July 17, 2009

"Mortal Skin"

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.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

41 comments:

Harry Baldwin said...

It's funny that Saletan dismisses the meaning of race in a way that only a white person would.

Race is "a fluid category. It can be economic, cultural, and genetic." Riiiight. Will blacks ever regard race that way? If so, why do they still think of Michael Jackson as one of their own, more so than Eminem?

Jack said...

William Saletan says:

race [is] 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.

As if "lives" are not "at stake" in the administration of the education system.

Thats an amazing case of double-think when you get right down to it. Racial similarity is just a scaled up generalisation of family similarity.

It is useful as a, somewhat coarse-grained, predictive tool.

Why are racial social constructivists the last holdout of Cartesian dualism? Lives are at stake in the administration of both pyschological and pyshiological realms. Improper education of the mental can be as damaging as improper medication of the manual.

Just now Obama is giving a speech to the NAACP encouraging black children to become aspirants to the Presidency or judges and surgeons. Thats very noble.

But rather inculcate the "Yale or Jail" model of social advancement wouldnt it be better just to encourage blacks to move gradually into the middle of the social strata. By becoming salesmen, truck drivers or maybe teachers.

Sure its setting sights lower. But the target is more visible and therefore more likely to be hit.

Its unfair and unfortunate that intellectual abilities are not distributed equally across all racial groups. We arent going to advance colored people if we ignore that fact.

Vercingetorix said...

Didja notice? Saletan has decided race is a proxy for geographic origin, because groups of people from any particular geographic region are somewhat related to each other! (Or at least share somewhat distinct patterns of genes. I'm not sure Saletan truly grasps that the only way a large number of people come to share a bunch of genes is common descent.)

Besides being circular (race--> geographic origin--> race) this ignores human migration.

Really, I would venture, you could call geographic origin a weak proxy for race!

Richard Hoste said...

"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."

If you're not finally endorsing white nationalism, I don't know what your point is.

Anonymous said...

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


RESPONSIBILITY, the end queston. Who's is it? the individual or the village?

Anonymous said...

Race is now an economic category? So the white people on my NE suburban block are a different race from poor white people in Alabama? That's a dumb idea that's never gonna get any traction with any racial or ethnic group. Slate seems to be a true font of modern mindlessness.

Deckin said...

I think it's interesting that when it comes to discussions of race, all of a sudden the typically very anti-scientific reductionism lefty/prog/pomo finds reductionism with a vengeance. 'We can't stand to have this coarse category around for long so hopefully we'll soon find the proper economic, genetic, molecular, atomic, sub-atomic, blah blah blah categories that are really responsible for the overwhelming (uncomfortable) data we see everywhere.' The very same people who bristle at the thought that culture might have biological origins run to the idea that we can somehow happily slip past that oh so crude notion of race and head right into the genome to save polite company everywhere from having to see the obvious.

Does anyone want to be around for the wailing and gnashing of teeth if it's discovered, here as in so many other places, that the folk categories are about as good as anyone's ever going to get--that race as clade or lineage or extended family is the most informative category? Yikes!

The Other said...

Richard Hoste's comment is correct: what's the point of "they're still your kids"? If Sailer's saying that people do care about their race as they would their extended family, then obviously that's not necessarily the case, white people being the obvious counterexample. If he's saying that they should care that way even though they don't, then yeah, why not drop all that "citizenism" bullshit and start writing for American Renaissance?

Melykin said...

Some of the people leaving comments on the Mortal Skin article seem to be taking offense at the idea that genetic difference are responsible for the different cancer rates.

They would rather the difference is due to racism.

Why do these people feel this way? Jewish people, for example, don't seem to be squeamish about Tay Sach's disease being genetic--they don't get all defensive about it. Instead they become doctors and open facilities to carry out research about it.

Why are black people (and lots of white people too) so touchy about suggestions that genetic difference might lead to different rates of disease?

People are especially touchy when it comes to mental disorders such as addiction. On some forums peoples' heads practically explode if you suggest addiction is genetic and that some races/ethnic groups have it more than others, even though it is painfully obvious that this is true.

For example the people of Mongolia seem to suffer greatly from alcoholism:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3138806.stm

Not to mention Irish, Scots--Northern Eurasians in general, and aboriginal people everywhere who are decended directly from hunter-gatherers. (See "The 10,000 Year Explosion")

Simon said...

Saletan:
"People are afraid that if we acknowledge genetic differences along racial lines, we'll become blind to discrimination and socioeconomic inequality, and we'll lay a scientific foundation for segregation. That isn't true."

