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  #1  
Old 04-02-2011, 10:39 PM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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Is there such a biological thing as a racial group?

So in this pit thread, a position came up for debate that I've seen a lot on the dope. Diogenese, as usual, put it in the most blunt and absolute terms:

Quote:
There is also no such thing (biologically) as a "racial group."
My question is... what precisely does he mean by that? What do other dopers who make similar but less absolutely stated claims mean, and are those claims true?


My thoughts on the topic:
-It's certainly true (and I don't think anyone would argue) that it is 100% not possible to absolutely and meaningfully divide every single human being on earth into one of a fixed number of racial groups. That's one (of many) reasons why white separatists who propose a "no black people can live here" law are being idiots.
-It's also certainly true that things are a lot more complicated than just "oh, all those dark skinned people who look kind of African to me are 'black', I know them when I see them, and they all share common genes"
-That said, I do think the general consensus view is a bit facile...

So let's say we want to discuss 4 racial groups in the US: White, Black, Asian, and Latino.

So, we take 100000 random guessers and 100000 random targets. And we show each of the guessers a picture of each of the targets and say "to the best of your ability, sort this person into one of those 4 categories, or (E) no idea, or (F) other." (Presumably we give them some incentive to do their honest best job).

I claim the following characteristics will be true of this experiment:
(1) there will be a large number of people among the targets who are identified as the same one of ABCD by a huge statistical majority of the guessers (although some will be mostly E, some will be mostly F, and some will be just about every cominbation of the above you can imagine). We will call people who are generally guessed as being in the same group like this "consensusers".
(2) If a "consensuser" is closely related by blood to other targets, it is more likely than chance (although not certain) that those other targets will also be consensusers, and of the same type
(3) There will be a strong (although again, not perfect) correlation between someone being a consensuser, and that person self-identifying as a particular racial group (obviously there is some trickiness here as "Asian" has subgroups, etc).
(4) If you take other measurable biological traits (ie, muscle type distribution, height, or susceptibility to sickle cell anemia) and test all the targets for them, and then graph those vs. consensusers, you will notice at least some correlations.


So, (a) does anyone question my claims, and (b) does anyone have any comment on their bearing to the "there is no such thing biologically as race" question?



(To avoid doing the kinda douchey thing where someone posts a controversial OP and refuses to actually take a stand on the issue, my opinion is that if racial groupings were truly "biologically meaningless", then (4) would certainly not be true. If you can predict anything biological/physiological based on the race, even with a very low degree of confidence, as long as it's still statistically significant, then it's disingenuous to say that there is no biological meaning at all. But that's really ALL I'm saying, please don't think this is part 1 and part 2 is going to demonstrate that blacks are inferior, or anything of that sort.)
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Old 04-02-2011, 11:00 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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Originally Posted by MaxTheVool View Post
(4) If you take other measurable biological traits (ie, muscle type distribution, height, or susceptibility to sickle cell anemia) and test all the targets for them, and then graph those vs. consensusers, you will notice at least some correlations.
Actually, beyond the most superficial (and often inaccurate) "observations," you won't.

If you limit your groups to people who have immigrated to, (or been imported to), the U.S., you can somewhat get away with that sort of claim, because the actual process of deciding who could enter, (or be brought to), North America puts limits on the genetic pool from which those people have come. So, for instance, we have a lot of claims about "black" people that actually only refer to people from a limited range of African nations from about Senegal to about Congo. People from Africa whose ancestors lived in what is now Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and other regions outside that range do not show up in lists of very good sprinters, they tend to lack any susceptibility to Sickle Cell Anemia, (while a number of white people are susceptible). Similarly, many claims have been made about Asians, or Chinese, or even "Mongoloids" that are based on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. have been Han and characteristics of non-Han populations are ignored when discussing what "Asians" are like.
When all the populations of the various purported "races" are observed, the differences far outweigh the similarities while similarities between separate groups in other "races" become more noticeable.

People who need to divide the world into three to six "races" want to ignore those discrepancies while making grand claims about what the "races" are like (even while disagreeing among themselves as to which and how many races exist).
People who prefer to use the more scientific analyses regarding the several hundred separate genetic populations in the world avoid those gross and distorted generalizations.
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Old 04-02-2011, 11:45 PM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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Originally Posted by tomndebb View Post
People who need to divide the world into three to six "races" want to ignore those discrepancies while making grand claims about what the "races" are like (even while disagreeing among themselves as to which and how many races exist).
I'm not making any specific claims about how many races there are, or that in fact there is any such number. But let's assume for a second that you are exactly correct and people from Congo have a higher susceptibility to sickle cell, while people from Ethiopia do not.

So I encounter some emergency situation where I have only a few seconds to pick some guy to send in to make emergency repairs in a situation where a susceptibility to sickle cell anemia would put the repairman at great risk (obviously an extremely contrived hypothetical). I have two repairmen at hand with the knowhow to do the job. One is "black" and one is "white". Now, I certainly have no way of knowing off the top of my head whether the "black" one has Ethiopian or Congoese ancestry, and given the history of the slave trade and so forth it's very possible that he doesn't either. But unless there are other factors at play (ie, equivalently large "white" ethnic groups with sickle cell susceptibility) it's still more likely that the black guy is susceptible than the white guy, even if there's extra information that I could have, but don't, that could let me make a better guess. So I've made a greater-than-chance guess about something biological based purely on perceived race. Again, I'm not trying to say that proves something deep and meaningful, but I think it's a statement with SOME meaning.
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Old 04-03-2011, 12:00 AM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Wouldn't it just be easier to identify 20 or 30 specific genetic markers and label people by whether or not they have these markers?
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Old 04-03-2011, 12:03 AM
Chen019 Chen019 is offline
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Yes, there is. See discussion here.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...=601006&page=5
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Old 04-03-2011, 12:15 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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Originally Posted by MaxTheVool View Post
Again, I'm not trying to say that proves something deep and meaningful, but I think it's a statement with SOME meaning.
There is no scenario that is not extremely contrived that gives any meaning to the way that some people try to assert that there are races.

