The race question: are bonobos human?

By Razib Khan | February 23, 2012 1:05 am

Recently Jason Antrosio began a dialogue with readers of this weblog on the “race question.” More specifically, he asked that we peruse a 2009 review of the race question in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Additionally, he also pointed me to another 2009 paper in Genome Research, Non-Darwinian estimation: My ancestors, my genes’ ancestors. Normally I don’t react well to interactions anthropologists who are not Henry Harpending or John Hawks. But Dr. Antrosio engaged civilly, so I shall return the favor.

I did read all the papers in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology special issue, as well the Genome Research paper. My real interest here are specific questions of science, not history or social science. But I will address the latter areas rather quickly. I am not someone who comes to this totally naked of the history or social science of the race question. I’ve read many books on the topic. And as a colored person who has moderate experience with racism I get rather bored and irritated with excessively patronizing explanations of how racism afflicts us coloreds from white academics (non-white academics who focus on this subject are usually careerists or activists who don’t have to make much pretense toward scholarly substance and can be duly ignored, at least in my experience). The main point which I think we can all agree upon is that colloquial understanding of race has only a partial correlation with any genetic understanding of race. I myself have ranted against the confusions which have ensued because of the conflation of the two classes, and it is certainly a legitimate area of study, but it is not my primary concern. And importantly, I have no great primary interest in battling racism.

 

By this, I do not mean to imply that I support racism, or am personally against battling racism. When it comes to racists, broadly defined, I am not personally a great fan (as can be attested by my pattern of bans and rebukes). And when I say racism, I don’t just mean white people behaving badly. I mean people who express racial nationalist sentiments in a crude and crass manner, and are often inappropriately assertive about the righteousness of their views (e.g., a few commenters have complained that I, an Indian [yes, I’m not technically Indian], should not talk so much about Westerners. Of course I view myself a Westerner, but to a racialist this is simply not even wrong. Naturally this is a chasm in world-views which is not reconcilable. Please note that some “anti-racists” would also agree I am not a Westerner, though mostly because they view that term as referring to evil white colonialists). Nevertheless, when it comes a study of human variation, or history, and the like, my primary aim is to enter into a state of intellectual Epoché. Whether Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, or R. A. Fisher, were, or were not, racists is of minor concern to me. I am not saying that it is irrelevant, but the fixation on racial prejudice is not part of my bailiwick. As I allude to above there are whole departments devoted to the presumed oppression of coloreds by Mighty Whitey, and I leave them to their joyful intellectual romp.

But for many people ferreting out racism is more of a performative act. There’s a big difference between revealed preferences and avowed preferences. For example, most Americans espouse a love of diversity. But they sure don’t love diversity when it comes to who they date. These include many people who I know personally, who are diversity loving progressives, but who seem to fall into the trap of disaggregation. Since I don’t love diversity and don’t care about that issue I don’t bring it up with them often. But it’s what I call a revealed preference. Or, to give an amusing example, I said something offensive in one of my posts apparently a few years back, which prompted one outraged reader to leave a long shocked rant about my racism. The comment was trashed, and the reader banned. Nevertheless, I traced their Facebook account. The individual was a young white professional resident in San Francisco. And, their friends list was visible. I did a quick spot check, and estimated that ~90 percent of their San Francisco friends were white. In contrast, about ~50 percent of San Francisco’s population is white. I’m not going to accuse anyone of racism, but there are quite interesting revealed preferences in the world (I saw this when I lived in Berkeley, where a few times I was the only non-white at a party where people were trashing how little diversity there was in Oregon when they found out that that was where I was from). Most people like associate with “their own kind,” however that is defined.

That’s an observation. Not a judgement. I wish more people would withhold the judgement sometimes. Because I don’t really care about diversity and all the the standard shibboleths common among the progressive set, I do sometimes like to point out the naked emperors here and there. Frankly a lot of the humanistic and social science literature on race strikes me as performative as well. There are some nuggets of truth, but they’re usually trivially obvious. Segregation and genocide are generally agreed upon as bad. When the nuggets of truth are not trivial, they’re often strongly normative. Moral tales told, not positive descriptions of reality. I, for example, do not favor affirmative action, and do not care if academic departments reflect the racial diversity of society at large. This is not a common viewpoint in some circles. If you are on a university campus, I invite you to go look at the headshots of the graduate students in ecology & evolution, and then look at neuroscience. Count the number of Asians. You may see an interesting pattern!