I'm not surprised the cultural Marxists are angry at him. His position on the facts is really not far at all from Sailer's (ie they are both right). That he tries to put a left-liberal spin on the facts doesn't change that.

sabril said...

"In the case of cognitive ability, it probably does more harm than good"

It seems to me that the important questions cannot be answered with regard to the amount of harm or good caused by a particular answer.

For example, one can observe that there is a racial gap, between blacks and whites, in results on a particular test. One can then ask if genetic differences are largely responsible for this gap.

The correct answer -- "yes" -- might be harmful in the sense that it results in hurt feelings and/or racial tension. But the amount of harm is irrelevant to whether or not the answer is correct.

I suppose one could argue that the even the first observation should not be made, i.e. that a racial gap exists at all. Society could use tests for various things and not worry about the fact that different groups score disproportionately well or poorly. Would this sit well with Saletan?

Anonymous said...

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

Would Steve mind clarifying what he meant by this?

Yaz said...

It is not politically correct to say, and could undoubtedly get a scientist in trouble, but I'm guessing the difference in the sex cancer rates of blacks verses whites is largely because of skin color.

Black skin is designed to block hot equator sunshine. Being in a northern climate a person with black skin will not be able to produce enough of the cancer preventing hormone vitamin D3 as white people, living in a northern climate.

Skin color and vitamin D3 deficiency help explain a host of other diseases that are more prevalent in the black community than in other fairer skinned ones too.

There are a # of web sights that talk about the sunshine vitamin/ hormone D3, but Dr Cannell has one of best for information: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/

Anonymous said...

If he doesn't get nailed for this one, he'll probably come back with a stronger article. Clearly he understands race the way Sailerites do but has to couch his argument with enough caveats that he can keep his job.

OneSTDV said...

OK since "race is a rough, transitional category" and we should "replace it with more sophisticated models of interacting dynamics—economics, culture, genetics—that more accurately fit the data", how about the leftists stop complaining about income, arrest statistics, and academic achievement disparities between blacks and whites?

We'll stop talking about race if the liberals stop making it such a big deal, too? I'll take that deal, I wonder if they would?

Reactionary said...

Speaking of cancer, Steve-o, I really wish you'd train your sights on cancer research some time. We're talking billions of dollars and the smartest people on the planet, and we still don't know what makes a normal cell 'flip' into a cancerous cell and the process of metastasis. Decades on, and all we're still doing is just hacking out tumors or blitzing them with chemicals and isotopes.

It's like we're coming up with all these really cool pesticides, but not bothering to clean up all the food crumbs and dark, damp places that bring the roaches there to begin with. I'm wondering if our morbid dread of genetics has something to do with it. Either we're talking something too deep in the genetic code to do anything about, so they've just given up, or they don't want to go down that road to begin with.

And when you're done with that, I'd like you to explore myopia. It's correlated very strongly with higher intelligence, and people seem pretty scared of the g-word in that area too. Here's an article to get you started.

Anonymous said...

So Saletan is against affirmative action, right?

Because it is such a silly thing to base important things on, right?

It's time for equality.

Jun said...

Jack said: "As if 'lives' are not 'at stake' in the administration of the education system."

Exactly!!

Not to mention in all walks of life. Sheesh. :-/

Nanonymous said...

Read comments in the Slate. Predictably, lots of folks there still want to explain everything by racism and to do that they must criticize the study. And they do. So I downloaded the paper and read it.

The major criticism: the authors did not properly adjust for SES and/or other potentially important factors like diet. For example, they estimated income and education levels using ZIP codes and the US census data. This is as crude as it can be and can be expected to hugely decrease the resolution/accuracy of the statistics.

What the critics who did not bother to read the paper are missing is that the study DID NOT find statistically significant differences in many other cancers. Only sex-related cancers showed significant differences. Quote:

After adjustment for these prognostic factors,
African American race was not statistically significantly associated
with overall survival among patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (P=.12), limited-stage small cell lung cancer (P=.29), advanced-stage non–small cell lung cancer (P=.20), multiple
myeloma (P=.34), early-stage (adjuvant) colon cancer (P=.87), or
advanced-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma (P=.10). However, African American race was statistically significantly associated
with worse overall survival among patients with early-stage
(adjuvant) premenopausal breast cancer (P=.007),
early-stage (adjuvant) postmenopausal breast cancer (P<.001), advanced-stage ovarian cancer (P=.002), and advanced-stage prostate cancer (P=.001).