In the U.S., we can make some moderate guesses based on the origins of immigration waves and for that, we can get away with using the culturally defined "races," based on sloppy phenotyping, but if we are studying humanity as a whole, then the three to six "races" claim is worthless as a biological claim. If we are actually studying biology or genetics, we can use the genetic markers that gets us down to much smaller, (and far more accurate), biological populations. Claiming that there are biological "races" in humanity fails to provide useful information and distracts from actually learning anything.
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Old 04-03-2011, 12:49 AM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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Originally Posted by tomndebb View Post
Claiming that there are biological "races" in humanity fails to provide useful information and distracts from actually learning anything.
Paradoxically, I kind of agree with that, but also object to someone claiming that race has NO meaning. It would be one thing to say it has limited meaning or something like that, but to make an absolute statement, particularly without a definition of what you're talking about, seems overbroad to me...

For instance, let's say someone says "Asian-Americans have an average IQ 10 points higher than white Americans, and it's due to genetics". There are plenty of interesting responses to that involving nature vs. nurture, relevance and accuracy and meaningfulness of IQ tests, etc. But I think a lot of people want to respond by saying "but there are no races, therefore your claim is wrong, QED" or "Asian-American isn't a race, therefore your claim is wrong, QED", and it's not that simple. Even though Asian-Americans are a vaguely defined grouping of a wide variety of ethnicities with various amounts of intermixing, if IQ _were_ relevant, and _were_ genetically linked to particular ethnic groups, it would be quite possible for Asian Americans, despite being an ill-defined conglomeration, to have a high average genetic IQ... because individual of those ethnic groups (in the hypothetical where IQ is in fact genetically linked to ethnic groups) having high IQs would bring up the average for the whole group, making the statement rue.
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Old 04-03-2011, 01:13 AM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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http://www.pbs.org/race/001_WhatIsRace/001_00-home.htm


Quote:
INTERVIEW WITH ALAN GOODMAN
edited transcript

Alan Goodman is professor of biological anthropology at Hampshire College and co-editor of Genetic Nature / Culture: Anthropology and Science Beyond the Cultural Divide and Building a New Bio-Cultural Synthesis.
Quote:
How difficult is it to jettison the idea of race as biology?

To understand why the idea of race is a biological myth requires a major paradigm shift - an absolutely paradigm shift, a shift in perspective. And for me, it's like seeing what it must have been like to understand that the world isn't flat. The world looks flat to our eyes. And perhaps I can invite you to a mountaintop or to a plain, and you can look out the window at the horizon, and see, "Oh, what I thought was flat I can see a curve in now." And that race is not based on biology, but race is rather an idea that we ascribe to biology.

That's quite shocking to a lot of individuals. When you look and you think you see race, to be told that no, you don't see race, you just think you see race, you know, it's based on your cultural lens - that's extremely challenging.

What's heartening is that so many students love it. They feel liberated by beginning to understand that, in fact, whiteness is a cultural construction, that race is a cultural construction, that we really are fundamentally alike. It's our politics, it's political economy, it's an old ideology that tends to separate us out. It's institutions that have been born with the idea of race and racism that tend to separate us out.

Young children today, kids today, in my experience, love it that we can have some common humanity, that we can come together as one, that this idea of biological race is a myth that's separating us. They love the idea that there's really some wall that can be smashed down and help bring us together.

What's wrong with classifying by race as biology?

Scientists have actually been saying for quite a while that race, as biology, doesn't exist - that there's no biological basis for race. And that is in the facts of biology, the facts of non-concordance, the facts of continuous variation, the recentness of our evolution, the way that we all commingle and come together, how genes flow, and perhaps especially in the fact that most variation occurs within race versus between races or among races, suggesting that there's no generalizability to race. There is no center there; there is no there there in the center. It's fluid.

But many individuals will say, "Well, that's okay, at least it's an approximation. It at least gives us a way to classify. Hey, you know, our head size may be continuous and shoe size may be continuous, but we developed a way to classify people by hat size and shoe size. And it kind of works. Your shoe may be a little bit crunchy but you basically know to go in and start somewhere, So what's wrong with doing it for race?"

And I'll tell you, there's a couple things that are wrong with it, where that analogy really breaks down. We've developed a universal system for thinking about hat size that's measurable, for example. So you can go into Sao Paulo Brazil and the hat merchants there have the same scale that the hat merchants do in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And we can have universality because it's objective, it's measurable, we're just measuring the circumference around the head. It doesn't change culturally from one place to another.

But think about race and its universality or lack thereof. Where is your measurement device? There is no way to measure race first. We sometimes do it by skin color. Other people may do it by hair texture. Other people may have the dividing lines different in terms of skin color. What's black in the United States is not what's black in Brazil or what's black in South Africa. What was black in 1940 is different from what is black in 2000. Certainly, with the evolution of whiteness, what was white in 1920 - as a Jew I was not white then, but I'm white now, so white has changed tremendously.

There's no stability and constancy. That's life. That's fine as social ideas go, that we all have our individual classification systems and may use them, but for science, it's death. It does not work. Science is based on generalizability, it's based on consistency, it's based on reproducibility. If you have none of that, you have junk science.
And unfortunately the junk science also includes the assumption that race is the most important element of intelligence, most of the evidence shows that social status and culture are more important.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:25 AM
Chen019 Chen019 is offline
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Originally Posted by GIGObuster View Post
http://www.pbs.org/race/001_WhatIsRace/001_00-home.htm

And unfortunately the junk science also includes the assumption that race is the most important element of intelligence, most of the evidence shows that social status and culture are more important.
1. Who says that race "is the most important element of intelligence"? People say that groups have different statistical distributions. Quite a different claim.

