A Troublesome Inheritance

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A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
AuthorNicholas Wade
CountryUnited States
Human evolution
PublisherPenguin Books
Media typePrint

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History is a 2014 book by Nicholas Wade, a British writer, journalist, and former science and health editor for The New York Times.[1][2][3][4] In the book, Wade argues that human evolution has been "recent, copious and regional"[5][6][7] and that this has important implications for social sciences.[8] The book has been widely denounced by the scientific community for misrepresenting research into human population genetics.[9][10][11]


Wade writes about racial differences in economic success between Whites, Blacks, and East Asians, and offers the argument that racial differences come from genetic differences amplified by culture. In the first part of the book, Wade provides an account of human genetics research. In the second part of his book, Wade proposes that regional differences in evolution of social behavior explain many differences among different human societies around the world.[12]


The book has been widely denounced by scientists, including many of those upon whose work the book was based.[9][10][11][13] On 8 August 2014, The New York Times Book Review published an open letter signed by 139 faculty members in population genetics and evolutionary biology[9][10] which read:[13]

Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. 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.[13]

After publication, the letter was signed by four more faculty members.[11] In reply, Wade wrote, "This letter is driven by politics, not science. I am confident that most of the signatories have not read my book and are responding to a slanted summary devised by the organizers."[9][14] Wade added that he had asked the letter's main authors, Graham Coop and Michael Eisen, for a list of errors so that he could correct future editions of the book.[10][14]

Evolutionary geneticist Mark Jobling, one of the signatories to the letter, wrote an opinion piece in the peer-reviewed journal Investigative Genetics explaining that the unprecedented letter was necessary due to both the fallacious nature of Wade's argument and its political ramifications, stating that "Its enthusiastic proponents already include some high profile white supremacists and a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan."[15] Biologist Marcus Feldman, another of the signatories to the letter, further criticized Wade's book, arguing that "By invoking Richard Lynn on racial variation in IQ and wealth, Wade departs from his 'speculative arena,' leaving us to infer not only that he is a devout hereditarian, but also that he is comfortable with Lynn's racist worldview."[16]

The book was further criticized in a series of five reviews by Agustín Fuentes, Jonathan M. Marks, Jennifer Raff, Charles C. Roseman and Laura R. Stein, which were published together in the scientific journal Human Biology.[17] Marks, for instance, described the book as "entirely derivative, an argument made from selective citations, misrepresentations, and speculative pseudoscience."[18] The publishers made all the reviews accessible on open access in order to facilitate discussions on the subject.[19]

Anthropologist Greg Laden writes that anthropologists were mostly critical of the book, while psychologists and economists generally received it more warmly.[7] Laden concludes that "A Troublesome Inheritance is itself troubling, not for its politics but for its science. Its arguments are only mildly amended versions of arguments discarded decades ago by those who methodically and systematically study human behavioral variation across cultures."[7]

Evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr wrote in The New York Review of Books that "Wade's survey of human population genomics is lively and generally serviceable. It is not, however, without error. He exaggerates, for example, the percentage of the human genome that shows evidence of recent natural selection."[12] Orr comments that, in its second part, "the book resembles a heavily biological version of Francis Fukuyama's claims about the effect of social institutions on the fates of states in his The Origins of Political Order (2011)."[12] Orr criticizes Wade for failing to provide sufficient evidence for his claims, though according to Orr, Wade concedes that evidence for his thesis is "nearly nonexistent."[12]

