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Does Race Exist? Does Culture?

The other day I brought up Eulering, the use of extremely complicated math to debunk a common sense concept.

It’s a tough situation, because lots of our common sense concepts are genuinely false, and when they are it sometimes takes exceptionally rigorous analysis – ie math – to figure it out. On the other hand, there’s always a concern that unscrupulous people can use the language of math to confuse, obscure, and cast doubt upon otherwise obvious ideas. There’s no good way for the less mathematically gifted to figure out what to do (short of having mathematician friends whom we trust absolutely) so I suggested a “bag of tricks” approach.

One such trick: when somebody Eulers you, you try to Feynman them.

Richard Feynman was definitely good at math. But he was also good at using his non-mathematical intuitions to back up his mathematical genius. There’s a passage he wrote about his mental process – thanks to Douglas Knight for getting me the link:

I had a scheme, which I still use today when somebody is explaining something that I’m trying to understand: I keep making up examples. For instance, the mathematicians would come in with terrific theorem, and they’re all excited. As they’re telling me the conditions of the theorem, I construct something which fits all the conditions. You know, you have a set (one ball) -disjoint (two balls). Then the balls turn colors, grow hairs, or whatever, in my head as they put more conditions on. Finally they state the theorem, which is some dumb thing about the ball which isn’t true for my hairy green ball thing, so I say, “False!”

In other words, if you’re bad at abstraction, you can hold a lot of abstractions in your head simultaneously by mapping them on to an isomorphic concrete system. Then – as long as you’re sure the system is really isomorphic – you can draw conclusions based on the features of that system.

I’ve been using IQ as an example recently, and I feel bad about it because it’s so controversial and politicized. So let’s switch about something else instead.

How about race?

Everyone is talking about Nicholas Wade’s new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. I have not read it myself. I have, however, read a lot of reviews of it, which tend to sort themselves nicely into uncritical praise and untempered denunciation.

A common talking point of the second sort of review is that race doesn’t exist. There seem to be two arguments along these lines:

1. Race does not separate nicely into a number of obvious clusters. Between Europeans and Asians, for example, there’s more of a gradient of kind-of-European-looking-kind-of-Asian-looking folk with kind-of-European-kind-of-Asian genes. In fact, it’s not even obvious how many clusters there are, and different people who talk about race discuss different numbers of races. The traditional classification is Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid, but it’s hard to argue that Aboriginal Australians don’t deserve their own group. A lot of people subdivide Asians into North Asians vs. Pacific Islanders, and a lot of others subdivide Africans into Khoisan and everyone else. If somebody wanted to say there are three hundred thirty three different races, there is not a shred of genetic or physiological evidence to stop them.

2. The within-race genetic differences are much greater than the between-race genetic differences. That is, a given black person and a given white person could be more genetically similar than two black people. Aside from the very obvious things like skin color genes, there are very few genes that reliably mark someone as part of a particular race, and you have to look at very subtle patterns in a lot of different genes at a time before you can find any hint of “races” in raw genetic data.

Therefore, race does not exist. Therefore, Wade’s talking points about how maybe the Chinese are more collectivist because there is some kind of gene for collectivism in the “Asian” “race” doesn’t even make sense.

Let me quote a couple of these reviews so I can establish these are indeed the arguments they’re making. From Why Evolution Is True:

What we do know is that most genes don’t show striking frequency differences among groups, and that “races” are delineated by combining information from many genes, each of which shows relatively small differences among populations. I’ll add once again that there is no unanimity on how many “races” there are, which is really a semantic question.

From Violent Metaphors:

To begin with, Wade can’t provide a clear definition of “race.” He tries to rely instead on loose associations rather than definitive characteristics, which forces him to conclude both that physical traits define race but that the traits can vary from person to person: “races are identified by clusters of traits, and to belong to a certain race, it’s not necessary to possess all of the identifying traits”. With such a shifty, casual footing, it’s no surprise that Wade’s conclusions are unsound. He can’t keep the number of races straight…

It gradually became clear that this understanding [of races as meaningful biological categories] was not scientifically sound. Groupings of people by skin color did not produce the same result as groupings of people by skull shape, nor of blood type. Furthermore, as scientists began to study human variation with the tools of genetics (in the process creating my fields, anthropological genetics and human population genetics), it became apparent that human genetic variation does not divide humans into a few discrete groups. There are virtually no sharp boundaries, either with physical features or with patterns of genetic diversity, that show where one population “ends” and the next “begins”. These observations have led the majority of physical anthropologists, human biologists, and human geneticists in recent decades to conclude that the racial groups we recognize are social categories constructed in a specific cultural and historical setting, even if we consider physical features when categorizing people. These social categories can have biological consequences (for example, someone who experiences the stress of racism may be more likely to develop high blood pressure and hypertension than someone who does not).