2. Variation between individuals in terms of intelligence is significantly due to variation in genes. As Steven Pinker notes:

Quote:
The most prominent finding of behavioral genetics has been summarized by the psychologist Eric Turkheimer: “The nature-nurture debate is over. . . . All human behavioral traits are heritable.” By this he meant that a substantial fraction of the variation among individuals within a culture can be linked to variation in their genes. Whether you measure intelligence or personality, religiosity or political orientation, television watching or cigarette smoking, the outcome is the same. Identical twins (who share all their genes) are more similar than fraternal twins (who share half their genes that vary among people). Biological siblings (who share half those genes too) are more similar than adopted siblings (who share no more genes than do strangers). And identical twins separated at birth and raised in different adoptive homes (who share their genes but not their environments) are uncannily similar.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/ma...1&pagewanted=2

Some recent research:

Quote:
“Some brains are wired better than others, and 60% of the differences can be explained by genetic factors,” said lead author Alex Fornito from the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Melbourne. “The novelty is that we now have new methods to identify different aspects of brain network organisation. Previously it was very difficult to try and map these connections.”
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/4129/full

Also, Paul Thompson, UCLA neuroscientist:

Quote:
By comparing the brain scans of twins, scientists discovered that the quality of the fatty tissue that insulates neural wires is largely inherited. The parietal lobe, which is involved in logic and mathematics, is 85 percent genetically determined, whereas the visual cortex is about 76 percent, and the temporal lobe, which is involved in learning and memory, is only 45 percent genetically determined.
http://www.technologyreview.com/biom...e/22333/page2/

Last edited by Chen019; 04-03-2011 at 03:26 AM..
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:37 AM
Chen019 Chen019 is offline
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Originally Posted by MaxTheVool View Post

So let's say we want to discuss 4 racial groups in the US: White, Black, Asian, and Latino.
Population genetics finds clusters that correspond to those groups. No matter what genetic markers you choose: SNPs, STRs, no matter how you choose them: randomly or based on their "informativeness", it is relatively easy to classify DNA into the correct continental origin.

Quote:
Numerous recent studies using a variety of genetic markers have shown that, for example, individuals sampled worldwide fall into clusters that roughly correspond to continental lines, as well as to the commonly used self-identifying racial groups: Africans, European/West Asians, East Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans (Bowcock et al. 1994; Calafell et al. 1998; Rosenberg et al. 2002).

Subjects identified themselves as belonging to one of four major racial/ethnic groups (white, African American, East Asian, and Hispanic) and were recruited from 15 different geographic locales within the United States and Taiwan. Genetic cluster analysis of the microsatellite markers produced four major clusters, which showed near-perfect correspondence with the four self-reported race/ethnicity categories.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1196372/

Medically they have significance:

Quote:
There exists adequate evidence of racial disparities to warrant stratification for genomic studies of many complex diseases. There are numerous examples of such racial disparities in disease (e.g. prostate cancer,11 glaucoma,12 chronic kidney disease,13 and diabetes-related lower extremity amputation)14 and response to therapy (e.g. high-dose interferon treatment for chronic hepatitis C)15 that persist after accounting for a wide range of potential confounders (e.g. access to care, socioeconomic status, health behaviours). Such residual race effects should at the very least raise some suspicion regarding the distribution and effect size of susceptibility alleles associated with these and other complex disorders.
http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/32/1/26.full

Quote:
International Conference on Harmonization (ICH) published a guidance to facilitate the registration of drugs among ICH regions (European Union, Japan, the United States) by recommending a framework for evaluating the impact of ethnic factors on a drug's effect, as well as its efficacy and safety at a particular dosage and dosage regimen. This review focuses on the pharmacokinetic differences between East Asians and Caucasians. Differences in metabolism between East Asians and Caucasians are common, especially in the activity of several phase I enzymes such as CYP2D6 and the CYP2C subfamily.
http://jcp.sagepub.com/content/44/10/1083.short
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:43 AM
Blake Blake is online now
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Originally Posted by MaxTheVool View Post
So let's say we want to discuss 4 racial groups in the US: White, Black, Asian, and Latino.

So, we take 100000 random guessers and 100000 random targets. And we show each of the guessers a picture of each of the targets and say "to the best of your ability, sort this person into one of those 4 categories, or (E) no idea, or (F) other." (Presumably we give them some incentive to do their honest best job).

I claim the following characteristics will be true of this experiment:
(1) there will be a large number of people among the targets who are identified as the same one of ABCD by a huge statistical majority of the guessers (although some will be mostly E, some will be mostly F, and some will be just about every cominbation of the above you can imagine). We will call people who are generally guessed as being in the same group like this "consensusers".
(2) If a "consensuser" is closely related by blood to other targets, it is more likely than chance (although not certain) that those other targets will also be consensusers, and of the same type
(3) There will be a strong (although again, not perfect) correlation between someone being a consensuser, and that person self-identifying as a particular racial group (obviously there is some trickiness here as "Asian" has subgroups, etc).
(4) If you take other measurable biological traits (ie, muscle type distribution, height, or susceptibility to sickle cell anemia) and test all the targets for them, and then graph those vs. consensusers, you will notice at least some correlations.
Let's try with some other samples and see if you still agree with the conclusion.

So let's say we want to discuss 4 national groups: Japanese, Liberian, Russian, and Papua New Guinean.

So, we take 100000 random guessers and 100000 random targets. And we show each of the guessers a picture of each of the targets and say "to the best of your ability, sort this person into one of those 4 categories, or (E) no idea, or (F) other." (Presumably we give them some incentive to do their honest best job).

I claim the following characteristics will be true of this experiment:
(1) there will be a large number of people among the targets who are identified as the same one of ABCD by a huge statistical majority of the guessers (although some will be mostly E, some will be mostly F, and some will be just about every cominbation of the above you can imagine). We will call people who are generally guessed as being in the same group like this "consensusers".
(2) If a "consensuser" is closely related by blood to other targets, it is more likely than chance (although not certain) that those other targets will also be consensusers, and of the same type
(3) There will be a strong (although again, not perfect) correlation between someone being a consensuser, and that person self-identifying as a particular nationality (obviously there is some trickiness here as "Russian" has subgroups, etc).
(4) If you take other measurable biological traits (ie, muscle type distribution, height, or susceptibility to sickle cell anemia) and test all the targets for them, and then graph those vs. consensusers, you will notice at least some correlations.


I assume you agree with all that.

So do you now accept that nationality has a biological basis? After all it meets exactly the very standards that you set for race.

