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PhylogeneticTree“Tree thinking”, just like “population thinking”, is essential to understanding evolutionary biology. But there are problems with this. First, even on a macroevolutionary scale there is massive violation of separation between the branches of the tree of life due to lateral gene flow, whether directly or mediated via viruses. As you drill down to a finer phylogenetic grain the issue of reticulation, the transformation of a tree into a graph, becomes something you have to integrate into your model. This is one reason that TreeMix was developed, it allowed one to model gene flow across the branches of trees on a microevolutionary scale. But there’s another major issue, and that is of clines. The “graph” generated by TreeMix still models pulse admixture events. But a lot of genetic variation is generated in the context of isolation by distance dynamics. There are no singular events where populations mix, rather, every instance is part of a continuous process of mixing.* An excellent illustration of this scenario is a ring species.

When generating a “tree of life” it seems that it behooves us to take these details into account, because to a great extent the details are really what we’re interested in now (OK, at least if we’re population geneticists). Each species or section of the tree of life may exhibit different local dynamics, just like the topography of our planet exhibits local variation. Some regions may be subject to far greater gene flow across the branches rather far from the tips (e.g., plants), while others exhibit rather less (e.g., some mammalian lineages). As far as humans go, about 10 years ago a hybrid tree-cline model seemed viable, as outlined in Ramachandran et al., a serial founder event out of Africa, and then equilibration with isolation by distance, leading to a clinal overlay upon the branching process. After Pickrell et al. I think that this model just can’t suffice. Rather, there were powerful pulse admixture events due to meta-population dynamics and large scale demographic implications of cultural change over the last 10,000 years, which wreaked havoc with patterns of human genetic variation. As on the larger tree of life the dynamics which characterized particular segments of the human phylogenetic tree/graph vary. In the New World Ramachandran et al.’s original formulation might actually be rather good south of the Rio Grande. In contrast it just doesn’t work very well in South and Southeast Asia, which has been subject to a great deal of genetic change over the past ~10,000 years, well after the Out of Africa event (in these two cases there look to be pulse fusions between very distinct branches of the human phylogenetic tree in recent history).

These thoughts were stimulated in part by comments over at 3 Quarks Daily [link fixed] in response to an Omar Ali post where he mirrored content from this weblog. This elicited two broad reactions. First, some readers objected to Omar posting content from me because I’m a conservative who holds views taboo to the liberal mainstream of that website. Because obviously that’s what being liberal is, knowing what to believe, and not giving any voice to beliefs and viewpoints outside of what you label to be right, true, and orthodox.** But a more interesting objection is to those who think that my adherence to the race concept is not supported by science. Here I feel like I’m talking to Creationists, they know what they believe, but they don’t know much about what they don’t believe. Most Creationists don’t really know much about evolutionary biology, they just know their talking points. Similarly, many who object to my acceptance of the validity of the race concept just trot out talking points. Intriguingly there is a similarity to the objections by anti-evolution Creationists and anti-population structure Creationists: a fixation on Platonic categories/kinds. A major confusion that anti-evolution Creationists exhibit is that species, “kinds”, are clear and distinct categories. They’re not. So many of the critiques fail at the get-go, because when you reject a Platonic idea of species the rejection of anti-evolution Creationism is almost axiomatic. The same aspect of disagreement emerges when arguing with anti-population structure Creationists. First, they don’t know the literature, so their objections are often weird and ad hoc. That’s fine. But the bigger problem is that I don’t hold the Platonic model of population structure they seem to think I must hold. Rather, our terms or categories are only useful in an instrumental sense. Their validity or lack thereof reflects how well they model the real processes which shape the genealogies which collectively define particular populations. I can try to get this viewpoint across, but since I hold views which disagree with their views (or so they think) and so naturally am wrong, I generally don’t make much headway.

* This is where Gideon Bradburd’s SpaceMix should help. The preprint will be out soon….

** This is a joke. I’m aware there are many liberal readers of this website. But, you must admit that it’s pretty funny how narrow-minded people who label themselves “liberal” can be! E.g., the fact that I’m a self-described conservative is reason enough not to give voice to my ideas.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity, Science • Tags: Population Structure, Race 
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  1. But, you must admit that it’s pretty funny how narrow-minded people who label themselves “______” can be! E.g., the fact that I’m a self-described ______ is reason enough not to give voice to my ideas.

