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Superior: The Return of Race Science

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An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differences Superior 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 An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differences Superior 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.


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An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differences Superior 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 An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differences Superior 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.

30 review for Superior: The Return of Race Science

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    A good overview of the history of race "science." I studied a lot of the earlier documents for my own research and they just sounded like such a ridiculous and desperate attempt to justify racial hierarchies. Unfortunately, this garbage science is coming back in the form of IQ testing and DNA "science." The best part of this book was when she covered David Reich's research--I would suggest going straight to the source if you're interested. His book "Who we are and how we got here" is excellent.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julie Barrett

    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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    A very compelling, thorough investigation into the intersection of modern science and race theory. The book is so titled (and especially subtitled) so as to suggest that the reader is into a major exploration of a resurgence of race science, and indeed, the work begins with a discussion of race science...only for the reader to learn how it never really went away. Ever since the end of the first half of the twentieth century there has remained a small minority of researchers and investigators atte A very compelling, thorough investigation into the intersection of modern science and race theory. The book is so titled (and especially subtitled) so as to suggest that the reader is into a major exploration of a resurgence of race science, and indeed, the work begins with a discussion of race science...only for the reader to learn how it never really went away. Ever since the end of the first half of the twentieth century there has remained a small minority of researchers and investigators attempting to justify old racial theories using new science. The author does well at exposing how they work, how flawed their works are, and yet their ability to pop up at any time, whenever the cultural tide is correct. But then the author also looks at the work of some very prominent anti-racist scientists as part of genome projects that look for differences among human populations in a way that, whereas not aligning with older categories, still attempts to categorize people into subpopulations. She questions the whole impulse to thus categorize and seek out such distinctions; she had already cast some aspersions on the whole basis of the Enlightenment project as *the* way forward for the investigation of reality. Toward the end of the work the author ends up demonstrating well how a good number of scientists, even those who have no ostensible racist intentions, end up maintaining racist categories in their heads, and, however unconsciously, continue to use them and thus find reasons to corroborate their presuppositions. In the end, the work just exposes how much of science is based on the presuppositions of scientists, and that as long as race is a major social category, science is going to keep attempting to find ways to characterize those who have as superior and those who don't as inferior. Biological bases will be sought for questions that are really answered sociologically: certain groups may be disadvantaged, but it's not based on biological difference (which, no matter how much it is sought, still does not exist), but based on sociological differences. But then, of course, those who have would again be forced to grapple with how they system they've built caused these other groups disadvantage, and would have to see how those disadvantages show up in the charts. To believe it's all based on genes, or some other factor, tranquilizes from these concerns. To this end this is a very powerful and excellent book and worthy of consideration: why do we even categorize on the basis of race? Why keep those boxes in our heads? Such boxes cause confusion and lead down inaccurate roads far more often than saying anything of value. We do better to see race categories as just the most recent form of justification of a form of supremacy, and deny its power outright. The author did well to point out how it was not that long ago that southern Europeans were believed to be inferior in intellect and biological stature; now they've been subsumed into the "white" population, and the same assumptions are now made about the "new" inferior groups, and it will probably change again. Likewise, it is hard to think of a racial basis for much of anything in Western culture when there are so many who seem to be of one race but are in fact an amalgamation of people from different parts of the world. The book also does well at showing the cost of implicit bias: the author spoke of a person she knew who went without the proper diagnosis for 8 years until a radiologist saw an x-ray without knowing who she was and could tell it was cystic fibrosis. At the time, cystic fibrosis was believed to be a "white disease," and the girl was black. We can assume no ill will on the part of the physicians; these false categories just meant there was a failure of imagination that could have ended very tragically. And yet...the author has her own set of biases. She is acutely aware of the dangers and difficulties of racism and tribalism, being of middle class England but of Indian descent. Her acknowledgement to her son expresses the excess: what makes us is our personal experiences and individual actions, with culture and family and other things that might shape a person given a brusque and glib passing comment. It's a bit ironic, but sadly unsurprising: the author has attempted to show how all of these scientists are blinded by their presuppositions and cannot see them for what they are, and thus do not see the disconnect between the science they think they're doing and the systemic racism they end up perpetuating, and yet she herself does not seem to see how she is atomizing everyone, as if one's reality is formed by one's experience and one's own actions. The chapter before she had described how Mendel's ideas about genetics were most likely flawed because interaction with other factors at play were not in view; and so it is with her own views on these subjects. Family, culture, etc. does, and should, wield a lot of influence on a person. Yes, there is no biological basis to race; yes, race science is all an attempt to demonstrate a supremacy that is biologically invalid and sociologically bankrupt. But that doesn't mean we throw all of culture and ethnicity into the dustbin of history. The problem is not differences among populations: the problem is looking at "the other" as less than on account of differences. Whatever solutions exist to the scourge of racism must still find a way to honor and value ethnic and national differences, even though they are based in sociology, not biology. Nevertheless, a book worthy of consideration. **--review copy received as part of early review program

