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Now that a man can marry a man, schismatic Mormons are asking: why can’t a man marry two women? And Muslims are asking: why can’t can’t a man marry his first cousin? And Hindus from southern India are asking: why can’t a man marry his niece?

In-breeding appealed to political and economic dynasts, such as the Habsburgs and Rothschilds, because it doesn’t dissipate family assets to too many heirs.

The Habsburg dynasty that reigned over much of Europe from the late medieval period to the last days of WWI is notorious today for the inbreeding that beset Charles II, the Habsburg king of Spain from 1665-1700. Wikipedia explains:

Charles was born in Madrid, the only surviving son of his predecessor, King Philip IV of Spain and his second Queen (and niece), Mariana of Austria, another Habsburg. His birth was greeted with joy by the Spanish, who feared the disputed succession which could have ensued if Philip IV had left no male heir.

17th century European noble culture commonly matched cousin to first cousin and uncle to niece, to preserve a prosperous family’s properties. Charles’s own immediate pedigree was exceptionally populated with nieces giving birth to children of their uncles: Charles’s mother was a niece of Charles’s father, being a daughter of Maria Anna of Spain (1606–46) and Emperor Ferdinand III. Thus, Empress Maria Anna was simultaneously his aunt and grandmother and Margarita of Austria was both his grandmother and great-grandmother.[1] This inbreeding had given many in the family hereditary weaknesses. That Habsburg generation was more prone to still-births than were peasants in Spanish villages.[2] 

There was also insanity in Charles’s family; his great-great-great(-great-great, depending along which lineage one counts) grandmother, Joanna of Castile (“Joanna the Mad”; however, the degree to which her “madness” was induced by circumstances of her confinement and political intrigues targeting her is debated), mother of the Spanish King Charles I (who was also Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) became insane early in life. Joanna was two of Charles’ 16 great-great-great-grandmothers, six of his 32 great-great-great-great-grandmothers, and six of his 64 great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers.

(Here’s my my movie review of the Spanish biopic Juana la Loca.)

Dating to approximately the year 1550, outbreeding in Charles II’s lineage had ceased (see also pedigree collapse). From then on, all his ancestors were in one way or another descendants of Joanna the Mad and Philip I of Castile, and among these just the royal houses of Spain, Austria and Bavaria. Charles II’s genome was actually more homozygous than that of an average child whose parents are siblings.[2] He was born physically and mentally disabled, and disfigured. Possibly through affliction with mandibular prognathism, he was unable to chew. His tongue was so large that his speech could barely be understood, and he frequently drooled. It has been suggested that he suffered from the endocrine disease acromegaly,[3] or his inbred lineage may have led to a combination of rare genetic disorders such as combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.[2] 

Consequently, Charles II is known in Spanish history as El Hechizado (“The Hexed”) from the popular belief – to which Charles himself subscribed – that his physical and mental disabilities were caused by “sorcery.” The king went so far as to be exorcised.

Charles II died without issue at age 38, which set off a crisis in Europe’s balance of power. His will named as king of Spain a relative who was also the grandson of King Louis XIV of France. Britain objected to the union of France and Spain under the Bourbons. In the ensuing War of the Spanish Succession, John Churchill became Duke of Marlborough for winning the Battle of Blenheim. (His descendant Winston Churchill wrote a six volume biography of his ancestor.)
So, the Habsburgs were genetically doomed forever by inbreeding, right? 
Well, on July 4, 2011 died Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg , crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1916-18, who lived a model of a healthy, useful life, died at age 98. He stood against Hitler and Stalin, turned down the throne of Spain and recommended Juan Carlos instead, and served in the European Union parliament for decades. Otto von Habsburg was, by political inclination, ancestry, and family trade, a pan-Europeanist. His ancestor Charles V had ruled over more of Europe (and ruled rather conscientiously) than any man between Charlemagne and Napoleon.
Otto von Habsburg’s last great contribution to European unity was cosponsoring the Pan-European Picnic on August 19, 1989 on the Austrian-Hungarian border, where the Soviet Empire sprang a terminal leak. By pre-arrangement with Hungarian authorities, the border gate in what we call “the Berlin Wall” (but which was actually 1800 miles long, running from the Baltic to the Aegean) was opened for three hours during Otto’s picnic. Hundreds of East German tourists left the Warsaw Pact countries to join relatives in West Germany. 
A few weeks after this genial occasion, the Hungarians decided to make it permanent and stopped stopping East Germans tourists from leaving Hungary for the West. Because there was no serious border control within the Warsaw Pact, a leak anywhere could eventually drain the Soviet Empire of its most valuable inmates. Eventually, the East Berlin authorities gave in on November 9, 1989 and told the wall guards to stop guarding.
Archduke von Habsburg was also a pundit whom I regularly read forty years ago. Charles A. Coulombe writes in Taki’s Magazine in Death of an Imperial Pen Pal:

The San Fernando Valley in the 1970s was a very dull place. Hot and dusty, filled with lackluster architectural construction thrown together during the postwar housing boom, it was the last place I wanted to be. 

Back in those far-off days, the LA Archdiocese’s paper, The Tidings, ran a column by the Archduke Otto von Habsburg, son of Austria-Hungary’s last Emperor-King.

I read him, too. The Tidings’ other columnist back when I was 12 was the almost as cosmopolitan Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. We got a quality dose of high-brow Mittel-Europa punditry in the San Fernando Valley
The solution to the genetic woes of inbreeding is to stop inbreeding. Even a modest level of non-inbreeding quickly solves problems like sterility.

Otto, who stopped appearing in public after the death of his wife, Regina, last year, is survived by his younger brother, Felix, as well as 7 children, 22 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. 