    This is a phenomena not limited to any particular social or political persuasion.

    All sides do it but seem to lack the self-awareness to recognize the hypocrisy in criticizing the behavior in others.

  2. re: changing people’s minds – probably my #1 subject for rumination. mainly because i’m literally surrounded by people who i know would like me a lot less me if they knew what my true beliefs are.
    I’m living a lie!
    after years of trial and error i rely on two methods, neither of which would work on the internet but only in person: 1) totally ignoring the abstract argument and pointing out their related actual behavior (but not in a mean way) 2) perfectly crafting analogies supporting my argument in hopes that it will switch some circuits in their mind
    i feel like i have to argue on their terms, ones that have meaning to them, because facts usually don’t mean anything to them at all unless it boosts their argument.
    i’ve noticed that you can’t *really* change people’s mind very much or often but there is some “play” in their ideology – they might slide your way a bit. instead of going for the win i’m thinking years down the line. if you can just plant that seed in their mind sometimes a couple of years later i’ll notice that they see things differently since our first battle. but if you’re talking to Michael Scroggins then don’t bother!

    so that’s my screed on that deal…

    • Replies: @SFG
    You have to get them to like you first. Which, of course, means not mentioning you're a neoreactionary or any other weird opinion, or even a mainstream opinion from the other side of the aisle. I suspect even in some of the more fervid sports rivalries few people would actually describe people on the other side as evil (OK, maybe in Boston with the Yankees).
  3. This is a joke. I’m aware there are many liberal readers of this website. But, you must admit that it’s pretty funny how narrow-minded people who label themselves “liberal” can be! E.g., the fact that I’m a self-described conservative is reason enough not to give voice to my ideas.

    Yah, unfortunately idiots come from all across the political spectrum.

    The 3 Quarks link is broken though and I can’t find the thread on his website. I’d appreciate the link from anyone if they have it handy… curious what it said.

    I think a big part of the issue is that the word “race” means something different to you as a geneticist than it does to people who’s background is in another field, and particularly in the social sciences.

    • Replies: @Jim Ancona
    Here's the correct 3quarks link: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/12/american-racial-boundaries-are-quite-distinct-for-now.html#disqus_thread
  4. My sophomore class on evolution was taught by a liberal. There was a lecture on speciation which was punctuated by Haldane’s quote: “The concept of a species is a concession to our linguistic habits and neurological mechanisms.” The very next lecture mentioned race. It was explained how Africans have higher rates of sickle cell because of heterozygous advantage. A phylogenetic tree of races was shown, showing how native Americans and Asians were closely related. But then she said that the concept of race wasn’t biologically valid because “hey look, we operationally defined race to require this much genetic difference and humans had a bottleneck a long time ago so we really aren’t that different. I mean, look at blood proteins, there’s more variation within races than between” etc etc. So, the concept that delineates man from mushroom is mostly one of convenience, used to place discrete categories within the continuous chain that connects all organisms back to that first lipid-enclosed chemical reaction in the primordial soup. But this other term, race, which simply categorizes at a more focused scale is invalid because.. ? I thought to mention the dissonance between the two lectures, but what can I say, the lady as gonna be grading my papers. Didn’t want to be THAT guy.

  5. @Robert Ford
    re: changing people's minds - probably my #1 subject for rumination. mainly because i'm literally surrounded by people who i know would like me a lot less me if they knew what my true beliefs are.
    I'm living a lie!
    after years of trial and error i rely on two methods, neither of which would work on the internet but only in person: 1) totally ignoring the abstract argument and pointing out their related actual behavior (but not in a mean way) 2) perfectly crafting analogies supporting my argument in hopes that it will switch some circuits in their mind
    i feel like i have to argue on their terms, ones that have meaning to them, because facts usually don't mean anything to them at all unless it boosts their argument.
    i've noticed that you can't *really* change people's mind very much or often but there is some "play" in their ideology - they might slide your way a bit. instead of going for the win i'm thinking years down the line. if you can just plant that seed in their mind sometimes a couple of years later i'll notice that they see things differently since our first battle. but if you're talking to Michael Scroggins then don't bother!

    so that's my screed on that deal...

