Read the original article here. The titular person here is a blogger of population genetics and fossils concern Southeast Asia. Here represents among his latest synthesis of modern human origins. I believe it is mostly well done, in particular in regards to alluding to an Asian origin for the LCA of Sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans which he expanded upon here.
The focus for today, however, concerns issues in representing the geographical positioning of Sapiens, which he alludes to a Asian origin, thought eh fossils he uses are not supportive as firmly as he suggests.
For the not-too-long time, fossil evidence did support this narrative, although fossils from the past 150000 years were very rare and even absent in Africa, there were some older human skulls forced to support this narrative. It is different with East Asia, we can find fossils with modern morphology that lived between 190-130 Kya (Zhirendong, Luijiang). Even the signals of dental modernity have appeared since 296 000 years ago (Panxian Dadong), about 100 000 years preceding the modern teeth of Misliya Cave in the Levant (194-177 Kya). And the morphology and modern face shapes have appeared since 900,000 years ago (Yunxian, Nanjing, Zhoukoudian). Includes Dali’s human face (550-260 Kya).
Regarding the evidence of “modern” tendencies, here is what the record shows
Among these sites, Fuyan (Daoxian) Cave, Luna Cave, Zhirendong Cave, and Huanglong Cave are currently considered as the best evidence in support of the early presence of H. sapiens in China, based on a clearer chronostratigraphic context and a more diagnostic morphology. There are other sites such as Ganqian (Tubo; Shen et al. 2001), Tongtianyan (Liujiang; Shen et al. 2002; Yuan, Chen, and Gao 1986), Dingcun (Chen,
Yuan, and Gao 1984; Pei 1985), and Jimuyan (Wei et al. 2011) that we consider of interest to assess the evolution of modern humans in China. However, because of the more ambiguous morphology of the fossils and/or uncertainties about their antiquity they are considered less unequivocal than those from Fuyan Cave, Luna Cave, Zhirendong Cave, and Huanglong Cave.
Liujiang, which the author of the blog post associates with the same interval as Zhirendong from a cave study, Liujiang was not of the sane site, nor was the context firmly grounded. See here for references. As for the interval 130-190k for the Zhiren cave, that exceeded the direct date of 106-110k for the fossils themselves. The date he uses here is from a study on the cave itself.
For Panxian, I commented on this from another post(now deleted).
The Panxian specimens were mainly archaic, while PH3 was found derived but in no specific fashion.
The facial features he speaks off from 900k from China speaks mainly of the mid-face, and fully modern faces didn’t appear until Antecessor.
Dali, since the 2017 study, was concluded to represent geneflow due to the lack of conformity to local erectus fossils relative to African and European ones.
One of the easily distinguishable features of modern humans is the shape and morphology of the skull. When compared to its predecessors, the modern human skull is more gruff, the face is flatter vertically, the chin protrudes, and the braincase) which is more globular. If a skull has most of these features, then it is classified under our species, modern humans. The older skulls that have been suggested as part of our modern human ancestry are the Omo I and Omo II skulls from Omo Kibish, in southern Ethiopia (Leaky et al. 1967). The two Omo skulls are around 195,000 years old (initially only 130000 years old), have a mixture of archaic and modern features, something that is not surprising if we view them as African archaic humans who probably met their modern human ancestors from elsewhere, before evolving into modern humans. . Because of this, they were both named Homo sapiens idaltu . Idaltu in the Afar language means ‘older’.
The mixture of archaic features would also be expected if early and transitional. somehow this is lost.
Several skulls from East and South Africa also tell about the same thing. Things are thought to have improved when three Herto skulls were found in 1997 around Afar, Ethiopia, aged 154,000-160000 years, which also have mixed archaic and modern craniofacial features . Herto’s skull was found in the same layer containing Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) aftefacts. The location and artifacts and age of the Herto man closely match the Out of Africa model , and convince many scientists that the Herto man could be the closest anatomical ancestor of modern humans ( Out of Ethiopia ).
Same as explain before, meanwhile in terms of cranial features China is lacking as far as skulls are concerned.
Some fossils are classified as part of Homo sapiens , such as Omo I and Herto (although they are substantially different, and both still have primitive morphology, and some scientists consider Herto to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens ). Jebel Irhoud’s human status is being debated, some paleoanthropologists openly accept him as a close relative of Homo sapiens , some do not accept it because he considers Jebel Irhoud to be part of archaic Africa , and may even be part of a different evolutionary line from the evolutionary line of Homo sapiens . Florisbad man, previously classified as Homo helmei, it is not sufficient to represent the evolutionary line of Homo sapiens due to its primitive character and absence of a braincase .
