It is usual to bemoan the way newspapers report science, but that criticism is amply justified when they make major errors.
You may have heard of Carl Zimmer’s “She has her mother’s laugh: The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity”, and probably read some reviews. Greg Cochran did one for Quillette.
The book has now been reviewed in the Sunday Times, the largest selling quality Sunday newspaper in Britain. To assist those who may not have come across the concept of heredity, the review had a picture of Goldie Hawn and her daughter. They look very similar.
Readers are told that:
“once you get past your great-grandparents you will find some of your ancestors who share none of your DNA. They are still your ancestors but DNA gets so sliced and diced down the generations that all you are going to learn is that you are, like everybody else, a bewildering genetic salad”.
“Nazism showed the most persistent and lethal hereditary superstition is race. This because it seems to be visible; blacks, white and Asians just look different. The killer point here is that genetic diversity within populations is far greater that between populations. In other words, if you are white and meet a black man and a white man, you are quite likely to be more closely related to the black man. Race has no basis in genetics.”
Lewontin never dies! I suppose a few readers may wonder how it is “quite likely” that a white man can be more closely related to a black man than a white man, and how it is that black parents reliably have black children. The answer seems to lie in the genetic salad. Newspaper reporting of this low quality may explain the uphill struggle we encounter when discussing group differences.