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.
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.
Labels: human biodiversity