveats in Wade's earlier NYT "science" writing, I suspect that the caveats in this book might have been proposed by an editor at Penguin — though admittedly the book's biological determinism is applied to more controversial ideas than "the evolution of the god gene". '

Andrew Gelman's review makes an especially interesting point:

 The paradox of racism is that at any given moment, the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous. 

I’ve been thinking about this recently after reading the new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History by New York Times reporter Nicholas Wade, who writes about the big differences in economic success between whites, blacks, Asians, and other groups and offers a sophisticated argument that racial differences arise from genetic differences that are amplified by culture. [...]

[W]hat Wade is offering is essentially a theory of economic and social inequality, explaining systematic racial differences in prosperity based on a combination of innate traits (“the disinclination to save in tribal societies is linked to a strong propensity for immediate consumption”) and genetic adaptation to political and social institutions (arguing, for example, that generations of centralized rule have effected a selection pressure for Chinese to be accepting of authority).  

Wade is clearly intelligent and thoughtful, and his book is informed by the latest research in genetics. His explanations seem to me simultaneously plausible and preposterous: plausible in that they snap into place to explain the world as it currently is, preposterous in that I think if he were writing in other time periods, he could come up with similarly plausible, but completely different, stories.  [...]

I suspect that had this book been written 100 years ago, it would have featured strong views not on the genetic similarities but on the racial divides that explained the difference between the warlike Japanese and the decadent Chinese, as well as the differences between the German and French races. Nicholas Wade in 2014 includes Italy within the main European grouping, but the racial theorists of 100 years ago had strong opinions on the differences between northern and southern Europeans. [...]

[W]hat if Wade had been writing his book in 1954 rather than 2014? Would we still be hearing about the Korean values of thrift, organization, and discipline? A more logical position, given the economic history up to that time, would be to consider the poverty of East Asia to be never-changing, perhaps an inevitable result of their genes for conformity and the lack of useful evolution after thousands of years of relative peace. We might also be hearing a lot about Japan’s genetic exclusion from the rest of Asia, along with a patient explanation of why we should not expect China and Korea to attain any rapid economic success.

In any era, racism is typically supported by comparing two groups that are socially unequal and with clear physical differences. But both these sorts of comparisons are moving targets.

Though I would add that in the area of racial stereotypes as elsewhere, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." You don't have to look very far into the recent discussions of Europe's economic troubles to find echoes of the old regional and national stereotypes. And the Nicholas Wades of the world will have no trouble finding the genomic underpinnings — as Wade writes (p. 79),

Using a 500,000 snip chip, researchers at Stanford University have found a strong correspondence between the genetics and geographical origins of Europeans. In fact, 90% of people can be located to within 700 kilometers (435 miles) of where they were born, and 50% to within 310 kilometers (193 miles). [...] 

Another group of researchers looked at Europeans in isolated regions who weren’t likely to move much. One site was a Scottish island, another a Croatian village and the third an Italian valley. Anyone who didn’t have all four grandparents living in the same region was excluded. Under these conditions, the researchers found they could map individuals to within 8 to 30 kilometers (5 to 19 miles) of their village of origin.

The finding shows that the world’s human population is very finely structured in each geographic region in terms of its genetics, with human genomes changing recognizably every few miles across the globe. Such a situation exists only because, until the past few decades, most people have taken marriage partners from very close to where they were born. Such a high degree of local marriage “was probably the norm in rural Europe due to lack of transport or economic opportunities,” the researchers conclude.

 If you'd like to read more of Wade's own perspective on these things, without investing in the book, he has a recent article in The Spectator: "The genome of history: DNA explains more than you think", 5/17/2014. And the predictable first comment on that site:

We Nationalists have known these obvious facts for ages.

It is PALPABLY blatant that the races are intensely different in every single way: physically, mentally and societally.

Race is everything. It explains why Africans are unable to build or maintain civilisation; it explains why black people behave consistently in a very different way to White people, or Chinese people. More sinister is the way in which White people are now branded racist because black people are unable to do well in school, and in life in general…..

Race also explains why Whites have built the most advanced civilisation in the entire history of mankind.

It should, even more importantly, remind us that its our race that makes us what we are, and our nations what they are. And then we should remind ourselves, urgently, that the two other foreign races have colonised our nations, and will, eventually, be the majority.

Whites are now only around 8% of the world population…

Update — There is also an except/adaptation from Wade's book in Time Magazine: "What Science Says About Race and Genetics", 5/9/2014. And other commentary includes Margaret White, "What if race is more than a social construct?", The Globe and Mail 5/10/2014; Rosemary Bennett, "Genetic theory of West’s rise is denounced as racist", The Times 5/12/2014.

Update #2 — A review by Seth Shulman in the Washington Post, 5/23/2014. And PZ Myers weighs in under the title "I would not want to be Nicholas Wade right now", 5/22/2014, quoting from a detailed review by Jennifer Raff, "Nicholas Wade and race: building a scientific façade", 5/21/2014:

I’ve focused a lot of this review on numerous technical details because I think that it’s very important that non-geneticists understand the degree to which Wade is distorting the results of recent research on genome-wide human variation. I won’t speculate whether this distortion is deliberate or a result of simple ignorance about genetics, but it is serious. There is a great deal more in this book that also needs to be critiqued, such as Wade’s assertion that the genetic differences between human groups determine behavioral differences, resurrecting the specter of “national character” and “racial temperaments”. But as I’ve shown here, Wade’s book is all pseudoscientific rubbish because he can’t justify his first and primary point: his claim that the human racial groups we recognize today culturally are scientifically meaningful, discrete biological divisions of humans. This claim provides a direct basis for the whole second half of the book where he makes those “speculative” arguments about national character. In other words, the entire book is a house of cards.