Apparently then, white racism manages to differentiates between types of cancer :-)

silly girl said...

I have noticed that in the health care debate, people bring up the average life expectancies in different countries. It makes me wonder how much life expectancy is related to race. Could it be that under ideal conditions, Asians live longer than other races, or blacks are just genetically disposed to shorter life expectancy? So no matter how well groups eat or how good their medical care is, the differences will persist indefinitely and intractably? Would whites be blamed? Would Asian habits be worshipped?

Anonymous said...

--So no matter how well groups eat or how good their medical care is, the differences will persist indefinitely and intractably? Would whites be blamed?--

Of course whites will be blamed. According to the above study, we're causing cancer. Or are a cancer...

sabril said...

"I have noticed that in the health care debate, people bring up the average life expectancies in different countries."

At a minimum, blacks are more likely than whites to die in accidents and more likely to be murdered.

Presumably this is because of their weaker cognitive skills and the fact that they tend to live near other black people.

Actually I recall reading that there is a positive correllation between IQ and life expectancy.

So yeah, as with so many other things, I think that HBD-denialism is poisoning the debate over health care.

Insightful said...

Population Isolation? Considering the generations of segregation (biological seperation) enforced upon Africans in America one could expect similar trends in the population. Also considering the vast difference between African tribes (as the vastly varying landscape of that continent is), we also know some tribes sold the other tribes to slave traders.

In conclusion, it seems to me that genetic isolation, times two, would make the African American a people distinct from other peoples as being more closely related. It doesn't take too many people to have 150 descendants in, what like...100 years? If you look at the population growth of the US over the last 300 years, it's a very steep curve after the first 60 years (approx.) and then it levels off at the current 300,000,000.

Lets not even consider the brutal handling of these people and how they had become culled to find our answer-because that toll is unknowable.

SFG said...

"We're talking billions of dollars and the smartest people on the planet, and we still don't know what makes a normal cell 'flip' into a cancerous cell and the process of metastasis."
We do. You have genes that promote growth and genes that stop growth. If too many of the former get stuck 'on' and too many of the latter get stuck 'off', you have cancer. But it's a different set of genes each time (though there are some weak points), so each cancer can potentially be different.

"Decades on, and all we're still doing is just hacking out tumors or blitzing them with chemicals and isotopes."
That's because (a) cancer cells are our cells, so we can't target them with drugs that only attack bacteria or special viral polymerases. Drugs that affect cancer cells also affect our cells so you get a lot of collateral damage (=the horrible chemo side effects). (b) 'breast cancer' for example can be due to tens of different mutations (though there are some common ones you can test for). It really is a very hard problem.

Genes? Of course. That's where all the racial differences Saletan is talking about come from.

sabril said...

"We'll stop talking about race if the liberals stop making it such a big deal, too?"

Sounds like a decent deal, but I wouldn't take it. Because we'd still have to listen to the liberals whine about how national health care works so well in the UK; and how gun control works so well in Japan; and so on.

Victoria said...

... wouldnt it be better just to encourage blacks to move gradually into the middle of the social strata. By becoming salesmen, truck drivers or maybe teachers.

And this was the message, goal and mission of hundreds of black educators back in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Before the clever NAACP elites came along who, with the help of their white liberal compatriots, saw a far more remunerative way (for them) of approaching the black masses. Those blacks who set up schools and institutes, in the spirit of Booker T. Washington, to teach blacks exactly the skills you mention, in many cases building on real abilities still part of their culture from slavery days, were eventually set upon and raked over the coals. Since the elites all wanted access to Yale and such, it was important that no other forms of education be encouraged or perpetuated. The fact that most blacks could never attain the educational levels of these 2nd and even 3rd generation middle class elites meant nothing to them, as they worked to intrude themselves as deeply into white society as possible. The black poor were simply used as their gateway to win sympathy, off which the elites mainly benefited.

Sure its setting sights lower.

And this was exactly the argument they used against those who wanted to train as many poor blacks as possible in manual endeavors, so they had a realistic chance to earn their own livings. These sensible educators were charged with wanting to keep blacks in "overalls," instead of suits like the white man wears. We all know which set of blacks the white man eventually threw his support behind.

Reactionary said...

We do. You have genes that promote growth and genes that stop growth. If too many of the former get stuck 'on' and too many of the latter get stuck 'off', you have cancer. But it's a different set of genes each time (though there are some weak points), so each cancer can potentially be different.

