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International Socialist Review Issue 38, November–December 2004

Genes, Evolution, and Human Nature

Is Biology Destiny?

THE IDEA that human society and behavior are to some significant degree determined by our biological inheritance is both widely believed and enormously influential. One version of this argument bases itself on evolutionary theory, claiming that human evolution has made such characteristics as social hierarchy, gender inequality, competition, and violence inevitable features of every social system. Claims of this kind are closely linked to arguments that claim that significant aspects of human behavior—from alcoholism to criminality—are genetically determined.1

Newspaper reports and TV programs, for example, inform us almost daily that scientists have uncovered evidence for the genetic basis of one human characteristic or another. Sometimes the characteristic in question is a disease, such as cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease. But just as often the reports are about psychological characteristics and patterns of behavior, such as violence and criminality, or sexual orientation. A Time magazine cover story asked "Why Are Men and Women Different? It Isn’t Just Upbringing. New Studies Show They Are Born That Way." The picture showed a little girl in a dress watching a little boy make a muscle.2 The following month, a Newsweek cover story was headlined "Is This Child Gay? Born or Bred: The Origins of Homosexuality."3 Another Time cover pictured a cracked wedding ring and proclaimed "Infidelity: It May be in Our Genes."4 And U.S. News and World Report ran an article titled "Sex: It’s All in Your Brain," claiming that men and women think differently and that "Every social explanation has been exhausted. It is innate."5

Leading U.S. scientists have made similar claims. James Watson (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and former head of the Human Genome Project) says, "We used to think that our fate was in our stars. Now we know, in large part, that our fate is in our genes."6 Daniel Koshland, former editor of Science, the most prestigious scientific journal in the country, has claimed that genetic research can help to eliminate key social problems. According to Koshland, "the homeless are impaired…. Indeed, no group will benefit more from the application of human genetics."7

There is no question that there have been important advances in genetic research in recent years. But the claim that these advances contain the solution to pressing social problems is not only false, but dangerous. Such claims are deeply ideological. They are, in effect, an attempt to use the prestige of science to defend the status quo, which is why they are given prominent coverage in the media.

The attempt to explain important features of society in evolutionary or genetic terms—biological determinism—has two goals. First, it tries to convince us that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, so that inequality and injustice cannot be eliminated. Second, in the case of problems that are impossible to ignore, it tells us to look for the solution at the level of the individual and not at the level of social institutions. The problems lie not in the structure of society, but in some of the individuals who make up society. The solution is thus to change—or even eliminate—the individuals, not to challenge existing social structures.

From eugenics to genocide

The claim that biology holds the key to solving social problems and the related claim that biology demonstrates the limits of social reform and the impossibility of radical change, both have a long history, going back even before the birth of modern genetics. In 1865, Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton published an article called "Hereditary Talent and Character"8 in which he claimed that talent is biologically determined and proposed improving society "through better breeding." A few years later he introduced the term "eugenics"—meaning "good birth"—to describe his proposal.9

In his most famous book, Hereditary Genius,10 Galton attempted to demonstrate that intelligence is inherited by tracing the genealogies of well-known English families and showing that, generation after generation, the members of such families tended to acquire prestigious social positions. The alternative explanation, that what is inherited is not intelligence but access to social power and influence, seems not to have occurred to him. Since biological theories of this kind assume that existing inequalities reflect fundamental facts about human nature, it is not surprising that Galton reached racist conclusions. He claimed that "[T]he average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own,"11 and that "the Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations."12

Despite the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever for the underlying assumptions of eugenics, organizations promoting "better breeding" gained numerous supporters by the early part of the twentieth century. Eugenics was adopted most enthusiastically in the U.S., where it was used by the nativist movement as part of its attack on immigration.

