Platitude Storm: Race as a Social Construct

Fall term is almost upon us. I will be teaching a course on social consequences of biological diversity, and much of it is far from politically correct. I have been thinking that I should introduce some material from the “race is a social construct” point of view, but nothing I could find was serious in the sense of saying something about data. Searching, I contacted Jason Antrosio, who writes a blog called Living Anthropologically. He often writes about topics like this, or, rather, they seem to be related insofar as I can make sense of them. He often has interesting things to say and he mentions, in a post about the Aurora shootings, that he grew up in a gun culture in Montana. I figure he must be all right.

He sent me a detailed reply. Apparently others had asked for the same advice, and he posted his recommendations here. I read most of what he suggested, and I still have no idea what the issues are or what the point of the papers is.

Here is a letter I wrote him, in the spirit of continuing our conversation. I am posting it here, lightly edited, to try for some feedback from our readers.

Dear Jason:

I have read over many of the papers you recommended to me. I am
writing you this note to continue the conversation. I would post it
as a comment on your blog, but I tend to be terse and blunt. As a
blog comment it would, I fear, come across as rude and hostile, which
is certainly not my intention. You are of course welcome to
use it in any way you might think appropriate.

My view remains that there is no substance to the papers you
recommend, or, more precisely, that the substance is fogged by
gratuitous political platitudes. There are two discrete themes I
detect running through all of them. The first is that we must not use
the word race. The second is that biology and genetics are
distasteful and that they have no place in understanding human
differences.

The denunciation of the word race is magical thinking, as if it makes
any difference to anyone or anything if I lecture about “ancestry” rather than
about “race”. They are just words. Reminds me of the time when
calling women “Ms” was going to end sexism.

You quote John Relethford’s remark that race is “culturally
constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real
variation”. Of course it is, so are latitude and stature and lots of
other things we might notice. What I find puzzling is that Relethford
is absolutely first rate: why is he bothering to push this kind of
thing? The same is true of Hunley and the New Mexico bunch.

The aversion to genetics and biology is another mystery. The Gravlee
article you recommended is beautifully written, clear and articulate.
But it is exhortation to consider nothing but social/psychological
explanations of health disparities. If we did not have a pretty clear
understanding of the history and biology of sickle cell anemia those
folks would tell us that it a disease caused by poverty.

I am interested in European Jewish history and biology. A few years
ago I checked out the literature in sociology about Jewish success and
came across a solid review article by an established scholar
(Jewish Educational And Economic Success In The United States:A Search
For Explanations, Paul Burstein, Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 50,
Issue 2, pp. 209–228, 2007).

He says

There are three major reputable social-scientific explanations of
why Jews do so well. (I emphasize “reputable” and
“social-scientific” to exclude genetic explanations and those
proposed by anti-Semites.)

Any scientist would find this sentence astounding and immediately quit
reading the article. I actually read it and found that his conclusion
is that “social capital” is the big reason for Jewish success. In
other words, Jews are a cabal. Seemed to me that we have heard that a
lot before, for example about 80 years ago in Germany.

Incidentally, speaking of scientists, I have to say that your remark
in your blog post that Coyne and Barash “have no idea what they are
talking about when it comes to the scientific literature on race and
human variation” was way over the top. They know the scientific
literature very well, but they almost certainly do not read the genre
that you advocate.

At any rate what I would like to try to do is to bring the discussion
out of the clouds and to ask you some concrete questions. These are
not rhetorical: they are meant to find out how your viewpoint applies
to our everyday world.

1. My internist showed me the results of a shotgun series of lab
tests the other day. Some indicator of kidney function showed that I
was at 96% or, if I was Black, 105%. Is there anything wrong with
this?

(BTW I think there is plenty wrong with it. If one looks at the
continental ancestry of a sample of black americans there is a nearly
uniform distribution between 0% to 100% African. In other words the
mixed ancestry of this population is so recent that the population has
no flavor of its own yet. This is an example of essentializing race,
but what is a better alternative?)

2. Should obsetricians be taught that there is a great risk of
prematurity and low birth weight among US black mothers, or should it
be denied in medical teaching as a hate fact?

3. The focus of much literature on culture and health, including the
Gravlee article, is on the black-white disparities in this country.
There is IMHO a glaring lack of attention to what is called the
“hispanic paradox”. The expectation of life at birth for hispanic
males in the US is 78 years, for white males 75.5, and for black males
69 years. (CDC Vital and Health Statistics, series 2 number 152,
2010, p. 11)

Seems to me that this is a solid kick in the pants to the agony in the
literature about poverty causing ill health. My view is that we might
learn something useful by studying hispanic good health. Do you think
hispanic epidemiology should have more focus in medical anthropology?

4. Do I do anything useful if I replace the word race with the word
ancestry in my lectures?

Best, Henry

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130 Responses to Platitude Storm: Race as a Social Construct

  1. AMac says:

    This could be a good opportunity for Jason or race-is-a-social-construct argonauts to tackle some interesting and important questions. Given the state of the academic literature, they may be unfamiliar with some fairly basic and simple concepts. Steve Sailer’s Race FAQ, while five years old, provides some background in a non-technical manner.

  2. bob says:

    Good luck with this one. It sounds like he has ideology, not science.

    • harpend says:

      Not sure ideology is the right word but something like that. Too early in the morning for me to chase URLs, but I think http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt11/haidt11_index.html
      is the one I want. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who writes about “sacred truths” and ideology in the sciences, in particular social psychology. He has a number of talks available on the net and what he says is worthwhile, perhaps even vital to letting us put science into political discussions in a useful way.

  3. a very knowing American says:

    The theory that race is a social construct is like the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: you have to believe in it to understand it. All things are possible to one who has faith.

    I hope that clears things up.

    • Timtoc says:

      It was Augustine of Hippo who quoted Isiah [7:9] “Unless you believe, you shall not understand” in discussing the problem of evil in On Free Choice of the Will and stated in his Sermon (43.7, 9), “Crede, ut intelligas” is the framework to approach explication of dogma. Perhaps it is a lacuna in the classical education of the politically correct that leads to non rigorous thinking?

  4. dearieme says:

    “The theory that race is a social construct is like the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity”: nah, there’s more science against race as a social construct than there is against the DHT. On the DHT science is silent (it seems to me) since the concept isn’t clear enough to falsify.

  5. Thank you for this, as it provides an opportunity for a more open back-and-forth. Since starting to blog, I’ve been trying to move the usual academic e-mail and list-serv exchanges more online, so happy we can do this here. Here’s the reply I’ve been composing in my head for a few days:

    Dear Henry,

    Thank you for sending. I hesitate to respond via e-mail–I have a feeling if we could sit down and hash this out, it might work better than the potential misinterpretations of e-mail, but here goes.

    First, I would defend my statement on Barash and Coyne. Obviously they are great biologists, and know a lot more about evolution than I do, but specifically on the literature about human variation their posts reveal a lack of understanding and reading. They are nothing like the careful review by Guido Barbujani which you had recommended, Human genome diversity: frequently asked questions. It is not just that they don’t read my preferred genre–they do not even follow-up on the responses and later work of the authors they do cite. Jonathan Marks response to Coyne was justified, but the more extended review by Kenan Malik, Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate is also worth a look.

    Many of the issues you raise have to do with some classic problems in academia: the distinction between replacing one word with another, or terminological issues, and actually digging into the conceptual meaning. Words and concepts are of course related but not equivalent. There is then the issue of consequence–do these words and concepts have a meaningful impact for the facts-on-the-ground? Again, words, concepts, and facts-on-the-ground are all related, but not equivalent.

    That said, I am a bit surprised and confused by your reading of Clarence Gravlee’s How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality as a denial of using the word “race.” Gravlee is quite clear in his headline that “Race ≠ Myth” (2009:53) and is arguing for much more discussion of race in anthropology. Moreover, since Gravlee’s article is about the inter-generational biological health effects of race and racism, I find your assertions puzzling.

    But, as you say, let’s bring this out of the clouds by addressing your four questions. I would like to start with the fourth:

    4. Do I do anything useful if I replace the word race with the word ancestry in my lectures?
    No. If you are simply swapping out what you would have called “race” for what you will now call “ancestry,” it does not do anything useful. However, if you want to look at the possible disjuncture between the concept of race and the concept of ancestry, then it might be useful. For example, many people from all over the world and with very distinct, even non-African ancestries, are lumped into the “African American” or “Black” race category in the U.S. Alternatively, you could also look at how the concept of ancestry–and our assignations of it–are also context dependent. That’s one of the points of Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: Sex and race: that the very same bones would be estimated as from different ancestral regions based solely on context of discovery. It’s also a point I take from Razib Khan’s post on Finding Fake Roots: genetic ancestry estimations are related to the kinds of reference populations included in the analysis.

    2. Should obsetricians be taught that there is a great risk of prematurity and low birth weight among US black mothers, or should it be denied in medical teaching as a hate fact?
    Yes obstetricians should be taught about this and the wider public as well. The ongoing disparities for black and white infant mortality should be much more on the agenda. This is one of those facts-on-the-ground issues, where we need many more words and more refined concepts. You might be interested in showing The Mystery of Black-White Differences in Infant Mortality for your course.

    1. My internist showed me the results of a shotgun series of lab tests the other day. Some indicator of kidney function showed that I was at 96% or, if I was Black, 105%. Is there anything wrong with this?
    Not necessarily. You kind of answered your own question, which is, what difference does it make? There are probably some kinds of medical issues where knowing about specific risks by race is important (like infant mortality!), but if I want to know about kidney function, I want to know how my kidney function is, not that I’m doing pretty well for a white guy.

    3. The focus of much literature on culture and health, including the Gravlee article, is on the black-white disparities in this country. There is IMHO a glaring lack of attention to what is called the “hispanic paradox”.
    I tried to answer this when you posed it as a question on my blog, but I can understand not wanting to keep up with entangled comment streams. Here’s my comment:

    The health outcomes for Hispanics in the U.S. is interesting, but not exactly comparable. Although discrimination, racializing and racism can’t be overlooked, the fact is that “Hispanic” is a very heterogeneous category, with quite variable measures of integration. As I’ve written in my critique of the New York Times series–see Race Remixed – Reality Check–the Hispanic category is not recognized as a race for the census, and there may be some incipient bifurcation into Hispanic-White and Hispanic-Black.
    As Arias 2010 notes, the bulk of these health figures come from the Mexican-American population, and so are quite possibly confounded by how the source population for migrants tends to be younger and healthy: “It has been hypothesized that the lower observed mortality of the Hispanic population could be a function of migrant selectivity for better health (the healthy migrant effect)” (13-14). As I just finished teaching–and can highly recommend–Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network, Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz notes that the Mexican undocumented migrant population has one of the highest employment rates of any U.S. group. This would make a lot of sense, and obviously creates a potentially much different population than what Gravlee is describing.

    I would also be curious about where you find all the “agony” about poverty and health. I certainly don’t see much agonizing about these issues around me, but maybe it’s different in Utah.

    Thank you again–and keep that kidney going.

    Best,
    Jason

    • Sideways says:

      ” undocumented migrant”

      This man knows something about PC euphemisms.

      • Words, concepts, and facts-on-the-ground are related but not equivalent. We can talk about illegal immigrants, but given the shifting legality of the border and all the programs that variously attract labor and purport to deport–from before the Bracero Program to the fact that most migrants get pulled into specific employment places–undocumented migrant is actually a more accurate description.

        By the way, the latest numbers indicate that Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero–and Perhaps Less. Apparently the lack of jobs in the U.S. is doing a lot more than walls and patrols. Henry may not have to work on reconstructing the Japanese internment camps for deportation as he mentioned in his previous post.

      • Sideways says:

        So you’re quoting someone using “immigrants” which you switch to “migrant” and you talk about shifting borders when you’re aware we’re talking about recent years and you bring up something from the freaking Eisenhower era?

        That’s ridiculous, without even getting into the fact that the people we’re really taking about are documented illegal immigrants in the past few decades.

      • Sideways says:

        I really don’t care how the Mexicans whose descendants you pretend don’t exist entered the country 150 years ago.

    • erica says:

      “We can talk about illegal immigrants, but given the shifting legality of the border and all the programs that variously attract labor and purport to deport–from before the Bracero Program to the fact that most migrants get pulled into specific employment places–undocumented migrant is actually a more accurate description.”

      Your Orwellian use of language is offensive. “The shifting legality of the border”….egads.

      Furthermore, most of them that cross the border and live in my town don’t work at all nor do tens of thousands of them in my state, but they sure do collect welfare for their anchor baby (babies) so no, “undocumented migrant” is NOT a more accurate description.

      What a bunch of blather. And you purport to want to discuss things in a civil manner? You can’t be civil if you are attempting to play games with words.

      The cockroach that makes it in from my neighbor’s garage into my house is an “undocumented migrant.”

      • erica says:

        correction: make that “hundreds and hundreds of thousands…..”

      • gcochran9 says:

        If you compare people to cockroaches again, you will be banned. Lemmings, ok.

