August 20, 2004
Race Doesn't Exist, again, (sigh)
In my webtravels I've come across another instance of someone proclaiming that "Race Doesn't Exist" and he directed me to his manifesto:
Essentially, poking around the literature has convinced me that people at higher levels of education -- be they Republican or Democrat -- are essentially nonracist; that once one has any post-Bachelor's education, one is extremely unlikely to believe that races exist as anything other than social constructs and have any genetic basis in reality. Bob Jones university is interesting because it is spectacularly unusual. Okay.
However, people at lower levels of education are much more likely to hold racist attitudes. These people trend Conservative, and since the Parties are pretty well-defined at this point (with some overlap), uneducated people (again, talking only about whites) trend Republican.
Further, racist attitudes are to some degree counteracted by liberalism. While uneducated liberals may feel racism toward African-Americans, the overall liberal ideology of government assistance for all and equal opportunity acts as a countervailing force, so relatively few racist acts are advocated or taken. By contrast, the conservative philosophy of individual responsibility and private action acts as a lens through which racist attitudes can be transmitted through the world.
This graduate student in economics also bought into the Gore Voters = High IQ / Bush Voters = Low IQ hoax from a few months ago but at least we know that he's not compounding his error by dismissing the validity of IQ testing.
If race doesn't exist someone should get on the horn pronto, and tell, for instance, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is in the midst of a campaign that specifically targets different population groups with their own unique treatment and prevention regimes:
The campaign focuses on empowering people at high risk to make modest lifestyle changes that can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Campaign materials include motivational tip sheets for consumers as well as print and radio public service ads. Each set of materials is specifically tailored for one of the high risk groups:
Hispanic and Latino Americans;
American Indians and Alaska Natives;
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and,
Adults aged 60 and older.
Someone should really tell the Pima Indians of Arizona that there is no genetic basis for race and that their high incidence of diabetes is just a statistical fluke as is their average male life expectancy of 57:
“Over the age of 35, it’s now more common to have diabetes than not to have diabetes. Probably more like 70 [percent],” says Bogardus, adding that in the general population, it’s much lower – approximately 6-8 percent.
And it’s rising. What scientists are learning from studying the Pimas’ diet, metabolism and genes, is that a genetic mutation first makes them overeat and become obese. Then, they think another mutant gene kicks in, triggering the diabetes.
In the Phoenix NIH lab, they’re searching through billions of genes, and they’re closing in on two culprits: chromosomes 1 and 11.
“On chromosome 1, we’ve identified a region that contains a diabetes susceptibility gene in the Pimas and this has been confirmed in many other populations around the world,” says Bogardus. “And on chromosome 11, we have a region that harbors an obesity susceptibility gene.”
The people who are claiming that race is solely a social construct should get into contact with the genetic research community for there happen to be 491 papers cited in a PubMed search on Pima and Diabetes, the group operating the Pima Indians Diabetes Database and the aforementioned NIDDKD which has published this news brief for Native Indians, and this news brief for African Americans. Furthermore, there are physicians who take race into account as well as pharmocological researchers:
Recognizing that our one-size-fits-all approach to medicine has serious flaws, some doctors are urging research into the development of racially targeted drugs. In March 2001, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the testing of a drug called BiDil in about 600 black subjects who will participate in the African-American Heart Failure Trial, the largest clinical trial ever to focus exclusively on African-Americans.
In previous studies including both white and black patients, BiDil provided a selective benefit for the black subjects. White subjects did no better on average than those given a placebo. The leading explanation for this disparity revolves around the molecule nitric oxide, a chemical messenger that helps regulate the constriction of blood vessels, an important mechanical dynamic in the control of blood pressure. High blood pressure contributes to and worsens heart failure because it makes the heart pump harder to overcome peripheral resistance in the arteries. BiDil acts by dilating blood vessels and replenishing local stores of nitric oxide. For unexplained reasons, blacks are more likely than whites to have nitric oxide insufficiency.
Lastly, someone should tell the editors of journals like Scientific American and save them the trouble and expense of printing multipage articles on the question of "Does Race Exist?"
Here are half a dozen more references on the topic:
- MIT technology review article on the The Haplotype Map (mirrored on our site)
formed a $100 million, three-year plan to chart just such a map. It’s called the International HapMap Project, and beginning with several hundred blood samples collected from Nigeria, Japan, China, and the United States, it will use highly automated genomics tools to parse out the common haplotype patterns among a number of the world’s population groups
the HapMap, together with a series of powerful genomic tools developed over the last several years, will make it possible to spell out in great detail the genetic differences between peoples from different parts of the world.
Ultimately, all of genetics boils down to measuring the genetic variation in some population of people and comparing it to their characteristics and looking for correlations. That’s all genetics ever is.” And, adds Altshuler, the HapMap “is simply a tool to study genetic variation at unprecedented levels of accuracy and detail.”
They also found that how people categorized themselves—whether they called themselves black or white or Asian—correlated closely with the genetic categories.