Update #3 — PZ Myers ("I wonder if there’s a gene for thinking there’s a gene for everything", 5/30/2014) links to a review by Jon Phillips at SPLC ("Troublesome Sources: Nicholas Wade’s Embrace of Scientific Racism", 5/28/2014), which notes that

Wade bases his belief in genetically-enhanced Jewish intelligence on a single paper, which he describes as “[t]he only serious recent attempt by researchers to delve into the links between Jewish genetics and intelligence.” This paper, from University of Utah researchers Henry Harpending, Gregory Cochran, and Jason Hardy, “elaborates the hypothesis that the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence.”

That hypothesis is the brainchild of Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist and director of the racist American Freedom Party (formerly “American Third Position”), which he founded with lawyer William D. Johnson, who has proposed repealing the 14th and 15th Amendments, replacing them with a Constitutional amendment which reads:

No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.

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49 Comments »

  1. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 7:06 am

    Talk about having, or not having, genes for certain traits! The biggest news among China watchers right now, as China prepares to punish Vietnam for trying to get its gigantic oil rig out of Vietnamese territorial waters (Exclusive Economic Zone), is Chairman Xi Jinping's astonishing claim that the Chinese people have no gene (jīyīn 基因) for invasion / aggression.

    Here are some materials on the subject that I have assembled:

    "Xi: There is no gene for invasion in our blood"

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-05/16/content_17511204.htm

    And here it is implied that it is only the "minorities", like the Manchus and Mongols and Turks who ruled China for much of its history, who were aggressive:

    "Aggression is not part of national character"

    http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1515149/aggression-not-part-national-character

    Here's the operative part of Xi's speech that has left everyone, shall I say, speechless:

    =====

    Zhōnghuá mínzú de xiěyè zhōng méiyǒu qīnlüè tārén, chēngbà shìjiè de jīyīn, Zhōngguó rénmín bù jiēshòu “guó qiáng bì bà” de luójí.

    中华民族的血液中没有侵略他人、称霸世界的基因,中国人民不接受“国强必霸”的逻辑。

    "The blood of the Chinese nation / people does not have the gene for invading others and seeking hegemony over the world, and the Chinese people do not accept the logic that 'a strong country must necessarily be hegemonic'."

    =====

    For the convenience of those who are not familiar with simplified characters, here it is in traditional Chinese characters):

    中華民族的血液中沒有侵略他人、稱霸世界的基因,中國人民不接受“國強必霸”的邏輯

    Chinese articles covering Xi's speech and emphasizing in their headlines the Chinese lack of a gene for invasion:

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2014-05/16/c_1110731703.htm

    http://china.huanqiu.com/article/2014-05/4996531.html

    http://news.ifeng.com/a/20140515/40316447_0.shtml

    I have not heard Xi Jinping pronounce these words in his own voice, but the last of the three links provided just above includes a video of him delivering the speech with a female voice-over quoting his words. The remark about Chinese lack of a gene for invasion / aggression occurs at around 1:50 in the video. I should alert you to the fact that the video usually loads very slowly or not at all, in which case you just have to wait awhile and go back later.

    And here's the complete Chinese text of Chairman Xi's speech:

    http://cpc.people.com.cn/BIG5/n/2014/0515/c64094-25023282.html

  2. Darkwhite said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    It should be obvious that the relationships between culture, discrimination, race and poverty are complicated enough that any theory will necessarily be speculative, in the sense that inferences must be made without conclusive data.

    It also seems that people are unwilling to just ignore these questions indefinitely. In political matters, it tends to be assumed that racial differences in outcome outcome must be evidence of discrimination. While perhaps a more sensible null hypothesis, the assumption seems to contradict numerous scientific findings.

    While much of what Wade suggests is obviously speculative – which he clearly states – and while some of his claims are certainly going to prove false, I really don't see what's wrong about entertaining alternative hypotheses.

    The theory that social problems in Africa were caused by Western imperialism has never graduated beyond speculation, either, after all. There was a time when the colonies gaining independence was expected to be the start of Africa's golden era. It still seems to be the commonly accepted explanation.

  3. bks said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 8:57 am

    It's in our DNA to search for the gene for X. –bks

  4. MaryKaye said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    Does Wade actually write "snip chip" or is that a transcription error? (Presumably what
    is meant is "SNP chip", meaning "single nucleotide polymorphism.")

    [(myl) He does indeed write "snip chip" -- I resisted the temptation to make a comment about the light this sheds on his expertise, because maybe some copy editor did it to him...]

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    Since the voices of Chinese leaders are seldom heard by the people, I was eager to learn what Xi Jinping sounded like, whether he had an accent or spoke standard Mandarin (biaozhun Putonghua).

    I found the following:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvORIEXzjU8

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEo9cYBgCjk

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v40VqpNWqLE

    I was surprised to hear that his Mandarin was quite biaozhun (standard), because nearly all previous top leaders I'm aware of spoke with a noticeable or quite strong accent.

    The following remarks come from David Moser, who used to work at CCTV and knows the score there:

    =====

    The usual comment about Xi when he first emerged was "At last! A Chinese leader who speaks standard Chinese!" I've heard snippets of him speaking now and then, though not much (since CCTV news has a longstanding policy of not airing leaders' voices, but merely paraphrasing their remarks in voiceover).

    =====

    I wonder if they do the voiceover bit because:

    a. they got used to it when none of the leaders spoke Modern Standard Mandarin (what they spoke would not have been understood by the masses)

    b. they were afraid that the leader's delivery would not be impeccable (there would be blemishes or stumbles in what he said)

    c. they wanted to give the impression that the leader was like a god and hence could / would not address mere mortals directly

    Incidentally, in the first clip linked above, Xi is speaking in Berlin, and it's interesting to hear him pronounce names that sound nothing like their German originals. When he says "guten Tag" (0:27) in what he hopes will sound like German, he wants it to be very impressive and looks around for acknowledgement, but there's a delayed reaction because it's hard to recognize as German.

