Geneticists have the right answer. Now they just need to work harder to disseminate it.


In the past, I’ve been the recipient of floods of angry messages from racists who claim that their beliefs are “scientific”, that by rejecting their defense of “white genocide” I am denying Darwin, that evolution says that white people are distinct and special. I’ve had Jim Watson personally try to convince me that his racism was rational.

They’re all full of shit.

Now, as reported by the NY Times, the American Society of Human Genetics has denounced their ideas. Of course, being the NY Times means that the sensible text is surrounded by alt-right racist memes — lots of them, all blinking and flashing, loaded with false claims about genetics. I almost closed the window to the article because at a glance it looks like it’s promoting pseudo-scientific racism.

Here’s ASHG’s official position:

  • Genetics demonstrates that humans cannot be divided into biologically distinct subcategories. Although there are clear observable correlations between variation in the human genome and how individuals identify by race, the study of human genetics challenges the traditional concept of different races of humans as biologically separate and distinct. This is validated by many decades of research, including recent examples.
  • Most human genetic variation is distributed as a gradient, so distinct boundaries between population groups cannot be accurately assigned. There is considerable genetic overlap among members of different populations. Such patterns of genome variation are explained by patterns of migration and mixing of different populations throughout human history. In this way, genetics exposes the concept of ‘‘racial purity’’ as scientifically meaningless.
  • It follows that there can be no genetics-based support for claiming one group as superior to another. Although a person’s genetics influences their phenotypic characteristics, and self-identified race might be influenced by physical appearance, race itself is a social construct. Any attempt to use genetics to rank populations demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of genetics.
  • The past decade has seen the emergence of strategies for assessing an individual’s genetic ancestry. Such analyses are providing increasingly accurate ways of helping to define individuals’ ancestral origins and enabling new ways to explore and discuss ancestries that move us beyond blunt definitions of self-identified race.

Or you can read this summary at BigThink.

The society, which is the largest professional organization of scientists who work in human genetics, has about 8,000 members. Its statement calls the ideas of white supremacists about genetics “bogus,” “discredited” and “distorted”. The ASHG also makes a clear point that as far as the scientists are concerned, the age-old concept of race is wrong and humans cannot be split into subcategories that would be biologically different from each other.
The reason there is no race purity is due to the genetic intermixing of populations that results from constant migrations which have taken place all throughout human history. The constant movement of people resulted in very blurry genetic lines between groups.

And if you’re wondering whether this is something controversial in the scientific community, the statement goes on to say that the fact that there are no completely separate races is supported by decades of research, including six recent studies like the 2017 paper from the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, directly titled “Human ancestry correlates with language and reveals that race is not an objective genomic classifier”.

It’s a good statement, but ASHG has more work to do — you can’t just plop out a position statement in a journal only geneticists read, and then expect the general public to regard it as authoritative. You need to work at it. Just ask <a href=http://mathbionerd.blogspot.com/”>Melissa Wilson Sayres, who had a few criticisms for ASHG.

Read the whole thread. This is a common phenomenon: scientists who work in these fields know the racists are full of crap, see no point in discussing the crappiness with other scientists who also know they’re full of crap, and think that publishing a statement that “They’re full of crap, full stop” in a journal is sufficient. It isn’t. Evolutionary biologists also don’t talk about creationists at evolution meetings, and geologists don’t talk about flat earthers at geology meetings, except maybe to laugh at them over a beer at the bar after the daily sessions. And the people who do try hard to bring these issues to public attention are sneered at as popularizers who aren’t doing the real work. Meanwhile, racists and creationists and climate change deniers are climbing the civil service ladder and getting elected to high office, and making decisions about science funding.

But at least the meetings remain pure and unsullied by nonsense.

Which means that the scientists are cheerfully unaware of how their sloppy public speaking on the issues gets appropriated by ideologues. The shorthand of science is easily abused, technical terms get colloquialized in invalid ways (see the word “theory” for an example), and sometimes scientists let their biases lead them down unsavory paths (see James Watson) and get treated as respected fonts of wisdom rather than cranky outliers. We also see that the media cannot address what scientists take for granted without giving lots of press to the ignorant, anti-scientific ideas of bigots and fools in the name of ‘balance’ or ‘teaching the controversy’ — it doesn’t matter that there is no controversy, they’ll invent one.

Geneticists are walking through a minefield. They ought to learn about the dangers rather than just taking a blithe, heedless stroll.

Comments

  1. davidnangle says

    I should become a white power thought leader and convince my movement that eating only white food and drinking only white liquid will purify our whiteness. So… milk, certain cheeses… um, popcorn… fluffernutters. Perhaps milkweed sacks can be prepared in some sort of nutritious way.

  2. raven says

    …floods of angry messages from racists who claim that their beliefs are “scientific”, that by rejecting their defense of “white genocide”

    Claims of white genocide are anything but scientific.
    .1.

