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My Taki’s Magazine column is about some broad questions raised by Hansen, a longshot in this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby:

Still, the interesting thing about the color of thoroughbreds is that it’s really not that interesting. Sure, some folks bet on their favorite color of horse, but that’s looked down upon by serious plungers.  

Among American humans, however, color is widely thought to be the essence of race.

Why is color less important at the race tracks than when the EEOC tracks race?

Find the answer here.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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I frequently post excerpts from serious articles that sound as if I wrote them as parodies. But here’s a terrific section from a New York Times article Australia’s Changing View of the Dingo by James Gorman and Christine Kenneally that hits on about a half dozen or more iSteve golden oldie themes in a row. This stuff is just plain interesting. You have to work hard to convince yourself you aren’t interested in the human equivalents of these topics. And that just makes you boring and dull-witted.

Dingoes are generally classified as a subspecies of wolf, Canis lupus dingo, although in the past they have been classified as a subspecies of dog and as a separate species. 

As a long-time critic of both thinking of human racial groups as “subspecies” and of proclaiming that Race Does Not Exist because of the problems with the subspecies concept  I’m always on the lookout for news of scientists being befuddled about how to classify other animals, especially ones as well-known to us as canines.

Linnaeus did a tremendous job of classifying plants and animals into useful, reasonable categories, but the categories are for our convenience. I’ve argued that what people are most interested in about other people are not their Linnaean classification, but who their relatives are. Thus, a racial group is an extended family that has more coherence and continuity than run of the mill extended families because it is inbred to some degree.

By way of analogy, think about a very expensive type of animal for whom we know the entire genealogy going back scores of generations: the thoroughbred racehorse. The color of the coat is of little interest to buyers and bettors. They don’t need to classify bays and grays separately because they know the actual genealogy of every horse: e.g., Seabiscuit was the grandson of Man o’ War while his archrival War Admiral was the son of Man o’ War and therefore Seabiscuit’s uncle.

Now, we don’t know the genealogy of individual dingos, so we study how they look, how they behave, any archaeological record, and their DNA to figure out how to classify them for important purposes of our own, such as Australia’s equivalent of the Endangered Species Act. But, scientists still wind up arguing over how to classify them because classifications are something we impose for our own purposes. The only thing that inevitably exists is genealogy: father, mother, child.

Physically, they resemble a generic, medium-size dog, about 40 pounds, usually tan-colored, with pricked ears and a bushy tail. 

If you let dogs mate randomly, as in much of the Third World, that’s typically about what you wind up with. The dingo is distinctive looking in some ways, but in general looks like the Indian pariah dog of the streets. A 2004 DNA study said dingos were more closely related to Chinese dogs, but both seem pretty close to the Default Dog.

The rest of this excerpt is equally interesting.

They do not have some of the physical signs of domestication found in many dog breeds, like barking as adults. They breed once a year, like wolves, and when undisturbed they have a stable pack structure topped by one male-female pair, the only ones in the pack that reproduce. 

Bradley Smith, a research associate in public health at Flinders University in Adelaide who has studied dingoes, said by e-mail that experimental tests put dingoes closer to wolves in the kind of intelligence they display. “Both dingoes and wolves, being highly effective predators, are great at problem solving, working well in groups, and independent problem solving,” he said. 

But they also understand humans in a way that wolves do not. They get it when a person points at something, while wolves are clueless or supremely uninterested. Dingoes are not as good as dogs, however, at following a human’s gaze. 

Dingoes, Dr. Smith wrote, “seem to be a prime example of one of the first types of ‘dogs’. Not domestic dogs as we know them now, but some form of early dog that made it easier for the human-canid relationship to develop. You could almost say dingoes are frozen in time — as they have made a very good home in Australia and have been isolated for many thousands of years.” 

Dingoes came to Australia 3,500 to 5,000 years ago, probably with Asian seafarers, and already at least partly domesticated. At the time, people had been on Australia for almost 50,000 years, without dogs. The dingo quickly became an essential part of Aboriginal life and stories. 

Deborah Rose, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney who has done research with Aboriginal peoples and is the author of “Dingo Makes Us Human,” said the dingoes were a deep part of Aboriginal life. “The dingoes had names, they had kinship classifications, which makes them so unlike all other animals in Australia,” she said. “They had a place at the campfire.” Or even closer. The phrase “three-dog night” has been attributed to indigenous Australians as a way of describing how cold it was. However, it does not seem that Aborigines bred dingoes selectively.

Wikipedia has a less well-written but even more extensive article on dingoes and all the controversies involving their racial purity that are a big deal in Australia for legal and other reasons.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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This Washington Post article illustrates that the widespread conceptual confusion over what race is can be bad for health care:

Race reemerges in debate over ‘personalized medicine’ 

By Rob Stein 

Federal examiners have rejected patents for genetic screening tests because the applicants did not explore their effectiveness for different races, adding to the debate about whether race has scientific validity in modern DNA-based medicine. 

Presumably, Patent Office staffers got a memo encouraging them to make sure that genetic tests work on minorities and aren’t just being optimized for whites. But this upsets the Race Does Not Exist crowd.

Some geneticists, sociologists and bioethicists argue that “black,” “white,” “Asian” and “Hispanic” are antiquated categories that threaten to revive prejudices. Others, however, say that meaningful DNA variations can track racial lines and that ignoring them could deny many benefits of “personalized medicine,” which aims to develop tests and treatments tailored to a person’s genetic makeup. …

Jonathan Kahn, a law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., discovered the patent rejections when he began sifting through applications, prompted by a 2008 patent office presentation that raised the race issue. 

“Constructions of race as genetic are not only scientifically flawed, they are socially dangerous, opening the door to new forms of discrimination or the misallocation of scarce resources needed to address real health disparities,” Kahn wrote in a report in the journal Nature Biotechnology in May. …

Similarly, in 2009, an examiner rejected a patent for a test for a propensity for prostate cancer because it did not specify the risk the variation posed among different races, Kahn found.
And in 2010, an examiner denied a patent for a test for a genetic marker for asthma and eczema because it was vetted only in whites and Asians. 

The prostate cancer and asthma rulings were reversed on appeal. But the colorectal cancer applicant narrowed the application to win approval. 

“There’s no telling how many people will just give in and use race in a way that the scientists clearly do not think is an appropriate way to use race,” Kahn said. 

Just the fact that patent applications are including such information is disturbing, he and other critics say. 

“This gives almost scientific legitimacy to the false categories of race — that somehow being white or being European is a strong category you can use in research,” said Troy Duster, who studies the racial implications of scientific research at New York University. 

For decades, demagogues — and even some scientists — argued that racial groups were genetically distinct and, in some ways, biologically inferior or superior, justifying laws barring interracial marriage and other discriminatory practices. 

Genetic predispositions — such as for sickle cell anemia, which occurs more frequently among African Americans, and Tay-Sachs disease, which is found more often in descendants of Ashkenazi Jews — clearly can pass down through generations. But as scientists developed modern tools of molecular biology, they produced ever more convincing evidence that genes vary as much among people who identify themselves as the same race as among groups segregated along traditional racial lines.

Except that they don’t. Statistically, genes vary a lot within races, just as they vary a fair amount among siblings within a nuclear family, but they vary even more among individuals across races.

“What we are learning is that ancestry is really the key here,” said Charles N. Rotimi, director of the center for research on genomics and global health at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Because ancestry and race don’t have much to do with each other, I guess.

“The labels for race, at least as we currently use them, distort some of the things we want to understand in terms of ancestry.” 

Then perhaps we need for doctors to use more accurate terms. For example, Professor Kahn is up in arms about a Patent staffer who supposedly treated “Hispanic” as a racial group. This suggests that the medical profession ought to revive more genetically useful terms such as “mestizo” and “mulatto.” Doctors use technical terms for lots of things that are considered inappropriate to mention in polite society, so why shouldn’t they use “mestizo” and “mulatto?” It’s their job, after all.

