Kenan Malik and Kerry Howely on race

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I really don’t have much to add that’s original, I’ve long tired of the “definition wars.” Early this year Steve wrote a column rebutting some criticisms that Malik makes of his definition of race in Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate. The book is out in the United States now…I’m halfway through it, and there’s nothing new to anyone who reads this weblog. The fundamental problem is that it is too easy to use the statistical inferences which are generated by human population genetics as a launching point for a thousand verbal shell games. Like the species concept debate I think pragmatists are well advised to be instrumentalists.

Here is what L. L. Cavalli-Sforza said 2 years ago after I asked him about Lewontin’s Fallacy:

Edwards and Lewontin are both right. Lewontin said that the between populations fraction of variance is very small in humans, and this is true, as it should be on the basis of present knowledge from archeology and genetics alike, that the human species is very young. It has in fact been shown later that it is one of the smallest among mammals. Lewontin probably hoped, for political reasons, that it is TRIVIALLY small, and he has never shown to my knowledge any interest for evolutionary trees, at least of humans, so he did not care about their reconstruction. In essence, Edwards has objected that it is NOT trivially small, because it is enough for reconstructing the tree of human evolution, as we did, and he is obviously right.

In other words, between group differences may be both small and important. Whether this is so is an empirical matter.

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73 Comments

  1. I used to be against the use of the word “race” in a scientific context, but as I’ve learned more about pop gen I’ve actually come to use it myself– typically in an instrumental sense as Razib suggests. 
     
    My main disagreement with Steve here is his insistence that “population genetics” is a politically correct euphemism for race. The fact is that the term “population genetics” dates back to the non-politically-correct year of 1908. 
     
    Hardy, G. H. (1908). “Mendelian proportions in a mixed population”. 
    Science 28: 49 – 50. 
    http://www.esp.org/foundations/genetics/classical/hardy.pdf

  2. A more precise version of Steve’s claim is that “population” has become a politically correct proxy for race in the field of “population genetics”.  
     
    And that is something that few can deny.

  3. Here is what Steve wrote
     
    Various euphemisms have been tried without much success. For example, the geneticists, such as the distinguished Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford, who study what the normal person would call “race,” don’t call themselves “racial geneticists.” Instead, they blandly label themselves “population geneticists.” 
     
    That allows them at least sometimes to sneak their research projects by under the radar of the politically correct.
     
     
    So your rewording of his claim is incorrect. 
     
    Regardless of that, “population” is not a politically correct term within the field of population genetics. It was used in the founding article of population genetics linked above. Was Hardy being PC?

  4. I don’t think it’s quite logical to argue that if a term was once a politically-neutral label for a phenomenon, it cannot possibly now be a politically-correct label. If beliefs, knowledge and understanding have changed in the meantime, a neutral word could become “correct”. Mind you, as an empirical matter you may be right, ben g; I’m too ignorant to know.

  5. An occupation can call itself whatever it wants — sanitation engineers, or whatever. I merely object to the claim by population geneticists that, “Oh, no, we don’t study ‘racial groups,’ we study ‘populations,’ which are totally different.” 
     
    In reality, what they study is much closer to what, say, the U.S. Census refers to as “race” rather than what the U.S. Census refers to as “population.” 
     
    The Hap-Map, for example, explicitly did not try to get a representative sample of the “population” of America. Instead, it enrolled “Euro-Americans” and did it in Utah specifically so that they would be mostly northwestern European in descent. The Hap-Map went to racially homogeneous locations (Utah, Nigeria, Tokyo, and Beijing) and excluded people of racially anomalous backgrounds.

  6. “In reality, what they study is much closer to what, say, the U.S. Census refers to as “race” rather than what the U.S. Census refers to as “population.” 
     
    The Hap-Map, for example, explicitly did not try to get a representative sample of the “population” of America. Instead, it enrolled “Euro-Americans” and did it in Utah specifically so that they would be mostly northwestern European in descent”
     
     
    These are great points, Steve. 
     
    And if population geneticists like LLCS hadn’t deliberately muddied the waters it wouldn’t be necessary to care. Hardy isn’t the problem. Theodosius Dobzhansky was totally straight with the public that population = race. The concept is what’s important. 
     
    Instead of trying to communicate with the public, a plurality of public geneticists deliberately try to mislead and confuse them (i.e. a ‘race’ is an impossible category because it could have intelligence differences, a ‘population’ is a real category because it couldn’t have intelligence differences) There is a special place in hell for scientists who do this.

  7. Would the man on the street say a Japanese person and a Chinese person were of different races? I think part of the reason people worry about saying population = race is because people have crude definitions and understandings of race. This, of course, is just an argument for more education on the subject. I don’t care whether that education occurs using the term “population” or “race” so long as the public comes to understand population genetics better. 
     
    One of the pivotal questions here seems to be: What does the man on the street think “race” is?

  8. I think part of the reason people worry about saying population = race is because people have crude definitions and understandings of race.  
     
    No, people have a correct understanding of race, and that’s always been the problem. Go back and trace the resistance starting with Boas to Montagu to Lewontin. The issue isn’t about taxonomy but about racial differences. Specifically about the black-white intelligence gap. Every effort to drop the term ‘race’ has attempted to instill the belief that old, incorrect ideas made such differences possible, while new, correct ideas do not make such differences possible. And that false belief won among educated people. 
     
    Feel free to experiment with others. The first objection you meet to the argument that B-W intelligence differences are probably genetic is that “race doesn’t exist”. It doesn’t matter if you actually use the term ‘race’ or not. James Watson didn’t use the word ‘race’. He compared SS Africans with Europeans, and was criticized for comparing races. In other words removing the concept of race necessarily removed the concept of population, because the concepts are equivalent. 
     
    Scientists did this. This is active disinformation that was deliberately disseminated by geneticists and anthropologists during the 20th century. 
     
    Would the man on the street say a Japanese person and a Chinese person were of different races? 
     
    Of course. People think of nations as genetically divergent families: the Italians, the Norwegians, etc. For an example of this see the “How to Spot a Jap” propaganda from WWII, where they appeal to two street-level understandings: Chinese people are closely related to Japanese people compared with white people, but still share genetic distance that is associated with physical and mental differences.

