Tag Archives: race

On the Concept of Biological Race and Its Applicability to Humans

On the Concept of Biological Race and Its Applicability to Humans
Kaplan, Jonathan and Pigliucci, Massimo (2002)

Biological research on race has often been seen as motivated by or lending credence to underlying racist attitudes; in part for this reason, recently philosophers and biologists have gone through great pains to essentially deny the existence of biological human races. We argue that human races, in the biological sense of local populations adapted to particular environments, do in fact exist; such races are best understood through the common ecological concept of ecotypes. However, human ecotypic races do not in general correspond with `folk` racial categories, largely because many similar ecotypes have multiple independent origins. Consequently, while human natural races exist, they have little or nothing in common with `folk` races.

A paper from 2002 that I hadn’t read until today. Yet another nail in the coffin of  ‘genetics has proved there’s no such thing as race’.  I kind of skimmed it (ashamed), but these sections leapt out at me:

Lewontin and Gould have made much of the fact that there is relatively little genetic variation in Homo sapiens (compared at least to other mammals; see Templeton 1999) and that most of what genetic diversity is known to exist within Homo sapiens exists within (rather than between) local populations (see, for example, Gould 1996; Lewontin et al. 1984), and these facts are cited repeatedly in arguments concluding that there are no biologically significant human races. But the idea that this data might imply something about the existence of biologically significant human races emerges from a focus on the wrong sort of biological races.

The question is not whether there are significant levels of between-population genetic variation overall, but whether there is variation in genes associated with significant adaptive  differences between populations (see our discussion in Kaplan and Pigliucci 2001).

But while skin color is not well correlated with other phenotypic traits of interest in humans, there is, despite Gould’s claims (Gould 1996) to the contrary, no guarantee that particular populations of humans will not, due to particular features of their environment, share particular distributions of adaptive behavioral (including intellectual) traits, as opposed to simple physical traits. To the best of our knowledge, there is no evidence that such populations exist, nor are there reasons to suppose that such populations must exist.

I’ve notice that on the no-race side of the fence, they constantly focus on genotypic variation, which is a bit of a red herring as it is phenotypic variation that really defines a race or sub species. Which is more or less what this essay points out.

We aren’t all the same- science is finding evidence of genetic diversity between populations as well as between individuals

Let’s celebrate human genetic diversity

Bruce Lahn and Lanny Ebenstein Nature, 8 October 2009

Science is finding evidence of genetic diversity among groups of people as well as among individuals. This discovery should be embraced, not feared, say Bruce T. Lahn and Lanny Ebenstein.

A growing body of data is revealing the nature of human genetic diversity at increasingly finer resolution. It is now recognized that despite the high degree of genetic similarities that bind humanity together as a species, considerable diversity exists at both individual and group levels (see box, page 728). The biological significance of these variations remains to be explored fully. But enough evidence has come to the fore to warrant the question: what if scientific data ultimately demonstrate that genetically based biological variation exists at non-trivial levels not only among individuals but also among groups? In our view, the scientific community and society at large are ill-prepared for such a possibility. We need a moral response to this question that is robust irrespective of what research uncovers about human diversity. Here, we argue for the moral position that genetic diversity, from within or among groups, should be embraced and celebrated as one of humanity’s chief assets.

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.

Many people may acknowledge the possibility of genetic diversity at the group level, but see it as a threat to social cohesion. Some scholars have even called for a halt to research into the topic or sensitive aspects of it, because of potential misuse of the information. Others will ask: if information on group diversity can be misused, why not just focus on individual differences and ignore any group variation? We strongly affirm that society must guard vigilantly against any misuse of genetic information, but we also believe that the best defence is to take a positive attitude towards diversity, including that at the group level. We argue for our position from two perspectives: first, that the understanding of group diversity can benefit research and medicine, and second, that human genetic diversity as a whole, including group diversity, greatly enriches our species. 

Emerging understanding of human genetic diversity

Genetic diversity is the differences in DNA sequence among members of a species. It is present in all species owing to the interplay of mutation, genetic drift, selection and population structure. When a species is reproductively isolated into multiple groups by geography or other means, the groups differentiate over time in their average genetic make-up.

Anatomically modern humans first appeared in eastern Africa about 200,000 years ago. Some members migrated out of Africa by 50,000 years ago to populate Asia, Australia, Europe and eventually the Americas. During this period, geographic barriers separated humanity into several major groups, largely along continental lines, which greatly reduced gene flow among them. Geographic and cultural barriers also existed within major groups, although to lesser degrees.

This history of human demography, along with selection, has resulted in complex patterns of genetic diversity. The basic unit of this diversity is polymorphisms — specific sites in the genome that exist in multiple variant forms (or alleles). Many polymorphisms involve just one or a few nucleotides, but some may involve large segments of genetic material. The presence of polymorphisms leads to genetic diversity at the individual level such that no two people’s DNA is the same, except identical twins. The alleles of some polymorphisms are also found in significantly different frequencies among geographic groups. An extreme example is the pigmentation gene SLC24A5. An allele of SLC24A5 that contributes to light pigmentation is present in almost all Europeans but is nearly absent in east Asians and Africans.

Given these geographically differentiated polymorphisms, it is possible to group humans on the basis of their genetic make-up. Such grouping largely confirms historical separation of global populations by geography. Indeed, a person’s major geographic group identity can be assigned with near certaintly on the basis of his or her DNA alone (now an accepted practice in forensics). There is growing evidence that some of the geographically differentiated polymorphisms are functional, meaning that they can lead to different biological outcomes (just how many is the subject of ongoing research). These polymorphisms can affect traits such as pigmentation, dietary adaptation and pathogen resistance (where evidence is rather convincing), and metabolism, physical development and brain biology (where evidence is more preliminary).

For most biological traits, genetically based differentiation among groups is probably negligible compared with the variation within the group. For other traits, such as pigmentation and lactose intolerance, differences among groups are so substantial that the trait displays an inter-group difference that is non-trivial compared with the variance within groups, and the extreme end of a trait may be significantly over-represented in a group.

Several studies have shown that many genes in the human genome may have undergone recent episodes of positive selection — that is, selection for advantageous biological traits. This is contrary to the position advocated by some scholars that humans effectively stopped evolving 50,000–40,000 years ago. In general, positive selection can increase the prevalence of functional polymorphisms and create geographic differentiation of allele frequencies. 

A news worthy article, that won’t probably get the attention it deserves in the general media. I’ve noticed over the past few years more and more papers are being published along these lines, and I’d just like to applaud them for having the courage to put this in print, as this kind of published work (observing what are essentially racial differences) can really endanger your career. Most notable was this …

It is now recognized that despite the high degree of genetic similarities that bind humanity together as a species, considerable diversity exists at both individual and group levels

Which really goes counter to what it generally presented to the public in those cosy channel four and BBC documentaries like ‘In the blood’  and ‘ Race, the last taboo’. Prof. Jones will not be a happy man when he reads this. Also worthy of attention was this (condensed, it’s in the text as a whole) …

Biological egalitarianism is the view that no or almost no meaningful genetically based biological differences exist among human groups …..We believe that this position, although well intentioned, is illogical and even dangerous…We also think that biological egalitarianism may not remain viable in light of the growing body of empirical data.

So there you go. We aren’t all the same. I’ve believed for the past seven years, ever since I started to show a deeper interest in anthropology and genetics, the ‘no such thing as race’ paradigm was driven by (well meant) egalitarianism ideology and not fact. If there’s no such thing as race, there can’t be racial differences and, ergo, no racism. I think that Lahn’s and Ebenstein’s hopes for a grown up acceptance of between-group differences may be unfulfilled, as the average human just isn’t that reasonable.