    You have to get them to like you first. Which, of course, means not mentioning you’re a neoreactionary or any other weird opinion, or even a mainstream opinion from the other side of the aisle. I suspect even in some of the more fervid sports rivalries few people would actually describe people on the other side as evil (OK, maybe in Boston with the Yankees).

  6. @CupOfCanada

    This is a joke. I’m aware there are many liberal readers of this website. But, you must admit that it’s pretty funny how narrow-minded people who label themselves “liberal” can be! E.g., the fact that I’m a self-described conservative is reason enough not to give voice to my ideas.
     
    Yah, unfortunately idiots come from all across the political spectrum.

    The 3 Quarks link is broken though and I can't find the thread on his website. I'd appreciate the link from anyone if they have it handy... curious what it said.

    I think a big part of the issue is that the word "race" means something different to you as a geneticist than it does to people who's background is in another field, and particularly in the social sciences.
  7. This is a phenomena not limited to any particular social or political persuasion.

    yes, but liberals pride themselves on tolerance broadmindedness. the root of the word itself is such.

    • Replies: @Hacienda
    Guilt by association. Liberals have a corrupted faith in equality as a moral principle. Unfortunately, reality doesn't care. Fortunately, reality doesn't care about anything, including the supposed superiority some qualities.
  8. Razib,

    Thank you for your posts. I have enjoyed reading your work for many years. I think it’s strange that anyone would accuse you of being a racialist (believing and then attaching extraordinary significance to fictitious categories) .

    To the extent that you cover taboo material, you do so in an apolitical manner, without trying to prove an ideological point.

    It is unfortunate that one cannot discuss human ancestry or population genetics etc. without signaling to others that you agree with their pre-existing prejudices. I have to laugh at your joke about liberals. However the more unfortunate thing is that there are a lot of people with quite dangerous fixations on “race’

    Since there are real racists out there ready to use some observed difference at the population level to justify dehumanizing their fellow man, the irrational responses of “liberals” or SJWs etc. is a little understandable, though totally unenlightened.

    I cannot count how many times I’ve seen crap like:
    “if avg. IQ for Black children is 85, we should scrap pre-K programs/HeadStart etc. because they will be STUPID no matter what.”

    Anyway, thank you for your work.

    • Replies: @ObeseChorizo
    What if someone suggested we scrap pre-k because it's ineffective ? Why do you inject race into the discussion? A lot of non black people have below average IQ's, what's your obsession with black average IQ? My point is, why is it crap to stop ineffective programs?

    Liberals have an unyielding fetish with blacks as if other groups don't face similiar disadvantages. I suppose poor Amerindians don't float the liberal's boat.
  9. @Razib Khan
    This is a phenomena not limited to any particular social or political persuasion.


    yes, but liberals pride themselves on tolerance broadmindedness. the root of the word itself is such.

    Guilt by association. Liberals have a corrupted faith in equality as a moral principle. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t care. Fortunately, reality doesn’t care about anything, including the supposed superiority some qualities.

  10. One day in college my psychology professor (trained as a neuropharmacologist with a decent neuro publication record before becoming a psych professor at our small liberal arts college) was giving a lecture that included a bit about human diversity. He said that all humans were 99.4% genetically identical, and because there’s only 20,000 genes in the human genome, that means that only 125 genes differ between people. He went on to exclaim how even the most distantly related person from you would only differ from you by about 125 genes and that we should reflect on that. A few weeks later I had a meeting with him and brought up how absurdly wrong this was, and he admitted immediately that it was wrong and then kind of blew it off and changed the subject without justifying why he said something so blatantly false. He was a fantastic professor for bringing really good neuroscience, cell biology, and even a bit of biochemistry into psychology classes, but for some reason on this issue he was willing to (seemingly deliberately) misrepresent science for a political point.

  11. Out of curiosity razib, could you name a few current American policy issues where you hold a conservative point of view? Abortion? Monetary policy.? Common core? Gun control? Torture?

    Having read you for fifteen years, you’ve consistently come across as a mainstream liberal (bill Clinton, Rahm Emmanuel) with a Tory view of human intelligence. (As you know, these views are completely compatible with radical egalitarianism).