For example, although sickle cell anemia is more common among African Americans, the blood disorder is also rare in some parts of Africa and common in some predominantly Caucasian populations.

This is the kind of race-does-not-exist talking point that’s more likely to confuse nonspecialist doctors than to help them make more accurate diagnoses. For the purposes of figuring out which tests to run on sick African American children, it doesn’t particularly matter that sickle cell anemia “is rare in some parts of Africa” because traditional African-Americans (i.e., the descendants of American slaves) are a blended population with no ability to accurately tell a doctor something like, “My baby can’t have sickle cell anemia because all 512 of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were from parts of Africa where sickle cell anemia is rare.” The point is that if your baby is African-American, sickle cell anemia should be a concern for your pediatrician. Now, if you and your spouse just got off the plane from, say, the highlands of Ethiopia, well, maybe not, but you are the exception.

Likewise, it would be good for doctors to know that if your baby is, say, 100% Sicilian, then there’s a small chance of sickle cell anemia because there was some falciparum malaria in Sicily.

The ultimate goal of genetic-based personalized medicine is to match care to each patient’s genetic makeup, Rotimi and others say. 

“You are truly going to be looking at that individual, whether black, white or Asian. It’s the individual’s genome that becomes important to their disease risk as opposed to their socially identified race or ethnicity,” said Vence L. Bonham Jr., an associate investigator at the institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

But in the mean time … Look, this individualized medical genomics thing hasn’t working out as fast as people thought it would. What is progressing fast is racial genomics. Scientists are getting very good at figuring out people’s racial backgrounds from their DNA.

Injecting race back into the mix carries myriad dangers, critics say. On a practical level, it may result in doctors using tests or treatments on one ethnic group and not another, denying people care based on the color of their skin.

Because less information is better when making diagnoses.

… On a more disturbing level, it could fuel racism. 

“It has the social consequence of making it seem that differences among groups are fundamentally biological,” said Barbara A. Koenig, a medical ethicist and anthropologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “Inevitably, in our history, that leads back to the idea that one race is better than another.” 

But others say that although race is far from perf
ect, some genetic variations with meaningful implications for health can be much more common among certain groups. 

For example, the anti-seizure drug Tegretol produces a life-threatening skin rash more frequently among certain Asians than others; the best dose of the common blood thinner Warfarin varies by race and African Americans appear to be at an increased risk for kidney failure because they more often carry certain mutations. 

“I don’t think race/ethnicity and personalized medicine are mutually exclusive,” said Neil Risch, a professor of human genetics and epidemiology at the University of California at San Francisco. “You can call it sociological, cultural — whatever. It’s all of the above. That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of genetic meaning.”

In other words, racial medicine doesn’t work in theory, but it does work with human beings. That suggests that we need a better theory.

In fact, recent analyses have indicated that many common diseases probably are caused by genetic variations in different populations, making it crucial to assemble diverse databases, researchers said in an article published online July 13 by the journal Nature. 

Two large genetic analyses published July 20 by the journals Nature and Nature Genetics found hundreds of genetic discrepancies between people of African American and European descent. And two papers published online Sunday by Nature Genetics found four unique genetic variations associated with asthma in people in Japan and people of African ancestry. Until scientists learn more about individual genetic predisposition, race provides a useful proxy, some say. 

“I think there’s a healthy debate right now about the role of race in medicine,” said Noah A. Rosenberg, a professor of biology at Stanford University.

One of the reasons that this debate has dragged on in a confused fashion for so many years, probably killing a few patients along the way, is that doctors aren’t given a solid concept of race. Doctors are busy, practical people. They need the conceptual heavy lifting to be done by intellectuals, but the intellectual class has overwhelmingly failed when it comes to understanding what race is.
The problem is that because it’s easy to poke holes in the crudest forms of old-fashioned American racial concepts, such as the one-drop rule, that means you can jump all the way to Race Does Not Exist, which is even cruder and stupider. What we need instead is a more sophisticated way for doctors to think about race. Fortunately, I invented* that way back in the 1990s: a racial group can most profitably be thought of as an extended family that is partly inbred. This is very close to being tautological, and, not surprisingly, lots of recent genetic data supports this insight.
The good news is that doctors shouldn’t have too much trouble grasping my concept because it fits nicely as an extension of a concept they use all the time: the family medical history. The Surgeon GeneralAMA  and the Mayo Clinic advocate that patients draw up a family medical history for themselves.
Race fits into the notion of a family medical history by allowing your family medical history to be extended beyond relatives whose medical histories you happen to know. Thinking of race as a partly inbred extended family means implies that statistical tendencies should also be garnered from large numbers of members of your more extended families.
The bad news is that almost nobody is explaining this concept to doctors. Thus, we see confused and confusing articles like this one.
* I’m sure lots of other people invented it before me.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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 On Tuesday, I said that nobody ever denounces the New York Times’s genetics reporter Nicholas Wade for drubbing the current shibboleths about race under a constant stream of articles documenting new genetic findings on the reality of race — they just don’t even grasp what he’s doing. 
Charles Murray yesterday asked regarding Wade, “Do any of the reporters at the New York Times who cover other beats read the Science section?” (By the way, I think people can be overly hard on the NYT. I appear to have a fair amount of impact on the New York Times: with Kristof coming around recently, you can see my influence on probably three of the main op-ed columnists; some of the Science section; plus, I notice that the New York Times Magazine, which I would think is the best magazine in America at present, refracts a lot of my ideas.)
But, I should have realized there was at least one purveyor of the conventional wisdom smart enough and irate enough to have a clue about Wade: U. of North Carolina anthropologist Jonathan Marks
Marks, for example, was just about the only person on the left to understand that the cover of L.L. Cavalli-Sforza’s 1994 magnum opus The History and Geography of Human Genes did not engage in “dismantling the idea of race” as a review of Cavali-Sforza book in the NYT claimed, but actually looked like something sketched out by Francis Galton. Marks was mad at Cavalli-Sforza for putting this genetic map on the cover of his book.
From the website of the American Anthropological Association (I’m guessing, from about 2007):
Productive Dialogue or Dangerous Advocacy?

Rachel Dvoskin

A group of anthropologists are outraged that the Leakey Foundation, which is the number one funder in the US of human origins research, invited New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade to speak as part of the foundation’s annual lecture series. One of them, Jonathan Marks of UNC at Charlotte, wrote a letter to the foundation decrying Wade’s use of what Marks described as weak and controversial evidence to support genetic determinist arguments and to promote the biologization of culture. …

“Somebody needs to get fired over it,” says Marks, who is an outspoken opponent of viewpoints he regards as anti-science or anti-intellectual. “Somehow [the process by which Wade was selected] needs to be made more transparent because it has given the field of anthropology a black eye.”

The members of the Anthropology Advisory Committee of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), who wrote a similar letter last year to the New York Times in response to an article by Wade, are equally incensed. While granting that Wade—who has also been a reporter at Nature and Science, but is not himself a scientist—has a right to his opinions, these academics contend that by allowing him to speak at a Leakey-sponsored event, the foundation is legitimizing his views as normative in anthropology.

… In January 2007, when Marks emailed a letter to the foundation questioning their choice of Wade as a speaker, Wade was already scheduled to give two talks. Leakey President Wirthlin did not discuss the letter with anyone at that time; his understanding, he says, is that the staff determines how any potential policy issues should be handled.

… Marks and his colleagues at NYAS remain baffled by the Leakey Foundation’s decision to have Wade speak. “There’s a widespread discomfort with the way he expresses the insights that molecular biologists might have about human behavior,” explains U of Hawai’i geneticist Rebecca Cann.

Wade’s critics object to his assertions that certain population-specific characteristics—the supposed violent nature of hunter-gathers such as the Yanomami and superior intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, for example—may have been shaped over a relatively short period of time (in evolutionary terms) by natural selection and that, in effect, people of different nationalities or “races” may be born with different human natures.

His critics allege that among other errors and assumptions, Wade conflates race, ancestry and genetic variation, and that he mistakenly extrapolates from individual traits to group characteristics.

