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Fads and Fallacies In The Name Of "Race Does Not Exist"
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February 21, 2006, 04:00 AM
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[Peter Brimelow writes: Steven Goldberg [email him], former Chairman of the Department of Sociology, City College of New York, was long listed in the Guinness Book Of Records as author of the book rejected by most publishers before being published "to acclaim"—69, in the case of his 1973 classic The Inevitability of Patriarchy. (It was revised and reissued in 1993 as Why Men Rule.) Goldberg's documentation of the universality of differentiated gender roles is now quietly accepted by social scientists, although of course still anathema in institutions controlled by feminists, such as public education. But race remains controversial. This essay was rejected by the Atlantic, the New York Times, Newsweek, and the New York Review of Books as well as by nominally "conservative" publications like National Review (natch), and Public Interest. We are proud to post it on VDARE.COM)].

414CmSlX0kL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_For the past three decades many social scientists have, for reasons of both compassion and ideology, promulgated "explanations" increasingly divergent from those believed by the common man—to the credit of the common man and the shame of these social scientists.

Thus, it has become widely-accepted, in some cases to the point of received wisdom, that the "concept of race is genetically meaningless." In the New York Review of Books, Andrew Hacker has stated flatly that "Most of us agree that the notion of 'race' is a human creation, with no basis in genetics or biology." [August 14, 2003]  Indeed, there are more than a few biologists who, when speaking in public, say this.

I have yet, however, to find even one biologist who can, in private, look you in the eye when making the claim.

The claim that the concept of race is meaningless is difficult to refute because it is inevitably supported by no argument at all, simply by the mere assertion that belief in the existence of race is "pseudoscience," or by argument so effervescent as to defy presentation sufficiently coherent to permit refutation.

Nonetheless, one can sense the arguments implied, however chaotically, by the claim in order to demonstrate that the arguments are wholly without merit.

Race is perhaps best-defined as, in Gregory Cochran's words, "a group that has been subject to strong enough selective pressures for long enough, with low enough gene flow, to end up demonstrably different from other groups."

Note that, even if it were true that manifestation of these differentiated characteristics were, like the spectrum of light, virtually entirely continuous, this would not call into question the existence of race. Just as one can distinguish red from blue, one can distinguish Zulus from Norwegians.

(Perhaps the most ridiculous argument that "race" has no genetic meaning is one found on the internet. The genetic basis of race is denied because "races can't interbreed" while Blacks, Whites and Asians can. But for a hundred and fifty years biologists have used the term, "race" to describe sub-species that can interbreed. The internet author might as well have argued that there are no "families" by claiming that families can not interbreed.)

With reference to any specific characteristic, the characteristics of a race are, of course, statistical, not absolute. They permit many "exceptions" (though far fewer exceptions than would be required to cast doubt on the statistical regularity). Thus the existence of tall women and short men does not cast doubt on the accuracy of the statistical observation that "men are taller than women."

Those who deny the reality of race will often invoke the fact that, whatever the characteristic in question, the range is greater within race than between races. This is true of nearly any variable for which two groups are compared. But to deny a statistical group difference on this basis would force one to claim that it is meaningless to speak of "men" and "women," or statistical differences between them, because the height difference between the shortest man and the tallest man, or between the shortest woman and tallest woman, is far greater than the few-percent difference between the mean heights of men and women.

This example makes clear the key fact that a small difference in means often complements a huge difference at the extremes; how many seven-foot tall women does one see? The difference in running speed between the average white and average black male is only a few percent, but virtually all of the two hundred fastest men in the world are black. And it is on the upper tail of the curve—the extreme—that public perceptions—stereotypes—are based. That this "within-group" argument is so often made is a measure of the desperation of those who wish to deny that which is undeniable.

But silly attempts to avoid the reality of race are not limited to the second-rate. For example, Craig Venter, one of the seminal figures in the cracking of the genetic code has said: "Geographical origin (ancestry) appears to be more relevant than a person's self-identified race." But while any distinction between geographical origin and self-identified race is relevant in rare individual cases—there aren't that many blond Mexicans—on the level of entire populations, it is less than insignificant: most Mexicans are mestizos.

Similarly, race deniers often point out that only "a tiny percentage of genes" differ between groups. This is also true—but it is also true of human beings and chimpanzees. Human beings and other primates share nearly all genes (as they do the digestive, respiratory, etc. systems that express these genes).

But it does not lessen the physical and behavioral differences between human beings and other primates.  Nor does it demonstrate that the relatively few differing genes are not primarily responsible for the differences. Human beings and chimpanzees may share nearly all their genes, but it does not take a geneticist to distinguish a human being from a chimpanzee or to conclude that a difference in a very few genes makes all the difference.

What is clear from the currency of such arguments is that the impulse compelling these social scientists is not the concept of the genetic basis of race in general (an issue previously of interest to hardly any of these social scientists save the anthropologists). Instead, their motive is a fear of the common man's distinguishing American whites from American blacks, although this is a distinction that mere eyesight not merely justifies, but mandates. (Tellingly, not a single black student of mine fails to find risible the claim that there is no such thing as race. Only the occasional white social science major claims to find this contention sensible.)

Thus, it is often claimed that "we can't tell one's race from the genes." In fact, this is not true. The appropriate DNA analysis can now pinpoint racial heritage with an extraordinarily high statistical accuracy. Genetic identification of race identifies with racial self-classification over ninety-eight percent of the time. But try getting a research foundation or The New York Times to acknowledge this.

