March 9, 2012

The History of a Myth

Today's conventional wisdom that Science has proved that race does not exist (and all the more or less comic variants on that) seems to my recollection to have reached a crescendo in the single year, 2000, when there was a vast amount of hype over the Human Genome Project. For leaders of the vastly well-funded undertaking, as well as their political overseers such as Bill Clinton, it was seen as essential to put the right racial spin on DNA research.

For example, below are excerpts from a big New York Times article by Natalie Angier from 2000, "Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows."

That was hardly the worst Race Does Not Exist article from 2000, but, still, this is pretty embarrassing to read a dozen years later in an era when Henry Louis Gates is ready to roll with his 3rd reality series on PBS later this month, in which he has celebrities get their DNA tested and then springs on them the results of what their racial admixture is.

The irony, of course, is the that the rapid development of the gene sequencing technology celebrated in 2000's orgy of Race Does Not Exist pronouncements, immediately began undermining the dogma in its moment of greatest triumph.

Still, very few people notice the contradiction between this dogma about what Science Says that they absorbed in 2000 and have held ever since versus all the scientific discoveries of the last 12 year. For example, reporter Nicholas Wade of the New York Times published dozens of the articles over the next decade systematically dismantling Angier's article, but almost nobody noticed. A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on, especially when the lie ties into the status system. 
August 22, 2000 
Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows 
By NATALIE ANGIER 
Scientists say that while it may be easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Asian, African or Caucasian, the differences dissolve when one looks beyond surface features and scans the human genome for DNA hallmarks of "race." 
ADD YOUR THOUGHTS
The Science of Differences
If racial labels have "little or no biological meaning," what is the best way to address racial differences, politically or scientifically? 
In these glossy, lightweight days of an election year, it seems, they can't build metaphorical tents big or fast enough for every politician who wants to pitch one up and invite the multicultural folds to "Come on under!" The feel-good message that both parties seek to convey is: regardless of race or creed, we really ARE all kin beneath the skin. 
Yet whatever the calculated quality of this new politics of inclusion, its sentiment accords firmly with scientists' growing knowledge of the profound genetic fraternity that binds together human beings of the most seemingly disparate origins. 
Scientists have long suspected that the racial categories recognized by society are not reflected on the genetic level. 
But the more closely that researchers examine the human genome -- the complement of genetic material encased in the heart of almost every cell of the body -- the more most of them are convinced that the standard labels used to distinguish people by "race" have little or no biological meaning. 
They say that while it may seem easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Caucasian, African or Asian, the ease dissolves when one probes beneath surface characteristics and scans the genome for DNA hallmarks of "race." 
As it turns out, scientists say, the human species is so evolutionarily young, and its migratory patterns so wide, restless and rococo, that it has simply not had a chance to divide itself into separate biological groups or "races" in any but the most superficial ways. 
"Race is a social concept, not a scientific one," said Dr. J. Craig Venter, head of the Celera Genomics Corporation in Rockville, Md. "We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world." 
Dr. Venter and scientists at the National Institutes of Health recently announced that they had put together a draft of the entire sequence of the human genome, and the researchers had unanimously declared, there is only one race -- the human race. 
Dr. Venter and other researchers say that those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin and eye color, or the width of the nose, are traits controlled by a relatively few number of genes, and thus have been able to change rapidly in response to extreme environmental pressures during the short course of Homo sapiens history. 
And so equatorial populations evolved dark skin, presumably to protect against ultraviolet radiation, while people in northern latitudes evolved pale skin, the better to produce vitamin D from pale sunlight. 
"If you ask what percentage of your genes is reflected in your external appearance, the basis by which we talk about race, the answer seems to be in the range of .01 percent," said Dr.
Harold P. Freeman, the chief executive, president and director of surgery at North General Hospital in Manhattan, who has studied the issue of biology and race. "This is a very, very minimal reflection of your genetic makeup." ... 
By contrast with the tiny number of genes that make some people dark-skinned and doe-eyed, and others as pale as napkins, scientists say that traits like intelligence, artistic talent and social skills are likely to be shaped by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of the 80,000 or so genes in the human genome, all working in complex combinatorial fashion.
The possibility of such gene networks shifting their interrelationships wholesale in the course of humanity's brief foray across the globe, and being skewed in significant ways according to "race" is "a bogus idea," said Dr. Aravinda Chakravarti, a geneticist at Case Western University in Cleveland. 
... Dr. Eric S. Lander, a genome expert at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., admits that, because research on the human genome has just begun, he cannot deliver a definitive, knockout punch to those who would argue that significant racial differences must be reflected somewhere in human DNA and will be found once researchers get serious about looking for them. But as Dr. Lander sees it, the proponents of such racial divides are the ones with the tough case to defend. 
"There's no scientific evidence to support substantial differences between groups," he said, "and the tremendous burden of proof goes to anyone who wants to assert those differences."
Although research into the structure and sequence of the human genome is in its infancy, geneticists have pieced together a rough outline of human genomic history, variously called the "Out of Africa" or "Evolutionary Eve" hypothesis. 
By this theory, modern Homo sapiens originated in Africa 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, at which point a relatively small number of them, maybe 10,000 or so, began migrating into the Middle East, Europe, Asia and across the Bering land mass into the Americas. As they traveled, they seem to have completely or largely displaced archaic humans already living in the various continents, either through calculated acts of genocide, or simply outreproducing them into extinction. 
Since the African emigrations began, a mere 7,000 generations have passed.