You can do some interesting calculations about average fertility per generation using the last paragraph in the obituaries of prominent people (although one caveat is that the obituaries give survivors, not total descendants). It would be interesting to build a model to predict the number of surviving descendants by generation of, say, people important enough to get their obituaries in the New York Times. Use as factors: date of birth, age at death, sex, career, number of marriages, etc. 
Take the Archduke as an example. So, among his survivors, Otto had 7 children and an average of 3.14 surviving grandchildren per surviving child. But his 22 grandchildren have only 2 surviving great-grandchildren, so far, or 0.09 on average. 
Talk about pedigree collapse.

• Tags: Genealogy 
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hbd chic k has made an interesting response to my review in The American Conservative of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. First, another excerpt from my review:

William D. Hamilton’s math was popularized by Edward O. Wilson’s 1975 bombshell Sociobiology and by Richard Dawkins’s 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene. (A more accurate title would have been The Dynastic Gene.) According to Fukuyama, however, political science has scandalously ignored the implications of these famous books. That’s true in general, although I have on my bookshelves academic works pointing out the fascinating political implications of kin selection by Pierre L. van den Berghe, Frank Salter, Tatu Vanhanen, and J.P. Rushton, none of whom Fukuyama cites. 

… Fukuyama is worried enough by this unpublicized but powerful line of logic that he tries to brush off the entire concept of ethnic nepotism: 

“Since virtually all human societies organized themselves tribally at one point, many people are tempted to believe that this is somehow a natural state of affairs or biologically driven. It is not obvious, however, why you should want to cooperate with a cousin four times removed rather than a familiar nonrelative just because you share one sixty-fourth of your genes with your cousin.”

Indeed, it is “not obvious,” but Fukuyama’s challenge is hardly unanswerable. In arranged-marriage cultures, clans, tribes, and castes can perpetuate themselves indefinitely, making states typically either ineffective or tyrannical. For example, as I’m writing, Colonel Gaddafi has so far survived NATO aerial bombardment by rallying many Bedouin tribes to his banner. Even though most Libyan nomads have settled down, they’ve maintained tribalism as what anthropologist Stanley Kurtz calls their “social structure in reserve” precisely for violent times like these when you can only trust blood relations. 

In the West, in contrast, over the generations familiar nonrelatives—i.e., neighbors—tend to turn into relatives, or at least potential in-laws, because European cultures frequently permitted love marriages with the girl next door. Moreover, as Fukuyama notes, the Catholic Church discouraged even fourth-cousin marriages. The resulting broad but shallow regional blood ties help explain why Western cultures were able to organize politically on a territorial basis without always being looted by self-interested clans.

hbd chick expands my rebuttal to Fukuyama into a General Theory of the West:

No, being tribal is not necessarily the natural state of affairs, but it IS biologically driven. as is being non-tribal. 

Europeans used to be tribal, but that’s because they used to marry their cousins, too, just like the afghanis or iraqis or saudis or libyans of today. the church put an end to all that and then some — it also put an end to all sorts of endogamous practices like polygamy and marrying your dead brother’s wife. first- and second-cousin marriage was banned in 506 a.d., and by the 11th century the church had banned marriage up to SIXTH cousins. 

This forced exogamy resulted in, as steve describes it, “broad but shallow regional blood ties.” almost all of european (and western) history hinges on these loose genetic ties. the whole evolution of european societies from tribes to city-states (think of the venices and the hamburgs of europe) to the nationalistic movements — this was made possible because extended family ties were continually loosened over centuries of european history (from the fall of rome onwards). the broadening of political structures (tribe, city-state, national-state) mirrors the underlying broadening of the genetic ties.

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I hadn’t realized before that Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), the leading French painter of the Romantic Era, was perhaps the illegitimate son of Talleyrand, the most glamorous name in the history of diplomacy. Wikipedia says:
There is reason to believe that his father, Charles-François Delacroix, was infertile at the time of Eugène’s conception and that his real father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family and successor of Charles Delacroix as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance and character.[5] Throughout his career as a painter, he was protected by Talleyrand, who served successively the Restoration and king Louis-Philippe, and ultimately as ambassador of France in Great Britain, and later by Talleyrand’s grandson, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, duc de Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III and speaker of the French House of Commons.
Are there other likely examples of one famous person being the secret child of another?
• Tags: Genealogy 
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For quite a number of decades, it has been apparent that agriculture was first invented in the “Fertile Crescent” of the Middle East, then spread into Europe. But that raised the question of how agriculture spread: did Middle Easterners colonize Europe or did existing European hunter-gatherers pick up Middle Eastern techniques? A couple of decades or so ago, geneticists entered this debate. L.L. Cavalli-Sforza argued that most Europeans today are descended from Middle Eastern farmers. Bryan Sykes responded that most Europeans are descended from indigenous hunter-gatherers who switched to farming.

The latest view is that Cavalli-Sforza was even more right than he claimed. Matthias Schultz writes in Der Spiegel in “How Middle Eastern Milk Drinkers Conquered Europe:

At around 5300 BC, everyone in Central Europe was suddenly farming and raising livestock. The members of the Linear Pottery culture kept cows in wooden pens, used rubbing stones and harvested grain. Within less than 300 years, the sedentary lifestyle had spread to the Paris basin.

The reasons behind the rapid shift have long been a mystery. Was it an idea that spread through Central Europe at the time, or an entire people?

Peaceful Cooperation or Invasion?

Many academics felt that the latter was inconceivable. Agriculture was invented in the Middle East, but many researchers found it hard to believe that people from that part of the world would have embarked on an endless march across the Bosporus and into the north.