      • harpend says:

        I agree with Greg that “cockroach” is outside the domain of civil objective discussion. On the other hand this post does bring up a related issue. “Undocumented immigrants” is in a different way just as offensive: it certainly grates on me in the same way that it apparently grates on erica.

        Jonathan Haidt’s prescription, that everyone hang back and leave wiggle room for each other, is one I recommend.

      • Ah, being labelled “Orwellian” for bringing up historical facts. Some rich irony there!

        The historical fact is that this border has for 150 years been indeed a site of shifting legality, starting with that war in which the U.S. acquired what would become Utah and New Mexico, and for many years being documented or not was of little consequence. Until the 1930s Mexican workers were actively sought in California and Chicago and Detroit, with no visa limit, but the Great Depression changed all that. Later programs like the Bracero Program provided a temporary and contradictory legality.

        You will prefer anecdote to statistic, but the fact is that Mexicans have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S.–a 2010 article showed Mexican New Yorkers to have the highest employment rate in the city. It has been estimated that well over 50%–and probably more like 75%–of Mexican illegal immigrants are actually on-the-books as part of company payroll.

    • harpend says:

      “It has been hypothesized that the lower observed mortality of the Hispanic population could be a function of migrant selectivity for better health (the healthy migrant effect)”

      The selectivity bias hypothesis was immediately tossed out when the CDC report was published. The “hispanic health paradox” has been known for a long time but the report put it in everyone’s faces.

      I don’t think either of Jason’s hypotheses will stand up to test. The first, that the finding is an artifact of the young age structure of the hispanic population, fails easily, since the age-specific rates are lower for hispanics. The selectivity bias hypothesis would suggest that lower hispanic mortality rates would not appear everywhere: for example in Florida (Cubans) or New York City (Puerto-Ricans) the effect should not be there.

      Some states maintain and publish excellent mortality statistics by self-identified ethnicity, including Utah. Last year an undergraduate did a project with me in which she looked at mortality differentials state by state. The ethnic difference was universal, apparent in every state where there were data available. I will try to find her paper and put some of the data up if anyone is interested.

      • erica says:

        “I agree with Greg that ‘cockroach’ is outside the domain of civil objective discussion. On the other hand this post does bring up a related issue. “Undocumented immigrants” is in a different way just as offensive: it certainly grates on me in the same way that it apparently grates on erica.

        I defer to you, Drs. Cochran and Harpending. It is your blog, and I realize, Dr. Harpending, that that thrust of your posts is to build a constructive, civil dialogue about a topic that, as you say, rarely if ever results in such dialogue, which was all the more reason I took issue with the twisting of language. However, let me point out that while you seem to have understood the point I was making about the strategy of the misuse of words, you have misread my grammatical construction.

        I did NOT compare human beings to cockroaches. I pointed out that a cockroach moving from my neighbor’s territory to mine is an “undocumented migrant,” the implication being that while that phrase is an apt descriptor of said cockroach, it is NOT, (as your guest uses it and wishes it to be ) an apt descriptor of human beings crossing a border illegally. The apt phrase we have for such a person is “illegal immigrant.”

        (I’ll remember the “lemmings” though).

      • Henry,
        Thank you for the follow-up. While I’m sad to see my hypotheses go down, I’m still curious as to what you think what the Hispanic Paradox will prove (Wikipedia’s Hispanic Paradox page has some good references, including some researchers who think this is actually a data-collecting mirage).

        I would still say that as you note above with regard to the category of “black,” this has to be one of the most ancestry-diverse category groups in the U.S., and they just have not had the same experiences of living on the classic black/white axis.

      • Jason Malloy says:

        I’m still curious as to what you think what the Hispanic Paradox will prove

        Group differences in proneness to inflammation
        “The burden of infectious disease is greater in tropical Africa than elsewhere on earth in historic times, and it was less outside Africa, especially in the New World where passage through the Beringian filter kept many Old World parasites from entering the New World with humans. As a consequence we expect that the immune system, especially susceptibility to inflammation, will be ‘‘tuned up’’ in people with recent tropical African ancestry, intermediate in people of European and Asian ancestry, and perhaps ‘‘tuned down’’ in people of Native American ancestry.

        See Supplementary Figures 3 and 4 in R.A. Frye’s “Vagal Vigor” paper. East Asians, Native Americans, and Mestizos all have lower mortality across most types of cancer and disease.

        And what does genetic load look like for Native Americans?

      • e says:

        I know this conversation is old, but I just wanted to add a bit of speculation about this supposed ‘Hispanic paradox’.
        1. Diet: Americans often seem to hold the mistaken view that American diets are healthy. They aren’t–morbid obesity is rampant.
        Many immigrants in this country eat much better diets than the rest of us do. (Second and third generations, though, tend to adopt American food-ways, eat a ton of fast food, and get fat and cancerous just like the rest of us.) Japanese immigrants, for example, tend to eat very healthy, traditionally Japanese diets.
        If you’re familiar with the literature on long-lived societies, then you have surely heard of Costa Rica: a country with very high lifespans because they are competent enough to immunize against childhood diseases, but haven’t yet adopted American eating habits. Hispanics in the US may experience a similar phenomenon.

        2. Culture: Mexicans are very family-oriented. Cultures in which relatives live close together and grandparents are kept nearby tend to live longer because the old people have more help and are less lonely. So their close family culture may be helping extend lifespans.

        3. Lifestyle: Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are good for you. And migrant workers get a lot of those.

        4: Fraud: folks could just be not reporting deaths to continue collecting SS money or for other reasons.

  6. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    The expectation of life at birth for hispanic males in the US is 78 years, for white males 75.5, and for black males 69 years.

    That is interesting in light of the claims that East Asian populations have long life expectancies as well. I knew a Chinese woman who had had 9 kids and lived to be 76 years old. A few less kids and she might have hit 96 years. I also know a Chinese guy who is in his 90s.

    Anyway, perhaps the similarities and differences between East Asians and Native Americans would allow us to tease out which genes are doing what.

  7. I would also urge readers of this blog to check out what Razib Khan has to say about the matter in Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity, especially the last two paragraphs.

    Khan writes: “Race, the way we have traditionally thought of it, is indeed a social construction.” Since the anthropological critique was always about the way we have traditionally thought about race, Khan’s claim here is essentially the same as John Relethford’s above.

    Then Khan writes: “The key issue is to move beyond the term race.” But that is exactly what Henry Harpending accuses (I believe falsely) Clarence Gravlee and others of doing!

    Now, last I checked, Razib Khan was not into spouting politically-correct platitudes, but his position here is really quite similar to the articles I discuss in Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race.

    • dearieme says:

      “Race, the way we have traditionally thought of it …”: who’s “we”?

      • albatross says:

        What I get from my amateur reading of this discussion is that race is meaningful in many ways, but also that the starting assumptions you might walk into a classroom about wrt race are probably not too reliable. (And this is true whether you’re walking into a classroom in 2012 or 1952, though the specific stuff you’re confused about may be all different.) Is that a fair statement?

        Race as a social construct is correlated with a bunch of stuff that’s real and we do care about, like genes and culture and experiences. And yet, you lose a lot of detail when you talk about race in the social sense rather than the underlying thing you care about, like genes or health or IQ or upbringing or culture. To use an easy example, Barack Obama is black in the social sense, but shares very little in upbringing with American blacks, and probably not all that much in genes. I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton’s upbringing was much closer to the average American black kid’s upbringing than Barack Obama’s. (Obama’s life experiences are about as typical of American blacks’ as George W Bush’s life experiences are of American whites’.)

    • harpend says:

      Exactly! I congratulate myself for my tactic of bringing things down to the ground. My fundamental complaint about the “debate” is that there is no debate. If we need to argue about something it ought to be data, but there really is no such substantive debate about data nor even really about interpretation.

      You would never guess it from our published exchanges but Jon Marks and I are sort of pals. A few years ago at the PA meetings he told me (in a public conversation so i am not violating confidences) that he thought my discussion of race in a book review I had written was excellent. He seemed surprised.

  8. AMac says:

    [Harpending’s Question 1.] My internist showed me the results of a shotgun series of lab tests the other day. Some indicator of kidney function showed that I was at 96% or, if I was Black, 105%. Is there anything wrong with this?

    [Jason Antrosiio’s response] Not necessarily. You kind of answered your own question, which is, what difference does it make? There are probably some kinds of medical issues where knowing about specific risks by race is important (like infant mortality!), but if I want to know about kidney function, I want to know how my kidney function is, not that I’m doing pretty well for a white guy.

    – – – – –

    Henry offered a lame anecdote, allowing Jason to elide the important underlying question. “What difference does it make?” Forget kidneys, consider BiDil.

    This 2-drug combination underwent a large randomized clinical trial in the 1990’s with a broad mix of patients — and failed to demonstrate superiority by the terms of the predefined endpoint analysis. However, post hoc data snooping revealed a striking benefit of BiDil to a subgroup: those who self-described as African-American.

    Since it’s very difficult to get a good sense of the significance of such a posteriori analysis, this led to a new clinical trial, restricted to African-Americans. The earlier finding of substantial benefit was repeated. Wikipedia: “The study by Taylor et al… demonstrated that isosorbide dinitrate with hydralazine reduced mortality by 43%, reduced hospitalizations by 39%, and improved quality of life markers in African-American patients with CHF.” On the strength of these findings, the FDA approved BiDil in 2005, with the indication restricted to African-Americans.

    A touchy subject and a controversial outcome for the race-social-construct believers. In Why Racial Profiling Persists in Medical Research, Time reporter Catherine Elton managed to not (quite) call out the BiDil researchers as evil racists. Minority Nurse did better, though falling into stupidity towards the end of BiDil Controversy Continues as FDA Approves First “Race-Specific” Drug. The expected political correctness leavened with modest amounts of common sense at Scientific American.

    “What difference does it make?” For heart disease — 2.5-fold greater incidence in African-Americans than in European-Americans — BiDil makes a huge difference. Or, it would, if its use was enthusiastically sanctioned by the U.S. medical community. Which it’s not.

    Should a physician act in his or her individual patient’s best interest, or should his or her actions be determined by what would theoretically benefit the social construct (without biological meaning) to which the African-American patient belongs? In America today, this does not seem to be a tough call.

    • dearieme says:

      WKPD: “There is, however, concern that the approval of this drug may be used to promote racist thinking, …”. Perish the thought. How appalling that extending someone’s life should matter more than extending thought control.

      • AMac says:

        harpend says: (August 5, 2012 at 8:49 am)

        My worry about BiDil would be that the trials showed that it was effective in the US black population. Much of the ancestry of the US black population is tropical African, and there is likely to be a lot of adaptation to that environment. [continues…]

        – – – end quote – – –

        Yes, of course. The second-order considerations you outline (and that others also have described) are the result of reflection from a stance of informed common sense.

        As a thought experiment: consider that a RCT had found BiDil to fail to show efficacy among an unstratified population (as it did), but that a post hoc subgroup analysis suggested high efficacy among… people who self-described as having suffered multiple severe asthma attacks during childhood. And that a follow-on RCT indeed showed such high efficacy for this cohort.

        Many analogous issues could and would be raised. Such as, “Self-reporting isn’t the ideal proxy for taking into account the severity and number of long-ago asthma episodes.” And, “In the future, reference to electronic medical records will allow a more objective determination of the relevance of asthma history to BiDil efficacy.” And, “Since genotype presumably underlies the non-obvious but plausible association between asthma history and BiDil, future studies should take advantage of the strides in NextGen sequencing technology to establish a more-objective basis for selecting patients who should have this drug prescribed.”

        Would any of these considerations have torpedoed the rapid adoption of BiDil-based therapies based on the best-available contemporaneous knowledge, i.e. that it tends to be highly effective among a certain sub-population that can be identified by self-selection? Of course not.

        Journalists and academic thought leaders don’t expend energy to come up with elaborate doctrinally-compatible theories about the nature of asthma. It’s shortness of breath — not ideological kryptonite.

    • harpend says:

      Thanks for your post and the references. I will I presume say more after my serum coffee level gets up to the right range.

      My worry about Bidil would be that the trials showed that it was effective in the US black population. Much of the ancestry of the US black population is tropical African, and there is likely to be a lot of adaptation to that environment. These days there are a lot of Somalis here, and their ancestral ecology is strikingly different from central Africa. I worry that docs will prescribe Bidil to Somalis, or even to south Asians with dark skin, without considering that these groups are similar only in having dark skins.

      For all I know the effectiveness of the drug might might be related to skin pigment biology, in which case dish it out to Somalis. But if it is related to Malaria adaptations then that would be poor practice.

      Another concern is that it is easy these days to assess the ancestry of individuals. There is a beautiful graphic of this that I liberated from Razib’s blog but I don’t know how to include graphics in a blog and it is too early to search for it. It contrasts ancestry in a sample of US blacks with ancestry in a sample Uigurs. The US population is of recent admixture, the Uigurs of old admixture, over 1000 years. A consequence is that individual US blacks vary all the way from 0 to 100% African while individual Uigurs are all mostly of the same half-European half-East Asian descent.

