On structure, variation, and race

By Razib Khan | November 30, 2011 12:30 am

I noticed yesterday that Andrew Sullivan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a cast of others were having a roiling debate on race and I.Q. My name came up in several comment threads on various issues. I’m aware of this because I have Google Alerts set for my name. I don’t have the time or energy to get immersed in this particular debate at this moment, but I did review some older material in the course of following links placed elsewhere. In particular, I encourage all of my newer readers to check out my friend Armand M. Leroi’s article in The New York Times from 2005, A Family Tree in Every Gene. Though dated in a few particulars (e.g., we know the locus responsible for most variation in blue eyes now, and it seems likely that Andaman Islanders and Malaysian Negritos are not the original settlers of their domains) I think the general outline has held up rather well. Compare it to the numerous vociferous responses over at SSRN. One wonders at the motivation for what seems like massive retaliation! Here are a few critical paragraphs from Armand’s piece:

The identification of racial origins is not a search for purity. The human species is irredeemably promiscuous. We have always seduced or coerced our neighbors even when they have a foreign look about them and we don’t understand a word. If Hispanics, for example, are composed of a recent and evolving blend of European, American Indian and African genes, then the Uighurs of Central Asia can be seen as a 3,000-year-old mix of West European and East Asian genes. Even homogenous groups like native Swedes bear the genetic imprint of successive nameless migrations.

Some critics believe that these ambiguities render the very notion of race worthless. I disagree. The physical topography of our world cannot be accurately described in words. To navigate it, you need a map with elevations, contour lines and reference grids. But it is hard to talk in numbers, and so we give the world’s more prominent features – the mountain ranges and plateaus and plains – names. We do so despite the inherent ambiguity of words. The Pennines of northern England are about one-tenth as high and long as the Himalayas, yet both are intelligibly described as mountain ranges.

So, too, it is with the genetic topography of our species. The billion or so of the world’s people of largely European descent have a set of genetic variants in common that are collectively rare in everyone else; they are a race. At a smaller scale, three million Basques do as well; so they are a race as well. Race is merely a shorthand that enables us to speak sensibly, though with no great precision, about genetic rather than cultural or political differences.

But it is a shorthand that seems to be needed. One of the more painful spectacles of modern science is that of human geneticists piously disavowing the existence of races even as they investigate the genetic relationships between “ethnic groups.” Given the problematic, even vicious, history of the word “race,” the use of euphemisms is understandable. But it hardly aids understanding, for the term “ethnic group” conflates all the possible ways in which people differ from each other.

The problem here is the word “race.” It has a whole lot of baggage. So many biologists prudently shift to “population” or “ethnic group.” I don’t much care either way. Let’s just put the semantic sugar to the side. I contend that:

1) Human populations can be easily separated into plausible clusters using a random set of genetic markers

2) The differences between human populations are not trivial

You can say that both positions apply to human races. Or, you can say that race does not exist as a biological concept, and that both positions apply to human populations. Call it what you will, style is secondary to substance. Just as half-siblings and full-siblings are clearly genetically distinct, and those distinctions matter in terms of their traits, so French and Chinese are genetically distinct, and those distinctions matter in terms of their traits.

In the mid-2000s Armand, and at the time myself as well, put a great deal of weight on the importance of the elucidation of population structure for biomedical purposes. How else is one going to get funded by the N.I.H.? At this point I’m not sure that that’s going to be the low hanging fruit in the near term. Rather, I think an understanding of the phylogeny of the human race is a grand story. Population structure in the present is a shadow of histories past. And with the possibility of admixture with archaic lineages and recent adaptations that story has a lot of novel plot elements to keep your attention.

COMMENTS NOTE: Any comment which misrepresents the material in this post will result in banning without warning. So you should probably stick to direct quotes in lieu of reformulations of what you perceive to be my intent in your own words. For example, if you start a sentence with “so what you’re trying to say….”, you’re probably going to get banned. I said what I tried or wanted to say in the post. Period.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/benjamingeer/ Benjamin Geer

    “French and Chinese are genetically distinct”? What about Gao Xingjian? He’s French:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gao_Xingjian

  • http://sites.google.com/site/benjamingeer/ Benjamin Geer

    To clarify my comment above: “French” is a legal category defined in terms of citizenship. If you need a name for a genetic category that inhabitants of France have a relatively high probability of belonging to, you should call it something else. A statement like “French and Chinese are genetically distinct” risks giving a veneer of scientific respectability to the views of the French far right, who think that anyone who doesn’t “look French” can’t possibly “be French”.

  • Kiwiguy

    In terms of their debate, it seems pretty clear that even non-racial IQ research has been hampered by “p.c. egalitarianism”. Sullivan is to be commended for his honesty and courage.

