Superior
An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differencesSuperior tells the disturbing story of the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science.After the horrors of the Nazi regime in WWII, the mainstream scientific world turned its back on eugenics and the study of racial difference. But a worldwide network of unrepentant eugenicists quietly founded journals and funded research, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Hernstein's and Charles Murray's 1994 title, The Bell Curve, which purported to show differences in intelligence among races.If the vast majority of scientists and scholars disavowed these ideas, and considered race a social construct, it was still an idea that managed to somehow make its way into the research into the human genome that began in earnest in the mid-1990s and continues today. Dissecting the statements and work of contemporary scientists studying human biodiversity, most of whom claim to be just following the data, Saini shows us how, again and again, science is retrofitted to accommodate race. Even as our understanding of highly complex traits like intelligence, and the complicated effect of environmental influences on human beings, from the molecular level on up, grows, the hope of finding simple genetic differences between "races"--to explain differing rates of disease, to explain poverty or test scores or to justify cultural assumptions--stubbornly persists.At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a powerful reminder that biologically, we are all far more alike than different.

Superior Details

TitleSuperior
Author
ReleaseMay 21st, 2019
PublisherBeacon Press
ISBN-139780807076910
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Science, History, Race, Anthropology

Superior Review

  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    This is a journalistic account of 'race science' - where both terms 'race' and 'science' are scrutinised with a sharp eye. Saini is quite up-front with her own stance: that there's no genetic or biological support for racial difference beyond the merest superficialities such as skin pigmentation. Driven by the re-emergence of the most pernicious ideologies that many of us thought had been exposed for what they are by the Holocaust and other race-based genocides of the C20th, this takes an intere This is a journalistic account of 'race science' - where both terms 'race' and 'science' are scrutinised with a sharp eye. Saini is quite up-front with her own stance: that there's no genetic or biological support for racial difference beyond the merest superficialities such as skin pigmentation. Driven by the re-emergence of the most pernicious ideologies that many of us thought had been exposed for what they are by the Holocaust and other race-based genocides of the C20th, this takes an interesting look at the history of 'race science' and the role it still plays in academic research today, however contested and controversial.Saini is a relaxed writer, always accessible and with a sense of humour that is light but with just the right level of suppressed snarkiness: witness the anecdote of the geneticist who proclaims that he's discovered the 'chop-stick using gene' in Chinese people! Well, we laugh - but, of course, it's not much of a jump to go from 'Chinese people are biologically pre-determined to use chopsticks' to insidious and horrific claims about racialised intelligence, racial hierarchies, justifications for slavery, the creation of race-based underclasses and we're soon back at those looming gas ovens of Auschwitz. What is most dispiriting about this book is the extent to which highly-educated scientists at the heart of the academe in both Europe and the US can cling to old views of racialised genetic predermination and 'race fate' *in the face of an almost complete lack of biological evidence for racial difference in humans*. It's an important point, of course, but one which perhaps gets slightly repetitive in this book. But, perhaps, it needs to. There are some horribly disconcerting moments such as when we realise that Maria Stopes favoured eugenics to stop the 'wrong' kind of people from giving birth in favour of so-called 'racial progress'; or that the legendary James Watson (of Crick and Watson fame) was openly racist and sexist and believed that cultural qualities such as Jewish intelligence, in the example given, is genetically pre-determined. It's impossible not to snigger at some of the desperate manoeuvers of 'race scientists': in the 1920s, when Greeks, Italians and other southern Europeans were being stigmatised as having sub-par intelligence, one 'scientist' claimed that artists such as Dante, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo and da Vinci were clearly 'Nordic' - as, apparently, was Jesus! A high point, too, is Saini's digging behind the story from 2018 when the mummy of so-called 'Cheddar Man' was discovered and offered the opportunity to profile an ancient Briton - to the horror of many, not least the UK right-wing press, Cheddar Man turns out to have been black, not white. Which, considering the fact that humans all migrated out of Africa, is hardly surprising. (Light or white skin is an evolutionary development as ancient humans who migrated to less sunny northern Europe needed to maximise absorption of Vitamin D from the sun). So much, then, for all the Brexit-associated nostalgia for a mythic (white) England. And, of course, that's both the point of the book and why it's so important: this isn't a light-hearted review of old, done-and-dusted attitudes, this is about *now*: it's about Brexit and Trump, it's about #blacklivesmatter, it's about the alt-right appropriating and mis-using science, it's about respected scientists and scientific institutions themselves (though a marginal number, it must be stressed) still trying to find the elusive biological basis for race and differentiation - and all that follows along with it. Many thanks to HarperCollins, 4th Estate for an ARC via NetGalley.
