Nicholas Wade’s troublesome approach to scientific critiques

Jennifer Raff —  June 2, 2014 — 196 Comments

Nicholas Wade has a problem. Although his new book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”, appears to be selling well, he’s not encountering the praise that he expected from biologists for “courageously” freeing them from the “intimidating social scientists” on the subject of race).

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

 

 

What is he arguing? I go over this briefly in my recent piece on the Huffington Post, and in much greater detail here on this blog, but essentially Wade is using patterns of human variation in populations as a justification for claiming that race is a valid, biological taxonomic category. He goes on to speculate (and that’s really the only word for it, since his claims are unsupported by the preponderance of scientific evidence) that these racial differences determine behavioral differences and thereby explain why some civilizations have historically been more successful economically and politically than others. (You can guess which races he’s talking about; his speculation happens to coincide neatly with traditional stereotypes.)

Wade claims that all critics of this viewpoint are motivated by political concerns and ignore data showing that races are genetically distinct enough to be meaningful taxonomic categories of humans. His book relies particularly upon one genomics study to support this point. In his words (emphasis mine):

 

Raff and Marks take issue with one of these surveys, Rosenberg et al. 2002, which used a computer program to analyze the clusters of genetic variation. The program doesn’t know how many clusters there should be; it just groups its data into whatever target number of clusters it is given. When the assigned number of clusters is either greater or less than five, the results made no genetic or geographical sense. But when asked for five clusters, the program showed that everyone was assigned to their continent of origin. Raff and Marks seem to think that the preference for this result was wholly arbitrary and that any other number of clusters could have been favored just as logically. But the grouping of human genetic variation into five continent-based clusters is the most reasonable and is consistent with previous findings. As the senior author told me at the time, the Rosenberg study essentially confirmed the popular notion of race.

 

It’s not a question of logic, but rather what the data show. Rosenberg et al. (2002)’s paper did not analyze or identify just 5 clusters, but rather it considered 1-20 clusters. What Wade is omitting from his paragraph above (and also from his book) is that Rosenberg and colleagues never presented any statistical justification for the choice of 5 clusters over any other number.

Here are the specifics of my criticism, which I posted in response to a commenter on my blog. (If you’re not interested in the statistical refutation of Wade’s argument, feel free to skip this paragraph. I hope Wade takes the time to read it, though).

Structure starts with the assumption that there are K populations (where K is assigned by the user). It assigns individual genotypes to those populations using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo method that minimizes deviations from Hardy Weinberg and also minimizes linkage disequilibrium. Structure will provide posterior probability of the data for a given K: Pr (X|D). Using this estimate to choose between values of K is not without some controversy—the authors of structure caution that it “merely provides an approximation” and “biological interpretation of K may not be straightforward.” Evanno et al. (2005) observed that since the log probability of data wasn’t maximized at the correct value for K, they recommend the measure of ∆K, a second order rate of change of the likelihood function with respect to K, as a better estimate of which K most accurately described the data. A lot of authors follow this practice, although it has been argued against (Waples and Gaggiotti, 2006).

Neither Rosenberg et al.’s (2002) nor (2005) papers report the LnP(D) (or ∆K) for any of the values for K, so we have no way of distinguishing which is the “best” value of K. (I use “best” in quotes because LnP(D) is a somewhat disputed metric, as I discussed above, but at least it’s some way of evaluating between different Ks). Bolnick (2008) reports information about the unpublished LnP(D) values (provided by personal communication from N. Rosenberg): “…no single value of K clearly maximized the probability of the observed data. Probabilities increased sharply from K=1 to K=4 but were fairly similar for values of K ranging from 4 to 20. The probability of the observed data was higher for K=6 than for smaller values of K, but not as high for some replicates of larger values of K. The highest Pr (X|K) was associated with a particular replicate of K=16, but that value of K was also associated with very low probabilities when the individuals were grouped into 16 clusters in other ways. Consequently it is uncertain which number of genetic clusters best fits this data set, but there is no clear evidence that K=6 is the best estimate.” (p77)

Structure is not designed to be applied to populations that experience isolation by distance (IBD), as is true of most human populations. The authors of the program explicitly warn against this, which unfortunately hasn’t stopped people from doing it. Guillot (2009) discusses this further:

“Another confounding factor of the clustering algorithms is IBD. All the models make sense fully only at a scale that is small enough to ignore its effect. At larger spatial scales, any species is affected by IBD and assuming within-cluster panmixia becomes inappropriate.” and “The general effect reported is that the presence of clinal variations tends to be interpreted as the presence of clusters and a number of clusters larger than one is generally inferred, even though no barrier to gene flow was present. “

Structure can absolutely be a useful tool for inferring individual ancestry, but only with (1) an understanding of the assumptions inherent in the clustering algorithms, and (2) cautious interpretation of the results. Because of these caveats, careful and rigorous scientists generally view the “best” clustering scheme as a starting point for generating testable hypotheses about ancestry and population history, NOT as the basis for slicing the species into a small number of groups or races.

To summarize all the above: despite Wade’s claim that structure groups “human genetic variation into five continent-based clusters”, there is no statistical support for choosing 5 population clusters (which Wade thinks is most “reasonable,” “practical,” and “simple”) over any other number of clusters. Wade is certainly allowed to argue that there are 5 races in humans, but we have to recognize that this is not a scientifically-based or genetic argument. Rather, it’s based on his subjective opinion of what is reasonable or practical, which is a very different thing. Wade deliberately omits discussion of this lack of statistical support, as well as the fact that the authors of structure caution against using it on populations that exhibit genetic variation due to isolation by distance (as humans do).

These points are all discussed more extensively in my original critique of Wade’s book. But instead of taking my criticisms seriously. Wade attacked my credentials (and those of his other critics, biological anthropologists Agustin Fuentes and Jon Marks ).

My critiques of Wade’s misrepresentation of structure (and the Rosenberg et al. 2002 and 2005 papers) are inconvenient for his arguments, so instead of addressing them, he dismisses me as merely “a postdoctoral student.” (Postdocs are not students—a fact which I would have expected a science reporter who has been writing “for years in a major newspaper” to be familiar with. I finished my dual PhD in genetics and biological anthropology several years ago and have been conducting full time research on human population genetics since then.)

The fact that I am trained in statistics and specialize in human genomics research is inconvenient for Wade’s attempts to frame this issue as a case of “biologists” vs. “social scientists”, so he simply ignores my genetics expertise (saying that I have no “standing in statistical genetics, the relevant discipline”) and characterizes me as a politically motivated social scientist. He seems to be banking on the belief that people who read his response won’t have read my blog or be familiar with my credentials and publications.

Wade is highly critical of Fuentes and Marks in the same fashion, attacking them as people who “do little primary research” (an accusation which is both patently false and also problematic coming from someone who himself does NO scientific research). You can read their responses to him here and here.

I have no formal training in journalism, but it seems to me that this argumentation from authority is a troubling approach for any science reporter to take.

I have no doubt that Wade put a lot of effort into constructing his arguments, and I can understand how he might be dismayed that the majority of credible biologists aren’t coming to the defense of his book. Rather, criticisms are piling up (two excellent ones that were published after my last piece came out are from population geneticist Jeremy Yoder, and biological anthropologist Alan Goodman. There are many others in the bibliography of my last piece).

What Wade fails to understand is that scientists, by and large, are more convinced by data than rhetoric. He would do well perhaps to go back and read more of the recent literature emerging from anthropological genetics, human population genetics, and biological anthropology, in which human variation and recent evolutionary histories are being productively studied without depending upon culturally constructed partitioning and politically motivated labeling.


References:

Bolnick DA. Individual ancestry inference and the reification of race as a biological phenomenon. In: Koenig BA, Lee SS-J, Richardson SS, editors. Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press; 2008. pp. 77–85.

Evanno G, Regnaut S, Goudet J (2005) Detecting the number of clusters of individuals using the software STRUCTURE: a
simulation study. Mol Ecol 14:2611–2620

Pritchard JK, Wen X, Falush D (2007) Documentation for structure software: version 2.2. University of Chicago, Chicago, pp 1–36

Waples and Gaggiotti, 2006 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16629801

Guillot 2009. http://bioinformatics.oxfordjournals.org/content/25/14/1796.short

 

Note for the commenters: I’m teaching at an intensive genetics workshop this week, so moderation may be a little slower than usual, and I will not be responding to comments directed at me. Please read my site policies before commenting. I will do my best to monitor comments as often as I can, but if any abusive comments make it through moderation and don’t get taken down for a little while, I apologize in advance.

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Jennifer Raff

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Scientist, fighter, reader. In pursuit of the extraordinary.

196 responses to Nicholas Wade’s troublesome approach to scientific critiques

  1. 

    Dr. Raff,

    You consistently attack a straw man version of Wade’s argument — hence (I presume) his frustration and belief that you (and other critics you mention) are ideologues.

    At issue is not the exact number of genetic clusters, nor whether they are discrete or blend smoothly into each other. At issue is whether a particular group (socially constructed or otherwise — i.e., “African-Americans” or “White-Americans”) exhibits different allele frequencies leading to differences on specific traits. The most controversial such trait — intelligence — isn’t even one that Wade emphasizes.

    Recent results show definitively that a vast set of allele frequency differences exist between groups traditionally described as different races. The impact of these differences cannot be investigated by scientists who are intimidated by ideologues such as yourself and Dr. Fuentes. You are hampering scientific progress.

    “Whatever ability you want, valued or not so valued, what if those alleles begin to come out? And here’s the worse part. What if somebody begins to look for the frequency of those alleles in different ethnic groups scattered across this planet? ”

    MIT Biology Professor Robert A. Weinberg, 1997 National Medal of Science.

    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/biology/7-012-introduction-to-biology-fall-2004/video-lectures/lecture-35-human-polymorphisms-and-cancer-classification/

    • 

      Great post.

      To answer Mr B Weinberg he might want to read Gravelee’s “How Race Becomes Biology: Embodiment of Social Inequality” for an alternative view on what he sees as self-evident.

      ABSTRACT The current debate over racial inequalities in health is arguably the most important venue for advancing both scientific and public understanding of race, racism, and human biological variation. In the United States and elsewhere, there are well-defined inequalities between racially defined groups for a range of biological outcomes—cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, low birth weight, preterm delivery, and others. Among biomedical researchers, these patterns are often taken as evidence of fundamental genetic differences between alleged races. However, a growing body of evidence establishes the primacy of social inequalities in the origin and persistence of racial health disparities. Here, I summarize this evidence…

      • 

        I’ve looked. Every single one of those connections suffers from the “sociologist’s fallacy”: noting that there’s often certain correlated environmental circumstances, like say poverty, and assuming that these circumstances cause the outcome in question. The fallacy is that this ignores the fact that these circumstances are also heritable.

        The piece of research I like is the fact that simple reaction time, which is apparently heavily correlated (and indeed, possibly commensurate) with g predicts health and longevity.

        Psychological comments: 10 fast questions about processing speed: Ian Deary

        Note, there is a comprehensive response from me to this post in moderation. Just noting.

      • 

        The critique here addresses phenotypes. We’re way past that.

        Why not whip out “Mismeasure” and Morton’s skulls? That Stevie had to dig back 150 years and still falsify his meta-analysis. Like your intentional obfuscation of phenotype with genotype, how desperate do you have to be?

        Look, better to start reconciling the new world view now and, as Wade advises, base opposition to racism on PRINCIPLE, which does not change and not not science, which is eroding the (leftist) foundation under your feet.

    • 

      “The impact of these differences cannot be investigated by scientists who are intimidated by ideologues such as yourself and Dr. Fuentes. You are hampering scientific progress.”

      Seriously? One person writing a blog, has such influence that she intimidates other scientists who would otherwise be investigating this subject? By criticizing Wade’s lack of evidence for his speculations, she is hampering scientific progress? Hyperbolize much?

      • 

        Yes, a motivated, shrill minority has proved itself capable of imposing costs on people pursuing science that conflicts with the ideology of aforementioned shrill minority. The fact that Dr. Raff is an aspiring junior member of said shrill minority does not excuse her conduct.

        • 

          Sounds like a conspiracy. That shrill minority of Marxist, social science defending, point-headed scientists, are intimidating other scientists, not to mention trying to silence brave journalists like Wade from informing the world how Caucasions are genetically adapted to modern economic institutions, Africans to hot-headed tribalism, and Asians are biased toward authoritarian governments, (because of their genes). Oh, and Jews are smart. Of course, they’re not doing a very good job silencing anyone, seeing how Wade just published a best-selling book about it. But it’s a conspiracy. Better get out the tin foil hats.

          • 

            Not exactly a hidden conspiracy.

            Wilson experienced significant criticism for his sociobiological views from several different communities. The scientific response included several of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard,[38] such as Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, who were strongly opposed to his ideas regarding sociobiology. Marshall Sahlins’s work The Use and Abuse of Biology was a direct criticism of Wilson’s theories.[39]

            Politically, Wilson’s sociobiological ideas have been opposed by some Marxists, who maintain that human behavior is culturally based. Sociobiology re-ignited the nature and nurture debate, and Wilson’s scientific perspective on human nature led to public debate. He was accused of “racism, misogyny, and eugenics.”[40] In one incident, his lecture was attacked by the International Committee Against Racism, a front group of the Progressive Labor Party, where one member poured a pitcher of water on Wilson’s head and chanted “Wilson, you’re all wet” at an AAAS conference in November 1978.[41] Wilson later spoke of the incident as a source of pride: “I believe…I was the only scientist in modern times to be physically attacked for an idea.”[42]

            “I believe Gould was a charlatan,” Wilson told The Atlantic. “I believe that he was … seeking reputation and credibility as a scientist and writer, and he did it consistently by distorting what other scientists were saying and devising arguments based upon that distortion.”[43]

            Religious objections included those of Paul E. Rothrock, who said: “… sociobiology has the potential of becoming a religion of scientific materialism.”[44]

            People like Lewontin, or Jonathan Marks, are at least honest enough to admit their ideological motivations. Jennifer may or may not see herself as part of this vanguard, but she’s influenced by and attempting to help enforce their views either way.

            “Caucasions are genetically adapted to modern economic institutions, Africans to hot-headed tribalism”

            Whereas we know the real conspiracy is the one through which “Caucasions” eternally oppress people of color.

            • 

              So basically, all examples for a supposed conspiracy come from one country, but they are capable of suppressing the global scientific community?

              Sounds not too different from what we wear from climate change deniers in the US.

              Fact is that when the data supports a position, it will prevail. When it does not support a position, people like to publish books to dodge peer review and be declared “right” by public acclamation.

              • 

                So people should stop writing books and we should all read primary sources for our erudition? Al Gore gets a pass, though. He’s so charming…

              • 

                @Mark Miller

                You’re the only one talking about Al Gore here, but nice to see that you can’t distinguish between science and popular literature. I suggest you stick to novels…

                Never said that people should stop writing books. Just not pass them off as science if only the authors are responsible for the content.

              • 

                “people like to publish books to dodge peer review ”

                I wasn’t aware Wade claiming he was doing primary research. So what is he “passing off?” By extension, why is Raff even blogging? Based on your comment, we should only be addressing primary, peer-reviewed material.

              • 

                Where did I suggest he was claiming he was doing primary research? You really have to do better than putting up yet another strawman in every post.

                Likewise, there is nothing in my post that suggests we should only address primary research material – you simply haven’t understood my post. As I said, stick to novels…

            • 

              Nice to see that “Lewontin” is increasingly followed by “fallacy”.

              In memoriam. How touching.

          • 

            In 2007, James D. Watson, likely America’s most prominent man of science, was forced to resign his position as head of the distinguished medical research lab he had built up over the last four decades, due to politically incorrect remarks.

            Earlier, Lawrence Summers was forced to resign as president of Harvard in part due to politically incorrect remarks (he had also done some worse things involving corruption in Russia, but his politically incorrect speech mentioning topics like the differernt sizes of the standard deviation in the IQ bell curve between men and women played a huge role).

            Last year Harvard Ph.D. Jason Richwine was forced to resign from the Heritage Foundation for calling attention to decades of research on Hispanic IQ.

            As Voltaire would say, all of this is to encourage the others.

          • 

            Social “scientists” really don’t fall under that rubric. It’s not apples and apples.

            See Hsu’s blog on how the dumb ones go into Anthropology.

      • 

        Tomh, can’t you read?

        It’s idealogues LIKE the author, Dr Fuentes, and Steven Rose who, yes, recently argued that research into race or intelligence should be banned outright. When he say’s we should “give up” he means we should stop this research. period.

        http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/apr/09/race.science

        There is no hyperbole. Just your lack of reading comprehension.

    • 

      So since we have various color schemes (e.g. RGB, CMYK), there is no such thing as “color” (it’s construct)? In a sense, I suppose you’re right. We tend to call colors with a certain wavelength “orange.” What the actual cut-off is for orange is “constructed” and we could call it something else (e.g. “blue”), but isn’t this pure sophistry pretending to be a fig leaf?

      This whole “race as a construct” is just so disingenuous, you really have to be cut of a certain cloth to subscribe to it.

      As a modern day Lysenkoist, would you advise a “black” patient to ignore the correction factor in his kidney function lab? Or does kidney function depend on whether a distant relative was a share cropper in the south or experienced racial discrimination of a certain flavor? Given that Lysenko and his cohort condemned millions to starvation in an attempt to make modern genetics comport with Marxist dogma, you have a high bar (but you need to start somewhere).

      “Race: Some racial groups may not fit the MDRD equation well. It was originally validated for US white and black patients. For Afro Caribbean black patients, eGFR was 21% higher for any given creatinine in the MDRD study. So if race was not included in the estimate you have, it should be increased by approx. 20% for a black patient. In the UK white population the equation seems to work quite well. It may not perform so well in all racial groups.”

      http://www.renal.org/information-resources/the-uk-eckd-guide/about-egfr#sthash.jnxcUYWz.dpuf

      • 

        For all the vociferous moaning by these unrepentant Leftist (in the vein of Gould), the paradox of sunken costs rules: you have nothing to lose at this point (as Wade points out, these are not outsized scientific reputations you have), so why not double-down?

        But the reason you don’t matter is because of personalized medicine.

        Regardless of my “race”, I expect the best possible medicine to be applied to myself and my children. If my kidney function, heart health, or any other metric is best interpreted through the prism of the BIOLOGICAL basis that is race, then I’m sure even you will discard this cheap pretense of yours. Ok, we’ll come up, in the Leftist fashion, with some euphemisms to sugarcoat it for you, e.g. “differently-abled” instead of handicapped and “continent of origin” or “continental subgroup” instead of race. But who are you fooling, besides yourself?

        But talk is cheap, so I suppose keep talking.

        • 

          Oh dear… the usual drivel about “Leftists”, defined of course as anyone whose values are being disliked. I suggest that discussions on classifications and operationalizations are the wrong place for you. People who believe they hold sole authority to define standards and can disregard any data that doesn’t fit their ideology are usually considered frauds, not experts.

          It is telling that you evidently have a very poor grasp of personalized medicine but choose to redefine that, too, to fit your ideology.

          But yeah, sticking to the facts is “leftist” obviously, whereas for you, academic fraud is evidently a virtue.

          • 

            You have no idea what a Leftist looks like. I suggest you drop your delusions that outside the US, the big black void of space starts.

            As for “my grand daddy Gould” funny, I never mentioned him.