  9. No, people have a correct understanding of race 
     
    The link you provide is to Derbyshire’s review of Stereotype Accuracy. The definition/understanding people have of race is not a stereotype. One can have accurate stereotypes while at the same time possessing a piss-poor understanding of population genetics. For example, many (West)-African-Americans falsely claim that they’re descended from the ancient Egyptians. This does not prevent those African-Americans from accurately stereotyping themselves and others. 
     

     
    I agree with you that a lot of the resistance to the concept of “race” comes from PC quarters trying to prevent the realization that there is enough genetic difference between populations for significant phenotypic differences to emerge. 
     
    I don’t see why we can’t acknowledge that and at the same time say that the “man on the street” view of race doesn’t correspond to the concept of populations or Steve’s definition of race (which is pretty much identical so far as i know). 
     
    Of course. 
     
    Really? I don’t think most people have it clearly thought out. I just talked with a friend who knows nothing about genetics and I asked him: 
     
    Q: would you say that japanese and chinese are the same or different races? 
     
    A: hmm.. id say same race 
     
    Q: what makes someone in a given race and not another. what is a race? 
     
    A: i’d say it’s in the face structure..skin color too 
     
    now this is of course anecdotal, but i bet a lot of people would give similar answers. you seem overly confident that people think in “extended family” terms.

  10. I don’t see why we can’t acknowledge that and at the same time say that the “man on the street” view of race doesn’t correspond to the concept of populations or Steve’s definition of race (which is pretty much identical so far as i know). 
     
    Steve already gave a good argument why it does. To the ordinary person, the word ‘populationÂ’ has an even more tenuous connection to the concept of the Mendelian gene pool than the word ‘raceÂ’. ‘RaceÂ’ means ‘lineage groupingÂ’ to both the geneticist and the average person. But ‘populationÂ’ means ‘lineage groupingÂ’ to the geneticist and ‘any random grouping of people in some areaÂ’ to the average person. What many geneticists have attempted to do is abolish the word ‘raceÂ’, so that there is no more organic communicative bridge between them and the public. First they feed the public lies (e.g. science shows there are no races, and therefore group differences in measured traits cannot be due to genetics), then they cut off the common language. Then there can be one truth for the public, and one truth for scientists. They want to be able to talk about “quantitative genetic trait differences between populations” without the public being able to understand they are talking about “race differences in intelligence”. The lie is to pretend like they are talking about something else, something more arcane and complicated, when they arenÂ’t. When geneticists eventually do find those politically inconvenient findings, they want those findings to remain in the abstract, coded realm of science journals, and far, far from the public policy debates. “Race differences? Oh, heavens, no! ThereÂ’s no such thing as “races”. What we found were population differences. You right-wingers are distorting our findings!” 
     
    Really? I don’t think most people have it clearly thought out. I just talked with a friend who knows nothing about genetics and I asked him: 
     
    Everything your friend just said is true. People have a better intuitive grasp of race than most scientific concepts. Partially grasping something and wildly misunderstanding something are two different things. Japanese and Chinese people are the same race. But they are also different races depending on the level of analysis. Your friend intuitively understands this, even if you think he doesn’t because of confusion over terms. He knows that Asians and white people look different, but he also knows that Greeks and Germans look different, and for reasons that are not qualitatively different. 
     
    The link you provide is to Derbyshire’s review of Stereotype Accuracy. The definition/understanding people have of race is not a stereotype 
     
    This wasnÂ’t what I was trying to suggest. The important thing here is that ordinary people know that races arenÂ’t homogeneous categories as so many scientists have asserted a belief in race requires. Who actually believes this? So what are the actively false beliefs the public have about race, besides the ones actively cultivated for political reasons by the scientific community? 
     
    Can you please list them. Do they really believe racial groups are different species? They canÂ’t interbreed? What?

  11. Scientists use the word “population” instead of “race” in order to keep the waters from being muddied by the long and destructive history of scientific racism and folk racism. Many or most people who call the use of this term “political correctness” have some kind of nostalgia for folk racism.  
     
    To my knowledge biologists studying non-human populations do not use the term “race”. There’s no good reason why biologists studying human populations should, either.  
     
    No favors are done to human biological science by those who militate for the use of the term “race” to designate human breeding populations.

  12. To my knowledge biologists studying non-human populations do not use the term “race”.  
     
    John, well your knowledge here is obviously poor, so you should probably just remain silent.

  13. Give examples.

  14. Races of dogs? Races of snails? Races of grass species?  
     
    If I’m wrong. I’m wrong. I read about subspecies a lot, but they’re not called races. 
     
    Even species, families, classes, etc. are pretty nominalistic. How much value would a further “race” distinction have?

  15. Right, you’re wrong. You don’t know biology very well. 
     
    Even species, families, classes, etc. are pretty nominalistic. How much value would a further “race” distinction have? 
     
    Obviously a lot. That’s why population genetics exists. Variation below the species level is important and is referred to in a diverse number of ways, with various different subtle connotations. (e.g. ‘breeds’, ‘demes’,'sub-species’, ‘varieties’) 
     
    Scientists use the word “population” instead of “race” 
     
    By the way, this isn’t true. Virtually all biologists use both terms. And some 70% still use the term ‘race’ in the context of humans. More in countries without political correctness (e.g. China, Poland) The work that uses the term ‘race’ is not conceptually differentiated from the work that uses ‘population’. 
     
    Scientists use the word “population” instead of “race” in order to keep the waters from being muddied by the long and destructive history of scientific racism and folk racism.  
     
    You are correct the reason for dropping the term ‘race’ is politically, not scientifically motivated. But you are wrong it is intended to clarify scientific concepts to the public. The rationale has continually been paired with the false suggestion that genes can’t account for socially valued traits. In other words the exact point is to mislead the public. 
     
    Many or most people who call the use of this term “political correctness” have some kind of nostalgia for folk racism 
     
    ‘Population’ is a fine term, but the idea it has some fundamental conceptual distinction to race is not true. The difference is it is a less obscure term, and lets the public “in on” some inconvenient scientific ideas, and some scientists don’t like that.

  16. Point taken. I have never claimed to know biology very well. 
     
    Do you claim that the substitution of the word “population” for the word “race”, in order to avoid the contamination of science by the long and nasty history of folk racism and quasi-scientific racism, is a mistake?

  17. Is China better off without political correctness? Taiwan, Chinese had hateful attitudes toward Japanese and, to a lesser degree, Koreans. At the pop level they think of some sort of hereditary taint. Is this a good thing? Is it only bad because Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are the same race?