      For a hundred bucks or so people can find out their continental ancestry from 23andme and elsewhere. Seems to me someone ought to check out individual ancestry and drug response.

      Found the link: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/11/what-intra-inter-population-genetic-variance-tells-us/

      • For a good take on BiDil, see John Hawks Race and medicine: the BiDil trial. My position is consistent with Hawks, and I believe with Harpending’s above, in that we don’t need to let race stand in as a placeholder for ancestry. As Hawks writes, “the challenge is to make the information really relevant at a genetic level, and not merely folk tales about race.”

      • AMac says:

        I mistakenly placed my response to harpend (August 5, 2012 at 8:49 am) out of sequence, here.

      • AMac says:

        Jason Antrosio (August 5, 2012 at 9:43 am) —

        > For a good take on BiDil, see John Hawks
        Thanks for the link to Hawks’ cogent observations.

        > Race and medicine: the BiDil trial. My position is consistent with Hawks, and I believe with Harpending’s above, in that we don’t need to let race stand in as a placeholder for ancestry.

        It’s harder to think and communicate clearly about concepts that lack a clearly-defined vocabulary. No exemption for the current subject.

        Harpending’s original question #4 was, “Do I do anything useful if I replace the word race with the word ancestry in my lectures? Jason answered,

        – – – begin quote – – –

        No. If you are simply swapping out what you would have called “race” for what you will now call “ancestry,” it does not do anything useful. However, if you want to look at the possible disjuncture between the concept of race and the concept of ancestry, then it might be useful.

        – – – end quote – – –

        John Hawks at the Jason-commended link: “In short, if doctors had better information than race alone, they had better be using it. The problem is that they don’t.”

        I understand Jason’s words, “we don’t need to let race stand in as a placeholder for ancestry.” The challenge is in understanding what they are intended to mean. And in the current instance — BiDil — how, specifically, they would have informed medical practice. If at all.

      • albatross says:

        So, what would be a good stand-in here? I mean, should the doctor ask you how many of your grandparents were black, to decide whether to offer you BilDil? Or at least ask whether both your parents were black?

      • I guess I would still stick with Hawks on this: “Race is a miserable substitute for the knowledge of alleles and genotypes in a study like this one.” The point is, if you can go as directly as possible to ascertaining ancestry–and preferably the alleles and genotypes, as well as the “socioeconomic and cultural” differences Hawks also thinks should be considered, then there is no need to pause and tell “folk tales about race” as Hawks so-well describes.

      • albatross says:

        How would using race in medicine compare with using family history? If my dad has diabetes and my grandfather had a stroke at 50, those are things my doctor would probably like to know. And yet, surely what he’d really like to know is if I’m carrying any genes that predispose me to these or related problems. But he doesn’t have my DNA sequenced, and even if he did, he probably wouldn’t be sure what alleles caused what problems. So he takes my family history, and that gives him some information.

        Isn’t this the defining feature of race in practice? It’s not exactly what we care about most of the time, but it’s really easy to observe or ask for on a questionaire, and it correlates with a bunch of stuff we do care about well enough to be useful.

        It seems like a bunch of the commonly-used variables in the social sciences are about as flawed. If you ask my income and education to predict how I’m going to vote, you probably really care about more subtle things (like what social class I move in, what my beliefs are, what my financial prospects look like, what I know or think I know about history or economics), but it’s easy to ask income and education, and you don’t have to explain what you mean or ask me a dozen questions to estimate it. And it works well enough to be useful–there are some nice, consistent results correlating education and income with how you vote.

      • AMac says:

        Jason Antrosio wrote (August 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm) —

        I guess I would still stick with Hawks on this: “Race is a miserable substitute for the knowledge of alleles and genotypes in a study like this one.” The point is, if you can go as directly as possible to ascertaining ancestry–and preferably the alleles and genotypes, as well as the “socioeconomic and cultural” differences Hawks also thinks should be considered, then there is no need to pause and tell “folk tales about race” as Hawks so-well describes.

        – – – end quote – – –

        Let’s stipulate that at this moment, somebody, somewhere is stupidly and ignorantly telling folk tales about race. For you to raise the issue, here, in this discussion implies that this rejoinder applies to one of the contributors to this thread. Who? Which comment? Link or direct quote, please.

        It can be useful to grapple with the strongest lines of evidence and reasoning that buttress the views that one disagrees with. However, sometimes, playing whack-a-mole with the silly may be necessary. My preference is for the writer to make clear which process s/he is engaging in.

        You appear to misunderstand why Taylor et al used “race” rather than ascertainment of ancestry via alleles and genotypes, in their pivotal clinical trial of BiDil. Here is the answer: at the time the trial was designed, such tools were expensive and not widely available. Additionally, from post-hoc analysis of the prior RCT, Taylor et al already had strong reason to believe that BiDil would be effective in a population defined by a yes/no answer to a plainly-worded question. If they had chosen to replace this qualifier with the presence or absence of select genetic features, they would have had to have figured out which ones? prior to initiating the trial. AFAIK, even today, the answer to that question is unknown.

        You might also consider Albatross’ common-sense perspective (August 7, 2012 at 1:06 am), immediately supra.

        The expression “the best is the enemy of the good” comes to mind.

      • Hi Amac,
        My quote from Hawks was not intended to be specifically directed–apologies if it seemed that way.

        I think my main point was simply to get back to answering Henry’s race & ancestry question–that these terms are related but not swappable, as you illustrate so well below in reference to Barack Obama.

        I’ve been told that Race in a Bottle is a good reference for the BiDil story, but haven’t ever made it past the Scientific American paywall.

    • AMac says:

      @ Jason Antrosio: Whose ideas are more insightful and more useful, Sailer’s half-decade-old notions (aforementioned Race FAQ), or the hot-off-the-presses peer-reviewed concepts of Shiao, Bode, Beyer, and Selvig (Kiwiguy link)?

  9. Lars Smith says:

    Henry,

    You mention that you will be teaching a course on social consequences of biological diversity. It sounds interesting, could you post the syllabus here?

    • harpend says:

      Here are link’s to last year’s version. I plan changes for the upcoming semester, including adding material about mutations and genetic load. Since I have a whole week until school starts I haven’t yet started on it.

      Here is a link to the syllabus: https://www.dropbox.com/s/w4unhp3dzts9khs/syllabus.pdf

      I also have class notes in an html file that I update during semester: https://www.dropbox.com/s/nagspqlhe3eg2kt/notes.html

      Links on the notes.html page will not work since my office computer is in the shop, back up I hope in a week or two.

      Feedback welcome of course.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:


        There has been almost no rational public discussion of the issue of gene differences among human groups since them.

        Minor point, but n and n are next to each other on the keyboard and then seems more correct above.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Perhaps this would take the course too far afield, but there are other interesting hate-thoughts out there. For example, it seems that the median income of Americans of East-Asian extraction is higher than that of whites. Does that seem possible in light of the claims of discrimination against Chinese and Japanese immigrants?

        You also discuss Clark’s concept of downward mobility, and it seems that a similar mechanism operated in China because of the Imperial Examination System.

      • My goodness, I’m just imagining what the reaction to this course would be at a British university. Has anyone commented on your choice of subject material?

      • Nyk says:

        One suggestrion is that it would be nice to have this course in video, on iTunes U and other openCourseware sites. The ideas of this blog definitely need more exposure.

  10. dearieme says:

    “n and n are next to each other on the keyboard”: a victim of the Second Law of Corrections.

  11. JS says:

    If there’s a term that should be retired it is “socially constructed.” That is a term that has done nothing to help our understanding of the world. You’d think that after the post-modernists and post-structuralists claimed that the entire outside world was socially constructed, no one would wish to be associated with it.

    • ghazi-less says:

      An important point: The people who argue that the concept of race is invalid because it is socially constructed are the same people who claim that EVERYTHING is socially constructed. Logically that would mean that EVERYTHING is invalid. Actually, though, these people are not complete nihilists–they do believe in the ultimate validity of their own left-wing political values. But science, the institution of the family, the wisdom of the ancestors–all of these are invalid, worthy only of the dustbin.

    • alan2102 says:

      It has done a lot for MY understanding of the world. And I daresay for a lot of others. It helped me in my emergence from flatland. (If you don’t know what that means, try a bing for “flatland quadrant knowledge”.) And btw “socially constructed” does not mean “consisting of NOTHING but cumulative subjective impressions” — in case you were wondering. The idea that there are aspects of reality that are not conventionally measurable does not deny the existence of aspects that are. (Again, try that bing search.)

  12. dearieme says:

    I noticed that the finalists in the 100m sprint were eloquent testimony to the power of social constructs.

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Ahhh, but the underlying Ancestry-based explanation is fast-twitch muscle proportion.

      Perhaps the Denisovans should be checked for their fast-twitch muscle proportion as well.

    • wijjy says:

      The fastest sprinters were of mixed ancestry. That you choose to mix them up with West Africans is proof of the poweer of your own social constructs.

  13. AMac says:

    On Aug. 4th, Henry Harpending posted this entry as part of his search for material to use in an upcoming class:

    “I have been thinking that I should introduce some material from the “race is a social construct” point of view, but nothing I could find was serious in the sense of saying something about data.”

    Jason Antrosio steered Henry towards his online resource for articles that meet this need. Henry’s follow-on comment to Janson was,

    “My view remains that there is no substance to the papers you recommend, or, more precisely, that the substance is fogged by gratuitous political platitudes. There are two discrete themes I detect running through all of them. The first is that we must not use the word race. The second is that biology and genetics are distasteful and that they have no place in understanding human differences.”

    To further explain his perspective, Prof. Antrosio has contributed a few comments here.

    Question to Henry: Has this thread satisfied your original purpose? In other words, have you identified articles that are written from the “race as a social construct” perspective that seriously tackle the most relevant data?

    Or, do you end up continuing to feel as you did when you began this exercise?

    • harpend says:

      Simply presenting the “social construct” stuff in a lecture is not something I can do. I would feel the same if I were to lecture about the difference between tall and short people, claiming the boundary is arbitrary, and among Bushmen I am tall but among Herero I am short, so height is a social construct. Too blazing obvious to waste our time on.

      On the other hand there is a perspective (see the Gravlee paper) that simply identifying someone by race changes that person’s biology, implying that ethnic differences for example in health are attributable to social and psychological forces. This is not obviously wrong but the evidence save in extreme cases is not compelling. (The paper cited by Gravlee about prematurity in Californians with arabic sounding names before and after 9/11 is close but the statistical evidence is not overwhelming and is not to be taken to the bank.)

      I would say that this exchange has sharpened by understanding but not changed anything very much. OTOH I certainly appreciately Jason’s willingness to wander over here and stick his head in the lion’s den.

      • Hi Henry,
        Interesting that you bring up the height example, as that is what Relethford says he teaches with “We tend to use crude labels in everyday life with the realization that they are fuzzy and subjective. I doubt anyone thinks that terms such as ‘short,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘tall’ refer to discrete groups, or that humanity only comes in three values of height!” (2009:21)

        This is one of the reasons the “X is socially constructed” mantra is indeed problematic. Not so much because it isn’t true–as you put it, it’s “blazing obvious.” But it doesn’t get at the very different ways in which “height is socially constructed” versus “race is socially constructed.” For starters–and this is one thing I would criticize in the Relethford article–for many years race in the U.S. has been measured such that anyone born to a “short” and “tall” parent is classified as “short,” regardless of actual height.

        But I would again say you misstate Gravlee to say that race identification changes biology–it’s when that identification is tied to attitudes, legal, political, and economic consequences. The Arabic-surname article is indeed a dramatic illustration of how what might have previously been a neutral or only-slightly negative identification becomes weighted dramatically differently. But when it comes to black/white, this has been going on for a long time.

  14. Greying Wanderer says:

    @Jason Antrosio
    “There is then the issue of consequence–do these words and concepts have a meaningful impact for the facts-on-the-ground?”

    This whole debate is a joke. The “blank slate” nonsense was a product of a political fight over US immigration in the 1920s which has since turned into a soft totalitarian Frankenstein’s monster with an entire academic industry dedicated to preventing scientific progress in probably the single most critical scientific field there is. Thankfully as they don’t rule China, India, Japan etc and as the medical benefits are potentially so huge the entire edifice of nonsense is likely to crumble quite soon.

    In countries where the “race is a social construct” kommisars don’t hold sway medical drugs based on race will be developed and sick people will be tested for race to select which medical drugs based on race are given to individual sick people of various races. In countries where the “race is a social construct” kommisars do hold sway those same kommisars, if they get sick, will be buying medical drugs designed for their race over the internet.

    Once it’s commonplace on race it will extend to people from particular regions and people of mixed races etc.

    • harpend says:

      ‘The “blank slate” nonsense was a product of a political fight over US immigration in the 1920s which has since turned into a soft totalitarian Frankenstein’s monster with an entire academic industry dedicated to preventing scientific progress in probably the single most critical scientific field there is.’

      Wow! I never put 2 and 2 together in this way. Fascinating. Do you any suggested readings about this?

