Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Gerold Firl (
27 Jan 1997 20:56:35 GMT

In article <>, writes:

|> (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.

It may be blood type does have some subtle effect on fitness, but as
far as we know at this time, it has none whatsoever. That is
precisely the kind of trait which we would *not* expect to see
correlate with cladistics, particularly if the variation predates
evolutionary divergance.

|> 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.

and yet, of all those different markers, C-S will use contour-maps of
blood-type frequency to illustrate the capriciousness of human
taxonomy. It's things like that which make me question whether
political concerns are coming into play for C-S.

|> > 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.

Way back in the 50's, the biological concepts of linnaean taxonomy
were refined on the basis of dobzhansky's studies of drosophila
"races"; the term has a long history, not just in politics, but in
biology as well. I'm uncomfortable with race-politics such as you
describe, where a false sense of superiority is created with a false
sense of inferiority for others, but I also object to bending the truth
just because racists try to twist it. The fact is, race among humans
is a real, biologically-based fact of our history, and we have to deal
with it on a basis of both truth and justice. Pretending it doesn't
exist is just not a viable solution.

|> > 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.

Actually, humans have a very strong isolation mechanism: the fact that
we spread over the entire planet. Rough estimates of genetic diffusion
times from one end of the old world ecumene to the other give figures
of about 10,000 years; possibly enough to maintain the genus as a
single species, but not fast enough to blur local adaptation.

In addition to the purely ecological factors encouraging racial
divergance is another which is seldom mentioned: cultural isolation
and kinship rules. Our cultures restrict the possible range of
marriage partners, accelerating the pace of subspeciation.

|> (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.

Any other animal which exhibited the level of geographical variation
found in man would be classified as having subspecies. Think of
pygmies and nubians, swedes and innuit, or japanese and ainu; in many
cases, the gross physical differences between these neighboring
peoples are actually greater than their cultural differences. These
physical differences are the result of longstanding breeding
isolation, coupled with adaptation and genetic drift. That is the
stuff of subspeciation, even if we are talking about the jewel of

|> (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.

Heh - there's a problem whenever a species attempts to classify

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