In the Times, Amy Harmon reports on an effort by some high school biology teachers to rebut racist beliefs about genetics:
Biology textbooks used in American high schools do not go near the sensitive question of whether genetics can explain why African-Americans are overrepresented as football players and why a disproportionate number of American scientists are white or Asian.
But in a study starting this month, a group of biology teachers from across the country will address it head-on. They are testing the idea that the science classroom may be the best place to provide a buffer against the unfounded genetic rationales for human difference that often become the basis for racial intolerance.
At a recent training in Colorado, the dozen teachers who had volunteered to participate in the experiment acknowledged the challenges of inserting the combustible topic of race and ancestry into straightforward lessons on the 19th-century pea-breeding experiments of Gregor Mendel and the basic function of the strands of DNA coiled in every cell. . . .
The history of today’s racial categories arose long before the field of genetics and have been used to justify all manner of discriminatory policies. Race, a social concept bound up in culture and family, is not a topic of study in modern human population genetics, which typically uses concepts like “ancestry” or “population” to describe geographic genetic groupings.
But that has not stopped many Americans from believing that genes cause racial groups to have distinct skills, traits and abilities. And among some biology teachers, there has been a growing sense that avoiding any direct mention of race in their genetics curriculum may be backfiring.
“I know it’s threatening,” said Brian Donovan, a science education researcher at the nonprofit BSCS Science Learning who is leading the study. “The thing to remember is that kids are already making sense of race and biology, but with no guidance.”
My reaction to this is cautious and ambivalent. On the one hand, dealing with race in biology class makes a lot more sense than anti-racist math or other sorts of woke silliness. And there are some facts about race that one might convey to high school students, for example that people from east and west Africa are more different from each other than Europeans are from Chinese, or that most human variation is within rather than between populations.
On the other hand, people are bad listeners. Treating the genetics of race as a serious topic is just going to convince some kids that there is something to racist ideas, or confirm their prior beliefs in that direction. Like when politicians deny being involved in scandals and half the public hears only the connection between the scandal and the name.
But to me the real problem is that we really know precious little about the genetics of human behavior in any sense, and therefore have no idea whether there are hereditary behavioral differences between populations. Such differences would presumably not be very large, but they could exist and they might matter. This is why I have always argued against a philosophical position that says we should treat people equally because they are all the same. I think there may well be important differences between different types of people – between men and women, between 25-year-olds and 55-year-olds, between immigrants and the native born – so I think we need to acknowledge differences and take our stand on treating people as equally as we can despite them.
I do not think the causality flows from bad beliefs about genetics to bad feelings about people of other races or groups, but the other way around. Racist pseudo-science is just window-dressing for identity affirmation and tribal hate, and is completely unnecessary to racism. Even if you could cure people of it, that would not change their feelings. In the face of commitment to an identity that provides meaning to people's lives and a structure for interpreting the world, evidence and logic are likely to be of no use whatsoever.
Only gradual social and psychological change will help. Fortunately, that seems to be happening.
This is why I have always argued against a philosophical position that says we should treat people equally because they are all the same. I think there may well be important differences between different types of people – between men and women, between 25-year-olds and 55-year-olds, between immigrants and the native born – so I think we need to acknowledge differences and take our stand on treating people as equally as we can despite them.
Oh, come the hell on.
You're talking about genetics, and you argue that where someone is BORN somehow matters? Immigration is not an indicator of genetic difference! At all! Your genetic code doesn't give a damn which side of an imaginary line on a map you were born on!
And before you start, it also doesn't give a damn about how your development is affected by such lines! It's true that being born on one side or another can radically alter your life outcome, but that has nothing to do with genetics!
Now, men and women? Yes, there's some difference there - hormonal brain chemistry, specifically. Men generally have more testosterone, women have more estrogen, and those compounds (among others) clearly affect behavior in certain very specific ways. But we know that, we've known that for a very long time, and the effect it has is small and shouldn't meaningfully matter for most purposes of running society.
And as you yourself point out, there's more difference WITHIN populations than between them - it's more important to recognize that gendered behaviors are nonsensical stereotypes that frequently don't actually apply across an entire sex, in large part because they're overwhelmingly more cultural than biological.
Whatever differences there are between people only matter in regards to how best we can accommodate the different needs of people. For example, if an individual has excessively high testosterone levels which influence them toward problematic aggression, that simply means that particular person needs access to resources and assistance which will help them manage their biologically heightened aggressive tendencies.
But that MUST be determined on an individual case by case basis, and not on anything even REMOTELY like a racial, sexual, or even age based one.
People are people. Treat them like people.
If someone's biology causes them problems that someone else's biology doesn't, just reasonably accommodate them and give them the help they need. Some people are genetically predisposed to colon cancer, so give them extra screenings or the like. Women experience pregnancies and men don't, so give women access to resources that help them manage that unique life experience. Et cetera. It's really very simple.
