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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Race science & 18th century classifications

Johannes Blumenbach did not find the Sami people
of Finland aesthetically pleasing so he
considered them separate from other "Caucasians."
I got into a battle recently on Twitter with one of the more blatantly white supremacist proponents of race science, over my piece "On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism" reaches its apotheosis."

The white supremacist, who goes by a pseudonym and appears to fancy themselves quite the science expert, did not seem to get the point of the article which is this:
This logical disconnect, between believing there are "white" and "black" races whose test scores can be compared, while at the same time holding that there is no empirical basis - or even just a standard that hereditarians can agree on amongst themselves - for race classification is the incoherent, insane foundation of hereditarianism - also known as "race science."
It's the logical disconnect - insisting one doesn't need to determine biological races empirically while at the same time insisting that "black" and "white" races exist as biological phenomena and you can compare their evolutionarily-endowed intelligence levels.

His argument was that taxonomists don't have empirical classifications for bacterium and so therefore it isn't fair to ask race science proponents for evidence-based classification schemes.

As a result I ended up diving into a number of articles on taxonomy. And it turns out the reason taxonomies are not completely empiricism-based is because taxonomies are in flux as scientists - real scientists, not race science proponents - reconsider traditional classifications.

The paper Virus taxonomy: the database of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) explains:
Taxonomic classification is a scientific endeavor whereby biological organisms are grouped together and placed into their proper taxonomic hierarchy based on the characteristics that form a unique descriptor identifying a particular organism. This research process is driven by individual scientists who publish their work, providing their evidence for the proposed classification. As new data are obtained either on the organisms previously studied, or on related organisms, the classification hierarchy may change. The principles, procedures, and nomenclature used to name taxa, is handled by one of the international organizations charged with developing the necessary guidelines. For example, naming of animal species is subject to the principles established by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (2,5). Naming of bacterial species is guided by the International Committee on Systematic Bacteriology (3).
I think it's safe to assume that the work of taxonomic classification is expected to be based on evidence, rather than say, whim as proposed by the Winegards and Brian Boutwell in their Reality of Race article:
...there aren’t a fixed number of film categories. The amount and the granularity of film categories depend upon the interests of the people using them. Your friend might use four (horror, comedy, drama, and science fiction), whereas Netflix might use an apparently limitless and startlingly specific supply. (See Daniel Dennett’s book for a variety of points and related examples centering on the topic of species).   
The same principles apply to racial categories. If one knows that Thomas is a Caucasian, one can be reasonably sure that Thomas has relatively light skin, and that he has recent ancestry in Europe. But racial categories, like film categories, aren’t immutable essences that perfectly sort humans into distinct groups.
The race science proponents, although they are happy to allow without complaint the likes of Stefan Molyneux and Linda Gottfredson to present their own race categories, complete with intelligence rankings, don't have anything like a commission on race nomenclature. Because, let's face it, that would be a lot of work, and it's much easier to publish poorly-vetted pseudoscience in a phrenology rag like Quillette or appear on a YouTube channel run by a white supremacist. And even worse for them, attempting to create an evidence-based race classification system might result in the abandonment of race as a biological reality altogether - which would be a serious problem for race-based careers, although not completely insurmountable thanks to wingnut welfare.

Linnaean taxonomy from 350 years ago was based primarily on appearance. DNA sequencing caused a reconsideration as with Procyonidae for example, as this Wiki explains:
There has been considerable historical uncertainty over the correct classification of several members. The red panda was previously classified in this family, but it is now classified in its own family, the Ailuridae, based on molecular biology studies. The status of the various olingos was disputed: some regarded them all as subspecies of Bassaricyon gabbii before DNA sequence data demonstrated otherwise.[5] 
The traditional classification scheme shown below on the left predates the recent revolution in our understanding of procyonid phylogeny based on genetic sequence analysis. This outdated classification groups kinkajous and olingos together on the basis of similarities in morphology that are now known to be an example of parallel evolution; similarly, coatis are shown as being most closely related to raccoons, when in fact they are closest to olingos
Real scientists change their views based on new information. They are not content to stick to a system invented in the 18th century.

