Sunday 4 May 2014

Charles Murray reviews “A Troublesome Inheritance”

This is the link to the review of Nicholas Wade’s “A Troublesome Inheritance” by Charles Murray. He is warmly in favour of the explanatory chapters:

It is hard to convey how rich this book is. It could be the textbook for a semester's college course on human evolution, systematically surveying as it does the basics of genetics, evolutionary psychology, Homo sapiens's diaspora and the recent discoveries about the evolutionary adaptations that have occurred since then. The book is a delight to read—conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few decades.

He is quick to warn against imputations of inferiority and superiority:

As the story is untangled, it will also become obvious how inappropriate it is to talk in terms of the "inferiority" or "superiority" of groups. Consider, for example, the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. What are the ideal points on these continua? They will differ depending on whether you're looking for the paragon of, say, a parent or an entrepreneur.

Perhaps. If you calculate a general factor of personality, and rank citizens from “helpful” to “a nuisance” it will be absolutely appropriate to say that some people are more agreeable and civilized than others, and that some are more dangerous than others. Genetics may be a large component of this dimension.

Murray is more cautious about the speculative chapters, which he considers something of a Curate’s Egg:

Before they have even opened "A Troublesome Inheritance," some reviewers will be determined not just to refute it but to discredit it utterly—to make people embarrassed to be seen purchasing it or reading it. These chapters will be their primary target because Mr. Wade chose to expose his readers to a broad range of speculative analyses, some of which are brilliant and some of which are weak. If I had been out to trash the book, I would have focused on the weak ones, associated their flaws with the book as a whole and dismissed "A Troublesome Inheritance" as sloppy and inaccurate. The orthodoxy's clerisy will take that route, ransacking these chapters for material to accuse Mr. Wade of racism, pseudoscience, reliance on tainted sources, incompetence and evil intent. You can bet on it.

At the end, Murray comes to a depressing but probably accurate conclusion:

Its proper reception would mean enduring fame as the book that marked a turning point in social scientists' willingness to explore the way the world really works. But there is a depressing alternative: that social scientists will continue to predict planetary movements using Ptolemaic equations, as it were, and that their refusal to come to grips with "A Troublesome Inheritance" will be seen a century from now as proof of this era's intellectual corruption.

The book will be released on May 6. Let me know your views, particularly of the first part of the book in which the evidence is reviewed.


  1. Steve Sailer on the book here:

    I do not know why he chose the title "liberal creationism"; from what I can tell this type of DNA denial is equally common on the right, but if anyone has proof of the contrary please post. A more appropriate title would be "Intellectual creationism", but since he is a paid conservative curmudgeon I guess harping on liberals is obligatory.

    Too bad because he is such an entertaining writer otherwise: "Stephen Jay Gould, arch-druid of anti-Darwinian obscurantism" made me laugh.

    1. West Hunter on the book:

    2. DNA denial is more common on the right, but this particular form of it is found almost exclusively on the left, and the reason for it is related directly to ideology, hence "liberal creationism".

  2. Pre-ordered the book from Amazon: "#1 Best Seller in Biology & Life Sciences".

  3. Murray has sought to distance himself from racism; eg on twitter he's challenged people to show where he's ever said blacks are inferior. Which seems disingenuous, surely that's implicit in the graphs. Still, I haven't read the book, so... Then supposedly he was very soft-peddling on Bill Maher recently (which I didn't see either). Anyway, it sounds like he wants to survive, and who can blame him?

  4. Murray is probably the most canny of the HBDers ('cept maybe Steve Pinker). It's one thing to wryly mock the mainstream for their blindness (eg Steve Sailer), but if you want to be effective in changing minds you've got to take things as they are, try for one step at a time, even deceptively disavowing the feared implications to let the main load of the ideas get under the radar. Let the receiver make those connections himself.

    Having said that I don't think HBD will be accepted until a) China, or some other non-'nice' culture takes over the world or b) for some reason it doesn't matter any more, like: b) you can tune your children a la 'Gattaca' or implant chips, or, everyone gets a basic income and / or we become wards of a benevolent singularity c) society collapses outright, or, just, resources get stretched or there's some other near-existential threat and we feel can't afford niceties anymore.

    I'm sure people are ready to 'land' back in reality, but we just don't know how to accept it while keeping our society as nice and 'human' as it currently is. Keep racial discrimination verboten, but accept discrimination by IQ perhaps.

    As a non-solution but a way to live reasonably with it, I like France's method - pay lip service but don't keep records!

  5. ”'cept maybe Steve Pinker “

    Pinker has recently tweeted “Disagree w much of Wade (goes beyond data, gets some wrong) but he explodes race-is-only-a-social-construction myth.”

    Rather than Wade (who I think is a very dry writer who writes 300 page NYT articles) I wish Pinker had written a book on race. I do not expect him to be very conventionally hereditarian in his views, but that would be better.

    :try for one step at a time, even deceptively disavowing the feared implications to let the main load of the ideas get under the radar. Let the receiver make those connections himself.

    Come now. Murray could have soft-pedalled the findings and the assertions in The Bell Curve much much much more than he did.

    It’s true most of the book did not even concern race, yet most people honed right in on the taboo part. And it’s true he talked about the heritability of IQ in the range of 0.4 and 0.8, and plumped for the safe median figure. And it’s true several times he intoned the formula (I paraphrase) “The substantial heritability of IQ does not imply that the racial differences in IQ are also or equally heritable”.

    But Murray made it worse for himself in 2 ways : (1) by discussing all that eugenic-dysgenic stuff and using those terms — what a PR blunder ! and he has no one but himself to blame ; and (2) very strong policy implications about welfare transfers.

    Probably for such reasons he was perceived as an extreme hereditarian eugenicist (even though he always reasoned from 0.6 heritability, a fairly low figure).

    It’s difficult to believe he was that naive though, which makes me think he doth protest too much.

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