Leading behavior geneticist Robert Plomin is publishing “Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are” in October of 2018. I, of course, have not read the book yet. But if the main thesis of the book is that DNA is a “code”, “recipe”, or “blueprint”, then that is already wrong. This is because presuming that DNA is any of the three aforementioned things marries one to certain ideas, even if they themselves do not explicitly state them. Nevertheless, Robert Plomin is what one would term a “hereditarian”, meaning that he believes that genes—more than environment—shape an individual’s psychological and other traits. (That’s a false dichotomy, though.) In the preview for the book at MIT Press, they write:
In Blueprint, behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin describes how the DNA revolution has made DNA personal by giving us the power to predict our psychological strengths and weaknesses from birth. A century of genetic research shows that DNA differences inherited from our parents are the consistent life-long sources of our psychological individuality—the blueprint that makes us who we are. This, says Plomin, is a game-changer. It calls for a radical rethinking of what makes us who were are.
Genetics accounts for fifty percent of psychological differences—not just mental health and school achievement, but all psychological traits, from personality to intellectual abilities. Nature defeats nurture by a landslide.
Plomin explores the implications of this, drawing some provocative conclusions—among them that parenting styles don’t really affect children’s outcomes once genetics is taken into effect. Neither tiger mothers nor attachment parenting affects children’s ability to get into Harvard. After describing why DNA matters, Plomin explains what DNA does, offering readers a unique insider’s view of the exciting synergies that came from combining genetics and psychology.
I won’t get into most of these things today (I will wait until I read the book for that), but this will be just an article showing that DNA is, in fact, not a blueprint, and DNA is not a “code” or “recipe” for the organism.
It’s funny that the little blurb says that “Nature defeats nurture by a landslide“, because, as I have argued at length, nature vs nurture is a false dichotomy (See Oyama, 1985, 2000, 1999; Moore, 2002; Schneider, 2007; Moore, 2017). Nature vs nurture is the battleground that the false dichotomy of genes vs environment is fought on. However, it makes no sense to partition heritability estimates if it is indeed true that genes interact with environment—that is, if nature interacts with nurture.
DNA is also called “the book of life”. For example, in her book The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance, Nessa Carey writes that “There’s no debate that the DNA blueprint is a starting point” (pg 16). This, though, can be contested. “But the promise of a peep into the ‘book of life’ leading to a cure for all diseases was a mistake” (Noble, 2017: 161).
Developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist David S. Moore concurs. In his book The Developing Genome: An Introduction to Behavioral Epigenetics, he writes (pg 45):
So, although I will talk about genes repeatedly in this book, it is only because there is no other convenient way to communicate about contemporary ideas in molecular biology. And when I refer to gebe, I will be talking about a segment or segments of DNA containing sequence information that is used to help construct a protein (or some other product that performs a biological function). But it is worth remembering that contemporary biologists do not mean any one thing when they talk about “genes”; the gene remains a fundementally hypothetical concept to this day. The common belief that there are things inside of us that constitute a set of instructions for building bodies and minds—things that are analogous to “blueprings” or “recipes”—is undoubedtly false. Instead, DNA segements often contain information that is ambiguous, and that must be edited or arranged in context-dependent ways before it can be used.
Still, other may use terms like “genes for” trait T. This, too, is incorrect. In his outstanding book Making Sense of Genes, Kostas Kamporakis writes (pg 19):
I also explain why the notion of “genes for,” in the vernacular sense, is not only misleading but also entirely inaccurate and scientifcally illegitamate.
First, I show that genes “operate” in the context of development only. This means that genes are impllicated in the development of characters but do not determine them. Second, I explain why single genes do not alone produce characters or disease but contribute to their variation. This means that genes can account for variation in characters but cannot alone explain their origin. Third, I show that genes are not the masters of the game but are subject to complex regulatory processes.
Genes can only be seen as passive templates, not ultimate causes (Noble, 2011), and they cannot explain the origin of different characters but can account for variation in physical characters. Genes only “do” something in the context of development; they are inert molecules and thusly cannot “cause” anything on their own.
Genes are not ‘for’ traits, but they are difference-makers for traits. Sterelny and Griffiths (1999: 102), in their book Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology write:
Sterelny and Griffiths (1988) responded to the idea that genes are invisible to selection by treating genes as difference makers, and as visible to selection by virtue of the differences they make. In doing so, they provided a formal reconstruction of the “gene for” locution. The details are complex, but the basic intent of the reconstruction is simple. A certain allele in humans is an “allele for brown eyes” because, in standard environments, having that allele rather than alternatives typically available in the population means that your eyes will be brown rather than blue. This is the concpet of a gene as a difference maker. It is very important to note, however, that genes are context-sensitive difference makers. Their effects depend on the genetic, cellular, and other features of their environment.
(Genes can be difference makers for physical traits, but not for psychological traits because no psychophysical laws exist, but I’ll get to that in the future.)
Note how the terms “context-sensitive” and “context-dependent” continue to appear. The DNA-as-blueprint statement presumes that DNA is context-independent, but we cannot divorce genes—whatever they are—from their context, since genes and environment, nature and nurture, are intertwined. (And it is even questioned if ‘genes’ are truly units of inheritance, see Fogle, 1990. Fogle, 2000 also argues to dispense with the concept of “gene” and that biologists should be using terms like intron, promoter region, and exon. Nevertheless, there is a huge disconnect with the term “gene” in molecular biology and classical genetics. Keller 2000 argues that there are still uses for the term “gene” and that we should not dispense with the term. I believe we should dispense with it.)
Susan Oyama (2000: 77) writes in her book The Ontogeny of Information:
“Though a plan implies action, it does not itself act, so if the genes are a blueprint, something else is the constructor-construction worker. Though blueprints are usually contrasted with building materials, the genes are quite easily conceptualized as templates for building tools and materials; once so utilized, of course, they enter the developmental process and influence its course. The point of the blueprint analogy, though, does not seem to be to illuminate developmental processes, but rather to assume them and, in celebrating their regularity, to impute cognitive functions to genes. How these functions are exercised is left unclear in this type of metaphor, except that the genetic plan is seen in some peculiar way to carry itself out, generating all the necessary steps in the necessary sequence. No light is shed on multiple developmental possibilities, species-typical or atypical.“
The Modern Synthesis is one of the causes for the genes-as-blueprints thinking; the Modern Synthesis has causation in biology wrong. Genes are not active causes, but they are passive templates, as argued by many authors. They, thus, cannot “cause” anything on their own.
In his 2017 book Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity, Denis Noble writes (pg 157):
As we saw earlier in this chapter, these triplet sequences are formed from any combination of the four bases U, C, A and G in RNA and T, C, A and G in DNA. They are often described as a genetic ‘code’, but it is important to understand that this usage of the word ‘code’ carries overtones that can be confusing.
A code was originally an intentional encryption used by humans to communicate. The genetic ‘code’ is not intentional in that sense. The word ‘code’ has unfortunately reinforced the idea that genes are active and even complete causes, in much the same was as a computer is caused to follow the instructions of a computer program. The more nuetral word ‘template’ would be better. Templates are used only when required (activated); they are not themselves active causes. The active causes lie within the cells themselves since they determine the expression patterns for the different cell types and states. These patterns are comminicated to the DNA by transcrption factors, by methylation patterns and by binding to the tails of histones, all of which influence the pattern and speed of transcription of different parts of the genome. If the word ‘instruction’ is useful here at all, it is rather that the cell instructs the genome. As Barbara McClintock wrote in 1984 after receiving her Nobel Prize, the genome is an ‘organ of the cell’, not the other way around.
Realising that DNA is under the control of the system has been reinforced by the discovery that cells use different start, stop and splice sites for producing different messenger RNAs from a single DNA sequence. This enables the same sequence to code different proteins in different cell types and under different conditions [here’s where context-dependency comes into play again].
Representing the direction of causality in biology the wrong way round is therefore confusing and has far-reaching conseqeunces. The causality is circular, acting both ways: passive causality by DNA sequences acting as otherwise inert templates, and active causality by the functional networks of interactions that determine how the genome is activated.
This takes care of the idea that DNA is a ‘code’. But what about DNA being a ‘blueprint’, that all of the information is contained in the DNA of the organism before conception? DNA is clearly not a ‘program’, in the sense that all of the information to construct the organism exists already in DNA. The complete cell is also needed, and its “complex structures are inherited by self-templating” (Noble, 2017: 161). Thus, the “blueprint” is the whole cell, not just the genome itself (remember that the genome is an organ of the cell).
Lastly, GWA studies have been all the rage recently. However, there is only so much we can learn just from association studies, before we need to turn to the physiological sciences for functional analyses. Indeed, Denis Noble (2018) writes in a new editorial:
As with the results of GWAS (genome-wide association studies) generally, the associations at the genome sequence level are remarkably weak and, with the exception of certain rare genetic diseases, may even be meaningless (13, 21). The reason is that if you gather a sufficiently large data set, it is a mathematical necessity that you will find correlations, even if the data set was generated randomly so that the correlations must be spurious. The bigger the data set, the more spurious correlations will be found (3).
The results of GWAS do not reveal the secrets of life, nor have they delivered the many cures for complex diseases that society badly needs. The reason is that association studies do not reveal biological mechanisms. Physiology does. Worse still, “the more data, the more arbitrary, meaningless and useless (for future action) correlations will be found in them” is a necessary mathematical statement (3).
Nor does applying a highly restricted DNA sequence-based interpretation of evolutionary biology, and its latest manifestation in GWAS, to the social sciences augur well for society.
It is further worth noting that there is no privileged level of causation in biological systems (Noble, 2012)—a priori, there is no justification to privilege one system over another in regard to causation, so saying that one level of the organism is “higher” than another (for instance, saying that genes are, and should be, privileged over the environment or any other system in the organism regarding causation) is clearly false, since there is upwards and downwards causation, influencing all levels of the system.
In sum, it is highly misleading to refer to DNA as “blueprints”, a “code”, or a “recipe.” Referring to DNA in this way means that one presumes that DNA can be divorced from its context—that it does not work together with the environment. As I have argued in the past, association studies will not elucidate genetic mechanisms, nor will heritability estimates (Richardson, 2012). We need physiological testing for these functional analyses, and association studies like GWAS and even heritability estimates don’t tell us this type of information (Panofsky, 2014). So, it seems, that what Plomin et al are looking for that they assume are “in the genes”, are not there, because they use a false model of the gene (Burt, 2015; Richardson, 2017). Genes are resources—templates to be used by and for the system—not causes of traits and development. They can account for differences in variation, but cannot be said to be the origin of trait differences. Genes can be said to be difference makers, but knowing whether or not they are difference makers for behavior, in my opinion, cannot be known.
(For further information on genes and what they do, reach Chapters Four and Five of Ken Richardson’s book Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence. Plomin himself seems to be a reductionist, and Richardson took care of that paradigm in his book. Lickliter (2018) has a good review of the book, along with critiques of the reductionist paradigm that Plomin et al follow.)
The debate on what type of diet in regard to macronutrient differences rages on. Should we eat high carb, low fat (HCLF)? Or low carb, high fat (LCHF) or something in between? The answer rests on, of course, the type of diets that our ancestors ate—both immediate and in the distant past. In the 1990s, a frozen human was discovered in the Otzal mountains, which gave him the name “Otzi man.” About 5,300 years ago, he was frozen in the mountains. The contents of his stomach have been analyzed in the 27 years since the discovery of Otzi, but an in-depth analysis was not possible until now.