Just a Niel Risch paper on population genetics.

Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease
Neil Risch,1,2 Esteban Burchard,3 Elad Ziv,3 and Hua Tang4

A debate has arisen regarding the validity of racial/ethnic categories for biomedical and genetic research. Some claim ‘no biological basis for race’ while others advocate a ‘race-neutral’ approach, using genetic clustering rather than self-identified ethnicity for human genetic categorization. We provide an epidemiologicperspective on the issue of human categorization in biomedical and genetic research that strongly supports the continued use of self-identified race and ethnicity.

 A major discussion has arisen recently regarding optimalstrategies for categorizing humans, especially in the United States, for the purpose of biomedical research, both etiologic and pharmaceutical. Clearly it is important to know whether particular individuals within the population are more susceptible to particular diseases or most likely to benefit from certain therapeutic interventions. The focus of the dialogue has been the relative merit of the concept of ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’, especially from the genetic perspective. For example, a recent editorialin the New England Journal of Medicine [1] claimed that “race is biologically meaningless” and warned that “instruction in medicalgenetics should emphasize the fallacy of race as a scientific concept and the dangers inherent in practicing race-based medicine.” In support of this perspective, a recent article in Nature Genetics [2] purported to find that “commonly used ethnic labels are both insufficient and inaccurate representations of inferred genetic clusters.” Furthermore, a supporting editorial in the same issue [3] concluded that “population clusters identified by genotype analysis seem to be more informative than those identified by skin color or self-declaration of ‘race’.” These conclusions seem consistent with the claim that “there is no biological basis for ‘race'” [3] and that “the myth of major genetic differences across ‘races’ is nonetheless worth dismissing with genetic evidence” [4]. Of course, the use of the term “major” leaves the door open for possible differences but a priorilimits any potential significance of such differences.

In our view, much of this discussion does not derive from an objective scientific perspective. This is understandable, given both historic and current inequities based on perceived racial or ethnic identities, both in the US and around the world, and the resulting sensitivities in such debates. Nonetheless, we demonstrate here that from both an objective and scientific (genetic and epidemiologic) perspective there is great validity in racial/ethnic self-categorizations, both from the research and public policy points of view.

An interesting read, one that rather disproves the idea that genetics proves race is a social construct. but the real interesting bit to me was..

 For example, east African groups, such as Ethiopians and Somalis, have great genetic resemblance to Caucasians and are clearly intermediate between sub-Saharan Africans and Caucasians [5]. The existence of such intermediate groups should not, however, overshadow the fact that the greatest genetic structure that exists in the human population occurs at the racial level.

Most recently, Wilson et al. [2] studied 354 individuals from 8 populations deriving from Africa (Bantus, Afro-Caribbeans and Ethiopians), Europe/Mideast (Norwegians, Ashkenazi Jews and Armenians), Asia (Chinese) and Pacific Islands (Papua New Guineans). Their study was based on cluster analysis using 39 microsatellite loci. Consistent with previous studies, they obtained evidence of four clusters representing the major continental(racial) divisions described above as African, Caucasian, Asian, and Pacific Islander. The one population in their analysis that was seemingly not clearly classified on continental grounds was the Ethiopians, who clustered more into the Caucasian group. But it is known that African populations with close contact with Middle East populations, including Ethiopians and North Africans, have had significant admixture from Middle Eastern (Caucasian) groups, and are thus more closely related to Caucasians [14].

 … because I’m interested in Ethiopian DNA. Which backs up the use of the Mt DNA/Y DNA as genetic markers to measure racial admixture in populations, showing Ethiopians to be almost half Arab, essentially.

If anyone is suspicious of Dr Risch’s motives, he makes quite clear that his main concern is that a race/colour blind approach to medicine is that minority health-care will suffer.

Thus, results from such studies would be largely derived from the Caucasian majority, with obtained parameter estimates that might not apply to the groups with minority representation.

And quite right too. I had an accusation of a neo-Nazi eugenics motive thrown at a study of racial differences in gestation length who’s sole purpose was to lower the mortality rate of black and Asian babies in the UK.

Recognising racial differences saves lives.

Ancient Egyptian population clustering from Loring Brace.

From this C Loring Brace study, Clines and Clusters Versus “Race:” A Test in Ancient Egypt and the Case of a Death on the Nile., dated 1993.


The biological affinities of the ancient Egyptians were tested against their neighbors and selected prehistoric groups as well as against samples representing the major geographic population clusters of
the world. Two dozen craniofacial measurements were taken on each individual used. The raw measurements were converted into C scores and used to produce Euclidean distance dendrograms. The measurements were principally of adaptively trivial traits that display patterns of regional similarities
based solely on genetic relationships. The Predynastic of Upper Egypt and the Late Dynastic of Lower Egypt are more closely related to each other than to any other population. As a whole, they show ties with the European Neolithic, North Africa, modern Europe, and, more remotely, India, but not at all with sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Asia, Oceania, or the New World.

Adjacent people in the Nile valley show similarities in trivial traits in an unbroken series from the delta in the north southward through Nubia and all the way to Somalia at the equator. At the same time, the gradient in skin color and body proportions suggests long-term adaptive response to selective forces appropriate to the latitude where they occur. An assessment of “race” is as useless as it is impossible. Neither clines nor clusters alone suffice to deal with the biological nature of a widely distributed population. Both must be used. We conclude that the Egyptians have been in place since back in the Pleistocene and have been largely unaffected by either invasions or migrations. (!?) As others have noted, Egyptians are Egyptians, and they were so in the past as well.

And here are some of the diagrams from this study.

Fig. 2. A Euclidean Distance dendrogram based on C scores providing a picture of the relationships
between samples ranging from the Nile delta up through Nubia to Somalia and samples representing
the eight major regional clusters of the world.

Fig. 3. Euclidean distance dendrogram based on C scores for the constituent subsamples of the African
and Indian (South Asian) regional clusters compared with samples from Bronze Age Jericho and up the
Nile valley to Somalia. The Nubian sample in Figure 2 is broken down into constituent Bronze Age,
Early, and Medieval Christian subsamples.

Fig. 3. Euclidean distance dendrogram based on C scores for the constituent subsamples of the African
and Indian (South Asian) regional clusters compared with samples from Bronze Age Jericho and up the
Nile valley to Somalia. The Nubian sample in Figure 2 is broken down into constituent Bronze Age,
Early, and Medieval Christian subsamples.

Interestingly, this rather contradicts the Keita study  of Predynastic Badarians. This is unsurprising, as the Keita methodology had some major flaws and inaccuracies in it, not least the use of Northern Europeans as the norm for Caucasians, and omitting North African Caucasians as a base line for comparison. It also erroneously describes Predynastic hair as 80% Negroid, when the actual Strouhal description was..” they were curly in 6 cases, wavy in 33 cases and straight in 10 cases. They were black in 16 samples, dark brown in 11, brown in 12, light brown in 1 and grey in 11 cases.” The colour alone would rule out the 80% negroid as an accurate description. Even asssuming all the black were negroid (being charitable), it still makes 24 brown v 16 black, showing a more Caucasian population, at about 60%, which is similar to modern populations in the area of Southern Egypt.