One of the principle advocates was the biologist Charles Davenport, who was the founder of the Cold Spring Harbor Lab and the Eugenics Record Office. The latter—which was financed by the widow of the railroad magnate E.H. Harriman—gathered information on thousands of American families for genetic research. Davenport was a serious scientist. He demonstrated the heritability of eye, skin, and hair color. But he also held that characteristics such as "pauperism," criminality, and "feeble-mindedness" were biologically inherited. Davenport even claimed that the capacity to be a naval officer is an inherited trait, composed of two subtraits: thalassophilia (love of the sea) and hyperkineticism (or wanderlust). Because there were no women in the navy, Davenport concluded that the trait is unique to males.13

Davenport’s tendency to postulate a genetic basis for nearly everything would be amusing if the consequences had not been so tragic. Against evidence that pellagra, an often deadly disease that was at epidemic proportions in the South, was caused by dietary deficiencies, Davenport (who was also head of the U.S. Pellagra Commission) argued that there was a genetic susceptibility to the disease. Successive administrations used Davenport’s false claims to avoid spending money on nutritional programs. As a result, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, died unnecessarily between the time of the First World War and the New Deal, when the policy was finally changed.

Eugenicists such as Davenport encouraged nearly thirty states to enact laws permitting the forced sterilization of thousands of people in prisons and mental hospitals who were judged to be feeble-minded or defective in some other way. The first sterilization law was passed in Indiana in 1907. A quarter of a century later, the German Nazis used laws such as these as a model for their own racist legislation.

Eugenicists in the U.S. also urged the federal government to restrict the immigration of "undesirable" races and played an important role in helping to pass the viciously racist federal immigration laws of 1921 and 1924. Their arguments dovetailed with those of psychologists like H.H. Goddard and Lewis M. Terman, who developed the first standardized intelligence tests, which unsurprisingly reflected the racist and cultural biases of their designers. Even when testing led to the conclusion that half the U.S. population—including most Blacks and immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe—were of substandard intelligence, the results were taken seriously. Terman advocated vocational training and placement for such unfortunates, warning that they could "drift easily into the ranks of the anti-social or join the army of Bolshevik discontents." Carl Brigham of Princeton University (who later developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT) warned that "[t]he average intelligence of succeeding waves of immigration has become progressively lower" and that the situation was made worse "owing to the presence here of the negro." Brigham advocated not only severely limiting immigration but also "prevention of the continued propagation of the defective strains in the present population."14

The passage of immigration restrictions also didn’t satisfy Davenport, who complained in 1925 that

our ancestors drove Baptists from Massachusetts Bay in to Rhode Island but we have no place to drive the Jews to. Also, they burned the witches but it seems to be against the mores to burn any considerable part of our population.15

This was not mere hyperbole. Earlier he had written that

though capital punishment is a crude method of grappling with the difficulty [of those with inferior genes] it is infinitely superior to that of training the feeble-minded and criminalistic and then letting them loose upon society and permitting them to perpetuate in their offspring these animal traits."16

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that a few years later, leading U.S. eugenicists were praising Nazi race laws in Germany. The Eugenical News called the Nazi sterilization law of 1933 "clean-cut, direct and ‘model.’" In 1935 the American Eugenics Society argued that "crime and dependency keep on increasing because new defectives are born, just as new cancer cells remorselessly penetrate into sound tissue," and it reminded its members that "we treat cancer by means of the surgeon’s knife." Frederick Osborn, secretary of the American Eugenics Society, wrote in 1937: "The German sterilization program is apparently an excellent one. Taken altogether, recent developments in Germany constitute perhaps the most important social experiment which has ever been tried." And Charles R. Stockard, president of the board of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, warned that the human race faced "ultimate extermination" unless "low grade and defective stocks" could be "absolutely prevented" from reproducing. Eugenicists in the U.S. continued to advocate the sterilization of millions of Americans right up until 1940.17

Thus the idea that society’s problems are due to defective individuals played an important role in paving the way for the Nazi Holocaust. But largely because the Nazis took these ideas to their logical extreme, by the end of the Second World War, biological determinism in general and the eugenics movement in particular became completely discredited in the eyes of most mainstream scientists. Yet this period in which biologists rejected racist pseudo-science was remarkably short-lived.