A new paper was published recently, which analyzed the stomach contents of Otzi man (Maixner et al, 2018). There is one reason why it took so long to analyze the contents of his stomach: the authors state that, due to mummification, his stomach moved high up into his rib cage. The Iceman was “omnivorous, with a diet consisting both of wild animal and plant material” (Maixner et al, 2018: 2). They found that his stomach had a really high fat content, with “the presence of ibex and red deer” (pg 3). He also “consumed either fresh or dried wild meat“, while “a slow drying or smoking of the meat over the fire would explain the charcoal particles detected previously in the lower intestine content.“(pg 5).
The extreme alpine environment in which the Iceman lived and where he have been found (3,210 m above sea level) is particularly challenging for the human physiology and requires optimal nutrient supply to avoid rapid starvation and energy loss . Therefore, the Iceman seemed to have been fully aware that fat displays an excellent energy source. On the other hand, the intake of animal adipose tissue fat has a strong correlation with increased risk of coronary artery disease . A high saturated fats diet raises cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn can lead to atherosclerosis. Importantly, computed tomography scans of the Iceman showed major calcifications in arteria and the aorta indicating an already advanced atherosclerotic disease state . Both his high-fat diet and his genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease  could have significantly contributed to the development of the arterial calcifications. Finally, we could show that the Iceman either consumed fresh or dried meat. Drying meat by smoking or in the open air are simple but highly effective methods for meat preservation that would have allowed the Iceman to store meat long term on journeys or in periods of food scarcity. In summary, the Iceman’s last meal was a well-balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids, perfectly adjusted to the energetic requirements of his high-altitude trekking. (Maixner et al, 2018: 5)
They claim that “the intake of animal adipose tissue fat has a strong correlation with increased risk of coronary artery disease“, of course, citing a paper that the AHA is involved in (Sacks et al, 2017) which says that “Randomized clinical trials showed that polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oils replacing saturated fats from dairy and meat lowers CVD.” This is nonsense, because dietary fat guidelines have no evidence (Harcombe et al, 2016; Harcombe, Baker, and Davies, 2016; Harcombe, 2017). Saturated fat consumption is not even associated with all-cause mortality, type II diabetes, ischemic stroke, CVD (cardiovascular disease) and CHD (coronary heart disease) (de Sousa et al, 2015).
Thus, if anything, what contributed to Otzi man’s arterial calcification seems to be grains/carbohydrates (see DiNicolantonio et al, 2017), not animal fat. Fats, at 9 kcal per gram, were better for Otzi to consume, as he got more kcal for his buck; eating a similar portion in carbohydrates, for example, would have meant that Otzi would have had to spend more time eating (since carbs have less than half the energy that animal fat does). Since his stomach had ibex (a type of goat) and red deer, it’s safe to say that many of his meals consisted mainly of animal fat, protein with some cereals and plants thrown in (he was an omnivore).
We can then contrast the findings of Otzi’s diet with that of Neanderthals. It has been estimated that, during glacial winters, Neanderthals would have consumed around 74-85 percent of their diet from animal fat when there were no carbohydrates around, with the rest coming from protein (Ben-Dor, Gopher, and Barkai, 2016). Furthermore, based on contemporary data from polar peoples, it is estimated that Neanderthals required around 3,360 to 4,480 kcal per day to winter foraging and cold resistance (Steegmann, Cerny, and Holliday, 2002). The upper-limit for protein intake for Homo sapiens is 4.0 g/bw/day while for erectus it is 3.9 g/bw/day (Ben-Dor et al, 2011), and so this shows that Neanderthals consumed a theoretical upper-maximum of protein due to their large body size. So we can assume that Neanderthals consumed somewhere near 3800 kcal per day. The average Neanderthal is said to have consumed about 292 grams of protein per day, or 1,170 kcal (with a lower end of 985 kcal and an upper end of 1,170 at the high end) (Ben-Dor, Gopher, and Barkai, 2016: 370).
Then if we further assume that Neanderthals consumed no carbohydrates during glacial winters, that leaves protein as the main source of energy, since the large game the Neanderthals hunted were not around. Thus, Neanderthals would have consumed between 2,812 and 3,230 kcal from animal fat with the rest coming from protein. We can also put this into perspective. The average American man consumes about 100 grams of protein per day, while consuming 2,195 kcal per day (Ford and Dietz, 2013). For these reasons, and more, I argued that Neanderthals were significantly stronger than Homo sapiens, and this does have implications for racial differences in athletic ability.
In sum, the last meal of Otzi man is now known. Of course, this is a case of n = 1, so we should not draw too large a conclusion from this, but it is interesting. I don’t see why the composition of the diets of any of Otzi’s relatives would have been any different (or that the contents of his normal diet would have been any different). He ate a diet high in animal fat like Neanderthals, but unlike Neanderthals, they ate a more cereal-based diet which may have contributed to Otzi’s CVD and arterial calcification. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our ancestors through the analysis of their stomach contents (if possible) and teeth (if possible), and maybe even genomes (Berens, Cooper, and Lachance, 2017) because if we learn what they ate then we can maybe begin to shift dietary advice to a more ‘natural’ way and avoid diseases of civilization. But, we have not had time to adapt to the new obesogenic environments we have constructed for ourselves. It’s due to this that we have an obesity epidemic, and by studying the diets of our ancestors, we can then begin to remedy our obesity and other health problems.
JP Rushton was a highly controversial psychologist professor, teaching at the University of Western Ontario for his entire career. In the mid-1980s, he proposed that evolution was “progressive” and that there was a sort of “hierarchy” between the three races that he termed “Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid” (Rushton, 1985). His theory was then strongly criticized scientists from numerous disciplines (Lynn, 1989; Cain, 1990; Weizmann et al, 1990; Anderson, 1991; Graves, 2002). Rushton responded to these criticisms (Rushton, 1989; Rushton, 1991; Rushton, 1997; though it’s worth noting that Rushton never responded to Graves’ 2002 critiques). (Also see Rushton’s and Graves’ debate.) Copping, Campbell, and Muncer (2014) write that “high K scores were related to earlier sexual debut and unrelated to either pubertal onset or number of sexual partners. This suggests that the HKSS does not reflect an underlying “K dimension.”“, which directly contradicts Rushton’s racial r/K proposal.
There is a now a new critique of Rushton’s theory out now, by Edward Dutton, English anthropologist, with a doctorate in religious studies, just published at the end of last month (Dutton, 2018). I ordered the book the day after publication and it took three weeks to get to my residence since it came from the UK. I finally received it on Friday. It’s a small book, 143 pages sans acknowledgments, references and the index, and seems well-written and researched from what I’ve read so far.
Here is the plan of the book:
Accordingly, in this chapter [Chapter One], we will begin by getting to grips with the key concepts of intelligence and personality. This part is primarily aimed at non-specialist readers or those who are sceptical of the two concepts [it’s really barebones; I’m more than ‘sceptical’ and it did absolutely nothing for me]. In Chapter Two, we will explore Rushton’s theory in depth. Readers who are familiar with Life History Theory may wish to fast forward through to the section on the criticisms of Rushton’s model. I intend to be as fair to his theory as possible, in a way so few of the reviewers were when he presented it. I will respond to the many fallacious criticisms of it, all of which indicate non-scientific motives [what about Rushton? Did he have any non-scientific motives?]. However, I will show that Rushton is just as guilty of these kinds of techniques as his opponents. I will also highlight serious problems with his work, including cherry picking, confirmation bias, and simply misleading other researchers. In Chapter Three, we will explore the concept of ‘race’ and show that although Rushton’s critics were wrong to question the concept’s scientific validity, Rushton effectively misuses the concept, cherry-picking such that his concept works. In Chapter Four, we will explore the research that has verified Rushton’s model, including new measures which he didn’t examine. We will then, in Chapter Five, examine the concept of genius and look at how scientific geniuses tend to be highly intelligent r-strategists, though we will see that Rushton differed from accepted scientific geniuses in key ways.
In Chapter Six, we will find that Rushton’s theory itself is problematic, though not in the ways raised by his more prominent critics. It doesn’t work when it comes to a key measure of mental stability as well as to many other measures, specifically preference for oral sex, the desire to adopt non-related children, the desire to have pets, and positive attitudes to the genetically distant. It also doesn’t work if you try to extend it to other races, beyond the three large groups he examined [because more races exist than Rushton allows]. In Chapter Seven, with all the background, we will scrutinize Rushton’s life up until about the age of 30, while in Chapter Eight, we will follow Rushton from the age of 30 until his death. I will demonstrate the extent to which he was a highly intelligent r-strategist and a Narcissist and we will see that Rushton seemingly came from a line of highly intelligent r-strategists. In Chapter Nine, I will argue that for the good of civilization those who strongly disagree with Rushton must learn to tolerate people like Rushton. (Dutton, 2018: 12-13).
On the back of the book, he writes that Rushton had “two illegitimate children including one by a married black woman.” This is intriguing. Could this be part of Rushton’s motivation to formulate his theory (his theory has already been rebutted by numerous people, so speculating on motivations in lieu of new information seems apt)?
“But on this basis, it could be argued that my critique of Rushton simply gives ammunition to emotionally-driven scientists and their friends in the media. However, it could be countered that my critique only goes to show that it is those who are genuinely motivated by the understanding of the world — those who accept empirical evidence, such as with regard to intelligence and race — who are prepared to critique those regarded as being ‘on their side.’ And this is precisely because they are unbiased and thus do not think in terms of ‘teams.’”
Dutton argues that “many of the criticisms leveled against Rushton’s work by mainstream scientists were actually correct” (pg 13). This is a truism. One only need to read the replies to Rushton, especially Anderson (1991) to see that he completely mixed up the theory. He stated ‘Negroids’ were r-strategists and ‘Mongoloids’ were K-strategists, but this reasoning shows that he did not understand the theory—or, if anything, he knowingly attempted to obfuscate the theory in order to lend stronger credence to his own theory (and personal biases).
The fatal flaw for Rushton’s theory is that, if r/K selection theory did apply to human races, that ‘Mongoloids’ would be r-strategists while ‘Negroids’ would be K-strategists. This is because “Rushton’s own suggested agents of natural selection on African populations imply that African populations have had a strong history of K-selection, as well as the r-selection implied by “droughts”” (Anderson, 1991: 59). As for Mongoloids, “Rushton lists many traits of Mongoloid peoples that are thought to represent adaptation to cold. Cold weather acts in a density-independent fashion (adaptations to cold improve survival in cold weather regardless of population density); cold weather is normally an agent of r-selection” (Anderson, 1991: 59). Rushton’s own arguments imply that ‘Negroids’ would have had more time to approach their environmental carrying capacity and experience ‘K-selecting’ pressures.
Thus, Rushton’s claim about the empirical ordering of life history and behavioural traits in the racial groups exactly contradicts general predictions that follow from his own claims about their ancestral ecology and the r/K model (Boyce, 1984; MacArthur, 1972; MacArthur & Wilson, 1967; Pianka, 1970; Ricklefs, 1990, p. 577). (Specific predictions from the model could be made only about individual populations after careful study in their historical habitat, as I have pointed out above). (Anderson, 1991: 59) [And it is not possible, because the populations in question should be living in the environment that the selection is hypothesized to have occurred. That, of course, is not possible today.]
Though, near the end of the book, Dutton writes that (pg 148) that “Rushton was not a scientific genius. As we have discussed, unlike a scientific genius, his models had clear deficiencies, he cherry-picked data to fit his model, and he was biased in favor of his model. However, Rushton was a highly original scientist who developed an extremely original and daring theory: a kind of artistic-scientist genius combination.”
