Oddly, the New York Times has published a second article summarizing the message of its long article on David Reich and other Ancient DNA scientists:
5 Takeaways From the Ancient DNA Research Story
By The New York Times Magazine
Jan. 17, 2019
In only the past few years, as a new report in The New York Times Magazine describes, this burgeoning science of “paleogenomics” has begun to offer surprising revisions to the story of humanity. But at the same time, this research has generated significant controversy, including among some of the archaeologists, anthropologists and other academics who have collaborated with geneticists on this work.
This kind of Vox-like explainer about a New York Times article appearing in the New York Times is pretty weird. Presumably, the NYT, having recently Watsoned for crimethinking geneticist James Watson now wants to Watson fellow crimethinker geneticist David Reich.
Here are some key takeaways.
The study of ancient DNA has upended many of our assumptions about prehistoric times.
For decades, it was commonly believed that ancient communities tended to stay in one place — and thus didn’t mix very much with their neighbors.
The idea of “pure” groups with identifiable “origins” has been largely reconsidered.
Many of the new findings say the same thing: that these groups mixed together in the process of great and previously unknown migrations.
For example, ancient DNA research seems to indicate that about 5,000 years ago, when Europe was populated with a mix of hunter-gatherer groups and early farmers, a group of outsiders suddenly arrived — nomadic herders from the Asian steppes — and within a relatively short time their own ancestry became prevalent. Sometimes these prehistoric migrations seemed to result in “admixture” between groups on an even footing. Other times, however, researchers describe population “replacement” or “turnover” — the near-wholesale shift from one predominant ancestry to another. Contemporary Europeans owe a significant amount of their genetic inheritance to the incoming herders.
So, the history of Western Europe being invaded by Aryans in the 25th Century BC should make you favor North America being invaded by Central Americans in the 21st Century AD and Eastern Europe being invaded by Aryans in the 20th Century AD.
Oh … what? Uh-oh … OK, the takeaway is to change the name Aryans to Indo-Europeans. Forget all about Aryans.
For peoples around the world today, these new theories about origin and migration can have destabilizing implications. …
Archaeologists have collaborated with geneticists on these academic papers, but many of them now worry that the papers are trafficking in some old, discredited ideas.
Many archaeologists feel as though they’ve been here before. For the first half of the twentieth century, archaeology tended to believe that large migrations of superior peoples shaped the landscape and culture of the ancient world. That idea was easily exploited by nationalists…
In the early 1960s, a new generation of archaeologists came to question these grand historical narratives and the unwarranted assumptions that supported them. They turned away from simplistic stories about the distant past in favor of much more detailed attention to specific societal dynamics. Now, some worry that their geneticist colleagues are making similarly grand claims on the basis of a small number of samples.
As opposed to the reigning Social Constructionist conventional wisdom, which was based on no number of samples, just wishful thinking.
Razib Khan responds:
One thing I want to address is a critique, expressed by some academics in the piece, that researchers in ancient DNA do not have the number of samples to make the generalizations that they make. This seems reasonable on the face of it, but one thing you have to consider is that when you obtain an individual’s DNA you get a window onto their whole pedigree. A single individual is actually a pedigree if you have its genome. A genome provides an enormous amount of data. It is an endpoint of a historical process of sexual reproduction that extends back many generations.
Of course, it could be that the one ancient skeleton available happened to be some shipwrecked guy from far away or whatever, but over time you get more samples so this problem isn’t terribly permanent. One thing you can say in defense of David Reich is that he is not hoarding evidence. Data is getting churned out to the public at remarkable speed.
Because, of course, the social constructionist Old Guard whose fundamental worldview is being proven wrong were never “bewitched” by ideology.
David Reich has peeved a lot of people for reasons good and bad. He’s put himself near the top of a cartel of super labs that are doing astonishing research at the cost of demanding that everybody else play ball with them or be relegated to the minor leagues of ancient DNA research. It’s kind of like it’s 1890 and the Standard Oil Company will sell you high quality fuel practically all over the world, but don’t even think about going into the oil business if you don’t want to play ball with John D. Rockefeller.
Reich and Paabo seem to have an agreement that Reich deals with the more recent skeletons and Paabo the older ones. Reich’s big competitor is evidently Eske Willerslev, who isn’t mentioned in the NYT article.
The ideological questions are mostly a cover for these business questions. We’ll see if Reich has thrown enough Russians peasants out of his sleigh ideologically to save his operation from the wolves on his tail. As I wrote last year:
Despite Reich’s occasional need to stop his otherwise lucid narrative to spew irrational rage against his fellow race-science heretics such as James D. Watson, the genome expert conclusively demolishes the post-Boasian anthropologists’ conventional wisdom.
For poorly explained reasons, Reich feels it satisfying to occasionally vilify some of his own admirers, such as Watson, New York Times genetics reporter Nicholas Wade, the late genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending, reporter Jason Hardy, physicist Gregory Cochran, and economic historian Gregory Clark. In the funniest line in the book, Reich exclaims:
Writing now, I shudder to think of Watson, or of Wade, or their forebears, behind my shoulder.
Evidently, Reich has…issues. But a close reader of his book can enjoy his prodigious research without taking terribly seriously Reich’s prejudices.