The return of biological determinism

Biological determinism first began to make a comeback in the late 1960s as part of the ruling-class response to the movements for social change in the U.S. and elsewhere. In 1969 Arthur Jensen, a professor at Stanford, published a paper arguing that Blacks are innately less intelligent than whites, based on the fact that the average African American IQ score is consistently lower than the average score for whites and the claim that IQ has a high degree of heritability.18 Soon afterwards, the Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein defended the view that socioeconomic status is a direct function of inherited intelligence. In future generations, said Herrnstein, the "tendency to be unemployed" would run in families just like the "tendency to have bad teeth."19

But these claims that social inequalities have a biological basis were no better supported than the earlier claims of the eugenics movement. Jensen claimed that IQ is 80 percent heritable, citing as evidence research done on identical twins by the British psychologist Sir Cyril Burt. According to Burt, the IQs of identical twins who were separated and raised in distinct environments are much more closely correlated than the IQs of other individuals from the two environments. But Burt’s data seemed suspicious to the Marxist psychologist Leon Kamin, and a careful examination of Burt’s "research" revealed that it really was too good to be true. For example, Kamin discovered that even though Burt’s sample sizes got bigger, some of the correlation coefficients he claimed to have calculated stayed identical to three decimal places.20 It soon emerged that Burt’s work had been perhaps the biggest scientific fraud of the twentieth century. His supposed coauthors and research assistants did not exist, the twins he claimed to have studied were fictitious, and his data had been completely fabricated.21

Not only is the claim that IQ is highly heritable unsupported, it is also irrelevant to Jensen’s main conclusion, which was that compensatory education programs are doomed to fail. Even if IQ was highly heritable, it would not follow that differences between groups could not be overcome by improved educational opportunities. Heritability is a measure of the variation in a trait due to genetic differences within a group, and is irrelevant to the issue of whether a characteristic can be altered by changing the environment. The same genotype (or collection of genes) may be expressed differently in different environments, so heritability estimates apply only to a specific population in a specific range of environments. Hereditarians such as Jensen simply assume that we have already done all we can to alter the environment—a laughable assumption when it comes to education.

More generally, the idea that IQ tests measure an individual’s innate and fixed degree of intelligence, or that intelligence can be measured on a single scale, are equally dubious.22

"Who knows what IQ measures?" asked the biologist Stephen Jay Gould. "It is a good predictor of ‘success’ in school, but is such success a result of intelligence, apple polishing, or the assimilation of values that the leaders of society prefer?"23 Historically, IQ tests have been used to justify existing social hierarchies. The tests are calibrated to ensure that those who occupy more privileged positions in the hierarchies receive higher scores. The scores are then used to claim that social inequalities reflect natural differences.

The philosopher of science Hilary Putnam has argued that the notion of IQ is built on the assumption "that there are a few ‘superior’ people who have this one mysterious factor—‘intelligence’—and who are good at everything, and a lot of slobs who are not much good at anything." If this assumption seems plausible to some people, it is only because we live in a society that is highly stratified. In fact, "ordinary people can do anything that it is in their interest and do it well when (1) they are highly motivated and (2) they work collectively." As Putnam points out:

That motivation plays a decisive role in acquiring almost any skill is a matter of everyone’s experience.... The importance of working collectively is also evidenced in many ways. The Black and Latin prisoners in Attica Prison are presumably part of [what Herrnstein calls] the low IQ "residue." But they organized brilliantly. Every popular revolution in history makes the same point—that ordinary people in a revolution can perform incredible feats of organization, planning, strategy, etc.

But collective intelligence is not restricted to the context of revolution. Since the 1950s a series of studies have shown that even in the context of modern capitalist production, workers perform better, and find their jobs less dissatisfying, when the managerial hierarchy is reduced.24

The claims of Jensen, Herrnstein, and other biological determinists, were simply an attempt to rationalize race and class inequalities as more or less inevitable. As genuine science, they lacked all merit.25

From sociobiology to evolutionary psychology

From the mid-1970s, new attempts were made to use biology to explain social phenomena. In his widely read book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis,26 the Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson attempted to extend evolutionary explanations of social behavior in non-human animals to explain human behavior as well. Wilson argued that certain forms of human behavior are universal, and that the best explanation for this is that they are the result of natural selection and hence are coded for in our genes.

