Smoke screen?

(This was one of those many posts that I never posted because the whole topic seems so silly)

Hmmm….I was all set to critique Sternberg, Grigorenko, and Kidd’s 2005 paper “Intelligence, Race, and Genetics,” which I had happened onto a while back, but then I reread it and realized that the wonky anti-race statements were possibly part of a smoke screen.

The authors say a lot of stuff like:

a) Race is a socially constructed concept, not a biological one. It derives from people’s desire to classify. People seem to be natural classifiers.

b) One could pick any of a number of traits correlated with geographic patterns and find correlations with other related traits. It would be foolhardy, however, to view any one of these traits as causative of the others.

c) We could of course refer to moths as being of different “races” (black and white) in the same way we sometimes refer to humans as being of different “races.”

d) There is nothing special about skin color that serves as a basis for differentiating humans into so-called races.

e) The problem with the concept of race is not that it is supported by only a minority of anthropologists, but hat it as no scientific basis. Moreover, attempts to link intelligence, race, and genetics have also lacked an adequate scientific foundation.

f) race is every bit as real as royal blood.

But then, also:

1) Genes explain a substantial amount of intelligence related variance within groups.

We also know that there is a substantial genetic influence contributing to individual differences in levels of academic achievement (Luo, Thompson, & Detterman, 2003).

2) Racial differences are largely the result of geographic ancestral differences.

Differences in socially constructed races stem largely from geographic dispersions that began about 100,000 years ago and continued until about 3,000 years ago in some areas. Today we see the physical correlates left by these dispersions. Much of that variation is continuous across distances, but with different traits showing different rates and patterns of change.

3) Geographic populations differ in educational and intelligence related genes.

There is no question that populations, defined geographically, demonstrate dramatic variability in frequencies not only for the several million normal polymorphisms not associated with causing genetic disorders but also for many disease-related genetic alleles (variants)….According to our review of the literature, variation that seems to be meaningful and transferable into helpful public health or educational policies is at the level of specific populations. Global socially constructed categories such as race do not appear to be useful proxies genetic features.

I don’t know…perhaps they were serious in their critique of race, a critique which itself is hard to take seriously. The obvious reply to claims about “race” being too vague was given by Levin (2002):

“Race” is easily operationalized. As used in everyday life and evolutionary biology, a “Negroid” is someone whose ancestors were born in sub-Saharan Africa, and mutatis mutandis for “Caucasoid” and “Mongoloid.” This definition requires temporal bounds, to be set by the best theory of human dispersal. Thus, if as monogenists think, homo sapiens first appeared in Africa, branched off into Europe approximately 110,000 years ago, and into Asia 70,000 years after that, a Negroid is someone whose ancestors between 4,000 and (to accommodate recent migrations) 20 generations ago were born in sub-Saharan Africa—mutatis mutandis, again, for Caucasoid and Mongoloid.

In these terms, generalizations about race have clear meanings: To say the races differ genetically, for instance, is to say that humans whose ancestors were born in different parts of the world tend to have different genotypes. This hypothesis may be true or false and of course must be tested empirically, but it is perfectly well formed. Practical imperatives about race are similarly well formed: When advocates of affirmative action demand set-asides and numerical goals for Blacks, they have in mind individuals whose ancestors were brought to the United States from Africa. It would have been interesting to have seen Yee et al. (1993) criticize affirmative action on the grounds that “racial minority” is ill defined, and that, for the same reason, laws banning racial discrimination are unconstitutionally vague.

Environmentalists never have a problems operationalizing and researching race when it comes to their hypothesized environmental differences. Why, suddenly when it comes to hypothesized heritable differences? The hidden assumption seems to be that there is something unique about heritable differences. That researching or discussing genetic differences, unlike environmental differences, presupposes uniquely precise concepts. It doesn’t, of course. You can arbitrary socially construct any two groups measure various differences between them and then investigate to what extent the differences have a genetic basis. For example, we could socially construct two groups, “North Hemispherians” and “South Hemispherians,” measure differences in pigmentation and then investigate, through a number of techniques (e.g. structural equation modeling), the heritability of the difference.

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