  6. MikeA said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

    Those "Local Marriage" genes can be intense. My mother was the first in her family to be born in the U.S. My father's family (per his surname and family tree) had been here since the Dutch held Manhattan. Yet I was amused on tracing that branch back to Europe to find they had come from about 200KM from my mother's ancestral village. Of course, 200KM is a _long_ way in Europe.

  7. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 1:25 pm

    I subscribed to the Spectator for years, beginning decades ago when it was quirky and arty and seemed to be run largely by agreeably odd High Anglicans.

    After getting more and more unhappy with it I finally cancelled it after it ran a truly vile piece about Gypsies, presumably feeling that its blatant racism was OK because it was supposed to be funny.

    I never saw the online version in the days when I subscribed, and looking at the comments in general I shiver to think of the company I was keeping (though in fairness, reading the readers' comments for almost any online paper can be a distressing business.)

    I miss the crossword, though …

  8. D.O. said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

    But Prof. Mair, surely president Xi didn't mean genes in any scientific way. It is supported by his reference to blood in the next sentence. Of course, whatever peaceful character traits Chinese people have they do not reside in their blood. Xi, as most everyone else, is simply confused by modern concepts of biological and cultural inheritance and their interplay. For some reason, genes sounds more scientific or determinative, or emphatic than simply saying it is not in our tradition/character.

  9. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

    @Victor Mair:

    "they wanted to give the impression that the leader was like a god and hence could / would not address mere mortals directly"

    In much of Ghana and neighbouring countries chiefs do not directly speak to their subjects but address them indirectly through a functionary who acts as if he were an interpreter, and is called a "linguist" in Ghanaian English.

    The local word for this person, in the area where I used to live, is used in the Bible translation for "prophet."

  10. Y.S. said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

    Re: "snip chip"

    He explains in the book that "snip chip" is sort of scientific slang for SNP chip.

    I bought an electronic version of the book because I have a casual interest in human evolution and paleoanthropology, knowing that I would probably disagree with it in some parts. I was very disappointed to find myself questioning a lot of his assumptions. He says in the beginning of the book that a lot of science is plagued by the subjectivity of scientists who project their own political views onto their research, which I agree with. However, he proceeds to do the exact same thing for the entirety of the book, making wild leaps in logic and obviously seeing what he wants to see, out to prove what he already believes.

    Just once I'd like to find a balanced book on this subject, one that maintains plausibility and makes a respectable attempt at not toeing the line of whatever left or right politics.

  11. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

    I wouldn't be surprised to find that this is a fairly widespread thing in human culture. Quite a few things I naively thought at the time were local things when I was in West Africa I have subsequently discovered to be worldwide, like the prohibition against allowing someone to succeed to the kingship if they had any physical defect. (I found later that this was the reason for the horrible Byzantine habit of blinding unlucky contenders for the throne, which was I suppose regarded as more humane than outright killing them.)

    Alastair Campbell as the prophet of Tony Blair? Perhaps I'll not pursue this line after all.

  12. GeorgeW said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 2:44 pm

    Y.S. Like you, I have a casual interest in human evolution. A couple of interesting books, and not too technical, you might find interesting: "Human Variation: Race, Type and Ethnic Groups" by Stephen Molnar and "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique" by Michael Gazzaniga.

    Gazzaniga proposes various evolutionary bases for ethics, various arts, etc.

  13. john said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

    This is about as ad hominem as it gets, but it's worth pointing out that all three of the authors responsible for the "enthusiastic" reviews have been, to say the very least, embroiled in racism controversies of their own. (Actually, in at least one case, it's not even controversial.)

    To me this suggests either that Wade is one of a tiny cadre of truth-tellers who are marginalized by an uncomprehending public, or that the only people who are taking his book seriously are the usual suspects, whose nasty biases it serves to reinforce.

    [(myl) I noticed this as well. Also, two of the publication venues of the positive reviews are somewhat specialized sites that have been stereotypically associated with racist or xenophobic views. I also noticed that the date of those positive reviews was up to two months before the book's publication, indicating both access to pre-publication copies and eagerness to respond.

    So I looked around for positive reviews by less controversial figures, published in less peripheral places (whatever their political alignment). But Wade's book doesn't seem to have been reviewed yet in by NRO or TNR or etc.

    I found a note by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, but all he does is quote from Charles Murray's WSJ review, concluding that "I’m not often drawn to science books, and I have a deep unease about anything to do with genetics and race, but Murray’s review made me want to read this one". That was back on 5/5, so maybe he'll take the book up in one of his many publication outlets. But so far, the book seems to have been received in silence by the the political right, except for people like Murray, Derbyshire, and Sailer, whose brands are intimately involved with controversial positions on race.]

  14. Y.S. said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

    Thanks for the recs, GeorgeW. I will note those books for future reference.

  15. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    From the superb NYRB review:

    "Geneticists have had an extraordinarily hard time finding genes that make substantive contributions to complex diseases like Type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t bode well, to put it mildly, for finding the genes that allegedly underlie subtle differences in predisposition to middle-class behavioral traits."

    I think this is actually the nub of the whole thing. Books like this are written by, and for, people whose understanding of genetics is frankly magical rather than scientific.