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  • Lou
    January 1, 1970
    Having grown up as part of an ethnic minority group in London during the 1980s and 90s, Angela Saini has first-hand experience of the racism which was rife during these decades. Unfortunately, after being heavily discredited, race science has slowly and insidiously crept back into public discourse over the past 50-70 years. During her formative years, the murder of Stephen Lawrence in close proximity to her childhood home had a big impact on her and what really stuck in her mind was the differen Having grown up as part of an ethnic minority group in London during the 1980s and 90s, Angela Saini has first-hand experience of the racism which was rife during these decades. Unfortunately, after being heavily discredited, race science has slowly and insidiously crept back into public discourse over the past 50-70 years. During her formative years, the murder of Stephen Lawrence in close proximity to her childhood home had a big impact on her and what really stuck in her mind was the difference between someone white being murdered and a black individual; it was obvious that fewer resources and time were dedicated to an ethnic minority individual to those who were white. But was this due to scientific or societal issues?This childhood experience precipitated Saini's intense interest in the subject of race, racial bias and matters surrounding it, and this is an essential and exceptional work which rebuts the idea of racism as a biological issue rather than a social one. Not only does she debunk the lie that inequality is to do with genetics but she goes a long way to proving that it has everything to do with political power. It is a fascinating and beautifully written piece which has clearly been extensively researched. It is a masterfully written, topical piece by one of the most trusted science writers of our time and should be on the reading lists of anyone interested in the history and evolution of this subject from the beginning of time up to present day. Although it is frequently referred to as race science, I think the most appropriate and fitting terminology is racist science. Many thanks to Fourth Estate for an ARC.
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  • Brian Clegg
    January 1, 1970
    It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, t It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, this still turns up today.At the heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label. As Saini points out, there are far larger genetic variations within a so-called race than there are between individuals supposedly of different races. She shows how, pre-genetics, racial prejudice was given a pseudo-scientific veneer by dreaming up fictitious physical differences over and above the tiny distinctions of appearance - and how this has been continued and transformed with genetics to draw conclusions that go against the fundamental proviso of science - correlation is not causality. Saini demonstrates vividly how, for example, socio-economic or cultural causes of differences in capability, and even medical response to drugs, have been repeatedly ascribed to non-existent biological racial differences.Along the way we come across the horrendous race-based acts of the past - from slavery to the Nazi atrocities - which have been justified by fictitious assumptions about the implications of race. But Saini makes clear that this is not just a historical problem. One of the excellent aspects of the book is the way that she brings in interviews and personal experience, so, for example, there is a fascinating section on discrimination on the basis of caste in India, and attempts to justify this on a genetic basis. Similarly, she repeatedly shows how white supremacists misuse information to draw incorrect and vile conclusions.There are fascinating interviews with scientists whose work strays into misuse of evidence to imply something that the data simply does not support. With one exception of Robert Plomin, whose work seems far more solid than the rest, and can only be used to support racism by deliberately misunderstanding it, a lot of this work seems to have been poorly executed or involves drawing inappropriate conclusions. A considerable amount of this nonsense involves IQ testing - yet it has been shown that all IQ tests do is demonstrate an ability to do well at IQ tests, an ability that can be learned - so provides no useable evidence.The coverage might have easily been extended to cover other discrimination on perceived differences, but I can see the benefit of keeping the focus on race. For me, the only disappointing thing is that Saini shies away from the logical conclusion of her observations. Having categorically shown that race does not exist, it's ridiculous that we still classify people this way. As the author acknowledges, we need some means of categorisation to fight prejudice - but surely it should be based on real markers such as socio-economic means and culture - to continue to do so by race having established that race doesn't exist seems oddly incongruous, and makes it more difficult to counter racists by giving weight to the labels they use.Overall, a brilliant book, highly readable, which, if there were any justice, would put a final nail in the coffin of racism.
