Is Race a Biological Concept?
Genetically Speaking All Races Are Equal
Changing Your Mind: Maybe Human Races Do Exist After All
Matt Nisbet Asks an Embarrassing Question
Genetics and Race
Greg Laden on "Race" (Again)
Anne Wojcicki's Politically Correct View of Race
The Problem of Race .... Again
The latest dust-up began with a book review by Jan Sapp in American Scientist [Race Finished].
Science has exposed the myth of race, but as the diverse array of essays in Race and the Genetic Revolution shows, folk conceptions of racial typology are kept alive in various sociopolitical forms, and proponents of various DNA-based technologies continue to use erroneous biological conceptions of race as the rationale for using these technologies. Race is not just a sociocultural construct; it is a technological and commercial artifact that persists today.Jan is a professor at York University here in Toronto and we have met on several occasions. Usually I agree with his positions on evolution but not this time. He is dead wrong when he says that "science has exposed the myth of race." In fact, science has demonstrated that races exist in humans and in most other species.
Jerry Coyne makes this point in Are there human races?.
I haven’t talked much about Sapp’s review, as I find it tendentious; nor have I read the books he’s reviewing. Perhaps I’ll change my mind about race after reading them, but based on what I know about human population differentiation, for now I think that “races” are biologically real (though we can’t delimit them precisely), and are certainly not “sociocultural constructs.” The "sociological constructs" thing is simply political correctness imposed on biological reality. In view of the morphological and genetic differences among human populations, how can such differences be “constructs”?Nick Matzke gives the typical, politically correct, response that has evolved over the past decade or so. Originally, the race deniers tried to claim that there were no significant genetic differences between various human populations (skin color being superficial and irrelevant). Once that myth was shattered, they fell back on the position that there are differences if you pick the right groups (e.g. comparing the average native citizen of Lanzhou and Uppsala) but this is unfair. If you look at the edges of these population you will see a smooth, continuous gradation of genetic markers [Continuous geographic structure is real, "discrete races" aren’t]. This is sort of like arguing that there aren't two species of gulls because they form a ring species. You could quibble about whether the Lesser Black-backed Gull and the Herring Gull are different species but if they aren't, then they certainly are races even though the various races can interbreed at the margins.
Nobody says that human races can't interbreed to form hybrids of various types with a mixture of genetic markers. The concept of "discrete races" or "pure races" is a political construct, not a biological one.
Razib Khan supports Coyne's argument that human races exist and they are a reflection of evolutionary history [Jerry Coyne on race: a reflection of evolution]. Coyne has a second post on More on genes and geography: diagnosing your ancestry from your DNA, showing how easy it is to distinguish various human populations based on the frequency of alleles they contain.
Here's a quotation from Theodosius Dobzhansky. It was originally brought to my attention by John Hawks [Dobzhansky on continuing human evolution].
The chief reasons why so many people are loath to admit the genetic variability of socially and culturally significant traits are two. First, human equality is stubbornly confused with identity, and diversity with inequality, as though to be entitled to an equality of opportunity, people would have to be identical twins. Human diversity is not incompatible with equality. Secondly, it is futile to look for one-to-one correspondence between cultural forms and genetic traits. Cultural forms are not determined by genes, but their emergence and maintenance are made possible by the genetically conditioned human diversityHere's a repeat of the rules I imposed in some previous postings.
Let me sound a note of caution to those who wish to comment. The fact that humans races might be genetically different says absolutely nothing at all about equality and racism. For this thread only, I will delete any comments where the author is confused about this distinction. This is a discussion about science and whether some scientific investigations should be censored because they might be misinterpreted.My position on this topic is very close to that of Bruce T. Lahn and Lanny Ebenstein as expressed in an opinion piece in Nature (Lahn and Ebenstein, 2009).
The current moral position is a sort of 'biological egalitarianism'. This dominant position emerged in recent decades largely to correct grave historical injustices, including genocide, that were committed with the support of pseudoscientific understandings of group diversity. The racial-hygiene theory promoted by German geneticists Fritz Lenz, Eugene Fischer and others during the Nazi era is one notorious example of such pseudoscience. Biological egalitarianism is the view that no or almost no meaningful genetically based biological differences exist among human groups, with the exception of a few superficial traits such as skin colour3. Proponents of this view seem to hope that, by promoting biological sameness, discrimination against groups or individuals will become groundless.
We believe that this position, although well-intentioned, is illogical and even dangerous, as it implies that if significant group diversity were established, discrimination might thereby be justified. We reject this position. Equality of opportunity and respect for human dignity should be humankind's common aspirations, notwithstanding human differences no matter how big or small. We also think that biological egalitarianism may not remain viable in light of the growing body of empirical data (see box).
[Image Credit: The image is obviously the cover of Scientific American from December 2003. This is one of the most blatant examples of political correctness ever published in a prestigious journal and it's one more example of the decline of Scientific American. It doesn't take much to recognize that the faces on the cover are identical except for skin color. As if that's all there is to human populations.]
Lahn, B.T. and Ebenstein, L. (2009) Let's celebrate human genetic diversity. Nature 461:726-728 [Nature]