  • http://dienekes.blogspot.com Dienekes

    To clarify my comment above: “French” is a legal category defined in terms of citizenship. If you need a name for a genetic category that inhabitants of France have a relatively high probability of belonging to, you should call it something else.

    French is both a legal term, describing those who are French nationals, as well as an ethnic term, describing those who are French by ethnicity. If “French” was only a legal term, then French Canadians, for example, would not have a right to apply the adjective “French” to themselves since they do not have French citizenship.

    A statement like “French and Chinese are genetically distinct” risks giving a veneer of scientific respectability to the views of the French far right, who think that anyone who doesn’t “look French” can’t possibly “be French”.

    I would say that the ethnic French have every right to distinguish themselves from non-ethnic French citizens of France, just as French Canadians distinguish themselves from non-French citizens of Canada, and assert their own ethnic identity. The fact that the state of France is legally agnostic about race and ethnicity does not mean that its citizens should also be thus agnostic, if they don’t feel like it.

  • miko

    I agree that the problem here is language and popular ignorance. When scientists use the word “race” (varying degrees of proximity of last common ancestor) in a way that is different from but confusingly overlapping with how most people think of race (superficially similar phenotypes / social / language groups), it creates potentially toxic confusion — confusion which many seem to welcome, as it allows them to make politicized statements and then retreat behind either a narrow scientific or social definition when pressed (looking at both sides here).

    I’m generally dismissive of studies that claim to be biology or genetics but use self- or researcher-identified race categories as independent variables (now looking at you, psychology), which seem almost designed to conflate these two conceptions (which, again, are both important and overlapping and doubtless impact the phenotypes of interest). Some rules of behavioral genetics: genotype all your animals before you start; genotype them again at the end; keep the environment constant. The first and second are becoming routinely available for humans only now, the third will always be impossible.

    Likewise in France, Dienekes, I don’t think the far right in that country is taking time to make the distinction that they are of proud being ethno-linguistically French while welcoming a state-based notion of French national identity that this independent of ethnic distinctions. They believe to varying degrees the French state should be equivalent with their ethnic identity. They are welcome to that peasant opinion as long as they recognize that it is impossible under their current constitution and that it is not how the majority of French people or their government define their state. To use the word “French” in a slippery fashion (just like any “real Americans” demagogue in the U.S.) as a political wedge is either stupidity or purposeful deceit, either of which should lose you your spot at the grown-ups table.

  • Konkvistador

    Benjamin Geer:

    Have you heard of adoption?

    In any case being from a multi-ethnic country the idea of citizenship = ethnicity seems really strange. I grant it might make sense if the ethnic group in question decides to define it that way, but that seems obviously to only be that groups business, much like it is the business of Judaism’s followers and no one else’s whether or not they accepts converts.

  • toto

    I think the discussion in this thread is a perfect example of why words like “race” and “ethnicity” should be avoided: people confuse them.

    It’s ironic to pick France as an example, since it is really a remarkable case of a country that deliberately built its ethnicity (i.e. identity, rather than purely legal French-ness) on a common culture rather than genetic background, in the face of massive immigration in the 19th and early 20th century. The carefully pre-meditated policy of assimilation worked remarkably well over that time. I understand that even in the 70s, roughly 40% of the French population had a foreign grandparent (I have two).

  • Andrew Lancaster

    Thanks for the post Razib. Like you I can handle the new scientific way of talking about human races, but the distracting baggage is obvious too, at least for the time being.

    It will be interesting to see if science can change the language in this case as it has in others. (It has not done so yet.)

  • DK

    So I went to see what all this is about. Turns out, it’s not serious. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

    My response is that I know very little about the field, and would struggle to even define a phrase like “standard deviation.”

    Excuse me? Someone is “debating” this guy on the scientific merit of race and IQ finding? Does this sound like a waste of time or what?

  • Insightful

    How many races are there just looking at human Genotypes (rather than phenotypes which we naturally do)?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #11, depends on how you draw the lines :-)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: french heterogeneity. imagine you’re an alien, and given 200 people, 100 sampled from france, and 100 sampled from china (randomly). you have PCA, and STRUCTURE, and some basic understanding of pop gen. you’re told that 100 individuals are sampled form one geographic location, at some distance from the other 100 individuals. despite the ideology of what france, and to a lesser extent china, is, you’d still be able to make some decent inferences. there would be ~5 french (african or asian or part- ancestry) and ~1 or 2 (uyghurs) who would not fit neatly into two categories.

    the point isn’t about clean fine typologies.

  • John Harvey

    Razib said “I noticed yesterday that Andrew Sullivan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a cast of others were having a roiling debate on race and I.Q.”.

