Richard Dawkins accepts the usefulness of race

By Razib Khan | May 4, 2012 11:57 am

There have been a variety of responses to my column in The Crux on race. To be fair, because the audience for The Crux does not consist of genome nerds I engaged in some first approximations which some readers have taken objection to. For example, the genetic architecture of blue vs. brown eye inheritance is ‘quasi-Mendelian,’ with ~75 percent of the variation in Europeans on this trait attributable to variation in the region of the HERC2 and OCA2 genes. But I thought, and still think, that a rough re-characterization of the trait as a recessive one with a monogenic Mendelian inheritance pattern can be justified for didactic purposes (just like one can justify the idea that whole human genomes have been sequenced, even if there are large gaps, and known errors in regions of repeats).

But the comments over at Richard Dawkins’ website have been rather amusing as a whole. Some people were patronizingly pedantic, and I don’t have time respond in detail (the real response would be: read my blog!). But some comments are easy to answer:

I’d like to hear Dawkins’ response to this, I’ve read all of his books and he’d surely disagree with the author of that article.

Easy. He discusses race in The Ancestors’ Tale (a book the commenter claims to have read):

The African, who was the only black person there – and he really was black, unlike many “African-Americans” – happened to be wearing a red tie. He finished his self-introduction by laughingly saying, “You can easily remember me. I am the one with the red tie.” He was genially mocking the way people bend over backwards to pretend not to notice racial differences. I think there was a Monty Python sketch along the same lines. Nevertheless, we can’t write off the genetic evidence which suggests, all appearances to the contrary, we are an usually uniform species. What is the resolution to the apparent conflict between appearance and measured reality?

It is genuinely true that, if you measure the total variation in the human species and then partition it into a between-race component and a within-race component, the between-race component is a very small fraction of the total. Most of the variation among humans can be found within races as well as between them. Only a small admixture of extra variation distinguishes races from each other. That is all correct. What is not correct is the inferene that race is therefore a meaningless concept. This point has been clearly made by the distinguished Cambridge geneticist A.W.F. Edwards in a recent paper “Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy.” R.C. Lewontin is an equally distinguished Cambridge (Mass.) geneticist, known for the strength of his political convictions and his weakness for dragging them into science at every possibile opportunity. Lewontin’s view of race has become near-universal orthodoxy in scientific circles. He wrote, in a famous paper of 1972:

It is clear that our perception of relatively large differences between human races and subgroups, as compared to the variation within these groups, is indeed a biased perception and that, based on randomly chosen genetic differences, human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals

This is, of course, exactly the point I accepted above, not surprisingly since what I wrote was largely based on Lewontin. But see how Lewontin goes on:

Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxnomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance.

We can all happily agree that human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations. That is one reason why I object to ticking boxes on forms and why I object to positive discrimination in job selection. But that doesn’t mean that race is of “virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance.” This is Edwards’s point, and he reasons as follows. However small the racial partition of total variation may be, if such racial characteristics as there are highly correlated with other racial characteristics, they are by definition informative, and therefore of taxonomic significance.

One minor point: I did not notice in the original reading of this passage that Richard Dawkins comes out against what we in the USA would term affirmative action!

MORE ABOUT: Race, Richard Dawkins

Comments (37)

  1. Darkseid

    it “has no social value” seems weird to say. diversity is a primary goal amongst the left.

    (Razib, the first two links are broken)

  2. Charles Nydorf

    Characterizing the response as ‘patronizingly pedantic’ strikes me as too kind. It looks more like the product of someone whose fixed assumptions about what other people don’t know or haven’t thought about interferes with her ability to read to read their work. Can she really believe that the population genetics community is so ignorant and thoughtless?

  3. April Brown

    That would make a good comedy sketch… I don’t recall exactly seeing Monty Python doing it, but it seems right up their alley. The Daily Show has done some comedy along those lines from time to time.

  4. j mct

    Back in the day they used to say that race only went skin deep (maybe hair color, nose shape… too). The question is how deep does it go, not that it isn’t there. I do not think one has to know even what a gene is to notice that (it’s been pondered for a long time).

    If Dawkins is against AA though, he’s obviously a racist. Everybody knows that if you’re against AA you’re a racist.

  5. Sandgroper

    @April – Comedy sketch? You’re describing my life! 😛

    Well, yeah, could be fair comment.

