Without distinctions and boundaries, the race concept cannot apply to a given species. Species with observable geographical differences in one or more traits may be better described as having clinal variation. Without correlation among traits, the race concept has none of its usual utility, whereby we place individuals into categories and then predict invisible traits (like the likelihood of biting for dog breeds, or the likelihood of having a certain level of intelligence for human races).



  1. #1 Lilian Nattel
    December 30, 2008

    I think it’s well known that race is a social construction rather than a scientific one. Africans have more genetic variation between them than the rest of the world put together. This makes sense given that a relatively small number of people migrated out of Africa at various times to populate the rest of the world. The funniest thing to me, being Jewish, is the “Jewish race.” Huh? Historically Jews and Italians weren’t exactly white. The “darkening” of America was considered a big social problem in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (due to immigration of Jews and Italians). Now that sounds ludicrous. A study done at York University a few years ago, showed that many Chinese students did not consider themselves a visible minority.

  2. #2 Colugo
    December 30, 2008

    Get a load of this new book:


    By Cochran and Harpending. I knew what their accelerated evolution paper was up to, even if it flew over the heads of many science bloggers.

    The cover illustration appears to represent a single species beginning the process of speciation into different ones. (Maybe one of the authors could confirm that interpretation for us.) This is in line with Harpending’s assertion that human races are diverging.

    pages 66-67:

    “This is a new picture of recent human evolution. It implies that humans have changed not just culturally, but genetically, over the course of recorded history, and we must allow for such changes when we try to explain historical events. The implications of this contention are vast: If correct, it means that people in different parts of the world have changed in varying ways, since they adopted different forms of agriculture at different times – or in some cases not at all. …

    It’s probable that the evolutionary response to farming also affected the distribution of cognitive and personality traits, and that these changes played a crucial role in the development of civilization and the birth of scientific and industrial revolutions.”

    page 128:

    “such ideas may help explain why some populations with an early start on agriculture and state formation found it easy to participate in these revolutions, while those with late starts have not.”

    State of the art scientific racism, um, I mean “race realism,” uh, I mean “human biodiversity.”

    I’m not talking about well-studied, well-known gene-culture coevolution like adult lactose tolerance, sickle-cell, high altitude etc, which the authors and their supporters might bring up as a defensive smokescreen. The name of the game here is genetic differences in intelligence and temperament between races that result in differences in group and individual achievement. Right, Harpending and Cochran?

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    December 30, 2008

    Colugo, that book would seem a particularly good candidate for a liberal use of the Amazon “tag” function, wouldn’t it?

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    December 30, 2008

    On the other hand, there is the view of Jared Diamond, expressed in “Guns, Germs and Steel”.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    December 30, 2008

    I’ve got a copy of this book, sent to me by one of the authors, and look forward to reviewing it shortly.

    Please keep in mind that there is no way something like agriculture … a vast change in the environment … could not lead to evolutionary change that relates to adaptations. (Related to this, see my most current post as of a few moments ago).

  6. #6 Colugo
    December 30, 2008

    Greg Laden: “there is no way something like agriculture … a vast change in the environment … could not lead to evolutionary change that relates to adaptations.”

    I agree with that statement. But does selection of genes related to differential timing of the adoption of varities of agriculture explain why scientific and industrial revolutions happened in certain populations and when?

    This is gene-brain-civilization determinism, in the same genre of Bruce Lahn’s failed theory and the speculations of A Farewell To Alms.

    I await your review of the book.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    December 30, 2008

    Cougo: I don’t see why it would. Adoption of agriculture and its timing, yes, I can see that being related to the timing of other things for very obvious reasons, but I think I might have a difference in opinion regarding how that happens. But, I have not read the book yet!

    It is quite conceivable that there are personality differences facilitated by some genetic change that cold relate to social organization. One of the authors of this book (H.H.) and I have both lived for extended periods among the foragers, but different foragers. It will be interesting to see our different perspectives. We were doing this in very different decades with potentially very different starting points.

  8. #8 Anne Gilbert
    December 30, 2008

    Hmmmmmmmm. . . . .I have a brother who is visiting for the holidays, who seems to think Harpending is some kind of racist. I haven’t read this book, nor will I be able to until it comes out, I suppose, so I can’t really comment. What I said to my brother(who is not familiar with Harpending’s work, as I am), was that Harpending has done perfectly respectable work in his field, and has written papers in perfectly respectable academic journals, whether or not one agrees with his conclusions in these papers. So I’m still not commenting. I would be very careful, however, of assuming some kind of “determinism” about things like the adoption of agriculture in prehistoric times, let alone any “determinism” about how this affects “intelligence” in various groups of people. I don’t know if this is Harpending’s idea or not. I’ll just have to wait and see.
    Anne G