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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.
In the 1940s, psychologist William Sheldon created a system of body measures known as “somatotyping”, then took his somatotypes and attempted to classify each soma (endomorph, ectomorph, or mesomorph) to differing personality types. It was even said that “constitutional psychology can guide a eugenics program and save the modern world from itself.”
Sheldon attempted to correlate different personality dimensions to different somas. But his somas fell out of favor before being revived by two of his disciples—without the “we-can-guess-your-personality-from-your-body-type” canard that Sheldon used. Somatotyping, while of course being put to use in a different way today compared to what it was originally created for, it gives us reliable dimensions for human appendages and from there we can ascertain what a given individual would excel at in regard to sporting events (obviously this is just on the basis of physical measures and does not measure the mind one needs to excel in sports).
The somatotyping system is straightforward: You have three values, say at 1-1-7; the first refers to endomorphy, the second refers to mesomorphy and the third refers to ectomorphy, therefore a 1-1-7 would be an extreme ectomorph. However, few people are at the extreme end of each soma, and most people have a combination of two or even all three of the somas.
According to Carter (2002): “The somatotype is defined as the quantification of the present shape and composition of the human body.” So, obviously, somas can change over time. However, it should be noted that the somatotype is, largely, based on one’s musculoskeletal system. This is where the appendages come in, along with body fat, wide and narrow clavicles and chest etc. This is why the typing system, although it began as a now-discredited method, should still be used today since we do not use the pseudoscientific personality measures with somatotyping.
Ectomorphs are long and lean, lanky, you could say. They have a smaller, narrower chest and shoulders, along with longer arms and legs, and have a hard time gaining weight, and a short upper body (I’d say they have a harder time gaining weight due to a slightly faster metabolism, in the variation of the normal range of metabolism, of course). Put simply, ectomorphs are just skinny and lanky with less body fat than mesos and endos. Human races that fit this soma are East Africans and South Asians (see Dutton and Lynn, 2015; one of my favorite papers from Lynn for obvious reasons).
Endomorphs are stockier, shorter and have wider hips, along with short limbs, a wider trunk, more body fat and can gain muscular strength easier than the other somas. Thus, endos, being shorter than ectos and mesos, have a lower center of gravity, along with shorter arms. Thus, we should see that these somas dominate strongman competitions and this is what we see. Pure strength competitions are perfect for this type, such as Strongman competitions and powerlifting. Races that generally conform to this type are East Asians, Europeans, and Pacific Islanders (see Dutton and Lynn, 2015).
Finally, we have mesomorphs (the “king” of all of the types). Mesos are more muscular on average than the two others, they have less body fat than endos but more body fat than ectos; they have wider shoulders, chest and hips, a short trunk and long limbs. The most mesomorphic races are West Africans (Malina, 1969), and due to their somatotype they can dominate sprinting competitions; they also have thinner skin folds (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000), and so they would have an easier time excelling at running competitions but not at weightlifting, powerlifting, or Strongman (see Dutton and Lynn, 2015).
These anatomic differences between the races of man are due to climatic adaptations. The somatypic differences Neanderthals and Homo sapiens mirror the somatotype difference between blacks and whites; since Neanderthals were cold-adapted, they were shorter, had wider pelves and could thusly generate more power than the heat-adapted Homo sapiens who had long limbs and narrow pelvis to better dissipate heat. Either way, we can look at the differences in somatotype between races that evolved in Europe and Africa to ascertain the somatotype of Neanderthals—and we also have fossil evidence for these claims, too (see e.g., Weaver and Hublin, 2009; Gruss and Schmitt, 2016)
Now, just because somatotyping, during its conception, was mixed with pseudoscientific views about differing somas having differing psychological types, does not mean that these differences in body type do not have any bearing on sporting performance. We can chuck the “constitutional psychology” aspect of somatotyping and just keep the anthropometric measures, and, along with the knowledge of human biomechanics, we can then discuss, in a scientific manner, why one soma would excel in sport X or why one soma would not excel in sport X. Attempting to argue that since somatotyping began as some crank psuedoscience does not mean that it is not useful today, since we do not ascribe inherent psychological differences to these somas (I’d claim that saying that this soma has a harder time gaining weight compared to that soma is not ascribing a psychological difference to the soma; it is taking physiologically and on average we can see that different somas have different propensities for weight gain).
In her book Straightening the Bell Curve: How Stereotypes about Black Masculinity Drive Research about Race and Intelligence, Hilliard (2012: 21) discusses the pitfalls of somatotyping and how Sheldon attempted to correlate personality measures with his newfound somatotypes:
As a young graduate student, he [Richard Herrnstein] had fallen under the spell of Harvard professor S. S. Stevens, who had coauthored with William Sheldon a book called The Varieties of Temperament: A Psychology of Constitutional Differences, which popularized the concept of “somatotyping,” first articulated by William Sheldon. This theory sought, through the precise measurement and analysis of human body types, to establish correlations comparing intelligence, temperament, sexual proclivities, and the moral worth of individuals. Thus, criminals were perceived to be shorter and heavier and more muscular than morally upstanding citizens. Black males were reported to rank higher on the “masculine component” scale than white males did, but lower in intelligence. Somatotyping lured the impressionable young Herrnstein into a world promising precision and human predictability based on the measuring of body parts.
Though constitutional psychology is now discredited, there may have been something to some of Sheldon’s theories. Ikeda et al (2018: 3) conclude in their paper, Re-evaluating classical body type theories: genetic correlation between psychiatric disorders and body mass index, that “a trans-ancestry meta-analysis of the genetic correlation between psychiatric disorders and BMI indicated that the negative correlation with SCZ supported classical body type theories proposed in the last century, but found a negative correlation between BD and BMI, opposite to what would have been predicted.” (Though it should be noted that SCZ is a, largely if not fully, environmentally-induced disorder, see Joseph, 2017.)
These different types (i.e., the differing limb lengths/body proportions) have implications for sporting performance. Asfaw and A (2018) found that Ethiopian women high jumpers had the highest ectomorph values whereas long and triple jumpers were found to be more mesomorphic. Sports good for ectos are distance running due to their light frame, tennis etc—anything that the individual can use their light frame as an advantage. Since they have longer limbs and a lighter frame, they can gain more speed in the run up to the jump, compared to endos and mesos (who are heavier). This shows why ectos have a biomechanical advantage when it comes to high jumping.
As for mesomorphs, the sports they excel at are weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, football, rugby etc. Any sport where the individual can use their power and heavier bone mass will they excel in. Gutnik et al (2017) even concluded that “These results suggest with high probability that there is a developmental tendency of change in different aspects of morphometric phenotypes of selected kinds of sport athletes. These phenomena may be explained by the effects of continuous intensive training and achievement of highly sport-defined shapes.” While also writing that mesomorphy could be used to predict sporting ability.
Finally, for endomorphs, they too would excel in weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman, but do on average better since they have different levers (i.e., shorter appendages so they can more weight and a shorter amount of time in comparison to those with longer limbs like ectos).
Thus, different somatotypes excel in different sports. Different races and ethnies have differing somatotypes (Dutton and Lynn, 2015), so these different bodies that the races have, on average, is part of the cause for differences in sporting ability. That somatotyping began as a pseudoscientific endeavor 70 years ago does not mean that it does not have a use in today’s world—because it clearly does due to the sheer amount of papers on the usefulness of somatotyping and relating differences in sporting performance due to somatotyping. For example, blacks have thinner skin folds (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000) which is due to their somatotype, which is then due to the climate their ancestors evolved in.
Somatotyping can show us the anthropometric reasons for how and why certain individuals, ethnies, and races far-and-away dominate certain sporting events. It is completely irrelevant that somatotyping began as a psychological pseudoscience (what isn’t in psychology, am I right?). Understanding anthropometric differences between individuals and groups will help us better understand the evolution of these somas along with how and why these somas lead to increased sporting performance in certain domains. Somatotyping has absolutely nothing to do with “intelligence” nor how morally upstanding one is. I would claim that somatotyping does have an effect on one’s perception of masculinity, and thus more masculine people/races would tend to be more mesomorphic, which would explain what Hilliard (2012) discussed when talking about somatotyping and the attempts to correlate differing psychological tendencies to each type.
Due to evolving in different climates, the different races of Man have differing anatomy and physiology. This, then, leads to differences in sports performance—certain races do better than others in certain bouts of athletic prowess, and this is due to, in large part, heritable biological/physical differences between blacks and whites. Some of these differences are differences in somatotype, which bring a considerable advantage for, say, runners (an ecto-meso, for instance, would do very well in sprinting or distance running depending on fiber typing). This article will discuss differences in racial anatomy and physiology (again) and how it leads to disparities in certain sports performance.
Kerr (2010) argues that racial superiority in sport is a myth. (Read my rebuttal here.) In his article, Kerr (2010) attempts to rebut Entine’s (2000) book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It. In a nutshell, Kerr (2010) argues that race is not a valid category; that other, nongenetic factors play a role other than genetics (I don’t know if anyone has ever argued if it was just genetics). Race is a legitimate biological category, contrary to Kerr’s assertions. Kerr, in my view, strawman’s Entine (2002) by saying he’s a “genetic determinist”, but while he does discuss biological/genetic factors more than environmental ones, Entine is in no way a genetic determinist (at least that’s what I get from my reading of his book, other opinions may differ). Average physical differences between races are enough to delineate racial categories and then it’s only logical to infer that these average physical/physiological differences between the races (that will be reviewed below) would infer an advantage in certain sports over others, while the ultimate cause was the environment that said race’s ancestors evolved in (causing differences in somatotype and physiology).
