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Henry Harpending

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Henry Harpending
Henry Cosad Harpending

January 13, 1944 (1944-01-13)
DiedApril 3, 2016(2016-04-03) (aged 72)
Alma materHamilton College
Harvard University
Known forThe 10,000 Year Explosion
Theory of Ashkenazi Jewish Intelligence
Scientific career
Population genetics
InstitutionsUniversity of Utah
Pennsylvania State University
University of New Mexico
Thesis !Kung hunter-gatherer population structure.  (1971)
Doctoral advisorWilliam W. Howells

Henry Cosad Harpending (January 13, 1944 – April 3, 2016) was an American anthropologist, population geneticist, and writer. He was a distinguished professor at the University of Utah, and formerly taught at Penn State and the University of New Mexico.[1][2][3] He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.[4] He is known for the book The 10,000 Year Explosion, which he co-authored with Gregory Cochran.[5]

Some of Harpending's statements about race, biology and racial differences in intelligence were controversial. He is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a white nationalist, and associated with groups described by the SPLC as such.[6][5]

Education and career[edit]

Harpending was born in Dundee, New York, in 1944. He graduated from Dundee Central High School in 1961, received his A.B. degree from Hamilton College in 1964, and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1972.[2] Harpending studied population genetics.

After graduating from Harvard, he worked at Yale (1972-1973), the University of New Mexico (1973–85), Penn State (1985-1997), and the University of Utah (1997-2016). Over the course of his academic career, he contributed to over 120 publications.[3]

Harpending's first wife was Patricia Draper, with whom he had two children. He married his second wife, Renee Pennington, around 1995. They had one son.[3] He died on April 3, 2016, at the age of 72, following a stroke.[7][8]


Population genetics[edit]

According to a biography by Alan R. Rogers, in the 1970s Harpending pioneered the study of the relationship between genetics and geography, developing methods that are still in use. He also overturned the prevailing understanding of group selection, by showing that group selection is most likely to operate when there is strong gene flow between groups, rather than when they are isolated from one another.[9] Harpending also developed the approach of analyzing populations using R-matrix methods, and together with Trefor Jonkin, wrote the most highly cited chapter in the 1973 handbook Methods and Theory of Anthropological Genetics.[10]

!Kung and Herero[edit]

Harpending did fieldwork in Southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia) and spoke the !Kung language.[4][11]: 24  In 1981, while with the University of New Mexico, Harpending studied the group during the South African Border War. Harpending described the !Kung society as "like Rorschachs" because anthropologists could draw contradictory conclusions.[12] His fieldwork was the basis of the 1993 monograph The Structure of an African Pastoralist Community, with Pennington.[13][3]

Harpending also did extensive fieldwork on the Herero people, a cattle-herding group in the Botswana area. Herero are locally known for "their traditionalism, their wealth in cattle and their dominating older women". Harpending's previous experience with the !Kung people was useful because many Herero are bilingual in !Kung. Harpending had previous contact with Herero from earlier research trips.[11]: xxii 

In 1973, Harpending helped start the Kalahari People's Fund. The KPF was an outgrowth of the multidisciplinary Harvard Kalahari Research Group led by Richard Lee and Irven DeVore. Newsweek described the KPF as one of the first people's advocacy organizations in the US with professional anthropological expertise behind it.[14]

Ashkenazi intelligence[edit]

In the 2005 paper "Natural History Of Ashkenazi Intelligence", Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Harpending suggest that the high average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews may be attributed to natural selection for intelligence during the Middle Ages and a low rate of genetic inflow. They hypothesize that the occupational profile of the Jewish community in medieval Europe had resulted in selection pressure for mutations that increase intelligence, but can also result in hereditary neurological disorders.[15][16][17]

Harpending's hypothesis about Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence has attracted both praise and criticism, with some scientists regarding the theory as highly implausible, while others regard it as worth considering.[18] According to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, this theory "meets the standards of a good scientific theory, though it is tentative and could turn out to be mistaken."[19] On the other hand, geneticist David Reich has argued that the hypothesis is contradicted by evidence that the higher rate of genetic diseases among Ashkenazi Jews is in fact due to genetic drift.[20]

The 10,000 Year Explosion[edit]

In The 10,000 Year Explosion, which he co-authored with Gregory Cochran, Harpending suggests a common belief that human genetic adaptation stopped 40,000 years ago is incorrect and that humans evolved increasingly rapidly in response to the new challenges presented by agriculture and civilization. The result was accelerating evolution which has varied according to new niches or environments that particular populations inhabit.

