Non-overlapping magisteria for the social and biological?

By Razib Khan | February 14, 2012 8:26 pm

Most of you know that Stephen Jay Gould proposed ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ for science and religion. I don’t care much for the framing myself, though neither am I on the same page as Sam Harris and company. But I thought of this model when reading this comment below:

Kind of a tangent, but I think it gets slippery considering which construction is more “real.” We tend to come at it as the “reality” being genetic ancestry upon which a socially constructed (“not real”) conception of race is sloppily mapped. However, I get the social science perspective that the socially constructed race is the category that is often much more “real” — it is the lived experience of everyone in that group. If you are visibly black (or white) and part of that community, then you “really” are black (or white) in many, many ways that matters, whether you’re 90% African or 0%.

In the context of the topics we mainly discuss here — population genetics, medical genetics, etc — genetic ancestry is “real” and social race categories matter less. This is why I’m mostly in favor of letting social science have the word “race” and would really push for biologists to use better-defined terms (like ancestry).

It’s a mistake to say that human artifice is “less real” than genetics, it’s context dependent. I recognize that the social construction of race is a sort of unrefereed crowd-sourced attempt at deriving ancestry, but as we start to divide causal factors into social / biological aspects of race, this mapping is more of a hindrance than a help. A first step is to stop using shared language to discuss them.


This all sounds reasonable, and some of the points are of course factually correct (e.g., racial identity as it is lived is a real thing, irrespective of one’s genetic heritage). And to some extent I implicitly accept the idea that social and natural scientists should use differing language; I often use terms like ‘population’ when I could just as well use race. As I said, for me the key is not the language, but the set of propositions you do, or don’t, accept.

But consider this: will social scientists stop citing ‘Lewontin’s Fallacy’ in the near future? I doubt it. Biological science has prestige and privilege, and social scientists will naturally attempt to integrate biological arguments when it serves their interests. Additionally, those social scientists who reject scholarship which focuses on the intersection of the biological and social sciences, such as evolutionary psychology or behavior genetics, have to use biological language as best they can. This is due to the fact that in the hierarchy of disciplines biology is more fundamental than the social sciences. By analogy, a biologist who rejected the utility of models and methods from chemistry really needs to address chemistry on its own terms. If they don’t do this, usually the skepticism of chemical reductionism reverts to vague assertions of complexity and emergence in biological systems. Some cultural anthropologists address this point frankly by rejecting the categorization of their discipline as science.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Science
  • Sandgroper

    I reject their discipline as science too.

    I’m generally not in favour of the word police, or of the hijacking of a perfectly OK biological term, but I do take the commenter’s point here. It is such an accepted proposition among the lay public that race is a social construction, that when I use the same word to refer to biological reality, I get this sort of horrified recoil reaction. I think using different terminology really does help to avoid this, and the confusion in the lay pubic mind between the social and biological concepts of race.

  • http://www.parhasard.net/ Aidan Kehoe

    ‘It is such an accepted proposition among the lay public that race is a social construction, that when I use the same word to refer to biological reality, I get this sort of horrified recoil reaction.’

    Not the *lay* public; the lay public believed and believes this all the time. It’s the humanities-educated public who have problems with it, and it’s a disservice to the lay public to let them continue their disdain for anyone who uses the word to denote biological reality.

  • whosyourboi

    ‘This is due to the fact that in the hierarchy of disciplines biology is more fundamental than the social sciences. By analogy, a biologist who rejected the utility of models and methods from chemistry really needs to address chemistry on its own terms.’

    I think the social sciences would find some exception with this. it’s true that social scientists often draw from biology which often draws from chemistry, then physics then mathematics but this certainly doesn’t mean that there is a hierarchy of disciplines: mathematics just produces a lot of tools which are useful in all disciplines (often skipping steps in the ‘hierarchy’) and physics, chemistry and biology arrange in that order because of the scale of the phenomena ehich they study. I don’t see how astrophysics, for example, contributes to chemistry.

    Finally when we look at the social sciences we can see that they often examine phenomena which require little or no grounding in natural sciences (linguistics, social anthropology, political science, economics). Although biology has useful inputs to these studies so does chemistry, physics and even psychology or sociology. The same is true for biology: My professor gives the example of a disease. In many ways a disease is a biological phenomenon (a pathogen, it’s interaction with human cells and bodily systems etc.) but it is also a social phenomenon (symptoms, treatments etc.) these can not be disentangled.

    I don’t think the model of a hierarchy of disciplines (except possibly in terms of a funding hierarchy) is a helpful one because it suggests that as you go deeper (i.e. towards maths) you get closer to reality, while in many ways you are getting more abstracted from reality. if a phenomenon (in this case ‘race’) is real any discipline then it is real.

  • 4runner

    The “Lay Public” apparently believes that “race” implies taxonomic distinctiveness on several levels that just aren’t verifiably there. This *excessive* taxonomic distinctiveness is indeed a (false) social construct.

    One can persist in contending that the word “race” is an appropriate designation for human populations that have some degree of taxonomic distinctiveness, or one can recognize that the word as understood by most hearers simply means something different and come up with a different term that accurately expresses the desired concept appropriately.

    Indeed, the fact that users of the term “race” continue to insist on being misunderstood by their listeners leads one to question their motives. Consider a physicist walking using the term “quantum leap” to designate the smallest possible unit of advancement. One could charitably consider the physicist to be more concerned with showing off than with communicating with other humans. Less charitable characterizations are of course also possible.

    I’m afraid that many of those less charitable characterizations apply to those who persist in using the word “race.”

  • Thomas Haverford

    “It is such an accepted proposition among the lay public that race is a social construction, that when I use the same word to refer to biological reality, I get this sort of horrified recoil reaction.”

    I’m sure you’ve seen/heard of this: http://mrctv.org/videos/brainwashing-norway-part-vi-race

    Cochran’s interviewed alongside a bunch of reality-decoupled Norwegian social scientists. It’s fascinating.

  • John Roth

    I kind of agree that it’s best to avoid using the word “race.” When I’m talking culture I tend to use the word “sub-culture” and when I’m talking biology I suppose “population” is appropriate.

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com miko

    There will always be social scientists who maintain a hard line denial of the relevance of biology to any feature of society and culture. And there will always be scientists who will claim that social constructions of race are “false categories” or “not real. I do think that the revolution in genomics in the last decade in particular are making the former position untenable for intellectually honest social scientists.

    Anyway, I don’t know why biological scientists have any attachment to the term, as it is likely to cause confusion and is completely superfluous to discussing human biological diversity. I also think the “biology of race” has a troubled and embarrassing history that is best acknowledged and remembered, but not necessarily constantly brought to mind. Our goal is to explain how human diversity is important, not to invoke horrible miscarriages of the past. I know some people think this is pandering, but just as we hold contemporary social scientists accountable for the excesses of postmodernism in the second half of the 20th century, human biologists are likewise held accountable for their own, earlier disasters. There is a tendency to blithely move on from those disasters, explaining them away as products of their time or “bad” science or based on limited data.

