Superior The return of race science

Angela Saini, 1980-

Book - 2019

"A powerful look at the non-scientific history of "race science," and the assumptions, prejudices, and incentives that have allowed it to reemerge in contemporary science Superior tells the disturbing story of the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science. After the horrors of the Nazi regime in WWII, the mainstream scientific world turned its back on eugenics and the study of racial difference. But a worldwide network of unrepentant euge...nicists quietly founded journals and funded research, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Hernstein's and Charles Murray's 1994 title, The Bell Curve, which purported to show differences in intelligence among races. If the vast majority of scientists and scholars disavowed these ideas, and considered race a social construct, it was still an idea that managed to somehow make its way into the research into the human genome that began in earnest in the mid-1990s and continues today. Dissecting the statements and work of contemporary scientists studying human biodiversity, most of whom claim to be just following the data, Saini shows us how, again and again, science is retrofitted to accommodate race. Even as our understanding of highly complex traits like intelligence, and the complicated effect of environmental influences on human beings, from the molecular level on up, grows, the hope of finding simple genetic differences between "races"--to explain differing rates of disease, to explain poverty or test scores or to justify cultural assumptions--stubbornly persists. At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a powerful reminder that biologically, we are all far more alike than different"--

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Subjects
Published
Boston : Beacon Press [2019]
Language
English
Physical Description
xiv, 242 pages ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 208-226) and index.
ISBN
9780807076910
0807076910
Main Author
Angela Saini, 1980- (author)
  • Prologue
  • Deep time
  • It's a small world
  • Scientific priestcraft
  • Inside the fold
  • Race realists
  • Human biodiversity
  • Roots
  • Origin stories
  • Caste
  • The illusionists
  • Black pills
  • Afterword.
Review by Choice Reviews

An award-winning science journalist, Saini provides a well-written, readable account that explores why race science persists in the 21st century. The daughter of Indian immigrants to London, she effectively weaves personal narrative of her experiences growing up there with her international travels and engagement with the research of a diverse range of historians, geneticists, psychologists, and archaeologists. Saini's important investigation was inspired by the resurgence of exclusionary forms of nationalism, fueled by scientific racism across the globe, in democratic and authoritarian countries alike. She argues that pseudo-intellectuals willingly recycle the notion that race is biologically real. They claim that they argue from a place of knowledge, but in fact they deliberately ignore well-established facts and respected empirical studies with regard to medicine, intelligence, and human origins to blame nature and biology rather than societal structures and institutions for persistent inequalities. Saini contends that as long as power holders, or aspiring power holders, claim racial supremacy and dominance for particular groups, they will continue to distort history, science, archaeology, anthropology, and museum studies to legitimize their false claims. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates; general readers.--M. L. Roman, SUNY BrockportMeredith L. RomanSUNY Brockport Meredith L. Roman Choice Reviews 57:03 November 2019 Copyright 2019 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

British science journalist Saini (Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong) takes an unflinching look at how 19th-century science provided an intellectual framework for the development and ranking of racial categories and the widespread acceptance of eugenics. Though Nazi Germany's genocidal use of racial purity theories forced these ideas into the shadows, racists didn't disappear after World War II. Instead, they moved into less controversial fields, received funding, and began publishing a journal (Mankind Quarterly), allowing them to update old racial prejudices in light of new scientific fields such as population genetics and genomics. With input from many scientists and historians, Saini examines the search for intelligence genes, racialized medicine, statistical racism, and the misuse of genetic research to fit racial agendas. While there's no valid biological or genetic basis for race, some researchers are still intent on searching for it, prompting the author to conclude that intellectual racism is still "the toxic little seed at the heart of academia." VERDICT A well-argued, timely, sobering wake-up call for those who believe science is always objective and apolitical. Highly recommended for academic researchers, journalists, and general science readers alike.—Cynthia Lee Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Historical Soc., Flemington, NJ Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