  7. 4 out of 5

    gaverne Bennett

    A book of genius. Couldn't be more timely...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This book isn't written from a neutral perspective, and doesn't discuss the scientific research in detail. Or even is up to date with latest genetic research and information.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Csimplot Simplot

    Excellent book!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    'There is a kind of will to truth. We will make this be the truth if we try hard enough'- Subir Sinha. Oh how this resonates in our social media dominated/'fake news' society. Sinha's quote refers particularly to religious extremists but effectively demonstrates the kind of sentiment that underlies the 'science' and ways of thinking that the book works to demolish. That backwards system which starts with ideology and then looks for evidence to support it. Race is not about genetics/ biological di 'There is a kind of will to truth. We will make this be the truth if we try hard enough'- Subir Sinha. Oh how this resonates in our social media dominated/'fake news' society. Sinha's quote refers particularly to religious extremists but effectively demonstrates the kind of sentiment that underlies the 'science' and ways of thinking that the book works to demolish. That backwards system which starts with ideology and then looks for evidence to support it. Race is not about genetics/ biological difference, it is a social, cultural, political construct. It was created to separate, subordinate, invalidate certain types of people, a way of perpetuating and bolstering the supposed superiority of the great white male. It's the kind of thing that feels like part of the past, and it definitely should be, but Angela Saini shows that not only it it still here, it never went away. Even the Holocaust was not enough to demonstrate the dangers inherent in such ideology, simply pushing those who held these types of views out of the mainstream. For a while at least. Because now they're back and at the forefront of populist politics- given airtime, given applause, given power. And that's why books like this are so essential, to hold people and ideas up to scrutiny, to start conversations, to attack the fundamental misunderstandings (deliberate or otherwise) about human variation. Because feelings of superiority are how we end up arguing that migrant children in border camps don't really need soap or blankets or safety, it's how the fear of difference and the 'other' leads to Trump and Brexit, how 'knowing' that certain ethnic groups just aren't as clever or industrious means that they're a lost cause, worthless, a burden. It's always useful to blame those being crushed by inequality for their own problems. If they deserve it, there's nothing we can do, right? If nothing else, this book is an essential reminder about evaluating the quality of the information you access, share, and trust. Where does it come from? Who paid for it? What are they trying to sell you? Who benefits? What Saini's book does is present the ways in which the ideologies behind race science have altered or even determined its conclusions. And if you want to apply the same fact checking to her work, her sources are right there at the back. ARC via Netgalley