    Heterosis Wikipedia
    Heterosis, hybrid vigor, or outbreeding enhancement, is the improved or increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring.

    Any biologist knows about hybrid vigor, heterosis. It’s the basis of our agricultural systems and how we feed 7.4 billion people.
    In general, outbreeding is good, inbreeding is bad.
    .2. Most white Americans are mixes anyway, at least of different Europeans.
    Even our pets are often mixes.
    No big deal.
    .3. Populations and species aren’t static and unchanging.
    The whites of today are the product of millennia of…mixing as migrations swept over Europe and back again.
    Even to the point where they are…part Neanderthal.
    IIRC, modern western Europeans are the result of migrants from NE Eurasia mixing with farmers from SE Eurasia and the native hunter gatherers and not so long ago at that.

    The white Americans of today aren’t being genocided due to outbreeding. They are evolving through time into something new and different.
    Just exactly like we have been doing for 3.8 billion years!!!
    My distant ancestors were prokaryotes who even adopted another clade of bacteria as…power plants, mitochondria.

  3. microraptor says

    Put them on a diet of white rice, like the Japanese aristocracy enjoyed. Should work wonders (once beriberi sets in).

  4. raven says

    The big migrant scare of the 1800’s was the invasion of…Germans.
    The fear of the dominant WASPs was that they would be overrun.

    They were right!!!
    The largest ethnic group in the USA is now…Germans.
    The WASPs got swamped by those wily central Europeans.
    Oddly enough, the current president is even half German.

    German-Americans are America’s largest single ethnic group (if you divide Hispanics into Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc). In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46m Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33m) or England (25m).Feb 5, 2015
    The silent minority – German-Americans – The Economist
    https://www.economist.com/united-states/2015/02/05/the-silent-minority

    And oh yeah,
    it really made no difference whatsoever.
    I doubt anyone is staying up at night worrying about the German Americans.

  5. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    it really made no difference whatsoever

    Also, those German-Americans crossbreeded pretty promiscuously with all those other hyphenated Americans. My ancestry is about half German, thanks to my grandmothers.

    (As an aside, The Last Waltz version of “It Makes No Difference” just popped up randomly on my iPod. Rick Danko’s vocals and Garth Hudson’s sax are heavenly.)

  6. nomdeplume says

    The climate change catastrophe is a very good example of scientists not going in boots and all but thinking (hoping) that all they need to do is report the facts, calmly and dispassionately, with lots of caveats and probability calculations and lots of qualifiers (may, might, could), just as they would do at a scientific conference. Meanwhile they have the full weight of the Murdoch media bearing down on them with every emotive and vicious term they can find and publicising gimmicks like snowballs in Congress.

    So scientists have to get better at working in the 21st century and forget the good old days when science was valued and scientists respected. But even if they can I think it is too late, the propaganda wars have been fought and won.

  7. starfleetdude says

    nomdeplume, back in 1988 NASA’s James Hansen did go all in and made the front page news warning about global warming before the U.S. Congress. Climate scientists did not shy away from the public eye in the 1990s either, which is why you had the world’s nations signing on to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate, which itself was built on a 1992 United Nations agreement on climate change. They as a scientific community most emphatically did not treat it as just a topic for discussion at their own meetings and meekly concede the field to the denialists in the public sphere. That U.S. politics did not go their way says more about how terrible U.S. politics are, not that the scientists didn’t care about the consequences of what was happening back then.

    By themselves the scientists can’t win the propaganda war, nor should they be expected to.

  8. nomdeplume says

    @10 Cerainly Hansen has been a very notable exception, and I am very admiring of what he has done. I also know that climate scientists have been placed in a no-win situation by the media (as a deliberate tactic, at least by Murdoch media) – present the real picture and they are accused of “alarmism”, tone it down with ifs buts and maybes and taking the least damaging of a set of scenarios and they are ignored.

  9. graham2 says

    I apologize for inflicting Murdoch on you. (Im from Oz).
    nomdeplume has got it. Scientists have to throw away academic caution and start kicking heads. If they don’t, who will ? We have a ‘minister for the environment’ who denys the reality of climate change, in a conservative party that thinks likewise. IPCC report … no comment, not a word. Jesus we are fucked.

  10. anchor says

    On a related aspect, I cringe every time I hear somebody invoke “The Darwin Awards” in association with somebody else’s unfortunate accident due to negligence or stupidity. To appreciate the widespread extent of this common misapprehension of what evolution by selection means – another sprouting from the same popular delusion that has been known to place the heavy emphasis of ‘survival of the fittest’ to validate racial purity and genocide by guess-who types – a look at the insane popularity of the varieties of “Fail” compilations on YouTube stuffed with infantile bastards who cackle it up at a friend or stranger nearly breaking their neck just for the opportunity to post it on YouTube. It should be required viewing for geneticists and scientists in general who don’t think its particularly important or effective to help educate the culture they and the rest of us have to live in. That pop-‘knowledge’ is the soil where the most sinister ideologies germinate, and that’s the pool in which prospective politicians are not only groomed but trained to appeal to. Anyone who doubts it can find plenty of supporting evidence in the comments sections. Society is full-on throttled for insanity and too many voices of reason manage little more than making plaintive squeaking noises.

