There are several aspects of this controversy that interest me greatly. One of them has to do with the reputation of science writers. Nicholas Wade was a science writer for Nature (1967-1971), Science (1972-1982), and the New York Times (1982-2012). I've often heard heard him being referred to as one of the best science writers, particularly by other science writers. That's an opinion that I've never shared and I'm glad to see him get his comeuppance.
Science writers aren't doing so well these days.
Do Human Races Exist?]. I like to quote Theodosius Dobzhansky. This quote 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 diversityThe issue of human races came up in my local newspaper in a context that's unrelated to the debate over Wade's book. A biologist at Ryerson University published a letter in the Toronto Star today. Here's a link to the letter: The only race is the human race. It was written by Mario C. Estable, Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Ryerson University. (Ryerson University is in downtown Toronto). Mario Estable is a biochemist/molecular biologist. He wrote ...
The word "race" was invented by Linnaeus where he categorized people in much the same manner he categorized other lifeforms. The assumption was that people from different geographical regions were of differences so great that they were of different "races." By race, he meant a separate group of interbreeding individuals of the same species that had been separated from all others for millions of years, diverging from the other groups.I understand that there can be legitimate debate over the existence of biological races in the species Homo sapies. But you don't contribute to that debate by saying things that aren't true. If you are a biologist, and a professor, you have a responsibility to make sure that what you are saying is correct.
Now, fast forward to modern times. It’s well known that all of the Homo sapiens currently alive are recent descendants of a group of individuals, fewer than 200, that literally walked out of Africa into the Middle East and Europe and then the rest of the world, a mere 60,000 years ago.
This means that human diversity on earth can’t have resulted from millions of years of separation of some groups from other humans. In other words, races do not exist for Homo sapiens. We are all very genetically related. Period!
So statements like "biracial" or "race" are simply "racist" because they perpetuate the ignorant division of humans by superficial meaningless traits. Races don’t exist, so stop referring to people as belonging to one race or another — or two races (biracial). There is only one race, the human race.
In this case, it's not correct. It is simply not true that fewer than 200 individuals are the ancestors of every human living outside of Africa and it's certainly not true that they are the ancestors of every human who remained in Africa. Mario Estable seems to be forgetting about Africans as though they don't count as "all of the Homo sapiens currently alive."
We know for a fact that the genetic makeup of non-Africans includes contributions from people who left Africa long before the latest Out-of-Africa wave and any biologist writing a letter to a newspaper should know this. We don't know if the latest wave left 60,000 years ago or much earlier. We know for a fact that more than 200 people were involved.
Linnaeus did not invent the word "race." It was in common use long before Linnaeus published his classification scheme in 1735. This is easily confirmed by checking the Wikipedia entry on human races. That article would have also alerted any biologist to the legitimate controversy and preventing him/her from propagating untruths.
What do biologists know about human races? Quite a lot, actually. It's just not true that scientists all agree that human races don't exist.
Apparently some of them know very little and they should keep in mind a famous (unattributed) saying, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt."
Here'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 biological races actually exist.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 colour. 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 second 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]