One criticism I have of this Brace paper is the assertion;

“We conclude that the Egyptians have been in place since back in the Pleistocene “

Which actually contradicts what he says about there being a population expansion from the Eastern Med that spread all of the Med Coast, in the same paper, and other evidence about the Capsian people of North Africa being part of the farming expansion form the Near East. It also contradicts DNA evidence about Eurasian back migrations into Africa dating to about 30,000 BP, and doesn’t provide any evidence to give a basis for this statement.

“the fact that so many European Neolithic groups in Figure 4 tie more closely to the Late Dynastic Egyptians near the Mediterranean coast than they do with modern Europeans provides suggestive support for an eastern Mediterranean source for the people of the European Neolithic at an even earlier time level than Bernal suggests for the Egyptian-Phoenician colonization and influence on Greece early in the second millennium BC.”

He has a habit of this kind of mistake in when he makes his summing up statements.

Racial differences in skull shape.

Firstly, the mostly obvious difference is that the Caucasoid top skull has a very flat profile, while the bottom skull is ‘prognathic’, meaning it’s jaws protrude out. Although not obvious from this image, the nose aperture of the Caucasian skull has a narrower triangle shape; with a longer, thinner bony protrusion at the point where the nose comes out from between the eyes (nuchal ridge). Caucasian skulls also posess a nasil sill (unless you see this shown, no explanation will make sense), Asian and African skulls don’t.


This site will give you all the detailed info if you are interested.

Racial differences in scalp hair.

The types of hair are pretty easy to tell apart, not due to width measurements, but due mostly to the cross section shape and pigment granule distribution.

Negroid hair…

is thin and almost flat in cross section (tape like), with a tendency to very tight curls. Sometimes it grows in tiny clumps, called peppercorn hair. African hair grows the slowest, at about 0.9cm a day. It’s angle of growth is very small, nearly parallel to the scalp. In colour, it is nearly always black in Africans. The only time you’ll see negroid hair of a different colour is if the individual is an albino, or has European ancestry, or if they dye it. Naturally coloured African hair has densely distributed pigment granules (hair shaft may be opaque) that are arranged in prominent clumps. The hairs also twist irregularly about their longitudinal axis, it has been described as a twisted oval rod.

Caucasian hair..

is a slightly irregular oval shape in cross section. It can to ruler straight, curly as an Africans, and every degree of curl between. It has the widest range of colours; black, auburn, shades of fair and brown to a near white blond. The hair grows out of the skull at an oblique angle, at a rate of about 1.2cm a month. the pigment granules are sparse to moderately dense with fairly even distribution .

Mongoloid hair..

grows the fastest at an average of 1.3cm a month. Its is more circular in cross section, although not perfectly regular. It grows out of the scalp at a right angle. The pigment granules are densely distributed and often arranged in large patchy areas or streaks. it is nearly always black.

Various links on racial variations of hair.

What is human hair. A light and scanning electron microscopy study

HAP Forensics Human Hairs Identification

Microscopy of Hair Part 1: A Practical Guide and Manual for Human Hairs


All three hair types under an electron microscope. The shape difference between  African and European hair doesn’t show well here though.

An interesting exception to the Asian hair average is Ainu hair, which I have seen described as Caucasian in cross section. it’s also reputed to come in dark brown and a reddish brown colour.

Lighter eyes means lighter skin?

While trying to locate information on whether hair colour lightens skin tone, I found a few articles suggesting that eye colour does, blue eyes particularly. Here’s a couple of studies I’ve found. From what I’ve read, it seems that several recessive genes (red hair, blue eyes) lighten skin colour. It’s not totally clear if it’s just through geographical association with other genes though.

Skin pigmentation, biogeographical ancestry and admixture mapping

Mark D. Shriver, Esteban J. Parra, Sonia Dios, Carolina Bonilla, Heather Norton, Celina Jovel, Carrie Pfaff, Cecily Jones, Aisha Massac, Neil Cameron, Archie Baron, Tabitha Jackson, George Argyropoulos, Li Jin, Clive J. Hoggart, Paul M. McKeigue, Rick A. Kittles

Ancestry informative markers (AIMs) are genetic loci showing alleles with large frequency differences between populations. AIMs can be used to estimate biogeographical ancestry at the level of the population, subgroup (e.g. cases and controls) and individual. Ancestry estimates at both the subgroup and individual level can be directly instructive regarding the genetics of the phenotypes that differ qualitatively or in frequency between populations. These estimates can provide a compelling foundation for the use of admixture mapping (AM) methods to identify the genes underlying these traits. We present details of a panel of 34 AIMs and demonstrate how such studies can proceed, by using skin pigmentation as a model phenotype. We have genotyped these markers in two population samples with primarily African ancestry, viz. African Americans from Washington D.C. and an African Caribbean sample from Britain, and in a sample of European Americans from Pennsylvania. In the two African population samples, we observed significant correlations between estimates of individual ancestry and skin pigmentation as measured by reflectometry (R2=0.21, P<0.0001 for the African-American sample and R2=0.16, P<0.0001 for the British African-Caribbean sample). These correlations confirm the validity of the ancestry estimates and also indicate the high level of population structure related to admixture, a level that characterizes these populations and that is detectable by using other tests to identify genetic structure. We have also applied two methods of admixture mapping to test for the effects of three candidate genes (TYR, OCA2, MC1R) on pigmentation. We show that TYR and OCA2 have measurable effects on skin pigmentation differences between the west African and west European parental populations. This work indicates that it is possible to estimate the individual ancestry of a person based on DNA analysis with a reasonable number of well-defined genetic markers. The implications and applications of ancestry estimates in biomedical research are discussed.

OCA2 controls eye colour, and TYR is a gene that harbours mutations for albinism. This seems to suggest that lighter eye colour could lead to lighter skin colour too. You see this in albino Africans, with partial albinism. They sometimes have blond hair and blue eyes, not the white hair and pink eyes of a full albino.

 I’m sure Razib said something about that on his blog…

  Fair skin Medium skin Olive skin
Blue/Blue 46.5 46.1 7.4
Blue/Brown 31.3 52.2 16.6
Brown/Brown 25.6 37.9 37.0

Please excuse the plagiarism. Full blog item here.

The paper he ‘s quoting from…

A Three–Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism Haplotype in Intron 1 of OCA2 Explains Most Human Eye-Color Variation

We have previously shown that a quantitative-trait locus linked to the OCA2region of 15q accounts for 74% of variation in human eye color. We conducted additional genotyping to clarify the role of the OCA2locus in the inheritance of eye color and other pigmentary traits associated with skin-cancer risk in white populations. Fifty-eight synonymous and nonsynonymous exonic single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and tagging SNPs were typed in a collection of 3,839 adolescent twins, their siblings, and their parents. The highest association for blue/nonblue eye color was found with three OCA2SNPs: rs7495174 T/C, rs6497268 G/T, and rs11855019 T/C (P values of 1.02×10-61, 1.57×10-96, and 4.45×10-54, respectively) in intron 1. These three SNPs are in one major haplotype block, with TGT representing 78.4% of alleles. The TGT/TGT diplotype found in 62.2% of samples was the major genotype seen to modify eye color, with a frequency of 0.905 in blue or green compared with only 0.095 in brown eye color. This genotype was also at highest frequency in subjects with light brown hair and was more frequent in fair and medium skin types, consistent with the TGT haplotype acting as a recessive modifier of lighter pigmentary phenotypes. Homozygotes for rs11855019C/C were predominantly without freckles and had lower mole counts. The minor population impact of the nonsynonymous coding-region polymorphisms Arg305Trp and Arg419Gln associated with non-blue eyes and the tight linkage of the major TGT haplotype within the intron 1 of OCA2 with blue eye color and lighter hair and skin tones suggest that differences within the 5′ proximal regulatory control region of the OCA2 gene alter expression or messenger RNA–transcript levels and may be responsible for these associations.