      • ghazi-less says:

        Appears to be an oblique reference to Kevin MacDonald’s “Culture of Critique”.

      • White Guy In Japan says:

        I think GW may be referring to Boas and his work on immigration into the US. (Including rather ridiculous claims that immigrants skulls would change shape the longer they lived in the US.)
        Not the best link, but the best I could find this morning:

        http://www.duke.edu/~ldbaker/documents/baker20.pdf

        Ghazi-less:
        Yeah, I read Kevin MacDonald’s work as well, but I’m not sure I see a reference in the OP’s post.

  15. Florida resident says:

    I do not have anything original to say about the subject of the discussion. Therefore i will comment on the title “Platitude…”.
    John Galsworthy, Swan Song, Chapter 3:
    ‘ “Of course,” said the Rafaelite, “a platitude has to be stated with force and clarity. … ” ‘
    Yours truly, Florida resident.

  16. AMac says:

    This question for Jason Antrosio seems quite germane to the core issues being addressed in this conversation, in a way that employment of Mexican New Yorkers is not.

    Are the perspectives that Steve Sailer laid out in his Race FAQ supported by the evidence? Are they useful and constructive ways of thinking about the concept?

    How about the competing notions offered by Shiao, Bode, Beyer, and Selvig in their 2012 peer-reviewed article?

    I imagine that there are strong practical reasons for Prof. Antrosio to decline comment on this matter, especially given the generally well-informed and skeptical audience here.

    Unfortunately, the fencing-in of wide-ranging scientific curiosity isn’t limited to select social science fields.

    • I haven’t taken Steve Sailer for a serious commenter on these issues since he caricatured the articles in Race Reconciled. His parodic dismissal of the very interesting forensic anthropology findings in Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: Sex and race convinced me that he had a serious interest in mis-representation.

      The one time I’ve seen anyone take seriously the “extended family” idea is Kenan Malik’s Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate. Malik’s take:

      Once again we come back to the old problem: when virtually any group can be a race, then the concept of race becomes meaningless. If everything from the British royal family to the entire human population can be considered a race (because each is an ‘extended family inbred to some degree’), then the category has little value.

      • AMac says:

        @ Jason Antrosio (August 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm) —

        Firstly, thank you for the thoughtful replies and the interesting and germane links.

        You write, “I haven’t taken Steve Sailer for a serious commenter on these issues since he caricatured the articles in “Race Reconciled.” His parodic dismissal of the very interesting forensic anthropology findings in “Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: Sex and race” convinced me that he had a serious interest in mis-representation.”

        Since you offer no pointer(s) to the offending article(s), it is not possible to offer an intelligent concurrence or dissent. Presumably you aren’t referring to the content or tone of the “Race FAQ” that I linked, or you would have noted it.

        Sailer sometimes comments at “West Hunter,” so perhaps he will shed some light on this mystery.

      • AMac says:

        As I noted upthread, there’s a case to be made for engaging in vigorous rebuttals of ideas put forward by stupid, ignorant, or doctrinally-driven people. One drawback of this style of essay is that it becomes harder to grapple with the most scientifically vigorous and astute ideas put forward by “the other side.” While this is an issue for the reader, it’s probably a more acute problem for the writer, as it diffuses his or her focus.

        In the present instance, ISTM that there is an anthropological theory that is accepted by mainstream social scientists — that “race is a social construct.”

        Race of course is a social construct. The Exhibit A du jour is Barack Obama being described as (and self-labeling as) an “African-American.”

        Of course, too, the mainstream theory goes on to assert that “race is a social construct, without underlying biological meaning.”

        Despite hemming and hawing, and straw-man arguments (e.g. as quoted by Jason here, readers can fairly conclude from “Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate” that Kenan Malik rejects the non-trivial “without underlying biological meaning” clause. Perhaps Prof. Antrosio does, too.

        Unfortunately, the strong form of the consensus theory is accepted almost without demur by U.S. public intellectuals. It has the force of Federal law behind it, e.g through application of the EEOC’s Four-Fifths Rule.

        So here is a dogma that is broadly believed and has major economic and social fallout, notwithstanding that it is at variance with data, and in conflict with evolutionary theory. It thus seems to be an apt topic for informed discussion.

        If there are compelling scientific defenses of “without underlying biological meaning,” it would be nice to have them presented by the proponents of the field’s status quo.

      • Hi AMac,
        Here’s the Steve Sailer on Race Reconciled I discussed. It could be that he has not read the articles and is only going on abstracts, but he still dismisses the most important part of the forensic anthropology abstract–and article, that “this analysis shows the extreme importance of an informative prior in any forensic application.”

        Can you point me to a piece where someone besides Steve Sailer finds the “extended family” idea useful as a way to meaningfully conceptualize and understand race?

      • AMac says:

        A quick reply to Jason Antrosio (August 7, 2012 at 10:01 am)

        I had earlier asked for a link to provide context as to why you “haven’t taken Steve Sailer for a serious commenter on these issues since he caricatured the articles in ‘Race Reconciled.’ His parodic dismissal of the very interesting forensic anthropology findings in ‘Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: Sex and race’ convinced me that he had a serious interest in mis-representation.”

        At the Sailer blog link that you provide, the totality of his commentary on that article is, “In other words, there probably aren’t a lot of Easter Islanders who wound up in a shallow grave in Eastern Iowa, so forensic anthropology works again!”

        That strikes me as rather scant evidence with which to convict Sailer of having a serious interest in mis-representation.

        Assuming that I’m interpreting the Konigsberg et al. abstract correctly, as far as the meaning they impute to the concordance of the missing Iowan’s remains (with respect to craniofacial measurements) with a sample of Easter Islanders. If Konigsberg et al. are making a non-obvious point, then I missed it too, on first read.

        AFAIK, I’m not doing this in order to misrepresent forensic anthropologists. ;-)

        > Can you point me to a piece where someone besides Steve Sailer finds the “extended family” idea useful as a way to meaningfully conceptualize and understand race?

        At the moment, no — this is not my field. The notion seems implicit in parts of Malik’s essay; I’ll put up a quote if I find one that’s easily mined.

      • I agree on re-reading–the abstract is lousy. The authors go on to note that the same bones would have been identified as from three different populations–white, black, or Pacific Islander–given three different priors. Nevertheless, I try not to comment based on abstracts alone, or at least qualify my comments if so.

        Let me know about the “extended family” idea. I haven’t seen it treated by people like Razib Khan or Dienekes, but I can’t say I’ve read through the whole catalog.

      • AMac says:

        Jason Antrosio wrote (August 7, 2012 at 10:01 am):

        “Can you point me to a piece where someone besides Steve Sailer finds the “extended family” idea useful as a way to meaningfully conceptualize and understand race?” [Link added]

        One answer to Jason’s query comes from Kuhn et al, e-published yesterday in PLoS ONE. (Genome-Wide Analysis in Brazilian Xavante Indians Reveals Low Degree of Admixture.)

        Sailer may have been the first (2002) to popularize “race as extended family” by stating it in lay, qualitative terms. Reading Kuhn et al: the Abstract, Introduction, and leading paragraphs of Results make it clear that this concept undergirds their entire analytical framework. Do a text search for “extended family”; you won’t find it… but then, a search for “modern synthesis” will also come up empty. (Could that be taken to mean that Kuhn et al based their work on Intelligent Design?)

        To be more specific: Figure 1 describes the choice of 53 individual Xavantes’ profiles for comparisons with other ethnic groups (including “races”, by Sailer’s working lay definition). The exercise was to avoid selecting two or more “related” individuals, which would have skewed the data set. While lineage analysis would show that Xavantes are much more closely related to each other than they are to non-Xavantes, the legend’s use of the term “unrelated individuals” makes perfect sense, given the context that Sailer provides.

    • For some reason my computer now allows me access to The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race. As I suspected from the abstract, what these authors are denying is the kind of mantra-application of “race is a social construction” which then proceeds to deny any biological variation. This version of the mantra usually relies heavily on Lewontin and Gould, and this sociological review is no exception. As I noted in my take on Race is a Social Construction–Anthropology on Race and Genetics, the anthropological critique both predates and does not rely on Gould-Lewontin.

      The authors also make heavy use of Sesardic 2010. As I note in Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race, Sesardic has completely misread–and perhaps deliberately misrepresented–the forensic anthropology he uses in this article. Since Sesardic cannot be trusted to even read the abstracts of the articles he misleadingly cites, I would not trust him for further citation in a sociology journal, nor can I trust others who bring him on board to make their arguments.

      Finally, I note that the authors notion of “clinal classes” is hardly equivalent to a strong reformulation of race on biological grounds. The idea of clinal classes is entirely compatible with the forensic anthropology approach discussed in Understanding race and human variation: Why forensic anthropologists are good at identifying race. These forensic anthropologists indeed declare that such categories as “clinal classes,” or as they put it, populations, can be readily identified. The issue is that one can identify so many possible clinal classes or populations. Or as the authors put it:

      White males born between 1840 and 1890 can be separated from white males born 1930 to 1980 very well, and they are distinguished by time, and would appear to qualify as different races. . . . There are so many possible distinctive biological races that the concept is virtually meaningless. We can only concur with Howells’ modification of Livingstone’s 1962 quote: ‘There are no races, only populations’” (Ousley et al. 2009:74)

      • AMac says:

        @ Jason Antrosio —

        Thank you for the replies, with links and commentary. My internet connection is spotty, and I now have some essays to read — two reasons why it may take a while for me to comment further.

      • White Guy In Japan says:

        Out of place, but the reply function is fighting me this morning.

        “Can you point me to a piece where someone besides Steve Sailer finds the “extended family” idea useful as a way to meaningfully conceptualize and understand race?”

        Frank Salter in “On Genetic Interests” describes race as an extended tribe or family. He doesn’t use the word race, but instead calls it an “ethny”. A rose by any other name…

        http://books.google.co.jp/books/about/On_Genetic_Interests.html?id=kslga1MfT1gC&redir_esc=y

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I add Philip Kitcher, the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia, as somebody else who came up with approximately the “partly inbred extended family” definition.

  17. Unfortunately I have a 1-year restriction on the Sociologial Theory journal at my library, so I can’t access “The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race” that @Kiwiguy recommends. However, from looking at the abstract, “the first part of this article describes the social constructionist account of race as lacking biological reality,” it looks like it may be a caricature of that familiar mantra “race is a social construction.” Again, just from looking at the abstract, I do not immediately see anything inconsistent with John Relethford’s 2009 statement that race is a “culturally constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real variation” (2009:20) or Razib Khan’s 2012 statement that “Race, the way we have traditionally thought of it, is indeed a social construction.” I believe both of these statements are referring to a “traditionally thought” of classic race categories.

    All of this reminds me of how Henry and I got into this conversation in the first place–as I put it in Race is a Social Construction, I really don’t use this so-easily caricatured mantra. As I wrote there, this critique “was not a denial of human biological variation and diversity. Nor was it necessarily a denial of how human biological variation might be structured, usually geographically. And it was especially and emphatically not a claim that these categories are not real.”

    But getting back to Henry’s original question, what would be the issue of assigning Relethford’s Race and global patterns of phenotypic variation or Gravlee’s How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality? If they are as data-less as described, then won’t the students see through them? Or will they be bamboozled by the platitude storm?

    Or, hey, you could assign my summary, Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race. Reading back through that, I think I did a pretty good job. :)

  18. dearieme says:

    What on earth is a scholar doing using a dim expression such as “Race, the way we have traditionally thought of it …”: who is “we”? Why is there only one “way”?

  19. jb says:

    @Jason

    About five months ago I left a comment on your blog in regard to your earlier exchange with Henry, asking two questions. I was quite complemented that you took my comment seriously, and said that you were “working on a much longer piece to address these questions.” However I’ve checked back occasionally since then but not seen any such article (unless I’ve misread something). What I did find though, on reading through various of your posts, was an intense focus on such highly political concepts as “racism,” “imperialism,” and — that ultimate justification for racial rent-seeking — “white privilege.” This leads me to suspect that while you are undoubtedly knowledgeable, you are also biased, and unwilling to accept any results that are inconsistent with your political beliefs. Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that to some degree you see this issue not just as a factual scientific question, but as a contest between good and evil! I think it should go without saying that this is just about the worst attitude an investigator can have towards a scientific question, and that the arguments of anyone who thinks this way about any issue need to be regarded with great suspicion.

    That being said, I am still very interested in your answers to my questions, so I am going to repost my earlier comment here. If you are in fact working on a long piece I wouldn’t expect to see it all here, but I think you could still find something useful to say, and in any case others might want to chime in on the what I consider to be the very important question of openness.

    Jason, I’m wondering whether you would agree or disagree with these two related statements:

    1) The question of genetic differences in intelligence between human groups has not yet been settled. This means, for example, that it is possible for reasonable and well informed people to believe that the measured difference in intelligence between American blacks and American whites is at least partially explained by genetic differences between the two groups. Further, it means that, because the question is still open, one is required to acknowledge that there is a non-trivial possibility that those people might in the end turn out to be right.