Jens Lüning, a German archaeologist who specializes in the prehistoric period, was influential in establishing the conventional wisdom on the developments, namely that a small group of immigrants inducted the established inhabitants of Central Europe into sowing and milking with “missionary zeal.” The new knowledge was then quickly passed on to others. This process continued at a swift pace, in a spirit of “peaceful cooperation,” according to Lüning.

But now doubts are being raised on that explanation. New excavations in Turkey, as well as genetic analyses of domestic animals and Stone Age skeletons, paint a completely different picture:

  • At around 7000 BC, a mass migration of farmers began from the Middle East to Europe.
  • These ancient farmers brought along domesticated cattle and pigs.
  • There was no interbreeding between the intruders and the original population.

Mutated for Milk

The new settlers also had something of a miracle food at their disposal. They produced fresh milk, which, as a result of a genetic mutation, they were soon able to drink in large quantities. The result was that the population of farmers grew and grew.

These striking insights come from biologists and chemists. In a barrage of articles in professional journals like Nature and BMC Evolutionary Biology, they have turned many of the prevailing views upside down over the course of the last three years. …

In a bid to solve the mystery, molecular biologists have sawed into and analyzed countless Neolithic bones. The breakthrough came last year, when scientists discovered that the first milk drinkers lived in the territory of present-day Austria, Hungary and Slovakia.

But that was also where the nucleus of the Linear Pottery culture was located. “The trait of lactose tolerance quickly became established in the population,” explains Joachim Burger, an anthropologist from the University of Mainz in southwestern Germany who is a member of the Leche team.

There’s a good accompanying graphical map here.

Of course, all this raises even more questions, such as in regard to the recently surmised Neanderthal introgression

Having seen opinion shift several times on this topic over the last decade and a half, I look forward to future developments.

This lactose tolerant-centric view of the pre-history of Europe may provide some posthumous vindication to Raymond D. Crotty, an Irish dairy farmer turned economist, who emphasized the importance of the mutation to facilitate dairy farming as crucial to the dense populating of Northern Europe.

P.S. John Hawks comments here. Razib comments here.

P.P.S. Greg Cochran comments in the Comments.

• Tags: Genealogy, Genetics 
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Here’s a simplified thought experiment to demonstrate the impact of generation length on the size of future populations:

Two babies girls are born today. They both will give birth to twins and to no other children, so their lifetime fertility will be at the idealized replacement rate of two. The only difference is that Tiffany will give birth to her twins at age 24 and Emma at age 32. Their descendants will continue these patterns: giving birth to twins at either age 24 or 32 years apart. Ninety-six years in the future, Tiffany’s 16 great-great grandchildren and Emma’s 8 great-grandchildren will be born.

• Tags: Genealogy 
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Larry Gelbart, creator of MASH and the Broadway musical City of Angels, was asked why he and all his fellow writers on Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows in the 1950s (including Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks — see the movie “My Favorite Year” for a fictionalized version of this famous confluence of talent — and Woody Allen briefly worked for Sid Caesar a few years later) were young Jews. He responded:

“Because our parents were old Jews.”

That reminds me of the George Carlin joke:

“I’d like to mention something about language, there are a couple of terms being used a lot these days by guilty white liberals. The first is “Happens to be” ‘He happens to be black’ “I have a friend, who happens to be black” like it’s a #%!@in accident ya know. Happens to be black? Yes, he happens to be black. He has two black parents? Oh yes, yes he did. And they #%!@ed? Oh indeed they did. So where does the surprise part come in? I’d think it’d be more unusual if he just happened to be Scandinavian.”

• Tags: Genealogy 
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William Saletan’s ongoing Maoist-style self-criticism for the crimethink of pointing out that James Watson knows more about the genetics of IQ than Watson’s critics continues in Slate:

Not Black and White: Rethinking race and genes.
By William Saletan

Five months ago, I wrote a series on race, genes, and intelligence. Everything about it hurt: the research, the writing, the reactions, the regrets. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about it. I’ve been struggling to reconcile two feelings that won’t go away: that what I wrote was socially harmful and that I can’t honestly renounce the evidence I presented. That evidence, which involved the proposed role of heredity in trait differences by race, is by no means complete or conclusive. But it’s not dismissible, either. My colleague Stephen Metcalf summarized the debate better than I did: “It’s a conflict between science and science.”

When you find yourself in a dilemma this difficult, sometimes the best thing to do is let it sit in your head until you find a way to make sense of it within your value system. I think I’m beginning to find the answer that works for me: I was asking the wrong question.

In last fall’s series, I asked myself why I was writing about such an ugly topic. “Because the truth isn’t as bad as our ignorant, half-formed fears and suspicions about it,” I concluded. “And because you can’t solve a problem till you understand it.” I wrote my commitment on a piece of paper and leaned it against my computer monitor: The truth doesn’t care what you want.

Sometimes, with time and perspective, it’s the small, overlooked things that turn out to be big. In retrospect, I was consumed by the wrong word. The flaw in my approach wasn’t truth. It was the. Even if hereditary inequality among racial averages is a truth, it’s less true, more unjust, and more pernicious than framing the same difference in nonracial terms. “The truth,” as I accepted and framed it, was itself half-formed. It was, in that sense, a half-truth. And it flunked the practical test I had assigned it: To the extent that a social problem is genetic, you can’t ultimately solve it by understanding it in racial terms.