Black athletic superiority has been discussed for decades. The reasons are numerous and of course, this has even been noticed by the general public. In 1991, half of the respondents of a poll on black vs. whites in sports “agreed with the idea that “blacks have more natural physical ability,“” (Hoberman, 1997: 207). Hoberman (1997) of course denies that there is any evidence that blacks have an advantage over whites in certain sports that come down to heritable biological factors (which he spends the whole book arguing). However, many blacks and whites do, in fact, believe in black athletic superiority and that physiologic and anatomic differences between the races do indeed cause racial differences in sporting performance (Wiggins, 1989). Though Wiggins (1989: 184) writes:
The anthropometric differences found between racial groups are usually nothing more than central tendencies and, in addition, do not take into account wide variations within these groups or the overlap among members of different races. This fact not only negates any reliable physiological comparisons of athletes along racial lines, but makes the whole notion of racially distinctive physiological abilities a moot point.
This is horribly wrong, as will be seen throughout this article.
|Data from Malina, (1969: 438)||n||Mesomorph||Ectomorph||Endomorph|
|Data from Malina (1969: 438)||Blacks||Whites|
|Thin-build body type||8.93||5.90|
|Submedium fatty development||48.31||29.39|
|Fat and very fat categories||9.09||21.06|
This was in blacks and whites aged 6 to 11. Even at these young ages, it is clear that there are considerable anatomic differences between blacks and whites which then lead to differences in sports performance, contra Wiggins (1989). A basic understanding of anatomy and how the human body works is needed in order to understand how and why blacks dominate certain sports over whites (and vice versa). Somatotype is, of course, predicated on lean mass, fat mass, bone density, stature, etc, which are heritable biological traits, thus, contrary to popular belief that somatotyping holds no explanatory power in sports today (see Hilliard, 2012).
One variable that makes up somatotype is fat-free body mass. There are, of course, racial differences in fat mass, too (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000). Lower fat mass would, of course, impede black excellence in swimming, and this is what we see (Rushton, 1997; Entine, 2000). Wagner and Heyward (2000) write:
Our review unequivocally shows that the FFB of blacks and whites differs significantly. It has been shown from cadaver and in vivo analyses that blacks have a greater BMC and BMD than do whites. These racial differences could substantially affect measures of body density and %BF. According to Lohman (63), a 2% change in the BMC of the body at a given body density could, theoretically, result in an 8% error in the estimation of %BF. Thus, the BMC and BMD of blacks must be considered when %BF is estimated.
While Vickery, Cureton, and Collins (1988) found that blacks had thinner skin folds than whites, however, in this sample, somatotype did not explain racial differences in bone density, like other studies (Malina, 1969), Vickery, Cureton, and Collins (1988) found that blacks were also more likely to be mesomorphic (which would then express itself in racial differences in sports).
Hallinan (1994) surveyed 32 sports science, exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor development, motor learning, and measurement evaluation textbooks to see what they said racial differences in sporting performance and how they explained them. Out of these 32 textbooks, according to Wikipedia, these “textbooks found that seven [textbooks] suggested that there are biophysical differences due to race that might explain differences in sports performance, one [textbook] expressed caution with the idea, and the other 24 [textbooks] did not mention the issue.” Furthermore, Strklaj and Solyali (2010), in their paper “Human Biological Variation in Anatomy Textbooks: The Role of Ancestry” write that their “results suggest that this type of human variation is either not accounted for or approached only superficially and in an outdated manner.”
It’s patently ridiculous that most textbooks on the anatomy and physiology of the human body do not talk about the anatomic and physiologic differences between racial and ethnic groups. Hoberman (1997) also argues the same, that there is no evidence to confirm the existence of black athletic superiority. Of course, many hypotheses have been proposed to explain how and why blacks are at an inherent advantage in sport. Hoberman (1997: 269) discusses one, writing (quoting world record Olympian in the 400-meter dash, Lee Evans):
“We were bred for it [athletic dominance] … Certainly the black people who survived in the slave ships must have contained the highest proportion of the strongest. Then, on the plantations, a strong black man was mated with a strong black woman. We were simply bred for physical qualities.”
While Hoberman (1997: 270-1) also notes:
Finally, by arguing for a cultural rather than a biological interpretation of “race,” Edwards proposed that black athletic superiority results from “a complex of societal conditions” that channels a disproporitionate number of talented blacks into athletic careers.
The fact that blacks were “bred for” athletic dominance is something that gets brought up often but has little (if any) empirical support (aside from just-so stories about white slavemasters breeding their best, biggest and strongest black slaves). The notion that “a complex of societal conditions” (Edwards, 1971: 39) explains black dominance in sports, while it has some explanatory power in regard to how well blacks do in sporting competition, it, of course, does not tell the whole story. Edwards (1978: 39) argues that these complex societal conditions “instill a heightened motivation among black male youths to achieve success in sports; thus, they channel a proportionately greater number of talented black people than whites into sports participation.” While this may, in fact, be true, this does nothing to rebut the point that differences in anatomic and physiologic factors are a driving force in racial differences in sporting performance. However, while these types of environmental/sociological arguments do show us why blacks are over-represented in some sports (because of course motivation to do well in the sport of choice does matter), they do not even discuss differences in anatomy or physiology which would also be affecting the relationship.
For example, one can have all of the athletic gifts in the world, one can be endowed with the best body type and physiology to do well in any type of sport you can imagine. However, if he does not have a strong mind, he will not succeed in the sport. Lippi, Favaloro, and Guidi (2008) write:
An advantageous physical genotype is not enough to build a top-class athlete, a champion capable of breaking Olympic records, if endurance elite performances (maximal rate of oxygen uptake, economy of movement, lactate/ventilatory threshold and, potentially, oxygen uptake kinetics) (Williams & Folland, 2008) are not supported by a strong mental background.
Any athlete—no matter their race—needs a strong mental background, for if they don’t, they can have all of the physical gifts in the world, they will not become top-tier athletes in the sport of their choice; advantageous physical factors are imperative for success in differing sports, though myriad variables work in concert to produce the desired effect so you cannot have one without the other. On the other side, one can have a strong mental background and not have the requisite anatomy or physiology needed to succeed in the sport in question, but if he has a stronger mind than the individual with the requisite morphology, then he probably will win in a head-to-head competition. Either way, a strong mind is needed for strong performance in anything we do in life, and sport is no different.
Echoing what Hoberman (1997) writes, that “racist” thoughts of black superiority in part cause their success in sport, Sheldon, Jayaratne, and Petty (2007) predicted that white Americans’ beliefs in black athletic superiority would coincide with prejudice and negative stereotyping of black’s “intelligence” and work ethic. They studied 600 white men and women to ascertain their beliefs on black athletic superiority and the causes for it. Sheldon, Jayaratne, and Petty (2007: 45) discuss how it was believed by many, that there is a “ perceived inverse relationship between athleticism and intelligence (and hard work).” (JP Rushton was a big proponent of this hypothesis; see Rushton, 1997. It should also be noted that both Rushton, 1997 and Entine, 2000 believe that blacks’ higher rate of testosterone—3 to 15 percent— [Ross et al, 1986; Ellis and Nyborg, 1992; see rebuttal of both papers] causes their superior athletic performance, I have convincingly shown that they do not have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and if they do the difference is negligible.) However, in his book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, Epstein (2014) writes:
With that stigma in mind [that there is an inverse relationship between “intelligence” and athletic performance], perhaps the most important writing Cooper did in Black Superman was his methodological evisceration of any supposed inverse link between physical and mental prowess. “The concept that physical superiority could somehow be a symptom of intellectual superiority became associated with African Americans … That association did not begin until about 1936.”
What Cooper (2004) implied is that there was no “inverse relationship” with intelligence and athletic ability until Jesse Owens blew away the competition at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. In fact, the relationship between “intelligence” and athletic ability is positive (Heppe et al, 2016). Cooper is also a co-author of a paper Some Bio-Medical Mechanisms in Athletic Prowess with Morrison (Morrison and Cooper, 2006) where they argue—convincingly—that the “mutation appears to have triggered a series of physiological adjustments, which have had favourable athletic consequences.”
Thus, the hypothesis claims that differences in glucose conversion rates between West African blacks and her descendants began, but did not end with the sickling of the hemoglobin molecule, where valine is substituted for glutamic acid, which is the sixth amino acid of the beta chain of the hemoglobin molecule. Marlin et al (2007: 624) showed that male athletes who were inflicted with the sickle cell trait (SCT) “are able to perform sprints and brief exercises at the highest levels.” This is more evidence for Morrison and Cooper’s (2006) hypothesis on the evolution of muscle fiber typing in West African blacks.
Bejan, Jones, and Charles (2010) explain that the phenomenon of whites being faster swimmers in comparison to blacks being faster runners can be accounted for by physics. Since locomotion is a “falling-forward cycle“, body mass falls forward and then rises again, so mass that falls from a higher altitude falls faster and forward. The altitude is set by the position of center of mass above the ground for running, while for swimming it is set by the body rising out of the water. Blacks have a center of gravity that is about 3 percent higher than whites, which implies that blacks have a 1.5 percent speed advantage in running whereas whites have a 1.5 percent speed advantage in swimming. In the case of Asians, when all races were matched for height, Asians fared even better, than whites in swimming, but they do not set world records because they are not as tall as whites (Bejan, Jones, and Charles, 2010).
