Meaningfull Biological Definition of Race


Lots of people who discuss this issue (even in this thread–John Mace, lookin’ at you) think they are disagreeing with something that people like me and MaxtheVool are saying, but they aren’t disagreeing at all. They are just in violent agreement.

Her genes. Any person is more likely to show genetic similarity to their father than another man picked at random.

Yes, every human has genes. So there would be more races that once existed than there are people currently alive, and a potentially infinite number in the future.

We’re not disagreeing with your outstanding discovery that genes are inherited. We aren’t disagreeing with your definition of race, even though it is absurd. We aren’t disagreeing with your conclusion of why your absurd definition is meaningful, because you haven’t provided any. I know it’s difficult, but someone with your record of significant discoveries in the field of genetics should have no trouble if you just use the filll-in-the-blanks form I put in the OP.

Humans often have the problem of labeling continuously varying sets found in nature. Another example, besides clinal populations and the electromagnetic spectrum: the sky. Astronomers have divided the sky into constellations. It’s arbitrary, but unambiguous. The fact that there are locations in different constellations that are extremely close to one another does not remove the usefulness of labeling different parts of the sky.

Great, and what does this division have to do with our concept of race in any other context? You can call all web footed animals cats if you want to but you probably won’t be understood. What you are really describing are haplotypes.

It might help if you tried reading my posts for comprehension instead of looking to find another petard that you think you can hang me on.

You have consistently ignored the middle ground here. All I’m saying is that it’s possible to divide people into groups based on their biological characteristics. That’s it. That doesn’t mean that any such dividing only has meaning if it’s done in an objective manner. It’s possible to create groups subjectively and then use objective measures to divide people into those groups, all done on biology alone.

So, the questions in your OP are meaningless, but that doesn’t mean that “there’s no biological thing as race” or “there’s no scientific definition of race” or any other such sideways nonsense that people throw around all the time.

Give it any name you want, bub. I’m just describing groupings of humans where the groupings are chosen based on their biological characteristics.


Which doesn’t change the fact that nobody would dispute that the frequencies in the middle of that area of the spectrum are clearly red. And nobody in his right mind would try to use that as an argument that the color red somehow does not refer to anything in physical reality.

Only because you tried to define too large a group over too large an area. We can reasonably speak of Arabs as a race because the people generally referred to as Arabs have a high degree of shared ancestry and shared culture, whereas the term Mideasterner means nothing of the sort. And it’s that shared ancestry which means that the definition of Arab is not simply a “social construct,” but an objective physical reality. While the term Arab may not mean much in biology or genetics, the definition nevertheless has a critical biological or genetic aspect. The fact that the concept is fuzzy around the edges does not make the concept invalid, or prove that the concept has no foundation in physical reality, nor does it mean that it is useless for scientific purposes other than biology or genetics.

Okay, and such classification of locations in the sky helps you draw what kinds of conclusions about the objects that appear in such classifications?

Maybe they don’t help draw any kinds of conclusions. That doesn’t mean that grouping stars in that way is not “astronomically meaningful” or that “there’s no scientific way to group stars into constellations” or any other nonsense you hear about race.

You’ll have to ask an astronomer, they’re the ones who find it useful.

Then why are you creating the classifications?

If you can’t draw any conclusions from the classifications, then how are they meaningful?

Really? That’s all you’re trying to say? Merely that it’s possible to create classifications of some kind given any kind of group even if those classifications don’t actually have any value whatsoever?

Are you failing to understand that “there’s no scientific way to classify humans into races” is merely shorthand – There’s no scientific way to classify humans into biological races in a way that will reveal significant differences between these groups of humans such that membership in any particular category will allow an observer who otherwise knows nothing about the individual members of that category to draw conclusions about the individuals regarding X, Y, and Z characteristics.

What, you as a layman can’t think of any one reason? I can. Grouping constellations by their location in the sky does actually have a scientific purpose. It helps an observer on earth identify by location any particular celestial object. But it doesn’t have any particular meaning for other non-locational characteristics of those celestial objects.

So, yes, you could pick some kind of characteristic in order to divide humans into groups – location, skin colour, etc. But the real point is: Why are you doing this? What do you think this classification is telling you? What assumptions should you be able to make when categorizing people in such a way?

When people say “there is no such thing as biological race” or “race has no scientific meaning” what they are saying is no one has been able to come up with a categorization–based on biological characteristics–that creates classifications that allow observers to make any kinds of non-trivial assumptions about the members of those classes.

So you don’t believe DNA is a biological characteristic? Or, it’s not meaningful? Or, you don’t believe it’s possible to group humans using DNA? Why can’t comparison of a specimen’s DNA to archetypes be used to designate a biological “race”?

And why must a category permit “non-trivial assumptions” to be meaningful? You just accepted that constellations are meaningful, yet they allow no non-trivial inferences about objects within them.

But let’s run with this analogy for a second. One guy comes to you and says “ok, I’ve grouped a bunch of things based on color. The stop sign, blood, and fire are in this group; a lemon, a banana and urine are in another group; and the sky, a bluebird and a blueberry are in a third group”.

Another guy comes up to you and says “I’ve also grouped a bunch of things based on color”, but his groupings are totally random.
In neither case are the groupings DEFINED by physics in any meaningful sense. But in the first case they are MEANINGFUL from a physics perspective, in that he’s grouped things together with some correlation to the wavelengths of light that they absorb (or reflect, I forget which). Doesn’t mean that physicists are going to start performing experiments using “Stop signs, blood and fire” as a single rigidly and rigorously defined group, of course.
That’s the point I’m trying to make with respect to race. It’s possible for something not to be DEFINED by biology but to still have meaning when thought of in the terms and contexts of biology.