(Though things may be loosening up a bit. A study by the Center for Human Genetics at the University of California compared the computerized genetic profiles of 3,636 individuals enrolled in a large-scale study of hypertension with the individuals' self-identified race. The computer matched the self-identifications for 3,631 of the individuals. [American Journal of Human Genetics, February, 2005.])

But even if it were true that we did not know anything about the genetics of race, it would still be true that it is not necessary to know the precise mechanism responsible for an effect before suspecting that there is such a mechanism. If ten people take a pill and all ten keel over, you have a strong suspicion that there is something in the pill that is inimical to human biology, even if you know nothing about the nature of the pill or human biology. Often the presence of a mechanism is strongly indicated by a host of independent lines of indirect evidence. Indeed, it is often such evidence that indicates where to look for the cause, as the discovery of many bacterial and viral causes of diseases attests. This is certainly the case with many aspects of race.

It is occasionally argued, for example by Jared Diamond, that skin color is but one of many properties that can be taxonomically invoked. Other taxonomies would, for example, find northern Europeans and some black African groups as members of the "lactase-positive race" and southern Europeans and other black African groups as members of the "lactose-negative race." [Race Without Color, By Jared Diamond, Discover, November 1994]

Again, this is true, but it does not call into question groups defined by other variables and differentiated correlations between these groups in those other variables. That categorization by some other variable could result in Tutsis and Japanese being in one category, and Kenyans and Vietnamese in another—but this casts no doubt on the correctness of placing Tutsis and Japanese in separate categories when height is the variable in question, and strongly suspecting that differing genes account for the differing heights of Tutsis and Japanese.

In fact, of course, the criterion by which people identify race is geographical ancestry as manifested in skin color. And this is most reasonable and, indeed, unavoidable.

Note that our putting Tutsis and Japanese in different groups with reference to height does not require that, at this point, we make any assumptions about any other similarities or differences between the two. Or that we posit hereditary difference other than that relevant to height.

It might, or might not, turn out that these two groups differ for hereditary reasons in many other ways. If they do, at that point we may, or may not, see that there is heuristic value in viewing Tutsis and Japanese as representing two different racial groups, in some more general sense that comprehends many hereditary differences.

Thus it is clear that the overwhelming numbers of great sprinters are of West African descent.  Similarly, a disproportionate number of great long-distance runners are of East African descent. Neither of these groups excels in the other's specialty. If one wishes to understand these facts, one can, indeed must, see genetic differences between the groups as central. Whether the groups differ in any other ways is irrelevant—if running excellence is what one wishes to explain. All this is true whatever the characteristic difference between groups that is being addressed.

In other words, you can't abolish the correlation between membership in a specific group and a specific characteristic—or the possibility that genes play a role in the association of group and characteristic—merely by pointing out that there are other characteristics that would divide the human population differently.

To do so is akin to playing the lawyer who says: "You may have five witnesses who saw my client commit the crime, but I have seven who didn't."

More specifically: The group of Americans who possess a genotype giving some "black" skin differs statistically from the group of Americans who have "white" skin. Clearly these groups differ from each other genotypically and phenotypically. This is why the groups can be physically distinguished from each other. It is a social reality that leads us to term even the light-skinned "black" person "black", but we can nonetheless distinguish the group of people thus termed "black" from the group of people thus termed "white" and can address differences between these two groups.

Finally: There is an argument that has become virtually received wisdom in current sociology: all important differences (racial, gender, etc.) are caused by socioeconomic factors—when you control for such factors, the issue of group membership and possible non-socioeconomic causes essentially disappears. (Lip service may be given to other factors, but the analyses proceed as if only the socioeconomic are relevant.)

But even if we assume that controlling for group membership and possible non-socioeconomic factors does have this effect (which it often does not), the fallaciousness of this reasoning should be obvious.

Imagine a society in which the only criterion for reward is height. The taller one is, the higher one's socioeconomic status.

In this hypothetical society:

  1. Men, on average, are taller than are women (as they are everywhere.)
  2. Men, on average, have higher socioeconomic statuses than  do women (as a result of their greater height)
  3. But when men and women with the same socioeconomic status are compared, the men and women are found to be of equal height (as they must, since height is the only criterion for socioeconomic position).

The sociological fallacy would force us to falsely conclude that the men of the society are taller than the women because the men have a higher socioeconomic status. The question that is relevant, of course, is why there are more tall men (resulting in a higher average male socioeconomic status), and the physiological answer in this case is obvious.

One could write a book on the astonishing degree to which such fallacy and misrepresentation have come to infuse sociology as ideology has replaced the search for truth. (Indeed, I have just written such a book: Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences ).

Perhaps this would be of no great moment were it only the discipline of sociology that suffers. After all, there are still sociologists who do serious work on group differences. Readers who are serious about these issues will find them.

Most disastrous is the effect of all this misrepresentation on the possibility of our solving our most serious social problems. Understanding a problem may not assure its solution, but not understanding the problem virtually guarantees our not solving it.

These matters are too important to permit ideology, no matter how well intentioned, to block the path to truth.

As James Baldwin wrote: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Steven Goldberg [email him] is Professor Emeritus of The City College of The City University of New York. His books include The Inevitability of Patriarchy, When Wish Replaces Thought, Fads and Fallacies in The Social Sciences, and Why Men Rule. His work has appeared in Ethics, American Anthropologist, Yale Review, Psychiatry, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Measure, Chronicles, Journal of Recreational Mathematics, National Review and many other journals.