SCIENCE SHEDS LIGHT ON POPULATION HISTORY AND LIVING STANDARDS
by Omar Ali
In a sense, all modern historiography includes the attempt to find objective facts rather than relying on folklore and opinion. To varying extents, a scientific mindset is part of the intellectual toolkit of all modern people and while no person can be entirely rational and no judgment is as perfectly evidence-based as the idealized models would imply, there is a trend towards greater objectivity and a willingness (at least in principle) to change one’s mind if new facts come to light. There is an assumption among liberals (I self-identify as liberal and spend most of my time with others who do the same) that modern liberals are more “science-minded” than conservatives (the so-called “fact-based community”). Whether this is really true has been challenged but I will assume that liberals DO prefer a scientific approach to history and will touch on two examples where science brings objective information to bear upon history. One is genetics, which has transformed our knowledge of the origins and relationships of different human populations. The other is height and what average height can tell us about different populations.