From American Scientist:

Is Wade right? Are there human races? Is the variation seen between different cultures and locations best explained by genetic differences between human populations? And have anthropologists been turning a blind eye to the evidence in front of them? There is no shortage of scientific information, and it gives a clear answer: no. Wade’s claim that races really do exist is based partly on genetic sampling of geographically distant populations. These samples appear to show clustering into distinct groups by gene variants, also known as alleles. But sampling geographically distant parts of a continuum and ignoring the regions between the samples can provide apparent clustering that does not actually prove the existence of discrete groups.

With all this talk of clustering and sampling and continua and discrete groups, it sounds like math is going to show up here, and sure enough:

Much of [Wade’s] assertion that biological races exist within humans is contingent upon both his uncritical acceptance and misrepresentation of the significance of STRUCTURE type analyses of human genetic diversity. STRUCTURE is an algorithm designed to infer population structure (cluster individuals into ancestry groups) within a species (Pritchard, Stephens, and Donnelly 2000.) STRUCTURE produces for individuals an estimate of the probability that a randomly chosen genetic marker (e.g. single tandem repeats, STR, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNP) from that individual originated from one of a set of ancestral groups. The number of ancestral groups, K, is chosen to produce a best estimate of these probabilities, which are averaged over all genetic markers to assign a membership coefficient, namely a fraction of each individual’s ancestry to one of the ancestral groups (Feldman 2010.) The ancestral groups are not specified in advance, and the population membership of individuals is removed prior to analysis. Rosenberg et al. (2005) showed that the results of STRUCTURE style analyses are dependent upon whether allele frequencies are correlated or uncorrelated across populations, the number of loci used, the number of clusters specified, and the sample size. At very small numbers of loci and individuals examined, the results can be strongly influenced by random factors; thus, we have more confidence in the results of larger studies (more loci and more individuals.) For example, in their simulation with 993 loci and 1,048 individuals, the correlated model returned cluster coefficients of 0.51, 0.76, 0.84, 0.86, and 0.86 for K = 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 respectively, and the uncorrelated model returned cluster coefficients of 0.49, 0.75, 0.80, 0.63, and 0.64 for K = 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 respectively. Thus, the correlated model states that ancestry five clusters are just as valid as ancestry six clusters, and the uncorrelated model suggests that four clusters are better than five or six.

One method used to quantify whether human populations can be thought of under the first definition is the use of Wright’s population subdivision statistic. Wade (p. 20) specifically discusses this where he quotes Henry Harpending and Alan Rodgers, who are supposedly speaking for Sewall Wright concerning the significance of his FST statistic. FST is the population subdivision statistic and can be calculated as:

FST = (HT – HS)/HT

Where FST is the average for multiple loci, HT is the average of the expected heterozygosity in the total population over loci, and HS is the average expected heterozygosity over subpopulations. Actually Wright never gave an explicit value for which FST would be considered great enough to indicate the existence of geographical/biological races. The Sewall Wright quote that Wade refers to via Harpending and Rodgers is: “We will take F = 0.25 as an arbitrary value above which there is very great differentiation, the range of 0.15 to 0.25 as indicating moderately great differentiation. Differentiation is by no means negligible if F is as small as 0.05 or even less as bought out in the preceding chapter”. In the non-human literature, the value of FST that has been used to describe subspecies or biological races is FST > 0.250, Wright’s value for very great differentiation (Smith et al. 1997; Templeton 2002.) Subsequent studies of multiple loci, including whole genome analyses, have generally shown human FST values at much less than Wright’s critical value.

Unless we are experts on “algorithms designed to infer population structure”, we are now well and truly Eulered. And to make it worse, the other side has equal and opposite math, complete with pretty diagrams. How do we Feynman our way out of this one?

What if we compare race to its closest analog, culture?

