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Race re-debunked - Comments

ccw95005's Avatar Comment 1 by ccw95005

The whole argument about whether there's such a thing as race strikes me as one of the silliest things that serious people argue about. The preponderance of black athletes in professional basketball, of East African distance runners in the Olympics, and so on, make it obvious.

We have such a horror of racism and of offending particular groups that it's difficult for us to examine the evidence with an unprejudiced mind. I'm sure that a forensic anthropologist can indeed differentiate Japanese from African from European bones, and can easily also differentiate the bones of African-Americans from Caucasian-Americans from Japanese-Americans. That tells me that people from those areas evolved differently from the others in bone structure, at least. The controversial question is whether those evolutionary changes are confined to bone and skin and disease susceptibility or whether there may also be evolutionary changes in brain structure as well among those groups. I suspect that like just about every other organ system, brains also evolved slightly differently among reproductively separated groups. Logic suggests that that is probably true.

Thu, 05 Jan 2012 19:01:23 UTC | #905587

GerhardW's Avatar Comment 2 by GerhardW

In the english speaking world, the Word race seems to be a Synonym for either Species, Subspecies, Breed, Local Variation or Colour Variation, or any combination of these.

So for the Beginning, how do you define the Word "Race"?

Thu, 05 Jan 2012 19:11:38 UTC | #905591

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 3 by Helga Vieirch

Bone structure, height, skull shape, susceptibility to various diseases, and numerous other physical characteristics used in determining race from forensic material are not fixed, even within the same gene pool. They can vary enough from one generation to the next that these variations are on a par with the degree of variation usually used to assign "race" to skeletal remains.

The human organism is very plastic. Genotype at conception does not form a blueprint that is read relentlessly from start to finish to produce the phenotype. The way that phenotype turns out can depend on fetal and childhood nutrition, exposure to toxins, maternal stresses, child-rearing methods, sunlight exposure, and levels of physical activity. Head shape can change from one generation to the next if depending on what position infants are encouraged to assume while sleeping.

Human populations all over the world form clines of almost every imaginable trait. There is increasingly clear evidence that we are a polytypic species, but rarely one that contains isolated gene pools for any length of time.

"Race" is therefore more of a social concept than a reflection of physical reality.

"The concept of race is a social and cultural construction. . . . Race simply cannot be tested or proven scientifically,'' according to the policy statement issued by the American Anthropological Association. "It is clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. The concept of `race' has no validity . . . in the human species.'' .

Thu, 05 Jan 2012 20:19:01 UTC | #905617

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 4 by Neodarwinian

15% variance between populations of humans ( not races ) is not enough to have these populations called subspecies, but there is variance and to say that there is more within populations does not make it go away. Gene pools do not have to be isolated to have a frequency of one allele greater than another. On average, alleles vary bu population and, though it is not a funnel plot, it is distributable along a continuum of variance. Still, much normal curve overlap though.

Thu, 05 Jan 2012 22:09:26 UTC | #905649

ccw95005's Avatar Comment 5 by ccw95005

I don't care whether you call it "race" or "subspecies" or "tribe" or whatever. Those are just terms. The fact is that people whose ancestors are primarily of African origin look different from those whose ancestors are primarily of Asian origin. Of course there are wide variations in every characteristic within any one race. But the fact is that some generations after living together in a country, each race maintains, on average, certain characteristics that make those individuals identifiable as being of European or South Sea or Australian aborigine stock. Obviously as mixing occurs, things get complicated. But if you examine people of relatively pure racial heritage, you'll find that their bell curves of various characteristics differ to one extent or another from those of other races.

Even if we identify certain differences, though, good or bad, those apply to the averages, not to individuals. We should take each person as an individual, not as a member of a race. So I don't know that it's important to figure this out, except as an ode to intellectual honesty. If we are to consider ourselves bound by the scientific approach, we are obligated to look at the facts, regardless of where they lead us.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 01:19:51 UTC | #905704

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 6 by Helga Vieirch

Comment 5 by ccw95005

Am I to suppose, from your comment, that you consider the thousands of anthropologists, who have specialized in looking at human genetic and phenotypical variation, to be basing their public statements on some kind of pandering to political correctness, or pure guesswork or fantasy? Are you actually under the impression that they do not use a scientific approach?