A mere 7,000 generations?
And because the founding population of émigrés was small, it could only take so much genetic variation with it. 
As a result of that combination -- a limited founder population and a short time since dispersal -- humans are strikingly homogeneous, differing from one another only once in a thousand subunits of the genome. 
"We are a small population grown large in the blink of an eye," Dr. Lander said.

48 comments:

Geoff Matthews said...

I would have thought that a sub-population with a small gene pool would differentiate itself fairly quickly from the main population.
I'm sure that there are reasons why I'm wrong.

Meng Hu said...

"We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world."

Wrong.

"We will evolve in the next 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world."

Fixed !

Anonymous said...

If race doesn't exist, why are black countries so awful?

Anonymous said...

They say that while it may seem easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Caucasian, African or Asian, the ease dissolves when one probes beneath surface characteristics and scans the genome for DNA hallmarks of "race."



What a peculiar thing to say. In reality a fairly quick and easy test can tell whether a drop of blood came from a black, a white, or an Asian person, as well as a lot of even more fine-grained ethnic background.

Nanonymous said...

Of course, the "race is a social construct" thing was pushed for a long time before 2000. By mid 1990s, for example, it was a default idea of a great majority of American anthropologists. So if you single out 2000, a year of the increased propaganda activity, then a single man responsible for a great deal of it should also be mentioned. Craig Venter, with his (quoted endlessly) "race is a social concept, not a scientific one". One can only hope that Craig is feeling thoroughly embarrassed over it.

I like the quote from Lander though: "There's no scientific evidence to support substantial differences between groups". Lander being Jewish, could he perhaps consider himself part of the evidence? :-)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Venter and other researchers say that those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin and eye color, or the width of the nose, are traits controlled by a relatively few number of genes



Yeah? So what's the attempted argument here - that there can't be "races" if the differences are based on a small number of genes?

The genetic differences between humans and apes are also based on a small number of genes.

Steve Sailer said...

Yup, the businessman Venter as Myth-Pusher #1, then Francis Collins of the government side of the Human Genome Project.

Anonymous said...

Culture=Race

Anonymous said...

"We are a small population grown large in the blink of an eye,"

Truth is in the blink of an eye of the beholder.. or benighted.

Anonymous said...

I think they're (willfully)confusing race with species again.

Of course one can say of species that it's a human idea, not a natural one since only humans use science while animals don't care or know about such things.

Anonymous said...

When legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Anonymous said...

I love when i see "race is a social construct" articles in MSM, next to a 'christian taliban' article (eg someone wants intelligent design taught along with nihilistic, politicized darinian evolution).

Henry Canaday said...

Well, we all are rather alike in the sense that it has only been in the last 50 years that an advanced technical and meritocratic society has developed such that the tiny differences that apparently do exist in our brains, between individual people and, on average, between races, reliably produce differences in performance, such as average income.

So, there are tiny differences that take a particular and historically rare kind of society to reveal in an obvious way.

Anonymous said...

Long dead skeletons are easily identified according to negroid caucasoid mongoloid etc categories.

Race is much more than skin deep.

Kylie said...

"When legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Cute but irrelevant.

What we have here is the legend become farce, not fact.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Let me see if I've got this right:

1) Race is a social construct.
2) Sex (misnamed "gender") is a social construct.
3) Sexual orientation absolutely, positively, must be a biological fact.

