Is there really such a thing as race?

A Census question over at mpsims brought this point up.
Is there any real scientific reasoning behind the different races? What are they?
I think classifying humans into different races is sorta like calling Europe a continent.
What do you guys think?

Teacher, my red crayon tastes funny – Ralph Wiggum

Though at first blush, we are all genetically compatible, I don’t absolutely think that means that we are all the same. Obviously, there is no disputing the very different general physical characteristics of the various people of the world.

Somebody look up the deffinition of Race (not the competition kind) I don’t have a dictionary handy at the moment.

As for me, I think racial diffences, like cultural or religious differences, are real. But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise if the evidence is compelling and sound.

I think this is the operative definition and should get you started.

RACE - 1) any of the different varieties or populations of human beings distinguished by:
a) physical traits such as hair, eyes, skin color, body shape, etc.: traditionally, the three primary divisions are Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid, although many subdivisions of these are also called races.
b) blood types.
c) genetic code patterns.
d) all their inherited characteristics which are unique to their isolated breeding population.

Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia - Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 - The Learning Company, Inc.

I was seriously considering penciling in “RAT” on my census form, but my wife beat me to it and wrote “HUMAN”.

As far as definitions a & b are concerned, you could call parts of our species races, but once you step into c & d, you’re going on to shaky ground.

When you consider definition c, IIRC, the various “races” actually contain more genetic variability within each “race” than there exists between different “races,” making distinctions based on the genetics questionable. (I think this is from Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994. * The History and Geography of Human Genes *)

When you look at definition d, it’s not entirely clear to me how well isolated human populations are, and I would guess that they’re not very well isolated, especially on evolutionary time scales. If enough gene flow has occurred to make definition c problematic, how could definition d be any better?

There are some pretty distinct physical differences that we cue in on, like skin color, hair, etc, but I’m not sure there’s anything more substantive than that. I could be wrong… anyone else know?

“Heyyyy sexy mama! Wanna kill all humans?” -Bender

“Your game shows reward knowledge. Ours punish ignorance!”

Good question Big Girl!

I agree with Steve that Cavalli-Sforza et
al. 1994. The History and Geography of Human Genes is a good place to look for answers.

Cavalli-Sforza is supposed to be “THE GUY” in human genetics today.

He says:“From a scientific point of view, the concept of race has failed to obtain any consensus; none is likely given the <b>gradual</b> variation in existence.” There is, in other words, gradual changes from place to place no matter which definition of race is used.

He continues that the polymorphisms that we see developed rather late in our species, less than 1/3 of the time we have been a species.

It looks, and it is very confusing, that even something as simple as eye color is not simple and the controlling genes might even be at different locations.

Pygmies are the ones that surprised me. We all have the same size noggen but they lack the adolescent growth spurt that gets us up to “average” size. As simple turn off-turn on thing.

There might be another genetic cause for shortened stature in other groups of pygmies (in other words a second non-related machanism in a different population) but it is another “easy” thing and I forget it right this second.

(Around and about page 19 of the above mentioned book.)

He warns that observable features, skin color, eyes, hair, height… are subjected to strong sexual selection in humans and those preferences are unstable. (A Darwinism, I’m sure.)

Are you driving with your eyes open or are you using The Force? - A. Foley



Another point to consider is that Cavalli-Sforza shows that genetic relationships between various groups are in some cases quite different than those assumed on the basis of physical appearance. For instance, there is more genetic variation between some sub Saharan African groups than there is in the rest of the world’s population- in fact the rest of the world could be considered a subset of the African population.

As another example, despite the appearance of an “Mongolian” race of East Asians and American Indians, the genetic evidence shows that Northeast Asian and American Indian peoples are closer to Europeans than they are to Southeast Asians, who are closer to Australian Aborigines, regardless of the great difference in physical appearance. In fact the split goes right through China, with northern Chinese falling into one group and southern Chinese into the other (Jared Diamond wrote an article in Discover about a year or so ago, explaining why China has such a cultural homogenity despite its genetic diversity).