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    I expected this book to focus on debunking the idea of innate differences in abilities between races. Instead, Saini documents the history of racial prejudice influencing science. The book is stronger for this approach, and I came out wiser, if a little more scared. In a well-written, often absorbing narrative, Saini documents the thread of eugenics from Darwinism, through fascism, and right to fringe publications, wealthy foundations, and even members of the editorial boards of mainstream scienc I expected this book to focus on debunking the idea of innate differences in abilities between races. Instead, Saini documents the history of racial prejudice influencing science. The book is stronger for this approach, and I came out wiser, if a little more scared. In a well-written, often absorbing narrative, Saini documents the thread of eugenics from Darwinism, through fascism, and right to fringe publications, wealthy foundations, and even members of the editorial boards of mainstream science journals. She illustrates how a consistent way of thinking - which emphasises the superiority of European norms and peoples - continues to influence more mainstream thought. In this, the idea that outright racists are still within the Academy - is a little frightening in an era where outright racist ideas are gaining currency. Saini also looks at modern fields, from genetics to social and neuroscience. She covers the woeful tale of BiDil, which was for many years touted as the forerunner of a wave of racialised medicine. BiDil treats hypertension, which African-Americans suffer from in much higher rates than whites. Many American scientists persist in viewing this as a probable genetic difference, despite Africans (and Afro-Cuban) having quite low levels of hypertension. BiDil was touted as more effective on African-Americans. The issue is that it wasn't - in fact, in seeking approval to have listed as a specific racially targeted drug, BiDil was *only* tested on African Americans. The motivation was what Saini coyly calls "marketing", but was really to keep the drug in patent, and hence not subject to competing with generics. Nearly a decade on, BiDil is mostly a failure, not that surprising given it is marketed at a poor segment of the population but costs a mint, meaning health insurers won't pay for it. Oh, and it appears equally effective on all racial groups. BiDil has turned out to be the birth and death of racialised medicine. Saini also interviews David Reich, who bedazzles her with his complex net of understanding if how genetically mixed most humans are, descended from waves of people who use their ingenuity to get closer to the rest of the world, before twisting to hold open the "but theoretically we could have cognitive differences between population groups which correspond to race". Saini tackles him on how these ideas have been used - given that while " theoretically" it is possible, we have no evidence that is actually is - despite many goes at proving so. Reich's insistence that science will proof us against prejudice rings uncomfortably naive against the background of the book. It harkens back to the history of the Max Planck Institute/Kaiser Wilhelm institute, whose scientists mostly acquiesced to the Nazis, producing endless science demonstrating the superiority of blond Germans. The resisters were heroic, but they were also small in number and isolated. This book comes at a crucial time, not only because racism is on the rise, but as our societies seem more than ever riven between those who dismiss scientific experts altogether, and this who regard them as infallible. The book reminds us that scientists are human, part of society, and just as capable of storing their truths to support evil as the rest of us.

  12. 5 out of 5

    L A

    Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. Superior is an especially topical book considering the current political climate in the West. Through the election of Trump, the emergence of the alt-right, increasing nationalism and Brexit we are seeing a resurgence in discourse around race science. In this book Saini explores the past and current context of race science and dismantles some of the myths and assumptions that surround the issue Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. Superior is an especially topical book considering the current political climate in the West. Through the election of Trump, the emergence of the alt-right, increasing nationalism and Brexit we are seeing a resurgence in discourse around race science. In this book Saini explores the past and current context of race science and dismantles some of the myths and assumptions that surround the issue of biological race and the problem of setting the benchmark of measuring humanity against white westerners. The book is written in a balanced, calm and engaging style which makes it accessible for even the most casual reader. It is continually thought provoking and Saini’s wry observations make her personal standpoints clear without ever overpowering her key messages. I took a long time to finish this book as I found so many parts of it profoundly depressing and difficult to read. Some of the social history covered includes the Australian Aboriginal stolen generation, the humiliation and despair suffered by Saartjie Baartman – the “Hottentot Venus”, Parisian human zoos, Eugenics (including Marie Stopes) and the Holocaust. There are some real horrors and accounts of almost unimaginable inhumanity, but some moments of humour too. I was particularly tickled by the revelation that Western Europeans are more likely to have Neanderthal DNA than Aboriginals and the subsequent rehabilitation of the Neanderthal’s public image as a result. The book challenges us to reflect on what makes a group of people representative of a worthwhile human society? Is it advanced technology? The presence of skyscrapers in cities? A significant portion of the book explores the resurgence in the scientific theories around biological race. Many modern scientists still make arguments for fundamental genetic differences in racial differences despite lack of any real evidence. I would have hoped we’d moved beyond this by now, but sadly not. This particular line of thought felt a little repetitive sometimes and there were times I felt myself thinking “yes, yes I know” whilst reading certain sections. This is an exhaustively researched account of the current context around race science and the current arguments on both sides of the debate. It is written in an accessible and calm manner despite the difficult subject matter and the emotions and rhetoric involved.

  13. 4 out of 5

    mylogicisfuzzy

    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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Peter Goodman

