Thursday, February 11, 2021

Superior: The Return of Race Science

After the Nazi regime's racial experiments and genocide horrified the world, race-related sciences saw a massive slowdown. It was no longer politically okay to draw conclusions about races as a result of studies, as the world feared how that information would be used to justify bad behaviour. But those days appear to be over, as it is becoming more accepted in mainstream circles (e.g. US governments, during Republican administrations, have hired people who have professed to confirm that there are scientifically-sound racial differences with respect to various human attributes.) So I was curious; what does the cutting edge research say about the differences between us based on our races? Superior: The Return of Race Science examines this question.

The key takeaway is that while there may be differences between the average members of different races (that were measured) along various attributes (intelligence etc.), these averages are tiny relaive to the much more massive intra-race variation. The science (according to the author, anyway) is unequivocal that generalizations are unscientific; the evidence just isn't there.

That doesn't mean people won't try. Race-based science did not just disappear after the Nazis were taken down; it just moved to the fringes. These fringes managed to survive by relying on funding by wealthy extremists. Authors were able to maintain networks with each other, even if shunned by the scientific community. As a result, now that such views and thoughts are becoming more popular again, these ideologies are available to meet this demand.

Many on the fringes have published results with questionable scientific value. Societies have a long history of doing this; the author goes into the history of race-based "science" by exploring the prevailing attitudes of those who justified race-based behaviour, including colonials and segregationists. The views often shape the evidence, rather than the other way around.

Before reading this book, I was familiar with research showing that about half of differences in intelligence appears to be genetic, based on interesting experiments conducted on identical twins that were naturally separated after birth. But the author explains these away by saying the genetic proof behind these differences have not been found. I don't find that to be a persuasive argument, however. This somewhat makes me question her writing off of other studies showing genetic differences, namely between races. I would have liked to see her deep-dive on some of these studies so that I could understand why she calls it pseudo-science, rather than having to take her word for it.

The author does a good job balancing stats with story: it never felt like I was drinking from a firehouse of statistics. And yet the science was well-explained when she went did go down that path, which I would have liked to see more of.

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