Given then that seemingly obvious physical similarities are such a poor guide to genetic (and thus genealogical) relationship, of what value are our current concepts of “race”, other than as cultural pigeonholes?

From all the wonderful research everyone did (everyone except me, that is) I see that my original supposition about race is true. It is a social construct used to seperate culturally different people, but scientifically there are no great differences.
Perhaps, the Census question would be more appropriate if they asked your breed.
This seems more like what they are looking for.
Are you Asian or are you Black?
Are you a Poodle or a Great Dane?

Teacher, my red crayon tastes funny – Ralph Wiggum

Well, actually, says I’m a Pug.

As far as race goes, don’t we all belong to the race of “man”?
I’d just like to know what ethnic group I belong to. My father is Native American 100%(Lumpee Indidan Nation) and my mom has parents and grandparents.
I have blonde hair blue eyes, and skin so white that dead fish would envy it. I would have a very hard time convincing someone that I’m 1/2 Native American. My sisters have darker hair and skin.
I know others that have similiar dilemmas, our country has simply had so much sex that the melting pot thing really happened.

Carpe Jugulum

My apologies, I meant to say that mom’s relatives are German, but left that part out.

Carpe Jugulum

Nebuli Quote: “Given then that seemingly obvious physical similarities are such a poor guide to genetic (and thus genealogical) relationship, of what value are our current concepts of “race”, other than as cultural pigeonholes?”

Exactly, great for pigeonholing and name calling.

Wevets already has an email listing, would you do the same Nebuli? Just an easy email address from OR NOT - I’ve been working on Cavalli-Sforza for a couple of months and would appreciate having a couple of people to email for questions that plague me. See, I’m telling you up front exactly how frightening it might become!


Are you driving with your eyes open or are you using The Force? - A. Foley

If there is no such thing as race, how can forensic pathologists identify a skeleton as from a black man, a white man, or an Asian?

mips- nobody is denying there aren’t physical differences. Heck, you don’t need to look at bones to see that. What the new genetic info is showing is that our previous beliefs about meaning of those differences was wrong. Peoples of very similar appearance are not necessarily closely related, while some peoples of very dissimilar appearance may be more closely related.

I need caffeine here! “No one is claiming that there aren’t…”

There will be no good “scientific” answer to this question as it is too “hot”. However, if humans were beetles, there would defitately be 4+ “species”.

Technically, the 4 major races should be “subspecies”, ie “related, with clear cosmetic differences, with each subspecies rarely interbreeding”. But any scientist who said so would be branded as a racist. I’m not saying that we should list the races as subspecies, it would cause too much controversy. Besides, as “rulers of the universe” (ha) the rules we apply to beetles & birds don’t have to apply to us.

I guess subspecies would work except for the interbreeding part. And what are the subspecies? I think my analogy with the different breeds of dogs is more accurate.

I do not believe that this is the case. There is little justification for the concept of subspecies in the rest of the biological world, and some prominent biologists, including Stephen Jay Gould, have suggested eliminating the category altogether. Genetic analysis shows that often what we have labeled as separate species is inconsistent.

If you generate a list of all the different definitions of the term species, you’ll see that the “rules” are not clear and direct, in fact, they’re practically nonexistent, and where they do exist, they are sometimes quite arbitrary. There’s considerable controversy over how we should define species, and if you like I can provide citations for a variety of articles that question the viability of current species concepts.

If I may ask, what different groups of humans do you suggest should be classified as subspecies, and based on what evidence?

Ok, if in the rain forest there were several beetles, all interally similar, but with distinc color differences & minor morphological differences, and these beetles lived in separate trees, with some/little crossover & little interbreeding (not that they could not, but that they don’t, maybe because the color of their “own” is more attractive), there would be 4-5 new species of beetles soon listed. But beetle guys are notorious “splitters”. Bird specialists would probably use “subspecies”. Mammal guys (“lumpers”)would use “races”.

It is a hard call, and a VERY sensitive question, but since you asked:
Whites(europe), blacks(africa), orientals(asia) for sure. Perhaps abos (australia), polynesians("") and 200 years ago, amerinds(america). The “melting pot” in current North America would be glossed over.