Human races are not like dog breeds: refuting a racist analogy
July 17, 2019 9:40 AM   Subscribe

In 1956, evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane posed a question to anthropologists: “Are the biological differences between human groups comparable with those between groups of domestic animals such as greyhounds and bulldogs…?” It reads as if it were posted on social media today. The analogy comparing human races to dog breeds is not only widespread in history and pop culture, but also sounds like scientific justification for eschewing the social construction of race, or for holding racist beliefs about human nature. Here we answer Haldane’s question in an effort to improve the public understanding of human biological variation and “race”—two phenomena that are not synonymous.

I first noticed this piece on Twitter, where author Holly Dunsworth (@HollyDunsworth) has been patiently responding to commentary with the sentence "Did you read the full article?" Invariably, critics have not. I hope Metafilter can do better. I would also like to gently remind Metafilter that we have just had several long discussions about making this place better for people of color and request that folks keep that in mind while commenting in this thread in particular.
posted by sciatrix (50 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd never heard of this journal before. Thank you so much.

I'm surprised at myself -- I realized as I started to read this article that I have idly entertained this notion, as recently as in the last month or so, without even fully realizing what I was thinking about. I haven't gotten all the way through the article yet, so I'm not going to comment on the substance yet (thanks for the gentle reminder, sciatrix) but in reading just the abstract I realized that it's a ridiculous comparison on its face. It's often difficult to grasp the extent to which this kind of racist thinking permeates, and always useful (if a little shame-inducing) to realize how deep under my skin white supremacy has gotten. (I am a white woman.)
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 9:59 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Edwin Black’s unfortunately titled “War Against The Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign To Create a Master Race” is an extremely long but enlightening addition to any discussion of the ...”science”... surrounding ideas of race in the US.

I’m not all the way through it, but so far the TL;DR seems to be that the discovery of genetics was immediately seized upon by both utilitarian sociopaths and committed racists to justify all sorts of crimes against humanity. Crucial to the eliminationist goals of eugenicists was the legitimization of their theories through publication in scientific journals, conferences, etc., including through scientific “debate.” Once the discovery and revelation of Nazi horrors made “eugenics” a politically poisonous word those “scientists,” for the most part, just switched to calling themselves geneticists. (And, I believe, evolutionary biologists?)

In other words, science — or “science” — was one of the primary delivery vectors for eliminationist and genocidal beliefs. And it still is.

I am part way through the (very long) paper. But it is difficult not to have a visceral reaction to the very fact of its existence, since publishing this treats the racism of the original analogy as a valid scientific conjecture worthy of refutation, and this sort of legitimization that is itself destructive. Especially in a lengthy paper that 99.9% of people will not read, which was...completely foreseeable. Complaining about that sort of seems like complaining that everything would be fine if only the sun would only rise in the West.

I understand the authors are trying to show how dumb and racist those ideas are, but I’m not sure that they haven’t accomplished the opposite, given the way they’ve gone about it.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:25 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Thank you for this, sciatrix. I read it and sent it to el_lupino for his next Philosophy of Race syllabus.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:54 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


To be honest, I think that, much as we would prefer that it not be necessary, it IS necessary to treat the offensive analogy seriously. I think it is very natural, once you get a taste of genetics, to start asking questions about race, even when it doesn't come from a place of malice.

I remember being in high school and, even in my backwards racist town, being taught in science class about things like IQ test result differences across racial lines being an indication of social inequality and racist test design. But it's hard not to put up your hand and say: "Okay, the tests might be racist, and society might be setting up some groups to fail. But, if local genetic clustering affects things like skin colour, height, and predilection for certain diseases, why can't it also affect things like intelligence and temperament? How can we dismiss out of hand the idea that population A is genetically inclined to be smarter and more even-keeled than population B? Is it just scientifically taboo?"

And, the answer, as this paper makes very clear, is that we don't dismiss it out of hand. The science is very clear that genetic variation between groups we identify as "races" is trivial compared to genetic variation within those groups, that certain physical traits like skin colour are much more prone to local selection pressure than the more complex traits related to intelligence and personality, and that our common conception of what race even is is only very loosely correlated to real world genetic groupings.

I'm glad that's the case. It would really suck if genetic science actually could be used to support racist ideologies and we needed to make purely social/ethical arguments against them. But, honestly, when we were first learning about genetics, it wouldn't have been inherently racist to ask these questions. But we got back the best possible answer, and we should be educating people about it, so that they are able to answer the natural questions of young people learning about genetics for the first time (as is specifically called out towards the end of the article), and also, vitally, so that they can be inoculated against those who would (out of malice or ignorance) try to pretend the science says something else.
posted by 256 at 11:06 AM on July 17 [61 favorites]


the discovery of genetics was immediately seized upon by both utilitarian sociopaths and committed racists to justify all sorts of crimes against humanity

In fact, it was also seized upon by people who are today remembered as objectively good, as a means to achieve what they thought was an Objective Good (thought I think this would now fall into the category of utilitarian sociopathy). c.f. Tommy Douglas, the founder of Canada's medicare system.

It's interesting that Douglas' thesis and the horrors of "racial hygiene" weren't a mere coincidence, but the latter helped the former (and his like) recover their senses and repudiate eugenics as the garbage that it is, if from a humane, rather than scientific, perspective.
posted by klanawa at 11:06 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


I love Holly's work so much.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:15 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


This analogy has something of the status of Original Sin in evolutionary biology:
On the Origin of Species (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life),[3] published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature by Charles Darwin which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology.
Darwin chose the term "Natural Selection" as an explicit and self-conscious reference to the artificial selection which produced different breeds of domesticated animals.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Me too, Chura. I'd love to hear your thoughts in particular; I know her work is a lot closer to your field of expertise than mine, and I know that you've thought deeply about the responsibility that anthropologists bear, both in the sins of the field's past and in the duty to the future. (As do evolutionary biologists and behavioral ecologists generally, of course.)

One thing this piece really reminds me of is that monster piece I did refuting James Damore's pseudoscientific claims about women in STEM back in 2017. I was glancing at the metrics on Medium while I was updating my CV the other day, and I noticed that it only has about a 7% completion rate. That's not surprising, since that sucker is enormous; Medium scored it at about a 90min read, and a lot of people don't have 90 minutes to take to dig through Why James Damore's Claims About Whether Women Intrinsically Like Science And Rationality Are Full of Shit. I imagine that many if not most of the people who were linked to it didn't finish it, if they clicked at all.

