David Reich strikes back!

David Reich submits Five Corrections to The New York Times.

As you know, in the fact-checking process I was sent more than 100 statements of which a very high proportion (more than half) were incorrect. For example, as I mentioned to you in my letter of January 7, 20 of 49 statements presented to me for review on January 2 were incorrect, and 27 of the 36 statements presented to me for review on January 5 were incorrect. The high rate of errors was concerning as it suggested that the narrative based on them might not be supported by a solid set of facts. While a substantial number of these incorrect statements were removed through your fact-checking process, some errors got through, and I am therefore now requesting formal corrections of the following 5 errors that meaningfully affect the article, so it is important to set the record straight on them. (I have also identified additional errors, but those are for the most part smaller, so I am not requesting corrections in those cases.)

One of the frustrating aspects of The New York Magazine piece is that I have read probably read most of the Reich lab’s papers over the last 5 years or so (perhaps earlier), so I knew which factual points were false or exaggerations, but I didn’t want to highlight them incessantly because people would get lost in the muddle of detail. For example, in relation to this assertion:

About 5,000 years ago, a “relatively sudden” mass migration of nomadic herders from the east — the steppes of eastern Ukraine and southern Russia — swept in and almost entirely replaced the continent’s existing communities of hunter-gatherers and early farmers.

The figure from Haak et al. 2015 immediately came to mind. It literally rejects the characterization in a quick and simple figure (the population that purportedly “entirely replaced” is green). Obviously, the figure does not show what the piece claims Reich believes, and it is not credible that he would assert something that is refuted by the papers his own lab publishes. If you had read this area you would know all this, but even population geneticists who are not immersed in the human ancient DNA literature likely would not pick up on this. The sample size objection was in a similar class.

Here’s what I’m going to leave you if you are an outsider: if the author misrepresents so many details, how much should you trust them in broad strokes?

The piece was not reportage. It was rhetoric. Sophistry.

25 thoughts on “David Reich strikes back!

  1. Some time ago you stated that your hatred of journalists is incandescent. What level has it reached now, due to this incident?

  2. I really think that the Warren case might have started something. Suddenly a lot of people question genetic tests and research per se, without distinction.
    Simply put, its about making claims about human biology, behaviour, evoluiontary history and of course differences in general verifiable in an indisputable way. Now all those which are no blockheads, whether they admit it or not, know that the current, politically correct narrative is indefensible if its about real, proven arguments alone, without quasi-religious reshaping of facts.

    So the last thing they need are more facts, even worse indisputable facts which might hurt their ideological construct, even if just a little bit.

    Its like it is with the idiotic debate about sex and gender, with the new narrative for the extreme left being that you can freely choose and its just a construct anyway. Biological sex being not important. Reminds us on debates about race and ethnicity some decades ago…

    Those same people will attack natural sciences and genetics in particular. They have to, because their construct doesn’t correct itself, but moves further and further away from reality. To keep that construct up and growing, they want to destroy and ban disturbing dissonances from society. Thats what “political correctness” is about. Somebody like David Reich is a dissonance for them already, because he talks about straight facts.

    Scientists, like the archaeologists talking crap about the human past, no matter how far away from the truth, for decades, without good arguments, but wishful thinking and the distortion of facts alone, are their pillars. So guess who they will defend and who they will attack…what a surprise.

  3. “The most striking example I know is from Iberia in far southwestern Europe, where Yamnaya-derived ancestry arrived suddenly at the onset of the Bronze Age between 4,500 and 4,000 years ago.”

    “The period around 5,000 years ago north of the Black and Caspian seas corresponds to the rise of the Yamnaya, who took advantage of horses and wheels to exploit the resources of the open steppe for the first time. The genetic data show that the Yamnaya and their descendants were extraordinarily successful, largely displacing the farmers of northern Europe in the west and the hunter-gatherers of central Asia in the east.”

    That is in his own words from his own book quoting his lab’s Haak 2015 and Allentoft 2016 papers in support.