So let’s move to the science. Do races exist in human biology? Is it a useful concept? That depends on criteria in both cases. The reality is that I’m not sure I know what a species is in an axiomatic sense, let alone race (many biologists don’t, that’s why there’s a whole area devoted to studying the issue of the definition). Rather, for me species are evaluated instrumentally. Is the classification of a set of individuals as a species useful in illuminating a specific biological question? Species are human constructions, categories which are mapped upon reality. That doesn’t make them without utility. Many of the same “where do you draw the line?” questions asked of race can be asked of species. In a deep ontological sense I don’t believe in species. But in a deep ontological sense I don’t accept the solidity of a brick (most of the volume is space of any object of course!).

Moving onto specific objections, some observe that genetic variation is clinal. This has a basis in fact, more or less. But the distribution of grades is also clinal. Nevertheless, professors generally look for “natural breaks,” and then distribute A’s, B’s, and C’s, accordingly. In concrete terms groups like the Tuareg and Uyghur are equidistant between West Eurasians and Africans and East Asians, respectively. But look at the map of the Old World’s population density. The variation in gene frequencies may be clinal, but that ignores the reality that the genetic clusters themselves have different weights varying as a function of space. The Tuareg are few. The “donor” populations on either side of the Sahara are many. If you want to look for “natural breaks,” you look to the empty spaces, where there will be populations, but very few.

Additionally, there is the question of history. We know that the Uyghur are a new population, which emerged in the past 2,000 years due to admixture between a resident West Eurasian population, and Turkic groups. We know this both through genetics (decay of linkage disequilibrium) and history. There is also a great deal of circumstantial evidence that the West Eurasian forebears of the Uyghurs, the Tocharians, were long distance migrants from the west. So who were the indigenes of the Tarim? It may be that due to the local ecology the center of Eurasia has long been relatively underpopulated in relation to the peripheries, with the emergence of new lifestyles (e.g., oasis agriculture, nomadism) resulting in the ethnogenesis of groups which arose recently to occupy the midway position between Europeans and East Asians.

This does not mean that I believe that before 5,000 BC the gene flow between East Asia and Western Eurasia was zero. Rather, I think there are lots of data which imply that it was simply very low (the East Asian admixture among Tatars in Russia, and the West Eurasian admixture among Mongols, both show evidence of being relatively recent, due to the rise of horsemanship). This is in contrast to the more genuine cline and isolation-by-distance you see from Europe down to the Middle East, and to a lesser extent South Asia. Actually, until recently I would have said into South Asia without qualification, but I am now convinced that South Asia itself has been the scene of an admixture event of huge scope within the last 10,000 years.

Much of the discussion that Jason Antrosio alludes to discusses the problems which have emerged from hypothesis based admixture inference programs, such as Structure, frappe, and Admixture. The main issue is that many people read them naively. This includes people in the academic community. But this does not mean that no one understands the problem. I’ve talked to evolutionary genomicists who have complained about the misinterpretations, and I am quite aware of the artifacts which can flow out of the software. Anyone who has used Admixture knows very well the problems. For example, South Asians often emerge as a distinct cluster, but the research above indicates that they are a stabilized hybrid! This is why I told some of Antrosio’s commenters to be careful about hitching their wagon to isolation-by-distance and clinal variation; there is some evidence that many of the world’s populations extant today are the product of relatively recent hybridizations between previous rather distinct groups. There’s no need to invoke Platonic original races. Rather, it may simply be that in the random lottery of cultural adoption some groups invented agriculture, and replaced many populations which exhibited a clinal variation.

And that’s the key: racial typologies are coarse reflections of genuine history. In other words, race is a reflection and reification of genuine lower level dynamics, it is not the prior phenomenon. This sidesteps many of the technical complaints which arise in the papers Antrosio linked to. I can quibble with them well enough though. For example, figure 2 in the Genome Research paper relies upon a rather shitty (in relative terms) genetic relatedness statistic, IBS, in my opinion. Don’t take my word for it, play around with data sets in Plink and you’ll see what I mean. It tends to be history-blind. My parents, who are South Asian, but with a non-trivial East Asian component, are often clustered with a host of other South Asians who also have non-trivial East Asian components. This is a real result, but it ignores the history that all that is common across these individuals is a particular admixture pair. It’s not a “real” cluster, reflecting real shared history.