“Almost no geneticists use the term race,” concedes Wade. “In large part, that’s for good reason.… As a journalist, however, I feel that I should use words that people are familiar with. So if geneticists are in fact talking about what general readers think of as race, than that’s the phrase that we should use.”

Many argue that Wade reports on problematic hypotheses—such as the suggestion by anthropologist Henry C Harpending (U Utah) that Ashkenazi Jews were selected for superior intelligence because of the cognitive demands of their positions as moneylenders—without conveying to his audience the controversial nature of the arguments or giving sufficient weight to opposing points of view. Wade contests that in his book he explains quite clearly the assumptions that went into that particular hypothesis. “I can’t think of any caution I omitted from the discussion.”

A few researchers praise Wade for refusing to shy away from touchy issues in the name of what they believe to be merely political correctness. E O Wilson, whose praise appears on the cover of Wade’s new book, commented in an email on Wade’s well-informed and objective journalism. “I’m not surprised that there are still ideologues who find information on human genetics ‘dangerous’ to their ideas,” Wilson says, “but Mr Wade is not a justifiable target for their anxieties.”

So, Edward O. Wilson is for Wade and Jonathan Marks is agin him.  Not a bad tradeoff from Wade’s perspective.

However, many cultural and biological anthropologists warn that, when considered uncritically, Wade’s gene-centric explanations and sweeping generalizations, filtered through what some view as his Western-oriented value judgments, could be used to support eugenics and social Darwinist agendas.

“Nobody denies the fact that biology is the basis upon which the potential for human behavior takes place,” acknowledges NYU anthropologist Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb, who co-wrote a letter in response to Wade’s New York Times reporting with fellow NYAS Anthropology Chair William P Mitchell. Yet Wade’s genetic explanations for population-wide differences in human behavior are anathema to Boasian anthropology.

Back around 1996 or 1997 or so, I came up with the term “human biodiversity” to describe my chief intellectual interest. I modeled the term on Edward O. Wilson’s coinage “biodiversity.” I then looked to see in the first web search engine, Alta Vista, if the term had ever been used before. I quickly found Marks’s 1995 book Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History, with its cover of DNA and Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. I quickly bought it and read it and then exchanged several emails with Marks over it. At one point, he and I agreed to approach magazines to see if they would like to publish a debate between Marks and myself over the reality of race, although enthusiasm on the part of editors turned out to mild, to say the least.
An anonymous review of Human Biodiversity at Amazon describes it well:
This book is excellent introduction to the thorny topic of human biodiversity. The book’s real strength lies in the fact that Marks brings in historical material which illuminates the ideological underpinnings of work on human diversity. Dr. Marks, at the time this book was written was a visiting professor at UC/Berkeley. He had studied anthropology at the University of Arizona and genetics at UC/Davis. According to a note on the copyright page he is known for his work in molecular anthropology.

The book’s 14 chapters take an extremely broad view of human diversity, both cultural and biological, and of the attempts to understand and explain that diversity. The book covers the history of anthropology’s attempts to understand human biodiversity, the evolution of primates, the eugenics movement, a critique of the biological race concept, patterns of human variation – both phenotypic and genotypic, the nature and function of human variation, the role of human variation in health and disease and a critique of hereditarian theory. An appendix discusses DNA structure and function. The chapters are generally well written and referenced. The book is written for an academic audience or at least a reader with a strong foundation in biology.

I found the critique of the biological race concept to be the most lucid and well thought out one that I have ever read. Marks points out that a division of humans into three or four primordial races seems to ignore the long history of human intermingling. Either there has always been intermingling among humans – in which case the very concept of biologically separated races is wrong from the start – or intermingling is a more recent phenomenon in which case race may have been relevant in the past but no longer is. Marks points out that the three major races identified in the US – White, Black and Asian – correspond to the three major immigrant groups in US history – from Europe, Western Africa and Eastern Asia. [I note that he did not discuss Native Americans.] There is an excellent discussion of the history of race thinking as it was applied to the ABO blood groups. This makes palpable the argument that within-race diversity is much greater than between-race diversity. Marks devotes a fair amount of time to discussing how cultural values impact on scientific work. This is illustrated by numerous examples, many drawn from a critique of the eugenics movement.  

In other words, Marks’s Human Biodiversity resembles Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man if only Gould had been much better informed about psychometrics. There’s a lot of Gould’s Argument from Antiquarianism — Look how these scientists in the days of yore got things wrong, so therefore current scientists have got things wrong, too.
That said, I found it extremely helpful to have Marks’s intellectually and scientifically sophisticated critique of past theories about race, which helped me reject the Linnaean tradition of thinking about race as a subspecies and formulate a new definition of what a racial group is that is both very useful for understanding better what you see in the news every day and is, logically, very close to being tautologically inevitable: that a racial group is “a partly inbred extended family.” 
As I wrote in in 2002 in “It’s All Relative: Putting Race in Its Proper Perspective:”

Now, the key point about debating “Does Race Exist” is that it’s essentially a semantic dispute. If you can find the dumbest definition anybody ever came up with—something like “racial groups are virtually separate species that almost never interbreed”—then, under that strawman definition, “race” would definitely not exist.

Conversely, of course, if you rigorously define “race” to mean something that actually does exist on Earth, then, by definition, race exists.

It’s not hard to find ridiculous definitions of race to prove wrong, since lots of dumb stuff has been said about race over the years, even by scientists.

Although in the last few decades there has been some good thinking about what race is not, there have been very few attempts to come up with a new understanding of what race is … because it has become dangerous to scientists’ and intellectuals’ careers.

I got interested in coming up with a rigorous definition of race a few years ago when I saw that all we had to choose from were

  1. the obsolete definitions that largely failed to incorporate sophisticated sociobiological perspectives or
  1. the hip nihilism of the Race Does Not Exist crowd.

Early 19th Century credulity and late 20th Century postmodernism aren’t adequate. We need a working definition for the 21st Century.

Obviously, there’s something that our lying eyes see. But what exactly is it?

Up until the 1960′s, physical anthropologists tended to conceive of racial classifications as fitting neatly into a taxonomy of the kind invented by the great 18th Century naturalist Carolus Linnaeaus. The top-down Linnaean system describes how the God of Genesis might have gone about efficiently organizing the Creation. It subdivides living things into genuses and then into species, subspecies, races, and presumably into sub-races and so on.

Linnaean taxonomy is still hugely useful. It even works fairly well for humans: see the July 30, 2002 New York Times article, “Race Is Seen as Real Guide to Track Roots of Disease” for how Stanford geneticist Neil Risch’s crude model of dividing the world up into five continental-scale races for medical purposes can help save lives.

But naturalists now understood, however, that the Linnaean mindset always imposed a little too much order on the messiness of evolution. All of these Linnaean terms, like genus and subspecies, are not absolute but relative designations. Thus, they tend to be unavoidably arbitrary. Paleontologists are always bickering over whether some new hominid skull dug up in Africa is different enough to deserve its own genus or whether it is just a lousy new subspecies.

Even “species” is less written-in-stone than it sounds. Witness the constant debate over whether dogs, wolves, and coyotes are three species or one.

Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is constantly being bogged down in disputes over whether a particular brand of bug or weed is a separate species. Billions of dollars of Southern California property development has been hung up for years over whether the rare California gnatcatcher bird is a different species than the abundant Baja gnatcatcher. The only difference is that the California gnatcatcher tends to a somewhat different color than the Baja gnatcatcher.

(This is also true of humans, of course, but that doesn’t make them different species!)

None of this is to say that the concept of species should be discarded; just that, like races, species tend to be fuzzy sets, too.

Race is all relative, in two senses.

, it’s all about who your relatives are.

A modern Darwinian approach to race would start from the bottom up, with the father, mother, and baby. All mammals belong to biological extended families, with a family tree that features all the same kinds of biological relatives as you or I have—grandfathers, nieces, or third cousins and so forth. And everybody belongs to multiple extended families—your mom’s, your dad’s, etc.