    This sort of debate often follows the same route. Evidence of racial differences in IQ is presented, and this is quickly followed by challenges, denials, ad hominem attacks on the presenter, and the debate descends into general vituperation (not on Razib’s blog of course). So in the name of clarity, let’s turn the argument around. Has anyone ever come up with evidence that thousands of years of natural selection has given all the world’s different populations, however defined, exactly the same mean and spread of intellectual abilities?

  • marcel

    Miko wrote:

    To use the word “French” in a slippery fashion (just like any “real Americans” demagogue in the U.S.)

    Are you implicitly contrasting this with the no real Scotsman demagogues in the northern UK (also, here)?

  • John B.

    [quote]
    COMMENTS NOTE: Any comment which misrepresents the material in this post will result in banning without warning.
    [end quote]

    What’s this about? Was there a serious problem?

  • Ben B.

    Miko writes:

    I’m generally dismissive of studies that claim to be biology or genetics but use self- or researcher-identified race categories as independent variables (now looking at you, psychology)

    Have you ever seen this, Miko?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1196372/?+tool=pubmed

    Self-identified race/ethnicity matches up with genetic ancestry 99.16% of the time.

  • Ben B.

    *correction above. It’s 99.86% of the time.

  • http://glpiggy.net G.L.Piggy

    A note on the discourse around this topic at several blogs opposing Sullivan:

    They discount the element of intellectual curiosity. One side is telling the other side that they can’t open a certain door without being slapped on the wrist. The potential slap-ee is intrigued by this and wants to open the door. Instead the argument put forth by Sullivan et al is characterized as stemming from deep-seeded racism which I think was Sullivan’s original point: the fact that someone can’t even talk about this topic without having being shouted down is the entire problem.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    While I think you’re making a valid point, Razib, I don’t think this is anything close to what TNC is saying. The reality for race in regards to certain diseases (sickle-cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, skin cancer, etc.) is well accepted now. It’s also well-accepted that certain racial differences in terms of nutrition exist, like lactose tolerance, or the alcohol intolerance of many East Asians.

    The question of if different human populations have different intellectual capabilities is something else entirely. It’s a third rail because it cuts against the rationales of both major strands in progressive and right-wing liberal thought. Should it be a third rail? Probably not, because, as Sullivan says, nothing should be outside of the realm of inquiry, even if it makes us feel personally icky.

    In my mind, the data still just doesn’t quite add up. Basically, I have seen no realistic hypotheses on why intelligence should vary more than within the margin of error between the races, only warmed-over, psuedo-Victorian ideas like “seasonal climates breed smarts” (never mind that much of the tropics have dry seasons which can be as difficult to live through as winters).

    Essentially, I think one of two possible conclusions could be reached presuming human differences between intellect were true.

    1. If higher intelligence has a selective advantage, then it’s difficult to argue why so many regions with lower intelligence still exist. There was extensive back-migration from Eurasia into Africa at several points, for example. Even if Ethiopians are only a minority of West Eurasian descent, presumably then the genes for higher intelligence, rather than say lighter skin, would have been selected throughout the population. Yet, IIRC, IQs are no higher in Ethiopia than in say Congo.

    2. Alternately, it’s possible that the human variation in intelligence is neutral in regards to selection. In that case, progressive mutations which have favored higher intelligence have been random, or “spandrels” (to use a Gouldism) which were associated with other traits. Thus most of human variation in terms of intellect could be explained as a “founder effect.” The issue here being, that if what we now measure as IQ had little to no bearing on human selection since the advent of behaviorally modern humans, why are we so focused on it?

  • gcochran

    1. “I have seen no realistic hypotheses” I’ve probably seen 10. The problem is that there are too many.

    2. Nonsense.

  • Mark

    “If higher intelligence has a selective advantage, then it’s difficult to argue why so many regions with lower intelligence still exist.”

    I think the argument is that higher intelligence may have had a selective advantage in certain geographical regions and at certain points in human history, but that the advantage was not universal.

  • Kiwiguy

    @ Karl Zimmerman,

    “seasonal climates breed smarts” – Finance professor Ed Miller wrote a number of papers in the 90′s on intelligence and discussed the possible role of climate and “Paternal Provisioning versus Mate Seeking in Human Populations”. This seems similar to the Cad/Dad type distinction. http://www.arthurhu.com/99/16/edmill.txt

    Some other possibilities.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/08/demography-and-fast-evolution.html

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/02/sociobiological-implications-of.html

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2010/07/social-darwinism-21st-century-edition.html

  • Chuck

    #5, When social scientists use the term race, they typically refer to subpopulations defined by “regional ancestry”; but even if they used the term to refer to populations defined by “religion,” “culture,” “social class,” “linguistic group,” “national group,” or “skin color” it would still be meaningful to ask if the MEAN differences between the said populations had a genetic basis. “Race” in this context is being used as an identifier, not an explainer. An explanation might be something like: “Immigration policies led to differences in the congenital intellectual distribution of South Asians and North Asians in the Singapore; there are now genetically conditioned mean differences between “races” as delineated by ___(fill in the blank)__.”