A more interesting concern is the fact that in most trees non-Africans tend to be on their own branch, while Sub-Saharan Africans tend diversify into distinct basal branches. The question ensues: are Sub-Saharan Africans several distinct races? Using evolutionary history as a measure I would say yes! This is definitely one area where social expectations have led us astray. It turns out that it may be that the Bushmen/non-Bushmen separation is only 1/3 as long ago in the past as the Neanderthal/modern human separation. In fact, the Bushmen may predate, and not be part of, the “Out of Africa” event. Along with the Pygmies and Hadza there seems to be a very ancient differentiation between the agriculturalist and hunter-gatherers in the African continent.

For me these details of history are fascinating. But going back to normative concerns: is there a worry that Bushmen will be dehumanized if it is understood that they are not part of the modern human expansion event circa ~80,000 years before the present? Unfortunately, I don’t think that science matters much in this case. The Bushmen have been dehumanized for hundreds of years. The Pygmy of Central Africa have also been dehumanized. All without science. An understanding of our evolutionary history is informative, but I doubt it is the prime motor for the great injustices of history. The 19th century race science which modern biologists and anthropologists revile (to a great extent, rightly) did not give rise to the race system of the West. Look at the history, and you see that its genesis predates Darwin by decades. Science may have been a supporting argument, but this was thesis looking for talking points.

The Bushmen are human. The Bonobos are not. Why? I don’t think it has been definitively proven that modern humans and Bonobos are not inter-fertile. Granted, the separation between the Bonobos and humans are about two orders of magnitude greater than Bushmen and other humans, but there is some evidence that Bushmen have admixture from archaic lineages diverged nearly 1 million years into the past, pushing elements below a magnitude! Where do you draw the line? Species are a typological concept, but usually as a pure categorical typology the class is useless. Rather, it’s a tool, a framework. What you do with a tool, well, that’s a different thing altogether….

MORE ABOUT: Human Genetics, Race
  • http://www.scribd.com/doc/74944514/ Robert Dole

    “Normally I don’t react well to interactions [with] anthropologists who are not Henry Harpending or John Hawks”

    What about Cochran? Isn’t he an anthro?

    Also,

    “most of the volume is space of any object of course!”

    Ahem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_star

  • marcel

    1) This is a real result, but it ignores the history that all that is common across these individuals is a particular admixture pair. It’s not a “real” cluster, reflecting real shared history.

    Please elaborate. I am not certain that I understand this. What is the difference between a shared history and sharing an admixture pair? Do you mean that the admixture pair has occurred on a number of occasions over time, and that in some sense, each occurrence was historically meaningless, while a shared history involves (perhaps) 2 populations coming together at a certain point in time and (at this point my desire for being very clear exceeds my vocabulary, so I may make some mistakes) a hybrid population is the result?

    2) In fact, the Bushmen may predate, and not be part of, the “Out of Africa” event. Along with the Pygmies and Hadza there seems to be a very ancient differentiation between the agriculturalist and hunter-gatherers in the African continent.

    Again, please elaborate, esp. the 1st sentence. In what sense does any population group predate or not predate an event? Do you mean that at the time of the OoA, there were only (roughly) two distinct groups in Africa: Bushmen, Pygmies and Hadza on the 1 hand, and another which included the emigrants, and that all the other differences we now see among African populations were entirely non-existent at the time? That is, looking backward, the group from which the OoA emigrants came from was (a) then relatively homogenous and (b) the only other population in Africa then with descendants in Africa now?

    3) Granted, the separation between the Bonobos and humans are about two orders of magnitude greater than Bushmen and other humans, but there is some evidence that Bushmen have admixture from archaic lineages diverged nearly 1 million years into the past, pushing elements below a magnitude!

    I think there is a word missing in the 2nd part of this sentence, but not sure, and again I am not clear what you intend to say (I have a bad cold and may be unusally dense this morning).

    4) I doubt that you need readers’ huzzahs, though feedback is useful. That said, this is a nice summation for the posts and discussion last week and the week before. Thank you.

    5) In the next 5 years, do you think there is any chance that you’ll be able to return to the more frequent posting that was typical before this? (To play on Sarah Palin’s phrase, “How’s that sleepy-resty thing working out for you now?”) ;-)

  • Bobby LaVesh

    To answer the title question; obviously bonobo are not human because they are a distinct breeding population with whom human can not produce viable offspring.

    As to the question of race and human diversity. If we were looking at any other species there would be many scientists who wouldn’t hesitate calling us different “sub-species”.