National cultures are complicated, because they might be enforced by national governments and show obvious clines at borders for historical reasons. So let’s talk about cultures within the United States.

It is generally believed that we can talk about the United States as being made up of different cultures. For example, Southern seems to be a culture. Midwestern seems to be another culture. Yankees are probably a third, and the West gets a fourth.

We have various stereotypes about these cultures – for example, Midwesterners as wholesome farmers, Westerners as rugged, independent types. Yankees are liberal and well-educated. Southerners are welcoming and friendly but also pretty racist.

We will probably never be able to agree on exactly how many cultures there are. If I say “Californian” is a culture, and you say it’s just part of the American West culture, and she says actually California has multiple cultures – Silicon Valley, LA, Central Valley, etc – there is no objective criteria by which we can say who is right.

If we really wanted to, we could ask people a bunch of questions about their politics, religion, philosophy, food preferences, art preferences, and so on, throw them in a statistical algorithm, and ask it to divide the US into a certain number of clusters. It could probably do so, giving us a set of clusters more or less like the ones we naively imagine. But this wouldn’t be especially interesting and it couldn’t solve the “fundamental” question of how many cultures there “are”.

It should be terribly obvious that almost all variation in people’s cultural traits is within-culture rather than between-culture. Do you play the piano? Speak Chinese? Eat meat? Vote straight Libertarian? Have gay sex? Go to the zoo? Certainly there is more variation among individuals within California in all of these areas than there is between the average Californian and the average New Yorker.

(to put this another way, if I wanted information about whether or not you played the piano, or whatever, I would gain only a tiny bit of knowledge when I learned you were a Californian, compared to a huge amount of knowledge when I learned which Californian you were)

Finally, a given person from Culture A may certainly be much more culturally similar to a given person from Culture B than they are to another Culture A member.

For example, I come from California and Ozy is from Florida – opposite ends of the country! – but we have similar interests, aptitudes, and preferences along many axes. On the other hand, my next door neighbor growing up in California was a high school cheerleader who is now a hairstylist pregnant with her umpteenth child – totally different from me in every respect.

There were two arguments against race being a real concept: it didn’t cluster nicely, and within-group variation was greater than between group variation. And both of these are equally true of culture. Any mathematical argument considering races as clusters of genes can be used equally well considering cultures as clusters of memes, and will likely return the same results.

Yet I can’t imagine someone saying “culture doesn’t exist” or “culture isn’t real”.

And more important, groups can vary in terms of culture; culture can have explanatory power; cultural stereotypes can be correct. I am pretty sure Westerners really are more rugged, Midwesterners more aw-shucks whitebread types, Southerners more racist.

(and everything really is bigger in Texas)

So in the debate between Wade and his critics on whether “algorithms designed to infer population structure” prove or disprove the existence of race, my opinion is that the mathematical question is totally irrelevant to whether you are allowed to make claims like “Asians are genetically more collectivist than white people”.

That claim might not be true. But if it’s false, it will be false for the usual reasons things are false, rather than because one of its terms totally fails to refer.

On the other hand, this framing also suggests that race doesn’t have any extra reality beyond culture. All debates are bravery debates because trade-offs, and if I’m misinterpreting the state of popular opinion on this one it may be that the most important thing this analogy can do is debunk a bunch of people who think that race is real and “scientific” in a way that culture isn’t.

Because we usually understand concretes more completely than we understand abstracts (especially if we are bad at math) we can convert an abstract into an isomorphic concrete and then apply the same arguments. If it disproves something that we know is true, the original argument proves too much and can be discarded.

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281 Responses to Does Race Exist? Does Culture?

  1. Ialdabaoth says:

    One of the better dissolving questions of semantic debates – i.e., “Is $thing a $Type?” – is “well, what are you trying to do with it?”

    So when people ask, “is race real?”, it’s often good to ask, “well, what are you trying to accomplish?”

    Because for certain applications, using the ‘race’ concept can be very useful; for other applications, the ‘race’ concept can be utterly useless.

    I often feel like a lot of the ‘race is real!’ vs. ‘race isn’t real!’ debate is about whether we want to allow certain people access to the ‘race’ concept, because we (as a culture) so explicitly disapprove of Thing-X (that race is a really good tool for), that we’d rather give up on everything ELSE race is a really good tool for than give people easy access to a way to implement Thing-X.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I usually agree, but in this case I am pretty sure if Wade said “I am using race to say that the Chinese are genetically more collectivist”, most people would say “No, race is not real enough for you to do that” and in my opinion they would be wrong for the reasons above.

