Science, Genetics, and Race

First the Study:

A 2002 study by scientists at the University of Southern California and Stanford showed that if a sample of people from around the world are sorted by computer into five groups on the basis of genetic similarity, the groups that emerge are native to Europe, East Asia, Africa, America and Australasia – more or less the major races of traditional anthropology… The billion or so of the world’s people of largely European descent have a set of genetic variants in common that are collectively rare in everyone else; they are a race. At a smaller scale, three million Basques do as well; so they are a race as well. Race is merely a shorthand that enables us to speak sensibly, though with no great precision, about genetic rather than cultural or political differences.

Then Andrew’s response:

As I’ve noted, the variations within some of these groups are larger than many of the variations between them. But that race does in some way exist as an essential fact of human nature – that these differences render the assumption of an utterly homogeneous human race bogus – seems to me indisputable. The social and political ramifications of this deserve a different and deeper treatment – as does the IQ discussion as it relates to this. But that race exists in nature seems to me to be as obvious as the fact that genealogy exists in nature. We need vigilance against abuse of the truth, not against the truth itself.

I have always found it weird when people have such a hard time admitting that there are certainly differences among humans, and that sometimes those differences come in clusters.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard white people say things like, “I’m color blind, when I walk onto a bus, I don’t notice the race of the people on the bus, I just see people.”

To that I would say, you are most certainly color blind, and you should have your eyes checked.  There is nothing wrong with noticing that one person is blond, another has dark skin, another is tall, another is a woman, etc.  These are all parts of the reality of human variation.   It’s the value judgments that follow those observations that are the problem.


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