Argument by dubious citation

See also: …But not the same size

It’s informative to double check the citations given by papers dealing with race and genetics. For example here’s a passage from Pfeffer et al. (2006):

Given the essentialist and entitative nature of genetic lay theories, this suggests the likelihood of a similar association between genetic lay theories and prejudice. One of the clearest illustrations of this link is the use of genetic factors to account for differences between ethnic groups, a practice with a long, sordid history (Black, 2003). Beginning with Galton (1892/1972), in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there have been numerous attempts to document genetic causes underlying the low social standing of some races (Gould, 1981). During the eugenics era, these views were enacted in social policies and racist practices (Kitcher, 1997). Despite studies discrediting the biological basis for race (see Anderson & Nickerson, 2005), and many questioning the scientific meaning of race (e.g. Smedley & Smedley, 2005), genetic lay theories for perceived race differences continue to surface (e.g. Entine, 2000; Rushton & Jensen, 2005), particularly with regard to differences between Whites and Blacks.

[Latter on, though they state: “The results suggest that a sizable percentage of Americans endorse what we define as a genetic lay theory to explain perceived race differences and differences in sexual orientation. This is striking in light of the fact that the scientific community, itself, does not universally embrace genetic theories for social group differences (e.g. Anderson & Nickerson, 2005).”]

Pfeffer et al. embrace the sociologist norm of conceptualizing all genetic views as “essentialistic” and “deterministic” and then dismissing them for their implausible folksy essentialism and determinism. Anyways, who do they cite:

Here is Smedely and Smedely, 2005:

Less prominent in this debate has been a discussion of what is meant by racial groups and whether such groups are, in fact, discrete, measurable, and scientifically meaningful. The consensus among most scholars in fields such as evolutionary biology, anthropology, and other disciplines is that racial distinctions fail on all three counts— that is, they are not genetically discrete, are not reliably measured, and are not scientifically meaningful.

Given that racialized science is based on an imprecise and distorted understanding of human differences, should the term race be abandoned as a matter of social policy? Stated differently, if race is not a biological or anthropological reality, should race play a role in policy discussions? From a policy perspective, although the term race is not useful as a biological construct, policymakers cannot avoid the fact that social race remains a significant predictor of which groups have greater access to societal goods and resources and which groups face barriers—both historically and in the contemporary context—to full inclusion…(genetically discrete, are not reliably measured, and are not scientifically meaningful.

Smedely and Smedely (2005), in turn, cite:

American Anthropological Association (1998) , the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (1996), Brace, 2003; Cartmill, 1998; Cavalli-Sforza, 1995; Graves, 2001, 2004; Harrison, 1995; Lewontin, 1995; Littlefield et al., 1982; Marks, 1995; Shanklin, 1994; A. Smedley, 1999b, 2002b; and Templeton, 2002.

The only cited paper that empirically tackled a question on race and consensus is Cartmill (1998). Here were Cartmill’s findings:

In summary, the role played by racial taxonomy in the study of modern human variation has apparently changed little or not at all over the course of the past 30 years. In the 1990s, as in the 1960s, most researchers studying human variation do not make use of the concept of race in gathering and analyzing their data; however, a consistently large minority continue to do so. These figures suggest that neither the proponents nor the opponents of racial classification have any grounds for thinking that history is on their side

Like Lieberman et al., (2003), Cartmill found no consensus on the taxonomic status of race (for review of the studies on this see: Štrkalj, 2007). Worse for Smedely and Smedely’s case, Cartmill (1998) went onto argue that there probably were intelligence differences between racial populations:

However we choose to define or subdivide “intelligence,” it is an unpleasant fact that some genetic variants make their possessors stupider than other people: that is, they result in impaired mental abilities in all currently attainable human environments. Some of these genes are known to be significantly more common in some human populations and ethnic groups than in others. These two facts suggest (but do not prove) that human populations and ethnic groups may well differ congenitally in average mental potential at birth. This conclusion sounds shocking. However, even if it is true, it turns out to be far more innocuous and less interesting than either racists or egalitarians assume.

More problematic is that Smedely and Smedely conflate two distinct issues: a) are there taxonomic human races and b) are there relevant genetic differences between socially defined racial populations (e.g. African Americans versus European-Americans). (To appreciate the importance of this distinction imagine if the ancestors of Africans Americans were predominately Mbuti pygmies and the underlying question was the origin of average height differences and ensuing disparities.) Smedely and Smedely are concerned with the latter yet they cite references that address the former (e.g. Cavalli-Sforza, 1995; Templeton, 2002).