  16. Rubrick said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

    Richard Dawkins, of course, played a large role in spurring the "gene for X" mania that has gripped us to various degrees over the past few deacades. It's unfortunate that his own well-reasoned defense of this concept — which hinged critically on his rather idiosyncratic definitition of what, for the purposes of his theseis, constitutes a "gene" — seems to have been largely forgotten. (As, for that matter, has his definition of "gene".)

    Ironically, given his famous atheism, he'd almost certainly agree that there exists a "God gene" — or rather, oodles of them, since by his definition any stretch of DNA which could influence anyone's predilection to believe in a god via any means whatsoever (e.g., something which caused a person to like the sound of liturgical music slightly more than most) would count.

    I suspect he'd also agree that Wade's book is largely poppycock.

  17. Darkwhite said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

    David Eddyshaw:

    Historically, people have successfully bred animals for specific physical and temperamental characteristics, long before the gene was discovered. Knowing the specific genes involved isn't necessary for this sort of differences to exist, nor for us to observe them.

    For instance, we are reasonably certain that Pit Bull Terriers are more aggressive than Golden Retrievers, for hereditary reasons, without having any clue about how their respective genomes make it so.

  18. Chris C. said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

    People cling to racism tenaciously, and will use any factoid at their disposal as justification.

    The entire history of Europe amounts to a colossal series of "what-ifs" and near-misses, with the fate of the region hanging in the balance more than once. The situation since about the 14th or 15th century, where Europeans ended up with enough of a technological edge over the rest of the word to be the colonizers rather than the indigenous peoples suffering colonization, was a matter of pure happenstance. In the grand scheme of things, taking the long view of human history, the path from tribalism to modern nation-states isn't all that long. What were the petty kingdoms and territories of medieval Germany but tribes with castles? Yet, Germany was only finally unified in 1871.

    The view that "whites" were destined for greatness not by accidents of history but by genetics is typically held, in my experience, by those who know no history. I cannot fathom how anyone could arrive at this idea without such ignorance. That Wade seems to have done so is, I suppose, an achievement of sorts. (I assume that someone in his position must have received at least a rudimentary education in the subject.) But I wouldn't brag about it if I were him.

  19. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

    Indeed.

    But what that means is that for all the talk of "genes" and the implication that this is all Serious Science, (so that dissent becomes mere wishful thinking at best and deliberate political deceit at worst), in reality all that is on offer is an *a priori* belief that human behaviour is overwhelmingly determined by heredity. It's in the blood!

    For this proposition, there is basically no evidence. It may possibly be true, but belief in it is not a matter of science. To demonstrate it scientifically would require experiments to distinguish between heredity and culture which are, to say the least, impractical, and have not been done.

    The talk of genes is really only window-dressing for a very much older notion: the hereditary superiority of one group over another. It appeals to those who like the old notion. It is horribly convenient as a way of for the privileged to avoid moral responsibility for the state of the disadvantaged, and as none of us wants to feel bad about himself, that means the attraction is perennial and not dependent on details like scientific evidence.

    It is surely significant that the laudatory reviews all have a similar tone: it would be lovely if people were really free to make their own destiny but (alas!) hard, unsentimental science has now shown unequivocally that we are in fact predestined by our genes … only the sentimental and the politically compromised could now maintain otherwise …

  20. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

    Sorry, should clarify that I was responding to Darkwhite.
    (Am in pretty much total agreement with Chris C.)

  21. thomas kavanagh said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    I am a Cultural Anthropologist whose 4- field training includes linguistics, (which is why I read LL), as well as Physical/Biological Anthro, so I know just enough about genes, race, and culture not to make WACAC (‘wild ass claims about correlation’). Would that people who make claims about Physcial/Biological Anthro also had some understanding of the social and cultural fields as well.

    This is especially evident in Wade’s division of human societies into the binary opposites ‘modern’ and ‘tribal’:

    “These include why some peoples are tribal and others modern (modern life requires, among other things, extending trust to non-kin), why some are violent and others less so, why some are poor and others rich, why some are innovative and others conformist, and so on. [...]”
    (Yes, I know, this is from a reviewer, not directly from Wade.)

    “the disinclination to save in tribal societies is linked to a strong propensity for immediate consumption…”

    In response to these WACACs ,I would just point to a quote from Morton H. Fried which neatly which sums up this alleged correlation:

    If I had to select one word in the vocabulary of anthropology as the single most egregious case of meaninglessness, I would have to pass over “tribe” in favor of “race.” [Morton H. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society, (1967), 154.]

  22. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

    Genes: none of the following statements is controversial in genetics.

    There is genetic variation within the human race, part of which is geographical, though individual variation within populations is much greater than the average differences found between different parts of the world.

    Much the greatest genetic variation is in fact within Africa itself.

    The human race as a whole shows remarkably little genetic variation compared with other primates, probably reflecting several episodes of severe reduction in our total numbers in the past.

    We have in general little idea of how (or even whether) known genetic variations affect actual human physical structure, let alone behaviour; when we do know anything, it is usually because we have connected genetic differences with pathological states rather than variations in normality.

    We are mostly just beginning to work out how known genetic abnormalities actually result in the diseases they are associated with.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

    @D.O.

    I thought about this quite a long time before deciding that Chairman Xi was probably trying to sound semi-scientific. In the first place, he uses the transcribed English word "gene" — which rings like an internationally accepted scientific term in Chinese — rather than one of about a dozen other native words that were readily available to him if he just wanted to convey the idea of "characteristic, feature, trait", etc. Secondly, and to me even more powerfully, the fact that he prefaced his invocation of "gene" with "blood" in the very same sentence indicates that he was thinking along biological lines. Third, the word he used for blood was not just the simple, monosyllabic xuè / xiě 血, which can be used in the metaphorical or physical sense, but the disyllabic xuèyè 血液 (lit., "blood-liquid"), which contains a morpheme that highlights the physical nature of the fluid, though I grant that the frequency of xuèyè 血液 in formal speech and writing is greater than that of xuè / xiě 血.