            Any other nonsense you feel necessary to post? It is funny when you accuse others of forgeries while you present made up nonsense cheaper by the dozen. Oh yeah, “Ivy factulty” – a statistically insignificant part of the global academic community, but evidently not for someone who believes there are no human beings outside the good old US of A, only cows and dogs.

        • 

          You fool race based medicine is dangerous, you realize that making medicine based on average differences in human beings that can be extremely different individually is dangerous right? What about “black” people who don’t have the trait which requires a specific dose? What about just giving specific doses for the specific friggin thing thats causing the problem? Instead of putting people who don’t have it into the mix. Do you realize that you could kill someone by doing that? Literally.

          THIS IS THE FIRST FRIGGIN LINE OF THAT STUDY: “Some racial groups may not fit the MDRD equation well”.

          Why use race at all? You need the specific thing(s) per individual that causes the difference. Then medicine would be much more accurate for each individual human being and the chance of misdiagnosis cut by a big amount.

          Are you retarded?

          • 

            If you are black and develop a kidney condition, i’m pretty sure you’ll listen to your doctors recommendation (and correct the eGFR number based on “race”).

          • 

            @ Mark Miller.

            Read your friggin evidence, then after reading it think.

          • 

            You’re problem is not with me but with the nephrologists.

            I think the retardation is exclusively on your side:

            “Some racial groups may not fit the MDRD equation well”.

            That’s the point. The BIOLOGICAL racial group (blacks) are not well described by the kidney function that was developed for non-blacks. Therefore the correction factor of 1.2 ; a number that did not come about people a “social construct” known as “blacks” were discriminated against, forcefully exported, or had a stint as share croppers.

            “Why use race at all?”

            Because it nephrologists found that it has enormous validity and predictive power. Which basically what science aspires to. Yes, the treatment would be even _more_ accurate if you could walk in to the nephrologists office, get sequenced and see which specific alleles you have and put that into the equation.

            We don’t have that. But nephrologists have found that “race”, in the traditional sense, is a very good proxy for a biological reality (kidney function). It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. The point is, what other “correction factors” could be lurking in there beyond kidney function.

            I can see this is a stressful subject for you. Let’s move on.

          • 

            You’re problem is not with me but with the nephrologists.

            “You’re” problem is with not realizing when your argument has already been debunked.

            Because it nephrologists found that it has enormous validity and predictive power. Which basically what science aspires to.

            *plonk*

            A nephrologist isn’t interested in scientific aspirations when they use that value but in helping their patient. They couldn’t care less in that moment if it has ANYTHING to do with your concept of race.

            But nephrologists have found that “race”, in the traditional sense, is a very good proxy for a biological reality (kidney function). It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. The point is, what other “correction factors” could be lurking in there beyond kidney function.

            No, the point is that you do not grasp medicine. AT ALL. But then again, your last statement suggests you do not understand science at all. Aside from such freshman errors of confusing correlation and causative connection, you are jumping to conclusions that where there is one trait, there “could” be others, implying there have to be without any evidence for that fact.

      • 

        See my comments about color below, but yes, the names we ascribe colors are a social construct. The wavelengths are not. “Blue” is a social construct that gives us an easy way to talk about a certain wavelength of light, just like “Asian” is a social construct that gives us an easy way to talk about certain populations. Both those labels are highly subjective; talk to a photographer sometime about what a pain in the ass it can be to get color to look consistent in different contexts. And of course “blue” is a much simpler label than “Asian,” and much less subject to error.

        Almost all of your comments hang on shibboleths. Marxist! Leftist! Lysenkoist! There is a fine line between an argument and a slogan. You’d start more conversations, and fewer arguments, if you tried to see the difference.

  2. 

    Let me add that I applaud your willingness to engage with comments (at least in a limited manner).

    Your co-conspirator Jeremey Yoder refuses to allow even the most reasonable comments on his post, if they disagree with his message. This is not how science works.

    • 

      Maybe Yoder is sick of random people throwing around words like “co-conspirator” and lectures on “how science works”? Let me give you a clue on etiquette- a blog is paid for by and belongs to the writer, and comments are at the writer’s discretion. Yoder owes you nothing, especially if your comments there are anything like the one you just wrote here. As far as “how science works”, a blog isn’t science. This is a discussion including both scientists and non-scientists, with lots of opinions. In science, opinion doesn’t matter, and even good writing submitted to peer-reviewed journals goes nowhere unless it is backed up by facts found out through well run experiments. Wade isn’t doing any science, and it doesn’t even look like he is interpreting the work of scientists correctly. If you really want to defend Wade’s ideas, then come up with some facts instead of opinions and put-downs.

      • 

        “If you really want to defend Wade’s ideas, then come up with some facts instead of opinions and put-downs.”

        I have, in abundance. Wait…

        • 

          So far a third of comments on this article are you moaning about moderation. Perhaps you can just skip straight away to the persecution complex and Galileo comparisons and save you and potential readers of the comments some time.

  3. 

    Let me get this right out of the way, standard disclaimer: I am Black.

    Let’s also see Greg Cochran’s response to your previous review of Wade:

    There are deep divisions between populations in sub-Saharan Africa: the Bantu are genetically closer to generic groups outside sub-Sarahan Africa than they are to Bushmen. Of course they’re still more distant from those extra-African groups than any are from each other…

    And there have been significant back-migrations into Africa: the people in the Ethiopian Plateau are about half derived from an old-fashioned Middle Eastern population.

    So things are typologically messy. Now, what does this imply for genetically-caused differences in academic potential between the well-known racial groups in the US and other countries, which is the practical point of this all these maunderings? Nothing. They’re still theoretically possible, which is a good thing, given that they exist.

    Look, no matter what I find out about the deep ancestry and phylogeny of dachshunds, they’re still going to be shorter than wolfhounds. You can’t make the facts go away by arguing, and you’re nuts to try.

    For the record also, for an introductory compilation of the reality of the situation, and a review of basically how wrong you are here, see:

    JayMan’s Race, Inheritance, and IQ F.A.Q. (F.R.B.)

    (Note, I am linking images in this comment. Often they don’t appear on WordPress. Should that happen, I suggest that readers visit the source links.)

    Although his new book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”, appears to be selling well, he’s not encountering the praise that he expected from biologists for “courageously” freeing them from the “intimidating social scientists” on the subject of race).

    Are you sure about that? It sounds like to me he’s not horribly surprised at the response he got. After all, he’s been in this space for a long time. He’s been on this topic for far longer than I, and I’m not all that surprised.

    I go over this briefly in my recent piece on the Huffington Post, and in much greater detail here on this blog, but essentially Wade is using patterns of human variation in populations as a justification for claiming that race is a valid, biological taxonomic category.

    And you are apparently immune to the responses given to you on the matter, from Razib Khan, John Fuerst, or Steve Sailer. Let’s hear it again from Razib Khan:

    From his postLumpy Genetic Variation:

    Jennifer obviously knows quite a bit about the population genomics, but I’ll be frank in suspecting that some of her fans who are praising her to the heavens find her conclusions congenial, and can’t really follow the technical details she’s fleshing out. They trust her, and that’s an acceptable position. More concretely she implies that model-based clustering (e.g., Structure, Admixture, and Frappe) will naturally produce a set of individuals composed as a combination of K ancestral populations. There’s nothing privileged about a particular K. But there are ways to more formally establish which K is the best “fit” to the data. Rather than talking I’ve set Admixture to run some HapMap data and will check the cross-validation results to get a sense of which K values are most reasonable.

    And let’s say for one minute that you had a point, and that the ADMIXTURE and STRUCTURE results were no good. What about PCA? (see my FRB above for the images if they don’t show here).

    A neat trick in science is to test the reliability of one observation/measurement method against other, very different methods and see if they agree. Uncertainties in the reliabilities of one method can be reduced by cross-checking it with other methods.

    To dwell on the putative uncertainties of ADMIXTURE results is like dwelling on the reliability of radiometric dating, ignoring corroboration from other dating methods.

    To summarize all the above: despite Wade’s claim that structure groups “human genetic variation into five continent-based clusters”, there is no statistical support for choosing 5 population clusters (which Wade thinks is most “reasonable,” “practical,” and “simple”) over any other number of clusters. Wade is certainly allowed to argue that there are 5 races in humans, but we have to recognize that this is not a scientifically-based or genetic argument.

    Jennifer, seriously, a simple look at the genomic data from Latin America is enough to disprove that (image here, see link for image if it doesn’t show):

    These points are all discussed more extensively in my original critique of Wade’s book. But instead of taking my criticisms seriously. Wade attacked my credentials (and those of his other critics, biological anthropologists Agustin Fuentes and Jon Marks ).

    I and others (Cochran) have made short work of those.

    The fact that I am trained in statistics and specialize in human genomics research is inconvenient for Wade’s attempts to frame this issue as a case of “biologists” vs. “social scientists”, so he simply ignores my genetics expertise

    I’d say that this is justified, because you’re getting things wrong. To be honest, degrees are besides the point, in science, you’re only as good as your knowledge of the facts and the soundness of the conclusions you draw from those facts.

    What Wade fails to understand is that scientists, by and large, are more convinced by data than rhetoric.

    If only, if only…

    • 
      Scott Siskind June 2, 2014 at 6:19 pm

      Goddamn man, fucking thanks for this. I was on the verge of actually agreeing with this shitty article, didn’t know the science for myself. Is there a place where I can do the proper reading with the most unbiased sources? Thanks man, I love your blog.

    • 

      In the “genomic data from Latin America” piece you link, why are the Karitiana, Surui, Yukpa, Warao, and Bari groups monochromatic?

    • 

      Your first claim is wrong in your FAQ. It is well known that people “like you” can be racist, actually anyone can. Uncle Ruckus, do you know him?

    • 

      Jennifer wrote:

      “The fact that I am trained in statistics and specialize in human genomics research is inconvenient for Wade’s attempts to frame this issue as a case of “biologists” vs. “social scientists”, so he simply ignores my genetics expertise”

      You wrote
      “I’d say that this is justified, because you’re getting things wrong. To be honest, degrees are besides the point, in science, you’re only as good as your knowledge of the facts and the soundness of the conclusions you draw from those facts.”

      Because she – in your mind – is getting things wrong, it is justified to frame the issue as biologists vs. social scientists?

      Please explain your notion of how your claim of her being wrong justifies considering her a social scientist?

      Talking about soundness of conclusions you draw from facts, yours don’t seem to be very sound….

    • 

      Oh, as for JayMan’s FAQ, as someone with an IQ of roughly 140 and European, I find his comments and his reliance on graphs that all too often are either horribly naive or simply misleading amusing. As for the horribly naive, his simple reproduction of IQ bell curves attaching chances at life and penchant for certain tasks is rich. “Yours to lose” for high IQ people ignores how many of them fall through the gaps because school systems in practically all nations are not set up to help these outliers. All too often, they are bored to death at school and sometimes disturb class. Is it truly “Theirs to lose” when trained teachers don’t recognize their potential and instead label them dumb fools? As for the penchant for certain tasks, my brother is definitely not dramatically less intelligent than I – and since you believe in such a significant influence of genetics, I’m sure you’ll agree. But he certainly is not a brains worker, he loves more hands-on stuff and never was one who thrives through sheer acquisition of knowledge. As a consequence, he also had a remarkably different path through life. Sounds like the preference for more hands-on or intellectual pursuits is a wee bit more complex than pure genes, is it?

      As for the misleading graphs, using a graph with the number of HOMICIDES in various countries as evidence for VIOLENCE in general over the centuries is rich. Counting homicides against the backdrop of events such as the Thirty Years war as testimony of trends in violence is amusing – as is ignoring WWI and WWII.

      I take it, then, that you and JayMan consider war not a form of violence?

      • 

        @tylenko:

        as someone with an IQ of roughly 140 and European, I find his comments and his reliance on graphs that all too often are either horribly naive or simply misleading amusing.

        How about a reliance on statistics, which is clearly escaping you at the moment?

        As for the horribly naive, his simple reproduction of IQ bell curves attaching chances at life and penchant for certain tasks is rich. “Yours to lose” for high IQ people … As for the penchant for certain tasks, my brother is definitely not dramatically less intelligent than I – and since you believe in such a significant influence of genetics, I’m sure you’ll agree. But he certainly is not a brains worker, he loves more hands-on stuff and never was one who thrives through sheer acquisition of knowledge. As a consequence, he also had a remarkably different path through life.

        See above. Second, because, sure, I’ve said, somewhere out there, that IQ was the sole determinant of life outcomes for individuals… :\

        IQ is only correlated with success for individuals. There is plenty of left-over variance that IQ doesn’t explain (however, the correlation with IQ and outcome increases as you look at groups, increasing the larger the group).

        As for the misleading graphs, using a graph with the number of HOMICIDES in various countries as evidence for VIOLENCE in general over the centuries is rich.

        The point of that graph was to demonstrate a known change over long periods of time, noting that these can be explained by evolution.

        Counting homicides against the backdrop of events such as the Thirty Years war as testimony of trends in violence is amusing – as is ignoring WWI and WWII.

        But, since you went there, check this out. Both World Wars are factored into those. Now you tell me.

        • 

          How about a reliance on statistics, which is clearly escaping you at the moment?

          Forgive me, but I was unaware of any statistics course that justified mapping any characteristic out there on whatever distribution I felt like…

          See above. Second, because, sure, I’ve said, somewhere out there, that IQ was the sole determinant of life outcomes for individuals…

          Ah, sure, but controlling for confounders is for wuzzes, huh? Let’s just map it on the IQ… Heck, you evidently don’t even understand that of those people who fall through the net of the education system, the vast majority will never have done an IQ test, meaning any “reliance on statistics” on the way through life of the upper percentiles will necessarily be horribly skewed because the proportion of tested individuals will be much higher among those who succeeded than among those who were told all their life they were idiots.

          You’re arguing purely on the basis of what must not be cannot be, not on statistics.

          Totally aside from the fact that this doesn’t defuse the arrogance of “Yours to lose” in any way, but you are evidently not shy to use even flimsy exclusions.

          The point of that graph was to demonstrate a known change over long periods of time, noting that these can be explained by evolution.

          Except that the variable claimed to have been followed was not the actual variable measured, the measurements on the left hand side of the graphs was pretty much guesswork, and the mere fact that something CAN be explained by something by no means indicates that that IS the actual explanation. Ever heard “correlation doesn’t imply a causative relationship”?

          But, since you went there, check this out. Both World Wars are factored into those. Now you tell me.

          Not quite sure WHAT you believe that shows. But if you look at it, Minnesota 1825 and New Guinea 1939 look awfully similar. On the other hand, Minnesota 1825 and California 1840s is quite a difference despite being geographically much closer… now which is it? Are you arguing that 15 years is more time than 114?

          In any case, concluding to evolutionary change just because something changes over the centuries is, ahem, a wee bit daring. There’s plenty of other things that have changed and cultural development isn’t a strictly genetic process anyway.

          • 

            @tyelko:

          • 

            It was comparing tribes and countries in that last one. Teeny tiny tribes vs massive countries in short periods especially for the tribes, he didn’t explain that to you. You can barely see the names on the image too.

            Either way it doesn’t prove anything. That is literally pseudoscience.

    • 

      Could you say a little more about the validity of comparing PCA to K clustering? If we’re searching for converging evidence, we need to be sure that our methods are comparable. For example, PCA and reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces will return radically different results if the original feature space is not linearly separable (and PCA will not only be useless, it will be actively misleading given its assumptions).

  4. 

    There’s a comment from me in moderation. Please approve (feel free to delete this comment afterwards, thanks).

  5. 

    Since you repeat a version of your assertion that:

    “1) As the authors of STRUCTURE note in the program’s documentation, it is not designed to be applicable to populations that experience IBD. (This is true of human populations).”

    You should probably let the creator of structure know that it is “not designed to be applicable to . . . human populations”. He seems to be confused on this point, considering the paper that introduces structure includes an example application to human data (and indeed a primary impetus for creating structure appears to have been the desire to correct for population structure in human association studies).

    Pritchard is also a co-author on the 2002 and 2005 Rosenberg papers.

    The issue of isolation by distance would be a reason to be cautious about over-interpreting clusters within Europe at high levels of K, for example. Not, as Chuck points out, a reason to ignore clusters that comprise major continental populations with clear discontinuities between them.

  6. 

    The Cultural Marxist “race is a social construct” propaganda is a lie and one that needs to be crushed. It’s high time for the Marxist lies of Boas, Gould, Lewontin need to be put to bed, as well as the lies of the next generation of Cultural Marxists, such as Fuentes and Raff. In the long term, the truth will prevail. Do you want to on the side of truth and honesty, or on the side a Cultural Marxist campaign of smears and lies?

  7. 

    Jennifer,

    Since you approvingly cite Yoder, do you agree with this bizarre reasoning?

    “Analyses based on more modern data find that worldwide, the largest differentiation between human populations tends to be on the order of 10%. Those still fall within Wright’s “moderate genetic differentiation,” but they are estimates of the proportions of total human population genetic diversity, not absolute differences in DNA sequences. It is quite possible to have 10% differentiation that without much biological meaning, if humans are not a very genetically diverse population.

    It turns out that this is exactly the case, which we can see by comparing variation within humans to variation within closely related species.”

    That is: there are significant genetic differences between human populations; but humans have less sequence diversity than chimpanzees; therefore genetic differences between human populations must not have “much biological meaning”. Are you endorsing this line of reasoning?

  8. 

    Although I disagree with virtually everything you say, I was dismayed to read Wade’s “defense” of his book. I enjoyed the book (you can see my review here: http://www.epjournal.net/articles/darwins-duel-with-descartes-a-review-of-nicholas-wade-a-troublesome-inheritance-genes-race-and-human-history/ ), although I thought it was flawed. But Wade should not deploy ad hominem attacks or appeals to authority. Keep in mind that such ad hominem attacks are what people who study human biological diversity often face (and much more vicious ones). Still, Wade should have addressed the science and should not have slung mud. Let’s keep these discussions civil.

    You have focused extensively on Rosenberg, which seems slightly beside the point. A number of biologists and theorists have provided reasonable defenses of the usefulness of race as a concept (e.g., Hardimon, 2012; Sesardic, 2010; Woodley, 2010) I see most of the debate about race as squid ink. You and Wade both agree that humans vary genetically. Let’s focus on extremes. Humans in Northern Europe are distinct from humans in Southern Africa. The two groups have correlated differences. These differences are quite obvious to untrained observers, and they show up quite clearly in genetic analyses. There is a reason. The groups faced different selection pressures. I suspect you would agree with this.

    Your argument is that such differences are clinal and that there are no clear cut, discrete boundaries among racial groups. But no one argues that there are. Again, focus on extremes. At the ends of a cline, there are obvious and possibly profound differences. Consider an example. You might say that there is no such thing as youth or old age because there isn’s a clear division between a youth and an aged person. Sure. I don’t know where I would classify a 37 year-old person. But at the extremes, there are obvious differences. And for purposes of analysis, we could easily operationalize. I can say 0-30 is young and 31 to 70 is old. You might disagree, but I have clearly operationalized, and my operationalization would almost certainly provide useful information. In the future, we will almost certainly get more sophisticated allele-based analyses. But for now, using the concept of race appears perfectly legitimate and valid.

    Scientists gave up the pursuit of essential definitions long ago. We no longer discourse like Plato and his interlocutors about the precise meaning of “emotion” or “justice” because we realized that such debates/discussions are often fruitless. If I demanded that psychologists absolutely and essentially define “emotion” before talking about affect, they would be flummoxed. It is simply a waste of time. We operationalize. Wade certainly operationalizes.