It has been proposed that stereotype threat is part of the reasons for East African running success (Baker and Horton, 2003). They state that many theories have been proposed to explain black African running success—from genetic theories to environmental determinism (the notion that physiologic adaptations to climate, too, drive differences in sporting competition). Baker and Horton (2003) note that “that young athletes have internalised these stereotypes and are choosing sport participation accordingly. He speculates that this is the reason why white running times in certain events have actually decreased over the past few years; whites are opting out of some sports based on perceived genetic inferiority.” While this may be true, this wouldn’t matter, as people gravitate toward what they are naturally good at—and what dictates that is their mind, anatomy, and physiology. They pretty much argue that stereotype threat is a cause of East African running performance on the basis of two assertions: (1) that East African runners are so good that it’s pointless to attempt to win if you are not East African and (2) since East Africans are so good, fewer people will try out and will continue the illusion that East Africans would dominate in middle- and long-distance running. However, while this view is plausible, there is little data to back the arguments.
To explain African running success, we must do it through a systems view—not one of reductionism (i.e., gene-finding). We need to see how the systems in question interact with every part. So while Jamaicans, Kenyans, and Ethiopians (and American blacks) do dominate in running competitions, attempting to “find genes” that account for success n these sports seems like a moot point—since the whole system is what matters, not what we can reduce the system in question to.
However, there are some competitions that blacks do not do so well in, and it is hardly discussed—if at all—by any author that I have read on this matter. Blacks are highly under-represented in strength sports and strongman competitions. Why? My explanation is simple: the causes for their superiority in sprinting and distance running (along with what makes them successful at baseball, football, and basketball) impedes them from doing well in strength and strongman competitions. It’s worth noting that no black man has ever won the World’s Strongest Man competition (indeed the only African country to even place—Rhodesia—was won by a white man) and the causes for these disparities come down to racial differences in anatomy and physiology.
I discussed racial differences in the big four lifts and how racial differences in anatomy and physiology would contribute to how well said race performed on the lift in question. I concluded that Europeans and Asians had more of an advantage over blacks in these lifts, and the reasons were due to inherent differences in anatomy and physiology. One major cause is also the differing muscle fiber typing distribution between the races (Alma et al, 1986; Tanner et al, 2002; Caesar and Henry, 2015 while blacks’ fiber typing helps them in short-distance sprinting (Zierath and Hawley, 2003). Muscle fiber typing is a huge cause of black athletic dominance (and non-dominance). Blacks are not stronger than whites, contrary to popular belief.
I also argued that Neanderthals were stronger than Homo sapiens, which then had implications for racial differences in strength (and sports). Neanderthals had a wider pelvis than our species since they evolved in colder climes (at the time) (Gruss and Schmidt, 2016). With a wider pelvis and shorter body than Homo sapiens, they were able to generate more power. I then implied that the current differences in strength and running we see between blacks and whites can be used for Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, thusly, evolution in differing climates lead to differences in somatotype, which eventually then lead to differences in sporting competition (what Baker and Horton, 2003 term “environmental determinism” which I will discuss in the context of racial differences in sports in the future).
Finally, blacks dominate the sport of bodybuilding, with Phil Heath dominating the competition for the past 7 years. Blacks dominate bodybuilding because, as noted above, blacks have thinner skin folds than whites, so their striations in their muscles would be more prevalent, on average, at the same exact %BF. Bodybuilders and weightlifters were similar in mesomorphy, but the bodybuilders showed more musculature than the bodybuilders whereas the weightlifters showed higher levels of body fat with a significant difference observed between bodybuilders and weightlifters in regard to endomorphy and ectomorphy (weightlifters skewing endo, bodybuilders skewing ecto, as I have argued in the past; Imran et al, 2011).
To conclude, blacks do dominate American sporting competition, and while much ink has been spilled arguing that cultural and social—not genetic or biologic—factors can explain black athletic superiority, they clearly work in concert with a strong mind to produce the athletic phenotype, no one factor has prominence over the other; though, above all, if one does not have the right mindset for the sport in question, they will not succeed. A complex array of factors is the cause of black athletic dominance, including muscle fibers, the type of mindset, anatomy, overall physiology and fat mass (among other variables) explain the hows and whys of black athletic superiority. Cultural and social explanations—on their own—do not tell the whole story, just as genetic/biologic explanations on their own would not either. Every aspect—including the historical—needs to be looked at when discussing the dominance (or lack thereof) in certain sports along with genetic and nongenetic factors to see how and why certain races and ethnies excel in certain sports.
The Vitamin D Hypothesis (VDH) purports to explain the range of skin colors observed between races/ethnies around the world. Since there are little UVR and even less vitamin-D-producing UVB in the northern hemisphere, other ways of producing/getting ample amounts of vitamin D were imperative for survival. Locations such as the far north were uninhabited up until 12,000 years ago—the explanation being that populations didn’t have the culture to survive such harsh conditions (see Goebel, 1999; Bergman et al, 2004). However, a more likely reason was that there were biological limits on the production of vitamin D due to the lack of UVB rays for most of the year. In this article, I will discuss the skin color of Arctic peoples and why it does not follow the simple gradient of UVB around the world.
To overcome the biological limitations of little to no UVB throughout the year, they needed to supplement with foods to get ample amounts of vitamin D—to cover what they did not get from the weak UVB rays. To overcome the limitation of their environment and vitamin D production, they had to consume fatty animals who had ample stores of vitamin D in their systems. The types of foods allowed peoples to live so far north, since there were little vitamin-D-producing UVB rays, lifestyle and culture is how we conquered the unforgiving far north.
Peoples like the Inuit and Saami eat a diet that is high in vitamin D. Inuits, for example, eat a diet high in vitamin D and n-3 fatty acids (Schaebel et al, 2015). Due to the high vitamin D intake from their diet, they were able to supplement what they did not get from the sun in their diet and thusly were able to live in the unforgiving cold north due to their diet high in vitamin D (Deng and Xu, 2018). Their dark skin color can be explained in a few ways: their diet (high in vitamin-D-rich marine mammals), UVB rays bouncing off ice, snow, and water, and they are recent migrants to those climes, which would explain their darker skin color compared to other populations that have evolved for a longer time in these climates (Jablonski and Chaplin, 2002).
When people look at Arctic people such as the Inuit, they look at their skin color and see the amount of UVB rays they receive during the year and presume that the VDH is wrong because, according to the VDH, Arctic peoples should have the lightest skin but have dark skin—compared to others who evolved recently in those latitudes—but they have dark-ish skin for that latitude. The answer is simple: they were able to consume enough vitamin D in their diet—a lack of vitamin D production/consumption was one barrier to living in the far north which was then overcome with culture and the foods peoples eat.
The environment of the Arctic is dim and dark for most of the year, though during the summer, of course—when they are most active—they are bathed in solar radiation which is then reflected by the snow, ice, and water. Fresh white snow reflects 94 percent UVA rays and 88 percent of UVB rays. Chadysiene and Girgzdys (2008; 87) write:
The average data of experimental measurements show that maximum albedo of UVA radiation (of about 94%) was at 1 p.m. in comparison with albedo of UVB radiation of about 88% at 2 p.m. The measurements of albedo were performed on fresh snow with big crystals.”
For example, Inuit populations in northern Greenland report spending up to 16 hours outdoors in the spring and summer months, and would be exposed to UV rays bouncing from ice, snow, and water (Andersen, Jakobsen, and Laurberg, 2012). Exposure to UV rays for this extended period of time—along with eating a diet high in vitamin D—is enough to explain their skin color.
Clearly, Arctic people get bathed in UVB and UVA rays from being reflected off the snow and ice, which gives them their darker skin color. They have the ability to tan (which is distinct from the American term “tanning”) and their tanning ability protects them from high doses of UVR that are reflected from the snow whereas their diet high in vitamin D gives them their darkish skin color and allows them to remain healthy in such a harsh, unforgiving environment.
Nina Jablonski has been writing about the VDH for about 30 years. Jablonski writes in her book Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color (2012: 68):
Traditional cultures of the Inuit and the Saami center on harvesting vitamin-D-rich foods. The dietary focus for both groups has compensated for the vitamin D they cannot produce in their skin. Both peoples remain healthy when they stick to their traditional diets but suffer badly from vitamin D deficiencies when they switch to Western diets that are lower in vitamin D.
Here’s the thing: when these populations move away from their natural, vitamin-D-rich diet, they suffer from many deficiencies regarding vitamin D, even today many Inuit populations suffer from vitamin D deficiency, both children, and adults (Hayek, 2011). So the change in the Inuit diet is the cause of these deficiencies—their traditional diet was high in vitamin D, but their new diet (the Western diet) is low in vitamin D; since they have dark skin and the UVB is so variable throughout the year, they then suffer from vitamin D deficiencies (Sharma et al, 2011). Sharma et al (2011: 475) conclude that Arctic people are at-risk for vitamin D deficiency due to lack of UVB exposure, moving away from a traditional diet high in vitamin D to a Western diet low in vitamin D, combined with their dark skin.
Frost (2012) claims that while the explosion of rickets in Arctic populations is due to a change in diet (shifting away from a high meat diet) and “increased consumption of certain reactive substances: phytic acids in commercially processed cereals; sodium bicarbonate in baking soda; and aluminum hydroxide in antacids” (Frost, 2012). The dominant source of vitamin D for the Inuit is their diet (Schaebel et al, 2015), and so, due to their shift away from their natural diet high in fatty fish and vitamin D, once they began eating a diet not ancestral to them, then the maladies began. We can see this with every country/population that begins to eat a new diet full of processed foods.
Since the frequency of rickets has exploded in populations that eat a Western-like diet and not their traditional diet, this implies that the traditional diet provided enough vitamin D, and when they began eating a new diet with less vitamin D, then these problems such as rickets occurred.