    Except for the fourth reviewer part I do not find anything factually wrong with the NYT article.

    Unless everyone on opposite side of the NYT argument believes that the reporter opened themselves up to a defamation suit without any supporting material for their published assertions.

  4. the term was ‘almost entirely replaced.’ that’s stronger. also, in the context of the book reich talks about resurgence of nonyamna ancestry. you would not get that from the piece.

    defamation is a bar in the USA. i doubt it is that. but the author paints a deceptive picture overall.

  5. let’s talk about details how the author paints an misleading picture.

    it’s archaeologists vs. geneticists. the latter running roughshod over the former. but of the three initial reviewers of the vanuatu paper, the archaeologist liked it, the two geneticists were skeptical. the discipline of the reviewers was omitted. why? because of the narrative frame.

    that’s how reality is constructed from the nytimes mag.

  6. “Largely displacing” specifically in Northern Europe and the Central Asian hunter gatherers is quite different from “swept in and almost entirely replaced the continent’s existing communities of hunter-gatherers and early farmers.”

    The second quotation from the NYT is much stronger with its words and speaks of the whole continent. Reich didn’t do that and while his interpretation is correct or can be justified on factual terms, the 2nd one by the NYT, laid in his mouth, is not.

    Probably its details for those not interested, but it makes a huge difference. Sometimes you don’t know whether its stupidity or not. I constantly read bad articles about archaeological and genetic findings. If you have at least some clue about those things, you just recognise how clueless most journalists are. They just repeat what fits their agenda and “friendly sources” sliding on the same ideological wave told them. Even then, with good sources, they confuse things or are at least incorrect in detail. Like articles in which Bell Beakers are suddenly part of the Yamnaya archaeological culture, coming directly from the steppe to Britain and stuff like that.

  7. I’m feeling very hoodwinked this week.
    I was pretty surprised when I read the New York Magazine piece on Reich. I’m a layman so I took much of it at face value until you spoke up.
    I was also incensed at the Covington kids until I saw the unedited footage and realized they were the ones attacked by some pretty awful people. What everyone said was a smirk turned out to be a frightened boys attempt at a smile while a crazy man beat a drum in his face.
    Then there’s the huge Buzzfeed story that I thought was a real “gotcha”, until that was thrown under the bus by Mueller.

    I really don’t know why what used to be trusted institutions are trying to prove Trump’s accusations for him. Maybe they were always like this and we just didn’t know.

  8. the term was ‘almost entirely replaced.’ that’s stronger.

    which is same as

    “largely displacing the farmers of northern Europe in the west and the hunter-gatherers of central Asia in the east.”

    large·ly = to a great extent; on the whole; mostly.

    displace : synonyms:replace

    journalistic liberty and semantics at play i guess, depending on whether the journalist is helping push some book sales or reporting on some matter of concern at large.

    As far as the discipline of the reviewers goes it seems irrelevant for the point being made, which was “the relationship they enjoy with top tier journals”

    ‘He acknowledged that it was rare for journal editors to overrule their referees. “This was a case where the reviewers were making egregious errors,” Reich said’.

  9. I had read the papers (plus David Reich’s book, but the papers are the essence), so I saw the NYT Magazine piece for what it was as soon as I read it.

    For laymen to avoid getting hoodwinked, the only solution is to read the papers first hand, or just read Reich’s book. It’s not hard: if you are interested in modern human origins, it’s easy to be selective, and Razib gives all of the references in his Twitter feed in the side bar.

  10. I hadn’t actually read the more recent Oceanian papers yet, and in doing a bit of background research I came across “Ancient DNA and its contribution to understanding the human history of the Pacific Islands”, a bunch of interesting and informative responses to the Lapita papers by archaeologists and linguists. Some of them were clearly sources for the NYT magazine article, here with their comments in proper context. Potentially of interest to anyone reading up on the Lapita stuff.


