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The Specter of Difference
NRODT, via The Derb's homepage ^ | John Derbyshire

Posted on 11/03/2005 7:34:18 AM PST by RightWingAtheist

It is a longstanding cliché that human knowledge of the universe advances by a series of dethronements. There was a time when men thought that the whole world was alive with spirits whose main purpose and pleasure was to watch us. Great bonfires were lit to stir the sun from his midwinter torpor; kings were ritually slain and new kings proclaimed, so that the crops thus encouraged might rise from the ground. It took several thousand years for mankind to understand that the sun is not even aware of our existence, and that crops grow well or badly according to the weather, the soil, and the farmer’s skill, not in response to acts of ritual sacrifice.

Even when those truths had sunk in, we still assumed that our familiar surroundings were at the center of things, with the heavenly bodies revolving around them. Then, in a new series of dethronements, from the 1530s to the 1930s, we learned that first the earth, then the sun, and then even the great galaxy itself, were humdrum objects in a universe populated by billions just like them.

We consoled ourselves with the thought that, whatever indignities we might suffer at the hands of astronomers, humanity is still a unique creation — the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, as Hamlet said (though sardonically). However, as the 19th century advanced, and geologists and biologists began to get to grips with the immense age of the earth, and to notice the odd, suggestive similarities between living species, and the way living creatures occupy and are sustained by their environments, the line between humanity and the rest of nature began to blur a little.

At this point, however, the dethronement process was getting personal, and our resistance to it stiffened. It is, as Sherlock Holmes said, really nothing to us whether the earth goes around the sun or the sun around the earth; but to suggest that we, our precious selves, are no more than a very clever kind of monkey, is a dethronement too far for most of us. Where is the monkey that can sail a boat, write a poem, prove a theorem, pass a law, or found a city? Above all, where is the monkey that is self-aware, that can ponder his own actions and reflect on his own condition?

This resistance to the dethronement of humanity has been getting harder to maintain these past fifty years, as our techniques for observing life processes have advanced. We can now follow human ontogeny — the beginning and development of a human life — in terrific detail. It does not differ in any important way from the equivalent process for other higher animals. Similarly, every month we learn more about the brain, and about how it absorbs information and instructs the body to act. Nothing that we uncover lies outside the scope of ordinary biology, of cells responding to chemical events in neighboring cells, according to principles long understood. So far as we can observe, the brain is just an organ, with a job to do, like other organs. It works by chemistry, not magic. It seems to be as much a part of nature as a kidney, a gill, or a leaf, and operates by nature’s rules.

Most threatening of all to what is left of our self-esteem, we are beginning to understand the human genome, the assemblage of 25,000 or so genes that “code up” the human organism, each gene a string of thousands, or tens of thousands, of basic building-block molecules. Other living things have genomes, too, of course, and the living creatures that most resemble us have genomes most like ours.

Of all living creatures, the one that resembles us most closely is the chimpanzee. A good approach to finding out what makes us humans so darn special would therefore be to get complete maps of the human and chimp genomes, and compare the two. Somewhere in the differences lies the secret of humanness — the thing that makes us more than just another great ape.

This work of comparison has now begun in earnest. Mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003. The chimp genome was published earlier this year. (That is, a database of all the components of all the genes of a particular chimp — an adult male named Clint — was made available to researchers.) Chimps and humans diverged from a common ancestor some time between 5 and 8 million years ago. Since that divergence — since the point when proto-humans could produce offspring with other proto-humans, but not with proto-chimps — our genomes have developed differences. The actual number of differences is around 40 million at the building-block level. Since there are 3 billion building blocks in our, or a chimp’s, genome, the overall difference is about 1.3 percent. Naturally it is that 1.3 percent, not the other 98.7 percent, that is most compelling to researchers. In there somewhere is the secret of our humanness. (And of the chimp’s chimpness . . . but that, with no slight intended to our prognathous pals, is of considerably less interest.)