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  • Julie Barrett
    January 1, 1970
    I won an advance copy of this book through the website Library Thing. The subject matter is so timely, what with the rise of right wing nationalists in both the USA and Europe. When most people think of racists, they think of creepy inbred guys like the one playing banjo in the movie Deliverance. They think of guys wearing white robes, burning crosses on lawns. They think of Nazis wearing SS uniforms. They don't think of scientists and writers and professors.It's these white collar, professional I won an advance copy of this book through the website Library Thing. The subject matter is so timely, what with the rise of right wing nationalists in both the USA and Europe. When most people think of racists, they think of creepy inbred guys like the one playing banjo in the movie Deliverance. They think of guys wearing white robes, burning crosses on lawns. They think of Nazis wearing SS uniforms. They don't think of scientists and writers and professors.It's these white collar, professional racists that are the most dangerous. Using flawed research and misinterpretations of data, they provide the intellectual ballast for right wing politician's political views. By citing "science", the politicians appeal to people's fears while at the same time sounding logical and reasonable. After all, it can't be racist if it's a "fact". No matter that these "facts" are not true, that they do not hold up to peer review or any sort of scrutiny at all. It's all about the presentation. There are a few journals, funded by right wing patrons, that provide a sort of echo chamber for these people. It's the same few names over & over again, taking turns validating each other. It fools people into thinking, "Hey this research is being published so it must be correct." Wrong, anyone with money can start a journal or think tank and then publish anything they want. Science is becomes a tool for the rationalization of political ideas.This book traces the history of race science, that is, the science of "proving" how white Europeans are better than everyone else. It started in the 1700's with the Age of Enlightenment. People wanted to study the human race. As Saini puts it - "The problem was that, because of the narrow parameters they established of what constituted a human being, setting themselves as the benchmark, other cultures were almost guaranteed not to fit. By seeing themselves as the paradigm, they had laid the foundations for dividing it." It reminded me of a book I read recently about medical research, about how men's bodies are considered the default normal. Disease symptoms, side effects from medicine etc - it's how a man's body reacts that is considered "normal". The fact that women's bodies often react differently from mens is seen as the abnormal reaction. It's the same here. Seeing their own culture and situation as "normal" and others as "abnormal". The initial definitions are wrong and so the science is flawed from the beginning."When we study human origins, we don't start at the beginning, we start at the end, with our own assumptions as the basis for inquiry." Data in and of itself doesn't say anything. It's how we interpret the data. Scientists don't live in a vacuum. They are social creatures, who live in a society and their ideas are social constructions. Science is always shaped by the time and the place it is carried out. Saini gives an interesting example using the medical study of hypertension. It used to be seen as a Jewish disease because Jews were an inferior race more prone to health issues. Currently some medical professionals see it as a black disease, that black people are more prone to hypertension because of innate flaws within them. History, culture, environment are dismissed as reasons for differences within groups. The default answer is that it is due to biology.Saini also delves into the definition of race. Who came up with these categories. Why they came up with the categories. What does genetics and archaeology say about these categories. Why people want/need to separate people into groups. There are no good biological classifiers for race. It hinges on external differences like skin pigmentation and hair texture. There are no internal differences between humans. There is no variant of any gene that has been found to exist in everyone of one "race" and not in another. There is only one race, the human race. Our made up categories come out of humans need to be different from others.Another great Saini quote - "The power of nationalism calls to the part of us that doesn't want to be ordinary. People like to believe that they are descended from greatness, that they have been genetically endowed with greatness. It's not enough to be who we are now, to be good human beings in the present." It reminds me of people who believe in reincarnation. No one ever says in a past life that they were a peasant farmer, a petty bureaucrat, etc. They were always Napoleon or Cleopatra or Genghis Khan. Someone special! Thinking of humans in terms of different races lets people delude themselves with specialness.The idea of race didn't turn people racist, make them think of other groups as subhuman. The mistreatment was already there & already happening. The concept of race gave a rationale for the mistreatment.Race is not a universal construct.Race is not a biological rule.Race is a story we tell ourselves.
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    Review to follow...
  • Csimplot Simplot
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book!
  • mylogicisfuzzy
    January 1, 1970
    What struck me most on reading Angela Saini’s timely book is the persistence of ideas in scientific circles that have no actual basis in science and no place in today’s world. Race is a social and political construct and yet scientific research is still being conducted with aim to eventually show that one kind of people are more superior to other kinds of people. Fitter, happier, more productive as the Radiohead song goes. And, as Saini ably demonstrates, this research tends to be so selective t What struck me most on reading Angela Saini’s timely book is the persistence of ideas in scientific circles that have no actual basis in science and no place in today’s world. Race is a social and political construct and yet scientific research is still being conducted with aim to eventually show that one kind of people are more superior to other kinds of people. Fitter, happier, more productive as the Radiohead song goes. And, as Saini ably demonstrates, this research tends to be so selective that it can’t be called anything other than pseudoscience. Medical research that avoids looking at socioeconomic factors, genetic research that looks only at nature/ heritage and ignores nurture and culture. And while this type of research exists in margins of science and is widely disproved, it does continue and even seems to be on the rise, providing fuel for right wing nationalist and populist agenda. Saini writes with passion, looking at history of racism, from Enlightenment and colonialism to eugenics before focusing on the past thirty or so years and the resurfacing of political and intellectual racism. While modern genetic research has shown constant mixing and migration over thousands of years, making “the world a melting pot long before the last few centuries, long before the multicultural societies we have today.”, the ideas of exceptionalism and genetic determinism continue to exist. Superior is an important book, exposing and debunking modern racial myths that many people are not even aware of. It is well researched although focused mainly on the US, Britain and India to a lesser extent, I suppose because that is where a lot of modern research that aims to perpetuate racism is still being conducted and published. This sometimes makes Superior a little too narrowly focused and repetitive. Saini does mention the rise of far right and nationalism around the world but only in passing and it would have been interesting to see whether and to what extent has science (or rather pseudoscience) been used in other countries to support political and intellectual discrimination. My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review Superior.
