They talk about how they're fighting against political correctness. They talk about how biological race is reality that needs to be exposed, and about how those who disagree are stupid, in denial, or are actively covering up the truth.
HBDers have made it uncomfortable or sometimes difficult for many of us to have open discussions about race and human biological diversity without retweeting us from the peanut gallery or butting-in to tell someone how silly or stupid or ignorant they are, or to say Hey you! Get enlightened, here, at my blog. I was treated warmly at first by some and that ended up feeling a bit creepy, as if kindness was a recruitment strategy.
I became better acquainted with some of this crowd when they started commenting on and tweeting about our blog, and especially when I wrote "The Mismeasure of Dog" about a recent research article that claimed to predict dog behavior from skull shape. I got slammed for the title alone, coming across as a hated disciple of Gould, even though one vocal antagonist later admitted he hadn't even read my piece.
I certainly did write that piece because there are people who wonder whether human races are like dog breeds, and because I think it's a useful stepping off point for these discussions in anthropology given how familiar people are with dog variation and how useful dogs are for understanding evolution in general. But I was naive to the fact that there was a whole, active, highly-energized group on-line ("HBD") who will defend the race hard-line and the genes-to-behaviors assumptions that are fundamental to their consideration of human variation, and who are on the prowl to provoke writers who merely ask questions about these ideas, let alone writers who poke and prod further or see these issues as much more than biological ones.
Here's just one reaction to "The Mismeasure of Dog" from HBD land:
"Holly apparently can’t write as much as a paragraph without making clear that she is an utter fool. I’ll bet she inserts nonsense about how identical twins aren’t really all that similar and the mystical difficulty of measuring brain volume into her grocery list. As for Ken Weiss, I get the distinct impression that he’s never known anybody whose cousin owns a dog. Shit, I knew more about dog personality when I was 15, just by having a paper route and noticing which breeds bit me. In a just world, people like this would be universally mocked."As one might expect from proponents of biological race and genetic determinism, I was assumed to possess the singular perspective (and perhaps genome) of whomever it is they are fighting against (i.e. academics, anthropologists, liberals, political correctors, ...). What a telling complaint about our unjust world, too.
That's problem number one with HBD: It's obviously first and foremost about tribalism and politics and pushing their beliefs, not about an honest scientific seeking of the truth.
And that's problem number two with HBD: It can't be about scientific truth
So that's just one of the reasons why race is considered by many to be primarily a "social construct," rather than nature's biological construct.
Many of us are thinking about these issues all the time because we're anthropologists and human biologists and educators. But many of us are thinking about these issues even more intensely right now because of the slight disturbance in the Force brought on by Nicholas Wade's new book and the HBD fandom that has ensued.
I was shocked when I heard that Wade wrote an entire book about genetics, let alone about genetics in the context of such a complex and complicated topic as race. That's because I don't have the utmost respect for his command of genetics and evolution as displayed in the pages of The New York Times whenever he covers the science news.
Anyway, I missed the recent live-streaming debate between anthropologist Augustin Fuentes and Wade, but I tried to catch up by reading this and this and I also read some book reviews, both favorable and not.*
Some of the book reviews (like in the NYTimes) were spot on in describing how Wade's book will only support a particular reader's views on race and genetic determinism, whether the reader considers them to be real or not. But the Fuentes/ Wade dialogue struck me not only because of what it seemed to focus on - like accusing the other's perspective of not being "science" - but also because of what I'd wished it focused on - like explicit discussion about how the reality of biological race is an arbitrary call, and that perhaps what matters most are the consequences of this arbitrary decision.
As Fuentes explained, everyone who is up on these things agrees that humans vary in their biology (and more) and in patterned geographical ways to do with common ancestry of lineages in different parts of the world. We are all more like our families than we are like anyone else in the species, in terms of our genetics especially.
But many people disagree about where to chop up that spectrum of variation, that unbroken thread across space and time that links all humans, all apes, all monkeys, all primates, all mammals, all fishes, all animals, all life. (For more on this, scroll about a third of the way down here.)
Arguing about whether biological races are real is exactly like arguing whether Homo erectus should be split up into Homo erectus and Homo ergaster. These are arbitrary decisions made by lumpers and splitters (who are first and foremost humans and who are therefore not, nor required to be, consistent in their lumping and splitting ways). These kinds of debates will never be resolved as long as someone takes the opposing side. And these debates are, arguably, not scientific even though it is up to scientists to carve up spectral variation over time and space into neat little boxes so that we can communicate about and do science in an effective way. That's all this process is. Labeling, in and of itself, is not the truth about nature. It can be considered truth-as-we-know-it-now, but it can always be overturned by another human with a better label, backed by "better" evidence and, perhaps, some charismatic speaking and writing for an audience within a given cultural-historical context.
Sure, I tend to lump. And I was being overly lumpy when I wrote, above, that arguing over the reality of race is "exactly" like arguing over fossil hominin taxonomy. There's at least one major difference: Fossil hominins are long gone. Humans are not.
Labeling different living human groups as separate races, that is, sorting ourselves into boxes (which is so often, like with HBD folks, not just about SNPs or ancestral/phylogenetic variation but also about assumed heavily-genetically based behavioral variation), has consequences far beyond how silly a splitter would look if someone finds convincing new fossils indicating the reality of just one variable Homo erectus. Lumping and splitting living humans is a whole other league of debate and the consequences that arise from splitting humans into "real" biological races aren't good.
In fact, I can think of no positive outcome of deciding that biological race is real... except for the opportunity for folks who are seeking such an opportunity to talk openly about their personal biases and the differential value they place on one group of humans over another, or to perpetuate stereotypes, or to act on their racism without backlash.
Beyond the chance to have freedom of derogatory expression, can you think of an actual positive outcome if a consensus of scientists decided that biological races are real?
I'm not talking about anyone making a decision about whether mutation, genetic drift, gene flow, reproductive isolation, natural selection, epigenetics, microbes, viruses, environmental influences,... have influenced human evolution and variation over time and space.** We already know that. Human biology (the way we look, the diseases we get and don't get, etc...) varies geographically and in some patterned ways, depending on the trait. That's fact.
I'm talking about deciding that biological race is real, in other words, that race is real beyond being "just" a human construct. Could anything beneficial come of such a declaration?
But also, for your lolz (because if you didn't laugh you'd cry), you must read this review by Dick Dorkins.
Update: "How A Troublesome Inheritance gets human genetics wrong" by Jeremy Yoder is a must-read.