Brothers under the skull
Then my mom sent me a link to a Richard Cohen column in which he starts off talking about the very interesting case of Donor 401, but then waxes rhapsodic about Nicholas Wade's book Before the Dawn, presumably to show that he reads. (I fondly remember a long-ago article, maybe by Gene Weingarten, calculating the density of the words "I" and "me" in Cohen's column.) Cohen is very pleased with his newfound determinism (look, ma, I'm a scientist!), but his description of the book shows that in his enthusiasm he's plunged in o'ershoes. Wade, according to Cohen, apparently "chides PC-addled scientists who insist there is no such thing as race when, just for starters, certain medicines work differently on whites than blacks. As with the noble savage, the raceless world is a myth." I'll get to Donor 401 later, Mom, but let's deal first with why this statement worries me.
I would have to be blind, deaf, and in all other ways insensate to claim that there were no physical differences between men and women, or between different races. Secondary sex characteristics, bone structure, muscle mass, and vocal cord size are all genetically influenced; so are skin melanin, facial structure, hair texture, lactose tolerance, alcohol-digesting enzyme production, ear wax composition, and so forth. So yes, what Wade is saying is right, and what Jack is saying has truth to it, too. These statements aren't false. But without some qualification, they can be dangerous.
See, from the neck up and the scalp inward, the rules change. The brain is surprisingly plastic and adaptable, and while there are certain glass ceilings installed by genetics, it's amazing how wide a berth we really have for learning, training, and new connections. For instance, take a look at this article on photographic memory, in which Josh Foer quite rightly points out that it doesn't actually exist. There has never been replicable evidence of a truly photographic, i.e. accurate in every detail, visual memory. Furthermore, such a phenomenon wouldn't fit with what we know about change blindness; if, in the course of normal cognitive processing, we ever really took in every single detail of a scene, such phenomena wouldn't occur. And yet we have people like Stephen Wiltshire, the "Human Camera." Stephen doesn't have some kind of spooky, ill-explained magic talent like "photographic memory" is supposed to be. What he has is a really, really, really good visual memory, combined with great skill at reproduction. And plenty of people, not just savants, have really really really good visual memory. (Foer mentions the Shass Pollaks, who demonstrably memorized over 5000 pages of the Talmud.) It's not an innate superpower; it's a matter of training and attention.
Then there are people who lose a whole brain hemisphere but compensate with the other, or have no arms but develop extreme motor control in their feet. The brain is an amazingly adaptable tool, and those adaptations don't only occur on an evolutionary time scale. Influences like poverty, cash- and teacher-starved public education, and peer pressure to look cool by not looking studious can lead to blacks getting lower average IQ scores, just as social pressure to both flaunt and hate one's body can lead to women who act like those "Sex and the City" chicks. At the same time, there are demonstrable, undeniable physical differences among races and between sexes. But this doesn't mean that the gene for book-smarts is on the same chromosome as the one governing skin pigmentation, or that having a uterus means you've got a natural disadvantage in thinking logically. Neural architecture is just too mutable for these ideas to hold water. A basic understanding of the brain debunks the idea that someone of normal development can be naturally unable to (say) think logically -- such things are too easy to train -- while an even more basic understanding of sociology makes it clear that any disparity in mental abilities has more than enough explanation available. So accept the idea of genetic difference, because you can't deny it. But accept it with a grain of salt, because it stops at the mind.