    #19, a) A number of researchers have proposed gene-cultural evolution (e.g. Gottfredson 2007; Cochran and Harpending, 2009; Kanazawa, 2007; Miller, 2010). The premises are that 1) IQ has different selective advantages in different cultures (i.e. forage versus farmers; pre-welfare state versus welfare state) and 2) there is cultural variation. Both seem like pretty robust assumptions; b)as for the former, IQ doesn’t necessarily have a selective advantage, let alone a constant one. For example, in the contemporary West, IQ negatively correlates with reproduction, which suggests dysgenic selection, despite the apparent phenotypic rise. c) that “psuedo-Victorian idea like “seasonal climates breed smarts”” is in agreement with craniometric data (see: “Ash & Gordon. Brain Size, Intelligence, and Paleoclimatic Variation.”)

  • Karl Zimmerman

    # 20 – don’t just say you’ve seen ten, list some of them. I have no reason to trust the authority of a random dude on the internet.

    # 21 – I know the actual just-so-stories are quite nuanced. But then, the data doesn’t seem to fit the idea that there’s been a selective advantage in certain regions. Just look at Sub-Saharan Africa, for example. There’s a huge array of cultures, from hunter-gatherers, to pastoral and farming societies, to areas of the Sudan and Ethiopia which had organized states well before most of Europe. There’s a huge array of climates, from desert to rainforest, to seasonal savanna, to even some snowy mountain ranges in the far south. And although the Bantu migration has homogenized much of the region, there are many genetic elements, including khoisan, pygmy, East African, Southeast Asian in Madagascar, etc. Yet, despite this there isn’t tremendous variation in IQ within Africa. Indeed, I’d feel more comfortable saying the difference was mainly genetic if the results looked a bit “lumpier” than they do, but to me a lot of the data, at least when comparing developing and developed nations, suggests they’re just not as far along the Flynn Effect yet.

    # 23 – It’s true that large heads seem to correlate with cold climates. However, Inuit and Siberians seem to have the largest heads, and don’t have the highest IQs.

    In general, I do have to say I do find the arguments for high IQ among Ashkenazic Jews to be the most compelling. Mainly because they were to a certain extent a self-selected subculture in Europe. Given Judaism values literacy, dumb Jews could convert, which would lead to positive selection for intelligence within a few generations.

  • miko

    “Has anyone ever come up with evidence that thousands of years of natural selection has given all the world’s different populations, however defined, exactly the same mean and spread of intellectual abilities?”

    Well, this is the null hypothesis, so any negative result supports this in a sense. However, this raises the interesting point that if variation in the selective environments among human populations operated differently on cognitive traits like intelligence, this should still be happening. For the past 5 years or so there have been powerful statistical tools for finding positively selected loci — often down to the actual polymorphism — in human populations. To my knowledge, they find genes related to pathogen resistance, followed by diet and climate. That does not mean more things will not turn up, including candidate genes for cognitive traits, or that drift/linkage could not account for a portion of the observed mean differences.

  • Darkseid

    http://www.france24.com/en/20100709-valence-france-christophe-lemaitre-100-metre-dash-under-ten-seconds
    i’m just gonna leave this here for poor Karl to see if he can put the pieces together;)

  • Karl Zimmerman

    # 22 – I’m not sure I’d trust a professor of finance over geneticists or paleoanthropologists when it comes to human evolutionary history. However, I recognize that’s an ad hominim argument to a certain degree. Howevwe, nothing he says seems backed by any data, at least in that linked post. The other posts are more interesting. Still, everything I have read suggests that with the shift to agriculture, the most important selective traits have become those associated with disease resistance and/or food digestion, as in a scarce society you and yours are far more likely to face down famine or a plague than a situation whereby your wits would save the day. Indeed, the number of *surviving* children being different could be solely attributable to these factors.

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    That article linked by Darkseid above (#26) beautifully illustrates the insanity of the reality-denying regime:

    The sheer number, and near-monopoly, of under-ten-second performances linked to Africa are more than a simple coincidence or statistical anomaly, say experts. But exactly what mix factors has led to this outcome remains a puzzle.

    One explanation that does not hold water, scientists agree, is race.

    The idea that the colour of one’s skin is somehow related to innate ability is now recognized as an invidious cultural artifact that simply does not correspond to genetic reality.

    Scientifically, it is a discredited notion,” said Robert Scott, a researcher at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, England who has explored the genetic determinants of elite athletic performance.

    “There is more genetic diversity within small areas of east Africa than in most of Europe,” he told AFP in an e-mail exchange.

    But that does not mean that genes are not an ingredient — perhaps even the key ingredient — in the recipe for super-elite sprinters.