He doesn’t provide citation or quotes to demonstrate who thinks thinks way or explain how China solves this with it’s specimens on comparable levels. Outside of teeth that generally don’t go beyond the interval of 120k, China is lacking. While he mentions in the article that the Broken Hill Skull fails as an ancestor, the mixed skulls he mention however are morphologically expected as the study mentions.
Meanwhile, the 130k Braincase of Singa shows modern morphology.
Overall, his latest article does a better job but still presents issues. I’ll summarize them here in this deleted comment.
“Let’s look at Africa. One of the oldest candidates for Homo ergaster , KNM-ER 3733, turns out to be 1.63 million years old, and all specimens from the Turkana Basin have their estimate between 1.6-1.43 million years. Nariokotome Boy or Turkana Boy (KNM-WT 15000; 1.5 million years), which has always been predicted as a representative of Homo erectus , turns out to be in the Homo ergaster evolution line , because it does not have a canine fossa .”Yet we know that Erectus is oldest in South Africa currently, I evenseen you post this research.https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/homo-erectus-australopithecus-saranthropus-south-africa-180974571/“The Konso skull from Southern Ethiopia is about 1.4 million years old. Buia and Daka (about 1 million years old) best fit the transition between Homo ergaster to Homo rhodesiensis , as well as Gombore II (~ 780 Kya). Daka which is hypothesized asHomo erectus has more morphological similarities to KNM ER3733, so sharing one morphology with Homo antecessor or Homo erectus East Asia does not necessarily make it part of Homo erectus . The youngest Homo ergaster, OH 12, is 780 Kya, has a skull capacity and facial shape similar to that of KNM ER3733. With an age difference of about 8,50000 years, the morphological continuity is still very clear. Imagine if they were still classified as Homo erectus ? Yet it is clear that their evolutionary path does not lead to the Homo sapiens line of evolution. In addition, some of the morphologies of OH 12 are also similar to KNM ER3883, D2282 and D2700.”Some references for the affinities?“The Homo habilis specimens from Koobi Fora range from 1.75 to 1.65 million years old. If KNM-ER 1802 is classified as Homo habilis (we must first verify it based on the presence of canine fossa , or it could be Homo rudolfensis , represented by KNM ER 62000), then the origin of its appearance is about 2 million years ago. So far, specimens representing Homo habilis claim the shallow canine fossaincluding OH 24, OH 62, OH 65, KNM-ER 1813, and KNM-ER 42703 with a time span of 1.86-1.44 million years (but still needs to be investigated further due to limited references). Of course this is younger when compared to Longgudong human teeth, more than 2.14 million years old. In fact, in several locations in Ciscaucasus there are many traces of artifacts that are more than 2 million years old.”The problem here is that Koobi Floora isn’t the oldest Habilis, the oldest is 2.3 mya years old in Afar. In fact the oldest Homo (that is broken away from Australopithecus morphologically) is 2.5 mya.Also, as far as artifacts goes, unless you have evidence proving otherwise, both the Oldowan and Achuelean are oldest in Africa at 2.6 and 1.7 mya ago respectively.“Meanwhile, KNM ER 2598, which was assumed to be a candidate for the Out of Africa I population (with an estimated initial age of 1.88-1.9 million years ago), was found on the surface which may have originated from a younger stratigraphic deposit. KNM-ER 1813 is also estimated to be 1.86 million years old, or to be in the Olduvai Subchron boundary (1.95-1.78 million years ago).”See above mention of the South Africa find. Also, proof to support this suggestion?“Alternatively, KNM-ER 1813 and other hominins in Area 123 could be younger than 1.65 million years ago.”Again, evidence?“After 1.65 million years ago, Turkana Basin humans were dominated by Homo ergaster , who was contemporary with Sangiran early humans (Sangiran 4 and S27), but younger than early humans Bumiayu. So, the best candidates for the ancient Javanese ancestors could be between the early humans Dmanisi, or the ancient humans Longgudong (> 2.14 million years) and Yuanmou (1.7-1.72 million years).”The most recent evidence rules out longgudong, seeing how it is defined best as habilis and distinct from Erectus in regards to the teeth and.Likewise, studies in 2001 and 2002 place the latter specimen to below1 mya, therefore no consensus.Btw, Naledi does have a Canine Fossa.Otherwise, I agree with the rest of the article.