    2) Nothing we currently know about human genetics either supports or rules out the possibility of significant genetic contributions to measured differences in intelligence between groups such as American blacks and whites.

    I ask because it seems to me that this, above all, is what has really been driving the debate about the existence of race: a desire on the part of many to assert that, since “race does not exist,” it is therefore a priori impossible that genetic differences in racial intelligence could exist. Anti-racism is an extremely powerful moral and political orthodoxy in our society, and anti-racists are generally unwilling to accept that the question remains open. Their position is that the question has long been definitively settled, that people who disagree do so because they are either ignorant or wicked, and that such people, if they cannot be educated, must be cast into the outer darkness.

    Basically I’m trying to put you on the spot here! I think the reason the “race does not exist” meme became so popular so quickly after it was introduced by Lewontin is precisely because most people understood it to mean that there are no significant genetic differences between (socially constructed) racial groups, other than those that are visible on the surface. And it’s clear you understand that this much at least is incorrect. So what is your position on the openness of the question? If you personally believe that the explanation for the measured differences is entirely environmental, I think that’s perfectly legitimate, and you could easily be right. But are you willing to risk the outer darkness by acknowledging that people who disagree, such as Charles Murray and J. Philippe Rushton, also have a tenable position, and that it’s possible that they are the ones who are right?

    • Hi jb,
      Wow, thanks for keeping track of my blog. Believe it or not, I am still working on that longer piece–in fact, I should be writing it right now–but it’s not for my blog and so has a different time-scale. I’ll let you know.

      However, in some ways it’s good Henry has drawn me here and this has taken so long, because I’ve been able to get a flavor for what might be going on with Ron Unz.

      Humor me and let’s just say that Unz is correct when he says: “Essentially, I am proposing that the enormously large differences in population IQ reported by Lynn are primarily due to factors of social environment–poverty, education, rural deprivation” (Unz on Race/IQ: Response to Lynn and Nyborg. I know that Bell-Curve gospel is exactly opposite, that IQ is causal for poverty, education, etc., but as I said, humor me that these are actually the primary causal factors for IQ differences.

      If this is true, then the fact that the average white/black IQ differential has hardly budged in 50 years or so is easily explained: the average white/black wealth differential has also hardly budged in 50 years or so. If we accept sociological data, then we can note that the The Racial Wealth Gap Increases Fourfold:

      New evidence reveals that the wealth gap between white and African American families has more than quadrupled over the course of a generation. Using economic data collected from the same set of families over 23 years (1984-2007), we find that the real wealth gains and losses of families over that time period demonstrate the stampede toward an escalating racial wealth gap.

      Historical facts clearly demonstrate IQ changes with socioeconomic circumstances and social environment, just as Unz is arguing. This is not about scientific hypothesis–it’s about historical fact and political economy.

      • AMac says:

        jb’s comment (August 7, 2012 at 10:36 am) ended with a question for Prof. Antrosio.

        But are you willing to risk the outer darkness by acknowledging that people who disagree, such as Charles Murray and J. Philippe Rushton, also have a tenable position, and that it’s possible that they are the ones who are right?

      • harpend says:

        Jason you quote Unz: “Essentially, I am proposing that the enormously large differences in population IQ reported by Lynn are primarily due to factors of social environment–poverty, education, rural deprivation” Unz also points out that the rapid changes in IQ he seems to find in some European populations are not universal: there is apparently no trace of such change in East Asian populations. I don’t remember how much he goes into this in his essay but in conversation he finds the non-response of Asians to economic improvement to be as remarkable as the (apparent) response of Europeans. IOW his is not a simple heredity versus environment argument.

        WRT the racial wealth gap in the US there is something to be gained by looking at the income gap along with the wealth gap. The income gap is smaller, suggesting (at least to me: I don’t know the literature) that much of the wealth gap reflects difference in saving, i.e. time preference.

      • Traherne says:

        You’ve completely sidestepped the main question. Please answer the question!
        It gets to the heart of the matter, the underlying motivation of race-deniers: anti-racism. Denying race means the very notion of black/white IQ difference is absurd. It means racism itself is absurd. That’s why it’s so eagerly eaten up lefty academics. Isn’t this obvious?

        (Furthermore, wealth gap increases are perfectly consistent with a position that admits genetic contribution to IQ differences. As such it, hardly disproves the hypothesis.)

      • jb says:

        Jason —

        I’ve been preparing for a trip, so I haven’t had too much time to keep up with the discussion. However I have read your new Race IQ – Game Over blog post, and I find it disappointing; just another mundane “It’s obvious we’re right, and here’s why…” article. The woods are full of them (on both sides actually).

        The thing is, whenever two (or more) sides are debating a difficult issue, each side always has a list of arguments supporting their own position, arguments which they find very convincing, and which, inexplicably, their opponents do not. This is unavoidable. But sometime the people arguing are reasonable people, who are willing (even happy) to switch sides if they think the evidence warrants, and sometimes they are true believers, who are utterly committed to a particular side for reasons that have nothing to do with the evidence, and care only about winning.

        It can be difficult to distinguish a reasonable but opinionated opponent from a true believer, because the argument can follow a similar course with either one. Over the years though I’ve found one reliable diagnostic: true believers are adamantly unwilling to acknowledge any realistic possibility that they might be wrong.

        That’s what I was fishing for: an acknowledgement on your part that it was at least conceivable that you could be wrong. To be honest I didn’t really expect to get one, because you really do write like a true believer. I imagine that to acknowledge even the hypothetical possibility that Murray or Rushton could be right would be painful to you emotionally (and probably dangerous socially as well). Someone like Razib Khan commands respect in this matter because it’s clear that he cares a great deal about knowing the truth, but doesn’t really care what the truth turns out to be. But you are the exact opposite. The least trustworthy person to decide between alternatives A and B is someone who goes into the inquiry passionately committed to alternative A, and hating alternative B with every fiber of his being. And on this issue that clearly describes you.

        Nevertheless I do hope you will link to your long article on your blog when it’s done — it will be interesting to see if there is any real introspection, or if it’s just another “More reasons why we’ve always been right” article. I hope it doesn’t rely on Ron Unz though! If it does I’m going to wonder what you were working on between the time I asked my questions five months ago, and the time Ron published his article a month ago! Could it be that you were open-minded up until then, but Ron finally settled the issue for you? :-)

  20. JS says:

    Maybe this thread is dead, but maybe someone smart is still reading and can help me out. Dr. Antrosio posted a link to the article “Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate.” In this article are a couple of diagrams of genetic groups and their relations. These groups are clearly discernible from one another and form distinct trunks. The trunks also coincide with our common-sense racial categories. Why isn’t this enough to end the debate? The trunks are there, they are the result of real historical forces, and they group people by their places on the trunks. I don’t get what else is needed.

    • AMac says:

      JS (August 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm) —

      Alas, I can’t help you there. From where I stand, your interpretation is the parsimonious one. Over the past couple of years, as technology (mainly SNP chips and software) has gotten better and cheaper, more and more such analyses have been making their appearances. And indeed, often enough, their results track with what our lyin’ eyes show us. Rather than with what the “race-is-only-a-social-construct” believers tell us must be true.

      Razib Khan (linked earlier by Prof. Antrosio) regularly links and discusses these papers. Deinekes (often linked by Khan) discusses them at a deeper level, and often provides his own original analyses.

      That Prof. Antrosio approvingly links Khan — and that, upthread, he harshly criticized the seemingly stupid arguments put forth by Shiao et al. — suggests that he, like Kenan, is unwilling to dismiss the lyin’-eyes perspective. So, you may have to look farther afield for a true-believer’s answer to your query.

      • Kenan Malik can be a bit difficult to parse on these issues, as he spends a lot of time reviewing perspectives that he will not necessarily sanction. As I noted above, he’s the only one I know who has talked about Steve Sailer’s race as “extended family” idea.

        However, if you read into the comment stream, someone challenges Malik to ask if he is really a race realist. Malik’s response: “I am a ‘race realist’ only if race realism means accepting that ‘race is a social category but one which can have biological consequences’. I don’t know of any race realists who would accept that.”

      • AMac says:

        I responded to Jason Antrosio (August 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm) at the (current) bottom of this thread (August 9, 2012 at 8:19 am).

    • Kiwiguy says:

      @ JS,

      I think people fear that acknowledging those “common sense racial categories” will lead to racial comparisons and discrimination etc. So they point to the problem that you get with many categories, that the boundaries can be fuzzy, therefore the categories are meaningless/unhelpful. I thought one of the points Shiao et al were making was that this issue occurs in categorising other species and animal groups.

      Cavalli-Sforza & Walter Bodmer had an essay in 1976 about the lumper/splitter issue:

      “A fairly natural classification, which follows geographic boundaries, is that between European and extra-European Caucasians. Further splitting – for example of the European group into Northern, Alpine, and Mediterranean subgroups becomes more and more ambiguous and uncertain. It is true that the man on the street can usually guess quite accurately whether an individual’s ancestors came from north or south Europe – the typical Scandinavian looks very different from the typical Italian or Greek. Yet the validity and usefulness of this breakdown into smaller and smaller groups is doubtful, at least on the basis of present data.

      The bases of the groupings we have been discussing are largely geographic and, as we shall see, the broadest geographic groupings do correspond to a large extent with the available genetic data.”

      http://www.goodrumj.com/CavalliS.html

  21. typal says:

    “The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature” (H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau)

    They’re way ahead of you about the ‘social consequences’, that’s why data is useless in this debate and anyone who wants society to acknowledge the scientific validity of genetic explanations for human group differences ought to have realized that by now. Only by coming to grips with the opposition’s ethical arguments can there be a meeting of minds.

    • Kiwiguy says:

      I think philisophy professor Michael Levin has written quite a bit about that?

      • Kiwiguy says:

        Also, Peter Singer & Steven Pinker.

      • typal says:

        It’s a political conflict in which only one side has its ethics called into question. Advocating for science to inform national polcy could only be ethical if the consequences were disadvantageous for ones own group, or were unknown. Morally you should act selflessly. Hence the moral arguments are all on the oppositions side.

  22. Steve Sailer says:

    The U.S. government spends billions to collect data on Americans by race and by ethnicity (two concepts that the government emphasizes are distinct).

    • dearieme says:

      The last-but-one British census had a go at this. What it said about race vs ethnicity on the form was contradicted by what it said on the covering letter. It was an interesting illumination of confused (or dishonest) rhetoric.

  23. Chuck says:

    “The authors also make heavy use of Sesardic 2010. As I note in Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race, Sesardic has completely misread….”

    Jason,

    I read over Malik’s discussion, which you cited, and came across, to my astonishment, this claim on which much of her case rested: “Lewontin showed that virtually the entire range of human differences – 85 per cent – occurred between individuals within single populations.”
    Henry, here, has eloquently pointed out, no less than a decade ago, that 85% of the variance is not between individuals, because a large portion is within. In retrospect, this is obvious. Now, were I to adopt your critical standards, I would be forced to conclude:

    “Malik (or insert name e.g, Barbujani) has completely misread–and perhaps deliberately misrepresented–the genetics she uses in this article. Since Malik (or insert name) cannot be trusted to comprehend the ideas she discussed, I would not trust her for further reference by and anthropologist , nor can I trust others who bring her on board to make their arguments.”

    Yes, you likewise are suspect. But why stop there? A while back I decided to follow the citation trails left by a number of race writers. Here were some examples:

    (1a) Graves (2010) “However, on careful examination we see that Wright based on this own criteria for the existence of race, contradicted himself… he equated with geographical race, Fst>0.25″;

    Reference check:
    (1b) Wright (1978): There is also no question, however, that populations that have long inhabited separated parts of the world should, in general, be considered to be of different subspecies…The occurrence of a few conspicuous differences, probably due to selection for adaptation to widely different environmental conditions, does not necessarily imply much difference in general. Nei and Roychoudhury (1974) …”. (No claim about FST values.)

    (2a) Templeton (1998) “A standard criterion for a subspecies or race in the nonhuman literature under the traditional definition of a subspecies as a geographically circumscribed, sharply differentiated population is to have F* values of at least 0.25 to 0.30 (Smith et al. 1997)”
    .
    Reference check:
    (2b) Smith et al. (1997): Dichopatric populations are regarded as subspecies if they fail to exhibit full differentiation (i.e., exhibit overlap in variation of their differentiae up to 25-30%).” (No claim about FST values.)

    (3a) Kittles and Weiss (2003): “The traditional, though subjective, criterion for biological subspecies is FST > 0.25 (168, 190).”

    Reference check:
    (3b) (Both Wright (1978) and Templeton (1998) are cited!)

    (4a) Lao and Kayser (2009): “For comparison: a biological criterion (despite subjective) to define the presence of subspecies is finding estimations of genetic differentiation greater than approximately 25%( Kittles and Weiss, 2003).”

    Reference check:
    (4b) (Kittles and Weiss above!).

    Now, the rabbit hole runs deep. Were on the basis of some mis-citation, mis-quotation, mis-reference, mis-characterization, or mis-conceptualiztion, I to dismiss or hold in deep suspicion all discussions of race and all discussions which referenced these, what would I be left with? Not much.