Like the eugenicists of the early twentieth century, Wilson postulated genes for a wide variety of traits, including entrepreneurship, creativity, spite, conformity ("human beings are absurdly easy to indoctrinate—they seek it"), xenophobia, and homosexuality.27 Again, like the earlier eugenicists, Wilson claimed that these supposed biological facts made certain aspects of society, such as male domination of public life, all but inevitable. "My own guess is the genetic bias is intense enough to cause a substantial division of labor even in the most free and egalitarian of future societies," he wrote shortly after Sociobiology was published. "Thus, even with identical education and equal access to all professions, men are likely to play a disproportionate role in political life, business, and science." If we attempt to create a more egalitarian society, Wilson continued, we will "place some personal freedoms in jeopardy."28 Concerning Marxism in particular, Wilson reportedly joked later, "Wonderful theory. Wrong species."29

Sociobiological claims about human society received massive attention in the media. A Time magazine cover story was headlined "Why You Do What You Do." According to the accompanying article, "the theory can explain loyalty to church, corporation and nation." 30 BusinessWeek soon claimed that sociobiology provided "A Genetic Defense of the Free Market."

Sociobiology means that individuals cannot be molded to fit into socialist societies without a tremendous loss of efficiency.... Bioeconomists say that government programs that force individuals to be less competitive and selfish than they are genetically programmed to be are preordained to fail.31

Even Playboy got into the act: "Do Men Need to Cheat on Their Women? A New Science Says Yes." Inside, the magazine’s readers were told that

Males are…driven by their genes to reproduce. They tend to be more promiscuous because in time past that was their best way to reproduce the most offspring. If you get caught fooling around, don’t say the devil made you do it. It’s the devil in your DNA.32

Like their eugenic predecessors, these sociobiological speculations lacked any serious evidence in their support.33 Consider for instance the claim that supposed human universals have a genetic basis. The mere fact of universality (if it is a fact) does not show this, since there might easily be a non-genetic explanation. German speaking is nearly universal in Germany, but the explanation is not that inhabitants of the country are genetically predisposed to speak a particular language. Often sociobiologists claimed that non-human animals share the characteristic in question—aggression, for instance—and that this shows that it probably has a genetic basis. But this kind of reasoning is quite unpersuasive, as Wilson’s Harvard colleague Richard Lewontin has pointed out:

How do we decide that slavery in ants and ant queens are like human slavery and like human royal families? How do we decide that the coyness we see in people is the same as the behavior in animals called coyness? What happens is that human categories are laid on animals by analogy, partly as a matter of convenience of language, and then these traits are "discovered" in animals and laid back on humans as if they had a common origin. There is in fact not a shred of evidence that the anatomical, physiological, and genetic basis of what is called aggression in rats has anything in common with the German invasion of Poland in 1939.34

Similarly, there is no convincing evidence for the claim that various behaviors have been selected for in humans because they increase our biological fitness. Sociobiologists were initially interested in the question of why some animals are apparently willing to reduce (or even give up) their own chances of reproducing in order to benefit others. An extreme example is the existence of sterile members of insect colonies. How could such traits have evolved? One possible explanation is that an individual might give up its own prospects of reproducing in order to increase the chances of its relatives reproducing, thus passing on some of its genes to the next generation indirectly. These are known as cases of kin selection, in contrast to cases of individual selection, in which the organism attempts to pass on its genes directly by having offspring. Another possible explanation in cases in which the sacrifice is temporary is that the individual that benefits is likely to reciprocate in the future. This is known as reciprocal altruism. Kin selection and reciprocal altruism are important ideas in evolutionary biology, but whether or not they are the correct explanation for any particular trait has to be demonstrated. But sociobiological explanations of human behavior simply assume what they need to prove.