The final chapter of The 10,000 Year Explosion expands on their paper from the Journal of Biosocial Science[21] on the issue of Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence. Harpending and Cochran argue the cause of the claim of Ashkenazim having higher mean verbal and mathematical intelligence than other ethnic groups (as well as having a relatively high number of genetic diseases, such as Tay–Sachs disease, Canavan disease, Niemann–Pick disease, Gaucher's disease, familial dysautonomia, Bloom syndrome, Fanconi anemia, cystic fibrosis and mucolipidosis IV) is due to the historically isolated population of Jews in Europe.[22]

Harpending and Cochran's book The 10,000 Year Explosion was reviewed in academic journals including the American Journal of Human Biology, Evolutionary Psychology, Evolution and Human Behavior, Explorations in Anthropology, and the Journal of Anthropological Research. Reviews by Milford H. Wolpoff, Gregory Gorelik and Todd K. Shackelford, and Edward Hagen praised the book as creative and insightful, arguing that it makes a valuable contribution to understanding human evolution, but criticized some of the book's hypotheses as not adequately supported.[23][24][25] Negative reviews by Cadell Last and Keith Hunley criticized the book for regarding race as a biological category and for presenting an overly simplistic view of the influence of genetics on human behavioral variation.[26][27]



The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented Harpending's works and statements on race, noting his association with white supremacist groups and referring to his work as an attempt to perpetuate scientific racism. The SPLC notes he attributed stereotypes of different human populations to genetic differences, often saying that Sub-Saharan Black Africans, Papua New Guineans, and "Baltimore Blacks" possess the same genetic temperamental predispositions which he said are characterized by "violence, laziness, and a preference for 'mating instead of parenting'",[28] while Europeans and East Asians "have evolved higher intelligence and 'tend to be more disciplined than people who take life for granted'";[28] that he favored mass deportation of illegal immigrants from the United States using FEMA camps as part of the process and did not believe that more money and government resources should be spent on education in the United States because he thought the race-based disparities are based on genetics rather than disparities in government funding; that he gave conferences at what the SPLC designates as white supremacist groups; and that he supported eugenics, crediting it in the form of the death penalty for the "genetic pacification" of the Western European population.[29]

Harpending once stated that people of Sub-Saharan Black African ancestry do not have the same genetic propensity for "hard work" as Europeans and East Asians do. According to geneticist David Reich, "there is simply no scientific evidence to support this statement."[30]

