Race and IQ. Again.

Drawn figures with newspapers with headlines reading

Reading the Latest Article on Race Differences in Intelligence

Race Difference in Intelligence (RDI) researchers have been trying to prove their case since World War I when psychologists administered intelligence tests to those entering the Army. It won’t surprise you to learn that one outcome of this mass testing  was the blustery assurance among psychologists that at last we had definitive proof of differences in intelligence between the races. However, the case soon fell apart and RDI researchers, the honest ones at least, issued embarrassed recantations. Most famous of these was Carl Brigham who wrote in 1930:

This review has summarized some of the more recent test findings which show that comparative studies of various national and racial groups may not be made with existing tests, and which show, in particular, that one of the most pretentious of these comparative racial studies-the writer’s own-was without foundation.

Brigham was merely echoing many other researchers who realized that intelligence tests could never really prove that white people are smarter than black people and not much could be done about it.  For the past century, however, a few RDI researchers always lumbered on, promising that, any day now, we are right on the brink, success is just around the corner, just fifteen more minutes!, and we will have proof that most of the racial gap in IQ owes to genetics.

The latest entry into the jam-tomorrow-never-jam-today of RDI researchers is this piece by philosopher Nathan Cofnas who assures us that “In a very short time” we will know that black people are just generally dumber than white people (I paraphrase here, but that is what he means) . It is never a good sign when an article comes with a warning label as this one did. The editors claimed their decision was “based on criteria of philosophical and scientific merit, rather than ideological conformity.” One wonders what merit the editors found in the article since it has none of these promised virtues.


Undoubtedly one reason the editors decided to publish an ideological objectionable piece is because the Pursuit of Truth is reason enough. Hard to object to Truth for its own sake, is it not? As uncomfortable as it might make us, Cofnas maintains, the Search for Truth is its Own Reward:

Truth was traditionally thought of – and is still often advertised – as the fundamental commitment of science…. Some of the great heroes of science – most famously Galileo – are celebrated for resisting moral and religious authorities who feared that free inquiry would bring disaster. (pp. 129-130)

If I had a nickel every time an RDI researcher compared themselves to Galileo I’d have about $5.65. According to them they are heroes standing up for Truth and their opponents are small-minded dogmatists afraid of the Truth! This stance is nonsense and not just because a fraud like J. Philippe Rushton was no Galileo.

In some of my undergraduate classes, I assign a wonderful little article from the nineteen-forties, “Umbrellaology, or, Methodology in Social Science.” In this thought experiment, we are asked if the science of “umbrellaology” is indeed science. The scientist has surveyed the residents of Manhattan for umbrella ownership as well as various characteristics of those umbrellas. He has posited several laws (e.g. women are more likely to own a colorful umbrella, men probably only own a black one). Why, the author asks, should umbrellology not be considered a science?  The first reaction to umbrellaology from my students is: It shouldn’t be a science because it’s silly. But, the author of the piece rejoins, certainly science is the pursuit of Truth! My science has discovered Truths about the world! Are you not committed to Truth?

The problem with “Truth should be pursued for its own sake” is that it does not provide any criterion by which to choose which truths to investigate. Why do RDI researchers choose to pursue this Truth rather than some other Truth? This was the point Noam Chomsky made in an article Cofnas cites but does not seem to understand:

The possible correlation between partially heritable traits is of little scientific interest…and were someone interested in pursuing this matter as a scientist, he would certainly select traits more amenable to study except than race and IQ.

The Truth of umbrellas is perfectly equivalent to the Truth of RDI; it cannot distinguish between the two. Hence, the idea that RDI researchers are simply searching for the Truth does not help them justify why they research race and intelligence. Other Truths are out there, choose one of those.

Cofnas offers two reasons to justify RDI research. First, he claims “Proscribing the study of group differences undermines the integrity of huge swaths of work in biology, psychology, economics, sociology, history, and moral and political philosophy. If we accept that truth is intrinsically valuable, then this is a cause for concern” (p. 134) How it does this is left as an exercise to the reader as he does not elaborate. Nor does he explain how some of those thriving fields presently ignore RDI research according Cofnas himself just two pages earlier “In some academic fields such as sociology and history, virtually all mainstream scholars refuse to consider the implications of group differences in intelligence for the problems they address” (p. 132). According to Cofnas stopping RDI research undermines fields that already ignore RDI research. Maybe you need to be Galileo to resolve the contradiction. And, of course, such histories are already available, such as Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race or the Racial Basis of European History or U.B. Phillips’s history of U.S. slavery which was based on the idea of the stunted intellectual capacity of black people. Presumably Cofnas thinks that those histories are preferable to the kinds of history produced by today’s ignorant historians.