When it comes to genetics and race as socially defined in country X, the relevant question is: “How could genetic differences between socially defined races have come about.” One, but not the only, answer is that races are defined, in part, by regional ancestral origin and that peoples from different historic regions differ in gene frequencies for relevant traits (e.g. pigmentation, cerebral brain volume, zinc metabolism, or hair texture). To make their case, Smedely and Smedely would have to show that there were no practically significant genetic variation between historic regional populations or that ‘races’ as socially defined in the US have zero correlation with regional ancestry (e.g. on average “East Asians Americans” are no less European than “European-Americans”). Of course, they do neither.

Moving onto the next citation, we have Anderson & Nickerson (2005) . Anderson and Nickerson present an introduction to a special issue of the American Psychologists (Volume 60) on race, psychology, and genetics. This is what they say about race and generics:

In addition, although many scholars believe that race is not a valid biological construct and that racial and ethnic groups are not discrete biological groups, psychological studies frequently rely on research designs and statistical analyses that essentially use race (or analyze race) as if it were a categorical variable….

[Of course, “not a valid biological construct” and “not discrete biological groups” is quite different from having no biologically basis]

One of the most controversial issues in research on race and genetics is that of intelligence. Three articles in the special issue address this topic. The most comprehensive of these is by Sternberg, Grigorenko, and Kidd (2005, this issue), who provide a sweeping overview and critique of the concept of intelligence and the relationship of intelligence to race, geography, and population genetics. The article by Rowe (2005, this issue) argues that in studies on genetic and environmental factors in research on racial differences in intelligence and other characteristics, greater attention should be devoted to genetic factors than has been the case. This article and the rebuttal to it by Cooper (2005, this issue) were originally scheduled to be published in an earlier issue of American Psychologist, but given the topics they address, we decided to include them in this special issue.

Anderson and Nickerson’s decisions to include Rowe (2005) in the special issue suggests that they don’t think the “biological basis of race” is discredited. The only passage from their article that could possible be interpreted as support for this contention is the following:

The topic of genetically based racial or ethnic group differences has a long and troublesome history (Guthrie, 1998; Richards, 1997; Tobach & Rosoff, 1994; Winston, 2004; Yee, Fairchild, Weizmann, & Wyatt, 1993). In the United States, there are few topics more controversial than that of genetics and race, owing largely to the systematic and sometimes government-funded efforts to scientifically “document” the inherent inferiority of many groups as a justification for discriminatory treatment (e.g., American Eugenics Society, 1928 –1931; Davenport, 1923). Although such efforts have largely been discredited (e.g., Gould, 1981/1996; Selden, 1999), interest in the genetic underpinnings of racial differences has not disappeared.

While the statement is ambiguous, their point seems to be that “efforts to scientifically “document“ the inherent inferiority of many groups … have largely been discredited“ and not that the biological basis of race has been discredited. Whatever the case, their reference to Gould’s “Mismeasure of Man” and Selden’s “Inheriting Shame” don’t support the claim that the biological basis of race, specifically in the context under discussion, was discredited, unless a sort of ad hominem directed at research is a valid line of argument.

So, as we see, Pfeffer et al. (2006) citations do not back their assertion. Were this propensity for miscitation an isolated case, it would be of little interest, but when it comes to the subject of race and genes it hardly is. There is a virtual pyramid scheme of cites and miscites. For example, along a different line, in regards to human polytypicality, Lao and Kayser (2009) state:

So far, studies performed at various loci have shown that the proportion of genetic variation obtained when individuals were clustered according to their geographic continent of origin is quite small (ranging from only 5% up to 15%) compared to that seen when all humans were considered as a single group (approximately 80%) (Romualdi et al., 2002). For comparison: a biological criterion (despite subjective) to define the presence of subspecies is finding estimations of genetic dierentiation greater than approximately 25%( Kittles and Weiss, 2003).

They cite Kittles and Weiss (2003) who cite Templeton (1998) and Wright (1979). Templeton (1998), in turn, cities Smith et al. (1997) who don’t even discuss Fst value but rather the 75% rule under which humans populations clearly qualify as subspecies. They state:

The non-discrete nature of subspecies is evident from their definition as geographic segments of any given gonochoristic (bisexually reproducing) species differing from each other to a reasonably practical degree (e.g., at least 70-75%), but to less than totality.

And Wright (1978) writes:

There is also no question, however, that populations that have long inhabited separated parts of the world should, in general, be considered to be of different subspecies by the usual criterion that most individuals of such populations can be allocated correctly by inspection. It does not require a trained anthropologist to classify an array of Englishmen, West Africans, and Chinese with 100% accuracy by features, skin color, and type of hair in spite of so much variability within each of these groups that every individual can easily be distinguished from every other.