    Look at elephants for example- we are told there are two different sub-species of African elephant because they have slightly different physical traits and live in different locations- rarely interbreeding.

    Or look at the scores of species/subspecies of corydoras catfish- many are called different subspecies for a slight patterning on their skin and living in different rivers- despite any evidences of significant genetic difference.

    Based on the logic that we have slight physical and genetic differences and until recently had “mostly” distinct genepools with little intermingling; if we were any-other animal we’d be called seperate subspecies.

    It seems silly though, in respect to humans to label ourselves thus. It would certainly be a dangerous terminology to use- even though it wouldn’t imply superiority of one “sub-species” over another- some would take it to mean that and it could be used politically and socially to undesirable effect.

    It is obviously useful in some manners to classify things as “species” and “subspecies”, “breeds” and “race”; but, as you point out, there is no hard line as to what those mean- they almost seems subjective and un-scientific “terms”.

  • marcel

    Another question.

    The Bushmen are human. The Bonobos are not. Why? I don’t think it has been definitively proven that modern humans and Bonobos are not inter-fertile.

    I am familiar with the species concept of race (it’s about the only one I know and understand), so I understand this statement. I don’t know how it is consistent with a piece of the current wisdom on human evolutionary history. That is that humans diverged from the chimp/bonobo line ~ 6 million years ago, but that sometime after that (~4 mya?) some major interbreeding between the two lines occurred, interbreeding that must have been fertile or would not have left traces in our genes. Were humans and chimp/bonobos not yet distinct species when that occurred (else, otherwise how the interbreeding that was fertile)? Perhaps this just points up what RZ says, that the words “race” and “species” represent concepts that are intellectually useful for organizing and understanding reality but the actual correspondence to reality is inexact.

  • Bobby LaVesh

    Whereas there may or may not have been no attempt to breed human to Bonobo- there have been between humans and equally distant Chimpanzees- which turned out to be unsuccessful. It is therefore likely the same would be true for Bonobo/human hybrids. We’re obviously very physically different too which would cause problems. (not that dogs of various breeds can’t reproduce).

    We don’t assume human beings and spixi snails are the same species just because we haven’t yet proven we can’t interbreed.

    Neither human nor Bonobo have ever shown interest in breeding with the other; therefore even in the miniscule chance a bonobo and a human could produce offspring (that the chimp/human couldn’t) – we would still be different species. We are completely isolated gene-pools.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    On the subject of revealed preferences in interracial relationships, I really do believe the issue is mainly cultural, not racial.

    Speaking from personal experience, although I mainly dated white women when I was single, I did date two black women.

    One of whom was a Canadian graduate student from a Jamaican background. She confided in me that she didn’t actually enjoy the company of American blacks very much, because they presumed to have some kinship with her that just wasn’t there.

    The other was a young women who grew up in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania with virtually no other black people. She was raised by conservative Republican parents and listened (at the time we were dating) to no popular black music at all. I remember when we went to a local art museum, and I asked if she liked the African art exhibit innocently, she was pretty miffed, because she thought I was assuming she would feel some kinship to African art merely because it came from the continent that (the majority of) her ancestors came from.

    Conversely, here in Pittsburgh, I see a ton of black-white interracial relationships. But it’s the inverse of my own experience – it’s young “working-class” whites of low educational levels who end up in relationships with blacks. Many of them have adopted patterns of dress, speech, and musical interests from black culture. They have the cultural background to make the initial small-talk to get relationships going, something which I lack.

    I think the same system works in different communities. Among Asian-Americans, for example, intermarriage rates are very low for first-generation immigrants, but get progressively higher with each following generation. Among groups with little to no U.S. cultural continuity (like Japanese Americans) intermarriage rates become very high. In contrast, among groups where community is very important, and there is strong religious distinction (like Indian Americans) interracial marriage rates remain quite low. The same system even works for remaining groups of “white ethnics” which have put up the strongest cultural barriers – Hasidic Jews and the Amish most dramatically.

    Just my two cents on the matter.

  • Bobby LaVesh

    Karl,

    I was very diverse in my dating in the long ago world of my single-ness. I dated a girl born on every continent except Australia and Antarctica (although, the girl I dated born in Africa was white).

    I found the difference in culture to be intriguing and what attracted me to them. Strangely though, when I dated girls of different races born in the US the “cultural” differences (*ahem* music, amongst other things) were less intriguing and more divisive.

