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Saturday, November 18, 2017


Published by Polity in March of 2017.

If you have ever had the misfortune to run across one of the alt-right's psuedo-scientific webpages that discuss the genetics of race and how science proves one race is smarter/better/nicer/whatever than other races you will see the need for this book.

Sadly, an author I used to Tweet back and forth with a little re-Tweeted some posts from one of these sites and I got my fill of them during one long evening. They are the internet's version of those young men marching in Charlottesville with the white polo shirts and khaki pants. Like those men, on the surface these sites were pleasant enough until you pay attention to what was being said.

They wrap themselves in pseudoscience that, unfortunately, is twisted around to sound reasonable. It is these types of people that Jonathan Marks is talking about when he notes:

"Every science has had its own set of ethical issues - chemistry and poison gas; physical anthropology and grave-robbing - but there is one question that only scientists working in human genetics and race have to grapple with. And that is: 'What is it about me that the Nazis like so much?'" (p. 25)
Marks explores the relationship between science and politics and how scientists have to be careful to guard that their work is not perverted into something evil. Of course, some scientists don't care about where their funding comes from just so long as the checks cash. Others are duped. As noted by the author, "Scientists think like everybody else, and are beset by the same kinds of aspirations, insecurities and disappointments as everybody else." (p. 66) In some cases, scientists with latent racial biases are themselves are victims of confirmation bias - "their presuppositions adversely affect the framing of the research, the collection and analyzing of the data, and the interpretation of the results." (p. 22)

To Marks' credit, he works very hard to make this book accessible to the layman, making reference to popular works such as Frankenstein and Jurassic Park to warn of the dangers of science unfettered by morality. His discussion of genetics wandered a little deeper into the deep end than I preferred a couple of times but, on the whole, this was a surprisingly brisk and informative read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Is Science Racist by Jonathan Marks.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in order to write an honest review through the Amazon Vine Program.

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