Right back at ya: why do too many of the former get stuck 'on' and too many of the latter get stuck 'off?' That is obviously a pathology, or we wouldn't survive into adulthood. What's going on? And how can certain environmental factors have a high correlation with cancer incidence and so many other cancers nobody knows the triggering mechanism? And how does metastasis happen?

And I bet, if we looked closely, we'd find there seem to be these 'safe harbors' in life span: people tend to get cancer when they're adolescents, and when they're 40 - 60. And I bet you'd find a prevalence of certain kinds of cancer in those age ranges as well. What's going on there?

I'm not a doctor or scientist, but the whole mess just reeks of unasked questoins from my vantage point. Maybe it's just sloppy health/science reporting.

Nanonymous said...

I'm not a doctor or scientist, but the whole mess just reeks of unasked questoins from my vantage point.

That's precisely because you are not a doctor or a scientist. In reality:

All of these questions (and more) have been (and are being) repeatedly and continuously asked. It's just the sad reality that the answers are very difficult to obtain. Life is complicated. Life is very, very complicated. When you are not a doctor or a scientist, it is probably hard to fully appreciate just how complicated it is.

That we don't understand details of most cancers is most certainly not for the lack of trying!

Andrew Ryan said...

This is a little off topic, but Silly Girl brings up a critical point in the healthcare debate that is largely ignored. When comparing countries we are comparing two variables--healthcare system and population. However, all of the differences are attributed to one variable--the healthcare system. I believe that if you swapped the American and Canadian/UK populations (by demographic proportions) and waited for 10 years everyone would be talking about how amazing the American healthcare system was and how much of a disaster Canada's or the UK's was. I believe the primary driver of healthcare costs is not the public/private breakdown of healthcare responsibility but rather the very high rate of gun violence, drug abuse, car accidents, obesity and teen motherhood (i.e. premature births) in the US compared to other countries.

I wonder what all of those behaviors have in common? I can't think of anything . . .

Any healthcare/education/crime/housing system that has to deal with a certain permanent minority underclass is doomed to "fail" in comparison to a system that doesn't have to deal with that underclass. But since we can't acknowledge the existence of this underclass we can't factor it into the comparisons, and blame the system instead.

For example, that's why other countries don't understand that we need to have a incarceration rate dramatically higher than theirs just to maintain a minimally functioning society--and large sections of most of our cities are still essentially no-go zones, more Mogadishu than Minneapolis. And also why the endless whining of Republicans about teacher's unions and the education system is a joke--the system does fine with middle-class kids, and there's no system that will work with underclass children, except maybe military-style discipline and trade-training.

Peter Frost said...

"Black skin is designed to block hot equator sunshine. Being in a northern climate a person with black skin will not be able to produce enough of the cancer preventing hormone vitamin D3 as white people, living in a northern climate."

Yaz,

It's true that vitamin D levels are lower in the bloodstream of African Americans than in that of Euro-Americans. But this is not because African Americans have been transplanted to temperate latitudes. We see the same low levels in populations that currently live in the tropics.

For a number of reasons, tropical humans naturally have low levels of vitamin D in their blood. They compensate for these low levels by converting this vitamin to its metabolically active form at a higher rate. The active form of vitamin D is thus kept at a constant level, regardless of skin color (Matsuoka et al., 1991, 1995).

The NIH has unfortunately embarked on a program to give African Americans mega-doses of vitamin D. This will do little good and will probably have tragic consequences. For more, see my blog post:
http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2009/07/african-americans-and-vitamin-d.html

References

Matsuoka, L.Y., Wortsman, J., Chen, T.C., & Holick, M.F. (1995). Compensation for the interracial variance in the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D, Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, 126, 452-457.

Matsuoka, L.Y., Wortsman, J., Haddad, J.G., Kolm, P., & Hollis, B.W. (1991). Racial pigmentation and the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D. Archives of Dermatology, 127, 536-538.

albertosaurus said...

I just finished Paul Ewald's book on infectious chronic diseases. Ewald is associated with Greg Cochran. Both think that chronic maladys are unlikely to be genetic if they have incidents much above the mutation rate.

He thinks that heart disease and schizophrenia are caused by germs. That's a little controverial as yet but the three diseases metioned here - breast, ovarian and prostate cancer - are very likely to be venereal dieases. In fact it is all but established that the human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer.

If blacks have these three diseases at higher rates the mechanism is likely to be through different sexual behavior.

Anonymous said...

And also why the endless whining of Republicans about teacher's unions and the education system is a joke--the system does fine with middle-class kids

And middle-IQ kids. Not so for low-IQ and high-IQ kids, who have qualitatively different needs.

and there's no system that will work with underclass children, except maybe military-style discipline and trade-training.