But that doesn't mean that the work isn't valuable from an anti-sexism perspective. It doesn't mean that the effort I spent writing the piece wasn't useful, either. That response piece serves as a helpful collection of arguments that people can use in the moment, citations that the interested can delve into, and a blunt-force bludgeon with the force of authority and scholarship that can be used to quash intellectual-seeming arguments for sexism. If people having arguments about sexism on twitter can grab that piece and demand that people arguing that women are inherently just less interested in STEM engage with it before spreading their sexist commentary, it is a useful tool regardless of whether every person in that conversation has actually finished reading it end to end.

I think that's true beyond the specific case of James Damore himself. This piece is a little less ripped-from-the-headlines than that one, but it is no less topical in its pushback against people deliberately using "science" to impose social orders on real people. The racist "human biodiversity" movement makes very similar bioessentialist arguments about race as you see in sexism, and this paper will be an invaluable resource for countering that, particularly as the analogy it's discussing is a common one today. Right now. And those ideas need pushback, especially from white people, in just the same way that the idea that women aren't suited for rational and analytic professions needs pushback from men, too.

Beyond its utility as a teaching piece, this paper will be helpful for making arguments, pulling quickly from its citations, and providing scholarly criticism of this very common analogy. Its length means that sections of it can be pulled out and referenced as necessary over the course of arguments. And its thoroughness means that people who are confused and not sure what is going on can be pointed to discussion in a variety of fields and orient themselves before delving deeply into the scholarship linked.

But that is only accomplished if we talk about these things. I'm aware of the HBD movement in part because, as an evolutionary biologist, it is my duty to be aware of those things and think about ways in which my field can contribute to rhetoric about real people in their lives. I am aware of it because other evolutionary biologists have brought it up and talked about it to me, because we as professionals cannot ignore these strains of populist biology. We cannot as academics let poor science go unchallenged while it is fashioned into a weapon to control and limit real people.
posted by sciatrix at 11:35 AM on July 17 [32 favorites]


This week's Code Switch podcast covered this terrain very well as well.
posted by General Malaise at 11:50 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I don't say this to shift the focus of this article or this dsicussion, but using appearances and genetics to try and stereotype individuals is garbage in humans and dogs. There is a growing movement in veterinary medicine, especially in animal shelters, to remove breed labels from all dogs, as dogs that (erroneously) get labelled with "undesireable" breeds stay longer in shelters, and can be subject to discrimination - and even euthanasia - from Breed Specific Legislation.

This is an amazing paper - as well-written as it is well-researched and well-thought. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:52 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


[One deleted. This isn't a topic for lazy first-thoughts dismissals about how these scientists probably haven't thought about what their terms mean. If you think "who cares", just skip it. If you have a skeptical question, minimum bar is to read the article.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:00 PM on July 17 [17 favorites]


It's hard to pick out just one thing to say Aha, that's why this is such a good paper, because wow, it was good, but one part that I loved (and I think Rock Steady alludes to it above) is how badly the analogy fails in its very first assumption, that dog breeds have distinct character traits. "The Portuguese Water Dog demonstrates how entire AKC dog breeds are painted with personalities, like 'strength, spirit, and soundness,' that individual humans do not even necessarily share with their immediate family members. Yet, dog breeding standards influence assumptions about hard-wired behavior characterizing and differentiating human groups."

The big book that the AKC puts out is full of these characterizations of the breeds, and even though they're sweet and touching, anyone who has met dogs of different breeds knows that those characterizations don't really make sense.

I even wonder if the fact that those characterizations are sweet and touching is part of why they're so malignant...we like thinking of breeds as though they have these personalities. We like our categories, and ascribing values to them, and damn the consequences.

This was a really mind-opening piece, and I'm so glad it was posted.
posted by mittens at 12:14 PM on July 17 [13 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. No Robots, please skip this thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:27 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


I know PJ O’Rourke is hella problematic for a lot of folks, but I’ve always loved this quote from him:

“People are all exactly alike. There's no such thing as a race and barely such a thing as an ethnic group. If we were dogs, we'd be the same breed. George Bush and an Australian Aborigine have fewer differences than a Lhasa apso and a toy fox terrier. A Japanese raised in Riyadh would be an Arab. A Zulu raised in New Rochelle would be an orthodontist. People are all the same, though their circumstances differ terribly.“
posted by tantrumthecat at 12:33 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Here's a link (JSTOR) to the lecture they're citing by Haldane.

I think this paper does a great job of doing what it sets out to do - demonstrate that "race" is a scientifically unsound concept from the perspective of genetics, and a common analogy used in scientific racism is equally unsound as an analogy.

I do think that the most sophisticated forms of contemporary "human biodiversity" (scientific racism) already talk about "subpopulations" instead of "race" and thus many of the actual scientific racists are going to nod along and then slip out from under its refutations.

I'd love to see a follow-up by these folks that dealt with the construction of subpopulations and their use as a replacement for race in scientific racism, since some of the work they're reviewing and collecting on the structure of subpopulations here could be useful for it.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:37 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Yeah - where I see this being really beneficial is in teaching and giving people who know the analogy is wrong, or feel like or are pretty sure ... actual citeable peer-reviewed science to fall back on. I know that the first few years I taught our intro class I was very nervous about accidentally getting something wrong, and having these sorts of articles to assign and rely on would have been incredibly helpful.

Other really good, more popular works on genetics, scientific racism, and human behavior include She Has Her Mother's Laugh by Carl Zimmer and Angela Saini's Inferior. Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi is another excellent look at race and scientific racism in the US. I wouldn't tough David Reich's book with a 10 foot pole.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:25 PM on July 17 [14 favorites]


I'm reading the first half but I'm getting stuck twice on this interpretation:

First, levels of within-group (within-“race” or U.S. census groupings) diversity in humans are generally considerably higher than diversity observed within dog breeds, while levels of differentiation among such human groups is lower than observed among breeds.

