Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Laura Finsten (
2 Nov 1996 16:33:15 GMT () wrote:
>In article <55b2s9$>,
>Philip Deitiker <> wrote:
>> (Gerold Firl) wrote:


>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

Then why don't you suggest some, with specific reference to the human species.

>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.

The "race deniers" are denying the utility of the biological concept of
"race" for producing biologically meaningful classifications of humans.
I thought that should be fairly clear.

>> 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.)

I imagine Cavalli-Sforza is speaking in his capacity as one of the world's
foremost human population geneticists. If that makes him a "gene counter",
so be it. Yes, genetic variation is but one way classify humans into groups.
It is one of the most objective ways, though, since phenotypes for the same
gene or combination of genes may differ under different environmental
conditions. That wouldn't be too useful for any classification, evolutionary
or otherwise. And if what one is interested in is a classification reflecting
evolutionary history, than when it comes to humans genes are the only way to
go because so much of human adaptation is nonbiological.

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

Cavalli-Sforza is speaking specifically about time-depth for evolution
of the human species. A relatively new species, with relatively long-lived
individuals which has dispersed rapidly over an extremely wide range of
environments and accomplished much of its adaptation to those environments
through cultural rather than biological responses. There are no other
species which provide appropriate analogues, I would think (but I'm not
a biologist).

>> 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

Uh huh. So what? Does that mean that you think these superificial characteristics
are appropriate for defining races?

> 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.

I don't follow this.
>>>>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.

It does mean, though, that if one is equating races with subspecies, and
subspecies with speciating (or evolutionarily diverging never to merge again)
groups within a species, it is a load of crap because it is impossible to
identify in any meaningful way what those allegedly speciating groups are.

>>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
>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![...]

How useful is the "nonobservable" category "race" in the biological and
ecological sciences? The gene have turned out to be highly useful concept,
since we can actually figure out what it is made from and are in the process
of figuring out genes working together do other things. I don't think that
"race" is a comparable concept, though, because it is a classificatory
rather than an identifying concept. I know that's fuzzy, I'm still thinking
about this.

And given that it is a classificatory concept - one that groups individuals
irrespective of variation - the motives of those obsessed with it are highly
relevant, in my opinion.


"If I can't dance.....I don't want to be part of your revolution."
Emma Goldman