This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity

Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity - Comments

unholywarlord's Avatar Comment 1 by unholywarlord

Is it just me or is this article a bit spooky ? Race is used as a headliner in order to get attention. Darwin is invoked in order to patronisingly emphasise an aspect of his writings not PC today but to get his and HG Wells names into the piece serves the author's purpose - credibility. The undertext here is that race IS evident amongst humanity. There appears to be a confusion between speciation and populations and race but a confusion the author is happy to have. The intro seems to be unnecessary. The basic material is about genetic variation within a species (vicariation etc?).

Race has been buried by sociologists and anthropologists some time ago so do biologists want it back ? Of course, I am not an evolutionary biologist so what do I know ?

Thu, 03 May 2012 06:24:34 UTC | #939260

carla___'s Avatar Comment 2 by carla___

Race has been buried by sociologists and anthropologists some time ago so do biologists want it back ? Of course, I am not an evolutionary biologist so what do I know ?

Anthropologists and sociologists actually brought back race, little by little, in the last 35 years—after all the work they indeed did to bury it—they just don't speak about it outside of academia. Now they are working to be able to talk about it outside of academia, without fear of losing their careers or their lives.

Thu, 03 May 2012 07:11:23 UTC | #939263

aroundtown's Avatar Comment 3 by aroundtown

To contemplate man as becoming non-dangerous and placated by education and societal norms offering a civilized society is an illusion. Our impulses will not be eradicated or calmed by a social model that requires adherence to it's rules. Watch the hell out and keep an eye on your fellow man for your own sake or ignore my advise at your peril. Statistics would favor instability in my opinion especially in light of the forth coming global instability on the horizon. I personally like the idea of a boat for safe distance insurance.

Thu, 03 May 2012 07:26:02 UTC | #939267

unholywarlord's Avatar Comment 4 by unholywarlord

Comment 3 by aroundtown :

To contemplate man as becoming non-dangerous and placated by education and societal norms offering a civilized society is an illusion. Our impulses will not be eradicated or calmed by a social model that requires adherence to it's rules. Watch the hell out and keep an eye on your fellow man for your own sake or ignore my advise at your peril. Statistics would favor instability in my opinion especially in light of the forth coming global instability on the horizon. I personally like the idea of a boat for safe distance insurance.

? Is this a quote from ABB?

Thu, 03 May 2012 07:29:38 UTC | #939270

Graxan's Avatar Comment 5 by Graxan

Race is always arbitrary. Everyone is genetically different. You can go from one extreme of saying all brown haired people above 5'10" are a separate race to saying all life forms on Earth are DNAites and are a single race.

As such it is an argument that can never be resolved. It's a little bit like the dwarf-planet specifcations agreed by the astronomy community. Many trans-neptunian objects are considered too small to be dwarf planets because they are below a certain mass...a value argued about by the community.

Thu, 03 May 2012 09:09:20 UTC | #939286

Roy72's Avatar Comment 6 by Roy72

The fact is that you can talk about races scientifically by looking at DNA, but to the wider population it is a label you stick on someone going on what they look like. Maybe biologists/anthropologists/sociologists should just adopt a new word for it and dump "race" with all its baggage.

The fastest growing self-identified segment in the Western World is "mixed race" and the current boom in people looking at their ancestry has often thrown up unknown heritage (in my case slaves and slave owners in c.america) If that continues hopefully less people will use "racial identity" as either a badge of pride or excuse for bigotry.

And quick response to previous post I am a clone of my twin brother (or vice versa) seeing how similar we looked as babies and the potential for mix-up I could actually BE my twin brother which is a disconcerting thought. So not everyone is genetically unique.

Thu, 03 May 2012 09:35:40 UTC | #939292

Roy72's Avatar Comment 7 by Roy72

Comment 5 by Graxan :

Everyone is genetically different. You can go from one extreme of saying all brown haired people above 5'10" are a separate race to saying all life forms on Earth are DNAites and are a single race.

Not me! I am an identical twin.

Thu, 03 May 2012 09:36:54 UTC | #939293

gos's Avatar Comment 8 by gos

Comment 5 by Graxan :

Race is always arbitrary. Everyone is genetically different. You can go from one extreme of saying all brown haired people above 5'10" are a separate race to saying all life forms on Earth are DNAites and are a single race.

Species is always arbitrary. Every creature is genetically different. You can go from one extreme of saying all brown-furred animals above 5'10" are a separate species to saying all life forms on Earth are DNAites and are a single species.

Well, yes. There are however, useful definitions of species that are clearly an aid to understanding the world. The same can be said about race, especially if you're interested in malaria, sickle-cell anemia, lactose tolerance, and similar things, as the article points out.