This definition of difference/diversity does not seem logically transitive, or something. If two groups A and B are "quite different", and two groups {A + B} and C are "not that different", then how is that mathematically consistent? I am missing something here. Like if you take genes as strings and then introduce a notion of string distance/diversity then, this has to satisfy certain mathematical conditions. The authors assert but don't explain this theory very clearly.
posted by polymodus at 1:55 PM on July 17


It's saying that, when you take a census defined racial group, for example, it has a lot of diversity contained within it. The group of people defined as White encompass tremendous genetic diversity. But if you compare census-defined racial group A and census B, there's not much that genetically differentiates between the two of them. The group of people defined as Asian also encompass tremendous genetic diversity. If you compare White and Asian people, both groups are very diverse, and there is very little that actually separates the two groups, genetically.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:59 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


I think maybe you're simply misreading. The sentence is saying that if you take a look at a large group of dogs, half of which are classified as say "Yorkshire Terrier" and half of which are classified as "Great Dane" and then look at a large group of humans, half of which are classified as "Asian" and half of which are classified as "Black," then the Yorkshire Terriers are, in a distinctly measurable way genetically very similar to each other and very different, as a group, from the Great Danes, while the Asian people are genetically very dissimilar to each other and, as a group, very similar to the Black people.
posted by 256 at 2:00 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


I understand the authors are trying to show how dumb and racist those ideas are, but I’m not sure that they haven’t accomplished the opposite, given the way they’ve gone about it.

We cannot as academics let poor science go unchallenged while it is fashioned into a weapon to control and limit real people.

I wrote something about this here before but I have also come to agree with this latter view. Not that every single claim has to be taken seriously. I can appreciate the attitude
behind the lefttwitter phrenology jokes, that implies not only that "race science" is old-fashioned nonsense, but that only cranks or losers would really care about the minutia of racial differences, because on some level - yeah. But I think a lot of people underestimate the sophistication of the HBD folks in the sense that they make heavily quantitative arguments and muster a lot of sources - many written by members of the same cadre of course. It's more about the appearance of rigor than anything, but in my experience there's a particular sort of person who is convinced by this and they are not going to be impressed if you can't bring that.
posted by atoxyl at 2:41 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, so interesting! From automated classification through evolution pressures all the way to education recommendations.

And with a sense of humor, I liked this image caption: Portuguese water dog (and limbs of human)
posted by haemanu at 2:45 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


This is really outside my area of reading, and I haven't finished the article yet, but I don't understand the genetic clustering argument as the authors have laid it out. I would suppose these same algorithms could be used to show that humans and primates as two populations have high internal genetic diversity, and yet at the same time, humans and primates have relatively minuscule genetic difference. That is also consistent with the style of argument, i.e., it's analogous to the conclusion that Asians and Whites are internally diversified and yet not that different. But that's why this argument is kind of weird (unintuitive) to me.
posted by polymodus at 3:03 PM on July 17


the Yorkshire Terriers are, in a distinctly measurable way genetically very similar to each other and very different, as a group, from the Great Danes, while the Asian people are genetically very dissimilar to each other and, as a group, very similar to the Black people.

I think I understand this - but to check, is this analogy/metaphor correct?

For dog breeds, if you could make scatterplots of genetic profiles, there would be clustering around the various breeds. But if you made a scatterplot of genetic profiles of people from different "races", it would be a big undifferentiated mass, with no distinct pattern?
posted by jb at 3:04 PM on July 17


This article answered a few things which I was contemplating posting an askme about, so thanks for posting it! I feel like there should be more education on "social constructs" in general (and why it isn't synonymous with "optional" or "not real"), because people are running into the term in this somewhat counterintuitive context for the first time and tripping over it.

I think this paper could convince a few people who have the race≈breed meme floating in their heads but who haven't converted to explicit white supremacist thinking. After that, you're trying to overcome confirmation bias in another person, which is one of the great unsolvable problems of our civilisation.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:13 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


"To be honest, I think that, much as we would prefer that it not be necessary, it IS necessary to treat the offensive analogy seriously. I think it is very natural, once you get a taste of genetics, to start asking questions about race, even when it doesn't come from a place of malice."

That may well be the case, but the problem is that few of the people who find this plausible will listen to a refutation in the first place, and most of those who do aren't convinced. That observation is based upon my experience with people left of center. I'd bet good money that a surprising number of mefites assume this idea is a little bit true.

I've written and erased four different paragraphs just now, trying to articulate in a nutshell why this claim is false, and why "race" is not biologically meaningful, but many people intuitively feel it is true. I think the fundamental difficulty is a combination of a lack of intellectual rigor with ignorance. It's perhaps not unlike geocentricism -- even today, most people couldn't explain how we know geocentrism isn't true. (For that matter, in a random survey a majority of people can't explain why there are seasons.) Most people who believe in heliocentrism do so because they accept it as both authoritatively true and as common knowledge. I fear that expecting people to work through and understand how we know that "race" is socially constructed and doesn't mean what people think "race" means, scientifically, may be unrealistic. This needs to simply be commonly understood to be true, taught as fact, elaboration only where and when necessary. (It sort of pains me to assert something to that effect, to be sure.)

The authors write in their conclusion:
Not an insignificant proportion of Americans refuse mainstream academic knowledge; our paper offers a way forward for those caught up in that culture regarding race. This paper is not primarily for the fanatics who are unlikely to change their views, but instead it is for onlookers who might be so unfamiliar with these issues that they are either susceptible to unscientific and/or racist thinking or they are under-equipped to refute it. The dog breed-human race analogy is destructive; if folks see how it does not stand up to biology, then maybe they will better understand the complexity and significance of race.
They talk about the science education of schoolchildren, and my sense is that only sweeping changes to how "race" is presented and discussed in schools will make a difference.

