Wade was born in Aylesbury, England and educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. Wade has been a correspondent, based in Washington, and deputy editor, based in London, of the journal Nature. He also reported from Washington for the journal Science.
At the New York Times he has worked as an editorial writer covering science, environment and defense, and as editor of the science section. He is the author of several books including The Nobel Duel, (Doubleday, 1980) an account of two scientists' race to win the Nobel prize; Betrayers of the Truth, co-authored with William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster, 1982) and Before the Dawn, (Penguin Press, 2006) about human evolution. His most recent book, about the evolution of religious behavior, is The Faith Instinct (Penguin Press, 2009).
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Wade's support for sociobiology has placed him in conflict with more mainstream biological anthropologists such as Jonathan M. Marks, who accuses Wade of supporting genetic determinism. The American Anthropological Association has also issued a statement accusing Wade of misrepresenting the views of their organization, and The New York Times printed two corrections of his coverage of a controversy about Napoleon Chagnon.
Marks has argued that Wade's criticism of anthropology as unscientific is ideological, and thus fails to adequately offer legitimate evidence for anti-evolutionary perspectives within the discipline. Marks has severely criticized The New York Times's coverage of controversy surrounding a new book by Napoleon Chagnon:
"For The New York Times to promote Chagnon's anti-intellectual nonsense unchallenged, as if it represented evolution, much less science, is a terrible, terrible mistake. And for them to allow Nicholas Wade to conduct his intellectual war against the science of anthropology in their pages is outrageous."
Wade has been known to publicly criticize anthropology, particularly cultural anthropology, as lacking in scientific rigor. In a 2007 lecture, he said:
"Anyone who's interested in cultural anthropology should escape as quickly as they can from their cultural anthropology department and go and learn some genetics, which will be the foundation of cultural anthropology in the future."
- The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. ISBN 1-59420-228-1.
- Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. ISBN 1-59420-079-3.
- With William Broad. Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. ISBN 0-671-49549-6.
- The Nobel Duel, (Doubleday, 1980)
- Amos Esty (May 25, 2006). "The Bookshelf talks with Nicholas Wade". American Scientist.
- Gitschier J (2005) Turning the Tables—An Interview with Nicholas Wade. PLoS Genet 1(3): e45
- Marks, Jon. "Meet Joe Science".
- "Scientists Respond to The New York Times".
- "corrections: March 6 2013".
- Jonathan Marks. "The Times, it is Outragin’" http://anthropomics.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-times-it-is-outragin.html
- Rachel Dvoskin. "Productive Dialogue or Dangerous Advocacy? Nicholas Wade Speaks to Leakey Audience" http://www.aaanet.org/press/an/0907/dvoskin.html
- "How to Improve Your Information" (various tactics), Frederick Mann, 1993, webpage: Mind-TrekCom-Reports-t103: mentions book Betrayers of the Truth....