The final paragraph of the book, though, sums up the whole book up well. Dutton talks about when Jared Taylor introduces Rushton at one of his American Renaissance conferences (February 25th, 2006):
‘Well, thank you very much and . . . eh . . . and thank you Jared for . . . erm . . . putting on another wonderful conference.’ Rushton was reserved, yet friendly and avuncular. ‘Eh . . . it’s a great honor to be the after dinner speaker; to be elevated up like this.’ He was certainly elevated up. Taylor had even remarked that ‘in a sane and civilized world’ Rushton’s work would have ‘worldwide acclaim.’ Rushton’s audience admired him, trusted him . . . They weren’t familiar with him at all.
All in all, to conclude this little mini-review, I would recommend picking up this book as it’s a great look into Rushton’s life, the pitfalls of his theory (and for the new work and other variables that Dutton shows showed Rushton’s M>C>N ‘hierarchy’). Rushton’s work, while politically daring, did not hold up to scientific scrutiny, since the model was beginning to be abandoned in the late 70s (Graves, 2002), with most scientists completely dismissing the model in the early 90s. Commenting on r/K selection, Stearns (1992: 206) writes that “This explanation was suggestive and influential but incorrect” (quoted in Reznick et al, 2002), while Reznick et al (2002: 1518) write that “The r- and K-selection paradigm was replaced by new paradigm that focused on age-specific mortality (Stearns 1976, Charlesworth 1980).” Rushton’s model, while it ‘made sense with the data’, was highly flawed. And even then, it doesn’t matter that it ‘made sense’ with the data, since Rushton’s theory is one large just-so story (Gould and Lewontin, 1976; Lloyd, 1999; Richardson, 2007; Nielsen, 2009; see also Pigliucci and Kaplan, 2000 and Kaplan, 2002
How much admixture does it take for one race to no longer exist? The answer to the question is intuitive, and using Hardimon’s (2017) minimalist race concept, it is also easily answerable on logical grounds. For example, the answer to the question will show that the “one-drop rule” (that “one drop” of “black blood” makes one black) doesn’t make logical sense. These kinds of holdovers are from the racialist concept. Racialist races do not exist, therefore the concept of the “one-drop rule” does not either, since there are no facts of the matter the two concepts explain.
The maintenance of the races that current exist depend on, at the moment, social barriers to reproduction, such as racism, segregation, differences in culture and class, role segregation and racial discrimination. Thus, social isolation is important for the maintenance of the current races. Social isolation, like geographic isolation (i.e., oceans, mountains, deserts, etc.) impedes racial interbreeding and thus ensures the continuation of the genetic transmission of distinct patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry.
Social isolation mechanisms have been in effect for hundreds of years, which began with the advent of African slavery to the New World. Laws against miscegenation existed in some states (Phillips, Odunlami, and Bonham, 2007), which is part of the reason why it’s (an unspoken) taboo to racially intermarry and bear children with someone not of their own race. Due to this, the few interracial unions that did produce children were specifically barred—in the eyes of society—to only be able to have children with others of their same socialrace at the lower ends of the social hierarchy.
Social isolation mechanisms have ensured the continuation of human races after the discovery of the New World when the geographic isolation mechanisms began breaking down due to exploring new lands. These isolating mechanisms on the populace ensured little admixture in the European population, but compared to European Americans, African Americans have a higher percentage of the opposite admixture. Understanding racial admixture and the genetic transmission of distinct visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry is extremely important to understanding when races “disappear” due to inbreeding.
Therefore, social isolation—ever since 1492—and the laws/rules that came after the breakdowns of geographic isolation between races still ensured the existence of the races as we know them today. Social factors acted as de facto physical barriers that impeded the races from breeding, thusly keeping their visible physical features intact, which means keeping their racial phenotype intact since races are defined—most importantly—on the basis of visible physical features. Social isolation can, clearly, be just about as “strong” as geographic isolation, since the social repercussions of interracial unions may exile them from the groups they were in. Thus, people would be wary of interracial unions, even if—as it seems—our culture in America seems to be swaying towards inclusivity in regard to interracial relationships, people still generally associate with and date people who look like themselves and their parents (see below).
How Much Admixture?
How much admixture can one race take before said race ceases to exist? Since C 1 (a group is distinguished from another group on the basis of distinct visible physical features) doesn’t require sharp lines between said visible physical features, C 2 (members linked by peculiar ancestry) also doesn’t require that all of the ancestors of Rs (races) be Rs.
The best possible example for an answer to the question of “How much admixture?” is simple. Think of Europeans (a subrace of the Caucasian race). When Europeans interbreed with non-Europeans, they begin to lose their distinct pattern of visible physical features which correspond to their geographic ancestry. Thus, in the case of Europeans, the answer to the question of “How much admixture?”, meaning “How much interbreeding can the European subrace take before it is “bred out” of existence?” is, of course, not too much.
Think of a union between a black woman and white man (using the social race designation; their populationist race is African and Caucasian, respectively). The child the woman bears will share some of her physical features, but barely. The baby will look more like the non-European parent, but of course, a baby who is the product of the union between an African and European will share features with both parents, and thus, the baby can “roughly fit the pattern” of a minimalist race. We can easily explain this: mixed-race individuals can err, physically, to one minimalist race over another because they are the products of individuals who do fit the patterns (of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry).
Contrary to the alarmist claims heard in the media and from the altright, trends in interracial marriages do not indicate that minimalist (populationist) races are coming to an end (in this case, the white (social) race).
It is true that in the modoern (post-1492) world there is vastlty more racial interbreeding than there was before 1492. And if one is referring to the very long run, then races are almost certainly on their way out. But it is one thing to say that the human races will cease to exist at some point in the distant future and quite another to say that they are likely to disappear anytime soon. It is by no means clear that we are in an epistemic position to make the latter claim.
Contrary to what some writers suggest, recent trends in racial intermarriage in the United States do not indivate the imminent end of populationist (or minimalist) races. 5 The skyrocketing rates of intermarriage in this country notwithstanding, it remains true that the vast majority of Americans continue to marry within their own conventionally designated racial group. Despite the remarkable fact that the multiracial, multi-ethnic Americans have apparently become the fastest-growing demographic group in the United States, their numbers are still swamped by individuals who are members of a single continental-level minimalist races. 6 I don’t think that the significant fraction of DNA traceable to “Europeans” in most black Americans, and the small but real fraction of DNA traceable to “Africans” in white Americans, makes the end of the populationist (or minimalist) race significantly more imminent.
There is no evidence of which I am aware indicating that the rate at which racial interbreeding in the United States (or anywhere else) is occurring is one that would lead to the elimination of all racial differences—a situation in which no two groups could be distinguished on the basis of patterns of visible physical corresponding to differences in geographic ancestry—in the near future. To sum up: the increase frequency of encountering individuals of mixed racial ancestry does not mean that the concept of race is going to go out of business anytime soon. (Hardimon, 2017: 122)
Yaeger et al (2009) show that, in their sample, self-identification as African American is a reliable indicator of ancestry. Their findings also “suggest that self-reported race and ancestry can predict ancestral clusters, but do not reveal the extent of admixture.” Thus, self-identified race—even in the presence of admixture as is the case with African Americans—can show the racial category that an individual belongs to (based on their ancestry).
Hardimon (2017: 49) articulates a simple rule that employs the minimalist concept of race:
If both parents of an individual belong to one particular racial group R, that individual will belong to R.
What happens, however, if one parent belongs to R1 and the other parent belongs to R2. The minimalist concept of race does not say. Still less does it tell us what one’s race is if one’s grandparents belongs to an R1, another to R2, another to R3, and another to R4. This is a further respect in which the minimalist race concept is vague.
Particular conceptions of race (for example, the infamous “one-drop rule”) may specify the race of the individuals of “mixed” parentage, but the minimalist concept of race does not. The idea that a genune concept of race must specify the race of each individual is a hangover from the racialist race concept. Recall here that the minimalist racehood is not defined in terms of the characteristics of the individuals who belong to races. It is defined in terms of characteristics of groups.
So, the minimalist concept of race is vague, just like the populationist concept. But we can make one claim on the answer to the question “How much admixture?”: “Once a race loses its specific phenotype due to racial interbreeding, then the race ceases to exist.”
The one drop rule (also known as the law of hypodescent), is a form of racial essentialism (Perez and Hirschman, 2009), which states that “one drop” of another, inferior (on the basis of racialist races) race’s blood denotes him to the inferior race in the social hierarchy. The one drop rule was created back during the slave days and signified who could breed with who, on the basis of how “pure” their blood was. It was, and still is today, a way for race deniers to deny the existence of race.
The one-drop rule stated that anyone with one black ancestor was classified as black (Pauker et al, 2009). That is, his position on the socialrace hierarchy (a hierarchy since it’s based on the false racialist race concept) is based on the fact that he has one black ancestor. Due to this, and other differing amounts of admixture in certain ethnic groups and other social groups taken to be races, people have—fallaciously—stated that races do not exist since the unions of two separate races “erases” one, or both, of the races in question.
This rule helped to ensure the maintenance of populationist races, since society frowned upon interracial marriage. This, obviously, was a social custom. The Jim Crow laws helped to ensure the maintenance of the physical characteristics of the races in question, though the laws were enacted to ensure the “racial purity” (whatever that is) of the European race, it helped to ensure lower amounts of admixture in black Americans. Thus, black Americans would be expected to self-identify as black (Liebler and Zacher, 2017).
Liebler and Zacher (2017)‘s data “supports the notion that this “rule” has some power even today, as there are almost 30 times as many people reporting that they are racially black with American Indian ancestry (weighted N=522,607) as there are people reporting American Indian race with black ancestry (weighted N=16,226).” Bryc et al (2015) show that, despite the expectations of the one drop rule “individuals identify roughly with the majority of their genetic ancestry.”
Most people in one sample that had less than 20 percent African ancestry identified as white. In the US, “Latinos” (a social-race) were estimated to have 65.1 percent European, 6.2 percent African, and 18.6 percent Native American DNA. Overall, 3.5 percent of European Americans had 1 percent or more African ancestry, while 1.4 percent of self-reported European Americans had were estimated to carry at least 2 percent African ancestry (Bryc et al, 2015).
Importantlty, Guo et al (2014) write:
The one-drop rule represents an important case in which social context trumps bio-ancestry. When asked to classify into a single race, most individuals with 30 % to 60 % African ancestry self-report as black; virtually all respondents with >60 % African ancestry self-classify as black. In contrast, a substantially higher proportion of European ancestry is “required” to self-classify or to be classified by an interviewer as white than the proportion of African ancestry necessary to self-classify or be classified as black. However, when given the option of identifying as multiracial, the majority of individuals with 40 % to 60 % African ancestry in both ROOM and Add Health and substantial proportions of individuals with >60 % African ancestry in ROOM stopped self-classifying as only black and primarily chose a multiracial classification.
“The infamous one-drop rule is peculiar to this country [America] but it is a feature of the American conception of race, not the minimalist concept of race.” (Hardimon, 2017: 56) The one-drop rule is a clear tell to how the socialrace concept acts. It is an essentialist concept, which means that it is necessarily racialist—since “one drop” of black blood makes one black—according to the rule.
The Maintenance of Races
It is possible that one society could take social measures to ensure the existence of their specific racial phenotype (that is, the existence of their minimalist race or subrace). Such a society would have to grapple with the moral and ethical underpinnings of such measures to ensure the maintenance of their phenotype (see Glannon, 2001’s book Genes and Future People for an extensive review of the moral, political, social, and ethical implications of human genetic engineering). This could also include genetic modification, though sound arguments exist that show that the way most people view genetic modification depends on a “strong view” of genetic determinism, which is false (Resnick and Vorhaus, 2006). However, it is possible that, through the will of the people in the society, that social isolation can lead to a de facto “physical” isolation through the social norms of the society in question.
