Races don't exist

Well I don’t think they do.

Obviously genetic differences exist. Ones that become less important when we arn’t geographically segragated.

But race? Just a big arbitrary circle drawn around a particular cluster of gene pool differences.

Prove to me that it’s not.

I didn’t think one could prove a negative. But what the hell why don’t I tackle this?

Well shoot, what’s so bad about race being drawn around a particular cluster of gene pool differences? Since we’re all the same species I would think that this would be an acceptable way of looking at race.

race: A population of organisms differing from others of the same species in the frequency of traits.

Perhaps there are many races out there. But I don’t see why anyone would say they don’t exist. Prove to me that they don’t exist.


Err betenoir, this has been done - and is currently being done – an awful, awful lot.

You could take a look at this current Pit thread (especially at the point a member by the name of ‘Collounsbury’ kicks in: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=57167

or, you could just search for the same user name and a number of recent threads will offer you more info than you can shake a search engine at.

Current genetic data indicates that no cluster of traits vary by race (using race in the normal, popular sense) in a coherent manner, ergo the operation is useless. Geneticists prefer the term populations when trying to define coherent (in terms of packages of alleles or distributions thereof) groupings, for the obvious reason that race has far too much baggage and the popular understanding (black, white, yellow schema) far too deeply entrenched to reform.

Please check out the links I provided in past discussions, which are linked in the thread which London has linked. You will find substantive citations to actual scientific research as well as discussion thereof.

Please follow the links to prior discussions. This is not actually terribly controversial once one grasps the genetics.

Here’s the deal, as I’ve gathered from Collounsbury’s patient efforts in fighting Ignorance in this field:

-From a biological standpoint, the term “race” is negligible and meaningless. Any traits that exist in larger percentages in one population over another is simply because the different possible genetic traits haven’t been evenly spread the world over.

-From a cultural standpoint, “race” is just a convenient means of describing someone’s superficial qualities.

::holds his head up in pride::

I’ms bein’ learned! :smiley:

Hmm, I think a number of folks (esp. in the Pit) might disagree with you calling me patient!

Yep, the only ‘race’ issue of any remaining interest appears to be the race to see who blows a fuse first; The rest of the Board or Daniel-in-the-doghouse.

I think races do exist precisely because of those underlying genetic differences that are more than superficial (e.g. disease resistance or susceptibility, as well as hosts of smaller changes in anything you can think of). Sure, maybe populations are different because there’s no gene flow, but so what? They’re still different from other populations. It’s true for all animals, humans included. I don’t understand why this is such a problem for people, the fact that populations begin to diverge when they’re not exchanging genetic material doesn’t justify racism. Surely you don’t think you will you be able to convince EVERYONE that race doesn’t exist and eliminate discrimination that way!

Not to be presumptuous, but that’s the impression I get when people say races don’t exist.

Well, late last night I was here and I ran into a coupla post that were rather cavailer about the subject of race- I mean treating it like of course it exists. So I was moved to post this. I am delighted to hear Collounsbury has already been around on this subject.

*Originally posted by MGibson *

Since we’re all the same species I also would think it should be perfectly acceptable- once you acknowledge it’s arbitrary. But I would think what’s been bad about the idea of “race” being drawn around gene clusters would be pretty obvious.

I suppose if that was the way it was looked at in human society it wouldn’t be much of a problem.


I think the world is divided up into those who are Umagumma and those who are non-Umagumma. Prove to me they’re not.

Or let me it it another way. I think the world is made up of people whose hair parts on the left side and people whose hair parts on the right side. And some whose hair parts in the middle plus a few freaks who don’t have a part at all. And I think this is a meaningful way of thinking about other human beings.

Why the hell not? At some point people became conviced races did exist. The present conception of race was developed pretty recently- 'bout 150 years ago or so. And the conception can change again.

Will it end discrimination? Nope. I think if it came down to it people WOULD discriminate on the way somebody parts their hair. But it would be nice to get rid of one justification for stupidity.