    A final point. Those who accept science and believe in human biological diversity are not all part of a scientific cabal of conservative nationalists who want to perpetuate pernicious stereotypes. I, for one, am relatively liberal and believe in a European-style welfare state. I oppose racism because it is disgusting, not because races don’t exist. You suggest that race is “politically motivated labeling.” That is unfair. Humans can classify people into continental races with better than 75% accuracy, the criteria once proposed for a subspecies. At any rate, the suggestion that continental racial groups are arbitrary, politically motivated categories is surprising. It makes sense, I think, to look at an individual’s ancestral environment because that environment comprised the selective forces that created that individual’s phenotypic traits. And why is it politically motivated to use this reasonable system of categories? It seems like a fruitful approach to human diversity.

    Again, you may think that there are better ways to divide human populations (although you haven’t suggested any), but the notion that race is a politically motivated and arbitrary division is belied by the evidence.

    • 

      You say 0-30 is young and 31+ is old. Someone else says 0-20 is young, 21-50 is mature and 51+ is old. When you sit on the tram and a 35 year old guy and a 70 year old guy enter, you offer your seat to an old person – the 35 year old guy. By your standards, you’ve offered it to an old person. Yes, the other person was twice as old, but still, you gave it to an old person, so no one should criticise you, right?

      Yes, you have clearly operationalized, but unless you cannot convince others of the utility of that operationalization, it’s going to hinder, not help communication. If there are no clear-cut criteria, you only have two choices – you either reach a consensus on how to oerationalize or you acknowledge what you’re doing is pure handwaving. You say your operationalization would almost certainly provide useful information. But that is only true for a minuscule fraction of circumstances – in many others, it would do more harm than good. The 70 year old guy would be less than happy with you. So is there really a net benefit to your operationalization? I wouldn’t be so hasty as to jump to conclusions…

      • 
        Michael Rover June 4, 2014 at 5:50 pm

        I think you miss the point tyelko. Talking about ‘utility’ is not the operative criterion. Somebody does not become any less old or young simply because you decide to use 5 or 50 terms to describe age, or indeed if you used decimal categories, or color shades, to describe their age. That’s all purely semantic; you might do it any number of ways, all of which would be valid. What matters is whether you are performing a logical categorization that corresponds to some form of statistical structure of the data. Going beyond that and asking “is it the MOST USEFUL POSSIBLE” categorization based on mutually-accepted criteria of maximal utility is completely irrelevant to the question at hand: Is it a MEANINGFUL categorization.

        This illustrates Raff’s incoherence, and is typical of her attempts to define the issue in a silly way that has no relation to the debate. She essentially tries to argue that “race” must establish itself as discrete categories that are axiomatically defined as products of incontestable utility — otherwise it’s meaningless. Which is silly; it’s as though warning somebody “look out, you are going to be hit by that car!” is meaningless because … aren’t there other, more narrowly defined terms one might have used instead of ‘car’? Couldn’t you have said ’1992 Ford Fiesta’? Couldn’t you have said “smallish car”? Car is scientifically meaningless, is it not? Well, you could break ‘car’ up into various subcategories, sure, none of which somehow renders my warning meaningless or incoherent. Perhaps there is a context in which it would be more helpful to know that a 1992 Ford Fiesta is about to hit me; maybe somebody who hates me drives one. What does this semantic posing about potential subcategorizing have to do with Wade’s points? Nothing.

        You literally could not successfully cross the street or operate a toaster oven with the semantic lunacy that Raff is attempting to perpetrate here, and asking people to take seriously.

        • 

          Going beyond that and asking “is it the MOST USEFUL POSSIBLE” categorization based on mutually-accepted criteria of maximal utility is completely irrelevant to the question at hand: Is it a MEANINGFUL categorization.

          Um, no. You have it precisely backwards. The only meaning the term can have is one that’s useful and mutally accepted. A term exists to convey meaning. It can convey meaning only if said meaning is accepted by both sides. Where that is not the case, the usage of the term is meaningless, as it does not do what it exists for: convey that meanings.

          • 

            Anyone else notice a pattern here? Lysenkoists are lifting entire passages from Creationists’ playbook (it’s not an accident that they tried cuddling up to Gould).

            They can go on about how _actually_ the carbon 16 content in a certain stratum blah blah blah. After Gould (fraud) and Lewontin (fallacy), their God of the Interstices is shrinking faster than a Young Earth gathering.

            So far no one has picked up the point about eGFR being adjusted by 20% for “blacks.” How is this possible if there is no “biological” basis for “race?” Is “optimal kidney function” also a “social construct?” Would you prefer nephrologists refrain from this “identification” because it creates “social discomfort?”

            http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/estimated-glomerular-filtration-rate-gfr-calculator

            Clearly nephrologists need a class in “critical race theory” because, you know, otherwise it’s off to the re-education camp!

          • 

            Hilarious coming up with creationism and, again, Gould. Do you actually have any argument that would NOT get you kicked out of college for fraud? I suggest you quit making up arguments and admit you have none.

            Clearly nephrologists need a class in “critical race theory” because, you know, otherwise it’s off to the re-education camp!

            No, you just need a class in what a nephrologist is: a medical PRACTICTIONER who is more interested in a quick fix that works than a scientifically solid diagnosis that doesn’t add any clinical value.

            Thanks for playing, this is precisely why I said you don’t understand personalized medicine a bit. Your concept of the field of healthcare is a Disney World where everyone magically has all the resources and all the knowledge they need. Welcome to reality.

          • 

            Lysenkoists! Fraud! Fallacy! More argument by soundbite. (This one is somewhat ironic, given Lysekno’s legacy supporting the Soviet version of HBD.)

            People have actually responded to your point several times, in both this thread and the last one. Doctors are adjusting the labs because some factor (which I think is unknown, but correct me if I’m wrong) is more associated with African Americans than with other groups. Why you think that would be surprising to anyone is beyond me; obviously some physical traits are more correlated with some presumed racial groups than other. Doctors can’t get a full genealogy or sequenced genome from every patient, so they look to race as a proxy expecting a fair correlation with the actual trait they’re trying to get at.

            If you broke down the country by state and assessed the average kidney function of each one, it would make sense for doctors–in the absence of better tests–to ask each patient, “Are you from Georgia? Are you from Maine?” They’d be using state as the same kind of flawed but potentially useful proxy for what they actually care about, the presence or absences of some specific trait. It doesn’t make states racial groups. (Actually I suppose it could, given the infinite flexibility of the term.)

            The crudity of this proxy is clear from the page you link to: all it asks is whether the patient is “black.” Is that the racial group now? Just “black”? What happened to the racialists’ angry insistence that their divisions take into full account the clinality of human diversity?

          • 

            “Doctors can’t get a full genealogy or sequenced genome from every patient, so they look to race as a proxy expecting a fair correlation with the actual trait they’re trying to get at.”

            If you broke down the country by state and assessed the average kidney function of each one, it would make sense for doctors–in the absence of better tests–to ask each patient, “Are you from Georgia? Are you from Maine?” They’d be using state as the same kind of flawed but potentially useful proxy…

            But they don’t, do they? Why is that? Do you think “race” is not a “useful proxy” beyond eGFR? Until everyone is treated like the precious snowflake they are (i.e. full genomic workup)? Advising your “black” patient to adjust his eGFR is a pretty “scientifically solid diagnosis” but since you seem to think otherwise, you should head up a class action lawsuit since there would be money to be made here.

            And

            “No, you just need a class in what a nephrologist is: a medical PRACTICTIONER who is more interested in a quick fix that works than a scientifically solid diagnosis that doesn’t add any clinical value.”

            If you guys _really_ believe this stuff, I hope you’re not practicing medicine. Other than homeopathy, which would be a fitting analog to your scientific dispositions. The laundry list of

            “The crudity of this proxy is clear from the page you link to: all it asks is whether the patient is “black.” Is that the racial group now?”

            Apparently it is. And regardless of how crude this assessment is, it’s orders of magnitude more useful and accurate that the smoke billowing for your, yes, Lysenkoist pinko pie hole.

            • 

              No, of course they don’t–I made the example up on the spot. Look at it this way: assume human beings are perfectly, 100% clinal in every way. Take a socially-constructed limiting factor: everyone born in an Olympics year. Statistically, that group will be an outlier somewhere. Kidney function, susceptibility to cancer, macular degeneration–something, somewhere will fall outside the curve of the rest of us. Once that fact is apparent to doctors, it makes perfect sense for them to ask what year their patients were born in, because it gives them a statistical edge to their guesses about test results when better information isn’t available. But are people born in Olympics years a different race?

              Race can be a social construct and useful to doctors.

              it’s orders of magnitude more useful and accurate that the smoke billowing for your, yes, Lysenkoist pinko pie hole.

              Obviously you’re trolling, but equally obviously it makes you angry when people don’t accede to your visions of race. Your linked Facebook page is post after post after post about race, race, race. Do you think your intense fervor is based in a rational analysis of the facts, or has this become ideological for you?

        • 

          Incidentally, the page you linked also asks specifically about the patient’s ethnicity rather than their race; they’re explicitly looking for self-identification with a cultural group.

          • 

            Again, “ethnicity” is now the “intelligent design” of our liberal Creationists. Is it really that word “race” that is causing you all this grief? How can we sugar-coat the biological reality to make it more palatable to Gouldians? Until they can safely reconcile a new world view?

          • 

            I’m not sure what you’re on about; you linked a page that asks about ethnicity rather than race. In my dictionary, ethnicity is defined explicitly as a social group rather than a biological taxa. It’s not my fault the page you linked doesn’t say what you thought it did.

        • 

          Oh, just to add…

          Which is silly; it’s as though warning somebody “look out, you are going to be hit by that car!” is meaningless because … aren’t there other, more narrowly defined terms one might have used instead of ‘car’? Couldn’t you have said ’1992 Ford Fiesta’? Couldn’t you have said “smallish car”? Car is scientifically meaningless, is it not?

          If you consider the cited exclamation scientific discourse, there is really no helping you. I suggest you have much work to … It is your comparison that is silly. Not just silly, completely ridiculous. It deliberately obfuscates the difference between professional scientific terminology and crisis conversation in an everyman situation.

          I assume you would also have no problem if a doctor didn’t bother WHICH kidney of yours had failed and just took out whichever he felt like? After all, specifying which one is silly. It is also silly to specify which nerve to hit with some botox. It is totally irrelevant for LASER excitation what wavelength you are using. For electrolysis, it is silly to specify at what voltage you are running. Yes, I am sure that no one would need anything more specific than “Duh, just turn the power on”. That will certainly be accepted by any scientific review board out there as the proper terminology for the description of your experimental setup.

        • 

          No, of course they don’t–I made the example up on the spot. Look at it this way: assume human beings are perfectly, 100% clinal in every way. Take a socially-constructed limiting factor: everyone born in an Olympics year. Statistically, that group will be an outlier somewhere. Kidney function, susceptibility to cancer, macular degeneration–something, somewhere will fall outside the curve of the rest of us. Once that fact is apparent to doctors, it makes perfect sense for them to ask what year their patients were born in, because it gives them a statistical edge to their guesses about test results when better information isn’t available. But are people born in Olympics years a different race?

          Race can be a social construct and useful to doctors.

          it’s orders of magnitude more useful and accurate that the smoke billowing for your, yes, Lysenkoist pinko pie hole.

          Obviously you’re trolling, but equally obviously it makes you angry when people don’t accede to your visions of race. Your linked Facebook page is post after post after post about race, race, race. Do you think your intense fervor is based in a rational analysis of the facts, or has this become ideological for you?

          • 

            You can’t be serious.

            So of all the possible arbitrary, equally valid markers, nephrologists chose race… just because they are spiteful? They like to make Gouldians uncomfortable? Or could it be that race _happens_ to have the most predictive power. They could have sliced it any other way, but they chose “race.”

            News flash: it wasn’t arbitrary. It’s because the “social construct” has a deep biological basis which we’re only beginning to plumb. Or do you think there won’t be other fudge factors? Sure, there are environment corrections like “If you worked in an asbestos mine, you should increase your change of lung cancer by 1000%” but your cohort are pretending there is no basis for a racial one.

            In short, the guidance was not frivolous or arbitrary. Incidentally, there are those in your camp who say doctors should NOT provide or even identify this information. They would rather patients get sub-optimal diagnoses than confront the Man Behind the Curtain (genes).

          • 

            The reason “nephrologists chose race” is probably that it’s a relatively easy thing to suss out–they can ask how someone self-identifies, or make a quick categorization based on looks if necessary. And I would imagine that there are good data sets tracking lab results along with ancillary data like reported race. I don’t know, though, any more than you do.

            • 

              So in your mind, you think that nephrologists chose race out of convenience (“there happened to be data for that.”)

              You realize that Gouldians are going to have to start practicing genetics like Creationists “do” geology, with a willful, studious ignorance of ever-increasing counter-evidence?

              Look, you win, ok? “Race” is a “construct”. Just like “color”, “rape”, “slavery”, “myopia”, etc. It’s all a construct. Who’s to say what these terms really “mean”? It all depends on what your definition of “is” is.

              And thus your epistemic closure is complete… hurrah!

          • 

            “Gouldians?” You sound like the wackos who say “Darwinists.”

  9. 

    Someone needs to write up an article about radical Cultural Marxists like Jon Marks, Jennifer Raff and Augustin Fuentes and expose these frauds for what they are.

    Don’t get me wrong, I”m a liberal, but these people are scary; they’re antithetical to science.

  10. 

    I don’t suppose you have it in you to refrain from gratuitous vulgarity?

    • 

      That was meant for the one who calls himself Scott Siskind.

      • 

        A lot of the attacks we’ve seen here are fueled by an intense, if somewhat misplaced, anger at those who would deny the Truth-with-a-capital-T of race. A lot of those comments also seem eager to denigrate Dr. Raff personally–refusing to use her title as a matter of principle, spitting venom, and (of course) justifying it by claiming to be martyrs at her bloody hands. It’s quite a spectacle.

        • 

          If they understood half as much about theory of science as they pretend, they wouldn’t touch that “capital T” word with a ten foot pole – illustrating quite well that it’s more an issue of ideology and mapping the data to it, rather than vice versa..

  11. 

    I was wondering if Dr. Raff feels she learned anything from the extraordinarily substantive responses she received in the comments section of her previous post.

    • 

      Hi Steve,

      You abandoned the last thread with a lot of unanswered questions about your idiosyncratic ideas about race, which seem to require drawing an arbitrary line at some point of familial consanguinity. Your drive-by comment here–which you dropped under a post explicitly noting that Dr. Raff is unavailable to respond–doesn’t answer them. So can I ask again?

      If race, to you, is a family with inbreeding, where do you draw the lines to separate one race from another? After all, would that definition equally divide us into one race or thousands? I realize that you haven’t claimed to have a concrete, detailed definition, but I don’t see how it could work even in principle.

      • 

        @ Colin,

        That’s a good point, but look at how the concept is applied generally. Below is an excerpt from a review paper “Taxonomic Considerations in Listing Subspecies
        Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act”. Using this approach the major continental groups or populations would appear to be identifiable races?

        “Traditionally, subspecies have been defined by morphological
        traits or color variations, but recent critics are concerned
        that these traits may not reflect underlying genetic
        structure and phylogenies. This concern stems from recent
        work in which phylogenetic patterns of genetic variation
        were not concordant with some subspecies classifications
        defined by morphology (Zink 1989; Ball & Avise
        1992; Zink et al. 2000; Zink 2004).

        The only quantitative subspecies definition we found
        was the 75% rule (Amadon 1949; Patten & Unitt 2002)
        that states a subspecies is valid if 75% or more of a population
        is separable from all (or >99% of ) members of the
        overlapping population. Although the 75% rule is more
        quantitative than other definitions, there is disagreement
        about the 75% threshold and the number of characters
        that should be used when comparing populations (Patten
        & Unitt 2002).

        Despite all the criticisms, recent studies in which researchers
        used multiple criteria (e.g., morphological, behavioral,
        and genetic characters) have confirmed that
        many subspecies are evolutionarily definable entities
        (e.g., Gavin et al. 1999; Pasquet 1999; Haig et al. 2004).

        http://tinyurl.com/phews5p

        1. Can East Asians be separated from Europeans or Africans 75% of the time from others on the basis of morphological features? I think you’ll find analysis of Howell’s cranio-facial features that you can.

        2. If represent by their DNA sequence, when aggregated, they cluster into readily identifiable groups.

        http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2009/06/genetic-clustering-40-years-of-progress.html

        • 

          Hi Mike,

          Thanks for an interesting response. Let me preface my reply with something I’ve said a bunch of times in these threads, but should repeat just in case–I’m not a scientist, and have very little familiarity with the research on these questions. Having said that, I’m extremely skeptical of the racialist position, based largely on its inability to persuade actual experts of the validity of its ideological postulates and its insistence that the reason is the wickedness of PC scholars rather than any defect in those postulates. I don’t think everyone arguing for the validity of race falls under that umbrella–and I don’t mean to include you in it–but I think it’s fair to point out that you’re very unlikely to persuade me without first persuading the majority of experts.

          So having said that, you can probably guess that I don’t find your position here persuasive. I think it’s very interesting, though.

          I don’t think that definition of subspecies (which I understand to be more or less the same concept as race) applies very well to humans. In my limited reading, it sounds as if the 75% rule is overly simplistic, and that “[a]lmost all reasonable subspecies that can be thought of as valid are currently geographically isolated patches of a once continuous population.” I don’t think that applies to humans.

          The use of the 75% rule you cite seems reasonable to me, since it’s in the context of trying to determine the applicability of a statute. I’m quite familiar with that particular problem! In determining the scope of a statute, predictability is an enormous priority. It doesn’t matter so much if the definition is wrong around the edges or too simple, as long as it resolves the problem efficiently. In other words, a wonky definition is perfectly acceptable if the better definitions are so hard to apply that developers can’t tell whether or not the new subdivision will run afoul of the Act.

          But those considerations don’t apply in science. Accuracy matters more than simplicity, and I don’t think (based on Laden’s comments) that the 75% rule is an accurate description of how subspecies are defined.

          Let’s assume arguendo that it is, though. If I drive a few hours from where I’m sitting, in pretty much any direction, I’ll come to a town where every single person in the population speaks with a heavy Texas accent. I think I could distinguish those people from French Canadians more than often enough to satisfy the 75% rule. Are Texans and French Candians two separate subspecies? I realize that the distinction isn’t genetic, but I don’t see anything in your definition of the rule (or in my cursory online search) that requires a genetic distinction.

          And if we do require a genetic distinction, I’m pretty sure we could mix that Texas town into the population of Iceland and separate out 75% of them based on their lack of blonde hair and features. Are white Texans a different subspecies from white Icelanders?

          • 

            If I drive a few hours from where I’m sitting, in pretty much any direction, I’ll come to a town where every single person in the population speaks with a heavy Texas accent

            Sounds like you’re in Austin. Jennifer Raff works at UT Austin. This would make your recent white-knighting not only copious, but regional.

            I also live in Austin, nice town.

            And if we do require a genetic distinction, I’m pretty sure we could mix that Texas town into the population of Iceland and separate out 75% of them based on their lack of blonde hair and features. Are white Texans a different subspecies from white Icelanders?