To end these implications, the Inuit need to return to consuming a traditional diet, since their traditional diets have the adequate vitamins and minerals needed to survive in the environment they are currently in (Koladhooz et al, 2013). Higher BMI (body mass index), their skin color, and the latitude of where they live contribute to low vitamin D production. Inuits who consumed a low number of traditional food items were more likely to be deficient in vitamin D (Anderson et al, 2013) while this deficiency is seen even in Inuit school children (Hayek, Egeland, and Weiler, 2010; Singleton et al, 2015).
In sum, there is no anomaly regarding the skin color of Arctic peoples; the hypothesis is called “the vitamin D hypothesis”, and so they get ample vitamin D from the reflection of UV rays from the snow, ice, and water. Reasons for the darkness of their skin include the fact that they are recent migrants to those locations, they consume a diet high in vitamin D, and the reflection of UV rays from albedo surfaces.
The hypothesis that UVB exposure explains the observed skin gradients predicted a novel fact—that populations that migrated out of Africa would be seen to have light skin. This occurred multiple times through three different molecular pathways, in the Neanderthals (Lalueza-Fox et al, 2007) and Europeans and East Asians (different molecular mechanisms for them; Norton et al, 2007). This was a risky, successful and novel prediction made by Jablonski and Chaplin (2000). That this does not hold for Arctic people is not a blow to the hypothesis; it is perfectly explained by the bouncing of UVR off of albedo surfaces and a high vitamin D diet. Skin color is an adaptation to UV rays.
HBDers purport that as one moves further north from Africa that IQ raises as a function of how the population in question needed to survive. The explanation is that as our species migrated out of Africa, more “intelligence” was needed and this is what explains the current IQ disparities across the world: the ancestors of populations evolving in different areas with different demands then changed their “IQs” and this then is responsible for differential national development between nations. Cold winter theory (CWT) explains these disparities.
On the other hand is the vitamin D hypothesis (VDH). The VDH purports to explain why populations have light skin at northern latitudes. As the migration north out of Africa occurred, peoples needed to get progressively lighter in order to synthesize vitamin D. The observation here is that as light skin is selected for in locations where UVB is absent, seasonal or more variable whereas dark skin is selected for where UVB is stronger. So we have two hypotheses: but there is a problem. Only one of these hypotheses makes novel predictions. Predictions of novel predictions are what science truly is. A predicted fact is a novel fact for a hypothesis if it wasn’t used in the construction of the hypothesis (Musgrave, 1988). In this article, I will cover both the CWT and VDH, predictions of facts that each made (or didn’t make) and which can be called “science”.
Cold winter theory
The cold winter theory, formulated by Lynn and Rushton, purports to give an evolutionary explanation for differences in national IQs: certain populations evolved in areas with deathly cold winters in the north, while those who lived in tropical climes had, in comparison to those who evolved in the north, an “easier time to live”. Over time as populations adapted to their environments, differences in ‘intelligence’ (whatever that is) evolved due to the different demands of each environment, or so the HBDers say.
Put simply, the CWT states that IQ differences exist due to different evolutionary pressures. Since our species migrated into cold, novel environments, this was the selective pressure needed for higher levels of ‘intelligence’. On the other hand, humans who remained in Africa and other tropical locations did experience these novel, cold environments and so their ‘intelligence’ stayed at around the same level as it was 70,000 years ago. Many authors hold this theory, including Rushton (1997), Lynn (2006), Hart, (2007) Kanazawa (2008), Rushton and Templer (2012; see my thoughts on their hypothesis here) and Wade (2014). Lynn (2013) even spoke of a “widespreadonsensus” on the CWT, writing:
“There is widespread consensus on this thesis, e.g. Kanazawa (2008), Lynn (1991, 2006), and Templer and Arikawa (2006).”
So this “consensus” seems to be a group of his friends and his own publications. We can change this sentence to ““There is widespread consensus on this thesis, including two of my publications, a paper where the author assumes that the earth is flat: “First, Kanazawa’s (2008) computations of geographic distance used Pythagoras’ theorem and so the paper assumed that the earth is flat (Gelade, 2008).” (Wicherts et al, 2012) and another publication where the authors assume hot weather leads to lower intelligence. Oh yea, they’re all PF members. Weird.” That Lynn (2013) calls this “consensus” is a joke.
What caused higher levels of ‘intelligence’ in those that migrated out of Africa? Well, according to those who push the CWT, finding food and shelter. Kanazawa, Lynn, and Rushton all argue that finding food, making shelter and hunting animals were all harder in Eurasia than in Africa.
One explanation for high IQs of people who evolved recently in northern climes is their brain size. Lynn (2006: 139) cites data showing the average brain sizes of populations, along with the temperatures in that location:
Do note the anomaly with the Arctic peoples. To explain this away in an ad-hoc manner, Lynn (2006: 156-7) writes:
These severe winters would be expected to have acted as a strong selection for increased intelligence, but this evidently failed to occur because their IQ is only 91. The explanation for this must lie in the small numbers of the Arctic Peoples whose population at the end of the twentieth century was only approximately 56,000 as compared with approximately 1.4 billion East Asians.
This is completely ad-hoc. There is no independent verifier for the claim. That the Arcitic don’t have the highest IQs but experienced the harshest temperatures and therefore have the biggest brain size is a huge anomaly, which Lynn (2006) attempts to explain away by population size.
He does not explain why natural selection among Arctic peoples would result in larger brain sizes or enhanced visual memory yet the same evolutionary pressures associated with a cold environment would not also produce higher intelligence. Arctic peoples have clear physical adaptations to the cold, such as short, stocky bodies well-suited to conserving heat.
Furthermore, the argument that Lynn attempts is on the mutations/population size is special pleading—he is ignoring anomalies in his theory that don’t fit it. However, “evolution is not necessary for temperature and IQ to co-vary across geographic space” (Pesta and Poznanski, 2014).
If high ‘intelligence’ is supposedly an adaptation to cold temperatures, then what is the observation that disconfirms a byproduct hypothesis? On the other hand, if ‘intelligence’ is a byproduct, which observation would disconfirm an adaptationist hypothesis? No possible observation can confirm or disconfirm either hypothesis, therefore they are just-so stories. Since a byproduct explanation would explain the same phenomena since byproducts are also inherited, then just saying that ‘intelligence’ is a byproduct of, say, needing larger heads to dissipate heat (Lieberman, 2015). One can make any story they want to fit the data, but if there is no prediction of novel facts then how useful is the hypothesis if it explains the data it purports to explain and only the data it purports to explain?
It is indeed possible to argue that hotter climates need higher levels of intelligence than colder climates, which has been argued in the past (see Anderson, 1991; Graves, 2002; Sternberg, Grigorenko, and Kidd, 2005). Indeed, Sternberg, Grigorenko, and Kidd (2005: 50) write: “post hoc evolutionary arguments … can have the character of ad hoc “just so” stories designed to support, in retrospect, whatever point the author wishes to make about present-day people.” One can think up any “just-so” story to explain any data. But if the “just-so” story doesn’t make any risky predictions of novel facts, then it’s not science, but pseudoscience.
Vitamin D hypothesis
The VDH is simple: those populations that evolved in areas with seasonal, absent, or more variable levels of UVB have lighter skin than populations that evolved in areas with strong UVB levels year-round (Chaplan and Jablonksi, 2009: 458). Robins (2009) is a huge critic of the VDH, though her objections to the VDH have been answered (and will be discussed below).
The VDH is similar to the CWT in that it postulates that the adaptations in question only arose due to migrations out of our ancestral lands. We can see a very strong relationship between high UVB rays and dark skin and conversely with low UVB rays and light skin. Like with the CWT, the VDH has an anomaly and, coincidentally, the anomaly has to do with the same population involved in the CWT anomaly.
Arctic people have dark-ish skin for living in the climate that they do. But since they live in very cold climates then we have a strange anomaly here that needs explaining. We only need to look at the environment around them. They are surrounded by ice. Ice reflects UVB rays. UVB rays hit the skin. Arctic people consume a diet high in vitamin D (from fish). Therefore what explains Arctic skin color is UVB rays bouncing off the ice along with their high vitamin D diet. The sun’s rays are, actually, more dangerous in the snow than on the beach, with UVB rays being 2.5 more times dangerous in the snow than beach.
Evolution in different geographic locations over tens of thousands of years caused skin color differences. Thus, we can expect that, if peoples are out of the conditions where their ancestors evolved their skin color, that there would then be expected complications. For example, if human skin pigmentation is an adaptation to UV rays (Jablonski and Chaplan, 2010), we should expect that, when populations are removed from their ancestral lands and are in new locations with differing levels of UV rays, that there would be a subsequent uptick in diseases caused by vitamin D deficiencies.
This is what we find. We find significant differences in circulating serum vitamin D levels, and these circulating serum vitamin D levels then predict health outcomes in certain populations. This would only be true if sunlight influenced vitamin D production and that skin progressively gets lighter as one moves away from Africa and other tropical locations.
Skin pigmentation regulates vitamin D production (Neer, 1975). This is due to the fact that when UVB rays strike the skin, we synthesize vitamin D, and the lighter one’s skin is, the more vitamin D can be synthesized in areas with fewer UVB rays. (Also see Daraghmeh et al, 2016 for more evidence for the vitamin D hypothesis.)
P1) UV rays generate vitamin D in human skin
P2) Human populations that migrate to climates with less sunlight get fewer UV rays
P3) To produce more vitamin D, the skin needs to get progressively lighter
C) Therefore, what explains human skin variation is climate and UV rays linked to vitamin D production in the skin.