Race, of course, already plays a huge role in how doctors diagnose and treat patients. Physicians are well acquainted with the idea that Caucasians with northern-European ancestry have higher rates of cystic fibrosis than Asians and blacks, while African Americans suffer from higher rates of hypertension and diabetes.
Here is the official site.
- Yale's ALFRED
ALFRED contains allele frequency data on polymorphic loci for different human populations. As genetic polymorphisms, the common alleles at these loci must be considered normal variations. While it is a demonstrable fact that different populations have different frequencies of these alleles, most of the common alleles are present in most human populations. Many studies have shown that for any one genetic polymorphism most of the variations will occur among the individuals within each population because of the different genotypes. Only a small additional proportion of the global variation occurs as gene frequency differences among populations. Those differences, however, can illuminate evolutionary histories of human populations and may be especially relevant to design and conduct of biomedical research.
- The cover of scientific American (mirrored on our site)
Does Race Exist? If races are defined as genetically discrete groups, no. But researchers can use some genetic information to group individuals into clusters with medical relevance
scientists have collected data about the genetic constitution of populations around the world in an effort to probe the link between ancestry and patterns of disease
about 10 percent of the variation distinguishes continental populations
Some polymorphisms do occur in genes, however; these can contribute to individual variation in traits and to genetic diseases. As scientists have sequenced the human genome (the full set of nuclear DNA), they have also identified millions of polymorphisms. The distribution of these polymorphisms across populations reflects the history of those populations and the effects of natural selection.
The frequency of the FY*O allele, which corresponds to the absence of Fy antigen on red blood cells, is at or near fixation in most sub-Saharan African populations but is very rare outside Africa
By looking at the varying frequencies of these polymorphisms, they were able to distinguish five different groups of people whose ancestors were typically isolated by oceans, deserts or mountains: sub-Saharan Africans; Europeans and Asians west of the Himalayas; East Asians; inhabitants of New Guinea and Melanesia; and Native Americans. They were also able to identify subgroups within each region that usually corresponded with each member's self-reported ethnicity.
West Africans generally have polymorphism frequencies that can be distinguished from those of Europeans, Asians and Native Americans
Several of the polymorphisms that differ in frequency from group to group have specific effects on health
In these examples--and others like them--a polymorphism has a relatively large effect in a given disease
- Neil Risch's Genome Biology article
Neil Risch of Stanford University, a leader in the field of genetics, contends that race is helpful for understanding ethnic differences in disease and responses to disease.
His position was prompted by an editorial last year in the New England Journal of Medicine asserting that "'race' is biologically meaningless," and one in Nature Genetics warning of the "confusion and potential harmful effects of using 'race' as a variable in medical research."
Risch points out that many studies have shown that these differences cluster into five major groups, which are simply the world's major continental areas and the people who once bred in them in isolation -- sub-Saharan Africans; Caucasians, including people from Europe, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East; Asians; Pacific Islanders and native Americans
- In large part, the controversy stems from advances in DNA research streaming from the Human Genome Project -- and trying to reconcile the fact that the pattern of DNA data differs among ethnic groups.
- All humans have the bulk of their genetic heritage in common and possess the same set of genes.
- But because of mutations -- or changes in DNA -- each gene comes in slightly different versions, and some of them are more common in one ethnic group than another.
- These genetic differences often have medical significance -- since some occur among genes that affect susceptibility to disease and the response to drugs.
- For example, a mutation that causes hemochromatosis, a disorder of iron metabolism, is rare or absent among Indians and Chinese, but occurs in 7.5 percent of Swedes. Differences involving susceptibility to sickle cell anemia and lactose intolerance have been noted among ethnic groups and races.
- Cavalli Sforza's Geography of Human Genes
These studies were soon extended to other blood-group systems, and a body of data began to accumulate showing that different human populations have different proportions of blood groups. However, the first glimpse of the staggering magnitude of genetic variation came later--beginning in the 1950s and coming to full development in the 1960s--when individual differences for proteins could be systematically studied. A protein is a large molecule made of a linear sequence of components called amino acids; different proteins vary considerably in their amino-acid composition and serve very different functions
- Sally Satel's NY Times op ed on the utility of race in medicine:
Not surprisingly, many human genetic variations tend to cluster by racial groups -- that is, by people whose ancestors came from a particular geographic region. Skin color itself is not what is at issue -- it's the evolutionary history indicated by skin color. In Africa, for example, the genetic variant for sickle cell anemia cropped up at some point in the gene pool and was passed on to descendants; as a result, the disease is more common among blacks than whites. Similarly, Caucasians are far more likely to carry the gene mutations that cause multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.
Admittedly, race is a rough marker. A black American may have dark skin -- but her genes may well be a complex mix of ancestors from West Africa, Europe and Asia. No serious scientist, in fact, believes that genetically pure populations exist. Yet an imprecise clue is better than no clue at all.
See also this post with a review of Bamshad's latest paper from Nature Genetics.