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Science Magazine: “Taking race out of human genetics”

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2500 words

I always love these. Refuting race-denialists has become sort of a past time for me. It’s interesting to see either the same things all the time (more likely), or something new, but still bullshit (Chanda Chisala’s attempt to put the cause for low IQ and intellectual achievement for blacks to redneck whites). But most of what is said by race-denialists and the egalitarian Left are easily refutable.

Taking race out of human genetics

In the wake of the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s, genome pioneers and social scientists alike called for an end to the use of race as a variable in genetic research. Unfortunately, by some measures, the use of race as a biological category has increased in the postgenomic age. Although inconsistent definition and use has been a chief problem with the race concept, it has historically been used as a taxonomic categorization based on common hereditary traits (such as skin color) to elucidate the relationship between our ancestry and our genes. We believe the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research—so disputed and so mired in confusion—is problematic at best and harmful at worst. It is time for biologists to find a better way.

Race is a great variable in genetic research. Just because the HGP says human races differ by .1 percent of the genome doesn’t mean anything. The genetic distance between species isn’t what matters, what matters is how those genes that differ are EXPRESSED, and not how much genetic distance is between them. The use of race as a biological category has increased because it is a useful indicator of certain diseases and other things. Inconsistent definitions don’t mean anything as self-identified ancestry was correct 99.86 percent of the time in this study by Risch et al. Self-identified ancestry is good enough to show that what “has an inconsistent definition” has a basis in reality. Skin color is a good proxy for race, but not the only factor. What other better way is there?

Racial research has a long and controversial history. At the turn of the 20th century, sociologist and civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois was the first to synthesize natural and social scientific research to conclude that the concept of race was not a scientific category. Contrary to the then-dominant view, Du Bois maintained that health disparities between blacks and whites stemmed from social, not biological, inequality. Evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, whose work helped reimagine the race concept in the 1930s at the outset of the evolutionary synthesis, wrestled with many of the same problems modern biologists face when studying human populations—for example, how to define and sample populations and genes (5). For much of his career, Dobzhansky brushed aside criticism of the race concept, arguing that the problem with race was not its scientific use, but its nonscientific misuse. Over time, he grew disillusioned, concerned that scientific study of human diversity had “floundered in confusion and misunderstanding”. His transformation from defender to detractor of the race concept in biology still resonates.

And these all don’t matter at all. Race does clearly exist in the biological sense.

Today, scientists continue to draw wildly different conclusions on the utility of the race concept in biological research. Some have argued that relevant genetic information can be seen at the racial level and that race is the best proxy we have for examining human genetic diversity.


Others have concluded that race is neither a relevant nor accurate way to understand or map human genetic diversity

Incorrect. What is not relevant or accurate about seeing the genetic distances between populations that evolved separately for tens of thousands of years?

Several meetings and journal articles have called attention to a host of issues, which include (i) a proposed shift to “focus on racism (i.e., social relations) rather than race (i.e., supposed innate biologic predisposition) in the interpretation of racial/ethnic ‘effects’”; (ii) a failure of scientists to distinguish between self-identified racial categories and assigned or assumed racial categories ; and (iii) concern over “the haphazard use and reporting of racial/ethnic variables in genetic research”  and a need to justify use of racial categories relative to the research questions asked and methods used. Several academic journals have taken up this last concern and, with mixed success, have issued guidelines for use of race in research they publish . Despite these concerns, there have been no systematic attempts to address these issues and the situation has worsened with the rise of large-scale genetic surveys that use race as a tool to stratify these data .

To see if there is a prevalence of certain disease in certain races/ethnicities seems pretty important to me. If it will better diagnose people and give faster care, that seems like a good thing to me.

It is important to distinguish ancestry from a taxonomic notion such as race. Ancestry is a process-based concept, a statement about an individual’s relationship to other individuals in their genealogical history; thus, it is a very personal understanding of one’s genomic heritage. Race, on the other hand, is a pattern-based concept that has led scientists and laypersons alike to draw conclusions about hierarchical organization of humans, which connect an individual to a larger preconceived geographically circumscribed or socially constructed group.

Seems to be the implication that there are no taxonomic differences between races. That’s funny. Hierarchal organizations of humans only exist really when you focus on certain traits, as all humans have strengths and weaknesses depending on the environment they evolved in.

Unlike earlier disagreements concerning race and biology, today’s discussions generally lack clear ideological and political antipodes of “racist” and “nonracist.” Most contemporary discussions about race among scientists concern examination of population-level differences between groups, with the goal of understanding human evolutionary history, characterizing the frequency of traits within and between populations, and using an individual’s self-identified ancestry to identify genetic risk factors of disease and to help determine the best course of medical treatments.

Population-level differences, race differences, whatever you want to call them, the effect is the same. Understanding human evolutionary history is understanding how and why races and ethnicities are so distinct from one another. As shown above in the Risch cite, self-identified ancestry is a good proxy to identify genetic risk factors to determine best medical treatments.