Why oh why?

I need to just ignore these threads.

There are no differences which map coherently onto what you would call racil populations. It is so very tiresome to repeat this so let me stop…

False assumption. Gene flow always fraid.

Frankly, my position has nothing to do with discrimination, as I understand quite well people will simply find new ways to hate each other. However, the genetic data tells us a story which utterly deflates race as a biological concept. Let me introduce you to the science:

First, prior discussions on SDMB, which I hope folks will read rather bringing up the same old tired arguments ad nauseum.

I might direct you to a recent pit thread:

And then more tiresome to this pit thread, about the second or third page.
Peace, you are a worthless piece of shit, and a liar to boot.

And then to this, somewhat more substantive thread
So, what’s the matter with eugenics?

Also see Aren’t multiracial people superior?

And finally
Athletes and race…a theory
A synopsis of the rather long discussions:

(1) Race as a biological construct is meaningless, deceptive and positively gets in the way of a scientific understanding of human populations
(2) No so-called race (in the white-black frame of reference) has any underlying biological coherency, making assertions and assumptions based on an assumed underlying genetic homogeniety FALSE and WHOLLY UNSCIENTIFIC.
(3) As such the generalizations bandied about on race, including those above, are largely based on common logical perceptual errors: notably fallacy of composition, selection bias.
(4) Valid units of genetically based schema for understanding and organizing human populations will resolve at much smaller units than the popular myths known as race. Current work in population genetics is working on precisely these questions

Second, some substantive citations (which while found in the prior discussions, I have learned need to be requoted ad nauseum since many horses, while led to water, don’t drink.)

Try checking out, for a general discussion: Goodman, Allan. “The Problematics of “Race” in Contemporary Biological Anthropology.” in Biological Anthropology: The State of the Science 1995. Among some things other things to read are Cavalli-Sforza, L Luca; Menozzi, Paolo; & Piazza, Alberto. “Scientific Failure of the Concept of Human Races,” in _The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton University Press (Princeton, 1994): 19-20.

In regards to the later, the authors explain how genetic information abundantly proves that there are no distinct “races” in the human species. The number of “races” identified by recent authors who cling to the “race” concept ranges from 3 to 60. “Race” classifications are arrived at without consistent criteria. C-S et al note that there is without question only one human species. All attempts to find smaller groupings within the human species are entirely arbitrary. Gene frequencies vary so greatly within particular populations that they prove useless for distinguishing among geographically defined populations. Even the most isolated human groups carried with their founders diverse sets of genes; large regions of the world are all well known to have experienced many migrations and consequent exchanges of genes.

C-S et al conclude “From a scientific point of view, the concept of race has failed to gain any consensus; none is likely, given the gradual variation in existence. It may be objected that the racial stereotypes have a consistency that allows even the layman to classify individuals. However, the major stereotypes, all based on skin color, hair color and form, and facial traits, reflect superficial differences that are not confirmed by deeper analysis. . . .” What I and Tom have said all along, in other words…

There are two levels of variability to consider. Intra and inter-group (within and between group) variations in the genome. C-S’ considers an analysis of that part of our genome which can be measured by various markers (of allele
variation) of the 6% to 15% of our variability –not our entire genome note, of our *variability, which is a vanishingly small 1% or so-- which varies by region or group. The difference in the estimates depends on the markers used. Templeton, using the “classical” blood markers gets around 15%, others get around 6% using more refined methods.