When we combine individual selective advantage with the possibility of kin selection and reciprocal altruism, it is hard to imagine any human trait for which a plausible scenario for its selective advantage could not be invented. The real problem is to find out whether any of these stories is true.… At the very minimum, we might ask whether there is any evidence that such selective processes are going on at the present, but in fact no one has ever measured in any human population the actual reproductive advantage or disadvantage of any human behavior. All of the sociobiological explanations of the evolution of human behavior are like Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories of how the camel got his hump and how the elephant got his trunk. They are just stories. Science has been turned into a game.35

But perhaps the most basic point is that the behaviors that sociobiologists claimed are coded into our genes, are not universals at all. Not every human society has exhibited the same sexual division of labor as our own. And not every human society has been capitalist or even competitive. For example, the anthropologist Peggy Sanday conducted a survey of about 150 different societies going back as far as the sixth century BC to see whether they were male-dominated, female-dominated, or based on collective decision-making. She found a huge diversity of sex roles in these societies, showing that such roles derive not from human nature, but from specific historical and political circumstances.36 More generally, there has been tremendous cultural evolution in the past few thousand years that cannot be explained in biological terms because there simply hasn’t been enough time for natural selection to operate.37

Sociobiology reinvents itself

Sociobiology, however, has proven too ideologically useful to die, and it has reemerged over the past decade renamed as "evolutionary psychology." Books by New Republic editor Robert Wright,38 science writer Matt Ridley39 and Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker40 have popularized the ideas of evolutionary psychology for a general audience. Pinker is particularly pugnacious. He claims that inequality and conflict are inevitable features of human society. He attacks "Marxists, academic feminists and cafe intellectuals" and says "The standard Marxist theory of human nature has probably been refuted by many sources of evidence, including the anthropological record and Darwinian theory."41

Evolutionary psychology claims to be an advance of old-style sociobiology in at least two respects. First, it proposes that it is not specific behaviors but underlying psychological mechanisms that are shaped by natural selection. This leads evolutionary psychologists to adopt a "modular" theory of the human mind, which sees it as consisting of a large number of distinct informational processing devices (or modules), each with a specialized task—in other words a "Swiss army knife" model of the mind. There is considerable evidence that at least some aspects of the mind—such as language abilities and the visual system—are independently functioning modules, but evolutionary psychologists take this idea to absurd extremes, proposing such modules as a "cheater detector" (able to tell you when someone is deceiving you) and a "sexual attraction module" (which supposedly leads human males to be attracted to young females, and females to be attracted to high-status males). Even more modest versions of the modularity thesis leave us with a picture of the mind that is atomized and relatively inflexible.42

Second, the more technical work in evolutionary psychology makes use of sophisticated mathematical models in order to determine what kinds of psychological mechanisms would have been optimal for our ancient ancestors to evolve in the supposed "environment of evolutionary adaptation" that they had to face. The underlying assumption is that the human mind evolved to solve the problems faced by hunter-gatherers hundreds of thousands of years ago in the Pleistocene era and that its basic psychology has remained unchanged ever since. Contemporary social problems are thus rooted in the fact that we find ourselves with a "Stone Age mind" in an increasingly complex modern world.43

But this whole approach is highly problematic. First, we have very little detailed knowledge of the "environment of evolutionary adaptation" faced by our early ancestors, so anything we say about this is highly speculative. Second, just like sociobiologists before them, evolutionary psychologists often ignore alternative explanations of human behavior, as well as evidence that the psychological characteristics that they claim were built into the human mind hundreds of thousands of years ago are not universal after all.