However, since the races as they currently are are in no danger of non-existence, such measures, while they would (presumably) work, do not need to be taken. Such measures, though, do not need to be taken, since most people want to court with others who look like themselves, and those who are more likely to look like themselves are people of their own ethny, which is to say, people of their own populationist race. Thus, social measures to ensure the maintenance of races do not need to be taken.
As noted above, certain concepts from the days of the one drop rule are still in effect today, as a holdover from the days of Jim Crow and before. Some of these holdover concepts, though, help to maintain the races we know today. However, there is a possibility that our populationist races, too, have benefits socially constructed. Hardimon (2017: 126) writes (emphases his):
If populationist races exist, the role human action plays in their maintenance is rather more pronounced then the role it played in their genesis. Insofar as social norms and practices prohibiting or discouraging intermarriage have been the primary mechanisms preventing racial interbreeding since 1492, the maintenance of the separation has been intentional: this outcome is the very point of the discriminatory activity and practices in question. There is thus an especially strong sense in which, if populationist races exist, populationist race has been socially constructed since 1492.
Hardimon (2017: 126) goes on to say that the maintenance of populationist races “is not a natural process outside of human control”, nor is it “immutable or inalterable“, while “its existence is not an invariant, unchangeable,”natural” fact” and “The continued existence of populationist races, if it is a fact, is a fact within our power to change.” Thus, if populationist races exist (and they do), they exist by virtue of existing in nature.
So the races are not in danger of non-existence anytime soon, since the percentage of interracial unions are not too high compared to those who marry within their populationist races. The maintenance of populationist races comes down to—and will come down to, as long as humans are around—to social policies, whether enacted by state/country governments or the people themselves, sans any laws on miscegenation.
It has been said that we are attracted to people “who look like us“, “who look like our parents“, and “‘who are more similar to ourselves“. This means—NECESSARILY—that people are more likely to be attracted to people of their own race/ethnic group. People “who look like us” are co-ethnics and people of the same racial background; people who “look like our parents”, are, again, people who would share the same geographic ancestry. Since the physical features that delineate races are genetically transmitted from parent to offspring, then, people are more likely to be attracted to people of their same race. Finally, “people more similar to ourselves” doesn’t necessarily mean “people more racially/ethnically similar to ourselves”, since, of course, there are many other things that individuals have in common other than their race/ethnic group. However, it has been established that we are attracted more to people who share more similar genes than ourselves (Rushton,1997, 1998; Sebro et al, 2017). Thus, logically, since we are attracted to people who look like ourselves and our parents, we are attracted to people of our own ethnicity/race, as a matter of fact.
The question “How much admixture does it take for one race to no longer exist” is answered simply once the term “RACE” is defined: the amount of admixture it takes for one race to be “bred out” of existence is proportional to the amount of admixture it takes for one race’s physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry which are exhibited by the real group in question (this case being a subrace of a minimalist/populationist race). Europeans can’t take “much”, if any, other admixture, otherwise the traits that make Europeans European (which are, of course, not mutually exclusive to them, but the traits they—and their ethnies—exhibit are distinct) will disappear and so one of the Caucasian subraces will disappear as well. Social isolation, at the moment, is maintaining the races as we know them—and will far into the foreseeable future (there is no evidence that they will disappear anytime soon). “Violations” of the one drop rule abound, but they mean little to the minimalist/populationist concepts of race since the visible physical features which distinguish the races remain intact.
The fact that people are more attracted to people who look like themselves and their parents is an implicit way of saying that people are more attracted to people who are physically similar to themselves—that is, racially/ethnically similar to themselves—and shows that the races will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Human races will continue to exist as long as the social barriers that impede racial interbreeding remain. (Of course, if these social barriers did not exist, a majority of people still would court people who look like themselves and their families.) This is evidence that, contra social laws that impede or frown upon interracial marriages, we do not need such laws/rules because people stick to their own anyway. Therefore, the races are not in danger of disappearing anytime soon.
Over at the blog Anthropology 365 the author—Adam Johnson, biocultural anthropologist—wrote an article titled Populations, Race, and The Sorites Paradox, in which he argues that, since there are no “clear lines” and they are “wuzzy”, we cannot say where one race ends and another begins, therefore race does not exist. His whole argument is largely just the continuum fallacy—that since we cannot show where one race, in this instance, ends and another begins, therefore, race does not exist. This reasoning, however, is very flawed.
The beginning of his article is concerned with laying out the sorites paradox. Imagine zero grains of sand, then continuously add grains of sand, 1, 5, 10, 100, 1000, etc. When does the heap become a pile of sand? Johnson attempts to use this logic regarding races and populations: where does one population end and another begin? (You already know where this is headed; it seems that this is the ‘argument’ that gets the most play nowadays when it comes to race-denialism and racial eliminativism when there are better, non-fallacious, arguments out there to attack the concept of race in our ontology. Using the old and tired “continuum fallacy” no longer makes sense because the objection that “Race does not exist because we cannot tell where one race ends and another begins” has been responded to numerous times, most recently (and forcefully) by philosophers of race Michael Hardimon and Quayshawn Spencer.)
He defines “population”, stating that—in biocultural anthropology—that a population is simply a group of like kinds that interbreed with each other which are separated by geographic barriers. Nothing wrong with that—it’s true. He then makes the huge leap in logic to a within-country comparison (America), showing two arbitrarily circled “populations” on the east and west coasts of America. He admits the circles are “arbitrary”, then adds another purple circle in the middle, and finally a green and purple circle in between the original circles, signifying five populations (the image can be seen below).
He says that “It is often impossible to draw neat boundaries around a group”, but I am aware of no author making any claim that it IS possible (and easy) to draw neat boundaries around groups. To do so, you only need simple conditions; and if there is any deviation out of those conditions, then the population in question do not fit the definition of what you were constructing and they can thus be removed. Johnson says “where does yellow end and purple begin?” since there is so much overlap between all five colors in this image. He says that this reasoning shows how “crude” the concept of population is regarding the accepted definition: a group of like kinds that can interbreed but are geographically separated.
One who denies Hardimon’s (2017) 3 conditions for to establish that populations are minimalist races (C1. visible patterns of distinct physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry; C2. that the members in this group are linked by a common ancestry; and C3. they must originate from a distinct geographic location) may then take to this idea that these arbitrarily drawn circles which are supposed to be “populations” (to Johnson) are then races; but Johnson never left any conditions, only a vague definition. One could argue that two of those clusters satisfy C1-C3 (that the cluster in question shares visible patterns of distinct physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry [the people who, say, make up one town in one of the arbitrarily drawn circles may have different visible patterns of distinct physical features which correspond with their ‘geographic ancestry’], that the members are linked by a common ancestry [the town they now live in, say], and they derive from a distinct geographic location [the arbitrarily drawn circle is a distinct geographic location].
However, for one to say that C1 holds for these arbitrarily drawn circles, they have to stretch the definition in order to accept random populations within a country. They then need to say that C2 refers to any type of “common ancestry” of a certain town; and that C3 then shows that they derive from a distinct geographic location. However, in regard to C2 and C3, one who would attempt such an argument would be equivocating on “geographic ancestry” and “distinct geographic location”, thusly claiming that an infinitude of races exist because the conditions are vague. While I do admit that minimalist concept is vague, in my view, it does not allow for one to equivocate on certain words used in the argument to show that any and all arbitrary populations can be called “races”; it does not work like that because there are distinctive conditions that must be met before further thinking on whether or not a population in question is a “race” or not.
Johnson then quotes Scientific American writer John Terrel who writes in his article “Plug and Play” Genetics, Racial Migrations and Human History:
“Distinguishing between races and populations is effectively making a distinction without a difference. If this comes across as sounding crazy to you, then tell me this. What is a population? How can you tell whether you are “inside” a population or “outside” it? How many of them are there “out there” in the real world? How many did there used to be? More than today, or fewer? (Now substitute in these simple questions the word “race.” Doesn’t make much difference, right?)”
What is a population? Good question. The definition left by Johnson above is alright, but we can refine it. I can simply cite Michael Hardimon’s definition of “populationist race” (Hardimon, 2017: 99; my emphasis):
“A race is a subdivision of Homo sapiens—a group of populations that exhibits a distinctive pattern of genetically transmitted phenotypic characters that corresponds to the group’s geographic ancestry and belongs to a biological line of descent initiated by a geographically separated and reproductively isolated founding population.”
Using this definition of race, a race is a group of populations that exhibits a distinctive pattern of genetically transmitted phenotypic characters that corresponds to the groups’ geographic ancestry. Thus, with “population” having a much more non-vague definition, we can then begin to look for populations that exist in reality (not arbitrarily demarcated “populations” like Johnson did—using arbitrary circles as population groups in America).
Now that population is defined, what about the next question: “How can you tell whether you are “inside” a population or “outside” it?” Since we now have a better grasp of what “population” means in this context, then this question is simple to answer. You can tell whether you are “inside”‘ or “outside” a population by looking in a mirror and then thinking about any “population” as defined above. It really is that simple. However, it is hard when “population” is defined so vaguely, and so you get flaws in reasoning like the one from Johnson.
Now that we know that we can tell whether or not we are “inside” or “outside” a population, his next question is: “How many of them are there “out there” in the real world?” According to the definition presented by Hardimon above, there are 5 current races in the human subspecies. That’s the number of races that are ““out there” in the real world” (as opposed to a possible world we can imagine—which is not the topic of contention).
Now that we know how many of “them” [races] exist, the next questions are: “How many did there used to be? More than today, or fewer?” I won’t pretend to know the answer to this question, but I will say one thing: the number of races that used to exist in the past comes down to the number of populations that exhibit a distinctive pattern of visible physical features which are genetically transmitted by geographically and reproductively isolated founding populations. Though, the number of races that “used to” exist is irrelevant to the fact that races exist today and the number of races that do exist today.
Johnson then claims that we, in the West, have a “long history” of constructing different races. And while this is true, this does not go against the claim that biological racial realism is true. Johnson says that “We homogenized entire continents of people into essential “types” and used the assumptions intrinsic to those types to make grand statements about the “natural” divisions in the human species and the value and meaning associated.” Well, these “entire homogenized continents of people” DO fit into “types”—though they are not “essential”; there are “natural” divisions within the human species BUT one does not have to put value and meaning onto the existence of these populations that we call ‘races’, since they are based solely on distinct pattern of genetically transmitted characters which then correspond with the group’s geographic ancestry.
“Anthropology has since moved on from it’s [sic] assumption that the human species is divided up into natural kinds“, Johnson writes. It seems that Johnson is ignorant to the work of Hardimon (2017) and his racial typology using the minimalist concept of race along with its “scientific equivalent” the populationist race concept. Minimalist races are a biological kind “if only a modest one” (Hardimon, 2017: 91), and so, just because “Anthropology has since moved on from it’s [sic] assumption that the human species is divided up into natural kinds” DOES NOT MEAN THAT there are no “kinds” within the human species. The argument for the existence of minimalist races establishes the claim that the human species is, in fact, divided up into kinds:
P1) There are differences in patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry
P2) These patterns are exhibited between real groups, existing groups (i.e., individuals who share common ancestry)
P3) These real, existing groups that exhibit these physical patterns by geographic ancestry satisfy conditions of minimalist race
C) Therefore race exists and is a biological reality
Minimalist races exist and are biologically real; if minimalist races exist, then populationist races exist; populationist race is the “scientization” of minimalist race; minimalist races entail kinds, and so since minimalist races entail kinds then so do populationist races; therefore both concepts speak to kinds within the human species and their biological reality.