And a more recent addition.

Interactions Between HERC2, OCA2 and MC1R May Influence Human Pigmentation Phenotype

Annals of Human Genetics doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00504.x, Wojciech Branicki et al.

Human pigmentation is a polygenic trait which may be shaped by different kinds of gene–gene interactions. Recent studies have revealed that interactive effects between HERC2 and OCA2 may be responsible for blue eye colour determination in humans. Here we performed a population association study, examining important polymorphisms within the HERC2 and OCA2 genes. Furthermore, pooling these results with genotyping data for MC1R, ASIP and SLC45A2 obtained for the same population sample we also analysed potential genetic interactions affecting variation in eye, hair and skin colour. Our results confirmed the association of HERC2 rs12913832 with eye colour and showed that this SNP is also significantly associated with skin and hair colouration. It is also concluded that OCA2 rs1800407 is independently associated with eye colour. Finally, using various approaches we were able to show that there is an interaction between MC1R and HERC2 in determination of skin and hair colour in the studied population sample.

Anyone interested in this might be interested in Razibs more in depth look at this here

This is my all time number one post on this blog, about ten percent of hits have come from this. Lord only knows why but about 150 people a day look at it. Why this one?

Race maps.

So, I was surfing, and I spotted the old Huxley ‘race map’. And I do mean old, 19th century.

Then I remembered the Cavalli Sforza illustration…


As someone said on another site..

“Top: Map of the Distribution of the Principal Modifications of Mankind” by Thomas H. Huxley, 1870.

Bottom: Computer-generated map of human genetic diversity by L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, et al, 1994.

 Despite being separated by over a century and being created with radically different visual methods and in very different ideological and scientific contexts, the two maps bear an uncanny similarity to each other

For someone who ‘doesn’t believe in race as a valid concept’, a lot of his work does seem to support it, and is often used by others to support it.

This seems like as good a place as any to post the twig map of racial relationships.

As you can see, West Africans And East Africans aren’t closely related at all. Other than skin tone, they cluster better with North Africans. (Also morhologically, they are hard to tell apart if you just have a skeleton).

Five myths of race.

Here are my five myths of race, by Jon Entine. 

It’s an archived cut and paste, none of it is my work, barring a couple of comments.

The complete text is available through the link.

1. Humans are 99.9 percent the same. Therefore, race is “biologically meaningless.”

This statement finds its origins in the research of Harvard University geneticist Richard Lewontin during the 1960s. “Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations,” Lewontin concluded in The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change in 1974. “Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance.”

Coming from a geneticist, Lewontin’s views had enormous influence and he was making a valid argument at the time. As Laval University anthropologist Peter Frost points out, Lewontin was referring to classic genetic markers such as blood types, serum proteins, and enzymes, which do show much more variability within races than between them. But his comments are widely misinterpreted even today to extend beyond that limited conclusion. Further research has shown this pattern of variability cannot reliably be extrapolated to all traits with higher adaptive value.

(It’s now 99.7% the same, the figure was corrected recently)

The 99.9 percent figure is based on DNA sequences that do not differ much between people or even between most mammals. As Jared Diamond, UCLA physiologist has noted, if an alien were to arrive on our planet and analyze our DNA, humans would appear as a third race of chimpanzees, who share 98.4 percent of our DNA. Just 50 out of the 32,00 genes that humans and chimps are thought to possess, or approximately 0.15 percent, may account for all of the cognitive differences between man and ape.

The impact of minute genetic differences is magnified in more sophisticated species. From a genetic perspective, humans and chimpanzees are almost identical because their genes code for similar phenotypes, such as bone structure, which are remarkably similar in many animals. For that matter, dogs share about 95 percent of our genome and mice 90 percent, which is why these species make good laboratory animals. Looked at another way, while the human genome contains some 32,000 genes, that’s not much more than the nematode worm (18,000), which is naked to the human eye. Humans only have 25 percent more genes than the mustard weed (26,000). The real story of the annotation of the human genome is that human beings do not have much more genomic information than plants and worms.

A large-scale study of the variability in the human genome by Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company in Connecticut, has convincingly shown the fallaciousness of arguments tied to the 99.9 percent figure. The research shows that while humans have only 32,000 genes, there are between 400,000 and 500,000 gene versions. More specifically, they found that different versions of a gene are more common in a group of people from one geographical region, compared with people from another.

The implications are far reaching. By grouping individuals by the presence and variety of gene types, physicians may someday be able to offer treatments based on race or ethnic groups that will have been predetermined to work on a genetic level. Kenneth Kidd, a population geneticist at Yale University who is not connected to the study, said it confirmed the conclusions of those who have maintained that there is in fact considerable variability in the human population. He also chided the government and some genetic researchers for having stripped ethnic identities from the panel of people whose genomes have been searched for gene sequences. The study prompted Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, to backtrack from earlier assertions that the small percentage of gross gene differences was meaningful or shed light on the debate over “racial” differences. “We have been talking a lot about how similar all our genomes are, that we’re 99.9 percent the same,” he said. “That might tend to create an impression that it’s a very static situation. But that 0.1 percent is still an awful lot of nucleotides.”

In other words, local populations are genetically far more different than the factoid that humans are 99.9 percent the same implies. The critical factor is not which genes are passed along but how they are patterned and what traits they influence.

2. The genetic variation among European, African and Asian populations is minuscule compared to differences between individuals within those populations.

This factoid, which is a variation on the first myth, has been elevated to the level of revealed truth. According to Lewontin, “based on randomly chosen genetic differences, human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals.”

What does that mean? Not much by today’s nuanced understanding of genetics, it turns out. Consider the cichlid fish found in Africa’s Lake Nyas. The chiclid, which has differentiated from one species to hundreds over a mere 11,500 years, “differ among themselves as much as do tigers and cows,” noted Diamond. “Some graze on algae, others catch other fish, and still others variously crush snails, feed on plankton, catch insects, nibble the scales off other fish, or specialize in grabbing fish embryos from brooding mother fish.” The kicker: these variations are the result of infinitesimal genetic differences–about 0.4 percent of their DNA studied.

As retired University of California molecular biologist Vincent Sarich has noted, there are no clear differences at the level of genes between a wild wolf, a Labrador, a pit pull and a cocker spaniel, but there are certainly differences in gene frequencies and therefore biologically based functional differences between these within-species breeds.

There are other more fundamental problems resulting from misinterpretations of Lewontin’s original studies about gene variability. Numerous scientists since have generalized from his conclusions to the entire human genome, yet no such study has been done, by Lewontin or anyone else. Today, it is believed that such an inference is dicey at best. The trouble with genetic markers is that they display “junk” variability that sends a signal that variability within populations exceeds variability between populations. Most mammalian genes, as much as 70 percent, are “junk” that have accumulated over the course of evolution with almost no remaining function; whether they are similar or different is meaningless. The “junk” DNA that has not been weeded out by natural selection accounts for a larger proportion of within-population variability. Genetic makers may therefore be sending an exaggerated and maybe false signal.

The entire issue of gene variability is widely misunderstood. “In almost any single African population or tribe, there is more genetic variation than in all the rest of the world put together,” Kenneth Kidd told me in an interview in 1999. “Africans have the broadest spectrum of variability, with rarer versions at either end [of the bell curve distribution]. If everyone in the world was wiped out except Africans, almost all human genetic variability would be preserved.”