A study published two weeks ago in Nature Medicine illustrates the point. Gina Kolata of the New York Times explains what happened:

Doctors who treat patients with heart failure have long been puzzled by a peculiar observation. Many black patients seem to do just as well if they take a mainstay of therapy, a class of drugs called beta blockers, as if they do not. [Now researchers] have discovered why: these nonresponsive patients have a slightly altered version of a gene that muscles use to control responses to nerve signals. … As many as 40 percent of blacks and 2 percent of whites have the gene variant, the researchers report. The findings, heart failure specialists say, mean that people with the altered gene might be spared taking what may be, for them, a useless therapy.

In other words, racial observation turned out to be a temporary step toward a deeper genetic explanation. Most blacks don’t have the altered gene, and some whites do. Given these findings, prescribing or not prescribing beta blockers based on race rather than genes would be malpractice.

In a similar way, policy prescriptions based on race are social malpractice. Not because you can’t find patterns on tests, but because any biological theory that starts with observed racial patterns has to end with genetic differences that cross racial lines. Race is the stone age of genetics. If you’re a researcher looking for effects of heredity on medical or educational outcomes, race is the closest thing you presently have to genetic information about most people. And as a proxy measure, it sucks.

Okay, but the reason people get so irrationally upset when talk turns to race is because, much of the time, it’s not a proxy measure: “Watch what you say, mister — you’re talking about family here.” People care about what you say about their races for the same reasons they care about what you say about their families. And that’s not a metaphor.

To say that somebody is, say, white is not just a crude way of saying that they are unlikely to have the gene variant that makes beta blockers ineffective. It’s actually much more of a way of saying that on, average, they are more likely to be genealogically related to another white person than to a non-white person. In other words, a white person has more family ties to white people than to nonwhite people. And who you are related to matters, in all sorts of ways, genetic, sociological, political, and personal, ways both subtle and bleedingly obvious.

It’s irritating that after a full decade of my yammering away over and over again about a single insight that can clear up a remarkable amount of confusion in public discourse — that a racial group is an extended family that’s partly inbred — confusion reigns unabated.

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It’s long been understood theoretically that there must exist a Darwinian fitness trade-off between too much inbreeding and too much outbreeding, but nobody knew where that was. If you marry your first cousin, you are likely to suffer a 30% higher infant mortality rate. But if you marry somebody too genetically dissimilar, you can start running into various reproductive problems as well.

Now, deCODE Genetics of Iceland, who foisted upon the world the most likely fallacious claim that James D. Watson is 25% nonwhite, is claiming that the Darwinian fitness sweetspot is 3rd cousin marriage:

In a paper published today deCODE scientists establish a substantial and consistent positive correlation between the kinship of couples and the number of children and grandchildren they have. The study, which analyzes more than 200 years of deCODE’s comprehensive genalogical data on the population of Iceland, shows that couples related at the level of third cousins have the greatest number of offspring. For example, for women born between 1800 and 1824, those with a mate related at the level of a third cousin had an average of 4.04 children and 9.17 grandchildren, while those related to their mates as eighth cousins or more distantly had 3.34 children and 7.31 grandchildren. For women born in the period 1925-1949 with mates related at the degree of third cousins, the average number of children and grandchildren were 3.27 and 6.64, compared to 2.45 and 4.86 for those with mates who were eighth cousins or more distantly related.

The findings hold for every 25-year interval studied, beginning with those born in the year 1800 up to the present day. Because of the strength and consistency of the association, even between couples with very subtle differences in kinship, the authors conclude that the effect very likely has a biological basis, one which has yet to be elucidated. The paper, ‘An association between the kinship and fertility of human couples,’ is published online in Science magazine at .

deCODE has access to the amazing Icelandic national family tree, in which most Icelanders who ever lived over the last 1000+ years are enrolled. Genealogy is easier in Iceland because there hasn’t been much immigration for the last 1000 years, and because of the surname system: for example, the PR lady who wrote this press release is named Berglind Olafsdottir — i.e., she is “Olaf’s daughter.”

Icelanders are of Scandinavian and Celtic descent.

The odds of genetic problems due to inheriting two deleterious recessive genes falls off pretty fast as you move from first cousin outward. I believe at the third cousin marriage level, it’s only 1/16th as high as at the first cousin marriage level, but don’t quote me when proposing marriage to somebody you met at Great Aunt Meg’s 90th birthday party. Still, I’m not sure how much faith I should put in these findings.

I could imagine some non-biochemical reasons for this, such as that 3rd cousins might have tended to marry at younger ages — in early modern England, as Gregory Clark pointed out in A Farewell to Alms, age of marriage is the main determinant of fertility. Or perhaps healthy people tended to quickly find spouses within their social circles, who tended to be related to them, while sickly people had to wander further afield to find somebody who would marry them.

John Hawks notes an even likelier reason: people who are descended from highly fertile people will have more third cousins to marry. That could be biological or cultural or both.

Some of it could be purely mathematical — the chance of falling in love with your third cousin depends in part on the number of third cousins you have.

And the number of cousins of any type you have is wildly dependent upon typical family size in your family tree. To simplify genealogical calculations, assume that every person in Family Tree A for the last four generations has had only one child, every person in Family Tree B has had exactly two children, and so forth. Here’s what you would face in terms of number of relatives of your own generation:

kids/family Siblings 1st Cousins 2nd Cousins 3rd Cousins
1 0 0 0 0
2 1 4 16 64
3 2 12 72 432
4 2 24 196 1536
5 4 40 400 4000

Thus, if everybody has had exactly one child for the last four generations, you would have no siblings, no cousins, no 2nd cousins, and no 3rd cousins. At your family reunion, you’d be assured of getting a big slice of the pie, but you’d be pretty lonely.

But if your ancestors had have a nice stable two surviving/breeding children per person, then you would have 1 sibling, 4 cousins, 16 2nd cousins, and 64 3rd cousins.