Hereditarianism is the theory that differences in psychology between individuals and groups have a ‘genetic’ or ‘innate’ (to capture the thought before the ‘gene’ was conceptualized) cause to them—which therefore would explain the hows and whys of, for example, the current social hierarchy. The term ‘racism’ has many referents—and using one of the many definitions of ‘racism’, one could say that the hereditarian theory is racist since it attempts to justify and naturalize the current social hierarchy.
In what I hope is my last word on the IQ/hereditarian debate, I will provide three conceptual arguments against hereditarianism: (1) psychologists don’t ‘measure’ any’thing’ with their psychological tests since there is no object of measurement, no specified measured object, and measurement unit for any specific trait; only physical things can be measured and psychological ‘traits’ are not physical so they cannot be measured (Berka, 1983; Nash, 1990; Garrison, 2009); (2) there is no theory or definition of “intelligence” (Lanz, 2000; Richardson, 2002; Richardson and Norgate, 2015; Richardson, 2017) so there can be no ‘measure’ of it, the example of temperature and thermometers will be briefly mentioned; (3) the logical impossibility of psychophysical reduction entails that mental abilities/psychological traits cannot be genetically inherited/transmitted; and (4) psychological theories are influenced by the current problems/going-on in society as well as society influencing psychological theories. These four objections are lethal to hereditarianism, the final showing that psychology is not an ‘objective science.’
(i) The Berka/Nash measurement objection
The Berka/Nash measurement objection is simply: if there is no specified measured object, object of measurement or measuring unit for the ‘trait’, then no ‘thing’ is truly being ‘measured’ as only physical things can be measured. Nash gives the example of a stick—the stick is the measured object, the length of the stick is the object of measurement (the property being measured) and inches, centimeters etc are the measuring units. Being that the stick is in physical space, its property can be measured—its length. Since psychological traits are not physical (this will also come into play for (ii) as well) nor do they have a physical basis, there can be no ‘measuring’ of psychological traits. Indeed, since scaling is accepted by fiat to be a ‘measure’ of something. This, though, leads to confusion, especially to psychologists.
The most obvious problem with the theory of IQ measurement is that although a scale of items held to test ‘intelligence’ can be constructed, there are no fixed points of reference. If the ice point of water at one atmosphere fixes 276.16 K, what fixes 140 points of IQ? Fellows of the Royal Society? Ordinal scales are perfectly adequate for certain measurements. Moh’s scale of scratch hardness consists of ten fixed points from talc to diamond, and is good enough for certain practical purposes. IQ scales (like attainment test scales) are ordinal scales, but this is not really to the point, for whatever the nature of the scale it could not provide evidence for the property IQ or, therefore, that IQ has been measured. (Nash, 1990: 131)
In first constructing its scales and only then preceding to induce what they ‘measure’ from correlational studies, psychometry has got into the habit of trying to do what cannot be done and doing it the wrong way round anyway. (Nash, 1990: 133)
The fact of the matter is, IQ tests don’t even meet the minimal theory of measurement since there is no—non-circular—definition of what this ‘general cognitive ability’ even is.
(ii) No theory or definition of intelligence
This also goes back to Nash’s critique of IQ (since there can be no non-circular definition of what “IQ tests” purport to measure): There is no theory or definition of intelligence therefore there CAN BE no ‘measure’ of it. Imagine saying that you have measured temperature without a theory behind it. Indeed, I have explained in another article that although IQ-ists like Jensen and Eysenck emphatically state that the ‘measuring’ of ‘intelligence’ with “IQ tests” is “just like” the measuring of temperature with thermometers, this claim fails as there is no physical basis to psychological traits/mental abilities so they, therefore, cannot be measured. If “intelligence” is not like height or weight, then “intelligence”‘ cannot be measured. “Intelligence” is not like height or weight. Therefore, “intelligence” cannot be measured.
We had a theory and definition of temperature and then the measuring tool was constructed to measure our new construct. The construct of temperature was then verified independently of the instrument used to originally measure it, with the thermoscope which then was verified with human sensation. Thus, temperature was verified in a non-circular way. On the other hand, “intelligence tests” are “validated” circularly, if the tests correlate highly with other older tests (like Terman’s Stanford-Binet), it is held that the new test ‘measures’ the construct of ‘intelligence’—even if none of the previous tests have themselves been validated!