    So I don’t think I was making a NOMA argument, more like — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — a “framing” argument. Yes, I am an accommodationist with respect to the social sciences, if not religion. I’ve not thought particularly carefully about most of this, so feel free to argue me out of it.

  • candid_observer

    In the end, we use the terms in various contexts that reflect important underlying beliefs in those contexts.

    I think, for example, that “Hispanic”, as it is now utilized, is a product of the blank slate assumptions of social scientists. It “works”, for now, because it reflects the assumptions of basic equality across all human groups, and makes a distinction from other groups along the only considered relevant: culture.

    But the ultimate problem with this is, of course, that those assumptions are false. Regarding the very social dimensions considered to be important, such as educational attainment and economic success, it fails to capture what’s relevant to different outcomes. The point is, even for — indeed especially for — socially important traits, it confuses rather than distinguishes what’s relevant. I don’t see how the social usefulness of the term “Hispanic” continues past the clear recognition it fails to capture essential distinctions.

    When the paradigm finally turns, and consequences of HBD are fully recognized, people will start caring — perhaps even more than they should — about ancestry. The term “Hispanic” will simply fall apart. They will want to know about admixture.

    I don’t think that development will be entirely positive. But it’s something mankind will, in the fullness of time, need to undergo.

  • marcel

    About that hierarchy of disciplines thingy. This should be used carefully. The borrowing of ideas has gone more than one way, with Darwin leaning heavily on both Adam Smith and Malthus.

    http://www.google.com/search?client=opera&rls=en&q=darwin+and+adam+smith&sourceid=opera&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&channel=suggest

    http://www.google.com/search?client=opera&rls=en&q=darwin+and+malthus&sourceid=opera&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&channel=suggest

    It may be too soon to tell, but Darwin’s borrowing from economics appears to have been much more fruitful than any borrowing of economists from the natural sciences, which, SFAIK, outrank economics (a mere social science) in the hierarchy of disciplines.

  • RKU

    Well, it seems to me that the social sciences already have a perfectly good word—“ethnicity”—so I can’t see why they should be given the word “race” as well.

    Anyway, so much of what they factually claim is such sheer and total nonsense, that the misuse of words is the least part of the problem. Giving them the word wouldn’t solve anything.

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com miko

    “Giving them the word wouldn’t solve anything.”

    It’s not a contest, it’s about using language that is less likely be misunderstood because of its historical baggage, willfully or otherwise.

  • Charles Nydorf

    As a linguist, I think of linguistics and other social sciences as branches of biology. These social science branches involve very sophisticated , very complex and very incompletely understood kinds of biology that are so different from biology as it has evolved up to now that they can be regarded, for the present, as autonomous disciplines. The ultimate goal, though, is the integration of social science into biology.

  • marcel

    I thought the penultimate ultimate goal was the integration of biology into chemistry, with the ultimate goal being the integration of chemistry into physics.

  • candid_observer

    “It’s not a contest, it’s about using language that is less likely be misunderstood because of its historical baggage, willfully or otherwise.”

    With regard to the word “race”, I don’t see that historical baggage constitutes any fundamental obstacle to its ultimate use as reflecting biological distinctions.

    To begin with, the word “race” is simply too endemic to our discourse to simply go away. The only real question, I think, is its settled definition.

    Paradoxically, the very fact that race, a defined by ancestry, captures divisions along socially important dimensions — which is, in an important way, the very thing people find objectionable and therefore seek to deny — is precisely why it’s probably ineradicable. Perhaps “population groups” sounds today less objectionable, but, used popularly, it would come to have the same negative connotations over time for the same reason as did “race”.

    But as I said, I don’t expect the term “race” to be retired from usage anyway, although I can see how it might not be used explicitly much for a while in a transitional period between paradigms. Once it is widely recognized that HBD implies the very sorts of differences in fundamental dispute these days, the return of the term to its biological meaning is going to be the least of the problems facing the blank slaters. The historical baggage is just going to have to be dealt with however it might be.

  • RKU

    Let’s put scientific accuracy off to one side and instead focus on ideological politics and human psychology.

    Once a powerful ideological framework has suffered its first major break, it cracks and crumbles much more easily, so getting that first large break is the crucial thing.

    Current orthodoxy says that “race” is a social construct, without biological basis. Yet spending ten minutes examining genetic scans demonstrates that this is totally false. As an objective scientific notion, “race” is nearly as real as “height.”

    Now it seems to me that demonstrating the total falsehood of a major element of what all those prominent academics have been spouting for about sixty years is something pretty significant, basically showing they’ve spent generations telling everyone 1+1=5, which just isn’t true. Offhand I can’t think of a single one of their other numerous falsehoods which is so utterly easy to demolish.

    Once this has been accomplished, vast numbers of neutral observers say “Whow! So many influential people were lying about something so obvious for so many years! I wonder what else they’ve been lying about…” And the boulder starts rolling down the hill, gathering speed at every step…

    Avoiding the concept of “race” because dishonest people have dishonestly claimed that it doesn’t exist is like folding your poker hand when you have a Royal Flush…

  • Kiwiguy

    ***Avoiding the concept of “race” because dishonest people have dishonestly claimed that it doesn’t exist is like folding your poker hand when you have a Royal Flush…***

    Those dishonest types are rather aggressive about defending their position. Witness the hostility towards Nicholas Wade by people like Jonathan Marks or on this anthro blog post and the other sites it is linked to.

    “But however much I disliked that quote and that moment, we do have to remember it came from Nicholas Wade. In the panel, Daniel Segal called Nicholas Wade for what he is: a pseudo-science journalist, who will call anything “science” as long as it validates his race-as-genetic interpretations, and will condemn as “interpretivist” anything that points out how race is a social classification scheme. That “race is not an accurate or productive way to describe human biological variation” (Edgar and Hunley 2009:2) has been more than validated by the AJPA issue on Race Reconciled, but Wade pays no attention to this scientific research….

    First, anthropology must stop cavorting with the “false friends” of science. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in the same room as Nicholas Wade, but it may be time to ask for a voluntary ban on further communication with Wade. He is anti-anthropology and anti-science, as his reporting must always fit his genetics-driven agenda.

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2011/11/17/science-in-anthropology/

    The anthro people who tended to use the Lewontin argument are aware they need to keep up with the times and come up with some new arguments.

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2011/12/03/anthropology-on-race/

  • RKU

    “Daniel Segal called Nicholas Wade for what he is: a pseudo-science journalist, who will call anything “science” as long as it validates his race-as-genetic interpretations…race is not an accurate or productive way to describe human biological variation”

    Wow! That’s pretty dishonest. I’m not in the field, so I didn’t realize.