    Having read those comments, I just quit trying to talk about population genetics sensibly with anyone except my multi-populational daughter. I’m not quitting reading it, just talking about it. I promised Jason Antrosio I would scrap the ‘r’ word – now I’m scrapping the whole bl**dy thing. Every single comment is driven by either ideology, self-interest or both; people’s story changes to suit the circumstance of the attempted discussion, so to hell with trying to talk to them objectively and reasonably.

    Nice essay, by the way – I’ve sent the reference to my multi-populational daughter, in case she missed it. You’ll probably hear the echo of her hollow laughter at some of the comments.

  6. Helga Vierich

    I guess pedantic is fair, but patronizing stung. What’s more it was probably true, because I was upset by some wording in the essay that i felt were misleading, as well as some words and phrases I felt were subjectively slippery. I have publicly apologized for my p and p. Here it is:

    Jump to comment 48 by Helga Vierich
    Comment 45 by razibk “hey, i’m the author of the original article. just a few quick points

    1) not as stupid as some of you make me out to be. on my own blog i’m quite a bit more precise and technical, but the crux is for the general audience. i actually use model based and PCA cluster algorithms in my own work a fair amount, so i’m not describing stuff i know just from reading papers.”

    I was actually delighted to see you join us here, and owe you an apology for saying your article was poorly written. I am sorry about that, and humbly beg your pardon for it. I know it was probably not your fault that the eye colour inheritance chart was put in wrong. Also, it was one of the most difficult kinds of essay to write, given the nature of communicating the methodology as well as trying to skirt the potential minefield of emotions surrounding race.

    I would however like to draw your attention to two passages in your paper that caught my attention, and which I reacted negatively to. The first and most serious is the following passage:

    “….The most famous of these were Neanderthals, but it looks as if they may just be the first in a long list of other ancestors humans interbred with. In fact, some hunter-gatherer African populations, the Pygmies and San, may harbor very deeply diverged ancestry from the mainline African stock. These are hominin lineages which separated from the lineage which led to the “Out of Africa” migration nearly ~1 million years ago, only to recombine in the last few tens of thousands of years with these hunter-gatherers (in contrast, the divergence between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans occurred on the order of ~250,000 years ago)….”

    I have emphasized here a juxtaposition of two sentences which could be taken to mean that Pygmy and San hunter-gatherers were “these hominin lineages” who were the ones which “led to the “out of Africa” migration. The use of “these” at the beginning of the sentence in question is ambiguous. An anthropologist would know what you mean, but would the lay reader?

    The next passage which was of concern was the following:

    “Assertion: Because modern humans are a young species, there has not been enough time for major differences to emerge between populations.

    This is false. 5 to 10 thousand years ago a set of strangely mutated humans arose. They continued to be able to digest lactose sugar as adults, in contravention of the mammalian norm. In fact, humans are the only mammals where many adults continue to be able to consume milk sugar as adults. The rapidity of this shift has been incredible. 5,000 years ago almost everyone in Scandinavia was lactose intolerant. Today, very few are. The area of the European genome responsible for this shift is strikingly homogeneous, as a giant DNA fragment “swept” through populations in a few dozen generations. The literature on recent human evolution is still evolving, so to speak. But it is clear that during the Holocene, the last 10,000 years, our species has been subject to a wide array of selective forces. Lactose tolerance, malaria tolerance, differences in color, hair form, and size, seem to be due to recent adaptations. And because of different selection pressures human populations will evolve, change, and diversify. Our African ancestors left 50 to 100 thousand years ago. If 10,000 years was enough time for a great deal of evolution, then the “Out of Africa” event was long enough ago to result in genetic diversification, which we see around us.”

    I am familiar with the work of Henry Harpending and others involved in this research into recent human evolutionary trends. What you say here is not something incorrect. In fact it encompasses some of the most exciting research in my field and yours. However, what I would contest was the use of the word “major” in the assertion itself, and in your subsequent passage, the use of the phrase “a great deal of evolution”.

    These are subjective terms. You know, as we all do, that there term “major” means something different to a person trying to justify racial stereotyping than it does to a teenager who is lactose-intolerant and under pressure from others to drink a glass of milk everyday (this happened to me, and made me very ill for years). For the person whose medical diagnosis and treatment is helped by discovery that they are more likely to carry a mutation that makes them likely to suffer from Ty-Sachs disease or sickle cell anaemia, the results of recent selection pressures ARE going to seem fairly major.