In contrast, race science proponents are very happy to stick with 18th century race classifications as Bo Winegard demonstrates, and not only in his use of the term Caucasian. Winegard wrote a book review of Saini's "Superior" along with rightwing hereditarian Noah Carl and made it clear that race science is based on 18th century classifications:
In a well-known study, Noah Rosenberg and colleagues found that human genetic variation largely corresponds to broad geographic regions and, more compellingly, that it closely matches Johann Blumenbach’s 1781 classification of human morphological variation into five races: Caucasians, Americans (Amerindians), Ethiopians (Africans), Mongolians (East Asians), and Malaysians (Oceanians). When Rosenberg’s article was first published, it came under a certain amount of criticism. However, he and his colleagues responded robustly to these criticisms in a follow-up article. Among the most compelling findings reported in their follow-up is that if one samples subpopulations from the five major genetic clusters, those separated by a given geographic distance tend to be more genetically similar if they are from the same cluster than if they are from different clusters. This indicates that, although human genetic variation is mostly clinal, it is partly discontinuous. (Blumenbach’s typology is one of those Saini dismisses as “arbitrary” without offering any evidence or argument.)
Caucasian variety Colour white cheeks rosy hair brown or chestnut coloured head subglobular face oval straight its parts moderately defined forehead smooth nose narrow slightly hooked mouth small. The primary teeth placed perpendicularly to each jaw the lips especially The lower one moderately open the chin full and rounded In general that kind of appearance which according to our opinion of symmetry we consider most handsome and becoming To this first variety belong the inhabitants of Europe except the Lapps and the remaining descendants of the Finns and those of Eastern Asia as far as the river Obi the Caspian Sea and the Ganges and lastly those of Northern Africa.
Race science is still using "Hispanic" as a "race" as we saw when Stefan Molyneux and Linda Gottfredson included that category in their race-intelligence hierarchy.

The one thing that genetic testing won’t tell you is whether or not you are Latino or Hispanic. That’s because people from Latin America typically are a mix of European, African, and Native American ancestry. You might also find Middle Eastern, East Asian and Ashkenazi ancestry folded into your results. And as much as it is in the DNA, that rich mixture of ancestry is also embedded in the art, music, and food that make up Latino culture.
Another example is the  2014 NYTimes article by Carl Zimmer Black? White? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier which also uses information from 23 and Me:
On average, the scientists found, people who identified as African-American had genes that were only 73.2 percent African. European genes accounted for 24 percent of their DNA, while .8 percent came from Native Americans. 
Latinos, on the other hand, had genes that were on average 65.1 percent European, 18 percent Native American, and 6.2 percent African. The researchers found that European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American.
Zimmer's article triggered Razib Khan and Steve Sailer because, as race-obsessed as they are, they understood what it meant: there's a clear disconnect between social race and biological ancestry. Although their defense was to marvel at how white European Americans are, while suggesting we should ignore the historical record (like the "one-drop rule" which explains everything about why "whites" are so white) and only look at DNA evidence to understand race.

The subjects of race science studies invariably self-identify their race, in spite of the fact that we've known for at least a decade that DNA ancestry is often at odds with social race identity. In the past few years there have been stories in the media about people who were completely wrong about their own ethnic ancestry.

 The blithe confidence of race science proponents in subject self-identiifcation was confirmed for me when I asked Kevin Beaver, responsible for "converting" (his word) college undergraduates to race science, whether he used DNA testing to establish subject ancestry. He responded via email:
In all of my research, I have analyzed secondary data which has only included self-identification of race/ethnicity.  As a result, I was never able to examine ancestry based on genetic testing.
And Kevin Beaver, far from criticizing Stefan Molyneux and his race classification scheme from a  December 2015 YouTube video, appeared on Molyneux's YouTube channel in May 2016. But Kevin Beaver has no problem with classifying "Hispanic" as a race, he himself considers Hispanic a race, as can be seen in his 2016 paper, co-written with J. C. Barnes , Brian B. Boutwell, J. Mitchell Miller, Rashaan A. DeShay, Norman White entitled Exposure to Pre- and Perinatal Risk Factors Partially Explains Mean Differences in Self-Regulation between Races.

Here is a chart, visible with the abstract in the link above, which presents five race categories: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and Other.

In spite of their frequent self-presentation as heroes of reason and science, when the empirical data does not tell race science proponents what they want to hear, they are happy to toss out empiricism and as the "Reality of Race" article by Ben and Bo Winegard and Brian Boutwell recommends, classify race based on personal preference using 18th century concepts. Why not use "Hispanic" - or as in the case of the Rockland County, "Mulatto" and "Moor"? And then use those categories in your studies of "Self Regulation between Races"?

And that is what race "science" is all about.