So are you seriously arguing that someone can be biologically "French"? Or are you beginning to see why this whole experiment is comepletely invalid as a method of determining biological bases?

Last edited by Blake; 04-03-2011 at 03:46 AM..
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Old 04-03-2011, 04:00 AM
Chen019 Chen019 is offline
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Originally Posted by Blake View Post
So do you now accept that nationality has a biological basis? After all it meets exactly the very standards that you set for race.

So are you seriously arguing that someone can be biologically "French"? Or are you beginning to see why this whole experiment is comepletely invalid as a method of determining biological bases?
Using fine scale analysis you can distinguish between countries in some cases. Check out this paper on European genetic substructure, discussed by Steve Hsu:

Quote:
The resolution of the study is sufficiently high that Swedes and Norwegians can be distinguished with 90 percent accuracy...

Genetic distances between population clusters are roughly as follows: the distance between two neighboring western European populations is of order one in units of standard deviations and the distance to the Russian cluster is several times larger than that -- say, 3 or 4. From HapMap data, the distance from Russian to Chinese and Japanese clusters is about 18, and the distance of southern Europeans to the Nigerian cluster is about 19.
http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/11...structure.html

Last edited by Chen019; 04-03-2011 at 04:01 AM..
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Old 04-03-2011, 04:14 AM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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Population genetics finds clusters that correspond to those groups. No matter what genetic markers you choose: SNPs, STRs, no matter how you choose them: randomly or based on their "informativeness", it is relatively easy to classify DNA into the correct continental origin.
More from the interview:

http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/00...ound-01-07.htm
Quote:
Are there boundaries dividing populations?

The idea of race, of course, assumes that there are set boundaries between the races, but we know that to be untrue. You know, there's no racial boundary that's ever been found. Any trait that one looks at, one tends to see gradual variation from one group to another. The facts of human variation are that it's continuous, it's not lumped into three or four or five racial groups.

One of the ways to begin to see a different paradigm, to see that the world really isn't divided into three or four or five types of individuals, is to really try to locate those individuals, to find them and to locate the racial boundaries between them. You could take any characteristic you want, but the most frequently used is skin color. We think that each type of person has a different skin color.

But do this as a thought experiment: start off in northern Scandinavian, say northern Finland, and take a walk in your mind through Scandinavia, perhaps into Germany, down through Germany into southern Europe, through the Mediterranean perhaps, circle around until you get to Algeria, into northern Africa, and continue on your way down towards the equator, and finally from the equator to South Africa.

The challenge would be to say where does one race begin, and where does another race end. Or even where does dark skin begin, and light skin end? Or, perhaps as you leave the equator, where does light skin begin to show up again? In fact, what you find is a rather subtle gradation in skin colors. This is called "clinal variation", and it's really quite like what you see in your weather maps of temperature in the back of USA Today, or your 11 o'clock weather forecast, where you can see how temperature grades change ever so slightly as you go from north to south. Well, skin color is actually quite the same thing. It varies clinally - continuously. There is no abrupt change from one skin color to the next.
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Originally Posted by Chen019 View Post
Medically they have significance:
Quote:
How do diseases become racalized?

It used to be at the turn of the century that we would think of individual races as having very specific diseases. Well, that idea of race-specific diseases was soon shown to be not true. But, what we are ending up with is the idea that race is a risk factor, and osteoporosis is an interesting example of that.

For instance, if you look at any review article on osteoporosis, it may suggest race is a risk factor. But, when you try to interrogate that a little bit, it's not totally clear what they mean by race. Do they mean genetics? Do they mean something about life experience? It isn't quite clear.

And this is where, I think, some medical theory actually hits the marketplace and our day-to-day lives. That's the important intersection. How do ideas about race take on material reality?

A couple of ways this one takes on material reality is that doctors are trained to think that Black people are somewhat immune to osteoporosis because that's what their textbooks say. And that then reflects what they do in actual practice. And that's a point I'd like to get back to.

It also reflects the label on a Tums calcium bottle. The label on the back of the Tums bottles suggests that white, or sometimes Caucasian and Asian, women are more prone to osteoporosis. The label doesn't mention anything about the potential benefits of taking a calcium supplement for Black people.

So, the interesting point is where did that information come from? Well, here we have the Tums bottle that we can get off our drugstore shelf today. The information on the label comes from the Food and Drug Administration. Now, the Food and Drug Administration has to get their information from somewhere. And the one study that is cited most frequently was actually a 1962 study that was done comparing 40 cadavers of whites and 40 cadavers of Blacks. The individuals died and were basically made into cadavers because nobody claimed them. They were rather poor individuals in this particular circumstance who grew up around St. Louis.

So, the information that finds its way onto Tums labels is actually a study of the bones of 80 individuals. What did the study actually show? What did it do?

Well, one of the things it mostly showed is that we lose bone as we get older. It also showed that females have less bone than males, so they tend to lose it more quickly and are susceptible to fractures earlier than men are. And then it also showed a little bit of a lag between the loss of bones in Blacks and whites, perhaps about a three-to-five year gap. So the authors of this study actually don't conclude that Blacks don't lose bone, don't get osteoporosis. They just suggest that in certain bones it takes longer to reach a point where they would be susceptible to osteoporosis. But that's still based on those 80 bones.

But that study gets in the literature, it becomes commonly cited, and the FDA picks it up. And from the FDA it gets on the back of the Tums bottle, Total cereal, Maalox, all sorts of calcium supplements, about who is susceptible to osteoporosis. So, the racial ideology becomes built-in in a very subtle way. We read the label, we read the word "Caucasian", and that tells us there is such a thing on Caucasian. If not, how could it be on the back of a label?

And then look at how doctors and medical personnel take that information. They generally accept it. So individuals walking into their offices looking for potential care for osteoporosis may be shifted one place or the other, depending on how the doctors perceive their race. If they perceive them to be white or Asian, they will get more aggressive screening and treatment. And if they're not perceived as Asian or white, then they go in a different place.

In fact, a friend of mine went in for a bone screen, and the doctor said, "Oh, you don't need one." Why? "Because you're Black." But of course, Black women are breaking hips literally every day.

