February 3, 2015
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It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.
The commenter Foma left the following comment on an unrelated post that I thought might be useful to expand into a more detailed treatment covering the problems with race realism, how race realists misunderstand heritability and their obsessive fetishizing of scientist Richard Lewontin.
Hey Emil, what do you think of Gregory Cochran’s latest post about Lewontin? Is it factual or isn’t?
The post in question is Lewontin wins the Crafoord Prize written by race realist Gregory Cochran. What is race realism, who is Lewontin and are the claims by Cochran reasonable or not?
Race realists are individuals who believe that modern genetic research has vindicated racial divisions created in the 1700s. They often rationalize this belief by appealing to trivial misunderstandings of published research or outright pseudoscience. One of their main targets over the last couples of decades have been evolutionary biologist and geneticist Richard Lewontin. Why? It all goes back to experiments done in the late 1960s through late 1970s. Using gel electrophoresis, he was able to show that individual of the model organism called common fruit fly were more genetically diverse than previously thought, and thus ushered in a revolution in population genetics. For this and related research, he was rewarded with the 2015 Crafoord Prize in Biosciences.
Lewontin and human genetic variation
Later, he used a similar approach to argue that most of human variation occurred within populations and not between them and argued that the concept of race was not that useful or important when it comes to humans.
However, Lewontin’s argument was incomplete as his analysis was on the level of a single locus. Critics, such as A. W. F. Edwards, lamented that there could be correlations between different loci and that this could offer a justification for traditional racial categories. Modern studies, such as Li et al. (2008) and Rosenberg et al. (2002), that look at 300+ loci and 650 000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms show that the vast majority of human genetic variation (e. g. 93-95%) is to be found within human population and only a tiny fraction between them (e. g. 3-5%). So although the original argument by Lewontin had an important limitation, his conclusion is supported by modern genetic research.
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November 23, 2013
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Time to respond to yet another reader feedback email! If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page. For more answers to feedback emails, see the mailbag category.
Most race realists I encounter online hesitate to directly state their opinions of African-Americans (or other ethnic minorities). If they did, it would be pretty obvious that their position is based on nothing more than lazy stereotyping and ingrained prejudice. This means that they have to attempt to dress up their delusional beliefs in scientific terms to make it appear respectable. As a result, they tend to spread misinformation about scientific topics such as heritability, genetic risk factors, intelligence and aggression. Typically, they also add condescending complains about “cultural Marxism” or “suffocating political correctness gone mad” or something similar. Debunking these allegedly “sophisticated” race realists often demand both deep and broad knowledge covering topics such as adoption and twin studies, genome-wide association studies, haplogroups, principal component analysis, heritability, statistics and the biological influences of behavior. In addition, a lot of patience.
Ever so rarely, I come across what we might call an unsophisticated race realist. This simplified archetype typically do not bother to attempt to discuss the details of human genetic diversity or attempt any of the traditional pseudoscientific gambits. Instead, this kind of race realist just blurts out their favorite stereotype about a given ethnic minority Read more of this post
November 24, 2012
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A reader sent me an email about some arguments put forward by race realists, told me he did not know a good way to refute them and asked me for my take on it. I am not convinced he is a concern troll, but some of the language he used and the fact that the quotes of his opponents cannot be found on the Internet makes me suspicious. However, because it is so hard to tell, I will try to be charitable. The person asked not to have his name posted, so I will just refer to him as “he” or “the reader” below.
Hey there. I found your blog a month or two ago when I started researching the topic of racial IQ differences. Lately, I’ve been debating some people over the internet about this subject using some of the information that you and other egalitarians have provided. As expected, the folks who I was talking with didn’t like what they heard and responded with ad hominem attacks, but there was one point someone brought up that I simply couldn’t respond to.
For me, phrases that stand out here are “racial IQ differences”, “you and other egalitarians” and “one point someone brought up that I simply couldn’t respond to”. The first phrase is suspicious because it associates race with IQ difference, when most individuals who reject race realism thinks that most observed differences are due to other factors besides race. Furthermore, “egalitarian” is a word that reminds a lot about “Darwinism”. It has its uses, but most of the time, it is a concept that those opposing it use to try and make the science-based position appear as if it was an ideology. Finally, The last phrase reeks of concern trolling.
This is not an iron-clad case and we should welcome actual concerns. Also, it is important to respond to the point brought up no matter if the person is a concern troll or a person who has a legitimate question.
The point he “simply could not respond to”
The argument he had trouble with was: Read more of this post
August 28, 2012
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I have previously scoffed against race realism and related topics in a few blog posts.
The Youtube user C0nc0rdance (Youtube channel, blog) has made a set of two videos explaining the scientific flaws of race realism called “The Science of Human Races” (part 1, part 2) that I find very convincing. Consider this a summary of the arguments and evidence put forward (although c0nc0rdance might not have used the exact sources I list), with some personal comments from me and links or references to the primary scientific literature when possible. This list is also not necessarily chronological. Read more of this post
March 4, 2012
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I am always happy to answer reader emails set to me via the contact form at the About page of this blog. This email comes from “Nigel”. Nigel writes that:
Speaking about denialism, what about politically correct race-deniers? These people are so wrapped up on some ideology of Boasian Cultural Marxism that they regularly try to subvert the truth.
In just this short message, consisting of nothing more than two sentences, Nigel has managed to set off my baloney detector several times. This is because phrases such as “politically correct” and “cultural Marxism” are buzzwords frequently used by extremist right-wing…thinkers, who are often anti-immigration. “Politically correct” designates their belief that they are being suppressed by the establishment and “cultural Marxism” signifies the related idea that the establishment was been taken over by leftists who ignore the truth that race realists think is plain as day. Thus, Nigel has carried out two very common denialist tactics that I described in the article Common Denialist Tactics Defined and Destroyed, namely playing the martyr card and conspiratorial thinking: Read more of this post
December 5, 2011
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Racial realism can be defined as the notion that racial categories are based on sound biological evidence and that such categorizations are important because of differences in things like intelligence and impulsiveness between these groups.
However, there are a number of problems with this views in many areas such as statistics, genetics and phylogenetics that is important to keep in mind. These will be discussed in turn and then the post will finish up with a discussion of how modern biology view the concept of race.
1. The average says nothing about the spread
A common argument is that there is a difference in average IQ between different ethnicities and that this motivates the notion that some groups are more intelligent than others, creating a racial hierarchy. However, most phenotypic traits, such as intelligence, are normally distributed. That is, in any given group, some people will be more intelligent, some will be less, and most of the individuals will be between these two extremes. So the bell curves between different racial groups probably overlap to a significant extent, so it is important to remember that the average says nothing about the spread, that is, how different IQ scores are distributed in that group. So if group A has a lower average IQ score than group B, there will be many individuals in group A that have a higher IQ score than individuals in group B. Talking about averages in such a naive way is quite collectivist and ignores individual variation. Read more of this post