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    Why Race Is Pseudo-Science
    By Gerhard Adam | August 12th 2012 03:33 PM | 36 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Recently several posts have played the "race" card and elicited all manner of responses, but at its root, the fundamental premise had not actually been examined.  Is "race" a valid concept?

    I know that many people will immediately experience a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of discussing "race" as pseudo-scientific, because they either have a vested interest in advancing their own "race", or because they wish to use it as a lever against other "races".

    However, the premise is quite simple.  If you can't actually define it in scientific terms, then it cannot be science.  Therefore any claims that derive from it are not science.  Similarly, we cannot claim that "race" is valid by simply engaging in arm-waving arguments based on the fact that there are genetic differences between various population groups.  "Race" must be fully quantifiable as specific heritable trait(s) that serves to identify the group in question. 

    One argument often made is that "race" has a biological meaning because it is used in the same way "subspecies" is to describe other animals.  It is simply an indicator of genetic differences intrinsic to different population groups.  OK, fair enough.

    Human beings are formally classified as Homo sapiens sapiens, with all known subspecies being extinct.  If this is to change, then where's the taxonomic argument for the change?  What should the designations be?  Interestingly enough, advocates are typically silent on this point.  Let's also be clear that a species can be considered monotypic without requiring any further taxonomic designations1.  Even the definition of a species is subject to controversy and subspecies designation is often even more contentious.  However, it is somewhat difficult to argue that humans can be reasonably divided into subspecies, when there is free genetic mixing between groups and no definable taxa that results from such pairings.  So while it may be possible to identify a particular group based on historical, geographic, or cultural lines, this becomes untenable when those groups interbreed with members outside that group.

    If the concept of race is to be scientific, then it would need to specifically identify the genetic criteria that is to be used for that differentiation.  Merely claiming some external trait isn't going to do it. 

    Such simplistic thinking is insufficient to raise the idea of "race" beyond anything except another convenient [or inconvenient as the case may be] cultural grouping.

    Some will complain that this is about political correctness, but that is wrong.  It's about science and it's about having specific scientific evidence on which a classification is based.  Usually whenever you hear someone claim either "inferiority" or "superiority" you can be fairly confident that they are not being scientific.  Basing an explanation of race on a few statistical outliers is not only disingenuous, it is decidedly unscientific.

    So what are those genetic differences that are serving as a criteria for defining race? Again, invariably things like the sickle-cell gene, or the propensity for Tay-Sachs disease is hauled out as justification.  However, this isn't justification, since there are a significant number of people within the supposed "racial" classification that do NOT possess those genes.  What are we to make of the classification then?

    Sickle-cell is associated with Sub-Saharan Africa, yet this hardly encompasses the entire region populated by blacks, which is the racial designation invariably used. Within the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 500 African-American children will acquire anemia 2.  Should we consider this 0.2% distribution of this disease, a basis for classifying this as a racially specific condition?  Even the most liberal reading of such a statistic would argue that Sub-Saharan Africans would have to be considered a separate race from other blacks.  More importantly, the notion that Sickle-Cell is a "black" gene is simply wrong 3,4.

    So, invariably we find that we are drawn to superficial differences to draw the racial lines, without regard for whether there's actually a genetic basis for such a line.

    Additionally, some will argue that these "race" studies are important for medical reasons because of population susceptibility to such genetic diseases.  This is most certainly a desirable objective, but it should illustrate how much more important it is that we have clear genetic differentiation and not something so trivial as skin color 5.

    For example, if you assumed that the Sickle-cell gene only affected blacks, then scientifically you would have missed the reality of people in India also having it.  How scientific is that?  So as science has actually demonstrated, the issue of the sickle-cell gene is closely tied to the incidences of malaria on a worldwide scale.  Therefore the important point is to target descendents of individuals from those regions, rather than some nebulous claim of their purported race.

    So, while there is no question that examining genetic differences in population groups is an endeavor worth pursuing.  Perhaps before we pursue it, we should indicate what those genetic differences actually are, instead of simply assuming that something as trivial as skin color can do that work for us.

    Despite all the professed interest in combating "racially distinguished" genetic diseases, this is also a decidedly unscientific tact.  It is clear that as populations move and interbreed, that such "racial" differences will spread throughout the population, since genes don't distinguish "race".  So, while it might be of some historical interest, it is of little medical value.  In fact, diagnosing genetic diseases based on "race" could invariably result in significant misdiagnosis of affected individuals simply because they are members of the, apparently, "wrong race" 6.
    "Although opponents of a biological definition of race acknowledge that it is possible to classify geographically defined populations on the basis of clusters of genetic building blocks, they argue that the public health implications of such ancestral clustering of genes is controversial and that race at the ancestral or continental level has not been proven useful in terms of predicting individual diagnoses or individuals’ responses to drugs or causes of disease."
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449495/
    More to the point, there are already numerous diseases that have been identified as having a genetic basis, but they don't neatly divide between "races" because of population mixing.  In effect, the motivation to use "race" as a indicator of genetic diseases is doomed to fail, since these populations cannot be assumed to remain geographically or culturally isolated.