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 02:06:34 UTC | #905711

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 7 by Neodarwinian

I wil answer for comment 5.

Yes! Anthropology is torn by ideological considerations and there is almost open war between the divisions of anthropology. Between the cultural and physical anthropologists. I am under the impression that all social scientist have problems with a scientific approach and it is a credit to some individuals that they can rise above this flaw of social science and do good work.

ccw95005 did not say anything that is not supportable by the data.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 03:42:32 UTC | #905728

ccw95005's Avatar Comment 8 by ccw95005

Am I to suppose, from your comment, that you consider the thousands of anthropologists, who have specialized in looking at human genetic and phenotypical variation, to be basing their public statements on some kind of pandering to political correctness, or pure guesswork or fantasy? Are you actually under the impression that they do not use a scientific approach?

I suspect that a charge of racism, supported or not, would derail many anthropological careers and therefore is to be avoided like gonorrhea. Also, none of us likes to think of ourselves as harboring a shred of racial prejudice. So I suspect that the natural tendency is to assume that there is no such thing as race and bend one's logic to fit the desired result. There's no doubt but that there are fashions in science just as in culture.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 04:53:48 UTC | #905738

SalGagliano's Avatar Comment 9 by SalGagliano

So is race a valid taxonomic classification, or simply an artificial social construct? Well, if you ever need a bone marrow transplant, you'll understand very quickly what the correct answer to that question is http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,522337,00.html#ixzz1Y5ebB9Hz

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 07:47:14 UTC | #905766

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Comment 10 by Helga Vieirch

Then i suggest that both of you read at least the posted article. Boas' original work was done over a hundred years ago, and his work has stood the test of time remarkably well, although re-anaylis revealed some complexities he missed.

However, I might remind you that a lot of the early work in physical anthropology took race for granted, and that it was precisely in trying to document this physical and later, genetic, variation, that the research ran aground on the shores of reality. Eventually they had to admit that the concept of separate races simply did not wash once the data were examined. Have a look.

Anthropologists vary a lot in the quality of their training, so I am certainly not going to pretend there are no slaves to social correctness among them. I am not one of these. Mine was in all four subfields and I had terrific instructors and mentors. I did a lot of genetics, primate studies, learned to sort human bones and faunal assemblages, dug at original sites in the Middle East and North America and Africa. I was then sent to live with Bushmen in the Kalahari by my mentor Richard Lee.. I know many evolutionary anthropologists, like Ralph Halloway at Columbia, and physical and forensics anthropologists like Owen Beattie, and archaeologists who would sooner cut off their right hand than falsify data.

In the fields of linguistics and social anthropology, there is an ongoing contamination with post modernism and radical feminism. These are simply ideological fads that have not advanced the science much and caused a lot of silliness. There was a disgraceful incident where a branch cultural anthropologists engaged in a horrific witch hunt against Nap Chagnon and the genetics researcher he was working with on the Yanomami, a Dr.Neel. I have nothing but contempt for the AAA for its permitting this on the flimsy evidence of a sensationalized account by a mere journalist. Sure it caused a virtual war for a while. But I see the younger colleagues now rallying to reason and holism within the science once more, and pushing the cobwebs of neoliberal political correctness out of their path.

Have I really struck the lot of you as so unscientific? Am I representing anthropology badly?

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 08:26:17 UTC | #905771

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 11 by susanlatimer

Comment 10 by Helga Vierich

Have I really struck the lot of you as so unscientific? Am I representing anthropology badly?

No. Whatever qualms some people might have with some aspects of anthropology, I can't imagine that they wouldn't acknowledge that you are an example of how it should be done correctly.

You've represented your field admirably and demonstrated your respect for the scientific method in every post you've made, including making painstaking efforts to expose your positions to any reasoned arguments that might contradict them.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 08:39:56 UTC | #905772

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 12 by Richard Dawkins

See A W F Edwards's paper on Lewontin's Fallacy. Here's most of the summary:

it is often stated that about 85% of the total genetical variation is due to individual differences within populations and only 15% to differences between populations or ethnic groups. It has therefore been proposed that the division of Homo sapiens into these groups is not justified by the genetic data. This conclusion, due to R.C. Lewontin in 1972, is unwarranted because the argument ignores the fact that most of the information that distinguishes popu- lations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data and not simply in the variation of the individual factors.