            That would depend on how genetically similar or dissimilar they were, I would think. Perhaps DNA testing or some other racist hocus-pocus could illuminate any differences. Any differences would of course be superficial and not subject to value judgements by nefarious characters that are blinded by “hate” and “ignorance”.

            I know the Chinese are just a social construct, but hopefully they can get us off this planet before it’s too late.

            • 

              Yes, I live in Austin. That’s pretty minimal detective work; I think some of my pieces on the blog list my full name, and Google would probably do the rest. I think your comment fits neatly into the theme of racialist commenters (with a few notable exceptions) attacking people for disagreeing with The Race Truth, and ascribing all such disagreement to ulterior motives. It’s quite striking how nasty racialist commenters get on these threads, and how quickly. (Of course, that nastiness tends to go hand-in-hand with complaints about martyrdom. I suppose it’s a convenient, if unpersuasive, excuse for their incivility.)

              On the substance of your comment, you’re pointing to DNA testing as a way to distinguish the Texan and Icelandic races. But the excerpt above discusses “morphological, behavioral, and genetic characters” as ways to distinguish subspecies. Some characters would make the two populations distinct, some wouldn’t. So how does that work? Do we just pick whatever characters get us to the desired results? Sounds once again like race is a social construct in search of a biological framework.

              • 

                Yes, I live in Austin. That’s pretty minimal detective work; I think some of my pieces on the blog list my full name, and Google would probably do the rest. I think your comment fits neatly into the theme of racialist commenters (with a few notable exceptions) attacking people for disagreeing with The Race Truth, and ascribing all such disagreement to ulterior motives. It’s quite striking how nasty racialist commenters get on these threads, and how quickly. (Of course, that nastiness tends to go hand-in-hand with complaints about martyrdom. I suppose it’s a convenient, if unpersuasive, excuse for their incivility.)

                Alternatively, I merely saw an opening to make a bad “recent, copious, and regional” pun, end of story. A bit of sarcastic condescension from me doesn’t warrant this degree of defensive hyperbole, in my opinion.

                • 

                  Fair enough, although it’s unreasonable (and wrong) to assume I have ulterior motives for my beliefs, I apologize if I overreacted to your comment.

          • 

            @ Colin,

            Thanks for the response. The different accents is one feature, but you’re looking for morphological traits. It’s through the correlation of various traits (this is also the case with correlations of alleles) that you can identify different groups (see Armand Leroi’s NY Times op-ed – “A Family Tree in Every Gene).

            The example of Icelanders & other European Texans is an example of what Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago posted about a couple of years ago. Because variation is nested within groups you could have identify further races (sub-races) within the main groups. Coyne nonetheless concluded that using the concept of race, as used in evolutionary biology, there are human races.

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/are-there-human-races/

            It’s worth noting also that the problem of categorization/binning/clustering occurs in all of biology. There are even problems with this at the species level, let alone sub-species/races :)

            In terms of genetic distinctions, Risch et al note that the main population structure within the species occurs at the continental level. In their paper “Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease” they define racial groups on the basis of the primary continent of origin. Risch et al comment:

            “Populations that exist at the boundaries of these continental divisions are sometimes the most difficult to categorize simply. For example, east African groups, such as Ethiopians and Somalis, have great genetic resemblance to Caucasians and are clearly intermediate between sub-Saharan Africans and Caucasians [5]. The existence of such intermediate groups should not, however, overshadow the fact that the greatest genetic structure that exists in the human population occurs at the racial level.”

            http://genomebiology.com/2002/3/7/comment/2007

            This point is reiterated in papers looking at the confounds you can get with Genome Wide Analysis Studies because of systematic ancestral differences. For example, Tian et al comment:

            “CONTINENTAL VERSUS SUB-CONTINENTAL DIFFERENCES IN ALLELIC VARIATION

            Studies over the last 6 years have shown substantial differences in allele frequencies within different continental populations (31). There is controversy with regard to whether there are discrete divisions between the continents (32,33). However, in general the number of SNPs showing large allele frequency differences between major continental populations (the fraction of SNPs with Fst’s (34) >0.25 or allele frequency differences >40%) are an order of magnitude greater than that seen within continental populations.

            Therefore, in theory the largest source of type 1 errors will be caused by differences in the distribution of ancestry from major continental populations in case and control sets. In practice, self-identification of ancestry substantially reduces this problem.”

            http://hmg.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/R2/R143.full

            The continental level approach would also fit with the idea that the sub-species are intended to cover the major patterns of variation within a species. eg.

            “While there has traditionally been debate over the application of subspecies designations, it should be apparent that this rank contains substantial information regarding geographic variation. Its use is particularly pertinent when it describes the major patterns of geographic variability found within a species and when there is concordance of genetic and morphological patterns (Avise and Ball 1990).

            http://www.nsrl.ttu.edu/publications/opapers/ops/OP283.pdf

            • 

              The different accents is one feature, but you’re looking for morphological traits. It’s through the correlation of various traits (this is also the case with correlations of alleles) that you can identify different groups (see Armand Leroi’s NY Times op-ed – “A Family Tree in Every Gene).

              I’m not sure this resolves my question; we’re looking at a combination of traits, from genetic to behavioral, according to the excerpt above; the traits you pick determine your results. How do you determine which criteria to prioritize? It appears that a lot of race theorists are doing it based on the results they expect to see.

              The continental divisions are interesting to me. Are they different than what a population would be?

          • 

            @ Colin,

            Thanks for the response. The different accents is one feature, but you’re looking for morphological traits. It’s through the correlation of various traits (this is also the case with correlations of alleles) that you can identify different groups (see Armand Leroi’s NY Times op-ed – “A Family Tree in Every Gene).

            The example of Icelanders & other European Texans is an example of what Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago posted about a couple of years ago (“Are-there-human-races” (28 Feb 2012). Because variation is nested within groups you could have identify further races (sub-races) within the main groups. Coyne nonetheless concluded that using the concept of race, as used in evolutionary biology, there are human races.

            It’s worth noting also that the problem of categorization/binning/clustering occurs in all of biology. There are even problems with this at the species level, let alone sub-species/races :)

            In terms of genetic distinctions, Risch et al note that the main population structure within the species occurs at the continental level. In their paper “Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease” they define racial groups on the basis of the primary continent of origin. Risch et al comment:

            “Populations that exist at the boundaries of these continental divisions are sometimes the most difficult to categorize simply. For example, east African groups, such as Ethiopians and Somalis, have great genetic resemblance to Caucasians and are clearly intermediate between sub-Saharan Africans and Caucasians [5]. The existence of such intermediate groups should not, however, overshadow the fact that the greatest genetic structure that exists in the human population occurs at the racial level.”

            http://genomebiology.com/2002/3/7/comment/2007

            This point is reiterated in papers looking at the confounds you can get with Genome Wide Analysis Studies because of systematic ancestral differences. For example, Tian et al comment:

            “CONTINENTAL VERSUS SUB-CONTINENTAL DIFFERENCES IN ALLELIC VARIATION

            Studies over the last 6 years have shown substantial differences in allele frequencies within different continental populations (31). There is controversy with regard to whether there are discrete divisions between the continents (32,33). However, in general the number of SNPs showing large allele frequency differences between major continental populations (the fraction of SNPs with Fst’s (34) >0.25 or allele frequency differences >40%) are an order of magnitude greater than that seen within continental populations.

            Therefore, in theory the largest source of type 1 errors will be caused by differences in the distribution of ancestry from major continental populations in case and control sets. In practice, self-identification of ancestry substantially reduces this problem.”

            “Accounting for ancestry: population substructure and genome -wide association studies” Tian et al Hum. Mol. Genet. (2008) 17 (R2)

            The continental level approach would also fit with the idea that the sub-species are intended to cover the major patterns of variation within a species, as noted here:

            “While there has traditionally been debate over the application of subspecies designations, it should be apparent that this rank contains substantial information regarding geographic variation. Its use is particularly pertinent when it describes the major patterns of geographic variability found within a species and when there is concordance of genetic and morphological patterns (Avise and Ball 1990).

            (SYSTEMATICS OF STELLER SEA LIONS 2009)

        • 

          Right, consider the long history of haggling over applications of the Endangered Species Act: e.g., should the proposed multibillion dollar Ahmanson Ranch development outside L.A. be halted due to the discovery of the apparently rare San Fernando Spineflower (a dime-sized weed) on the property, or is the San Fernando Spineflower not really a species but instead just a variant of the common San Gabriel Spineflower?

          It turns out that even species are not at all the clear-cut Platonic essences that Colin wants. They’re fuzzy sets. And yet, we deal with this fuzziness.

          • 

            Hi Steve,

            You’re still ignoring questions about your vague racialist theories. If race is a real thing, and reflects only inbreeding family groups, where do you draw the line? What makes the human race four (or five, or six, depending on the racialist) races instead of a thousand or one?

            You don’t seem to have thought this through very thoroughly, but you feel confident enough in your ability to discern race to stare at a portrait of Fuentes and decide that he’s mostly white.

            It seems like your own theories about race are entirely cultural, with only the thinnest veneer of scientific concepts.

            While species may be fuzzy around the edges, the core concept is much easier to distinguish than the incredibly vague concept of “race,” which even the racialists responding to these articles can’t agree upon. Is it your family groups, or Chuck’s clustering, or the 75% rule, or the visual test someone else proposed? “Species” is fuzzy around the edges; “race” is fuzzy to the core.

            • 

              Seems like you draw the line yourself.

              If you’re “black”, you need to adjust your kidney lab by 20%. I guess it’s up to you to decide how “black” you are. Not in any biological sense of course. Just based on how you feel you’ve been “socially constructed.”

              http://www.renal.org/information-resources/the-uk-eckd-guide/about-egfr

              In the coming world of personalized medicine (heck you can find out now by going to 23andme) you can find out how “black” you really are and adjust this number in a continuous fashion.

              I supposed if Lysenko could condemn millions to starvation because Marxists frowned on Mendellian genetics, I suppose you can accept subpar medical outcomes in your effort to carry the baton.

              Good luck with that!

              • 

                The adjustment obviously isn’t to compensate for blackness, but rather because of the possibility of correlated factors. Race is just a quick and dirty proxy for what matters, which is specific ancestry and genetics. Similarly, someone using a mass spectrometer might look at the results with their naked eye and say, “That’s vaguely bluish-greenish, I bet there’s copper in this sample.” But it’s nothing more than a proxy for the data that really matter, the specific wavelengths of light in question.

                “Black” as a race and “bluish-green” as a color are both social constructs.

          • 

            Colin,

            I don’t understand why you think defenders of some conception of race have to answer the question of how many human races there are. First, it’s not clear that the conceptions that have been proposed (e.g., Sailer’s) even imply that there are a definitive number of races — the actual breeding history and genetic make-ups of human beings might make certain answers less perspicuous than others, but at different levels of specificity, 1, 4, 5, 6, and 1000 might all be helpful numbers of races to classify humans into. This doesn’t mean that biological race is “arbitrary”: there might be a best way to break down the human races at each of those levels of specificity (e.g., the groups that Structure might identify). Similarly, there’s no unique “extended family” to which I belong, because the concept of an extended family does not contain in itself how far that family extends. But once we make clear how close the relations we’re concerned with are (up to 1st cousins, up to 5th cousins, etc.), we can give fairly definitive answers as to who’s in my family.

            Second, though, let’s suppose that Steve and others are committed to there being a definitive number of races — perhaps the one that provides the “best fit” with the genetic and historical data. In this case the question of what the “correct” number is is presumably a complicated empirical question. It’s no more reasonable to expect Steve to answer that from the armchair than to expect a biologist to answer from the armchair “how many species of mammals are there” if she is to employ the concepts of species and mammal.

          • 

            Troy,

            I don’t understand why you think defenders of some conception of race have to answer the question of how many human races there are.

            That’s a good question. I’m obviously still working out my own opinions, so I appreciate the chance to clarify.

            (As an aside, is “racialists” a fair term for “defenders of some conception of race”? I’ve started using it that way after Chuck applied it to himself on the other thread; if you find the term inappropriate please let me know.)

            The short answer is that I don’t think that racialists have to determine how many races there are. I think instead that they’re caught between two problems. The first is that they can’t determine how many races there are, because human diversity is too clinal to make that an easy question. (The usual retort is that the same can be said of species, but I think that’s false; the fuzziness in “species” is around the edges, the fuzziness in “race” is at the core.) When they try, they get conflicting results because there just isn’t a clear set of criteria.

            (I don’t fault Sailer for being unable to answer this question–he was pretty clear that he’s just beginning to think about race in that particular, idiosyncratic way, and as you say even once he’s developed his personal theory of race he might not know the answer. My criticism is that his theory doesn’t even begin to answer the immediate, obvious question: where do you draw the line to split families, given last common ancestors? I don’t think he’s thinking seriously about race; I think he’s using it as a hot-button issue about which to pontificate in order to better establish himself as a commentator. It’s a slightly upmarket version of shock jockery.)

            The second problem is that while of course racialists are free to define “race” however they like, and split or lump accordingly, it makes it difficult to articulate what the point of “race” is other than let people talk about race for its own sake. Is it populations? Continental clusters? Families? Facial or skin characteristics? We’ve seen all those definitions just in these threads. What’s the utility of such a fuzzy, indeterminate categorization scheme?

            In other words, if you try to make it discrete, you get conflicting results. If you acknowledge that it’s all more or less a wash, you get useless results. Most of the efforts I’ve seen here are both.

            I think color is a good analogy. There’s the objective, scientific diversity, measured in wavelength. There’s the cultural construct we layer on top, ascribing some wavelengths to “red” or “blue” with lots of intermediate wavelengths that have to be lumped or split.

            When physicists work on light, they use appropriately precise terminology: the laser had a wavelength of X, or a wavelength between Y and Z. Color words like “blue-green” are just convenient ways to approximate the really important data.

            The analogy breaks down in that “race” is a more problematic handle than “color,” because “color” is generally only going to be inaccurate at the borders of a linear, subdivided spectrum. Genetic diversity is monstrously more complex, and there’s a lot more room for error.

          • 

            As an aside, is “racialists” a fair term for “defenders of some conception of race”? I’ve started using it that way after Chuck applied it to himself on the other thread; if you find the term inappropriate please let me know.

            I prefer ‘race realist’ as it to my ears sounds less like an accusation of racism. But many people use ‘racialist’ in the way you do.

            The short answer is that I don’t think that racialists have to determine how many races there are. I think instead that they’re caught between two problems. The first is that they can’t determine how many races there are, because human diversity is too clinal to make that an easy question. (The usual retort is that the same can be said of species, but I think that’s false; the fuzziness in “species” is around the edges, the fuzziness in “race” is at the core.)

            Two points. First, as you may be aware, there is significant disagreement over how to classify life into domains and kingdoms, the two highest taxa, including how many domains and kingdoms there are. So if this kind of “arbitrariness” is a problem for a biological concept, it appears to be a problem for these taxa. Second, in particular cases variation between what are clearly different species at the extremes really is clinal in a way that makes species division hard. Gulls are a classic example: there are different populations of gulls which can each interbreed with the population geographically nearest to it, but such that the two “ends” of the chain cannot breed with each other.

            We can also imagine a hypothetical case in which all genetic variation in nature is as continual as it is in the human case (I have some doubts whether it really is as clinal as Raff suggests, but let’s just assume that she’s right on that score). Would all biological taxa become completely useless in that case? It seems to me that the answer is clearly no. They would be harder to apply, but I doubt we could make significant headway on understanding the natural world if we did not employ any of the kinds of taxonomical divisions we do today. Certainly such divisions would remain essential for practical purposes: hikers would still want to know which mushrooms and berries they can eat and which ones they can’t, and they can’t run a genetic analysis on every one they come across.

            When physicists work on light, they use appropriately precise terminology: the laser had a wavelength of X, or a wavelength between Y and Z. Color words like “blue-green” are just convenient ways to approximate the really important data.

            I don’t think any defender of the race concept says differently with regards to race: it’s a convenient approximation of the genotypical and phenotypical diversity of humans.

      • 

        Where would you draw the line between turquoise and cyan? Ipso facto, color does not exist, or better yet, is a “social construct”, i.e. no physical basis. Those RGB color schemes are so… imperialist!

        • 

          Um yes, color naming conventions are evidently social constructs, as demonstrated not the least by the fact that they have different names in each language. Are you going to argue that language is not constructed?

          The wavelength is something that is scientifically measurable. Everything else is handwaving. Useful handwaving, at times. But that doesn’t change a bit.

  12. 

    Two comments on the critique of Wade by Dr. Raff and others

    (1) Those who deny biologically race often do so by claiming that races are arbitrary, but then make the immensely more arbitrary claim that 10-15% is “too little” inter-population variance to allow for the existence of races. Nothing in zoology can be used to “objectively” set this threshold, but why are race deniers so eager to accept it as a scientific argument against biological race in humans?

    (2) Dr. Raff critiques the interpretation of structure results and claims that they don’t show biological races. If she believes that biological races are possible in animals, then perhaps she can explain what pattern in structure or any other analysis she would expect to find in an animal that did have biological races. How would structure analysis of a species that had races show any other picture than the one shown for humans, i.e. a virtually prefect split of Africans, Europeans, and East Asians with a few admixed populations in-between?

    If she cannot objectively define a criterion that would lead her to the acceptance of race in a species, then her problem is with the concept of race or subspecies in zoology in general, and not with its application to humans in particular. I would be very interested to see if she can come up with a criterion that would convince her that a particular species has biological races. Such a criterion could then be evaluated in humans.

    • 

      Very true. Two things I’ve noticed:

      1. Dr Raff & Professor Fuentes seem to overlook the way the race concept is used elsewhere. They have created straw man of discrete specific races.

      Jerry Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, commented a couple of years ago:

      “What are races?

      In my own field of evolutionary biology, races of animals (also called “subspecies” or “ecotypes”) are morphologically distinguishable populations that live in allopatry (i.e. are geographically separated). There is no firm criterion on how much morphological difference it takes to delimit a race. Races of mice, for example, are described solely on the basis of difference in coat color, which could involve only one or two genes.

      Under that criterion, are there human races?

      Yes. As we all know, there are morphologically different groups of people who live in different areas, though those differences are blurring due to recent innovations in transportation that have led to more admixture between human groups.”

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/are-there-human-races/

      2. Fuentes even cites a paper by Alan Templeton that states there is an objective biological definition for subspecies using Fst values. If you go back and read the Smith et al (1997) paper that Templeton cites, you’ll see they don’t even mention Fst! Instead, what they are referring to is the 75% rule – whether you can allocate members to a group 75% of the time based on morphological features. Smith et al wrote:

      ““The non-discrete nature of subspecies is evident from their definition as geographic segments of any given gonochoristic (bisexually reproducing) species differing from each other to a reasonably practical degree (e.g., at least 70-75%), but to less than totality. All subspecies are allopatric (either dichopatric [with non-contiguous ranges] or parapatric [with contiguous ranges], except for cases of circular overlap with sympatry); sympatry is conclusive evidence (except for cases of circular overlap) of allospecificity (separate specific status). Parapatric subspecies interbreed and exhibit intergradation in contact zones, but such taxa maintain the required level of distinction in one or more characters outside of those zones. Dichopatric populations are regarded as subspecies if they fail to exhibit full differentiation (i.e., exhibit overlap in variation of their differentiae up to 25-30%), even in the absence of contact (overlap exceeding 25-30% does not qualify for taxonomic recognition of either dichopatric populations or of parapatric populations ….

