Saturday, July 12, 2014

NY Times really hates human evolution

The NY Times Book Review trashed a book on human evolution by one of its own science reporters. Appaarently that was not negative enough, and now it publishes an even worse review:
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. ...

As a key event he cites Europe’s adoption, starting around A.D. 1000, of the principle that law is the ultimate ruler. This, Wade argues, allowed a transition from closed, insular tribal social organizations to more open, interactive nation-states, and Europe then entered a self-reinforcing cycle: Its rules-based, trade-oriented culture selected for gene variants generating trusting and productive social behavior, and these genes in turn made the culture more trusting and rewarding of hard work. ...

While warning us to avoid filtering science through politics, he draws heavily from conservative historians who minimize the roles played by political power, geographic advantage, momentum, disease and dumb luck. ...

He constantly gathers up long shots, speculations and spurious claims, then declares they add up to substantiate his case.

The result is a deeply flawed, deceptive and dangerous book. Its most pernicious conceit is that it’s finally safe to talk of racial genetics because “opposition to racism is now well entrenched.” The daily news — a black teenager’s killer walks free in Florida; ...

David Dobbs is writing a book about theories of human sensitivity to experience.
So Dobbs seems to be saying that we should not discuss human evolution and diversity because of George Zimmerman trial? The jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges because he acted in self-defense while an attacker was beating him to death. He was only put on trial because of political race-baiting by MSNBC and Pres. Barack Obama.

In the NY Times podcast, Dobbs goes more directly into a guilt-by-association attack, complaining about political conservatives, scientific racism, eugenics, sterilization, Nazis, Holocaust, etc. I previously noted other such leftist attacks.

Dobbs argues that Wade's thesis is circular, but it is not. It is true that there is no direct quantitative link from specific genes to human behaviors, but there is plenty of scientific evidence that behavioral traits are heritable, that human evolution is accelerating, and that there are huge population differences. How many of those differences are genetic in origin is debatable, but Wade's thesis is plausible and Dobbs has no contrary evidence.

Dobbs says "lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established", but I am not sure it is correct. A 2014 paper by Peter Frost on The Puzzle of European Hair, Eye, and Skin Color argues that sexual selection led to lighter skin color, not lower sunlight in Europe.

On the podcast, Dobbs seems to side with Stephen Jay Gould in his denunciation of the heritability of intelligence.

I am all in favor of some healthy skepticism about genetic determinism, but Wade's book is largely a summary of his NY Times stories and not politically conservative. And yet reviewers must trash it by bringing up Hitler and arguing against even discussing the ideas.

If anyone was a pseudo-scientific racist, it was Gould. He was a leftist Marxist Jewish ideologue whose most famous work was shown to have been faked in order to promote his offensive racial theories. When confronted with the evidence, he just accused his critics of being racists. A 2011 NY Times story said:
In his book, Dr. Gould contended that Morton’s results were “a patchwork of fudging and finagling in the clear interest of controlling a priori convictions.” ...

But the Penn team finds Morton’s results were neither fudged nor influenced by his convictions. ...

Ralph L. Holloway, an expert on human evolution at Columbia and a co-author of the new study, was less willing to give Dr. Gould benefit of the doubt.

“I just didn’t trust Gould,” he said. “I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme. When the 1996 version of ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ came and he never even bothered to mention Michael’s study, I just felt he was a charlatan.”
Gould was a charlatan, and a disgrace to science.

Update: NatGeo says Like in Humans, Genes Drive Half of Chimp Intelligence, and SciAm blogs posts a non-apology apology for its favorable review of Wade's book.

Earlier this year, Nature mag apologized for publishing a letter to the editor responding to an editorial. Here was the letter:
Publish on the basis of quality, not gender

The publication of research papers should be based on quality and merit, so the gender balance of authors is not relevant in the same way as it might be for commissioned writers (see Nature 504, 188; 2013). Neither is the disproportionate number of male reviewers evidence of gender bias.

Having young children may prevent a scientist from spending as much time publishing, applying for grants and advancing their career as some of their colleagues. Because it is usually women who stay at home with their children, journals end up with more male authors on research articles. The effect is exacerbated in fast-moving fields, in which taking even a year out threatens to leave a researcher far behind.

This means that there are likely to be more men in the pool of potential referees.

Lukas Koube Sherman, Texas, USA.
Apparently science magazines now consider it misogynist to point out that women have babies.

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