Political scientist Charles Murray wrote a positive review in The Wall Street Journal,[20] calling the book "historic"[4] and stating that opposition to the book among academics would be motivated by "political correctness".[21] Economist Walter E. Block criticized parts of the book, but concluded Wade's "moral and intellectual courage cannot be denied".[22] Statistician Andrew Gelman writes, "As a statistician and political scientist, I see naivete in Wade's quickness to assume a genetic association for any change in social behavior."[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allen, Arthur (15 May 2014). "Charging Into the Minefield of Genes and Racial Difference: Nicholas Wade's 'A Troublesome Inheritance'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  2. ^ Wente, Margaret. "What if race is more than a social construct?". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 10 November 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  3. ^ Marks, Jonathan. "The Genes Made Us Do It". In These Times. Archived from the original on 14 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  4. ^ a b Coyne, Jerry (14 May 2014). "New book on race by Nicholas Wade: Professor Ceiling Cat says paws down". Why Evolution is True. Archived from the original on 17 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2014. It is an irresponsible book that makes insupportable claims.
  5. ^ Cohen, Philip N. (19 June 2014). "Don't Trouble Yourself". Boston Review. Archived from the original on 29 October 2019. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  6. ^ Shulman, Seth (23 May 2014). "Book review: "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History," by Nicholas Wade". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 29 October 2019. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Laden, Greg (2014). "A Troubling Tome". American Scientist. 102 (4): 309. doi:10.1511/2014.109.309. ISSN 0003-0996. Ultimately, Wade claims that modern anthropology ignores key scientific information for political reasons, yet his own arguments are only thinly supported by data, and much of the data he does reference isn't rigorous. To his credit, he refutes certain racist notions associated with the idea of genetic determinism, and he speaks against social Darwinism and similar concepts. But if that verbiage were excised, his book would fit comfortably in the early to mid-20th century literature on race and human variation.
  8. ^ Jogalekar, Ashutosh. "Genes and Race: The Distant Footfalls of Evidence". The Curious Wavefunction. Scientific American. Archived from the original on 14 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d Balter, Michael (8 August 2014). "Geneticists decry book on race and evolution". Science. doi:10.1126/article.22717 (inactive 31 January 2024). Archived from the original on 22 February 2016.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of January 2024 (link)
  10. ^ a b c d Callaway, Ewen (8 August 2014). "Geneticists say popular book misrepresents research on human evolution". Nature newsblog. Archived from the original on 11 July 2021. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  11. ^ a b c Hiltzik, Michael (12 August 2014). "Racism, the Misuse of Genetics and a Huge Scientific Protest". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 28 October 2019. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d Orr, H. Allen (5 June 2014). "Stretch Genes". The New York Review of Books. Archived from the original on 18 May 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2014. A Troublesome Inheritance goes beyond reporting scientific facts or accepted theories and finds Wade championing bold ideas that fall outside any scientific consensus. [...] Hard evidence for Wade's thesis is nearly nonexistent. Odder still, Wade concedes as much at the start of A Troublesome Inheritance: 'Readers should be fully aware that in chapters 6 through 10 they are leaving the world of hard science and entering into a much more speculative arena at the interface of history, economics and human evolution.'
  13. ^ a b c Coop, Graham; Eisen, Michael; Nielsen, Rasmus; Przeworski, Molly; Rosenberg, Noah (8 August 2014). "Letters: 'A Troublesome Inheritance'". The New York Times Book Review. Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2014 – via Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics, Stanford University.
  14. ^ a b "Microsoft Word - Response to NYT letter.docx" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 August 2014. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
  15. ^ Jobling, Mark (23 October 2014). "Trouble at the Races". Investigative Genetics. 5. Article 14. doi:10.1186/2041-2223-5-14. ISSN 2041-2223. PMC 4206859. PMID 25349690.
  16. ^ Feldman, Marcus (2014). "Echoes of the Past: Hereditarianism and A Troublesome Inheritance". PLOS Genetics. 10 (12): e1004817. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004817. PMC 4263368. PMID 25502763. Archived from the original on 22 August 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  17. ^ See:
  18. ^ Marks, Jonathan (2014). "Review of A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade" (PDF). Human Biology. 86 (3): 221–226. doi:10.13110/humanbiology.86.3.0221. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  19. ^ "'Human Biology' reviews 'A Troublesome Inheritance'". Wayne State University Press. 27 April 2015. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  20. ^ Fuentes, Agustín (2014). "A Troublesome Inheritance: Nicholas Wade's Botched Interpretation of Human Genetics, History, and Evolution" (PDF). Human Biology. 86 (3): 215–220. doi:10.13110/humanbiology.86.3.0215. S2CID 681025. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  21. ^ Murray, Charles (2 May 2014). "Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 15 December 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2014. I expect that [...] resistance to 'A Troublesome Inheritance' will be fanatical, because accepting its account will be seen, correctly, as a cataclysmic surrender on some core premises of political correctness.
  22. ^ Block, Walter E. (2015). "Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, by Nicholas Wade". The Independent Review. 20 (2). Archived from the original on 24 June 2021. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  23. ^ Gelman, Andrew (8 May 2014). "The Paradox of Racism: Why the new book by the New York Times' Nicholas Wade is both plausible and preposterous". The State of the Universe. Slate. Archived from the original on 15 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.