I’ll consider just one example—violence. It is certainly true that human history is characterized by high levels of violence—including war, blood feuds, and murder—much of which seem on the face of it highly irrational. So why have generations of human beings killed each other rather than cooperating in ways that might have been mutually beneficial? Here is one possible explanation. Our distant ancestors, hundreds of thousands of years ago, found themselves in an environment in which violence was necessary to survive. Those individuals who developed a psychology that distinguished between members of their own group and strangers, and who were psychologically prepared to use deadly violence against the latter, were better adapted to this environment than those less inclined to use violence, and so these psychological characteristics were selected for in early humans. This tendency to violence continues to exist in modern humans even when it is no longer beneficial and the only way to keep it under control is to set up a strong central state that can, at least to some extent, hold these tendencies in check. That, in a nutshell, is the story that Steven Pinker tells about violence in his most recent book The Blank Slate, where he argues that human beings have "a bloody prehistory stretching back hundreds of thousands of years" and that "violence in humans is…part of our design."44

Unfortunately for Pinker, and fortunately for the rest of us, this view of human prehistory is quite simply a myth. In support of the claim that "long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending,"45 Pinker cites the work of the University of Illinois archaeologist Lawrence Keeley, who claims that humans have always made war.46 In fact, Keeley demonstrates nothing of the kind. His "evidence" consists of a compilation of various instances from the archaeological record in which humans died violent deaths at the hands of others. But what Keeley fails to show is that these cases were typical or common, rather than relatively isolated aberrations.

According to the Rutgers anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson, probably the leading expert on the early history of war, "the global archaeological record contradicts the idea that war was always a feature of human existence; instead, the record shows that warfare is largely a development of the past 10,000 years."47 In a continuing global survey of all the available archaeological evidence, Ferguson has so far discovered no evidence of systematic violence in pre-historic human societies in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, or North America.

Ferguson argues that warfare became a feature of human society only as a consequence of specific historical developments, including the establishment of permanent settlements with accumulated wealth and the emergence of "social hierarchy, an elite, perhaps with its own interests and rivalries." The fact that for most of human existence there is no evidence of systematic large-scale violence, totally undercuts Pinker’s theory, which is really just a restatement of one of the oldest elements of ruling-class ideology—that states exist to protect us from ourselves, not to protect the interests of the elite and to keep the mass of the population in its place.

But the problem is not just what Pinker says about violence. The whole idea that human psychology is relatively rigid and unchanging—one of the central claims of evolutionary psychology—is incompatible with what we actually do know about human evolution. The first modern humans are believed to have evolved in southern Africa about 120,000 years ago. According to Marta Lahr, Professor of Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge University, these creatures had "the potential of invention that we have. And I think that’s actually what makes them modern—they [could] invent solutions to new problems."48

Around 50,000 years ago groups of modern humans began to migrate from Africa and disperse around the world, coming into contact with other hominid species that had left Africa about a million and a half years earlier. Modern humans arrived in Europe around 35,000 years ago, where they lived side by side with Neanderthals, a closely related but distinct human species.

Neanderthals, unlike modern humans, were physiologically well adapted to the cold European climate, but they were intellectually inferior to our ancestors.

According to the archaeologist Paul Mellars,

the most remarkable thing about Neanderthal technology is the way it hardly changes significantly over about a quarter of a million years. You get essentially the same shapes of tools made by the same techniques over this whole period. Now as soon as you get modern humans on the scene you get a whole range of dramatic changes. They suddenly start producing new shapes of stone tools obviously designed for different functions, and they start producing tools from bones, antler and ivory, which had never been used before.49

It was this creativity and ingenuity of our ancestors—also exhibited in their elaborate ornaments, art, and burial rituals, and the complex networks of trade and exchange they established—that explains why they survived and the Neanderthals did not.

When temperatures in Europe began to plummet with the onset of a new ice age, Neanderthals were unable to adjust to the new conditions. But modern humans continued to thrive, even in mountainous areas. By 28,000 years ago the last remaining Neanderthals had disappeared. Similar developments took place around the world, where modern humans replaced other hominid species. Thus the key to our ancestors’ success was their enormous flexibility and ability to learn, not patterns of behavior hardwired into their brains.50

Sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists distort Darwin by adopting an ultra-adaptationist view that tries to explain every significant aspect of human behavior or psychology as a biological adaptation, shaped by natural selection. But while human intelligence was surely the subject of natural selection, it is highly implausible to think that specific behaviors or psychological characteristics are hardwired into our brains. As Stephen Jay Gould once put it:

The central feature of our biological uniqueness also provides the major reason for doubting that our behaviors are directly coded by specific genes. That feature is, of course, our large brain.... [M]arkedly increased brain size in human evolution...added enough neural connections to convert an inflexible and rather rigidly programmed device into a labile organ, endowed with sufficient logic and memory to substitute non-programmed learning for direct specification as the ground of social behavior. Flexibility may well be the most important determinant of human consciousness; the direct programming of behavior has probably become inadaptive.51

The evidence for sociobiology and evolutionary psychology is just as weak as for earlier versions of biological determinism.

