Combating Specious Ideas: Review of How To Argue With A Racist

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I wrote a review of Adam Rutherford’s new book, “How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference.” The review is published in American Scientist. American Scientist, by the way, is a great magazine that I highly recommend. A notch or two above all the others. Three notches in some cases.

The review is here.

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8 thoughts on “Combating Specious Ideas: Review of How To Argue With A Racist

  1. Thank you for your review of How to Argue With a Racist. Can you understand the math in the footnote on p.85: 0.995E32,768 = 4.64E-72 and explain it, please?

    1. There is more then one way of thinking of it. He could have described it a number of different ways. One is to simply calculate how many of Edward’s offspring would be walking around today using some basic assumptions about inbreeding/outbreeding and reproductive rate. That would show that everybody who is “British” has a high probability of being linked to Edward. The other is to take anyone who has recent ancestry that is 100% British, and make similar assumptions, and go backwards. Going back to Edward’s time, such a person would have more than enough actual ancestors that it would be hard to find someone in England or the (equivalent to) the UK that isn’t some sort of ancestor.

      Yet another way: Everybody is related to everybody, right? (This is a safe assumption). But any two randomly chosen people are not close relatives. But they are linked somehow. But if we ask the question: Are two people related to each other at the Kevin Bacon level? (five degrees of sepration)? Far more people are related to each other. But still, two randomly chosen Brits are not likely to be linked at Kevin Bacon level. But if we make it 10 degrees of separation, suddenly a lot more are related to each other. In teh case of Edward III, what is the approximate number of generations between, say Edward the III and Celebrity Cook Paul Hollwood? At about 20 years per generation, that’s about (2000-1350)/20=32 degrees. Going up or down over time, if everyone has 2 children, that is over 4 billion people. If everyone has 3 children who reproduce, that is just under 2,000,000,000,000,000. Only about 110,000,000,000 people have ever existed. So, that dude Danny Dyer and King Edward the Third are related to each other many times over.

      If however every one of Danny Dyer’s great great grandparents immigrated in the 1830s and were all aboriginal people from Tasmania, these numbers would not work the same way, but they would still be related via a different, and much longer, rout, where the time difference is still well less than the overall time frame of the existence of our species, thus marring the race concept considerably.

  2. A good and thorough review. I’ve had that book which refutes The Bell Curve on my want list. Thanks to your review, I’ll buy Adam Rutherford’s book first.

    To start with, I assumed your review was on Amazon. Didn’t find it there, of course. I’m very disappointed that Amazon has chosen to stop allowing comments on customer reviews. Their explanation claims few reviews got comments. That is certainly untrue for book reviews. I think turning comments off is a big mistake. But then, Amazon hasn’t cared about quality in book reviews for a long time.

  3. Thanks for working out details, but how does a huge number (0.995E32,768) equal a tiny number (4.64E-72)?

  4. I figure that thinking about how evolution works, what factors initiate speciation such as environmental boundaries such as topography, temperature and chemistry.

    Arguments are well laid out in Richard Dawkins’ many books with ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ and its concept of ‘concestor’ providing a number of insights. To save listing relevant works I offer an image consisting of a series of repeat bookmarks (will work on A4 landscape) each a montage of representative book covers, I hope it works:

    Dawkin’s Book covers

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