Update: Another interview (May 9), with CBC, that gets right to the point regarding "social construction" -- the convenient but incorrect legacy of anthropologist Ashley Montagu (Israel Ehrenberg). The second guest, Stanford anthropologist Duana Fullwiley, foreshadows the counterattack on Wade.
See also this well-written essay in Time, adapted from the book.
I received a copy of A Troublesome Inheritance from the publisher. My initial impressions:
(1) The first part of the book covers well-established science concerning the genetic clustering of human populations. Some of the results will be surprising to those who have not followed the last 10 years of progress in genomics. See, e.g., here and here for my thoughts on this subject.
(2) The second part of the book covers controversial topics such as genetic group differences in behavioral and cognitive predispositions. Wade is mostly careful to present these as speculative hypotheses, but nevertheless his advocacy leaves him vulnerable to easy attack.
It will be interesting to see how this book, by a prominent science writer (indeed, the chief genetics correspondent for the paper of record), is received by the intelligentsia, the punditocracy, and actual scientists.
Below I have excerpted from the first link in (1) above, a post I originally wrote in 2007. I think these remarks are quite relevant to Wade's new book; note specific comments in brackets [ ... ].
... Two groups that form distinct [ genetic ] clusters are likely to exhibit different frequency distributions over various genes, leading to group differences. [ One does not require a more precise definition of "races" to get immediately to the thorny questions: two groups that differ in allele frequencies may differ statistically in phenotype! ]
This leads us to two very different possibilities in human genetic variation:
Hypothesis 1: (the PC mantra) The only group differences that exist between the clusters (races) are innocuous and superficial, for example related to skin color, hair color, body type, etc.
Hypothesis 2: (the dangerous one) Group differences exist which might affect important (let us say, deep rather than superficial) and measurable characteristics, such as cognitive abilities, personality, athletic prowess, etc.
... As scientists, we don't know whether H1 or H2 is correct, but given the revolution in biotechnology, we will eventually. Let me reiterate, before someone labels me a racist: we don't know with high confidence whether H1 or H2 is correct.
... it is important to note that group differences are statistical in nature and do not imply anything definitive about a particular individual. Rather than rely on the scientifically unsupported claim that we are all equal, it would be better to emphasize that we all have inalienable human rights regardless of our abilities or genetic makeup. [ Consider individuals, who are clearly unequal in their gifts: greater abilities should not confer greater rights! ]
... Clustering makes it possible that H2 is correct, because the alleles (genetic variants) affecting a particular phenotype will tend to have different frequencies in different groups. The average value of the trait might or might not be the same in different groups. In the case of height, enough is known to suggest that variants which lead to increased height are more frequent in northern Europe than in the south, and there is evidence that this is due to selection, not drift. [ i.e., this is evidence of recent selection driving group differences in a complex trait, controlled by thousands of loci. Wade: “Human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.” ]
... I think it's especially important to be epistemologically careful in thinking about these matters, because of our difficult history with race. [ By articulating so many speculative theories in the second part of his book, Wade risks being perceived as not careful. ]
... I would much rather live in a world where H1 is true and H2 false. But my preference alone does not make it so. (I would also much rather live in a universe created by a loving God, and in which I and my children have eternal souls; not a cruel Darwinian universe in which our species arose merely by chance. But my preference does not make it so.)