Next issue: The New Eugenics

Phil Gasper is a member of the ISR editorial board. He teaches philosophy of science at Notre Dame de Namur University and is an associate editor of the online journal Human Nature Review (

1 The arguments are linked because natural selection can only operate on characteristics that have a genetic basis.

2 Time, January 20, 1992.

3 Newsweek, February 24, 1992.

4 Time, August 15, 1994.

5 U.S. News and World Report, February 27, 1995.

6 Time, March 15, 1993.

7 Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, "Nature, Nurture, and the Human Genome Project," in Daniel J. Kevles and Leroy Hood (eds.), The Code of Codes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 282.

8 Originally published in Macmillan’s Magazine, 12, 157—66, 318—27, available online at"Galton/talent.htm.

9 Francis Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (London and New York: Macmillan, 1883; second edition, Dent and Dutton, 1907), 17.

10 Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius (London and New York: Macmillan, 1869; second edition 1895).

11 Ibid., second edition, 338.

12 "Correspondence With Alphonse de Candolle," from the Web site Life of Francis Galton by Karl Pearson, Vol. 2, 1884, available online at

13 On Davenport and the history of the eugenics movement see Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), and Edwin Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003).

14 Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981), 182, 227, and 230.

15 Letter to Madison Grant, April 7, 1925, quoted in C. E. Rosenberg, No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 95—96.

16 Quoted in Chase, The Legacy of Malthus, 159—60.

17 All quotations from this paragraph are from Barry Mehler, "Eliminating the Inferior: American and Nazi Sterilization Programs," Science for the People (Nov—Dec 1987), available online at Osborn, incidentally, was also one of the founders of The Pioneer Fund, which still promotes theories of black inferiority and is a major financial supporter of the ultra-right Federation for American Immigration Reform.

18 Arthur Jensen, "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" Harvard Educational Review 39: 1—123.

19 Richard Herrnstein, "IQ," Atlantic Monthly, September 1971, 43—64.

20 Leon J. Kamin, The Science and Politics of IQ (Potomac, MD: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1974).

21 Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, Ch. 6. R.C. Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon J. Kamin, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 101—06. Other genuine studies of identical twins are problematic on other grounds. See for example Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin, 106—16 and Jay Joseph, "Twin Studies in Psychiatry and Psychology: Science or Pseudoscience?" Psychiatric Quarterly, 73:1, Spring 2002, 71—82.

22 The originator of IQ tests, the French psychologist Alfred Binet, viewed them as simply a diagnostic tool to determine which school children needed additional assistance, not as a measure of fixed intellectual capacity. It was only when the tests were adopted in the U.S. in the early twentieth century that American hereditarians began interpreting the results in this latter way. See Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 146—58. For the most influential critique of the idea that intelligence is a single entity or capacity, see Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books, 1983; second edition, 1993).

23 Steven Jay Gould, "Racist Arguments and IQ," in Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (New York: Norton, 1977), 245.

24 Hilary Putnam, "Reductionism and the Nature of Psychology," Cognition 2:1, 1973, 141—43.

25 This, of course, did not stop either Jensen or Herrnstein from continuing to get a respectful hearing for their pseudo-scientific views. Jensen elaborated his views at length in Bias in Mental Testing (New York: Free Press, 1979). Herrnstein later collaborated with the right-wing pundit Charles Murray to write the racist tract The Bell Curve: The Reshaping of American Life by Difference in Intelligence (New York: Free Press, 1994). Jensen’s views are demolished by Stephen Jay Gould in "Jensen’s Last Stand," in An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas (New York: Norton, 1988). For an equally devastating demolition of The Bell Curve, see Ned Block, "Race, Genes, and IQ," Boston Review, December 1995/January 1996, available online at

26 E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975).

27 Sociobiology, chap. 27.

28 Quoted in "Human Decency is Animal," New York Times Magazine, October 12, 1975.

29 Quoted in J. Getlin, "Natural Wonder: At Heart, Edward Wilson’s an Ant Man," Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1994.

