Sunday, November 14, 2004

Genetic basis for race

[See more recent posts on this topic here.]

The essential tension between science and political correctness on this issue is discussed in the Sunday Times.

We were told long ago that there is no scientific basis for race. Yet, it would be surprising if the distribution of individual genes were the same in all ethnic groups, with their different evolutionary histories of the last tens of thousands of years. In fact, mtDNA tests can readily identify which of a few dozen matrilineal lines any modern human belongs to. Each of these lines can in turn be traced to certain geographical regions to which early humans migrated from Africa, and correspond reasonably well to conventional racial categories.

Researchers last week described a new drug, called BiDil, that sharply reduces death from heart disease among African-Americans. ...But not everyone is cheering unreservedly. Many people, including some African-Americans, have long been uneasy with the concept of race-based medicine, in part from fear that it may legitimize less benign ideas about race.

...The emergence of BiDil, described last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, is a sharp reality test for an academic debate about race and medicine that has long occupied the pages of medical journals. Is there a biological basis for race? If there is not, as many social scientists and others argue, how can a drug like BiDil work so well in one race?

...This month, in a special issue on race published by the journal Nature Genetics, several geneticists wrote that people can generally be assigned to their continent of origin on the basis of their DNA, and that these broad geographical regions correspond to self-identified racial categories, such as African, East Asian, European and Native American. Race, in other words, does have a genetic basis, in their view.

...Some African-Americans fear that if doctors start to make diagnoses by race, then some in the public may see that as a basis for imputing behavioral traits as well. ''If you think in terms of taxonomies of race, you will make the dangerous conclusion that race will explain violence,'' says Dr. Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University.


Anonymous said...

No Genetic Basis for Race.
There is no way to distinguish for example, between French and Spanish people but they are different Races. Genetic Haplogroups may indicate your continent of orgin, but that is only statistical and does not distinguish between different races on continents. There is no single gene that makes a person Chinese.

steve said...

Huh? Since when does common usage distinguish between Spaniards and Frenchmen as different races? (Do we talk about "race relations" between Germans and Swiss?)

In most cases it is easy to distinguish, e.g., europeans from africans from east asians based on their haplogroups. The differences are statistical, but significant.

Anonymous said...

Here is an off topic question. Is it possible for there to be compatibilty issues between the makeup of different races.. ie: is it possible that a black man having sex with a white woman and having a baby cause any kind of genetic defect or all the different make ups compatible?

Anonymous said...

The ability to produce viable offspring defines a species. That is, there are not genetic differences between human populations, no matter how isolated (i.e. pacific islanders and inuit indians in Greenland) that would systematically prevent the production of healthy children.

Anonymous said...

this topic always annoys me. to summarize my argument, if there is no genetic basis for race, then every baby's race would be a lottery a random occurrence. if it is environmentally influenced then every baby born in a geographical location would be the same race. an argument i might agree with is that we are not smart enough to figure out the genetic basis for race yet, not that there is a lack of it.

Anonymous said...

The question razed in this article is aware of is “does genetic differences between races, if any, mean behavioral differences”? we can through the genetic controversy out the window for one reason. This question is obviously false and can be established sociologically without need of looking towards biology. Even if one were to find evidence that one “race” what ever that means exactly, has a tendency to this or that behavior on the genetic level, socialization prevents that, as a clear-cut vial argument because in the case with humans we are not organisms whose behavior exists in a vacuum unaffected be social conditioning. So the point would seem moot anyway.

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