The Ideologue Who Doesn’t Know He’s An Ideologue

Patrick Appel —  May 21 2014 @ 12:43pm
by Patrick Appel

Luke Ford interviews Nicholas Wade about his shoddy book on race and genetics:

Luke: “What were the biggest challenges in writing this book?”

Nicholas: “I think the biggest challenge was that I had so few scientific sources to guide me in interpretation because this is an area where academics cannot tread for fear of being accused of racism and careers destroyed. All of the coverage of this topic in the scientific literature has the basic facts but few people draw them together. So I found the lack of guidance difficult, even more so when I came to the second part of the book. Historians and economics just never consider human evolution as a variable. They just assume all of the populations they are dealing with are interchangeable and that natural selection never need be an explanation to even consider. So there again, there was no guidance for someone trying to figure out the possible consequences of the fact that human evolution has continued and has never come to a stop.”

This is a clever way for Wade to explain why he couldn’t find many academics who agree with his thesis. By blaming political correctness, as Wade does repeatedly in his book, he attempts to portray himself as a brave truth-teller and academics as victims of political correctness. Here’s a representative passage where Wade deploys this trick:

[A]t present most university departments lean strongly to the left. Any researcher who even discusses issues politically offensive to the left runs the risk of antagonizing the professional colleagues who must approve his requests for government funds and review his articles for publication. Self-censorship is the frequent response, especially in anything to do with the recent differential evolution of the human population. It takes only a few vigilantes to cow the whole campus. The result is that researchers at present routinely ignore the biology of race, or tiptoe around the subject, lest they be accused of racism by their academic rivals and see their careers destroyed.

This is a feeble attempt to dismiss the views of the academic community. At the very least, there are valid arguments to be made in defense of seeing race as a social rather than biological construct. Wade is free to reject those arguments, but he hardly bothers to recognize that they exist. Instead, he thinks “commonsense” refutes them. In most situations, I side with the belief favored by the majority of experts with relevant knowledge. Saying they are wrong because commonsense says so is a laughably weak attempt to challenge the general consensus in the relevant literature. Jonathan Marks’s review touches on Wade’s sleight of hand:

At the heart of A Troublesome Inheritance is a simple dissimulation. Wade repeatedly asserts that his interlocutors are mixing their politics with their science, but he isn’t, for he is just promoting value-neutral, ideology-free science. And yet the primary sources for Wade’s discussion of the history of human society are Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington. One gets the impression that either Wade is lying, or he wouldn’t be able to recognize ideology if looked him in the eye and slapped him silly.

Noah Smith explains the psychological trap Wade has fallen into:

Academic racism is very alluring, for at least three reasons. First, it tells us that all our stereotypes and prejudices are basically right – and we humans like to be told that all our preconceptions are right. We suffer from confirmation bias. Second, academic racism feels cool and edgy and rebellious, because political correctness still often banishes it from the realm of acceptable discourse. It’s fun to feel like the scientific rebel, fighting for The Facts against the thought control of The Establishment. And third, academic racism provides a convenient excuse for racism of the non-academic kind. Scared that a big, masculine black guy will take your girlfriend? Worried that hard-working, intelligent (but “uncreative”) immigrants will take your job? Academic racism provides convenient stories to justify policies that protect you against threats like these – at the expense of the black guys and the immigrants, of course.

Previous Dish on Wade’s book here.