    But the question still remains: why do runners of African origin so thoroughly dominate the top of the game? Part of the answer, at least, lies in the distribution of these “fast” genes across the globe…as homo sapiens spread, sub-populations settled and became isolated, resulting in hundreds of genetically concentrated diseases and traits, including ACTN3.

    Only one-to-two percent of west Africans have the ‘weak’ XX variant, compared to 18 percent in the United States, 20 percent in Europe and 25 percent in Asia.

    And then of course it finishes up with the obligatory:
    “To the extent that the explanation is genetic, many genes are involved,” said Alejandro Lucia, a researcher at European University in Madrid. “The main factors, in my view, are more likely cultural and socio-economic.

    Truly masterful.

  • observer

    Karl Zimmerman,

    I don’t know why on earth you think it important that we know a priori what the particular mechanism of selection might have been to be able to declare that there is a genetic difference between sub-Saharan Africans and Europeans with regard to IQ. That strikes me as sheer obfuscation.

    In fact, we may very well NEVER know why it is that certain subpopulations display certain genetic dispositions; there is no reason to believe that we will always be able to reconstruct the conditions of selection in such a way that we can convince ourselves that they are indeed the actual conditions that held. It is absurd that scientists should be obliged to perform this reconstruction before they can declare that a difference is based on genes.

    I think, for example, that few would dispute that subSaharan Africans have wider noses on average than Europeans, and that that difference is based on genes. What is the exact reason for that difference in terms of selection? Perhaps we can figure that out, and perhaps we can’t — but our evidence that it is genetic does not hang on our success in determining for a certainty the method of selection (if any — it may be random drift, for all we know).

  • RH

    The information that Razib points out isn’t new. I am much more interested in on what is Razib’s point of view on the initial premise of Sullivans post. Is research into this area discouraged or avoided because of PC sensibilities… whether or not IQ varies in populations or not?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    The information that Razib points out isn’t new. I am much more interested in on what is Razib’s point of view on the initial premise of Sullivans post. Is research into this area discouraged or avoided because of PC sensibilities… whether or not IQ varies in populations or not?

    you need to qualify “PC.” people want to get funded, have jobs, and eat. so they may avoid or discourage “hot” topics because that’s the rational thing to do. yes, i think people are more careful in these areas than they would be otherwise. as for whether IQ varies in populations, what do you even mean? of course it varies in populations. what you are asking is whether it varies across populations, and to my knowledge, it does. you can look that up, wikipedia is your friend! the bigger issue is whether the between population variation is due to between population variation in genes. IOW, mean difference is or isn’t due to differences in allele frequencies. my own null is that it is likely that there’s going to be some population to population differences in this trait, just like there is with height. i assume that like with height we’ll know soon enough, so i’m not too worried about the issue at this point.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    # 29

    Obviously, as Razib intimates numerous times, as our knowledge of genetics advances, we should find concrete proof of genetic differences between intelligence if it exists. Something along the lines of “Gene X boosts IQ an average of five points, is not present in sub-Saharan Africa.” Right now, we lack such knowledge however, we just have data gleaned from IQ tests, which is suggestive, but not enough for me to say conclusively that differences in intelligence between the races are predominantly genetic. If it’s enough for you, that’s fine.

    That said, I think it will largely be a moot point within another two generations, because surely as technology advances, and we discover genes for higher IQ, some selection process (initially IVF embryo selection and selective abortion, later other technologies as they become feasible) will cause upper and middle-class parents of all races to begin to actively select for smarter progeny. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some governments in the future advocate to eliminate any potential genetic disadvantage to people of color by offering free re-engineering of all of their children to reach IQ parity.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Something along the lines of “Gene X boosts IQ an average of five points, is not present in sub-Saharan Africa.”

    just to be clear, i doubt it will be a QTL of large effect. that’s what i linked to the study on pygmy height. you could apply the same method with IQ.

  • Sandgroper

    It’s a genuine tragedy that population differences are not being used to inform education policy for Australian Aboriginal kids.

  • Kiwiguy

    *** Is research into this area discouraged or avoided because of PC sensibilities… whether or not IQ varies in populations or not?***

    I suspect so.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/11/talk-cancelled.html

  • I_Affe

    Razib,

    IIRC, in the past you have mentioned that many comments on blog posts have little substance or added-value. I used to think that you were too harsh on people and banned too quickly. Well, after reading TNC’s, and Steve Sailer’s comments sections, I have to admit that I was wrong. Most comments are terrible.* And those are on the things I have some knowledge about. I have no way to judge the signal to noise ratio on things I know little to nothing about.

    Sometimes you can find a very informative comment, but that doesn’t justify shifting through all that shit. Man! What is it that compels people to comment on things they know little about? Does everyone need to have an opinion on everything?

