Genes, Peoples and Languages

By Sailer, Steve | Mankind Quarterly, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview
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Genes, Peoples and Languages


Sailer, Steve, Mankind Quarterly


Genes, Peoples and Languages by Luigi Cavalli-Sforza Princeton University Press

The New York Times has hailed Genes, Peoples, and Languages, the new book by Professor Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, the dean of population geneticists, for "dismantling the idea of race." In the New York Review of Books, Jared Diamond salutes Cavalli- Sforza for "demolishing scientists' attempts to classify human populations into races in the same way that they classify birds and other species into races".

Cavalli-Sforza himself has written, "The classification into races has proved to be a futile exercise"; that his research is "expected to undermine the popular belief that there are clearly defined races, [and] to contribute to the elimination of racism"; and that "The idea of race in the human species serves no purpose."

Don't believe any of this. This is merely a politically correct smoke screen that Cavalli-Sforza regularly pumps out that keeps his life's work - identifying the myriad races of mankind and compiling their genealogies - from being defended by the commissars of acceptable thinking at Stanford.

What's striking is how the press falls for his squid ink, even though Cavalli-Sforza can't resist proudly putting his genetic map showing the main races of mankind right on the cover of his 1994 magnum opus, "The History and Geography of Human Genes."

This is Cavalli-Sforza's own description of the map that is the capstone of his half century of labor in human genetics: "The color map of the world shows very distinctly the differences that we know exist among the continents: Africans (yellow), Caucasoids (green), Mongoloids ... (purple), and Australian Aborigines (red). The map does not show well the strong Caucasoid component in northern Africa, but it does show the unity of the other Caucasoids from Europe, and in West, South, and much of Central Asia."

Basically, all his number-crunching has produced a map that looks about like what you'd get if you gave Strom Thurmond a paper napkin and a box of crayons and had him draw a racial map of the world. In fact, at the global level, Cavalli-Sforza has largely confirmed the prejudices of the more worldly 19th Century imperialists. Rudyard Kipling and Cecil Rhodes could have hunkered down together and whipped up something rather like this map in honor of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Cavalli-Sforza's new book, Genes, Peoples, and Languages, is a surprisingly readable updating of a series of lectures on his work that he's been giving for years.

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