    In the end, I married a nice boring American white girl and I’m very happy. Race doesn’t matter- but yeah, certain cultural issues can.

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

    3, 4, i have blogged extensively on the issue of chimp-human hybrids. i know of them. my point was that really it is still hard to draw perfect lines. it’s fine if you don’t want to engage with that issue, but don’t pretend that that’s not the issue. most people expect perfect postzygotic intrinsic isolation. but it’s not tested robustly. your usage of elephants does not inspire confidence due to recent work in this area.

  • http://3lbmonkeybrain.blogspot.com/ Mike Keesey

    @Bobby Lavesh (#2), the African elephant populations are now typically regarded as species (Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis), with a primary divergence date around 2-3 million years in the past (but with some subsequent interbreeding). The total amount of divergence time (~5.2 million years) is roughly the same as between us and Ardipithecus. So they’re not really comparable to human races, or even to different species of Homo!

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

    In contrast, among groups where community is very important, and there is strong religious distinction (like Indian Americans) interracial marriage rates remain quite low.

    rates are much higher for 1.5 to 2nd gen. google it.

    and i don’t want to this to devolve into an argument about interracial marriage. my only point was that people disaggregate, but those same people are often quick to wield the racism card. it gets old.

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

    Were humans and chimp/bonobos not yet distinct species when that occurred (else, otherwise how the interbreeding that was fertile)?

    plenty of species produce fertile hybrids.

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

    Please elaborate. I am not certain that I understand this. What is the difference between a shared history and sharing an admixture pair? Do you mean that the admixture pair has occurred on a number of occasions over time, and that in some sense, each occurrence was historically meaningless, while a shared history involves (perhaps) 2 populations coming together at a certain point in time and (at this point my desire for being very clear exceeds my vocabulary, so I may make some mistakes) a hybrid population is the result?

    you got it right. within zack ajmal’s data set non-trivial amounts of east asian admixture are uncommon. because of that my parents and assorted south asians from around the himalayan fringe are clustered together. it’s a cluster generated by the nature of the reference data set, not a common admixture event. a more fine-grained look would immediately highlight that (the donors are subtly different).

    That is, looking backward, the group from which the OoA emigrants came from was (a) then relatively homogenous and (b) the only other population in Africa then with descendants in Africa now

    i’m having a hard time grasping your characterization. my contention is that there is structure within africa, the bushmen and pygmies being the prime examples, which predate the out of africa event. that structure is still there in these two populations.


    I think there is a word missing in the 2nd part of this sentence, but not sure, and again I am not clear what you intend to say (I have a bad cold and may be unusally dense this morning).

    there is possibly archaic admixture in bushmen and pygmies which mixed in from a lineage which diverged 1 million years ago in the past.

  • JL

    The underlying issue about race seems to be whether heritable differences between socially defined races are only “skin-deep” or more profound. However, many people think that if they can show that human races are not valid taxa, then they have also shown that there are no “profound” differences between socially defined races.

    However, these two issues are logically separate, and one does not prove the other. Heritable differences between two populations may be important even if the populations are not different subspecies. Conversely, even if two populations are different subspecies, their heritable differences may not have real-life significance.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Razib,

    I should have said disproportionately, not quite. I was remembering the data from this study, which does indeed show even after 1.5 generations Asian Indians are disproportionately likely to continue marrying within their group compared to other Asian Americans. Equalizing genders, they come in at 57%, east Asian groups hover around 50%, and Filipinos and Koreans at 35%. The latter two are pretty understandable, as Filipinos are Catholic, and most Korean-Americans are Protestant, meaning there is no religious barrier to speak of. The numbers for Japanese Americans were higher than what I had read from elsewhere however. Regardless, on the whole, you were right, and I should have checked my facts.

    Your wider point is well taken. However, it’s a standard practice in academic, multiculturalism that every white person admit they are racist to some extent. Which is odd, because it’s one of the few areas I can think of in modern culture where the most “politically correct” thing to do is essentially admit you’re a hypocrite. Everyone is of course hypocritical to some extent, but in most areas of modern culture we’re now beyond having ideologies which openly proclaim it to be a good thing.

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

    it’s a standard practice in academic, multiculturalism that every white person admit they are racist to some extent.

    these admissions are often general though. so it makes it a lot more anodyne. though i have seem specific admissions of instances of racism.