Either way, we can also accept that anthropology has moved away from the assumption that the human race is divided into kinds and not have to give up the argument for the existence of race. Instead of arguing that human races are “kinds” as Hardimon (2017) does, Spencer (2014) argues that since Americans defer to the US Census Bureau regarding race, the must be referring to biologically real groups. The US Census Bureau defers to the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB discusses “sets of” populations. K= 5 delineates populations that Americans refer to when referring to race. So since Americans defer to the Census Bureau and the Census Bureau defers to the OMB, when we Americans talk about race, we talk about proper names for population groups as denoted by the OMB—even though ‘race’ looks like a ‘kind’ term, according to Spencer (2014: 1028) “its current use in US racial discourse is that of a proper name. It is a term that rigidly designates a particular set of “population groups.” This means that race is a particular, not a kind.”
So, there are two sound arguments for the existence of race (the argument for the existence of populationist races from Hardimon and the argument for the existence of Blumenbachian partitions—which both use the same population genetics paper (Rosenberg et al, 2002) to buttress their claims that their “kinds” (Hardimon, 2017) and “partitions” (Spencer, 2014) exist in reality.
Lastly, Johnson cites Galanter et al (2012) who genotyped “populations” throughout South America:
He then states that we have a bunch of South American populations here, all with differing amounts of admixture (which, of course, coincide with three of the five populationist races). He pretty much says, “How can we draw neat circles around these populations to call them “populations”, and what about those other populations not sampled in the analysis?” It makes no sense; when you’re just drawing circles anywhere on any map and then claiming that they are “populations” that satisfy a vague criteria/definition, then you don’t understand any of the newer arguments put forth by philosophers on the existence and reality of racial population groups.
He concludes the article simply:
To conclude, it’s always important to parse in our assumptions and take into account that our levels of analysis (the unit we are studying) may not represent reality. When we equivocate levels of analysis with levels of reality when examining human diversity, as Terrell says, we end up making a distinction between race and populations with no real difference. However, if we understand that the “population(s)” of interest are not reflections of reality, but merely constructed entities that represents an amalgamated web of kinship, political, biological, economic, and random histories at a particular time and place, we can avoid the trap of racial thinking (without using ‘race’) that some scholars fall in to.
He seems to be conflating two concepts here: how we view these visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry (our socialview of these populations) and their actual existence completely removed from our social conventions. Yes, socialraces are groups that are taken to be racialist races (that is to say, they are taken to have a specific essence particular to that race and only that race); but the concept of socialrace—the types of social values we give to these populations (think that the minimalist concept of race denotes certain social groups on the basis of distinct visible patterns which correspond to geographic ancestry; the socialrace concept is a good concept since it presents a way of thinking about (1) social groups that are taken to be races (such as ‘Latinos’/’Hispanics’); (2) the social positions that the social groups occupy; and (3) the systems of social structure of which those positions are parts (Hardimon, 2017: 139).
The “populations of interest”, are, indeed, of interest because they pick out what ‘we already know to be’ races.
Races, then, are both socially and biologically constructed. The minimalist concept of race shows the phenotypes that the socialrace concept chooses out when denoting a population its socialrace status in a given society. It shows that there are both biological and social underpinnings to racial categories—that is, there is both a “biological” and “social” realm to race in our ontology, and if we want to understand both ontologies, then we must first think of the consequences of thinking of “race” as only a biological concept and only a social concept and then—after we have thought of “race” as a biological and social concept on its own—we can think of “race” as both a social and biological phenomenon because that’s the best way to describe race in out ontology.
I find it funny how Johnson brings up “population thinking”; but I am probably thinking of it in a different way then he was in his article. When he brings up “population thinking” he wants you to think in terms of his definition of “population”, which pretty much means any group he circles is deemed a population, and thus, since there is no easy way to delineate populations from each other, therefore race does not exist (we must be eliminativist about race). Though when I think of the term “population thinking”, I think of Ernst May’s use of the phrase populationist thinking is more apt: “populationist thinking” is directly opposed to “typological thinking”: “populationist thinking” holds that there are no intrinsic “biological essences”, nor any property—or set of properties—that all, and only all, members of a population share.
For the populationist “all organisms and organic phenomena are composed of unique features and can be described in collectively only in statistical terms. Individuals, or any kind of biological entities, form populations of which we can determine the artihmetic mean and the statistics of variation. Averages are merely statistical abstractions. . . . For the typologist the type (eidos) is real and the variation is an illusion, while for the populationist the type (average is an abstraction and only the variation is real (Mayr, 1976; quoted in Hardimon, 2017: 20).
For example, “Caucasian” is a valid taxonomic category when discussing populationist races. One classified as “Caucasian” might have absolutely none of the genotypic or phenotypic markers associated with “Caucasian-ness”; that is, population thinking does not assume that any one genotype or phenotype is essential to any one population. Thus, there are no intrinsic properties that all members of a race—and only members of that race—share.
To conclude, contrary to the claims of Johnson and Terrel, race does exist and there are reasons why we should accept the existence of these population groups we call races. Johnson largely uses the old and tired continuum fallacy—the fallacy of the beard, whichever name you like—to attempt to argue that “race” does not exist. But he did not even state any conditions on what “population” entails; he just drew random, overlapping circles proclaiming “Ha! Where does X color end and Y color begin!!??” This type of thinking, though, is fallacious, as can be seen. It is completely possible to delinate races on the basis of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry.
Articles like Johnson’s and Terrel’s are easy to come by: they just adopt a racial eliminativist stance on race (that it should be removed from our ontology entirely). They use fallacies like the continuum fallacy to show that since there is no clear ‘genetic line’ (see my article You Don’t Need Genes to Delineate Race) separating so-called races, therefore races do not exist (we must then take an eliminativist approach to race). I’m of the belief that the answer to the question “Does race exist?” will be—and only can be—answered by philosophers of race. We know that geographic variation exists—however small it may be. We know that we can distinguish continental populations on the basis of visible physical features. From there, it’s only a short bit of reasoning to reason, correctly, that race exists and is a biological reality (as the arguments in Spencer, 2014 and Hardimon, 2017 attest to).
Humans are extremely “plastic”. “Plastic” meaning that our development can be shaped by what goes on (or does not go in) in our developmental environment along with the environment outside of the womb. Many factors drive development, and if one factor changes then part of the developmental course for the organism changes as well. Thus, environment can and does drive development, with the addition (or subtraction) of different factors. In this article, I will discuss some of the factors that drive development and physical plasticity and what can change them.
Subsistence provides food while food provides nutrition. Nutrients, then, supply our bodies with energy and promote tissue growth—among other things. However, nutrient requirements vary across and between species, while all mammals need a mixture of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein, water, and fiber) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Biological variability in nutrient requirements and “the eventual degree of metabolic function that an individual can achieve for a particular intake level is determined to a greater or lesser extent by genetic variants in enzymes controlling the absorption, uptake, distribution, retention or utilization of the nutrient” (Molloy, 2004: 156). Thus, individuals who consume the same amount of micro and macronutrients—who also have different polymorphisms in genes coding for the metabolism of any nutrient (through hormones and enzymes)—can, and do, have differing physiological responses to same vitamin intake. Thus, differences in genetic polymorphisms between individuals can—and do—lead to different disease.
Next we have phenotypic plasticity. Phenotypic plasticity, simply put, is the ability for a genome to express a different phenotype in variable environments. For instance, people born in hotter environments—no matter their race or ethnicity—develop larger pores in order to sweat more, since sweating is needed for cooling the body (Lieberman, 2015). Phenotypic plasticity can be a problem, though, in environments with numerous environmental stressors that will stress the mother and, in turn, affect the baby’s development in the womb as well affecting post-birth events. An example of this is when food availability is low and exposure to infection is high (in-utero and post-birth), and when these stressors are removed, the organism in question shows “catch-up growth”, implying that these stressors impeded the development of the organism in question.
Maternal nutritional imbalance has been found—both in animal studies and epidemiological studies—and metabolic disturbances, during critical windows of development for the organism, have both a persistent effect on the health of the organism and can be transmitted epigenetically to future generations (Gallou-Kabani and Junien, 2005). Gallou-Kabani and Junien (2005) write:
Epigenetic chromatin marks may be propagated mitotically and, in some cases, meiotically, resulting in the stable inheritance of regulatory states. Transient nutritional stimuli occurring at critical ontogenic stages may have lasting influences on the expression of various genes by interacting with epigenetic mechanisms and altering chromatin conformation and transcription factor accessibility (11).
Thus, metabolic syndrome can show transgenerational effects by way of incomplete erasure of the epigenetic factors carried by grandparents and parents. (See also Treretola et al, 2005.) Epigenetic regulation was extremely important during our evolution and especially during the development of the human organism, and is how and why we are so phenotypically plastic.
Epigenetic regulation during fetal reprogramming of the individual in preparation for the environment they expect to enter is likely to be a response to seasonal energy imbalance; changes that favour the metabolic efficiency are likely to be adaptive in such circumstances. Removal of seasonal energy stress, as has taken place in contemporary industrialized societies, may turn efficiency toward pathology. Humans thus have evolved an animal model that can respond genetically (through natural selection), phenotypically (through developmental plasticity) and epigenetically (by a balance of both). (Ulijaszek, Mann, and Elton, 2013: 19)
This seems to be a fundamental response to the human organism in-utero, responding to the lack of food in its environment and growing accordingly (low birth weight, susceptibilities to differing disease), which are still a problem for much of the developed world. Though this can be maladaptive in the developed, industrialized world, since poor early-life environments can lead to epigenetic changes which then spell out bad consequences for the low-birth-weight baby who was exposed to a slew of negative nutritional factors during conception (and post-birth).
It has already been established that nutrition can alter the genome and epigenome (Niculescu and Lupu, 2011; Niculescu, 2012; Anderson, Sant, and Dolinoy, 2012). So if differing nutritional effects can alter the genome and epigenome and these effects are transgenerationally inherited by future generations, then famines change the expression of the genome and epigenome which can then inherited by future generations if the epigenetic factors carried by the grandparents and parents are not erased (and there is mounting evidence for this claim, see Yang, Liu, and Sun, 2017).
There is evidence of phenotypic plasticity regarding the lack of nutrition when it comes to humans, in-utero, and the evidence comes from the Dutch Family Studies (see Lumey et al, 2007 for an overview of the project). Individuals who were prenatally exposed to the Dutch winter famine of 1944-45, six decades later, had less DNA methylation of the IGF2 (insulin-like growth factor 2) gene than same-sex siblings who were not exposed to the winter famine (Heijmns et al, 2008). The IGF2 gene plays an essential role of the development of the fetus before birth. The gene is highly active during fetal development, but much less so after birth. (It should be noted that the loss of imprinting on the IGF2 gene can promote prostate cancer; Fenner, 2017 and loss of imprinting on IGF2 can also promote other types of cancer as well; Livingstone, 2013).
Stein et al (2009) concluded that “famine exposure prior to conception is associated with poorer self-reported mental health and a higher level of depressive symptoms.” Tobi et al (2009) write that their data “support the hypothesis that associations between early developmental conditions and health outcomes later in life may be mediated by changes in the epigenetic information layer.” Tobi et al (2014) also show that the “Epigenetic modulation of pathways by prenatal malnutrition may promote an adverse metabolic phenotype in later life.” The prenatal—and neonatal—periods of development are of utmost importance in order for the organism to develop normally, any deviation outside of these measures can—and does—affect the genome and epigenome (Hajj et al, 2014).