    But if those dishonest types will fight you so fiercely about 1+1=5 after all these years, they’ll fight you just as hard about anything else significant. So you might as well take your stand at your strongest position.

    If you run from the Devil, he’ll catch you from behind.

  • candid_observer

    Thanks, Kiwiguy, for those links. They do really give one a fair sense as to how the anthropology community is attempting to cope with new genetic studies as they come down the pike. Obviously, it’s not very pretty.

    One of the things that strikes me about the issues involved is just how few people are in a real position to appreciate the overview on the race/IQ issue, for example. One ideally would have a background in psychometrics, genetics, statistics, and evolutionary biology, and, to make intelligent observations on the social and moral implications, some political science and even philosophy as well. But who knows all this range of material? I have probably described the empty set. Virtually every commenter on these issues seems to come up short in one area or another when attempting to make broad statements regarding the implications of the current science.

    This problem is especially acute because the very first thing that is said in response to any claim that there’s a connection between race and IQ, or that there’s any social consequence of such a connection, is that one is not an expert in discipline X, so how can one possibly have a right to hold a position on the matter (and, if one does do so, it can only be because of “racist” prejudices). Of course, that is never held to be an issue on the opposite side of the question.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    I would ask the readers and commenters of this blog to review the research presented in the special May 2009 issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology titled “Race Reconciled: How Biological Anthropologists View Human Variation.” All of the contributors are biological anthropologists. All of them are quite familiar with “Lewontin’s Fallacy.” But they all come to quite different conclusions than at least some of these comments.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.v139:1/issuetoc

    I do try to review this material on my own blog which has been linked to above. However, my own entries are aimed at anthropologists in the context of the meetings of the American Anthropological Association, and are aimed at a journalist who has been incredibly hostile to anthropology, and who has never reviewed or considered the arguments presented in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

    I also did try to review–in a more lay public fashion–some of the articles in this special issue, and their implications. Given the overt hostility toward the social sciences running through this comment thread, it is probably not in my interest to provide a link, but this was my attempt:

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropology/race-reconciled-debunks-race/

  • gcochran

    Are you trying to say that Pygmies can’t be short for genetic reasons? Because they are. Let me guess: you’re saying that they can’t be dumb for genetic reasons. But that’s just as possible.

  • candid_observer

    Jason,

    I skimmed your post which summarized these articles. I couldn’t see anything that came to terms with the fact that the traditional 5 or so races really do cluster apart on their DNA. I’m not even sure why this DNA finding should be surprising, given that the races mostly reflect populations that at least would seem to have been geographically well separated over long periods of time; basically, DNA markers of the relevant kind do little more than keep track of such separations between populations.

    What’s really the underlying argument of these anthropologists? That the populations weren’t really separated over long periods of time? That, even if they were, there wasn’t sufficient time for any important differences to develop? Obviously, such differences as skin color had time to evolve independently; on what theoretical or empirical ground should we believe that there couldn’t be sufficient time to evolve differentially on other kinds of traits?

    Could you try to make the argument in some basics that we might all understand? What is the overall scheme these anthropologists are proposing such that they believe that race defined by either DNA clustering or patterns of geographical separation just doesn’t hold up, or just can’t have any important consequences?

    I should think that these are pretty basic questions. What are the answers these anthropologists offer up?

  • Sandgroper

    Jason, trying to group people by ‘skin colour’ is not science. I’m not surprised you found this debunked race.

    If you take someone who is of 3% Australian Aboriginal ancestry and try to group him genetically with Oceanians, you will also debunk race, despite the fact that Aboriginal is defined in the law and that this person can meet the legal definition without difficulty if he wishes to. Or not if he so wishes. People who are 50% have less choice, they are visually clearly identifiable, claimed and classified, used and abused, whereas modern science says such a person is biracial and his own man.

    However, I am not allowed to say biracial, because you don’t understand what it means. In any case, I am not permitted to use it in relation to people who are claimed as Aboriginal, even though that may be unhelpful and misleading for medical purposes.

  • Onur

    Biological races are assigned, just as in subspecies, according to the amount of ancestry, not according to any legal norm. A person whose ancestry is overwhelmingly or fully from a certain race belongs to that race, some small admixture from other races does not make someone racially hybrid in a biologically meaningful sense. If someone has admixture from other races in an amount high enough to be visually clearly identifiable without any doubt, then he/she can be classified as racially hybrid. It is that easy.

  • Antonio

    23 really? And what defines a given human race as such? I forgot to define the very basics …

  • Onur

    #24

    We are talking about two different things. I was telling how people are assigned to biological races in a scientifically meaningful way, you, on the other hand, are asking me the definition of biological race. But as you asked me, I will give you a simple and short definition for biological race: groups of humans that are firmly anchored in, but not necessarily fully descended from, a certain major genetic cluster. By major genetic cluster, I mean genetic clusters that form through isolation from the others for thousands of years. By being firmly anchored, I mean being at least overwhelmingly descended from.

  • Grey

    “Biological science has prestige and privilege”

    That’s the key point imo. If biologists start using the term the average person will – rightly (rightly) or wrongly (wrongly) – give them more credence than the people who’ve been saying race is a social construct for decades and those people will look very silly (and dishonest).

    On the other hand race as a word was a neater fit to its intended meaning in the past when it was commonly used to describe a lineage or a tribe / nation as well. The word used needs to be seen as as variable in scale as “population.”

    On the other, other hand after sixty years of inquisition some squealing seems justified.

  • Antonio

    24 that’s greek to me ( and I don’t read it); we have a pca plots where people are arranged along with an continuum, from say the South of Africa to West Eurasia to East Eurasia: where do you draw a line (or a plane or a hyperplane) ? Based on what evidence? I am not saying there is no difference among them, but since it is essentially a continious space how to scientifically choose cut-offs?

  • Onur

    Based on what evidence?

    Consistency in the results of innumerable number of independent genetic studies with all sorts of different methodologies.

    I am not saying there is no difference among them, but since it is essentially a continious space how to scientifically choose cut-offs?

    The racial clusters that over and over show up in innumerable genetic studies are robust and impossible to deny. The major racial clusters such as the Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid clusters are easily distinguished from each other with the true methodology and sampling. This makes inference of racial admixture levels a fairly easy task. So, for instance, we calculate how much a Hispanic person is descended from Europeans, Native Americans and Africans almost perfectly.

  • Antonio

    “for instance, we calculate how much a Hispanic person is descended from Europeans, Native Americans and Africans almost perfectly” Obviously true but it doesn’t make these references populations difference races, With enough resolution, we can slipt almost any populations into subsets but it doesn’t make them different races. You not answering my question.