Many journalists and even some scientists have taken Kidd’s findings to mean that genetic variability equates with phenotypic variability. Since Africans have about 10–15 percent more genetic differences than people from anywhere else in the world, the argument goes, Africans and their Diaspora descendents should show more variability across a range of phenotypic characteristics including body type, behavior, and intelligence. This “fact” is often invoked to explain why athletes of African ancestry dominate elite running: it’s a product of variability, not inherent population differences.

This is a spurious interpretation of Kidd’s data. Chimpanzees display more genetic diversity than do humans. That’s because genetic variability is a marker of evolutionary time, not phenotypic variability. Each time an organism, human or otherwise, propagates, genetic “mistakes” occur as genes are mixed. The slightly increased variability in Africans reflects the accumulation of junk DNA as mutations have occurred over time. Such data “prove” little more than the fact that Africa is the likely home of modern humans–and it may not even signify that.

University of Utah anthropologist and geneticist Henry Harpending and John Relethford, a biological anthropologist from the State University of New York at Oneonta, have found that this genetic variation results from the fact that there were more people in Africa than everywhere else combined during most of the period of human evolution. In other words, greater African genetic variability may be the result of nothing more than fast population growth.

When I asked Kidd directly whether his findings of genetic variability, which showed that blacks meant that Africans were most likely to show the most phenotypic variability in humans–the tallest and shortest, the fastest and slowest, the most intelligent and most retarded–he laughed at first. “Wouldn’t that be mud in the eye for the bigots,” he said, not eager to puncture the politically correct balloon. Finally, he turned more serious. “Genes are the blueprint and the blueprint is identifiable in local populations. No matter what the environmental influences, you can’t deviate too far from it.”

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that some scientists, and certainly the general public, have embraced the popular shorthand that discrete genes have specific effects. This is sometimes expressed as there is a “gene for illness X.” Lewontin himself expresses scorn for what he calls the “religion” of molecular biology and their “prophets”, geneticists, who make grandiose statements about what genes prove or disprove. Genes only specify the sequence of amino acids that are linked together in the manufacture of a molecule called a polypeptide, which must then fold up to make a protein, a process that may be different in different organisms and depends in part on the presence of yet other proteins. “[A] gene is divided up into several stretches of DNA, each of which specifies only part of the complete sequence in a polypeptide,” Lewontin has written. “Each of these partial sequences can then combine with parts specified by other genes, so that, from only a few genes, each made up of a few subsections, a very large number of combinations of different amino acid sequences could be made by mixing and matching.” Lewontin’s reasonable conclusion: the mere sequencing of the human genome doesn’t tell us very much about what distinguishes a human from a weed, let alone a Kenyan from a Korean.

Significant between group differences have been identified in the harder-to-study regulatory genes. This tiny fraction of the human genome controls the order and make-up of proteins, and may be activated by obscure environmental triggers. For instance, the presence of an abnormal form of hemoglobin (hemoglobin S) can lead to sickle-cell anemia, which disproportionately afflicts families of African descent. But the genetic factors that actually lead to the disease operate at a much finer level. Just one change in the base pair for hemoglobin, can trigger the disease. However, the genetic factors involved are even subtler in part because of gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. For example, a separate set of genes in the genome–genes that code for fetal hemoglobin–can counteract some of the ill effects of the adult hemoglobin S genes if they continue to produce into adulthood. This range of possibilities, encoded in the genome, is found disproportionately in certain populations, but do not show up in the gross calculations of human differences that go into the misleading 99.9 percent figure.

Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod, who shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1965 for their work on the regulator sequences in genes, have identified modules, each consisting of 20-30 genes, which act as an Erector Set for the mosaics that characterize each of us. Small changes in regulatory genes make large changes in organisms, perhaps by shifting entire blocks of genes on and off or by changing activation sequences. But, whether flea or fly, cocker spaniel or coyote, Brittany Spears or Marion Jones, the genetic sequences are different but the basic materials are the same. Minute differences can and do have profound effects on how living beings look and behave, while huge apparent variations between species may be almost insignificant in genetic terms.

3. Human differences are superficial because populations have not had enough evolutionary time to differentiate.

Stephen Jay Gould has periodically advanced an equally flawed argument: Human differences are superficial because populations have not had enough evolutionary time to differentiate. “Homo sapiens is a young species, its division into races even more recent,” Gould wrote in Natural History in November 1984.”This historical context has not supplied enough time for the evolution of substantial differences. … Human equality is a contingent fact of history.” In other words, our relatively recent common heritage–differentiation into modern humans may have occurred as recently as 50,000 years ago, an eye blink of evolutionary time–renders the possibility of “races” absurd.

This view has made its way into the popular media as fact. Yet, it’s difficult to believe that Gould believes his own rhetoric, for his own theory of punctuated equilibrium, which argues that swift genetic change occurs all the time, demolishes this assertion. A quarter century ago, Gould and American Museum of Natural History curator Niles Eldredge addressed the controversial issue of why the fossil records appeared to show that plants and animals undergo little change for long periods of time and then experience sudden, dramatic mutations. They argued that new species do not evolve slowly so much as erupt, the result of a chain reaction set off by regulatory genes. Their theory, though controversial and still widely debated, helps explain the limited number of bridge, or intermediary, species in the fossil record (as Creationists never fail to point out). Either as a mutation or in response to an environmental shock, these regulators could have triggered a chain reaction with cascading consequences, creating new species in just a few generations.

The evolutionary record is filled with such examples. A breakthrough study by University of Maryland population geneticist Sarah Tishkoff and colleagues of the gene that confers malarial resistance (one known as the G6PD gene) has concluded that malaria, which is very population specific, is not an ancient disease, but a relatively recent affliction dating to roughly 4,000-8,000 years ago. When a variant gene that promotes its owner’s survival is at issue, substantial differences can occur very rapidly. The dating of the G6PD gene’s variants, done by a method worked out by a colleague of Dr. Tishkoff’s, Dr. Andrew G. Clark of Pennsylvania State University, showed how rapidly a life-protecting variant of a gene could become widespread. The finding is of interest to biologists trying to understand the pace of human evolution because it shows how quickly a variant gene that promotes its owner’s survival can spread through a population. Genes that have changed under the pressure of natural selection determine the track of human evolution and are likely to specify the differences between humans and their close cousin the chimpanzee.

This new understanding of the swiftness of genetic change may ultimately help solve numerous evolutionary puzzles, including the origins of “racial differences.” For instance, there has been contradictory speculation about the origins of the American Indian population. Excavations have pushed the date of the initial migration to the Americas as far back as 12,500 years ago, with some evidence of a human presence as far as 30,000 years. The 1996 discovery of Kennewick Man, the 9,300-year-old skeleton with “apparently Caucasoid” features sparked speculation in the possibility of two or more migrations, including a possible arrival of early Europeans.

Using computer analysis of skeletal fragments, University of Michigan anthropologist C. Loring Brace argues that most American Indians are the result of two major migratory waves, the first 15,000 years ago after the last Ice Age began to moderate and the second 3,000-4,000 years ago. The first wave were believed to be members of the Jomon, a prehistoric people who lived in Japan thousands of years ago. Similar to Upper Paleolithic Europeans 25,000 years ago as well as the Ainu in Japan today and the Blackfoot, Sioux and Cherokee in the Americas, these populations have lots of facial and body hair, no epicanthic eyefold, longer heads, dark hair and dark eyes. Brace argues that the first waves was followed by a second migration consisting of a mixed population of Chinese, Southeast Asians, and Mongolians–similar in some respects to current populations of Northeast Asia–and are likely ancestors of the Inuits (Eskimo), Aleut, and Navajo.