Lewontin is right that the majority of human variation is to be found within races, not between them. One way to put this is that you could wipe out all human races except one, and most of the genetic variation of the human species would still be there. But Lewontin is wrong to suggest that therefore 'race' has no taxonomic meaning because, as Edwards points out, such variation as there is between races is correlated. I gave a simple demonstration of the validity of the concept of race in The Ancestor's Tale.

How might we apply the criterion of inter-observer correlation to judging the question? Well, suppose we took standard full-face photographs of 20 randomly chosen natives of each of the following countries: Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. If we presented all 120 people with all 120 photographs, my guess is that every single one of them would achieve 100 per cent success rates in sorting them into six different categories. What is more, if we told them the names of the six countries involved, all 120 subjects, if they were reasonably well educated, would correctly assign all 120 photographs to the correct countries. I haven’t done the experiment but I am confident that you will agree with me on what the result would be. It may seem unscientific of me not to bother to do the experiment. But my confidence that you, being human, will agree without doing the experiment, is the very point I am trying to make. If the experiment were to be done, I do not think Lewontin would expect any other result than the one I have predicted. Yet an opposite prediction would seem to follow from his statement that racial classification has virtually no taxonomic or genetic significance.

Richard

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 08:57:47 UTC | #905777

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 13 by keyfeatures

I agree with Helga. Race is a construct. Where the borders are drawn is arbitrary. To create the categories we look for patterns that are non-rational in origin. I'm sure you could take randomly chosen faces and get people to divide them into 'friendly', 'liar', 'happy' etc. What would this show us? That humans have evolved to read nuance into human features to differentiate between people.

That people struggle to classify "ethnicity" is evidenced by those who frequently get asked "where are you from?" Possibly followed by an incredulous response. Much will depend on cultural background / experience to classify. In Iran, my English father was considered to look Turkish by some and Russian by others. My Anglo-Indian mother has been considered anything from south American to Italian. My Persian husband Egyptian and also Italian. Brazillian Jean Charles de Menezes was considered Middle Eastern. A lot of people think Björk looks Asian.

Another supporter of the race as delusion argument.

comment 12 by Richard Dawkins

I challenge you to conduct your experiment Richard with the condition that the sample is not taken solely from white anglo-Saxon British residents (I'm assuming that's not what you meant by "reasonably well educated"). My confidence in your hypotheses is virtually non-existent.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 09:24:39 UTC | #905781

Jussie's Avatar Comment 14 by Jussie

My parents are Scottish, but most people seem to think i'm Turkish. And i'm pretty sure i'm not adopted although i was conceived in Spain. Maybe that's got something to do with it ;)

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 09:40:21 UTC | #905789

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 15 by Richard Dawkins

I challenge you to conduct your experiment Richard with the condition that the sample is not taken solely from white anglo-Saxon British residents (I'm assuming that's not what you meant by "reasonably well educated"). My confidence in your hypotheses is virtually non-existent.

If you read my proposed experimental protocol more carefully you will see that my 120 judges of faces were to be drawn in equal numbers from Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. Not a white anglo-saxon British one amongst them. Your prejudices are showing.

Richard

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 09:41:37 UTC | #905790

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 16 by keyfeatures

Comment 15 by Richard Dawkins :

I challenge you to conduct your experiment Richard with the condition that the sample is not taken solely from white anglo-Saxon British residents (I'm assuming that's not what you meant by "reasonably well educated"). My confidence in your hypotheses is virtually non-existent.

If you read my proposed experimental protocol more carefully you will see that my 120 judges of faces were to be drawn in equal numbers from Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. Not a white anglo-saxon British one amongst them. Your prejudices are showing.

Richard

Apologies for the misread. However, I stand by the assertion that your hypothesis would not be proven.

If race exists, where do you draw the borders? Your experiment appears to equate nations with race. Both seem equally arbitrary to me. Is "Sri Lankan" a race? If not, what is?

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 09:45:34 UTC | #905793

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 17 by Richard Dawkins

Of course nation doesn't equate with race. I was concerned to disprove Lewontin's assertion that there are no racial distinctions in the human species. You are interested in the very different (and obviously ludicrous) assertion that every nation consists of a different race. That's why I chose Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. That's why I didn't choose England, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Holland. I am confident that I would not be able to sort them, and equally confident that I would not be able to sort photos from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.