    However, let's be completely clear on this point.  Any genetic disease is capable of being passed on to any other human being, without regard for "race".  Despite the sense that Tay-Sachs affects primarily those of Jewish descent or Sickle Cell Anemia affects Sub-Saharan Africans, this only describes those with the highest probabilities of having the trait.  Anyone can have it, so there is no "racial" protection against acquiring the genes.

    Let's remember that the issue isn't whether there are genetic differences between individuals; we know there are.  The issue isn't whether there are genetic differences between population groups, especially those that are geographically or culturally isolated; we know there are.  The issue is whether such differences are clear and significant enough to be useful in assessing individual traits.  If these differences are not consistent, nor applicable in all cases, then their utility must be suspect, hence their basis for being considered as indicative of "race" or subspecies.

    We should also consider that when talk turns to genetic traits such as those in sports, we quickly begin to invoke nationality just as casually as "race".  So, it's Jamaicans or Kenyans, despite there being little biological basis for such gross distinctions.  All we do know is that a few select individuals that may share a particular population history have demonstrated prowess in areas that others haven't.  That is hardly a basis for claiming genetic relatedness between millions of people.  In other words, if you wish to discuss Usain Bolt, then do so, but to invoke Jamaicans, in general, is unwarranted.

    So, if we really want to pursue the topic of "race" or designating subspecies of humans, then lets do so on a scientific basis, and not some arbitrary socio-cultural designation.  If "race" is going to be based on genetics, then it should be intuitively obvious that people will have their "racial" classification changed based solely on their personal family history.  As a result, the designation of any particular "race" could actually change from generation to generation. Therefore any claim at racial knowledge that is based on arbitrary external traits rather than the specific genetic traits, is, by definition, wrong 7

    Show me the genes.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15508004

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15510170

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446406/pdf/11076233.pdf

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    Additional note on genetic claims

    For an example of how nonsensical such genetic claims can be, consider the following article:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2167996/Why-progeny-slaves-strike-gold-Olympics.html

    It's fairly obvious that if the slave trade were responsible for selective breeding to produce these "super-athletes" then clearly the early slaver-owners must've been considering the selective traits for running sprints in some slaves, and marathons for others [of course this neglects the number of offspring that the white owner may have fathered].  Since even artificial selection presumes that there is a specific trait being selected for, it is ridiculous to suggest that such selective "breeding" by slave owners would've produced such a pronounced dichotomy between the two different skills.  While it might make for a good story, it is unclear how surviving a horrific ocean voyage at the hand of slave-traders, would translate into superior genetics for running.  
    "Only the toughest survived. During one such voyage in 1732, more than 95 per cent of slaves perished — 170 were herded on to the ship and only six got off alive."
    Again, this perspective is generally the result of a gross misunderstanding of the phrase; "survival of the fittest", in that it assumes that strength equates to fitness.  As unfortunate as such conditions were, generally it is naive and simplistic to simply presume that the survivors were the strongest.

    In truth, our ancestors were likely to be considerably faster than us modern humans, so the more plausible explanation is that there are still some genes [conserved traits] present that allow the occasional outlier to have such a genetic advantage.  It is clearly not intrinsic to everyone, so to infer such a broad genetic interpretation on an entire population is ludicrous.

    ============================================
    1  The variation among individuals is noticeable and follows a pattern, but there are no clear dividing lines among separate groups: they fade imperceptibly into one another. Such clinal variation always indicates substantial gene flow among the apparently separate groups that make up the population(s). Populations that have a steady, substantial gene flow among them are likely to represent a monotypic species even when a fair degree of genetic variation is obvious.

    2  In the United States, about 1 out of 500 African-American children born will have sickle-cell anaemia.

    It is important to note that acquiring the disease is not the same as having the trait.  Since the purpose of using genetics to classify "race", then any individual that possesses the gene would need to be considered part of that racial group.
    "Sickle cell is found in people in Greece, the island of Orchomenos, in particular, has very high carrier rates for sickle cell. There are also high carrier rates among people on the Arabian peninsula and people in India. There are parts of India where sickle cell carrier rate is as high as it is anywhere in Africa. On the other hand, people in the southern part of Africa - or people whose ancestry goes back to the southern part of Africa - don't have high sickle cell carrier rates because that allele is selected for only in human beings who have lived where there's a high instance of malaria, which you don't find in southern Africa. People do not carry the sickle cell gene variant because they are of a certain race, but because of some more particularized population history."
    http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-experts-01-10.htm
    3 Regions of Sickle Cell in the world:

