Book Review:

George, Wesley Critz (1888-1982). The Biology of the Race Problem. Putnam National Letters Committee, New York. 1964.

When the United States Supreme Court ruled on the issue of racial segregation in public schools (Brown vs. Board of Education), it was in effect ordering a massive change in the culture of the american South. Few were willing to accept that change without a fight and many individuals and interest groups produced literature opposing the ruling on various grounds. One of the more worrisome examples of such literature was The Biology of the Race Problem by retired biologist Wesley George. In this book, he attempts to use scientific theories and data to illustrate that separate school systems should be maintained for white and blacks.

Originally prepared as a report for the the Governor of Alabama, later printings were funded by private interest groups who distributed it in an attempt to gain support for segregation. The copy in the UT Library is marked "Gift of the American Coalition of New York", which certainly sounds right-wing enough. The Biology of the Race Problem is a prime example of the misuses of scientific data by racist writers.

To begin, George's book seems to rely in some parts on brow- beating the reader with the number of citations and references it can make to learned individuals. Its most obvious such instance occurs even before the introduction where it chooses to list the names and credentials of individuals cited, as opposed to a list of references after the text. Many of the individuals listed are anthropologists, biologists, or psychologists, although in one case (Sir Francis Galton), the main credential appears to be "cousin of Charles Darwin". (I suppose that sort of thing should be expected from books that emphasizes heredity over environment.)

After short introduction, George dives headfirst into his subject with a chapter entitled "Are All Born Approximately Uniform And Equal When They Are Born?" (Born in 1888, George appears to have an almost victorian penchant for long titles. At least he spared me those useless topic summaries at the beginning of each chapter.) This first chapter depends mostly on a list of eight characteristics it says are determined at birth, and reasons that if all those characteristics are hereditary, then intelligence must be. Most of the characteristics listed are reasonably called inheritable, except for the almost unbelievable classification of personalities into "sanguine, melancholy, or choleric" (p. 6), a system that went out of style when Chaucer did. In either event, the goal is to make inherited intelligence seem reasonable by making it the odd trait out; after all, if everything else is hereditary, then intelligence must be.

Chapter Two is simply an explanation of basic principles of genetics and heredity, complete with the story of Gregor Mendel and his garden. The explanations are straightforward and honest enough, although there is a subtle slant suggesting that everything about genetics had been figured out by 1964 (that's scary enough in itself), presumably to increase belief of latter chapters' assertions.

Chapter Three (Are There Fundamental Differences Between the White And Negro Races), depends primarily on the a priori assumption that there are differences and a series of quotations (concerning the personalities of native africans), made mostly by safari explorers and diplomats (two groups I don't trust as ethnographers). It then segues into some comparisons of IQ scores based on a very small sample (two school systems it claims gave equal treatment to black and white students) in order show blacks have lower IQs. (One line suggests to me that the US army tests from World War I were used as well, but the line is too vague to be sure.)

Then come (of course) crime statistics, which as usual in these instances are based entirely on racial classification of the criminal; nowhere is socioeconomic status or even urban/rural classification taken into account. The almost funny exception is when homicide rates from South Africa are quoted to show that blacks in their native culture (Apartheid as a native culture?) are even more homicidal, suggesting that white influence in American had succeeded in mitigating african homicidal tendencies.

Chapter Four (Physical Bases for Intellectual and Behavioral Differences) is a collection of brain weights and suggestions that the negro brain is less well shaped or developed than the caucasian. Glorified phrenology, nothing more.

Chapter Five (Genetics, Behavior, and Breed Differences in Animals) attempts to deduce some general rules of behavior inheritance from dog breeding experiments conducted in 1941. It also includes related data on defects (the book calls them "disharmonies") in cross-breeds. Although the findings of Chapter Five may be perfectly acceptable for dogs, I would suggest that George misses an important point: that the subspecies of dogs are a lot farther apart (genetically and phenotypically) than human subspecies/races. More appropriate studies should have been conducted with animals showing less overall variation. Chapter Five is just bad science, or George misapplying reasonable veterinary findings to the hominoid line.

Chapter Six (Inheritance of Intelligence and Behavior in Man)is based on an unscientific study (from 1869!) by Sir Francis Galton showing that genius runs in certain families, and some european studies of twins in prison (sounds like a Geraldo topic, doesn't it?). Both types of studies are used to show that genius and "criminality" run in families and must be hereditary. Today, one would almost instinctively respond that families create similar environments for their members, making it too difficult to separate environmental and hereditary influences. (Guess no one thought of that in 1869.) Such an oversight is almost certainly intentional, and indicative of a philosophy that did not consider alternate hypotheses, let alone test them.

Chapter Seven is mostly review of the preceding material. Chapter Eight (Should We Promote Racial Amalagamation), Chapter Nine (Social Justice and National Greatness), and Chapter Ten (The Influence of Franz Boaz) are less scientific and more philosophical. Chapter Eight dredges up some bad archaeology in order to suggest that african civilization is inferior to european civilization, and that the inferiority must be caused by the inherited characteristics described in The Biology of the Race Problem. Chapter Nine goes on to argue that letting blacks into white schools will dilute white education and promote racial interbreeding to the detriment of the white race. Chapter Ten specializes in Goofy Quotes From Early Anthropologists (and we have to admit there are a lot of those) to accuse Boaz of starting a worldwide movement of propaganda-based anthropology designed to just so amalgamate the black and white races. The last few pages turn absolutely venomous against early attempts at multicultural curriculums in american universities, and lose all pretense of science when it accuses a Columbia University text of "being without literary merit".

The Biology of the Race Problem is fortunately an artifact of less rational age, but not a completely extinct one. Although government organizations no longer solicit such nonsense to support bad policies, similar (and quite possibly derivative) literature exists today among fringe groups. I have no doubt that such works are as scientifically worthless as The Biology of the Race Problem; its author, although a biologist, seems to have lost all conception of valid scientific methodology and/or has warped data to fit a preconceived (and unsubstantiated) ideology of protecting the white race's gene pool. He provides himself with a thin cloak of moral outrage and name-calling towards those he opposes, claiming that those who believe in biological equality are unscientific, mostly for disagreeing with the obvious, which is perhaps the most important thing science can ever do and certainly the most courageous thing it ever does. The Biology of the Race Problem has merit only as a historical curiosity of the types of books right-wingers can sneak into college libraries.

Filed at 12:18:48 AM EST on 24 February 1992 from Toledo, OH