Friday, June 15, 2007

Race, TNR debate   posted by Razib @ 6/15/2007 01:12:00 PM

TNR is continuing the debate on race. Not much to read really, but this caught my attention:
I found your characterization of race as a "cluster concept" provocative and intellectually honest, since you admit its imprecision....

Imprecision? Really? Well:
Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.

So let's be precise about the term "imprecision." No doubt Plato would sniff at mistyping rate of 0.14%. Also, since we're talking science here one should be familiar with the distinction between accuracy and precision. I think in fact that as the number of informative loci increase an inference of ancestry is rather precise (reproducible). But perhaps the author of the above piece finds the precision of genetic science wanting? That being said, I am a bit confused as to why then his academic interests lay in history, an even more imprecise field, than in physics or mathematics where his passion for precision might be suitably sated.

Race is a social construction. But it is not one constructed purely from human ideology. That many perceive Greeks as white and Turks as non-white is a reflection of social axioms (Christians are white, Muslims are brown). That may perceive Greeks as white and Thai as non-white is not a reflection of social axioms (Greeks exhibit physical characteristics of the white race, Thais do not). Humanists are well schooled in the interplay between ideology and facts in generating a narrative of the world. To pretend as if there is no factual basis in the outlines of an ideology is a denial of reality, which would less concerning if not for the fact that most Americans parrot this very line about race as if it was universally accepted.