Therefore, this too is a problem for IQ-ists—their scale was first constructed (to agree with the social hierarchy, no less; Mensh and Mensh, 1991) and then they set about trying to see what their scales ‘measure’ with correlational studies. But we know that since two things are correlated that doesn’t mean that one causes the other—there could be some unknown third variable causing the relationship or the relationship could be spurious. In any case, this conceptual problem, too, is a problem for the IQ-ist. IQ is nothing like temperature since temperature is an actual physical measure that was verified independently of the instrument constructed to measure the construct in the first place.
Claims of individuals as ‘intelligent’ (whatever that means) or not are descriptive, not explanatory—it is the reflection of one’s current “ability” (used loosely) in relation to their current age norms (Anastasi; Howe, 1997).
(iii) The logical impossibility of psychophysical reduction
I will start this section off with two (a priori) arguments:
Anything that cannot be described in material terms using words that only refer to material properties is immaterial.
The mind cannot be described in material terms using words that only refer to material properties.
Therefore the mind is immaterial; materialism is false.
If physicalism is true then all facts can be stated using a physical vocabulary.
But facts about the mind cannot be stated using a physical vocabulary.
So physicalism is false.
(Note that the arguments provided are valid, and I hold them to be sound thus an objector would need to reject then refute a premise.)
Therefore, if all facts cannot be stated using a physical vocabulary and if the mind cannot be described in material terms using words that only refer to material properties, then there can, logically, be no such thing as ‘mental measurement’—no matter what IQ-ists try to tell you.
Different physical systems can give rise to different mental phenomena—what is known as the argument from multiple realizability. Thus, since psychological traits/mental states are multiply realizable, then it is impossible for psychology to reduce to mental kinds to reduce to physical kinds—the mental kind can be realized by multiple physical states. Psychological states are either multiply realizable or they are type identical to the physio-chemical states of the brain. That is a kind of mind-brain identity thesis—that the mind is identical to the states of the brain. Although they are correlated, this does not mean that the mind is the brain or that the mind can be reduced to physio-chemical states, as Putnam’s argument from multiple realizability concludes. If type-physicalism is true, then it must be true that every and all mental properties can be realized in the same exact way. But, empirically, it is highly plausible that mental properties can be realized in multiple ways. Therefore, type-identity theory is false.
Psychophysical laws are laws connnecting mental abilities/psychological traits with physical states. But, as Davidson famously argued in his defense of Anomalous Monism, there can be no such laws linking mental and physical events. There are no mental laws therefore there can be no scientific theory of mental states. Science studies the physical. The mental is not physical. Thus, science cannot study the mental. Indeed, since there are no bridge laws that link the mental and physical and the mental is irreducible to and underdetermined by the physical, it then follows that science cannot study the mental. Therefore, a science of the mind is impossible.
Further note that the claim “IQ is heritable” reduces to “thinking is heritable”, since the main aspect of test-taking is thinking. Thinking is a mental activity which results in a thought. If thinking is a mental activity which results in a thought, then what is a thought? A thought is a mental state of considering a particular idea or answer to a question or committing oneself to an idea or an answer. These mental states are, or are related to, beliefs. When one considers a particular answer to a question, they are paving the way to holding a certain belief. So when they have committed themselves to an answer, they have committed themselves to a new belief. Since beliefs are propositional attitudes, believing p means adopting the belief attitude that p. So, since cognition is thinking, then thinking is a mental process that results in the formation of a propositional belief. Thus, since thinking is related to beliefs and desires (without beliefs and desires we would not be able to think), then thinking (cognition) is irreducible to physical/functional states, meaning that the main aspect of test-taking (thinking) is irreducible to the physical thus physical states don’t explain thinking which means the main aspect of (IQ) test-taking is irreducible to the physical.
(iv) Reflexivity in psychology
In this last section, I will discuss the reflexivity—circularity—problem for psychology. This is important for psychological theorizing since, to its practitioners, psychology is seen to be an ‘objective science.’ If you think about psychology (and science) and how it is practiced, it (they) investigates third-personal, not first-personal, states. Thus, there can be no science of the mind (what psychology purports to be) and psychology can, therefore, not be an ‘objective science’ as the hard sciences are. The ‘knowledge’ that we attain from psychology comes from, obviously, the study of people. As Wade (2010: 5) notes, the knowledge that people and society are the object of study “creates a reflexivity, or circular process of cause and effect, whereby the ‘objects’ of study can and do change their behavior and ideas according to the conclusions that their observers draw about their behavior and ideas.”