Because scientists have looked at them, and except for relatively small populations there are no meaningful archetypes that exist. You’re assuming that the DNA supports the idea of broad groupings, but it doesn’t. That’s the problem. Humans are mutts, and although you can classify smaller populations as genetically related it doesn’t translate to larger groups. All those population blend into other populations.

I’ve responded directly to your posts. It’s not my fault if they don’t form a coherent statement.

I’m not asking you for a “Meaningful” or “Biological” definition of race. It has to be both. If you can’t draw further conclusions about biology based on your definition, it’s not meaningful. Unless you are using some variant of “Meaningful” that means “Not Meaningful”. Maybe that’s why you think someone is agreeing with your nonsense.

So what meaning do you ascribe to people have dark skin? It’s not that they are genetically close - there’s more variation within Africa than outside. It’s not that the people’s ancestors are from the same area - there are many populations around the world that have similar dark skin color. It’s not that they have the same genetic mutations that confer resistance to malaria - that’s really isolated to the populations that live in areas that have malaria.

So again, what is the biological purpose of grouping people by superficial attributes such as skin color? If you want to ignore outward characteristics and concentrate on DNA exclusively then you end up with populations, a construct that biologists already use for meaningful purposes.

Max, so we use your classification and hand our alien friend a stop sign. Then we tell him the two (to him unknown) objects blood and fire are in the same group, or race, as the object he has in hand. What meaningful conclusions do you think he will be able to draw about them? Besides of course their “redness”.

That’s the problem with races assigned by a selected set of characteristics, whether the characteristics are observational (like skin color) or genetic. The system, like your redness system, provides no information beyond the information selected in the set up of the system itself.

I suppose I shall have to repeat myself – no one has been able to come up with a categorization–based on biological characteristics–that creates classifications that allow observers to make any kinds of non-trivial assumptions about the members of those classes.

No one has been able to come up with any archetypes based on human DNA that creates classifications that allow observers to make any kinds of non-trivial assumptions about the members of those classes.

Do you think you can do it? How would you go about doing it? What are the archetypes? Of the 23,000 genes in human DNA, which ones are the keys to identifying meaningful classifications?

Because that’s what “meaningful” means.

They are meaningful for the purpose of identifying their location from the point of view as an earth observer. Thus, you have a locational category that is meaningful for the purpose of determining location for certain purposes.

You can do that with particular genes. For example, we have identified about 60 genes for color blindness. We can use DNA to divide humans into two categories based on the presence or absence of these genes. Category 1 would be people who have color blindness genes. Category 2 would be people who don’t.

Once we have made such a classification, we can then assume to an acceptable margin of error that people in Category 1 have color blindness and that people in Category 2 don’t have color blindness. That’s what makes it meaningful. There’s a non-trivial difference between the two groups. We can make non-trivial assumptions knowing only whether a person is a member of one group or another.

There you have it – a meaningful biological categorization of human beings according to genetic characteristics. However, it has no meaning beyond the limited purpose of determining color blindness. It is useful only to the extent that color blindness is significant or important or the subject of discussion. It’s useless in saying anything else about the members of the group.

The issue of race is that when people want to sort human beings into races, they think they are doing something that has some significance. What is the significance? What is the sorting being done for? What does membership in a group tell you that non-membership doesn’t tell you?

Ok I admit such classifications exist. Zillions in fact. Off the top of my head Blood type would be a good example of this. Now are you saying that blood type is equivalent to race? If so I’ll let you have your victory since I can’t argue that it’s not genetic, but don’t go using it as support for the bell curve.

This actually exactly illustrates our problem. Suppose we live in a society that naturally divides organisms according to color, so Bananas and canaries go in one group, blue berries and Blue birds go in a second group, peas and gekko’s go in a third group. Further we observe that the green group tends to have more organisms with cell walls. Therefore conclude that dividing organisms by color is biologically meaningful. In fact it’s a really crappy way of doing so and is largely meaningless.

This is pretty much exactly what we are doing with race.

Well, there’s a difference between providing NO information and providing very little information, and what information it provides being more usefully analyzed with other tools.

For instance, look at my post 44 in this thread, discussing a potential genetic disease linked to a particular population. That will often, although not always, mean that it manifests itself mainly within a single “race”. That can be useful information to have.
Now, that’s obviously just a hypothetical. It may well be that between now and the end of time there is never a situation where something like that actually comes up. But to me there’s a difference between this:

A: Hey, I think I have evidence that this disease mainly strikes the Latino community
B: Huh, well, let’s do some more research and see if we can find out what the genetic heritage is of the people it attacks, as Latino is such a broad term, while also further analyzing your data to see if it can be correlated with environmental or cultural factors. In the meantime, as long as your data seems basically sound, and because the disease is very serious, we might want to consider recommending that Latinos get themselves checked for this disease


A: Hey, I think I have evidence that this disease mainly strikes the Latino community
B: Well, “Latino” is a “race” and is thus just a social construct with no biological meaning at all, therefore because we know there can be no biological connection we must either assume that there’s a cultural or environmental factor at work here or that your data is wrong or that you’re a racist fraud or something.
In other words, I’m not saying I think race is likely to be good for anything very often, I just don’t think it’s prima facie automatically NEVER good for ANYTHING.