The rubber really hits the road with  Cofnas’s second reason: “if not all groups have identical distributions of potential, then it is unjust to assume that some people must be blamed for average differences in performance among groups” (p. 134). Let’s translate this out of the tender language of scholarship. When RDI researchers say “groups” they mean “races.” When they say “races” the mean “white people” and “black people” (and, sometimes “Asians”). When they say “some people must be blamed…” they mean racism. So, what Cofnas is saying here is: If black people really are, on average, stupider than white people, then racism is not a problem and white people are off the hook. This is where things get really interesting.

Drawing of a Black man and a white man with the legend,

RDI research is a parochial concern of a group of social scientists, primarily psychologists and, within psychology, often relegated to an even smaller group of psychometricians. There are a handful of RDI researchers elsewhere but it is overwhelming “An American Thing.” This unhappy state of affairs belies the claim that RDI research is simply a disinterested, purely scientific endeavor; if it was it would not be largely confined to the U.S.

The reasons RDI research is centered here are not difficult to discern and owe to political racial dynamics specific to the United States. Historically RDI research was tied to American institutions and how they were to deal with, as it was known before World War II, “Negro Education.” RDI research was enrolled to justify a two-tiered educational system before World War II where white students were given access to a rigorous and scholarly education and African Americans relegated to “industrial education” because of their presumed intellectual inferiority. After World War II, when African Americans increasingly demanded full access to the entire range of educational opportunities RDI research was enrolled to try to stop them. Ex-president of the American Psychological Association, Henry E. Garrett, was tireless in his attempts to use IQ scores to prevent the equitable education of African Americans (see here, here, here, here, or here). Garrett was only the highest profile RDI researcher to try to beat back attempts for educational equality using intelligence tests. You could write a whole book about it (here and here).  The situation did not change in the decades since battle over school segregation; RDI research has always been used to justify the inequitable distribution of educational resources.

Cofnas is advocating a research program that was never about pure science. It was always embedded in social policy. Cofnas, while not mentioning this ugly history, blithely endorses use of RDI research to establish a two-tiered educational system:

But the reason that these [educational] programs [tailored to different racial groups]…have never been created is not because of racism but because of the taboo on talking about genetic differences among policy makers. No mainstream politician can acknowledge that there are differences that might call for the creation of a program to “work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every [ethnic] group to help make them the very best they can be.” It is hereditarians who have advocated these programs and environmentalists who have resisted them….[In addition to Jensen in 1969], contemporary hereditarians have also called for tailored training programs (e.g., Gottfredson, 2005a, 2005b, p. 318; Lubinski & Humphreys, 1997). (pp. 135-6)

Cofnas urges us to truly consider this two-tiered educational system based on racial differences despite the possibility of things going awry:

It is impossible to know exactly what the consequences would be if race differences were proven to have a substantial genetic component and this finding became widely accepted. We ought to try to anticipate the potential harms and – keeping in mind the poor track record of even the most talented prognosticators of cultural trends – determine how seriously we should take them. (p. 136)

If the past is any indication, we have good evidence of the consequences of the hereditarian program: the creation of social institutions that block African-American advancement owing to their “proven” intellectual inferiority. Hereditarians write as if their recommendations for such things are a great leap into the unknown rather than a leap back to the age when the supposed intellectual inferiority of African Americans was “known” by the majority of white people. We know what that society looked like. Most of us do not think returning to it is a good thing. Hereditarians apparently think otherwise.

A picture of three hogs.

In 1991, one of the most severe critics of RDI research, geneticist Richard Lewontin wrote

The papers on the subject [of heritability] that appear in the journals of behavior genetics would never pass review for publication in the journals of agronomy and animal breeding… If the rigorous demands placed on swine breeders were applied to the geneticists of human behavior, no strong claim could be made for the heritability of IQ, and the empirical evidence on which the biological determinist argument is made would disappear. (p. 152)

The kind of RDI research that Cofnas champions works like this: To discover why IQ averages vary between white and black “races” they claim they can partition the variance into heredity and environment. If the environment is equal between the groups then the variance must owe to heredity. Now, there are very good reasons to think that partitioning variance in this way is wrong-headed because genes simply don’t work like that (see here or here) but even taking partitioning between heredity and environment on its own terms, we can see why the science triumphed by Cofnas is pretty shoddy when compared to people doing genetics in other fields.

