On population movements and genetics

Rutherford, Adam (2017). A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 420 pages.

Ozodi Osuji

     This is a book on human population movements, right from the time Africans left Africa, about 100, 000 years ago, and migrated to other continents (and those they met wherever they went, such as Homo Erectus and Neanderthals). More importantly, it is a book on genetics and race.

     It is professionally researched and expertly written. In fact, it is an academic book written in folksy language.

     Dr Rutherford is with the University College London. He is related to my hero, Ernest Rutherford, the guy who discovered the nucleus of the atom, specifically the proton. I believe that professor Rutherford of Cambridge University is more important to science than Albert Einstein because his discovery led to the discovery by his student, James Chadwick, of the neutron, which added to the discovery of the electron by J.J Thompson; those discoveries, plus discoveries on radiation by Henri Becquerel, Marie and Pierre Curie and Rontgen, opened the door to quantum mechanics and gave us the wonderful discoveries by Max Plank, Niels Bohr, Louis Broglie, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenbug, Paul Dirac, Lise Meitner and other quantum physicists.

     Quantum mechanics has completely altered our world; everything that we use today is rooted in quantum mechanics, transistors, radio, television, computers, internet, most things in our extant world are rooted in the electronic revolution based on our understanding of the atom.

     Adam Rutherford’s book will not disappoint his great uncle, Ernest Rutherford. However, genetics has never really interested me. My mind asks why questions and that naturally took me to studies on the origin of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present state on what we know about the trajectory of the universe.

     That interest also takes me to philosophy and religion, to every subject that tries to tell us how we came into being and where we are going to.

     Genetics and population movement deals with the human body and, frankly, I am not that much interested in the human body. I live in body and, of course, appreciate the importance of understanding our bodies but the fate of the body, death and decay and return to the elements and the particles that formed it makes it less important to me.

     Instead, I would rather understand the elements in the human body (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and the other 6o elements in the human body), how they form molecules that become every object we see in our world.

     I picked up Adam Rutherford’s book while browsing at the science section of Barnes and Noble’s bookstore and dumped it on my bookshelves but over the last weekend I decided to look at it. I am entranced by it; since I cracked it open, I have not stopped reading it, not that I understand what I am reading. Understand the book or not, I know a well-researched book when I see one.

     This write up is not a traditional book review; I simply make comments on any part of the 420 pages book that interests me. All that I can say is that you should read it, especially if you are interested on race and genetics.

     The chapter on race tells us what we already know, that biologically speaking, there is no such thing as race. What people call the marker of race: skin color does not tell us much about the differences between people. There are more differences between two Africans than there are between an African and a European.

      Rutherford did an expert review of the literature on race, from Charles Darwin (Origin of Species, 1859)) to his cousin, Francis Galton’s rambling on racial differences.

     Francis Galton began the pseudo-science of eugenics; the man did a lot of harm to people because his writings spawned all kinds of racism, including Nazism.

     Galton believed in the innate differences between the races; to him Africans are at the bottom of the racial totem pole and the white man is at the top and the Chinese are in the middle.

     The old boy also speculated on human intelligence by measuring people’s craniums sizes; he ought to be alive today to learn that the Chinese, on the average, have IQ of 15 points more than his Western European counterparts.

     The average IQ of the Asian is 115; the average IQ of Caucasians is 100 and the average IQ of Black folks is 85.

     On the SAT the Asian’s average score is 1250, the Caucasian’s average score is 1150 and the average Black person’s score is 850.

     These days, America’s top universities (Caltech, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkely, UCLA, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia etc.) if allowed to admit students solely on merit would be the preserve of Asians; white folks are these days admitted on affirmative action! Black people are not a competitive factor at these elite colleges.

     And if Galton is interested in economic development, China is the world’s largest economy. Africans, we all know, are still down but they, too, will soon demonstrate their genius. By the end of this century, I do not believe that there will be any sign of racial differences in anything that people do.

     Simply stated, biologically speaking, there is not an iota of differences between the races, unless you take skin color, hair and nose and such trivial things as evidence of racial differences.

     The various racist groups in North America and Europe have more in common with Africans than Africans have in common with each other!

    I am African but certainly could be your typical Oxbridge scholar in education and personal tastes (and I was qualified to go to those colleges by merit).

    There is no such thing as race but there are individual differences. Those differences are not fully understood; Adam Rutherford did not make much ado about some of the so-called racial differences, such as African Americans doing better than other people in the short distance sprinting races at sports. I, too, do not make much ado about such irrelevant differences.

      Much of the book is devoted to the genome project and how people migrated from Africa to the rest of the world; it gives detailed descriptions about when Africans came to Europe (about 60, 000 years ago and when they finally got rid of Neanderthals, about 30, 000 years ago) and when white color was evolved, about 10, 000 years ago (the last ice age).

      It traced the movement of Africans to all over Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands and to the Americas about 35, 000 years ago and, of course, to the recent migration of people to the Americas, begun by Christopher Columbus in 1492 (by the way, Africans who had visited the Americas before Columbus showed him the way to the Americas and came with him, but you would not find these facts in Eurocentric history books).

     All people are Africans although they are now living in different climates; their climes led them to develop adaptations to them, adaptations that did not alter their basic African genetics; they all still came from Lucy, a woman in East Africa.

    Of course, there are cultural differences between the so-called races. People are culture forming animals; wherever two or more people live for a while they form a culture; culture is a way of doing things that people deem adaptive to their environment, what makes them survive in the particular exigencies of their world; people pass their cultural behaviors to their children, hoping that those would enable them to survive in their world.

     Europeans, Asians and Africans have certain discernible cultural traits. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that Europeans have embraced the scientific method (as propagated by Francis Bacon and Karl Popper) as a means of adapting to their world and that Asians are very disciplined and study and work extremely hard.

      Africans are not yet part of the modern world. Until about a hundred years ago, let us cut through the chase and state the empirical truth, Africans were living in a primitive world and have not really understood what it takes to adapt to the modern industrial and technological world, but they are learning. In time, Africans will discard their primitive cultures and embrace what I call the scientific culture and at that point will be able to compete with the Asian and the European. At present, Africans are not competitive with other people (except a of few of them).

    I am not done reading Rutherford’s professionally written book; upon completing it, and if there is something else that grabs my attention, I will write on it; for now, my recommendation is that you should go grab a copy of the book and read it and learn more about genetics.

    The book is very technical, but even I, a non-geneticist, was able to follow the book and you, too, can do the same. We all could benefit from learning about our genes and what they dispose us to do.

Ozodi Osuji

March 29, 2022


Comments are closed.