I notice that last summer Karl Smith asked “Why Are There Short People?” His logic is pretty good, except for the fact that the fitness variation seems to be much starker in males than females (there is some evidence I’ve seen that shorter women can be more fertile, though that’s balanced by the fact that larger women seem to be able to manage gestation better). In any case, height seems to be a fitness enhancing trait which is highly heritable, and yet the variation in height remains!
This morning I received an email from the communication director of the American Anthropology Association. The contents are on the web:
AAA Responds to Public Controversy Over Science in Anthropology
Some recent media coverage, including an article in the New York Times, has portrayed anthropology as divided between those who practice it as a science and those who do not, and has given the mistaken impression that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Executive Board believes that science no longer has a place in anthropology. On the contrary, the Executive Board recognizes and endorses the crucial place of the scientific method in much anthropological research. To clarify its position the Executive Board is publicly releasing the document “What Is Anthropology?” that was, together with the new Long-Range Plan, approved at the AAA’s annual meeting last month.
The “What Is Anthropology?” statement says, “to understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems.” Anthropology is a holistic and expansive discipline that covers the full breadth of human history and culture. As such, it draws on the theories and methods of both the humanities and sciences. The AAA sees this pluralism as one of anthropology’s great strengths.
Changes to the AAA’s Long Range Plan have been taken out of context and blown out of proportion in recent media coverage. In approving the changes, it was never the Board’s intention to signal a break with the scientific foundations of anthropology – as the “What is Anthropology?” document approved at the same meeting demonstrates. Further, the long range plan constitutes a planning document which is pending comments from the AAA membership before it is finalized.
Anthropologists have made some of their most powerful contributions to the public understanding of humankind when scientific and humanistic perspectives are fused. A case in point in the AAA’s $4.5 million exhibit, “RACE: Are We So Different?” The exhibit, and its associated website at www.understandingRACE.org, was developed by a team of anthropologists drawing on knowledge from the social and biological sciences and humanities. Science lays bare popular myths that races are distinct biological entities and that sickle cell, for example, is an African-American disease. Knowledge derived from the humanities helps to explain why “race” became such a powerful social concept despite its lack of scientific grounding. The widely acclaimed exhibit “shows the critical power of anthropology when its diverse traditions of knowledge are harnessed together,” said Leith Mullings, AAA’s President-Elect and the Chair of the newly constituted Long-Range Planning Committee.
Last year a paper came out in Science which made a rather large splash, The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans by Tishkoff et al. Since it’s more than a year old I recommend that those of you curious about the details of the paper and don’t have academic access go through the free registration, as you can then read it in full. Unlike Reich et al. the Science paper didn’t unveil a new method of analysis. It was the standard bread & butter, with PCA’s & STRUCTURE plots & phylogenetic trees. But the coverage of populations within Africa was massive. They had a lot of results and relationships to cover, and ended up with a 100 page supplement.
I commend the whole paper to you. But there are two elements I want to highlight. First, a three dimensional PCA plot. It has the first, second and third principal components of variation. In other words, the three largest independent dimensions in terms of explanatory power of genetic variation. Panel A includes all world populations, and panel B just Africans.