      So uncovering the disguised query doesn’t help here because people are just as confused about the query itself.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        Right, because in this case there’s several cultural layers that have bound the assertion-as-fact tightly to the assertion-as-weapon, and we emphatically do not teach people how to operate the safeties on their assertion-as-weapons the way that an honestly truth-seeking culture would.

        So in this particular case, “the Chinese have a more collectivist culture, and that culture may have selected for genes that promote more collectivist behavior” is a perfectly reasonable claim that is obviously testable-in-principle, and seems plausible given that they’ve had, what, four thousand years to select for it? It’s taken a lot less time than that for us to produce behavioral variation in dogs, so clearly it’s a plausible theory.

        But allowing yourself to be seen thinking that way means allowing your political opponent to be seen using the same tools, and historically he’s used those tools to be a raging dick. So we’ve built a taboo around entire avenues of investigation and modes of thought, and ESPECIALLY around certain labels that refer to them, for roughly the same reason that your everyday civilian isn’t allowed to do uranium enrichment and plutonium breeder reactor experiments, even if it might lead to a renaissance in nuclear energy production methods.

        This is not a healthy environment for cultivating accurate thought, of course (aka “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”).

        • Jaskologist says:

          It’s always interesting to see liberals make arguments that boil down to “we need to bring back the banned book index!”

        • Troy says:

          “But for the sake of argument, let’s say that I agree not to broach sensitive topics, such as the racial gap in average measured intelligence. What would that actually entail? I could refuse to analyze, write about, or speak about it. But if I then limit myself to the genetics or practical value of higher intelligence among whites, I risk being seen as insinuating racial differences. How do I rebuff that insinuation? My only convincing rebuttal would be to explicitly assert that racial differences do not exist, do not really matter, or do not resist easy manipulation, which, if I know the literature, is tantamount to lying. I could waffle or mislead, but that seems mendacious as well.

          Suppose that I teach a sociology of education class, which I did for many years, or educational psychology. Inequality is a core topic in both: Why do some children do better in school than others? And, why are there systematic race and class differences in academic performance and years of schooling? IQ is hands-down the best single predictor of individual differences in both, though hardly the whole explanation. If I mention this fact, my students will ask whether IQ tests are culturally biased and can really measure intelligence. How do I respond? If I review the evidence that IQ tests are highly reliable, validly capture real differences in proficiency at learning and reasoning, and are not culturally biased against American blacks or other native speakers, they will then ask me whether this means that there are race and class differences in intelligence. What do I say now? Do I say “no,” refuse to answer, change the subject?”

          – Linda Gottfreddson, in a 2007 interview: http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/2007gottfredsoninterview.pdf

        • Multiheaded says:

          @Troy:

          What would she say to her black students? As in, I want some example of how she would directly address their concerns. Much of what I’ve read in that interview suggests that she might not have the tact or the inferential-distance-bridging ability. Suppose that a student broaches a closely related social issue: “It ain’t fair! I don’t wanna work at Walmart just cause I’m black! All those jobs treat us like shit!” Will that student suddenly become guilty of “politicizing” racial inequality, while Gottfredson gets no responsibility to answer for the society that empowers her?

        • Troy says:

          Of course I don’t know exactly what Gottfreddson does in her classes, but I would presume and hope that she would deal with sensitive topics like any good professor would: treat concerns students have with tact and sensitivity, but also make clear that college is a place where they will be exposed to ideas that discomfort and challenge them, and that one of the goals of inquiry is to discover what is best supported by evidence or argument, whatever our personal feelings. You can hopefully get at least some sense of how she approaches teaching controversial topics from this course syllabus: http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/intel/index.html

        • Multiheaded says:

          @Troy: to summarize my expressions at a glance, the range of possible social reactions to inequality (from Kaus to Gardner) that her assigned reading attempts to explore seems rather narrow, and worse, awfully idealized. All these people seem to talk only about how things should be, but are completely silent about the horrible dangers of how they could be in the event of a break with the status quo! This is a high-minded but naive or disingenuous take on politics and social attitudes, IMO. The premise of apolitical liberalism seems to enable Gottfredson in skirting around some things that matter a great deal in practice.

