Some science items for today:
With race front and center in every news cycle, it’s good to be prepared for encounters with those who insist that race is “only a social construct” (many of whom also spend all their waking hours totting up accounts of how one race is doing compared to another). Readers of this blog will know that our editorial position is quite the opposite: that cultures are part of the “extended phenotype” of different human populations, and so it’s more accurate to say that societies are racial constructs, rather than the other way round. (This is because, as John Derbyshire has succinctly put it, different human groups “are bound to express different statistical patterns on any heritable traits, which would include traits of behavior, intelligence, and personality.”)
You may run into a particular, brainy subset of such people who will, in support of their belief in human universalism, produce Richard Lewontin’s famous observation that genetic markers vary more within populations than between them. This is true — but it misses the point so dramatically that the wishful generalization he erected upon it has now come to be known as Lewontin’s Fallacy. (You might also hear about Stephen Jay Gould’s antiracist tract The Mismeasure of Man, which has now been so thoroughly discredited that it is held up as a sterling example of exactly the sort of scientific bias that the book had purported to expose.)
The problem with Lewontin’s claim is that it examines only particular genetic markers, which indeed can vary broadly within groups. What it overlooks, though, is that what distinguishes populations are correlations between large numbers of markers — and when one surveys the genome more inclusively, populations are easily differentiated by these patterns of correlation. (Which is, of course, exactly what you’d expect: given the obvious differences in their phenotypes, it would be odd indeed if there weren’t a consistent way to distinguish, say, a Korean’s genome from a Dinka’s.)
Perhaps the simplest argument against Lewontin’s Fallacy is to point out that if what he says is true, then it should be well-nigh impossible to determine population-group ancestry by DNA — but of course companies like 23 And Me do this very successfully, with ever-increasing precision.
Race is fluid, and like everything else in Nature it has fuzzy edges, but it is most certainly real. It is no more of a “social construct” than sex, or intelligence. But do keep in mind, as the tireless scholar hbd*chick reminds us:
there’s more to human biodiversity than just racial differences!
Next up, here’s a related item about genetics and parenting.
Moving on to other topics, here’s something I hadn’t heard about before: hyperuniformity. The messy boundary between order and chaos is an interesting place.
Here’s a puzzling item for you: a man with almost no brain at all. (He’s no genius, but to quote Dr. Johnson: “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”)
Finally, with hat-tips to our commenter Henry, here are two items: Global E-mail Patterns Reveal “Clash of Civilizations”, and a new theory of life.