Re: Definition of Race

Eric John Nute (
10 Feb 1995 15:48:26 GMT

Many of these issues have been dealt with and debated for a long time.
For instance, Boaz wrote in an article entiles "The Aims of
Anthropological Research" in _Race, Language, and Culture._, about the
difficulty in teasing out the causes of differences between population
groups of humans, such as how do we differentiate heredity and
environmental factors [especially if we can't perform transplant
experiements]. He also pointed out that over a population many
differences average out, so using a few individuals or individual traits
can be tricky, particularly if one's methodology hasn't been critically
reviewed for incorrect assumptions.

Backing away from Boaz and approaching more modern situations, I have
been told by an Anthro Proffessor that on average, Eskimos (and I am not
sure what exactly this classification includes, i.e. just tribe members
living in the artic who let their skulls get measured by anthropologists
or also people who trace their geneology back to the artic but are now
living in milder climes) have larger skulls and more brain mass than the
average "human" (again, I don't know what this includes). He also told
us that analysis of Neadertal skulls show that they had larger skulls and
more brain mass than the average "modern human". This suggests that
differences between racial groups/ geneological groups exist, but in this
case, racial groups are defined by cultural/ geneological means and
differences found between them. Finding someone with a big head does not
allow you to infer that she is an Eskimo, because each group has a range of
physical characteristics and the ranges greatly overlap (although I
admit I do not have the data in my hand to show this point). The
differences between Neandertals and modern humans, and am told, are
morphologicaly differences of a qualitative measure. Finding someone
with the physical features of a Neadertal (and big head sizes is not one
of those qualitatively different features) allows you to classify that
person as a Neandertal. Even then, the line is somewhat arbitrary (just
ask people who see Neandertal-like skull features in Modern European
skulls and argue that Europeans are mixes of African Physically Modern
Humans and the indigenous Neandertal).
My point is, I don't think that using physical characteristics to
classify races is a useful endeavor, except in terms of differences in
geneological groups for a given geographic area (which is what forensic
people do, at least according to Discover magazine). We need to look
both at the parts in terms of the whole and at the whole in terms of the
parts. What we have right now is primarily a cultural definition of race,
based on some rather superficial general physical characteristics.
Trying to take the biology of "race" any further is a mistake.

---Eric J. Nute <>
My name is my address.