Written in Ink

Leave the Science Writing to the Scientists, Please.

Two scathing reviews of Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance, the book that is making waves by claiming, from what I gather, that all cultural differences among nations and people are genetic, as are why some groups prospered in the game of life while others did not. Wade is a former science writer at the New York Times, and the second bad review is in his own former paper. He apparently worked there for 20 plus years. Reading the reviews and negative Amazon reviews you wonder why. The firing of Jill Abramson was not the first questionable decision the paper made. To be fair, I don't know his work at all, but it appears that in his previous books he was also scientifically wrong and had a reactionary view of race too. Shame because I bought one of his books, Before the Dawn, a while ago and was looking forward to reading it thinking that it would be a Dawkins-like look at human evolution. But the one star reviews on that book also mention that he has race as a hobbyhorse too. He apparently has the imperial chauvinistic attitudes that Niall Ferguson traffics in.

So we always seem to have this problem of popular nonfiction books being inaccurate—either in history, as I earlier wrote on here with the Lucretius book, The Swerve (if you care to you, you can find it), or in science. So I give up. Just have academics in their chosen fields write the pop books in that field. They'll have to be taught though how to write, not only for a lay audience, but how to write, period: with verve and excitement. I gather a lot of academic writing is opaque and unintelligible, and very dry, a terrible slog to read. Any truth to that? (One time my flat mate in college gave me a sociology paper to read and I could barely get through it, which probably was why he gave it to me.)


But if it is and also that pop writers are wrong, how are audiences supposed to get the knowledge that would make us better, more informed people and citizens? The Ivory Tower just can't be for itself. Why study history and science and any other field if you're going to share what you've learned only to a few people and not the masses that need that information. And also why write supposedly historical and scientific books for general readers that are deep in errors?

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