Yet, if your ancestors averaged five children surviving to reproduce, you’d have 4,000 third cousins!

Of course, humans do not breed in an evolutionarily stable manner. We’ve taken over this planet by having more than two children each. So, most people are descended, on average, from people who had more surviving children than the average.

It rural Iceland, if you came from “good stock,” it might have been hard to avoid marrying your third cousin.

Anyway, I haven’t seen the paper yet, so I can’t tell if the the deCODE people have been able to deal with these objections. They certainly have a lot of data to work with.

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The widely-repeated assertion by the Icelandic firm deCODE genetics that James Watson is 16% sub-Saharan black and 9% Asian (see, for instance, the new NY Times article “DNA Pioneer’s Genome Blurs Race Lines“) reminds me of one of the least understood contradictions in the conventional wisdom that Race Doesn’t Exist:

- The existence of the One-Drop Rule shows that race is an arbitrary social construct.

- Therefore, lots of white Americans must have lots of black ancestors.

But when you stop and think about it, you realize the opposite is true: that the One-Drop Rule is the reason that so few self-identified white Americans have much black ancestry. As I wrote in 2001, when racial admixture testing via DNA was in its infancy:

Among self-identified whites in Shriver’s sample, the average black admixture is only 0.7 percent. That’s the equivalent of having among your 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents (who lived around two centuries ago), 127 whites and one black.

It appears that 70 percent of whites have no African ancestors. Among the 30 percent who do, the black admixture is around 2.3 percent, which would be like having about three black ancestors out of those 128.

In contrast, the lack of the One Drop Rule meant that Mexico’s black minority has been almost completely absorbed into the general population.

As I’ve said, racial admixture testing is not always reliable for individuals, but for large sample sizes it works reasonably well. (If anybody has any more recent data than this on American whites, let me know.) As I pointed out in regard to IQ testing, people tend to make a 180 degree wrong assumption about testing in the human sciences: the unexpected reality is that it’s much easier to be accurate about a group, whether IQ or racial admixture, than it is to be accurate about an individual.

The lesson that needs to be learned is that social constructs impact genetic reality. If your society cruelly sanctions people who marry across racial lines and won’t let their children easily assert membership in the dominant race, as America long did, you’ll end up with the white-identifying people of America being whiter genetically than the white-identifying people of, say, Brazil.

(That’s why affirmative action benefits in America works are distributed largely on the honor system — you just check whichever race box you want on the job or college application and they usually take your word for it, and there have been surprisingly few controversies, at least over people claiming to be black. In contrast, the new affirmative action system in Brazil for college admissions has set up boards to visually evaluate each candidate claiming to be black.)

It was fairly hard to pass visually, but the emotional toll of passing was particularly difficult. A 1953 study by anthropologist C. Stern estimated that 1/4 of people who were 1/4th black and 3/4th white could pass for white. (See Carleton Coon’s Living Races of Man, p. 307).

The One-Drop Rule made it wrenchingly hard for even the whitest-looking person with socially-identified black relatives to pass into being socially-identified as white. To pass from black to white socially, an individual typically had to move to a new part of the country and cut himself off from his family because at least some of them would be visibly part-black.

For example, one of the best-known cases of passing is that of the late Anatole Broyard (1920-1990), the distinguished literary critic. His parents were New Orleans “creoles of color,” but when he moved to New York to make his career in books, he more or less dropped the black part of his black identity (which, as a native of New Orleans, where the One Drop Rule was an alien Anglo imposition, presumably didn’t mean that much to him) and let people assume he was white. His career probably would have been even more successful if he had been publicly black, but he wasn’t interested in being pigeonholed as a “black critic.”

But this liberation came at a human cost: he cut himself off from his family. His children never met his darker sister until his funeral.

Broyard championed the novelist Philip Roth, and after his death, Roth published a novel, The Human Stain, inspired by Broyard’s life.

The 2003 movie version suffers from the casting of Anthony Hopkins as the protagonist, Professor of English Coleman Silk, because Sir Anthony, the laziest of actors, made no effort to appear even subliminally black (he didn’t even use an American accent!). And the filmmakers didn’t dare put any makeup on Sir Anthony to make him look a little black. But the flashbacks to Silk’s life in Newark in the 1940s before passing, featuring the part-black Wentworth Miller of Prison Break as the young Silk, are excellent. (By the way, if anybody wants to make a movie of Broyard’s life, Miller looks a lot like him. And, he’s got star power.)

Roth’s novel makes clear the emotional cost of passing, when the young Silk’s clearly part-African mother’s responds to his announcement with this moving soliloquy:

“‘I’m never going to know my grandchildren,’ she said. ‘You’re never going to let them see me,’ she said. ‘You’re never going to let them know who I am. “Mom,” you’ll tell me, “Ma, you come to the railroad station in New York, and you sit on the bench in the waiting room, and at eleven twenty-five A.M., I’ll walk by with my kids in their Sunday best.” That’ll be my birthday present five years from now. “Sit there, Mom, say nothing, and I’ll just walk them slowly by.” And you know very well that I will be there. The railroad station. The zoo. Central Park. Wherever you say, of course, I’ll do it. You tell me the only way I can ever touch my grandchildren is for you to hire me to come over as Mrs. Brown to baby-sit and put them to bed. I’ll do it… I have no choice.’”

And then there was always the fear among individuals who were passing that they’d have a child who was clearly part-black. (Your child can inherit from you genes that aren’t evident in your looks.)

