Quotas

There is no more fraught question in biology, anthropology and sociology than the question of differences in cognition, behavior, and other traits that may be correlated with ancestry. David Reich, in his new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, is brave enough to tell us that we should be prepared to confront such possibilities.  He notes, for example, that world championship level sprint events are utterly dominated by persons of West African ancestry.  He is not prepared to attribute that to intrinsic genetic superiority across the board though, noting that West Africans are more genetically diverse than Europeans or Asians, and consequently may well exhibit a wide range of abilities, as I'm sure they do.  

Unfortunately I don't know of any data on the world's slowest sprinters, broken down by ancestral population, so we can't really tell.  I don't think the diversity argument is crazy though, and some really fast people at least appear to be Euro-African mixes.  I still prefer my theory, though, that adapting to the colder climates of Europe and Northern Asia cost us some design points for optimal speed.

The elephant in the room is cognition, of course.  He notes that Ashkenazi Jews, like himself, have IQs that average about a standard deviation above the mean and happen to be overwhelmingly overrepresented among Nobel Prize winners.  He is vicious in his attacks on those who think that they can draw genetic conclusions from that, though, and nobody is more scathingly treated than James Watson, AKA Honest Jim, winner of the Nobel for the structure of DNA.  He tells of conversing with another geneticist, also apparently Ashkenazi, when Watson appeared behind them and said:
 “When are you guys going to figure out why it is that you Jews are so much smarter than everyone else?”
Reich goes on to add:
 The pleasure Watson takes in challenging establishment views is legendary. His obstreperousness may have been important to his success as a scientist. But now as an eighty-two-year-old man, his intellectual rigor was gone, and what remained was a willingness to vent his gut impressions without subjecting them to any of the testing that characterized his scientific work on DNA.
Reich, David. Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past (Kindle Locations 4619-4622). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
 Nasty, but mostly bullshit, I think.  He says elsewhere that there is "no evidence" to back the claims of Watson and others about ancestry and cognition, but that is true in such a narrow sense that it's basically false.  He apparently means that no one has found specific genes which account for such differences and are differently distribute by ancestry.  What evidence there is, is circumstantial, but far from insignificant: IQ appears to be differently distributed by ancestry and IQ is strongly hereditary.

Perhaps Reich hopes to escape some of the "outcry of the Boeotians" by joining the attack on some of the more out there hereditarians, but I'm pretty sure that it won't work.  The stakes are too high: namely the whole system of quotas and preferences that are justified by the assumption that any differences in outcomes must be due to invidious discrimination.

In any case he has a point.  We will learn, probably not too long from now, which point of view is correct on inherited abilities, and denying reality is rarely a good long term strategy.  There is an alternative: treat each person as an individual.  There is a risk though: Harvard's freshman class might start looking like that of Caltech or Berkeley - loaded with Asians.


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