The “heredity” side of the partition is obviously whatever is generated by genes themselves. The “environment” side is literally everything else in the world. In the agricultural sciences a geneticist can control the environment in an experimental design or even in a field test. So you know the variance among your corn owes to heredity because you’ve made sure the environment is as close to identical as you can make it.  In the human sciences, control over the environment in this manner is simply impossible. Do we really know all the factors in the environment (i.e. everything that is not genetic) that could account for a gap in average IQ between white and black people? Cofnas apparently thinks that black Americans and white Americans now live in the same world:

Environmentalists never predicted that the Black–White IQ gap would, after reaching one standard deviation, remain impervious to early education, adoption, massive improvements in the socioeconomic status of Blacks, and the (apparent) waning of overt racism and discrimination. (p. 129)

The only way to make his case is for Cofnas to assume the environment is the same for both races. But this is not the case. Philosopher Mark Alfano has already brought Cofnas to task for ignoring environmental racism, specifically the higher amounts of lead exposure faced by African-American communities. Lead is a pollutant with no known biological benefits but well-known to impair cognitive function. Cofnas simply ignored that entire body of research and more critiques of Cofnas along those lines will doubtlessly emerge in coming weeks and months.

A frightened man beset by animals with legends like

Race/IQ Researchers Often Like to Claim They are Victims of Terrible Persecution

Professor Alfano has started a petition for those scholars concerned about a reputable journal publishing such an irresponsible article. The petition asks that the editors of Philosophical Psychology “respond” to concerns about the shabby and dangerous research in the article.

The response from the RDI researchers to this petition is very predictable. Every criticism of RDI research is met with cries of:  Censorship! Political Correctness! Help! Help, I’m being repressed! For decades they have responded to every bit of criticism of their research as if they were victims of the Inquisition. It is all nonsense.

Cofnas tries to peddle this shopworn repression narrative:

“Prominent researchers who publicly endorse hereditarianism about group differences in intelligence have been condemned as immoral, fired from their positions, and physically threatened (examples are documented in Ceci & Williams, 2009; Cofnas, 2016; Gottfredson, 2010; Sesardic, 2005).(pp. 126-7)

Cofnas’s cited sources do not support this claim. Cofnas’s cited sources do show a lot of moral condemnation of claims of racial inferiority and, I think, rightly so. None of them document anyone fired from their positions and there is only one example of a physical threat and that from the early nineteen-seventies, You want to know who faces physical threats these days?  Professors who discuss the reality of racism and white supremacy, the very people Cofnas claims are a danger to RDI researchers. Like many claims RDI researchers make, the evidence we have points to the opposite conclusions they reach.

Of such documentation is the danger of the so-called equalitarian dogma made. No wonder then that just a few pages later Cofnas is forced to admit that these “attacks” on hereditarianism are meaningless:

Research on this topic has been done and the results are widely available. Major psychology journals continue to publish work that deals openly with group differences (though researchers still debate about the relative contribution of genes and environment, and the question has not been settled definitively). (p. 141)

If RDI researcher need nurturing and praise for their research, they can always turn to the racist right. Cofnas acknowledges that:

Some contemporary neo-Nazis claim to find support for their Nazi-inspired views in Darwinism and IQ research, but their ideology tends to dictate their interpretation of the science – which is usually grossly uninformed. (p. 137)

If the racist right is grossly uninformed, don’t blame patron-saint of RDI research, Arthur Jensen. He provided an introduction to William Shockley’s pro-eugenics text edited by a neo-Nazi. He cited a neo-Nazi in his famous 1969 article to prove that folk races were genetic populations (here). He also  served on the editorial board of Neue Anthropologie, a fascist journal of scientific racism. One thing is for sure: if the neo-Nazis were uninformed about RDI research, Jensen did his best to keep them up to date. Not that Cofnas mentions any of this in his article.

Why does Cofnas not object when American Renaissance reprints his work (here)? Or when he wins praise from Steve Sailer for the very article I am criticizing (here)? Cofnas’s stock has fallen at the antisemitic Unz Review (named for founder Ronald Unz) since Cofnas debunked antisemitic “evolutionary” theories, but they’ve recommended his work in the past. Cofnas sounds no warnings about racists appropriating his work or the work of other RDI researchers. Instead we get warnings of a non-existent threat that somehow fuzzy-minded do-gooders will prohibit RDI research, a stance that is identical to the extreme end of the racist right. Which may be why Cofnas and other RDI researchers never mention the extreme end of the racist right.