But, if you can successfully pass, your descendants will tend to be increasingly white by ancestry, while the descendants of your siblings’ who didn’t pass will tend to get blacker because they will be in socially different gene pools for choosing spouses. (For example, there are, I believe, two lineages descended from Sally Hemings’s 1/8th black sons: Madison’s is socially identified as black and Eston’s as white. That’s because Eston moved to the Old Northwest and lived as a white man and married a while woman, while Madison lived as a black man.)

So, with a reasonable picture in our heads of just what was required of an individual to pass, let’s see how credible the claim that James Dewey Watson Jr. is 25% nonwhite now sounds. I’m going to spend some time going over this because it might help people understand how to evaluate genetic claims (by seeing, for example, if they make sense in human terms of who marries whom), and because it explains a little about what America was like.

Not surprisingly, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA is very interested in his own genealogy, as he shows in the first chapter of his new autobiography Avoid Boring People, which is available as a five megabyte PDF file, complete with pictures of his parents and maternal grandmother.

On his mother’s side, his grandfather was a Scottish immigrant, Lauchlin Alexander Mitchell (son of Robert Mitchell and Flora MacKinnon of Scotland), while his mother’s mother (Lizzie Gleason – see picture to the right) was the daughter of Irish immigrants (Michael Gleeson and Mary Curtin) who initially took up farming in the Midwest. So, the search for blacks and Asians should concentrate on his father’s side of the family, who were of old Anglo-American stock.

But that would mean his father would be 50% nonwhite, and one of his paternal grandparents might well be be 100% nonwhite.

How likely is that? One place to start is by looking at the photo (not online) on p. 265 of Watson’s new autobiography, Avoid Boring People. It shows Watson at the 1967 wedding of his cousin Alice. Standing alongside him are his sister, his father, and his paternal grandfather.

In other words, the Watsons were not split up like the Broyards were by the brutal necessities of passing. Indeed, Watson lists the names of his father’s three brothers and of his paternal grandfather’s four brothers, so the Watsons were a very cohesive clan, quite proud of their genealogy. They were addicted to high-WASP practices of passing names down within the family, and converting prestigious last names to middle names. For instance, the scientist’s full name is James Dewey Watson Jr., with his first name coming from his father James Sr. and his middle name from the maternal grandfather of his mother, Nellie Dewey Ford, who was descended from a Puritan named Thomas Dewey who arrived in Boston in 1633.

Further, just from looking at the wedding picture, I’d say these Watsons are just about the five whitest people in the whole world. If they are significantly non-white genetically, it sure doesn’t show on any of them.

The reality is that the Watson family was way too socially fashionable for too long to be significantly black in a profoundly anti-black America. For example, Watson’s paternal uncle William Weldon Watson IV was appointed chairman of the Yale Physics Department in 1940. If somebody who was one-third black was a Yale department chairman in 1940, it would be big news.

Watson’s father (see picture to the left) started work at the Harris Trust Company in Chicago before WWI. Watson’s paternal grandfather was a stockbroker and his paternal grandmother an heiress. The scientist’s paternal great-grandfather was a hotelkeeper in ritzy Lake Geneva, WI and married a banker’s daughter.

His paternal great-great-grandfather William Weldon Watson II was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Watson writes: “With his wife and brother Ben, he later accompanied Lincoln on the inaugural train to Washington.” I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect that Lincoln didn’t invite a family of prosperous mulattoes from Springfield along on his train ride to take power in Southern-sympathizing Washington D.C., not while trying to head off Civil War as hotheads accused him of wanting to foster “miscegenation.”

You could hypothesize, I suppose, that Watson was the product of an illicit affair between his mother and a man who was half nonwhite, or between his paternal grandmother and a man who was completely nonwhite, but the circumstantial evidence makes this unlikely. Watson was the first-born child, born three years after his parents wedding. His parents had his sister a couple of years later and stayed together for the rest of their lives. So, it doesn’t sound like Mrs. Watson stuck Mr. Watson with a cuckoo’s egg.

Similarly, Watson’s father was the first-born of four sons, a couple of years after his parents’ wedding. And he was born in northern Minnesota!

Or you could hypothesize that James Watson had several different ancestors who were all part non-white, but that’s just pushing the passing problem back farther in time, and multiplying the improbability of it all.

Broyard came from a creole of color subcaste in New Orleans that had social institutions, such as debutante’s balls, designed to foster marriages among lighter-skinned people. But that’s a very public system — if you are socially prominent within your subcaste, it’s hard to claim to be all-white. At a minimum, the blacker people you discriminate against in your clubs will talk about how you aren’t as white as you might look.

In contrast, the Watsons were prominent in Upper Midwest social circles for generations, and its extremely doubtful that they were involved in some sort of surreptitious subcaste of in-marrying white-looking mulattoes.

Now, it’s quite possible that Watson’s distant frontier-era ancestors include blacks and American Indians (I’m dubious about the 9% Asian figure). When people were moving around and communications were slow, it was easier to pass. But, their descendants would tend to get whiter because they had passed into the white marriage pool.

So, what likely happened is that Watson had a few nonwhite ancestors fairly well back in the past, and their versions of the genes used as genetic markers in deCODE’s analysis , via the luck of the draw in the sexual reproduction shuffle, kept turning up in Watson’s ancestors, greatly exaggerating his overall nonwhite ancestry. But the great majority of his functional genes were inherited from his white ancestors.

Enough detail. The point is that when you think about genes, you need to think about genealogy.

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From the Times of London:

JAMES WATSON, the DNA pioneer who claimed Africans are less intelligent than whites, has been found to have 16 times more genes of black origin than the average white European.

An analysis of his genome shows that 16% of his genes are likely to have come from a black ancestor of African descent. By contrast, most people of European descent would have no more than 1%.

The study was made possible when he allowed his genome – the map of all his genes – to be published on the internet in the interests of science.

