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During the past two weeks, much outrage has arisen over former Heritage Foundation staffer Jason Richwine's Harvard doctoral dissertation, which speculated that IQ differences between "Hispanic" and "non-Hispanic' populations were genetically rooted. The claims mirrored those of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's scurrilous The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. which made similar claims about the intelligence of blacks. (Murray receives thanks in Richwine's dissertation acknowledgments and wrote recently in National Review Online in defense of Richwine.)
The fury continues. In the past couple days, a group of scholars has circulated a petition excoriating Harvard for approving the dissertation and condoning scientific racism in the process. Their petition situates Richwine within an odious lineage stretching back to the era of eugenics and charges that his work rests on shoddy intellectual foundations. (These scholars are right: the late J. Phillipe Rushton, best known for claiming associations among race, brain size, and penis length, is cited by Richwine.) A group of 1,200 Harvard University students has also put together their own petition.
Medical literature (and uncritical reporting about it) is replete with other examples that perpetuate the notion of biological race as a key factor in disparate disease outcomes.
But the attacks on Richwine are missing something far more insidious than neo-eugenic claims about innately inferior intelligence between races. The backlash against Richwine and Murray, after all, gives some indication that their views are widely considered beyond the respectable pale in the post- Bell Curve era. Richwine and Murray are really extreme branches of a core assumption that is much more pervasive and dangerous because it isn't necessarily racist on the surface: the belief in biological "races." This first assumption is required to get to claims like Richwine's, which argue that between Race A and Race B, differences exist (in "intelligence" or whatever else) that are grounded in the biological characteristics of the races themselves. Public outcry always greets the second Richwine-Murray-esque claim. But the first assumption required to reach it is more common and based on as shaky an intellectual foundation, even as it continues to escape equal scorn.
Even so, the critique of biologically innate race is hardly new. In 1972, the Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin famously observed more genetic variation within populations than between them, undercutting the case for fixed and timeless genetic boundaries that demarcated "races." A basic grasp of American racial history shows that today's commonly accepted racial categories -- what the historian David Hollinger calls the "ethno-racial pentagon" - have hardly looked that way during the nation's history. As I wrote in a 2007 piece. "the numbers, names, and members of respective races are always in flux. Go somewhere else on the planet or step back a century, and you'll likely encounter a different racial schema all together," pointing to the Dillingham Commission of the United States Congress, which wrote a century ago: "Some writers have reduced the number of such basic races to 3, while others have proposed, 15, 29, or even 63." The Commission went with five.
But since that piece, the belief in the intellectual validity of racial biology has persisted, along with claims about specific outcomes allegedly associated with distinct "races," including disease rates, physiological abilities, or intelligence. ("Intelligence" is the only one of the outcomes, it seems, to land one in trouble, as Richwine learned.) Disease information sheets available online and in physicians' offices are one common means of reinforcing the notion of biological races. For example, the popular site WebMdnotes that "Caucasian and Asian ancestry" is a risk factor for developing osteoporosis, which elides the enormous heterogeneity (genetic and otherwise) that actually exists within the "Caucasian" and "Asian" classifications. Another WebMD fact sheet on hypertension similarly declares that "high rates of high blood pressure in African-Americans may be due to the genetic make-up of people of African descent." Just last week, in a news story accompanying actress Angelina Jolie's op-ed detailing her preventive mastectomy, three New York Times reporters wrote. "Mutations in BRCA1 and another gene called BRCA2 are estimated to cause only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 percent to 15 percent of ovarian cancers among white women in the United States.
The mutations are found in other racial and ethnic groups as well, but it is not known how common they are," unintentionally accepting the premise that traits and characteristics of bounded racial and ethnic groups might contribute to differences in disease incidence among them. The medical literature (and uncritical reporting about it) is replete with other examples that perpetuate the notion of biological race as a key factor in disparate disease outcomes. (Elsewhere, NYU sociologist Ann Morning, in her fascinating The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference. has documented other channels through which biological notions of race are disseminated.)
In the past decade, a small but growing sub-field, anchored in multiple disciplines, has begun criticizing the unthinking racial essentialism that finds its way into scientific research more frequently than one might think, especially in medicine and public health orbits. One exemplar is the article "Racial Categories in Medical Practice: How Useful Are They? " which appeared in PLOS Medicine. Its authors first review the degree to which common conceptions of race have in fact historically shaped by administrative imperatives (not biological reality). They then issue a warning on the use of race as a proxy, writing that "once race is presumed, the ways in which multiple genetic inheritances interact with the environment within that individual seem to disappear. Clinical clues can become invisible."