But now things get nasty — politically, socially nasty. Forty million changes to the genome in 5 to 8 million years means that overall there has been one “evolutionary event” per couple of months since chimps and people parted company. Evolutionary change does not, in fact, work quite like that; but it is nonetheless the case that evolutionary events — changes to genes, as a result of which those changed genes give the host organism some survival advantage, so that the changed genes spread through the breeding population in succeeding generations — have been occurring all through that 5-to-8-million-year stretch, right down to historic times.

Why is that bad news? Because for the past 1 percent of that span — 60,000 years or so, or, to put it another way, half a million or so building-block changes — modern humans have been scattered around the land surface of our planet in groups that have occupied widely different environmental niches, and haven’t mixed much with each other. That’s why your average Eskimo doesn’t look much like your average Australian aborigine. Yes, we have bumped up against the R-word — race. This is the bitter paradox of human genetic studies. In seeking to understand what defines us, we cannot help learning about what divides us. Coming to terms with this paradox will not be easy. The results now emerging from the labs are prompting the first murmurs of a debate that will become loud and rancorous over the next few years.

>snip<

The unhappy thing for the United States is that the problems implicit in results like these are very peculiarly our problems, America’s problems. The lead researcher on both those papers is 37-year-old Bruce Lahn, who was born and raised in China. Bruce left that country in 1988, after some unhappy experiences trying to organize democracy protests at his Beijing college. He has now made his peace with the Chinese authorities, and commutes between his chair at the University of Chicago and a well-equipped lab at Sun Yat-sen University in Canton. China is an ethnostate, 92 percent of her people identifying themselves as Han Chinese, and most of the remainder belonging to related East Asian groups. For China, as for other ethnostates like Japan or Finland, these papers in Science are curious and interesting insights into recent human evolution, bearing no emotional content at all. For us Americans, they are two fizzing sticks of dynamite. My guess would be that if Bruce continues along this line of research, he will soon be spending a lot more time in China.

While I believe that results like these out of the human sciences should prompt us to begin some hard thinking about our society, and about what we can reasonably expect social policies to accomplish, I don’t think that conservatives should fear these results, or strive to deny them. For all the corruption it has suffered from public financing and infection by campus political fads, science is, I shall always believe, a fundamentally conservative profession. Pseudoscience and wishful thinking — they are usually the same thing — have their natural home on the political left, Marx’s “scientific socialism” being only the best-known example. True science doesn’t care what we believe or what we wish for. It just tells us what is, and leaves us to come to terms with it as best we can. Science is a Daddy discipline, not a Mommy discipline.

It is not the case, as foolish people like Richard Dawkins tell us, that science excludes religion. (The research geneticist personally best known to me, another native of China, is a passionate adherent of the Falun Gong sect.) It is true, however, that in his working hours a scientist owes devotion to only one deity, the one Rudyard Kipling called “the God of Things As They Are.” That God is, as Kipling himself was, profoundly conservative in all His works, and conservatives, religious or otherwise, have nothing to fear from Him. To judge from history, in fact, His greatest delight is to make fools — or slaves, or corpses — of pacifists, family-breakers, sexual liberators, dispensers of unconditional welfare, love-the-world purveyors of Uplift, Scientific Socialists, and deniers of unpleasant truths.

Some of the truths now beginning to emerge from the human sciences will strike us as very unpleasant indeed. Some of them will force us to hard thinking about our nation, our ideals, and our traditional boundless optimism towards the potentialities of human beings. We have it on good authority, though, that we shall know the truth, and the truth shall make us free. I believe that if we hold fast to faith in that proposition, and trust science to uncover the truth, neither we nor our country will come to any harm.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: crevolist; derbyshire; evolution; thederb
Also available in the latest print edition of National Review, I cut out the middle to get down to the conclusion, and added bold to Derbyshire's most important comments. You can read the entire article by clicking on the link.
1 posted on 11/03/2005 7:34:19 AM PST by RightWingAtheist
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To: PatrickHenry; Junior

Ping-worthy?


