David SimsEssays

Race and Human Genes

race_facesby David Sims

RACE IS NOT a “social construct.” Race is what it is. The genetic variation, especially the clustering found in the distribution of it, are the clearest proof that race exists immanently in Nature; i.e., that it is not merely a “social construct.”

But although the genes are the cause of race, the phenomenon of race is more than this origin. In addition to the genetic variation itself, there are the mental, morphological, chemical, and behavioral differences that the genetic differences bring into being.

If the only differences between races were in the genes, and nowhere in the organism, then race could be ignored because the races would have identical distributions for everything that organisms are and do. But, of course, it isn’t true that the races are equals in such ways, and the racial differences at the level of the organism do matter.

There are plant species that you shouldn’t grow together because they are rivals for the same resources in the soil. Just so, no country should ever have more than one race among its permanent residents.

The model of human genetic variation and the historical migration of human genes produced by Cavalli-Sforza and his collaborators isn’t any sort of a priori judgment. They didn’t preconceive the conclusion and then force the data to fit, as pseudo-scientists pushing a political or religious agenda might do. Instead, the only political statements in their book appears in the first chapter, as squid ink, to placate leftist editors who work within the academic press. For the entire rest of the book, the work contradicts the squid ink, which asserts what the authors know full well to be contrary to fact: that racial differences are unimportant. Apart from that effort at political protective coloration, The History and Geography of Human Genes is a valuable resource because it presents the result of an empirical, statistical examination of its subject.

No, it doesn’t “dictate reality,” and it does not try to do so. Instead, it examines reality and attempts to describe it, as any good scientific work will do. We are examining objects in order to understand them better. We are not, as yet, trying to use that understanding to make predictions. The History and Geography of Human Genes is to human behavior as a catalog of mineral types is to cartographers; it has not yet become so applied that it has the predictive value that the catalog of mineral types would have to, say, gemstone hunters.

That particular extension is to be found when the genetic variation responsible for race is linked solidly with fields in which applications are more prevalent: psychology, politics, and law. You can read for yourself “Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies” (2005), by Hua Tang, Tom Quertermous, and Beatriz Rodriguez.

The authors studied a sample (N=3636) of Hispanics, East Asians, and non-Hispanic Whites and Blacks, sorting them according to the standard procedure in genetic cluster analysis. The authors did not use any information about the physical characteristics often used to identify race when they made their racial assignments: They went strictly by the distribution of alleles. When that was done, they asked each person in the sample what he considered his race to be. The predictive power of the genetic information was proved to exist when 3631 respondents answers matched their respective racial assignments, while only 5 respondents gave answers that differed. The success rate was, therefore, about 99.86%.

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