Do Different Human Races Exist?

I mean, is the biological concept “race” a scientifically meaningful way of explaining human variation?

Correct me if I am mistaken, but arguably there is no one group of humans that is completely distinct according to any bodily characteristic or group of characteristics (hair, skin, etc), blood type, or DNA. There is just as much genetic difference between two people of the same ethnic population as there is between any two humans on earth at random. If that’s true, it means that what distinction does exist is simply due to the fact that we are individuals instead of members of a biologically distict race.

Many anthropological organizations have officially stated their rejection of “race” as a way of understanding human diversity. Instead of distinct races, some have suggested that humanity is more of a continuum with gradual changes.

Sorry I had to be somewhat vague given my limited resources at the moment, feel free to use your favorite four-letter word if you need a statement to be supported. Oh, and keep in mind that cultrually based “ethnicity” does exist, as do racial perceptions–these should not be confused with the issue at hand.

Groups of people who shared a habitat in common, which differed from the habitat shared in common by one or more other groups, acquired traits that distinguish them from those other groups. These range from superficial-only to medically interesting such as increased likelihood of developing/ inheriting / acquiring Tay-Sachs or hypothyroidism or etc.

At any given time, insofar as these groups have not diverged radically to the point of speciation, the groups are in the process of intermixing and reforming according to new differentiations in habitat and/or travel routes, etc. (In that sense they are like homeroom classes except on a larger and slower-moving scale).

As I’m sure you are aware, there are politically loaded (and very volatile) connotations to race or to the assertion that race is a meaningless social construct. For the most part, taking into account the apparent agendas and claims and beliefs of those who emphasize race versus those who say it doesn’t exist, it is my humble opinion that those who dismiss it more accurately reflect the truth. (In other words, the fact that you and I are in the same homeroom and Cheryl and Joshua are In Ms. Morgan’s homeroom is irrelevant to who we are, and any loyalties or senses of identities created and maintained by our homeroom assignments are awfully superficial and tangential to anything that actually means anything).

Nevertheless, strictly speaking, race is not “nonexistent”. You could do a double-blind study in which a couple hundred subjects are identified and categorized by “race” by some test subjects, then compare their categorizations, and I doubt that you’d find that the overlap failed to surpass random-chance overlap. And the doctors find it useful (along with other categories that for equally politically loaded reasons we call “ethnicity” instead of “race”) in guiding their medical assessments and whatnot.

This link was recently posted on a similar thread…

American Anthropological Association Statement on ‘Race’

Here is a page listing some of the threads where this has been discussed on the SDMB.

I don’t believe we have “races”, as the term has come to mean. But I could see us having “breeds”.

I believe the term breed when used for say dogs is used to say that if you take two dogs of the same breed, and mate them, their offspring will look mostly like the parents.

I think at this point in human history, most of us are “mutts”, in that we have mated so much with other humans with disimilar traits, that we no longer are “pure” enough to always have children that look like us, even when both parents look similar.

Now, I should point out, that when I say “pure” I am speaking genetically, and in now way believe that there is any better “breed” as it were. I actually think that the more muttified we become, the less people will care about silly things like hair and skin color.


But it depends whether you are talking from a genetic point of view, from a geographical point of view, a cultural point of view, etc. Undeniably people living and interbreeding in a certain location will start to have similarities. Eg a family who are all very tall. Or a Scottish clan who mainly have red hair. Or a whole island of people who have black skin.

I am not a geneticist. But it appears from many qualified posters here there are no significant genetic differences between races/peoples/ethnicities.

And to avoid most of the baggage and inaccuracies that have already accumulated around the word race, biologists generally use the word population when discussing these situations.

I think its symptomatic of the human mind’s need to categorise everything. A nine and six inch nail obviously are different although they are both nails, hence a useful and clearly defined category based on length exists. When it comes to the natural world however, I agree that making the distinctions of categories such as race or size is superficial, as there will be race or height A, B and everything in between.

Everything we have created is based on our “categorising mind” and hence is orderly and neatly partitioned. This approach however is extremely limited as to what we can learn when applied to nature (including ourselves) .


I don’t think so, unless you know of the existence of such data.

In order to do this type of experiment, you would have to use testers (those doing the categorizing) from very different cultural backgrounds. Ideally, you would want to use people who don’t have biases or prejudices regarding the representatives in the subject group. Where would you find people like this? I don’t think you could.

A more practical test would be to look at the way race is defined in different societies. Is race as defined in the US the same as it is in Brazil? Or Japan? Or Rwanda? Or Germany? Have the various “races” stayed constant throughout human history (as far as how they have been recognized)? If you see consistencies from place to place and time to time, then there’s your evidence for race delineations being “real”. If you don’t, well, that probably means that race is socially constructed in small or large degree.