      …..The use of multivariate statistical procedures can provide approaches that are reasonably objective and not dependent on preconceptions about taxonomic membership. Nonetheless, the discriminatory power of such methods depends critically on the quality of the characters being analyzed and, in addition, the adopted standard for level of differentiation required for taxonomic recognition. Multivariate analyses (Thorpe 1987) are useful techniques for substantiation of subspecific validity, with revival of the now generally neglected 75% (or similar) rule (idem:7) (Smith et al., 1997. Subspecies and Classification)”

      • 

        Worldly individuals could certainly sort individuals whose four grandparents came from the same region into continental-scale races with greater than 75% accuracy. There would be initial problems confusing a few groups such as some Melanesians with sub-Saharan Africans, but you’d pretty quickly get the hang of which is which. Jared Diamond, for example, notes that over a few months he developed the knack of identifying Melanesians by which specific island they were from just from their faces.

        • 

          So now we’re defining races differently depending on who’s doing the picking and how much training they’ve had in distinguishing faces? So rather than the five continental groups you’re looking for, we could wind up with two, or four, or six, or fifty or more. It’s no wonder professional scientists don’t seem to find human races to be a useful category.

          • 

            ***So rather than the five continental groups you’re looking for, we could wind up with two, or four, or six, or fifty or more. It’s no wonder professional scientists don’t seem to find human races to be a useful category.***

            @ Colin,

            I’ve provided a more detailed comment above. In terms of GWAS studies they are certainly useful as the main confounds arise from continental ancestry differences. The allele frequency differences between these populations are significantly greater than those within continental populations – although those can also create difficulties as this paper by Tian et al sets out.

            “CONTINENTAL VERSUS SUB-CONTINENTAL DIFFERENCES IN ALLELIC VARIATION

            Studies over the last 6 years have shown substantial differences in allele frequencies within different continental populations (31). There is controversy with regard to whether there are discrete divisions between the continents (32,33). However, in general the number of SNPs showing large allele frequency differences between major continental populations (the fraction of SNPs with Fst’s (34) >0.25 or allele frequency differences >40%) are an order of magnitude greater than that seen within continental populations.

            Therefore, in theory the largest source of type 1 errors will be caused by differences in the distribution of ancestry from major continental populations in case and control sets. In practice, self-identification of ancestry substantially reduces this problem.”

            http://hmg.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/R2/R143.full

          • 

            “So now we’re defining races differently depending on who’s doing the picking and how much training they’ve had in distinguishing faces? ”

            Silly, silly, silly.

            Obviously the best way to gauge reality is with the most possible information. So someone “Worldly” will be able to gauge reality to a far higher degree than someone unwordly.

            “So rather than the five continental groups you’re looking for, we could wind up with two, or four, or six, or fifty or more. It’s no wonder professional scientists don’t seem to find human races to be a useful category.”

            Absolutely meaningless. Substructure exists within any race, so the number of races is arbitrary but all numbers are correct.

            It’s like this: One is closest to one’s nuclear family, but then again, one is closer to his extended family than to people outside of one’s extend family.

            So , where to “draw the line.” Should we draw it around one’s “nuclear family” or one’s “extended family.” Well, that depends on what you want to do.

            Regardless, both “lines” are obviously correct in the sense that both lines represent a “cluster” of genetic relatedness relative to another cluster.

  13. 

    All of this is beside the real point, which is that the term “race” is a loaded one for one and one reason only… which is that people tend to assume that there are mental differences: in creativity, moral integrity, criminality, or in the averages in ability to defer immediate satisfaction in favour of longer term rewards, and finally in cognitive ability as measured by IQ – candlepower to win Nobel Prizes. I wonder if conspiracy theories or calling people names ought to be on this list?

    If this sticky part of the race issue were not there, we might be perfectly charmed by talk of how people from some populations tend to have a higher proportion of long distance runners, while others can get more Vitamin D from sunlight in northern latitudes than others who come from populations where, by contrast, darker skin protects them from getting skin cancer in the intense equatorial sun. Might we not be equally charmed to know that a higher proportion of certain populations have an adaptation to wearing kilts in cold weather that involves the retraction of male genitalia into the warmth of the pelvic cavity, while others have bigger lungs as an adaptation to living at high altitudes?

    However, racism is founded, not on these kinds of delightful differences illustrating human adaptive flexibility. It is founded on the idea that some populations are simply better people than others, and therefore deserve to be in charge of world affairs.

    Nicolas Wade, as far as I can see, has based this new book of his mostly on an elaboration of Henry Harpending and Greg Cochran’s “The 10,000 Year Explosion”, the main point of which seems to be that it was especially innovative populations who developed agricultural systems of food production, and have shown “copious” evolution in immune systems and digestive organs, so there is not reason why they ought not have also continued to evolve in cognitive ways that permitted the establishment of complex societies and rocket science. I asked Henry about this recently, quoting from the “Explosion” to ask him what is implied by the section that hints that it was Neanderthals who contributed the genes to Eurasians, and hence the (and I quoted, from the book)…

    ..”ultimate cause of this accelerated evolution was the set of genetic changes that led to an increased ability to innovate. Sophisticated language abilities may well have been the key. We would say that the new alleles (the product of mutation and/or genetic introgression) that led to this increase in creativity were gateway mutations because innovations they made possible led to further evolutionary change…and the most spectacular of those innovations was the development of agriculture.”

    To which Henry replied:
    “Something big seems to have happened–it showed up everywhere at the same time and there is no trace of it during the previous interglacial! I am not such a fan of a cognitive change–Greg is. I would be more inclined to look for the evolution of detoxivication systems to let folks tolerate grasses, which are pretty toxic.” (personal communication, 11.15 AM, June 3, 2014)
    and earlier:
    “Why would you think high level cognitive stuff came from Neanderthals? Bushmen are about as far from Neanderthals as you will get, separation time estimates from other humans pushing 200 kyr, yet they are the archetypes of cooperative people and the archetypes of trackers with ‘animal theory of mind’.” (Ibid)

    All I can conclude from this is that Henry Harpending also judges that the human brain must have changed by 200,000 years ago, creating fully modern “theory of mind” and other “high level cognitive stuff”. The people who domesticated plants and animals were not smarter than other people, for when I asked him why I had got this impression from his book, he responded:

    “Helga, what on earth? No one has ever claimed that being a farmer requires much in the way of intelligence.” (Ibid)

    An argument that recent recent evolutionary change has been rapid in genes affecting some tissues, like the genes for immune system, digestive enzymes, and skin colour, so we can logically expect that the brain has been subject to similar regional and copious evolutionary changes. It is NOT what the most recent research has found.

    “”We would expect positive selection to work most effectively on tissue-specific genes, where there would be fewer conflicting requirements,” says Wu. “For example, genes expressed only in male reproductive tissues have evolved very rapidly…

    “..Brains, however, “are intriguing in this respect,” Wu says. Genes that are expressed only in the brain evolved more slowly than those that are expressed in the brain as well as other tissues, and those genes evolved more slowly than genes expressed throughout the rest of the organism…”

    “..The authors attribute the slowdown to mounting complexity of interactions within the brain. “We know that proteins with more interacting partners evolve more slowly,” Wu said. “Mutations that disrupt existing interactions aren’t tolerated.”

    “..Other studies have found that, within the brain, the abundance of expressed genes per neuron appears to be greater in humans…”

    “On the basis of individual neurons of the brain, humans may indeed have a far more active, or even more complex, transcription profile than chimpanzee,” the authors note. “WE SUGGEST THAT SUCH ABUNDANT AND COMPLEX TRANSCRIPTION MAY INCREASE GENE-GENE INTERACTIONS AND CONSTRAINS CODING-SEQUENCE EVOLUTION.” (my emphasis)

    “Future studies of brain function and evolution will increasingly take advantage of the approaches of systems biology, Wu suggested. “The slowdown in genetic evolution in the more advanced organs makes sense,” he said, “only when one takes a systems perspective.”

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news86333632.html#jCp

  14. 

    Does anyone know what the average SAT and GRE scores are now for anthropology? I mean, this crap (these piss-poor articles of Raff, Marks & Fuentes) are good for exercises in counting logical fallacies and demonstrations of poor reasoning skills, but besides these pedagogical uses, I know not what purpose they serve. Since anthropology has become a political movement more interested in spreading political propaganda (e.g. the Cultural Marxist slogan “race is a social construct”) than seeking truth, I’m wondering whether the whole discipline should just be de-funded and departments disbanded. This is what one of my genetics professor friends thinks should happen. Thoughts?

    • 

      GRE scores by intended field of graduate study as of 2007:

      anthropology and archaeology: 533 verbal, 569 quantitative

      http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/08/graduate-record-exam-scores-by-graduate.html

      Not too good, but not too bad either. Way below physics, philosophy, engineering, and econ, but well above education.

    • 

      Thoughts?

      I was right earlier, when I said:

      “A lot of the attacks we’ve seen here are fueled by an intense, if somewhat misplaced, anger at those who would deny the Truth-with-a-capital-T of race. A lot of those comments also seem eager to denigrate Dr. Raff personally–refusing to use her title as a matter of principle, spitting venom, and (of course) justifying it by claiming to be martyrs at her bloody hands. It’s quite a spectacle.”

  15. 
    Michael Rover June 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    What’s particularly amusing is that Raff/Fuentes et al (I will leave aside those like Coyne/Orr who actually understand the science and concede the biological reality of race) are so hellbent on attacking a strawman. They insist — wrongly — that those who argue for race as a biologically meaningful concept believe it must be absolutely discrete, which is laughably contrary to historical reality — as if the concept of mixed race or a continuum was never comprehended previously!!! Then, conceding that what is being made is a STATISTICAL argument about populations, they argue that it’s unfair or meaningless to speak about race unless every grouping is, you guessed it, inherently discrete and uniform (and thus not subject to alternative division). Which is nonsense, because Wade points out the *tight correlation* between folk conceptions of race and distinct population clusterings revealed by computer analysis, clusterings which are themselves statistical. None of Raff’s arguments bear on that point, which is the central controversy at issue.

    Bottom line, human populations cluster in ways that are tightly correlated with folk conceptions of race. Sorry. You could, of course, break these clusters down further, but *absolutely everybody has always known that*; nobody ever thought every population cluster could not itself be broken down further.

    Raff argues: “Wade is certainly allowed to argue that there are 5 races in humans, but we have to recognize that this is not a scientifically-based or genetic argument. Rather, it’s based on his subjective opinion of what is reasonable or practical, which is a very different thing.”

    Please. It wouldn’t make the slightest iota of difference if people used strictly mathematical descriptions to describe cluster of human genetic variation, or used mathematical terminology — “cluster Bx42,” etc. — rather than using broader folk terms like ‘black’ or ‘white.’ That would be semanticism, akin to labeling the mentally handicapped ‘special.’ What matters in the first instance is the mathematical clustering and its correlation with common racial terminology. How you break that clustering up into sub-clusters has not the slightest bearing on Wade’s point, as if breaking African populations up into further defined clusters is either (a) incompatible with what Wade is saying; or (b) makes it meaningless to speak of the larger cluster.

    Fortunately this tiresome game of manipulative semantics has already been abandoned by most legitimate scientists working in the field, who are embarrassed by it, and who readily concede the biological reality of race. Sorry Raff, Fuentes. Your side lost the war.

    • 

      Based on the Structure results and comments from racialists here defending their idiosyncratic definitions of “race,” I think you’ve overstated your point. You say that that “human populations cluster in ways that are tightly correlated with folk conceptions of race.” It appears rather that human populations can cluster in lots of different ways, and that if you choose just the right inputs, you can generate clusters that correspond with folk definitions of race.

      You say that “most legitimate scientists working in the field” fall on your side of this question. How do you know? Is “race” a common term in anthropological research?

      • 
        Michael Rover June 5, 2014 at 11:55 am

        By ‘field’ I meant the field of population genetics, not the field of anthropology. I suspect it will take decades before anthropology has its come to Jesus moment and finally gives up on Lewontin’s fallacies. Lord knows anthropologists have already brought enough discredit on themselves in that regard.

        Even Lewontin’s own proteges and their Ph. D. students — Coyne, Orr, Petrov, etc. — have now accepted that race is a biological reality, contra Lewontin. Orr and Coyne, for example, both blast Wade’s book due to its speculations about biological determinism (fine and I agree with them), but they concede that his arguments about the biological reality of race are essentially correct. Because that’s what the data shows.

        What anthropologists are left with is an indefensible semantic theology whereby arguing that the mathematical clusters could be divided up differently, for various purposes — which nobody denies — somehow is a point against the biological reality of race. One might put it this way: A black guy will win the next 100M world championship. Nobody doubts this. But anthropologists might claim that this statement is biologically meaningless because you could have said “a guy with West African ethnic ancestry will win the next 100M world championship”, using a more narrow population division within the larger cluster, ergo race is not biologically meaningful. Which is utterly pointless, since both statements would remain perfectly true — and worse, even if you shifted to the proffered second subcategorization, you would only be presenting a more refined subcategorization that further affirms the validity of colloquial population groupings. And worse still, Wade and his crew not only don’t oppose this, they are fervently in favor of recognizing and using such more refined subgroupings. What matters is not the utility of any particular grouping, it’s that *GROUPING HAS UTILITY* based on its correlation with the mathematical clusters. Math rules all, and any grouping simply needs a statistically significant correlation with the math in order to be informative. Once that statistical point is understood, you can’t wish away somebody else’s choice of grouping, or claim that it doesn’t represent biological reality. In other words, Raff’s own point is fatal to what she thinks she is trying to argue. It was never about proving the God Grouping that is axiomatically valid for all humans and which permits no alternative groupings — which is what Raff wants the issue to be. It was only about whether any particular grouping of humans — and most particularly, folk conceptions of race — are biologically informative. That fight has ended with the sequencing and mathematical analysis of the human genome and its variations in different populations, even if Raff doesn’t quite understand why.

        • 

          You’re claiming that “most legitimate scientists working in the [the field of population genetics] … readily concede the biological reality of race.” Many other racialist commenters here have complained that anyone who fails to renounce the concept get with the statements of many other racialists here that those who do so get hounded out of their jobs by Leftist Cultural Marxist Stalinist Maoist PC mobs with pitchforks. I’m having trouble reconciling those positions.

          I guess you could resolve the question for me by showing that “race” is a term and/or category that population geneticists use regularly. What I’ve seen of the literature–which is not at all a representative sampling–suggests it’s mostly used in articles asking whether there’s a useful basis for race as a criteria at all. Seems to me that when geneticists and/or anthropologists talk about populations and clusters, they talk about populations and clusters using more precise and useful terminology.

          If we can split humans up in a half-dozen different ways, you’re free to call whatever grouping you like best “race.” But the fact remains that you can split the group up in various mutually conflicting ways, and that suggests that “race” isn’t a very useful term–especially if we can skip past it to talk about clusters and populations and groups that actually matter. In other words, I’m deeply skeptical that there’s a real scientific utility to “race” as a blanket covering various subjective lumps and splits.

          The real utility of race, as demonstrated in these threads, seems to be as a commercial proposition. It gave Wade a controversial best-seller; it props up Steve Sailer’s request for $500 sponsorships. If it’s a nonentity to most scientists, it’s a godsend to the race fetishists.

          • 
            Michael Rover June 5, 2014 at 2:39 pm

            I think the problem is that nobody is obliged to restrict their usage of folk conceptions of race to any specific vision of utility, much less a utility that perfectly coincides with some particular approach used in any particular scientific field. If I express disappointment that, as an Inuit, I will never have a chance to be world 100M sprinting championship, since blacks always win — well, there literally is not an argument in the world from a ‘scientific utility’ perspective that makes my ‘racial’ point any less valid or meaningful. Now, there could be 78 different taxonomic schema used within any particular scientific field to categorize human populations for a variety of different purposes; each schema might have its own arguments for utility in different contexts (including securing politically-motivated funding, no less!). What bearing would that have on whether my statement identifies a genuine disparity between population groups in their genetic talent for winning sprinting championships, as then related to an individual member of one group which has the statistical disadvantage? Essentially none. There simply is no scientific rebuttal to my expression of disappointment that I do not fall within the racial group that wins sprinting events. Attempts to wish this point away with alternative taxonomic schemes that might have greater utility *in some other and more narrow context* are completely irrelevant. Further, there is simply no scientific concept of superior taxonomic utility that bears on my socio-political expression of disappointment with my athletic lot in life. I’m in the wrong group.

            What the anti-racial position essentially does is to try to moralize this point away by interrogating the speaker as to why he is using the prevailing racial terminology — in other words, why, Inuit, are you using ‘black’ as a classification rather than “member of population group 54fB”? But it doesn’t matter in the context of the socio-political problem at issue, which is that our Inuit is in the wrong group. Changing names in an attempt to insulate contagion and ensure that the speaker in question makes ritual gestures of political nicety (“say Person of West African ancestry instead!”) is purely semantic. But worse, since it’s purely semantic it’s not like Wade et al care. They are perfectly happy to substitute “West African ancestry” when explaining why certain populations win sprinting championships and certain populations don’t. It simply bolsters their larger point. No matter what you want to do with the group terminology, they are in essence talking about the mathematical realities of population genetics, and as such are perfectly capable of making the EXACT SAME POINT under almost any alternative taxonomic scheme; indeed, they could make the point with purely mathematical descriptions rather than words.

            Again, I think it’s because the population geneticists understand this point that they’ve given up contesting the argument. It’s primarily anthropologists who are hoping that the semantic game of barring people from using common racial parlance when talking about genetic variations in human populations (“use group FB3 instead!”) will somehow de-link the reality of those variations from broader social discourse. Which it doesn’t. One group of people still wins the sprinting championships, and no taxonomic wankery in the world is going to make that genetic reality (or the public’s understanding of its significance re: people in other groupings not being the winners) go away.

          • 

            There simply is no scientific rebuttal to my expression of disappointment that I do not fall within the racial group that wins sprinting events.

            Rebutting disappointment is not the job of science generally. Moreover, your disappointment is subjective and rather circular; you’re assuming the significance of race, which is what you’re trying to demonstrate.

            Wouldn’t a scientist go right past the racial categorization you’re articulating and ask more specific, and more significant, questions? Your answer is, But it doesn’t matter in the context of the socio-political problem at issue… Assuming arguendo that your disappointment is a problem, you’ve correctly identified it as a question of socio-politics rather than science. The science gets done at a more granular level.

            No matter what you want to do with the group terminology, they are in essence talking about the mathematical realities of population genetics, and as such are perfectly capable of making the EXACT SAME POINT under almost any alternative taxonomic scheme; indeed, they could make the point with purely mathematical descriptions rather than words.

            No, that’s not logically sound. The larger category of “birds” doesn’t make the “EXACT SAME POINT” as the more specific category of “robins.” Although, to make the analogy more apt, we’d have to use the category of “things I think of as vaguely birdlike,” which would include robins and bats but not grasshoppers or ostriches. (Because ostriches don’t fly and they make durable boots; they just don’t feel like birds to me! Totally subjective, but that’s the point.) “Things I think of as birdlike” doesn’t make the EXACT SAME POINT as “robins.”