    I know you are a self described conservative, but what’s the basis for this? Other than a penchant for “epater the bourgeoisie”.

  12. I don’t hold the Platonic model of population structure they seem to think I must hold.

    To be fair, the concept of “race” in everyday discourse looks a lot like the Platonic model – simply because that’s the value it had when it entered public discourse. You mentioned Madison Grant in a previous post?

    Maybe when you say “race”, your opponents mistakenly (but, IMO, understandably) believe that you are the one Platonizing human variety?

    How do the same people react when you replace the term “race” with the operational concepts that you ascribe to it instead (IIUC, non-trivial predictive power of ancestry for various phenotypic traits)?

  13. Just a small correction. I posted Razib’s post on my facebook wall. It was then posted on 3QD by Abbas Raza, who is the editor at 3QD and is my friend (on the internet, and someday, I hope, in person)
    🙂

    I think changing anyone’s opinion is a multistep process (as described by several commentators here) but one should not be discouraged by how the most aggressive commentators on 3QD are reacting. There are a lot of readers of that blog who will see a few things differently after reading Razib’s post AND the argument in the comment section.

  14. Funny, Razib, I´ve been reading your stuff for over 10 years and, despite your protestations to the contrary, I´ve always thought of you as a liberal. At least Godless Capitalist (whatever happened to him?) was economically conservative while you don´t even strike me as a libertarian on that score. And you´re certainly left of center on most social issues. 30 years ago, you would have made a fairly mainstream democrat. Just an observation, no judgement here.

  15. Out of curiosity razib, could you name a few current American policy issues where you hold a conservative point of view? Abortion? Monetary policy.? Common core? Gun control? Torture?

    abortion, more liberal. though i understand the pro-life position (see a op-ed i’ll have in ny times soon).

    monetary policy, i really don’t know enough (despite reading more books on this issue that the vast majority of people :=) honestly, i don’t think most people are really sure of their positions either in a positivistic sense. i’m not philosophically biased toward salt or fresh water.

    i’m opposed to torture. think gun control is probably useless, though i’m not too exorcised about it.

    #14, i oppose multiculturalism, SJWs, and am pretty skeptical of affirmative action. so that makes me non-liberal by default, since modern liberals are pretty intolerant from what i’ve seen once you tread outside of the narrow band of acceptable progressivism.

  16. .How do the same people react when you replace the term “race” with the operational concepts that you ascribe to it instead (IIUC, non-trivial predictive power of ancestry for various phenotypic traits)?

    1) i don’t usually use it in the context of phenotypic traits. that’s more of a social or ecological context. i use it as a short to condense population history.

    2) look at the 3 QD comments. omar pointed out what i believe, but the commenters refuse to update. (of course now it’s totally messed up now that nancy more-stalin-than-stalin mclearn jumped in)

  17. At least Godless Capitalist (whatever happened to him?)

    you know him. you just don’t know u know him 🙂

  18. #12 – Yah, that’s my thinking too. The word “race” is poisoned by all the pseudo-scientific bigotry attached to the word from the previous two centuries. I don’t think anyone reasonable can really take offense at the idea that the origin of one’s ancestors is biologically relevant. As my pasty, freckled skin attests, my NW European ancestry is relevant to my risk of getting skin cancer. The doesn’t imply any crazy ideas about treating people with darker scan than me like crap.

  19. Yeah, the history of 20th century eugenics makes it understandable why some scientists would be hesitant to admit that race might be a valid concept. But if the liberals wanna deny scientific concepts because of the way people might behave in light of them, why not go the full distance and deny evolution entirely. I mean, William Jennings Bryan made the connection between natural selection and ww1. I guess they don’t cause its too fun for them to make fun of the hoi polloi creationists.

  20. I first began reading GNXP in 2002 when Razib and others were discussing the likely future utility of modern genetics in medicine, and that it was helpful for people to ‘self identify’ for this purpose. I thought at the time that they (Razib, Joe Pickrell and others) were taking a Platonic view of race, and interjected something like “What about the hybrids? Surely what will become necessary when it becomes possible is personalised medicine, not medicine based on racial categories.” Or some such. I knew nothing about modern genetics, but was highly suspicious because the person I love most in the world is a ‘Platonic hybrid’, and I (and she) had become fed up with Platonists treating her like some kind of marvellous alien. I believe it was Joe who patiently explained to me that it was not the case that a Platonic categorisation was what they were talking about, and Razib subsequently further clarified, also patiently. I don’t recall one dimensional political dichotomy coming into it as any kind of influence on anyone’s science-driven thinking among that group.