        Africa
        Mediterranean countries (such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy)
        The Arabian peninsula
        India
        Spanish-speaking regions (South America, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean)
    "...yet it is common in people of African, Mediterranean and Indian origin."
    http://www.news-medical.net/news/20101103/New-global-map-shows-distribution-of-sickle-cell-gene.aspx
    The sickle-cell gene is found in people from Africa (or African descent), the Mediterranean area (Italy, Greece), Middle East, East India, Caribbean and Central and South America.
    http://caribbean.scielo.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0043-31442009000400003&lng=en&nrm=iso
    4  Consider this survey of the Sickle Cell Trait (SCT) in Uganda, where there isn't even a consistent occurrence within the same country.  Yet, despite such statistical variation, it is still often discussed as if it were a uniform characteristic of a general class of people.
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2326/10/5/

    5  Within medicine:
     ...within medicine, knowledge of a patient’s racial and ethnic background is often a significant factor in the appropriate selection of treatment modalities. It is well known for example that the survival rates of transplant patients are influenced by race, as the lack of close ethnic matching between donor and patient is a significant factor influencing tissue rejection
    https://lesacreduprintemps19.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/woodley-2009-is-homo-sapiens-polytypic-human-taxonomic-diversity-and-its-implications.pdf
    While this may seem like an eminently reasonable position, consider how few people actually know what their racial and ethnic backgrounds are, and how many of them have that information available to a medical professional.  In short, if medicine is based on personal anecdotal information, then the usefulness in medicine is suspect, and becomes muddled when only obvious external racial traits are considered indicative of anything.

    6 While anyone can be a carrier of Tay-Sachs, the incidence of the disease is significantly higher among people of eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent. Approximately one in every 27 Jews in the United States is a carrier of the Tay-Sachs disease gene. Non-Jewish French Canadians living near the St. Lawrence River and in the Cajun community of Louisiana also have a higher incidence of Tay-Sachs. For the general population, about one in 250 people are carriers.
    http://www.genome.gov/10001220

    7
      You would think that that lesson should have been clear to biology when numerous taxonomic changes had to be made when DNA analysis demonstrated that classification by external traits was often wrong.

    Let's also remember the huge degree of variation in external traits that we see in animals like dogs, despite there being no biological consideration that the various breeds represent a subspecies.

    Comments

    Race is such a loaded term that nowadays the mere mention of the word disallows conversation. I applaud your willingness to broach the matter in a straightforward and unapologetic manner. Your analysis of the usefulness of the term renders such touchiness concerning the matter ridiculous and moot. When we discuss "race" in this country, what we are really discussing is the culture to which physically similar people adhere. It would be more useful to keep this in mind when the subject comes up.

    Thor Russell
    Yes and "racist" is very overused, often it means someone is accused of being biased against a culture or country rather than race. e.g. if you criticize the people in one country but not the next door one you can hardly be racist because the country next door will most likely have the same genetic distribution etc. If you were to be strict about it you would have to invent terms to mean "biased against a culture" and "biased against a country"
    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    We already use "nationalist" so why not a "culturalist"?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thor Russell
    hmm, "nationalist" isn't sufficiently bad sounding enough for someone who wants to call everyone racist. "culturalist" could work though the first few people using it may get laughed at.
    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, actually "nationalist" is generally considered almost synonymous with patriotism, so I was actually envisioning something more like "anti-nationlistic" and "anti-culturalistic".  I think they sound a bit more sinister.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Whatever you call such categories, there will be tree lovers who call you a whateverist because 'we are all the same', which isn't even pseudoscience, but plain idiocy. Science is not about throwing words into the bin but defining consistent terminology in order to make a difference. Wife is yellow, guy is white, kid gona be black? Genetics nothing to do with it? Just "another convenient cultural grouping"? Some call it race until somebody comes up with a better term that does not sound like they are trying to get laid in an OWS camp.
    Just another 'convenient grouping'? Categorization is a most important part of science. Propose a better categorization. Give us a positive guide, based on science. Tell us in what circumstances we can do without it and how.
    Your ranting against selection making a difference is borderline pseudoscience! If selection, say surviving a disease stricken boat ride, cannot make any difference, if there can on principle be no difference whatsoever in the organ rejection due to racial differences, no differences whatsoever in intelligence between races for example, regardless of all possible definitions of "race" and declining all and every empirical input into the issue, how is this not anti-science and how is any trait ever going to evolve at all? If there are no gradual differences during the very earliest stages of speciation already, like with your dog breeds (you damn breedist you, how dare you discriminate against dogs?), what is evolution? Species dropped down from heaven? That may be super politically correct, but it certainly is not science.
    rholley
     ... tree lovers ...?  Watch out for the Huorn!


     
     
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    ...if there can on principle be no difference whatsoever in the organ rejection due to racial differences, no differences whatsoever in intelligence between races for example, regardless of all possible definitions of "race" and declining all and every empirical input into the issue, how is this not anti-science and how is any trait ever going to evolve at all?
    The issue is what it has always been.  Having knowledge of one's medical history.  It is not about some arbitrary biological classification that doesn't hold up more than 10 feet from where you were born.