As a result, racial assumptions are not the biological guide-posts some believe them to be, as commonly defined racial groups are genetically heterogeneous and lack clear-cut genetic boundaries

They aren’t too heterogeneous. Ethnicities/races are homogenous enough to have enough as we evolved a level of genetic similarity to have us favor those more genetically similar to ourselves. Ah, the old ‘continuum fallacy’. Disregarded.

For example, hemoglobinopathies can be misdiagnosed because of the identification of sickle-cell as a “Black” disease and thalassemia as a “Mediterranean” disease

This is true. SCA isn’t just specifically an African disease. I covered SCA a bit on my disease, nutrition and parasitic load post. SCA comes up in populations in wet and warm climates. It’s from mosquitoes mostly. So those that live in those areas, for instance, Southern Italy, will be more susceptible to the disease. Though, these diseases are a pretty good proxy for racial identification.

Popular misinterpretations of the use of race in genetics also continue to fuel racist beliefs, so much so that, in 2014, a group of leading human population geneticists publicly refuted claims about the genetic basis of social differences between races.

A Troublesome Inheritance is a fine book.

Scientific journals and professional societies should encourage use of terms like “ancestry” or “population” to describe human groupings in genetic studies and should require authors to clearly define how they are using such variables. It is preferable to refer to geographic ancestry, culture, socioeconomic status, and language, among other variables, depending on the questions being addressed, to untangle the complicated relationship between humans, their evolutionary history, and their health. Some have shown that substituting such terms for race changes nothing if the underlying racial thinking stays the same.

The last sentence is right. you can call races ANYTHING you want. That doesn’t change the underlying reality of what is being spoken about. Call them red, blue and green. Call them any kind of weird name you can come up with, the underlying biological components do not change. This is what they don’t get. We can give you your definitions to certain words, but that doesn’t change the physiological/biological nature of HBD.

Having journals rationalize the use of classificatory terminology in studying human genetic diversity would force scientists to clarify their use and would allow researchers to understand and interpret data across studies. It would help avoid confusing, inconsistent, and contradictory usage of such terms.

Seeing as we have researchers like Risch et al doing the above, it’s clear that, no matter what you would like to call these clusters after DNA is sampled, that genetic variation among humans is 1) great and 2) extremely significant.

Phasing out racial terminology in biological sciences would send an important message to scientists and the public alike: Historical racial categories that are treated as natural and infused with notions of superiority and inferiority have no place in biology. We acknowledge that using race as a political or social category to study racism and its biological effects, although fraught with challenges, remains necessary. Such research is important to understand how structural inequities and discrimination produce health disparities in socioculturally defined groups.

It doesn’t matter!! Change the ‘historical racial categories’ if it will save your feelings, the fact that human biodiversity is still great among humans says otherwise. If you don’t want to group humanity into one of the things that make the most sense, it is you who’s being dishonest.

Biological effects between races are real and significant. I have covered them on this blog. How could ‘structural inequalities’ and ‘discrimination’ lead to health disparities?

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine should convene a panel of experts from biological sciences, social sciences, and humanities to recommend ways for research into human biological diversity to move past the use of race as a tool for classification in both laboratory and clinical research. Such an effort would bring stakeholders together for a simple goal: to improve the scientific study of human difference and commonality. The committee would be charged with examining current and historical usage of the race concept and ways current and future technology may improve the study of human genetic diversity; thus, they could take up Dobzhansky’s challenge that “the problem that now faces the science of man [sic] is how to devise better methods for further observations that will give more meaningful results”. Regardless of where one stands on this issue, this is an opportunity to strengthen research by thinking more carefully about human genetic diversity.

The past and current identification of humans is clearly good enough for what we are discussing. Calling them anything else doesn’t matter and still doesn’t change anything in terms of this debate, whether it’s a Blank Slate argument, or anything like that, the repercussions of what is being discussed is still the same. The results we currently get are meaningful enough. Race clearly correlates with certain diseases and other mental and physical characteristics well enough to denote distinct racial categories.

Need I show what Sewall Wright, creator of the Fst (fixation index) has to say?

From my Race Is A Social Construct article:

Regardless of the method used in the analyses, all researchers reached estimated very close to that obtained by Lewontin: The differences observed by the subdivisions (populations, groups of populations, races) represented 10 to 15 percent of the total genetic variation found within the human species. Formally, these findings demonstrate, first, that the species is indeed subdivided into genetically definable groups of individuals and, second, that atleast some of these groups correspond to those defined by anthropologists as races on the basis of physical characters. They do not however, settle the arguments regarding the methods of racial classification. Unfortunately, Lewontin did not specify before initiating his analysis how large the difference has to be in order to call the groups “races”.