Which leads to my modern definition of race:

A racial group is an extended family that is inbred to some degree.

That’s it—just an “extended family that is somewhat inbred.” There’s no need to say how big the extended family has to be, or just how inbred.

We know that humans have not been mating completely randomly with other humans from all over the globe. Most people, over the last few tens of thousands of years, just couldn’t afford the airfare.

If you go back to 1000 AD, you would theoretically have a trillion ancestors alive at that time—that’s how many slots you have in your family tree 40 generations ago. Obviously, your family tree has to be a little bit inbred. That far back, you’d probably find an individual or two from most parts of the world among your ancestors.

But, in anybody’s family tree, certain statistical patterns will stand out. Just ask somebody, “What are you?” and they’ll tell you about some of the larger clusters in their family tree, such as, “Oh, I’m Irish, Italian, and Cherokee.”

So, my definition is close to a tautology. But then so is “survival of the fittest.” 

And that proved to have a bit of predictive power.

This is a scaleable solution. Do you want to know a lot about a few people?

Then, the more inbred, the more distinct the racial group. Or, do you want to know a little about a lot of people? The less inbred, the larger the group.

For example, Icelanders are a lot more inbred and thus a lot more distinct than, say, Europeans, who are, though, much more numerous. Which one is the “true race?”

It’s a useless question. They are both racial groups. For some questions, “Icelander” is the more useful group to focus upon. For others “European” is the more effective.

Of course, the bottom-up model accounts for everything seen in top-down approaches. Average hereditary differences are—as one might expect—inherited. The bottom-up approach simply eliminates any compulsion to draw arbitrary lines regarding whether a difference is big enough to be racial.

With enough inbreeding, hereditary differences will emerge that will first be recognizable to the geneticist, then to the physical anthropologist, and finally to the average person.

Similarly, two separate racial groups can slowly merge into one if barriers to intermarriage come down.

I’m more interested in the reality that there are partly inbred extended families than in what it’s called. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a better word than “race.”

Various euphemisms have been tried without much success. For example, the geneticists, such as the distinguished Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford, who study what the normal person would call “race,” don’t call themselves “racial geneticists.” Instead, they blandly label themselves “population geneticists.”

That allows them at least sometimes to sneak their research projects by under the radar of the politically correct. But it’s important to realize that they are not using “population” in the non-racial sense of phrases like “California’s population” or “UCLA’s student population,” but in the specific sense of “hereditary populations” such as the Japanese or the Icelanders or the Navajo.

Among all the different kinds of “populations,” the only ones population geneticists study are the ones whose members tend to share genes because they tend to share genealogies.

That’s what I’d call a “racial group.” But, if you don’t like the word “race,” well, maybe we should just hire one of those firms that invent snazzy new names like “Exxon” for unfashionable old corporations like Standard Oil, and then hire an ad agency to publicize this new name for “race.”

Unfortunately, I’m a little tapped out until the end of the month. But if you have a spare fifty million dollars, that might cover it.

The second sense in which Race is all relative: it’s pointless to make absolute statements about the significance or insignificance of race. You always have to ask, “Compared to what?”

For instance, I am constantly informed that genetic differences between racial groups are absolutely insignificant because 99.9% of human genes are shared among all people. Yet we share over 98% of our genes with chimpanzees (and, supposedly, 70% with yeast). Does that mean genetic differences between humans and chimps (or yeast) are insignificant?

You have to look at it relatively. If you were planning to climb Mt. Everest and somebody were to say, “The difference between Mt. Everest and sea level is insignificant, it’s just a 0.15% difference in the distance from the center of the Earth,” you’d roll your eyes. But, when somebody says the same thing about genetics, it’s treated as a profundity.

Similarly, we are constantly told, “there are more genetic differences within races than between races.” This is, in general, true. But it hardly means that the differences between races therefore don’t exist. 

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From Slate:
Can a black-white performance gap be hereditary but not racial?

By William Saletan

Uh-oh. Another study is suggesting a biological ability gap between blacks and whites.

The study, just published in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics, starts with a puzzle about racing sports: “More and more, the winning runners are black athletes, particularly of West African origin, and the winning swimmers are white. More and more, the world finalists in sprint are black and in swimming are white.”

Swimming is a white herring in this discussion. I saw a black guy, Anthony Nesty, beat the great Matt Biondi for a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, so blacks have been modestly competitive in swimming in proportion to the numbers who take it up seriously for a generation.

There are lots of obvious reasons blacks don’t do all that well in swimming — access to pools, fear of sinking and drowning that keeps them away from water (which is a reasonable fear for low body-fat young black males, who drown in motel pools in tragic numbers), opportunities in other sports, etc. — and morphological differences is only one of them. Sure, there are very few blacks shaped like Michael Phelps, but then there aren’t all that many whites shaped like him, either.

What we have a huge amount of data about is running (and not just sprinting).

The authors—Edward Jones of Howard University and Adrian Bejan and Jordan Charles of Duke University—attribute the two trends to a common factor: center of gravity. They explain:

Anthropometric measurements of large populations show that systematic differences exist among blacks, whites and Asians. The published evidence is massive: blacks have longer limbs than whites, and because blacks have longer legs and smaller circumferences (e.g. calves and arms), their center of mass is higher than that in other individuals of the same height. Asians and whites have longer torsos, therefore their centers of mass are lower.

These structural differences, they argue, generate differences in performance. Using equations about the physics of locomotion, they analyze racing as a process of falling forward. Based on this analysis, they conclude that having a higher center of body mass in a standing position is advantageous in running but disadvantageous in swimming.

Drawing on data from 17 groups of soldiers around the world, the authors note that in terms of upper body length, “the measurements of the group of blacks fall well below those of the other groups. Their average sitting height (87.5 cm) is 3 cm shorter than the average sitting height of the group of men with the same average height (172 cm).” From this, they calculate that “the dimension that dictates the speed in running (L1) is 3.7 percent greater in blacks than in whites. At the same time, the dimension that governs speed in swimming is 3.5 percent greater in whites than in blacks.”

Measurements of women suggest a similar pattern:

[U]pper- and lower-extremity bone lengths are significantly longer in adult black females than in white females. For the lower-extremity bone lengths, the difference is between 80.3 ± 10.4 cm (black females) and 78.1 ± 6.2 cm (white females). This difference of 2.2 cm represents 2.7 percent of the lower-extremity length, and it is of the same order as the 3.7 percent difference between the sitting heights of whites and blacks.

The paper calculates that a 3 percent difference in center of mass—the average difference between blacks and whites—produces for the athlete with the higher center of mass

a 1.5 percent increase in the winning speed for the 100 [meter] dash. This represents a 1.5 percent decrease in the winning time, for example, a drop from 10 to 9.85 [seconds]. This change is enormous in comparison with the incremental decreases that differentiate between world records from year to year. In fact, the 0.15[-second] decrease corresponds to the evolution of the speed records … from 1960 (Armin Hary) to 1991 (Carl Lewis). The 3 percent difference in L1 between groups represents an enormous advantage for black athletes.

For swimming, the conclusion is quantitatively the same, but in favor of white athletes. The 3 percent increase in [lower-body length] means a 1.5 percent increase in winning speed, and a 1.5 percent decrease in winning time. Because the winning times for 100[-meter] freestyle are of the order of 50 [seconds], this represents a decrease of the order of 0.75 [seconds] in the winning time. This is a significant advantage for white swimmers, because it corresponds to evolution of the records over 10 years, for example, from 1976 (James Montgomery) to 1985 (Matt Biondi).

Sure, but there are all sorts of other morphological reasons blacks tend to be faster at running, such as narrow pelvises on average, plus non-skeletal reasons involving thinner calves, higher muscle to fat ratio, biochemistry, etc.

