The new Bell Curve

Despite reviews first appearing on the web a couple of months ago, I somehow missed the imminent release of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. In a WSJ review, Charles Murray places Wade’s book on a continuum that includes E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology and his own The Bell Curve (written with Richard Herrnstein). Based on the review, I expect A Troublesome Inheritance will draw an equal amount of heat, although it will play out in a world of twitter outrage.

The second half of Wade’s book looks interesting. Murray writes:

Mr. Wade devotes the second half of his book to a larger set of topics: “The thesis presented here assumes . . . that there is a genetic component to human social behavior; that this component, so critical to human survival, is subject to evolutionary change and has indeed evolved over time; that the evolution in social behavior has necessarily proceeded independently in the five major races and others; and that slight evolutionary differences in social behavior underlie the differences in social institutions prevalent among the major human populations.”

To develop his case, Mr. Wade draws from a wide range of technical literature in political science, sociology, economics and anthropology. He contrasts the polities and social institutions of China, India, the Islamic world and Europe. He reviews circumstantial evidence that the genetic characteristics of the English lower class evolved between the 13th century and the 19th. He takes up the outsize Jewish contributions to the arts and sciences, most easily explained by the Jews’ conspicuously high average IQ, and recounts the competing evolutionary explanations for that elevated cognitive ability. Then, with courage that verges on the foolhardy, he adds a chapter that incorporates genetics into an explanation of the West’s rise during the past 600 years.

I understand the analysis of England draw’s on Gregory Clark’s work described in A Farewell to Alms. It will be interesting to see how Wade constructs the rest of his case.

One comment

  1. I hope Pinker reviews the Wade book. In his Twitter feed he said “Disagree w much of Wade (goes beyond data, gets some wrong) but he explodes race-is-only-a-social-construction myth.” Pinker is sympathetic to hereditarian views of race whilst yet standing apart from them. I assume most of the reviews of Wade will be either thunderous denunciations or tribal defensiveness, so his take will be valuable.

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