Another strong example that these responses are adaptive to the organism in question is the fact that people who were exposed to nutritional imbalances in the womb showed a higher chance of becoming obese later in life (Roseboom, de Rooji, and Painter, 2006). Their study has implications for babies born in developing countries (since famines mirror, in a way, developing countries). Roseboom, de Rooji, and Painter (2006: 489) write:
This may imply that adaptations that enable the fetus to continue to grow may nevertheless have adverse consequences for health in later life.
Roseboom, de Rooji, and Painter (2006: 490) also write:
The nutritional experience of babies who were exposed to famine in early gestation may resemble that of babies in developing countries whose mothers are undernourished in early pregnancy and receive supplementation later on, but also of babies in developed countries whose mothers suffer from severe morning sickness.
So on-going studies, such as the Dutch Famine Study, have the chance to elucidate the mechanisms of low birth weight, and it can also show us how and why those exposed to adverse conditions in the womb show so many negative symptoms which are not present in kin who were not exposed to such malnutrition in the womb. These findings also suggest that nutrition before—and after—pregnancy can play a role in disease acquisition later in life. The fact that those exposed to famines have a higher chance of becoming obese later in life (Abeleen et al, 2012; Meng et al, 2017) shows that this adaptive response of the organism in the womb was very important in our evolution; the babe exposed to low maternal nutrition in the womb can, after birth, consume enough energy to become overweight, which would have been an adaptive evolutionary response to low maternal caloric energy.
Babies who are exposed to maternal under-nutrition in the womb—when exposed to an environment with ample foodstuffs—are at heightened risk of becoming type II diabetics and acquiring metabolic syndromes (Robinson, Buchholz, and Mazurak, 2007). This seems to be an adaptive, plastic response of the organism: since nutrients/energy were in low quantity in the womb, low nutrients/energy in the womb changed the epigenome of the organism, and so when (if) the organism is exposed to an environment with ample amounts of food energy, they will then have a higher susceptibility to metabolic syndromes and weight gains, due to their uterine environment. (Diet also has an effect on brain plasticity in both animals and humans, in the womb and out of it; see Murphy, Dias, and Thuret, 2014.)
In sum, phenotypic plasticity, which is driven in part by epigenetics, was extremely important in our evolution. This epigenetic regulation that occurs in the womb prepared the individual in question to be able to respond to the energy imbalance of the environment the organism was born in. The plasticity of humans, and animals, in regard to what occurs (or does not occur) in the environment, is how we were able to survive in new environments (not ancestral to our species). Epigenetic changes that occur in the grandparental and parental generations, when not completely erased during the meiotic division of cells, can affect future generations of progeny in a negative way.
The implications of the data are clear: under-nutrition (and malnutrition) affect the genome and epigenome in ways that are inherited through the generations, which is due to the physical plasticity of the human in-utero as well as post-birth when the baby developing. These epigenetic changes then lead to the one who experienced the adverse uterine environment to have a higher chance of becoming obese later in life, which suggests that this is an adaptive response to low amounts of nutrients/caloric energy in the uterine environment.
Michael Hardimon has some of the best defenses of the reality of race that I am aware of. His 4 concepts are: the racialist concept (he says racialist races do not exist, which I will cover in the future), the minimalist race concept, the socialrace concept (which also will be covered more in depth in the future) and the populationist race concept. Racialist races do not exist, according to Hardimon. However, that does not mean that race does not exist nor does it mean that race isn’t real. On the contrary, race exists and is a biological reality. Simple arguments for the existence of race do indeed exist and see where mixed-race individuals, ‘Latinos’, and Brazilians fall. (Author of the book A Theory of Race Joshua Glasgow also reviewed Hardimon’s book (Glasgow, 2018), and I also left my thoughts on his review.)
Now, minimalist races exist and are biologically real. The concept, though, is vague. It doesn’t state which populations are races, but the populationist race concept, however, does. Hardimon (2017: 99) defines populationist races:
“A race is a subdivision of Homo sapiens—a group of populations that exhibits a distinctive pattern of genetically transmitted phenotypic characters that corresponds to the group’s geographic ancestry and belongs to a biological line of descent initiated by a geographically separated and reproductively isolated founding population.”
Are there groups that exhibit patterns of a distinctive pattern of visible physical features which are genetically transmitted and correspond to the group’s geographic ancestry? Are there groups that belong to a biological line of descent which was initiated by geographically and reproductively isolated founding populations? The answer is, obviously, yes. Which groups satisfy the definition of populationist races? I will discuss this below.
An important question to answer is: are races subspecies? The two terms are similar. Merriam Webster defines subspecies as: “a category in biological classification that ranks immediately below a species and designates a population of a particular geographic region genetically distinguishable from other such populations of the same species and capable of interbreeding successfully with them where its range overlaps theirs.” While “race” is similarly defined. So, are races subspecies?
The fixation index (Fst) is a measure of population differentiation due to genetic structure which is estimated from SNPs or microsattelites. Generally, the accepted criterion for subspeciation is between .25 and .30. Human groups have an Fst between .05 and .15, so human groups fall way short of subspeciation. Fst estimates for humans fall between .05 and .15, which is far and away what the consensus is on the delineation of subspecies within a group of like kinds. Further, Fst does not support the existence of distinct clusters in humans (Maglo, Mersha, and Martin, 2016; it should be noted that they believe that for human races to exist, human races must be subspecies—similar views are held by philosopher of science Adam Hochman—but their contentions were addressed by Spencer, 2015). Human populations are not subspecies, and the fact that they are not subspecies does not rail against the existence of populationist races.
Hochman (2013) makes the case that in order to claim that clusters represent subspecies, four conditions have to be met: “(i) the range of allele frequency differences between genetic Fstclusters corresponding to race must be relatively uniform, (ii) there must be a determinate number of such clusters, (iii) the allelic frequencies within such clusters must be relatively homogeneous, and (iv) there must be a large jump in genetic differences between such clusters” (Hardimon, 2017: 108).
Thus, the human species does not contain subspecies in the technical sense of the word, as humans Fst estimates range between .05 to .15. This further attests to the fact that the clusters—identified by Rosenberg et al (2002)—are not subspecies. “There is no need for US racial groups to be subspecies or clades, have high genetic variation among them, or be fundamental categories in human population genetics just in order to be biologically real races. Rather, in order for US racial groups to be biologically real races, they just need to be races and biologically real (Spencer, 2015: 6).
The populationist race concept, however, does not require that a division in a species be represented by a particular Fst estimated. It further doesn’t say that Hochman’s (2013) conditions must be met in order for the clusters to be races. Therefore the populationist race concept is not a subspecies concept; there are no subspecies in our genus. Though, if we were forced to accept Hochman’s (2013) conditions (which we do not have to), human races do not exist.
Next is the concept of phylogeny. If phylogenetic is taken to in the normal biological terminology, then the question is whether or not racial lines of descent capture evolutionary significant relationships. And if “evolutionary significant relationships” are taken in the normal biological context then the answer to the question is “no.” This is because the term “evolutionary significance”, taken in the general biological terminology, is understood in a way that for a relationship between populations to be “evolutionarily significant”, then the differences between these populations must be blocked by extensive gene flow.
However, regarding the populations that we take to be populationist races, if the features of these races have adaptive significance, such as skin color for differing climates, then the populationist race concept is of interest to evolutionary biologists since biological raciation makes it possible for divisions of Homo sapiens to survive in different climates. Thus, when discussing how and why divisions of our species adapted to different climates—physically speaking—then this concept is of use to evolutionary biologists since it can explain the adaptive physical features of divisions of Homo sapiens. We then have two choices. We can then further take the idea that to be “phylogenetic”, populations must block extensive gene flow, though we can grant that populationist races may well be of interest to evolutionary biologists (due to their adaptive features that arose due to climatic adaption), despite the fact that populationist races are nonphylogenetic (Hardimon, 2017: 111).
The populationist race concept is a candidate scientific concept. This is because the concept uses biological terminology such as “reproductive isolation”, “transmitted phenotypic characteristics”, “founding population”, and “geographic ancestry.” Hardimon then discusses how and why the concept can form a scientific concept:
“… concept C has the “form” of a scientific concept in biology if
(i) it is formulated in a “biological vocabulary”,
(ii) it is framed in terms of an accepted biological outlook,
(iii) it is suitable for deployment in an accepted branch of biological inquiry, and
(iv) it presents the scientific ground of the phenomenon it represents” (Hardimon, 2017: 112).
This concept satisfies all four conditions. It satisfies (i) since it uses biological vocabulary (e.g., phenotype, reproductive isolation). It satisfies (ii) since it’s framed in what Mayr terms “population thinking” (which is the rejection of essentialism—“the view that some properties of objects are essential to them.”. It satisfies (iii) since it is suitable for deployment in ecology, ethology and evolutionary biology. Areas of study, for example, can focus on how and why differing populationist races have differing patterns of visible physical features (i.e., how and why phenotypes changed as migration occurred out of Africa into Eurasia, the Pacific Islands and the Americas). And it satisfies (iv) in that representing populationist races as having arisen from reproducively isolated founding populations.
Now which groups are candidates for populationist races? There are two conditions: (1) they exhibit distinctive patterns of phenotypic characters which correspond to that population’s geographic ancestry and (2) belong to biological lines of descent which then trace back to geographically separated and reproductively isolated founding populations.
There are populations which exhibit distinctive patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry, and they are Sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, East Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. The distinctive patterns of visible physical features are genetically transmitted, and they correspond to geographic ancestry. These populations belong to biological lines of descent which can then be traced back to geographically separated and reproductively isolated founding populations. Thus, conditions (1) and (2) are satisfied, therefore populationist races exist.
Further support for (iii) (that the populationist race concept can be deployed in the biological sciences) can be found in my article You Don’t Need Genes to Delineate Race. I discussed differences in gross morphology between the races; I discussed differences in physiognomy between the races; and, of course, the differences in geographic ancestry that caused the differences in morphology and physiognomy (see here for discussions on skin color). Differences in climate that Homo sapiens encountered after trekking out of Africa then caused the distinctive differences in visible physical features which correspond with geographic ancestry which then make up populationist races. Thus, the study of populationist races will elucidate the caused of phenotypic differences between populationist races since they exist and are a biological reality.
There is a relationship between populationist and minimalist races, though they’re defined by different concepts. However if minimalist races are populationist races, then the kind minimalist race=populationist race. “The claim that minimalist race=populationist race is analogous to the claim that water=H2O. The latter claim, since true, provides scientific insight into the nature of minimalist race” (Hardimon, 2017: 120).
Furthermore, we can assume that the populations identified by Lewontin (1972) as races can be interpreted as lending support to the biological reality of populationist races exist. We can also assume that African, Caucasians, East Asians, Oceanians, and Native Americans constitute populationist races, then Rosenberg et al (2002) show support for the biological reality of populationist races, even though the fraction of diversity separating the clusters is between 3-5 percent, this still shows that populationist races capture a portion of biological human variation, no matter how small it is.