            Scientists, when analyzing nature, are going to talk about robins rather than the “birdlike” category. The fact that “birdlike” subsumes robins doesn’t give it the scientific validity of the “robin” category; even though “robin” can be fuzzy around the edges it’s nothing like as undefined as “birdlike.” “Birdlike,” like “race,” is a social construct that includes more specific categories that can be rooted in actual biology. Actual biologists seem to skip right over the vague umbrellas and talk directly about the more substantive categories underneath them: population, etc.

            Moreover, insofar as “race” can be pulled out of the data using carefully constructed priors and sculpted to match cultural preconceptions, it’s a fairly meaningless word. There’s a legal precept that essentially says that if a contract term can be interpreted to mean anything, then it should be interpreted as saying nothing. I think race fits in that hole; if it’s “perfectly capable of making the EXACT SAME POINT” as multiple inconsistent and even contradictory concepts, it’s not all that meaningful a category.

            Again, I think it’s because the population geneticists understand this point that they’ve given up contesting the argument.

            You keep saying this; if it was true, wouldn’t they be using race to do real science? I’ve asked for articles showing that a couple of times. Can you provide them?

            One group of people still wins the sprinting championships, and no taxonomic wankery in the world is going to make that genetic reality (or the public’s understanding of its significance re: people in other groupings not being the winners) go away.

            If your analysis of sprinting champions is rooted in race, you probably aren’t ever going to figure out what makes some people faster than others. The useful analysis starts at the level of whether there are genetic advantages, then goes on to figure out what they are; it doesn’t stop, look around, and say, “hey, are all these guys black?” That’s the job of the race fetishists.

          • 

            @Michael Rover

            I think you miss the very raison d’etre of scientific terms, classifications and taxonomies.

            You say

            Now, there could be 78 different taxonomic schema used within any particular scientific field to categorize human populations for a variety of different purposes; each schema might have its own arguments for utility in different contexts (including securing politically-motivated funding, no less!). What bearing would that have on whether my statement identifies a genuine disparity between population groups in their genetic talent for winning sprinting championships, as then related to an individual member of one group which has the statistical disadvantage?

            Easy. The purpose of terms is to convey a meaning. And if it is not clear whether your taxonomic classification refers to the 78-groups scheme or the 5-groups scheme, it makes your statement not truly verifiable and as such barely scientific. It’s about as useful as a physicist saying that the object emitted greenish light upon excitation with a reddish LASER. Thank you very much, now you’ve said everything and nothing.

            If you were talking about a specific group in the 78 groups scheme, someone else was thinking about the 5 groups scheme and verified your claim, found it not to be the case across the entire group and confronted you, you could say “Hold! I was not talking about THIS group, I was talking about THAT group.” Vice versa, if you had the 5 groups scheme in mind and someone found one of the “sub”groups where your claim is not valid, you could say “Weeeeelllll not for that subgroup, but it is in general valid for what I consider the entire group”

            As long as your term does not have a generally accepted definition and meaning, it is completely and utterly useless and does the precise opposite of what it is supposed to do: Instead of clarifying, it obfuscates.

            And the claim that the definition would come naturally is plain nonsense. To quote a recent medical publication concerned with classification of a disease:
            “Classifications and taxonomies are, by nature, artificial: simple mental constructs imposed upon an ambiguous and complex physical reality, and therefore intrinsically imperfect.1,2 Despite their inherent limitations, classifications of human disease are both
            necessary and useful. Standardized nomenclature facilitates communication among clinicians and researchers, and also fulfills the desire of many patients to put a name on their ailment, so that they can begin to understand that illness and guess how it might evolve.”
            Note the “standardized”.

    • 

      Hi Michael, I’ve just been arguing the exact opposite over at Chuck’s. I think it was a good idea to dispense with the word handicapped, it is a harsh sounding word and it signalled an end to cruel jokes. Just bend with the language flow, it doesn’t have to stop good works going on. Europeans are European doesn’t matter what label you put on that classification – descendants of Bronze-age far Northwest Asia, and of the largest Out of Asia migration to date. And then there’s the emergence of cooperative-architecture culture in the Northeast Atlantic Archipelago (Stonehenge). And there are the clines in lactase neoteny, which _radiate out_ from the oldest known location of cattle _breeding_. Gene-flow along migration roots. Maybe realism needs more women who don’t mind playing around with words? Indeed, semantics is like the home decor of the house of science! At the moment we seem to have puce pink walls in every room. Some people want to paint everything black now, I favour something more subtle, I like ochre, terracotta, sage, lime, indigo, aqua, lilac, chocolate, and dark red.

  16. 
    Michael Rover June 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Hmm, it won’t let me reply directly. At any rate, I think there may be a misunderstanding. Race IS a population concept within biology, and is essentially equivalent to subpopulation — see Jerry Coyne’s explanations. To ask people to say “of the black population” rather than “of the black race” would not fix anything. Wade would thus be perfectly happy talking about populations; it’s an irrelevant attempt to distinguish two things that are biologically the same.

    So when you say “birdlike” as a comparison for race, one might say better say “subpopulation of Robins.”

    So the real question is does human genetic variation cluster into identifiable populations that accurately reflect the geographical location of an individual’s ancestors? Answer, yes. Computers can readily tell this, regardless of the debate over number of clusters.

    Secondarily, do those clusters correspond to folk racial taxonomy? In other words, even if a computer can reliably look at your genome and tell what geographical area your ancestors came from, is there a further correlation between folk racial categories and the genetic clusters used to assign people to such locations? If folk racial classifications were completely incompetent at guessing the geographical origins of people’s ancestors (in the timeframes we are talking about), then you might have an argument that prevailing race terminology does not correspond to the underlying clusters of genetic variation in discussion. But at a statistical level it’s actually quite easy for most people to accurately guess pure African, European, Asian, etc (this is why Wade rightly mocks Raff’s over-the-top obscurantism on this point). Those points where such identification becomes hard tend to be the cases that prove the rule: It can be hard to guess the ancestors of an individual because those ancestors are *mixed* from different continents. For example, Latin America, or Central Asia. Folk conceptions of race have always taken this into account; the fact that somebody might be half European, 1/4 black, etc. has always been well understood.

    This is a marvelous point that is so simple it can be overlooked: Just by looking at a person, you can usually tell with great accuracy the broad geographical region where their ancestors came from. Even more remarkably, when you can’t tell, it’s usually because of some mixing (Latino, for example, or Central Asian), and it is easy to tell when an individual reflects such mixing that makes it hard to guess. No computers needed, no genome required. Now why is that even possible based on a superficial visual inspection? This is a deep fact. It’s because the correlation of observable different phenotypical traits in humans reflects the correlation of genetic variation in the different populations. Folk racial categories are quite good at recognizing that it’s the correlation that matters, such that the totality of traits is far more informative than just one taken alone. Given the accuracy of predicting ancestry with folk racial categories, it would have been absolutely bizarre if this phenotypic correlation as used in folk racial terminology was not itself reflective of underlying differences in the genetics of ancestral human populations. Unsurprisingly, the genome data has confirmed that correlation. Both computers and humans can quite easily tell the geographical location of a person’s ancestors — computers by analyzing the individual genome and comparing it to the statistical clusters, humans by analyzing the correlation of observable phenotypical traits — much as you might genetically analyze a subpopulation of birds which also happens to be visually identifiable by a set of correlated traits. The reason both approaches work is because they are both analyzing different aspects of the same reality of divergent population genetics in the ancestral human populations.

    And again, this is why I say criticizing any particular taxonomic scheme for human subpopulations is pointless, because the question is one of whether subpopulations can be identified in the first instance — not whether any particular categorical scheme is inarguably ideal for all possible purposes. To question the entire concept of identifiable human subpopulations, as Raff does, is fundamentally wrong-headed and semantic — as if dividing “African ancestry” into “North African, Bantu, or Khoisan ancestry” would somehow rebut the point that Wade is making, or as if such subdivision was somehow incompatible with prevailing folk concepts of race. I’m sure Wade would be happy to see whatever clustering Raff proposes as an alternative for describing human genetic variation and its relation to ancestral human populations! But, shocker of the year, THERE ISN’T AND WILL NEVER BE ONE because whatever alternative and more detailed taxonomy of human populations was proposed by Raff (amidst mountains of furious obscurantism no less) would be perfectly usable by and compatible with folk racial categories. Bring on your “seven clusters,” Raff. Your “eight clusters.” Will that make an iota of difference to the fact of identifiable populations? None. Semantic games. Or as Wade correctly states the point in his article, which Raff completely ignores since she has no answer:

    “The chief point extractable from Fuentes’ review is that since I don’t say exactly many races there are, races can’t exist. This is a misunderstanding of the nature of continuous variation. People may disagree on the number of colors there are, but that doesn’t mean colors don’t exist. Humans cluster into five continental groups or races, and within each race there are further subclusters. So the number of human races depends on the number of clusters one wishes to recognize. Contrary to Fuentes’ belief, this has no bearing on whether or not races exist.”

    This of course is Raff’s risible point, derivative of her arguments about “structure” — you could have used larger clusters! You could have used smaller clusters! Orange and yellow could be called orangeyellow! Or even orangeyellowred! Therefore colors are scientifically meaningless!

    Fortunately Coyne and Orr et al. are so embarrassed by this gimmicky anthropological semanticism that they don’t go along for the ride; instead they make real criticisms, based on real science. Raff should attempt the same.

    • 

      Hmm, it won’t let me reply directly.

      The comment system is not great. It limits direct responses to a certain number of subthreads, and the formatting seems to get worse the more indentations there are. The easiest way to work around it is to go up to the immediate parent of the comment you’re responding to and reply to that, or just drop a new one like you did.

      To ask people to say “of the black population” rather than “of the black race” would not fix anything. Wade would thus be perfectly happy talking about populations; it’s an irrelevant attempt to distinguish two things that are biologically the same.

      I don’t think that’s right; I think “population” has definitions that don’t track very closely with what most people think of as “race.” That’s why all the racialists complaining about the pushback against “race” aren’t just claiming it’s the same concept as population.
      Insofar as race is an accepted term in zoology, my understanding is that it’s basically a synonym for subspecies. And I’m fairly sure that’s not the same thing as a population by definition, although they can coincide in specific example.

      So when you say “birdlike” as a comparison for race, one might say better say “subpopulation of Robins.”

      I don’t think adjusting the hierarchy of the hypothetical category fixes the underlying problem; it certainly doesn’t make “the exact same point” as the “robin” category.

      So the real question is does human genetic variation cluster into identifiable populations that accurately reflect the geographical location of an individual’s ancestors? Answer, yes. Computers can readily tell this, regardless of the debate over number of clusters.

      I think that’s right, but population isn’t the same thing as race. What I’ve seen of anthropological research has a lot to do with populations, and not much of anything to do with race.

      Secondarily, do those clusters correspond to folk racial taxonomy? In other words, even if a computer can reliably look at your genome and tell what geographical area your ancestors came from, is there a further correlation between folk racial categories and the genetic clusters used to assign people to such locations?

      Here again I think you’ve got it upside down. The ability of anthropologists to make those kinds of gueses has to do with specific markers, right? They’re finding and identifying much more precise categories than “African” or “European” or “Asian.” I think this takes us back to my hypo above; scientists are talking about robins, and racialists are using that as support for the category of “vaguely and subjectively birdlike.”

      But at a statistical level it’s actually quite easy for most people to accurately guess pure African, European, Asian, etc (this is why Wade rightly mocks Raff’s over-the-top obscurantism on this point). Those points where such identification becomes hard tend to be the cases that prove the rule: It can be hard to guess the ancestors of an individual because those ancestors are *mixed* from different continents. For example, Latin America, or Central Asia.

      I think we’re just assuming that people are actually as good at this as you think they are; I honestly don’t know whether that’s true or not. Let’s assume arguendo that it is (which I do think is reasonably likely). The fact that we’re good at identifying human faces seems to be as much a result of our extraordinary facility for picking out human faces as anything else; we’re quite good at recognizing very slight differences in features. (To the point that we’re prone to apophenia.) The cues we use to make those discriminations can be superficial in every sense of the word. Are the underlying, more substantial genetics grouped in the same way? The inability of racialists to come up with a standard that returns folk races in a clear way, without having been designed to do that, suggests to me that they’re not. So does the fact that scientists don’t seem to have found much useful to do with such broad, casual categories.

      In other words, I can quite easily lump people into categories: tall, pretty, black, left-handed, etc. But my ability to do that doesn’t create a fundamental, underlying race based on anything but those superficial categories.

      Given the accuracy of predicting ancestry with folk racial categories, it would have been absolutely bizarre if this phenotypic correlation as used in folk racial terminology was not itself reflective of underlying differences in the genetics of ancestral human populations.

      Obviously you anticipated my response, and I think your comment here is interesting. My first thought is that while I’m happy to assume there is such a correlation, you’re taking a very, very broad brush—“he looks like he’s from continent X” and associating it deeply with a huge number of other traits. This gets to my perception that race isn’t a very useful category; it’s too hugely broad, and scientists studying actual human diversity have more significant and predictive categories to work with, leaving race out as not much more than an attempt to put a framework to our folk expectations. Still, your point is interesting, so I’ll put some thought and reading into it.

      To question the entire concept of identifiable human subpopulations, as Raff does, is fundamentally wrong-headed and semantic — as if dividing “African ancestry” into “North African, Bantu, or Khoisan ancestry” would somehow rebut the point that Wade is making, or as if such subdivision was somehow incompatible with prevailing folk concepts of race.

      I think this is wildly off base. She’s a genetic anthropologist; you think she’s questioning the entire concept of “identifiable human subpopulations?” I disagree; I think she’s questioning whether race is actually such an identifiable grouping.

      I’m sure Wade would be happy to see whatever clustering Raff proposes as an alternative for describing human genetic variation and its relation to ancestral human populations! But, shocker of the year, THERE ISN’T AND WILL NEVER BE ONE because whatever alternative and more detailed taxonomy of human populations was proposed by Raff (amidst mountains of furious obscurantism no less) would be perfectly usable by and compatible with folk racial categories. Bring on your “seven clusters,” Raff. Your “eight clusters.” Will that make an iota of difference to the fact of identifiable populations? None. Semantic games.

      I can’t speak for Wade, but I think there are a lot of racialists who would in fact be very unhappy with the more specific groups anthropologists and geneticists use for real research. As I said above, my perception is that scientists are studying robins, while many racialists want to refocus the conversation on “vaguely birdlike.”

      Or as Wade correctly states the point in his article, which Raff completely ignores since she has no answer:

      I obviously read that pretty differently; I think she didn’t respond because Wade was talking about Fuentes’s criticism rather than hers. I think her point wasn’t that Wade has to identify a certain number of races, but that his attempt to do in order to tie race to fold notions illustrated the hollowness of his methodology.

      This of course is Raff’s risible point, derivative of her arguments about “structure” — you could have used larger clusters! You could have used smaller clusters! Orange and yellow could be called orangeyellow! Or even orangeyellowred! Therefore colors are scientifically meaningless!

      Huh. Well, I’m no more a physicist than I am a biologist, but I do rather doubt that they write research papers about orangeyellow. In fact I think they would agree that folk notions of color don’t tell us very much about the underlying scientific reality of light. In fact I know that photographers would say so; the whole reason you carry a grey card is that the tones that seem so real and so obvious to us often turn out to be illusory when compared to an objective standard.

      • 

        All your objections to “race” are objections to “population” as well. There is no completely non-arbitrary way to specify the number of human populations. You can treat Groups A and B as two populations with occasional inter-migration or as one population with non-random interbreeding.

        Dr Raff believes that pre-Colombian Amerindians were essentially reproductively isolated from other humans for 10,000 years. She would certainly say this is the orthodox view. They were obviously more closely related to the East Asian sub population than to the Xhosa or the Irish.

        Given that, this is just an argument about semantics. Population vs race is a distinction without a difference.

        • 

          The inherent flexibility of “race” means that it can be made equivalent to “population,” but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. “Population” seems to have well-determined definitions (which can depend on the context, of course) that aren’t subject to the same inherent fuzziness as “race.”

          In other words, I neither expect nor require a definition to be “completely non-arbitrary.” I expect it to be useful, functional, and somewhat non-arbitrary.

          I agree that this argument, like many if not most arguments, is at least largely about semantics. I don’t think that the distinction is without a difference; “population” is limited in ways that “race” isn’t (for most racialists).

          • 

            How is “population” limited in a way that “race” is not? A population geneticist can model migration between two populations or non-random mating within one larger population. There are reasons for making the choice, but it is a matter of judgment and cost-benefit analysis, rather than something just given by nature. The definition of a population is endogenous to the model.

            “Race” is just the traditional taxonomic term for subspecies populations. Linnaeus used it. Darwin used it. There may be sound political reasons for using “population” rather than “race”, but they are essentially synonyms. (“Essentially” because you can model the whole species as a population. Also, at the beginning of an admixture event, you could speak of the now-interbreeding races as a single population, but if they had historically been rerpoductively isolated, you wouldn’t call them a single race. But there are similar distinctions between a trait being adaptive and a trait being an adaptation.)

          • 

            Isn’t “population” limited by geographic and/or breeding isolation, for example?

            “Race” is just the traditional taxonomic term for subspecies populations. Linnaeus used it. Darwin used it.

            And some modern racialists use it that way. But not all. Some mean “people who look a certain way,” others mean “genetic clusters that mirror my perception of the group of people who look a certain way,” while still others have their own idiosyncratic definitions.

            There may be sound political reasons for using “population” rather than “race”, but they are essentially synonyms.

            That depends on who you ask, obviously; the Steve Sailers of the world don’t seem to think so, and they’re relatively influential lay voices on the subject. If we ask the experts instead, they don’t seem to think so, either–at least the few that I’ve talked to, as well as the literature I’ve reviewed.

            If the only virtue of “race” as a category is that it’s flexible enough to map onto “population,” then I’m less persuaded than ever that racialists have a coherent argument for reviving it as a subject of study independent of the ongoing work of professional anthropologists and geneticists. They’re already studying populations; demanding they talk about race instead seems darkly quixotic.

          • 

            Can you cite an expert saying “race” isn’t the same as population? Or Steve Sailer for that matter? Clearly, a partially-inbred extended family is a population.

            Of course, particularly in the pre-genomics days, people used phentopyical traits to decide which population to place an organism in. But this is common across taxonomy. I don’t see how one concept is any more “flexible” than the other.

            Political concerns in the human world (the struggles against apartheid, segregation and colonialism) led a lot of scientists to stop referring to a “race of cabbage”, as Darwin would have done. That’s fine, but it hardly implies that there is some big scientific issue at stake.

            Whatever Wade’s faults, he is correct that racial equality is a normative matter, and does not depend on population geneticists for its validity.

          • 

            Can you cite an expert saying “race” isn’t the same as population? Or Steve Sailer for that matter? Clearly, a partially-inbred extended family is a population.

            I can’t cite an expert, no—only personal conversations. Perhaps, as you’ve made the positive claim that the terms are synonymous, you could cite some authority?

            As for Sailer, he’s defined race as essentially inbreeding family groups, with an undefined line separating out some families from others. I don’t think his concept is firm enough to distinguish from any more particular definition—it’s so nebulous he could say, “Sure, it’s population!” or “Nope, totally different.” Since he hasn’t told us how he determines where one family stops and another starts, it’s up in the air. (I don’t mean that as a criticism of him; he acknowledged that he was just beginning to think about race in that way, and never implied that he had thought it all the way through.)

