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Posted: 14 March 2007 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I think the left has been very vigilant in trying to dispel any notion that there is such a thing as race, and, even if there is, they are desperate to deny that there could be any differences of significance. I disagree with this, because what I think needs to be confronted is that EVEN IF there are genetic differences between people of different ethnic origins, it’s what we do with this information that counts…The point is, we should let the data tell us what it is telling us. A 1 point, 5-point, even 15-point difference in IQ between races (I’m not saying this is likely) doesn’t mean we should judge people on their race, and not on their individual merits.

I may be wrong, but I feel like this is a bit of an outdated characterization of left/liberal thinking. I’m old enough to remeber “unisex” feminism, in which equality meant denying any differences between men and women. I still consider myself a feminist, but neither I nor anyone I know of similar ideology would deny there are intrinsic sex differences. And, as you say, the important thing is that these are not viewed as support for subordinate status or second-class citizenship for either sex.

The same argument holds, to some extent, for race, though the putative differences are much less well-supported by scientific evidence. IQ, in particular, is a bad example since it is not a very objective measure of anything except performance on IQ tests, and there is a lot of argument about what, if any, predictions about performance or ability can be made from it. The distinguishing of cultural and inherent racial differences is also very difficult and highly controversial. For example, statistically the average genetic difference between members of one “race” and another is less than between any two individuals within each “racial” group. So arguments for significant genetic differences between “races” that can provide useful predictions about individuals are pretty weak.


In any case, your general point that denying difference a priori is not approriate is certainly true, though when you start trying to pinpoint such differences and characterize them, it gets pretty difficult. And, of course, one can’t deny that historically there has been much abuse of supposedly scientifically documented racial differences, so one must be especially cautious to emphasize loudly what significance any such differences do not have in terms of legitimizing unequal treatment.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Posted: 14 March 2007 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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George,

Of course, the reality is much more complicated that I suggested above. The issue, as I see it, is do what we typically think of as races have any meaningful biological basis. If one looks at small numbers of genes, at very heterogenous populations such as in the U.S., at people from boundary regions between continents, etc, one finds insufficient genetic differences to categorize people into races at all. If you do cluster anlyses on larger numbers of genes, particularly if you take individual subjects from relatively isolated populations, you do get clusters that correspond roughly to continent of origin. The problem is that these clusters often do not correspond well to how individuals identify themselves, or how others identify them based on appearance, language, etc, in terms of race. There is some overlap between these genetic clusters and common notiuons of races, but a lot less than most people think. So “race” is really a cultural construct with some overlap with biological reality, just as gender is a concept distinct from but overlapping with biological sex. I put the term in quotes to emphasize that there is not scientifically justifiable standard definition of it, and what most people think it means corresponds pretty poorly to the underlying genetics.

The issue of average genetic diversity is a statistical one. A given allele may be at a higher frequency in one population than another. But most alleles occur at some frequency in all populations that can be thought of as races. The average number of alleles that differ between two populations is actually less that the number of alleles that, on average, will differ between two individuals picked at random from within a “race.” Some populations have much higher genetic diversity than others. Africans vary from each other much more than Asians or Europeans do, likley because extra-African groups all descend from a relatively small number of emigrants from Africa. So two individuals from different African groups differ by a lot more alleles on average than the African population and the European population as a whole.
(Genetic Structure of Human Populations
Noah A. Rosenberg,1* Jonathan K. Pritchard,2 James L. Weber,3 Howard M. Cann,4 Kenneth K. Kidd,5 Lev A. Zhivotovsky,6 Marcus W. Feldman7

We studied human population structure using genotypes at 377 autosomal microsatellite loci in 1056 individuals from 52 populations. Within-population differences among individuals account for 93 to 95% of genetic variation; differences among major groups constitute only 3 to 5%. Nevertheless, without using prior information about the origins of individuals, we identified six main genetic clusters, five of which correspond to major geographic regions, and subclusters that often correspond to individual populations.)


