ZAKARIA: Next on “GPS.” All people are created equal, right? Not so fast according to my next guest. He has some controversial new science to share with us.
ZAKARIA: Common belief in the 21st century is that skin color tells us nothing other than skin color, that underneath it all people are the same. Not quite according to my next guest. Nicholas Wade is the author of the controversial new book “A Troublesome Inheritance.” He’s a journalist who covers science, most notably genetics for “The New York Times.” So, first, set out what you see is the important scientific finding that undergirds this book, that, you know, we have always thought that essentially there was no real genetic difference among the races. That we might all look different but that underneath it we’re the same.
NICHOLAS WADE, AUTHOR “A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE”: Well, the main scientific finding of the book is there’s human evolution as we can now tell from looking into a human genome, which we decoded about a decade ago, has been very rapid and very recent and it’s also been regional. And the regionality underlines the fact of race because the population on each continent have been evolving independently since we left our African homeland about 50,000 years ago. So since evolution happens all the time, it’s a continuous, unstoppable process that as population splits, the two halves will continue to evolve, but now independently. So, over time they will accumulate differences between each other and eventually they’ll become new species.
ZAKARIA: So that as these groups sitting on different continents evolved, they acquire different characteristics and that therefore it’s fair to say that different racial or ethnic regional groupings of people, whites, blacks, Europeans, Asians, are going to have different characteristics.
ZAKARIA: Now, the first question I would have is so that part of it I think people can understand. And you see, for example, that East Asians are generally speaking lactose intolerant. But you go onto say that while those differences are there, there are also probably differences in terms of the political, social organization. That Europeans are probably better at living in rule based societies that have, you know, democracy and liberty.
WADE: Yes. I say that there’s no reason to assume that the head is exempt from evolution. Our social behavior is as much subject to evolutionary change as any other part of our body.
ZAKARIA: Another thing you talk about is how people adapt to extreme circumstances and your examples are the Eskimos or the Tibetans who live at very high altitudes and so develop the capacity to deal. And you compare that then to Jews with capitalism. That the Jews have been able to adapt so well to capitalism because they were persecuted so much. Now, I think there is a mystery of Jewish, you know, super achievement for sure, but when I look at that, I think yes, but there were so many other small populations that were treated badly, discriminated. You know, expelled from various countries and in that case it didn’t seem to produce high achievement. So why did – you know, this seems like an argument backwards. In other words, you found the one case where there was high achievement and you attribute it to genetics, but all the cases where there was low achievement and they were persecuted, you didn’t attribute to genetics.
WADE: Well, I don’t think the persecution had anything to do with Jewish achievement. I think the answer more probably lies in literacy. So, from a very early time, you know, about six from 6380[?] onwards, there was a requirement that all Jews should be literate and should teach their sons …
ZAKARIA: But then that’s not genetic at all. That’s just – that was a decision because it was a religion of the book and it was a cultural institutional, historical reason why this happened.
WADE: But, I mean, this is not genetic. But it puts a constraint on there. So, if you have a population where you need to be literate to be a member of the population, then – generation after generation you can imagine people dropping out. And it is – there was an enormous reduction in the Jewish population as it seems that many of Jews opted out. Remember everyone was living by farming in these days. Education is of little interest to a farmer. It’s very expensive. So, the size of the Jewish population did, in fact, reduce substantially in the four centuries after the first century and one possibility is that this sort of created a natural selection for people who took easily to literacy.
ZAKARIA: You’ve had people say “The New Republic” has run an article, there are others that this book is simply racist. What do you say about that?
WADE: Well, that’s entirely untrue. Many people including the social scientists, have based their opposition to racism on the idea that race does not have a biological basis. But this is factually untrue. It seems to me one should oppose racism as a matter of principle and if you – about principle, you don’t care what the science says because your view is never going to change. As it happens, and as I make very clear in the book, there’s nothing in the human gene that supports racism of any kind. But nonetheless, although my book in my view is basically the science book, it does have – has roused political opposition from people who cling to this view I mentioned to you that we should pretend that there is no biological basis to race.
ZAKARIA: Nicholas Wade, pleasure to have you on.
WADE: Thank you.