What is the false logic behind the racialization of disease?

If we look at race and diabetes we can see a double leap of faith. There are two leaps. Frequently, one finds that there may be something genetically involved in a trait - for instance, diabetes, where there may be a possibility that diabetes is partly genetic. And what that does is it casts the lens on looking for genetic differences, so that all those environmental things that may go into diabetes are sort of put aside for the moment as less controllable, perhaps less interesting.

So the Pima Indians, who have a 50% adult diabetes rate, don't think about their diabetes as related to the changes that have taken place in their lifestyle - from heavy activity to low activity, from diverse diets to junk food, fast food diets - that are consistent with the epidemic of diabetes. Rather, what they're told by the medical people who work on them is that it's in their genes, it's in their blood. And so they focus there. So, the first problem is thinking exclusively that a condition is due to genetics and not looking at environmental factors.

Then perhaps the second and greatest leap is to think that just because it's genetic it's racial, that genetics break down along racial lines, or that individuals on one side of a racial line had those genes and the individuals on the other don't. Of course, we now know that that's ludicrous, that in fact genes and race don't mix together.

But don't different groups have different rates of diseases?

Frequently studies are done that show that there are racial differences in all sorts of diseases. Blacks, for example, have twice the rate of infant mortality in the United States than whites. Native Americans, overall, have higher rates of diabetes. And so the question is, how do you interpret that?

First, that may mean to some people - oh, the differences between blacks and whites are really about prenatal nutrition. That's why there are differences in infant mortality. Other individuals may think that that has something to do with medical care. And other individuals may think it has to do with genetics - that there really is something about African-American genes.

So until we address that fundamental confusion about what race is, you know, we're going to be open to different actions and interpretations. And clearly, if you think it's genetics, it may lead to one medical intervention or maybe no medical intervention. If you think it's nutritional, it leads to another. If you think it's medical care, it leads to yet another potential medical intervention.
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Old 04-03-2011, 04:46 AM
Blake Blake is online now
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Using fine scale analysis you can distinguish between countries in some cases. Check out this paper on European genetic substructure, discussed by Steve Hsu:

Let me get this straight. You are seriously arguing that somebody can be biologically french?
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Old 04-03-2011, 10:34 AM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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Let me get this straight. You are seriously arguing that somebody can be biologically french?
As long as you will accept probabilities instead of certainties, I don't see anything ridiculous about that at all?
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Old 04-03-2011, 10:54 AM
Blake Blake is online now
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As long as you will accept probabilities instead of certainties, I don't see anything ridiculous about that at all?
How about the two most obvious:

1) The boundaries of France are not real. Never mind whether they are measurable, they aren't even real. What we call France today did not even exist 2000 years ago.

2) The "French genetics", whatever that is, will move with migration, so Canadians of French descent will not be distinguishable from people born in France, while a Greek who moves t France will presumably not share any French genetics.

Can you answer some basic questions:

If someone lived in Alsace in 1932, were they biologically French? How about in 1945? How about 1845? Why does the state of being French change over time, even for the same individual, if being French is biological?

If a couple moved from Paris to Sydney in 1800, were there children French? How about their grandchildren. Because if French is a biological construct then it can't change due to mere geography, right? A deer does not become a kangaroo if it is born in Australia. So why does the offspring of two biological Frenchman become not French when moved abroad?

Did the genes somehow shift to suit the whim of the cartographers? Did people give birth to children with different genotypes when the boundaries got redrawn?

Or is it more reasonable to assume that people always gave birth to children who shared 50% of their own genes? And hence "French" is a purely political construct, and not a biologically one?

If your point is that "Hispanic" is precisely as biologically founded as "French" then I agree 100%. If you are going to argue that "French" is determined by biology then we are going to have a lot to discuss.
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Old 04-03-2011, 11:16 AM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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How about the two most obvious:

1) The boundaries of France are not real. Never mind whether they are measurable, they aren't even real. What we call France today did not even exist 2000 years ago.

2) The "French genetics", whatever that is, will move with migration, so Canadians of French descent will not be distinguishable from people born in France, while a Greek who moves t France will presumably not share any French genetics.
Both obviously true. Clearly you can not currently test someone's DNA and determine 100% whether that person was born inside the political boundaries of modern day France. But you CAN test someone's DNA and determine there's a fair likelihood that some percentage of their ancestry likely descends from people living in a particular region of Europe several hundred years back. And France is a pretty big region of Europe.

This doesn't seem controversial or surprising to me at all as long as you throw in some disclaimers about lack of certainty, etc.
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Old 04-03-2011, 11:23 AM
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Both obviously true. Clearly you can not currently test someone's DNA and determine 100% whether that person was born inside the political boundaries of modern day France. But you CAN test someone's DNA and determine there's a fair likelihood that some percentage of their ancestry likely descends from people living in a particular region of Europe several hundred years back. And France is a pretty big region of Europe.

This doesn't seem controversial or surprising to me at all as long as you throw in some disclaimers about lack of certainty, etc.
And if you go back far enough everyone's ancestors came from the African continent. So what?

Sure, add some disclaimers, I'd suggest something like: None of this is useful.
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Old 04-03-2011, 11:52 AM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Let me get this straight. You are seriously arguing that somebody can be biologically french?
And that's it in a nutshell. You can draw any number of arbitrary boundaries and classify the people in those boundaries as a "population".

When you have a species that varies clinally, like humans, you can't draw objective boundaries. I can plop you down in Beijing or Berlin, and you'll be able to tell me where you are by looking at the people around you. But, if you walk from Beijing to Berlin, there is no line you cross where suddenly people stop looking "Asian" and start looking "European". And this is the same with our genes. We just don't keep ourselves in isolated genetic populations.

So, if we insist on their being races, we'll never be able to agree how many there are. Are there 6 or 600?
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Old 04-03-2011, 12:30 PM
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Excellent post, John Mace. Our use of race takes a spectrum and tries to break it into discrete parts. It does this in a clumsy way that lumps people who don't have anything to do with each other together, and others who are closely related get separated.