Cofnas admits that  “Heritability studies cannot show definitively that race differences in intelligence have a genetic cause. It is always possible that there is some hidden environmental factor(s) – a so-called “X factor”…that explains differences between – but not within – races” but we are nonetheless on the brink of proving that the IQ gap owes to our genes. On that day RDI researchers will come to us and say: : “We now know enough about everything in the world that could cause this IQ gap and can say with certainty that black people are generally stupider than white people. Please treat them that way.”  Should we believe them?  Given what we know about our own past, the idea that we should trust hereditarian scientists to tell us when we know that racism is truly and finally gone would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

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48 thoughts on “Race and IQ. Again.

  1. ““if not all groups have identical distributions of potential, then it is unjust to assume that some people must be blamed for average differences in performance among groups” (p. 134). Let’s translate this out of the tender language of scholarship. When RDI researchers say “groups” they mean “races.” When they say “races” the mean “white people” and “black people” (and, sometimes “Asians”). When they say “some people must be blamed…” they mean racism. So, what Cofnas is saying here is: If black people really are, on average, stupider than white people, then racism is not a problem and white people are off the hook. This is where things get really interesting.”

    I think you’ve grossly misinterpreted him in this quote. Isn’t his point that if S performs poorly at X and is a part of a group that on average performs poorly at X, then we ought not to blame S for his or her performance at X? Put in your racial terms: if black people typically perform poorly at X and a black person does X poorly, he or she ought not to be blamed for it. That’s the natural reading of the quote, anyway. I don’t see how you can get him saying that this would justify racism.

    Anyway, I really know of no way to get your interpretation out of this. Let me know if you still think you’re reading him right.


    • I see what you are saying. I depends on the referent for “some people.” Does it point to the test taker? Or to someone else. Read that disputed sentence against this section:

      “Although the theory that IQ gaps are due to structural racism does not imply that living people are racist, it still implies that living people should be blamed in some ways for unequal outcomes. If the theory is correct, people who benefit from structural racism have a moral obligation to oppose it and counteract its effects. So long as racial gaps remain, people will be blamed for failing to extirpate structural racism.” (p. 141)

      It seems to me that Cofnas says here that, if structural racism is real then living (white) people are blamed for inequality. Which means that my reading is supported by Cofnas’s stance elsewhere in the article.


  2. The abstract in Cofnas’ paper states that “genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence [may] not [be] distributed identically among all geographic populations.”

    Is it the author of ‘Race and IQ. Again’ saying the statement above is incorrect?


    • The author is saying that the statement is nonsense in the context of Cofnas’s paper. While RDI researchers often use the word “groups” or try to sound scientific with “geographic populations” what they are talking about, and what their research concerns are African Americans and white Americans. Neither of which can possibly called a “geographic population.” No population geneticist would buy that for an instant. And “group” is so nebulous a term that it is meaningless in this context.

      So, what I’m saying is Cofnas is completely equivocating by using terms that sound better than “white Americans” and “black Americans.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • By “geographic populations,” I took it that Cofras was referring to the shared ancestral geography of the group members.

        So would it be fair to say then that if Cofnas used the term “group” with the same rigor as a population geneticist and if there was nothing in the paper to make anyone infer Cofnas was unfairly targetting blacks, then you would not object to the idea that genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence may not be distributed identically among all geographic populations?


      • “if Cofnas used the term “group” with the same rigor as a population geneticist…” Which he definitely is not and you have no argument that he is. A geneticist would define a population as a group that is geographically isolated and breed only within the population. In no sense whatsoever do American socially defined races fit within that definition.

        ” and if there was nothing in the paper to make anyone infer Cofnas was unfairly targetting blacks,” an even bigger ‘if.’ No one has ever taken any kind of genetic test before taking an IQ test. Any racial information taken from those tests are from the self-identification of participants. Those are socially defined races NOT genetic populations. So it is just nonsense to say we can glean anything about genetic influence from it. And please see the blog about “unfairly targeting blacks” and consider the racist history of those tests and the policy suggestions that Cofnas makes.

        ” not object to the idea that genetic variants underlying individual differences” What genetic variants are those? IQ testers, who are primarily psychometricians have zero knowledge of how to even look for these supposed “genetic variants.” So, call me when those mysterious variants are found. Probably right after Bigfoot is found.

        ” may not be distributed identically among all geographic populations?” Again, assuming what needs to be proven: ‘genetic populations.’ There are none among humans, or at least none proven so far. And, why ask the question? What scientific motivation is there for it? Or is just looking for a reason to treat people differently because, after all, they are dumber than us.