“If it is assumed that Africans, Eurasians, East Asians, Oceanians, and Americans constitute continental-level populationist races, Rosenberg and colleagues’ 2002 study can be interpreted as providing support for the biological reality of populationist race inasmuch as it shows that a very small fraction (3-5 percent) of human genetic variation is due to difference among continental-level populationist races. Modulo our assumption, the study results indicate that populationist race is a minor principle of human genetic structure and that populationist race is a minor principle of human variation.” (Hardimon, 2017: 124)
The same points made that minimalist races are human population partitions, that races can be distinguished at the level of the gene, and that the continental-level minimalist races differ in a small number of coding genes, also carry over to the populationist race concept since minimalist race=populationist race, so the biological reality of minimalist race carry over to populationist race. So if the five populations are populationist races, then populationist race correspond to a partition of genetic variation found between the races in the human species, which is then evidence for the existence of populationist races.
The five populations that make up populationist races are Native Americans, Caucasians, East Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Sub-Saharan Africans. These populations are biologically real, and they exist. They generically transmit phenotypic characteristics across the generations; these phenotypic characteristics differ due to geographic ancestry. These populations are identified in numerous K = 5 runs. So if we assume that the five populations are populationist races then K = 5 shows the real, but small, human genetic variation found within continental-level populationist races which is how the visible patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry are genetically transmitted.
The populationist race concept is a candidate scientific concept. This is a way to study the small genetic variation between the continental-level clusters. Human phenotypic (and physiologic) differences arose due to adaption to different climates. Thus, since populationist race is a biological reality then studying populationist races will better elucidate how and why differences in phenotype arose.
Both the populationist and minimalist race concepts are vague, I admit. However, they’re not so vague that one could argue that villages, countrys, social classes etc are populationist races. It should be noted, though, that it is implicitly stated in the definition for populationist race, that a morphological component exists. Therefore, groups like the Amish, social classes etc. Thus, the populationist race concept gaurentees that races will be races in the ordinary sense of the word (see Hardimon, 2003). So we can take two groups—G1 and G2—and if G1 does not have any pattern of visible physical features which distinguish it from another group, G2, then G1 is not a race. These visible physical differences that distinguish races from one another are biological in nature—hair color/type, skin color, eye type, morphology etc. This gaurentees that different villages, countries, economic classes and ethnies within a race are not counted as “races”, so defined.
The thing about the populationist race concept is that it directly relates to the minimalist race concept. Once we acknowledge that races exist and are real (since minimalist races exist and are real), then we start thinking “Which populations sastisfy the conditions of populationist races?” The populationist race concept—in tandem with the minimalist race concept—shows us that the patterns in visible physical features are genetically transmitted characters which which correspond to the population’s geoprahic ancestry who belong to biological lines of descent which were initiated by geographically separated and genetically isolated founding populations. The populationist race concept supports the claim that the minimalist race concept is a biological concept and secures the existence of minimalist races since minimalist race=populationist race.
P1) The five populations demarcated by Rosenberg et al (2002) are populationist races; K = 5 demarcates populationist races.
P2) Populationist race=minimalist race.
P3) If populationist race=minimalist race, then everything from showing that minimalist races are a biological reality carrys over to populationist races.
P4) Populationist races capture differences in genetic variation between continents and this genetic variation is responsible for the distinctive patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry who belong to biological lines of descent which were initiated by geographically isolated founding populations.
C) Therefore, since populationist races=minmalist races, and visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry are genetically transmitted by populations who belong to biological lines of descent, initiated by reproductively isolated founding populations, then populationist races exist and are biologically real.
Biology is one of the most interesting sciences since, at its core, it is the study of life and living systems. The biological organization of living systems and the ecosystems these living systems find themselves in are interesting to learn about, since we can then discern different species and learn how and when to delineate separate species based on a set of pre-conceived measures. The classification of human races in these systems will be discussed, along with why human races are not different species.
The organization of living systems
Living systems show hierarchical organization, each system—from the physiological to the physical—interacting with each other. However, a key factor in the organization of these interactions is the degree of the complexity of the interactions in question. We can look at the organization of the biological world as hierarchical—that is, each level builds on the preceding level, so we get from atoms to the biosphere and everything in between is what we call “life” and also show how these complex, living biological systems live and exist due to the hierarchical organization of living systems. The point is, life does not have a simple definition, but all living systems share similar characteristics that can describe life. Biologists organize living systems hierarchically, from the subcellular level to the entire biosphere, and then study the interactions that occur which cannot be predicted from just studying the sum of its parts. This is why a holistic—and not reductionistic—approach needs to be taken when studying and describing living systems.
The hierarchy is:
The cellular level, which includes: atoms, molecules, macromolecules, and organelles; the organismal level which include: tissue, organs, the organ system, and the organism; the populational level which includes: the population, species, and the community; and finally the highest level, the ecosystem level which includes the ecosystem and the biosphere.
At the cellular level, we have atoms which are the fundamental elements of matter and are joined together by chemical bonds called molecules. large and complex molecules are called macromolecules, DNA—which stores hereditary information—is a type of macromolecule. Complex biological molecules are then assembled into organelles, where cellular activities are organized. A mitochondrion is, for example, an organelle with a cell that extracted energy from consumed food molecules. And finally, we have cells, which are the basic unit of life.
Next, we have the organismal level, and cells of multicellular organisms make up three levels of organization. Tissues, which are groups of similar cells which function together as a unit. Tissues then are grouped into organs which are structures of the body which are composed of many different kinds of tissues which act in a structural manner and as a unit. Then we have organ systems, such as the nervous system which is the sensory organs, brain and spinal cord, and the network of neurons that convey signals to different parts of the body.
Then we have the populational level. This includes the individual organisms which occupy various hierarchical levels in the biological world. A population is a group of organisms all living in the same place. Together, all populations of a particular kind form a species—members of a species must look similar and be able to interbreed. Then finally, we have the biological community which consists of all of the populations coexisting together in one place.
Lastly, we have the ecosystem level. This is the highest tier of biological organization (the lowest being the cellular level). A biological community and its physical habitat (such as soil composition, available water etc) in which it finds itself in and lives and competes with other organisms constitute an ecosystem while the entire planet is the highest of all levels of biological organization—the biosphere. All of these systems together can be seen as the hierarchical organization of living systems.
(See Mason et al, 2018 for more discussion of the above points.)
Now, in these differing biological hierarchies, we find differing Eukarya, Prokarya, and Bacteria. The in-use classification system is the Linnean hierarchy. Differences exist between organisms, this is obvious. But it is a bit more tricky to classify these organisms and place them into like groups. Then, in the 1750s, Carolus Linnaeus came along and instituted a binomial classification system for organisms—the most commonly-known binomial being Homo sapiens—which was much simpler than the polynomial names
The hierarchy is as follows:
7. Kingdom; and
8. Domain. Domains can then be split into Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. Domains are the largest taxons, being that they comprise every organism that we know of.
For example, our species is sapiens, our genus is Homo, our family is Hominidae, our order is primates, our class is Mammalia, our phylum is Chordata (with a subphylum Craniata), our kingdom is Animalia and our domain is Eukarya. This is our species’ taxonomic classification.
The traditional classification system—the Linnean system—groups species into genera, families, orders, classes, phyla, and kingdoms. Thus, these systems classify different organisms on the basis of similar traits, and since they consist of a mix of derived and ancestral traits, they do not necessarily take into account different evolutionary relationships.
There are of course limitations to the Linnean hierarchy:
1) Many “higher” taxonomic ranks are not monophyletic and so do not represent real groups (like Reptilia). For something to be a “natural group”, a common ancestor and its descendants must all derive from descent from a common ancestor, so any other type of taxonomic ranks are created by taxonomists, such as paraphyletic and polyphyletic.
2) Linnean ranks are not equivalent. Two families may not represent clades that arose at the same time, because one family may have diverged millions of years before the other family and so the two families had differing amounts of time to diverge and acquire new traits. So comparisons in the Linnean sense may be misleading and we should then use hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships.
What is a species?
It should first be noted that species are, indeed, real. New species arise when isolated organisms of one population become genetically/geographically isolated for a period of time. Over time, as the split population spends time geographically and genetically isolated, they cannot interbreed with the parent population and thusly attain separate species status. This is the received view, the biological species concept.
There are a wide range of species concepts and they all capture the differences that different theorists believe we should emphasize in our classification of organisms.
The phenetic species which appeal to the intrinsic similarities of organisms. The biological species concept which appeals to reproductive isolation (one version of the biological species concept is the recognition concept, which defines species as a system of mating recognition. The cohesion species concept which generalizes the biological species concept and it recognizes that gene flow isn’t the only factor that holds a population together and makes it different from other populations. The ecological species concept which defines species by appealing to the fact that members of a species are in competition with one another because of the need the same resources. And the phylogenetic and evolutionary species concept which define species as segments on the tree of life (the phylogenetic species concept, for instance, holds the term ‘species’ should be reserved for groups of populations that have been evolving independently of other populations.
Sterelny and Griffiths (1999) tackled this in their book Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology:
While we think cladism presents the best view of systematics, biological classification nevertheless poses an unsolved problem. If we were to accept either evolutionary taxonomy, which builds disparity into its classification system, or phenetic taxonomy, which is based on the idea of nested levels of similarity, traditonal taxonomic levels would be quite defensible. Within those taxonomic pictures, the idea of genus, family, order, and so on makes quite good sense. If cladism is the only defensible picture of systematics, the situation is more troubling. From that perspective, these taxonomic ranks make little sense. Cladists do not think there is a well-defined objective notion of the amount of evolutionary divergence. That, in part, is why they are cladists. Hence, they do not think there will be any robust answer to the questions, when should we call a monophyletic group of species a genus? a family? an order? Only monophyletic groups should be called anything, for they are well-defined chucnks of the tree. But only science greets the question, are the chimps plus humans a genus? It has long been receieved wisdom in taxonomy that there is something arbitrary about taxonomic classification above species. These decisions are judgement calls. So cladists only show a somewhat more extreme version of a skepticism that has long existed. The problem of high taxonomic ranks would not matter except for the importance of the information expressed using them. Hence cladism reinforces the worry that when, for example, we consider divergent extinction and survival patterns, our data may not be tobust, for our units may not be commensurable. Unfortunately, it does this without suggesting much of a cure.
Where does race fit in?
Racehood is simple: A race is a group of humans that: Condition 1; is distinguished from other groups of humans by patterns of visible physical features; Condition 2: is linked by common geographic ancestry which is peculiar to members of this group; and Condition 3: originates from a distinctive geographic location.
So now all we need to do is go through four steps: 1) recognize that there are patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry; 2) observe that these patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry are exhibited between real, existing groups; 3) note that these real existing groups that exhibit these patterns by geographic ancestry satisfy C1-C3; and 4) infer that race exists.
Some may argue that the races are different species, citing the same patterns of visible physical features discussed above. However, if we are referring to the biological species concept, then the human races are not different species at all since all human races can produce fertile offspring with one another. Our genus, of course, is Homo, all of the human races are the same genus; though some may attempt to use the previously-discussed conditions for racehood as conditions for specieshood for humans, the most preferred method for delineating species currently is the biological species concept, and since all of the human races can produce fertile offspring then the human races are not different species.
In keeping with the classification system that is currently used today (see above), where would human races fit into our taxonomy? Falling within our species sapiens seems like a good start, and since the races can interbreed and have fertile offspring, then they are not different species but are the same species, despite phenotypic differences. Thus, human races would be within species but under subspecies. Using this line of logic, human races cannot be different species, despite claims to the contrary that human races are different species based on patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry. That’s enough to denote racehood, not specieshood.