“This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African,” said Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics, whose company carried out the analysis. “It was very surprising to get this result for Jim.

Watson won the Nobel prize, with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, after working out the structure of DNA in 1953. However, he provoked an outcry earlier this year when he suggested black people were genetically less intelligent than whites.

This weekend his critics savoured the wry twist of fate. Sir John Sulston, the Nobel laureate who helped lead the consortium that decoded the human genome, said the discovery was ironic in view of Watson’s opinions on race. “I never did agree with Watson’s remarks,” he said. “We do not understand enough about intelligence to generalise about race.”

The backlash against Watson forced him to step down as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York state, after 39 years at the helm. He had said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospects for Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”.

The analysis by deCODE Genetics, an Icelandic company, also shows a further 9% of Watson’s genes are likely to have come from an ancestor of Asian descent.

of Long Island “reports:”

“News that geneticist James Watson inherited 16 percent of his DNA from an African ancestor may provide the Nobel Prize winner with a new perspective on his ancestry. But experts Monday said the percentage of Watson’s DNA possibly contributed by someone of African descent illustrates that race is a counterfeit concept, having more to do with social notions than biological ones.”

And the NYT leaps in here.

It could be true that Watson is 25% nonwhite (although the graph in the Times says 27%), but it sounds unlikely to me, based on simple genealogical arithmetic that nobody else seems to have done. The only evidence I can see for this claim is that Watson has wavy or curly hair and that his father spent a year at Oberlin, the most racially liberal American college of the 19th Century. Otherwise, this claim fails most reality checks.

Watson’s new autobiography, Avoid Boring People, has a fair amount of information about his ancestors, including several old photos. His mother’s side of the family were recent immigrants from the British Isles:

“Mother was the only child of Lauchlin Alexander Mitchell, a Scottish-born tailor, and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Gleason, the daughter of an Irish immigrant couple (Michael Gleason and Mary Curtin) who had emigrated from Tipperary during the potato famine of the late 1840s.”

So, if his mother was 100% white, as this family history suggests, then his father would have to be 50% nonwhite, which sounds extremely improbable. There’s a picture of James D. Watson Sr. on p. 5, and he looks like your average white guy. (Granted, old black and white pictures can be somewhat misleading, but still …).

Further, his father’s upper middle class family history suggests that his father’s side of the family sure didn’t suffer from racial discrimination. If his father was 50% nonwhite, then his paternal grandparents had to average 50% nonwhite (e.g., one was 100% nonwhite, and the other 100% white). Yet, if one or both were significantly nonwhite, nobody in late 19th Century America seemed to notice! His paternal grandparents were both Episcopalians. His grandfather was a stockbroker, his grandmother was an heiress from wealthy Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The odds that two individuals who were, on average, one-third black could have thrived in such an anti-black social environment seems absurd.

Further, Watson’s father had three brothers. Did any of them displays signs of being part black? For a mulatto attempting to pass into white society, there are many fraugh passages, such as what to do with their loved ones. Today, we hear about how Race doe not exist, but for those who passed from black to white it was terribly traumatic, generally leaving behind your family and and taking on a new identity. Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain gives a strong picture of what it is like to pass from black to white. It’s based on the literary critic Anatole Broyard.

I don’t see any more of a such a troubled passage of the Watsons

This reminds me of this great article I wrote in 2001 about a population geneticist doing a pioneering racial admixture study, who noticed that one of his subjects was determined to be 22% black. So, he looked into it more and discovered it was him! This came as a big surprise to him and all his relatives. I wrote it up and it was a wonderful human interest story. The only problem was that it wasn’t true. As a reader pointed out to me, 22% means that, say, one grandparent was 7/8ths black, which somebody would have likely noticed. Later, the population geneticist took a look at his DNA again with better methodology and found he had been way, way off originally.

I hate being wrong …

Racial admixture analyses are reasonably good for groups, but for individuals, at present, they can throw off some funny results. For example, one commercial firm often reports that Jewish customers are a little bit American Indian. Brent Staples, a black editorial writer for the NYT, took a racial admixture test and was told he was 18% Asian, which is another unlikely finding.

I don’t doubt that the paternal side of Watson’s family tree, which in the case of Watson’s paternal grandmother goes back to a Thomas Dewey who landed in Boston in 1633, could include some blacks and American Indians. Yet, simple arithmetic shows that the chance of him being 25% nonwhite is vanishingly small.

• Tags: Genealogy, Genetics 
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In the NYT, a story on the frustrations that African-Americans are experiencing with DNA ancestry testing services:

DNA Tests Find Branches but Few Roots


HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., whose PBS special “African American Lives” explores the ancestry of famous African-Americans using DNA testing, has done more than anyone to help popularize such tests and companies that offer them. But recently this Harvard professor has become one of the industry’s critics.

Mr. Gates says his concerns date back to 2000, when a company told him his maternal ancestry could most likely be traced back to Egypt, probably to the Nubian ethnic group. Five years later, however, a test by a second company startled him. It concluded that his maternal ancestors were not Nubian or even African, but most likely European.

Why the completely different results? Mr. Gates said the first company never told him he had multiple genetic matches, most of them in Europe. “They told me what they thought I wanted to hear,” Mr. Gates said.

Telling Gates his ancestors haled from Nubia, on the upper Nile, was a particularly clever scam for the first company since Gates is about the color of a Nubian (thus obviating the need for Gates to have European ancestors), and Gates made a PBS documentary series called “Wonders of the African World,” in which he took a camera crew around Africa looking for ancient ruins, and not finding all that many. In general, ancient Africans didn’t seem to see much point in slaving in the hot sun to put up some big structure that tourists would someday be impressed with.

