Conspiracy of Silence

Book Review: ‘A Troublesome Inheritance’ by Nicholas Wade –

“A Troublesome Inheritance” poses a different order of threat to the orthodoxy. The evidence in “The Bell Curve,” “Male/Female” and “A Blank Slate” was confined to the phenotype—the observed characteristics of human beings—and was therefore vulnerable to attack or at least obfuscation. The discoveries Mr. Wade reports, that genetic variation clusters along racial and ethnic lines and that extensive evolution has continued ever since the exodus from Africa, are based on the genotype, and no one has any scientific reason to doubt their validity.

And yet, as of 2014, true believers in the orthodoxy still dominate the social science departments of the nation’s universities. I expect that their resistance to “A Troublesome Inheritance” will be fanatical, because accepting its account will be seen, correctly, as a cataclysmic surrender on some core premises of political correctness. There is no scientific reason for the orthodoxy to win. But it might nonetheless.

Here’s a hard truth:  Whenever actual science conflicts with the shibboleths of the softer sciences – social “science” versus actual genetic reality, for instance – the junk scientists will double down on their faiths by trying to suppress the actual science in favor of the junk.  Why?  Because the junk cannot succeed when faced with real science.

We’ve seen it before:  the junk science of “climate change” (which is really anthropogenic global warming), fatty diets as the primary cause of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and the fabled “Population Bomb” pushed by Paul Erlich.

As Glenn Reynolds put it:

Instapundit »

Remember, there are some things you’re not allowed to talk about. We make fun of the Victorians for their prudishness and censoriousness, but our society is just as prudish and censorious. Just about different things.

We need to change the people who determine what we’re allowed, and not allowed, to talk about.  Or, actually, get rid of such people entirely.

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About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


Conspiracy of Silence — 10 Comments

  1. Well, good thing I checked the DP front page before putting the time into writing my own post on this. Caveat for the rest of this comment: I haven’t read the book. Just found out about it an hour ago.

    A Troublesome Inheritance will either kick up a shit-storm or be buried. I’m guessing “they” will try to bury it and its troublesome assertions, but there may be something which kicks up public attention and immediately-following condemnation.

    I remember the fury and furor over The Bell Curve, mainly by people who hadn’t read it, or at most had skimmed Chapter 13. I remember there were attacks on Herrnstein’s and Murray’s funding and ethics and qualifications and I remember there were denials that the conclusions could be correct and I remember there were assertions that it doesn’t matter anyway because intelligence doesn’t mean anything. There were some areas brought up which merited further research*, but I don’t remember any valid refutations of the data or conclusions.

    * Which has not been performed, so far as I know. Grant requests for research into racial or sexual differences in cognitive ability are unlikely to receive favorable responses from any government or endowment with enough money to fund them.

  2. His earlier book, Before the Dawn, is one of best books on human evolution I have ever read – perhaps the best, though Moral Origins is in the running too.

    I read it twice, and I highly recommend it. I’ll be getting this new one right now.

    In Before the Dawn, he touched on something I have long believed – that evolutionary group selection drove the tendency to experience religious feelings and faith. That is, groups that had individuals who had faith in religion were more cohesive and more likely to survive as a group, thus allowed that genetic cognitive tendency to spread through a population.

    He then expanded that thesis in The Faith Instinct. So this guy is already experienced with dealing with those who reject his well-based arguments on nothing more than their religious feelings, as the left does regularly.

      • Unsettling, perhaps, but the evidence points strongly in that direction. We all know that people seem hardwired to believe in something bigger and more meaningful than themselves.

        It’s likely, I think, that such a genetic tendency would have been a more valuable survival trait in a tribal culture. With enemies, droughts, wild animals, etc. as threats, a hunter-gatherer tribe of 150-200 (a typical size according to archaeologists) would need stabilizing factors to encourage the individual to sacrifice for the welfare of tribe under certain conditions.

        There is also a need to solve the “prisoner’s dilemma” problem that many actions (such as theft) have short term benefits for individuals but are a long term detriment to the society as a whole, and thus threaten the stability and efficacy of the group as a whole. Religion admirably addresses the problem by telling people that such actions are a sin, and they will be punished later for them.

        Admittedly, the tendency once created could be subverted by shamans and leaders to get the group to do things that didn’t necessarily benefit the group, but did benefit the “elites”.