Yes, there are differences between us. But what the hell does that matter? We're all people, we all deserve to be equal under the law and in how other people treat us as fellow human beings, despite not being literally identical physically. If someone is particularly short, we don't think less of them as a person, we just help them reach things on high shelves. If someone is particularly tall, we don't meaningfully change how we treat them, we just ensure they can buy oversized clothing and that ceilings aren't too low for them. The same must be true of ALL genetic variance.
I hope they will explain why "there is more variation within population than between population" is a fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Genetic_Diversity:_Lewontin%27s_Fallacy)
And I think I already have posted this one https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2012/02/28/are-there-human-races/
Genotype differences create phenotype differences, and those differences are obvious to anyone who can see. These differences exist whether race as a scientific concept exists or not. I doubt any explanation of genetics is going to convince anyone that genetic differences, including differences we can't see, don't matter when we are taught that genetic variability (not mutations) cause most differences within a species and across species, and some of those differences matter more than others, and that all can lead to greater long-term differences.
And it gets worse.
Differences are what we pounce on when we are looking for someone to blame, which is why race exists as a cultural concept independent of race as a scientific concept. Therefore, ridding ourselves of race as a scientific concept will not rid us of the cultural concept, and it is the cultural concept of race as something that matters that causes most of our problems.
While one can imagine students coming home to their parents and telling them, "Nuh uh, genetics clearly shows the whole idea of racial inferiority is wrong," and other dramas of changing attitudes, I think the effect of a program like this may well, in the final analysis, be minimal. There is biological racism, but racism's roots are not in science, and I suspect the vast majority of those who voice racist pseudo-scientific factoids in defense of racial hostility are simply providing solid-sounding rationalizations for things they feel regardless. Plus, the paranoid discourse of liberal institutional brainwashing and "fake news" is already well-entrenched and ever-available to provide cover to folks who don't want to change their minds.
I would add that, while the phenomenon of ascribing inferiority to the other is a factor in racism, it's not the only or even necessarily decisive factor. First, much of the inferiority has to do with raw status--the old, "if you're not better than a n-----, who are you better than?" Second, it's worth pointing out that discourses ascribing inferiority are also usually accompanied by discourses ascribing superiority (black males as sexually superior to white males, Jews controlling the world, etc.).
@G- I didn't say immigrants were different genetically than native born people, just that they are different. Which they are, in many ways, from being far more likely to start businesses to being far more likely to get adult-onset schizophrenia.
55-year-olds are certainly not genetically different from 25-year-olds, yet they are in fact different from each other in many ways.
Men and women are genetically different, but we have no idea how much of the difference we see between men and women in our society is caused by genetics and how much is cultural. My point is that I don't think it matters.
@Szopen - there are genetic differences between populations, but that is completely orthogonal to traditional European models of "race." In a case I know you are interested in, Syrians are by the old model Caucasian, just like Europeans; they have had some inflow of Arab genes, but then so have south Italians, and anyway Arabs also show as Caucasian in the old model. A simple model of race cannot account for human diversity, and especially not for diversity in Africa, where most of human diversity resides.
Tal's statistics are interesting but there are other ways of making that calculation that produce the result I describe. Tal's method simply counts genetic differences without paying any attention to whether those alleles do anything or not, and so far as we know a lot of small genetic differences don't do anything. And in the realm of more real-world statistics, for things like height and intelligence, it is easy to show that every population contains most of the human range. E.g., there are very tall and very short people in China, Serbia, Sudan, etc. The difference between the tallest person in China and the shortest person is probably ten times the biggest difference in the average height of populations.
It is possible, as I keep saying, that there are statistically meaningful differences between populations in traits we care about, for example impetuousity, arm strength, hearing, or whatever. But compared to human variation, those differences are small. Just as you would be foolish to estimate a man's height from his ethnic background, you would also be foolish to estimate his intelligence or diligence or honesty.
When it comes to how people act, culture is far more important than ethnic background, and I have cited evidence here that says circumstances matter more than either.
"In a case I know you are interested in, Syrians are by the old model Caucasian, just like Europeans; they have had some inflow of Arab genes, but then so have south Italians, and anyway Arabs also show as Caucasian in the old model."
Yes indeed, and they cluster with Europeans in genetic models (depending on the number of clusters chosen). The point is however that in modern discussion one should not use definitions from 100s years ago or some folk definitions, but modern definitions of race, say from last 50 years. For example, one definition from book on genetics (from 1990s iIRC) is that "Race is a population in which frequencies of many gene alleles differ from other populations".
"It is possible, as I keep saying, that there are statistically meaningful differences between populations in traits we care about, for example impetuousity, arm strength, hearing, or whatever. But compared to human variation, those differences are small. Just as you would be foolish to estimate a man's height from his ethnic background, you would also be foolish to estimate his intelligence or diligence or honesty."
Totally agree! Population statistics cannot serve to anything related to individuals. However, they can form some part of explanation why, for example, there are more succesfull basketball players from Serbia than from China.
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