  18. here’s *molecular ecology* and race 
    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/search/allsearch?mode=quicksearch&products=journal&WISsearch2=1365-294X&WISindexid2=issn&contentTitle=Molecular+Ecology&contextLink=blah&contentOID=117989598&WISsearch1=race&WISindexid1=WIStitle&articleGo.x=0&articleGo.y=0 
     
    race isn’t as commonly used as populations, but outside of humans it is used relatively frequently in fields like phylogeography from what i can recall….

  19. I am granting the terminological point WRT biology.

  20. Look, would anything be scientifically lost if all biologists, including human biologists, were to substitute the word “population” for the word “race”? Because something would definitely would be gained — the separation of science from folk wisdom. And this kind of terminological separation is often necessary in science.

  21. Is China better off without political correctness?  
     
    The point was more this: there is a common assertion that race exists in biology due to politics, and the campaign to remove it is scientific. But the default in countries without the same political issues is that race is a basic concept in biology. 
     
    Similarly, are those papers about races of beans and butterflies rooted in slavery and colonialism, or is race simply a basic concept in biology that is being inappropriately tampered with because of American political battles. There are races of humans for the same reason there are races of every other animal. 
     
    Do you claim that the substitution of the word “population” for the word “race”, in order to avoid the contamination of science by the long and nasty history of folk racism and quasi-scientific racism, is a mistake? 
     
    See above. The point isn’t merely to substitute a word (and I don’t see how word substitution could logically reduce racism), but to lie to the public about genetics, while cutting-off common language in this area between scientists and the public, to keep the public more in the dark. I explained here why such tactics are disgraceful and will backfire.

  22. Malloy, you’re actually convincing me here. No sarcasm. I’m one of the rare people who changes his mind based on internet arguments. 
     
    I’m just gonna address one of your points where I think you need to backpedal just a bit, and acknowledge the biases the public has regarding “race”: 
     
    So what are the actively false beliefs the public have about race, besides the ones actively cultivated for political reasons by the scientific community? Can you please list them. 
     
    The main biases I think many people have with “race” are: 
    1. Defining race by the combined phenotypes that represent it, as opposed to its phylogeny. 
    2. Defining race only at a certain level of analysis. That is, they’ll only slice the pie of human genetic variation into 3 to 7 slices. Sure, you’re right that they intuitively grasp group lineage differences at more specific levels (e.g Greek vs. German), but the fact remains that when they hear “race” they think of the big slices, not the little ones. The reasons for this are, I think, two-fold: history and appearance.

  23. Because something would definitely would be gained — the separation of science from folk wisdom. 
     
    Could you be more specific about the false ideas average people have about race. 
     
    Because all the false ideas I commonly encounter about race were actively cultivated by politically motivated scientists. (one of them above is the idea that race is a concept originally and exclusively used for humans) 
     
    Moreover why does word reform logically trump concept reform in your mind? Is that how you think human psychology works. 
     
    The public misunderstands evolution too. They believe it implies atheism. That it means monkeys turned into humans. 
     
    Can we fix these folk beliefs by calling it ‘Bleefgurf’ instead of evolution? Perhaps Bleefgurf will be free from the baggage of the identical concept it is replacing. 
     
    Steven Pinker has written about this fallacy.

  24. Do you think that it is a bad thing for biologists to try to separate their discussions of human biology from folk concepts of race? 
     
    I see no particular problem with talking about races of fungi or races of tomatoes. For historical and political reasons, there are problems with talking about human races. Do you disagree? (We’re talking about a terminological switch, not a conceptual change. The concept will change as the science develops, but the terminological switch doesn’t change the concept. It just disengages it from historical scientific and folk racism.)

  25. Some people used to believe that there was a Polish race. Do you believe that. 
     
    It was long thought that the Irish, the Italians, etc., were racially inferior. But they weren’t.  
     
    These are beliefs from the not very distant past.

  26. Because all the false ideas I commonly encounter about race were actively cultivated by politically motivated scientists.  
     
    Either you’re lying or you have a very limited experience.

  27. Yes, the Polish are a race. They are a population group.  
     
    The mental and moral traits of Irish and Italian people are not taxonomic questions, they are sociological or behavior genetic questions. The Irish population can be just as inferior as the Irish race, breed, or variety. 
     
    Either you’re lying or you have a very limited experience. 
     
    Please answer the question.

  28. There are reasons why we don’t use the words n*gger or k*ke any more. It’s not because they don’t refer to an objectively definable group. They are definitely political reasons, but good ones.  
     
    There has been an enormous quantity of erroneous and harmful stuff pumped out in the name of “race” — in science, in folk wisdom, and at the intersection of the two. So a lot of human biologists avoid the term.

  29. I don’t think that it’s scientifically valuable to call the Poles a race. They’re a linguistic / cultural group with a certain territorial and political definition. They may or may not be genetically definable. Their separation various neighboring peoples is a political and military historical fact. 
     
    In my everyday experience I encounter lots of false ideas about race. For example, the belief of a Japanese American women that Chinese and Koreans are a.) racially different than the Japanese and b.)inferior to the Japanese.

  30. Really, do you believe that there are few erroneous ideas about race in America and the world except among PC scientists? Do you believe that every racial prejudice than anyone feels anywhere is correct? Do you believe that it’s not possible for me to come up with a single example?

  31. Emerson, 
     
    I think Malloy is referring to ideas about what race *is*, not ideas *about* those races.

  32. There has been an enormous quantity of erroneous and harmful stuff pumped out in the name of “race” 
     
    There has been an enormous quantity of erroneous and harmful stuff pumped out in the name of evolution. Mostly simultaneously. Should we also call it something different? Will that “fix” something? How? 
     
    You aren’t approaching this topic rationally. You haven’t addressed my questions.

  33. What ben said.

  34. We have not seen millions of people murdered in the name of evolution, even though Pat Robertson and Jonah Goldberg think so. We did not have several centuries of slavery, second-class citizenship, and murder in the name of evolution. 
     
    Does that answer your question? 
     
    It’s not as if this is a new idea of mine. A lot of scientists think the same way.

  35. Look at the Irish. People looked at them, their behavior, and their traits, applied a simple racial interpretation, and concluded that they were genetically inferior. But they were wrong.  
     