  11. callingBS, you left a dumb-as-shit bad-faith comment at BP. you’re either stupid or argue in bad-faith, so don’t comment here again (i’m going to delete them and ban you here; you can comment on BP as i don’t control that). if you care about leaving comments, don’t be a jackass and you can leave comments where you want in the future. bye-bye.

  12. Razib,

    Considering the current trajectory the big media outlets have towards paleogenomics/genetics, how worried should David Reich be of potentially being “Watsoned”? Totally serious question by the way.


  13. When I finally got around to reading the NYT article — after reading any number of blogger responses to it — it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Yes, it was kind of negative, but in ways that the average non-technical reader really isn’t going to care about.

    Much of it was basically office politics: who said what about whom, who’s throwing around too much weight, who pulled what strings to get published where, and so on. Most readers won’t care. The important findings of Reich’s lab, in particular those involving turnover in ancient populations, were quibbled with, but basically accepted. OK, maybe it was “incremental and complex.” Most readers won’t care. And while it was vaguely suggested that Reich might be “giving comfort” to badthinkers, he wasn’t actually accused of being a badthinker himself.

    I can see why people who understand the science might get upset about the article. But they’ll already have their own opinions, and won’t be influenced. For the average Times reader who manages to plow all the way through I think it’s going to be kind of a nothingburger. I don’t think it’s going to hurt Reich in any serious way. At least not by itself; maybe there’s more coming…?

  14. I agree somewhat and hope they dont start a general campaign.
    On the positive side of things, the extreme ones have to negate real science and indisputable facts to attack him and his discipline.
    On the bad side he and the discipline got a warning for not going too far with their research, because what they did and still are doing “is problematic enough…”
    And regardless of even the best scientific behaviour and results, they could be ruined personally for political reasons.

  15. Riffing of JB, this weekend my mother asked me if I had read the NY Times Magazine piece. I informed her that it contained numerous misrepresentations bordering on outright slander against David Reich. She was really shocked, because she thought the article painted him in a fairly positive light (though she was only around halfway through the article when we started talking). And my mother is not a dumb woman – she regularly reads scientific journal articles for pleasure.

    The hits against David were likely subtle enough that the vast majority of the readership of the NY Times magazine didn’t really pick up much about it other than there’s some sort of “controversy.” Not that that makes the false and misleading statements excusable, but it means that whatever ulterior motive the author had, it likely was not effective.

  16. The whisper in the hallways is that Reich may have planned for a Nobel prize, but he is just controversial enough to have no chance in the today’s PC, anti-DNA climate

  17. @Dx

    This made me laugh; never ever heard a whiff of this
    and anyway I don’t know how you could plan for a Nobel.
    Lobby somehow?? We sure aren’t doing that.

    Incidentally being “anti-DNA” is a bit like being opposed to
    Pythagoras Theorem. What could it possible mean?

  18. Incidentally being “anti-DNA” is a bit like being opposed to
    Pythagoras Theorem. What could it possible mean?

    Oh please don’t give people ideas. I don’t want to be called “problematic” for my beliefs regarding the square of the hypotenuse.

  19. Incidentally being “anti-DNA” is a bit like being opposed to the Pythagoras Theorem.

    I think that it means being opposed to dealing with the results and implications of the findings of the science. It means avoiding or ignoring the questions and issues that will should be dealt with in the political and economic areas.

  20. ” opposed to dealing with the results and implications of the findings of the science ”

    Agree. I am anti- radiative forcing.

  21. The admixture estimates in the graphic here are rather different than what I’ve seen in other sources.

    Here’s Wikipedia, referencing “Lazaridis (2014)”

    “The contribution of EEF is strongest in Mediterranean Europe, and declines towards northern and northeastern Europe, where WHG ancestry is stronger. ANE ancestry is found through throughout Europe, with maxima of about 20% found in Baltic people and Finns. WHG ancestry is also strongest in northeastern Europe, with contributions close to 50% found in the Baltic.”

    The general story is the similar, but the graphic above has much higher ANE and much lower WHG.

    This website below (also referencing Lazaridis) seems to match Wikipedia.

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