    N.B.: For the four different pronunciations of 血液 in Mandarin — xuèyè, xuěyè, xiěyè, xiěyì — see this Wiktionary entry, and those are only the main pronunciations in China and Taiwan (we're not getting into the numerous local varieties of Mandarin, much less all of the non-Mandarin pronunciations [e.g., Cantonese hyut3jik6, Taiwanese hiat-e̍k]).

  24. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 9:48 pm

    "I resisted the temptation to make a comment about the light this sheds on his expertise…"

    I can't resist, because his blithe invocation of the "five major races" is one of many red flags. It's a notably convenient equivocation, because Wade is relying upon the (genuine) continental clustering seen in the population genetics to stand in for "race" as people commonly use the term.

    I read Gelman's post last night and then looked for other critiques of Wade's book, and I was very much bothered by how little anyone is attacking this dishonest assumption at its core.

    I mean, I know there are people here who are extremely resistant to anything that smacks of biological determinism whatsoever, and there are many of us (possibly including myself) who are reasonably confident of the conventional wisdom that no human populations are sufficiently genetically divergent to justify claims of cognitive distinction between populations (or much else that is similar), but I'm perfectly willing to accept, provisionally, the notion that various human populations have significantly genetically diverged from each other and that these divergences include things like cognitive traits.

    But, even so, that's absolutely not the same thing as talking about race as "race" is understood by most people when people talk about "race". Such an analysis, starting purely from population genetics, wouldn't make the dubious assumption that very dark-skinned peoples are the same "race" and therefore closely genetically related, because of course geneticists are well aware that there are a number of genetic pathways for any given population to acquire darker or lighter skin. Hell, there are multiple mutations for lactose tolerance that allow certain populations to digest milk into adulthood — imagine if it were the default assumption that all such people who can digest milk are the same "race" and that "race" describes genetic relatedness and therefore we can assume that all milk-drinkers share a similar relative propensity for, say, the ability to play pinochle or manage a retail store because, hey, they're obviously the same "race", right?

    The big problem with Wade and all these folk, whether laypeople or those with some expertise, is that they're working backward from their conclusion, they're taking the common, lay notion of what each "race" is and accepting it as-is, then using evolutionary biology and population genetics to construct arguments that validate claims of differentiation between these "races" even though no one would have chosen these particular population groups as "races" based upon the actual genetics alone.

    The apologists will talk about "Lewontin's fallacy" and will say that the intraracial divergences and the African genetic divergence don't disprove the notion of commonly understood race because those calculations are naive. And that may well be true. But that still is begging the question that how is it, exactly, that what modern race apologists accept as the "major races" just so happens to rely upon gross phenotypic differences that don't reliably correspond to specific and shared genotypic differences? Every dark-skinned person isn't dark skinned because they share a dark-skin gene because they descended from a common ancestor. And yet, everyone, every race apologist, accepts the notion of classing all very dark-skinned people together as a single "race". That's both convenient and very suspicious.

    As Gelman points out, but with a different emphasis, I'll take Wade and other race apologists a lot more seriously when they begin to make their arguments purely on the basis of population genetics and which will then necessarily force them to accept that there could be the very differences they're trying to defend that appear in different populations which we presently happen to consider within the same race. How much intermarriage has there been in the last thousand years between the Irish and the Alemannic Swiss?

    But, see, that would defeat the purpose. The purpose is to find a plausible reason to accept as inevitable and just the status quo of racial disparity. There's far less interest in exploring the notion that different European ethnic groups may have genetic predispositions to different cognitive traits than there is in exploring the "heretical" notion that there's "good" genetic reasons why black people are so poor. Even if Wade himself believes in the possibility of such disparities between people classified as "white", his chief utility to others and his ability to be published and sell books is entirely dependent upon his defending the claim that whites and non-whites will "naturally" have different socioeconomic outcomes.

  25. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

    "It's unfortunate that his own well-reasoned defense of this concept — which hinged critically on his rather idiosyncratic definitition of what, for the purposes of his theseis, constitutes a "gene" — seems to have been largely forgotten."

    It's not idiosyncratic, it's the abstract gene as used in evolutionary ecology, not the gene that molecular biologists (or population geneticists) talk about. The two aren't mutually incompatible and, necessarily, there's quite a bit of functional overlap; but this is really a nomenclature difference between two different sciences operating at two different levels of description (or abstraction, if you prefer).

  26. Mark Mandel said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 12:25 am

    Victor, you must be misquoting Chairman Xi, because obviously there is no Mandarin word for "invasion"!

  27. Bob Ladd said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 12:55 am

    @Victor Mair, @D.O.
    Surely what Xi meant was simply "It's not in our DNA to invade others and seek hegemony over the world". People say things like that in English all the time without being genetic determinists (or indeed, without even having much of a clue what DNA is).

  28. spandrell said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 4:54 am

    And why is that of any concern of a blog on linguistics?

    More interesting than a book on genetic research is the fact that Mr. Liberman found it necessarily to trash it on ideological grounds on a blog unrelated to the subject. That tells you that this is not an issue of science, as Mr. Liberman doesn't write about bad science on other topics. Or does he?

    [(myl) In fact I have long-standing interest in the public presentation of science, and especially on the use of scientific authority to promote scientifically unsupported ideas. The issues involved are often connected with language, since that makes it more likely that I would have read the basic articles carefully. But sometimes the only connection is to the rhetorical issues involved.

    One recent example: "(Mis-) Interpreting medical tests", 3/10/2014; "When 90% is 32%", 3/18/2014.