    So when someone observes that those of West African descent are elite sprinters, is this some classification based on being black?  Being from West Africa?  or is it based on having a particular gene?  If it's the latter, then let's identify what that is and use it as a basis for classification.  However, if the other elements are simply probability indicators related to possession of the gene, then it isn't a useful classification.  It is a speculative connection which may or may not be true.

    Contrary to your original sentence, I thought the point was pretty clear that this wasn't some "feel-good" because "we're all the same" article.  We aren't all the same.  However, pointing out superficial differences is not a basis for creating some scientific classification.  If we don't have the knowledge to do it effectively, then that's fine, because that can be researched and fixed.  It is not valid scientifically to simply argue from convenience because we usually have pretty good odds of guessing right, so let's classify everything accordingly to such superficial considerations.
    Biological taxonomy was probably one of the most disciplined attempts at animal classification that occurred based on observation and attempts to correlate traits.  In my view, it was an extremely rigorous process subject to a fair amount of disagreement.  Yet, the lesson learned was that regardless of how stringent the effort was, there were major flaws discovered once the genes were analyzed and it demonstrated how unreliable external examination could be.

    If the knowledge of race would produce as many incorrect guesses as correct ones, then it has no scientific basis.  Of course, I can argue that being black increases the odds that the individual has the Sickle Cell Trait.  However, I can be wrong an equal [or greater] number of times in making such a guess.  Such a system of classification doesn't have any scientific merit.

