March 4, 2012 § 14 Comments
Is race a biological reality? Or is it a social construction? It is a debate that shows no sign of being resolved. The more that we know of the genetics of human differences, ironically, the more fractious the debate seems to get, and the more entrenched the various positions seem to be.
The latest issue of the magazine American Scientist contains a review by the biologist Jan Sapp of two books that insist that race has no biological validity. Sapp agrees. ‘The consensus among Western researchers today’, he suggests, ‘is that human races are sociocultural constructs’. Nevertheless ‘the concept of human race as an objective biological reality persists in science and in society. It is high time that policy makers, educators and those in the medical-industrial complex rid themselves of the misconception of race as type or as genetic population.’
The distinguished evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, who possesses impeccable liberal and anti-racist credentials, took umbrage at the review. ‘If that’s the consensus’, he snorted, then ‘I am an outlier’. Coyne insists that ‘human races exist in the sense that biologists apply the term to animals’. The equally distinguished biological anthropologist Jonathan Marks responded with what he himself described as a ‘rant’ against Coyne. ‘I have really had it with anti-intellectualism masquerading as biological science’, Marks fumed, claiming that Coyne ’isn’t interested’ in what anthropologists have learnt about human population differences and comparing Coyne’s view on race with that of Creationists on evolution.
Why are we still having these kinds of debates? Why has a deepening understanding of genetics, and of the human genome, not helped to answer the questions, even among those who insist that their views derive solely from the facts? « Read the rest of this entry »