    • Chuck says:

      Note: I didn’t realize that Kenan Malik was a he. For some reasons I was imagining Rekha Sharma.of Battlestar Galactica.

    • Hi Chuck,
      I will readily concede that there is abundant mis-citation, mis-quotation, mis-reference and the like running through much of academia. However, my reference to Sesardic is when someone cites an author as saying the exact opposite of his clearly-stated abstract. I believe it’s more egregious than the rabbit hole above.

      • JL says:

        Jason, it looks like you’re avoiding Sesardic’s points by concentrating on one detail with which his larger argument neither stands nor falls. But if you want to see further examples of misrepresentation by people in your camp, look no further than Sesardic’s book Making Sense of Heritability. He identifies a number of mind-boggling howlers in the works of many prominent anti-hereditarian scientists and philosophers.

        For example, he discusses how critics have attempted to refute Arthur Jensen’s views on heritable group differences in IQ by claiming that Jensen erreneously infers between-group heritability directly from within-group heritability. Jensen has in fact never made that error, but critics have come up with inventive ways of pinning it on him anyway. For example, the Stanford geneticist Marcus Feldman has written:

        In Jensen’s case and in the view of many genetically uninformed authors “the fact that intelligence variation has a large genetic component . . . makes it a not unreasonable hypothesis that genetic factors are strongly implicated in the average Negro-white intelligence difference.”

        The passage that Feldman quotes is supposedly from the famous 1969 Harvard Educational Review article by Jensen. However, as Sesardic shows, Feldman has actually spliced together sentences from different paragraphs in Jensen’s article, completely misrepresenting the actual argument. What Jensen actually wrote was that, “So all we are left with are various lines of evidence, no one of which is definitive alone, but which, viewed all together, make it a not unreasonable hypothesis that genetic factors are strongly implicated in the average Negro–white intelligence difference.” Incidentally, this egregious misrepresentation by Feldman is from his expert witness statement in the Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative action case.

        Jason, so much of the anti-hereditarian literature is shot through with these kinds of misrepresentations (often of course unintentional ones) that if your standards were applied, none of it would be worth reading at all.

  24. JS says:

    To what extent is this debate even scientific at this point? There doesn’t seem to be any scientific dispute. Everyone agrees with the genetics, everyone agrees that the migrations into different parts of the world and the resulting isolation resulted in morphological differences. The debate seems to be entirely conceptual and outside the sphere of actual science. I sense an old-fashioned view of concepts lurking in the background; the view that concepts are how we organize experience or carve up reality. The modern take isn’t that concepts are ways to carve up reality, but are abilities to track and reidentify stable patterns in nature. In other words, you start with the realist ontology and then can ask how people manage to track these real patterns in nature in order to identify what is ontologically the same at various times and under various conditions. To apply to the race debate, you start with the phenomena that people in different places display characteristic features. Then we ask scientists to explain this phenomena. We have a perfectly good explanation for it, namely, that people migrated into different parts of the world and developed different traits. The genetics is interesting in that it shows how these migrations and adaptations are recorded in the genetic record. But what you don’t do it claim that the phenomena isn’t there or isn’t real or that the groupings aren’t based in nature. Sometimes science does show that a phenomena isn’t real (I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head), but usually what it does is challenge explanations for phenomena and offer better ones (fire is not phlogiston, mental illness isn’t witchcraft). But that’s not what is happening here, no one is challenging the explanation for the phenomena of race, namely, that race is the result of migrations and isolation. Instead their challenging whether the phenomena exists, which is crazy.

  25. AMac says:

    @ Jason Antrosio (August 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm)

    The problem isn’t that Kenan Malik can be a bit difficult to parse on these issues. Nor is it that he spends a lot of time reviewing perspectives that he will not necessarily sanction, in the lenghty essay that your recommended and linked (August 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm).

    After finishing Why both sides are wrong in the race debate, the reader is formidably challenged to clearly understand Malik’s position in the race debate.

    The one side is the consensus, mainstream stance of social-science academics: ‘The American Anthropological Association’s official statement on race declares: “physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.’ The group’s president-elect, Alan H. Goodman, was quoted in a Baltimore Sun article of [Oct. 10, 2004] as saying, ‘Race as an explanation for human biological variation is dead,’ and comparing the race concept to a gun in the hands of racists.”

    In the preface to his essay, Malik invokes the distinguished evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne (who possesses impeccable liberal and anti-racist credentials) as a representative of “the other side:” Coyne insists that “human races exist in the sense that biologists apply the term to animals.” Further in, Milik adds quotes from others, such as American journalist Jon Entine, a leading advocate of the race concept. “The precise number and grouping of races will always be somewhat arbitrary… Modern typologists cannot even agree whether it is more meaningful to lump races into large fuzzy groups to split them into smaller units of dozens or even hundreds of populations.”

    So, we have the two sides of the debate–both worng. Well and good! With Thesis and Antithesis defined, all that remains is for Malik to stake out his Synthesis, and explain why it is superior to those of the earlier debaters.

    I would be very interested to read Prof. Antrosio’s paraphrase of Malik’s Synthesis, accompanied by an explanation of how it differs from the wrong stances of Coyne, Entine, or — for that matter — Sailor. Having just re-read the conclusion of Malik’s essay: that challenge remains beyond my grasp.

    Malik seems to succumb to the temptation of arguing against “race realist” positions that are simplistic. Given the multiple, compelling lines evidence that illuminate the complexities of race, and ancestry, and extended family — as social constructs and as biological realities — how could any simple position not be contradicted by data, and by evolutionary theory?

    This is not the writing style of somebody aspiring to follow the path that Feynman laid out in “Cargo Cult Science.”

    It seems to me that rejecting the counterfactual AAA orthodoxy as wrong, and rejecting the ignorant dogma of old-fashioned racialists as wrong… leaves Malik in the company of modern, sophisticated, social-construct-acknowledging, genetics-informed thinkers… like Coyne, Harpending & Cochran, and Sailer, for instance.

    Uneasy bedfellows, much?

    By this point, the attentive reader will have surmised that I am equally in the dark with respect to Prof. Antrosio’s position on the matter of race — the question that launched the thousand ships of this thread.

  26. Traherne says:

    Professor Antrosio, please answer JB’s question. It strikes at the heart of the matter.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You won’t think much of his answer. He thinks that IQ is wealth-driven.

      • AMac says:

        To review, jb’s question wasn’t “who is right in this debate?” It was about whether certain ideas held by certain people should be discussed in polite intellectual society. Or whether, qua the academic establishment’s prevailing orthodoxy, such bad individuals should be tarred with slurs as to their motives, and then cast into the outer darkness.

        The race concept being a gun in the hands of racists, Wreckers, all that.

    • erica says:

      The other day, I took a look at Prof. Antrosio’s blog, which he has titled, “Living Anthropologically.”

      Just below this title is this “aphorism”: “The moral optimism of anthropology can change the world.”

      So much for the scientific mind. I clicked out.

    • As I quoted above, on 2 May 2012, Razib Khan wrote that “Race, the way we have traditionally thought of it, is indeed a social construction. . . . The key issue is to move beyond the term race” (Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity.

      On 21 July 2012, Dienekes wrote how “Admixture matters” and “It’s time to give up trees and embrace networks!” (Admixture matters). Dienekes had previously praised Keith Hunley and Meghan Healey (they are part of “the New Mexico bunch” Henry refers to) for their work on how Latent admixture causes spurious serial founder effect, and how he hoped this paper would result in “increased appreciation of admixture in the human story.”

      Meanwhile, of course, Ron Unz was putting out his “Race, IQ, and Wealth” piece, which I claim is Race IQ – Game Over.

      Above, JB has asked me if I’m “willing to risk the outer darkness”? My question is–why should I? With Razib Khan trying to move away from race terminology, with Dienekes sounding like a post-modernist (he would never admit it, but getting rid of “tree metaphors” was exactly what Deleuze and Guattari were up to!), and with Ron Unz adopting a position I find quite amenable–seems like things are going my way.

      I still think Gravlee’s 2009 article How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality is an ideal summary of how the question of race stands.

      If anyone wants to read Gravlee and doesn’t have an academic library pass, please send me an e-mail.

      Cheers,
      Jason

      • AMac says:

        @ Jason Antrosio —

        Your latest comment (August 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm) is disappointing for its seeming disingenuousness. You first quote Razib Khan, suggesting that his current thinking can be captured by the aphorism that “race… is indeed a social construction.”

        Um… did you read the essay you linked, for meaning? Did you reflect on the implication of the figure from Xing et al (2009), that Khan reproduced in his GNXP post?

        I could work through Khan’s essay, picking out quotes short and long to fairly characterize his points — but why bother. The exercise is superfluous for some readers, who can quite capably click and grok without my assistance. The exercise is superfluous for other readers as well, though for very different reasons.

        Your characterization of Dienekes as a newly-minted post-modernist on matters of race and ancestry is likely to be similarly faithful. I didn’t check.

        Whether Unz’ arguments end up eclipsing Lynn’s or supplementing them, that portrayal, at least, is close.

        You again elided jb’s question, this time with a partial quote. “Casting into the outer darkness” is his reference to the behavior of social scientists of the mainstream left-wing (but I repeat myself), towards those who stray from doctrine, in order to prevent consideration of certain ideas on their merits.

        Seems like the long march through the institutions is going your way, indeed. And, belatedly, I’m getting a sense of how the wind is blowing. This so-called “course” that Harpending plans to use to poison the minds of impressionable youngsters with racist filth: it’s not to late to stop his cabal! Get the mimeographs rolling, a poster stapled to every campus phone pole! Rally at 6 p.m. on the Green! Occupy the Administration building!

        Down with wreckers!

      • I don’t believe I’ve misrepresented Razib Khan’s essay or been disingenuous. Certainly with a title like Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity, there is an attempt to recuperate the notion of biological race for polite company. As Khan puts it “Race may be a biological myth, but there is no unanimous consensus on this topic, and those who dissent from the position that it is a myth are not marginal cranks.” However, what I would emphasize is that in recuperating biological race, Khan makes clear that this is not the same as traditional race conceptions and that we should ditch the race terminology and instead talk about “populations.” It’s a view that is not inconsistent with the forensic anthropology articles I’ve cited above.

        Khan cites Jerry Coyne, I believe mostly to provide a respected voice. As I’ve already said, Coyne’s blog-post, citing exactly one journal article from 2002, is hardly a well-informed review of the literature on human variation. In a follow-up piece to that, here’s what Coyne has to say about races in the present:

        As I said, this doesn’t show that there are discrete “races” in Europe, and I don’t think there are obviously discrete “races” anywhere these days, though there is large-scale genetic differentiation among worldwide population suggesting that such races once existed as relatively discrete and geographically isolated populations. The discreteness that once existed, or so I think, is now blurring out as transportation and migration are beginning to mix the discrete groups into not a melting pot, but sort of a lumpy pudding of humanity. (More on genes and geography: diagnosing your ancestry from your DNA)

        Again, I don’t think the addition of one more article counts for a comprehensive review here, but Coyne’s position–that there are not any obviously discrete races anywhere these days, and if there are they will soon blur out–seems hardly amenable to race realism.

        My comment on the image from Xing et al. 2009 was already in the comment stream at #20, but I’ll reproduce it here:

        A close look at the genetic-cluster plot above reveals these are sampled from populations that would be considered native to Africa, Asia, and Europe. The Americas are obviously not included. But . . . in the last 500 years, these populations have almost all been reshuffled and moved around. Interestingly, the place where the idea of race emerges and is held most firmly in place are the colonial places: the Americas and South Africa. Those are also the places where–I suspect–one would most likely get a smear across the canvass if contemporary populations were plotted.

        It’s interesting to note that on August 9, as many of these comments were being posted, Khan was writing The law of reversion to type as cultural illusion. Khan is here discussing how we often perceive physical differences through the lens of cultural expectations, an ancient anthropological idea dating at least to Franz Boas. Very Boasian in fact.

      • AMac says:

        @ Jason Antrosio (August 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm) —

        After reading your comment, I re-read Harpending’s original post.

        You seem like a nice guy, and smart. Refreshingly, for an academic with your political perspectives, you are polite, and willing to engage with ‘the other’.

        However, as far as your commentary in this thread, it is generally unsatisfying, for two reasons.

        1. The position that you argue for is never quite clear. Harpending titled his post “Platitude Storm” for a reason. Of course Race Is A Social Construct. Duh. Everybody* knows that.

        *Aside: “Everybody” means “every West Hunter reader who is sufficiently conversant with this arena to be capable of following the main ideas under discussion in this thread.” Arguments against knuckle-draggers of rrracist and other ilk are delightful — but out of place at this venue.

        The extent to which Social Construction and other non-inherited factors are sufficient to explain current and historical realities is what’s under consideration here, along with whether relevant inter-racial biological differences exist. (Your professional society’s consensus stance is that they do not — Alan H. Goodman, op. cit.)