    That's little better than making predictions about crime or poverty or whatever.  Science does require classification, but it doesn't profit by using stereotypes in their stead.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    "simply probability indicators related to possession of the gene, then it isn't a useful classification.  It is a speculative connection which may or may not be true."
    Which makes it science. We also of course throw old classifications away, but not because of political pressure but because of better classifications.
    pointing out superficial differences is not a basis for creating some scientific classification. ... Biological taxonomy was probably one of the most disciplined attempts ...
    You disprove yourself here. Moreover, you do not call the previous taxonomy "pseudoscience".
    This is all about that "race" is a politically charged word. Perhaps scientists have responsibility to avoid such (though in case of "negro", "black", "colored" ... such is a red qeen race). However, it goes too far if you implicitly reject evolution. Evolution is surprisingly fast, because efficient mechanisms of adaptation themselves evolved. Robust 'superficial' differences can correlate with response to drugs or even intelligence or social behavior. Denying such is political correctness and anti-science. Of course the selection through slavery, all of it including mixing with white people, had effects on black US Americans today. We refuse the just-so stories that ad hoc claim some connection to sprinting, but you cannot ridicule all such connections without scientific argument. 95% percent dying on a ship selects immune systems and what makes them resistant (e.g. ability to handle stress from being enslaved). How you know that this cannot translate into winning medals somehow?
    "Despite all the professed interest in combating "racially distinguished" genetic diseases, this is also a decidedly unscientific tact.  It is clear that as populations move and interbreed, that such "racial" differences will spread throughout the population,"
    This is another anti-scientific statement. That there are only brown/yellow people perhaps seven generations from now does not help the doc today help the black man in his office today, especially if there are no resources for genetic testing that the black man can afford. If his color has not yet "spread throughout the population", proness to diseases has not either! Maybe one should not use the term "race" here. But that is not how you write it. You seem to call these totally valid efforts at finding out whether there are those differences "unscientific". That is like those left wing nuts who say that merely establishing whether there are differences (perhaps there are not) is racism/sexism/... .
    If we cannot do any science to repel stereotypes, we keep them all, because it is a scary world out there, and stereotypes saved my ass a bunch of times.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...you do not call the previous taxonomy "pseudoscience".
    Of course not, because that's all that was available at the time.  I also don't call scientists that wanted to classify humans according to their perception of race, "racists".  However, when better data is available then it is decidedly pseudoscientific to cling to classification methods that have been demonstrably shown to not be true.  More to the point, an argument could be made that taxonomy isn't actually science, but rather biological "bookkeeping".  Since I'm not aware of any particular theories of taxonomy or anything that suggests that taxonomy [as a separate discipline] has ever produced anything scientific that is specific to taxonomy.
    Robust 'superficial' differences can correlate with response to drugs or even intelligence or social behavior. Denying such is political correctness and anti-science.
    Of course, but that makes it neither evolutionary or anything else.  The truth of the matter is that geographic origins tracks significantly better than any arbitrary concept of "race".  That's the point.  The fact that "race" correlates at all is more an artifact than a scientific truth.  Correlations ultimately don't mean a thing, unless there's a predictive element involved.  If you're right as often as you're wrong by such correlations then they are worthless and unscientific.
    ...95% percent dying on a ship selects immune systems and what makes them resistant.
    Without specifying resistant to "what", it is merely conjecture and speculation.  More importantly, why that should translate into more olympic medals is even less certain.  After all, doesn't it seem ironic that despite all the slaves imported into the United States, that it is Jamaica that tops the list for sprinters?
    How you know that this cannot translate into winning medals somehow?
    Frankly, because there's no correlation to race.  Apparently those from West African descent are better sprinters while those from East Africa are better distance runners.  Great.  We have a geographic correlation, but there's certainly no racial correlation, since they're of the same race.  Even if you read the advocates of this view, they say things like Jamaicans dominate because of their West African origins [again, geography]. 
    ...valid efforts at finding out whether there are those differences "unscientific".
    They are unscientific because we already have better tools and we have better information.  Simply because a patient may not be able to afford the test is no basis for arguing that we need to revert back to less informative methods.
    If his color has not yet "spread throughout the population", proness to diseases has not either!
    Why would you even suggest that an individual's color correlates to anything medically?  That's a pretty tenuous relationship and also creates the problem of not considering treatments for people that may be just as susceptible, but the wrong color.  Moreover, disease susceptibility is often governed by a single gene or allele yet color may be the result of numerous genes interacting and may never go to any particular fixation in a mixed population.
    ...stereotypes saved my ass a bunch of times.
    I would agree completely, but let's also agree that stereotypes, just like many personal beliefs aren't subject to scientific scrutiny or verification.  They may work for us, but we shouldn't look to science for verification of their veracity.  We would believe these things regardless of the science, so let's not try to include a scientific umbrella to cover those things that we know aren't applicable.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Of course, but that makes it neither evolutionary or anything else.
    There must be differences in order for natural selection to work. Without differences, no evolution. Railing too viciously against differences is creationism. Whether the differences are "evolutionary" in your sense depends simply on the accident of the environment selecting them. If it does sufficiently and isolates, it can take any difference into a new species! You want to decide whether stuff is "evolutionary" by using a time machine?
    Correlations ultimately don't mean a thing, unless there's a predictive element involved.  If you're right as often as you're wrong by such correlations ...
    ... then it is not correlation! 51% correlation means 51%, taking it into account is scientific. Claiming P=0.5 while at the same time refusing all research to find out whether it actually is 50%, that is unscientific.
    Without specifying resistant to "what", it is merely conjecture and speculation.
    The survivers had better immune systems and less stress response, period. I am sick all the time and my brother is not. I would be dead on that boat. "Resistant to what" does not matter. Immune systems/ stress responses are selected to cope with all kinds of attacks efficiently.
    why that should translate into more olympic medals is even less certain.
    Science is about uncertainty. You cannot simply deny all correlation and reject science that wants to find correlations. Stop insisting on that finding correlations is not science if we have not already found causality (upside down!). Finding P = 0.52 is perfectly good science and a doc has many patients a day, so he better helps as best as he can instead of being politically correct and treating everybody like the one guy that may or may not turn up some day.
    After all, doesn't it seem ironic that despite all the slaves imported into the United States, that it is Jamaica that tops the list for sprinters?
    No. Where is the irony related to anything I wrote?
    Simply because a patient may not be able to afford the test is no basis for arguing that we need to revert back to less informative methods.
    Go down to Africa and give all your money for genetic testing if you like. You won't even make a dent. I want my doc to treat me the best he can with the resources available. I want him to check for diseases I am prone to, and if I can only afford one test, I do not want to get checked for something almost only black people suffer from so that my doc feels he is not a racist. I rather have a racist doc!
    Why would you even suggest that an individual's color correlates to anything medically?
    Because the color is genetic (my father is not black) and so is proness to disease (my father has arthritis, so do I). If you reject the possibility of any correlation between genes although they are inherited in huge packets together, it means you are unscientific and reject evolution. If you unscientifically reject any correlation without having looked for it, and moreover even suggest that scientists should be barred from looking for correlations in order to help people, you are an enemy of science.
    stereotypes, just like many personal beliefs aren't subject to scientific scrutiny or verification.
    Anything can be subject to scientific scrutiny, and especially stereotypes and beliefs should, because rejecting them according to party affiliation is unscientific.
    Gerhard Adam
    If you unscientifically reject any correlation without having looked for it, and moreover even suggest that scientists should be barred from looking for correlations in order to help people, you are an enemy of science.
    Why would you even say that?  Haven't you looked at any of the papers I've linked to?  The point is specifically that such queries have been made, and they don't support the thesis of race.  They support the idea that population groups are diverse because of geographic origins, which is precisely what we would expect from natural selection.

    It makes no sense to claim natural selection for groups that are geographically dispersed and then because the distribution of one or two particular genes from some external trait [such as skin color] we now want to make sweeping generalizations about populations that simply isn't true.
    Immune systems/ stress responses are selected to cope with all kinds of attacks efficiently.
    Again, the evidence doesn't support your thesis.  It is fairly reasonable to argue that the origin of most blacks in the U.S. [and western hemisphere] is likely due to the slave trade.  Yet, we don't find this group to be healthier, in general.  They are not exempt from all the normal problems that are present throughout the population.  In short there is no indication that blacks are healthier because of their slave history.  In fact, the point is that instead of being healthier, they still ended up carrying the recessive alleles that caused health problems originally [i.e. sickle-cell trait]. 

