Differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real

Monday, March 26th, 2018

David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard, dances around the stark biological reality of race:

With the help of these [DNA-sequencing] tools, we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.

He then goes on to throw other scientists — and popularizers of science — under the bus:

To understand why it is so dangerous for geneticists and anthropologists to simply repeat the old consensus about human population differences, consider what kinds of voices are filling the void that our silence is creating. Nicholas Wade, a longtime science journalist for The New York Times, rightly notes in his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History,” that modern research is challenging our thinking about the nature of human population differences. But he goes on to make the unfounded and irresponsible claim that this research is suggesting that genetic factors explain traditional stereotypes.

One of Mr. Wade’s key sources, for example, is the anthropologist Henry Harpending, who has asserted that people of sub-Saharan African ancestry have no propensity to work when they don’t have to because, he claims, they did not go through the type of natural selection for hard work in the last thousands of years that some Eurasians did.

He totally mischaracterizes Wade and Harpending, Steve Sailer notes:

I can’t see anywhere in Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance where he cites Harpending to that effect. As far as I can tell, Wade’s book cites Harpending solely for his landmark 2005 paper with Cochran and Hardy: Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.

The late Professor Harpending, a National Academy of Science member, was a rare individual who was both a cultural anthropologist and a genetic anthropologist, spent 3.5 years living with hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa. He loved Africa so much that he seriously considered moving there permanently to live in the bush.

Harpending noted in his West Hunter blog with Greg Cochran that in typical African farming cultures, where weeding is done more with hoes than plows, black women tend to work harder than black men, an observation rather similar to the results found in Stanford economist Raj Chetty’s brand new paper on the gender gap in earnings of African-Americans.

This anthropological observation that most of the farming work in sub-Saharan Africa was done by women was not original to Harpending. The leftist anthropologist Jack Goody pointed out the African reverse gender gap in labor in the 1960s.


Indeed, Harpending noted that the in the two African peoples he lived with this anthropological stereotype was not true. In the hunter-gatherer Bushmen, the husbands tended to bring home the bacon much like among Europeans, and in the herding Herrero the husbands did much of herding.


  1. UnSWPL says:

    “happen to correlate”

    This guy better be careful, or he’s gonna get fired.

  2. Kirk says:

    Question is, does “race” exist, in the sense of “is it possible to group human beings by genetically determined characteristics”, which generally has been taken to be broken down by things which express themselves in physical appearances.

    Were we to start talking about behavioral markers, rather than physical ones? You might be on to something–I suspect that there are a lot of common markers to be found in the Chinese emigre communities of Southeast Asia and the Jewish Ashkenazi, in terms of genetically determined behavioral traits that are successful in those particular environments. Likewise, there is probably a lot of similarity in other groups whose “ecological niches” are similar–There is a lot of behavior that comes out of our genes, and what makes for a survival trait in a particular environment probably works in other examples of that environment. City-dwelling Africans of long experience, such as the people who founded and lived in the regions of North Africa where there is a long history of sedentary civilization probably have a lot more continuity with the settled Caucasians of Europe, while the nomadic herding tribes of the Sahara probably share more continuity with peoples like the Mongols and Sami of northern Eurasia.

    I think the whole thing boils down to adaptation; your ancestry spent most of their time living in a tropical rain forest, you’re probably not going to do really well in a densely populated urban setting; likewise, if you’re adapted to a cooperative and complicated developed society, you won’t do really well if you’re dropped into a primitive setting.

    I think it’s unequivocal that we have a significant part of who we are coded into our genes, and not just the physical characteristics. The mental/personality genes that are hard-coded are likely just as subject to selection as those that code for physical attributes, and a set of those that thrive in a given environment are going to be successful in similar environments.

    That being the case, you can frame many of our issues here in the US with so-called “racial problems” as being cases where groups possess common attributes that are not well-adapted to our circumstances. This is not a value judgment, just a set of facts to face.

    And, there’s nothing to say that it’s immutable, either–If you look at 17th Century Scots-Irish immigrants to the Americas, there were similar rates of interpersonal violence and dysfunction among that group as there is today in the black community. And, those groups pulled themselves out of that morass of dysfunction, or bred themselves out of it. Either way, we should be looking at how that happened, and attempt to work to create the same change in the black population group, if that’s possible. Whatever adaptation, whether it was genetic, cultural, or something else, the fact is that the Scots-Irish do not today have that same rate of violence, so if they could stop it, so can the blacks.

    I suspect that there’s something going on, with regards to behavioral genes being expressed or suppressed due to methylation, possibly related to the general stress in the community. The border regions of Scotland and England are interesting, in that the region was relatively peaceful and prosperous up until the end of the Medieval Warm Period, and when the famines came in, so did the excessive violence and anarchy the region was known for. Whatever triggered that, if it was partially based in genetics, it damped out by the 19th Century, and that region is again peaceful and prosperous. Relatively.

    I do think there is a feedback loop between the genes and mechanisms which regulate behavior, and the environment the human organism finds itself in. Chaotic dog-eat-dog times make for right bastards; good times and an easy lifestyle make for different men entirely. One can be excused for thinking that at least a part of that is coded into the genes.

  3. Alistair says:

    As a statistician, I’d say…something very politically incorrect.

    The linked NYT article is sound. It gives a fair summary of the terrible, sloppy, statistical reasoning behind the “Race does not exist – inter-group distances are small compared to intra-group distances etc, etc” screed which seems to be the final position of the anthropology / social constructivist crowd. If race is entirely a social construct, how can I accurately guess your self-described “race” from a drop of blood?

    In fact, hearing that fallacy of composition for the first time was what got me going down this whole rabbit hole. That and the screeching opprobrium from the gallery whenever anyone asked awkward questions. If they were so sure of their science, why did they need to shout down the questioner? Why didn’t they have a civil answer? Why wouldn’t they look at the damn data and the PCA?

    The professor writing here needs to tread carefully; the Cathedral does not tolerate heresy in this area.

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