Okay so, it all started with a children’s cartoon.
In December, the BBC released on YouTube an old animated video about life in Roman Britain, which featured a family with a dark-skinned father. This depiction recently caught the ire of an Infowars editor, who tweeted, “Thank God the BBC is portraying Roman Britain as ethnically diverse. I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?”
To which Mary Beard—best known as a classicist at Cambridge, and more recently known for taking on internet trolls—replied, “this is indeed pretty accurate, there's plenty of firm evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain.” To which Nassim Nicholas Taleb—best-known for railing about epistemic arrogance in The Black Swan, and recently known for arguing on Twitter—replied:
Historians believe their own BS. Where did the subsaharan genes evaporate? NorthAfricans were lightskinned.— NassimNicholasTaleb (@nntaleb) August 2, 2017
Only “Aethiopians”, even then https://t.co/e9ruWqnZpl
Taleb went on to tweet several charts of DNA variation among modern Europeans that he presented as “data” as opposed to Beard’s “anecdotal reasoning.” And so Taleb and Beard went back and forth, back and forth.
Oh how quickly the conversation jumped from children’s cartoon to Infowars rant to genetics. Having completed a close reading of the entire thread—you’re welcome—I think the most charitable interpretation is a classic Twitter case of arguing past one another. Beard is saying there were indeed dark-skinned people in Roman Britain. Taleb cries BS: A mixed family was not typical of the time. Those positions are not inconsistent. We each have hills to die on, I suppose.