    That was a misuse of racial thinking, not merely a mistake about the Irish. 
     
    And a lot of the things they said about “The Bog Irish” (name of a book, I recommend it) were true. But their analysis was wrong.

  36. The racist acts/doctrines of the 20th century are not an argument for abolishing the word “race” from science, but rather an argument for supporting ethical philosophies which oppose such atrocious acts– e.g. liberalism, libertarianism, utilitarianism. And the shoddy science which was used to support these acts/doctrines is an argument for better population genetics and an open public dialogue.

  37. I came into this argument defending scientists who use the word “population” instead of “race” for the kinds of reasons I have just given. To me it is legitimate for them to want to disengage themselves from folk wisdom. This kind of terminological change happens pretty often in science.  
     
    There was another argument about, fromh Steve Sailer, that folk ideas of race aren’t really that bad. That’s pretty specifically what I’m arguing against. And it’s not a question of whether the folk identify races more or less correctly. 
     
    I don’t think that human genetics profits from linking it to folk wisdom about race.

  38. - e.g. liberalism, libertarianism, utilitarianism. 
     
    sir, 
     
    you can add conservatism ;-) e.g., the catholic church and confucian traditionalists had the same skeptical reactions.

  39. I don’t think that it’s scientifically valuable to call the Poles a race… They may or may not be genetically definable. 
     
    Sure they are. Poles are a population. 
     
    In my everyday experience I encounter lots of false ideas about race. For example, the belief of a Japanese American women that Chinese and Koreans are a.) racially different than the Japanese 
     
    This is a correct belief about race. Japanese and Chinese and Korean people have unique genetic identity. 
     
    and b.)inferior to the Japanese. 
     
    This has nothing to do with taxonomy, which is what is under question. Koreans can be an “inferior” population just as easily as an “inferior” race. You are being superstitious. You are reducing the complex historical antipathy between Japanese people and Korean people to a word! As if she wouldn’t believe a Korean “population” is just as inferior as a Korean “race”.  
     
    Look at the Irish. People looked at them, their behavior, and their traits, applied a simple racial interpretation, and concluded that they were genetically inferior. But they were wrong.  
     
    This has nothing to do with taxonomy, which is what is under question. The Irish can be an drunken “population” just as easily as a drunken “race”. 
     
    The above quotes are absolutely illustrative of what I was describing above. You don’t just want the word ‘race’ replaced with the word ‘population’. You want scientists to convince the public that ethnic groups can’t differ in genetically influenced traits. You want scientists to lie to the public. 
     
    We have not seen millions of people murdered in the name of evolution, even though Pat Robertson and Jonah Goldberg think so. 
     
    John, are you seriously trying to claim the Nazis did not misuse evolution?  
     
    This is getting sad.  
     
    I don’t think you have a rational point. If all you want to do is emote, then perhaps this is not the appropriate place.

  40. chet, 
     
    i try to avoid the word “conservatism”.. i see it as more a state of mind/disposition than a political philosophy, but i agree that conservatives should definitely be grouped with liberals as “good guys” of the 20th century. the bad guys were more typically the hateful radicals and reactionaries.

  41. The main biases I think many people have with “race” are: 
    1. Defining race by the combined phenotypes that represent it, as opposed to its phylogeny.
     
     
    Ben, I thought your original point was that anti-race campaigners had some legitimate arguments about how the baggage of ‘race’ distorts public understanding of population structure. But what you describe is exactly how such scientists have promoted the idea of race. The most common example being the claim that race = skin color.  
     
    Anyway, I agree with you. Too many people do think of race as just a few basic surface traits, instead of an extended family lineage. But those who defend ‘race’ tend to spread this understanding, while those who have campaigned against it tend to actively distort this understanding in the way you mention. Phylogeny is the politically incorrect understanding! 
     
    Defining race only at a certain level of analysis. That is, they’ll only slice the pie of human genetic variation into 3 to 7 slices. Sure, you’re right that they intuitively grasp group lineage differences at more specific levels (e.g Greek vs. German), but the fact remains that when they hear “race” they think of the big slices, not the little ones. The reasons for this are, I think, two-fold: history and appearance. 
     
    I have nothing against this, btw. I think ‘race’ can be used in an ‘either or’ fashion here. Which is fine as long as people understand both usages. But it’s fine with me if some people only use ‘race’ to differentiate higher order grouping like Europeans and Amerindians, and use ‘ethnic’ or ‘population’ for lower order groupings. This style usage is common in epidemiology, etc., as well as what is implied in many of the animal contexts linked above. (cf. sub-species) 
     
    As I said above, there are a lot of terms for variation below the species level that have slightly different usages and connotations, based in common disciplinary usage.

  42. The word “race” seems to make sense, until you realise that in many aspects, East Africans are closer to South Arabs and North Africans than to West Africans. (Idle anecdotal evidence: compare the startup line of a 100m and of a 5000m) 
     
    How do you define the “East African” race? Where do you draw the line? Kenya? Ehtiopia? Yemen? Sudan? Maghreb? Spain?  
     
    When you something about this or that “race”, who exactly are you talking about? 
     
    “Populations” and “groups” are neutral terms that you can use for whatever bunch of people you’re looking at. They don’t imply anything, so they force you to define precisely and explicitly the exact bunch of people you’re talking about. “Race” immediately carries implications of definiteness and discreteness that are, well, impossible to uphold. They pollute any hypothesis with an imprecision that it is impossible to dispel.  
     
    There’s simply no good reason to use the word “race” rather than “population” or “group” in a biological context, unless you’re explicitly referring to the social construct – “blacks” and “whites”. 
     
    I think that Jason’s comment about the “Polish race” illustrates my point (is there a binary test that accurately discriminates between the “Polish race” and, say, the “Czech race” ?)

  43. How many races are there, Jason? If Poles are a race, are Rusyns and Ruthenians and Vlachs and Wends races? Are the Flemish and the Dutch one race or two? Are the Sardinians and Icelanders races? As long as you can draw lines on a map and find different gene distributions on the two sides of the line, do you have two races? At the pop level, as long as two named groups have different gene distributions, are they justified in thinking of themselves as two different races?

  44. There has been an enormous quantity of erroneous and harmful stuff pumped out in the name of “race” — in science, in folk wisdom, and at the intersection of the two. So a lot of human biologists avoid the term. 
     
