Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Gerold Firl (
31 Oct 1996 20:48:55 GMT

In article <54tut6$>, (Paul Gallagher) writes:

|> 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.
|> 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.

Eli Minkoff, in the textbook _evolutionary biology_, gives a different
impression. Minkoff states that since the 1930's, the trend has been
that populations once classified as separate species are being
reclassified as subspecies. Often times subspecies will look
significantly different from one another, misleading early researchers
into thinking they were distinct species. Later it is realized that
they are different races.

A wonderful example is provided by an african swallowtail, which is
found in it's "pure" state in madegascar. On the continent, however,
it exists in several different races, each looking distinctly
different. The reason for the dramatic variations in appearance is
explained by batesian mimicry, where the swallowtail mimics the
apearance of a completely different species. The american analog is
the monarch and the viceroy; the monarch is unpalatible to birds
because of its milkweed diet, and the viceroy uses batesian mimicry to
avoid predation, riding on the monarchs coattails so to speak. The
african swallowtail mimics several different unpalatible species over
different parts of its range.

You assert that the idea of the subspecies is of little utility, since
they have "only a transitory existance as separate entities".
Actually, this is one of the aspects of race which is most
interesting. Observing the dynamics of evolution, subspecies are
snapshots of genetic change, illustrating how isolation and adaptation
alter gene distribution. I would like to hear the reasoning of any
biologist who wanted to "reject" the recognition of subspecies.

|> 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.

In some ways; in other ways, not.

for example, lewontin shows data on the distribution of height among
bostonians, african pygmies, and the dinka. The difference in mean height
between pygmies and dinka is *several* standard deviations; the
variation between group is much higher than the in-group variance.

Now, if you want to make the results of such a comparison come out
right, you have to choose the correct comparison metrics. Given the
huge range of immunological and blood type factors availible, some can
be chosen which will indicate enormous variation between races, while
others will show enormous commonality.

In any case, the oft-cited claim that within-race variation is greater
than variation between races doesn't have much bearing on the question
of the biological basis of race. Statisticians often grapple with
differences between groups which are less than one sigma; they can be
very significant.

|> 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.
|> 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.

I see two problems with your statement above: first, you confuse the
concept of "race" and "species". different races can, and do,
interbreed and produce viable offspring. In many cases, the hybrid
offspring show superior vigor compared to the parent stock. "Race" is
equivalent to *subspecies*, not species.

Secondly, you talk about "race biologists" who "worry" that superior
humans will breed with inferior types (or even non-humans!). You're a
little behind the times. This kind of eugenics went out of fashion
sometime in the mid-forties, at least in western culture. There are
still a few kooks who are living in the past, but I would hardly call
them either "biologists" or "scientists", as you do above. If you want
to do battle out on the fringe, go right ahead, but don't pretend like
this is an important contempory problem. Your bugaboo is an empty

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf