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Nature Vs. Nurture: Waging War Over the Soul of Science 235

derekmead writes "Wherever determinism appears, controversy attends, raising specters of days when colonialists, eugenicists, public health officials, and political idealists believed they could cure the human condition through manipulation and force. Understanding those fears helps shed light on the controversy surrounding a recent paper (PDF) published in the American Economic Review, entitled, 'The "Out of Africa" Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development.' In it, economists Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor argue that the economic development of broad human populations correlate with their levels of genetic diversity—which is, in turn, pinned to the distance its inhabitants migrated from Africa thousands of years ago. Reaction has been swift and vehement. An article signed by 18 academics in Current Anthropology accuses the researchers of 'bad science' — 'something false and undesirable' based on 'weak data and methods' that 'can become a justification for reactionary policy.' The paper attacks everything from its sources of population data to its methods for measuring genetic diversity, but the economists are standing by their methods. The quality of Ashraf and Galor's research notwithstanding, the debate illustrates just how tricky it's become to assert anything which says something about human development was in any way inevitable."

Book Review: Why Does the World Exist? 304

eldavojohn writes "For quite some time humans have struggled to answer the question why there is anything rather than nothing. Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist? tackles such questions in the form of a journey. After laying a brief groundwork, Holt travels from leading prominent philosopher to curmudgeonly physicist to reserved theologian, visiting each and relaying the juiciest parts of his transcripts to the reader. In doing so, this book takes on an interesting form with a meaty dense center to each chapter (the actual dialogues) surrounded by the light and fluffy bread of Holt's expert writing about the settings, weather and food of his travels. While this consequently lacks the characteristics of a heady hard hitting original philosophical work, these sandwiches should prove quite palatable for most readers. Why Does the World Exist? criss-crosses the etymological, epistemological, theological and philosophical aspects of its title while remaining a fairly easy read." Keep reading for the rest of eldavojohn's review.

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