You will find that the "races" are totally different in different countries. Give people a random stack of photos and have different people stack them into piles, and every culture is going to have a very different pile. I've spent a lot of time trying to convince doubtful Africans that in America, Beyonce is black. At times in apartheid South Africa, Chinese people were "Asian" but Japanese were "white." So if race is meaningful, who gets "race" right?

Finally, even if there are generalizations that can be made, what exactly are you going to do with them? None of us have ever been in a situation where we need to determine someone's likelihood of sickle-cell anemia just by looking at them. Even if black people have lower IQs, what exactly can you do with this information? Not invite them to interviews? Automatically track them into remedial classes? Obviously this would be absurd. Individual variation is too high for "race" as a biological category (as opposed to a social one) to be useful in planning just about anything.

So if an arbitrary, changeable grouping is not really useful, what is the point of even having it?
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Old 04-03-2011, 01:15 PM
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Individual variation is too high for "race" as a biological category (as opposed to a social one) to be useful in planning just about anything.
Except constructing basketball teams.
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Old 04-03-2011, 01:20 PM
Peremensoe Peremensoe is offline
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As long as you will accept probabilities instead of certainties, I don't see anything ridiculous about that at all?
But that is ridiculous. People do not have genetic probabilities. They have actual, definite genes.
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Old 04-03-2011, 01:25 PM
Belowjob2.0 Belowjob2.0 is offline
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Excellent post, John Mace. Our use of race takes a spectrum and tries to break it into discrete parts. It does this in a clumsy way that lumps people who don't have anything to do with each other together, and others who are closely related get separated.

You will find that the "races" are totally different in different countries. Give people a random stack of photos and have different people stack them into piles, and every culture is going to have a very different pile. I've spent a lot of time trying to convince doubtful Africans that in America, Beyonce is black. At times in apartheid South Africa, Chinese people were "Asian" but Japanese were "white." So if race is meaningful, who gets "race" right?

Finally, even if there are generalizations that can be made, what exactly are you going to do with them? None of us have ever been in a situation where we need to determine someone's likelihood of sickle-cell anemia just by looking at them. Even if black people have lower IQs, what exactly can you do with this information? Not invite them to interviews? Automatically track them into remedial classes? Obviously this would be absurd. Individual variation is too high for "race" as a biological category (as opposed to a social one) to be useful in planning just about anything.

So if an arbitrary, changeable grouping is not really useful, what is the point of even having it?
Sometimes doctors attempt to determine who has sickle cell by looking them. It's a mistake. Sickle cell deriving from the same genetic mutation which causes it among Africans, in found in southern Italy and Sicily. Doctors who assume that it's a "black" disease will make errors.
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Old 04-03-2011, 01:37 PM
even sven even sven is offline
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Except constructing basketball teams.
If you were constructing a basketball team, and had access to one piece of information about candidates, would race be the thing you'd ask about?
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Old 04-03-2011, 01:47 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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If you were constructing a basketball team, and had access to one piece of information about candidates, would race be the thing you'd ask about?
Clearly you'd want to have people from the "tall race".
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Old 04-03-2011, 02:11 PM
Rand Rover Rand Rover is offline
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I think it's sad that some people let a small group of idiots dictate how they think about science. Of course people can be grouped into classifications called "races." And of course that doesn't mean that people of one race are inherently and irredeemably inferior to people of any other race.

But some people are so pissed off at the racists that they have decided to fight against the concept of "race" itself. Why can't you just fight against the racists? Also, why do you think that fighting against the concept of race itself will have any impact on racists?
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Old 04-03-2011, 02:19 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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I think it's sad that some people let a small group of idiots dictate how they think about science. Of course people can be grouped into classifications called "races." And of course that doesn't mean that people of one race are inherently and irredeemably inferior to people of any other race.

But some people are so pissed off at the racists that they have decided to fight against the concept of "race" itself. Why can't you just fight against the racists? Also, why do you think that fighting against the concept of race itself will have any impact on racists?
The OP asks about "biological" races. And unless you are calling most biologists "idiots", it would seem to me that you'd want to know what actual biologists think about their subject. And the vast consensus is that biological races do not exist.

You can go ahead and classify people any way you want. But you can't do it in a biologically objective way. You might as well talk about tall races or short races, hairy races or not-so-hairy races. But there isn't any one scientifically objective way to divide populations up biologically.

We are one large interbreeding population with genes flowing in and out of any subgroup you can imagine.

Last edited by John Mace; 04-03-2011 at 02:20 PM..
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  #28  
Old 04-03-2011, 02:34 PM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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The OP asks about "biological" races. And unless you are calling most biologists "idiots", it would seem to me that you'd want to know what actual biologists think about their subject. And the vast consensus is that biological races do not exist.

You can go ahead and classify people any way you want. But you can't do it in a biologically objective way. You might as well talk about tall races or short races, hairy races or not-so-hairy races. But there isn't any one scientifically objective way to divide populations up biologically.

We are one large interbreeding population with genes flowing in and out of any subgroup you can imagine.
I told Rand Rover on the pit that the problem is not the science, not even the controversial one that is investigating what the differences could be. The problem is that the racists are twisting science to make it support reprehensible ideas.

I have found that to fight racists you do not even have to call them that, the most damming fact against them is that they clearly fail spectacularly at following the progress of science, twist the most recent research and get stuck in the 1850's 1950's.
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Old 04-03-2011, 02:42 PM
Hank Beecher Hank Beecher is offline
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I have two repairmen at hand with the knowhow to do the job. One is "black" and one is "white". Now, I certainly have no way of knowing off the top of my head whether the "black" one has Ethiopian or Congoese ancestry.
You could look at them. Congolese and Ethiopian people look very different from each other.

Humanity can be reliably classified into any number of categories. The part where all the subjectivity comes into play is in deciding where to draw the lines and how many races there are going to be in your system. Some divisions do seem to make more sense than others, like between East and West Africa for example.
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Old 04-03-2011, 02:52 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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You could look at them. Congolese and Ethiopian people look very different from each other.