    *I don’t exclude myself from the masses. I’ve said and written some pretty stupid stuff.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #36, TNC and steve both moderate and censor some too. so it could be worse :-)

  • JL

    That said, I think it will largely be a moot point within another two generations, because surely as technology advances, and we discover genes for higher IQ, some selection process (initially IVF embryo selection and selective abortion, later other technologies as they become feasible)

    Even if such technology became widely available in, say, 2030, the issue would not be moot for a long time, because those born before 2030 would mostly still be around for the rest of the century. Moreover, it seems highly likely that only people in the most developed countries would benefit from this technology on a wide scale, exacerbating global differences.

  • Konkvistador

    @Karl Zimmerman: “I have no reason to trust the authority of a random dude on the internet. ”

    Your random dude is a professor of anthropology and well known author.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Cochran

    Which is hilarious in the light of this quote from you:
    “I’m not sure I’d trust a professor of finance over geneticists or paleoanthropologists when it comes to human evolutionary history. “

  • Konkvistador

    @Karl Zimmerman: “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some governments in the future advocate to eliminate any potential genetic disadvantage to people of color by offering free re-engineering of all of their children to reach IQ parity.”

    Should people of predominantly European and East Asian descent people be offered free re-engineering for the desirable traits of “people of colour” as you so so Victorian-gentleman-like refer to them? Also shouldn’t they get Askenazi Jewish smarts for free too?

    This implicit ideal that mean IQ’s *should* be around the current mean for people of European descent, since anything less is unfair and anything above needs to be “earned”, is just amusingly but shockingly ethnocentric.

    Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of large scale genetic engineering to improve the human condition (being transhumanist and all), I just think that if government is going to offer something like this they should offer it for free to people (as say part of universal healthcare), they should offer it to the left side of the bell curve, regardless of their colour and regardless of whether in the current society the left is anyone below 80, 100 or 15o IQ points. And it should be offered for traits other than intelligence, like charisma, physical attractiveness (which is something you don’t choose but affects your social status immensely) athletic ability, lower risk of suicide, conscientiousness (which is the second biggest factor for differences in life outcomes after IQ) and depression as well as say resistance to infectious diseases.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/benjamingeer/ Benjamin Geer

    Dienekes and Konkvistador, ethnic groups are imaginary. There is no such thing as “ethnic French”. Yes, people act as if these fictions were real in everyday life, but scientists shouldn’t. See Rogers Brubaker’s book “Ethnicity as Cognition”.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/benjamingeer/ Benjamin Geer

    Correction: the title of Rogers Brubaker’s book is “Ethnicity Without Groups”.

  • http://dienekes.blogspot.com Dienekes

    >> Dienekes and Konkvistador, ethnic groups are imaginary. There is no such thing as “ethnic French”. Yes, people act as if these fictions were real in everyday life, but scientists shouldn’t.

    The opinion of Marxists carries no weight with me, I don’t consider people who take Marx and Freud seriously to be scientists, and the idea of them telling me what is “imaginary” is frankly a joke.

  • Kiwiguy
  • Karl Zimmerman

    # 38

    It’s true it would start to be available initially in developed nations. However, that is where such technology would be most useful at the moment. In developing countries, the Flynn Effect is still rather weak, and further socio-economic development alone would help even if large-scale genetic engineering isn’t yet possible. In contrast, presumably in developed nations the environmental baseline is rather set, and further improvement of the genome would result in far greater gains. I’m sure that those in the black middle class in the U.S. (which is now rather large after all, although not as proportionately large as the white one of course), would not have an aversion to using such technology if it became widespread and accepted in society in general. I could even see wealthier developing countries (Barbados for example) implementing such technology.

    # 39

    Gcochran didn’t provide any link to his personal website, so how was I supposed to know who he was? Although it is funny in retrospect, because I have read The 10,000 Year Explosion.

    # 40

    Of course this would be part of a wider package. I just mean one of the clear ways of selling it to the public would be large-scale genetic engineering could make, for the first time, a real meritocracy possible. The only alternatives to this seem to lead to aristocracy and a return to real eugenics. Better to allow the individual to change their own genes, or at least those of their progeny, than shackle their genes to them.

  • Miley Cyrax

    @27 Karl Zimmerman
    Sometimes it is precisely because a professor is from an outside discipline that he or she is able to breathe new life into a field, e.g. Kahneman.

  • observer

    Karl Zimmerman,

    You seem to expect that many of the current issues with genetic differences in IQ between races will simply go away with some new genetic understanding and technology.

    But you know what is a certain prerequisite for that to happen?

    A completely clear acknowledgment of, and understanding of, the genetic differences between races. So perhaps you should be working for that acknowledgement and understanding, rather than, as it seems, against it.