Brace’s data does not resolve whether the two migratory waves consisted of distinct populations or rather different “samples” over time of the same population, whose physical appearance had changed as a result of selection pressures specific to that region, notably the cold, harsh climate. According to Francisco Ayala of the University of California at Irvine, co-author with Tishkoff of the malaria study, the genetic data suggests the remains represent a similar population at different evolutionary points in time. By this reasoning, various American Indian populations are the result of differing paces of evolution of various sub-pockets of populations. “We are morphologically no different in the different continents of the world,” he contends. This research may help explain how “racial” differences could occur so quickly after humans began their expansion from Africa, as recently as 50,000 years ago, Ayala adds.

These findings reinforce those of Vince Sarich. “The shorter the period of time required to produce a given amount of morphological difference, the more selectively important the differences become,” he has written. Sarich figures that since the gene flow as a result of intermingling on the fringes of population pockets was only a trickle, relatively distinct core races would likely have been preserved even where interbreeding was common.

Stanford University geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza has calculated the time it could take for a version of a gene that leads to more offspring to spread from one to 99 percent of the population. If a rare variant of a gene produces just 1 percent more surviving offspring, it could become nearly universal in a human group in 11,500 years. But, if it provides 10 percent more “reproductive fitness,” it could come to dominate in just 1,150 years.

Natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, and even catastrophic events have all contributed to what might loosely be called “racial differences.” For example, University of Illinois archaeologist Stanley Ambrose has offered the hypothesis that the earth was plunged into a horrific volcanic winter after a titanic volcanic blow-off of Mount Toba in Sumatra some 71,000 years ago. The eruption, the largest in 400 million years, spewed 4,000 times as much ash as Mount St. Helens, darkening the skies over one third of the world and dropping temperatures by more than 20 degrees. The catastrophe touched off a six-year global winter, which was magnified by the coldest thousand years of the last ice age, which ended some fourteen thousand years ago. It is believed to have resulted in the death of most of the Northern Hemisphere’s plants, bringing widespread famine and death to hominid populations. If geneticists are correct, some early humans may have been wiped out entirely, leaving no more than 15,000 to 40,000 survivors around the world.

What might have been the effect on evolution? “Humans were suddenly thrown into the freezer,” said Ambrose. Only a few thousand people in Africa and a few pockets of populations that had migrated to Europe and Asia could have survived. That caused an abrupt “bottleneck,” or decrease, in the ancestral populations. After the climate warmed, the survivors resumed multiplying in what can only be described as a population explosion, bringing about the rapid genetic divergence, or “differentiation” of the population pockets.

This hypothesis addresses the paradox of the recent African origin model: Why do we look so different if all humankind recently migrated out of Africa? “When our African recent ancestors passed through the prism of Toba’s volcanic winter, a rainbow of differences appeared,” Ambrose has said. The genetic evidence is in line with such a scenario. Anna DiRienzo, a post-doctoral fellow working out of Wilson’s lab at Berkeley in the early 1990s, found evidence in the mitochondrial DNA data of a major population spurt as recently as thirty-thousand years ago.

What’s clear is that little is clear. Human differences can be ascribed to any number of genetic, cultural, and environmental forces, including economic ravages, natural disasters, genocidal pogroms, mutations, chromosomal rearrangement, natural selection, geographical isolation, random genetic drift, mating patterns, and gene admixture. Taboos such as not marrying outside one’s faith or ethnic group exaggerate genetic differences, reinforcing the loop between nature and nurture. Henry Harpending and John Relethford have concluded “human populations are derived from separate ancestral populations that were relatively isolated from each other before 50,000 years ago.” Their findings are all the more convincing because they come from somewhat competing scientific camps: Harpending advocates the out-of-Africa paradigm while Relethford embraces regional continuity.

Clearly, there are significant genetically-based population differences, although it is certainly true that dividing humans into discrete categories based on geography and visible characteristics reflecting social classifications, while not wholly arbitrary, is crude. That does not mean, however, that local populations do not show evidence of patterns. The critical factor in genetics is the arrangement of gene allele frequencies, how genes interact with each other and the environment, and what traits they influence. This inalterable but frequently overlooked fact undermines the notion that gene flow and racial mixing on the edges of population sets automatically renders all categories of “race” meaningless. As Frost points out, human characteristics can and do cluster and clump even without reproductive isolation. Many so-called “species” are still linked by some ongoing gene flow. Population genetics can help us realize patterns in such things as the proclivity to diseases and the ability to sprint fast.

4. “There are many different, equally valid procedures for defining races, and those different procedures yield very different classifications.”

This oft-repeated quote, written by Jared Diamond in a now-famous 1994 Discover article titled “Race Without Color”, was technically accurate, to a point. Many phenotypes and most complex behavior that depends on the brain–fully half of the human genome–do not fall into neat folkloric categories. In fact, there has been little historical consensus about the number and size of human “races”. Charles Darwin cited estimates ranging from two to sixty-three.

The problem with this argument, however, and the clumsy way it was presented, revolves around the words “equally valid.” Diamond appeared to embrace the post-modernist creed that all categories are “socially constructed” and therefore are “equally valid,” no matter how trivial. To make his point, he served up a bouillabaisse of alternate theoretical categories that cuts across traditional racial lines, including a playful suggestion of a racial taxonomy based on fingerprint patterns. A “Loops” race would group together most Europeans, black Africans and East Asians. Among the “Whorls,” we would find Mongolians and Australian aborigines. Finally, the “Arches” race would be made up of Khoisans and some central Europeans. “Depending on whether we classified ourselves by anti-malarial genes, lactase, fingerprints, or skin color,” he concluded, “we could place Swedes in the same race as (respectively) either Xhosas, Fulani, the Ainu of Japan, or Italians.”

Throughout the piece (and indeed throughout Guns, Germs, and Steel), Diamond appeared to want it both ways: asserting that all population categories, even trivial ones as he puts it, are equally meaningful, yet suggesting that some are more meaningful than others. In discussing basketball, for instance, he writes that the disproportionate representation of African Americans is not because of a lack of socio-economic opportunities, but with “the prevalent body shapes of some black African groups.” In other words, racial categories based on body shape may be an inexact indicator of human population differences–as are all categories of human biodiversity–but they are demonstrably more predictive than fingerprint whorls or tongue-rolling abilities.

It’s one thing to say that race is in part a folk concept. After all, at the genetic level, genes sometimes tell a different story than does skin color. However, it’s far more problematic to make the claim that local populations have not clustered around some genetically based phenotypes. However uncomfortable it may be to Diamond, some “socially constructed” categories are more valid than others, depending upon what phenotypes we are discussing. Moreover, geneticists believe that some of the traditional folkloric categories represent major human migratory waves, which is why so many characteristics group loosely together–for instance, body type, hair texture, and eye and skin color.

5. Documenting human group differences is outside the domain of modern scientific inquiry.

Even suggesting that there is a scientific basis for “racial” differences is baseless speculation, according to some social scientists. University of North Carolina-Charlotte anthropologist Jonathan Marks cavalierly dismisses evidence of patterned differences. “If no scientific experiments are possible, then what are we to conclude? he wrote to me in 1999. “That discussing innate abilities is the scientific equivalent of discussing properties of angels.”

