26 September 2011

Nicholas Wade's Insistence (as a NY Times science writer) that Races Exist

In "Australian Aborigine Hair Tells a Story of Human Migration" (published on September 22), Nicholas Wade of the NY Times once again treats his personal judgment that races are biological phenomena as if this understanding of race is an established scientific fact, even though the overwhelming judgment of anthropologists is that human races are solely social constructions.  Wade writes, for example, that Australian "Aborigines are without any genetic mixture from other races."  This phrasing assumes, and conveys to the reader, that there are distinct human races as a matter of genetic (rather than social) fact.  Wade thus abandons his role of journalist by inserting his personal commitment to race and racial distinctions into his reporting. This is a violation of journalistic principles that the Times should not permit.

In the same story, Wade provides a striking illustration of his biological understanding of human races: "Europeans and Asians," he writes, "gained the paler skin necessary for living in northern latitudes."  African-American readers of the Times who live, say, in New York City may be surprised to learn from Wade that they lack "the paler skin necessary" to live where they live.  But indeed, Wade's stubborn belief in the biological realness of race leads him to just such a foolish claim.