It is, however, customary to use the term race rather than subspecies for the major subdivisions of the human species as well as for minor ones. The occurrence of a few conspicuous differences, probably due to selection for adaptation to widely different environmental conditions, does not necessarily imply much difference in general. Nei and Roychoudhury (1974) have shown that the differences among negroids, caucasoids, and mongoloids in the protein and blood group loci are slight compared with those between individuals within any one of them.

Apparently, Kittles and Weiss (2003) never actually read Wright (1978). Misciting him seems to be a common practice, though. For example Graves (2010) comments:

In 1978, Sewall Wright published a four volume treatise entitled: The evolution and genetics of populations. Volume four is devoted to variability within and among populations…. Chapters 9 & 10 of this volume focus on variability within human populations and what he describes as racial differentiation in mankind. …However, on careful examination we see that Wright based on this own criteria for the existence of race, contradicted himself. The mean Fst did not exceed, nor did it come close to his pre-established value for the existence of subspecies, which he equated with geographical race, Fst>0.25

As we saw with Smedely and Smedely (who cited as evidence Templeton 2002, who cites Tempelton 1998), the misinformation compounds.


Anderson and Nickerson, 2005. Genes, Race, and Psychology in the Genome Era: An introduction

Cartmill, 1998. The status of the race concept in physical anthropology. American Anthropologist, 100, 651– 660.

Graves, 2010. Social Definitions of Race: Implications for Modern Biomedical Research

Kittles and Weiss, 2003. Race, ancestry, and genes: implications for defining disease risk

Lieberman et al., 2003. The race concept in six regions: variation without consensus;

Lao and Kayser, 2009. Human Relationships Inferred from Genetic Variation

Pfeffer et al., 2006. Their Relationship with Prejudice toward Blacks, and Gay Men and Lesbians
White Americans’ Genetic Lay Theories of Race Differences and Sexual Orientation

Smedley and Smedley, 2005. Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on the Social Construction of Race

Štrkalj, 2007. The status of the race concept in contemporary biological anthropology: A review.

Templeton, 1998. Human races: a genetic and evolutionary perspective

Wright, 1978. Evolution and the Genetics of Populations, Vol. 4: Variability Within and Among Natural Population

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4 Responses to Argument by dubious citation

  1. Kiwiguy says:

    Amazing. It would be interesting to email the journals that published those papers and query how that got past peer review. And maybe to email other journals advising them to keep an eye out for this.

  2. Kiwiguy says:

    btw. I emailed the publisher of Thilo Sarrazin’s book asking whether an English translation was planned. I received this reply:

    “Dear Kiwiguy,

    Thank you for your message and your interest.

    Unfortunately there is no English translation planned, yet.”

  3. M says:

    A post I would personally like to see would answer the question “to what extent is increased incidence of criminality (in racial groups that exhibit it) *not* explained by lower intelligence?”

  4. B.B. says:

    M said:
    A post I would personally like to see would answer the question “to what extent is increased incidence of criminality (in racial groups that exhibit it) *not* explained by lower intelligence?”

    Race and Psychopathic Personality by Richard Lynn:
    Low IQ can lead to crime because less intelligent children do poorly at school and fail to learn the skills needed to get well-paid jobs, or even any job. Unemployment is therefore two to three times higher among blacks than whites. People without jobs need money, and have relatively little to lose by robbery or burglary, and may therefore commit property crimes. The association between low intelligence and crime holds for whites as well, among whom the average IQ of criminals is about 84.

    Nevertheless, as Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein showed in their book The Bell Curve, low IQ cannot entirely explain a black crime rate that is six-and-a-half times the white rate. When blacks and whites are matched for IQ, blacks still commit crimes at two-and-a-half times the white rate. This shows that blacks must have some other characteristic, besides low intelligence, that explains their high levels of criminality.

    Prof. Herrnstein and Dr. Murray found the same race and IQ relationship for social problems other than crime: unemployment, illegitimacy, poverty, and living on welfare. All of these are more frequent among blacks and are related to low IQ, and low IQ goes some way towards explaining them, but these social problems remain greater among blacks than among whites with the same IQs. Low intelligence is therefore not the whole explanation. Prof. Herrnstein and Dr. Murray did not offer any suggestions as to what the additional factors responsible for the greater prevalence of these social problems among blacks might be. They concluded only that “some ethnic differences are not washed away by controlling for either intelligence or for any other variables that we examined. We leave those remaining differences unexplained and look forward to learning from our colleagues where the explanations lie” (p. 340).

    I propose that the variable that explains these differences is that blacks are more psychopathic than whites. Just as racial groups differ in average IQ, they can also differ in average levels of other psychological traits, and racial differences in the tendency towards psychopathic personality would explain virtually all the differences in black and white behavior left unexplained by differences in IQ.

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