  • Antonio

    I am sorry but I have the impression that you don’t follow the stats behind these technologies: clusters are not race. To be very clear: I am not dying the very existence of clusters nor the some populations are more related than other. I am only asking how can you tell these make up a difference race; how do you draw clear divisions between neighbor populations.

  • Onur

    Obviously true but it doesn’t make these references populations difference races, With enough resolution, we can slipt almost any populations into subsets but it doesn’t make them different races. You not answering my question.

    Genetically distinguishing British and Germans or British and Iranians are vastly different from genetically distinguishing British and Chinese. There is no more or less uniform and smooth genetic continuum between all human groups: people of different races are genetically much more different from each other than people of the same race are geographical land distance being equal. The racial clusters (not the sub-racial ones) that constantly show up in genetic analyses are among the most robust findings of the decades of population genetics research. The three major ancestral constituents of Hispanics, namely, Europeans, Sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans are indeed members of different races, that is why they are separated from each other so easily and perfectly.

  • Onur

    I am sorry but I have the impression that you don’t follow the stats behind these technologies: clusters are not race. To be very clear: I am not dying the very existence of clusters nor the some populations are more related than other. I am only asking how can you tell these make up a difference race; how do you draw clear divisions between neighbor populations.

    Read my previous post.

  • Antonio

    I don’t know why you keeping talking about hispanics. This is a toy example because they came from 3 very different ancestral populations and thus you can claim they are made up of three different races. Yet, it still not obvious that each of these populations constitute a difference race. Take the Africans: there is more diversity in there than in almost the entire rest of the world: are they one race or many? What about Eurasia? How can you provided cut-offs? Are Turks a difference race from Germans? And Iranias? And Russians? And whatever? More generally, when is a distance large enough to count as race? And distance from which populations? You might be distant from one populations but not to others. So who decides? You? One said science decides but I cannot see how: science traces similarities between groups, lineages, levels of homogeneity, etc. But the race cut-offs, the divisions seems to me, in the limit, arbitrary. It will dependence on the choice of reference populations – and the assumptions that they are different enough to count as races – as in your toy example. Cheers,

  • Onur

    Antonio, I provided my definition of biological race above. It is scientifically the most plausible definition I’ve seen. BTW, there are often hybridization zones not just between races, but also between subspecies. Existence of hybrids does not nullify the existence of races and even subspecies.

  • Sandgroper

    “This is a toy example” – no, it’s an excellent example, because they are a set of admixed populations, and genetic analysis is very helpful in identifying the ancestry of those populations. It’s also a good example of a social construction of a ‘race’ which is not in biological terms.

    “Take the Africans……are they one race or many?” – they plot very distinctly as a cluster separate from Eurasians, East Asians, Amerindians and Oceanians. If you do more fine grained analysis on that group, then you can observe population substructure which is very informative. If you plot African Americans, you see that they span between the African group and the Eurasian group, depending on the amount of Eurasian admixture in the individuals.

    “What about Eurasia?” – they plot as a cluster distinct from Africans, East Asians, Amerindians and Oceanians. If you do more fine grained analysis of that group, you can observe population substructure which is very informative.

    “Are Turks a difference race from Germans? ” – You mean now?

    “when is a distance large enough to count as race?” – clear, distinct clusters on a PCA plot that correlate with non-trivial traits. By trivial, I mean that what you refer to as skin ‘colour’ is trivial (except when considering potentially important issues like e.g. Vitamin D deficiency in individuals with low skin reflectance who now live at high latitudes); traits of e.g. important medical significance are not trivial.

    “So who decides?” – clear, distinct clusters on a PCA plot that correlate with non-trivial traits.

  • Antonio

    35 I agree with it all basically. But you still don’t provided me a cut-off … basically from the fact that humans are genetically distincts in some non-trivial sense – are they ? – there is no clear evidence of well define races. Unless I share your own ideologies that is what I am left with.

  • Sandgroper

    I don’t have an ideology, and I don’t have an axe to grind. I am a Civil Engineer concerned in everyday life with technical issues, and this has nothing to do with how I earn my living. It is very much an ongoing small part time casual interest for me because it has sparked a desire to know and understand human origins, coming from a background of zero formal education in the biological sciences.

    I have some Australian Aboriginal ancestry, but do not claim Aboriginal identity because it would be a lie, and because that would make me an undeserving recipient of social assistance that is badly needed by real Aboriginal people, not ‘white Abos’ with their stupid pseudo-cultural posturing and money grabbing – although I had frequent positive contacts with Aboriginal people when I was young, I grew up in culturally white society and, as Onur has pointed out, I do not qualify by ancestry as racially Aboriginal – my Aboriginal ancestry has no particular significance. I have in no way been disadvantaged by it. It makes me happy, for probably irrational reasons that I can’t easily explain, some sense of ‘belonging’ to the country in which I was born, and some sense of connection to people who formed part of my childhood landscape about which I have affectionate memories and ongoing good relations, but I also know that it’s no big deal in scientific terms, and that these ‘connections’ are illusory.

    I came to this subject 9 years ago believing Lewontin, but because my young half-Chinese daughter was suffering low self esteem and very unhappy – she had been subjected to racism from both sides from the age of three and a half, when she was singled out for racist treatment in front of her peers by her kindergarten teacher. I came seeking answers that might help her understand who she is, because the social constructions were causing her deep unhappiness, and I wanted to know the truth, in the belief that science might help her. I was deeply suspicious of the science, or at least the motives of the scientists. I am no longer. Science dispels the prejudices and insoluble conflicts which society constructs.

    My daughter is now a prize-winning student of Human Biology who will be majoring this year in Biochemistry and Genetics. Science has dispelled the self-esteem problem – she now has absolutely no difficulty with the fact that she is biracial because she understands very well what it means, and what it does not mean. She is one of the few truly bicultural people that I know. Her interest now is in the medical applications of Genetics, which she wants to pursue as a career, because she is driven to help her fellow man in a tangible way. If you ask her for a definition of race, she will give you one, no problem, and she will also give herself as an example of a racial hybrid between Eurasian and East Asian, and explain what that means in terms of genetics, and its medical significance. Ironically, she is now ‘claimed’ by both sides as a beautiful, intelligent and successful person. She disposes easily of the occasional person who still tries to subject her to racism because she knows that scientifically their prejudices are baseless, and are a social construction.

    Your assertion of ideology is offensive and without foundation. Not everyone is ideologically driven.

  • Onur

    Antonio,

    First a clarification: I gave you the Hispanic example to show the contrast between the estimation of European, Native American and Sub-Saharan ancestries and the estimation of, say, British and Italian ancestries. Sandgroper understood why I used the Hispanic example, but apparently you did not.

