A House hearing on COVID-19’s origins on Wednesday unraveled almost immediately as Democrats decried one of the GOP’s witnesses: Nicholas Wade, the author of a 2014 book that made outrageous, racist claims about Black people being more prone to violence and Jewish people being more financially successful because of their genetic makeup.
Wade, a British author and former New York Times science writer, wrote a book called “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History” that was widely denounced by the scientific community for misrepresenting research into human population genetics.
One passage from his book reads, “Populations that live at high altitudes, like Tibetans, represent another adaptation to extreme environments. The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process.”
In another passage about Africans’ economic conditions, Wade wonders whether “variations in their nature, such as their time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence, have some bearing on the economic decisions they make.”
Wednesday’s hearing had barely begun when Rep. Raul Ruiz (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, denounced Wade as a “dangerous” and “extreme” pick by Republicans to feature in a hearing supposedly focused on facts and science.
“I was alarmed to see someone who wrote a book applauded by white supremacists,” said Ruiz, noting that former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke praised Wade’s book on his radio show in 2014.
“[Wade] claims that certain populations have been slower to experience an evolutionary change he has described as ‘the transformation of a population’s social traits from the violent, short-term, impulsive behavior typical of many hunter-gatherer and tribal societies’ into ‘the more disciplined, future-oriented behavior observed in other populations,’” he said.
The California Democrat said he wrote to the chairman, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), earlier Wednesday urging him to disinvite Wade from the hearing, “so as not to give legitimacy to a man of such discredited, unscientific and harmful views.”
“His participation hurts the credibility of this hearing,” added Ruiz, with Wade sitting right in front of him. “These views … have no place in a hearing examining the origins of a pandemic that has disproportionately and overwhelmingly harmed communities of color.”
Wenstrup briefly tried to defend Wade by noting he is the former editor of Nature and Science magazines, and moved on to say he expected witnesses to stick to the topic at hand, COVID-19.
But in his introductory remarks, Wade lamented that his book was becoming “a gigantic distraction” in the hearing and said Ruiz’s claims about it weren’t true.
“This was a determinedly non-racist book,” said Wade. “It has no scientific errors that I’m aware of. It has no racist statements. It stresses the theme of unity that we are all variations on the same human genome.”
“I have nothing to be ashamed of in my book,” he added.
Ruiz later asked Wade if he knew that Duke had praised his book. A staffer held up a poster behind Ruiz that featured a passage from Duke’s website stating that Wade had “essentially embraced the scientific racial truth” that Duke had been advocating for years.
“When my book first came out, Mr. Ruiz, I think the extreme right wing thought it would help their cause,” said Wade. “But they very soon dropped referring to it because when they actually read it, as many people who talk about my book have not, they found that―”
“David Duke did read your book,” interjected Ruiz. “In fact, he had a whole radio talk show about it and described it in detail. And he did endorse your views.”
As Wade was testifying in the hearing, at least one anthropological geneticist on Twitter begged to differ with his claim that his book rests on science.
Jennifer Raff, author of The New York Times bestseller ”Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas,” tweeted that she reviewed Wade’s book when it came out 10 years ago and shared a link to her review for anyone interested in what a fellow geneticist made of it.
“Wade’s book is all pseudoscientific rubbish,” Raff wrote in her 2014 review on HuffPost, “because he can’t justify his first and primary point: his claim that the human racial groups we recognize today culturally are scientifically meaningful, discrete biological divisions of humans. This claim provides a direct basis for the whole second half of the book, in which he makes speculative arguments about national character. In other words, the entire book is a house of cards.”