As a general hypothesis, "scientific racism" and the dog breed analogy could have been somewhat true. If what we call "race" had happened to be much more rigorous and biologically meaningful as a categorization, then a first prerequisite could have been met. It wasn't and isn't, but in an alternate history, maybe. Thus we're forced to grapple with unintentional and intentional obfuscation (all bolding is mine):
In a contemporary discussion among philosophers about the biological (also termed “scientific”) basis for “race,” there are claims that clustered human variation demonstrates the reality of a biological concept of race, and that, further, this supposed reality neither encourages nor partners with racism (Hardimon 2012; Kaplan and Winther 2014). These are carefully worded discussions—based on past and present mainstream evolutionary biology—with one major exception: by insisting that “race” applies to patterns of observable human biological variation, these discussions ignore the sociocultural meaning of race, its historical context, and its political consequences like social and economic inequality. They suppose that “race” is eligible for human taxonomy, but mainstream American culture shows otherwise. “Race” has evolved into a concept that supersedes biology and therefore it cannot also apply as a strictly biological concept. After a racist history of science and a racist history of knowledge production generally, we know that “race” does not exist without racism. As McLean (2019) has described it, there are “co-constructive relationships between historically contingent political processes and the biology of humans.” “Race” is, in its essence, about human bias and always has been. If, hypothetically, race was ever to succeed as a wholly objective and neutral biological concept for humans, it lost its chance because so much racist science led us to this socially constructed state of “race” today.
They are saying a couple of interrelated things here. Without going into detail (which they variously do elsewhere in the paper), they are pointing out that "race" is very far from some sort of neutral, empirical observation of clustering of human variation. It's historically contingent and, in fact, has changed dramatically over the last century in ways that are incompatible with any supposed scientific basis. Furthermore, the impetus for the establishment of "scientific racism" was primarily to reinforce existing prejudices, its historical evolution as an idea is intimately intertwined with sociopolitics to the degree to which it's a poisoned well. One might say that if scientific racism were potentially useful (which it's not) it nevertheless couldn't be useful at this point.

That fundamental problem aside, if it had been the case that this notion of "race" were much better defined, less arbitrary, and less a weird combination of a naive, limited-experience heuristic with social prejudices and bad early science, then once we had genetics, we could have tested this hypothesis, and we still would have found that, in fact, it isn't true.

For example, skin pigmentation is typically the single most salient trait with regard to race, thought to signify relatedness and a corresponding set of shared traits. In terms of genetics, however, skin pigmentation is a very poor proxy for this supposed essential biological distinction:
However, in cases where human groups have experienced differentiation via localized circumstances of natural selection (e.g. pigmentation responses to ultra-violet radiation, resistance to pathogens, changes to diet, adaptation to high altitude) we sometimes see convergence on a similar phenotype with independent genetic contributors within the same genes (e.g. lactase persistence in Africa and Europe) or in different genes (e.g. dark pigmentation in groups across Africa and Asia). In contrast, for dogs with similar phenotypes, it is far more often the case that a single underlying mutation is responsible for a shared phenotype.

The biology of pigmentation may be equally simple in dogs, in contrast to what is well-known for humans. Studies focusing on variation in human skin color within European populations (Beleza et al. 2013; Candille et al. 2012; Sulem et al. 2007, 2008; Valverde et al. 1995) or between Europeans and other populations (Norton et al. 2007; Shriver et al. 2003; Lamason et al. 2005; Quillen et al. 2012), identified 15 genes which explained up to 35% of the variation in pigmentation in these populations. However, recent studies focusing on non-European populations have identified more than 50 additional loci that affect skin pigmentation within Africa (Martin et al. 2017; Crawford et al. 2017). This reflects the tremendous amount of variation in both skin color and genetics within the African continent and demonstrates that skin pigmentation in humans may be governed by hundreds of loci, including many with complex interactions and minor, but important, effects on phenotypes (Quillen et al. 2019). Additionally, recent work has identified novel mutations contributing to lighter skin pigmentation in East Asian and Native American populations (Adhikari et al. 2019), further highlighting the diverse genetic mechanisms that influence human pigmentation variation. Due to the shared mechanisms underlying skin and hair pigmentation in humans, a subset of genes implicated in skin pigmentation variation also influence hair pigmentation (Sulem et al. 2007; Valverde et al. 1995; Guenther et al. 2014; Kenny et al. 2012; Nan et al. 2009). However, the genetic architecture of coat color in dogs seems far simpler—currently there are only nine genes known to influence dog coat color and pattern (five of which are associated with coat color specifically) (Kaelin and Barsh 2013).
Skin pigmentation in humans is governed by many different genes, there are a great many mutations which will affect skin pigmentation, these various mutations arise easily and independently under selection, and therefore skin pigmentation, on a global basis, is a very unreliable proxy both for genetic relatedness and for any presumed cluster of linked or correlated traits -- which, you know, is the whole point of "scientific racism": linking something like skin color to genetically determined behavioral traits.

The common notion of "race" is invalid or false twice over: "race" is not on its face a biologically meaningful classification of people, and evidence from population genetics proves that humans have not (and likely could not yet have) differentiated in these ways, to these degrees, even if it were.

Here is where we get to the heart of the paper, where they show that various approaches to validating "race" with population genetics fail. In my opinion, it should be sufficient to have disproved the reliability of skin pigmentation for making the determinations that are made by "race" prima facie invalid (because skin pigmentation factors so heavily in the whole idea), but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, using some tools of population genetics to explore this dog-breed / race analogy:
Parker et al. (2004) then used the program structure to place individual dogs into a predefined number of population clusters. Running structure on overlapping subsets of 20–22 breeds at a time, they observed that the majority of individual dogs could be placed into distinct clusters that corresponded with their reported breed identity (Fig. 1). Using genotype data alone, they correctly identified the breed of 99% of the dogs included in their sample. Taken together, the low within-breed heterozygosity, high among-breed FST, AMOVA, and structure results all present a picture of a highly structured population.