You say you stand by your assertion that my hypothesis would not be proven. Seriously? With respect, I honestly don't think you have thought through what you are saying. Look again at the faces I proposed using: natives of Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. Are you seriously saying you wouldn't be able to sort them? I would offer to do the experiment, except that if I did I would be criticised for wasting everybody's time proving the obvious.

Richard

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:27:31 UTC | #905802

calvinchan's Avatar Comment 18 by calvinchan

I'm not sure if I can sort the people of Papua New Guinea from those of Sri Lanka if they were not presented in their traditional apparel. I think we are all able to distinguish between races similar to ours better than those more distant. For instance, I can usually distinguish a Korean from a Japanese, or a Chinese from a Manchurian, but my white friends are unable to do so. The same applies to me and I'm baffled when white people characterize someone as "looking Jewish". I have no idea what that means. They look exactly the same to me.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:32:51 UTC | #905805

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 19 by Richard Dawkins

I'm not sure if I can sort the people of Papua New Guinea from those of Sri Lanka if they were not presented in their traditional apparel. I think we are all able to distinguish between races similar to ours better than those more distant. For instance, I can usually distinguish a Korean from a Japanese, or a Chinese from a Manchurian, but my white friends are unable to do so.

OK, but all I need in order to disprove Lewontin, is to show that there are SOME races that are unequivocally distinguishable. Not that ALL alleged races are unequivocally distinguishable.

Richard

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:45:19 UTC | #905806

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 20 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 16 by keyfeatures

Apologies for the misread. However, I stand by the assertion that your hypothesis would not be proven.

If race exists, where do you draw the borders? Your experiment appears to equate nations with race. Both seem equally arbitrary to me. Is "Sri Lankan" a race? If not, what is?

Let's not be country specific then. How's about East Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, South African, Northern European, Southern European, Native American, Inuit?

Heck, everyone even has a sterotype of my 'race'......guess who?

Race (classification of humans)

Just because in some instances it is difficult to define from outward appearance, doesn't mean it isn't there.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:52:37 UTC | #905807

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 21 by keyfeatures

So what are the races being distinguished by the experiment? And if not related to countries, why use countries as the basis for sampling? I certainly don't think every country consists of a different race since I think both countries and race are social constructs (not scientific ones).

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:53:56 UTC | #905808

foundationist's Avatar Comment 22 by foundationist

Thanks Helga for the interesting read.

Richard, I think the result of your proposed experiment would only give the 100% success rate you anticipate if you deliberately chose very 'typical' specimen for your sample. I most certainly would not be able to distinguish with absolute certainty between Japanese and people from Sri Lanka, or even people from Papua New Guinea from people from Uganda.

And there is another point in this race hypothesis that´s almost never adressed: If I remember correctly (I know, not a good source, but please call me out if that´s wrong), about 95% of the genetic variation among humans is to be found among Africans. That means that if we were to try and give a reasonable definition of 'race' and not just sort them roughly by the most striking features of the phenotype, as Richards proposed experiment would do, we would have to concede that if we were to separate mankind into 20 races - a number I think reasonable - we would have to make it 19 African races and one for the rest of us,from Papua New Guinea to Iceland.

Therefore the idea that - for instance - blacks are on average better at Basketball would mean that the one race that isn´t black happens to be worse than the 19 black races. Not impossible but in the absence of anything even approaching real evidence very unlikely. The same goes for any other correlation between race and other features. The traditional ways of assigning races wouldn´t be appropriate, even if all the things Helga and her colleagues reported were wrong.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:54:16 UTC | #905809

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 23 by keyfeatures

Comment 20 by Ignorant Amos :

Let's not be country specific then. How's about East Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, South African, Northern European, Southern European, Native American, Inuit?

You really think you could categorise humanity into these groups? Ever been to Yemen? The more people try to demarcate races the more ridiculous it looks.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 10:59:48 UTC | #905810

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 24 by keyfeatures

Do you really think everyone in the sample would correctly label Björk and similar appearing natives of Iceland correctly?

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 11:04:07 UTC | #905811

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 25 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 23 by keyfeatures

You left out this bit....

Just because in some instances it is difficult to define from outward appearance, doesn't mean it isn't there.

Are you seriously saying that you could look at an Inuit and a South African a million times over and not get the categorization right every time? What about a Western European and an East Asian?