The study of life—in all of its forms and in all of its environments—is one of the most important things we, as humans, can do. From it, we can learn where we came from and even—possibly—where we may be going. Once we understood the biological hierarchy and how upper levels are built from lower levels working together, then we were better able to understand how living systems act on the inside—cellularly and physiologically—to the outside—organismal and environmental interaction. From organismal and environmental interaction, speciation may occur. The highest level of the organization of living systems is the biosphere—and it is so because the living systems that are driven by the smallest cellular interactions interact with other species, the ecosystem and the biosphere.
Species do exist, but there are numerous species concepts—over twenty. One of the more popular species concepts in use is the cladistic species concept. In this species concept, a species is a lineage of populations between two specific branch points. The cladistic concept thusly recognizes differing species by differing branch points and how much change occurs between them (see Ridley, 1989).
The classification of different organisms into different species is pretty straightforward, though it falls prey to oversimplification since it only focuses on similar traits. Species exist, this is established. But races are not species, contrary to some beliefs. Different races can interbreed and, I would argue, that for there to be separate species, human races would not be able to interbreed. Yes, there are physical and morphological differences between races, but, as argued, this is not enough to denote speciation, but it is enough to denote raciation.
Everyone wants to know the keys to athletic success, however, as I have argued in the past, to understand elite athletic performance, we must understand how the system works in concert with everything—especially in the environments the biological system finds itself in. To reduce factors down to genes, or training, or X or Y does not make sense; to look at what makes an elite athlete, the method of reductionism, while it does allow us to identify certain differences between athletes, it does not allow us to appreciate the full-range of how and why elite athletes differ in their sport of choice. One large meta-analysis has been done on the effects of a few genotypes on elite athletic performance, and it shows us what we already know (blacks are more likely to have the genotype associated with power performance—so why are there no black Strongmen or any competitors in the World’s Strongest Man?). A few studies and one meta-analysis exist, attempting to get to the bottom of the genetics of elite athletic performance and, while it of course plays a factor, as I have argued in the past, we must take a systems view of the matter.
One 2013 study found that a functional polymorphism in the angiotensinogen (ATG) region was 2 to 3 times more common in elite power athletes than in (non-athlete) controls and elite endurance athletes (Zarebska et al, 2013). This sample tested was Polish, n = 223, 156 males, 67 females, and then they further broke down their athletic sample into tiers. They tested 100 power athletes (29 100-400 m runners; 22 powerlifters; 20 weightlifters; 14 throwers and 15 jumpers) and 123 endurance athletes (4 tri-athletes; 6 race walkers; 14 road cyclists; 6 15 to 50 m cross-country skiers; 12 marathon runners; 53 rowers; 17 3 to 10 km runners; and 11 800 to 1500 m swimmers).
Zarebska et al (2013) attempted to replicate previous associations found in other studies (Buxens et al, 2009) most notably the association with the M235T polymorphism in the AGT (angiotensinogen) gene. Zarebska et al’s (2013) main finding was that there was a higher representation of elite power athletes with the CC and C alleles of the M235T polymorphism compared with endurance athletes and controls, which suggests that the C allele of the M235T gene “may be associated with a predisposition to power-oriented
events” (Zarebska et al, 2013: 2901).
Elite power athletes were more likely to possess the CC genotype; 40 percent of power athletes had the genotype whereas 13 percent of endurance had it and 18 percent of non-athletes had it. So power athletes were more than three times as likely to have the CC genotype, compared to endurance athletes and twice as likely to have it compared to non-athletes. On the other hand, one copy of the C allele was found in 55 percent of the power athletes whereas, for the endurance athletes and non-athletes, the C allele was found in about 40 percent of individuals. (Further, in the elite anaerobic athlete, explosive power was consistently found to be a difference maker in predicting elite sporting performance; Lorenz et al, 2013.)
Now we come to the more interesting parts: ethnic differences in the M235T polymorphism. Zarebska et al (2013: 2901-2902) write:
The M235T allele distribution varies widely according to the subject’s ethnic origin: the T235 allele is by far the most frequent in Africans (;0.90) and in African-Americans (;0.80). It is also high in the Japanese population (0.65–0.75). The T235 (C4027) allele distribution of the control participants in our study was lower (0.40) but was similar to that reported among Spanish Caucasians (0.41), as were the sports specialties of both the power athletes (throwers, sprinters, and jumpers) and endurance athletes (marathon runners, 3- to 10-km runners, and road cyclists), thus mirroring the aforementioned studies.
Zarebska et al (2013: 2902) conclude that their study—along with the study they replicated—supports the hypothesis that the C allele of the M235T polymorphism in the AGT gene may confer a competitive advantage in power-oriented sports, which is partly mediated through ANGII production in the skeletal muscles. Mechanisms can explain the mediation of ANGII production in skeletal muscles, such as a direct skeletal muscle hypertrophic effect, along with the redistribution of between muscle blood flow between type I (slow twitch) and II fibers (fast twitch), which would then augment power and speed. However, it is interesting to note that Zarebska et al (2013) did not find any differences between “top-elite” level athletes who had won medals in international competitions compared to elite-level athletes who were not medalists.
The big deal about this gene is that the AGT gene is part of the renin-angiotensin system which is partly responsible for blood pressure and body salt regulation (Hall, 1991; Schweda, 2014). There seems to be an ethnic difference in this polymorphism, and, according to Zarebska et al (2013), African Americans and Africans are more likely to have the polymorphisms that are associated with elite power performance.
There is also a meta-analysis on genotyping and elite power athlete performance (Weyerstrab et al, 2017). Weyerstrab et al (2017) meta-analyzed 36 studies which attempted to find associations between genotype and athletic ability. One of the polymorphisms studied was the famous ACTN3. It has been noted that, when conditions are right (i.e., the right morphology), the combined effects of morphology along with the contractile properties of the individual muscle fibers contribute to the enhanced performance of those with the RR ACTN3 genotype (Broos et al, 2016), while Ma et al (2013) also lend credence to the idea that genetics influences sporting performance. This is, in fact, the most-replicated association in regard to elite sporting performance: we know the mechanism behind how muscle fibers contract; we know how the fibers contract and the morphology needed to maximize the effectiveness of said fast twitch fibers (type II fibers). (Blacks have a higher proportion of type II fibers [see Caeser and Henry, 2015 for a review].)
Weyerstrab et al (2017) meta-analyzed 35 articles, finding significant associations with genotype and elite power performance. They found that ten polymorphisms were significantly associated with power athlete states. Their most interesting findings, though, were on race. Weyerstrab et al (2017: 6) write:
Results of this meta-analysis show that US African American carriers of the ACE AG genotype (rs4363) were more than two times more likely to become a power athlete compared to carriers of the ACE preferential genotype for power athlete status (AA) in this population.
“Power athlete” does not necessarily have to mean “strength athlete” as in powerlifters or weightlifters (more on weightlifters below).
Lastly, the AGT M235T polymorphism, while associated with other power movements, was not associated with elite weightlifting performance (Ben-Zaken et al, 2018). As noted above, this polymorphism was observed in other power athletes, and since these movements are largely similar (short, explosive movements), one would rightly reason that this association should hold for weightlifters, too. However, this is not what we find.
Weightlifting, compared to other explosive, power sports, is different. The beginning of the lifts take explosive power, but during the ascent of the lift, the lifter moves the weight slower, which is due to biomechanics and a heavy load. Ben-Zaken et al (2018) studied 47 weightlifters (38 male, 9 female) and 86 controls. Every athlete that was studied competed in national and international meets on a regular basis. Thirty of the weightlifters were also classified as “elite”, which entails participating in and winning national and international competitions such as the Olympics and the European and World Championships).
Ben-Zaken et al (2018) did find that weightlifters had a higher prevalence of the AGT 235T polymorphism when compared to controls, though there was no difference in the prevalence of this polymorphism when elite and national-level competitors were compared, which “[suggests] that this polymorphism cannot determine or predict elite competitive weightlifting performance” (Ben-Zaken et al, 2018: 38). Of course, a favorable genetic profile is important for sporting success, though, despite the higher prevalence of AGT in weightlifters compared to controls, this could not explain the difference between national and elite-level competitors. Other polymorphisms could, of course, contribute to weightlifting success, variables “such as training experience, superior equipment and facilities, adequate nutrition, greater familial support, and motivational factors, are crucial for top-level sports development as well” (Ben-Zaken et al, 2018: 39).
I should also comment on Anatoly Karlin’s new article The (Physical) Strength of Nations. I don’t disagree with his main overall point; I only disagree that grip strength is a good measure of overall strength—even though it does follow the expected patterns. Racial differences in grip strength exist, as I have covered in the past. Furthermore, there are associations between muscle strength and longevity, with stronger men being more likely to live longer, fuller lives (Ruiz et al, 2008; Volkalis, Haille, and Meisinger, 2015; Garcia-Hermosa, et al, 2018) so, of course, strength training can only be seen as a net positive, especially in regard to living a longer and fuller life. Hand grip strength does have a high correlation with overall strength (Wind et al, 2010; Trosclair et al, 2011). While handgrip strength can tell you a whole lot about your overall health (Lee et al, 2016), of course, there is no better proxy than actually doing the lifts/exercises to ascertain one’s level of strength.
There are replicated genetic associations between explosive, powerful athletic performance, along with even the understanding of the causal mechanisms behind the polymorphisms and their carry-over to power sports. We know that if morphology is right and the individual has the RR ACTN3 genotype, that they will exceed in explosive sports. We know the causal pathways of ACTN3 and how it leads to differences in sprinting competitions. It should be worth noting that, while we do know a lot more about the genomics of sports than we did 20, even 10 years ago, current genetic testing has zero predictive power in regard to talent identification (Pitsladis et al, 2013).
So, of course, for parents and coaches who wonder about the athletic potential of their children and students, the best way to gauge whether or not they will excel in athletics is…to have them compete and compare them to other kids. Even if the genetics aspect of elite power performance is fully unlocked one day (which I doubt it will be), the best way to ascertain whether or not one will excel in a sport is to put them to the test and see what happens. We are in our infancy in understanding the genomics of sporting performance, but when we do understand which genotypes are more prevalent in regard to certain sports (and of course the interactions of the genotype with the environment and genes), then we can better understand how and why others are better in certain sports.
The genomics of elite sporting performance is very interesting; however, the answer that reductionists want to see will not appear: genes are difference makers (Sterelny and Griffith, 1999), not causes, and along with a whole slew of other environmental and mental factors (Lippi, Favaloro, and Guidi 2008), along with a favorable genetic profile with sufficient training (and everything else that comes along with it) are needed for the athlete to reach their maximum athletic potential (see Guth and Roth, 2013). Genetic and environmental differences between individuals and groups most definitely explain differences in elite sporting performance, though elucidating what causes what and the mechanisms that cause the studied trait in question will be tough.
Just because group A has gene or gene networks G and they compete in competition C does not mean that gene or gene networks G contribute in full—or in part—to sporting success. The correlations could be coincidental and non-functional in regard to the sport in question. Athletes should be studied in isolation, meaning just studying a specific athlete in a specific discipline to ascertain how, what, and why works for the specific athlete along with taking anthropomorphic measures, seeing how bad they want “it”, and other environmental factors such as nutrition and training. Looking at the body as a system will take us away from privileging one part over another—while we also do understand that they do play a role but not the role that reductionists believe.
These studies, while they attempt to show us how genetic factors cause differences at the elite level in power sports, they will not tell the whole story, because we must look at the whole system, not reduce it down to the sum of its parts (Shenk, 2011: chapter 5). While blacks are more likely to have these polymorphisms that are associated with elite power athlete performance, this does not obviously carry over to strongman and powerlifting competition.