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  • Ramin
    January 1, 1970
    Here's an excerpt from my review in Smithsonian magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/scienc...Scientists, including those who study race, like to see themselves as objectively exploring the world, above the political fray. But such views of scientific neutrality are naive, as study findings, inevitably, are influenced by the biases of the people conducting the work.The American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” H Here's an excerpt from my review in Smithsonian magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/scienc...Scientists, including those who study race, like to see themselves as objectively exploring the world, above the political fray. But such views of scientific neutrality are naive, as study findings, inevitably, are influenced by the biases of the people conducting the work.The American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” His words were borne out, in part, by science. It was the century when the scientifically backed enterprise of eugenics—improving the genetic quality of white, European races by removing people deemed inferior—gained massive popularity, with advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. It would take the Holocaust to show the world the logical endpoint of such horrific ideology, discrediting much race-based science and forcing eugenics’ most hardline adherents into the shadows.The post-war era saw scientists on the right-wing fringe find ways to cloak their racist views in more palatable language and concepts. And as Angela Saini convincingly argues in her new book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, published May 21 by Beacon Press, the “problem of the color line” still survives today in 21st-century science.In her thoroughly researched book, Saini, a London-based science journalist, provides clear explanations of racist concepts while diving into the history of race science, from archaeology and anthropology to biology and genetics. Her work involved poring through technical papers, reports and books, and interviewing numerous scientists across various fields, sometimes asking uncomfortable questions about their research...
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  • Gail Nyoka
    January 1, 1970
    It’s not often I call a book “essential” reading. Superior: The Return of Race Science, is one of these few.Based on solid research, acclaimed science writer Angela Saini presents us with a painstaking – and highly readable – history of the pernicious ideology of ‘race.’ People everywhere of all political persuasions find it easy to buy into the idea that biological race means something.” (Page 23). Yet, “the idea of race is not harmless. It brings with it centuries of political baggage, the blo It’s not often I call a book “essential” reading. Superior: The Return of Race Science, is one of these few.Based on solid research, acclaimed science writer Angela Saini presents us with a painstaking – and highly readable – history of the pernicious ideology of ‘race.’ People everywhere of all political persuasions find it easy to buy into the idea that biological race means something.” (Page 23). Yet, “the idea of race is not harmless. It brings with it centuries of political baggage, the blood of millions.” (Page 199).Saini examines the reasons why we so often cling to the idea of race, and gives a chilling account of how recent attempts to find a scientific basis for racial superiority or inferiority have been bankrolled by vested interests, even when no scientific research has ever found that humans are divided into races.The generations before me, and present generations, have lived in a society which implicitly believes that a man with ‘white’ skin is the pinnacle of all that is best of humanity. The further one moves from this supposed ideal, the lesser and more insignificant the person.We live daily with the consequences of this deeply ingrained societal belief. We need to take a thoughtful and thorough look at how this ideology continues, and what it means for the future. Saini’s book provides us with that.
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  • Annarella
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting read about an issue that is a topical political and social issue.There're still some old ideas that are being passed as science and it was interesting reading this book because the author is very good to rebut them.The book is well written, engaging and entertaining.I like the style of writing, the clarity of the explanations and the sense of humour.I hope this book will be read by a lot of people because we need to know how to distinguish between political made pseudo scientific An interesting read about an issue that is a topical political and social issue.There're still some old ideas that are being passed as science and it was interesting reading this book because the author is very good to rebut them.The book is well written, engaging and entertaining.I like the style of writing, the clarity of the explanations and the sense of humour.I hope this book will be read by a lot of people because we need to know how to distinguish between political made pseudo scientific thesis and the reality.Recommended!Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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  • El
    January 1, 1970
    I loved Inferior, and highly anticipated Superior- it didn’t disappoint. It comprehensively dismantles race as anything other than a social construct and vitally strips racists of any scientific basis for their views. I learnt a lot reading this, from the “scientific” contribution to Nazi ideology in the early 20th century to how fallible scientists are in the face of their own beliefs. Recommended reading for everyone!
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  • gaverne Bennett
    January 1, 1970
    A book of genius. Couldn't be more timely...
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