    Back on topic, biological races are by definition below the rank of subspecies in that races are biological groups that are somewhat less isolated than subspecies are. Difference between race and subspecies is not much clear, but, in general, hybridization zones of races tend to be larger and/or separation times more recent than those of subspecies. I think the reason why the major human groups show race behavior rather than subspecies behavior is that humans, especially humans of the last few ten thousand years, are highly mobile animals. Homo sapiens sapiens populated every continent on Earth except Antarctica in a very short time by animal standards.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Dear “Candid_Observer” above,

    Thank you for skimming my blog-post, but I would prefer to have this discussion on the basis of reading actual research. For your concerns the most relevant articles are

    Long, J. C., Li, J. and Healy, M. E. (2009), Human DNA sequences: More variation and less race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139: 23–34. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21011

    Hunley, K. L., Healy, M. E. and Long, J. C. (2009), The global pattern of gene identity variation reveals a history of long-range migrations, bottlenecks, and local mate exchange: Implications for biological race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139: 35–46. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20932

    Please let me know if you do not have access to these articles. I will admit the arguments in these articles are complex–perhaps we can persuade Razib Khan to do a review?

    As I understand it, we can indeed ask computer software for five clusters, which will basically (no surprise) correspond to major continental groupings. But why stop there? The software can deliver as many potential clusters as we specify–five, seven, 47. Many of these will reflect geography, but some will be more complex. As Dienekes put it in a recent review of later material by some of these same authors: “People aren’t laboratory mice that follow predefined paths in a maze: they mix with their neighbors, they split and move forward, but sometimes, they split and move backward. Hopefully, H&H’s paper will lead to an increased appreciation of admixture in the human story” ( http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2011/09/latent-admixture-causes-spurious-serial.html ).

    The other issue here, and this gets more to the point of the research cited above, is that these emergent clusters are not exactly what people traditionally understand as completely separate groups, in “that the diversity in non-Sub-Saharan African populations is essentially a subset of the diversity found in Sub-Saharan African populations” (Long et al. 2009:23).

    Moreover, and perhaps most strangely, “a classification that takes into account evolutionary relationships and the nested pattern of diversity would require that Sub-Saharan Africans are not a race because the most exclusive group that includes all Sub-Saharan African populations also includes every non-Sub-Saharan African population” (Long et al. 2009:32).

    Thank you for reading. Again please let me know if you do not have access to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.v139:1/issuetoc

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Dear Sandgroper,

    Thank you for your comments. I would never seek to group or classify people by skin color! I only use the example and draw on this research:

    Relethford, J. H. (2009), Race and global patterns of phenotypic variation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139: 16–22. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20900

    because there are still some who believe human skin color clusters rather than exhibiting a classic clinal variation.

    I believe the examples you cite are exactly why social scientists have argued that “race is a social construction.” There seems to be a lot of confusion in the comment stream about what that argument–which admittedly turned into a shorthand mantra–was really meant to convey. To spell this out more clearly, it is that the categories we socially recognize as race are at best a crude approximation of actually existing human biological variation. The argument was never meant to deny human biological variation, or even to deny that this variation might cluster. But what this argument does emphasize is exactly what Razib Khan says about the comment that began the original post: “This all sounds reasonable, and some of the points are of course factually correct (e.g., racial identity as it is lived is a real thing, irrespective of one’s genetic heritage).”

    For example, historically different states in the U.S. tried to come up with different legal measures for classifying “black” individuals. Some states used 1/16 ancestry, others 1/32, others the “one drop rule.” So the same person biologically speaking could change official race classification by crossing a state line. And, as you know from your example, there can be quite different life chances and expectations depending on those social classifications.

    A similar issue emerges with “mixed race” individuals. The U.S. has traditionally followed hypodescent, which is to assign those individuals the race status of the least socially desirable category, although there were some historical moments when a separate “mulatto” category seemed to be emerging, and there has been some change in official designations in recent years. However, in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, mixtures were often assigned to new categories. In some countries this became officially celebrated as the creation of a new “mestizo” identity, and there was talk of the wonders of “hybrid vigor.”

    All this is to say that when social scientists say “race is a social construction” it is precisely to call attention to the cross-society, within-society, and historically variable nature of socially-politically-legally assigned racial categories. It is not to deny the real and important biological differences among and between human beings, although it does indicate that traditional race grouping is “a culturally constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real variation” (Relethford 2009:20).

    Thank you for reading. It seems from your understanding of the Australian system that you are quite familiar with what can be a vast difference between legal and social race assignation and actual variation.

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

    I will admit the arguments in these articles are complex–perhaps we can persuade Razib Khan to do a review?

    i’m game. very busy with baby and other concerns now, but feel free to ping me in a month if i haven’t gotten to it.

  • Onur

    Jason,

    Ten thousands of years have passed since the effective separation of non-Sub-Saharan Africans from Sub-Saharan Africans. This is quite a long time for the formation of races among non-Sub-Saharans that are distinct from those of Sub-Saharans. Indeed, this is what decades of genetic research shows us: clean and very easy genetic separation of Sub-Saharans and non-Sub-Saharans from each other except in the hybridization zone.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Dear Razib,

    Many thanks for considering a review of these articles. And congratulations!

    I’ve written a bit about my experiences in this comment stream at

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2012/02/18/race-is-a-social-construction/

    You may not agree with my interpretation–at all!–but it is written in a spirit of collegiality and if you do read it I hope you will take it as such.

    All the best,
    Jason

  • candid_observer

    Jason,

    Thanks for the response. Actually, I don’t have access to the journals you mention, so that getting it would be useful.

    With regard to the other point you mention, if I understand it, I’m not sure it implies the conclusions you seem to be hoping people might draw from it.

    It is, of course, in some sense arbitrary how many clusters the software might be directed to find, and so the number of “races” so identified might be likewise arbitrary. (On the other hand, there are fairly standard rules of thumb that are applied in the technique of principal components to determine how many such components are useful to extract, depending on how much further variance gets explained. Insofar as the curve in the additional variance explained reaches a “knee”, then further principal components are typically discarded. In the case of the relevant genetic variance in this case, it is, as I recollect, at 5.) But the important question isn’t how many races, exactly, we should settle on, but whether they provide some useful categorization of the human species at a high level.

    And, again, as I understand your point about sub-Saharan populations, that too rather misses the larger point of the potential usefulness of the concept of races. Let’s suppose it’s true that some sub-Saharan populations actually split off from remaining sub-Saharan populations earlier than did the population that emigrated from Africa who became the ancestors of all human beings on every other continent (presumably this is the real underlying meaning of the result you mention). Isn’t that, actually, a very good argument that, even within a continental area with no major physical obstacles to travel, it’s quite possible for subpopulations to remain effectively distinct genetically for many tens of thousands of years? And isn’t THAT a very good argument that evolution across continents effectively could go quite distinct ways, quite possibly engendering very different outcomes in those distinct geographical regions (or even subregions, as your very example seems to demonstrate)?