I.E. our variation by things which one might call racial is tiny! Say, at maximum 15% of approximately 1%. (Some refs:

re much lower degree of mtDNA variability among modern humans see M. Ruvolo et al. [1993] Molecular Biology and Evolution 10: 1115-1135; re much less Heterozygosity of modern humans than in other primates see D. N. Janczewski et al., [1990] Journal of Heredity 81: 375-387

re Human races not having unique set of shared derived characters characterizing any human ‘race’ see P. A. Morin et al. [1994] Science 265: 1193-1201;

re max mtDNA maximum for humans (1.1%) for other primates, around 3% see R. L. Cann et al. [1987] Nature 325: 31-36. Also Research by Maryellen Ruvolo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 13/9/66. which examined mtDNA estimated mutation rate of 0.8% per million years. It estimated gorillas separated from chimps and humans cica 8-10 MYA; humans and chimps circa 6 MYA. Found a very large difference between mtDNA of Gorilla gorilla gorilla (W Africa lowland) and E. Africa species G. g. graueri and G. g. beringei indicating a split about 3 MYA and almost making them separate species. Most interesting was how little variation there was in human mtDNA. “Her findings support previous research showing that modern humans are remarkably less diverse genetically than are the great apes. 'The most different humans on the face of the earth are less different than two lowland gorillas from the same forest in West Africa.”)

As Templeton says in connection with his paper, “Human Races: A Genetic and Evolutionary Perspective,” (American Anthropologist, Fall 1998) “The 15 percent is well below the threshold that is used to recognize race in other species. In many other large mammalian species, we see rates of differentiation two or three times that of humans before the lineages are even recognized as races. Humans are one of the most genetically homogenous species we know of. There’s lots of genetic variation in humanity, but it’s basically at the individual level. The between-population variation is very, very minor.”

Added bonus: Mark Seielstad, Endashaw Bekele, Muntaser Ibrahim, Amadou Touré, and Mamadou Traoré "A View of Modern Human Origins from Y Chromosome Microsatellite Variation " Vol. 9, Issue 6, 558-567, June 1999
Online at:

Summarizes many of the issues in population genetics in its introduction, although it really deals with paleoanthropological issues, but contains some nicely stated critiques of how to approach markers and their meaning.

Similar issues are discussed in:
Francis S. Collins,1 Lisa D. Brooks,1,3 and Aravinda Chakravarti2 “A DNA Polymorphism Discovery Resource for Research on Human Genetic Variation”
Online at:

And perhaps most on subject is
Kenneth M. Weiss “PERSPECTIVE: In Search of Human Variation” Vol. 8, Issue 7, 691-697, July 1998
Online at:

And also from a paleo perspective but reaffirming our conclusions:

Robert Foley “PERSPECTIVE: The Context of Human Genetic Evolution” Vol. 8, Issue 4, 339-347, April 1998
Online at:

(mostly the intro, although the paleo stuff is fun and interesting.)

And while I’m at it, why not read this paper?

Mark Stoneking, Jennifer J. Fontius, Stephanie L. Clifford, Himla Soodyall, Santosh S. Arcot, Nilmani Saha, Trefor Jenkins Mohammad A. Tahir, Prescott L. Deininger, and Mark A. Batzer: “LETTERS: Alu Insertion Polymorphisms and Human Evolution: Evidence for a Larger Population Size in Africa”
Vol. 7, Issue 11, 1061-1071, November 1997
Online at:

Since it shows how population issues are addressed in context, not 100% relevant but what the heck I thought it was an interesting article and since I’m in a sharing mood.

Also Li Jin, Peter A. Underhill, Vishal Doctor, Ronald W. Davis, Peidong Shen, L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, and Peter J. Oefner
“Distribution of haplotypes from a chromosome 21 region distinguishes multiple prehistoric human migrations” Vol. 96, Issue 7, 3796-3800, March 30, 1999
is kinda fun.

Thank you Collounsbury.

Because there are some of us who haven’t seen those old postings. While this didn’t challenge any preconcieved notions of mine (actually this backs up what I expected to be true), it is still great information.

Bravo and thank you. Keep fighting the good fight!