Are you saying there is no obvious differences in the various peoples of the world?

Richard Dawkins uses the 'photograph' analogy, it might be interesting to see it at work in this example. Of course in the modern world of easy transcontinental travel the edges have become very blurred indeed, 'love knows no bounds' and a good thing too. I'm guessing and hoping that sometime in the future we will all be the same again...maybe 10,000 years is a good figure. But it is plain crazy to suggest the human race hasn't diversified and developed different racial traits depending upon what part of the world they settled.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 11:28:02 UTC | #905815

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 26 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 21 by keyfeatures

So what are the races being distinguished by the experiment? And if not related to countries, why use countries as the basis for sampling? I certainly don't think every country consists of a different race since I think both countries and race are social constructs (not scientific ones).

Countries are definitely social constructs, usually a line on a map, although a lot are bounded by water, if anyone knows all about that, it's me. But race is something different.

I hope you are not get hung up on the negative connotation that the word race conjures when misused?

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 11:36:59 UTC | #905816

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 27 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 22 by foundationist

Richard, I think the result of your proposed experiment would only give the 100% success rate you anticipate if you deliberately chose very 'typical' specimen for your sample. I most certainly would not be able to distinguish with absolute certainty between Japanese and people from Sri Lanka, or even people from Papua New Guinea from people from Uganda.

Me neither nor would many would be my guess, but would an expert? Would an anthropologist?

It still doesn't alter the fact that peoples from different parts of the world are markedly different. What should this difference be called if not race? I'm willing to accept a different word, but the fact remains, there is a difference.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 11:44:52 UTC | #905821

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 28 by keyfeatures

Comment 25 by Ignorant Amos :

Are you saying there is no obvious differences in the various peoples of the world?

If everyone was a clone it would make friendship tricky. No, variance exists. But to say this variance occurs along racial lines is to be fooled by optical illusions. There are more wavelengths in a rainbow than ROYGBIV. A scientist will tell you why red and green make yellow.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 12:49:29 UTC | #905844

foundationist's Avatar Comment 29 by foundationist

Comment 28 by keyfeatures :

But to say this variance occurs along racial lines is to be fooled by optical illusions.

Tha't's a rather neat way of putting it. The concept of 'race' traditionally looks at certain external features and then looks for correlations with perceived characteristics, that are not immediately obvious. "Africans are less likely to get a sunburn." is not a statement of race theory, it's banal. "Arabs are smarter than Africans." or "Jews are good at analytical thinking." are statements of race theory.

We now know about genetics and can do better than that. We can look wich genes or combination of genes or which combinations of genes and external circumstances (upbringing, food, etc.) correlate with certain characteristics. That would be looking for causal relationships. Even if the concept race were valid, it would at best be describing a vague epiphenomenon. Now the study cited above indicates that due to genetic variations within populations and a high dependance of human characteristics on external circumstances or the complex and intricate interplay between external circumstances and genotype the category of race is completely useless.

The whole concept of race was lousy and extremely vulnerable to confirmation bias, so it's high time we got over it. Indeed historically it started out as nothing but a rephrasing of biased and idiotic preconceived notions, that was subsequently "proved" by a whole bunch of highly unscientific studies and treaties, all carefuly designed and conducted to yield the desired results.

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 13:37:52 UTC | #905858

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 30 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 28 by keyfeatures

If everyone was a clone it would make friendship tricky.

Agreed, but no one is suggesting such a thing. There is more to a relationship that what we can see or touch.

No, variance exists. But to say this variance occurs along racial lines is to be fooled by optical illusions. There are more wavelengths in a rainbow than ROYGBIV. A scientist will tell you why red and green make yellow.

Bad analogy. No one is going to have a problem telling the difference between red and blue, unless they are blind.

“The use of different priors also shows the importance of prior information, as ‘Mr. Johnson’ would have been classified as a Pacific Islander had his remains been found on Hawaii and as an ‘American Black’ had his remains been found in Gary, Indiana” (Konigsberg et al. 2009:83).

But not Japanese if in Tokyo or not Pakistani if in Islamabad I'm suggesting.

You didn't really answer the question though...

"Are you saying there is no obvious differences in the various peoples of the world?"

Fri, 06 Jan 2012 14:10:12 UTC | #905868