Consequently, the results of the studies have led population geneticists to two diametrically opposite conclusions. Lewontin called the observed differences trivial, and proclaimed that “racial classification is now seen to be of no genetic or taxonomic significance” so that “no justification can be offered for its continuance.” This view is echoed by authors of similar studies, who seem to be surprised that genetic variation within populations is greater than that between them. By contrast, Sewell Wright who can hardly be taken for a dilettante in questions of population genetics, has stated emphatically that if differences of this magnitude were observed in any other species, the groups they distinguish would be called subspecies.

One can extend Wright’s argument even further. The more than 200 species of haplochromine fishes in Lake Victoria differ from each other much less than the human races in their neural genes, although they are presumably distinguished by genes that control differences in their external appearances. The same can be said about atleast some of the currently recognized species of Darwin’s finches and other examples of recent adaptive radiations. In all these cases, reproductively isolated groups are impossible to tell apart by the methods used to measure differences in human races. Obviously, human races are not reproductively isolated (interracial marriages are common and the progenies of such marriages are fully fertile) but the external differences between them are comparable to cichlid fishes and Darwin’s finches. Under these circumstances, to claim that the genetic differences between the human races are trivial is a more political statement than a scientific argument. Trivial by what criterion? How much difference would Lewontin and those who side with him consider non-trivial?

By mixing science with politics, geneticists and anthropologists are committing the same infraction of which they are accusing other scientists, who they themselves label as racist. Even worse, by labelling the genetic differences as insignificant, they play into the hand of genuine racists who can demolish this claim and so further their own agenda. It is intellectually more honest to acknowledge and then point out that by no means imply supremacy of one race over others. This can be done by demonstrating that the differences are in genes that cannot be linked to any features that would be required for the preeminence of a particular race.

It’s clear that racial classification does exist. The creator of Fst, Sewall Wright, says that a Fst distance of .15 is more than enough for speciation (differing racial classifications). It directly refutes Lewontin, who put his political ideology of Marxism over science. Those cichlids in Lake Victoria are a perfect example though the definition of ‘species’ does change depending on which researcher you speak to, it doesn’t discount that there are real and physical genetic differences between races and ethnicities.

You can call race anything you’d like, the fact of the matter does not change that HBD is a real thing.



  1. […] Race is not a social construct, but a biological reality. If this debate is “about as meaningful as attempting to compare the average magical intelligence of those sorted into each Hogwarts Houses by the magical sorting hat”, why waste youre time writing this post with tons of misinformation? […]


  2. RWT says:

    Nice post, apparently no one can logically debate the facts you present, though they will invoke Harry Potter for some reason — shows the mental capacity of these PC sheep.

    I would like to add that the cichlids example you give is also a general example of liberal hijacked science and how they have molested science into a political agenda. They want to separate species based on any slight genetic difference so that each individual species’ population is lower, thus “endangered.”

    The clear contradiction of lumping all Homo Sapiens into the same breed/race compared to the separating of other species, all based on the same data, shows that the radical liberal mindset has infected even the brains of scientists, and now this nu-science is being indoctrinated into our children.


    • RaceRealist says:

      Nice post, apparently no one can logically debate the facts you present, though they will invoke Harry Potter for some reason — shows the mental capacity of these PC sheep.

      Thanks. There is really no logical counter to this. Phenotypic differences are expressed from genotype. Since there are huge phenotypic differences, the genotype expresses differently, as well as the slight differences between races.

      I would like to add that the cichlids example you give is also a general example of liberal hijacked science and how they have molested science into a political agenda. They want to separate species based on any slight genetic difference so that each individual species’ population is lower, thus “endangered.”

      This shows their hypocrisy and agenda as well. They’ll accept differences such as this to push their own political agenda, but when it comes down to human races they plug their ears and close their eyes to the truth. The cichlid example shows that they use generic differences only when it benefits their political agenda.

      The clear contradiction of lumping all Homo Sapiens into the same breed/race compared to the separating of other species, all based on the same data, shows that the radical liberal mindset has infected even the brains of scientists, and now this nu-science is being indoctrinated into our children.

      Exactly. They don’t even see their hypocrisy. They just want egalitarianism, and equality, even though these two things don’t exist in nature.


  3. Chris Norie says:

    Nice share. And I’ve enjoyed reading this post. I agree, you can call races whatever you want. But that doesn’t change the underlying reality of what is being spoken about.


    • RaceRealist says:

      Thanks for the compliment.

      That’s the thing. Race is a social construct, but not in the way that people think. People invoke the phrase “race is a social construct” to attempt to disprove the taxonomic and biologic significance of race. But since what we call “race” is a social construct of a biological reality, what we call “race” is meaningless because that word id a human construct, but changing the word doesn’t change the underlying reality. Tang et al 2005 showed that race is a biological reality, that even our “social constructs” are based on a biological reality.

      Racr-deniers don’t understand this one simple thing. Call race anything you want, it doesn’t change the underlying biological structure of race, as race is a social construct of a biological reality.


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