Thu, 03 May 2012 10:33:39 UTC | #939300

Graxan's Avatar Comment 9 by Graxan

@ Comment 8 by gos

I'm not sure about what you're trying to say other than that there are medical science advantages to splitting people up into races? This seems a very functional argument.

The problem is that from a social perspective the use of terms like race is devisive, when science in fact shows us we are more or less the same the world over and have kinship even with a blade of grass on the side of the road. When categorisations are applied to thinking creatures it leads to severe social problems which are hard enough to get around anyway. If what you're saying is true, we might as well go back to splitting humans up into the old groups coined by the terms Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. We all know what such labelling lead the Nazi's to believe. So shall we continue to split hairs until we reach an agreed label for everyone?

If we want to be functional about it we should drop the whole lot and focus on what genetic features we possess as individuals as a benefits analysis - which we are rapidly becoming able to do and drop the whole race categorisations which should not be applied to thinking creatures.

Thu, 03 May 2012 11:52:04 UTC | #939321

HDV's Avatar Comment 10 by HDV

If we want to be functional about it we should drop the whole lot and focus on what genetic features we possess as individuals as a benefits analysis - which we are rapidly becoming able to do and drop the whole race categorisations which should not be applied to thinking creatures.

Well, it isn't quite as simple as that. There is lots of modern genetics that relies upon considering large numbers of individuals, and without considering genetic structure (rather than just genetic variation) you can easily end up with spurious results. Obviously such structural distinctions don't get called 'race' in human studies, but from a purely biological point of view they might as well be.

You are right in one sense that 'race' is an artificial distinction, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have value. Probably wise to carry on using alternative terms though given all the associations with the word.

Thu, 03 May 2012 12:16:22 UTC | #939328

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 11 by AtheistEgbert

The established modern consensus about the equality of people, irrespective of race, is morally and ethically justified.

Except for cultures of course. Multiculturalism, or the postmodern belief that cultures are all equally valid, goes and undoes the entire point of a universal ethical value such as equality. Either we subscribe to a universal ethical code that defines a single cultural ethic or we don't, which is it?

Thu, 03 May 2012 12:22:52 UTC | #939329

gos's Avatar Comment 12 by gos

Comment 11 by AtheistEgbert :

Except for cultures of course. Multiculturalism, or the postmodern belief that cultures are all equally valid, goes and undoes the entire point of a universal ethical value such as equality. Either we subscribe to a universal ethical code that defines a single cultural ethic or we don't, which is it?

I think a blend of the two beliefs are closer to a realistic (and moral) approach: Certain ethical values are universal, and all cultures that adhere to those values are equally valid. Everybody wears cotton, but the reds and the blues are equal.

There seem to be quite a few well-intentioned people who try really hard to ignore the wool-wearers, however...

Thu, 03 May 2012 14:10:04 UTC | #939358

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 13 by crookedshoes

I do not care for their depiction of eye color. It is tragically oversimplified to the point of being wrong. Their punnett square suggests that one gene controls eye color and you are either brown eyed or blue eyed. This is patently untrue (after all there are many variations in eye color). The point of variation between parent and child could be made without including an erroneous chart (it could be made stronger by actually including the undiluted biology). It robs the article of credibility.

Thu, 03 May 2012 14:10:50 UTC | #939359

ewaldrep's Avatar Comment 14 by ewaldrep

Perhaps someone can help me understand this more fully. My understanding is that there is more within-group variation than between-group variation within the genome. The article describes a chart that can identify clusters of genes/alleles that can be differentiated between populations that may represent racial categories. What I'm not sure of is the size of the samples being used to make that distinction. Given a large enough sample size, a statistically significant difference can be found in body temperatures of 98.6 and 98.7 F. The common method to evaluate the strength of the observation is to examine the effect size of the result.

Does anybody happen to know, or able to point me in the right direction, of the effect size of categorical differences between "racial" samples?

Thanks

Thu, 03 May 2012 14:36:18 UTC | #939366

gos's Avatar Comment 15 by gos

Comment 9 by Graxan :

I'm not sure about what you're trying to say other than that there are medical science advantages to splitting people up into races? This seems a very functional argument.

Yes, I am saying that, but I think there is a deeper truth behind this. The reason there are medical science advantages to grouping people is because the groupings correlate with reality. I don't know how you are accustomed to thinking about truth (I don't say this to be dismissive, I find that people genuinely think about truth in different manners), but, to me, functional definitions that correlate strongly with measurements of reality is as close to truth as we are going to get about the physical world.

If we want to be functional about it we should drop the whole lot and focus on what genetic features we possess as individuals as a benefits analysis - which we are rapidly becoming able to do and drop the whole race categorisations which should not be applied to thinking creatures.