Science is the generation of novel facts from risky predictions (Musgrave, 1988; Winther, 2009). And so, hypotheses that predict novel facts from risky predictions are scientific hypotheses, whereas those hypotheses that need to continuously backtrack and think up ad-hoc hypotheses are then pseudoscientific. Pseudoscience is simple enough to define. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it as:
“A pretended or spurious science; a collection of related beliefs about the world mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method or as having the status that scientific truths now have.”
All theories have a protective belt of ad hoc hypotheses. Theories become pseudoscientific when they fail to make new predictions and must take on more and more ad-hoc hypotheses that have no predictive value. If the ad-hoc hypotheses that are added to the main hypothesis have no predictive value then the new explanations for whichever hypothesis that is in danger of being falsified are just used to save the hypothesis from being refuted and it thus becomes pseudoscience.
In the case of CWT, it makes no prediction of novel facts; it only explains the data that it purports to explain. What is so great about the CWT if it makes no predictions of novel facts and only explains what it purports to explain? One may attempt to argue that it has made some ‘novel’ predictions but the ‘predictions’ that are proposed are not risky at all.
For example, Hart (2007: 417) makes a few “predictions”, but whether or not they’re “risky” or “novel” I’ll let you decide (I think they’re neither, of course). He writes that very few accomplishments will be made by Africans, or Australian or New Guinean Aborigines; members of those groups will not be highly represented in chess; and that major advances in scientific fields will come from those of European ancestry or the “Monglids”, Koreans, Chinese or Japanese.
On the other hand, Hart (2007: 417) makes two more “predictions”: he says that IQ data for Congoid Pygmies, Andaman Islanders, and Bantu-speaking people are few and far between and he believes that when enough IQ testing is undertaken there he expects IQ values between 60 and 85. Conversely, for the Lapps, Siberians, Eskimoes, Mongols and Tibetans, he predicts that IQ values should be between 85-105. He then states that if these “predictions” turn out to be wrong then he would have to admit that his hypothesis is wrong. But the thing is, he chose “predictions” that he knew would come to pass and therefore these are not novel, risky predictions but are predictions that Hart (2007) knows would come to pass.
What novel predictions has the VDH made? This is very simple. The convergent evolution of light skin was predicted in all hominids that trekked out of Africa and into colder lands. This occurred “because of the importance of maintaining the potential for producing pre-vitamin D3 in the skin under conditions of low annual UVB (Jablonski and Chaplin, 2000; Jablonski, 2004)” while these predictions “have been borne out by recent genetic studies, which have demonstrated that depigmented skin evolved independently by different molecular mechanisms multiple times in the history of the human lineage” (Chaplan and Jablonksi, 2009: 452). This was successfully predicted by Chaplan and Jablonski (2000).
The VDH still holds explanatory scope and predictive success; no other agent other than vitamin D can explain the observation that light skin is selected for in areas where there is low, absent or seasonal UVB. Conversely, in areas where there is a strong, year-round presence of UVB rays, dark skin is selected for.
Scientific hypotheses predict novel facts not known before the formulation of the hypothesis. The VDT has successfully predicted novel facts, whereas I am at a loss thinking of a novel fact that the CWT predicted.
In order to push an adaptationist hypothesis for CWT and ‘intelligence’, one must propose an observation that would confirm the adaptationist hypothesis while at the same time disconfirming the byproduct hypothesis. Since byproducts are inherited to, the byproduct hypothesis would predict the same things that an adaptationist hypothesis would. Thus, the CWT is a just-so story since no observation would confirm or disconfirm either hypothesis. On the other hand, the CWT doesn’t make predictions of novel facts, it makes “predictions” that are already known and would not undermine the hypothesis if disproved (but there would always be a proponent of the CWT waiting in the wings to propose an ad-hoc hypothesis in order to save the CWT, but I have already established that it isn’t science).
On the other hand, the VDT has successfully predicted that hominins that trekked out of Africa would have light skin which was then subsequently confirmed by genomic evidence. The fact that strong UVB rays year-round predict dark skin whereas seasonal, absent, or low levels of UVB predict light skin has been proved to be true. With the advent of genomic testing, it has been shown that hominids that migrated out of Africa did indeed have lighter skin. This is independent verification for the VDH; the VDH has predicted a novel fact whereas the CWT has not.
Evolutionary psychology (EP) purports to explain how and why humans act the way they do today. It is a framework that assumes that certain mental/psychological traits were useful in the EEA (Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness) and thusly were selected for over time. It assumes that traits are adaptations then “works backward” by reverse engineering. Reverse engineering is the process of figuring out the design of the mechanism based on its function. (Many problems exist there which will be covered in the future; see also Evolutionary Psychology: The Burdens of Proof by Lloyd, 1999). But let’s discuss snakes and other animals that we have fears of today; is there an evolutionary basis for said behavior and can we really know if there was?
Fear of snakes and spiders
Ohman (2009: 543) writes that “Snakes … have a history measured in many millions of years of shaping mammalian and primate evolution in important respects” and that “snakes … are promising tools for probing the emotional ramifications of deep evolutionary heritages and their interaction with the current environment.” Are they promising tools, though? Were there that many snakes in our EEA that made it possible for us to ‘evolve’ these types of ‘fear modules’ (Ohman and Mineka, 2001)? No, it is impossible for our responses to snakes—along with some other animals—to be an evolved response to what occurred in our EEA because the number of venomous, dangerous snakes to humans and our ancestors was, in reality, not all that high.
Ohman and Mineka (2003: 5-6) also write that “the human dislike of snakes and the common appearances of reptiles as the embodiment of evil in myths and art might reflect an evolutionary heritage” and “fear and respect for reptiles is a likely core mammalian heritage. From this perspective, snakes and other reptiles may continue to have a special psychological significance even for humans, and considerable evidence suggests this is indeed true. Furthermore, the pattern of findings appears consistent with the evolutionary premise.”
Even the APA says that an evolutionary predisposition to fear snakes—but not spiders—exists in primates (citing research from Kawai and Koda, 2016). Conclusions such as this—and there are many others—arise from the ‘fact’ that, in our EEA, these animals were harmful to us and, over time, we evolved to fear snakes (and spiders), but there are some pretty big problems with this view.
Jankowitsch (2009) writes that “Fear of snakes and spiders, which are both considered to be common threats to survival in early human history, are not thought to be innate characteristics in human and nonhuman primates, learned.” For this to be the case, however, there would need to be many spiders and snakes in our EEA.
Philosopher of science Robert C. Richardson, in his book Evolutionary Psychology and Maladapted Psychology (Richardson, 2007) concludes that EP explanations are speculation disguised as results. He says that the stories that state that we evolved to evolved to fear snakes and spiders lack evidence. Most spiders aren’t venomous and pose no risk to humans. In the case of snakes, one quarter are poisonous to humans and we’d have to expect this ‘module’ to evolved on the basis of a minority of snakes that are poisonous to humans:
On this view, at least some human fears (but not all) are given explanations in evolutionary terms. So a fear of snakes or spiders, like our fear of strangers and heights, serves to protect us from dangers. Having observed that snakes and spiders are always scary, and not only to humans, but other primates, Steven Pinker (1997: 386) says “The common thread is obvious. These are the situations that put our evolutionary ancestors in danger. Spiders and snakes are often venomous, especially in Africa…. Fear is the emotion that motivated our ancestors to cope with the dangers they were likely to face” (cf. Nesse 1990). This is a curious view, actually. Spiders offer very little risk to humans, aside from annoyance. Most are not even venomous. There are perhaps eight species of black widow, one of the Sydney funnel web, six cases of brown recluses in North and South America, and one of the red banana spider in Latin America. These do present varying amounts of risk to humans. They are not ancestrally in Africa, our continent of origin. Given that there are over 37,000 known species of spiders, that’s a small percentage. The risk from spiders is exaggerated. The “fact” that they are “always scary” and the explanation of this fact in terms of the threat they posed to our ancestors is nonetheless one piece of lore of evolutionary psychology. Likeways, snakes have a reputation among evolutionary psychologists that is hardly deserved. In Africa, some are truly dangerous, but by no means most. About one quarter of species in Uganda pose a threat to humans, though there is geographic variability. It’s only in Australia—hardly our point of origin—that the majority of snakes are venomous. Any case for an evolved fear of snakes would need to be based on the threat from a minority. In this case too, the threat seems exaggerated. There is a good deal of mythology in the anecdotes we are offered. It is not altogether clear how the mythology gets established, but it is often repeated, with scant evidence. (pg. 28)
The important point to note here, of course, is the assumption that we have an evolved response to fear snakes (and spiders) based on a minority of actually dangerous species to humans.
The EP enterprise is built on what Gould (1978) termed “just-so stories”, borrowed from Rudyard Kipling’s (1902) book of stories called “Just So Stories” (which he told to his daughter) where he imagined ways that in which certain animals look the way they do today. These stories needed to be told “just so” or she would complain.
And the Camel said ‘Humph!’ again; but no sooner had he said it than he saw his back, that he was so proud of, puffing up and puffing up into a great big lolloping humph.
‘Do you see that?’ said the Djinn. ‘That’s your very own humph that you’ve brought upon your very own self by not working. To-day is Thursday, and you’ve done no work since Monday, when the work began. Now you are going to work.’
‘How can I,’ said the Camel, ‘with this humph on my back?’