        The position you express at your blog is one of triumphalism: the vindication of the belief that socioeconomic factors suffice, and that inter-racial biological differences (to whatever small extent they may exist) are marginal or irrelevant. Race IQ – Game Over: It was always all about wealth.

        Yet, in this thread, you offer shifting and nuanced views, approvingly quoting Razib Khan, Dienekes, and other intellectuals who would scorn the disregard of genomic, genetic, psychometric, and economic evidence that you display at the just-linked post, and in its comments.

        While your distaste for Sailer comes through clearly (here and there) — from what you’ve written at this blog, I couldn’t summarize how your opinions on race and “Race As A Social Construct” differ meaningfully from his. Can you?

        In related fashion, the positions that you argue against are rarely the ones being expressed by other commenters here.

        2. The references and links that you supply are not reliably supportive of the claims that you make while citing them. This has come up repeatedly in the course of our exchanges in this thread, e.g. with Sailer and Khan. From the writer’s point of view, this can be “a bug or a feature”, depending on his or her goals for the discussion. To be clear, I view it as an invitation for me to waste my time chasing down ghosts — there is no “plus” side to it. If this isn’t an intended tactic on your part: the usual Englsh/Journalism advice of “tighten your writing” might apply, instead.

      • Botti says:

        ***IQ is in large part due to “factors of social environment–poverty, education, rural deprivation,” we can declare game over on Race IQ–see Unz 2012.***

        @ Jason, Not really. See Steven Pinker’s response to Ron Unz. Unz creates something of a strawman in his portrayal of Lynn’s argument. Also, if you want a more quantitative response to Unz – see this discussion of 3rd generation Hispanic scores on PISA, TIMMS, & ADD Health data. Unz comments and the author responds.

        http://occidentalascent.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/hispanic-flynn-effect-in-the-naep/ T

        The other thing to look at is the discussion by Jason Malloy on West Hunter regarding ancestry correlations with educational outcomes. If you really want to resolve the debate perhaps arrange further admixture studies?

  27. harpend says:

    Hi Jason:

    Sailer’s description of races as “extended families” makes perfect sense to me and to most of us who use the term. You might glance at an old post of mine here called “Giving Bigotry a Chance” to see how “family” can be measured these days. “Family”, BTW, is every bit as arbitrary as “Race” along with almost every such term in any anthro textbook, like for example “homestead” or “tribe” or “culture” and so on. Everyone knows that, so what?

    The windmill against which there is a lot of tilting, the so called “traditional view of race”, was abroad in some circles about a century ago. Why on earth does anyone keep jabbering about it? That ridiculous special issue of the AJPA had respectble scientists talking about interesting stuff but no one in the sciences will read it because the respectable authors all added their own versions of the Stalinist denunciation of the “race concept”. Note that none of them actually said what this “race concept” was. All could agree that this “race concept” was not useful but no one ever asked “useful for what?”

    It would be nice if everyone would quit it with the underhanded insults like “Khan cites Jerry Coyne, I believe mostly to provide a respected voice.” Razib in this area has a whole lot more creds than Jerry Coyne, whose specialty is not human diversity. Appeal to authority is what they do in the English department, not in the science departments.

    • Dear AMac and Henry,
      Thank you for these replies. I am not a regular reader of this blog. Therefore, when you say

      Of course Race Is A Social Construct. Duh. Everybody* knows that. *Aside: “Everybody” means “every West Hunter reader who is sufficiently conversant with this arena to be capable of following the main ideas under discussion in this thread.” Arguments against knuckle-draggers of rrracist and other ilk are delightful–but out of place at this venue.

      I am honestly not sure which commenters do or do not fit the description. There have been several comments above which seem to deny the “Duh” part of this. I have generally not replied directly to those comments, but I do read them and so never know how much of the “blazingly obvious” (in Henry’s terms) must be stated.

      I know you feel that this is a “Stalinist” position in anthropology. But it is actually hardly a widely accepted position or well understood in society-at-large. And as we all know, for the last decade it has been under relentless attack. When I said that things seemed to be “shifting my way,” it’s really out of a sense of beleagured relief. Perhaps I deserve all the vitriol I’ve received on my Race/IQ Game Over post. But really, to date, not a single supportive comment? On my own blog? I feel like I’m the one who’s about to get my courses protested!

      Yes, I have been citing material from Khan and Dienekes because I know they have credibility here. My reading is not what they might endorse, but I don’t think it is completely off-base.

      Henry, I agree with you that Khan has far more credibility than Coyne on human diversity. In fact, that’s why I can’t figure why he references him. It may be that there is no appeal to authority in science departments, but that’s hardly true in the blogosphere, where appeals to Dawkins or Wilson are quite regular events.

      Yes, I would say socioeconomic explanations far trump the biological-genetic explanations, but this is not to say that we should disregard biology and genetics, and in fact anthropology has done a lousy job of explaining and exploring how socioeconomics and biology are interrelated and inextricable, which is why I keep referencing the Gravlee article. You may read that position as “triumphalism” on my blog, but for me I’m trying to make a vigorous defense of a position I see as not widely accepted, poorly understood, and under attack.

      • AMac says:

        Jason, thanks for the response (August 12, 2012 at 10:06 am).

        Quick responses:

        > Therefore, when you say, “Of course Race Is A Social Construct. Duh. Everybody* knows that…”

        That was me (AMac), not Henry Harpending.

        I appreciate that it’s unreasonable to expect another commenter to keep a mental who’s-who list for this blog. Still, there’s Feynman, and his suggestion that scientists focus in on the best opposing arguments and the strongest contrary evidence. Eschewing straw men. In my opinion, you have not done that.

        > I know you feel that this is a “Stalinist” position in anthropology. But it is actually hardly a widely accepted position…

        For me, in your writing, antecedents are trouble. What exactly are “this” and “it” referring to?

        > Perhaps I deserve all the vitriol I’ve received on my Race/IQ Game Over post.

        I read a couple of closely-reasoned rebuttals, which prompted some (not over-the-top) snark from you. The thread didn’t strike me as “vitriolic.” But I generally skip to the next entry when a comment starts entering intoteh stupid territory, so perhaps it’s worse than I recollect.

        > Yes, I have been citing material from Khan and Dienekes because I know they have credibility here. My reading is not what they might endorse, but I don’t think it is completely off-base.

        What I wrote earlier was, “The references and links that you supply are not reliably supportive of the claims that you make while citing them.” “My reading is not what they
        might endorse” doesn’t strike me as a very good counterpoint.

        > I would say socioeconomic explanations far trump the biological-genetic explanations, but this is not to say that we should disregard biology and genetics…

        It seems to me that most Far Trumpers advocate their position by disregarding or misrepresenting biology and genetics (e.g. Alan H. Goodman, op. cit.). That doesn’t make them wrong — but to the unconvinced, it’s not a very persuasive style of argumentation.

        Re: Triumphalism: “Game Over” is a fairly triumphalist title to a fairly triumphalist post.

  28. xxx@yahoo.com says:

    On Jason’s blog he actually says the “parsing of the numbers is something of a sideshow”.
    No Jason, data analysis is at the very heart of the issue (sucks for most anthropologists, I know), and if he is unwilling to address a data-driven argument with data-informed responses, then he is just arguing with lawyerly ideological rhetoric and can not be taken seriously. Compare the clear and concise posts by Greg and Henry with the opaque, discursive purple prose of Jason and the contrast says it all.

  29. harpend says:

    I am starting to think that Jason and I are from parallel universes and that there is absolutely no way to cross between them. I weep for my beloved anthropology when I read him as, I am sure, Jason weeps for his beloved anthropology when he reads us. Much of the foundation of social science was that it was to be a sort of hybrid between Snow’s two cultures of science and the humanities. The result, especially in Anthropology but also elsewhere, is a sterile mule with a lot of autoimmune problems.

    I wish that I knew more about academic history departments since they are likely vulnerable to the same disorder. There are important solid data-based history books that I have read that read like books written by scientists. On the other hand I have had to put in a whole lot of effort this year convincing my 16 year old to sit in his high school history class and keep his mouth shut: he tends to react to blather and lies by speaking up. I think I have finally convinced him to just sit there and look agreeable. Apparently, according to him, he gets mostly vague propaganda. For example he thinks that an interesting question, especially in the current climate, is whether FDR made the great depression worse or better. No, that is not an acceptable question and even raising it is like wearing a badge of evil.

    • Dear Henry, and others who have engaged,
      I had a couple more thoughts, but my blog just got a lovely link from the American Renaissance and I am getting some of the nicest comments and e-mails. Makes this place–what you called the “lion’s den”–look like a kiddie pool. I suppose triumphalism was a mistake after all…

      JB above asked me about openness. I think there are degrees of openness in any investigation. In retrospect, Henry, I feel like there has been more than a little bit of foreordained conclusion in your queries, and I wonder who is actually more open to different kinds of ideas and thinking. There are a lot of accusations about politics and ideology and the like, but I’m just not seeing the neutrality. I also still think you’ve misread and misrepresented How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality, but I’ll be forever grateful for the Guido Barbujani reference. Good Italian surname and all.
      Cheers,
      Jason

      • AMac says:

        Jason Antrosio (August 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm) wrote —

        > I am getting some of the nicest comments and e-mails. Makes this place–what you called the “lion’s den”–look like a kiddie pool…

        I interpret “nicest” to be a sardonic allusion to a set of vitriolic comments and emails. Emails and deleted comments, I wouldn’t know, but the dissenters posting in Jason’s “Race IQ – Game Over: It was always all about wealth” thread look fairly well-mannered, on the whole (though there were a few that were tl;dr). Maybe Prof. Antrosio is somewhat thin-skinned at his own blog, or is alluding to something else.

        > In retrospect, Henry, I feel like there has been more than a little bit of foreordained conclusion in your queries, and I wonder who is actually more open to different kinds of ideas and thinking.

        Um. “Who’re you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” can lead to an intriguing discussion, for those of us with pragmatic and empirical bents. Sometimes the more straightforward and obvious interpretations of the data are incomplete or mistaken; sometimes the your-lyin’-eyes arguments have heft to them. If Prof. Antrosio’s posts on this thread represent his A Game, and the A Game of anthropology’s Anti-Rrracism vanguard — this isn’t one of those times.

        The abstract to the oft-cited Gravlee (2009) article “How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality” contains multiple straw men, and performs multiple respectful bows to mainstream orthodoxy. Its text doesn’t cry out “read the whole thing!” to those not already persuaded.

      • Hi AMac,
        OK, so I’ve only received one truly vile e-mail, so I’ll grow thicker skin and plod along. That e-mail did give me pause about being one of the few publicly-identifiable people on a thread where many travel under alias and initials.

        I’ve seen nothing in this thread or the links that would challenge or even seriously modify the articles in the 2009 AJPA Race Reconciled. I’ve been telling anthropologists to read those articles, as there is a need to know the status of Gould-Lewontin-type critiques, but there isn’t anything here I would recommend, except as a way to keep up with the ongoing Race Revival.

        I do continue to cite Gravlee’s How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality, because I as far as I can tell no one on this thread has read it. Henry says he has read it, but his reading and representation is quite puzzling.

        You say the Gravlee abstract has multiple straw men. Please identify one and we can discuss.

      • AMac says:

        @ Jason Antrosio —

        I didn’t find your latest comment (August 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm ) to be particularly delightful.

        > That e-mail did give me pause about being one of the few publicly-identifiable people on a thread where many travel under alias and initials.

        I can see why folks who write under their real name wouldn’t wish to engage with people writing pseudonymously, like me. However, West Hunter’s owners allow it (as do you, at your blog). I’d prefer it if you’d establish your policy at the beginning of the conversation, rather than near its end.

        > I’ve been telling anthropologists to read those articles [in the 2009 AJPA Race Reconciled], as there is a need to know the status of Gould-Lewontin-type critiques, but there isn’t anything here I would recommend, except as a way to keep up with the ongoing Race Revival.

        Those troublesome indefinites in your writing, again. By “anything here,” you seem to mean “any comment contributed to this thread, that you disagree with”. “The ongoing Race Revival” links to your entryAttacking Anthropology and the Race Revival. That’s a post about people attacking anthropology as they work to revive what you see as outdated and discredited ideas about race.

        You seem unwilling to accept the notion that in this exchange at West Hunter, people squarely within the scientific tradition of Popper, Feynman, etc. are disagreeing with you in good faith.

        If you must level charges of being anti-science or of promoting discredited racialist dogma, I’d prefer that you make your case explicitly, rather than slyly, via a link.

        “Attacking anthropology” — what silliness. That people who dissent from your views yearn for the good ol’ days of phrenology in the service of racism — more silliness.

        I don’t like your style of discussion.

      • AMac,
        Sorry for the hiatus–traveling and the semester looms.

        I don’t have a policy on conversations with anonymous commenters. I wrote that it gave me pause, because this was after getting posted to AmRen and getting an ugly e-mail. That was new for me and made me think.