This I disagree strongly with. Generalization about groups is incredibly useful. A veterinarian knows that a cow has 4 stomachs with almost 100% certainty. Knowledge about subgroupings within species is often less sure, but it follows the exact same logic. If he, for example, insists on focusing on each dog as an individual, without using the generalized knowledge he has about the dog's breed (this breed often develops rheumatism, that one glaucoma, etc.) then he is a terrible veterinarian.

The same principle applies to thinking creatures (I assume you mean humans, and possibly some other species). Some groupings are useful. The reason these groupings are useful is because they correlate with reality. I strongly suspect that race is such a grouping, and I strongly resent people who resist investigating this because they think that it could have bad ethical repercussions. (I highly recommend Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate as an antidote to this kind of thinking.)

The problem is that from a social perspective the use of terms like race is devisive, when science in fact shows us we are more or less the same the world over and have kinship even with a blade of grass on the side of the road. When categorisations are applied to thinking creatures it leads to severe social problems which are hard enough to get around anyway. If what you're saying is true, we might as well go back to splitting humans up into the old groups coined by the terms Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. We all know what such labelling lead the Nazi's to believe. So shall we continue to split hairs until we reach an agreed label for everyone?

Here we come to what I believe is the crux of the matter. The ethical implications of racial grouping has no bearing on whether it is true or not.

I know that the use of terms like race has been divisive, and perhaps such social problems are inevitable when they are used. Even if that is the case, I simply don't believe that pretending that reality is different from what it really is, and refusing to investigate parts of it because of dogma is the correct way to combat this problem.

I'd also like to point out (paraphrasing Pinker) that by arguing that races aren't genetically different from one another, and thus shouldn't be treated differently, you are tacitly accepting the argument that if they were genetically different, then it would be alright to treat them differently. Of course, how we treat people of different races (and gender - there's a genetic difference between X and Y) shouldn't depend on genetic differences between racial groupings at all.

Thu, 03 May 2012 15:23:08 UTC | #939379

Degsy's Avatar Comment 16 by Degsy

I recall Steve Jones pointing out how related (genetically) human individuals are. If I remember rightly (and I may be wrong with the exact details), Jones described that there would be less genetic differences between say, a white European and a native Australian Aboriginal, than there would be between two chimpanzees in the same troupe.

Thu, 03 May 2012 15:26:20 UTC | #939381

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 17 by xsjadolateralus

People who make this conversation impossible are those who are simply thrown off by the topic from the start.

As soon as they see a discussion on race it's always a knee-jerk reactionary response. Kind of like talking about sex in front of religious people. The ironic bit is that you could talk openly about race and racism around most religious people and I have obviously had many experiences to make that claim confidently. Racism is a hot topic in the religious groups, but you probably don't have to take my word for it.

Anyway, when are we finally going to get smart and breed (fuck) the differences out of each other? I mean, isn't that the goal and the obvious solution to this childish nonsense? I can't really see any cons to this plan. Anyone?

The worst racists are those who don't want interracial couples. That's hideously racist and anti-progressive.

Thu, 03 May 2012 18:18:32 UTC | #939410

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 18 by crookedshoes

Interbreed until we are all the same color --- gray!!!!

Thu, 03 May 2012 18:46:40 UTC | #939415

cheesedoff17's Avatar Comment 19 by cheesedoff17

Unfortunately, it's just these type of quotes from Darwin that are held up by some who want to prove that he was a racist. It would be easier to show the absurdity of failing to acknowledge past mindsets were these racist and eugenic ideas not still around today.

@Comment 17

The French have been smart enough to interbreed to such a point that the infamous Senator/White Supremacist/Friend and major contributor to Ron Paul - David Duke, claims that Nicolas Sarkozy - being Jewish - is trying to bring about the downfall of the White Race!

.

Thu, 03 May 2012 18:53:07 UTC | #939418

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 20 by xsjadolateralus

I hope he's right.

We all need to be light tanish brown. Anyone who thinks different is mistaken or racist and again mistaken.

I'm white as can be, in case anyone is wondering. I would help the cause along, but I've already found a match. : (

Anyway, didn't we get caucasians from europeans interbreeding? They weren't all white to begin with, I know that much as fact.

Thu, 03 May 2012 19:02:34 UTC | #939421

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 21 by Richard Dawkins

Of course, I am not an evolutionary biologist so what do I know ?

Indeed.

Thu, 03 May 2012 20:41:46 UTC | #939431

ShinobiYaka's Avatar Comment 22 by ShinobiYaka

Comment 20 by xsjadolateralus

“We all need to be light tanish brown”

Well, it’s not as simple as mixing paints, and anyway what about blond haired Essex girls? Where would we be if they become well… extinct!

Also, if it’s ok with the rest of you, do you think it possible if I could select my sexual partners by personal attraction rather than some arbitrary sociological grand design?

Comment 21 by Richard Dawkins

Indeed.