    Moreover this is a simple enough test to conduct.  All one has to do is compare the genetics of a native African to individuals of the same geographic origin that now reside in the U.S. [descended from slaves].  If there is no appreciable genetic difference, then the selection hypothesis isn't true.  While I'm not aware of any such specific test [perhaps you are], I would suggest that we would see no differences.  More importantly, it would also argue that those in the U.S. are now a different "race" than those that remained in Africa because the genetic traits would be different.
    You want to decide whether stuff is "evolutionary" by using a time machine?
    I'm not sure what your point is here.  Of course, it's evolutionary, but that makes it neither adaptive or an adaptation.  Even then, there is no basis for claiming that whatever traits you're examining are distributed in a sufficiently wide manner to qualify them as traits associated with something like "race".  As I said, clearly there are population groups, but those are not races.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Haven't you looked at any of the papers I've linked to?
    The problem is how you have written the post. You ridicule serious efforts at advancing medicine with straw men.
    because the distribution of one or two particular genes from some external trait [such as skin color] we now want to make sweeping generalizations
    Nobody here does that.
    most blacks in the U.S. [and western hemisphere] is likely due to the slave trade.  Yet, we don't find this group to be healthier, in general.
    Why would they be healthier? Is their environment now a slave ship or Mc Donalds? You seem politically motivated and read stuff that is not there.
    compare the genetics of a native African ... If there is no appreciable genetic difference, then the selection hypothesis isn't true.  ... I would suggest that we would see no differences.
    So evolution is not true? And the white mixing did not happen? And effect of climate on epigenetics in the womb and the nutrition link and all that ... . Why would you expect *no* difference?
    it would also argue that those in the U.S. are now a different "race" than those that remained in Africa
    If you like, go ahead, but they are not Caucasian or Asian.
    I'm not sure what your point is here.
    The point about time machines is that you never know whether a difference will lead to speciation, because it depends on what the environment does (future selection/ isolation). You cannot claim that any difference is "not evolutionary".
    clearly there are population groups, but those are not races.
    I thought there are no "races"? If there are none, how you know what is not them? Anyway, I give "population groups", if it were to be widely adopted, about 20 years max until we are called "populationists" for supporting such terrible discrimination.

    Ahh - forget it - it does not matter anyway.
    UvaE
    Ahh - forget it - it does not matter anyway.
    It does matter. It was a good debate.

    At least 85 to 90% of the genetic variation found among all humans exists within any group of people.

    For the other 10 to 15%,  there's nothing wrong with research and findings of this sort:
    Three disease-causing variants of the CARD15 locus have been associated with Crohn disease in European populations, but none of these variants has been found in Asian populations.
    But there's no such thing as an Asian race or a European race. Scientists don't need such terms. Pointing out the geography suffices to accurately represent the data.

    With increasing travel and intermarriages between people of different geographical origins and religions, those boundaries will continue to blur themselves, as they have done since the dawn of our species.

    For readers who want to read something beyond our points of view, there's a good Race&Genetics FAQ section written by the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics.

    Gerhard Adam
    Pointing out the geography suffices to accurately represent the data.
    Actually let me jump in and say, that pointing out the geography accurately represents the data, without the ambiguity of having to rationalize races.  In other words, if we were to consider something obvious like the sickle-cell trait, we would be better off concerning ourselves with people that live in malaria regions, since they are all candidates for the trait regardless of the designation of "race".  Bear in mind, as indicated above, there are many susceptible people that almost no one considers because they were never part of the race paradigm [i.e. people from India].

    I would be just as concerned about Caucasians that lived in malaria regions as anyone else. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Why would they be healthier? Is their environment now a slave ship or Mc Donalds?
    Well, were they subject to natural selection or not?  If the current environment is McDonald's than any claims about the past are mere speculation. 

    However, let me be more specific, since the original point related to physical superiority which would have given rise to more Olympic medals.  We can't have it both ways.  If the "race" is superior in that sense, then using a slavery explanation for natural selection would suggest that the "race", in general, is healthier.  If not, then there is no reason to invoke it when speculating about gold medals. 

    My statement regarding "no differences" was based on that aspect of the discussion.  I would expect normal human variation, but not enough to account for elite athletes occurring in one area over another.

    In other words, if Jamaicans are better sprinters because of West African origins, then why aren't West Africans even better sprinters?  The argument is that slavery created a kind of selection that enabled slaves to become even better.  So, if they are better today, then it can't be argued that they now live in a McDonald's culture.
    Anyway, I give "population groups", if it were to be widely adopted, about 20 years max until we are called "populationists" for supporting such terrible discrimination.
    Perhaps so, but then there would be a biological, evolutionary, and scientific basis for the classification.   Any other consideration really would be political.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Interesting thread. One comment.

    In other words, if Jamaicans are better sprinters because of West African origins, then why aren't West Africans even better sprinters?