        So, what your question is asking is “If the science were as I wish it was rather than how it actually is, wouldn’t Cofnas be right?” Which is not a question worth answering.


      • What exactly is ‘black’ supposed to be as a population? Africa has more genetic, linguistic, and religious diversity than all of the rest of the world combined. Even limiting ourselves to the United States, in terms of genetic indicators one in five African-Americans has more European than African ancestry and one in twenty has no detectable African ancestry at all.

        It is next to meaningless to talk of genetics in terms of IQ. We know so little about genetics. Consider something as simple as obesity that has been extensively studied. Hundreds of genes have been associated with obesity, and yet all of those genes combined only help to explain a fraction of a percentage of obesity.

        How genetics expresses is entirely dependent on epigenetics and environment. Do racist researchers looking for genetic determinism ever control for any of this? No. Mining vast data looking for correlations without offering any falsifiable hypothesis of causal mechanisms, that is simply prejudice seeking confirmation bias and the appearance of respectability.


      • To translate, Synaspora asks, if racists weren’t racist, would anti-racists not be offended by the lack of racism? The problem is the racial genetic research is bullshit and anyone who isn’t a racist and has at least a half of a brain cell knows this.


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  4. If people are going to complain about this topic surely they need to complain whenever group educational disparities are highlighted by the media, politicians or policy makers. Because you cannot understand the cause of these disparities without looking at causation. This could include environmental and genetic factors. And as Cofnas, David Reich, Robert Weinberg and others have said, as more genomic data becomes available there is more scope for that kind of investigation.


    • If we had intelligent public debate and if racists weren’t constantly muddying the water, the complaining about people’s complaining might be relevant. But sadly, that isn’t the world we live in. If the racists were interested in honest debate, they wouldn’t be racists in the first place. There is the rub.


  5. John Jackson declared in his response that “there are [no genetic populations] among humans, or at least none proven so far.”

    If Jackson believes that, I can see why he objects to Cofnas’s paper. But Jackson’s objections are far more expansive than that. Jackson apparently objects to the very idea of population genetics itself.


    • Since the post you are commenting on quotes approvingly population geneticist, Richard Lewontin and comments on the rigors of population genetics outside the RDI community and criticizes the RDI community for their misuse of population genetics where there are real scientists out there doing good work in that field I must object to your characterization of my view of population genetics.

      I also co-authored a book on the history of population genetics and anthropology which I humbly offer as proof that I do not “object to the very idea of population genetics” but think very highly of the founders of the field: people like Theodosius Dobzhansky and Sherwood Washburn:



      • @Synaspora – You seem to be making the mistaken assumption that all genetic populations are races. Most genetic differences exist within races, in the species sense, that between them.

        Which genetic differences you focus on in humans determines which populations you look at. But most of these genetic differences are overlapping in various ways across populations.

        It’s arbitrary to obsess over some genetic differences while ignoring others, just because they fit your race realists preconceptions.


  6. Benjamin David Steele, I love this paragraph:
    “Africa has more genetic, linguistic, and religious diversity than all of the rest of the world combined. Even limiting ourselves to the United States, in terms of genetic indicators one in five African-Americans has more European than African ancestry and one in twenty has no detectable African ancestry at all.” Might be a naive question but could you provide citations? I’d love to have them at my fingertips.


    • There are diverse sources for this info. If you read enough of the literature, you’ll come across it. I’ll give you a few examples. Below is some of the sources of info.

      But specifically about genetics of American blacks, you can find the data and sources in a post of mine, Racial Perceptions and Genetic Admixtures. As an interesting side note, a significant number, at 3-3%, of Southern whites unknowingly have recent African ancestry.

      Human DNA sequences: More variation and less race
      Jeffrey C. Long, Jie Li, and Meghan E. Healy

      “The pattern of DNA diversity is one of nested subsets, such that the diversity in non-Sub-Saharan African populations is essentially a subset of the diversity found in Sub-Saharan African populations.”

      Race and medicine: the BiDil trial
      John Hawks

      “Race is a miserable substitute for the knowledge of alleles and genotypes in a study like this one. Compared to other populations in the world, Africans are more genetically variable, which means predicting effects for a drug for the entire population based on the average of study subjects is probably a mistake. The problem is worse when applied to African-Americans, which share much of the genetic diversity of Africans, but also include a relatively high proportion of alleles that are common in Europeans — a proportion that varies greatly from individual to individual.”

      Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race – Anthropology 1.6
      by Jason Antrosio, from Living Anthropologically

      “Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest genetic diversity. This is not a surprise, since Sub-Saharan Africa is where almost all human evolution occurred. For most of human history, it was also the region with the largest human population. What may be more surprising is “that the diversity in non-Sub-Saharan African populations is essentially a subset of the diversity found in Sub-Saharan African populations” (Long et al. 2009:23).

      “Genetic classifications of races outside of Sub-Saharan Africa are simply subsets of Sub-Saharan African diversity. Moreover, and perhaps most strangely, “a classification that takes into account evolutionary relationships and the nested pattern of diversity would require that Sub-Saharan Africans are not a race because the most exclusive group that includes all Sub-Saharan African populations also includes every non-Sub-Saharan African population” (Long et al. 2009:32). In the end, the authors “agree entirely with Lewontin that classical race taxonomy is a poor reflection of human diversity” (Long et al. 2009:32). They disagree with Lewontin over whether this is intrinsic to human genetics–rather, it is a product of evolutionary history and migration.

      “This evolutionary history is explained in the article
      The global pattern of gene identity variation reveals a history of long-range migrations, bottlenecks, and local mate exchange: Implications for biological race. Once again, sophisticated techniques reveal a “nested pattern of genetic structure that is inconsistent with the existence of independently evolving biological races” (Hunley et al. 2009:35). The authors confirm greater genetic variation within Sub-Saharan Africa, and all other humans are a sub-set of this variation. Taxonomic classifications of race cannot account for observed genetic diversity.”

      Why Your Race Isn’t Genetic
      Michael White

      “Templeton examined two genetic definitions of race that are commonly applied by biologists to vertebrate species. In both cases, races clearly exist in chimpanzees, our nearest relatives, but not in humans.

      “One natural definition of race is a group whose members are genetically much more similar to each other than they are to other groups. Putting a number on what counts as “much more” is a somewhat arbitrary exercise, but Templeton found that the genetic differentiation between populations of chimpanzees is over seven times greater than the genetic differentiation between broad geographical populations of humans. Furthermore, the level of genetic differentiation between human populations falls well below the threshold that biologists typically use to define races in non-human species.

      “Races could also be defined by genetic branches on the family tree. For most of us, this is the most intuitive definition of race. It’s one that, at first glance, is consistent with recent human evolution: After originating in Africa, part of our species branched out first into Asia and Europe, and then to the rest of the world. We should thus expect different geographical populations to be distinct genetic limbs on our species’ recent evolutionary tree.

      “But as it turns out, our species’ family history is not so arboreal. Geneticists have methods for measuring the “treeness” of genetic relationships between populations. Templeton found that the genetic relationships between human populations don’t have a very tree-like structure, while chimpanzee populations do. Rather than a family tree with distinct racial branches, humans have a family trellis that lacks clear genetic boundaries between different groups.

      “These findings reflect our unusual recent evolutionary history. Unlike the distinct populations of chimps, humans continued to exchange both goods and genes with each other even as they rapidly settled an enormous geographical range. Those ongoing contacts, plus the fact that we were a small, genetically homogeneous species to begin with, has resulted in relatively close genetic relationships, despite our worldwide presence. The DNA differences between humans increase with geographical distance, but boundaries between populations are, as geneticists Kenneth Weiss and Jeffrey Long put it, “multilayered, porous, ephemeral, and difficult to identify.” Pure, geographically separated ancestral populations are an abstraction: “There is no reason to think that there ever were isolated, homogeneous parental populations at any time in our human past.””


  7. There is a great example that disproves the genetic determinism of race realism, specifically in terms of population studies. If the average behavior seen in a population is determined by the genetics in that population, we should not see a change in that typical behavior when there are changes in environmental factors, especially social conditions. Yet that is what we see again and again. I discussed this in my post, “Before the 1890s…” in which I offered the following quote:

    American Homicide
    by Randolph Roth
    Kindle Locations 222-225

    “Race and slavery are connected to America’s homicide problem, but not in a straightforward way. Before the 1890s, for example, African Americans were far less likely to kill than whites were, and especially unlikely to kill one another. Why, for the past century, has the opposite been the case? Why were Virginia and Maryland no more homicidal than Pennsylvania in the 1720s and 1730s, when they had more slaves and free blacks? Why did slave states become more homicidal after the Revolution, when free states became less homicidal?”


  8. Benjamin David Steele: Why do you assume that I’m assuming that “all genetic populations are races” when all I did was ask the following 9-word question: “How can you have population genetics without genetic populations?” I am referring to human population groups with shared ancestry.


