Archives For anthropology

Nicholas Wade has a problem. Although his new book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”, appears to be selling well, he’s not encountering the praise that he expected from biologists for “courageously” freeing them from the “intimidating social scientists” on the subject of race).

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose



What is he arguing? I go over this briefly in my recent piece on the Huffington Post, and in much greater detail here on this blog, but essentially Wade is using patterns of human variation in populations as a justification for claiming that race is a valid, biological taxonomic category. He goes on to speculate (and that’s really the only word for it, since his claims are unsupported by the preponderance of scientific evidence) that these racial differences determine behavioral differences and thereby explain why some civilizations have historically been more successful economically and politically than others. (You can guess which races he’s talking about; his speculation happens to coincide neatly with traditional stereotypes.)

Wade claims that all critics of this viewpoint are motivated by political concerns and ignore data showing that races are genetically distinct enough to be meaningful taxonomic categories of humans. His book relies particularly upon one genomics study to support this point. In his words (emphasis mine):


Raff and Marks take issue with one of these surveys, Rosenberg et al. 2002, which used a computer program to analyze the clusters of genetic variation. The program doesn’t know how many clusters there should be; it just groups its data into whatever target number of clusters it is given. When the assigned number of clusters is either greater or less than five, the results made no genetic or geographical sense. But when asked for five clusters, the program showed that everyone was assigned to their continent of origin. Raff and Marks seem to think that the preference for this result was wholly arbitrary and that any other number of clusters could have been favored just as logically. But the grouping of human genetic variation into five continent-based clusters is the most reasonable and is consistent with previous findings. As the senior author told me at the time, the Rosenberg study essentially confirmed the popular notion of race.


It’s not a question of logic, but rather what the data show. Rosenberg et al. (2002)’s paper did not analyze or identify just 5 clusters, but rather it considered 1-20 clusters. What Wade is omitting from his paragraph above (and also from his book) is that Rosenberg and colleagues never presented any statistical justification for the choice of 5 clusters over any other number.

Here are the specifics of my criticism, which I posted in response to a commenter on my blog. (If you’re not interested in the statistical refutation of Wade’s argument, feel free to skip this paragraph. I hope Wade takes the time to read it, though). Continue Reading…

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When Andy Hurley performed with Fall Out Boy for the 2013 Victoria’s Secret fashion show on November 13th, he was given a costume to wear that included a shirt with the Rising Sun on it.

The Rising Sun symbol, used by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, has come to represent horrors of wartime aggression (such as the Nanking Massacre) to many, particularly South Koreans and Chinese people.

The Rising Sun symbol is horribly offensive to descendants of people affected by these events, much like the Nazi Hakenkreuzflagge or the Confederate flag. Yet unlike those symbols, it continues to be used widely.

Many people simply don’t understand the connotations of this symbol. But after he was made aware of it, Andy and I felt that this incident would provide a good opportunity to heighten awareness of its cultural context. Here are his thoughts.

Continue Reading…

“You’re going against 40,000 years of evolution”

“This innate toughness that men have is crucial to our survival.”

These points, and many others along the same lines, were made by Mr. Gavin McInnes, author of “How To Be a Man” in a recent discussion of masculinity on the Huffington Post. His argument is based on a suite of assumptions common in our culture. It often forms the basis of misogynist arguments against feminism. Basically:

1. Evolution has made men naturally more “aggressive and tough”, and women naturally more “compassionate and domestic”.

2. Therefore in the modern world, as in past societies, men are the natural breadwinners, and women the natural caretakers of the home/children.

3. Going against these gender norms, as feminism has done in the last few decades, is going against nature, and disrespectful of the importance of childcare!

According to Mr. McInnes, women who work outside the home are “forced to pretend to be men. They’re feigning this toughness. They’re miserable.” You’ll hear a lot of people agreeing with this line of reasoning. But is it scientifically based? Continue Reading…

Fighting words.

Jennifer Raff —  June 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

The antiscience trend in anthropology in recent years has, and continues to have, devastating effects on the lives of indigenous peoples…Indeed some current anthropological schools of thought have completely abandoned the idea that truth exists at all, and instead insist that each version of history is equally valid. This “postmodernist” perspective has been widely adopted by both academic anthropologists and some human rights agencies. Although we sympathize with a perspective that much of history that is actually propaganda that serves the interests of those who write it, the denial that any truth can be discovered or documented must be rejected as both naive and dangerous. Indeed, nothing could be more devastating to native peoples than a perspective that logically maintains that indigenous suffering can simply be considered another “version of history.”…An antiscience trend in recent anthropology is robbing indigenous peoples of this basic human right.
–Hill and Hurtado 1996, Ache Life History

Many thanks to my friend and colleague, Dr. David Samson, for this.