    Another one: "How a 40% decrease in X can be a 6% increase in non-X", 3/3/2014; "The inclusion epidemic", 3/9/2014.

    Or from a few years ago, "David Brooks, Social Psychologist", 8/13/2008.

    And there have been many others over the years.

    With specific reference to Nicholas Wade, you could start with "The hunt for the Hat Gene", 11/15/2009, and "The business of newspapers is news", 12/10/2009; and you could add "Wherein I take the bait", 9/21/2007, and "Finch phrase structure?", 10/1/2007, and (among many others) "Gene/culture co-evolution", 6/13/2013.]

  29. John Agnew said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 6:58 am

    Keith M Ellis: But that still is begging the question that how is it, exactly, that what modern race apologists accept as the "major races" just so happens to rely upon gross phenotypic differences that don't reliably correspond to specific and shared genotypic differences? Every dark-skinned person isn't dark skinned because they share a dark-skin gene because they descended from a common ancestor.

    Analysis from population genetics does in fact show big groups roughly corresponding to 19thC ideas of race: there are pretty clear African / Asian / Native American etc groupings. (Although also with some surprise outliers, like the Hadza.) It seems very clear to me that Wade is choosing to use a familiar word for these groupings in the data, why is this unreasonable? We refine the meanings of words all the time as science moves on, for instance Einsten's concept of time is really quite different to Newton's, but both are close to everyday usage.

    Stephen Hsu's review has some nice pictures of this kind of analysis, and sensible comments: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2014/05/nicholas-wade-interview.html

    As you say, skin colour is a poor proxy — original Australians and equatorial Africans are a long way apart, but obviously dark for the same reasons. As are the Swedes and the Japanese. Lactose tolerance is I believe one or two mutations, which spread well at the time farming was being invented, but nobody is suggesting using the word race to mean sharing a handful of specific genes.

    David Eddyshaw: It may possibly be true, but belief in it is not a matter of science. To demonstrate it scientifically would require experiments to distinguish between heredity and culture which are, to say the least, impractical, and have not been done.

    Science has a long history people starting from opposing beliefs each with little support, and finding ways to gather better and better data, until eventually some of those beliefs become untenable. Surely creating two whole countries with one gene differing is always going to be impossible. But maybe ways to find good data can be invented.

    Although we never get to randomly genetically engineer babies, we still learn a lot from twin studies. And closer to this, Gregory Clark gets some interesting data by averaging over surnames, a method I certainly would never have thought of, but would like to understand better.

  30. Darkwhite said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 7:07 am

    Keith M. Ellis:

    It is my understanding that population genetics, applying very straightforward and culturally ignorant mathematical methods, divides people into roughly the same races that are in colloquial use. See for instance: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Rosenberg2007.png

    When you consider that people have very specialized hardware for telling individual people apart, determining sex and spotting family likenesses merely by looking at each other's faces, it is hardly incredible that people's intuitive divisions into races or super-families roughly match the underlying genetics.

    Do also keep in mind that the common-sense notions of race are much more sophisticated than a simple grouping by skin tone. Glance very quickly at http://petapixel.com/assets/uploads/2011/02/averagefaces.jpg and ask yourself why Camdoian and Vietnamese go together.

  31. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 8:15 am

    One positive review from a "reputable" source at least:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/2014/05/13/genes-and-race-the-distant-footfalls-of-evidence/

    While we should certainly be skeptical of "gene for X" just-so-stories, at the same time we should remember that heritability and innateness are compatible with polygenic traits. Generative linguists operate under the assumption that there is a universal grammar and that this is innate, and therefore must be genetically encoded in some sense, and yet we don't know all the specific alleles that control language (only some like FOXP2 that are associated with some aspects of language).

  32. John Chambers said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 8:48 am

    Since this is a linguistics forum, I was a bit disappointed to notice that nobody yet had mentioned one of the major examples of misunderstanding that's common here in the US: The common inclusion in racial classifications of "Hispanic". This is a good example that pretty much discredits everything that might follow. If you look closely, you'll find similar mis-classifications pretty much everywhere, but this one is especially funny because it's so wrong on its face.

    When possible, I also like to question people with belief systems like Wade's about whether they've heard the concept of "hybrid vigor", and if so, what it says about their theories. Here in the US, most of us are inter-racial hybrids nowadays, and it could be interesting to learn what people think this implies about our behavior. But I doubt we'd learn anything that's actually true.

    I've had a few occasions when people have commented about my obvious "purely European" racial background to mention that actually I'm 1/8 (via my father's father's mother) from a branch of the "Asiatic race", and challenge them to figure out which branch from what they know about me. So far the few that have been willing to make a guess have been wrong.

  33. Peter Akuleyev said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    @Chris The view that "whites" were destined for greatness not by accidents of history but by genetics is typically held, in my experience, by those who know no history.

    Is that really Wade"s argument? It seems to me you can make a different argument, which is that the dominance of Western European institutions worldwide is a historical accident, but it is no accident that today people of African, Native American or Polynesian descent have a high failure rate when trying to adopt these institutions for their own use, and that tendency towards failure may, on average over a population group, have some genetic component. I wouldn"t say that suggests Europeans are objectively superior, it suggests that the deck is intrinsicaly stacked in our society towards aptitudes more statistically common in the population groups that created the rules in the first place.

  34. JS said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 10:20 am

    @ John Chambers
    Well, the U.S. Census now presents "Hispanicity" (Y/N) as a category orthogonal to "race" — but this represents less an increase in descriptive sophistication than an indication of the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise.