By the way, does anyone ever ask these fools about why the best times in marathons and the 100m dash are distributed by race as they are? Are such results, which may be further confirmed by similar results at lower levels down to middle school, are attributable to such small variations? If so, then is it the case that it only takes a small genetic variation to produce very significant real-world differences?

ben tillman said...

"Race is a social concept, not a scientific one," said Dr. J. Craig Venter, head of the Celera Genomics Corporation in Rockville, Md. "We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world."

So this idiot is saying that Sub-Saharan Africans evolved from the tribes who left Africa. When are they supposed to have returned and replaced those whose ancestors stayed behind?

Louis Leaking said...

Of course, the "race is a social construct" thing was pushed for a long time before 2000. By mid 1990s, for example, it was a default idea of a great majority of American anthropologists.

Oh, it goes back a lot further than that. I took "bio anthro" as a distribution requirement at college in the early '80s, and I heard exactly the same shtick back then. I remember thinking at the time that that seemed pretty much self-evidently not true.

candid_observer said...

Gee, only 7,000 generations separating those in Africa from those outside? What could happen in a mere 7,000 generations?

From a James Crow paper:

"The most extensive selection experiment, at least the one that has continued for the longest time, is the selection for oil and protein content in maize (Dudley 2007). These experiments began near the end of the nineteenth century and still continue; there are now more than 100 generations of selection. Remarkably, selection for high oil content and similarly, but less strikingly, selection for high protein, continue to make progress. There seems to be no diminishing of selectable variance in the population. The effect of selection is enormous: the difference in oil content between the high and low selected strains is some 32 times the original standard deviation."

Now, granted that this was a deliberate, artificial selection process, as opposed to natural selection. But isn't it just within the realm of possibility that if 100 generations of artificial selection can engender a 32 SD spread, then 7,000 generations of natural selection might engender a spread of, say, 1 SD on a trait of interest?

Are these people casting doubts on such things really scientists? I mean, really?

jody said...

considering how important venter's work was, i'm still baffled by the "no nobel" treatment he's getting.

is it because it was TOO important? it elucidates information which a wide range of people don't want anybody to glean. perhaps it does not rate at the copernicus level of violating established orthodoxy, but many modern liberals certainly cannot like the implications and the potential heterodoxy of science proving that group differences are real.

the nobel process has sorta been compromised over the last 10 years i think. only slightly, but i notice the minor shift. the peace prize jury is being investigated for the obama award, and i'm scratching my head at a few of the science awards.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anthropology 101, Physical Anthropology, 1971. We were taught quite emphatically (it was on the final) "There are no races, only clines." Yet we were also taught that Caucasians were more like apes than black people (hairier, for example) - anything to undermine the supposed dangerous racism of college freshmen at a prestigious eastern college.

Anonymous said...

I've never actually met a person who believes that race is a social construct or that gender is one as well.

I've met one person who said she believes gender is a social construct and couldn't keep a straight face when she said it.

jody said...

yeah it's totally true the public statements by these couple guys, all brilliant in their field, are completey wrong, with respect to there being no real differences between groups. unless they are trying to make some basic statement in layman's terms, such as "Calm down, all humans are the same race," where race is a synonym for species, and the intent is to suggest, correctly, that all humans are the same species. people who look different are not a seperate species.

we know from evidence that homo sapiens can breed with other members of the homo genus, and these creatures were somewhat different than humans. and scientists accept that different members of the homo genus, had different bones, and hence different cranial capacities. and we now know, from our radiological diagnostic devices, that human bones, and cranial capacities, vary. and not just in skull volume, as now we've observed living brains in action - and they vary.

so they're gonna have to accept that even among one species, homo sapiens, bones, and hence, brains, can be different. even if they only accept it in private.

their argument against this, that there haven't been enough generations for mutation to have had any widespread effect, is defeated by the evidence. probably because differences in many human traits have less to do with gene mutation and more to do with gene selection. although mutation is a mechanism, and they correctly point out that it works slow, selection is the primary mechanism, and, speaking on geological time scales, it can work fast.

doctors also know, for instance, that in many organ and fluid tranplants and transfers, group identity is fundamental - you can only get certain tranplants from people with similar genetics. mixed race people can, in some instances, only receive transplants from people who are the exact same mix - neither parent can provide original biological material for their children.

jody said...

assistant village idiot, that sounds like franz boas doctrine. in a technical way i actually agree there is no such thing as race - the differences between human groups are due to either mutations which humans in a pre-transportation technology breeding group have all accumulated, or more often, due to selection on genes of the same pre-transportation technology breed group. but the differences are real. they aren't a social construct, nor are they always trivial.