    Sprinters have more fast twitch muscle fiber, Marathoners have more slow twitch muscle fiber. One might presume that you can at best only have 100% one way or the other, plus it might be that there's a need to have a mix, on one or both ends of the spectrum.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Not sure I understand what you're saying.  My point is simply that if Jamaicans are better sprinters because they originated in West Africa as slaves, then why are those that continue to live in West Africa not equally proficient runners and therefore better represented.  After all, those that remained behind, would be less likely to have been intermixed with white slave holders.

    So, this is only about sprinters.  The marathoners are from the Eastern part of Africa.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Jamaican's while exploiting their tendency to have mostly fast twitch, might have a more optimum % than West Africans.
    The same might also apply to marathoners, and the % of slow twitch muscles.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, if that's true, then they truly have hit the genetic lottery.  This makes my point even more relevant since it suggests that individuals both, from their country of origin, as well as those that reside farther north where they were introduced as slaves, have just the wrong percentage.

    That would strongly suggest that there is absolutely no basis for assigning the attribute to a particular race and instead it would suggest a fortunate accident and combination of events that are coupled with the original genes, their geographic origin, and just the right amount of interbreeding to make the difference.

    I suppose it's possible.  Just doesn't sound very plausible.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Well, until someone does all of the appropriate muscle type testing of West African and Jamaican World Class sprinters, that will be an open question.
    I did find this:
    Olympic sprinters have been shown to possess about 80 percent fast twitch fibers, while those who excel in marathons tend to have 80 percent slow twitch fibers.

    It is generally accepted that muscle fiber types can be broken down into two main types: slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibers and fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers can be further categorized into Type IIa and Type IIb fibers.

    These distinctions seem to influence how muscles respond to training and physical activity, and each fiber type is unique in its ability to contract in a certain way. Human muscles contain a genetically determined mixture of both slow and fast fiber types. On average, we have about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch fibers in most of the muscles used for movement.

    Are the Jamaican's better trained, have better health, or have a better mix of muscle types, I don't know.

    I don't think the % mix of muscle types would be specific to a racial type.
    Never is a long time.
    vongehr
    using a slavery explanation for natural selection would suggest that the "race", in general, is healthier.

    Environmental selection for environment A does not mean that systems are "healthier" in environment B. Perhaps selection for being good slaves on poor food makes US blacks get more health problems from high fat/sugar food, go to church more, and be able to better stand years of obidience to mindless sports trainers and boring repetitive excercising that translates into gold medals. Whatever - I do not care - it does not matter. All I care is that you do not start to go all hyper in your criticism to the point where you effectively argue against evolution theory.
    if Jamaicans are better sprinters because of West African origins, then why aren't West Africans even better sprinters?
    Perhaps West African origin plus smoking dope in Jamaica is what makes for fast sprinters? How do I know?
    Halliday
    Gerhard:

    I recall a genetic study, a few years or so ago, that attempted to see if there was a genetic "signature" for "race".*

    The results, as I recall, were that there was little or no correlation between what is typically classified as "race" and genetic makeup (at least without specifically targeting specific genes for superficial, visible traits).  Instead, the strongest correlates were geographic!**

    So, if populations would stay geographically isolated (or otherwise not "mix") we could have a genetic basis for something that could be labelled "race".  However, even then, it would simply not correlate with what that term is typically used for in the past century, or so.

    David

    *  I would be very interested in having a good reference for that study!

    **  It is sort of like what Templeton found back in the latter '90's, but I think it was a more recent study using a larger genetic dataset.

    P.S.  I most certainly do not care one whit about any "political correctness" whatsoever!  "Political correctness" can go hang itself, for all I care!

    Gerhard Adam
    "Clustering of individuals is correlated with geographic origin or ancestry."
    Genetic Variation, Classification, and Race

    Implications of Biogeography of Human Populations For "Race" and Medicine

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n7218/abs/nature07331.html

    Don't know if these are what you had in mind, but they're a beginning.


    Mundus vult decipi
    Halliday
    Gerhard:

    Thanks for the links.

    The third one looks like the closest match (larger population with more DNA "sites" involved).

    It's quite possible that the study I'm thinking of may be somewhere within the references, unless the study I'm thinking of was too recent.

    David

    Gerhard Adam
    If you find it, I'd appreciate it if you could let me know.  Thanks
    Mundus vult decipi
    Halliday
    Will do!
    UvaE
    Gerhard,  your article presents good counterarguments for the posts you referred to.
    Gerhard Adam
    Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    BTW, to address some of the issues regarding the usefulness of racial groupings in a medical situation consider the following:
    Allelic variation tends to be shared widely among populations, so race will often be an inaccurate predictor of response to drugs or other medical treatments.  It would be far preferable to test directly the responsible alleles in affected individuals.
    At face value, such results could be interpreted as supporting the use of race in evaluating medical treatment options.  But race and ancestry are not equivalent.  Many polymorphisms are required to estimate an individual's ancestry, whereas the number of genes involved in mediating a specific drug response may be relatively small.  If disease-associated alleles are common (and thus of clinical significance), they are likely to be relatively ancient and therefore shared among multiple populations.  Consequently, an individual's population affiliation would often be a faulty indicator of the presence or absence of an allele related to diagnosis or drug response.
    Fortunately, modern human genetics can deliver the salutary message that human populations share most of their genetic variation and that there is no scientific support for the concept that human populations are discrete, non-overlapping entities.