    • I didn’t assume it. That is why I directly stated that, “It seems…” The wording obviously implies that I didn’t assume it. But at the same time, your question didn’t seem to make any sense without that assumption. That is why I hoped you would clarify your position, but you did not.

      Your dancing around race realism, which comes across as intellectually dishonest. If you want to defend race realism, just say so. Otherwise, your question is meaningless or else demonstrates a profound lack of knowledge on the subject. John Jackson is an expert in this field and is speaking clearly. Your question was obtuse.


    • John Jackson spoke clearly. He demonstrated that he wasn’t opposed to the scientific study of population genetics. He is only criticizing bad science. He was making an important distinction in response to your misportrayal of his views.

      In light of that, I don’t see how your question makes any sense. But maybe I’m misunderstanding something. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Can you restate your question in a way that refers to what he said?


      • John Jackson: By “shared ancestry” I mean a population that has lived and bred together with minimal outbreeding over tens of thousands of years: Australian Aborigines, for example. Such populations are sort of like large extended families.

        I’m not a population geneticist (or scientist) but I would propose the following thought experiment that describes how I think this works. Take 100 Australian aborigines, 100 Japanese, and 100 Mbuti Pygmies. Sequence their genes and take them for forensic analysis but don’t provide any info to the analyst and ask how many population groups are contained in this sample. I am confident the analyst would conclude the sample contains individuals from the three different population groups I described above. He could certain subdivide these three main groups into smaller subgroups if he desired, but the most obvious genetic clustering would be in three parts.


    • @John – This is what is so frustrating about race realists. They assume race realism as true without feeling any need to prove it. Yet at the same time, they often deny being race realists and certainly deny being racists.

      According to their own rhetoric, they’re only seeking objective truth and anyone who challenges their dogmatic beliefs is a politically correct snowflake or is being unscientific. Honest and meaningful debate is not possible under those conditions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Race realist is not simply a label indicating your part of an ideological group. It’s a way of thinking about the world and perceiving humanity. It is irrelevant whether or not you consciously identify as a race realist. When you stated that, ” I am referring to human population groups with shared ancestry,” you were assuming the central tenet of race realism. That your race realist assumptions are so unconscious that they go without question, even as you deny being a race realist, it simply doesn’t matter. It’s the same difference.


      • There’s nothing problematic about the idea of shared ancestry. Some people have most of their ancestors from one continent or region and other people have most of their ancestors from another continent or region and their genes reflect this. This doesn’t mean the two populations can’t or don’t mix with each other to some extent and it doesn’t mean these different populations are so distinctly different that they must be identified as separate races.


      • As has been noted, your race realist beliefs are far different than the serious study of population genetics. They’re just not the same thing. I never said there is anything wrong with ancestry. But we are having a discussion about science here.


      • I doubt any of us here have a problem with ancestry. In fact, I love studying my own ancestry, a favorite American hobby. But part of what fascinates me about American ancestry is how mixed up it is. Many of my family lines have been here since the colonial era. They came from all over Britain and Europe, and based on research and family history I suspect there might be some African and Native American mixed in. My mother’s family had been on the frontier early on and mixing was particularly common.

        Talking about ‘white’ and ‘black’ as genetic populations is laughable. The same goes for other countries, as humanity has had a complex history of migrations, invasions, enslavements, etc. There are thousands upon thousands of genetic clusters you could look at and they all overlap in various ways. Then there are the thousands upon thousands of epigenetic clusters on top of that. No rational person looks at that data and sees meaningful races, even if human genetic diversity wasn’t so miniscule.

        Even ignoring races, why obsess over only the minority of genetics that separate rather than the immensity of genetics that are in common. The humans species has one of the lowest genetic diversity of similar species, such as other higher primates. A significant portion of American ‘blacks’, for example, have more European than African ancestry. Using race as a proxy for genetic population is not only anti-scientific but plain bigoted. That is the issue at debate here. Talking around it doesn’t change the inconvenient facts.


      • You seem to be implying that only pure populations without admixture are of any interest population genetics-wise. But populations don’t need to be pure to be populations. In fact, it’s the lack of purity that makes such populations worthy of study. Populations are always merging and diverging and its the job of the population geneticists to track this genetic history and document its consequences.

        (Note; I previously responded as Synaspora, Now responding as Boyd Silken under a different account.)


      • Anyone who knows about the science knows that there is no such thing as a “pure population” of humans, whatever that means. I never claimed there was. It is race realists who hold up that unscientific ideal. That is the whole point. Once we acknowledge the complexity, we are forced to dismiss race realism and the race realist research. It’s that simple.