That was rather... cutting

Thu, 03 May 2012 21:00:32 UTC | #939435

inquisador's Avatar Comment 23 by inquisador

comment 20 by xsjadolaterus,

We all need to be light tanish brown. Anyone who thinks different is mistaken or racist and again mistaken.

What? But we've all just been cudgelled into accepting diversity!

Now you tell us we've all got to look alike!!

Thu, 03 May 2012 21:22:12 UTC | #939441

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 24 by xsjadolateralus

Well, I'm saying we all have to look alike, so we can become different from one another yet again.

We were all basically Africans at one time. We did all look very similar. Our species has since evolved many small genetic differences through artificial selection (well, natural sexual selection, but mostly artificial, because of economics, religion, tradition etc.) those differences grow and thus race materializes.

Correct me if I'm wrong: Race emerges, in part by, the segregating of some of a species from the others of the same species and the different environmental variables they face separately. One species lives and is effected by their environment, etc. the other lives in a different environment, thus change takes place and race is born. It's a microcosm of the macrocosm of evolution and speciation.

I'm advocating a strange inversion of reasoning. I think it would be a good idea to go ahead and mix all of those differences together, to be similar. Undoubtedly, differences would grow once again, giving rise to races. Perhaps this is something already happening and out of our control for the most part.

What if science found that we simply need to interbreed to save our species? Further, what if science found that it's what we should have been doing all along and is the answer to a great deal of our health woes?

Isn't a more diverse gene pool healthier?

Don't we gain genetic benefits from more natural, mixed paternity?

In other words, is a melting pot healthier than mormonism?

I would love to hear some well written responses!

Thu, 03 May 2012 22:10:11 UTC | #939452

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 25 by xsjadolateralus

Comment 23 by inquisador :

comment 20 by xsjadolaterus,

We all need to be light tanish brown. Anyone who thinks different is mistaken or racist and again mistaken.

What? But we've all just been cudgelled into accepting diversity!

Now you tell us we've all got to look alike!!

Besides, think of how much diversity it would take to actually get a full on MIX to happen.

The idea would be the antithesis of racism. The genes are all there, preserved. Everyone has a bit of indian in them, everyone a bit of white, black. There is no possible way to exterminate a race that is perfectly preserved and alive in the body of a healthy human.

You really can't argue with making racism obsolete and like I said, it may be impossible, or fatal to do anything other than keep mixing. Also, we may want to look in to mixing faster, because it might be beneficial (?), both present and future.

Thu, 03 May 2012 22:22:43 UTC | #939455

ShinobiYaka's Avatar Comment 26 by ShinobiYaka

Comment 24 by xsjadolateralus

Well I’m not an evolutionary biologist (ducks under parapet) but isn’t your melting pot reducing diversity rather than increasing it? The slight difference between the racial groups would be eliminated; I would assume that would lead to less overall diversity not more?

I also presume that such “mixing” would not necessarily lead to a gene pool that for example averaged skin colour, maybe after several generations there might be some normalisation of the genetic mix, but would it be as expected, there are also medical conditions that are primarily found in particular genetic groups, like Sickle cell anemia which is well known but there are other less well known issues such Lactose Intolerance which is almost 100% in certain groups, would your mixing elevate or minimise these in the “mixed” population?

I’m not sure if you had given this much thought, but what you have suggested is in my opinion eugenics, also would you include peoples such as the Japanese or maybe the Native American groups in this new “ideal” world?

Thu, 03 May 2012 23:16:12 UTC | #939464

unholywarlord's Avatar Comment 27 by unholywarlord

So race is fine, apparently. Now I know. Indeed.

(As far as I can see it biologists used the term race for populations of animals, deriving the term from the way it was used for humans, not the other way round. Seems lazy and asking for trouble not to adopt a less troublesome term?)

Thu, 03 May 2012 23:17:59 UTC | #939465

Andres Heredia's Avatar Comment 28 by Andres Heredia

I'd like to hear Dawkins' response to this, I've read all of his books and he'd surely disagree with the author of that article

Fri, 04 May 2012 01:17:01 UTC | #939491

mmurray's Avatar Comment 29 by mmurray

Comment 25 by xsjadolateralus :

You really can't argue with making racism obsolete and like I said, it may be impossible, or fatal to do anything other than keep mixing. Also, we may want to look in to mixing faster, because it might be beneficial (?), both present and future.

Or we could just all read The Universal Declaration on Human Rights ?

Michael

Fri, 04 May 2012 01:39:33 UTC | #939495

Bipedal Primate's Avatar Comment 30 by Bipedal Primate

Comment 22 by ShinobiYaka :

Comment 20 by xsjadolateralus

Comment 21 by Richard Dawkins

Indeed.

That was rather... cutting

Indeed.

Fri, 04 May 2012 02:59:00 UTC | #939520