The Fault in Our DNA

David Dobbs in The New York Times:

DNAIn his 2007 book “A Farewell to Alms,” the economic historian Gregory Clark argued that the English came to rule the world largely because their rich outbred their poor, and thus embedded their superior genes and values throughout the nation. In her comprehensive takedown, the historian Deirdre N. McCloskey noted that Clark’s idea was a “bold hypothesis, and was bold when first articulated by social Darwinists such as Charles Davenport and Francis Galton in the century before last.” Indeed, over the past 150 years, various white Western scientists and writers have repeatedly offered biological explanations for Caucasian superiority. They have repeatedly failed because, as Mc­Closkey noted, none ever mounted a credible quantitative argument.

Now, in “A Troublesome Inheritance,” Nicholas Wade, a longtime science writer for The New York Times, says modern genetics shows that “the three major races,” Africans, Caucasians and East Asians, are genetically distinct races that diverge much as subspecies do, and that their genetic differences underlie “the rise of the West.” This racial divide started, Wade says, when humans began migrating out of Africa some 50,000 years ago. As groups entered diverse environments, they faced differing pressures that selected for gene variants creating different traits, including dissimilar social behaviors. Genetic selection for distinctive physical traits in different populations, such as lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established and widely accepted. Decidedly not well established, however, is Wade’s proposal that genetic selection gives different human populations distinct behaviors. Because this is the heart of his argument, and because social behavior is far more complex than, say, skin color, it seems fair to ask that his evidence clear a high bar. Does it?

More here.