Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Races Do Not Exist-So Study Them!

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Races Do Not Exist-So Study Them!

Article excerpt

Review of Genes, Peoples, and Languages, by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (Translated by Mark Seielstad] (2000), New York: North Point Press Pp.228, $ 24.00, ISBN 0-86547-529-6.

The dean of population genetics, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, has given us a nontechnical overview of what he knows, or thinks he knows, (or wants you to think you know) about genetics and human evolution. LLC-S (born 1922) is presently a Professor Emeritus of Genetics at Stanford University. The contents of this little book (6 chapters in 228 pages) began as a series of public lectures first delivered in 1981. Over the years since then the material has been rewritten and up-dated numerous times. Previously published in French and Italian, those two versions were melded and revised into this English translation by graduate student Mark Seielstad.

Mr. Seielstad has done an excellent job in producing an English version that is smooth flowing, a pleasure to read, and by-and-large faithful to LLC-S's foibles. The well informed specialist will be fascinated by a wealth of personal historical anecdotes, while the nonspecialist will be variously informed and misinformed concerning a lot of material that bears on an understanding of human evolution and genetic diversity.

The book is strongest in its explanation of techniques and results from studies of genetic diversity and language diversity. It is weakest, actually providing much disinformation, in its treatment of behavioral development and racial differences. A bit frustrating is that the book has no references or footnotes, although a bibliography is offered at the end.

The book starts right out with what has become Luigi's trademark: Deny the existence of that which he studies. For decades LLC-S has been an outspoken advocate of the "races do not exist" mantra while he goes about studying the genetic differences among them.

It has been suggested repeatedly that the denial of race is a strategic ploy to allow him to proceed with his favorite research. There may be some truth to this, in that it is well documented that he has had troubles both from funding agencies and from spokespersons for "indigenous peoples" whose genetics he wished to sample (Kahn, 1994). I know from personal experience that many world class researchers in human genetics are running scared of the anti-racial thought police. When I mentioned race differences in a presidential address to the Behavior Genetics Association (Whitney, 1995), some of my colleagues urged me to resign for the good of the science -by bringing up race they feared that I had placed all funding for behavior genetic research in jeopardy. In a similar vein, a widely used current textbook of behavior genetics claims that Jensen's 1969 writing about race and intelligence had constituted a grave threat to the entire field of investigation (Plomin, et. al., 1997). So, LLC-S can remain one of the angels, have access to native groups, and be funded, by denying that races exist-he studies genetics of populations, not races.

But there seems to be more to his denial than a simple ploy to maintain funding. His discussion completely confounds race as a scientific concept, with racism as a social phenomenon. He says, "It seems wise to me, therefore, to abandon any attempt at racial classification along the traditional lines."p.29) This after lamenting a number of factors such as supremacism, scapegoating, oversimplification, superficiality, and confusion of biological and cultural heredity.

Supremacism is the tendency for each population to believe that it is the best in the world. He notes that a succinct definition of racism is the belief that one race (usually but not always one's own) is biologically - genetically- advantaged over all others. Scapegoating is the blaming of someone else, often an identifiable group, for the trials and tribulations of existence. Poverty and injustice, feelings of powerlessness, envy, can be dealt with by blaming another group. …

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