‘That’s made a-purpose,’ said the Djinn, ‘all because you missed those three days. You will be able to work now for three days without eating, because you can live on your humph; and don’t you ever say I never did anything for you. Come out of the Desert and go to the Three, and behave. Humph yourself!’ (How the Camel got His Hump)
These stories “sound good” but is there any way to verify these nice-sounding stories? One can then make the same argument for EP hypotheses: can they be independently verified? The thing about functional verification is that we cannot possibly know the EEA of humans—or other animals—and thusly any explanation for the functionality of a certain trait are nothing but just-so stories.
Kaplan (2002: S302) argues that:
Evolutionary psychology has not yet developed the tools necessary to uncover our “shared human nature” (if such there is—see Dupre 1998) any more than physical anthropology has been able to uncover the specifics even of such clear human adaptations as our bipedalism. It is obvious that our brains were subject to selective pressures during our evolutionary history; it is not at all obvious what those pressures were.
I don’t deny that we are the products (partly, natural selection isn’t the only mode of evolution) of evolution; I do deny that these fantasy stories can tell us anything about how and why we evolved though. I don’t see how EP can develop such tools to uncover our “shared human nature”—or any other “nature” for that matter—unless time machines are developed and we can directly observe the evolution of trait X that is being discussed.
A simple argument to show that EP hypotheses are just-so stories:
P1) A just-so story is an ad-hoc hypothesis
P2) A hypothesis is ad-hoc if it’s not independently verified (verified independently of the data the hypothesis purports to explain)
P3) EP hypotheses cannot be independently verified
C) Therefore EP hypotheses are just-so stories
This simple argument shows that all EP hypotheses are just-so stories since they cannot be independently verified of the data they attempt to explain. Stories can “sound good”, they can “sound logical”, they can even be “parsimonious” and they can even be the “inference to the best explanation“, (how do you but just because these stories are “parsimonious”, “sound logical” and are the “inference to best explanation” doesn’t make the stories true. The above argument holds for one of HBD’s pet theories, too, the cold winter theory (CWT). It cannot be independently verified either, and it was formulated after national IQ differences were known; therefore CWT is a just-so story.
(I will cover this more in the future.)
Stories about snakes and spiders in our evolutionary history are likely wrong—especially if they derive from what supposedly occurred in our EEA, an environment we know almost nothing about. The fact of the matter is, regarding snakes and spiders, there is no evidence that our fear of them is an adaptive response to what occurred in our EEA. That is a just-so story. Just-so stories are ad-hoc hypotheses that cannot be independently verified, therefore EP hypotheses are just-so stories.
Race Differences in Penis Size Revisited: Is Rushton’s r/K Theory of Race Differences in Penis Length Confirmed?
In 1985 JP Rushton, psychology professor at the University of Ontario, published a paper arguing that r/K selection theory (which he termed Differential K theory) explained and predicted outcomes of what he termed the three main races of humanity—Mongoloids, Negroids and Caucasoids (Rushton, 1985; 1997). Since Rushton’s three races differed on a whole suite of traits, he reasoned races that were more K-selected (Caucasoids and Mongoloids) had slower reproduction times, higher time preference, higher IQ etc in comparison to the more r-selected Negroids who had faster reproduction times, lower time preference, lower IQ etc (see Rushton, 1997 for a review; also see Van Lange, Rinderu, and Bushmen, 2017 for a replication of Rushton’s data not theory). Were Rushton’s assertions on race and penis size verified and do they lend credence to his Differential-K claims regarding human races?
Rushton’s so-called r/K continuum has a whole suite of traits on it. Ranging from brain size to speed of maturation to reaction time and IQ, these data points supposedly lend credence to Rushton’s Differential-K theory of human differences. Penis size is, of course, important for Rushton’s theory due to what he’s said about it in interviews.
Rushton’s main reasoning for penis size differences between race is “You can’t have both”, and that if you have a larger brain then you must have a smaller penis; if you have a smaller penis you must have a larger brain. He believed there was a “tradeoff” between brain size and penis size. In the book Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race, Hoberman (1997: 312) quotes Rushton: “Even if you take something like athletic ability or sexuality—not to reinforce stereotypes or some such thing—but, you know, it’s a trade-off: more brain or more penis. You can’t have both.” This, though, is false. There is no type of evidence to imply that this so-called ‘trade-off’ exists. In my readings of Rushton’s work over the years, that’s always something I’ve wondered: was Rushton implying that large penises take more energy to have and therefore the trade-off exists due to this supposed relationship?
Andrew Joyce of the Occidental Observer published an article the other day in defense of Richard Lynn. Near the end of his article he writes:
Another tactic is to belittle an entire area of research by picking out a particularly counter-intuitive example that the public can be depended on to regard as ridiculous. A good example is J. Philippe Rushton’s claim, based on data he compiled for his classic Race, Evolution and Behavior, that average penis size varied between races in accord with the predictions of r/K theory. This claim was held up to ridicule by the likes of Richard Lewontin and other crusaders against race realism, and it is regularly presented in articles hostile to the race realist perspective. Richard Lynn’s response, as always, was to gather more data—from 113 populations. And unsurprisingly for those who keep up with this area of research, he found that indeed the data confirmedRushton’s original claim.
The claim was ridiculed because it was ridiculous. This paper by Lynn (2013) titled Rushton’s r-K life history theory of race differences in penis length and circumference examined in 113 populations is the paper that supposedly verifies Rushton’s theory regarding race differences in penis size, along with one of its correlates in Rushton’s theory (testosterone). Lynn (2013) proclaims that East Asians are the most K-evolved, then come Europeans, while Africans are the least K-evolved. This, then, is the cause of the supposed racial differences in penis size.
Lynn (2013) begins by briefly discussing Rushton’s ‘findings’ on racial differences in penis size while also giving an overview of Rushton’s debunked r/K selection theory. He then discusses some of Rushton’s studies (which I will describe briefly below) along with stories from antiquity of the supposed larger penis size of African males.
Our old friend testosterone also makes an appearance in this paper. Lynn (2013: 262) writes:
Testosterone is a determinant of aggression (Book, Starzyk, & Quinsey, 2001; Brooks & Reddon, 1996; Dabbs, 2000). Hence, a reduction of aggression and sexual competitiveness between men in the colder climates would have been achieved by a reduction of testosterone, entailing the race differences in testosterone (Negroids > Caucasoids > Mongoloids) that are given in Lynn (1990). The reduction of testosterone had the effect of reducing penis length, for which evidence is given by Widodsky and Greene (1940).
Phew, there’s a lot to unpack here. (I discuss Lynn 1990 in this article.) Testosterone does not determine aggression; see my most recent article on testosterone (aggression increases testosterone; testosterone does not increase aggression. Book, Starzyk and Quinsey, 2001 show a .14 correlation between testosterone and aggression, whereas Archer, Graham-Kevan, and Davies 2005 show the correlation is .08). This is just a correlation. Sapolsky (1997: 113) writes:
Okay, suppose you note a correlation between levels of aggression and levels of testosterone among these normal males. This could be because (a) testosterone elevates aggression; (b) aggression elevates testosterone secretion; (c) neither causes the other. There’s a huge bias to assume option a while b is the answer. Study after study has shown that when you examine testosterone when males are first placed together in the social group, testosterone levels predict nothing about who is going to be aggressive. The subsequent behavioral differences drive the hormonal changes, not the other way around.
Brooks and Reddon (1996) also only show relationships with testosterone and aggressive acts; they show no causation. This same relationship was noted by Dabbs (2000; another Lynn 2013 citation) in prisoners. More violent prisoners were seen to have higher testosterone, but there is a caveat here too: being aggressive stimulates testosterone production so of course they had higher levels of testosterone; this is not evidence for testosterone causing aggression.
Another problem with that paragraph quoted from Lynn (2013) is that it’s a just-so story. It’s an ad-hoc explanation. You notice something with data you have today and then you imagine a nice-sounding story to attempt to explain your data in an evolutionary context. Nice-sounding stories are cool and all and I’m sure everyone loves a nicely told story, but when it comes to evolutionary theory I’d like theories that can be independently verified of the data they’re trying to explain.
My last problem with that paragraph from Lynn (2013) is his final citation: he cites it as evidence that the reduction of testosterone affects penis length…..but his citation (Widodsky and Green, 1940) is a study on rats… While these studies can give us a wealth of information regarding our physiologic systems (at least showing us which types of avenues to pursue; see my previous article on myostatin), they don’t really mean anything for humans; especially this study on the application of testosterone to the penis of a rat. See, the fatal flaw in these assertions is this: would a, say, 5 percent difference in testosterone lead to a larger penis as if there is a dose-response relationship between testosterone and penis length? It doesn’t make any sense.
Lynn (2013), though, says that Rushton’s theory doesn’t propose that there is a direct causal relationship between “intelligence”‘ and penis length, but just that they co-evolved together, with testosterone reduction occurring when Homo sapiens migrated north out of Africa they needed to cooperate more so selection for lower levels of testosterone subsequently occurred which then shrunk the penises of Rushton’s Caucasian and Mongoloid races.
Lynn (2013) then discusses two “new datasets”, one of which is apparently in Donald Templer’s book Is Size Important (which is on my to-read list, so many books, so little time). Table 1 below is from Lynn reproducing Templer’s ‘work’ in his book.
The second “dataset” is extremely dubious. Lynn (2013) attempts to dress it up, writing that “The information in this website has been collated from data obtained by research centres and reports worldwide.” Ethnicmuse has a good article on the pitfalls of Lynn’s (2013) article. (Also read Scott McGreal’s rebuttal.)