From one perspective, Marks appears to be taking the road of sound, verifiable science: we can only know what we can prove. But he casts the issue in misleading terms, for no one familiar with the workings of genes refers to “innate abilities.” Our personal set of genes no more determines who we are than the frame of a house defines a home; much of the important stuff is added over time. There is no such thing as “innate ability” only “innate potential,” which has an indisputable genetic component. No amount of training can turn a dwarf into a NBA center, but training and opportunity are crucial to athletes with anatomical profiles of NBA centers.

Marks’s corollary assertion that truth rests only in the laboratory presents the antithesis of rigorous science. If every theory had to be vetted in a laboratory experiment, then everything from the atomic theory of matter to the theory that the earth revolves around the sun could be written off as “speculative”. As Steve Sailer writes, “you can’t reproduce Continental Drift in the lab. You can’t scoop up a few continents, go back a billion years, and then see if the same drift happens all over again.”

Ironically, the extremist position taken by Marks and parroted by many journalists mirrors the hard right stance of Darwin’s most virulent critics. While microevolution has been verified, the weakest link of evolutionary theory has always been the relatively meager evidence of transitional fossils to help substantiate macroevolution. “Evolution is not a scientific ‘fact,’ since it cannot actually be observed in a laboratory,” argued the Creation Legal Research Fund before the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attack on evolution theory. “The scientific problems with evolution are so serious that it could accurately be termed a ‘myth.’” Arguing for the teaching of Creationism in schools, anti-evolution Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) has said “we observe micro-evolution and therefore it is scientific fact; … it is impossible to observe macro-evolution, it is scientific assumption.”

Does the lack of scientific experiments substantiating macroevolution render all talk of evolution theory “the scientific equivalent of discussing properties of angels”? This ideological posturing disguised as science, whether it emanates from the fundamentalist right or the orhodox left, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the process of scientific reasoning, which rarely lends itself to “smoking guns” and absolute certainty. It also confuses function with process. We may not yet know how genes and nature interact to shape gender identity but that does not mean, as Marks would have it, that stating that genetics play a role is “speculative.” We have yet to find the genetic basis for tallness, yet we can be quite certain that it is more likely to be found in the Dutch, now the world’s tallest population, than in the Japanese. The search for scientific truth is a process. It may be years before we identify a gene that ensures that humans grow five fingers, but we can be assured there is one, or a set of them. There are patterned human differences even though the specific gene sequences and the complex role of environmental triggers are elusive.

The Great Race Debate.

Don’t anyone get excited, it’s just cut and paste with some links for my record.

Race, a proponent’s perspective

by George W. Gill

Slightly over half of all biological/physical anthropologists today believe in the traditional view that human races are biologically valid and real. Furthermore, they tend to see nothing wrong in defining and naming the different populations of Homo sapiens. The other half of the biological anthropology community believes either that the traditional racial categories for humankind are arbitrary and meaningless, or that at a minimum there are better ways to look at human variation than through the “racial lens.”

Are there differences in the research concentrations of these two groups of experts? Yes, most decidedly there are. As pointed out in a recent 2000 edition of a popular physical anthropology textbook, forensic anthropologists (those who do skeletal identification for law-enforcement agencies) are overwhelmingly in support of the idea of the basic biological reality of human races, and yet those who work with blood-group data, for instance, tend to reject the biological reality of racial categories.

 Where does George Gill stand in the “great race debate?” Read on.
I happen to be one of those very few forensic physical anthropologists who actually does research on the particular traits used today in forensic racial identification (i.e., “assessing ancestry,” as it is generally termed today). Partly this is because for more than a decade now U.S. national and regional forensic anthropology organizations have deemed it necessary to quantitatively test both traditional and new methods for accuracy in legal cases. I volunteered for this task of testing methods and developing new methods in the late 1980s. What have I found? Where do I now stand in the “great race debate?” Can I see truth on one side or the other—or on both sides—in this argument?


 First, I have found that forensic anthropologists attain a high degree of accuracy in determining geographic racial affinities (white, black, American Indian, etc.) by utilizing both new and traditional methods of bone analysis. Many well-conducted studies were reported in the late 1980s and 1990s that test methods objectively for percentage of correct placement. Numerous individual methods involving midfacial measurements, femur traits, and so on are over 80 percent accurate alone, and in combination produce very high levels of accuracy. No forensic anthropologist would make a racial assessment based upon just one of these methods, but in combination they can make very reliable assessments, just as in determining sex or age. In other words, multiple criteria are the key to success in all of these determinations.
  While he doesn’t believe in socially stipulated “age” categories, Gill says, he can “age” skeletions with great accuracy.
I have a respected colleague, the skeletal biologist C. Loring Brace, who is as skilled as any of the leading forensic anthropologists at assessing ancestry from bones, yet he does not subscribe to the concept of race. [Read Brace’s position on the concept of race.] Neither does Norman Sauer, a board-certified forensic anthropologist. My students ask, “How can this be? They can identify skeletons as to racial origins but do not believe in race!” My answer is that we can often function within systems that we do not believe in.

As a middle-aged male, for example, I am not so sure that I believe any longer in the chronological “age” categories that many of my colleagues in skeletal biology use. Certainly parts of the skeletons of some 45-year-old people look older than corresponding portions of the skeletons of some 55-year-olds. If, however, law enforcement calls upon me to provide “age” on a skeleton, I can provide an answer that will be proven sufficiently accurate should the decedent eventually be identified. I may not believe in society’s “age” categories, but I can be very effective at “aging” skeletons. The next question, of course, is how “real” is age biologically? My answer is that if one can use biological criteria to assess age with reasonable accuracy, then age has some basis in biological reality even if the particular “social construct” that defines its limits might be imperfect. I find this true not only for age and stature estimations but for sex and race identification.

 “I am more accurate at assessing race from skeletal remains that from looking at living people standing before me,” Gill says.
The “reality of race” therefore depends more on the definition of reality than on the definition of race. If we choose to accept the system of racial taxonomy that physical anthropologists have traditionally established—major races: black, white, etc.—then one can classify human skeletons within it just as well as one can living humans. The bony traits of the nose, mouth, femur, and cranium are just as revealing to a good osteologist as skin color, hair form, nose form, and lips to the perceptive observer of living humanity. I have been able to prove to myself over the years, in actual legal cases, that I am more accurate at assessing race from skeletal remains than from looking at living people standing before me. So those of us in forensic anthropology know that the skeleton reflects race, whether “real” or not, just as well if not better than superficial soft tissue does. The idea that race is “only skin deep” is simply not true, as any experienced forensic anthropologist will affirm.

Position on race
Where I stand today in the “great race debate” after a decade and a half of pertinent skeletal research is clearly more on the side of the reality of race than on the “race denial” side. Yet I do see why many other physical anthropologists are able to ignore or deny the race concept. Blood-factor analysis, for instance, shows many traits that cut across racial boundaries in a purely clinal fashion with very few if any “breaks” along racial boundaries. (A cline is a gradient of change, such as from people with a high frequency of blue eyes, as in Scandinavia, to people with a high frequency of brown eyes, as in Africa.)
  “Clines” represent gradients of change, such as that between areas where most people have blue eyes and areas in which brown eyes predominate.
Morphological characteristics, however, like skin color, hair form, bone traits, eyes, and lips tend to follow geographic boundaries coinciding often with climatic zones. This is not surprising since the selective forces of climate are probably the primary forces of nature that have shaped human races with regard not only to skin color and hair form but also the underlying bony structures of the nose, cheekbones, etc. (For example, more prominent noses humidify air better.) As far as we know, blood-factor frequencies are not shaped by these same climatic factors.

