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More than 130 Geneticists condemn new book's research on human evolution

A Troublesome Inheritance, by science journalist Nicholas Wade, was published in June. Wade is former staff reporter and editor at the New York Times, Science and Nature. The book has amassed much criticism, especially from scientists, for arguing that genetic variation between human populations is a cause of global economic, political and social differences. For example, he suggests that genetic differences instead of human culture explain why Western governments are more stable than those in African countries.

Opposition has come in the form of a letter, signed by a who’s-who of researchers in population genetics and human evolution. It represents a rare unified statement from scientists in the field and includes many whose work was cited by Wade. The letter states that “Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate explanation of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in IQ test results, political institutions and economic development." The authors also state that, "we reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not."

Wade counters that the letter is driven by politics and not science, and that He is "confident" that most of the signatories have not read my book and are responding to a slanted summary devised by the organizers. The book, Wade claims, “argues that opposition to racism should be based on principle, not on the anti-evolutionary myth that there is no biological basis to race”.

However, Graham Coop, a population geneticist at the University of California-Davis, says the idea for the letter emerged over discussions at conferences. “There was a strong feeling that we as a community needed to respond,” he says. Like many of the signers, Coop is not pleased about how his research was explained by Wade. What they dislike the most is what they feel is Wade’s belief that his book is an objective account of their research. “He’s claiming to be a spokesperson for the science and, no, he’s not,” says Sarah Tishkoff, a population geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who studies human variation in Africa. She finds the book’s efforts to explain race in genetic terms to be problematic.

Tishkoff acknowledges that natural selection has created biological differences that vary with geography. For example, her team discovered mutations that allow some African populations to digest lactose. But she scoffs at the idea, proposed by Wade, that natural selection has shaped cognitive and behavioral differences between populations around the world. “We don’t have any strong candidates for playing a role in behavior,” she says.