Rushton attempted to link race and penis size for 30 years. In a paper with Bogaert (Rushton and Bogaert, 1987), they attempt to show that blacks had larger penises than whites who h ad longer penises than Asians which then supposedly verified one dimension of Rushton’s theory. Rushton (1988) also discusses race differences in penis size, citing a previous paper by Rushton and Bogaert, where they use data from Alfred Kinsey, but this data is nonrepresentative and nonrandom (see Zuckermann and Brody, 1988 and Weizmann et al, 1990: 8).
Still others may attempt to use supposed differences in IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) as evidence that there is, at least, physiological evidence for the claim that black men have larger penises than white men, though I discussed that back in December of 2016 and found it strongly lacking.
Rushton (1997: 182) shows a table of racial differences in penis size which was supposedly collected by the WHO (World Health Organization). Though a closer look shows this is not true. Ethnicmuse writes:
ANALYSIS: The WHO did not study penis sizes. It relied on three separate studies, two of which were not peer-reviewed and the data was included as “Appendix III” (which should have alerted Rushton that this was not an original study). The first study references Africans in the US (not Africa!) and Europeans in the US (not Europe!), the second Europeans in Australia (not Europe!) and the third, Thais.
So it seems to be bullshit all the way down.
Ajmani et al (1985) showed that 385 healthy Nigerians had an average penile length of 3.21 inches (flaccid). Orakwe and Ebuh (2007) show that while Nigerians had longer penises than other ethnies tested, the only statistical difference was between them and Koreans. Though Veale et al (2014: 983) write that “There are no indications of differences in racial variability in our present study, e.g. the study from Nigeria was not a positive outlier.”
Lynn and Dutton have attempted to use androgen differentials between the races as evidence for racial differences in penis size (this is another attempt at a physiological argument to attempt to show the existence of racial differences in penis size). Edward Dutton attempted to revive the debate on racial differences in penis size during a 2015 presentation where he, again, showed that Negroids have higher levels of testosterone than Caucasoids who have higher levels of androgens than Mongoloids. These claims, though, have been rebutted by Scott McGreal who showed that populations differences in androgen levels are meaningless while they subsequently fail to validate Rushton and Lynn’s claims on racial differences in penis size.
Finally, it was reported the other day that condoms from China were too small in Zimbabwe, per Zimbabwe’s health minister. This led Kevin MacDonald to proclaim that this was “More corroboration of race differences in penis size which was part of the data Philippe Rushton used in his theory of r/K selection (along with brain size, maturation rates, IQ, etc.)” This isn’t “more corroboration” for Rushton’s long-dead theory; nor is this evidence that blacks have longer penises. I don’t understand why people make broad and sweeping generalizations. It’s one country in Africa that complained about smaller condoms from a country in East Asia, therefore this is more corroboration for Rushton’s r/K selection theory? The logic doesn’t follow.
Asians have small condoms. Those condoms go to Africa. They complain condoms from China are too small. Therefore Rushton’s r/K selection theory is corroborated. Flawed logic.
In sum, Lynn (2013) didn’t verify Rushton’s theory regarding racial differences in penis size and I find it even funnier that Lynn ends his article talking about “falsification’ stating that this aspect of Rushton’s theory has survived two attempts at falsification, therefore, it can be regarded as a “progressive research program“, though obviously, with the highly flawed “data” that was used, one cannot rationally make that statement. Supposed hormonal differences between the races do not cause penis size differences; even if blacks had levels of testosterone significantly higher than whites (the 19 percent that is claimed by Lynn and Rushton off of one highly flawed study in Ross et al, 1986) they still would not have longer penises.
The study of physical differences between populations is important, but sometimes, stereotypes do not tell you anything, especially in this case. Though in this instance, the claim that blacks have the longest penis lies on shaky ground, and with what evidence we do have for the claim, we cannot logically make the inference (especially not from Lynn’s (2013) flimsy data). Richard Lynn did not “confirm” anything with this paper; the only thing he “confirmed” are his own preconceived notions; he did not ‘prove’ what he set out to.
People look different depending on where their ancestors derived from; this is not a controversial statement, and any reasonable person would agree with that assertion. Though what most don’t realize, is that even if you assert that biological races do not exist, but allow for patterns of distinct visible physical features between human populations that then correspond with geographic ancestry, then race—as a biological reality—exists because what denotes the physical characters are biological in nature, and the geographic ancestry corresponds to physical differences between continental groups. These populations, then, can be shown to be real in genetic analyses, and that they correspond to traditional racial groups. So we can then say that Eurasian, East Asian, Oceanian, black African, and East Asians are continental-level minimalist races since they hold all of the criteria needed to be called minimalist races: (1) distinct facial characters; (2) distinct morphologic differences; and (3) they come from a unique geographic location. Therefore minimalist races exist and are a biological reality. (Note: There is more variation within races than between them (Lewontin, 1972; Rosenberg et al, 2002; Witherspoon et al, 2007; Hunley, Cabana, and Long, 2016), but this does not mean that the minimalist biological concept of race has no grounding in biology.)
Minimalist race exists
The concept of minimalist race is simple: people share a peculiar geographic ancestry unique to them, they have peculiar physiognomy (facial features like lips, facial structure, eyes, nose etc), other physical traits (hair/hair color), and a peculiar morphology. Minimalist races exist, and are biologically real since minimalist races can survive findings from population genetics. Hardimon (2017) asks, “Is the minimalist concept of race a social concept?” on page 62. He writes that social concepts are socially constructed in a pernicious sense if and only if it “(i) fails to represent any fact of the matter and (ii) supports and legitimizes domination.” Of course, populations who derive from Africa, Europe, and East Asia have peculiar facial morphology/morphology unique to that isolated population. Therefore we can say that minimalist race does not conform to criteria (i). Hardimon (2017: 63) then writes:
Because it lacks the nasty features that make the racialist concept of race well suited to support and legalize domination, the minimalist race concept fails to satisfy condition (ii). The racialist concept, on the other hand, is socially constructed in the pernicious sense. Since there are no racialist races, there are no facts of the matter it represents. So it satisfies (i). To elaborate, the racialist race concept legtizamizes racial domination by representing the social hierarchy of race as “natural” (in a value-conferring sense): as the “natural” (socially unmediated and inevitable) expression of the talent and efforts of the inidividuals who stand on its rungs. It supports racial domination by conveying the idea that no alternative arrangment of social institutions could possibly result in racial equality and hence that attempts to engage in collective action in the hopes of ending the social hierarchy of race are futile. For these reasons the racialist race concept is also idealogical in the prejorative sense.
Knowing what we know about minimalist races (they have distinct physiognomy, distinct morphology and geographic ancestry unique to that population), we can say that this is a biological phenomenon, since what makes minimalist races distinct from one another (skin color, hair color etc) are based on biological factors. We can say that brown skin, kinky hair and full lips, with sub-Saharan African ancestry, is African, while pale/light skin, straight/wavy/curly hair with thin lips, a narrow nose, and European ancestry makes the individual European.
These physical features between the races correspond to differences in geographic ancestry, and since they differ between the races on average, they are biological in nature and therefore it can be said that race is a biological phenomenon. Skin color, nose shape, hair type, morphology etc are all biological. So knowing that there is a biological basis to these physical differences between populations, we can say that minimalist races are biological, therefore we can use the term minimalist biological phenomenon of race, and it exists because there are differences in the patterns of visible physical features between human populations that correspond to geographic ancestry.
Hardimon then talks about how eliminativist philosophers and others don’t deny that above premises above the minimalist biological phenomenon of race, but they allow these to exist. Hardimon (2017: 68-69) then quotes a few prominent people who profess that there are, of course, differences in physical features between human populations:
… Lewontin … who denies that biological races exist, freely grants that “peoples who have occupied major geographic areas for much of the recent past look different from one another. Sub-Saharan Africans have dark skin and people who have lived in East Asia tend to have a light tan skin and an eye color and eye shape that is difference from Europeans.” Similarly, population geneticist Marcus W. Feldman (final author of Rosenberg et al., “Genetic Stucture of Human Populations” ), who also denies the existence of biological races, acknowledges that “it has been known for centuries that certain physical features of humans are concentrated within families: hair, eye, and skin color, height, inability to digest milk, curliness of hair, and so on. These phenotypes also show obvious variation among people from different continents. Indeed, skin color, facial shape, and hair are examples of phenotypes whose variation among populations from different regions is noticeable.” In the same vein, eliminative anthropologist C. Loring Brace concedes, “It is perfectly true that long term residents of various parts of the world have patterns of features that we can identify as characteristic of they area from which they come.”
So even these people who claim to not believe in “biological races”, do indeed believe in biological races because what they are describing is biological in nature and they, of course, do not deny that people look different while their ancestors came from different places so therefore they believe in biological races. We can then use the minimalist biological phenomenon of race to get to the existence of minimalist races.
Hardimon (2017: 69) writes:
Step 1. Recognize that there are differences in patterns of visible physical features of human beings that correspond to their differences in geographic ancestry.
Step 2. Observe that these patterns are exhibited by groups (that is, real existing groups).
Step 3. Note that the groups that exhibit these patterns of visible physical features correspond to differences in geographical ancestry satisfy the conditions of the minimalist concept of race.
Step 4. Infer that minimalist race exists.
Those individuals mentioned previously who deny biological races but allow that people with ancestors from differing geographic locales look differently do not disagree with step 1, nor does anyone really disagree with step 2. Step 4’s inference immediately flows from the premise in step 3. “Groups that exhibit patterns or visible physical features that correspond to differences in geographical ancestry satisfy the conditions of the minimalist concept of race. Call (1)-(4) the argument from the minimalist biological phenomenon of race” (Hardimon, 2017: 70). Of course, the argument does not identify which populations may be called races (see further below), it just shows that race is a biological reality. Because if minimalist races exist, then races exist because minimalist races are races. Minimalist races exist, therefore biological races exist. Of course, no one doubts that people come from Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands, even though the boundaries between them are ‘blurry’. They exhibit patterns of visible physical characters that correspond to their differing geographic ancestry, they are minimalist races therefore minimalist races exist.