  • Bobby LaVesh

    #9 Mike;
    I suspect genetic and physical differences should matter more as to whether two individuals represent different subspecies than time from common ancestor. Major changes to a population can happen relatively fast. Bonobo and Chimps split less than 2 mill years ago.

    I don’t know if genetically the human races are closer than that of the two African Elephant species or not; that was just the first example which came to mind.

    I know there are also examples of big cats, tigers, etc which were once considered same species but later redefined over some minor difference. Perhaps with time/research I could find a better example than the elephants.

  • Bobby LaVesh

    it’s a standard practice in academic, multiculturalism that every white person admit they are racist to some extent.
    ———————————————–

    Time to invoke Avenue Q. I think everyone is a little bit racist no matter how hard they try. Everyone has some preconceived notion of another group- which even if logically they know is incorrect- the thought will flutter in their minds at times.

  • http://du-cote-de-chez-elysia-chlorotica.blogspot.com/ Hans

    First sorry for my poor English (not my mother tongue).

    So “race typologies” just means coarse reflections of genuine history of the various populations, so “races” are just…..populations.

    I love this definition! And I also love the example of the South Asian populations to illustrate this definition! Thus the Coloured from South Africa are a “race”, in fact every human population is a race because every human population has a history….. I can only agree with a smile and also a slight laugh…..

    But as you already know, in the reality “race” means generally something significantly different and in fact “race” is really a social construct. But I think we should be fair and admit that “the praise of diversity” practiced by those who call themselves anti-racist, is also somehow, a way to make the concept of race a social reality and thus perpetuate the idea that race is an objective reality. And all of this, even though it was probably not the goal of these so called antiracists.

    But it seems to me that Kenan Malik has already explained all this with panache!

    And for the “human-bonobo” thing, even in the case of a possible hybrid there is still a sufficiently large prezygotic isolation to prevent gene flow and thus define humans and bonobos as two distinct biological species. Thus your present analogy is irrelevant.

    I have a lot more to say about this topic but my English is still too bad to get into a lengthy discussion.

    Best regards

  • Doug1

    Razib–

    3, 4, i have blogged extensively on the issue of chimp-human hybrids. i know of them.

    REALLY??????????

    Contemporary ones, or ones in the fossil record etc.?

  • Grey

    “The underlying issue about race seems to be whether heritable differences between socially defined races are only “skin-deep” or more profound.”

    It’s a political (and in practical terms anti-scientific) argument masquerading as a scientific one.

    .
    “On the subject of revealed preferences in inter[social construct] relationships, I really do believe the issue is mainly cultural, not racial.”

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

    “When proximity during this critical period does not occur — for example, where a brother and sister are brought up separately, never meeting one another — they may find one another highly sexually attractive when they meet as adults, according to the hypothesis of genetic sexual attraction (q.v.).”

    You get races because the default preference is racial i.e. genetic, i.e. maximizing genes passed on. It’s *one* very simple and very logical factor.

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

    And for the “human-bonobo” thing, even in the case of a possible hybrid there is still a sufficiently large prezygotic isolation to prevent gene flow and thus define humans and bonobos as two distinct biological species. Thus your present analogy is irrelevant.

    no, it’s not irrelevant. you don’t understand my point.

    You get races because the default preference is racial i.e. genetic, i.e. maximizing genes passed on. It’s *one* very simple and very logical factor.

    don’t pass off shit like this as established science. there are some obvious reasons why this is retarded. you are now a marginal retard in my book ;-) (this comment invites no response comment)

  • marcel

    Follow up questions.

    RK wrote in response:

    ME: That is, looking backward, the group from which the OoA emigrants came from was (a) then relatively homogenous and (b) the only other population in Africa then with descendants in Africa now

    RK: i’m having a hard time grasping your characterization. my contention is that there is structure within africa, the bushmen and pygmies being the prime examples, which predate the out of africa event. that structure is still there in these two populations.

    On further thought I realize that I was trying to get at the following (and I may be trying to read to much in to your original statement, repeated here at 2).

    1) Is there other structure within Africa today that predates the Out of Africa Event? It appears from your response that the answer is “Yes”. Can you mention a few examples that I can google for more info. It appears that you mentioned this one example because it is the most prominent/well known.