  9. The only thing I could find above was the following:

    ”…referring to human population groups with shared ancestry [is] assuming the central tenet of race realism.”

    “Human population groups with shared ancestry” is race realism? Really? I don’t think so. By that definition, a human nuclear family qualifies. I googled the term “race realist” and came up with the definitions below which are more in line with my understanding”

    race realist (plural race realists)
    (euphemistic) A person who believes that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism (racial discrimination), racial inferiority, or racial superiority
    One who believes that the human species is divided into observable races.

    I don’t believe any of those things above and nothing I wrote supports them. If you must have a label for me, I think something like “ancestralist” would be more fitting, although I’m no different than any population geneticists in this regard.


    • I’m not going around in circles with you. I’ve played that game before with race realists and other reactionaries. If you don’t want to have a straightforward discussion, you are in the wrong place.

      John Jackson already said to you that, “Please define “shared ancestry” for me and tell me how you are determining it at a the level of genotype, not phenotype. Jensen never could, for example.” You were unable to scientifically defend your position.

      Even Australian Aborigines have some European genetics from such a long period of colonialism. And even before that mixing as happened in every population on the planet, the fact remains that the human species has some the lowest genetic diversity among similar species, since our genetics went through a bottleneck twice.


    • “I’m no different than any population geneticists in this regard.” Utter nonsense and you should quit trying to claim the authority of a field about which you apparently know nothing. You have stopped contributing to this discussion because you have no idea what you are talking about. So, to repeat:

      “Please define ‘shared ancestry’ for me and tell me how you are determining it at the level of genotype, not phenotype. Jensen never could, for example.”

      Unless your next comment answers that question to my satisfaction, I will simply delete it. Thanks for playing.


      • I mean “shared ancestry” in precisely the same sense as used in this peer-reviewed article in the scientific journal ‘PNAS: Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America’:


        If you believe the authors of the paper above are using the term incorrectly or too vaguely, perhaps you could publish a paper that corrects them.


      • Your use of this paper for your definition proves you don’t know what you are talking about. The kinds of tests these folks used to determine this is an “ancestral population” have never, ever been conducted on the 40,600,000 people in the US who self-identify as African American. Nor has any person administering an IQ test ever determined the “ancestral group” of the test takers. In other words, you have proven my point: that Cofnas’s paper is based on an equivocation about the meaning of “race” since the “races” he is referring to are definitely NOT an “ancestral group.”


      • “840 Africans, residing in western, eastern, southern, and northern Africa, belonging to 50 ethnicities”

        Such a study is not necessarily representative. That means at most the researchers only had a few members from each ethnicity when diversity in each ethnicity could be quite great. Those populations have been mixing over hundreds of millennia, including some having mixed with populations from elsewhere: Arabs, Persians, Semites, Greeks, Romans, etc. That shows how simple-minded are race realists and similar types obsessed with ‘ancestry’. Some of those ethnicities might be somewhat recent social constructions from enslavement, refugees, etc (recent as in the past thousand years or so).

        Besides, that is only 50 ethnicities out of hundreds of ethnicities in Africa, the continent with the more genetic diversity than rest of the world combined. Any one of those ethnicities might have more genetic diversity than large swaths of Europe. It’s arbitrary where we cut off the divides. There would be thousands of genetic clusters that cut across those ethnicities as well. All these researchers seemed to be doing was looking for genetic markers to determine migration patterns in determining which groups were related and where they came from. As far as I can tell, they weren’t attempting to prove genetic determinism.

        If the researchers were claiming to prove genetic determinism, then their expertise as scientists would be under question. In that case, I’d ask: Did these researchers control for the confounders of epigenetics and environment? And did they articulate falsifiable hypotheses about mechanisms for genetic causation? The answer would most likely be a negative for both questions, as such research is next to impossible to do. But if all they were looking to show was minor genetic differences to be used as proxies without any sweeping claims of genetic determinism, that could be scientifically valid and useful.

        No one here is claiming that genetics aren’t passed on by inheritance. But these genetic markers have had minimal changes to human physiology and behavior. There is no way getting around that basic fact. Trying to pretend this supports race realist dogma is silly, even when you use folk notions of ‘ancestry’ to make it sound less politically incorrect. I’m not sure what you think that study proves. All it shows is there is a vast array of genetics out there in human populations, even if less than most other similar species. I’m still not seeing a scientific defense for your position.


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