Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

1 Nov 1996 22:32:16 GMT

In article <55b2s9$>,
Philip Deitiker <> wrote:
> (Gerold Firl) wrote:
>>Laura - a few weeks ago you posted an excerpt from cavilli-sforza
>>_history and geography of human genes_ which I found very interesting.
>>My apologies for the tardy response, but I wonder if you could clarify
>>what he is trying to say; you wrote:
>>>You are assuming, rather than demonstrating, the existence of bias.
>>>Cavalli-Sforza et al. do in fact explain the problems with
>>>"races" as analytical units for studying human variation. On p.19
>>>of the book you mention above:
> "Human races are still extremely unstable entities in the
> hands of modern taxonomists, who define from 3 to 60 or more
> races (Garn 1971). To some extent, this latitude depends on
> the personal preference of taxonomists, who may choose to be
> "lumpers" or "splitters". Although there is no doubt that
> there is only one human species, there are clearly no
> objective reasons for stopping at any particular level of
> taxonomic splitting....

I think I have commented on this quote before. Let me say now that it is
not "clear" to me that there can be no objective reasons for stopping at
any particular level of taxonomic splitting. I am not going to defend the
existence of subraces, sub-subraces, .... Indeed, I am not even defending
the existence of races, just asking what the race deniers are denying. I
would say that the process of conceptual subdivision must come to an end
when there is no longer any breeding isolation.

> As one goes down the scale of taxonomic hierarchy toward the
> lower and lower partitions, the boundaries between clusters
> become even less clear. The evolutionary explanation is simple.
> There is great genetic variation in all populations, even in
> small ones. This individual variation has accumulated over
> very long periods, because most polymorphisms observed in
> humans antedate the separation into continents, and perhaps
> even the origin of the species less than half a million years
> ago. The same polymorphisms are found in most populations,
> but at different frequencies in each, because the geographic
> differentiation of humans is recent, having taken perhaps
> one-third or less of the time the species has been in existence.
> There has therefore been too little time for the accumulation
> of substantial divergence....

Is C-S speaking in his capacity as a gene counter? Remember gene counting
is *one* method to try to reconstruct the evolutionary tree. And, in case
I haven't said this before, the gene counters argue heatedly among
themselves as to what is "the" best algorithm (If the Republicans capture
the Presidency next week, this would will become jackempithm.).

And what makes C-S say that there has been "too little" time for the
accumulation of "substantial" divergence? Data from lots of species,

> From a scientific point of view, the concept of race has failed
> to obtain any consensus; none is likely, given the gradual
> variation in existence. It may be objected that the racial
> stereotypes have a consistency that allows even the layman to
> to classify individuals. However, the major stereotypes, all
> based on skin color, hair color and form, and facial traits,
> reflect superficial differences that are not confirmed by
> deeper analysis with more reliable genetic traits....

Gene counters mean by "superficial" not involving very many genes. But
evolutionary pressures certainly can be concentrated on a small number of

By means
> of painstaking multivariate analysis, we can identify "clusters"
> of populations and order them in a hierarchy that we believe
> represents the history of fissions in the expansion of the whole
> world of anatomically modern humans. *At no level can clusters
> be identified with races, since every level of clustering
> would determine a different partition and there is no biological
> reason to prefer a particular one." (my emphasis)

>From what I can make out of this, C-S seems to saying that h.sapiens
(which arose only once, acc. to him) fissioned according to gene clusters
A,B,C,D,.., where A ={a1,a2,a3,a4,...}, B={b1,b2,b3,b4,...}, etc., with
the small letters representing genes. But during the next fissioning we
get a strange mix A1=(a1,b2,c3,d4,...}, B1={a2,b3,c4,d1}, C1={a3,b4,c1,d2,
...}, D1={a4,b1,c2,d3}, .... I am not sure this is a good way of
expressing it. But there does seem to be some very curious reshuffling of
the world's peoples, not unlike the scenario I proposed in the previous
post of the world splitting up randomly into different faiths and the
faithful following there respective Brigham Youngs to new lands.

>>>This strikes me as a pretty clear explanation.
>>C-S seems to be saying that we can classify the species into an
>>arbitrary number of races, depending on what level of clustering we
>>choose to establish demarcations, and hence race is "unstable". I
>>guess that's a fair statement, but it shouldn't be interpreted to mean
>>that race has no basis in biology. The genetic clusters do exist, and
>>they do correspond to the standard processes of adaptation and drift
>>which always create geographic variation in any species.
>I don't think any geneticist will argue this point, every population
>is going to have variation to the extent it can't be made identical to
>another population. The issue really revolves around who should, and
>under what circumstances population based genetic distinctions be
>made. There are some people in the medical fields who have tried to
>equate intelligence with 'race' and these types of assertions are
>founded on intelligence tests not genetics test. The reason I bring
>this up is that I know folks who are involved in the study of genetics
>of human intelligence, and the pathways which are unknown outnumber
>the known pathways by magnitudes of ten. How can someone ascribe
>intelligence without defining the relative weakness or strengths of
>the points in the pathways which govern intelligence (not withstanding
>the environmentally derived input in to intelligence). In modern age
>when one ascribes intelligence to any form of inheritance pattern on
>is obligated to provide the genetics (linkage at minimum for the
>traits). This has been done for a whole host of disorders, but has
>never been equated with tripartite genetic separation.

No, no, no! It is desirable, of course, and may eventually happens, but it
is extremely common for nonobservables to be given theoretical status long
before the thing being postulated is found. The best case in point here is
the gene itself! No one saw one until the 1950s (I think that's the
decade) when we finally developed microscopes that were good enough. And
there are other entities, like quarks, that may never be seen. You are
invoking what is called "operationalism," which had its uses in its day in
chasing out spooks like "elan vital," "entelechy," "ether," and so on, but
is now a dead philosophy, for not being in accordance with actual
scientific practice.

>I think to answer the holo-race question biologically (and
>definitively) one needs to look a hundreds, if not thousands of loci
>before any of previously suggested biological phenomena can be
>affirmed or rejected. In the end I have to ask the politically
>perplexing issue of: what are the goals of those who what to involve
>genetic distinction?

[snipped some speculation about political motivations. This really belongs
on other threads. There are more than enough ad hominems on *this* thread
as it is. I could quarrell with certain of your assertions, but I think
that you can easily guess which passages above I would simply repeat. By
all means, start up other threads, if you wish, and we can discuss ethical
and political philosophy. (I am a (meta)ethical egoist and a political
contractarian, and more specifically an evolutionary federalist, in case
you are interested. But I'll say what I mean here on other threads.]