    I don’t envy you the delicate task of sharing research on genetic variation in humans. There has been such an explosion of information recently and there is tremendous excitement about it. But there is always the darker aspect – the element we cannot avoid if we are going to see this research through honestly, and that has nothing to do with most of the polymorphisms that have been discovered and mapped. And that is the issue of what selection pressures, if any, might have been operating, and still be operating, to change human cognitive functions.

    Again, I hope you will forgive me for being critical. I can just imagine how irritated you must have felt upon first reading some of the comments here. But this is a good place, and most of the people I have talked to on this forum do have their hearts and minds in the right place, even if some of do occasionally rush in emotionally where, to put it mildly, “angels” fear to tread.

    There is another problem with the wording of the passage:

    “….The most famous of these were Neanderthals, but it looks as if they may just be the first in a long list of other ancestors humans interbred with. In fact, some hunter-gatherer African populations, the Pygmies and San, may harbor very deeply diverged ancestry from the mainline African stock. These are hominin lineages which separated from the lineage which led to the “Out of Africa” migration nearly ~1 million years ago, only to recombine in the last few tens of thousands of years with these hunter-gatherers (in contrast, the divergence between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans occurred on the order of ~250,000 years ago)….”

    It could give the impression that the Mbuti and San in fact separated from the “out of Africa lineage” nearly a million years ago. That is actually worse than the other possible misinterpretation.

    I am under the impression that in fact the out of Africa lineage might have comprised some hunter-garthers closely related to the San. Some of the San who were incorporated into Brenna Henn’s sample were from a group call the !Kho, neighbours of the Kua, in the Southern Kalahari, in the region where I did my own fieldwork. I was pretty excited when I found out that the “out of Africa” lineages might have come from this area, as you can probably imagine. The Mbuti might have separated from neighbouring farming peoples some 60,000 years ago.

    I also am not sure how to interpret the phrase “mainline African stock”. Could you clarify this?

    I’m sorry to seem pedantic. This is no doubt due to my advanced age and cognitive handicaps (Aspergers). I often feel awkward in public forums.

  7. Nihaya Khateb

    Rac e is not a social construction it is a scientific reality. Stop modifying science for anthropomorphic purposes.

  8. fs8788

    Of course Dawkins is against affirmative action! I sometimes wonder if what he has against religion is not so much the mythical explanation origins of life and the prescriptive ethics, as charity and humility. Social Darwinism in other words.

  9. Chad

    “I’d like to hear Dawkins’ response to this, I’ve read all of his books and he’d surely disagree with the author of that article.”

    I find this comment very amusing. It demonstrates an over-reliance on Dawkins to do the thinking and a blind following of everything he says.

  10. Nihaya Khateb

    @ Chad: Over-reliance on famous authers in general is a character of some sort of human brains. The blaim is not on the ordinary people, but on these famous people who give to themselves the outhirity to step forwad up to ordinary people . I like the attitude of john Horgan he is very humble big writer. I think that Razib could be a humble big writer if he insest to be “himself”.

  11. Rational Libertarian

    j mct

    What a ridiculous statement. I’m not a racist and I’m firmly opposed to AA. Merit should be the only consideration when choosing an employee (taking the workplace as an example). Race and/or social background should not affect employment.

  12. GlenAppleby

    I accept the usefulness of race becasue it seems pretty much every self-styled anti-racist is not willing to allow me to say I love my race and want to see it survive like every other group on this planet.How can they not be against only my race? How can they not be anti-white?

  13. Helga Vierich’s problems with the original article are quite interesting.

    “I was upset by some wording in the essay that i felt were misleading, as well as some words and phrases I felt were subjectively slippery.”

    “There has been such an explosion of information recently and there is tremendous excitement about it. But there is always the darker aspect.”

    “However, what I would contest was the use of the word “major” in the assertion itself.”

    “There is another problem with the wording of the passage.”

    “I also am not sure how to interpret the phrase “mainline African stock”. Could you clarify this?”

    Her problem is not quite with WHAT Razib said but with HOW he said it. An interesting issue, grounded in the opinion of some scientists (and many social scientists) that the “way” knowledge is communicated (its wordings, its style, et cetera) should be put into the most innocuous, careful, and, perhaps, politically correct terms available. This opinion, in turn, is grounded in the belief that science should be much more ethically responsible for the knowledge it disseminates (which sometimes means tweaking the knowledge itself).