    This is not a good enough reason to avoid a term if it otherwise serves some useful function.  
     
    Over the centuries countless numbers people have suffered or been killed in the name of this or that religious denomination. This is not used to justify avoidance of the terms ‘religion’ or ‘denomination’ by theologists. 
     
    More pertinent perhaps, during the course of the twentieth century some tens of millions were killed worldwide in the name of social class based politics. The argument was that the proletariat were the class which would inherit society, and all other classes were to some extent inferior to them: enemies of the people to be liquidated. 
     
    Do we now find it being argued that because of this, social scientists should stop using the term ‘class’? No of course not. ‘Class’ is a useful term to employ in many different contexts so we go on using it. This despite difficulties over identifying the specific characteristics of particular classes, despite the lack of any ‘pure’ social classes, despite the clinal nature of class intersections and so on. 
     
    If either scientists or laymen find that words such as ‘race’ or ‘class’ or ‘denomination’ serve some useful function, they should not be intimidated into abandoning them.

  45. Anyway, I agree with you. Too many people do think of race as just a few basic surface traits, instead of an extended family lineage. But those who defend ‘race’ tend to spread this understanding, while those who have campaigned against it tend to actively distort this understanding in the way you mention. Phylogeny is the politically incorrect understanding! 
     
     
    I think that the “surface traits” interpretation might precede the PC fight for defining race that way. My friend doesn’t believe in evolution, and is not at all PC. I think he thinks what he does just because people look so different in systematic ways along racial lines. 
     
    I have nothing against this, btw. I think ‘race’ can be used in an ‘either or’ fashion here. Which is fine as long as people understand both usages. But it’s fine with me if some people only use ‘race’ to differentiate higher order grouping like Europeans and Amerindians, and use ‘ethnic’ or ‘population’ for lower order groupings. This style usage is common in epidemiology, etc., as well as what is implied in many of the animal contexts linked above. (cf. sub-species) 
     
    The problem this bias poses is that if scientists talk about “races” in place of populations, people will always take it to refer to the higher up slices of variation. Like when they hear “race differences in intelligence” they might think that this doesn’t apply to the populations within the races they typically think of.

  46. I remember a few decades ago seeing bottles in a lab labeled “muriatic acid”. (The term was already obsolete then, probably, but we had reagents that were 40 years old). We now call it hydrochloric acid — both terms names the same thing. This gets rid of the alchemical, historical, and industrial baggage (“muriatic” means something like “extracted from brine”) and also gives us an analysis of what hydrochloric acid is (HCl). 
     
    Moving from “race” to “population” unloads the baggage from historical scientific and popular racism and also gives you more understanding of what you’re talking about. Populations are groups of individuals, but members of these populations do not share an essence and two members of the two populations are not necessarily different. Instead, Population A has trait M, N, O in proportions Ma, Na, Oa, whereas population B has these traits in proportions Mb, Nb, and Ob. Two individuals, one from population A and one from population B, might be identical with regard to M, N, and O. 
     
    Switching terms also separates population genetics and human biology from 150 or 200 years of scientific, ideological, nationalistic, and popular discourse about race, much of which was both scientifically erroneous (essentialism) and politically damaging. 
     
    As far as the “population” term being political correctness, questions of human genetics are going to be political no matter what. Furthermore, many advocates of human biodiversity are explicitly political (e.g. Steve Sailer here). At GNXP the “political” word is normally used negatively, which it shouldn’t be, and second, it’s almost exclusively used against one side of the political argument — multiculturalists, anti-racists, and “PC” people. 
     
    The term PC originated in Marxist arguments, where it was first used seriously and later became a joke about dogmatic but ineffective Marxist groups. Then it became a joke about overserious multiculturalist, sexual liberationists, etc. Many liberals used the term about other liberals. By now, though, it’s become a rightwing smear words, so that people will describe any liberal or left opinion (e.g., belief in global warming) as “PC.”

  47. Montague’s “Man?s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race” was written in 1942. At that time there were good reasons to write it, both scientifically and politically. I agree that it should not be taken as definitive any more (I haven’t read it), but labelling the politics as “PC” is a pretty shallow, trivial way of describing what was going on. And pop racism has had a continued though diminishing effect on American life since then.

  48. “As far as the “population” term being political correctness…” 
     
    Steve’s suggestion that the name ‘population genetics’ has its origin in PC was wrong. It’s the first time I’ve seen such a claim, and hopefully it will be the last. It’s equally false to your suggestion that ‘race’ has it’s origin in violence. Frankly this conversation should have been over when I gave you those links to Google Scholar. You don’t get to dictate to scientists what terms they should be using based on your (admittedly!) misinformed interpretations of their nomenclature.  
     
    JE: “How many races are there, Jason? If Poles are a race, are Rusyns and Ruthenians and Vlachs and Wends races? Are the Flemish and the Dutch one race or two? Are the Sardinians and Icelanders races? As long as you can draw lines on a map and find different gene distributions on the two sides of the line, do you have two races? “ 
     
    toto: “I think that Jason’s comment about the “Polish race” illustrates my point (is there a binary test that accurately discriminates between the “Polish race” and, say, the “Czech race” ?)“ 
     
    Please make up your minds, are you against the word ‘race’ or the concept of population. As I noted above, campaigns against the former were intended to cause the public to reject the latter. These comments show it worked.  
     
    “”Populations” and “groups” are neutral terms that you can use for whatever bunch of people you’re looking at. They don’t imply anything, so they force you to define precisely and explicitly the exact bunch of people you’re talking about. “Race” immediately carries implications of definiteness and discreteness that are, well, impossible to uphold.” 
     
    “Whatever bunch of people you’re looking at” is not what population geneticists study, which is groups of organisms defined by shared phylogeny. Your comment completely supports Steve’s position that ‘race’ is closer to the common understanding of what population geneticists study than the common understanding of ‘population’.

  49. Bring back “ethnoi”.

  50. By the way, the conclusions of this paper in defense of the fuzzy population concept, are points that have frequently been made here on gnxp. Bottom line is that scientists find it useful for doing “normal science” and it gets the job done. There need be no other justification: 
     
    Our brief review of literature definitions of ?population? makes evident a point that should surprise no one: there is no single ?correct? answer to the question, ?What is a population?? Instead, the answer depends on the context and underlying objectives. Researchers interested primarily in the interplay of different evolutionary forces (selection, migration, drift) will typically favor a population concept couched in terms of reproductive cohesion, whereas those concerned primarily with conservation or management are more likely to be interested in demographic linkages and the consequences of local depletions. Similarly, regardless which population paradigm is adopted, the question, ?How different must units be before they can be considered separate populations?? does not have a unique answer; reasonable arguments can be advanced for using any of a variety of points along the continuum of population differentiation as a criterion. 
     