    It would be interesting indeed to find that subSaharan Africa really comprehends more than one “race”. But how does that affect any of the larger questions of interest in this domain? Given that all subSaharan groups occupy what are, at least apparently, not terribly different surrounding environments, with, one might presume, not terribly different selective pressures, it wouldn’t be surprising if all groups would evolve in roughly similar ways (though there are, say, the pygmies). But it also seems pretty fair to say that groups who resided out of the tropics, and, for example, developed agriculture, might have encountered very different selective pressures, with very different outcomes.

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

    It is, of course, in some sense arbitrary how many clusters the software might be directed to find, and so the number of “races” so identified might be likewise arbitrary.

    do any of your guys use this software? it uses e various statistical techniques to see how many K’s is the best fit. though as you say, PCA is hypothesis-free.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Hello candid_observer,

    I appreciate your interest in this material. Please send me an e-mail to jason@livinganthropologically.com and we can work on ways to get you access to the original research.

    My feeling is we are barking up slightly different trees–I am indeed affirming the reality of human biological variation, and even that this variation can cluster in interesting and meaningful ways. But the traditional category of race–a lot of which emerged from colonial encounters in the Americas–is a “culturally constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real variation” (Relethford, “Race and global patterns of phenotypic variation” 2009:20).

    Again thank you for your consideration and please send an e-mail about getting research.

  • Sandgroper

    I notice you are less polite to/about commenters here on your own blog than you are here. Sorry for the disappointing experience.

    “I am indeed affirming the reality of human biological variation, and even that this variation can cluster in interesting and meaningful ways.” That is what we are talking about, and the fact that when the lay public are persuaded to believe that “race is a social construct” (which should actually be “construction”), they take it to mean exactly that, including when biologists try to talk about the importance of biological race for non-trivial traits; their reaction is to think that the biologist is some kind of racist throw-back, rather than someone who is being scientifically objective and who is trying to tell them something that could be important.

    That is what we were discussing, and whether biologists should voluntarily give up the perfectly good term ‘race’ because it has been misused so widely by so many for so long, to the point that it has lost its true meaning.

    Nobody here is talking about “traditional categories of race”, i.e. in the pre-genomics era, when we talk about the biological definition of race in this context, at least not in any comments that get past Razib.

    So if people were being honest and informed, they would say “race is a social construct except when…..”

    But no one is going to say that, so I vote in favour of Miko’s motion – scrap it. My concern is even if we use different terminology, people will still not believe that the reality of human biological variation exists because of the success of the Lewontinites and the propaganda slogan “Race is a social construct.”

    Some of us have had a lifetime of bad experience from the social constructions of race, which is what I was trying to point out, but we do not wish to be impeded in the communication of important information from modern science, or branded as racists because people don’t understand what we are talking about.

    I really do think that if you had at least skimmed about 10 years’ worth of this blog + GNXP, your experience might have been a little less disappointing. To characterise the commentary as about as bad as every other blog is pretty unfair in my view, when many of us know each other and know where we are coming from.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Dear Sandgroper,

    Thank you for the polite reply. When I wrote that in my blog-post, I did not mean to refer to my interactions on this site, which have indeed been quite polite, and I made the over-generalizing statement about comment streams everywhere. This was more related to surveying the blog-climate across the web than it was to this site, and so I have edited my original post. I also had not been aware of how many comments Razib has to keep off the site, which did make me more appreciative of the discourse here. I apologize.

    I understand your contention that from within biology, “race” is a perfectly good term. I hope you will understand the concern that for the past 200 years or so race has been not just a misused term, but a terribly destructive basis to justify slavery, genocide, and inequality.

    If it is any comfort, I have also urged anthropologists to drop the term “culture”:

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2011/02/17/doubling-down-on-culture-in-anthropology/

    Although the term “culture” may be a perfectly good one within anthropology, it has been so misused in its popular manifestations that every time an anthropologist uses it, it is likely to be misunderstood. Of course, this is not abandoning the *concept* of culture, which needs as much defense as ever, but to recognize that the term is now misused beyond repair and whistle-blowing efforts. This may sound familiar?

  • marcel

    Been away for a couple of days, so not sure if this comment thread is still alive.

    I wrote a long comment, and then realized that it was so long that perhaps I should get my own blog. So I scrapped it for this:

    The argument about the word race reminds me of nothing so much as my 87 year old father’s bemoaning the change in the meaning of the word “gay”. Politically, he supports gay rights, gay marriage, etc., but he resents that the primary meaning of the word is no longer lighthearted and happy. Its colloquial meaning has changed. There are other words whose meanings have changed since he came of age, and he complains about many of them, but this is a particularly good example for what I want to say.

    Race has a colloquial meaning and a scientific one. That racial definitions change with borders and over time does indeed make it a social construct, at least in the way it is used colloquially. People using the term colloquially have often used pseudo-scientific evidence, often supported by prominent scientists of the day, to horrifying effect. People who object to the conflation of the 2 meanings, and also insist on retaining the use of the word in scientific discussions or in serious discussions of the science, will, if successful, have to live with an unintended consequence — at a minimum, avoidable confusion about the implications of the science.

    Insisting on keeping this word in scientific use reminds me of my father and the word gay, and of (the popular image of) King Canute, trying to command the tides. The word has a colloquial meaning. For a long time — decades? centuries? — what passed for science meant that there was no distinction between the colloquial and scientific meanings. The science has moved on. So has popular usage, but it has not kept up. Until it catches up, if it ever does, trying to retain the word for science will lead to more heat than light. (I am writing from a US perspective-English language perspective, but I don’t think the limitations of my point are that severe.)

  • Sandgroper

    Jason, yes it does, but I will probably continue to use it because it gives innocent people no offence, whereas I intend to discontinue using the word race.

    I do encourage you to browse some past posts and commentary.

    While I think of it, and because John doesn’t accept comments and I don’t wish to bother him with emails, congratulations to John Hawks on his appointment as HMMI Fellow.

  • Kiwiguy

    **I understand your contention that from within biology, “race” is a perfectly good term. I hope you will understand the concern that for the past 200 years or so race has been not just a misused term, but a terribly destructive basis to justify slavery, genocide, and inequality.***

    Moralistic fallacy?

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

  • Sandgroper

    K1w1 – You think so?

    “The moral optimism of anthropology can change the world”

    “Anthropology documents human possibility and creativity to effect change. See Anthropology and Moral Optimism for free PowerPoint download.”

    I knew one anthropologist ‘working’ in Australia who used ‘fieldwork’ among western desert Aboriginal groups as a cover for having sex with young Aboriginal girls. No doubt his argument would have been that what he was doing was in conformity with their traditional practices, and that “they can teach us a lot”.