    Just the other day, I was in a conference in which people were challenged not to use the word “poverty” when describing inner city schools. Does using the word change any facts on the ground, one way or the other? Of course not. It’s a matter of semantics, style, and ethics, really. And once we are debating these things, we are no longer debating the facts, the data, the science. We are debating how to present the facts, what to do with the facts . . . We are, in short, moving from the IS to the OUGHT, as Razib has put it elsewhere.

  14. Penguin Aristocrat

    Nuance is often lost in such politically explosive topics. In particular, consider if egalitarian ideals turn out to be based largely on hopes and wishes instead of actual biology. What kind of harsh reality would we be faced with?

    Modern society places stellar emphasis on achievement and cognitive ability, and it seems a bit cruel and unusual to expect that all people should live up to these standards. Many ethical concerns would arise if a person’s perceived failures were no fault of her or his own, but instead were part of a natural order arising from biological circumstance. Would it be fair to punish and denigrate a golden retriever if he fails to be the most productive sled dog? A half-wolf Malamute raised in the tundra does a great job, so why not? It must be the dog’s fault for not trying hard enough, or for having parents with poor standards, or perhaps his Venus transit didn’t align properly with his solar maximum.

    As you can see, it’s not difficult to understand why some egalitarians fear the science behind racial differences and seek to suppress it whenever possible. We can’t know if Stephen J. Gould made an honest mistake or a conscious one when publishing (and then republishing) his infamous book. However, there’s still yet a lesson to be learned: science and idealism cannot coexist unless the ideals coincide with the stubborn facts.

    Dawkins mentions this “apparent conflict between appearance and measured reality”, and I would only add that, in many cases throughout history, the apparent conflict exists only in our minds.

  15. Here’s another quote from Richard Dawkins’ book “The Ancestors’ Tale:”

    “Well, suppose we took full-face photographs of 20 randomly chosen natives of each of the following countries: Japan, Uganda, Iceland, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. If we presented 120 people with all 120 photographs, my guess is that every single one of them would achieve 100 per cent success in sorting them into six different categories… I haven’t done the experiment, but I am confident that you will agree with me on what the result would be.”

    Personally, I think many people would get a few Papuans and Ugandans confused a first glance, although with practice they could come to distinguish them quite well.

  16. Hi Sandgroper (back @6),

    Thank you for remembering our conversation–I do too, and think about it a lot. I thought it a useful exchange, but feel like the whole thing took a giant detour after Jerry Coyne’s piece. Like you, I’ve been tempted to try “scrapping the whole bl**dy thing.”

    One part of Razib’s essay that I haven’t seen much comment on is “Race, the way we have traditionally thought of it, is indeed a social construction” and then followed by “the key issue is to move beyond the term race.” But how many people are willing to agree with Razib on his point #1? And on point #2: Will that be happening anytime soon? I have my doubts…

  17. Sandgroper

    Hi Jason – I have been really paying attention to the way the ‘r’ word is used since our discussion, and in popular (including governmental) usage, it is a social construction, or a whole set of differing social constructions, most of which are highly inaccurate and many of which are potentially offensive or just wrong, and I really don’t blame people for being confused about it. I agree with Razib’s comments completely.

    My science nerd daughter has settled on ‘biracial’ as her preferred self-descriptor – I tried ‘bi-ethnic’ on her, which had her recoiling in disgust, and ‘bi-populational’ just gets a derisive kind of ‘cop-out!’ lip curl from her and confused looks from everybody else, so I guess I’m stuck with that one, just for her sake, and because she uses it accurately and finds it not remotely offensive.

    But otherwise, yeah, it’s gone from my vocab. And now I have given up on even trying to discuss population genetics with anyone except her, because no matter what interesting aspect I try to point out to them in order to try to illustrate the beauty in the science and in the human species, they react as if I’m dragging up a discussion about some ideological or political issue related to ‘r’. Whereas the more she and I have learned and talked about it, the happier she has become about who she is. Which is actually why I started reading Razib’s writing in the first place.

    Oh well, I guess I’m lucky that I can hide in here, and at least I have her to talk to (when she’s not driving me nuts with comparative critiques of Cantonese opera singers and Emmylou Harris). And you, now and again, hopefully.