Now I don’t deny that there are genetic differences between groups of humans that are founded on historical periods of geographic isolation. I only point out that these differences do not correspond very closely to typical definitions of “race,” and that there is still much question about their biological significance. In that sense, I am very leary of using the term race since the historical, technical biological, and popular cultural meanings of the term are all quite different and can be inappropriately conflated.


Lastly, I would point out that while the rate of divergence from a common ancestor can vary a lot based on the mutation rate, the intensity of selective factors, the degree of isolation, etc, I suspect in genral it would take a lot more than ” a few thousand years” to create a hominid sufficiently different and reproductively incompatible with Homo spaiens sapiens to justify calling it a new species.

For a fascinating, but dense technical discussion of the genetic issues and references to original papers, see


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_multilocus_allele_clusters#_note-12

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Posted: 14 March 2007 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Brennen covered the whole issue extremely well.  I’d only add a minor aside.  Historically, prejudice against and assignment to a lower class has much more to do with level of skin pigmentation than “race”.  The more melanin in a person’s skin, the less value and fewer opportunities the society gives him/her.

Occam

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Posted: 14 March 2007 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Metaphor wrote:

I think the left has been very vigilant in trying to dispel any notion that there is such a thing as race…

Forget what you think the “left” says or not “metaphor,” and read the science!  You can start with the book, The Race Myth by evolutionary biologist, Joseph Graves.

From Booklist:
Graves, an evolutionary biologist and professor, debunks numerous myths associated with the biological basis of race. His central premise is that there is greater variation within socially constructed races than between them, yet biological differences are often presumed to be an acceptable focus in areas of medicine, disease, and other public-oriented concerns. Graves attacks head-on the false assumptions associated with biological distinctions. Although he allows for certain genetic and biological points of differences, he asserts that their interplay with the environment and culture are too often overlooked and that, for example, differences in health and mortality rates between blacks and whites are more reflective of racism than biology. Noting the popular presumptions about blacks being biologically superior athletes, for example, Graves’ analysis of track-and-field Olympic events undermines the weak basis of this and other popular fallacies on race. Graves’ integration of science and objective analysis with popular biological assumptions about race makes this an enlightening and provocative work.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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On IQ:

I must disagree strongly that IQ is merely performance on an IQ test. IQ, and general mental ability, predicts many things including job performance, grades at university, income, etc. The fact that lots of other things contribute to these things as well (eg the personality variable conscientiousness) doesn’t negate the fact that IQ makes a unique contribution to prediction. It is no mistake that people in mentally demanding occupations have higher IQs, on average, than people in mentally nondemanding roles.

On race:

It is true that there is no unique set of genes that can tell us whether someone is black or white (or whatever). It is also a trusim that there are between group differences and within group differences. There are statistical methods for working out the magnitude of between group and within group differences; the point is that even when within group differences are large, that doesn’t negate the possibility of between group differences (it just makes it harder to detect statistically).

Negating the idea of race means you also have to let go of the idea that anyone could be racist. I suppose you could say people make prejudiced decisions based on what they PERCEIVE to be different races, but what is causing this perception if not race?

The fact that there may be differences between various races (or ethnic communities) and between genders (and sexual orientations) means that I don’t support the idea of affirmative action. In fact, I find the implicit assumptions of affirmative action a little disturbing (eg that a person’s worth IS their economic worth). I believe it is important for role models to be present in a number of critical occupations (especially education), but I find it perverse that something like the rising number of women CEOs is something to be celebrated. The fact that women, as a group, are not as relentlessly greedy and ruthless as men should count as a positive, not as a failing.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 09:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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[quote author=“Barry”]Metaphor wrote:

I think the left has been very vigilant in trying to dispel any notion that there is such a thing as race…

Oy vey… Another anti-humanist rolleyes

Hmm. Entertaining the possibility of race, and of genuine differences between races is not, I think, cause to doubt my commitment to humanism. I believe (in fact, I know) that there are a number of physiological, cognitive, psychological and other differences between heterosexuals and nonheterosexuals, but that doesn’t mean I value one group above the other. Same goes for “race”

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Posted: 15 March 2007 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Okay. Now, let’s scale it down. Instead of continents, races and populations, I take my family and my neighbours as an example. My brother has blue eyes and blond hair, and I have brown eyes and brown hair. My neighbour has also blue eyes and blond hair. And let’s say there are other similarities between my brother and my neighbour that I don’t share with my brother (e.g. allergy to nuts, etc.). Is it then possible that my brother could share more alleles with my neighbour than he would with me?