    That was in about April 2002, if I recall correctly. I was sufficiently persuaded by their patient explanations to read back to the beginning of GNXP earlier that year, and have been a regular reader of successive blogs ever since, and will remain so.

    It has been crystal clear to me since April 2002 that Razib and the other contributing writers at GNXP were not taking a Platonic view of ‘race’, and that they have not done so at any time since. It is not defensible for anyone now to try to claim that they have ever done so – not unless they can give reference to where this has occurred. I’m pretty confident no one can do that.

    I personally generally avoid use of the word now, because I agree with Soup that it has become poisoned, and people don’t understand what I am talking about if I use it anyway, but it gets tedious using long-hand alternatives to try to explain what I am talking about. If people don’t get the science, then they don’t, and if they want to play politics, they will choose to ignore the science for convenience anyway. Ultimately, science will win.

    • Replies: @ERR
    I feel the same way. Except I am sure science will NOT "win". We might become more practical and we might eventually get to a kind of personalized medicine that doesn't overlap with old historical identity politics. On a technical kind of way, we might even figure out a better way to talk about human bio AND neurological diversity.

    However, I am thoroughly pessimistic that the problem we are discussing can exactly be fixed.

    1. There is a cultural construct: race (esp. in the US) with its attendant emotional baggage.

    2. Distributions of traits change depending on groupings of individuals by ancestry or geography.
    (a particular grouping for a set of traits could have a narrow scientific purpose)

    3. Medicine finds some utility in using the cultural construct for some purposes, not others.



    The problem is that people both conflate these 3 kinds of concepts AND engage in the usual aggressive primate behavior. As you point out Sandgroper, it is generally quite obvious that Razib does not believe in some Platonic concept of race. He has generally been careful his posts, describing the grouping he uses to make an observation. He has even made it a point to say so on a few occasions. However, individuals with an ideological axe to grind are relentlessly impervious to reasoned argument. Moreover, well meaning people just have a hard time knowing if they actually disagree or not, or if they are just confused about their terms. Once the blood starts boiling, fewer people are able to actually able/willing to reconsider what exactly they are arguing about. This is even harder with stupid trigger keywords like: "liberals" "conservatives" "feminists' "racists" etc.
  21. What about (biogeographical) ancestry as a referent for race? People often ask me where I’m “from” or what my “nationality” is when what they really want to know is what my ancestry is. My response: I’m an American from such state but what you’re asking about is my ancestry, right?

    • Replies: @Sandgroper
    Yep, that happens a lot in Australia too - the enquiry is about race/ancestry, but it's usually couched in terms of origin. If the responding person answers in an Australian accent and names somewhere in Australia, that screws that, so then the next question is something like "What heritage do you celebrate?" FFS.
  22. @ERR
    Razib,

    Thank you for your posts. I have enjoyed reading your work for many years. I think it's strange that anyone would accuse you of being a racialist (believing and then attaching extraordinary significance to fictitious categories) .

    To the extent that you cover taboo material, you do so in an apolitical manner, without trying to prove an ideological point.

    It is unfortunate that one cannot discuss human ancestry or population genetics etc. without signaling to others that you agree with their pre-existing prejudices. I have to laugh at your joke about liberals. However the more unfortunate thing is that there are a lot of people with quite dangerous fixations on "race'

    Since there are real racists out there ready to use some observed difference at the population level to justify dehumanizing their fellow man, the irrational responses of "liberals" or SJWs etc. is a little understandable, though totally unenlightened.


    I cannot count how many times I've seen crap like:
    "if avg. IQ for Black children is 85, we should scrap pre-K programs/HeadStart etc. because they will be STUPID no matter what."



    Anyway, thank you for your work.

    What if someone suggested we scrap pre-k because it’s ineffective ? Why do you inject race into the discussion? A lot of non black people have below average IQ’s, what’s your obsession with black average IQ? My point is, why is it crap to stop ineffective programs?