  18. Sandgroper

    Sorry – I might as well add that my daughter is also anti-AA in any form. A friend recently offered to help to get her into medical school in Shanghai, and she said “Thank you, but I don’t want anything that I can’t get by my own effort.”

  19. Helga Vierich

    Well, Jason, purely on the point of what terms are used, we could try to move “beyond race” substituting “subspecies” and see where that gets us. Or perhaps, we could try getting beyond race by jettisoning the idea that differences even exist on this level. I was not really sure how to square the statement you quoted with the implication of the rest of the piece. Sometimes it feels so odd – on the one hand no one in their right mind could say all humans look identical. There are all sorts of variations in size and shape, in skin colour and hair colour and eye colour and so on. And humans do the typology thing automatically and learn it really well – something that we evolved to do for many reasons having nothing to do with “recognizing race”. Dawkin’s little thought experiment in The Ancestor’s Tale” simply reflects the fact that a lot of people have learned to have a rough idea of what other people in other nations look like. I remember when I read it that it had very little to do with the concept of race at all.

    Acknowledging that human beings can learn a lot of the typologies considered important by their culture does not demonstrate the reality of race, it just demonstrates that people can learn their culture, including the parts of it that creates stereotypical images of people in other parts of the world. We could do the same experiment with dog breeds or horses. I’m sure a lot of people in Canada might recognize a Collie and a Bulldog — but how many do you imagine would know the difference between an English and an American Bulldog, or between an Irish and a Russian Wolfhound? If they were really keen on dogs, yes. Otherwise, no. Same goes for all kinds of detailed knowledge about things: the more a person is interested (or needs to know) about something, the more detailed and fine their recognition of small detailed differences will be. But this knowledge is not evenly spread within a culture. How many people would be able to immediately spot the difference between a Hereford and a Simminthal, for example, or even, given just those two names, even know that these are breeds of cattle? So knowledge of these kinds of things is a)learned and b)uneven.

    This does not mean that most people, given a chance to see a selection of different human faces, or a selection of different varieties of wheat, or just about anything else you can think of, are not going to notice differences that are obviously apparent. However the fact that there are easily visually apparent differences does not mean much from the perspective of scientific taxonomy. Scientific taxonomy has moved beyond this with the advent of genetic analysis. When I say, “moved beyond”, of course, you ought not picture a lightning like change, but rather something akin to a glacier’s advance.

    And so it is with the change from ideas like “race” being abandoned in favour of ideas about human variation that reflect both evolutionary processes (selection pressures in different environments, drift, etc) and the kinds of migrations, adventurous wandering, and trade, all of which seem to have happened pretty much continously throughout the past 100,000 years. The concept of race is grounded in notions of ideal type and purity; otherwise we would not hear talk of “mixed ancestry’ and see geneticists computing what percentage of European vs Indian vs African genes occur in a group – or a person. The assumption that there were at one time in the past, groups isolated enough for long enough, to develop into a set of “pure” types is implicit in this kind of analysis. Yet we really have very weak ground for that assumption IMO.

  20. Kiwiguy

    ***set of “pure” types is implicit in this kind of analysis. Yet we really have very weak ground for that assumption IMO.***

    That sounds like the type of straw man some people arguing against the existence of human races often use.

  21. Karl Zimmerman

    Arguments could easily be made in support of affirmative action even if you don’t believe those that benefit from it are “deserving” of the extra leg up. For example, perhaps the social good of having educational systems, workplaces, and ultimately to some degree communities, more balanced in terms of gender and race outweighs the slightly diminished life outcomes for those who get shafted. Another possibility, although one I would not embrace myself, would be that AA makes sense as restitution for historical inequities – reparations and the like.

    Frankly, while I’m unsure about the utility (in terms of public policy) of affirmative action, it ranks very low on my list of modern political issues of great salience. And I say this as a white man who was negatively impacted by affirmative action (when I was first accepted into graduate school, my program had its first-ever funding shortfall, and only the white men ended up without assistantships for the first semester).

  22. Hi Sandgroper,

    Thanks again. In its infinite wisdom, the U.S. census since 2000 has included boxes for white, black and then multiple boxes that seem to mostly correspond to Asian countries. In 2010 I checked off “white” and “Korean” for my children. Even though it may be rather laughable as a biological race category, it nevertheless still does play a huge role in the kinds of life chances people have. And that’s how we got into this conversation in the first place–because the lived experience of social race can be quite a huge factor in life outcomes.