    These realities have both desirable and undesirable consequences. The flexible nature of the population concept means that it can be applied to a wide range of scenarios faced by ecologists and evolutionary biologists. On the other hand, this flexibility also can foster ambiguity and confusion among scientists using different population concepts and/or criteria. These difficulties are not unlike those that for many years have surrounded the problem of how to define species (Mayden 1997; Wilson 1999; Wheeler and Meier 2000). The ?species problem? involves both conceptual differences and the inherent biological fuzziness of species in nature (Hey et al. 2003), but neither of these factors need represent an insurmountable obstacle to practical application of species concepts.

  51. How do you define the “East African” race? Where do you draw the line? Kenya? Ehtiopia? Yemen? Sudan? Maghreb? Spain? 
     
    You are kidding, yes? 
    Sudanese and Kenyans would fit in with American blacks once they lost their accents. Or their children would. To wit: the potus elect. 
    Mghreb? You mean like Isabel Adjani? well-she was half. 
    Spain? Come on. Even I could be taken for Spanish (been there) and I’m as Irish as they come.

  52. Jason, why don’t you answer my question? If Poles are a race, are Rusyns and Ruthenians and Vlachs and Wends races? Are the Flemish and the Dutch one race or two? Are the Sardinians and Icelanders races? As long as you can draw lines on a map and find different gene distributions on the two sides of the line, do you have two races?  
     
    I have no problem with calling them populations, provided that they actually have non-trivial genetic definitions. But what they are are linguistically, culturally, politically, and geographically defined groups which may or may not be genetically describable.  
     
    I have a lot of trouble calling them races. (It’s not because they’re small populations, though. There aren’t many Khoisan type peoples or pygmies, but they seem to have very distinct genetic traits.  
     
    I did not claim that the concept of “race” was born in violence. I claimed that it’s a scientific / popular term with a long history and a lot of miscellaneous connotations, some of which are discredited science, and that racial thinking has had many negative consequences. Whereas “population” is neutral and can be given a limited scientific definition.

  53. How many races are there, Jason? 
     
    How many colors are there, John? If you can’t give me a definitive and finite answer, then should we abandon the usage of the word color? 
     
    We have not seen millions of people murdered in the name of evolution, 
     
    We did though have millions of people murdered in the name of class, so should we dismantle the Democratic Party due to it’s penchant for engaging in class politics, and should we abandon all forms of study predicated on class? That might be the safest bet if we apply your reasoning consistently, for you seem to be arguing that the past is prologue.

  54. Are the Ruthenians a race? Is every group that has a name a race? You seem to say yes.  
     
    We can put colors on various sorts of exact quantitative continuums. 
     
    It may make sense to call the Ruthenians a population, if they tend to intermarry. Race would be stretching it. 
     
    As far as class goes, it has a lot of definitions now and a lot of social scientists do not, in fact use it.

  55. how many races? 
     
    How many colors are there..? 
     
    i think a better metaphor than color here would be these triangles. how many triangles? well, it depends on the size of the triangle we’re looking at, right? now imagine that triangle picture with 6 billion triangles and you have a pretty good metaphor for the ideas of popualtion genetics.

  56. We can put colors on various sorts of exact quantitative continuums. 
     
    If we take the color “yellow” and look at its R:G:B composition, we might see the following: 250:250:0. If we take this composition as defining yellow, then what do we label the following composition: 250:225:0? Is that orange yet? Or do we feel that orange is best defined as 250:150:0? 
     
    The point is that we’re dealing with fuzzy boundaries when we deal with color, and the same applies to race. We can parallel your process of infinitesimalizing the human bio-diversity spectrum by doing the same to color, that is, yellow is only defined as 250:250:0 and we must refer to 250:249:0 as something other than yellow. Why, other than for ideological reasons, would we abandon very useful concepts with fuzzy boundaries? Lots of people understand that the color yellow applies to a range of the spectrum, not just one finite point on the spectrum. Similarly, people understand the broad continental categorization of racial groups while simultaneously understanding that we can define race down to finer and finer groups. The fuzzy boundaries don’t invalidate the concepts of race and color.

  57. Is race a useful concept for dealing with Rusyns, Ruthenians, Vlachs, Wends, Flemish, the Dutch, Sardinians and Icelanders? To me it makes sense to study them as populations and look to see if there are or aren’t genetic regularities within the population and genetic distinctions from other populations. (In the case of Sardinians and Icelanders Cavalli Sforza says that the genetic differences are definitely there). But to call these “races” seems like a big stretch. I don’t think that the color analogy works. 
     
    Given the folk, common sense definitions of race, the status of the Sardinians and Icelanders as genetic outliers seems very strange, because they don’t seem much different than Italians and Norwegians. (C-S’s other two outliers, the Lapps and the Basques, do seem like plausible candidates for “other races”.) Thus, while we can say that the Icelanders are a population genetically distinct from Norwegians, it seems implausible to call them a different race.

  58. This summer, Greg Laden illustrated Jason Malloy’s point quite explicitly on his blog, posting on Olympic sprinting and long-distance times, The Gene for Running Fast or Far. When black people run, white people take notice. When black people run fast, white people, alarmed, find naturalistic (= as in animals) explanations. But when a group of white people excel (beach volley ball or gymnastics) personal stories of heroics are used to explain the result. Shame. 
     
    On one hand, everyone knows that the differences between humans that are often categorized as “racial traits” are either overstated or irrelevant. All humans have essentially the same basic potentials, and the genetic differences that do exist between people are not sorted out by the usual racial categories. Not even the differences that are foundational to those racial categories sort out by racial categories particularly well. By and large, racial categories are cultural fictions vaguely supported by quirky historical circumstances. On close examination they are not real. 
     
    On the other hand, it has become fairly common to attribute a select few true racial traits to certain races. The most common is the obvious genetic superiority of Africans in areas of sports. This belief is widespread among people of all sorts of political orientations, and is often considered benign because it is a “good thing” and not a bad thing (like racial tendencies to be sub intelligent, or to exhibit criminal behavior would be). 
     
