Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?
Sun, 26 Jan 1997 13:11:26 -0600 (Gerold Firl) wrote:
> Fundamental, yes, though perhaps a little disengenious. Cavalli-sforza
> uses blood type as an example of a trait which cuts across the more
> visible physical traits typically used for racial classification, but
> blood type is a very poor basis for cladistic analysis. It has no
> effect on fitness, so unless a population has gone through a genetic
> bottleneck, there is no reason to expect correlation between blood
> type and evolutionary history.

Or founder's effect, in some cases -- again a genetic bottleneck,
obviously (just finished Sacks' _Island of the Colorblind_). The book's
at home now, but C-S is at that point discussing racist classifications
rather than race per se, IIRC -- and these sorts of divisions are of course
largely classificatory, usually saying very little about evolutionary
history -- and in there I'd include things like Rushton's work. I'd also
be pretty cautious about making assumptions of the lack of significance of
blood groups for human fitness, given how little we know about the
evolutionary significance of even much more obvious physical characteristics.
And, of course, C-S et al use over 100 different markers, and we know
rather little about the fitness effects of most of them.

I use C-S et al as an exemplar of the lack of significance of 'race'
even for researchers who are interested in looking at human evolutionary
history from the point of view of these population studies. I'm more doubtful
about the utility of these approaches myself; I'd be more inclined to the
critiques encapsulated in John Terrell's review of C-S et al in last year's
_Reviews in Anthropology_ [or I assume it's in; I just have the ms.]).

> I don't believe it is "racist" to equate race and subspecies; in
> evolutionary biology, the terms are synonomous.

The racists who haunt these groups are very far from being biologists;
they are interested in denigrating others to make themselves feel
superior. IMHO, in anthropology if you want to talk about sub-speciation in
humans, then do so -- but the term 'race' as an anthropological concept is
laden with so many pernicious associations that it should be dropped.

> What is it that you object to, regarding the "subspecies concept"? The
> concept of race/subspecies in itself, or the application to humans?

Humans only, where I don't think it works. For other species, it may
well, but there's no law that says that every species has to have sub-
species. For the following reasons:

(1) Available genetic data indicates human variation relatively
low in relation to primates: (a) Heterozygosity of humans
(Janczewski et al., [1990] _Journal of Heredity_ 81: 375-387);
(b) mtDNA maximum divergence (Cann et al. [1987] _Nature_ 325:
31-36)(c) Y-chromosone divergence (Dorit et al., 1995, Science
268: 1185; Hammer, 1995, Nature 378: 376-380).

(2) Sub-speciation usually involves a geographic isolation mechanism.
Humans are/were notoriously mobile, to the extent that I think such
mechanisms would kick in very rarely indeed for moderns -- and I think
recent discoveries in Europe and various parts of Asia indicating that
our hominid ancestors moved out of Africa much more quickly than was
earlier thought just reinforces that view.

(3) Connected to #2, we've posited sub-speciation for Classic Neanderthals
based on West European glaciation as an isolating mechanism. Whether
that works or not, my conception of a human sub-species would be on
the Neanderthal level, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, where morphology
and behaviour vary quite drastically from that of moderns. That may be
in part when I first took anthro, back in the late 70s -- and now I'd
probably characterize Neanderthals as a separate species -- but I think
that observable variation among modern populations is wayyyy lower than
variation on the sub-species level.

(4) The application of the term 'race' to human populations is
notoriously unstable -- anything from 1 to about 60 races have been
identified. That gives me no confidence whatsoever in the utility of
the term; I know of no other case in biology where the disagreement
about sub-species numbers is of that magnitude.

> we look at other animals, and their subspecies, it isn't clear to me
> at all that the genetic variation between human races is less.

See above.


Scott MacEachern
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Bowdoin College
Brunswick, ME 04011
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