Despite these caveats, the authors fear the consequences of acknowledging that heredity can produce differences in group averages. (I’ve wrestled with the same problem here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) To avoid fueling bigotry, they’ve come up with a creative maneuver: removing the word race from theories of black/white group biology. At the outset of their paper, they write:

Our approach is to study phenotypic (somatotypic) differences … which we consider to have been historically misclassified as racial characteristics. These differences represent consequences of still not well-understood variable environmental stimuli for survival fitness in different parts of the globe during thousands of years of habitation. Our study does not advance the notion of race, now recognized as a social construct, as opposed to a biological construct. We acknowledge the wide phenotypic and genotypic diversity among the so-called racial types.

Duke’s press release about the study draws the same distinction: The black/white performance gap stems from “athletes’ centers of gravity,” which “tends to be located higher on the body of blacks than whites. The researchers believe that these differences are not racial, but rather biological.” [Emphasis added]

So, these racial differences aren’t racial, they are biological.

Got it! As T.H. Huxley said upon reading The Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of that.”

This is a fascinating bit of finesse. There’s nothing unusual about dismissing race as social construct. Racism watchdogs do it all the time. But they do it precisely to deny hereditary differences between blacks and whites. Bejan, Jones, and Charles are affirming hereditary differences. That’s what they mean by “survival fitness in different parts of the globe during thousands of years.” Evolution in Europe and evolution in Africa produced different results.

Taking “race” out of the equation makes a substantive difference: It focuses the conversation about heredity on populations, a more precise and scientifically accepted way of categorizing people. 

No, it’s not. The word “population” is almost never used in this sense in, say, the newspaper. “Population” is only used to mean “racial group” when somebody is looking for a weasel-word to talk about race without mentioning race. Usually, the word “population” is used in contexts like, “World population is 6.7 billion” or “The population off the U.S. is 310 million” when it’s intended to denote everybody. The great majority of people won’t know what you are talking about when you use “population” in this tortured way. When people talk about “the population problem” they don’t mean the same thing as when they talk about “the racial problem.”

Look, the fundamental problem is that the upper crust of the public has been lied to by the “Race is only a social construct meme” and they fell for it. (I suspect the crucial moment in the propagation of this lie was Bill Clinton’s announcement of the wrapping up of the Human Genome Project a decade ago.) So, rather than try to finesse our way out of this intellectual dead end with every more complicated euphemisms, why don’t we start by not lying anymore? As a wise man once told me, “Always tell the truth. It’s easier to remember.”

In the press release, for example, Jones explains, “There is a whole body of evidence showing that there are distinct differences in body types among blacks and whites. These are real patterns being described here—whether the fastest sprinters are Jamaican, African or Canadian—most of them can be traced back generally to Western Africa.” Western African ancestry differs genetically from Eastern African ancestry. Population, unlike race, captures that difference.

The common term “racial group” is superior to either. Anyway, it’s not as if the Belly Button Theory doesn’t also work to help explain the superiority of Kenyan distance runners, too. Sprinting is a subgroup of running, just as West Africans are a subgroup of sub-Saharan Africans.

The authors also help the conversation by pointing out that “environmental stimuli” caused differential evolution in different parts of the world. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about being West African or Eastern European. All of us are evolving all the time. As environmental conditions change in each part of the world, they change the course of natural selection. Ten thousand years from now, the average center of body mass might be higher in Europe than in Africa.

But the authors’ most intriguing contribution isn’t in biology or physics. It’s in linguistics. By removing the word race, they’re trying to make the world safe for clearheaded consideration of theories about inherited group differences. What they’ve done is more than a series of engineering calculations. It’s a political experiment. Let’s hope it works.

Wouldn’t it be simpler and more helpful for clear thinking overall if everybody just adopted my definition of a racial group: “a partly inbred extended family?”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate:

Reviewing the sudden spasm of violence between the Uzbek minority and the Kyrgyz majority in Kyrgyzstan recently, many commentators were at a loss to explain why the two peoples should so abruptly have turned upon one another. Explanations range from official pandering to Kyrgyz nationalism, to sheer police and army brutality, to provocations from Taliban-style militias hoping to create another Afghanistan, but none go very far in analyzing why intercommunal relations became so vicious so fast. As if to make the question still more opaque, several reports stressed the essential similarity—ethnic, linguistic, cultural—between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations.

But that in itself could well be the explanation. In numerous cases of apparently ethno-nationalist conflict, the deepest hatreds are manifested between people who—to most outward appearances—exhibit very few significant distinctions. It is one of the great contradictions of civilization and one of the great sources of its discontents, and Sigmund Freud even found a term for it: “the narcissism of the small difference.” As he wrote, “It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.”

Not necessarily. In general, people who are vastly different don’t live near each other so they don’t have much to fight over. And, if they do, they learn not to compete all that much for the same resources. For example, Pygmies are better adapted to life in the forest than Bantu, so they tend to stick to forests the Bantu find unprofitable. When they emerge into deforested agricultural land, they subordinate themselves to Bantu farmers as laborers.

When highly different people do compete, however, the competition can be so nasty that pretty soon they aren’t competing much anymore: see the story of Ishi, for example, to understand why there aren’t any wild Indians left in Northern California to compete with white men for land.

The partition of India and Pakistan, for example, which gives us one of the longest-standing and most toxic confrontations extant, involved most of all the partition of the Punjab. Visit Punjab and see if you can detect the remotest difference in people on either side of the border. Language, literature, ethnic heritage, physical appearance—virtually indistinguishable. Here it is mainly religion that symbolizes the narcissism and makes the most of the least discrepancy.

I used to work in Northern Ireland, where religion is by no means a minor business either, and at first couldn’t tell by looking whether someone was Catholic or Protestant. After a while, I thought I could guess with a fair degree of accuracy, but most of the inhabitants of Belfast seemed able to do it by some kind of instinct. There is a small underlay of ethnic difference there, with the original Gaels being a little darker and smaller than the blonder Scots who were imported as settlers, but to the outsider it is impalpable. It’s just that it’s the dominant question locally.

Hitchens is an acute observer to notice physical difference on average in Northern Ireland.

Likewise in Cyprus, it is extremely hard to tell a Greek from a Turk. The two peoples have been on the same island for so long that they even suffer from a common sickle-cell blood disease called thalassemia. I once interviewed a doctor who specialized in the malady, and he solemnly told me that, from a blood sample, it was not possible to tell if the donor was Greek or Turkish. I had to stop myself from asking him if he had hitherto thought that different nationalities were made out of different genetic material. There have been almost no recorded cases of intermarriage between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and the island remains sternly partitioned. 

Hitchens should reread this last sentence of his and he might start to get a clue about the forest that he can’t see for the trees.

In his book The Warrior’s Honor, Michael Ignatieff spent some time trying to elucidate what it was that made soldiers in the Balkan Wars—physically indistinguishable from one another—so eager to inflict cruelty and contempt upon Serb or Croat or Bosnian, as the case might be. Very often, the expressed hatred took the form of extremely provincial and local rivalries, inflamed by jealousies over supposed small advantages possessed by the other. Of course, here again there are latent nationalist and confessional differences to act as a force multiplier once the nasty business gets started, but the main thing to strike the outsider would be the question of “How can they tell?” In Rwanda and Burundi, even if it is true, as some colonial anthropologists used to claim, that Hutu and Tutsi vary in height and also in the delimitation of their hairlines, it still doesn’t seem enough of a difference upon which to base a genocide.

In Sri Lanka, where again it takes a long time to notice that Tamils are prone to be slightly smaller and slightly darker than the Sinhala majority, it is somehow the most important information that either population possesses. And it doesn’t take long for one population to start saying that the other one has too many children, takes too much leisure, is too casual about hygiene. Every time he heard a Shiites or Sunni Iraqi saying that religion didn’t really count, said my friend Patrick Cockburn in his book on Baghdad, he noticed that every single one of them knew the exact faith allegiance of everybody else in the room. And if you want to see an expression of sheer racial disdain, try giving to an Iranian Shiites the impression that you think he and his Iraqi co-religionists are brothers under the skin.

The next example of this phenomenon will be among the most serious as well as the least dramatic. One of the most unobtrusive differences in the world—the line that separates French from Flemish-speaking Belgians—is about to be forcefully reasserted in a bid to split Belgium in two. If this secession occurs, then the headquarters country of NATO and the European Union will rather narcissistically cease to exist, undone by one of the smallest distinctions of all.