Collounsbury: There ought to be a Great Debates reference page, organized by topic that we could link to for definitive statements. When some knucklehead comes in with “Evolution is only a THEORY!” or “there are three words in English that end in -gry…” we could just link to the page and tell them to come back when they’ve done their homework. If such a page were to exist, I would absolutely nominate your last post for it. (


Question: like race, colors have no clear-cut boundaries and are not distinct groupings. There is no one point that differentiates red from, say, pink or purple. In fact, the number of color groupings can, like race, be said to be completely arbitrary. Does this mean that colors cannot be said to exist? Does this mean that no generalizations about specific colors can be true because the concept of distinct colors has no scientific meaning? (I believe psychologists have studied the different effects of various colors on people).

(Note: this remark does not tie in with anything I’ve said in any related threads, and should not be interpreted in such a context).

Izzy: Does this mean that colors cannot be said to exist?

Absolutely, in the sense that there is absolutely no physical quality of light that corresponds to a distinction between discrete “colors”. The electromagnetic spectrum extends continuously through all the visible and invisible frequencies. “Color” is a purely arbitrary categorization. (When you’re dealing with psychological/physiological questions of color perception, of course, it’s a different story, because the human eye and brain have some of those arbitrary categorizations hard-wired.)

Similarly, “race” is a purely arbitrary categorization of the multidimensional spectrum of human genetic variation. And as Collounsbury has constantly been pointing out, it’s worse than arbitrary because it misrepresents relationships. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with saying that any visible light with wavelength longer than a given value is defined to be “red”, and wavelengths slightly shorter than that value have to be called “orange”. It’s a purely arbitrary designation, but it doesn’t misrepresent the facts.

On the other hand, as I understand Collounsbury’s points, it does misrepresent the facts to say that, e.g., black-skinned, curly-haired, “flat-nosed” people will be defined to be one of the “races” of people who are more closely related to one another than to members of other races. Because in fact, to take just one example, most black-skinned, curly-haired, “flat-nosed” South Indians/Sri Lankans are genetically more closely related to light-skinned, straight-haired, “hook-nosed” North Indians than to black-skinned, curly-haired, “flat-nosed” Africans. So in terms of actual biological kinship, this definition of “race” is not only an
arbitrary categorization, it’s a miscategorization. (Have I got that factually correct, Collounsbury?)


I have failed to understand you. Are you saying that a concept does not exist because if we allow that it exists people will misinterpret it?

Izzy:* Does this mean that colors cannot be said to exist?*

I like Kimstu’s explanation, but here’s an even simpler way of looking at it (and I hope I have this right).

Suppose you have 2000 colored light sources, 1000 various shades of red, 1000 various shades of blue. All of the red light sources will have wavelengths in a certain range (sorry, too lazy to look up the wavelength of red light atm). None of the blue lights will have wavelengths in that range. And vice versa.

Now take 2000 people, some who would traditionally be considered black, some white. Now compare the genetic similarities and differences between them. There may be some “whites” who are less similar to other “whites” than they are to other “blacks”, and vice versa. And, as Kimstu pointed out, those similarities and differences may not be reflected in physical appearance at all.

Did I get that right, and does it make sense?

Well, Izzy, is a red car any faster or more reliable than a blue car?

Collounsbury et al.:

I trust that I’ve sufficiently established my bona fides here that what I ask in the next paragraph will be taken as a serious question, rather than as trolling…

What about the various “genetic” ailments that have traditionally been linked to “racial” groups? E.g., the acute sensitivity to aspirin syndrome (Tay-Sachs?) which is almost exclusively confined to people of Ashkenazi Jewish stock, the classic example of sickle-cell anemia (present only in people from Old-World malaria-infested areas due to genetic linkage where partial immunity from malaria is carried “on the same gene” – and hence predominantly “a black disease”)? And I seem to recall some stuff on ethnic stocks being more susceptible to communicable diseases, although the only example that comes to mind is so controversial as to provoke a hijack.

I grant that “race” in the traditional sense is very much an artifact with little or no connection to biological reality, and only slight connections to ethnology. However, are there not some valid grounds for ethnic subdivisions on a smaller scale than “black vs. white vs. Asian” in biology and ethnopathology? Would you be so kind as to address this question in the same dispassionate tone in which you dealt with the OP?