Humanity can be reliably classified into any number of categories. The part where all the subjectivity comes into play is in deciding where to draw the lines and how many races there are going to be in your system. Some divisions do seem to make more sense than others, like between East and West Africa for example.
The problem is that for whatever scheme you come up with, the one with more divisions is always going to "make more sense". You come up with N races, and my scheme with N + 1 is going to "make more sense".
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  #31  
Old 04-03-2011, 02:59 PM
Peremensoe Peremensoe is offline
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Humanity can be reliably classified into any number of categories. The part where all the subjectivity comes into play is in deciding where to draw the lines and how many races there are going to be in your system.
There is no divisional system based on definitive biology which corresponds to anyone's idea of what the "races" should be, though--no fact-based approach which can meet racists' needs. No matter which genes or combinations of genes you choose, you always end up grouping some people who are "obviously" different by other measures, and separating people who are phenotypically similar.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:06 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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South Asia is littered with populations whom most European would instantly say were Black (as in African Black). And they really do look it. But then you analyze their DNA, and it turns out they are the populations outside Africa which are the most genetically distant from Africans.

And even these populations, with the possible exception of Andaman Islanders, are constantly losing their own genetic identity as they interbreed with other populations.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:08 PM
RaleighRally RaleighRally is offline
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The OP asks about "biological" races. And unless you are calling most biologists "idiots", it would seem to me that you'd want to know what actual biologists think about their subject. And the vast consensus is that biological races do not exist.
Well then how do you explain this:
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Responses to surveys of faculty at Ph.D.-granting departments indicate that 67% of biologists accept the concept of biological races in the species Homo sapiens, while only 50% of physical anthropologists do so.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...90308/abstract
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  #34  
Old 04-03-2011, 03:09 PM
Peremensoe Peremensoe is offline
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Oh, and John Mace's point is also correct. If we try to avoid the grouping-of-differences that I mentioned, we begin a spiral into ever-finer parsings of the genome. The whole idea rapidly becomes ridiculous.

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Well then how do you explain this...
Uh... you realize that your cite is lamenting that misunderstanding, ascribing it to failures of college science education?

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  #35  
Old 04-03-2011, 03:15 PM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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Well then how do you explain this:
By looking at their conclusion:

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We propose continued use of the concept for some infrahuman species, while abandoning its application to Homo sapiens. For those biologists and anthropologists who continue to use the concept, scientific accuracy can be achieved by the presentation in lecture and text of the following ideas: first, consensus among scientists on the race concept's utility and accuracy does not exist; second, there is more variation within than between so-called races; third, discordant gradations due to natural selection, drift, and interbreeding make consistent racial boundary lines impossible to identify; fourth, past use of the race concept has had harmful consequences; fifth, the most precise study of human hereditary variation maps one trait at a time; and sixth, racial labels are misleading, especially as most populations have a cultural designation.
So thank you for demonstrating what I mentioned before, the conclusions of researchers involved in controversial research do not match the conclusions or solutions proposed by crackpots. People, and even scientists that propose keeping racial divisions in science, are not doing it right.

Last edited by GIGObuster; 04-03-2011 at 03:16 PM..
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  #36  
Old 04-03-2011, 03:19 PM
Peremensoe Peremensoe is offline
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Also, that item is apparently based on a survey from some time prior to March 1992. Not only has the education presumably continued since then, taking into account recommendations like those noted... the relevant research fields themselves have been racing along too.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:22 PM
Hank Beecher Hank Beecher is offline
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The problem is that for whatever scheme you come up with, the one with more divisions is always going to "make more sense". You come up with N races, and my scheme with N + 1 is going to "make more sense".
What I mean is that statistically there are some places where it makes more sense to make divisions than others. You can always continue to subdivide but if you are going to have very many different groupings some of them will start to in some way mirror the patterns of limited isolation and hybridization that result from our migration histories: New World/Old World, Eurasian/West/East (South?) African/Eurasian/Melanesian/Australian. I am not claiming that there is one definitive answer as to which of these or other sub divisions schemes is a more useful or isomorphic conceptual crutch, just that if you are dividing humanity into more and more subdivisions that the boundaries defining the "races" above will be drawn before ones that bisect more inbred populations.

If you are only going to have three races two of them are not going to be North and South Navajos or East and West Irish.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:23 PM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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the relevant research fields themselves have been racing along too.
You are such a racist racer!
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  #39  
Old 04-03-2011, 03:23 PM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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But that is ridiculous. People do not have genetic probabilities. They have actual, definite genes.
I have no idea what point you're making. Plenty of real honest science is filled with probabilities and predictions with confidence intervals and so forth.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:29 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Also, that item is apparently based on a survey from some time prior to March 1992. Not only has the education presumably continued since then, taking into account recommendations like those noted... the relevant research fields themselves have been racing along too.
Yes, and I really shouldn't have said "biologists", since that field is very broad. If you look at physical anthropologists or geneticists, you're going to see a much stronger rejection of the notion of biological races. Now, it is very common for those scientists to talk about "populations" when looking at genetic variations among humans. However, those "populations" can vary in size and geographical distribution depending on the context of the discussion.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:30 PM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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Finally, even if there are generalizations that can be made, what exactly are you going to do with them?
I definitely agree with that. What I'm objecting to with this thread is going too far into the other direction and stating not just things like "races are impossible to rigidly define" or "discussing races is rarely useful" but "race is a completely meaningless concept, biologically".


Here's another way to look at it: let's say aliens show up, abduct a bunch of humans, and analyze human biology and physiology, while paying absolutely no attention to culture. Presumably they'll very quickly figure out how to differentiate between, say, male humans and female humans; or young and old humans. At some point they'll probably also notice variations and categories of external appearance that we call "race", and they'll (if they have enough human subjects) compare that to DNA. Will they come to any conclusions? Do pureblooded Native Americans, for instance, have both distinct enough DNA and physical appearances that aliens would eventually pick up on it? And if so, how are they not a race?