  • Sandgroper

    I obviously did not recount that as a general accusation. But I knew, or knew of, more than a few anthropologists who were really just exploiting Aboriginal people in one way or another, and of others who were really manipulating their findings to represent Aboriginal people as something they were not.

    My point is that anthropologists are in no position to assume they have the high moral ground.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ Jason Antrosio

    Dear Sandgroper,

    This is at least the second time in this thread that you have at best skimmed what I have to say and then misrepresented it. It is obvious from your comment #22 that you did not read what I wrote, or you would not have attributed to me a desire to group people by skin color. You have asked me to have “at least skimmed about 10 years’ worth of this blog + GNXP” before making any general commentary, yet you have not in any way reciprocated.

    I am in no way assuming the moral high ground. By pointing out that race has been used to justify slavery, genocide, and inequality, I am simply making a factual observation about historical occurrences. More than a few anthropologists were involved in such justifications, and I claim no moral high ground for myself or for anthropologists as individuals.

    If it is indeed true what you wrote that “Nobody here is talking about ‘traditional categories of race’, i.e. in the pre-genomics era,” then I am quite puzzled why we are having this conversation at all–would not you have wanted to run as far away as possible from terminology that almost everyone hears as pre-genomic and is associated with events like the Holocaust?

    With regard to my website slogan–“the moral optimism of anthropology can change the world”–I will readily admit this is a slogan and is designed as an internet announcement. The reasoning behind the slogan is to promote what anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot said about anthropology: “anthropology as a discipline is the best venue through which the West can show an undying faith in the richness and variability of humankind” (Global Transformations 2003:139). This is not a defense of anthropologists past or present, nor a claim to moral high ground, nor is it an assumption that what is “natural” is also good (the moralistic fallacy Kiwiguy accuses me of), but urging anthropology to document human possibility, creativity, and variability.

    If you would actually like to read more on the reasoning behind the slogan, please see

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropology-powerpoint/moral-optimism/

  • Kiwiguy

    # 52 ***K1w1 – You think so?***

    #54 ***nor is it an assumption that what is “natural” is also good (the moralistic fallacy Kiwiguy accuses me of), ***

    The moralistic fallacy as I understand it, & Matt Ridley calls it, is the reverse naturalistic fallacy: The leap from ought to is. So bad things have happened because of gender so there are no gender differences, or there should be no racism so race doesn’t exist.

    I think the likes of Peter Singer and Steven Pinker have written about how you can avoid this type of fallacy while also recognising individual rights and dignity.

  • candid_observer

    Jason,

    To begin with, many thanks for your offer to provide me access to the anthropology articles — I’ll email you shortly so that you can send me what I may need.

    I took a look at your explanation on your web page about the meaning of “moral optimism” in the context of anthropology. I can see how, strictly speaking anyway, there may not be, in the context of anthropology, an inherent contradiction between the pursuit of the truth as a scientist, and a commitment to the kinds of moral goals you exhort anthropologists to embrace.

    But I do seriously wonder how those two overarching goals reconcile themselves on a practical basis.

    Let’s suppose that the finding of anthropology is that different populations of human beings evolved for lengthy periods of time quite separately from each other. Suppose further that the finding of anthropology is that one group is fairly significantly different from another in terms of their distributions of a number of measurable traits, some of which have great significance in modern society (such as certain cognitive abilities). And finally suppose it is well established that those distributions are largely due to differences in genetic distributions.

    What is the morally optimistic point of view anthropology should adopt, if these are the facts from which it might need to work? My own take on these circumstances is that it would be unfortunate indeed if these were the facts determined by science. I feel optimistic that mankind would ultimately find a way to deal with those facts which would, in fact, embody an enlightened morality. But I should think it pretty obvious that we would live in a far better world were the belief in equality in socially important traits across all groups a true one. Insofar as we must deal with a world embodying such basic inequalities, it seems to require more than anything else a resignation to some unfortunate luck. Yes, there would be “variability”, all right, but nothing that we would likely be in any mood to celebrate.

    So I do wonder what it might mean for a “moral optimism”, in your sense, to work with such potential facts.

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

    #56, the papers are here: http://www.gnxp.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/race.zip (i read ‘em, will react with time)

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ anthro_apologist

    Dear Kiwiguy,

    Thank you for the reply. First please note my name change. I decided if I am going to continue my sojourn on this site, I need a new moniker. Difficult to have an equal discussion with the likes of “Sandgroper” “Kiwiguy” and “candid_observer” if I have to use my real name. So you may still call me Jason if you prefer, but I think my new moniker reflects my position on this site as a defender of anthropological approaches. As I mentioned to Sandgroper, however, I am not here to defend any individual anthropologists or to take a moral high ground.

    With regard to the moralistic fallacy, I followed your link to Wikipedia and responded from there. But even using Ridley’s definition of the leap from ought to is, I fail to see the relevance to what I observed. I am very simply making what I believe is a historically non-controversial point that the idea of race has been used to justify slavery, genocide, and inequality. I am not saying the idea of race was causal–in fact, it was probably most often used as an ex-post-facto justification. Nevertheless, traditional race categories were very much used as a justification. If I combine that with what Sandgroper wrote above, that “Nobody here is talking about ‘traditional categories of race’, i.e. in the pre-genomics era,” then my simple question is why you would at all feel compelled to retain the terminology, especially given these historical associations. Again, I fail to see the relevance of any ought to is leap.

    I am interested that you bring up Matt Ridley. In Matt Ridley’s book “The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture,” Ridley writes “It is genes that allow the human mind to learn, to remember, to imitate, to imprint, to absorb culture, and to express instincts. . . . Somehow the adherents of the ‘nurture’ side of the argument have scared themselves silly at the power and inevitability of genes and missed the greatest lesson of all: the genes are on their side” (2004:6).

    As I understood it, I didn’t think the Matt Ridley approach–how nature turns on nurture–was what the site was about, although I could be mistaken. Not that I’m a big fan of Matt Ridley–as I explain in an overview of “Human Nature and Anthropology,” Ridley’s “laundry list” approach to human nature doesn’t seem very coherent or intellectually satisfying:

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropology/human-nature/

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ anthro_apologist

    Dear candid_observer,

    First a thanks to Razib for uploading the files.

    Anthropology as an academic discipline was born relatively late, roughly 1880s-1930s, during an age of colonial expansion often justified by racist ideas. By the time anthropologists visited peoples in Australia, the Kalahari, or the Amazon, most indigenous societies had already been quite in contact with Western powers, sometimes with devastating effects. Nevertheless, anthropologists have documented that people–even under very adverse conditions–have responded creatively to these circumstances and can have fascinating languages, complex kinship patterns, as well as an enormous knowledge of plants and non-human animals.