Parker et al.’s analysis of dog population structure can be compared to an earlier study of human population structure using similar methods (Rosenberg et al. 2002). In this paper, Rosenberg and colleagues utilized allele frequency data from 377 microsatellites genotyped in the 52 populations of the HGDP-CEPH Human Genome Diversity Panel. Rosenberg et al. conducted AMOVA that examined genetic variance components within and among the individual populations of the HGDP-CEPH as well as within and among five and seven broad geographical groupings of these populations. These regional groups can be viewed as generally analogous to continental regions and U.S. census groupings (the seven-region scheme divides Europe/Middle East/Central Asia into three separate categories). The authors observed that genetic differences among regions accounted for only 3.3–4.7% of global human genetic variation (much smaller than the 27% of genetic differences among dog breeds reported by Parker et al. 2004), and that variation within populations accounts for ~ 92.9–94.3%. Differences among populations within regions accounted for 2.4–2.6% of the remaining genetic variation. In addition, within-region levels of heterozygosity (0.664–0.792; Rosenberg et al. 2002) were notably higher than those observed for dog breeds (0.313–0.610; Parker et al. 2004). This reflects the much greater total genetic variation within human groups compared to dog breeds. These results are comparable to those from other human datasets/populations, including HGDP-CEPH multilocus SNP data (Li et al. 2008). Furthermore, data from The 1000 Genomes Project demonstrates that FST values between continental groups are far lower (0.052–0.083) than FST values for dog breeds (The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium 2015). In sum, these data suggest that a greater degree of global genetic variation in humans can be attributable to variation within local populations, rather than between regional (racial) groups, and that substantial heterogeneity can be found within these groups. This stands in marked contrast to the lower levels of heterozygosity observed within dog breeds and the large amount of genetic variation that can be explained by breed differences.
The presumption of scientific racism is that various populations of humans have been geographically and thus genetically isolated from each other long enough such that the clusterings we call "race" indicate large but distinct populations of genetic relatedness, each having distinct common ancestors and each evolving under different environmental conditions such that these populations are broadly, reliably distinct from each other in appearance and behavior. This notion succeeds or fails on the basis of the empirical evidence of population genetics -- in various ways, we should see genetic evidence of this supposed history of modern humans. Do we? No, we don't.
While our understanding of Homo sapiens origins is increasingly complex, the fossil record indicates that all humans alive today trace their ancestry to Africa, roughly 200–500 kya and all hominin evolution prior to ~ 2 mya occurred in that region of the world. Genomic studies indicate that all humans descend from ancestors living in Africa whose descendants dispersed around Africa, Europe, Asia, and Southeast Asia. Subsequent interbreeding with late Pleistocene hominins in Europe (Neanderthals) and Asia (Denisovans) within the past 100 kya affected human evolution, uniquely, in those regions (Vernot et al. 2016; Higham et al. 2014; Reich et al. 2011; Kuhlwilm et al. 2016). Present human biogeographic variation has been shaped by this Pleistocene migration and gene flow, plus more than 50,000 years of subsequent gene flow, genetic isolation, genetic drift, selection, epigenetic change, and coevolution with other species, not to mention culture (Simonti et al. 2016; Dannemann and Kelso 2017; Racimo et al. 2015). As a result of the effects of these different evolutionary forces, while a number of very rare (and usually very young) alleles may be geographically localized, the majority of common genetic variants are not private to a particular continent, and are often shared across multiple regions (The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium 2015). This is because, in contrast with dogs, no modern human populations have ever been completely reproductively isolated over many generations.
And yet, given that evolution via natural selection is often taught via some comparison to artificial selection, such as dog breeding, then many people might argue that the time-scale of modern human history as compared with the relatively recent artificial selection of dog-breeding, argues that the population divergences supposed by scientific racism to possible, even likely:
The relatively low levels of population substructure (i.e. low levels of between-group variation) in humans are commonly attributed to our relatively recent origin as a species and the high rates of gene flow between human populations that have spread both neutral and adaptive mutations. It is notable that the origin of modern humans (> 200 kya) markedly predates that of dog domestication (20–40 kya). When differences in generation time between the two species are taken into account [~ 20 years for humans = 10,000 generations over 200,000 years; ~ 4.5 years for wolves (Mech et al. 2016) = ~ 9000 generations over 40,00 years], it would seem that there has been just as much or more time for substructure to evolve in our own species as has evolved in dogs. That it did not suggests that the strict artificial selection imposed on dogs by humans through selective breeding has had a profound effect on within- and among-breed levels of dog genetic diversity. In contrast, while geographic, cultural, or linguistic features may slow or limit gene flow between human groups, these forces have not resulted in the high levels of genetic differentiation that resulted from artificial selection for distinct and distinguishable breeds of dogs.
As it happens, via population genetics, we know that this sort of divergence didn't happen. That artificial selection can work so quickly isn't an indicator that modern human evolution must have also happened on only somewhat greater timescales; rather, it's an indication of what I think is the qualitative distinction between artificial and natural selection: artificial selection is genuinely teleological, aiming for a goal, and natural selection isn't.

The comparison of artificial selection to natural selection for the purposes of pedagogy has the extremely misleading consequence that it strongly reinforces the already-pernicious habit of teleological thought as applied to evolution. People wrongly think of evolution as "progressive", they wrongly speak of adaptations as the "goals" of a natural processes. They unthinkingly equate the goal-oriented, directed process of artificial selection with evolution by natural selection, seeing "Nature" as the guiding hand. This is profoundly wrongheaded.

There is a sort of vicious cycle whereby this misconception of evolutionary biology as teleological erases the qualitative distinction between narural and artificial selection, which in turn encourages people to wrongly equate so-called "racial" variation as being comparable to the artificial selection of breeding, which encourages very far-reaching and socially harmful misconceptions about evolutionary biology with regard to human cognition and behavior. These are misunderstandings piled atop each other.

And so we return to the issue of education:
The existence of the erroneous human race-dog breed analogy suggests that there may be unintended negative consequences of using artificial selection as a model for teaching natural selection. Since artificial selection can produce relatively discrete between group variation and low heterozygosity in a short period of time, perhaps models of artificial selection as teaching tools are inappropriate for middle or high school biology education. For example, these models could skew students’ perceptions of what real biological variation would look like if produced by other evolutionary processes (genetic drift, migration, dispersal, isolation by distance, selection, non-random mating, etc.). Perhaps the answer is not to take artificial selection out of curricula (because dogs, cats and other familiar organisms make for engaging pedagogy), but to explicitly and rigorously juxtapose it against the rest of evolution.
I believe that broad educational reform in how evolutionary biology is taught, and how "race" is addressed in curricula, are necessary requirements for the kind of substantial change in popular thought that we would prefer. But both, particularly in North America, are incredibly politically fraught to the point that I can't imagine such reform happening any time soon.