It is quite clear that such academic concepts do not arise independently—in the history of psychology, it has been used in an attempt to justify the current social hierarchy of the time (as seen in 1900s America, Germany, and Britain). Psychological theories are influenced by current social goings-on. Thus, it is influenced by the bias of the psychologists in question. “The views, attitudes, and values of psychologists influence the claims they make” (Jones, Elcock, and Tyson, 2011: 29).
… scientific ideas did not develop in a vacuum but rather reflected underlying political or economic trends. 15
The current social context influences the psychological discourse and the psychological discourse influences the current social context. The a priori beliefs that one holds will influence what they choose to study. An obvious example being, hereditarian psychologists who believe there are innate differences in ‘IQ’ (they use ‘IQ’ and ‘intelligence’ interchangeably as if there is an identity relation) will undertake certain studies in order to ‘prove’ that the relationship they believe to be true holds and that there is indeed a biological cause to mental abilities within and between groups and individuals. Do note, however, that we have the data (blacks score lower on IQ tests) and one must then make an interpretation. So we have three possible scenarios: (1) differences in biology cause differences in IQ; (2) differences in experience cause differences in IQ; or (3) the tests are constructed to get the results the IQ-ists want in order to justify the current social hierarchy. Mensh and Mensh (1991) have succinctly argued for (3) while hereditarians argue for (1) and environmentalists argue for (2). While it is indeed true that one’s life experiences can influence their IQ scores, we have seen that it is logically impossible for genes to influence/cause mental abilities/psychological traits.
The only tenable answer is (3). Such relationships, as noted by Mensh and Mensh (1991), Gould (1996), and Garrison (2009), between test scores and the social hierarchy are interpreted by the hereditarian psychologist thusly: (1) our tests measure an innate mental ability; (2) if our tests measure an innate mental ability, then differences in the social hierarchy are due to biology, not environment; (3) thus, environmental differences cannot account for what is innate between individuals so our tests measure innate biological potential for intelligence.
The [IQ] tests do what their construction dictates; they correlate a group’s mental worth with its place in the social hierarchy. (Mensh and Mensh, 1991)
Richards (1997) in his book on racism in the history of psychology, identified 331 psychology articles published between 1909 (the first conceptualization of the ‘gene’, no less) and 1940 which argued for biology as a difference-maker for psychological traits while noting that 176 articles for the ‘environment’ side were published in that same time period.
Note that the racist views of the psychologists in question more than likely influenced their research interests—they set out to ‘prove’ their a priori biases. Indeed, they even modeled their tests after such biases. Tests that were constructed that agreed with their a priori pre-suppositions on who was or was not intelligence was kept whereas those that did not agree with those notions were thrown out (as noted by Hilliard, 2012). This is just as Jones, Elcock, and Tyson (2011: 67) note with the ‘positive manifold’ (‘general intelligence’):
Subtests within a battery of intelligence tests are included n the basis of them showing a substantial correlation with the test as a whole, and tests which do not show such correlations are excluded.
From this, it directly follows that psychometry (and psychology) are not sciences and do not ‘measure’ anything (returning to (i) above). What psychometrics (and psychology) do is attempt to use their biased tests in order to sort individuals into where they ‘belong’ on the social hierarchy. Standardized testing (IQ tests were one of the first standardized tests, along with the SAT)—and by proxy psychometrics—is NOT a form of measurement. The hierarchy that the tests ‘find’ is presupposed to exist and then constructed into existence using the test to ‘prove’ their biases ‘right.’
Indeed, Hilliard (2012) noted that in South Africa in the 1950s that there was a 15-point difference in IQ between two white cultural groups. Rather than fan flames of political tension between the groups, the test was changed in order to eliminate the difference between the two groups. The same, she notes, was the case regarding IQ differences between men and women—Terman eliminated such differences by picking and choosing certain items that favored one group and balanced them out so that they scored near-equally. These are two great examples from the 20th century that demonstrate the reflexivity in psychology—how one’s a priori biases influence what they study and the types of conclusions they draw from data.
Psychology, at least when it comes to racial differences in ‘IQ’, is being used to confirm pre-existing prejudices and not find any ‘new objective facts.’ “… psychology [puts] a scientific gloss on the accepted social wisdom of the day” (Christian, 2008: 5). This can be seen with a reading into the history of “IQ tests” themselves. The point is, that psychology and society influence each other in a reflexive—circular—manner. Thus, psychology is not and cannot be an ‘objective science’ and when it comes to ‘IQ’ the biases that led to the bringing of the tests to America and concurrently social policy are still—albeit implicitly—believed today.