    “Superior: The return of race science,” by Angela Saini (Penguin Random House, 2019). A very quirky, irritating, intriguing, contentious book that finally did convince me. The argument is that in recent years there has been a resurgence of racism supported by purportedly scientific research. Saini (herself of Indian descent, raised in England) first recounts the origins of the concept of race, and proceeds to debunk them one by one. She shows how certain journals, foundations and institutions tr “Superior: The return of race science,” by Angela Saini (Penguin Random House, 2019). A very quirky, irritating, intriguing, contentious book that finally did convince me. The argument is that in recent years there has been a resurgence of racism supported by purportedly scientific research. Saini (herself of Indian descent, raised in England) first recounts the origins of the concept of race, and proceeds to debunk them one by one. She shows how certain journals, foundations and institutions try to present “scientific” evidence, but the science is lousy and often self-referential. Race is a purely social construct: there are no biological or genetic or geographic ways to define what It could be, although people have been trying to do so for about 300 years. The concept itself only developed in Europe after the time of the Enlightenment. It gained power after Darwin and Mendel. Darwin himself supported racial theories: He considered Europeans superior; Wallace, his colleague, went even further. I found myself disagreeing and arguing with her through perhaps three-quarters of the book. She seems to say that any attempt to categorize human beings, to create silos into which large groups of people can be placed, not only will be fundamentally flawed, but will inevitably lead to racism: the notion that one or another group (usually western European) is superior to the rest. Ultimately, when she digs deep into genetics and the futile attempts to define humans in natural groupings, she does persuade me. Though it is awfully hard to avoid slipping back into the racial habits. Human beings do have a tendency to categorize everything, and what is wrong with that? When it comes to race, the problem is that the “superior” will always try to dominate. Her writing style is, to me, eccentric: She is the narrator; she describes interviews, personal experiences, discussions and disagreements as if they were occurring in real time. I think I am going to dig up some reviews. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/bo...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Niamh

    I was very kindly given an e-arc of this book through Netgalley and 4th Estate. Wow. This book is dense. There is so much information packed into its pages that I'm going to have to sit and ruminate on the theses over the next few days. But it is so, so brilliant. There were moments in this book where I just sat with my mouth hanging open soaking in every single piece of information that Saini mentioned. Touching on topics from experimentation by Nazi scientists during the Holocaust to modern me I was very kindly given an e-arc of this book through Netgalley and 4th Estate. Wow. This book is dense. There is so much information packed into its pages that I'm going to have to sit and ruminate on the theses over the next few days. But it is so, so brilliant. There were moments in this book where I just sat with my mouth hanging open soaking in every single piece of information that Saini mentioned. Touching on topics from experimentation by Nazi scientists during the Holocaust to modern medicines attitudes towards African-Americans having its roots in the slave trade- not to mention the way science often fails non-white people- this book explores every nook and cranny of race science and demonstrates that its existence is troubling enough. I will say there were a lot of concepts that I didn't quite understand because there is a basic level of knowledge you need to really get to the core ideas of this book. Saini writes like a journalist- her information is rooted in stories and personable narratives, but she also tends to tangent for a while. The style is something that takes a little while to get used to, but once you're ingrained within a chapter and its thoughts, you're in for good. I particularly enjoyed her examination of the caste system in India, particularly as she related it to her own experiences. Her mentions of Brexit and Trump are necessary and important. When she talks about her experiences as a woman of colour in England, particularly during this rise of white nationalism that our country is seeing, it's harrowing to read but something that we all need to hear. This book has its moments of excellence but there's just so much contained to a few hundred pages that it feels overwhelming at times. 'Superior: The Return of Race Science' by Angela Saini was released in the UK on May 30th, 2019.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ramin

    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...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    There is a lot of very interesting and useful information here, but Saini's grasp of the history of racial thought before the twentieth century is decidedly shaky. By not engaging closely with the nuances of thinking about physiology, culture, and intellectual inequality – as well as ideas like polygenism – in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, she presents a simplified and ultimately weak contextual and conceptual framework for later ideas. For example, she suggests that Johann Friedrich There is a lot of very interesting and useful information here, but Saini's grasp of the history of racial thought before the twentieth century is decidedly shaky. By not engaging closely with the nuances of thinking about physiology, culture, and intellectual inequality – as well as ideas like polygenism – in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, she presents a simplified and ultimately weak contextual and conceptual framework for later ideas. For example, she suggests that Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's racial thought was not generally considered scientifically rigorous during his lifetime, but also doesn't account for the fact that (despite his claims that white people are objectively more beautiful than others) he rejected claims that races displayed inherent intellectual and moral inequalities. Conflating and obfuscating these nuances results in a deceptively simple narrative of the emergence of modern racial thought. Rather, these kinds of works should pay attention to the ways that later racial ideas broke with, selectively adopted, and even distorted earlier racial thought to serve later contexts. This book provides a fascinating and largely convincing (and frankly scary) overview of late-twentieth-century 'race science', and it may be unfair to expect a historically rigorous account of earlier ideas in a non-specialist work. Nevertheless, the lack of such an account does weaken the work, leading to an uneven and unreliable narrative of the emergence and origins of modern race thinking. This was disappointing, as Saini's work on sex/gender differences in Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong was one of the best things I read last year.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robb Bridson