What I'd like to think would surprise aliens is how damn important it all is to us, but that's a separate issue.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:34 PM
MaxTheVool MaxTheVool is online now
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GIGOBuster quoted this conclusion:

Quote:
We propose continued use of the concept for some infrahuman species, while abandoning its application to Homo sapiens. For those biologists and anthropologists who continue to use the concept, scientific accuracy can be achieved by the presentation in lecture and text of the following ideas: first, consensus among scientists on the race concept's utility and accuracy does not exist; second, there is more variation within than between so-called races; third, discordant gradations due to natural selection, drift, and interbreeding make consistent racial boundary lines impossible to identify; fourth, past use of the race concept has had harmful consequences; fifth, the most precise study of human hereditary variation maps one trait at a time; and sixth, racial labels are misleading, especially as most populations have a cultural designation.
I agree with all of that, but to me that's not saying that biological races don't exist at all, just that they're rarely if ever useful in biological contexts for various reasons.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:37 PM
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If you were constructing a basketball team, and had access to one piece of information about candidates, would race be the thing you'd ask about?
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Originally Posted by John Mace
Clearly you'd want to have people from the "tall race".
But some people from the tall race are nonathletic and have poor eye-hand coordination and move around like their spinal cord is a rigid iron bar. Thankfully they're white as a warning so GMs know to stay away. The short race has this warning too.

Maybe it's unscientific or based on culture, but the stereotype will change as soon as non-black counterparts to LeBron or Jordan or Dr. J or many other super athletic black swing men start showing up. And since this hasn't happened in 70 years it's looking a bit grim. It's not like the offerings from India, the Middle East, or China look decent either.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:38 PM
Hank Beecher Hank Beecher is offline
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I definitely agree with that. What I'm objecting to with this thread is going too far into the other direction and stating not just things like "races are impossible to rigidly define" or "discussing races is rarely useful" but "race is a completely meaningless concept, biologically".


Here's another way to look at it: let's say aliens show up, abduct a bunch of humans, and analyze human biology and physiology, while paying absolutely no attention to culture. Presumably they'll very quickly figure out how to differentiate between, say, male humans and female humans; or young and old humans. At some point they'll probably also notice variations and categories of external appearance that we call "race"
You are anthropomorphizing here, assuming that the way an alien life form would interact with it's environment would be similar to ours. Who's to say that if an alien life form even had what we call intelligence, and that it then conceived of the world in the same object oriented manner in which we do, that it would not put humans in 6 billion and some different categories along a male-female continuum?
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:39 PM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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GIGOBuster quoted this conclusion:

I agree with all of that, but to me that's not saying that biological races don't exist at all, just that they're rarely if ever useful in biological contexts for various reasons.
Yes, but remember the OP, IMHO if you do want to press the issue, just drop the use of the "biological" part in a different thread.

Last edited by GIGObuster; 04-03-2011 at 03:40 PM..
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:41 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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I definitely agree with that. What I'm objecting to with this thread is going too far into the other direction and stating not just things like "races are impossible to rigidly define" or "discussing races is rarely useful" but "race is a completely meaningless concept, biologically".


Here's another way to look at it: let's say aliens show up, abduct a bunch of humans, and analyze human biology and physiology, while paying absolutely no attention to culture. Presumably they'll very quickly figure out how to differentiate between, say, male humans and female humans; or young and old humans. At some point they'll probably also notice variations and categories of external appearance that we call "race", and they'll (if they have enough human subjects) compare that to DNA. Will they come to any conclusions? Do pureblooded Native Americans, for instance, have both distinct enough DNA and physical appearances that aliens would eventually pick up on it? And if so, how are they not a race?


What I'd like to think would surprise aliens is how damn important it all is to us, but that's a separate issue.
The aliens would be much more objective and would realize that "pureblooded" Native Americans in Alaska are genetically distinct from "pureblooded" Native Americans in Patagonia or Brazil.

They'd also realize that many populations with superficial similarities are quite distinct, genetically.

They'd conclude that there is considerable variation between different populations of humans, but that it's clinal in nature, and it's impossible to draw objective boundaries between them.
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  #47  
Old 04-03-2011, 03:55 PM
RaleighRally RaleighRally is offline
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Yes, and I really shouldn't have said "biologists", since that field is very broad. If you look at physical anthropologists or geneticists, you're going to see a much stronger rejection of the notion of biological races. Now, it is very common for those scientists to talk about "populations" when looking at genetic variations among humans. However, those "populations" can vary in size and geographical distribution depending on the context of the discussion.
Why don't they ALL reject the notion of biological races? I mean all scientists reject the notion of the earth being flat.
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Old 04-03-2011, 03:58 PM
RaleighRally RaleighRally is offline
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By looking at their conclusion:



So thank you for demonstrating what I mentioned before, the conclusions of researchers involved in controversial research do not match the conclusions or solutions proposed by crackpots. People, and even scientists that propose keeping racial divisions in science, are not doing it right.
There is a potential risk of Lieberman being biased in his "conclusion", fearing a new holocaust if white students were told something politically incorrect.
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Old 04-03-2011, 04:06 PM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is online now
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There is a potential risk of Lieberman being biased in his "conclusion", fearing a new holocaust if white students were told something politically incorrect.
Meh, as noticed you are basing that on a survey from some time prior to March 1992, as I have seen, the current situation is that more scientists accept the facts.

And reaching for conspiracy theories does not fly much over here.

Last edited by GIGObuster; 04-03-2011 at 04:07 PM..
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  #50  
Old 04-03-2011, 04:09 PM
athelas athelas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RaleighRally View Post
Why don't they ALL reject the notion of biological races? I mean all scientists reject the notion of the earth being flat.
Because that would be rejecting reality. Here is a genetic map of Europe showing how easy it is to separate even a fairly homogenous population by ancestry groups. Genetic differences between populations are real, significant, and quantifiable - this is not in dispute in the scientific literature.

Anthropologists don't usually use traditional "European/Asian/African" groupings not because those groups aren't distinct populations, but because they're often the wrong level of analysis for their academic work, which usually involves finer gradations and detailed study of subpopulations - like say comparing two Polynesian tribes. Much in the same way that an engineer wouldn't use quantum dynamics to model an airplane wing, or a biologist wouldn't use the animal vs. plant dichotomy to classify species of bacteria. Doesn't mean those concepts do not describe reality, or even that they're useless in scientific research.
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