Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

30 Oct 1996 23:03:00 GMT

In article <>,
Bob Whitaker <> wrote:
>Paul Gallagher wrote:
>> In <54rrj0$> () writes:
>> >But again: the issue is subspecies, not species. Is Gerald really the only
>> >person around here who will attempt to answer the actual question I asked?
>> Subspecies, or races, in biology are defined as natural populations within
>> a species that differ genetically and that are partially isolated from
>> each other reproductively because of their different geographic ranges.

Sounds like a reasonable definition to me. The same is true of human
cultures: partial isolation. Did you know that the reality of sympatric
speciation is coming back. This is speciation taking place *without*
geographic separation. What happens is that members of a species will
start specializing in certain local plants as food sources and other
members in other plants. They continue to evolve their separate ways and
eventually become separate species.

There's an article on this in a recent issue of _Science_. It relates how
one young biologist claimed to have found an example and Lewontin (whom
you mention below) ridiculed him in public and said (roughty), "Many young
biologists get the sympatric bug; they soon get over it."

Well, this same young biologist today has been vindicated. Now the
question is just how widespread this sort of evolution is. There is no
theoretical reason why the separation that leads to speciation has to be
geographic, but it has been a sort of dogma anyhow. (On the human side, we
tend to think of governments as territorial. That, too, is not a
universal. Jews regulated their own affairs in France, for example, until
Napoleon "liberated" them and forced them to become citizens. And
cyberspace is not geographic at all, except for its location on good old

>> The tendency in modern systematics is to reject the recognition of
>> subspecies altogether for all species, because the definition of
>> subspecies is arbitrary and "subspecies," however they are defined,
>> have only a transitory existence as separate entities.

Now wait a minute. You just gave a definition of subspecies, and now you
come along and say taxonomists do not recognize the existence of any in
the actual world. Or are you claiming that they don't like the definition
you gave? Are cultural anthropologists and sociologists also giving up the
concepts of culture and society, because they are arbitrary and have only
a transitory existence?

> You know damned well that anybody who disagrees with that loses his
>job. This is not a modern "tendency", unless you call everybody under
>Stalin being a Stalinist to have been a "tendency".

I do not think this is true. Taxonomists deal with all of biology and have
heated controversies about their subject. I don't know enough biology to
really participate in the discussions on, but it seems
that there, as everywhere else, the disputants are not always clear
whether they are arguing over definitions or facts.

In any case, there was an article in _Chronicles of Higher Education_ a
few months ago about the problems zoo keepers and (outdoor) wildlife
preservationists are running into with regards subspecies of endangered
species. Sometimes their numbers are so small that they have to choose
interbreeding of subspecies (which are hard to distinguish genetically
but differ quite visibly) or risking total extinction. There were some
folks who cried "specism!" but nowhere did the article mention any dispute
as to existence of subspecies or its conceptual viability.

> Do you deny that anyone who disagrees with you on this would lose his
>job in any university?

Paul will have to answer this question himself, but I think Bob is
speaking about what happens to physical anthropologists in academia who
assert the existence of races in homo sapiens.

> As far back as 1962, Carleton Coon was forced to resign as president
>of anthropologists' society for disagreeing with you. It's gotten worse

The ruckus was not over Coon's assertion that there were races, but rather
the implications others drew from his work that Congoids and Capoids were
inferior because they had evolved from h. erectus later than the other
races. Coon invoked parallel evolution: h.erectus split into five
races--here the separation indeed was geographic--and evolved separately
into h.sapiens. Coon backed his case with displaying the hardest of hard
evidence, namely bones. But no one ever seemed to have notices that Coon
gave the Australoids a very early cross-over date!

Coon's thesis is now called the multi-regional thesis, as opposed to the
Out-of-Africa thesis, which says that *modern* h.sapiens (this really gets
confusing, since Coon was talking about the *first* homo sapiens) evolved
in Africa around a 100,000 years ago, spread outwards, and committed
genocide on all the earlier varieties of h.sapiens.

BUT: Just this week, the NY Times reported on a *flute* discovered among
Neanderthal bones and some 40-80,000 years old (more accurate tests to
come later). This powerfully suggests that Neanderthal (, not
h.erectus) was not as stupid as some have been lead to believe. If he
could play the flute, he could probably talk. He did have a pretty big

So the *modern* h.saps may not have exterminated the Neanderthals
completely but interbred with them. This may explain why Coon was able to
trace Caucasian bones from h.e. through h.s., Mongoloid bones from h.e. to
h.s., ditto for Congoids, Capoids, and Australoids.

He did not find 50 cases of parallel evolution and then conclude there
were 50 races. In any case, the DNA analyses are extremely unsettled as to
their proper use. About three years ago, it was triumphally announced that
the DNA evidence showed that there were two, or maybe three, separate
migrations from the Old World to the New (before 1492 that is). This
boosted claims that there are three major groupings of Indians with regard
to language and culture. But just a couple of weeks ago, a re-analysis of
the DNA suggests that there was only one migration.

I have not heard of any multiregionalists among physical anthropologists
being fired.

> How can anybody with a shred of decency back this tyranny, and then
>quote it as scientific fact?

He was speaking about taxonomists' use of the subspecies concept. Try to
discern just what Paul is claiming. I'm not certain myself and therefore
asked him.

>> If you want to find out more about the subspecies problem, try posting
>> a question in
>> If you're particularty interested in human variation, try a book like
>> R.C. Lewontin's Human Variation, which shows that the variation within
>> human subgroups is much greater than that among the subgroups. That is,
>> the average genetic difference between any two human subpopulations is
>> less than the average difference between two members of the same
>> subpopulation.

It is not clear at all to me why this is a problem, esp. until we know
what kind of variation we are talking about. Just counting genes and
running them through a computer is not enough, because not all genes are
equal! And *this* is true because of sexual selection. Females and males
choose to mate in a very large measure on the basis of *appearance*. So it
can very well be the case that things like blood groups do not undergo the
same rates of evolution and are more freely distributed across populations
than things that the would-be mates can discern.

In any case, I still want to know how man differs from other animals, or
rather where on a continuum of variation he lies. By the way, there could
well be *more* variation within that between and the chimps.

I have a suspicion that Paul does not know. There certainly is more
individual personality variation *within* a culture than there are between

>> Linnaeus thought that various human subpopulations, including some
>> that are now known to be mythical, were different species.

How much of Linneaus' work do you wish to discredit, Paul?

>> Nowadays, most people accept the biological species concept, in which
>> species are defined by their ability to interbreed. In this respect,
>> humans are clearly one species, since there is gene flow throughout the
>> whole human population.

The concept of species is extremely controversial! Go look at Elliot
Sober, ed., _Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology_. By the way, I've
never heard anyone give solid evidence that and h.erectus could not

>> I imagine that even if you were trying to prove that certain human
>> subgroups differed from each other in significant ways, you'd have to
>> concede that they can still breed with each other. In fact, "race
>> biologists" worry about that: superior types of humans will breed with
>> inferior types, or with types that they consider non-human. When
>> race scientists worry that whites will breed with other races, they
>> are implicitly affirming that these groups are not biological races,
>> since they are able to breed freely with each other and produce viable
>> offspring.

Paul, please read that over again. You're confusing races and species