        In a comment above, you asked “Whose ideas are more insightful and more useful, Sailer’s half-decade-old notions (aforementioned Race FAQ), or the hot-off-the-presses peer-reviewed concepts of Shiao, Bode, Beyer, and Selvig (Kiwiguy link)?” My answer was that I haven’t found either useful, except as examples of a trend toward remaking race.

    • typal says:

      There is a established civil religion which requires certain truths to be affirmed as self evident. Forget about trying to convince people to look at the data dispassionately, they will see it as their duty (an overriding moral duty above and beyond any scientific one) to be unconvinced. You make a valliant attempt to rehabilitate genetic explainations for Jewish success, but conspiratorial explainations of that kind are not being aimed at any immigrant group today. So there is no need for genetic explainations of immigrant behaviour to counteract accusations that groups work as a cabal. The mainstream view is that they are behaving just fine and will soon be up to speed. Question that, and it will be assumed you are malevolent, or at least that your work is going to be used for malevolent purposes by evil people.

  30. Bruce says:

    Look, people categorize things because it’s useful. We all do it every day. In the case of race, the lefties object to it for ideological reasons. But they aren’t consistent in their rejection of categorizing things. If they went around deconstructing everyone else’s use of categories in daily life, everyone would think they were nuts.
    SHouldn’t we drag in the philosophy department? Isn’t this called “nominalism” or something like that. The idea that the only thing all rabbits have in common is the word “rabbit.”

    • weiner_dawg says:

      This is it, the root of the IQ debate. It’s not about science, is about politics. It’s a Marxist meme that has taken on a life of its own in Western academia.

      It takes a lot of work and politicking to become an Anthropology professor. Going against the grain on this topic is career suicide. Can you blame him?

      • Simon Elliot says:

        I’ve been saying for years that we need to tackle relativism, in all its forms, as used by the left. It is their primary weapon for undermining their opponents and manufacturing doubt where there should be none.

  31. AMac says:

    Bad Steve Sailer makes an ungoodplus point about performance-enhancing drugs and sports that might — might — possibly have relevance to this discussion.

    let me come back to my recurrent theme of the inadequacy of tacit understandings. I am constantly being informed that we don’t need horrible persons like me pointing out in writing things that we all understand perfectly well on an unspoken level. But it constantly turns out that we don’t understand implicit knowledge when framed in a slightly different way. Link.

    On second thought, perhaps the layered, inscrutable, complexificatious, internally-inconsistent arguments of the “Race Is Nought But A Social Construct” academics deserve to retain their dominance of thinking on this matter.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  32. Hi again, Henry,
    In the above comments, you increase your volume of denunciation–“That ridiculous special issue of the AJPA had respectable scientists talking about interesting stuff but no one in the sciences will read it”–but I believe your comment is demonstrably false.

    For example Guido Barbujani, whom you recommended to me on these matters, cites Hunley in Human Genome Diversity, and a Google scholar search on Relethford’s article reveals a number of cites, some of which seem to be in the sciences.

    • harpend says:

      Right, so I am hyperbolic. Your comment does force me to clarify what I am sneering at. Here it is as some analogies. BTW of course Relethford gets cited: he is a serious player. Few seem to have noticed that his view of AMH-Neanderthal admixture, a view he has put forth for more than a decade, turned out to be exactly right. While the archenemies Wolpoff and Stringer had to have a joint meal of crow fillets, Jon was right the whole time.

      If I encounter an article about embryology and I discover that the author proclaims in it that life begins at conception, I quit reading the article. The author is waving his badge, and I don’t read badged articles.

      If I encounter an article about climate that assures me that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax, I don’t read the article. I don’t read badged articles.

      If I encounter an article that assures me that the analysis confirms the important insights of Marx and Engels, I quit reading the article. No badged articles for me.

      If I read an article about ethnicity in America that says that diversity is our strength, I don’t read it. Badge thing again.

      If I read an article pointing out that we are all puppets of Jewish bankers, I don’t read it. Badge.

      The ‘race is a poor way to do something or other’ is just another badge, put out there as a claim to moral high ground. I don’t read badged articles.

      Make sense??

      HCH

      • Hi Henry,
        Sorry for hiatus–traveling, and the semester looms…

        I certainly understand about not wanting to read badged articles, but I’m puzzled as to why you originally asked for recommendations on articles articulating a social construction perspective–if that is simply a badge! To borrow one of your analogies, it’s as if you had asked me for a good anthropologist who was inspired by Marx and I said Eric Wolf–and then you lambasted him for being too Marxist.

        But more importantly, it’s unfair to lump these all together as badged articles–the pieces in the AJPA Race Reconciled attempt to spell out a position that is subtle, very often not well articulated, and poorly understood.

        It’s rather like Razib Khan’s recent post On phylogenetic instrumentalism, in which he writes that these issues get

        repeated over and over and over, because people routinely get confused . . . A common issue is that for purposes of mental digestion it is useful to label ancestral elements “European,” or on PCA refer to a “European-Asian” cline, as if the population genetic abstractions themselves are the measure of what European or Asian is. But European and Asian are themselves human constructions, and subject to debate. . . . For the purposes of human population genetics and phylogenetics the main issue is the historical and cognitive bias toward Platonism and types. Instead of “European” being a convenient label for pragmatic purposes, we imbue European with the essences of value of an ideal type.

        Interestingly, this bias toward Platonism is something Weiss and Long critiqued in Non-Darwinian estimation: my ancestors, my genes’ ancestors (2009).
        Now surely for someone like you, steeped in the sciences, this is “blazingly obvious” and arguing against Platonism must be the ultimate bogus strawman badge. But when it comes to teaching, popular understandings, the blogs, and even many in academia, these issues seem to hardly be clearcut and resolved.

  33. JL says:

    Jason Antrosio does not publish dissenting voices to his ex cathedra pronouncements in his own blog, but this article of his is so wrong-headed that I couldn’t help replying to it anyway, below.

    As I said in Race IQ – Game Over, this enormous and unbelievably persistent wealth gap is more than enough to account for average white/black IQ differentials.

    Show me the data that demonstrate this. Your claim is subject to a very simple empirical test, which is the reason why no expert believes that SES variables explain the gap.

    Add in some of the things mentioned by Hans, like stereotype threat, and the kinds of biocultural health inequalities Gravlee details in How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality, and there is more than enough to explain one standard deviation, regression to population mean, and all the rest of the fancy statistical observations used to justify the notion of irremediable gap.

    Again, you’re making an empirical claim which does not hold up under scrutiny. Stereotype threat is a non-starter as an explanation of the gap, because statistically it manifests itself as a violation of measurement invariance, and we have nationally representative samples which show both the one SD gap and measurement invariance between races. In fact, many studies of stereotype threat start from the assumption that the gap, as reflected in tests like the SAT, is a genuine ability gap and stereotype threat is what explains the common finding that African-Americans underperform relative to whites with similar test scores (this explanation is wrong, but that’s not relevant here).

    As to health disparities between races, they too are impotent as an explanation of the cognitive gap. This study looked into a range of interracial health disparities and found that under maximalist assumptions, health conditions and health behaviors could explain about a quarter of the gap in children. However, as the author readily admits, this is a big overestimate of the actual effect because it unrealistically assumes that different disparities are randomly distributed within races. (Another problem is genetic confounding: black ancestry could be causally connected to both lower IQ and worse health.) Because there is so much overlap in bad childhood environments between whites and blacks in America, most hypothesized environmental effects are simply impossible as explanations of the IQ gap. For example, Gravlee makes much of racial differences in birth weight, but low birth weight explains at most 3-4 percent of the IQ gap between whites and blacks — and even this may be an overestimate due to genetic confounding. Arthur Jensen has pointed out that if there is a major environmental cause (or a set of causes) of the black-white gap, it must be a mysterious “X-factor” that is uniformly present among blacks of all social classes and uniformly absent among whites of all social classes.

    In general, Jason, I think your anthropological imperialism into other fields of research fails because you do not understand that your cookie-cutter explanations of racial disparities have been tested and found wanting by researchers who are actually interested in empirical validation of hypotheses rather than armchair philosophizing.

    Of course there is ample reason to point out the inequalities within the white wealth averages–much of the reason for the average white/black wealth gap is the huge gap between the white rich and the white poor. As I mentioned in the Race/IQ post, there is reason to suspect that the classic racialist-hereditarian argument–that poor whites outperform wealthy blacks–is starting to fray, and I predicted even greater fraying. Here the Charles Murray acolytes pour in to talk about assortative mating: but really, are they saying there has been genetic-biological adjustment such that in the last 50 years there is now more intra-race discrepancy in educational outcomes than inter-race?

    If prevalent social norms favor assortative mating and meritocracy, it inevitably leads to tighter association between intelligence and SES. (In Adam Smith’s days, the association was thus much weaker, so he wasn’t all wrong.) The Reardon study that suggested that intra-racial test-score differences have grown in tandem with income inequality is almost certainly bunk. For example, Reardon reported a 30-40 percent increase in the test-score gap between rich and poor whites from 1977 to 2001, but Christopher Jencks et al. found that from 1980 to 1997 the association between parental income and child IQ did not change at all despite the rapid increase of income inequality over the same time period. Reardon’s findings are false probably because many of the samples he used are not nationally representative, and because his measures of income and ability are unreliable. In contrast, Jencks et al. use the representative NLSY samples which have excellent measures of cognitive ability and parental SES.

    To confirm the findings of Jencks et al., I analyzed some data from another source, the nationally representative Add Health study. The data include a verbal IQ test, where the black mean is 91.72 and the white mean 104.62. The gap is almost exactly one standard deviation (1.01). The data are from the mid-1990s when the participants were in their early teens. Only non-Hispanics are included in my analyses.

    I divided the participants into five income classes based on parental income. The cut-off points are approximately the 10th, 30th, 70th, and 90th percentiles of the white income distribution. The IQ scores by family income and race are as follows:

    Less than $14,000:
    White 97.96
    Black 87.04

    $14,000-30,000:
    White 101.84
    Black 91.28

    $30,000-59,000:
    White 105.01
    Black 94.46

    $59,000-89,000:
    White 107.98
    Black 98.69

    More than $89,000:
    White 110.29
    Black 102.04

    Some observations:

    (1) Black kids from families with incomes in excess of $89,000 (i.e., above the 90th percentile of white incomes) score below the overall white IQ average and similarly to white kids from families with incomes somewhere in the $15,000-20,000 range (about 12th-18th percentile of white incomes).

    (2) White kids from families with incomes less than $14,000 score similarly to blacks from families with incomes in somewhere in the $70,000-89,000 range.

    (3) White kids from families with incomes above the 90th percentile score about one standard deviation above white kids from families below the 10th income percentile.

    (4) The IQ gap between the top ten percent richest whites and the bottom ten percent poorest whites is almost exactly the same as the gap between all whites and all blacks. Reardon, who claimed that that the white 90th-10th gap is nearly twice the black-white gap, really dropped the ball in his analysis.

    In short, income continues to fail as an explanation of the black-white IQ gap. If anyone wants to replicate this analysis, the variables are H1GI4 (Hispanic/non-Hispanic), H1GI6A (white race), H1GI6B (black race), PA55 (family income), and AH_PVT (IQ score).

    It is moreover belied by some of the state-by-state data “Mike the Mad Biologist” points to, indicating Massachusetts blacks doing as well as Alabama whites.

    No one is suggesting that educational differences have a 100 percent genetic etiology. NAEP score differences between states, for example, must reflect differences in educational systems to some extent. However, even a purely hereditarian take on differences between Alabama and Massachusetts predicts results in the direction Mike found. MA has long been a destination for upwardly mobile migrants, whereas upwardly mobile people from AL have tended to move out of the state. This has influenced test scores regardless of race. Another reason to expect higher performance from MA blacks is that mixed-race marriages are more common in MA and mixed-race individuals tend to score intermediate between the averages of their parental races.

    Nevertheless, I decided to look at MA and AL scores in the NAEP Data Explorer. Mike the Mad Biologist’s comparison between AL and MA is of course an exercise in cherry-picking. AL whites are the lowest-scoring whites, while MA blacks are the highest-scoring blacks. Moreover, Mike’s choice for 2011 math test for grade 8 does not seem to be entirely accidental either. If you look at the results of the two other NAEP tests, reading and science, for the same cohort, AL whites outscore MA blacks by about 0.37 SD and 0.54 SD, respectively, and in previous years the math gap was larger, too. (I’m assuming throughout that the SDs are 35 points.) This discrepancy between different subjects may reflect a sampling error, or MA schools may simply teach math particularly effectively. Whatever the explanation, averaging the scores across the three NAEP tests (math, reading, science) should give a more reliable estimate of the achievement gap between MA blacks and AL whites. The average gap across the tests comes to about 0.35 SD in 2011. Factoring in that MA is one of the most advanced states (on just about any metric) with one of the best educational systems, while AL is one of the least advanced with one of the worst educational systems, a 0.35 SD gap in favor of AL whites compared to MA blacks (on tests that were not designed to measure general mental ability, administered to kids whose genetic propensities have not yet fully manifested themselves) hardly contradicts any hereditarian theory.

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