anonymous, gender is a good counterpoint. it's so physical, real, and rigid. all humans start as females in the womb, and turn into males if you add testosterone. free testosterone in the bloodstream converts into dihydrotestosterone and attaches to androgen receptors.

ovaries turn into testicles. clitorises grow into penises. labia grow into scrotums. why do you think testicles have to descend? because gonads start inside your body because you're a woman. chemistry signals tell them, hey, now you're a man, push those organs out and down into this sack we've grown.

jody said...

if you want to have your mind blown about how much difference just a few genes can have, watch this:

http://video.pbs.org/video/1372073556/

all of this video is mind boggling, but especially start watching at 1:30, the segment on the brain. in particular, hans stedman and his work on muscles - after the human genome project was completed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MYH16_gene

Discard said...

How many generations did it take for lactose tolerance to evolve in cultures that keep cattle? These liars know perfectly well that 700 generations, let alone 7000, are enough to allow enormous differences to evolve.

Anonymous said...

Well it just shows that some people can argue all day that 'black is white' - literally.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, the word 'race' only means 'breed' or 'blood-line', in just the same way breeds of dog, cattle, pigeon, chicken or even dahlia etc are recognised.
No one ever claimed anything else, despite the intellectual gyrations and gymnastics of the professional deniers.

Laura said...

I think you aren't giving these scientists enough credit. They may be exaggerating a bit so as not to give quarter to politically incorrect thoughts, but there is in fact a huge distinction between the skin- deep race differences and the deeper-than-skin characteristics. While there may be differences between races in the distributions of various personality charisteristics, intelligence, etc, the ranges of these distributions overlap completely. It's nothing like skin color, where every single Swede is much, much paler than every single Nigerian.

theo the kraut said...

OT@Steve: NYT: india-eyes-affirmative-action-for-muslims

theo the kraut said...

OT@Steve: from the NYT:

He said Muslims were also to blame because for too long they did not push their children to stay in school. But that has changed, he said.

His own house was recently refurbished, with smooth concrete walls painted bright green, and is easily as nice as the homes on the alley owned by Dalit families. Asked about it, Mr. Mansuri explained that the house was an example of how his family had benefited from preferential treatment: An agent had contacted him saying that banks were seeking to loan money to Muslims after the 2006 Sachar Committee report detailed discrimination in banking.

Anonymous said...

On Tangent; I want to know from intelligent people reading this blog.

"What is the Future like after Cheap[OR Expensive] Oil ends?"

Jeff W said...

Early HBD:

From a hymn to the god Aten written by Pharaoh Akhenaten in about 1350 B.C.

Thou settest every man in his place,
Thou suppliest their necessities:
Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
Their tongues are separate in speech,
And their natures as well;
Their skins are distinguished...

Too bad Pharaoh Akhenaten never knew about the Human Genome Project.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hymn_to_the_Aten

Anonymous said...

there is in fact a huge distinction between the skin- deep race differences and the deeper-than-skin characteristics.


Skin-deep race differences (like, you know, skin color) are based on and inseparable from "deeper-then-skin characteristics" - that is, your genes.

The distinction between "skin deep" and "deeper than skin deep" is a meaningless one from a scientific standpoint. There is no "huge distinction". In fact there is no distinction at all.

Mr. Anon said...

What I have never understood is this: if race is nothing but a social construct, then how do racists - a group that people who believe in the race-as-a-social-construct theory most fervently assure us do exist - how do these racists know whom to be racist towards? How can they tell?

Imagine my confusion. Here I am - an evil, inveterate racist - and I go wandering around, asking people at random: "Excuse me, sir, are you a Negro? Because if you are, then I would be much obliged if I could oppress you for a while. No? Okay then. Thanks for your time. Oh, hey, excuse me, miss, are you a chicano? May I disrespect you, and privlege my own culture over yours for a few minutes? You're not? No problem - have a nice day. Say, could you direct me to some minorities whom I could disenfranchise and exploit? I'd be willing to pay a finders fee.

NOTA said...

A pretty obvious guess here is that very smart guys like Ventner realized that a lot of the developments in biology were potentially creepy and scary, and so went to some lengths to make comforting statements that would keep people from being too upset or freaked out. Reassuring people that the newest discoveries in science reenforce their existing moral and religious and social beliefs is a good way to avoid being burned at the stake, or the modern equivalent.

Mr. Anon said...