    2) Below is a list of things that I understand to be facts, leading up to my question. Please correct any errors, and I realize that as a result, my question may be nonsensical. (iia and iib are not facts but speculation).

    i) Anatomically Modern Humans (aka homo sapiens sapiens: HSS) appeared sometime between 80Kya and 200Kya, most likely in the Ethiopian highlands.

    ii) Modern day humans descend almost entirely from this population, with traces in the genome from other, older, human groups (species?) — Neanderthals in Europe and western Asia, (including the Middle East), Denisovans further east in Asian, Melanesia, and descendant populations (Polynesia, the New World).

    iia) I don’t know how this relates to Aboriginal Australians at all.

    iib) Presumably with further study, we will find a similar pattern in African populations, almost entirely HSS with a bit from whatever was around locally when the HSS arrived on the scene, rather than purely descended from HHS.

    Q: Are you suggesting that the Bushmen, Pygmies and Hadza may be largely descended from populations other than HSS? Or that they have a larger genetic contribution from other populations than appears to be typical for other humans?

  • Niklas

    Very interesting, and refreshingly clear and open, on a subject plagued with intellectual close mindedness, sensitivity and adopted (avowed) correctness.

    And I sincerely agree about the desperate and urgent need to try and open up the issue and differentiate, between societal and scientific (genetic), perspective on race, as well as the present from the history.

    In some ways it maybe would be beneficial, and perhaps a much needed shake up of our own self-image, if humans an bonobos could indeed produce hybrids.

    I do wonder what the public reaction around the World would be, to such a news… the case with the neanderthal interbreeding, was probably to abstract, and to far back in the mist of time I think, even if there do exist modern literary excursions into the matter ;-)

  • Grey

    Last comment.

    “don’t pass off shit like this as established science”

    Obviously it couldn’t be established science could it?

  • Jacob Roberson

    The question ensues: are Sub-Saharan Africans several distinct races? Using evolutionary history as a measure I would say yes! This is definitely one area where social expectations have led us astray.

    You say “us” thinking as a Westerner. I’m making it up here, but I’m guessing Sub-Saharan Africans already had that idea in their “social expectations” – already not distinguishing entirely by color.

  • Francois Demers

    Superb writing. In general, scientific discourses avoids sentences starting with the pronoun “I” lest they be interpreted as opinions.

  • Eddy

    Granted, the separation between the Bonobos and humans are about two orders of magnitude greater than Bushmen and other humans, but there is some evidence that Bushmen have admixture from archaic lineages diverged nearly 1 million years into the past, pushing elements below a magnitude!
    ________________________

    Sorry if I’m misunderstanding this but, are you saying that Bushmen are genetically equidistant from other humans to bonobos?

    Perhaps you’re attaching too much significance to the archaic admixture if this is the case. I always thought the difference between bonobos/chimps was 20-30x larger than the difference between the human races.

  • Kiwiguy

    ***racial typologies are coarse reflections of genuine history.***

    Out of the papers in the symposium, John Relethford’s paper “Race and Global Patterns of Phenotypic Variation” made this point quite effectively. Relethford also made the point that labels are imposed on underlying continuous variation all the time in everyday life. People can do this with the realization that they are somewhat fuzzy (eg. mountains & hills, bald, not bald etc).

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

    You say “us” thinking as a Westerner. I’m making it up here, but I’m guessing Sub-Saharan Africans already had that idea in their “social expectations” – already not distinguishing entirely by color.

    no shit, should i take into account the opinions from planet zorkon?

    Sorry if I’m misunderstanding this but, are you saying that Bushmen are genetically equidistant from other humans to bonobos?

    you are misunderstanding.

  • Henry Harpending

    In #1 Robert Dole says “What about Cochran? Isn’t he an anthro?”

    Hawks and I let him right up to the door but we don’t let him in.

  • Justin Giancola

    ^ Are you espousing “occupationist” views? :o

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

    Thank you, Razib, for continuing the civil engagement and writing a very thoughtful piece here. I’ve learned a lot from these exchanges and I’m grateful for your review, even as you have a lot on your plate, and I’ve also appreciated your intervention in the comments.

    I find a lot to agree with here, from “the main point which I think we can all agree upon is that colloquial understanding of race has only a partial correlation with any genetic understanding of race” to the idea of species: “The reality is that I’m not sure I know what a species is in an axiomatic sense, let alone race (many biologists don’t . . .)” Both of these statements seem very helpful in relation to the previous comment thread.