        By the way, my study of the Prisoner’s Dilemma as part of my graduate math program was what set me on this idea in the first place back in the 1980s. It’s clear that groups in which cooperation is the norm thrive better than those where the individuals are constantly trying to take advantage of one another. I cooperate because I understand the larger picture. But I knew that ignorant peasants in centuries and eras past don’t understand things in those terms. They needed something to induce them to cooperate in the face of the short-term advantage of defection, and it occurred to me that religion was the obvious human characteristic that did that. Thus religion has survival value for the group as a whole, and that would cause groups with members that embraced religion to be more likely to thrive and reproduce.

          • A large scale iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma is basically tragedy of the commons. But the Prisoner’s Dilemma is more fine-grained, and covers interactions between pairs and small groups.

            For example, suppose you find a wallet on the sidewalk with some money in it. That’s not really a tragedy of the commons, but the Prisoner’s Dilemma still applies. In the short term you would be better off screwing the other person and just taking their money. But the cost to the other person is much larger than your gain. They not only lose the money, they also have to cancel credit cards, get a new driver’s license, etc. So if everyone does the short term selfish thing, the net effect is lower average wealth. (The same thing is true of all theft, but the lost wallet case is one where someone doesn’t go looking to screw the other person – they are just presented with a choice as to whether to do so.)

            The iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, where people choose to cooperate or defect many times with the same people, was deeply investigated, and some very interesting conclusions came out it. The most successful strategies are those that share certain characteristics:

            1. They start by cooperating (they are “nice”, in the parlance)

            2. They punish defection by the other person.

            3. They forgive if the other person returns to cooperation.

            There are mathematical proofs that, given certain assumptions about the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, such strategies will win out in the long run over strategies that favor defection, as well as strategies that always cooperate (“sucker” strategies). For example, one assumption is that each player understands and remembers what the other player did in past exchanges.

            In the real world, the idealized assumptions of Prisoner’s Dilemma must, of course, bend to realities. Maybe I just misunderstood that guy who I thought was trying to screw me, for example.

            But it’s still persuasive to me that the very characteristics that we know to be a part of a good strategy for the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma are also the behavioral characteristics in many successful religions.

              • When I was a manager trainee with Marriott, I went to a “trainee boot camp.” The final exercise of the camp was when we were divided into two equal teams. We were told there was a jackpot of unknown amount we could cooperate to win, and there was also a certain amount one of the teams could win by “betraying” the other team. After each round, the known jackpot increased, while the unknown one remained unknown.

                Our team finally betrayed the other team so we could split two hundred bucks.

                After the end of the exercise, the trainers revealed the amount in the unknown jackpot – seven thousand dollars.

                I didn’t know that was a Prisoner’s Dilemma-based exercise at the time, but I assume that’s what it was looking back on it.

  3. As someone who apparently lacks any religious feelings and faith, I can see where this is true – but like a lot of things that are evolutionarily mediated, it is not absolute.
    Neither I nor my eldest can see one reason for believing in anything remotely religious as most people identify it, while we do see the needs for rules of society. From there, if you ignore ‘gut reactions’ and ick squick, you arrive at the conclusion that a minimum set of rules with proportional punishment for violation, all done publicly (with shamming as part of the process) wihtout reference to god.
    Unfortunately, I know second hand, that some people are only ‘good’ if the great spirit watches their every move and reads their every thought.
    I do not have a link to it, but if I remember right, people with damage to their right parietal lobe can think that the left side of the their body is another person or under another persons control. They also have religious visions.
    So, it helps a group to survive if they share the same set of ethics and beliefs and it helps (given that most people need ‘daddy and or mommy’ to watch them at all times) to push the rule making off on big parent. However, the ability to believe it completely, is apparently manifestation of an incorrectly functioning right parietal lobe so it is self limiting.
    Also, if you cannot change your beliefs and viewpoints a little, you get swept under when the world changes (which would be why ancient peoples got overrun when they were more numerous…they could not adapt quickly enough.)
    I will note in passing that in the oldest stories surviving, the hero (who was also the villain) had to challenge god or the king and even if he won, he was punished, not rewarded, for over throwing the existing order. (Prometheus,, e.g.)

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