So pity the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz as they peer suspiciously at one another during a sudden time of scarcity and insecurity. Their mutual miseries may be just beginning. And all this contains the true ingredients of tragedy—and of irony. One of the great advantages possessed by Homo sapiens is the amazing lack of variation between its different “branches.” Since we left Africa, we have diverged as a species hardly at all. If we were dogs, we would all be the same breed.

Dogs have been genetically engineered into more varieties than any other species. Human beings differ in looks roughly about as much as do house cats, another species to which people have devoted a lot of effort to differentiate.

But, all this is just barking up the wrong tree …

We do not suffer from the enormous differences that separate other primates, let alone other mammals. As if to spite this huge natural gift, and to disfigure what could be our overwhelming solidarity, we manage to find excuses for chauvinism and racism on the most minor of occasions and then to make the most of them. This is why condemnation of bigotry and superstition is not just a moral question but a matter of survival.

Well, why do Montagues and Capulets fight in Romeo and Juliet? The Hatfields and McCoys? The Corleones and Barzinis in The Godfather? The Lancasters and Yorks? The children of Jacob and the children of Esau? Is it because of their difference
s in looks? In language? In religion?
No, it’s because they are different extended families. They contend with each other to gain advantages and to prevent themselves from being subjected to disadvantages.

The other differences enumerated by Hitchens serve to help keep them different extended families through less than random levels of intermarriage and other forms of alliance. And, reduced intermarriage causes the various markers of genealogical difference (looks, language, religion, cuisine, customs, dress, etc.) to become more obvious over the generations.

Hitchens, like 99% of current intellectuals, gets all this backwards, starting from the top down of observable difference, rather than building solidly from the ground up of genealogy.

Hitchens writes “but the main thing to strike the outsider would be the question of ‘How can they tell?’” But there is a more fundamental question than how do you tell what group some other person belongs to. Instead, how do you tell what group you belong to? But nobody asks that question because the answer is so obvious most of the time: you belong to the racial group that your relatives belong to. (When it’s not obvious to an individual, he sometimes writes a 150,000 word book, such as Dreams from My Father, to justify his answer).

Similarly, you can tell what group somebody else belongs to generally by whom their relatives are.

And that’s what different racial groups are: large extended families that possess more coherence and continuity over time than typical extended families due to higher than random levels of in-marriage. A racial group is merely a partly inbred extended family.

It’s not very complicated to figure this out. All you have to do is to read a little history. The modern fashion is simply historically obtuse. The Old Testament, for example, goes to great lengths to explain the genealogical basis of various conflicts.

Similarly, the Sunni-Shi-ite split started as a family feud among the Prophet’s relations over leadership after Mohammed’s death. The Sunnis go back to the followers of Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, while the Shi’ites go back to the followers of Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law.

Moreover, how did the Lancasters and Yorks of the War of Roses stop warring? Shakespeare explains in the last speech of Richard III, in which the victorious Richmond (Henry Tudor of the Lancaster clan) announces he will marry Elizabeth of the York clan:

O, now, let Richmond and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heirs, God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!

It’s frustrating to me that I’ve been explaining since the 1 990s that there is a simple, Occam’s Razor explanation for much of the group conflict in the world that’s staring everybody right in the face and but the current worldview works to keep people, even ones as generally sharp as Hitchens, unperceptive and ignorant.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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William Saletan in Slate has a good article, Mortal Skin: Race, Genes, and Cancer, about how blacks are more likely to die of three sex-related cancers (breast, ovarian, and prostate) than whites, even when researchers statistically hold all else equal.

But, Saletan goes on to make his usual argument that “race is a rough, transitional category:”

Taken together, these points form the beginning of a sensible way to think about race. It’s a fluid category. It can be economic, cultural, and genetic. It can be salient but also coarse. Analytically, it’s a primitive tool. Can it tell us useful things? Yes. Should we use it? Yes, but judiciously. In the case of cognitive ability, it probably does more harm than good. But in the case of drug reactions or cancer, lives are at stake.

Our responsibility is to use this tool wisely and, at the same time, begin to replace it with more sophisticated models of interacting dynamics—economics, culture, genetics—that more accurately fit the data. If we succeed, tomorrow’s doctors won’t have to guess your prognosis from your race. They’ll have your genome and plenty of other biological information about you, much of it inherited. And they won’t have to pretend it doesn’t matter.

But race isn’t about individual gene variants, it’s about family.

Say you have two children and you have them tested with a very sophisticated model of interacting dynamics and it turns out that one has variant X of important gene Z and the other has variant Y. So, genetically, they’re different.

But, guess what? They’re still both your kids.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From Slate:

Mental Segregation
Inequality, racism, and framing.
by William Saletan
May 4, 2009

People vary in their abilities based in part on genetic differences. Suppose these differences at the individual level sometimes add up to differences in average ability between people of one race and people of another. Should we say so?

Here are three perspectives on the question. On Wednesday, the New York Times ran the following story:

‘No Child’ Law Is Not Closing a Racial Gap …

On Thursday, I raised a question about the Times story:

Why categorize and measure students by race? Aren’t there better ways to organize the data? … [Parts of the test report] organize the data by factors that can help us target and adjust educational policy: kids with low scores, kids in public school, kids in high school, kids whose parents didn’t graduate. … But race? Does that category really help? And what message does it send to kids when headlines assert a persistent “racial gap”?

On Friday, Steve Sailer, the founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute, responded to my question. He argued that I was wrong to propose to “stop counting” scores by race:

The reason people all over the world and of all different ideologies can’t help but be interested in race is [that] a racial group is, fundamentally, an extended family. So, race is about who your relatives are, which is an inherently interesting topic.

Saletan has been arguing that we should just group people by looking at one gene at a time. (Of course, on average, individual gene differences will tend to follow racial lines.) But, more fundamentally, what he doesn’t get is that racial groups have an existence independent of genetics. They are fundamentally genealogical entities—who begat whom. Unsurprisingly, when you stop and think about it, the genes tag along with the begats.

Sailer, like the Times, is embracing racial averaging of test scores. But unlike the Times, he’s doing so in the belief that differences in the resulting averages are in large part genetic. He’s arguing not just that some people do better than others based on inherited ability (the genetic question) and that this ability is more prevalent among people of one race than among people of another (the distribution question), but that this is how the data should be aggregated, averaged, and compared (the framing question).

To be precise, I am arguing that this is how the data is aggregated, averaged, and compared … by law. The No Child Left Behind legislation godfathered by Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush is explicitly concerned with narrowing racial achievement gaps.

More generally, that mainstay of the civil rights industry, the concept of “disparate impact” — as exemplified by the EEOC’s four-fifths rule, which, in the Supreme Court’s Ricci case was cited by the city of New Haven to justify throwing out a firefighter promotional test that no blacks passed — requires the government to maintain vast statical offices for sorting employees by race. Similarly, the Community Reinvestment Act requires millions of mortgages to be sorted by race in the government’s giant Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database in order to lean on the mortgage industry to lend more money to minorities. (How’s that working out for us lately?)

Should the government count by race? In 2002, I endorsed and voted for Ward Connerly’s California initiative that the state government should stop counting by race. I reasoned by analogy to religion. In the 1950s, the Census Bureau proposed adding a religion question to the Census, but Jewish groups protested, so the Census doesn’t count people by religion. And that makes it very hard to file a disparate impact lawsuit over purported religious discrimination based on statistical differences. There simply aren’t any government statistics on religion today, so religious discrimination cases require direct evidence of discrimination, so there are fewer lawsuits over religious discrimination than over racial discrimination, and so employers seldom impose religious quotas on themselves.

But, Connerly’s initiative to eliminate data collection by race went down to defeat badly, and I haven’t expressed much of an opinion on the subject of whether or not the government should collect data by race since. But if the government’s going to collect collossal amounts of data by race and impose legal differences by race, then I think it’s my duty as a citizen to look at the government’s numbers and see what they say.