    I would also endorse a historical understanding that “the 19th century race science which modern biologists and anthropologists revile (to a great extent, rightly) did not give rise to the race system of the West. Look at the history, and you see that its genesis predates Darwin by decades.” It is absolutely the case that people were dehumanized long before biologists and anthropologists ever arrived, and that race systems were formed out of the economic-political conditions, not handed down from science.

    I also do appreciate your warning to anthropologists and some others “to be careful about hitching their wagon to isolation-by-distance and clinal variation.” It could very well be that there were clinal groups replaced by others. However, I think we will also be seeing even more fine-grained complexities as more data emerge. As I quoted from Dienekes: “Tree models are orderly and well-behaved. It would be great if people behaved that way, because the math would be easier. But, 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” (Latent admixture causes spurious serial founder effect).

    For me, as a non-user of Admixture software, I’ve found the term “admixture” appropriate to describe some of the findings about Neandertals and Denisovans, and perhaps also with archaic African lineages. However, I would volunteer that many of the other processes that get called admixture are just “normal” human life and reproduction. I could be wrong, but it’s just hard to imagine too many cases of very complete genetic replacement of agricultural peoples for hunter-gatherers: if it wasn’t complete in the Caribbean and Australia in the last 500 years, it doesn’t seem like there would have been many instances of complete replacement in the ancient world. And while I might admit “admixture” terminology as appropriate for the trans-Oceanic contacts and migrations in the last 500 years, I’m not entirely convinced this initiated a qualitatively different era than some of the earlier movements across Eurasia, or as John Hawks put it “past populations had incredible dynamism across Eurasia” (http://johnhawks.net/node/28142).

    As a professor, I found your analogy to grades intriguing, that “professors generally look for ‘natural breaks,’ and then distribute A’s, B’s, and C’s, accordingly.” It certainly is nice at the end of the semester to find some “natural breaks,” but I find this end-of-the-semester clumping exercise to be quite artificial. It would be much easier–and more accurate–to report out the percentages. More often than not I have to resort to the idea of “you have to draw the line somewhere.” Moreover, I would not want to start believing the C’s form any kind of “natural group”: some students get that grade by doing C-level work thoughout, others because they combined good-and-bad work, others because they did exceptional in some areas and chose to slack off in other places. So while it is indeed true that people clump clinal realities all the time, I’m not sure that’s always the smartest idea.

    Thank you again, Razib, for the engagement and a post that can hopefully be a reference for people across various disciplines. I may try at some point to make some comments about racism and inter-racial marriage, but at the moment must get back to… grading.

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

    What do you think of the book “Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth” by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle? Perhaps a review of that book could be a good topic for a blog post?

    http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/race-finished

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

    #33, i don’t have time to review every book ;-) at this point i feel that ‘race: scientific myth/reality’ arguments are in the realm of rhetoric.

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

    “Tree models are orderly and well-behaved. It would be great if people behaved that way, because the math would be easier. But, 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” (Latent admixture causes spurious serial founder effect).

    i don’t disagree with dienekes at all.

    I could be wrong, but it’s just hard to imagine too many cases of very complete genetic replacement of agricultural peoples for hunter-gatherers: if it wasn’t complete in the Caribbean and Australia in the last 500 years, it doesn’t seem like there would have been many instances of complete replacement in the ancient world.

    you’re confusing the qualitative with the quantitative. a replacement of 90-99% is replacement genetically.

  • omar

    #33 that book has been reviewed by “American Scientist” and the review is PC run wild, so I am not holding my breath about the book either. The review has been posted on 3quarksdaily with an appropriately endearing picture of 3 different races under one blanket. I posted a link there to this page and the NOMA page but I dont expect most readers there to get the point (I like the blog and write for them every month, but its a very University liberal oriented blog so you really have to be MUCH gentler than Razib likes to be, if you want to penetrate their defenses). If anyone is interested in this “teachable moment” you can head over to http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2012/02/race-finished-the-debunking-of-a-scientific-myth.html

  • Martin M.

    “Most people like associate with “their own kind,” however that is defined.”

    Quite. There’s an interesting anecdote from the filming of the 1968 Planet of the Apes:

    “Speaking of eating arrangements, here’s an interesting bit of trivia for the sociologists: Despite the fact that some of the actors knew each other [offscreen]…they never sat together [at lunch]. For whatever reason, actors always gathered with the actors who looked like they did. So chimpanzees sat with chimps; gorillas with gorillas.”

    cite: http://fieldingonfilm.com/wp/?p=1596

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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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