You share, on average, 50% of your genes with a full sibling. I would expect you to share fewer genes with a neighbor who is related too distantly to trace (in other words, go back 4000-140,000 years ago [geneticists are still arguing about the details], and we all have the same common ancestor, but that’s not really what we mean by ‘related’). As you point out, though, this doesn’t necessarily correspond to similarity in appearance, which is another reason why assignment of people to race is often not representative of the degree of underlying genetic similarity. However, you and your neighbor would likely differ by more alleles than white people as a group differ from black people as a group. Again, this doesn’t negate the fact that their are genetic differences between white and black people (for example), but it does call into question the significance of these differences.

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Posted: 15 March 2007 03:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I must disagree strongly that IQ is merely performance on an IQ test. IQ, and general mental ability, predicts many things including job performance, grades at university, income, etc. The fact that lots of other things contribute to these things as well (eg the personality variable conscientiousness) doesn’t negate the fact that IQ makes a unique contribution to prediction. It is no mistake that people in mentally demanding occupations have higher IQs, on average, than people in mentally nondemanding roles.

Though one can find studies to support almost any point of view on this one, I believe the evidence best supports the argument that IQ (by which most people probably mean the Stanford-Binet test score) explains at best 25-30% of the variance in academic performance, and much less in terms of other measures of real-world validity. And I think the degree to which this confounds with socioeconomic status, early-childhood education and experiences, etc make even this level of validity questionable. In any case, the improtant thing is whether it measures something useful, and whether whatever it measures corresponds to what most of us mean by “intelligence.” I am far from convinced of this. Additionally, in the context of race, there is nothing like a scientific consensus regarding the tests to use, the ways to interpret the results, and the real-world significance of the results, so if we’re talking about difference between putative races, IQ is a particularly fuzzy variable to invoke. I’m not philosophically opposed to the notion that differences might exist, but in reality I think it is far from demonstrated convincingly that they do

Negating the idea of race means you also have to let go of the idea that anyone could be racist. I suppose you could say people make prejudiced decisions based on what they PERCEIVE to be different races, but what is causing this perception if not race?

I’m certainly not accusing you of racism, nor do I think it is inherently racist to ask the question about racial differences, or to answer it honestly scientifically. But, I do think when most people say “race,” they are referring to perceived differences which correlate poorly with actual genetic differences. As Occam pointed out, skin color (and perhaps a few other characteristics such as eye shape, hair texture, etc) is what most people use to assign race to others, and I doubt these correlate with any meaningful physical or behavioral differences between people based on genetic lineage. I also think that what genetic differences do exist or of questionable significance in terms of biology, medicine, behavior, or any practical applications, so I’m not sure the value of considering them outweighs the potential harm in terms of reinforcing traditional (and inaccurate) notions of race and racial differences.


The fact that there may be differences between various races (or ethnic communities) and between genders (and sexual orientations) means that I don’t support the idea of affirmative action. In fact, I find the implicit assumptions of affirmative action a little disturbing (eg that a person’s worth IS their economic worth). I believe it is important for role models to be present in a number of critical occupations (especially education), but I find it perverse that something like the rising number of women CEOs is something to be celebrated. The fact that women, as a group, are not as relentlessly greedy and ruthless as men should count as a positive, not as a failing.

Well, this is a largely political issue separate from genetic notions of race. Here, clearly appearance is the deciding factor upoin which most discrimination is based. Whether or not affirmative action is an appropriate way to address historical discrimination is another topic. But if you argue for or against any specific approach to promoting economic or social equity based on the idea of race, I think you’re starting the debate with a lot of false assumptions of categories not supported by science.