So, serologists who work largely with blood factors will tend to see human variation as clinal and races as not a valid construct, while skeletal biologists, particularly forensic anthropologists, will see races as biologically real. The common person on the street who sees only a person’s skin color, hair form, and face shape will also tend to see races as biologically real. They are not incorrect. Their perspective is just different from that of the serologist.

So, yes, I see truth on both sides of the race argument.

Those who believe that the concept of race is valid do not discredit the notion of clines, however. Yet those with the clinal perspective who believe that races are not real do try to discredit the evidence of skeletal biology. Why this bias from the “race denial” faction? This bias seems to stem largely from socio-political motivation and not science at all. For the time being at least, the people in “race denial” are in “reality denial” as well. Their motivation (a positive one) is that they have come to believe that the race concept is socially dangerous. In other words, they have convinced themselves that race promotes racism. Therefore, they have pushed the politically correct agenda that human races are not biologically real, no matter what the evidence.

Consequently, at the beginning of the 21st century, even as a majority of biological anthropologists favor the reality of the race perspective, not one introductory textbook of physical anthropology even presents that perspective as a possibility. In a case as flagrant as this, we are not dealing with science but rather with blatant, politically motivated censorship. But, you may ask, are the politically correct actually correct? Is there a relationship between thinking about race and racism?

 Does discussing the concept of race promote racism?
Race and racism

 Does discussing human variation in a framework of racial biology promote or reduce racism? This is an important question, but one that does not have a simple answer. Most social scientists over the past decade have convinced themselves that it runs the risk of promoting racism in certain quarters. Anthropologists of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, on the other hand, believed that they were combating racism by openly discussing race and by teaching courses on human races and racism. Which approach has worked best? What do the intellectuals among racial minorities believe? How do students react and respond?

Three years ago, I served on a NOVA-sponsored panel in New York, in which panelists debated the topic “Is There Such a Thing as Race?” Six of us sat on the panel, three proponents of the race concept and three antagonists. All had authored books or papers on race. Loring Brace and I were the two anthropologists “facing off” in the debate. The ethnic composition of the panel was three white and three black scholars. As our conversations developed, I was struck by how similar many of my concerns regarding racism were to those of my two black teammates. Although recognizing that embracing the race concept can have risks attached, we were (and are) more fearful of the form of racism likely to emerge if race is denied and dialogue about it lessened. We fear that the social taboo about the subject of race has served to suppress open discussion about a very important subject in need of dispassionate debate. One of my teammates, an affirmative-action lawyer, is afraid that a denial that races exist also serves to encourage a denial that racism exists. He asks, “How can we combat racism if no one is willing to talk about race?”
  “How can we combat racism,” asks an affirmative-action lawyer, “if no one is willing to talk about race?”
Who will benefit?

 In my experience, minority students almost invariably have been the strongest supporters of a “racial perspective” on human variation in the classroom. The first-ever black student in my human variation class several years ago came to me at the end of the course and said, “Dr. Gill, I really want to thank you for changing my life with this course.” He went on to explain that, “My whole life I have wondered about why I am black, and if that is good or bad. Now I know the reasons why I am the way I am and that these traits are useful and good.”

A human-variation course with another perspective would probably have accomplished the same for this student if he had ever noticed it. The truth is, innocuous contemporary human-variation classes with their politically correct titles and course descriptions do not attract the attention of minorities or those other students who could most benefit. Furthermore, the politically correct “race denial” perspective in society as a whole suppresses dialogue, allowing ignorance to replace knowledge and suspicion to replace familiarity. This encourages ethnocentrism and racism more than it discourages it.
Dr. George W. Gill is a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming. He also serves as the forensic anthropologist for Wyoming law-enforcement agencies and the Wyoming State Crime Laboratory.

Race in biology and anthropology: A study of college texts and professors
Leonard Lieberman, Raymond E. Hampton, Alice Littlefield, Glen Hallead
Central Michigan University

Information about social issues is underemphasized in college science education. This article takes the race concept as an example of this neglect. We review the history of the race concept and report the current status of the concept in textbooks and among professors. Responses to surveys of faculty at Ph.D.-granting departments indicate that 67% of biologists accept the concept of biological races in the species Homo sapiens, while only 50% of physical anthropologists do so. Content analysis of college textbooks indicates a significant degree of change over time (1936-1984) in physical anthropology but a lesser degree in biology. We suggest several reasons for the dissimilarity in the two disciplines. We propose continued use of the concept for some infrahuman species, while abandoning its application to Homo sapiens. For those biologists and anthropologists who continue to use the concept, scientific accuracy can be achieved by the presentation in lecture and text of the following ideas: first, consensus among scientists on the race concept’s utility and accuracy does not exist; second, there is more variation within than between so-called races; third, discordant gradations due to natural selection, drift, and interbreeding make consistent racial boundary lines impossible to identify; fourth, past use of the race concept has had harmful consequences; fifth, the most precise study of human hereditary variation maps one trait at a time; and sixth, racial labels are misleading, especially as most populations have a cultural designation.

Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease.

Neil Risch,1,2 Esteban Burchard,3 Elad Ziv,3 and Hua Tang4

Two arguments against racial categorization as defined above are firstly that race has no biological basis [1,3], and secondly that there are racial differences but they are merely cosmetic, reflecting superficial characteristics such as skin color and facial features that involve a very small number of genetic loci that were selected historically; these superficial differences do not reflect any additional genetic distinctiveness [2]. A response to the first of these points depends on the definition of ‘biological’. If biological is defined as genetic then, as detailed above, a decade or more of population genetics research has documented genetic, and therefore biological, differentiation among the races. This conclusion was most recently reinforced by the analysis of Wilson et al. [2]. If biological is defined by susceptibility to, and natural history of, a chronic disease, then again numerous studies over past decades have documented biological differences among the races. In this context, it is difficult to imagine that such differences are not meaningful. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a definition of ‘biological’ that does not lead to racial differentiation, except perhaps one as extreme as speciation.
A forceful presentation of the second point – that racial differences are merely cosmetic – was given recently in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine [1]: “Such research mistakenly assumes an inherent biological difference between black-skinned and white-skinned people. It falls into error by attributing a complex physiological or clinical phenomenon to arbitrary aspects of external appearance. It is implausible that the few genes that account for such outward characteristics could be meaningfully linked to multigenic diseases such as diabetes mellitus or to the intricacies of the therapeutic effect of a drug.” The logical flaw in this argument is the assumption that the blacks and whites in the referenced study differ only in skin pigment. Racial categorizations have never been based on skin pigment, but on indigenous continent of origin. For example, none of the population genetic studies cited above, including the study of Wilson et al. [2], used skin pigment of the study subjects, or genetic loci related to skin pigment, as predictive variables. Yet the various racial groups were easily distinguishable on the basis of even a modest number of random genetic markers; furthermore, categorization is extremely resistant to variation according to the type of markers used (for example, RFLPs, microsatellites or SNPs).

Genetic differentiation among the races has also led to some variation in pigmentation across races, but considerable variation within races remains, and there is substantial overlap for this feature. For example, it would be difficult to distinguish most Caucasians and Asians on the basis of skin pigment alone, yet they are easily distinguished by genetic markers. The author of the above statement [1] is in error to assume that the only genetic differences between races, which may differ on average in pigmentation, are for the genes that determine pigmentation.

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