Geneticists blast Nicholas Wade for misrepresenting their papers

Today a group of over 130 prominent geneticists, responding to a review I wrote for The New York Times Sunday Book Review of Nicholas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance, published a letter to the Review taking Wade to task for misrepresenting their workWade cited the work of many of these geneticists in arguing his book’s central contention, which is that humanity’s “major races” have genetic differences that make Caucasians more fit for the modern world. The signers state emphatically that this is not the case.

We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not. We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.”

According to a report by Michael Balter at Science,

The letter was spearheaded by five population geneticists who had informally discussed the book at conferences, says co-organizer Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley. “There was a feeling that our research had been hijacked by Wade to promote his ideological agenda,” Nielsen says. “The outrage … was palpable.”

Ewen Callaway at Nature, meanwhile, reports Wade responding that

“This letter is driven by politics, not science,” Wade said in a statement. “I am confident that most of the signatories have not read my book and are responding to a slanted summary devised by the organizers.”

The letter was signed directly by Noah Rosenberg, Rasmus Nielsen, Molly Przeworski, Graham Coop, and Michael Eisen. As the Times does not print long lists of letter authors, those five authors linked to a full list of signers elsewhere. The list includes many of the world’s most renowned population geneticists — as well as the lead and other key authors to the very papers Wade cites most heavily in building his genetic argument.

Those signers include

  • Noah Rosenberg, the lead author of a 2002 paper that Wade leans on especially heavily, ”Genetic Structure of Human Populations,“ as well as at least two other authors of the paper.
  • Yale’s Kenneth Kidd, who is one of the world’s most respected population geneticists, a central figure in establishing the field, and another co-author on the 2002 Rosenberg paper.
  • Stanford’s Jonathan Pritchard, another co-author on that paper and the researcher whose lab designed the ”Structure“ genetic analysis software that created the ”clustering“ data Wade says supports his argument.
  • Sarah Tishkoff, lead author of a 2009 paper on ”The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African-Americans“ that Wade cited extensively as crucial support.
  • Jun Li and Richard Myers, the lead and senior authors of a 2008 paper, ”Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation,” that, as I noted in my review, Wade misrepresented as supporting his argument.

In the Nature report, some of the quotes hit rather hard:

Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania says she signed the letter because “[m]y own research was used as scientific proof of concepts such as there being between three and five races.” Tishkoff says that her work on the genetics of diverse African populations does not support this claim. Adds David Reich of Harvard University: “Our findings do not even provide a hint of support in favor of Wade’s guesswork.”

The text of the full letter reads:

As scientists dedicated to studying genetic variation, we thank David Dobbs for his review of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance and for his description of Wade’s misappropriation of research from our field to support arguments about differences among human societies.

As discussed by Dobbs and many others, Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate description of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in IQ test results, political institutions, and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not.

We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.

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