    http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/pdf/ng1435.pdf

    Despite the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of race-specific pharmacotherapy to treat heart failure and glaucoma in African Americans, the jury is still out regarding the use of race to individualize medical therapies as a means of reducing health disparities.
    From an editorial,
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449495/pdf/0952125.pdf
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm with you, Gerhard. A careful reading of your original post would have answered your critic's points before he made them. You simply are saying, "Yes, there are sub-populations (such as particular disease carriers) that arise within continental populations, but not even the continental populations rise to the level of separation required to develop a newer, finer level of taxonomy than the shared subspecies level which we have now."

    Sascha presumes that he knows his own deeper continental genetic origins, and thus, as you say, he might not be tested for something due to not looking like the typical person of the originating population. He could have a 4 or 5 greats grandparent of a high malarial region in Africa and just not know it, because that is the type of thing a lot of European families kept secret until the information was lost (as may have happened in my own family). The populations with higher Tay-Sachs may simply have had some Ashkenazi Jewish folks blend into their founding populations. Since there is no requirement for the sickle-cell gene to go along with the genes for the black African skin tone (which are spread over several chromosomes), it is *quite* possible for a disease gene to spread out into a population without everyone having a noticeable racial skin tint. Let's say that a gene for high blood pressure was selected for in the slave ship example you used. That gene is found in many populations, but would have had a founder effect increase its prevalence in this particular slave population. If there was any gene flow at all into the slaveholding population, it would be easy, after several hundred years, for those high blood pressure genes to have gone out into the "white" population, while all of the other African genes would have been separated over time, diluted into invisibility.

    I am not sure how holding onto stereotypes can "save someone's ass," nor how that fits into a discussion of science. The only time a stereotype saved my ass was someone else's beliefs. When I was being followed home by heterosexual, white bullies bent on harming me, I cut through a black part of town, and a park with a lot of black guys playing basket ball, knowing that the blacks would not even notice me, but that the bullies' prejudices would cause them to fear following me. It worked. Anyway, thanks for elucidating the highpoints of the Anthropology of "race."

    Webber's anecdote disproves his own thesis that stereotypes don't exist. He apparently knew which races would treat him badly and which races would treat him well.

    Thus, he was using racial stereotypes in a perfectly rational way, based on personal observation.

    His anecdote argues against using someone else's badly formed stereotypes. It does not argue against using stereotypes based on race, and it certainly does not prove that race is an invalid variable.

    Gerhard Adam
    Who ever argued that stereotypes don't exist?  Why should using behavioral stereotypes have anything to do with race?  There are literally dozens of such stereotypes that exist within the same races and no one would think to classify these individuals differently based on biology.

    The problem is that people either presume that any discussion of race must be "racist" and consequently presume that political correctness or some other social agenda is at the bottom of it.  Yet, no one has offered a shred of evidence [beyond their own anecdotes] that there is any reasonable basis for assuming that such stereotypes are actually applicable to races.  Instead, they either apply them to groups of individuals without specific racial designation, or they apply them to individuals of specific geographic origin [which we already know correlates better].

    I haven't heard a single argument that actually makes sense regarding "race" as a classification.  The actual scientific data, based on genetics, simply doesn't support it.  Genetic analysis will support a geographic map of ancestral origins, but it will not support a consensus view of attributes that could be associated with something called a "subspecies" or "race".
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hi, Mr. Adam. What are your thoughts on this research?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/15/science/studying-recent-human-evolutio...

    Gerhard Adam
    The only thing I can say is that it indicates that populations will tend to diverge, somewhat, when they are separated.  I tend to agree that the traits are probably due to sexual selection rather than natural selection.  Natural selection is always a tough call to make, because without a significant amount of evidence it risks becoming a "just-so" story.

    Here's an example:
    But the Broad team calculates that the EDAR variant arose about 35,000 years ago in central China and that the region was then quite warm and humid. Extra sweat glands would have been advantageous to the hunter-gatherers who lived at that time.
    Yet, why would extra sweat glands help in a humid climate where getting rid of excess moisture is precisely the problem [consider heat exhaustion consists of sweating heavily]?  Moreover, this is a hard argument to accept for a people that migrated from central Africa, where presumably the climate was warm and humid.

    The problem overall, is that there isn't really enough variation to make much of a fuss about.  It can be an interesting exercise in tracing the path of human migration throughout history, but beyond that it doesn't tell us very much and it certainly doesn't argue that there are any significant differences among humans.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thanks for your reply, Mr. Adam.