2 posted on 11/03/2005 7:56:38 AM PST by RightWingAtheist (Free the Crevo Three!)
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To: RightWingAtheist

I left my database at home. I'll add this in tonight.


3 posted on 11/03/2005 9:05:12 AM PST by Junior (From now on, I'll stick to science, and leave the hunting alien mutants to the experts!)
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To: RightWingAtheist
Ping-worthy?

Definitely! I'm cranking up the ping machine ...

4 posted on 11/03/2005 9:53:38 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Reality is a harsh mistress. No rationality, no mercy)
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To: VadeRetro; Junior; longshadow; RadioAstronomer; Doctor Stochastic; js1138; Shryke; RightWhale; ...
EvolutionPing
A pro-evolution science list with over 310 names.
See the list's explanation at my freeper homepage.
Then FReepmail to be added or dropped.
See what's new in The List-O-Links.

5 posted on 11/03/2005 9:54:53 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Reality is a harsh mistress. No rationality, no mercy)
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To: PatrickHenry
Funny coincidence: I was reading Dawkins on the evolution of race just last night (in The Ancestor's Tale)

Dawkins attributes the confusion about the genetics of race to Lewontin, who's a Marxist as well as a mathematical geneticist. Lewontin was one of the first to make the observation that the average differences in genomes between the races is smaller than the average genetic diversity within any single race, and claimed that meant that race is insignificant. Dawkins points out that that's just self-evidently false; line a dozen Swedes, a dozen Nigerians, and a dozen Japanese up side by side, and you can be 100% sure you can identify every single one of them to the correct group. The reason you can is that the differences within the races are largely random, whereas the differences between the races tend to be non-random, and in fact, the result of natural selection. Evolution, as we all know, changes populations, not individuals, so differences between populations are far more significant than differences within populations.

Dawkins then goes on to state (1) that there are no socially important average differences between the races (which seems to be utterance of a conventional pious hope rather than a statement of scientific fact) and (2) that even if there were, humans deserve to be treated as individuals, not as members of a group (on which I hope we all agree). Interestingly, for all the abuse he gets here, Dawkins rejects affirmative action (or positive discrimination, as he calls it) precisely because it betrays the latter principle. In this respect, he's more conservative than George W. Bush.

In re Derbyshire's article; yes, there are serious social issues we have to confront here, but the confrontation would be a lot less traumatic if as a society we'd accepted the principle of equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes. If one could answer the finding that group A has on average a 10 point lower IQ than group B by 'so what? I don't care about groups, I care about individuals', then the finding wouldn't have the potential to be so socially and politically divisive.

6 posted on 11/03/2005 10:12:28 AM PST by Right Wing Professor (If you love peace, prepare for war. If you hate violence, own a gun.)
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To: Right Wing Professor
Dawkins attributes the confusion about the genetics of race to Lewontin, who's a Marxist as well as a mathematical geneticist. Lewontin was one of the first to make the observation that the average differences in genomes between the races is smaller than the average genetic diversity within any single race, and claimed that meant that race is insignificant. Dawkins points out that that's just self-evidently false;...

And Lewontin's fellow leftist at Harvard, the late Stephen Jay Gould, used to beat this "fact" to death.

7 posted on 11/03/2005 10:17:21 AM PST by Pharmboy (The stone age didn't end because they ran out of stones.)
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To: Right Wing Professor
I've never really thought this stuff through to any solid conclusions. Race certainly exists, but I think it's fairly trivial. Mostly cosmetic. There hasn't been enough time since the first appearance of Homo Sapiens for any significant speciation-type of divergence. And now that we can easily travel the globe there will probably never be such divergence. (Biological divergence will happen, given interstellar travel and settlement, because the distances between groups of humans will become too great to circumvent, but that's not our problem today.)