Harpending himself denied being a racist,[6] though he acknowledged that his views would be called "racist" by others.[31] In 2011, he delivered a lecture on race and intelligence at the H. L. Mencken Club, a white nationalist conference founded by Paul Gottfried and Richard Spencer,[32][33][34] described by the Anti-Defamation League as a "racist gathering".[31] In a 2012 blog post, he claimed that institutional racism and white privilege do not exist, describing them as a continuation of traditional African beliefs about witchcraft – a belief in "vague and invisible forces that are oppressing people."[6][35]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Renee Pennington; Henry Harpending (1993). The Structure of an African Pastoralist Community: Demography, History, and Ecology of the Ngamiland Herero. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852286-7.
  • Jennie Keith; Christine L. Fry; Anthony P. Glascock; Charlotte Ikels; Jeanette Dickerson-Putman; Henry C. Harpending; Patricia Draper (22 September 1994). The Aging Experience: Diversity and Commonality Across Cultures. SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-1-4522-5484-5.
  • Gregory Cochran; Henry Harpending (2009). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-4650-0221-4.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Henry C. Harpending – Biography – Faculty Profile – The University of Utah". faculty.utah.edu. Archived from the original on October 31, 2015. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  2. ^ a b American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today's Leaders in Physical, Biological and Related Sciences. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. 2009. p. 509. ISBN 978-1-4144-3303-5.
  3. ^ a b c d "HENRY COSAD HARPENDING Obituary". Deseret News. 16 Oct 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Henry Harpending". nasonline.org. National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 18 October 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Henry Harpending". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2022-11-20.
  6. ^ a b c Phillips, Jon (August 20, 2014). "Troublesome Sources". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  7. ^ "Henry Harpending". Retrieved July 11, 2016.
  8. ^ West Hunter blog – Henry Harpending
  9. ^ Rogers, Alan R. Henry C. Harpending: 1944-2016." Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 2018.
  10. ^ Crawford, Michael H. "History and Evolution of Anthropological Genetics". In A Companion to Anthropological Genetics (2019), edited by Dennis H. O'Rourke, pp. 3-15.
  11. ^ a b Keith, Jennie (1994). The Aging experience diversity and commonality across cultures. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. ISBN 1-4522-5484-2. The Herero research team was headed by Henry Harpending. His American research assistant was Renee Pennington, then a graduate student in anthropology at Penn State University. Harpending spoke !Kung because of his previous fieldwork in the area, and many Herero speak !Kung.
  12. ^ Kolata, Gina Bari (1981). "!Kung Bushmen Join South African Army". Science. 211 (4482): 562–564. Bibcode:1981Sci...211..562B. doi:10.1126/science.211.4482.562. JSTOR 1685565. PMID 17840941.
  13. ^ Renee Pennington; Henry Harpending (1993). The Structure of an African Pastoralist Community: Demography, History, and Ecology of the Ngamiland Herero. Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852286-7.
  14. ^ Biesele, Megan (2003). "The Kalahari Peoples Fund: Activist Legacy of the Harvard Kalahari Research Group". Anthropologica. 45 (1): 79–88. doi:10.2307/25606115. ISSN 0003-5459. JSTOR 25606115.
  15. ^ Kaplan, Karen (April 18, 2009). "Jewish legacy inscribed on genes?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2015-11-06. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  16. ^ Cochran, Gregory; Hardy, Jason; Harpending, Henry (2005). "Natural History Of Ashkenazi Intelligence" (PDF). Journal of Biosocial Science. 38 (5): 659–93. CiteSeerX doi:10.1017/S0021932005027069. ISSN 0021-9320. PMID 16867211. S2CID 209856. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-09-11.
  17. ^ Wade, Nicholas (2005-06-03). "Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  18. ^ "Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes". The New York Times, June 3, 2005.
  19. ^ Pinker, S. "Groups and Genes". The New Republic, June 26, 2006.
  20. ^ Reich. D. Who We are and How We Got Here. Pantheon books, 2018, p. 261.
  21. ^ G. Cochran, J. Hardy, H. Harpending. "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" Archived 2013-09-11 at the Wayback Machine, Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5), pp. 659–693 (2006).
  22. ^ "Henry Harpending." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Biography In Context. Web. 1 Sept. 2013.
  23. ^ Milford H. Wolpoff (2010). Book Review: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilizations Accelerated Human Evolution. Edited by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. xiii 1 288 pp. New York: Basic Books. 2009. $27.00 (cloth). American Journal of Human Biology. 22:137–142. Wolpoff, M. H. (2010). "Book review: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilizations Accelerated Human Evolution" (PDF). American Journal of Human Biology. 22: 137–138. doi:10.1002/ajhb.21004. hdl:2027.42/64524.
  24. ^ Gorelik, Gregory; Shackelford, Todd K. (1 January 2010). "Book Review: Why Genes Still Matter". Evolutionary Psychology. 8 (1): 113–118. doi:10.1177/147470491000800111. ISSN 1474-7049. PMC 10481038.
  25. ^ Hagen, Edward H. (2009). "Human natures - A review of The 10,000 Year Explosion". Evolution and Human Behavior. 30 (6): 453–455. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.07.006. ISSN 1090-5138.
  26. ^ Last, Cadell Nicholas (2013). Book Review: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.
  27. ^ Hunley, Keith (2009). "Review of The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution". Journal of Anthropological Research. 65 (4): 643–644. doi:10.1086/jar.65.4.25608265. ISSN 0091-7710. JSTOR 25608265.
  28. ^ a b Double quotes: SPLC; single quotes: Henry Harpending; both quoted in "Henry Harpending". Extremist Files. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  29. ^ Henry Harpending, quoted in "Henry Harpending". Extremist Files. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  30. ^ Reich, David (2018-03-23). "How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of 'Race'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  31. ^ a b Sommer, Will (2011-11-09). "Academia's Favorite Group of Racists Holds Annual Meeting". Generation Progress. Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  32. ^ Piggott, Stephen (November 4, 2016). "White Nationalists to Gather in Baltimore for the Ninth Annual H.L. Mencken Club Conference". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  33. ^ Rodgers, Marion (December 9, 2018). "The Alt-Right Loves H.L. Mencken. The Feeling Would Not Have Been Mutual". Reason. Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  34. ^ Merlan, Anna (July 10, 2013). "Is the H.L. Mencken Club an Extremist Hate Group, or Just a Bunch of Weary Old White Guys?". Village Voice. Retrieved 2019-07-22.
  35. ^ Harpending, Henry (2012-01-16). "My friend the witch doctor". West Hunter. Archived from the original on 2021-04-08. Retrieved 2019-07-22.

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