    The fact that these “benign” traits are just as fictitious as the other traits, and that they are not at all benign, has not stopped people from believing them.Emphasis in original.  
     
    Note that this is a working scientist, writing for a generalist audience, at Scienceblogs.com. Laden subtitles his blog “Evolution, Life Science, Science Education, Human Evolution, and Stuff” to give a sense of his interests. And judging from the comments, many readers endorse the validity of the opinions Laden offers, e.g. ‘Heather sf’:Races such as black and white are obviously “real” as in they have significance as social constructs at this moment in time, particularly here in America. 
     
    I believe what was being pointed out is that it is difficult to find any biological basis for these constructs. As in, there are no discrete catagories of races into which humans can be divided based on measurable differences. 
     
    Skin color? White people and many Asians have the same skin tone. Beyond that, skin color is just a geographically varied trait that doesn’t really correlate with anything else. Even classically “black” disease, like sickle-cell, is not correlated by skin color, but rather by geographical region and is present in the Mediterranean region and parts of India. 
     
    Skin color is like height, it’s a cline. If you go north to south across the globe it’s pretty much an even gradient, which doesn’t really correspond to any other traits. Each population is blended into their neighbors. 
     
    Racial categories are fictitious in a biological sense. Yet obviously it’s different to be black than white in America. 
     
    That there is no biological basis for ‘race’ doesn’t make the social consequences of historical and present-day racism less real.This strikes me as an exact contemporary instance of what Malloy described supra.

  59. > Is race a useful concept for dealing with Rusyns, Ruthenians, Vlachs, Wends, Flemish, the Dutch, Sardinians and Icelanders? 
     
    Yes, probably. Start with this 8/08 gnxp post on Correlation between Genetic and Geographic Structure in Europe. I understand that a similar dissection of East Asian population substructure is to be published by C. Tian’s group, recent ASHG abstract here. 
     
    The term “population” as applied to humans does not imply shared lineage, at least in most circumstances (e.g. as used by the Census Bureau). The term “race” does, as exemplified by Steve Sailer’s working definition:A racial group is an extended family that is inbred to some degree.Thus, it is hard to see how substituting the term “population” for “race” adds clarity. It certainly restricts precision.

  60. “Population” as used by the census bureau is irrelevant. “Population” is used in population genetics. 
     
    How would you describe the graph you linked using the word “race”. My original claim was that the Poles are not a race. Do you see a Polish race in that graph?  
     
    Sailer’s definition of race seems extraordinarily, and more or less unusably, broad.

  61. The way “population” is used on the census is relevant because it indicates how most people regard the word “population”.

  62. > Do you see a Polish race in that graph?  
     
    It is not necessary for me to see a Polish race in that graph. Is it better to have a diverse and muscular vocabulary to describe a complex world, or to limit ideas by using an attenuated vocabulary? 
     
    Viewing that graph, I presume that you can discern patterns that are due to histories of inheritance, shared to different extents. “Race,” like “shade of yellow,” might or might not be a useful term in any given circumstance. The population of “Poles” can be usefully described, to a large extent, as “an extended family that is inbred to some degree.” This differs from the population of, say, “high-rise dwellers in Chicago” or “cancer survivors.” 
     
    If you prefer to avoid using the word “race” (or any other word) in writing about these findings (or any other findings): fine. It is the effort to impose this usage on others (“Shame”) that I find objectionable.  
     
    It seems that one motive for dictating acceptable vocabulary might be to delineate which thoughts on the subject are to be considered fit for discussion. When that is the case, shame, indeed.

  63. It’s better to use useful scientific concepts for expressing scientific ideas, and it’s also better to avoid having your scientific vocabulary contaminated by popular ideological vocabulary. 
     
    there’s no Polish race, and nineteenth century thinkers who thought that there was were blowing smoke. That is my original statement, one of the things that got this discussions started, and I stand by it.  
     
    And shame on you. 
     
    “Diverse and muscular vocabulary to describe a complex world” sounds like lit crit to me.

  64. John Emerson, 
    I see two complaints that you seem to make about the Polish race, which you seem to alternate between. It would be better if they were cleanly separated, particularly if you are really only making one of them. 
     
    The first is that one shouldn’t use the word “race” for such fine gradations as Poles. I am certain that the common word used to have little connotation of size, but I am uncertain of the current usage. It may be that it shifted to very coarse divisions, particularly as they became important in America–perhaps this is even a regional usage. But it also seems possible that this history is propaganda intended to move the current definition. It is certainly an advantage of not using the word that one completely avoids wondering about its common usage. 
     
    The second complaint is that the Poles are an artificial group, not a reasonable population to consider. So then I would say that the common usage is simply an error, on its own terms.

  65. I don’t object to anyone using the term ‘race’, provided they clearly define that term and then accept the consequences of their definition. For example, using Steve Sailer’s definition of ‘race’ as a partially inbred extended family, then the inhabitants of any long-established town or village constitute a race. So do social classes (assuming moderate endogamy). This isn’t what most people mean by a race, but there is no law against using old terms with new meanings. 
     
    However, as a practical matter of communication, it seems best to avoid using terms that are widely misunderstood and/or emotionally charged, and ‘race’ seems to fall into this category.

  66. John Emerson, 
     
    > sounds like lit crit to me. 
     
    Heh. Nice verbal jujitsu, kudos. Point to you.

  67. It’s better to use useful scientific concepts for expressing scientific ideas, and it’s also better to avoid having your scientific vocabulary contaminated by popular ideological vocabulary. 
     
    I tend to agree. Certainly within the scientifically informed community it is better to use more precise and less politically charged terms.  
     
    The basic problem with society is that it is a lot easier to think in terms of a single 0 or 1 or black/white than in shades of gray much less in color. 0 and 1 are both poor representations of say, 0.51934, and worse yet of a vector or matrix. Even a very precise number would itself be a very poor representation of reality if it were a scalar magnitude or single dimension of a vector.  
     
    A large number of people are either incapable of or unwilling to store and process large amounts of data to understand a phenomenon, and usually very large amounts of data are necessary to properly represent a concept. 
     
    If the reality of some issue could be represented as {.5323, .4221, .1234, .2344, .8662, .9661}, many, especially in politics, would still try to condense it into a single 0/1 or black/white.  
     