30 Time, August 1, 1977. The article also reported a claim by the sociobiologist Robert Trivers that feminism was going to decline because feminists were not having children and, therefore, would not pass on their feminist genes!

31 "A Genetic Defense of the Free Market," BusinessWeek, April 10, 1978.

32 Do Men Need to Cheat on Their Women? A New Science Says Yes," Playboy, August 1978. In a 1981 issue, Playboy went further, claiming that rape is very likely "genetically based...a strategy genetically available to low-dominance males that increases their chances of reproducing by making more females available to them than they would otherwise acquire." Claims of this kind remain a staple of sociobiology and its more recent descendant "evolutionary psychology," most notoriously in Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, A Natural History of Rape (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). For a thorough critique of Thornhill and Palmer see Cheryl Travis (ed.), Evolution, Gender and Rape (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).

33 The most comprehensive critique of sociobiology is Philip Kitcher, Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985). Kitcher, who is perhaps the most respected contemporary philosopher of science, concludes that most human sociobiology is based on "unrigorous analyses," "problematic concepts," "dubious connections," and "spurious arguments." Also see Marshall Sahlins, The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1976), and Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin, Not in Our Genes, Chap. 9.

34 Richard C. Lewontin, Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (New York: HarperPerennial, 1993), 95—96.

35 Lewontin, Biology as Ideology, 100.

36 Peggy Reeves Sanday, Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality (New York: Cambridge University Press, l981).

37 Attempts by sociobiologists to deal with cultural evolution have not been successful. See Kitcher, Vaulting Ambition, Chap. 10 and Gould, "Genes on the Brain," in An Urchin in the Storm.

38 Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (New York: Pantheon, 1994).

39 Matt Ridley, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).

40 Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997) and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2002).

41 Quoted in John Horgan, "Darwin on His Mind," Lingua Franca, November 1997.

42 For critiques of evolutionary psychology see Hilary Rose and Steven Rose (eds.), Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (New York: Harmony Books, 2000); David Buller, "Evolutionary Psychology," in Marco Nani and Massimo Marraffa (eds.), A Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind ("An official electronic publication of the Department of Philosophy of University of Rome 3," 2000), available online at; John Dupré, Human Nature and the Limits of Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); and Travis (ed.), Evolution, Gender and Rape. Buller’s forthcoming book, Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), due out in 2005, promises to be the most comprehensive critique to date.

43 Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, "Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer," available online at Buller calls this the "Flintstone theory _of human nature."

44 Pinker, The Blank Slate, 306 and 314.

45 This is a quotation from Winston Churchill with which Pinker begins his chapter on violence. The quotation, together with the fact that most of the chapter borrows heavily from the pessimistic seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, suggests that Pinker’s views reflect old prejudices rather than a careful assessment of the available scientific evidence.

46 Lawrence Keeley, War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

47 R. Brian Ferguson, "The Birth of War," Natural History, July/August 2003, available online at"0703/0703_feature.html.

48 Quoted in Dawn of Man: The Story of Human Evolution, a BBC/The Learning Channel documentary, originally broadcast on TLC in August 2000. Also see Robin McKie, Dawn of Man: The Story of Human Evolution (New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000).

49 Quoted in Dawn of Man.

50 For more on the Neanderthals see Paul Jordan, Neanderthal: Neanderthal Man and the Story of Human Origins (Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999). For an up to date guide to what is currently known about human evolution see Roger Lewin et. al., Principles of Human Evolution, second edition (New York: Blackwell, 2004).

51 "Potentiality vs. Determinism," in Ever Since Darwin, 257.

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