My understanding was that Craig Ventner did not sequence "The Human Genome" - he sequenced Craig Ventner's genome. Not the same thing. In fact, to claim such a thing is analagous to saying that, because you made a detailed architectural plan of your own house, that you now know that of every other house. Not true. The information is still valuable, but not as comprehensive as it is made out to be.

Bébert said...

You gotta love the doublethink: "Race doesn't exist, but all those evidently inferior races (if their typical behavior regardless of where they live, how much money they have, etc. is any indication) are all just as good as whites are. But this is not to say that whites represent the standard of achievement culturally, nor does it mean that whites even exist as a race. They simultaneously exist and don't exist, like Schrodinger's cat. This is all perfectly rational and enlightened, unlike the beliefs of those crazy, irrational Christians, no?"

Marlowe said...

The article gets Ernst Mayr & Sewall Wright's Founder Effect totally backward. It almost seems like a tell on the part of the journalist.

Gene said...

I recently saw a documentary on the domestication of dogs which pointed out how astoundingly quickly one could isolate a desirable trait (such as liking human contact).

The documentary showed a long-time on-going experiment in Russia in which they took wild foxes (generally pretty fierce) and made their descendants them warm and cuddly in a mere three generations (by breeding only the ones that best tolerated human handling).

As a control group, they took the wildest foxes and selectively bred them as well. In three generations they ended up with a bunch of clearly psychotic foxes.

Given the speed with which genetic changes begin to manifest themselves, it seems to me you could do a lot with 7,000 generations.

Svigor said...

What I have never understood is this: if race is nothing but a social construct, then how do racists - a group that people who believe in the race-as-a-social-construct theory most fervently assure us do exist - how do these racists know whom to be racist towards? How can they tell?

Imagine my confusion. Here I am - an evil, inveterate racist - and I go wandering around, asking people at random: "Excuse me, sir, are you a Negro? Because if you are, then I would be much obliged if I could oppress you for a while. No? Okay then. Thanks for your time. Oh, hey, excuse me, miss, are you a chicano? May I disrespect you, and privlege my own culture over yours for a few minutes? You're not? No problem - have a nice day. Say, could you direct me to some minorities whom I could disenfranchise and exploit? I'd be willing to pay a finders fee.


LOL & indeed.

As a control group, they took the wildest foxes and selectively bred them as well. In three generations they ended up with a bunch of clearly psychotic foxes.

Sounds like we've got a summer blockbuster on our hands. The foxes will be blond, and they'll escape...

California kid said...

Whenever someone says Race doesn't exist, I think really ? Just compare little Taiwan with 22 million Chinese to the whole of Black Africa.
That little island makes tons of computer parts, designs motherboards and chipsets and the like. What do Blacks do ? Nothing. Race exists and it's the most important thing on the planet.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the sticking point is the word "race". If that's all that bothers people, we can just use "breed" instead.

A breed is a group of animals or plants with a homogeneous appearance, behavior, and other characteristics that distinguish it from other animals or plants of the same species.

I'm not a "racist", I'm a "breedist".

Anonymous said...

The documentary showed a long-time on-going experiment in Russia in which they took wild foxes (generally pretty fierce) and made their descendants them warm and cuddly in a mere three generations (by breeding only the ones that best tolerated human handling).

Isnt this one of the weapons used to attack Jared Diamond's 'whites just got lucky' - with dogs, horses etc?

Selective breeding of foxes yields a dog-like animal. Just as its been shown zebra can be domesticated/selectively bred, thus undermining Diamond's idea that whites were advantaged with horses while Africans were not.

David said...

Henry Canaday said

>it has only been in the last 50 years that an advanced technical and meritocratic society has developed such that the tiny differences that apparently do exist in our brains, between individual people and, on average, between races, reliably produce differences in performance<

Good lord.

Anonymous said...

So if "race" exists, what is the exact definition of "race"?

What are the exact characteristics of an individual "race", on a genetic level? What specific genetic characteristics differentiate one "race" from another?

David said...

>So if "race" exists, what is the exact definition of "race"?<

Do your homework. It's on this site.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

So if "race" exists, what is the exact definition of "race"?"

There is no exact definition of the phrase "around lunchtime". Never-the-less, the concept "around lunchtime" still has meaning.

"What are the exact characteristics of an individual "race", on a genetic level? What specific genetic characteristics differentiate one "race" from another?"

There is no one specific genetic characteristic or even a few specific ones which distinguish one race from another, but rather a whole constellation of genetic differences which are distributed differently among different races. Just as there is no one feature that distinguishes a Lexus sedan from a Chrysler minivan.