That's not to say that this paper and this discussion are unproductive -- if I thought that, I wouldn't have spent two or so hours writing this comment. I think that this particular audience here at MetaFilter, for example, is receptive and that education and changing opinions are eminently possible. I think that in all similar spaces, productive engagement is possible and necessary. I just wish I could be more optimistic.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:31 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


Years ago I knew a South African scientist who believed, in what he thought was a benign way, that black South Africans were inferior in intelligence to white South Africans. I had just read Stephen J. Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" and could talk about cultural assumptions and within group and between group genetic differences. He got really furious at me. I think it was because he was a scientist and knew what I was saying was true.
posted by acrasis at 3:31 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


For many purebred dog breeds, inbreeding is intense (I want to say like first or second cousins, but can't find the cite). This is not how natural populations breed (except in extreme decimation or isolation). It is not good for dogs. And not at all comparable to human population genetics. Dog breeds (as well as most domestic animals and plants) are intentionally-selected and highly inbred "sports" that exaggerate characteristics deemed valuable. There are certainly parallels between natural and human-directed selection (for instance, it illuminates how surprisingly fast evolution can occur in extreme circumstances), but the crucial difference is that humans have very mixed ancestry and domestic animals (quite intentionally) do not.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:32 PM on July 17


On preview, Ivan Fyodorovich said it better and with much more support.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:38 PM on July 17


The dog-human comparison is much older than Darwin. Indeed, it's as old as race itself:
The word race first appeared in Frenchman Jacques de Breze's 1481 poem "The Hunt," where it referred to hunting dogs. As the term expanded to include humans over the next century, it was used primarily to identify and differentiate and animalize African people. The term did not appear in a dictionary until 1606, when French diplomat Jean Nicot included an entry for it. "Race... means descent," he explained, and "it is said that a man, a horse, a dog or another animal is from good or bad race." Thanks to this malleable concept in Western Europe, the British were free to lump the multiethnic Native Americans and the multiethnic Africans into the same racial groups. In time, Nicot's construction became as addictive as the tobacco plant, which he introduced in France.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
posted by yaymukund at 3:41 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


broad educational reform in how evolutionary biology is taught, and how "race" is addressed in curricula, are necessary requirements for the kind of substantial change in popular thought that we would prefer. But both, particularly in North America, are incredibly politically fraught to the point that I can't imagine such reform happening any time soon.

This is part of the work that evolutionary biologists like Dr. Dunsworth and her coauthors are engaged in. That's literally the point of this paper. It's published in an open source journal of Evolution: Education and Outreach. It's impossible to separate that context from what the authors wanted to do with this paper. As Dr. Dunsworth wrote on twitter: "Peer-reviewed, #openaccess #anthropology #scicomm scholarship speaking to a broad audience." This is a paper that will help support and educate those of us who are teaching courses on variation and evolution and genetics while we work to substantially reform the ways in which evolutionary biology is taught and the ways we address race in our discipline.
Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world. In this regard, race is real, as is racism, and both have real biological consequences.


Humans share the vast majority (99.9%) of our DNA in common. Individuals nevertheless exhibit substantial genetic and phenotypic variability. Genome/environment interactions, local and regional biological changes through time, and genetic exchange among populations have produced the biological diversity we see in humans today. Notably, variants are not distributed across our species in a manner that maps clearly onto socially-recognized racial groups. This is true even for aspects of human variation that we frequently emphasize in discussions of race, such as facial features, skin color and hair type. No group of people is, or ever has been, biologically homogeneous or “pure.” Furthermore, human populations are not — and never have been — biologically discrete, truly isolated, or fixed.

While race does not accurately represent the patterns of human biological diversity, an abundance of scientific research demonstrates that racism, prejudice against someone because of their race and a belief in the inherent superiority and inferiority of different racial groups, affects our biology, health, and well-being. This means that race, while not a scientifically accurate biological concept, can have important biological consequences because of the effects of racism. The belief in races as a natural aspect of human biology and the institutional and structural inequities (racism) that have emerged in tandem with such beliefs in European colonial contexts are among the most damaging elements in human societies.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:11 PM on July 17 [15 favorites]


I should add that the paper's specific status as an open source article is not accidental, and it was deliberately published in that way to increase its accessibility and allow it to be shared in exactly the kind of places that I have shared today. Moreover, the specific journal is one that will reach an audience of evolution and biology educators, who are precisely the people who influence the way this science is taught in both educational and popular contexts.

polymodus, I'm not sure where you're coming from with comparisons from humans to primates (all primates?). If you come at this from a population genetics perspective, we're talking about a metric called FST that basically asks: is there more variation within a group, or between two groups? How is variation structured among populations? How much gene flow is there between subpopulations on the whole? For humans, the answer is "quite a lot"; for purebred dogs, not much at all.

I think people often overestimate how weird dog breeding is even when compared to other forms of Western domestic animal fancy. Dogs are the only species I am aware of in which almost all breeds have "closed" stud books with no new blood or out crossed animals allowed to contribute to the "purebred" population. Most horse, cat, pigeon, chicken, cattle, sheep, and pig breeds have provisions by which crossbreed animals, when backcrossed long enough to purebred ones, can have offspring that are defined as purebred in their own merit. By contrast, there are legitimately only two cases I know of in which an known outcross to another breed of dog was permitted into a fully formed dog breed: the introgression of a bobtail gene into British Boxers from a cross to a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and the introgression of a low uric acid (LUA) gene into American Dalmatians from a cross to an English Pointer. And both were hard fought by local kennel clubs. I believe dogs descended from both crosses are still required to have special registration numbers so breeders can avoid them if they want to.

These rules even persist in breed registries that are deeply suspicious of bodies like the AKC for mandating too much physical conformity and not paying attention to working quality, like the JRTCA and the ABCA. About the only groups of dog breeders who don't adhere to this maxim of never outcrossing their dogs are the widely reviled breeders of doodles, breeders of racing sled dogs (both Eurohounds and Alaskan huskies), and breeders of lurchers, especially in the UK. This shit is weird, guys, and the obsession with total genetic isolation for each dog breed is inextricably tied with legitimacy in the minds of both pedigree dog breeders and also public judgement of legitimacy of dog breeding.
posted by sciatrix at 4:37 PM on July 17 [19 favorites]


I think it's interesting in that, if/when I try to describe an instance of racism, doing so opens me to a criticism that I am imposing racial categories and that it would be helpful/productive if everyone involved viewed problems and conflicts as due to individual differences. It's a race-blind approach to dealing with perceived racism. I think some professionals out there use such claims as "Race has no biological basis and humans just so much more diverse than racial categories" to dispense with race as biologic and social constructs, resulting in race-blind, or culture-blind, ideologies. I think that this is a questionable dynamic that happens sometimes, where professionals (e.g. in medicine, psychology), by avoiding the sociological subject of race, end up reinforcing racism.
posted by polymodus at 4:42 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


*people often underestimate how weird. That's what I get for posting from my phone...
posted by sciatrix at 4:48 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Some might think it a subtle point, but I feel it’s worth saying that we aren’t in a situation where it’s lucky the science turns out to show we’re all equal. We are in a situation in which we knew all along: we humans are equal.