Your title question, Crazy boob, leads to much more interesting thoughts than does your OP discussion–as everyone previous has said.

Once in a Zoology course I ran across an interesting evolutionary concept: Species from entire different classes evolve into similar-appearing species, yet are completely different.

An example which comes to mind, good for a SciFi movie but not likely in reality, would be some reptiles which had evolved to appear as if they were some species of mammal–for example, to seem to be human. Of course, since such species are immitators, they would take care to avoid being identified and would be unknown to science except by accident–traffic or battlefield casualties and the like. :slight_smile:

While the SciFi example is most-likely unrealized, the phomomenon occurs frequently enough in nature that Zoologists have given it an official name–which I forget, it having been many years since the course. :frowning:

However in the above context, the answer to your position that different, distinct human races might exist is a qualified “yes.”

No, the answer might be they could have come to exist or they may, in the future, come to exist.

However, the conditions required to allow them to develop have not yet ever occurred and are not currently occurring.

I suspect that you are talking about convergent morphology, but there is no reason to suspect that any of the great apes have come close to developing along human lines, and, certainly, no non-primate/non-mammal has ever developed in that way.

You quibble, but I do not argue:

But when you write the following, tom of tomanddeb, you are obviously wrong: How can you possibly know?

Well, there is the marathon, the sprint, the 100m dash… :smiley:

[sub] I’m sorry. I just had to do that.[/sub]

::: d&r :::

Zev Steinhardt

I find our current “PC” climate is Not only very UNSCIENTIFIC…But actually rather like the Witch Hunting days of old…

As a young Biologist I find that few people seem to know ANYTHING about the SCIENCE of RACE…and that includes “educated” people.

However…I would like to share with you a classic paper by a TRUE SCIENTIST in the FIELD…here is what Mr. J.P. RUSHTON has to say on this subject…

[Mass copy and paste from other web sites deleted. – MEB]

…You can find MR. Rushton at:

Also you should check out the Charles Darwin institute ITs a GREAT SITE FOR SUPRESSED SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH!!

…perhaps if we stop SUPRESSING SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE…we can all live together in true PEACE and UNDERSTANDING!!


Gee. Talk about a thread killer. Did we really need three helpings of that?

You know, just because you say it 3 times Kuku, it doesn’t make it true. NEITHER DOES TYPING IN ALL CAPS.
Ruston is a racist pusher of eugenics. His “science” has been debunked countless times.

I did find one site that finds Dr. Ruston’s body of work the best in the field of biology. David Duke’s site: Warning: This site is a hate site!.

There is a little project going on right now in the scientific community. It’s called the human genome project. You may want to check it out KuKu.

P.S., If I ever meet you Guin, I’m gonna shake you real good for this invasion.

The FAIR site is not the genome site. The FAIR site discusses Dr. Ruston’s body of work.

Here’s The Human Genome Project’s site:

This is my favorite part. I enjoy it so much because it reminds me that elephants and whales, with their enormous brains, are the most intelligent species on Earth. This explains why Elephants have much higher IQs than humans.

I’ve always wondered why that was so. Now I know!

Of course, it still doesn’t speak to issues of IQ tests being completely useless for determining intelligence. Nor does it give any cites for brain size research, including the samples involved. It also doesn’t account for physical differences which can be created by a person’s environment.

But I like the elephant bit.

There has never been even an entire species that has been confused with another due to convergent morphology. (The historical examples of confusion have occurred when successor species in the evolutionary record have been confused as descendent species due to morphological similarity, only to turn out to have been unrelated.) We know quite enough about the development of humans (and have quite sufficient genetic evidence) to know that there are no morphologically convergent members of humanity walking around. (If there were “ringers” due to morphological convergence, they would have a totally alien DNA–one that arose from their separate ancestors.)

Kukulkon: as noted, Rushton is a crank. Citing him here (and calling him a “TRUE SCIENTIST”) is liable to get you laughed at, a lot. If you are genuinely a “young Biologist,” you might try reading actual scientific journals including the parts that provide peer criticism of Rushton’s bad science.

Moderator’s Note: Kukulkon, please do not copy and paste entire papers from other websites. The Straight Dope and the Chicago Reader are in the intellectual property business, and do not want to infringe on anyone else’s intellectual property rights. I have left the links to Mr. Rushton’s websites for those who want to examine what he has to say. Short quotes from another website or from a book or article are fine, but if you wish to refer to an entire article, just post a link.

Also deleted two copies of triple post.