    This all goes back to the question of whether pure democracy is a good idea. Of course it is not, and our Founders realized this. Orthodox concepts of Democracy, Capitalism, and Socialism are all horrid ideas. Socialism has tended to have a bad name in the U.S. (maybe somewhat less so as of late), but “democracy” and “capitalism” in their pure forms are just about as stupid.

  68. ‘Race’ and ‘population’ suffer the same problems as any other concept; that is, the greater the magnification one uses the blurrier things start becoming. Classical mechanics, for example, is useful and precise amongst a pretty wide range of situations, but it most definitely falls apart at atomic and subatomic scales. Similar problems occur with ‘region,’ ‘climate,’ etc.

  69. Unfortunately it is pretty much impossible to deal with complex politically charged topics without a good helping of doublethink. And it takes some brainpower to wade through the nasty, stormy waters of doublethink. Take the example of the multiple, muddled, and politically charged meanings of the word equality (from the appendix of 1984):  
     
    For example, All mans are equal was a possible Newspeak sentence, but only in the same sense in which All men are redhaired is a possible Oldspeak sentence. It did not contain a grammatical error, but it expressed a palpable untruth ? i.e. that all men are of equal size, weight, or strength. The concept of political equality no longer existed, and this secondary meaning had accordingly been purged out of the word equal. 
     
    The sad part is that there are many people, and many people with a lot of power, who seriously believe that “all men are equal” in the stupid, literal “all men are redhaired” sense. Worse yet, people on the other side (who know that all men are not redhaired, i.e. the same) tend to reject political equality.  
     
    Ultimately, a lack of intellectual firepower tends to lead to a choice between belief in empirical equality and a non-belief in political equality. Thus our many political problems.

  70. The basic problem with society is that it is a lot easier to think in terms of a single 0 or 1 or black/white than in shades of gray much less in color. 0 and 1 are both poor representations of say, 0.51934, and worse yet of a vector or matrix. Even a very precise number would itself be a very poor representation of reality if it were a scalar magnitude or single dimension of a vector.  
     
    A large number of people are either incapable of or unwilling to store and process large amounts of data to understand a phenomenon, and usually very large amounts of data are necessary to properly represent a concept.
     
     
    Yes, but isn’t the whole point of science (or any other summarizing of reality) to come up with a reduced model from a huge “sampling” of experiences? 
    May be you should distinguish between building the model and communicating the model or otherwise arguing about it. 
    Therefore, beside the unfortunate tendency to oversimplify the model for rhetoric purposes there is a real need to adjust the model complexity to the current goals of the discourse. 
    There is also a prerequisite for a shared knowledge base of “primary” concepts in order to allow for any kind of communication, you don’t “get” neither maths nor poetry if you are not up to the implied knowledge in the ongoing discourse. 
    Thus, there CANNOT BE a one only right terminology/ontology for discourse in any field, it depends on the audience and on the purposes of the ongoing discussion. 
    There we are far, far, away of political discourse aimed at “the masses”, no wonder that it is such crap. 
    DON’T LET THE MORONS RULE, most especially about language, 1984 of the retards!

  71. The word “race” is entirely too political and therefore inappropriate as a scientific term. Liberals and multuculturalists shun it in the same degree that “race realists,” which happen to include Neo-Nazis and racial seperatists, are eager to use it.

  72. Liberals and multuculturalists shun it in the same degree that “race realists,” which happen to include Neo-Nazis and racial seperatists, are eager to use it. 
     
    this is false. the left loves the word race; it just contends it is totally social (considerations given for the concession to reality that appearance matters).

  73. Is race a useful concept for dealing with Rusyns, Ruthenians, Vlachs, Wends, Flemish, the Dutch, Sardinians and Icelanders? To me it makes sense to study them as populations and look to see if there are or aren’t genetic regularities within the population and genetic distinctions from other populations… But to call these “races” seems like a big stretch.  
     
    Seems like we’re mostly on the same page. Race/population (it’s the same thing) is a necessary conceptual tool to aid biologists in the organization, analysis, and description of data, given diverse kinds of questions and observations about genetic structure below the species level in virtually all plants and animal species. 
     
    I think this thread can end now. The “I like the word ‘race’ — I don’t” debate is metaphysical and not empirical. Thus not very productive. 
     
    ‘Race’ is a controversial word because the realities of the concept are inherently controversial. The only way to remove that inherent controversialness is to mislead people about what the concept really means. The only way the concept of race can not be controversial, is if understanding of that concept is inaccurate (i.e. does not allow for controversial things to be true or possible). Or if the controversial things it implies and allows themselves become no longer controversial. You can’t have it any other way.  
     
    It is the concept of race which many really believe causes racism, not the word ‘race’. Thus the campaign to remove the word ‘race’ is intended to remove the concept of population. The evidence for this is in the 1000s of published writings that intertwine those agendas, as well as any conversation with normal educated people, where it is clear they believe scientists have told them that populations are a discredited concept. 
     
    This includes the beliefs of our president elect Barack Obama: 
     
    “The idea that inferior genes account for the problems of the poor in general, and blacks in particular, isn’t new, of course. Racial supremacists have been using IQ tests to support their theories since the turn of the century. The arguments against such dubious science aren’t new either. Scientists have repeatedly told us that genes don’t vary much from one race to another 
     
    Note, Obama isn’t saying “Scientists have repeatedly told us” that the word ‘population’ is preferable to the term ‘race’ because of history, Nazis, blah, blah. This isn’t about words, it’s about facts. 
     
    What Obama is saying here – ACCURATELY – is that “Scientists have repeatedly told us” (the educated public) that genes do not vary in a population specific fashion. That genes do not vary in the way that genes do vary. (Not IQ genes, but population genetic structure in general, which could accommodate such differences by the internal logic of the concept) To understand how populations vary is to understand why even genetically similar groups like the Germans and the Dutch can differ in appearance or quantitative traits, or even how different species of animal (e.g. dogs and wolves and coyotes) with incredibly different behavioral types can differ less at the genetic level than human races. 
     
    It is one thing to say the evidence does not support a genetic etiology for Race-IQ differences, or that the technologies to meaningfully resolve the question do not exist yet. But what scientists have done is lied about population genetics. Have fomented ideas that fundamentally contradict population biology.

a