  • gnome

    There is no doubt populations differ in genetically significant ways in general. It is exactly like an extended family sort of situation. Their general capacities would differ relative to what their local selection pressures and some random. What many simple “scientific racists” don’t realize though is that this problem of differences extends to differences within races which is going to make things even more sticky. White peoples are not equivalent either. There is probably massive variation amongst the east indians that would get obfuscated if we look at indians as one block race instead of a myriad of unique races. We could also one day come to determine a sizable genetic influence on social class, so even within a localized population we could have significant variation (and in general capacities) as well.

  • http://raysawhill.com Ray Sawhill

    English major that I was, I often suspect that a lot of the heat these discussions generate could be avoided by liberal use of weasel words. “Tend to” and variations on it are especially useful. Examples: “Africans TEND TO blah blah blah more than Europeans.” “Women TEND TO blah blah blah more than men.” “Homosexuals TEND TO blah blah blah more than heterosexuals.” Connects the assertion to hard-to-deny common experience, and keeps people from battling it as though the assertion is an attempt at drawing an absolute, applies-in-every-case sorta distinction.

  • observer

    Ray Sawhill,

    I suggest you examine the writings of Arthur Jensen. No one is more scrupulous about qualifying his assertions regarding the differing distributions of traits across races than he.

    It hasn’t exactly spared him a lot of scorn.

  • Konkvistador

    The level of discussion one usually gets on this is just so depressing. Just so utterly in so many different ways.

    Do we really think this is the last unpleasant hypothesis the universe is going to face us with keep rubbing more and more evidence and problems in our faces until we deal with them?

    If our species where a bunch of adults this would be a very simple matter to ascertain the truth of. But freaking status signalling, rent seeking, coalition building and damn politicking is keeping us in the dunce corner.

    Now, coordination really is hard, but damn people, damn! How incredibly insane we all are.

  • gnome

    Konkvistador,

    I think we’ve always known and still basically know (even if more implicitly) what is obvious: that people are different. There is just the fear of this idea being leveraged for political purposes, which is unfortunate but how it is, as there are people even now strongly vested in doing just that (on both sides of the fence there is agenda though). It seems people struggle to keep this a purely scientific pursuit, even on the part of some of the intelligence researchers, I might add.

  • RH

    Thank you for answering my question. And sorry, I of course realized IQ distribution varies in populations, I meant to refer to the the genetic cause question, which you addressed. I was/am typing on my phone… so was unable to proofread.

  • Onur

    Re: Dienekes’ and Benjamin’s discussion

    Some of today’s ethnic groups are recent constructions of nationalism (many people had no ethnicity before nationalism), while some have existed since already before the emergence of nationalism. So each ethnic group should be evaluated individually.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    # 48

    This was a point I was trying to say. I have no problem with the idea that natural selection may have caused minor variances in intelligence. I’d actually be quite surprised if there’s not at least a 5% average variance from population to population (E.G., I expect at least a third of the IQ gap is genetic, and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a bit higher). But selection doesn’t just happen on a continental basis. Young men in Portugal are still 6% shorter than young men in Denmark. GDP might be lower in Portugal, but surely the difference isn’t enough that the Portuguese aren’t getting adequate nutrition.

    The problem is that the potential selective events are localized to given areas, and shift with time. Climates change. Civilizations rise and fall. One could easily see local selection for intelligence in one region, and then have that selection fall to the wayside a few centuries later. It’s for this reason I feel that the argument “People of sub-Saharan African descent are a are a standard deviation lower due to biological factors” is too much a just-so story, and when we get into the data, we’ll find there’s tremendous variance between different groups.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all, for example, if it was discovered there were statistically significant differences between the intelligence of those who are descendents of the black diaspora, and Africans, which cannot be accounted for by white admixture. Given the sheer number of people who died in the Middle Passage, and due to the process of slavery, diasporic Africans probably have had the most rapid selection process of any group in human history. It could be African blacks have a potential roughly equal to those of other continents (with the Flynn Effect making modern scores artificially low), but slavery tended to kill off the most intelligent blacks in the New World, who were more likely to attempt to run away or otherwise irk their masters and get sold down the river. Certainly with literacy for slaves made illegal in the U.S. for quite some time there was a big potential punishment for those smart enough to figure out literacy on their own. Surely being forced for generations to do back-breaking labor for centuries (with not even the few escape valves that peasants in Europe occasionally had), could have caused selective pressure as well, not just in terms of physical stamina, but in terms of cognitive processes.

  • gnome

    Karl,

    “But selection doesn’t just happen on a continental basis.”

    Very good point. For one example, Sickle cell disease strictly speaking is NOT a black disease. It’s actually a central/west African disease (and some Arabs and east Indians, I think). What people call black in the US they actually refer the West African “race” and they forget that what is true for them is not necessarily true for black people as a whole.

  • gcochran

    The Middle Passage was a one-off. It’s very difficult for an single-generation event to have much selective impact, even when it’s pretty terrible.