Most of the behavioral differences attributed to race are probably cultural. IQ differences are ridiculously irrelevant. The average IQ of my race is as meaningless to me as the average IQ of my zip code. Race is the playground of politics more than any other discipline.

8 posted on 11/03/2005 10:29:31 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Reality is a harsh mistress. No rationality, no mercy)
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To: PatrickHenry

"Science is a Daddy Discipline, not a Mommy Discipline"

I like that.


9 posted on 11/03/2005 10:37:23 AM PST by furball4paws (One of the last Evil Geniuses, or the first of their return.)
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To: RightWingAtheist

I noticed he left out Creationists from the ID of Pseudoscience and wishful thinkers.

Purposeful? (probably, no need to rile the ranks)


10 posted on 11/03/2005 10:40:14 AM PST by furball4paws (One of the last Evil Geniuses, or the first of their return.)
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To: Right Wing Professor

I would be willing to bet that financially successful people, as a group, have lower IQs than academically successful people. The required skill set is not the same.


11 posted on 11/03/2005 10:42:26 AM PST by js1138 (Great is the power of steady misrepresentation.)
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To: PatrickHenry
The average IQ of my race is as meaningless to me as the average IQ of my zip code.

Well, I've noticed that the people most convinced their own race is more intelligent are usually the ones holding up the low end of the Bell Curve :-). I've never met a White Supremacist who wasn't dumb as a rock.

12 posted on 11/03/2005 10:57:00 AM PST by Right Wing Professor (If you love peace, prepare for war. If you hate violence, own a gun.)
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To: js1138

No, and IQ isn't the only thing, or even the most important thing. But if you're trying to hire physics Ph.D.s, and your adminitrators want strict proportionality to the general population, and there are racial differences, you're in a bind.


13 posted on 11/03/2005 10:59:14 AM PST by Right Wing Professor (If you love peace, prepare for war. If you hate violence, own a gun.)
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To: RightWingAtheist
Where is the monkey that can . . . . pass a law

Um, I can name some names here, if anyone is interested. They're mostly based in Washington, DC.

14 posted on 11/03/2005 11:04:15 AM PST by Hardastarboard
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To: Right Wing Professor
Several decades ago I did a review of the literature for my Masters degree. My personal conclusion was that the lower average black IQ was a social and cultural phenomenon. At the time there had been a rather expensive early childhood intervention experiment that brought the group IQs of black children to the national average.

These group improvements diminished over time, after the kids found themselves back in a culture that scorned academic achievement.

Affirmative action is a poor way to achieve results, but I'm not smart enough to know what the best approach would be. Personally, I believe that self-imposed apartheid is a disaster. And some subcultures are just plain broken and are hurting kids.
15 posted on 11/03/2005 11:13:27 AM PST by js1138 (Great is the power of steady misrepresentation.)
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To: RightWingAtheist

16 posted on 11/03/2005 11:16:19 AM PST by Republican Wildcat
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To: RightWingAtheist; furball4paws
Ah, I think you snipped out the best paragraph of all:
(And as a further aside, fans of the Intelligent Design movement should note that none of the arguments presented in the Science papers goes against anything they believe. Sophisticated IDers do not deny the reality of evolutionary change within species, which is what these papers are talking about. ID denies only that evolution can account for new species, an idea that is not in play here. So far as the human organism over the past 50,000 years is concerned, the egalitarian Left has much more serious issues with evolution than the religious Right has. Prior to that date, the anti-Darwinian Right has all the problems, the Left really none. As a simple Darwinian rightist, I myself can glide serenely past all this illogical nitpicking . . .)

17 posted on 11/03/2005 1:15:49 PM PST by jennyp (WHAT I'M READING NOW: Art of Unix Programming by Raymond)
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To: furball4paws
He has riled them before here and here, as well as on The Corner regularly. Just check out the creationut ravings on those threads :).
18 posted on 11/03/2005 2:46:30 PM PST by RightWingAtheist (Free the Crevo Three!)
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To: js1138

Actually, "G," the most abstract and telling IQ measure, has nothing to do with culture.