  23. @Karl: If you pop into this thread again, would you mind briefly answering a question, one I’m always curious about. When you talk about balancing systems, workplaces, et cetera in terms of gender and race (a goal I think is worthy, at least in theory), do you mean balancing them based on state/national population demographics or on something more idealistic? For example, in a department of ten professors in California, should at least 1 professor be black even though the CA black population is 6 percent? Should only 1 professor be Asian because the CA Asian population is 13 percent? What guidelines would you personally follow, in terms of balancing, without going into debates about who is “best” for the job.

  24. Sandgroper

    The joke about AA in Australian universities is, if they introduce it for anyone other than indigenous students, they will have to increase the intake of white males.

  25. Karl Zimmerman

    25 –

    It’s a difficult question. Presuming you’re talking about state universities in California only, obviously for the most part the student body is heavily drawn from the state of California. On the other hand, professorship as a whole is a nationalized profession, with people moving cross-country to land a tenure-track position, which would argue in favor of hewing more to national demographics.

    In the end, I think the point is moot however, because affirmative action, as it has developed in the U.S., has banned the use of quotas. In practice the hiring committee would undoubtedly look at the applicants, and take their various merits, plus their race/gender/national origin (etc), into consideration.

  26. plus their race/gender/national origin (etc), into consideration

    right, like whether they are native american!

  27. Chris T

    I agree that the word ‘race’ needs to be abandoned in biological discussions. In addition to it’s historical baggage, the definition of the word doesn’t accurately describe the modern biological concept of populations anyway.

    AA is becoming increasingly difficult to defend on any grounds. There is little evidence it’s helping its target populations in any substantive way and the populations being hurt or helped by it make no sense in regards to addressing historical grievances.

    The few times I’ve popped in on Dawkin’s message board have left me… underwhelmed. Few places are as densely populated with mindless sycophants. I would not take them too seriously.

  28. Kiwiguy

    ***the definition of the word doesn’t accurately describe the modern biological concept of populations anyway.***

    What definition of race are you referring to?

  29. Nyk

    I have to say that most of Dawkins’ audience is composed of gullible people unable to think scientifically rather than emotionally (even though they call themselves ‘skeptics’). Dawkins, however, seems to me like as honest as a scientist who cares about his reputation can get.

    One almost gets the impression that Dawkins doesn’t like to talk about race because he sees the atheist anti-religion crusade as the more important cause. We know that he is a scientist at heart, he defended James Watson when it came to it. But coming out openly in favor of ‘racism’ is something he cannot afford as a high priest of the Atheist movement, because it would damage his reputation and credibility in converting people to Atheism, which he might consider the top priority for the moment.

  30. Anthony

    Karl, it’s disingenuous to say that affirmative action has banned the use of quotas. In fact, the University of California was actively using quotas until Prop 209 banned the use of race as a factor at all, and it’s clear that the university is trying to sneak in quotas by the back door.

    One of the big problems that racial bean-counting in the US has is that “American Indian” has a special meaning of aboriginal unitedstatesian, which makes it difficult to deal with people whose ancestry includes aboriginal Latin-Americans.

  31. Sandgroper

    Jason – On lived experience, if you have not watched the 2009 Australian film “Samson and Delilah” and can get hold of it, I think it is worth watching. Nothing in that film is exaggerated.

  32. Sandgroper

    BTW, I really dislike Dawkins. I’m just saying.

  33. Chris T

    Kiwi – Classical and popular definition. Much as I hate abandoning useful words, there are some that have meanings and connotations too firmly entrenched to be rehabilitated even in a scientific context.

  34. Hi Sandgroper,

    Wow, that looks like a great film and I’m putting it in the queue now (it is actually available in the U.S. via Netflix-streaming if others are interested).

    By the way, I know you are suspicious of anthropologists in Australia, but thought you might be interested in a book by Diane Austin-Broos, A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate About Remote Aboriginal Australia (2011). If I read her argument correctly, it’s that there has often been a polarization between culturalist and inequality approaches, leading to paralysis:

    Also, I agree with you about Dawkins!

  35. Sandgroper

    Justin – Glad you can access it. I hope you think as much of it as I did. (It leaves the question, though – where does a young actress like Marissa Gibson go to after that? To my mind, she deserves a career in film if she wants one, but where are the roles for her?)

    The other movie I think is worth watching is the 2006 film ‘Ten Canoes’, for different reasons.


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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


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