  35. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    @John Agnew:

    I do not deny that these issues are in principle susceptible to real scientific analysis. As it happens I distrust the motives of many of those who are keen to carry out such research, but I would certainly not feel it is an illegitimate or intrinsically wicked area of enquiry. I do think it is peculiarly difficult for even the most honourable of students in this area to be sure that he has escaped from the influence of all his manifold cultural and personal preconceptions, but that is to say that proper research on the issues is harder to do than even sophisticated enquirers may imagine, not that nobody should even try.

    What I do very much object to is the attempt to pretend that all this research has already happened, and that views contrary to the writer's cannot therefore any longer be held in good faith by a rational person. Such attempts are at best wishful thinking; at worst, deliberate rhetorical manipulation.

  36. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

    @Keith Ellis:

    I was quite unaware that evolutionary ecologists have hijacked the word "gene" and use it in their own technical sense. This would certainly account for a good bit of the talking past one another that seems to bedevil these topics.

    I am wholly ignorant of evolutionary ecology. How do its practioners avoid the mere circularity you would expect to be involved in calling anything apparently hereditary a "gene"?

  37. John Agnew said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

    @ David Eddyshaw:

    Yes I fully agree that all discussion of society-level effects seems very tentative. I'm happy to read it all but wouldn't call any of it solid. But then again, everything else people say they know about why different societies differ also seems pretty tentative to me, and most of it subject to very similar problems of bias. We don't get to test theories about geography, institutions, religion, or macroeconomic policy very scientifically either.

    As for people's motives, firstly I feel we ought not to care. If violent lust for revenge is what gets some prof out of bed every day for decades, maybe it's no fun to have the office next door, but it is often good for the rest of us. Sometimes he's right, and either way his opponents have to sharpen their arguments.

    And secondly, there's clearly some selection effect. Any scientist who is a little bit interested in these things knows that getting involved, and wading into the day's controversies, will result in being vilified as a racist, eugenicist, etc. Thus we should not be surprised that many of those visible in the arena are people with little to lose in this regard. (Not to mention that we should expect them all to be quite thick-skinned, and a little tone-deaf.)

    @ john : it's worth pointing out that all three of the authors responsible for the "enthusiastic" reviews have been, to say the very least, embroiled in racism controversies of their own

    Much the same selection effect goes for reviewers, no? How many enthusiastic reviews would it take to qualify as "emboiled"?

    Anyway that said, I haven't yet read the book, and perhaps it is indeed junk. We'll see.

  38. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    To one of David Eddyshaw's points, one might note that a certain amount of historical linguistics scholarship has at various times been mixed up with various sorts of unscholarly nationalisms and ethnic chauvinisms, with instances both of scholarship being distorted to "prove" the preconceptions of the particular writer and of non-linguists trying to draw political conclusions from legitimate scholarship that should not, in a hypothetical rational world, have any political valence one way or another. But if fear of legitimate research being used by advocates of unsavory causes deters responsible people from doing such research in the first instance, the ultimate result will be research done by irresponsible people or, rather, people who do not share your particular set of political attitudes and social/cultural taboos, which is not _necessarily_ the same thing.

    How one talks about research results with potentially unwelcome political implications is a separate issue, andhttp://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2014/05/06/race_is_real_what_does_that_mean_for_society_108642.html (which I quoted from in a prior comment thread) criticizes Wade for not doing a very good job of it. VerBruggen's byline is fairly strongly associated with right-of-center opinion journalism, fwiw.

  39. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

    http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2014/05/06/race_is_real_what_does_that_mean_for_society_108642.html is the link which may have not come through cleanly in the prior comment due to a cutting/pasting error on my part.

  40. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

    @J W Brewer:

    True enough: the horrible history of what became of the perfectly good linguistic terms "Aryan" and "Semitic" would prove your point, had it needed any proof.

    I thoroughly endorse your more general point: as an eminent scholarly relation of mine remarked in a completely different context, the proper answer to bad scholarship is better scholarship.

    To that extent, I agree with John Agnew too; truth is truth, even from the mouth of the devil.

    I think it can be naive, though, to attempt too total an indifference about the motives of researchers; the pseudoanthropology of the Nazis springs to mind as a warning, though again what was ultimately and most importantly the matter with that was not that it was offensive or even that it was used to justify atrocities; it was that it was false.

    I should apologise to the other contributors to this thread for demonstrating the validity of Godwin's Law (it was only a matter of time, I guess.)

    Thanks for the link. Good passage on the illogicality of attempting to draw conclusions about an individual from the average characteristics of a group they belong to (something MYL himself has often flagged up as a problem in numerous contexts.)

  41. Chris C. said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

    @Peter Akuleyev — Wade's argument seems to be that genes determine social behavior, and that the social behavior of whites leads to cultural superiority. He may have soft-peddled it in his book, but he's bolder when he preaches to the choir in his Spectator article.

    I wouldn"t say that suggests Europeans are objectively superior, it suggests that the deck is intrinsicaly stacked in our society towards aptitudes more statistically common in the population groups that created the rules in the first place.

    Assuming such aptitudes exist in the first place this too would seem plausible, but I know of no evidence for them. It seems more plausible to me that social and economic institutions are informed by ingrained cultural norms, and that attempts to impose these institutions on cultures whose norms do not support them is unlikely to meet with success. I don't think you'll find anyone in agreement with the idea that social norms are determined by some kind of genetic predispositions of individual members of a society. That's the kind of big claim for which one would expect "some pretty impressive, if recondite evidence."

  42. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    "I was quite unaware that evolutionary ecologists have hijacked the word 'gene' and use it in their own technical sense."

    "Hijacked" is unfairly pejorative and, also, historically false.

    I'm sympathetic to both your confusion and annoyance, though, because I learned about this coming from the same direction as you are. For me, gene has always had a specific meaning from molecular biology. In fact, many years ago, when confronted by someone's persistent usage of gene in a way that seemed obviously incorrect, I researched this and discovered this other usage and then emailed a friend of mine who was an accomplished molecular biologist. And he was as puzzled by this other usage as I had been.