As another poster said, put them into overalls (and fatigues) rather than business suits. This works for blacks, latinos, and other ethnoids as well as for low-IQ whites.

Note that typically the white liberal poverty pimps are the ones to complain about "putting them in overalls", rather than rank-and-file ethnoids.

sabril said...

Andrew Ryan, I completely agree with you. I have been vocally pro-gun for many years and so many times I have had to deal with the "Japan Argument" from anti-gun types.

And by the way, I would support national socialized health care if the US were 99% white and asian. However, it seems pretty likely that NAMs would foul up national health care just like they foul up every other socialist service they take part in.

Truth said...

"If blacks have these three diseases at higher rates the mechanism is likely to be through different sexual behavior."

Breast cancer coming from "different sexual behavior"...Alrighty then.

The Last Man in Europe said...

You can smell the hypocrisy in his own comment. "Race only exists when it supports liberal causes, otherwise it's damaging."

The Last Man in Europe said...

When I read Saletan's articles again, I at least gather that he is not an IQ-difference denialist that is there to punish whites for their privilege and discrimination. In this way, he just takes a liberal reaction to the genetic inequality, that something should be done.

He basically says, "most HBDers take a smug attitude to the evidence because the vast majority of them are not NAMs." Now how would you as a black person react to the news of HBD? Would you really like to accept that "my extended family is through no fault of their own, less intelligent and thus as a group doomed relative to whites and Asians?"

Melykin said...

Andrew Ryan wrote:
"When comparing countries we are comparing two variables--healthcare system and population. However, all of the differences are attributed to one variable--the healthcare system. I believe that if you swapped the American and Canadian/UK populations (by demographic proportions) and waited for 10 years everyone would be talking about how amazing the American healthcare system was and how much of a disaster Canada's or the UK's was"
-----------------------------

Canada has a substantial portion of visible minorities too. For example:
5% Aboriginal or Metis
4% from south Asia (mostly India and Pakistan)
3.7% Chinese
2.5% Black
1.3% Filipino
1% Latin America
.9% Arab
and so on.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Canada#Ethnicity

The aboriginal population in particular is largley disfunctional because of drink. The black population, which I believe is mostly in Toronto and is made up of people from the Caribbean, also has a lot of problems.

The south Asians and even the Chinese have their own problems, but I don't know that these are any worse, per capita, than the problems white people have.

However, a lot of the gang activity around Vancouver seems to involve south Asians, and some Chinese too. There is a gang called the "International Gang" which seems to have people of many different ethnicities. Our court system here is really screwed up and seems to be incapable of prosecuting these people even after they are caught.

Really, often our best hope is that a ganster will cross the border--then the RCMP calls the American police and asks them to arrest the person. Once in the American prison system the gangster won't be seen again for year, which is wonderful. Up here, they could kill someone and they just get a slap on the wrist.

The system we have here might possible have been function in the past, but not since organized crime from other parts of the world found out about it and came too Vancouver to set up shop.

Anonymous said...

I thought that you would go here:
http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/race.htm

Anonymous said...

Truth said...
"If blacks have these three diseases at higher rates the mechanism is likely to be through different sexual behavior."

Breast cancer coming from "different sexual behavior"...Alrighty then.


Yeah, supposedly women who bear children at an earlier age have lower rates of breast cancer. So, teen mommas should be better off in that respect than those motherhood-delaying Swipple ladies.

Dr. Frankenstein said...

Remember, we're all Homo Sapiens tho' of differently hued epidermises. Therefore, a human being is a human being. Therefore, everyone is fungible. So there are no racial differences in medicine. Q.E.D.

Silver said...

He basically says, "most HBDers take a smug attitude to the evidence because the vast majority of them are not NAMs." Now how would you as a black person react to the news of HBD? Would you really like to accept that "my extended family is through no fault of their own, less intelligent and thus as a group doomed relative to whites and Asians?" -- Last Man in Europe

I'd say ah four-letter-word it and get on with life. In fact, that's exactly what I say. That's the implicit attitude of virtually everyone when it comes to individual differences and I don't see any inherent reason it must be different when it comes to race. So Portugal will never be a Japan -- do you really think anything more than 100 people in the former could ever be made to care? I doubt the average black gives a hoot about intelligence (of the high-powered g-loaded type -- "street smarts" he cares about plenty). My bet would be blacks universally see themselves as way cooler than Asians and this is the distinction they most highly prize.