    Liberals have an unyielding fetish with blacks as if other groups don’t face similiar disadvantages. I suppose poor Amerindians don’t float the liberal’s boat.

  23. @ObeseChorizo
    What about (biogeographical) ancestry as a referent for race? People often ask me where I'm "from" or what my "nationality" is when what they really want to know is what my ancestry is. My response: I'm an American from such state but what you're asking about is my ancestry, right?

    Yep, that happens a lot in Australia too – the enquiry is about race/ancestry, but it’s usually couched in terms of origin. If the responding person answers in an Australian accent and names somewhere in Australia, that screws that, so then the next question is something like “What heritage do you celebrate?” FFS.

  24. I’ve always seen, in my experience, that liberals never argue in good faith about race, but that those who do are easily convinced of the existence of biogenomic races. I think it’s because more still believe that if you argue for existence of race then you’re saying that “white” or “black” are races, and essential categories at that. There are indeed idiotic rightists who argue like that, however, like white nationalists and neoreactionaries. Like you know, Michael Anissimov. Most standard liberal “refutations” of biological race concept is based on that as well.

  25. @Sandgroper
    I first began reading GNXP in 2002 when Razib and others were discussing the likely future utility of modern genetics in medicine, and that it was helpful for people to 'self identify' for this purpose. I thought at the time that they (Razib, Joe Pickrell and others) were taking a Platonic view of race, and interjected something like "What about the hybrids? Surely what will become necessary when it becomes possible is personalised medicine, not medicine based on racial categories." Or some such. I knew nothing about modern genetics, but was highly suspicious because the person I love most in the world is a 'Platonic hybrid', and I (and she) had become fed up with Platonists treating her like some kind of marvellous alien. I believe it was Joe who patiently explained to me that it was not the case that a Platonic categorisation was what they were talking about, and Razib subsequently further clarified, also patiently. I don't recall one dimensional political dichotomy coming into it as any kind of influence on anyone's science-driven thinking among that group.

    That was in about April 2002, if I recall correctly. I was sufficiently persuaded by their patient explanations to read back to the beginning of GNXP earlier that year, and have been a regular reader of successive blogs ever since, and will remain so.

    It has been crystal clear to me since April 2002 that Razib and the other contributing writers at GNXP were not taking a Platonic view of 'race', and that they have not done so at any time since. It is not defensible for anyone now to try to claim that they have ever done so - not unless they can give reference to where this has occurred. I'm pretty confident no one can do that.

    I personally generally avoid use of the word now, because I agree with Soup that it has become poisoned, and people don't understand what I am talking about if I use it anyway, but it gets tedious using long-hand alternatives to try to explain what I am talking about. If people don't get the science, then they don't, and if they want to play politics, they will choose to ignore the science for convenience anyway. Ultimately, science will win.

    I feel the same way. Except I am sure science will NOT “win”. We might become more practical and we might eventually get to a kind of personalized medicine that doesn’t overlap with old historical identity politics. On a technical kind of way, we might even figure out a better way to talk about human bio AND neurological diversity.

    However, I am thoroughly pessimistic that the problem we are discussing can exactly be fixed.

    1. There is a cultural construct: race (esp. in the US) with its attendant emotional baggage.

    2. Distributions of traits change depending on groupings of individuals by ancestry or geography.
    (a particular grouping for a set of traits could have a narrow scientific purpose)

    3. Medicine finds some utility in using the cultural construct for some purposes, not others.

    The problem is that people both conflate these 3 kinds of concepts AND engage in the usual aggressive primate behavior. As you point out Sandgroper, it is generally quite obvious that Razib does not believe in some Platonic concept of race. He has generally been careful his posts, describing the grouping he uses to make an observation. He has even made it a point to say so on a few occasions. However, individuals with an ideological axe to grind are relentlessly impervious to reasoned argument. Moreover, well meaning people just have a hard time knowing if they actually disagree or not, or if they are just confused about their terms. Once the blood starts boiling, fewer people are able to actually able/willing to reconsider what exactly they are arguing about. This is even harder with stupid trigger keywords like: “liberals” “conservatives” “feminists’ “racists” etc.

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