    In fact, though, the abstract usage predates the molecular biology usage just like Mendelian genetics predates DNA. Scientists working on evolution had been using gene for a long, long time before actual genes were identified. And at the abstract level of larger theories about evolutionary genetics, it's reasonable to just use "gene" as an abstraction for the locus of trait inheritance and selection.

    These days an evolutionary biologist might be working either generally or alternately between the molecular biology and abstracted genetics, depending on their interest. Evolutionary ecologists are much more likely to be working at the highly abstract level and so, for them, "gene" is usually going to be this abstraction. That's the sort of work that Dawkins does, that's why he talks about genes in ways that don't always map very well onto the detailed molecular biology.

    I'm ambivalent about whether or how much this is a problem. On the one hand, there's a long respectable history in science of working on problems both from the low-level, detailed perspective and high-level abstract theorizing. I mean, that's how science works. It seems appropriate to me that people are thinking about genetics in the evolutionary context without much worrying about the details of the molecular biology.

    On the other hand, it's not infrequent that a disconnect or lack of communication between these two camps of researchers leads to avoidable misunderstandings about the subject of inquiry. This sort of simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach works best when there's a lot of communication and collaboration between the two.

    A bigger problem with genetics, though, is how this intersects with the popularization of science and public policy and all related. The abstract discussion of a "gene" just encourages the already lamentable popular misconception of single genes which deterministically correspond to single, important traits. An evolutionary biologist or ecologist working at this abstract level will blithely talk about a gene when that is almost certainly more like a gene complex, along with other stuff, but that's okay because within the framework of what they're doing, it usually doesn't matter. But it certainly matters when those who don't know better try to interpret what they're saying.

  43. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

    @Keith Ellis:

    Thanks, that's very illuminating.

    I must confess that I did indeed intend to be pejorative, but this may well simply reflect my profound ignorance of the field in question. On reflection I have probably been guilty in the past of too readily coming to the conclusion that people were spouting nonsense about genes entirely because I didn't know this.

    Most interesting that the vaguer, high level use is historically prior to the more specific. I can think of a number of parallels to this.

    You last paragraph seems spot on.

    I must say that the use of the word in two such different senses seems to be asking for trouble. The cynic in me wonders if the confusion is occasionally welcome to practitioners of a more speculative discipline not unhappy to be mistaken for researchers in more comfortingly concrete areas. (See "profound ignorance" above, again.)

  44. Victor Mair said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

    @Bob Ladd

    For the record, Chairman Xi said, "The blood of the Chinese nation / people does not have the gene for invading others and seeking hegemony over the world…." He did not say, "The Chinese people do not have the DNA for invading others and seeking hegemony over the world…."

    If Xi wanted to refer to DNA, he could have said "tuōyǎng hétáng hésuān 脫氧核糖核酸" ("deoxidized — ribose — nucleic acid") or simply "DNA" (it is quite common in current Chinese to use the acronym "DNA", e.g., "wǒmen de DNA lǐ 我们的DNA里" ("in our DNA") (115,00 ghits); cf. "wǒmen de tuōyǎng hétáng hésuān lǐ 我们的脫氧核糖核酸里") ("in our DNA") (4 ghits!).

    Compare "wǒmen de jīyīn lǐ 我们的基因里" ("in our genes") (386,000 ghits).

    I'm also posting this as a comment to the "Incoherence is in our DNA" thread.

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12528

  45. Rubrick said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

    @Keith, David et. al:

    When I said Dawkins' definition was idiosyncratic and largely forgotten, I meant from the standpoint of the general public, and (I suspect) Wade. When people read that there are about 20,000 genes in the human genome, I imagine very few of them realize that these are not the genes that Dawkins is referring to.

    Dawkins very carefully crafted his definition so that the principles he was arguing for essentially had to be true. This isn't a knock on Dawkins; the entire theory of natural selection shares the same trait of "illuminating tautology". But in retrospect he might have done better to have promoted a different term.

  46. Bob Ladd said,

    May 23, 2014 @ 8:16 am

    @Victor Mair
    Thanks for providing the Chinese ghit data. I think the numbers make clear that what D.O. and I were trying to say is correct – that Xi's talk was metaphorical and pseudo-scientific rather than literally biological and genetic-determinist. Your numbers suggest that the equivalent of "in our genes" is more than 3 times as common in Chinese as the equivalent of "in our DNA". If you do Google counts on those phrases in English, you get the reverse: the "DNA" version is anywhere from 2-10 times as common as the "genes" version, depending on whether you use "our", "their", "his" etc.
    So it seems that Chinese prefers "genes" for pseudo-scientific metaphor, and English prefers "DNA". That's all D.O. and I were trying to say.

  47. Victor Mair said,

    May 23, 2014 @ 6:44 pm

    @Bob Ladd

    See http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12528#comment-770203

    More things may show up there as I receive responses from correspondents.

  48. Wonks Anonymous said,

    June 5, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

    Cochran & Harpending did not get their theory from Kevin MacDonald. C&H rather explicitly disagree with MacDonald on group selection.
    https://twitter.com/razibkhan/status/472102650415022080

  49. Victor Mair said,

    June 20, 2014 @ 4:04 am

    'Expansion not in Chinese DNA'

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2014livisitbritaingreece/2014-06/19/content_17599023.htm

    That's Premier Li Keqiang speaking. But where did we hear these exact words before? From Xi Jinping, who uttered them a couple of weeks ago.

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12496#comment-746341

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12496#comment-749402

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12496#comment-762061

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12528#comment-770203

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