New Books Network

Adam Rutherford

How to Argue With a Racist

What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference

The Experiment 2020

NBN Book of the DayNBN Special SeriesNew Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ScienceNew Books in Science & Technology August 27, 2020 Matthew Jordan

Racist pseudoscience has become so commonplace that it can be hard to spot. But its toxic effects on society are plain to see—feeding nationalism,...

Racist pseudoscience has become so commonplace that it can be hard to spot. But its toxic effects on society are plain to see—feeding nationalism, fueling hatred, endangering lives, and corroding our discourse on everything from sports to intelligence. Even well-intentioned people repeat stereotypes based on “science,” because cutting-edge genetics is hard to grasp, and all too easy to distort.

Paradoxically, these misconceptions are multiplying even as scientists make unprecedented discoveries in human genetics—findings that, when accurately understood, are powerful evidence against racism. We’ve never had clearer answers about who we are and where we come from, but this knowledge is sorely needed in our casual conversations about race.

How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference (The Experiment) emphatically dismantles outdated notions of race by illuminating what modern genetics actually can and can’t tell us about human difference. We now know that the racial categories still dividing us do not align with observable genetic differences. In fact, our differences are so minute that, most of all, they serve as evidence of our shared humanity.

Adam Rutherford is a geneticist, science writer, and broadcaster. He has written and presented many award-winning series and programs for the BBC, including the flagship weekly Radio 4 program Inside Science, The Cell for BBC Four, and Playing God (on the rise of synthetic biology) for the leading science series Horizon. He is also the author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction; and Creation, on the origin of life and synthetic biology, which was short-listed for the Wellcome Book Prize.


Matthew Jordan is a professor at McMaster University, where he teaches courses on AI and the history of science. You can follow him on Twitter @mattyj612 or his website matthewleejordan.com.