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Posted: 15 March 2007 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Posted: 15 March 2007 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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ould also one race of humans share less alleles with another human race than the whole species of Homo sapiens would share with the Neanderthal species?

“Race” in biological terms, is a subset of species. The fact that there are fewer genetic differences between human groups that are typically labeled “races” than most people think, supports the arguement that there are no biologically meaningful subsets of the human species. Sure, you can divide people up into groups by any criteria you like (nationality, native language, eye color, skin color, multiple locus gene cluster analysis, etc), the question is whether such divisions have an biological significance. When you start talking about another species, such as Homo neanderthalensis, then of course you’re talking about a greater genetic difference than could be seen within a species. I have no idea what the degree of genetic diversity among neanderthals was, nor how much DNA we share with them by virtue of common descent or, possibly, interbreeding. Remeber, all species share some DNA in proportion to their proximity to a common ancestor, so I suspect we would share more with Neanderthals than with chimps, more with chimps than with dogs, etc. The commonsense assumption that human groups (however you choose to define them) share more alleles than humans as a group share with Neanderthals as a group is true. The same assumption, however, does not hold true regarding differences between individuals within a human group and between human groups, as I explained previously. There is no contradiction here because interspecific differences are, by definition, always greater than intraspecific differences.

Your dog breed vs wolf example is the same thing. Comparing differences between human “races” and differences between species doesn’t work despite the fact that intuitively they should be the same thing. Sure humans within one “race” look more alike than human races as a whole, so one would think there would be fewer genetic differences between individuals within a race than between races. As I explained, though I’m afraid not very clearly, this isn’t actually true because humans as a whole have very little genetic diversity to begin with, and the racial categories one comes up with by using how people look as primary criteria just aren’t genetically all that real or meaningful. Whereas, the breed categories one comes up with in dogs are much more meaningful since there is more gentic diversity among dogs than among humans. And, of course, dogs and wolves are different species, so of course Chihuahuas and German Shepherds share more alleles than dogs as a group share with wolves.

Look at it another way. A Siberian Husky looks a lot more like a wolf than like a Chihuahua. But genetically, the Husky and the Chihuahua are actually a lot more similar than the Husky and the Wolf. Outward appearance relies on relatively few genes, so it doesn’t accurately represent the total genetic difference between two individuals or groups.

Sorry, I feel like I’m not doing a very good job making the distinction clear. Don’t give up! I’ll keep trying. grin

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Posted: 15 March 2007 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Posted: 15 March 2007 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Could the genetic difference between two Siberian Huskies be greater than the difference between a breed of Siberian Husky and a breed of Chihuahua? Or does it only apply to humans because “...humans as a whole have very little genetic diversity to begin with”?

You’re exactly right. The difference between Chihuahua and Husly must be greater than between two individuals of the same breed because dogs have much greater genetic diversity than humans. This is why the dog breed example doesn’t correlate with the idea of race among humans. The differences between breeds of dog is tremendously greater than the differences between human “races” because these differences arose by intense artificial selection over only a few hundred years. The closest similarity among humans would be not races but small isolated populations founded by few individuals and isolated almost completely for generations, like Icelanders for example. There are very few such groups among humans, and they don’t generally appear so dramatically different as do dog breeds. This is likely because they were reproductively isolated and founded by few individuals, but they were not subject to the intense artifical selection pressures the dog breeds were. Though these groups of humans have low genetic diversity, and on average are more different from other groups genetically than groups not reproductively isolated might be, they still share far more alleles with other humans, even those that look very different and might be classed as a different race, than two breeds of dog might share.

Here is a short article from the folks currently sequencing the dog genome that talks about breeds and the potential utility for human health research of understanding the genetics of dog breeds. It covers the points I’ve made in more detail, and probably more clearly.

http://www.fhcrc.org/about/ne/news/2004/05/20/doggenome.html

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Posted: 15 March 2007 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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