Psychology originally developed in the US in the 19th century in order to attempt to fix societal problems—there needed to be a science of the mind and psychology purported to be just that. They, thusly, needed a science of ‘human nature’, and it was for this reason that psychology developed in the US. The first US psychologists were trained in Germany and then returned to the US and developed an American psychology. Though, do note that in Germany psychology was seen as the science of the mind while in America it would then turn out to be the science of behavior (Jones, Elcock, and Tyson, 2011). This also does speak to the eugenic views held by certain IQ-ists in the 20th and into the 21st century.
In Nazi Germany, Jewish psychologists were purged since their views did not line-up with the Nazi regime.
Psychology appealed to the Nazi Party for two reasons: because psychological theory could be used to support Nazi ideology, and because psychology could be applied in service to the state apparatus. Those psychologists who remained adapted their theories to suit Nazi ideology, and developed theories that demonstrated the necessary inferiority of non-Aryan groups (Jones and Elcock, 2001). These helped to justify actions by the state in discriminating against, and ultimately attempting to eradicate, thse other groups. (Jones, Elcock, and Tyson (2011: 38-39)
These examples show that psychology is influenced by society but also that society influences psychological theorizing. Clearly, what psychologists choose to study, since society influences psychology, is a reflection of a society’s social concerns. In the case of IQ, crime, etc, the psychologist attempts to naturalize and biologicize such differences in order to explain them as ‘innate’ or ‘genetic’. The rise of IQ tests in America, too, also coincided with the worry that ‘national intelligence’ was declining and so, the IQ test would need to be used to ‘screen’ prospective immigrants. (See Richardson, 2011 for an in-depth consideration on the tests and conditions that the testees were exposed to on Ellis Island; also see Gould, 1996.)
(i) The Berka/Nash measurement objection is one of the most lethal arguments for IQ-ists. If they cannot state the specified measured object, the object of measurement, and the measuring unit for IQ then they cannot say that any’thing’ is being ‘measured’ by ‘IQ tests.’ This then brings us to (ii). Since there is no theory or definition of what is being ‘measured’, and if the tests were constructed first before the theory, then there will necessarily be a built-in bias to what is being ‘measured’ (namely, so-called ‘innnate mental potential’). (iii) Since it is logically impossible for psychology to reduce to physical structure, and since all facts cannot be stated using a physical vocabulary nor can the mind be described using material terms that only refer to material properties, then this is another blow to the claim that psychology is an ‘objective science’ and that some’thing’ is being ‘measured’ by their tests (constructed to agree with their a priori biases). And (iv) The bias that is inherent in psychology (for both the right and the left) influences the practitioners’ theorizing and how they interpret data. Society has influenced psychology (and psychology has influenced the society) and we only need to look at America and Nazi Germany in the 20th century to see that this holds.
The relationship between psychology and society is inseparable—it is a truism that what psychologists choose to study and how and why they formulate their conclusions will be influenced by the biases they already hold about society and how and why it is the way it is. For these reasons, psychology/psychometry are not ‘sciences’ and hereditarianism is not a logically sound position. Hereditarianism, then, stays what it was when it was formulated—a racist theory that attempts to bilogicize and justify the current social hierarchy. Thus, one should not accept that psychologists ‘measure’ any’thing’ with their tests; one should not accept the claim that mental abilities can be genetically transmitted/inherited; one should not accept the claim that psychology is an objective ‘science’ due to the reflexive relationship between psychology and society.
The arguments given show why hereditarianism should be abandoned—it is not a scientific theory, it just attempts to naturalize biological inequalities between individuals and groups (Mensh and Mensh, 1991; Gould, 1996; Garrison, 2009). Psychometrics (what hereditarians use to attempt to justify their claims) is, then, nothing more than a political ring.
The term ‘racism’ has many definitions. What does it mean for a person to be a ‘racist’? What does it mean for a person to have ‘racist beliefs’? What does the term ‘racism’ refer to? The answers to these questions then will inform the next part—what does racism have to do with stress and physiology?
What is ‘racism’?
Racism has many definitions, so many—and so many for uses in different contexts—that it has been argued, for example by those in the far-right, that it is, therefore, a meaningless term. However, just because there are many definitions of the term, it does not then mean that there is no referent for the term we use. A referent is a thing that is signified. In this instance, what is the referent for racism? I will provide a few on-hand definitions and then discuss them.