19 posted on 11/03/2005 2:49:02 PM PST by MonroeDNA (Look for the union label--on the bat crashing through your windshield!)
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To: RightWingAtheist

not bad. bookmarkworthy


20 posted on 11/03/2005 3:04:18 PM PST by King Prout (many accuse me of being overly literal... this would not be a problem if many were not under-precise)
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To: MonroeDNA

culture strongly influences the factors governing rates of synaptic pruning and reinforcement.
synaptic density strongly influences native raw intellectual capacity.

so how, exactly, does "G" have NOTHING to do with culture?


21 posted on 11/03/2005 3:07:39 PM PST by King Prout (many accuse me of being overly literal... this would not be a problem if many were not under-precise)
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To: King Prout

For this ignorant one, explain "G".


22 posted on 11/03/2005 3:21:01 PM PST by furball4paws (One of the last Evil Geniuses, or the first of their return.)
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To: furball4paws

iirc, "G" is the fundamental "intellectual capacity pool" from which all measurable characteristics (creativity, analysis, etc...) are derived.

I have yet to see a definition of the neurostructural basis of "G" that could be used to compare neurostructural differences between individuals and accurately predict differences in raw intellectual capacity - with the sole possible partial exception of density of syanaptic interconnection within the neocortex.

I suspect that "G" is likely to be found to be bunk as neuroscience trundles along on its current trend of exploding 19th Century notions concerning the psyche and intellect.


23 posted on 11/03/2005 3:32:33 PM PST by King Prout (many accuse me of being overly literal... this would not be a problem if many were not under-precise)
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To: King Prout

Thank you.


24 posted on 11/03/2005 3:42:01 PM PST by furball4paws (One of the last Evil Geniuses, or the first of their return.)
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To: furball4paws

you're welcome - just take that "iirc" seriously. I'm no neurobiologist, nor am I a Pshrink.


25 posted on 11/03/2005 3:46:28 PM PST by King Prout (many accuse me of being overly literal... this would not be a problem if many were not under-precise)
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To: RightWingAtheist

Why is that bad news? Because for the past 1 percent of that span — 60,000 years or so, or, to put it another way, half a million or so building-block changes — modern humans have been scattered around the land surface of our planet in groups that have occupied widely different environmental niches, and haven’t mixed much with each other. That’s why your average Eskimo doesn’t look much like your average Australian aborigine. Yes, we have bumped up against the R-word — race.

The unhappy thing for the United States is that the problems implicit in results like these are very peculiarly our problems, America’s problems.

The so called American 'melting pot' may be a greater strength than anyone ever imagined.

26 posted on 11/03/2005 5:05:07 PM PST by ml1954 (NOT the disruptive troll seen frequently on CREVO threads)
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To: MonroeDNA
Actually, "G," the most abstract and telling IQ measure, has nothing to do with culture.

That's the theory, but it does have something to do with how a person is raised. I am not aware of any culture free tests.

27 posted on 11/03/2005 6:58:32 PM PST by js1138 (Great is the power of steady misrepresentation.)
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Placemarker and plug for The List-O-Links.
28 posted on 11/03/2005 7:07:34 PM PST by PatrickHenry (Reality is a harsh mistress. No rationality, no mercy)
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To: js1138

Would visual placement of blocks, and guessing what blocks are behind them, have anything to do with culture?

Visualisation. Either you have it, or you don't. Nothing racist about it, and yes, it predicts success.

How about reaction time where you put ouot two or three fingers, and the other person has to put out enough fingers to make the total count odd?

Is that culteral?

How about the test where you ask for a synonym? You do know what that means, right?


29 posted on 11/04/2005 5:35:04 PM PST by MonroeDNA (Look for the union label--on the bat crashing through your windshield!)
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