          • 

            Biology online provides a taxonomic definition of population, “A low-level taxonomic rank.” and a population genetics definition, “A group of organisms of one species that interbreed and live in the same place at the same time.”

            The “same place at the same time” criterion isn’t really necessary, except in the obvious sense that sexually reproducing organisms have to be more or less in the same place at the same time to breed. If you have people, or gulls, that live all over the world, but are more likely to interbreed with each other than with other conspecifics, you have a population.

            It provides six relevant definitions of “race.” The most general is “A population of interbreeding species [sic. -- this must be "An interbreeding population of a species"] that develops distinct characteristics differing from other populations of the same species, especially as caused by geographical isolation.” The other defintiions emphasize comment descent and/or (relative) reproductive isolation.

            I don’t have the patience to go through all the rferences to “race” as a sub-species taxonomic category. To some extent (perhpas limited), any population will have different genetic characteristics from any other, so the definitions of race and population mutually imply each other. Unless we are in the midst of an admixture of previously distinct populations, descent and mutual inter-breeding will correlate closely outside the immediate family, so these aspects of the two definitions mutually entail each other as well.

            Sailer’s definition is also basically logically equival. An “extended family” is a set of individuals who share a common descent. The “partially inbred” part just means the descent group tends to breed with each other more than with other conspecifics.

            To the extent that there are multiple meanings, this is true of *both* concepts. And it is true because generally mutual descent, preferential interbreeding, and common characteristics go together for well understood reasons. The fact that they don’t always go together is important too. What is not important (from a scientific point-of-view) is whether you choose to call an interbreeding, related subset of a speices a “race” or a “population.”

            I have no problem with scientists abandoing the language of “race” for “population” in response to social change, any more than I have a problem with their adopting gender-neutral terminology in the same period. But it doesn’t represent a scientific discovery, and doesn’t mean folk categories of race are useless for medical diagnosis, etc.

          • 

            But it doesn’t represent a scientific discovery, and doesn’t mean folk categories of race are useless for medical diagnosis, etc.

            It seems to me you do not understand the use of ethnic background for medical applications. It has nothing to do with the concept of “race” as proposed by some here and everything with a quick fix for assuming someone is a carrier of certain traits. Whether these prevail among this group for environmental reasons or “racial” heritage is devoid of any importance. That’s not a medical question. The only question that is being asked is “Is the patient likely to have a certain trait with the consequences ABC?”

            Ethnicity in such questions is nothing but a shortcut to avoid an expensive and time consuming test to answer the question with a certain probability. It is no different from asking if someone has a certain profession, lives in a building with a certain material being used (such as asbestos) etc. etc. ad nauseam. None of which anyone would suggest constitute evidence of “race”. The physician doesn’t care whether the fact that someone’s GFR is different from the norm because that’s an environmental effect frequent in people whose families have lived in Africa within the last 400 years (e.g. because a volcano distributed a fine cloud of radioactive material over the continent) or if it is because that’s a trait that people whose ancestors are from Africa had since time immemorial. (And no, it doesn’t matter if the first suggestion was completely ludicrous)

            The point is that the physician wants to understand how the patient will react to certain things. Whether that reaction is caused by a racial concept is devoid of any relevance – what matters is the here and now, not the “how it came to be”.

          • 

            @ Colin,

            Sailer’s innovation is really a journalistic one of how to explain the concept of race/population. The concepts always involve common descent and mutual interbreeding, which normally go together. An “inbred extended family” is just a journalistic way of bringing these two concepts together, in a manner that is icky for Westerners.

            “Population” has the same ambiguities as “race”. Generally speaking, common descent, likelihood of interbreeding and common genetic traits go together, so both “population” and “race” will sometimes emphasize one more than the other. Look at the “biology online” definitions again. It is not the case that one concept is clearer than the other.

            @tyelko,

            There’s some truth in what you say. For a diagnostic purpose, I may only want to know that African American males have a higher rate of hypertension than Euro American males. And for treatment purposes, a physicianwould want to know whether there is a difference in reactions to the drug they were considering prescribing, regardless of whether this had environmental or genetic causes. But it is an exaggeration to say “how it came to be” is not a medical question. That is what etiology is. Also, some racial differences are in clearly genetic diseases (cystic fibrosis, cycle-cell anemia, Tay Sachs, etc.)

            Some differences in disease incidence will undoubtedly have primarily environmental causes. At the same time, it is surely true that selection for resistance to diseases would depend on how endemic the diseases were in the ancestral environment. Some genetic diseases are the result of selection for a heterozygotic version of a gene. I don’t think any serious person would dispute that Amerindians had less resistance to smallpox than Europeans at the time of contact, or that European settlers in Africa had less resistance to malaria than the indigenous people. I cannot see how anyone would think that the cause of racial egalitarianism would be damaged by recognizing these facts.

          • 

            You are assuming that racialists, when they pound the table about what an important concept “race” is, are using one of those BO definitions. And that may be true for some of them–Razib Khan seems to be thinking pretty carefully about this. But it’s obviously not universally true; we’ve had people here claiming definitions as simple as a subjective visual test.

            If “race” is nothing more than a synonym for “population,” then great. At that point there’s not much dispute; anthropologists are already studying populations, and therefore not ignoring race. But your conclusion that the terms are synonymous runs afoul of the actual arguments of many, although not all, racialists.

            Similarly, I think you’re making unwarranted assumptions about what Sailer means when he talks about families. I don’t believe, from my reading of his comments, that he intended his concept to be synonymous with “population.” Nor do I believe that it actually is synonymous; it doesn’t require current interbreeding to any extent and provides no guidance whatsoever for determining where the family group ends. I think it’s a decent stretch from that to “population.”

            He admittedly was just beginning to think about race that way. If I had to bet, I would guess that he’ll wind up developing his concept until it’s roughly synonymous in the way you suggest. But as he’s currently formulated it, it’s just too vague a concept to say that it’s synonymous with one or more definitions of “population.” And he certainly didn’t seem to think that he was just rephrasing an existing concept.

          • 

            The reason is, Pithlord, that for precisely the reasons you describe, race has very little to do with that resistance.
            Sickle cell disease is most common in Africans. This is however not a trait that was handed down from the beginning of time, but rather one that developed regionally because it provided Malaria resistance and thus was selected for. As such, it is also chiefly present in people only from areas in which Malaria was endemic. NOT in the entirety of the ethnic group. BUT especially for example with African Americans where it might be difficult to say just where someone’s ancestors precisely came from, “sickle cell disease” is something that comes to mind naturally when someone suffers from a hemolytic anemia. Whereas with Caucasians, I would be looking for different sources. That’s not because sickle cell disease is something that is inherently connected to the skin color AS SUCH, but quite the other way round – the fact that coincidentally, the vast majority of carriers happen to be Black – but not the vast majority of Black carriers. It is not a quality of a “race”, just a matter of probabilities. Sickle cell disease also occurs in people from certain areas of India and certain areas in the Middle East – underscoring it has little to do with “race” and everything with the historical prevalence of Malaria.

            And similarly with Thalassemia, which crosses “race” borders considerably but sticks to Malaria areas.

          • 

            @tyeklko,

            You seem to be arguing against a straw man. No one thinks that sickle cell anemia is inherent in having dark skin. That would be a truly crazy view.

            Of course, it is a matter of probabilities. But probabilities matter enormously. If I have a diagnostic tool that is 99% accurate, if the background incidence is 1%, I get 50% false positives. If the background incidence is 10%, I get a 9% false positive rate. A useless diagnostic tool becomes a useful one.

            • 

              What’s true for sickle cell anemia can be true for sundry other traits. The mere fact that a certain trait is observed particularly frequently in people with a certain “race” doesn’t mean that the presence of the trait is a causal consequence of belonging to that “race”. The whole issue of “I can see distribution of certain traits as per ‘race’, ergo race is a valid concept” is for many traits a false conclusion from correlation to a causative connection, a pretty simple fallacy.

              As for your comment about diagnostics – what is useful and what is useless is highly dependent on the question asked. There are tests in intensive use which produce 2/3 false positives. However, they are cheap and will be followed up with more sophisticated methods anyway for confirmation. Doing those more sophisticated methods on everyone instead of only those who tested positive in the first test would simply be ridiculously expensive.

              And that’s my point about the whole diagnostics argument: There are so many quick and dirty fixes in diagnostics that “It’s used in diagnostics, hence it is scientifically valid” is a rather tenuous logic. The classical hemoccult test for colon cancer tells us more about what you had for dinner last night than about whether you have colon cancer – but again, it’s a cheap quick fix that works if patient and doctor are aware of the caveats – especially the fact that a positive test does not mean that the patient has cancer.

          • 

            @Colin, Sailer can speak for himself about what he means. But the concepts are (for most practical purposes) equivaent. If an extended family is inbred, then in the past its members interbred. So at least in the past, Sailer’s concept of race would be a population. The set of people who currently are likely to interbreed is at least to some extent continuous with the past. Of course, an admixture event is precisely a discontinuity in these two concepts. And in human history, we are undoubtedly undergoing admixture of populations that were once more reproductively isolated. More so in Brazil than in Iceland.

            The point that we can’t determine where the family group ends is just as much an issue for populations, since in less they are undergoing a speciation event, they intermix. And the choice of granularity is just a choice.

        • 

          Thanks for your thoughtful response. I would reply by saying, overall, that I can see that it’s possible to define race in such a way that it coincides with population—but so what? I don’t think the racialists who dwell on the term see the terms as words as necessarily synonymous.

          In more detail:

          Biology online provides a taxonomic definition of population … “A group of organisms of one species that interbreed and live in the same place at the same time” . . . . The “same place at the same time” criterion isn’t really necessary, except in the obvious sense that sexually reproducing organisms have to be more or less in the same place at the same time to breed. If you have people, or gulls, that live all over the world, but are more likely to interbreed with each other than with other conspecifics, you have a population.

          That latter definition is consistent with my general understanding of “population.” I don’t think it’s the same as all, or even most, of the various definitions of race that have been bandied about here and at HBD blogs.

          It provides six relevant definitions of “race….”

          As you know, one of my primary criticisms of “race” is that it is a very poorly defined concept. If you want to pick or create definitions that coincide with “population,” then great—but so what? Is the debate over whether scientists should adopt “race” as a synonym for a word they’ve been using comfortably for some time?

          Sailer’s definition is also basically logically equival. An “extended family” is a set of individuals who share a common descent. The “partially inbred” part just means the descent group tends to breed with each other more than with other conspecifics.

          Here’s where I strongly disagree with you. I can’t speak for Sailer, obviously, but as I recall he suggested his familial definition of race was a new concept. I didn’t get the impression that he considered his approach to be merely synonymous with “population.”

          Moreover, Sailer’s definition—basically a partially inbred family—is not at “logically equivalent” to population. It’s broad enough that the concept of a population could fit inside Sailer’s definition of race, but that’s not saying much. “Partially inbred” could, for example, mean that the inbreeding happened in the distant past, which I don’t think would define a modern population.

          In other words, I don’t think that Sailer intended his concept of race to be equivalent to “population,” or that it’s a natural reading of his terminology.

    • 

      This of course is Raff’s risible point, derivative of her arguments about “structure” — you could have used larger clusters! You could have used smaller clusters! Orange and yellow could be called orangeyellow! Or even orangeyellowred! Therefore colors are scientifically meaningless!

      Here’s news to you: They are. And any physics or chemistry manuscript where “orange” or “yellow” was the only colour description you can come up with will we whacked around your ears by reviewers. Kindly specific the wavelenth.

      Fortunately Coyne and Orr et al. are so embarrassed by this gimmicky anthropological semanticism that they don’t go along for the ride; instead they make real criticisms, based on real science. Raff should attempt the same.

      Given your above statement, it is highly questionable you have any idea what real science looks like. You evidently prefer waffling over scientifically accurate specification, which is, all in all, not too surprising. The very purpose of scientific terms is entirely lost to you: They exist to convey a standardized meaning, not something that anyone can interpret in their own little fashion and are to facilitate reproducability.
      “The solution absorbed orange light” doesn’t cut it. “The solution absorbed light of wavelengths between 580 and 595 nm” does.

  17. 

    Colin is a real gem. He says that ancestry matters, but that it has nothing to do with “race.”

    Alright, alright — call “race” ancestry if you wish. This still leads to troublesome conclusions.

    Names of things do not change reality. Calling “Southern Europeans ” and Northern “Europeans” two different “population” instead of two different “races” will not result in the genetically caused height gap between them to disappear.

    So the HBDer is in a very strong position. His view that genetic differences between “populations” exists is not even contingent on race’s existence. So all this electronic ink spattered on this blog is pointless, pointless ,pointless.

    • 

      But anyway, race does exist, which is just the icing on the cake for the HBDer. All this talk about the number of races being “arbitrary’ is meaningless because substructure exists within any race.

    • 

      But she is not arguing against genetic differences between populations or within populations.

      • 

        Which should be obvious to someone trying to have a conversation about the response. To someone who wants to throw down talking points and fight the culture wars, though, it’s more convenient to just attack, attack, attack.

        • 

          So you admit that it’s possible for IQ gaps to exist between populations. Well, that’s a start.

          • 

            They exist. That doesn’t establish that they are genetic in origin. Raw IQ scores increase by a standard deviation (15 points) a generation. There is no way that this is because of changes in allele frequency. Is it implausible to say that African Americans have at least as many enviornmental differences from European Americans today as European Americans have with their parents’ generation?

  18. 

    What is the % of the human genome that shows signals of recent selection, and out of that how much strong? Then out of that how much is of things relating to brain genes?

  19. 

    The state of play is as follows:

    1. Rosenberg et al publish papers in which they make it clear that the values of K they use are set ahead of time, and do not come out of the data.

    2. Wade claims those papers support 5 continental races.

    3. Raff points out the problem.

    4. Wade tells her to shut up because she is just a postdoc student.

    5. Hundreds of comments are written claiming Stephem Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin were marxists.

    As a simple part Neamderthal, I would have thought that Wade either misstated thr Rosenberg papers or not. If he misstated them, then he was wrong and this would not change even if it were pointed out by a highh school student and even if Gould personally liquidated every single kulak.

  20. 

    “Wade is using patterns of human variation in populations as a justification for claiming that race is a valid, biological taxonomic category.”

    I’m commenting as a layman in anthropology and genetics, so humor me, but is there some alternate taxonomic category superior to the traditional idea of race to group humans at a subspecies level? Is there some way of categorizing human genetic diversity that produces results better than grouping people into continental races?

    Because it seems to me that the concept of race, if imperfect, is a highly useful way of grouping human genetic diversity. It’s not the only way. It’s not 100% predictive, but it’s more predictive than any alternate method.

    It appears to me that you have two arguments to make: 1) that race isn’t adequately predictive for a wide range of important human traits; 2) that there’s some alternate method of sorting humanity that is more predictive than race, and that better sorts the underlying genetic diversity.

    • 

      “Population” works. Of course, it has the same denotative meaning as “race”, but doesn’t have the connotative baggage.

      • 

        It has the same denotative meaning as some definitions of race, but not all–not even all the definitions racialists have proposed in these threads.

        • 

          Yes, but is there another method of sorting human diversity that is more predictive and revealing than race, in a way that doesn’t basically replicate the concept? Call it “race,” call it “population,” call it whatever – you’re basically still grouping humanity according to racial categories well understood 200 years or so ago, and that’s a method that yields more predictive value than any other.

          Is there some other trait that would tell you more about an individual’s DNA than knowing his race?

          • 

            Is there some other trait that would tell you more about an individual’s DNA than knowing his race?

            Yes. Their actual alleles, their personal family medical history, a detailed genealogy, and the results of a medical exam all come to mind more or less immediately.

            • 

              That’s just saying that more information tells you more than less information. You are objecting to classification as such.

              Also, a medical exam is always more informative if you know facts about the population the person is a part of. A 99% accurate test is basically useless unless the condition has a prevalence of more than 1% in the background population. So a doctor has to classify someone into a category where the prevalence rate is reasonably high before a diagnostic test is worth doing.

              • 

                That’s just saying that more information tells you more than less information. You are objecting to classification as such.

                No, my statement was not quite so tautological, and no, I’m not “objecting to classification as such.” The question was whether there was “some other trait that would tell you more about an individual’s DNA than knowing his race.” The answer is obviously yes. The fact that I’m white tells you much, much less about my DNA than an examination of specific features or a medical exam would. In other words, if you had to pick one trait and extrapolate information about a person’s DNA from it, race wouldn’t be very informative; you could make broad statistical guesses based on it, but no more than that. Actual physical traits give you much more certain information about a person’s DNA.

                Also, a medical exam is always more informative if you know facts about the population the person is a part of.

                That’s just saying that more information tells you more than less information.

              • 

                A 99% accurate test is basically useless unless the condition has a prevalence of more than 1% in the background population. So a doctor has to classify someone into a category where the prevalence rate is reasonably high before a diagnostic test is worth doing.

                Nope. The doctor can just as well run some basic tests. The prevalence of the disease will already have changed based on the outcome of that test. To that, he or she adds any potential symptoms and moves from there.

                One of he first things done with many patients for example is doing a complete blood count. The result will already tell you a lot about in which direction to proceed.

              • 

                @tyelko,

                You are playing a semantic game. If the doctor has done a pre-diagnostic test, then the doctor has already classified the patient into a category with a higher incidence.

                @Colin,

                It isn’t true that any physical trait is more useful in knowing about a person’s DNA than race. Eye colour tells you about one alllele. If the eye colour is blue, it (probably) tells you a lot more, because it tells you the person is likely of Northern European descent. The fact that you are white reveals a lot more genetic information than most observable phenotypical traits.

                • 

                  No, I am not “playing a semantic game”, YOU are, by declaring tests “prediagnostic”, as if they were not diagnostic.

                  I am describing to you how doctors work. You can couldawouldashoulda all you want, but that’s not going to make the moon turn into cheese. A CBC _is_ a diagnostic test and “prediagnostic” is nothing but pure waffling for the sake of having an argument.

                  I suggest you familiarize yourself with the concept of a differential diagnosis. Every test in the ladder is a diagnostic test. The fact that a single one of them alone doesn’t give you the final answer doesn’t make it “prediagnostic”.

            • 

              The fact that you are white reveals a lot more genetic information than most observable phenotypical traits.

              I think that’s an aggressive assumption. Race doesn’t tell you what alleles someone carries, only whether they’re more or less likely (depending on how race has been defined!) to carry certain alleles. Observing the related phenotypical traits gives you much more information about whether that person actually carries such a trait.

              There’s a reason the test for cystic fibrosis isn’t, “Are you white?”

          • 

            Oh, and specific traits expressing that DNA. “Caucasian” tells you a lot less about someone’s DNA than “blue eyes, wavy hair, and six fingers on each hand.”

            • 

              “Caucasian” tells you more about the likelihood a person will get cystic fibrosis than any of those other categories. Blue eyes are rare among non-Caucasians, but of course the vast majority of Caucasians have brown eyes, so eye colour isn’t very useful. Six fingers and wavy hair are even less useful for diagnosing CF.

              • 

                “Caucasian” tells you more about the likelihood a person will get cystic fibrosis than any of those other categories.

                So a physician would rather know whether a patient is Caucasian rather than whether they have a family history of it? CF may be a surprise to most patients, but if they do have it in their background it’s surely a better indicator of CF risk than race. Ditto the results of a medical exam; it’s not like doctors are powerless to diagnose CF when a patient’s race is indeterminate.