In Part VI of The Oxford Handbook of Race and Philosophy (edited by Naomi Zack, 2016) titled Racisms and Neo-Racisms, Zack writes (pg 469; my emphasis):
Logically, it would seem as though ideas about race would have to precede racism. But the subject of racism is more broad and complicated than the subject of race, for at least these two historical reasons. First, the kind of prejudice (prejudged cognitions and negative emotions) and discrimination (treating people differently on the grounds of group identities) that constitute racism have a longer history than the modern idea of race, for instance in European anti-Semitism. And second, insofar as modern ideas of race have been in the service of the dominant interests in international and internal interactions, these ideas of race are ideologies that have devalued non-white groups. That is, ideas of race are themselves already inherently racist.
In philosophy, racism has been treated as attitudes and actions of individuals that affect nonwhites unjustly and social structures and institutions that advantage whites and disadvantage nonwhites. The first is hearts-and-minds or classic racism, for instance the use of stereotypes and harmful actions by whites against people of color, as well as negative feelings about them. The second is structural racism, for instance the use of stereotypes or institutional racism, for instance, the facts of how American blacks and Hispanics are, compared to whites, worse off on major measures of human well-being, such as education, income, family wealth, health, family stability, longevity, and rates of incarceration.
John Lovchik in his book Racism: Reality Built on a Myth (2018: 12) notes that “racism is a system of ranking human beings for the purpose of gaining and justifying an unequal distribution of political and economic power.” Note that using this definition, “hereditarianism” (the theory that individual differences between groups and individuals can be reduced to genes; I will give conceptual reasons why hereditarianism is false as what I hope is my final word on the debate) is a racist theory as it attempts to justify the current social hierarchy. (The reason why IQ tests were first brought to America and created by Binet and Simon; see The History and Construction of IQ Tests and The Frivolousness of the Hereditarian-Environmentalist IQ Debate: Gould, Binet, and the Utility of IQ Testing.) This is why hereditarianism saw its resurgence with Jensen’s infamous 1969 paper. Indeed, many prominent hereditarians have held racist beliefs, and were even eugenicists espousing eugenic ideas.
Headley (2000) notes a few definitions of racism—motivational, behavioral, and cognitive racism. Motivational racism is “the infliction of unequal consideration, motivated by the desire to dominate, based on race alone“; behavioral racism is “failure to give equal consideration, based on the fact of race alone”; and cognitive racism is “unequal consideration, out of a belief in the inferiority of another race.”
I have presented six definitions of racism—though there are many more. Now, for the purposes of this article, I will present my own: the ‘inferiorization’ of a racialized group which is then used to explain disparities in things like IQ test scores, social class/SES, education differences, personality, etc. Now, knowing what we know about physiological systems and how they react to the environment around them—the immediate environment and the social environment—how does this then relate to stress and physiology?
Racism, stress, and physiology
Now that we know what racism is, having had a rundown of certain definitions of ‘racism’, I will now discuss the physiological effects such stances could have on groups racialized as ‘races’ (note that I am using socialraces in this article; recall that social constructivists about race need to be realists about race).
The term ‘weathering’ refers to the body’s breaking down due to stress over time. Such stressors can come from one’s immediate environment (i.e., pollution, foodstuffs, etc) or their social environment (a demanding job, how one perceives themselves and how people react to them). So as the body experiences more and more stress it becomes more and more ‘weathered’ which then leads to heightened risk for disease in stressed individuals/populations.
Allostatic states “refer to altered and sustained activity levels of the primary mediators (e.g., glucocorticosteroids) that integrate energetic and associated behaviours in response to changing environments and challenges such as social interactions, weather, disease, predators and pollution” (McEwen, 2005). Examples of allostatic overload such as acceleration of atherosclerosis, hypertension (HTN), stroke, and abdominal obesity (McEwen, 2005) are more likely to be found in the group we racialize as ‘black’ in America—particularly women (Gillum, 1987; Gillum and Hyattsville, 1996; Barnes, Alexander, and Staggers, 1997; Worral et al, 2002; Kataoka et al, 2013).
Geronimus et al (2006) set to find out whether or not the heightened rate of stressors (e.g., racism, environmental pollution, etc) can explain why black bodies are more ‘weathered’ than white bodies. They found that such differences were not explained by poverty, indicating that it even affects well-off blacks. Allostatic load refers to heightened hormonal production in response to stressors. We know that physiological is homeodynamic and therefore changes based on the immediate environment and social environment (for example, when you feel like you’re about to get into a fight, your heart rate increases and you get ready to ‘fight or flight’).
