SUPERIOR: THE RETURN OF RACE SCIENCE
16 September 2020
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Named as a ‘Book Of The Year’ for 2019 by The Guardian, Financial Times, New Statesman, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and The Library Journal, Angela Saini’s bestselling ‘Superior: The Return of Race Science’ (Penguin 2019) is a critically acclaimed account of the troubling return of long-discredited ideas about ‘race’ in our times.
‘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 World War II, the mainstream scientific world turned its back on eugenics and the study of racial difference. But a worldwide network of intellectual racists and segregationists quietly founded journals and funded research, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Herrnstein 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 an idea that still managed to somehow survive in the way scientists thought about human variation and genetics. Dissecting the statements and work of contemporary scientists studying human biodiversity, most of whom claim to be just following the data, Angela Saini shows us how, again and again, even mainstream scientists cling to the idea that race is biologically real. As our understanding of complex traits like intelligence, and the effects of environmental and cultural 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 rigorous, much-needed examination of the insidious and destructive nature of race science—and a powerful reminder that, biologically, we are all far more alike than different.
Angela Saini is an award-winning journalist and author based in New York. She teaches science writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presents radio and television programmes, and her writing has appeared in National Geographic, Foreign Policy, and Wired. In 2022 she was a Logan Nonfiction Program Fellow and a fellow of the Humboldt Residency Programme in Berlin.
Her latest book The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule was published in spring 2023, and was a finalist for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing. Her last two books, Superior: The Return of Race Science and Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, have been translated into fourteen languages and are on university reading lists across the world. Angela’s two-part television series for the BBC about the history and science of eugenics aired in 2019. An Undark magazine series on race science she co-edited was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in 2023.
As the founder and chair of the ‘Challenging Pseudoscience’ group at the Royal Institution, Angela campaigns around issues of bias and misinformation. Listen to her 2019 BBC Radio 4 documentary, The Misinformation Virus, here. She sits on a number of boards, including the Royal Society’s Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee. In 2023 she was made an honorary fellow of Keble College, Oxford.