The dangers are not hard to see. Belief in innate racial predisposition to a disease may short-circuit examination of non-genetic factors behind a racially classified individual's condition, or in the population at large, health disparities between commonly understood racial groups. At its worst, it may lead to compromised patient care. The PLOS Medicine writers warn that for clinicians specifically, "rapid racial assessment is an attractive means to figure out what to do with a presenting patient. But we argue that even if there are short cuts for the medical interview, race is not a good one. There is, in the end (in addition to noting physical symptoms), no substitute for an inquiry into family history, an assessment of current circumstances, and knowledge about the biological and cultural histories of specific populations serviced by a particular treatment center."
The critique has not been easy to mount as biological notions of race are embedded in American thought. Drexel University's Michael Yudell and Brown University's Lundy Braun (one of the authors of the PLOS article) have completed two important forthcoming books showing just the extent. Yudell traces the notion throughout the twentieth century, demonstrating its remarkable resiliency even in the face of periodic challenges inside and outside formal scientific worlds. (A distilled article version of his book is here ). Braun's work, meanwhile, examines a specific case: the history of lung function measurement and the entrenchment of different diagnostic criteria for different "races" - a practice called "race correction," in turn premised on the belief in biological race. In a recent disturbing review of almost a century's worth of pulmonary research, published in the European Journal of Respiratory Research. Braun and her colleagues found that biological-racial explanations for differences in lung faction are common, though they also found a fair share of articles with environmental explanations as well. The biological-racial strand of explanation, they note, is not just history:
While the view that races and ethnic groups differ in the capacity of their lungs is widely accepted in pulmonary medicine, the continued practice of explaining racial and ethnic difference in lung function as rooted in inherent and fixed anthropometric difference has important health policy implications. Importantly, it could divert attention from much-needed research into the physiological mechanisms by which specific social and physical environments influence lung function.
In the end, calling Jason Richwine a scientific racist may be morally satisfying and justifiable intellectually. But it doesn't begin to touch on the wider and much more common commitment to biological race that is necessary in the first place before one argues for "racial" superiority or inferiority. Scientific racism, in other words, requires scientific race.
In and of itself, the biological race concept does not necessarily lead to claims of racial superiority or inferiority. But it certainly can lead there, or less malevolently, can obfuscate a complex litany of explanations for explaining observable population differences. Those condemning Harvard over Richwine would do better to avoid low-hanging fruit and instead turn their attention to those around them who accept common assumptions about race and biology. The latter have much more in common with Jason Richwine than might appear at first glance. And given the pervasiveness of talking in terms of "race," we all may be more complicit than we think.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Several decades before he became the father of industrial design, Raymond Loewy boarded the SS France in 1919 to sail across the Atlantic from his devastated continent to the United States. The influenza pandemic had taken his mother and father, and his service in the French army was over. At the age of 25, Loewy was looking to start fresh in New York, perhaps, he thought, as an electrical engineer. When he reached Manhattan, his older brother Maximilian picked him up in a taxi. They drove straight to 120 Broadway, one of New York City’s largest neoclassical skyscrapers, with two connected towers that ascended from a shared base like a giant tuning fork. Loewy rode the elevator to the observatory platform, 40 stories up, and looked out across the island.
Remembering George Michael, the search for bodies from the Black Sea crash, and more from the United States and around the world.
—Tributes pour in for George Michael, the singer who died Sunday at age 53.
—Russian authorities continue the search for the bodies of 92 people aboard a military transport plane that crashed in the Black Sea.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Human beings are really good at picking out cause-and-effect relationships. But they’re bad at predicting future consequences.
Governing is often a cause-and-effect business. Give workers a tax break on retirement accounts? More people save for life after the working world. Offer a rebate for old cars? Drivers scrap their gas-guzzling Explorers in favor of sensible Corollas, and average fuel efficiency goes up.
It’s easy to sell something to voters when the costs and benefits are immediately obvious. But that’s not how most policies work. Many look downright terrible in the beginning—what, pay more taxes?—and deliver a payout only if people collectively change their future behavior. Take a carbon tax: Industry would pay more to produce energy, making stuff more expensive, but the price pressure might prompt an eventual shift to alternative fuels, which could deliver an overall benefit to society.