But Nubia has lots of cool looking pyramids, temples, and sculptures, complete with an undeciphered written language, at Jebel Barkal, Kush, and Meroe, and conquered Egypt and ruled as the 25th Egyptian Dynasty.

How exactly Gates’ ancestors were supposed to get from Nubia (mostly in northern Sudan) to America wasn’t explained, but that’s all part of the romance of genealogy.

The article goes on to point out that customers’ frustrations come not just from finding out that they had white ancestors, (especially in the direct male line, which Y-chromosome tests study), which reputable services warn about upfront, but also in pinning down just where in Africa their direct line male or female line (mitochondrial DNA test) ancestors came from.

From a genetic point of view, studying your direct male or female line ancestors (left or right edges of your family tree) is fairly pointless, since you only get from them, rather than from all your other ancestors, your small Y-chromosome or your mitochondrial DNA (which is separate from the rest of your genome). The main body of your DNA gets reshuffled with each new generation, so even if you are directly descended from Charlemagne or Mansa Musa, king of the gold-rich medieval Mali empire (who was such a big tipper that his famous 14th Century pilgrimage to Mecca lowered the world price of gold), you probably didn’t get any useful but distinctive gene variants from the great man himself.

Still, traditional genealogy hobbyists tend to focus upon the direct male line down which surnames are descended (my father’s family tree begins with “X Seiler, patriot from Lucern, c. 1290-c.1340″) as a way to give focus to the teeming multitudes of ancestors, so there’s nothing more or less silly about using DNA to focus on male or female direct line ancestors.

The second, more subtle problem customers find with African DNA analysis is that minor mutations among Africans aren’t all that indicative, at least yet, of where any individuals direct male or female line ancestors came from.

Bert Ely, a geneticist at the University of South Carolina, was a co-founder of the African-American DNA Roots Project in 2000, hoping to use DNA tests as a way to find connections between African-Americans and ethnic groups in Africa.

“I originally thought that the mitochondrial DNA test might be a good way for African-Americans to trace their country of origin,” Mr. Ely said. “Now I’m coming to the opposite conclusion.”

Last October, he matched the DNA sequences of 170 African-Americans against those of 3,725 people living in Africa. He found that most African-Americans had genetic similarities to numerous ethnic groups in Africa, making it impossible to match African-Americans with a single ethnic group, as some companies assert they can do.

Mr. Ely also published a paper in which he tried to determine whether the country of origin of native Africans could be found by using mitochondrial DNA tests. Several of the Africans in the study matched multiple ethnic groups. For example, DNA results for a person from Ghana provided genetic matches with people in 20 African countries.

You are always hearing about how Africans are supposedly the most genetically diverse people on earth, but that’s true mostly of the more-or-less nonfunctional genes that population geneticists focus upon because they don’t want their genealogies messed up by convergent evolution.

What this statement is actually saying is that current sub-Saharan Africans’ ancestors didn’t go through an Out-of-Africa bottleneck because they’ve always been in Africa.

On the other hand, a huge fraction of the ancestry of current Africans stems from the “Bantu expansion” of agriculturalists out of the Cameroon-Nigeria region starting several thousand years ago, displacing hunter-gatherers such as Bushmen. When the Dutch arrived at Cape Town in 1652, the Bantu, whose crops weren’t acclimated for Mediterranean climate and higher latitudes, hadn’t yet reached the bottom of the continent. There are still lots of exotic groups within sub-Saharan Africa, such as Bushmen, tall Dinkas and small Pygmies, but most of the regions from which African-Americans came from are fairly homogeneously populated by farming descendants of the Bantu expansion. So, there hasn’t been much time for many local mutations to emerge.

Moreover, there are relatively few physical barriers to movement within Africa, which ranks with Australia as the flattest continent, so Africans have continued to wander about. While some regions are dependent upon rivers for agriculture, such as the inland Niger delta, Africans were less tied down by specific water sources than Middle Easterners, who tended to settle around rivers such as the Nile, Euphrates, and Jordan, or around springs, as is common in the Holy Land. So, there has been a certain amount of movement over time — the rains fail in one place, so a group moves somewhere else. Perhaps because of the high disease burden, Africa was traditionally less densely populated than Europe or Asia, so land availability was less of a factor in creating a Malthusian trap than in Europe or Asia. Thus, it was easier to move about in Africa because other groups were less jealous in guarding their land than, say, the Romans or Chinese were.

Finally, sub-Saharan Africans tended not to exert such tight control over their womenfolk’s fertility as Middle Easterners did.

The upshot is that it will take a lot more work to make African DNA analysis satisfyingly accurate for customers.

• Tags: Genealogy 
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I think this rather long column will help readers understand a little better why the “genealogical perspective” is so crucial for understanding human affairs:

Two Cheers For Pinker On Genealogy…But What About Race?
By Steve Sailer

Genealogy—the study of who a person’s ancestors are—is viewed by American intellectuals as a quaint hobby of only individual interest. But it’s actually one of the most under-explored paths to better understanding humanity.

So I was quite pleased to see the cover story in the August 6, 2007 issue of The New Republic,The Genealogy Craze in America: Strangled by Roots” [Free registration required, or read it here.] by Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist and author of the outstanding 2002 bestseller The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

Pinker has become perhaps the pre-eminent spokesman for the human sciences. His next book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, will be out in September.

I was especially happy because Pinker’s article cogently articulates many of the ideas about the overlooked importance of kinship that he and I kicked around via email in the late 1990s, and which have provided the basis for many of my articles ever since. …


• Tags: Darwinism, Genealogy, Genetics 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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