    An ambitious historical analysis of scientific racism This book begins with a general history of scientific racism and eugenics and all that sort of stuff, much of which will be familiar to people who have read a lot on the subjects (though with a lot more in-depth look at the journals and funds that kept this sort of racism alive at the fringes during the post-war period when science distanced from it, allowing it to make a comeback in some circles today). The latter parts of the book are where i An ambitious historical analysis of scientific racism This book begins with a general history of scientific racism and eugenics and all that sort of stuff, much of which will be familiar to people who have read a lot on the subjects (though with a lot more in-depth look at the journals and funds that kept this sort of racism alive at the fringes during the post-war period when science distanced from it, allowing it to make a comeback in some circles today). The latter parts of the book are where it gets more interesting, looking at the ways--some evil and some well-intentioned, some by twisting science and others through simple ignorance or stubbornness-- scientists, researchers, and other actors keep scientific racism alive. Explaining why we still have people trying to sell "The Bell Curve" thesis to this day, no matter how many times it is shot down by science. The book covers a lot of ground, from white supremacists' attempts to rent and themselves, to racists creating their own underground journal network to peer review each other and get around the larger scientific community, to well-meaning scientists who just can't get around the pitfalls of the race-based worldview. Also there is some coverage of the scientists and researchers standing up against the stubborn racism in our scientific institutions.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gail Nyoka

    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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leon Markham

    Really outstanding. What I particularly appreciate is the lengths the author goes to to articulate the strongest and best articulation of the opposing position. As she says - just because theories are exploited by the far right, this doesn’t necessarily make them false - and she takes the time and effort to understand just what the intellectual underpinnings of this new rehash of “rave science” are. One question this book sparked for me was - why has race become the clear dimension by which react Really outstanding. What I particularly appreciate is the lengths the author goes to to articulate the strongest and best articulation of the opposing position. As she says - just because theories are exploited by the far right, this doesn’t necessarily make them false - and she takes the time and effort to understand just what the intellectual underpinnings of this new rehash of “rave science” are. One question this book sparked for me was - why has race become the clear dimension by which reactionaries across the world choose to judge themselves and one another? From what I understand - previous civilizations weren’t obsessing over “race” - language and culture seemed more important for example - what made race the thing, now, that we’re all getting excited about. Anyway - absolutely wonderful book, Angela Saini (autocorrected to “Saint” by my iPhone, somewhat appropriately) is an intellectual hero of mine, and as with her previous book, I shall be buying copies for my feminist book club at work...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    In ‘Superior’ Angela Saini explores the destructive history of race science and the way people have viewed the concept of race throughout history. The author examines the concept of race through different fields of study such as genetic, social and archaeological research and shows how this research has been used to support the concept of race in order to maintain a racial hierarchy in the world. By talking to many different scientists from different scientific fields and different institutes Sa In ‘Superior’ Angela Saini explores the destructive history of race science and the way people have viewed the concept of race throughout history. The author examines the concept of race through different fields of study such as genetic, social and archaeological research and shows how this research has been used to support the concept of race in order to maintain a racial hierarchy in the world. By talking to many different scientists from different scientific fields and different institutes Saini gives a diverse and balanced view of the history of race science, even though the author’s stance is very clear from the start. I have learned a lot from reading this book and I think this book will make everyone who reads it reflect on their way of thinking about how the world is shaped by dominant science. I would recommend this critical review of scientific racism, which is not talked about enough today, in a time that race science is on the rise again. Thank you to 4th Estate books for sending me a proof copy.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Ann

    Saini outlines and deconstructs the age-old narrative of imposed power and hierarchy. A scathingly logical approach to the idea of race, drawing on history, language, politics, scientific hypotheses and theories, and hypotheticals to bring her points home. "Without ever really looking back to the past and asking how and where the idea of race had been constructed in the first place, why it had been relentlessly abused—without questioning the motives of scientists...—in this glaring 'absence of i Saini outlines and deconstructs the age-old narrative of imposed power and hierarchy. A scathingly logical approach to the idea of race, drawing on history, language, politics, scientific hypotheses and theories, and hypotheticals to bring her points home. "Without ever really looking back to the past and asking how and where the idea of race had been constructed in the first place, why it had been relentlessly abused—without questioning the motives of scientists...—in this glaring 'absence of introspection,' old ideas of race could never completely disappear." / "So science is not enough to forge identity. We also need stories to build a sense of who we are, even if the stories are held together with only threads of truth."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