                Incidentally, highlighting the problematic nature of slapping social categories over biological phenomena, “Caucasian” would mean “white” to most people. But the risk of CF is highest in Northern Europeans, rather than the inhabitants of the Caucasus or the people Steve Sailer thought made Fuentes look white.

              • 

                Colin, do you ever tire of making sophistical arguments? Of course, a family history of CF is more informative than racial origin.

                Actually, CF is prevalent among Caucasians in the broad sense, including Tamils. A student governmetn in Ottawa found this out when they objected to CF research funding as “racist”

                I agree with you that “Caucasian” has come to be a eupehmism for “white.” I remember reading about a Sikh girl in Vancouver who was complaining about how her parents were trying to keep her from dating “Caucasian” boys. Of course, her parents would-be arranged marriage partner would undoubtedly be Caucasian in a scientific sense. Which shows that there *is* a scientific sense, different from the popular sense.

              • 

                Of course, a family history of CF is more informative than racial origin.

                Then the answer to the question I was asked, “Is there some other trait that would tell you more about an individual’s DNA than knowing his race?”, is yes. Yes, there are such traits, such as family history.

                I was asked a question and answered it. You complain, but apparently agree with the answer. When you complain about my sophistry, are you sure you aren’t projecting?

                Of course, her parents would-be arranged marriage partner would undoubtedly be Caucasian in a scientific sense. Which shows that there *is* a scientific sense, different from the popular sense.

                What’s “Caucasian in a scientific sense”?

                Which shows that there *is* a scientific sense, different from the popular sense.

                Yeah, those two sentences you strung together don’t create a logical argument–you assumed the existence of a “scientific sense” of Caucasian and then said it shows there is such a sense. It’s circular. All you’ve actually shown is that racial labels are fluid and subjective.

              • 

                Colin,

                Sorry about the “sophistry” label. I try to avoid it, but I found it hard to believe you were arguing in good faith. Racial identity gives information about a person’s genes (and a person’s environment too, which is what makes everything complicated). Family history gives more information. I am really failing to see what point you are making. Perhaps the problem is that you don’t think in Bayesian terms where new data causes updates to priors, but that never means that the prior information is thrown out. I don’t know. i am genuinely baffled by the mentality that thinks this is an argument.

                “Caucasians”: one thing that all the old race scientists agreed about is that the set of Caucasians was much bigger than the set of “whites.” Tamils are as Caucasian as the Irish. That’s because there were no historic barriers to gene flow between Ireland and India comparable to the Himalayas, the Sahara or the Atlantic.

                Tamils and Irish are both far more likely to suffer from cystic fibrosis than Australian Aborigines or

                Now ordinary usage has changed, basically because the police started using “Caucasian” as a synonym for “white”.

            • 

              I confess to being a layman here, so forgive my imprecision, but what I’m thinking of is some explicitly non-racial category that subdivides humans in a manner more predictive than race about their genetic relatedness – some taxonomy where Ethiopians are as likely to be grouped with Norwegians and Pacific Islanders as they are to be grouped with other Ethiopians. Does such taxonomy exist?

              Grouping people by the traditional category of race seems to be a lot more predictive about all sorts of random traits than any other method. We don’t divide humanity into subspecies based on their height, or their weight, or their favorites sports teams.

              No one arguing for the reality of race suggests it’s 100% predictive – just that it’s more predictive than any other method.

              • 

                what I’m thinking of is some explicitly non-racial category that subdivides humans in a manner more predictive than race about their genetic relatedness – some taxonomy where Ethiopians are as likely to be grouped with Norwegians and Pacific Islanders as they are to be grouped with other Ethiopians. Does such taxonomy exist?

                I suspect it’s a bit pointless for laypeople to quibble over it, but I think it does. Left- or right-handedness? Near- and far-sightedness?

                Lots of taxonomies are going to have more of one population than another; “people with sickle-cell anemia” will have more African-Americans than Irish-Americans, I think. But I don’t know how useful that is in a scientific context; doctors don’t base a diagnosis on race, but on actual tests for the condition itself.

                Grouping people by the traditional category of race seems to be a lot more predictive about all sorts of random traits than any other method.

                I think everyone agrees that people are different, and that you can clump people into groups that are somewhat predictive about those differences. But since the predictions are weak and the clumps are largely subjective, most scientists don’t seem to think race (insofar as it’s non-synonymous with “population”) is all that useful or significant a categorization. They look for more useful, specific information when it’s available: where specifically did your family come from, what alleles do you have, what’s your medical history, etc. When they default for race, it doesn’t seem to be anything more than a poor proxy for that better information.

                We don’t divide humanity into subspecies based on their height, or their weight, or their favorites sports teams.

                We don’t divide humanity into subspecies based on their race, either.

              • 

                doctors don’t base a diagnosis on race, but on actual tests for the condition itself.


                That’s true, but in many circumstances it would be malpractice to give certain diagnostic tests to a member of a racial group with a very low incidence of a condition and malpractice *not* to give it to a member of a racial group with a high incidence of that condition. Bayes law.

                • 

                  The same holds true for pure geographic locale, absolutely independently of “race”. When someone has lived or even traveled in an area where malaria occurs, you test for malaria. Whether they are black, white, red or yellow doesn’t matter.

                  We had this already. As long as you cannot separate location from race, you don’t have a case.

              • 

                That’s true, but in many circumstances it would be malpractice to give certain diagnostic tests to a member of a racial group with a very low incidence of a condition…

                Citation needed.

              • 

                Colin,
                If you want case law, you have the skills to look for it. Race is a widely accepted risk factor for any number of diagnoses, and I imagine a plaintiff attorney has thought of this, but I admit I don’t actually know of a case.

                I know that physicains in my jurisdiction are taught to take race or ethnicity into account in diagnosing conditions which correlate with race or ethnicity, just as they would gender or age.

                Here is an FDA paper stating the pharmacokinetics of a drug differs based on race, and examining clinical trials for racial representativeness. The FDA has elaborate “guidance documents” on how racial issues should be addressed in clinical trials.

                Bottom line: drugs that are safe and effective for some races are not for others.

                • 

                  Bottom line: drugs that are safe and effective for some races are not for others.

                  Bottom line: You still don’t understand how medicine works in practice, despite it beeing described to you time and again.

                  Instead, you prefer to lecture people with more expertise in the field than you clearly have.

                  Because the truth is, Pithlord, that drugs that are safe and effective for some people are not for others, totally independent of race. “Race” merely correlates with some of these factors to a decent degree, but not with many others. Which is why people in academia and industry are working hard to unravel the precise mechanisms, so that people can be given the treatment likely to work in THEM and not just with a certain probability in people with their skin color. But we’re not there yet, and so what correlations exist are being used as a crutch. You are just falling for a very simple fallacy: Correlation is no evidence of a causative relationship.

              • 

                @tyelko,

                Sorry, but you are the one who doesn’t know what you are talking about. Correlation is so evidence of a causative relationship. It just doesn’t logically entail causation, nor does it tell you the direction of causation. But if you find that two variables are closely correlated, then (with various provisos about data mining, etc.) that is strong evidence that there is some causative relationship between them. Indeed, that is the only way we ever establish causative relationships (see Hume, David).

                In any event, correlation may be sufficient for diagnostic or treatment purposes. If I know that African Americans are more likley to exhibit side effects with respect to a drug than Euro Americans, I should be more careful (ceteis paribus) in prescribing that drug. So says the FDA. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether that correlation is genetic or cultural or both.

                “Safety” and “effectiveness” are statistical/probabilstic concepts, so it does not make sense to say that safety and effectiveness are not different for different races, but there is a different probability that they will be safe or effective.

                • 

                  Sorry, but you are the one who doesn’t know what you are talking about.

                  Hilarious. Sorry, mate, I have been working as a scientific expert in the diagnostics industry for years.

                  Correlation is so evidence of a causative relationship. It just doesn’t logically entail causation, nor does it tell you the direction of causation. But if you find that two variables are closely correlated, then (with various provisos about data mining, etc.) that is strong evidence that there is some causative relationship between them. Indeed, that is the only way we ever establish causative relationships (see Hume, David).

                  I suggest you get your theory of science at least on the level of the 20th century, then come back to us.

                  No, it is not evidence that there is some causative relationship between them. They might be caused independently by the same third factor. And for precisely that reason, causative relationships are established by demonstrating that the presence of one factor is a necessary condition for the presence of the other.

                  Once more: The fact that sickle cell anemia is more prevalent in black people has nothing to do with them being black and everything with a large part of historical malaria areas happen to be in areas settled by black people. Their “race” is not causative but incidental.

                  In any event, correlation may be sufficient for diagnostic or treatment purposes.

                  As a crutch, yes, which is what I have pointed out for quite a while.

                  It doesn’t necessarily matter whether that correlation is genetic or cultural or both.

                  It DOES matter for the question if such data is sufficient to prove the concept of “race”

                  “Safety” and “effectiveness” are statistical/probabilstic concepts, so it does not make sense to say that safety and effectiveness are not different for different races, but there is a different probability that they will be safe or effective.

                  Which unfortunately is still no evidence for race being the CAUSATIVE factor in that. Merely that there is a difference in prevalence among the two populations – nothing about whether their race is indeed causative of those differences or incidental.

                  E.g. people historically from areas prone to severe food shortages have a significantly different metabolism than people from more temperate areas. But it’s their habitat that’s responsible for that, not their ethnicity, and with sufficient food over sufficient generations, the trait would be lost (if modern medicine does not relieve the selective pressure) regardless of their ethnicity or habitat. It’s not the “race” that is responsible but the food abundance.

              • 

                I know that physicains in my jurisdiction are taught to take race or ethnicity into account in diagnosing conditions which correlate with race or ethnicity, just as they would gender or age.

                Which is not at all the same thing as, “in many circumstances it would be malpractice to give certain diagnostic tests to a member of a racial group with a very low incidence of a condition…”

                Do you actually have any personal knowledge about best medical practices, or are you just arguing to argue?

              • 

                “The FDA has elaborate “guidance documents” on how racial issues should be addressed in clinical trials.”

                That link seems to go to a document about collecting data about reported race, not using it to guide treatment decisions. (Which I don’t doubt happens, although I very much doubt that failing to use it would be malpractice, as you claim.)

                You know, this isn’t a contest–no one is going to award you a trophy for “most arguments advanced in defense of racialist science.” Your drive to be right about the importance of race seems to be pushing you to argue for the sake of argument. Besides, even if it was a contest, you’d be too far behind Chuck and Steve Sailer to ever catch up.

            • 

              Sorry about the “sophistry” label. I try to avoid it, but I found it hard to believe you were arguing in good faith.

              Don’t apologize for being an ass on the internet, we all have thick skin here.

              Racial identity gives information about a person’s genes (and a person’s environment too, which is what makes everything complicated). Family history gives more information. I am really failing to see what point you are making.

              Racial identity, depending on how it’s constructed, at most gives you some information about the probability that an individual will be carrying specific alleles. That might be what you mean by “information about a person’s genes,” but it’s hard to tell.

              I can’t understand why you are “failing to see what point” I am making; this exchange has been unusually explicit. MJ asked, “Is there some other trait that would tell you more about an individual’s DNA than knowing his race?” I answered yes, identifying traits such as family history. You seem to agree with my answer, but the chip on your shoulder about race got the better of you, so you jumped in to explain all about how important race is to everyone. Despite not actually disagreeing with my answer to MJ. I’m not sure you added anything substantial to this little conversation, but you did get to see your name on the screen, so there’s that.

              Perhaps the problem is that you don’t think in Bayesian terms where new data causes updates to priors, but that never means that the prior information is thrown out. I don’t know. i am genuinely baffled by the mentality that thinks this is an argument.

              Preening objection noted, but if there’s an argument here, it’s because you jumped in to insist that there is one despite not actually disagreeing with the point in question.

  21. 

    From a black perspective:

    http://theblackavenger999.blogspot.com/2014/05/review-nicholas-wades-troublesome.html

    A black man says he’s rather be called the n-word than to have a bunch of Cultural Marxists repeat the lie that “race is a social construct”.

  22. 

    @ pithlord

    “That’s true, but in many circumstances it would be malpractice to give certain diagnostic tests to a member of a racial group with a very low incidence of a condition and malpractice *not* to give it to a member of a racial group with a high incidence of that condition. Bayes law.”

    WHAT!?!?! Bull!@#

    It would be malpractice to use race. Think for one second what you jut said? Can you do that? Can you? You literally saying don’t test for something somebody COULD have, something that could possibly kill them because of some statistical probability? A chance? Risk someones life over a chance? Race is real in this case yeah, a real problem and a risk, enough to kill you.

    You realize that using say the “black race” which apparently includes Obama all the way to Koisan people living in the desert to even Aborigines. Sometimes these are different depending on who you ask too. It is basically just a problem for the medical treatment of people. There is no argument here, I don;t know why you are even trying. Africans having Sickle cell at high rates does not mean that Europeans can’t or anyone else cant. It does not mean that all groups of Africans have the same rates, it does not mean that all the groups within those groups have high rates. The patient could be from any of these.

    Its simple: Screening for and treating any medical condition is less accurate if using average TEMPORARY probabilities for individuals who can differ to other individuals in literally millions of ways. Instead you screen and treat individually then the result is 100% accurate, there is no chance involved. Nobody gets misdiagnosed thanks to some stupid race concept.

    You don’t need “race” you just check for the specific trait that has a specific effect that requires a specific treatment. The fact that more people in one group have it than in the other on average is more than irrelevant its dangerous.

    Are you not capable of understanding that?

    • 

      Just to clarify one part if you can’t use your great mind to figure it out. When I mean Europeans cant have it I mean the actual disease not the rates of disease.

    • 

      Folgore, I appreciate the chance to explain this, because it is often misunderstood. The fallacies in your post are very natural, but also very dangerous.

      The argument is very simple:

      P1. The number of false positives depends on the prevalence in the background population as much as on the accuracy of the test.

      P2. False positives kill.

      C. If a doctor wrongly attributes a background prevalence in one population to a member of a different population, he or she is likely to kill the patient. Since it is more likely that prevalence in a majority population will be attibuted to a member of a minority population than vice versa, this is likely to kil members of minority groups.

      P1 is just the application of Bayes’ law.

      Suppose you have a test that is 99% accurate. Suppose the background prevalence of the condition is 1%. If you take 10,000 people, 9900 will not have the condition and 100 will have the condition. Of the 9900 who do not have the condition, 99 (1%) will be (incorrectly) diagnosed with the condition. OF the 100 who whave the condition 99 (99%) will be (correctly) diagnosed with the condition. The result is that if all you know is that a person has tested positive, you only have a 50% chance that they have the condition.

      On the other hand, if the background prevalence is 10%, 9000 will not have the condition and 1000 will have the condition. 90 will be incorrectly diagnosed positve, while 990 will be correctly diagnosed positive. This means a positive test result gives you a 91% chance of actually having the condition.

      If the treatment is risky (and most treatments are), then there is a huge difference between a 9% chance that you are wrongly treating someone and a 50% chance. The numbers change, but the point of Bayes’ rule is that the accuracy of a test is often dwarfed by the prevalence in the underlying population in terms of false positive rates.

      P2 has become an increasing concern in medical circles. Lots of “precautionary” testing hurts patients. Even if treatment isn’t prescribed, you still put someone through enormous psychological stress and if the false positive rate is high, this itself may not be worth it. Lots of rethinking of breast and prostate cancer screening is going on right now.

      But at least we don’t test men for breast cancer or women for prostate cancer. That’s what minority racial groups face.

      Africans having Sickle cell at high rates does not mean that Europeans can’t or anyone else cant. It does not mean that all groups of Africans have the same rates, it does not mean that all the groups within those groups have high rates.

      Treatment decisions are always and everywhere about probability. If you don’t understand Bayes, you should not be practicing.

      You don’t need “race” you just check for the specific trait that has a specific effect that requires a specific treatment. The fact that more people in one group have it than in the other on average is more than irrelevant its dangerous.

      If we assume that the racial groups do differ on average, the irrelevance claim would only be true if you had a diagnostic test that was incapable of error. Not just very low error, but no error. Such tests do not exist. If a diagnostic test is capable of any error at all, the background probability is important. If you are dealing with rare conditions, even a phenomenally accurate test will have a high false positive rate. Of course, if you had a diagnostic test that was incapable of error, the use of race would not be dangerous.

      • 

        [blockquote]P2 has become an increasing concern in medical circles. Lots of “precautionary” testing hurts patients. Even if treatment isn’t prescribed, you still put someone through enormous psychological stress and if the false positive rate is high, this itself may not be worth it. Lots of rethinking of breast and prostate cancer screening is going on right now. [/blockquote]

        *groan* Way to trivialize a complex discussion to a point where it becomes unscientific demagogical drivel. And that becomes all the more evident when one mentions breast and prostate cancer in the same argument, despite the fact that prostate cancer is in general a rather slowly progressing disease making watchful waiting a very much feasible strategy that has been practiced for ages, if perhaps not enough. But strategies vary dramatically between the US and Europe, leading to the famous misleading comparison of mortality rates by a quite well-known politician.

        Conversely, the problem with breast cancer cannot simply be reduced to the psychological effect of overtesting but includes the very risk of actual damage being done by mammography.

        But yeah, it’s just an issue of false positives, right?

        Claiming “false positives kill” is pure demagogy and has precisely NOTHING to do with science. In fact, it is a threat to the health of all those with quickly progressing diseases who can only be treated if caught early.

        “Enormous psychological stress” is only a factor if the physician is poor at communicating the properties of the test and the meaning of the results. Many are, but that’s not a problem of the test but of the physician.

        [blockquote]But at least we don’t test men for breast cancer or women for prostate cancer. That’s what minority racial groups face. [/blockquote]

        and then…

        [blockquote]Treatment decisions are always and everywhere about probability. If you don’t understand Bayes, you should not be practicing. [/quote]

        And if you’ve never heard of male breast cancer, you should not be lecturing people on whether they should be practicing or not.

        It is evident that you would prefer a diagnosis based on quackery rather than an evidence-based guideline. Just please accept that not everyone shares your readiness to sacrifice people on the altar of your ideology.

        • 

          Of course I am oversimplifying a complex discussion. This is a blog post. I am not trying to establish clinical guidelines. I am just trying to point out that it is a fallacy to say that prevalence doesn’t matter if you have a diagnostic test. No physician would test everyone for everything. That’s the point.

          Of course, a risk of a false positive may well be worth it depending on the nature of the disease, the risks of treatment, and so on. I am obviously not giving medical advice and if anyone reading this thinks they should not undergo screening because of anything I have said, I absolutely encourage you to listen to your doctor and not a random guy on the Internet.

          All I am saying is that self-reported race is a risk factor for some medical conditions. This is widely accepted, and is incorporated into medical practice. The FDA is encouraging/requiring drug companies to take it into account in clinical trials. Do you dispute that?

          • 

            Facepalm. Race should not be used because its dangerous. Maybe ethnicity, like Jamaican European or Half African Jamaican half European Jamaican or Koisan or something with far less chance of going wrong. That is only if its even needed.

            Sickle cell is found using just a blood test looking for a sickle shaped cell. What other trait is required? You specifically state what trait like high blood sugar levels or something specific about the person and then make the medicine for it. Not some stupid thing like “race”.

            Medical practice should not use “race”, thats bad practice.

  23. 

    Got the point with the first paragraph, Jeesh you can be wordy!

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