In other words, the results aren’t fortunate. They are accurate. It is fortunate for us that Heather L. Norton, Ellen E. Quillen, Abigail W. Bigham, Laurel N. Pearson & Holly Dunsworth have done so much work and written a very useful, detailed description of our equality.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 4:58 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


… we're talking about a metric called FST that basically asks: is there more variation within a group, or between two groups?

So here's an example of what I have in mind. Consider populations of size two with strings of five bits. {00000, 01111}, {10000, 11111}. Within each set, there's 4 bits that get flipped. That's a big difference of information that's internal to the sets. But, between the two sets, only one bit gets flipped, i.e. the first bit. So that's low difference between the two sets. But unless I know what each bit does when input to a computing system, I have literally no idea what the ramifications of these statistical differences are.
posted by polymodus at 5:01 PM on July 17


BTW I did finish the article, and further in the middle of the piece the author does then say that a purely genetics based argument such as the clustering techniques is not enough and the real problem is that biology and sociology are interdependent, citing Marks 2017 multiple times. So that basically answers my question above, and it just wasn't clear what the theoretical and philosophical assumptions were reading from the beginning.
posted by polymodus at 5:11 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Oh. The difference is that populations are analogous to unordered sets, and that we are studying them at a single time point to figure out how much structure the variation has is attributable to the population grouping. The digits are individuals who move at will throughout the population, presumably breeding randomly. At some rate, individuals move from one population from another, transferring genes with them. A scenario with highly structured variation, as in dogs, is one in which this gene flow is rare. An unstructured population implies the gene flow is common.

So to a population geneticist, sets [10011], [11100], and [00111] are equivalent.

Say we have a species where we have five populations of five digits each. The population geneticist wants to know how much variation in the species is attributable to population. She's trying to see whether the situation is more akin to this

[11111] [11111] [00000] [00000] [11111]

vs this

[01110] [00111] [01011] [11100] [11001]

That's the total point of the exercise.
posted by sciatrix at 5:19 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


"I think some professionals out there use such claims as 'Race has no biological basis and humans just so much more diverse than racial categories' to dispense with race as biologic and social constructs, resulting in race-blind, or culture-blind, ideologies. I think that this is a questionable dynamic that happens sometimes, where professionals (e.g. in medicine, psychology), by avoiding the sociological subject of race, end up reinforcing racism."

I respectfully disagree. Perhaps I've misunderstood you. If not, I think this is more a function of your, and other people's, misunderstanding of the assertion that "race is a social construct".

It's not uncommon to see someone respond to that with "Are you really saying 'race' doesn't exist?". But I don't think I've ever seen anyone assert that race isn't biologically valid while also asserting that it isn't socially valid. Most people don't get to the former without starting from the recognition that the latter is true. That's the point.

I'm not accusing you of this, but I think most often this is a strawman: that "race" is a sociopolitical fact in many cultures is self-evident and therefore equating the denial of scientific racism vis a vis biology with denying that race has an everyday meaning that is socially significant is self-refuting. I guess this reasoning can be innocent and earnest and based upon confusion, but it's awfully convenient.

Even so, the fact that race is so obvious and important sociopolitically in many cultures causes many or most people to have a great deal of trouble with the fact that it doesn't mean biologically what people think it means. For many, there's a cognitive record-scratch at this.

What's subtle and pernicious about this is that what most people these days think "race" means is not merely something equivalent to the pre-nineteenth-century word, which is roughly synonymous with what we now would call "ethnicity" -- a very naive essentialist belief about distinctions between large groups of people -- but that the notion was reinterpreted through the modern lens of the science of biology, evolution, and genetics. As a popular notion, it's appropriated empirical science multiple times and aquired both a meaning and credibility that is difficult to dispute without going beyond pop-science. This is why we call it "scientific racism". So-called "human biodiversity" is a manifestation of this, but scientific racism describes the reinterpretation of these kinds of bigotries built around a supposed scientific basis that occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

At least in American culture, I think the pre-existing cultural bigotries are so entertwined with this pseudoscience that they can no longer be separated from each other; racism has thoroughly become scientific racism and can only be understood as such. This supposed scientific component provides enormous cultural credibility in modern society and racists have never stopped trying to shore up this foundation.

What we end up with up with is a horrifically resilient harmful ideology because it combines the immediacy and pervasiveness of people's lived experience of "race" with the broad credibility of modern science in general and modern biology and medicine in particular, misapplied and misunderstood. Each part strengthens the other just as a matter of culture and psychology, but it also defines a very favorable terrain upon which racists are able to be flexible in defense.

I think your comment and perhaps another earlier demonstrate this, unwittingly and unfortunately: the self-evident reality of the social construct of race synergizes inextricably with the supposed credibility of its science in ways that hugely complicate any public discourse about it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:50 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I've had the "no, really, there's no such thing as race _biologically_" conversation with a bunch of folks, and it's usually followed by me trying to point out things that are "just" social constructs can be very real for people - like MONEY.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:55 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


Some might think it a subtle point, but I feel it’s worth saying that we aren’t in a situation where it’s lucky the science turns out to show we’re all equal. We are in a situation in which we knew all along: we humans are equal.

I'm not sure I can 100% get on board with this. All humans are obviously not equal in many ways. Some of us are taller, some of us are stronger, some of us are smarter, some of us have better vision.

What should be obvious to a moral person is that all people are of equal value. But that's kinda outside the scope of the article, and the field of evolutionary biology all together.

If we chose to measure people by height or melanin, then local genetic variations certainly show some populations (including populations that fall along socially defined race lines) to be "superior" to others. But the fundamental argument of pseudoscientific racists is not about height or melanin. It's about intelligence and temperament. And, in a way, we are fortunate (from the perspective that it gives us scientific refutation of morally repugnant racist ideas) that it turns out that there is no statistically significant genetic variation between local populations on these criteria, and moreover that the variation between these populations is in fact quite trivial and largely limited to the physical attributes that allow us to visually identify them as different populations in the first place (although, again, as the article points out, the boundaries between these populations are very rarely distinct).

Back when science was first discovering evolution and genetics and applying those tools to humans, it could easily have turned out that some isolated populations (think Australia or the Americas) had much more significant genetic variation from populations of Europe/Asia/Africa. It could have turned out that that significant genetic variation had resulted in, say, a native Australian population that was genetically predisposed to being much less (or more) capable and well-adjusted than the rest of the world.

