Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Gerold Firl (
7 Nov 1996 01:43:48 GMT

(Domingo- this hasn't appeared on usenet yet, and since I'm going to
be out of the office for a couple of weeks, I wanted to send this before
I left. Just in case you mistakenly emailed your response instead of
posting it, I'll send you back a copy of your original post.)

Domingo Martinez-Castilla wrote:

> (Follow-ups trimmed to sci.anthro only)

> In article <55dna0$>, (Gerold
> Firl) wrote a lot of things, and I have singled out the following:

> >... However, another key factor
> >here is the fact that they [the Neandertals - DMC] are extinct; if neandertals were still
> >around today, such a classification would be politically sensitive.

> Are you stating that Neandertals were just one more variation on the
> human tree, equal in genetic distance to say, yourself and me? First
> time ever I have seen such a claim! Really.

Really indeed.

Without knowing a thing about your genetic background, I feel very
comfortable asserting that you and I have more in common, genetically,
than either of us would have with a neandertal. I could be wrong, but it
seems unlikely.

You misunderstood what I was trying to say: the question was raised
about why all modern humans are classified as h. sap. sapiens, while
neandertals are classified as h. sap. neandertalis. I have been trying
to show how standard taxonomic practice would recognize human variation
in the form of different subspecies; why then, are all humans considered
to be h. sap. sap.?

The answer, of course, is political. Who decides where to draw the
lines? The neandertals don't squak when they are classified as a
separate race, or even a separate species, but some living humans do. If
a biologist comes along and defines the subspecies of a fruit fly, or
even a charismatic mammel species, any ensuing controversy is handled in
a low-key way. It's different with people.

> I know that this
> request will most likely go unanswered, but.. I really need to know if
> you have a reference where we could read about that very interesting
> proposition.

It certainly will go "unanswered", except to note once again that I
never claimed that the genetic distance between modern human races is
similar to the genetic distance between us and neandertals. That very
interesting proposition was the product of your own creative

> [After a series of claims supporting his view to separate today's
> humans into subspecies --a tall order--, Mr Firl wrote about]

> >...our taxonomic practice as applied to
> >other species. There, we make racial distinctions based on superficial
> >variations: no one would use a hereford or an angus as a dairy cow,
> >and ignoring the color varients of the african swallowtail would
> >obscure some very important evolutionary processes. If we make an
> >exception for man, then clearly it is being done on political, not
> >scientific grounds.

> Could you please confirm that what you are suggesting here is that
> domestic breeds are to be equated with wild races/subspecies (and
> implicitly, as it's the topic at hand, anyway, to human "races" I
> suppose)? That is another first in my book.

Domestic breeds and wild races should not be "equated", since one is the
product of artificial selection, while the other results from *natural*
selection. The analogy is close, of course, but not equivalent. Darwin
himself made the distinction, right about 130 years ago.

Like I said, the analogy is close. In both cases, we have a single
species with a number of racial varients. The subspecies have distinct
characteristics, which breed true within the race, and the races freely
hybridize. Domestic breeds and natural races are produced by different
means, but in the big picture artificial selection is just a special
case of natural selection, just as is cultural selection.

> Again, do you have any one
> reference (I could start from there by myself) supporting that?

See darwin, _the origin of species_.

> However, I do find (as many other people that cared to peruse The
> Descent of Man or any other book on sexual selection) very suggestive
> that you mention domestic breeds when human variation is being discussed
> here.

_Descent of man_ is not "a book about sexual selection". Sexual
selection is one component of biological evolution, but there's more to
the story than that.

I find your suggestion very intriguing, and I hope you will explain
further. Why is it "suggestive" that I mention domestic breeds when
discussing human variation? Please do explain.

> I believe you are very confused with the reasons of phenotypical
> variation. For a purely biological adaptation to develop, nature needs
> a significant chunk of time, usually measured starting at the
> 100,000-year unit.

Evolution proceeds at the pace of generations, not years. For humans,
100,000 years is around 5000 generations (assuming 20 year generations)
which is certainly plenty long to create significant genetic changes. It
all depends on the selection pressure; in environments where strong
selection pressure exists, evolutionary changes occur even faster. 100
generations can produce large shifts in gene frequencies if sufficient
selection pressures exist.

> Imperfect as it is, the geological record is pretty
> consistent on that. Domestic breeds and human "races" are produced in
> much, much shorter time spans due to the fact that they do not
> necessarily develop as environmental adaptations. They are directed by
> cultural preferences, in the case of humans, or economic considerations,
> as is the case with domesticates.

Cultural preferences? Interesting assertion. Care to provide an example,
or a reference? Can you name a genetically inherited characteristic of a
particular human race which is the result of cultural preferences? I'm
surprised to see you advocating such a position.

> In your posting you mentioned some
> Fueguian people as being extremely well adapted to cold as to sleep
> naked in very cold latitudes. Did you ever wonder why they were not
> light-skinned like *some* of their Northern hemisphere counterparts?

Actually, no, I hadn't wondered that. As gould has stated many, many
times, evolution is a complex process which generally works by modifying
existing traits. It's a path-dependant process, and expecting complete
convergance between isolated subpopulations exposed to similar
environments is utterly unjustified.

> Why is it that some "adaptations" work in some places but not in others?
> How many Fueguians were there anyway? Could we draw conclusions from
> their case, or from the original Tasmanian people that was truly
> isolated way, way South for 10,000 years and did *not* manage to lighten
> their skin or sleep naked?

We could undoubtedly draw all kinds of conclusions; what did you have in

> To close, briefly, the *other* point of view regarding human variation
> (following Darwin, op. cit.):
> - most human variation can be traced to recent, very recent times
> - human variation is produced culturally --by sexual selection- and not
> environmentally (too many exceptions to the supposed "rule" re
> melanin-latitude, curly hair and heat, etc. etc. State your "rule", I
> will give you a pile of exceptions)

You have misunderstood darwin if you believe that he suggested that all
human variation is produced culturally - by sexual selection, at that! -
or that it can be traced to "very, very recent" times. Some human races
show evidence of deep roots into the indigenous h. erectus populations
which predate the arrival of modern humans (e.g., the australo-
melanesians); see brian fagan, _the peopling of eden_ (I think that's
the title) for more detail. Many modern australian aborigines show
anatomical features which are very similar to the archaic bone structure
of early man, more than 100,000 years ago. You don't need to be a
trained anatomist to tell; look at the enormous brow ridges, and the
lack of a bridge on the nose.

> Domingo.
> P.S. Please do not forget to provide at least one reference for each
> request above.

Read an introductory textbook on evolutionary biology; this is all basic
stuff. Mine is called _evolutionary biology_, by eli minkoff. You'll
find most of your misconceptions cleared up.

- gerold

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