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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Changing Your Mind: Maybe Human Races Do Exist After All

 
Mark Pagel is an evolutionary biologist who used to buy into the idea that human races did not exist [We Differ More Than We Thought].
The last thirty to forty years of social science has brought an overbearing censorship to the way we are allowed to think and talk about the diversity of people on Earth. People of Siberian descent, New Guinean Highlanders, those from the Indian sub-continent, Caucasians, Australian aborigines, Polynesians, Africans — we are, officially, all the same: there are no races.
Now, in 2007, he changed his mind ...
What this all means is that, like it or not, there may be many genetic differences among human populations — including differences that may even correspond to old categories of 'race' — that are real differences in the sense of making one group better than another at responding to some particular environmental problem. This in no way says one group is in general 'superior' to another, or that one group should be preferred over another. But it warns us that we must be prepared to discuss genetic differences among human populations.
Good for him. Better late than never, I say.


4 comments :

  1. I'll be more impressed when somebody comes up with a robust scheme for classifying our species into "races" or whatever you want to call the subpopulations, that can be agreed upon by most biologists who examine the genetic data on which it's based. As I'm sure you know, in the past there have been at least as many racial classification systems as there were anthropologists attempting to construct them.

    Where I can agree is that a taboo on trying to accomplish this is unhelpful and unscientific.

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  2. I detect a resurgence in scientific and mainstream hereditarian-racist thought, notably the notion of marked biological, including cognitive, differences between human populations and hence the existence of distinct (if fuzzy at their boundaries) races. This statement by Pagel, the accelerated evolution paper of Hawks, Harpending, Cochran et al. (who have explicitly stated that their work supports marked genetic and possibly behavioral differences between populations) and Pinker's endorsement, James Watson's defenders, the "science" of Jewish intellectual superiority (Entine, Harpending & Cochran, Lynn) and Saletan's mealy-mouthed advocacy of racial differences in IQ (which he backed away from), and Gregory Clark's A Farewell To Alms seem to me to constitute a trend. And I'm a little worried by that.

    Tupaia

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  3. Tupaia wrote:
    I detect a resurgence in scientific and mainstream hereditarian-racist thought, notably the notion of marked biological, including cognitive, differences between human populations and hence the existence of distinct (if fuzzy at their boundaries) races.

    I object to the implication that recognising that marked biological differences may exist between human populations makes one "hereditarian-racist". A large part of the "trend" may not be from any increase in reactionary thought, but simply that after the recent genetic research on human diversity it would be foolish to deny that such differences exist.

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  4. windy: You're right; I should have added "with cognitive differences" to that. And "racialist" is more neutral than "racist."

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