    If you read Charles Mann’s book 1491, which Razib very helpfully links to here, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/09/10-questions-for-charles-c-mann/ you will find an incredible documentation of the achievements of native peoples in the Americas. These people were called “savages” and said to be unfit for the modern world and said to be deficient in “cognitive abilities,” and yet they were obviously able to create rich and varied societies.

    Please don’t misunderstand–I am not saying everything native is good, or romanticizing the past, or saying any other way of life is better than our own. But we can be quite confident that those people who have so often been denigrated, left out, and subjected to miserable treatment can nevertheless have quite a lot of experience, wisdom, and understanding in the world.

    So, if indeed every one of your “unfortunate facts” were discovered about a particular population–and I really have to wonder, is that what you are searching for?–we would still have quite good grounds for attempting to develop and encourage human potential rather than–well, what would you suggest exactly?

  • Kiwiguy

    ***Nevertheless, traditional race categories were very much used as a justification. If I combine that with what Sandgroper wrote above, that “Nobody here is talking about ‘traditional categories of race’, i.e. in the pre-genomics era,” then my simple question is why you would at all feel compelled to retain the terminology, especially given these historical associations. Again, I fail to see the relevance of any ought to is leap.***

    I don’t know, could you make the same argument to do away with terminology referring to Jews, Catholics & Muslims, or males and females?

    The relevance of the moralistic fallacy is that you acknowledge above that within biology race is a perfectly good term. But because it has been misused for destructive ends so the term should not be acknowledged. Putting it another way: racism ought not to happen so race is not real (that seems to me to have been Lewontin’s motivation – although he was challenging the meaning rather than simply the terminology). Maybe I’m stretching the meaning of Davis’ phrase – another example of the moralistic fallacy Steven Pinker refers to is the Seville Statement on Violence.

    In terms of the terminology it doesn’t really bother me, if you refer to population groups, races or otherwise.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ anthro_apologist

    Hi Kiwiguy,

    OK, thank you for the clarification. It is perhaps partly a matter of communication. Race terminology has been used to justify destructive activities and is associated with those activities. Moreover, Sandgroper says that nobody is talking about traditional categories of race. So why would you want to use this terminology? I’m not really saying you should or should not, ought or ought not, but if you keep talking about race, then please don’t be suprised or offended when others outside your circle continue to associate that talk with either traditional race categories or historical and actual inequalities.

    Hope that makes sense.

  • Sandgroper

    #54 – “a desire to group people by skin color.” I didn’t say you had a desire to, that would be absurd. I said you tried it to see if it could be done, it couldn’t, and I was saying “No surprise.” I don’t know of any modern scientist who is actually trying to represent that it can be done; quite the reverse.

    Yeah, I suggested you get a sense of the level and nature of the long ongoing discussion before just bombing in and making assumptions about the need to deliver a lecture in Slavery & Genocide 101.

    “I am in no way assuming the moral high ground.” Didn’t say you personally were. But you seem to think you need to keep repeating here your reference to history. You don’t. I don’t believe any regular commenter here needs to have this pointed out – we know. I don’t think the sloganising helps to dispel the notion that you could be trying to claim the high ground for anthropology, nor do I understand how you can start out with this kind of ‘mission statement’ and remain fully objective. Nothing is gained by failing to recognize that some traditional practices have been utterly repugnant; it merely serves to conceal and perpetuate them. If you check out civil engineering ethics, you will see that in theory at least we are a pretty altruistic bunch. Maybe we should have a slogan to dispel doubt about that, but I don’t see how you can cram a set of professional ethics and a code of conduct into a slogan.

    “would not you have wanted to run as far away as possible from terminology” – No; call me a naive idealist, but I had hoped that in this era, people could come to understand the meaning of the scientific definition of “race” in the context of modern knowledge about human variation, and that it could sweep away all false constructions, past and present. I truly believe that the truth will set people free, if only they will choose to see it, and that nothing good comes from not recognising the truth. However, I have come to realize that people choose to continue to put false constructions on the word because it suits their purpose, and also that false constructions can cause the word to give offence and be hurtful to people who don’t deserve it. Consequently I intend to scrap it in favour of words which are less brief and convenient, but more self-explanatory.

    I have genuine personal reasons for needing to preserve anonymity. Razib knows who I am, and if I really step out of line, be assured that he will pin my ears back in no uncertain fashion, and that I will accept his judgement. There is nothing sinister in it – it’s not like I’m some fly-by troll.

    I think I’m done. I don’t see any point in continuing to go around and around this. You could no doubt teach me a lot about anthropology, but please be assured that I do not need lectures from you about human potential, or about past abuses against humanity – I had not forgotten them, and I think any ongoing discussion on that is both unnecessary and counter-productive. In any case, I need to get on an international flight and have no more time, so whether it’s done or not, it is. I would look forward to reading Razib’s take on the references some time.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ anthro_apologist

    “I truly believe that the truth will set people free, if only they will choose to see it, and that nothing good comes from not recognising the truth.”

    Dear Sandgroper,

    Perhaps we are more alike than we think. Points taken and I agree we do not need to continue going around and around. I only came “bombing in” because of links to my site which I felt were taken out of context and misrepresented, along with broad-brush assertions and attacks on anthropology. I too look forward to reading Razib’s take on the references at some time.

  • http://www.livinganthropologically.com/ anthro_apologist

    A recent comment on my blog pointed me to this article:

    http://genome.cshlp.org/content/19/5/703.full

    in Genome Research 2009, by Kenneth M. Weiss and Jeffrey C. Long. Long is also a co-author for one of the “Race Reconciled” articles I recommended previously. However, this article has the advantage of being open access and is also specifically related to software packages and issues of ancestry, admixture, and populations discussed in the above comments.

    Although I would welcome Razib’s analysis of the “Race Reconciled” articles, my feeling is that this article is much more pertinent to the comment stream on this post, and I’m sorry I had not seen it before.

    There are many relevant sections to the article, but in relation to the above discussions, I found this quote very applicable:

    “Often there is no explicit accounting for the fact that at some point the parental populations (whether they could be real today, or at any time in the past) must share ancestry with each other, and that the different parental populations ultimately share varying degrees of ancestry. Even if one were to grant that contemporary data only provide estimates of, rather than actual, ancestral parental genotype frequencies, there is no reason to think that there ever were isolated, homogeneous parental populations at any point in our human past. Why do we, even in science, so uncritically accept admixture-based analyses of global samples that give the appearance that human variation is clustered into a few major populations, portrayed in much the same way as classical races? These are not pleasant thoughts, but it is important to learn from history, and sometimes it is valuable to be brought face to face with one’s tacit assumptions or the nature of their underlying rationale.”

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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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Edifying books

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