It’s important to separate these three questions. We know that genes influence many abilities. We also know that some of these genes vary considerably in prevalence between ethnic groups. One example is the RR variant of ACTN3, a gene that affects fast generation of muscular force and correlates with excellence at speed and power sports. The opposite variant of the gene is called XX. Tests indicate that the ratio of people with RR to people with XX is 1 to 1 among Asians, 2 to 1 among European whites, and more than 4 to 1 among African-Americans.

We shouldn’t overstate the case. Genes don’t determine everything, and most genes don’t vary significantly between populations. But research is constantly finding new gene-trait correlations and group differences. If your faith in equality depends on an ethnically or racially even distribution of all ability-influencing genes, you’re in trouble.

That’s why the framing question matters. People of your race may be on average faster, smarter, or more volatile than people of my race. But the opposite pattern may turn up if you and I are classified in some other way. My dad was black, my mom was white, I was born in Hawaii, I was raised in a broken home, I grew up in Indonesia, I went to private school, I played basketball, I used drugs, my grades were unspectacular, and I went to Harvard Law. Guess my IQ.

Rather than focus on an exotic such as the President, who wrote a 460-page book (helpfully subtitled A Story of Race and Inheritance so that you don’t miss the point) justifying to himself that he was “black enough” to be a leader of blacks, I think it’s more helpful to state what I’ve often pointed out: “Somewhere around eleven million Hispanics and seven million African Americans have higher IQs than the average white American.”

I put a lot of effort a decade ago into trying to come up with broad evidence for Saletan’s argument that the government’s system of asking people to check off little race and ethnicity boxes is too error-prone and illogical to work, but I eventually had to admit to myself that, on the whole, it was good enough for government work. Sure, there are more than a few exotics like Tiger Woods (who came up with 1 word to describe himself: “Caublinasian”) and Barack Obama (who came up with 150,000 words in
Dreams from My Father to rationalize his claim to being “black enough”), but most of the time, the government’s system kind of sort of works.

The distribution question doesn’t settle the framing question, because race is just one way in which ability can be unevenly distributed. To answer the framing question in the affirmative, you have to show something more. You have to show that classifying and comparing by race, rather than using some other classification system or judging each person as an individual, does more good than harm.

It’s Ward Connerly’s view that the government classifying people by race does more harm than good. Judging from the Obama Administration’s amicus curiae brief in the Ricci case, it’s definitely not Barack Obama’s view. Perhaps Mr. Saletan should take up his argument with the President of the United States rather than with me.

Sailer’s argument is that racial classification is natural—that we “can’t help but be interested in race” because we tend to define others as in or out of our extended family. I think he’s right about that. We’re prone to tribalism. But that’s not a reason to encourage racial classification. It’s a reason to beware it.

In other words, Steve Sailer will more or less win on the scientific grounds any debate over race he choose to engage in seriously, so it’s best not to debate the topic at all.

Fine. But can we first get rid of all the government’s laws, institutions, and regulations that not only count by race but then discriminate by race, such as the EEOC, the four-fifths rule, the CRA, and so forth?

Saletan continues:

Consider Sailer’s views on immigration. A few months ago, he wrote:

Typically, the two most important factors influencing the long-term success of an organization are the quantity and quality of people involved. … This is particularly true for a country. Yet there has been barely any discussion in the U.S. prestige press on the implications of the demographic change imposed by immigration. … Is adding 100 million Latinos to the U.S. population a good idea? …

And there has been little change in the racial disparities in crime rates. Racial and ethnic differences of all kinds have been strikingly stable since the 1970s. In particular, the word that best sums up Latino America is inertia. Things just sort of keep on keeping on in the general direction that they were already moving. What we do know is that all of these troubles are exacerbated by the mass immigration of people with low human capital.

This is what can happen when you constantly look for racial angles in data on crime, IQ, and other measures of the “quality of people.” You start aiming policies at ethnic groups. But I don’t think this kind of racism is a product of uneven distribution. It’s a product of bad framing.

In other words, Sailer has all the government data on his side, but that just makes it worse!

By this point poor old kicked-around Saletan has finally collapsed into just plain pointing and sputtering about how I, and anybody else who notices the massive demographic changes brought about by our Establishment’s immigration policy, is some kind of evil racist.


(I will admit that it’s also possible that Saletan has come around to agreeing 100% with me and he’s just picking a fight with me to give my sensible views more publicity.)

Read the rest of Saletan’s article here.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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In my new column, I respond to Kenan Malik’s criticism in Prospect of my definition of race. His assumption that it’s absurd to call the British royal family a racial group got me thinking about dynasticism again, and I finally figured out something about the essence of Barack Obama’s appeal that should have been obvious to me a year ago.

It’s absurd that in a huge country like America that a Bush or a Clinton has been on every national ticket since 1980. I viewed Obama’s victory over the Clinton dynasty as a defeat for the forces of dynasticism, but now I realize I was being naive, that has brilliantly tapped into the public’s dynastic logic, just on a larger and subtler scale.

Here’s an excerpt, but you’ll have to read the whole article to see how.

How to Think About Race — and Barack Obama

Steve Sailer

A new but characteristically confused debate over whether race is a biological reality reminds me of the value of having a simple definition of

Left-leaning British-Indian science journalist Kenan Malik’s latest book, argues online:

In a hostile review of Malik’s book in Prospect, the fine British intellectual magazine, Mark Pagel, a British evolutionary biologist, lands a flurry of blows:

deny what everybody knows and to swap the word race for something less politically charged like ‘group’ is just an act of self-denial and certainly no more accurate than the dreaded ‘r’ word. It is also patronising—I would like to think we are all grown up enough to accept the facts and ready ourselves for the deluge to come. I say deluge because the more we measure, the more genetic differences we find among populations …”

Unfortunately, Pagel doesn’t deliver a knockout punch because he lacks a definition of race. Like Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart wrote in his famous opinion in a pornography case, Pagel can’t define race, but he knows it when he sees it.

Malik responded in Prospect by noting, with some justice,

To illustrate the state of the art thinking among the race realists he opposes, Malik writes:

an extended family that is inbred to some degree‘ in the words of Steve Sailer of the Human Biodiversity Institute. … But once everything from the British royal family to the entire human population can be considered a race (because each is an “extended family inbred to some degree”), then the category has little value.”


Along these lines, here’s an update of an update of Richmond’s speech concluding Shakespeare’s Richard III about the dynastic marriage to end the War of the Roses between the Yorks and Lancasters:

We will unite the white rose and the black:
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown’d upon their enmity!
What extremist hears me, and says not amen?
America hath long been mad, and scarr’d herself;
The rev’rend shouted his congregation’s ire,
The consultant plotteth Will Horton ads
The undiverse fleeeth to the exurbs
All this divided White and Black
Divided in their dire division,

But then Barack Sr. and Stanley Ann
The true succeeders of each racial house,
By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heir, God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!
Abate the edge of racists, gracious Lord,
That would demand both parties make borders secure,
And make America less inclusive
Let them not live to taste this land’s increase
That would with insensitivity wound this fair land’s peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say amen!

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From an anthropologist friend:

Steve Sailer’s definition of race — an extended family, inbred to some extent — is as good as any, and better than many. But it’s important to keep in mind that size makes a difference. Just as we see things going on in big lakes (noticeable tides, for example) that we don’t see in small lakes, we also see important things going on in the large extended families known as races that we could get away with ignoring when looking at regular family-sized families.

One of the things that goes on at the scale of races is that selection affects gene frequencies over and above what you’d expect on the basis of genealogy. For example, if Al is Betty’s uncle, then I can figure out right away the probability (1/4) that Al and Betty share a given allele (over and above the probability that it’s shared by the population as a whole). On the other hand, if I know that Al and Betty belong to the same race, and know the average coefficient of inbreeding for that race (relative to some larger population, maybe humanity as a whole), then I can convert this coefficient of inbreeding into a coefficient of relatedness. But I have to be a lot more cautious in my guesses about how likely they are to share an allele by common descent. Because of selection, they may be much more likely to be similar at a locus for skin color, or lactose malabsorption than at, say, the ABO blood group locus.