    As for IQ variation within sub-Saharan Africa, there is some. It looks to be lower in the Bushmen and Pygmies.

  • gnome

    gcochran,

    It’s difficult to determine in Africa to what degree their current measured IQ’s (which are often guesstimated) are genetic ceiling because of the artificial lowering via parasite load or malnutrition and whatever, amongst the various populations. I would not expect it to be equivalent. IQ variation amongst white populations can also be significant (which makes me think it would be amongst them too, as it is with east indians and so on) but it’s hard to unpack what is genetic and what is not, and to what degree genes influences the classes. I mean, aren’t Serbians apparently closer (roughly) to African Americans in terms of average IQ than they are to some other white groups? Are working class white boys in the UK cognitively closer to the Afro-Caribbean boys or to their mid/upper class brethren? The answer is not that clear.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    # 57,

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say the Middle Passage was a one-off event, considering the trans-Atlantic slave trade ran from 1502 to 1859. It was a series of selections, which probably killed 1.2-2.4 million out of the 11-12 million which left on the ships – a mortality rate of roughly 10-20%. This doesn’t even count those who were killed in the process of capture itself, which probably were several times higher. For these individuals, it was a single-generation event, but it was a dramatic winnowing over 18 generations.

    And of course, there was the casualty rate in slavery itself. I’ve seen estimates that up to half of people ended up killed in slave raids in Africa (not surprising), and that 15%-50% died during the first year of being a slave (the “seasoning” period). The first was likely a random trauma, but the second probably had a major selective pressure as well.

    What about afterward? In the Caribbean, slave population had a net natural decrease of 20-50 per thousand (2%-5%) each year. Brazil had similar rates. The U.S. slave population naturally expanded, but this seems more to due with the practice in British North America of importing women and breeding slaves, not merely buying fresh ones from Africa when the old ones died off. In addition, pregnancies were often discouraged, or very infrequent, in many of the tropical colonies, whilst by the 19th century, the average female U.S. slave had nine children. So different selective processes were likely underway in different countries.

  • Anthony

    gcochran (@#57) – it would not have been impossible for the Middle Passage to have had a selective effect, if there were for example, some disease which Europeans had resistance, but West Africans mostly didn’t, which would kill over the length of the voyage. (Or, for example, if the primary food was something which most of the transportees had trouble digesting.)

    From what I’ve read (including 1493, which I’m working through), the Middle Passage didn’t have such a selective effect, but would only have selected for general ability to withstand malnutrition and abuse, which has been intermittently selected for during most of human history and pre-history.

    For that matter, while the overall effect was likely more than one generation, much of the pre-1492 American population was subject to a one-generation selective sweep for certain sorts of disease resistance – it would be interesting to compare genes between modern pure-blood American Indians and DNA samples from pre-1492 American Indians.

  • gcochran

    I’m sure that it was. You don’t understand what you’re talking about. For each line of ancestry, it happened once, unless you think that slaves were sent back and forth repeatedly between Africa and the Americas. Therefore, the effects are not cumulative.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    gcochran,

    I can see your point. However, there are some ways you can consider the effects of Trans -Atlantic slave trade to have been long-lasting genetically.

    Consider particularly the case of areas like the Caribbean and Brazil, where there was a constant population decline due to a surfeit of women. The likelihood of any male slave successfully reproducing was very low, due to a high death rate, two men for every woman, fraternization between the sexes being frowned upon by many masters in those regions, etc.

    The question is what kind of winnowing happened? In the case of the British Caribbean, for example, populations finally stabilized and began growing slightly before or a generation after the end of the slave trade. Whose genes won out? Were the descendents of the modern-day Jamaicans, Barbadians, or Guyanese almost entirely those who were lucky enough to be in the last batches of slaves sent over? Or was there a core native-born population which persisted, but did not grow, for centuries, occasionally leavened on occasion with those new African slaves which were lucky enough to survive? I have to think there was at least some element of the latter, because the women who lived in the islands would be disproportionately likely to be native-born, given how few were shipped there at any given time.

    Also, there was a lot of trans-shipment within the New World at times (most famous in the U.S. as being “sold down the river)” A child born in 1820 in the Upper South, for example, had a 30% chance of being sold to an owner in the Deep South by the time they turned 30. Obviously this was on the whole less traumatic, and certainly less life-threatening, than initial enslavement, but I would be highly surprised if it didn’t cause some level of elevated mortality.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/benjamingeer/ Benjamin Geer

    Dienekes, where did you get the idea that Rogers Brubaker is a Marxist or a Freudian (or that I am)? Don’t you know how to use Google? Did you even look at the book I mentioned?

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of race and IQ, what do people here think of this?

    http://precedings.nature.com/documents/1293/version/2

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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