"The answers are not in our blood, but they are in us," proposes science journalist Saini (Inferior) in this often brilliant critique of "race science," the academic attempt to explain inequality between different ethnic groups via biology rather than sociology. Science has, in the past, not just been co-opted by racists, she observes. A number of scientists willingly played a role in abhorrent movements such as Nazism and American eugenics. She observes that, in the 19th century, Darwinism "legitimized racism, rather than quashing it," by suggesting that, though all humans share a common ancestor, some ancestral groups—such as Europeans—are more evolved than others. More recently, she finds that the National Institutes of Health policy, since 1993, of requiring clinical trials to ask about the racial identity of participants, intended to increase the diversity of those included, has had the "unintended consequence of driving researchers to use , hunting for gaps" between different groups. Occasionally a line in this book misfires. The science enthusiasts who will constitute much of its audience will object, for instance, when Saini asserts, "There is no authenticity except the authenticity of personal experience." But, just as clearly, this is an important and, in an era of rising racial tensions, must-read book, especially for those most sure they do not need to read it. (May) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A powerful look at the non-scientific history of "race science," and the assumptions, prejudices, and incentives that have allowed it to reemerge in contemporary science Superior tells the disturbing story of the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science. After the horrors of the Nazi regime in WWII, the mainstream scientific world turned its back on eugenics and the study of racial difference. But a worldwide network of unrepentant eugenicists quietly founded journals and funded research, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Hernstein's and Charles Murray's 1994 title, The Bell Curve, which purported to show differences in intelligence among races. If the vast majorityof scientists and scholars disavowed these ideas, and considered race a social construct, it was still an idea that managed to somehow make its way into the research into the human genome that began in earnest in the mid-1990s and continues today. Dissecting the statements and work of contemporary scientists studying human biodiversity, most of whom claim to be just following the data, Saini shows us how, again and again, science is retrofitted to accommodate race. Even as our understanding of highly complex traits like intelligence, and the complicated effect of environmental influences on human beings, from the molecular level on up, grows, the hope of finding simple genetic differences between "races"--to explain differing rates of disease, to explain poverty or test scores or to justify cultural assumptions--stubbornly persists. At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a powerful reminder that biologically, we are all far more alike than different"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"In Superior award-winning science writer Angela Saini explores the concept of race, past and present. She examines the dark roots of race research and how race has again crept gently back into science and medicine. And she investigates the people who use this research for their own political purposes, including white supremacists. They believe that populations are born different, in character and intellectually, and that this defines the success or failure of nations. It is a worldwide network of eugenicists with their own journals journals and sources of funding, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Hernstein's and Charles Murray's 1994 title, The Bell Curve, which purported to show differences in intelligence among races. Taking us from Darwin through the civil rights movement to modern-day ancestry testing, Saini examines how deeply our present is influenced by our past, and the role that politics has so often had to play in our understanding of race. Superior isa powerful, rigorous, much needed examination of the insidious history and damaging consequences of race science and the unfortunate reasons behind its apparent recent resurgence across the globe"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

2019 Best-Of Lists: 10 Best Science Books of the Year (Smithsonian Magazine) · Best Science Books of the Year (NPR's Science Friday) · Best Science and Technology Books from 2019” (Library Journal) An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differences. Superior tells the disturbing story of the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science. After the horrors of the Nazi regime in World War II, the mainstream scientific world turned its back on eugenics and the study of racial difference. But a worldwide network of intellectual racists and segregationists quietly founded journals and funded research, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s 1994 title The Bell Curve, which purported to show differences in intelligence among races.If the vast majority of scientists and scholars disavowed these ideas and considered race a social construct, it was an idea that still managed to somehow survive in the way scientists thought about human variation and genetics. Dissecting the statements and work of contemporary scientists studying human biodiversity, most of whom claim to be just following the data, Angela Saini shows us how, again and again, even mainstream scientists cling to the idea that race is biologically real. As our understanding of complex traits like intelligence, and the effects of environmental and cultural influences on human beings, from the molecular level on up, grows, the hope of finding simple genetic differences between “races”—to explain differing rates of disease, to explain poverty or test scores, or to justify cultural assumptions—stubbornly persists.At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a rigorous, much-needed examination of the insidious and destructive nature of race science—and a powerful reminder that, biologically, we are all far more alike than different.