Pretty much, the minimalist concept of race is just laying out what everyone knows and arguing for its existence. Minimalist races exist, but are they biologically real?
Minimalist races are biologically real
Of course, some who would assert that minimalist races do not exist would say that there are no ‘genes’ that are exclusive to one certain population—call them ‘race genes’. Of course, these types of genes do not exist. Whether or not one individual is a part of one race or not does not rest on the basis of his physical characters, but is determined by who his parents are, because one of the three premises for the minimalist race argument is ‘must have a peculiar geographic ancestry’. So it’s not that members of races share sets of genes that other races do not, it’s based on the fact that they share a distinctive set of visible physical features that then correspond with geographic ancestry. So of course if the minimalist concept of race is a biological concept then it entails more than ‘genes for’ races.
Of course, there is a biological significance to the existence of minimalist biological races. Consider that one of the physical characters that differ between populations is skin color. Skin color is controlled by genes (about half a dozen within and a dozen between populations). Lack of UV rays for individuals with dark skin will lead to diseases like prostate cancer, while darker skin is a protectant against UV damage to human skin (Brenner and Hearing, 2008; Jablonksi and Chaplin, 2010). Since minimalist race is biologically significant and minimalist races are partly defined by differences in skin color between populations then skin color has both medical and ecological significance.
(1) Consider light skin. People with light skin are more susceptible to skin cancer since they evolved in locations with poor UVR radiation (D’Orazio et al, 2013). The body needs vitamin D to absorb and use calcium for maintaining proper cell functioning. People who evolved near the equator don’t have to worry about this because the doses of UVB they absorb are sufficient for the production of enough previtamin D. While East Asians and Europeans on the other hand, became adapted to low-sunlight locations and therefore over time evolved lighter skin. This loss of pigmentation allowed for better UVB absorption in these new environments. (Also read my article on the evolution of human skin variation and also how skin color is not a ‘tell’ of aggression in humans.)
(2) While darker-skinned people have a lower rate of skin cancer “primarily a result of photo-protection provided by increased epidermal melanin, which filters twice as much ultraviolet (UV) radiation as does that in the epidermis of Caucasians” (Bradford, 2009). Dark skin is thought to have evolved to protect against skin cancer (Greaves, 2014a) but this has been contested (Jablonski and Chaplin, 2014) and defended (Greaves, 2014b). So therefore, using (1) and (2), skin color has evolutionary signifigance.
So as humans began becoming physically adapted to their new niches they found themselves in, they developed new features distinct from the location they previously came from to better cope with the new lifestyle due to their new environments. For instance “Northern Europeans tend to have light skin because they belong to a morphologically marked ancestral group—a minimalist race—that was subject to one set of environmental conditions (low UVR) in Europe” (Hardimon, 2017: 81). Of course explaining how human beings survived in new locations falls into the realm of biology, while minimalist races can explain why this happened.
Minimalist races clearly exist since minimalist races constitute complex biological patterns between populations. Hardimon (2017: 83) writes:
It [minimalist race] also enjoys intrinsic scientific interest because it represents distinctive salient systematic dimension of human biological diversity. To clarify: Minimalist race counts as (i) salient because human differences of color and shape are striking. Racial differences in color and shape are (ii) systematic in that they correspond to differences in geographic ancestry. They are not random. Racial differences are (iii) distinctive in that they are different from the sort of biological differences associated with the other two salient systematic dimensions of human diversity: sex and age.
An additional consideration: Like sex and age, minimalist race constitutes one member of what might be called “the triumverate of human biodiversity.” An account of human biodiversity that failed to include any one of these three elements would be obviously incomplete. Minimalist race’s claim to be biologically real is as good as the claim of the other members of the triumverate. Sex is biologically real. Age is biologically real. Minimalist race is biologically real.
Real does not mean deep. Compared to the biological associated with sex (sex as contrasted with gender), the biological differences associated with minimalist race are superficial.
Of course, the five ‘clusters’ and ‘populations’ identified by Rosenberg et al’s (2002) K=5 graph, which told structure to produce 5 genetic clusters, corresponds to Eurasia, Africa, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, are great candidates for minimalist biological races since they correspond to geographic locations, and even corroborates what Fredrich Blumenbach said about human races back in the 17th century. Hardimon further writes (pg 85-86):
If the five populations corresponding to the major areas are continental-level minimalist races, the clusters represent continental-level minimalist races: The cluster in the mostly orange segment represents the sub-Saharan African continental-level minimalist race. The cluster in the mostly blue segment represents the Eurasian continental-level minimal race. The cluster in the mostly pink segment represents the East Asian continental-level minimalist race. The cluster in the mostly green segment represents the Pacific Islander continental-level minimalist race. And the cluster in the mostly purple segment represents the American continental-level minimalist race.
The assumption that the five populations are continental-level minimalist races entitles us to interpret structure as having the capacity to assign individuals to continental-level minimalist races on the basis of markers that track ancestry. In constructing clusters corresponding to the five continental-level minimalist races on the basis of objective, race-neutral genetic markers, structure essentially “reconstructs” those races on the basis of a race-blind procedure. Modulo our assumption, the article shows that it is possible to assign individuals to continental-level races without knowing anything about the race or ancestry of the individuals from whose genotypes the microsattelites are drawn. The populations studied were “defined by geography, language, and culture,” not skin color or “race.”
Of course, as critics note, the researchers predetermine how many populations that structure demarcates, for instance, K=5 indicates that the researchers told the program to delineate 5 clusters. Though, these objections do not matter. For the 5 populations that come out in K=5 “are genetically structured … which is to say, meaningfully demarcated solely on the basis of genetic markers” (Hardimon, 2017: 88). K=6 brings one more population, the Kalash, a group from northern Pakistan who speak an Indo-European language. Though “The fact that structure represents a population as genetically distinct does not entail that the population is a race. Nor is the idea that populations corresponding to the five major geographic areas are minimalist races undercut by the fact that structure picks out the Kalash as a genetically distinct group. Like the K=5 graph, the K=6 graph shows that modulo our assumption, continental-level races are genetically structured” (Hardimon, 2017: 88).
Though of course there are naysayers. Svante Paabo and David Serre, Hardimon writes, state that when individuals are sampled from homogeneous populations from around the world, the gradients of the allele frequencies that are found are distributed randomly across the world rather than clustering discretely. Though Rosenberg et al responded by verifying that the clusters they found are not artifacts of sampling as Paabo and Serre imply, but reflect features of underlying human variation. Though Rosenberg et al agree with Paabo and Serre in that that human genetic diversity consists of clines in variation in allele frequencies (Hardimon, 2017: 89). Other naysayers also state that all Rosenberg et al show is what we can “see with our eyes”. Though a computer does not partition individuals into different populations based on something that can be done with eyes, it’s based on an algorithm.
Hardimon also accepts that black Africans, Caucasians, East Asians, American Indians and Oceanians can be said to be races in the basic sense because “they constitute a partition of the human species“, and that they are distinguishable “at the level of the gene” (Hardimon, 2017: 93). And of course, K=5 shows that the 5 races are genetically distinguishable.
Hardimon finally discusses some medical significance for minimalist races. He states that if you are Caucasian that it is more likely that you have a polymorphism that protects against HIV compared to a member of another race. Meanwhile, East Asians are more likely to carry alleles that make them more susceptible to Steven-Johnson syndrome or another syndrome where their skin falls off. Though of course, the instances where this would matter in a biomedical context are rare, but still should be at the back of everyone’s mind (as I have argued), even though instances where medical differences between minimalist races are rare, there are times where one’s race can be medically significant.
Hardimon finally states that this type of “metaphysics of biological race” can be called “deflationary realism.” Deflationary because it “consists in the repudiation of the ideas that racialist races exist and that race enjoys the kind of biological reality that racialist race was supposed to have” and realism which “consists in its acknowledgement of the existence of minimalist races and the genetically grounded, relatively superficial, but still significant biological reality of minimalist race” (Hardimon, 2017: 95-96).
Minimalist races exist. Minimalist races are a biological reality because distinct visible patterns show differences between geographically isolated populations. This is enough for the classification of the five classic races we know of to be called race, be biologically real, and have a medical significance—however small—because certain biological/physical traits are tied to different geographic populations—minimalist races.
Hardimon (2017: 97) shows an alternative to racialism:
Deflationary realism provides a worked-out alternative to racialism—it it a theory that represents race as a genetically grounded, relatively superficial biological reality that is not normatively important in itself. Deflationary realism makes it possible to rethink race. It offers the promise of freeing ourselves, if only imperfectly, from the racialist background conception of race.
It is clear that minimalist races exist and are biologically real. You do not need to speak about supposed mental traits between these minimalist races, they are irrelevant to the existence of these minimalist biological races. As Hardimon (2017: 67) writes: “No reference is made to normatively important features such as intelligence, sexuality, or morality. No reference is made to essences. The idea of sharp boundaries between patterns of visible physical features or corresponding geographical regions is not invoked. Nor again is reference made to the idea of significant genetic differences. No reference is made to groups that exhibit patterns of visible physical features that correspond to geographic ancestry.”
The minimalist biological concept of race stands up to numerous lines of argumentation, therefore we can say without a shadow of a doubt that minimalist biological race exists and is real.