In a world that is being ripped apart by polarized views and fake news, scientific discourse might be the last bastion of constructive disagreement based on respect for objective knowledge. But even this is being tested, as the response to  Holly Dunsworth’s recent TVOL article titled It is Unethical to Teach Evolution Without Confronting Racism and Sexism  attests. Some praise her ethical sensibilities, while others accuse her of being a leftist authoritarian. In this interview, Holly and I take a deep dive into the issues and stress the need to avoid excesses on both sides of the debate. The most important ground to defend is the middle ground. 

Links referred to in the interview: 
Of related interest: 

Published On: November 28, 2018

Holly Dunsworth

Holly Dunsworth

Holly Dunsworth is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Rhode Island where she teaches courses on human origins, evolution, and variation. She performs paleontological work at the early Miocene sites on Rusinga Island, Kenya where some of the most ancient fossil apes are preserved. She also studies living primates, particularly when it comes to their energy use, reproduction, and life history.

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, both in his own research and as director of EvoS, a unique campus-wide evolutionary studies program that recently received NSF funding to expand into a nationwide consortium. His books include Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, and The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time and Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. .


  • Mike Alexander says:

    I have a request for an article. It is known that the average IQ levels of different population groups can be significantly different. It is also known that IQ is high heritable. It is also known that group differences in IQ do not necessarily imply they reflect genetic differences. For many people the last seems to contradict the first two.

    I have never seen a simple cogent explanation for why this is not so. I have always chalked it up to a lurking variable effect, but could not write such an explanation myself (I’m a Chem E). When I encountered articles on IQ and race on Vox like a year ago, they acknowledged the first two points and asserted the third, but did not explain it further). Such a blanket assertion comes across like an argument from authority. It would ne useful, I think, to have a short paragraph explanation for why IQ can be highly heritable, IQ can be very different between two visually distinctive groups*, and yet one cannot infer that the difference reflects a genetic difference. Such a paragraph could be inserted into articles that address this issue, (like the ones I saw on Vox) so people can understand how these things work. Evolutionary biologists would be well suited to crafted such a paragraph I should think.

    This would also be a good tool to deal with the legacy of the ugly use of evolution and genetics in racial superiority theories of a century ago. That is, to show how they got their logic wrong.

    *race is a cultural construct based on a few visual cue and so not necessarily correlated with genetic factors relevant to invisible attributes like IQ.

  • So, David, I’ve begun to listen to your podcasts.

    Go figure.

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