One implication is that trying to apply Hamilton’s theory of kin selection to make predictions about racial altruism is extremely dodgy. One of the assumptions that Hamilton and his successors make in deriving his famous equation B/C > 1/r is that there is no selection between the time a gene is present in a common ancestor and the time it expresses itself among two descendants. This assumption may be plausible enough in extended families — probably not enough of Alan’s siblings have died young while committing altruistic deeds to affect the probability of Betty getting an altruism allele. It’s less plausible — not really plausible at all — that if Alan and Betty merely belong to the same race, and are genetically similar by virtue of a great many very distant genealogical connections, that selection hasn’t had a big impact on any altruism genes.The implication is not that genes are irrelevant to large-scale altruism. Rather, the problem of altruism on large scales is like one of those physics problems where you relax some simplifying assumptions, and suddenly everything gets a lot messier, and you have to start running simulations, and so on.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Anthropologist Stanley Kurtz has a long, useful article in The Weekly Standard about Middle Eastern tribalism, “I and My Brother against My Cousin.” He argues that we’ve overstated the importance of Islam in our recent troubles and understated the importance of tribal behaviors, rooted in nomadism, that are older than the Koran. (Indeed, Islam can be seen as both assuming but also criticizing the low-level feuding that was endemic to that difficult-to-police part of the world.) Fans of “The Man Who Would Be King” and “Lawrence of Arabia” won’t be terribly surprised, but will still find the essay provides a solid framework for understanding.

I agree with Kurtz’s article on just about everything other than the scale of the threat posed to the U.S. by Middle Eastern tribal tendencies. My view is that the danger, while not negligible (obviously), tends to be self-limiting due to the fractiousness exemplified in the title of the article. These guys aren’t the Russians with 10,000 nuclear warheads mounted on ICBMs. It’s not like Al-Qaeda is going to build its own fleet of jetliners to fly into our skyscrapers. They’re only a danger to us to the extent that we let them be a danger to us. To stop the Russians, we had to build a fleet of Poseidon subs. What we needed to stop Mohamed Atta and Co., in contrast, was a memo to Customs agents telling them to not let terroristy-looking guys through the gates at JFK.

Late last summer, with no decent new movies out, I wrote a retrospective review for The American Conservative of “Lawrence of Arabia” that discussed how we get a glimpse in the second half of the movie of the end of the ancient struggle between the regular armies of settled nations and the irregular warriors of tribal nations:
Among its numerous virtues, “Lawrence” provides insight into America’s quandary in Iraq by offering a vivid primer on what William S. Lind calls “asymmetrical” war.

In the famous screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, the British high command wants Lawrence to trick the Bedouin Arabs into enlisting as cannon fodder in the grinding British attack on the Ottomans at Gaza. Lawrence insubordinately devises a more culturally appropriate strategy for the nomads: “‘The desert is an ocean in which no oar is dipped’ and on this ocean the Bedu go where they please and strike where they please.” They will harass the Turkish railway to Medina with hit-and-run attacks, avoiding the pitched battles, for which the tribesmen, no fools, wouldn’t even show up.

In 1917, in the first two-thirds of the movie, Lawrence’s insight works wonderfully. In the 1918 conclusion, however, although the British and Arabs win, the failures of irregularity become clearer. The victorious but still fractious clans can’t competently manage the hospitals and waterworks of Damascus. Even before then, there are hints that irregular desert warfare is doomed by the new age of mechanized mobility. When the Turks can get their hands on enough German armored cars and airplanes, they negate the traditional Bedouin advantage in mobility and elusiveness.

Subsequently, it turned out that cultures that were good at regular warfare, like the Israelis and Americans, were also better at building and maintaining the tanks and planes that gave regular militaries the mobility of irregular warriors.
But history never ends; losers adapt. As Lawrence tells Omar Sharif’s Sherif Ali, “Nothing is written.” Now, after two easy victories in open country over Iraq’s derisible regular army, America has bogged down in Iraq’s urban jungles fighting countless irregular units that disappear into the alleys as Lawrence’s mounted warriors vanished into the dunes.

In other words, while irregular warriors from the Middle East long harassed Christendom due to their often superior mobility (such as that provided by the camel), the mechanization of military mobility in the 20th Century meant that the cultures that fostered cooperation and discipline were much better at building and maintaining the tanks and planes that have determined victory since WWI. Now, though, tactics have evolved, and we’re bogged down in places like Basra … but only because we’re in places like Basra.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Here’s the opening of my new column:

Back in 2006, I wrote in

Sam Quinones’ July 28 article—6 + 4 = 1 Tenuous Existence: An illegal immigrant couple with six children were already living in poverty. Then the quadruplets arrived. They’re still in a daze—just might be the best in the rather dull history of the Los Angeles Times.”

Now, Quinones has a new article in the L.A. Times—A familial mean street: Networks of relatives have bred crime on once-peaceful Drew Street, police say—that’s worthy of comparison. Once again, Quinones demonstrates that you can’t understand immigration, crime, poverty, or the world in general without thinking hard about extended family ties. Who is related to whom?

In Southern California, wealthy people live in or near the hills, while poor people live on the endless flat lands. So it was a matter of some surprise to many Angelenos last February 21 when a running gun battle between cops and gangbangers armed in a style worthy of a big budget action movie broke out just north of Downtown LA between Dodger Stadium and the beautiful Forest Lawn cemetery.

Quinones explains the extended family relations that have made Glassell Park, despite its seemingly prime location, one of the smallest but nastiest slums in America. He focuses on gang-banger who was killed by cops in February for firing his AK-47 automatic rifle at them:

As I’ve long argued, the most overlooked factor in better understanding a host of hot-button issues, such as race, crime, immigration, even the chaos in Iraq, are family ties. Who one’s relatives are turns out to have endless ramifications that are mostly ignored by the media.

Those of us who come from law-abiding backgrounds in which nuclear families get together with their extended family relatives mostly just on holidays have a hard time imagining ourselves in situations where we can’t call 911, where we’ve done something so wrong that the only people we can turn to are our mafia of relatives.

Still, people in those situations create most of the news in this world. Quinones is one of the few reporters who gets it:

the state of Guerrero, which has a reputation as one of Mexico’s most violent regions. Police estimate that dozens of members of these extended families belong to the Avenues gang.”


(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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In the NYT Magazine, Gershom Gorenberg has an article entitled “How Do You Prove You’re a Jew” that echoes what I’ve been saying about the definition of what a racial group is for years:

Zvi Zohar, a professor of law and Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan University, told me that in Judaism’s classical view of itself, Jews are best understood as a “large extended family” that accepted a covenant with God. Those who didn’t practice the faith remained part of the family, even if traditionally they were regarded as black sheep. Converts were adopted members of the clan.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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The New Republic recently published an article entitled “Why genes don’t determine race: Race Against History” by Merlin Chowkwanyun that’s a lot of the same old same old.

I’ve long felt my single biggest contribution was coming up with a definition of “racial group” that was both rigorous and common-sensical (“a partly inbred extended family”). Simply having a useful definition should do much to dispel the hysteria, bad-faith, status-seeking, and general air of nonsense surrounding the topic of race.

On the other hand, my definition hasn’t exactly swept like wildfire through the intellectual world as Chowkwanyun. But that’s the way it generally is. You don’t persuade famous thinkers, like, say, Richard Rorty, you outlive them. A new generation then comes along that doesn’t have their egos invested in bad old ideas.

So, I was pleased to see in TNR a reply to the article by Justin Shubow that demonstrates a good familiarity with state-of-the-art thinking on the subject.

(By the way, Steven Pinker was mistaken in attributing the phrase a “a race is just a very large and partly inbred family” to my friend Vince Sarich — Sarich was the first to draw the analogy of races to fuzzy sets in math.)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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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