That would have been a really inconvenient result. And to be clear, racist ideologies would still be ethically indefensible in this theoretical world. But the argument against it would be purely social and moral.
posted by 256 at 5:56 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


As someone who is considered "disabled" in our society, and given that almost everyone in this society sees this "inequality" as both self-evident and justifiably a basis upon which to defend differential outcomes, I find the emphasis on a supposed objective, biologically essentialist assertion of "equality" to be deeply problematic. It's not a necessary component of a functional notion of social justice and, furthermore, it frequently interacts destructively with social justice. In a great many respects, fighting the battle on the terrain of essentialist biological equality cedes to the enemy territory we needn't and oughtn't.

If denying a claimed essentialist biological inequality is both useful and true, sure, why not? But it puts us in a position where we may find ourselves hoisted by our own petard and, in any case, it is missing the deeper and more important point.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:22 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


I believe that we need to fight the battle on both fronts, and that we needn't cede any ground to do so. It is possible to hold as self-evident the truth that all men are created equal and also fall prey to racist pseudoscience. Many have.

I just don't think it's helpful to intertwine our moral stance on human equality with the science on the biological invalidity of race. The fact that the former is right and good did not necessitate that the latter be true. And the latter being true is not necessary for the former to be right and good.

All people are of equal value. Race is a genetically useless tool for classifying people. One is a moral statement. One is a scientific statement. The first is worth defending. The second is worth disseminating.
posted by 256 at 8:38 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


We're very much in agreement, I think. I sense that we each are approaching this point from directions that may be unclear to many people and thus we may be easily misunderstood -- indeed, I'm very uncomfortable with this digression even though I believe it's vitally important and it's personally extremely relevant. Public discourse about social justice vis a vis biological essentialism/determinism is very confused and very fraught and merely engaging with the issue in the deeper sense is prone to doing more damage than good. I think that, practically and generally, it's best just to just take the nonsense as it's served up and smack it down. Certainly this is the case with the supposed scientific basis of racism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:27 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


“Are the biological differences between human groups comparable with those between groups of domestic animals such as greyhounds and bulldogs…?”

Why dogs, and not cats, or cows, or cucumbers?

And why would Haldane leap to the conclusion that the diversity of humans may resemble the diversity of carefully-isolated populations of dogs, given that it's obvious that humans frequently engender children across national / cultural / social lines?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:21 PM on July 17


I believe that broad educational reform in how evolutionary biology is taught, and how "race" is addressed in curricula, are necessary requirements for the kind of substantial change in popular thought that we would prefer. But both, particularly in North America, are incredibly politically fraught to the point that I can't imagine such reform happening any time soon.

Not just North America. Many countries lean hard into race-as-patriotism or race-as-justification-for-something-heinous in their education systems and wider societies. Reform in this kind of education and thinking is critical to breaking down malignant power structures all over the world.
posted by saysthis at 2:50 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Back when science was first discovering evolution and genetics and applying those tools to humans, it could easily have turned out that some isolated populations (think Australia or the Americas) had much more significant genetic variation from populations of Europe/Asia/Africa.

Along these lines - in just-barely prehistoric times the world held sapiens humans at the same time as Neanderthal humans and Denisovan humans (a least). The paper mentions this as background; before reading I had hoped it would discuss that situation a bit.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:43 AM on July 18


Ivan Fyodorovich: I agree that we agree, but I don't agree that it's a digression. In fact I think this conversation is at the very heart of the paper.

Racist ideologies are obviously wrong. But I think it is far too common in liberal/leftist/woke/whatever circles to think that because racist ideologies are obviously wrong (ethically), scientific racism must be obviously wrong (factually). That's a really faulty line of reasoning that opens up a lot of avenues of attack from scientific racists.

Scientific racism IS wrong, though (factually). And we need to point that out with scientific education.
posted by 256 at 5:41 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


And why would Haldane leap to the conclusion that the diversity of humans may resemble the diversity of carefully-isolated populations of dogs, given that it's obvious that humans frequently engender children across national / cultural / social lines?

Haldane at the time of writing lived in 20th century Britain, a highly racially segregated society that actively tried to prevent different members of racial groups from having children with one another. Haldane's work on gene transfer between populations (published a few years after this talk, IIRC) is actually the ancestor of the arguments made here demonstrating that such transfer is extremely common but at the time no one knew if it was - this is why he phrases it as a question to the anthropologists to puzzle out.

As for why dogs in particular, he explains in the opening lines of the quoted address that the metaphor goes back to Plato as a way of thinking about different groups of people.

I think this is actually a weakness of the paper - it quotes Haldane and you think it's going to work within his problematic, but then it goes into dealing with popular conceptions of racism instead of Haldane's polymorphism of human subpopulations (Haldane himself deplored racism as he understood it and thought polymorphism was good for humanity - we now consider polymorphism itself as racist, of course).

This isn't to let Haldane off the hook here - he was a eugenicist ( focused on eliminating or reducing congenital disability) and he held beliefs we would consider racist (that different groups of humans have propensities and aptitudes that we know now they do not). But he's a big enough figure in population genetics who had extremely distinct views on things like polymorphism and these warrant being separated out from popular American conceptions of race for the purposes of refuting them.

By opening with a quote from him, the paper made it seem like they were going to get into his views but then they veer away from it and don't actually address his position.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 7:55 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I would suppose these same algorithms could be used to show that humans and primates as two populations have high internal genetic diversity, and yet at the same time, humans and primates have relatively minuscule genetic difference.

As it turns out this premise just isn't true: humans actually have very low diversity as a global population when you compare either to other primate populations or to the differences between e.g. the "average" human and chimp. This is partly because our species just hasn't been around for very long relative to other primates.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:25 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


According to the Wikipedia article on population bottlenecks:
A 2005 study from Rutgers University theorized that the pre-1492 native populations of the Americas are the descendants of only 70 individuals who crossed the land bridge between Asia and North America.[7]
Which would presumably result in a low level of genetic diversity even compared to other human populations.

As a person of some level of Native American ancestry who has all kinds of autoimmune problems combined with a number of apparent immune blind spots, I wonder whether that lack of diversity is partly responsible for the catastrophic vulnerability of North and South Native Americans to introduced European pathogens.
posted by jamjam at 1:35 PM on July 18


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