Experiencing racism (environmental stimuli; real or imagined, the outcome is the same) is associated with increased blood pressure (HTN). So if one experiences racism they will them experience an increase in blood pressure, as BP is a physiological variable (Armstead et al, 1987; McNeilly et al, 1995; see Doleszar et al, 2018 for a review). The concept of weathering, then, shows that racial health disparities are, in fact, racist health disparities (Sullivan, 2015: 106). Racism, then, contributes to higher levels of allostasis and, along with it, higher levels of certain hormones associated with higher allostasis.
One way to measure biological age is by measuring the length of telomeres. Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes. Since telomere lengths shorten with age (Shammas, 2012), those with shorter telomeres are ‘biologically older’ than those of the same age with longer telomeres. Geronimus et al (2011) showed that black women had shorter telomeres than white women, which was due to subjective and objective stressors (i.e., racism). Black women in the age group 49-55 were 7.5 years ‘older’ than white women. Thus, they had an older physiological age compared to their chronological age. It is known that direct contact with discriminatory events is associated with poor health outcomes. Harrell, Hall, and Taliaferro (2003) note that:
“…physiological set points and the mechanisms governing them are not fixed. External stressors can permanently alter physiological functioning. Racism increases the volume of stress one experiences and may contribute directly to the physiological arousal that is a marker of stress-related diseases.
Social factors can, indeed, influence physiology and there is a wealth of information on how the social becomes biological and how environmental (social) factors influence physiological systems. Forrester et al (2019) replicated Geronimus’ findings, showing that blacks have a higher ‘biological age’ than whites and that psychosocial factors affect blacks more than whites. Simons et al (2020) also replicated Geronimus’ findings, showing that persistent exposure to racism was associated with higher rates of inflammation in blacks which then predicted higher rates of disease in blacks compared to whites. Such discrimination can help to explain differences in birth outcomes (e.g., Jasienska, 2009), stress, inflammation, obesity, stroke rates, etc in blacks compared to whites (Molnar, 2015).
But what is the mechanism by which higher allostatic load scores contribute to negative outcomes and shorter telomeres indicating a higher biological age? When one feels that they are being discriminated against, the sympathetic nervous system activates due to chronic stress and along with it HPA dysfunction. What this means is that there is a loss of the anti-inflammatory effects of cortisol—it becomes blunted. This then increases oxidative stress and inflammation. Thus, the inflammatory processes result in cardiovascular disease and immune and metabolic dysfunction. The HPA axis monitors and responds to stress—allostatic load. When stress hormones are released, the adrenal gland is targeted. When it receives a signal from the pituitary gland, it pumps epinephrine and norepinephrine into the body, causing our hearts to beat faster, causing us to breathe more deeply—what is known as ‘fight or flight.’ Cortisol is also released and is known as a stress hormone, but when the stressful event is over, all three hormones return to baseline. Thus, the higher amount of stress hormones in circulation indicates higher levels of allostatic load—higher levels of stress in the individual in question. We know that blacks have higher levels of allostatic load (i.e., stress-related hormones) than whites (Duru et al, 2012). Barr (2014: 71-72) writes:
Imagine, though, that before the allostatic load has a chance to return to its baseline level, another stressor is sensed by the hypothalamus. The allostatic load will once again increase to the plateau level. Should the perception of stressors be ongoing, the allostatic load will not have the chance to ever fully recharge, and the adrenal gland will be producing an ongoing stream of stress response hormones. The body will experience chronic elevation in its allostatic load. […] A person experiencing repeated stressors, without the opportunity for intervals that are relatively stress-free, will experience a chronically elevated allostatic load, with higher than normal levels of circulating stress response hormones.
What these studies show, then, is that race is a cause of health inequalities, but it’s not inherent in biology but due to social factors that influence the physiology of the individual in question. The term ‘racism’ has many referents, and using one of them identifies ‘hereditarianism’ as a racist ideology (it is inherently ideological). These overviews of studies show that racial health inequalities are due, in part, to perceived discrimination (racism) thus they are racist health disparities. We know that physiology is a dynamic system that can respond to what occurs in the immediate environment—even the social environment (Williams, 1992). Thus, what explains part of the health inequalities between races is perceived discrimination—racism—and how it affects the body’s physiological systems (HPA axis, HTN, etc) and telomeres.