The main source of meaning in American life is a meritocratic competition that makes those who struggle feel inferior.
What is happening to America’s white working class?
The group’s important, and perhaps decisive. role in this year’s presidential election sparked a slew of commentary focused on, on the one hand, its nativism, racism, and sexism. and, on the other, its various economic woes . While there are no simple explanations for the desperation and anger visible in many predominantly white working-class communities, perhaps the most astute and original diagnosis came from the rabbi and activist Michael Lerner, who, in assessing Donald Trump’s victory, looked from a broader vantage point than most. Underneath the populist ire, he wrote. was a suffering “rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.”
State-run outlets are essential to making the case for Putin’s intervention in Syria
The shocking murder of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, generated a swell of outrage across Russia, much of which would sound familiar to Americans. Karlov was widely described as a patriot and skilled diplomat. “He was killed carrying out his duties,” said the chairman of the Russian parliament’s lower house, which observed a moment of silence for Karlov. Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the attack an act of terror. President Vladimir Putin condemned it as a blow against the Russo-Turkish relationship and the “peace process in Syria.” Similar or identical formulations have been repeated across Russia’s state-run media, where most Russians get their information.
But one element was notably lacking. The Syrian city of Aleppo, held for years by anti-government rebels, had just fallen to Bashar al-Assad’s regime while suffering terrible casualties. Russian airstrikes and other military assistance made the regime’s victory possible, and the ambassador’s killer seemed to have a message for Moscow. His shouted motivation—“Don’t forget Aleppo!” and “We die in Aleppo, you die here!”—featured prominently in Western stories detailing the assassination, sometimes even in their very first lines. But it was conspicuously absent in the Russian press. One segment on Russia’s state-run Vesti news program included interviews with witnesses and even showed footage of the gunman yelling at the cameras, but provided no audio or translation. Another investigation into the killer’s background, in which the anchor noted that “there are many versions” of what may have driven him and that “all must be investigated,” cited theories advanced by Turkish officials that he had been associated with the anti-government Gülen movement, but failed to mention Aleppo. These and other stories about the assassination never failed to echo the line set by Putin and other senior officials: That the attack was a cowardly blow against Russia for taking on international terrorism, a savage response to a mission whose righteousness is self-evident.
Here is the story of global politics in 2016, told through the mouths of our wise and glorious leaders.
30. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. “I was dead, and I resurrected, as I always do.” Mugabe is African politics’ great survivor, literally. He is frequently declared dead by the local press. But he’ll be around bit longer. At 92, he is planning to run again in 2018 for an eight term.
29. Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum. “I don’t need a coup d’état or anything. But if the day comes, I will gather my people, I will unburden my heart to them. And after that…” Dostum trailed off. Rule No. 1 for putting an unreconstructed warlord in your government is keep him occupied. Otherwise, his mind may start wandering to thoughts of coups.
When we graduated in 1993, my friends and I had big dreams for ourselves. More than two decades later I decided to find out if anyone’s had come true.
This is the first story in a seven-part series looking at women’s ambitions in the years following college.
Shortly after I turned 40 I was offered a fantastic job that I didn’t take. It had all the hallmarks of the kind of job I should take, and wanted to take, but it would have also meant a dramatic change in lifestyle. For the last 15 years I’d been a freelancer and then a small-business owner. I worked from home, which meant I could be around for my two young children. When someone had strep I could be there to administer the Tylenol in between conference calls. I picked my kids up from school most days and spent a lot of afternoons with them. I had what was, in theory, an ideal setup—I got to have a job and be a physically present mother.
A 2016 documentary magnifies an often ignored part of the education world.
This is the first installment in our series examining the intersections of education and entertainment in 2016. Check back for more entries on late-night comedy, a play, animated movies, and television .
The directors behind 2002’s critically acclaimed Lost in La Mancha are the unlikely providers of one of 2016’s best films about education. To be fair, it’s not a vast category. But Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s examination of how poverty—and its various manifestations—can derail adolescence in The Bad Kids is a thought-provoking, gut-wrenching, and, at times, cautiously hopeful, look at a part of the U.S. education system many people would rather ignore.
About 125 miles east of Los Angeles in the vast desolation of the Mojave Desert sits Black Rock High School. A sort of last stop for students behind in credits and at risk of dropping out, the school is tasked with educating teens who have been sexually abused, who are addicted to drugs, and who, in many cases, have lost any sense of hope for their future.