    An insightful, detailed and alarming look at both the history and the present of science and how it has been used and manipulated, both intentionally and accidentally, to support racism, discrimination and prejudice. The consuming desire to understand ourselves, our history, our origins and the perceived differences in the world around us, as well as attempts to justify every kind of prejudice and inequality, has lead science and scientists to terrible decisions and terrible science. This charts An insightful, detailed and alarming look at both the history and the present of science and how it has been used and manipulated, both intentionally and accidentally, to support racism, discrimination and prejudice. The consuming desire to understand ourselves, our history, our origins and the perceived differences in the world around us, as well as attempts to justify every kind of prejudice and inequality, has lead science and scientists to terrible decisions and terrible science. This charts that journey and is resurgence in the present day. I feel a little better armed to spot this rhetoric now and hopefully be able to challenge things, both with myself and others in making the world a fairer and better place.

  24. 5 out of 5

    ROGER GEORGE

    The ‘science’ of a slippery idea To the extent that a thing called race exists, it does so as a social and cultural idea and a slippery one at that - decades of research attempting to prove a scientific basis for race and correlations with complex ideas like intelligence have failed, universally. And yet the very idea of race remains within the public conscience and consequently, continues to exert an outsized force on our lives experiences day to day.. More than anything this book made me acknow The ‘science’ of a slippery idea To the extent that a thing called race exists, it does so as a social and cultural idea and a slippery one at that - decades of research attempting to prove a scientific basis for race and correlations with complex ideas like intelligence have failed, universally. And yet the very idea of race remains within the public conscience and consequently, continues to exert an outsized force on our lives experiences day to day.. More than anything this book made me acknowledge the degree to which we must remain vigilant regarding old, toxic ideas wrapped in pretty, new clothes. Exceptional study, well written.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Annarella

    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.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Sanabria

    It is a book certainly biased by her author. She has her valid points/facts but she also can not denied that Science, and the way it has been tested, has also its points. Science, as she presents in her book, is proned to be biased too, I agree. I like the afterword... We need to do an introspection exercise first, valu who we are and enjoy who we are. Respect others and their points of view. Finally, people have the right to choose their inner circle, have the right to exclude those with whom th It is a book certainly biased by her author. She has her valid points/facts but she also can not denied that Science, and the way it has been tested, has also its points. Science, as she presents in her book, is proned to be biased too, I agree. I like the afterword... We need to do an introspection exercise first, valu who we are and enjoy who we are. Respect others and their points of view. Finally, people have the right to choose their inner circle, have the right to exclude those with whom they do not like to be but respecting and do not doing harm those.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Race is a concept that exists in our cultural history that has no basis in biology no matter how many studies are conducted. Angela Saini calmly dissects the research and puts a very strong case forward that frankly demolishes any argument for the continued fascination for proving that one kind of Homo Sapiens is less than another based on biology. At the end of this book you realise that the case between nature and nurture is clear. Nurture (and culture) define difference, not biology. Read up Race is a concept that exists in our cultural history that has no basis in biology no matter how many studies are conducted. Angela Saini calmly dissects the research and puts a very strong case forward that frankly demolishes any argument for the continued fascination for proving that one kind of Homo Sapiens is less than another based on biology. At the end of this book you realise that the case between nature and nurture is clear. Nurture (and culture) define difference, not biology. Read up and be ready for those awkward conversations about race, you will be all the richer for having read Superior first. Highly recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    A depressing history of gross people using science to justify inequality, white supremacy, and racist nationalism. It was really informative, but I wish that the author had gone further into solutions or people doing better science. I was left feeling like...now what? That being said, I recommend this! I have a better grasp on what publications and strategies today’s white supremacists are using to support their bullshit after reading it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Godfrey

    An excellent insight into how racism can permeate science, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The author expertly highlights faults in research and studies which may suggest that various populations are more or less successful as a result of genetics rather than socioeconomic factors. The book made me consider my preconceptions on race - as any good book should make you consider what your outlook on the subject is and to challenge your views.

  30. 5 out of 5

    El

    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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