  11. John Morales says

    Anchor,

    … unfortunate accident due to negligence or stupidity …

    <snicker>

    PS Darwin awards have already been deprecated here for some time now.

    (Literally, as you note, they’re pointless. Metaphorically, they’re smugness)

  12. Richard Smith says

    Regarding white supremacists’ recent obsession with drinking milk: particularly after seeing the footage of pale, bare-chested ubermenschen as they peet moloko, I can’t help but think of the malfunctioning host in Westworld, pouring bottle after bottle of milk over one of his deactivated compadres because he’s a “growing boy! A growing boy!”

  13. lemurcatta says

    I feel like these statements from ASGH and similar ones (like the American anthropological association) are especially outdated in the age of 23andMe and ancestry.com. People get their “genetics results” telling them they have 23% East Asian ancestry, and at the same time we as scientists are telling the public that race has no basis in genetics. Obviously the situation is more complicated and nuanced and we need to be nuanced about how we talk about it. We need to talk about race as an idea, and biology and genetics can sometimes tell us things that line up with our ideas, and often times not. And we need to tell people these aren’t reasons to treat people differently as individuals.

  14. alixmo says

    A disgusting byproduct of the “believe” in “biologism” is so called “biological essentialism” concerning gender. Just today I saw a rant by a guy (in the youtube comments) who firmly believes in the “cult of male supremacy” that Jordan Peterson is selling so successfully. It is grotesque. But it illustrates my point perfectly, so please allow me to post it here (I do not know how to do block quote – so do not forget, the following is not written by me!):

    QUOTE: bioLOGICAL facts dont care about your feelings. Women don’t think, they feel. Most are basically children. Why do you think there are no female geniuses or even well known philosophers? Because the vast majority are run by their hormones, not by critical, rational thought. The sooner men realize this and regain their masculine authority, the better. Women are happier when we lead. They don’t want careers, they want to have and raise their children, and theyll obey a tyrannical state with zero ethical thought of the consequences. They’re selfish, unstable, and indecisive. They age much quicker, worry a lot more, and drive far more materialism, consumerism, and needless debt. They pay far less in taxes, and take far more of the welfare. They’re mostly helpless cowards and entitled liars. Everything about their appearance is a lie, how are they going to be honest with you? They need to stop voting, stop being put in positions of power, and stop becoming parasitic single mothers. Most are only good for sex, and very very few of them are sexually attractive, nevermind capable of life without an abilify or ambien. They will always care about money and finding a better catch than being loyal. They file 4 of 5 divorces, neglect their kids needs, and like shiney rocks. I coud go on and on. Its not bitterness, I accept them for what they are, but the truth needs to come out.
    When the AI sexbots and artificial wombs become affordable, women are done. They’ll be living in impoverished communes with their dildos and their cats, or they’ll humble themselves, stfu, and make me a sammich. END OF QUOTE

    Also a “treasure” from the youtube comments (to a critical video by the David Pakman Show about Jordan Peterson):

    QUOTE Women are incubators first, mothers second, everything else third. Men are protectors and engineers of the world first. Their role is to master their environment so that they can attract the most fertile women for reproduction. END QUOTE

    Those are only two among many other nasty misogynist comments that state that women are by nature inferior to men and should therefore be put back into their “natural” role, out of the labour-market and back into the kitchen.

    Those young men follow a “cult of male supremacy”, “a cult of masculinity” which they think is proven by “biology”, by genetics. “Cults of masculinity” were always linked to fascism. And Peterson is (at the moment) one of the cult leaders. The “Proud Boys”, who are openly prone to violence, belong into this category, too.

    Watch Prof. Jason Stanley talk about fascism, e.g.: Fascism Cannot Operate Without Patriarchy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_IvjnlSB5E

    Jordan Peterson is part of the pipeline towards fascism.

  15. mountainbob says

    My 1957 H.S. teachers of science, humanities, and history all made the same point. Ideologues, especially those with ideas steeped in religious dogma can not be convinced. A few decades of increasing enlightenment (such as the last half of the 20th century) was not nearly enough. It will take concerted efforts for(ever) to hold the line of humanist thought against the fear, loathing, and hate of the intolerant religious ones. There will be periods that seem to represent an improvement, but the religious right will simply be hiding like the evil virus that hides within the tissues of the apparently healthy victim.

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