        • Troy says:

          Not having read the authors in question, I can’t comment on them. But I think you’re making rather a big deal out of her chosen readings for one day of a larger class which is not on political theory, but the social science of intelligence.

        • Lesser Bull says:

          Sadly, it turns out that raging dicks can learn stuff without nice people openly admitting it first.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Wade does say that.

        Wade spends the first half of the book arguing that races are real so that he can spend the rest speculating about specific racial differences. He probably gives exactly that example.

      • Eli says:

        Ok, Scott. You want to claim race is real?

        When we take away all of people’s beliefs about race, and leave only the supposed physical components of race, no social constructs involved whatsoever, what causal work does “race” do in explaining how the world works?

        • lmm says:

          There are a handful of genetic clusters. People mostly fall into one or the other. Having some of a given cluster’s markers is correlated with having others of that cluster’s markers.

          a) this is interesting in itself and implies things about historical migration and breeding patterns

          b) which cluster someone’s in becomes a useful simple model for their genome, like the left-right axis you get out of DW-NOMINATE is for someone’s politics

          c) cluster membership correlates with some observable things like lactose tolerance, IQ score, and, apparently, “collectivism”. Which makes it a valid, useful model. Obviously you can make more accurate predictions from someone’s full genome, but if you can only measure a few things, knowing the clusters exist and which things are correlated with which is valuable.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          d) cluster membership breaks in some surprising ways that do not correlate precisely with our classical understandings of ‘race’. If we want to rescue ‘race’ as a useful concept by wedding it to genetic clustering, we may need to redefine who we call ‘white’ or ‘black’ or ‘asian’.

          e) cluster membership still happens to line up with our classical understandings of ‘race’ in some other surprising ways, so just throwing the whole idea out isn’t useless either.

          f) shit be hard, yo.

        • lmm says:

          @Ialdabaoth:

          Again I think “correlation” is the magic word here. Is genetic testing more accurate? Of course. Can you still draw valuable probabilistic inferences by guessing someone’s cluster based on visible physical characteristics if that’s all you have to go on? I think so.

        • Eli says:

          @Imm: Ah, correlation is indeed the magic word, but I said causal work.

          Which means that I have to hold my nose at the Nxr and go with laldabaoth on this one: concepts like ethnicity – which address specific patterns of inhabitation, migration, and breeding – do causal work in explaining the world. Ethnicity is a belief that pays rent: Northern Europeans are more likely to be lactose-tolerant, Africans more likely to get sickle-cell anemia, Native Americans have low metabolic tolerance for alcohol, etc.

          Race does not, and believing in it as anything more real than a social construct is thus a waste of time.

        • lmm says:

          Eli: that sounds like sophistry to me. I don’t understand the distinction you’re drawing. Is it legitimate for me to draw inferences about the likelihood that the person in front of me is intelligent/lactose intolerant/criminal based on the “racial” characteristics I can see? If not, why not, given that the correlations are real?

  2. Nicholas Weininger says:

    “I am pretty sure Westerners really are more rugged, Midwesterners more aw-shucks whitebread types, Southerners more racist.”

    Really? Where’s your evidence? I am not sure of any of those things, and it seems more than plausible that they are incorrect for sampling-error and/or confirmation-bias reasons. I think the comparison to culture here (which I agree is a good one, the argumentative parallelism re: clustering etc is right on) actually militates in the other direction: most claims about the explanatory power of culture are lazy, biased, and poorly supported, just like most claims about race.

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      Microcosm-as-macrocosm: in the instance of ‘race’, it’s often brought up that Southerners aren’t any more racist than Northerners, but it’s patently apparent that they are racist in qualitatively different ways.

      You see, your northern n—–r’s a Negro,
      You see he’s got his dignity;
      down here we’re too ignorant to realize
      that the North has set the n—–r free.
      Yes, he’s free to be put in a cage
      in Harlem in New York City,
      and he’s free to be put in a cage in the South-Side of Chicago
      and the West-Side,
      and he’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland,
      and he’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis,
      and he’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco,
      and he’s free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston.
      They’re gatherin’ ’em up from miles around, keepin’ the n—–s down

    • Scott Alexander says:

      In my life I have lived in California, New York, Ireland, Japan, and Michigan, and I have noticed that people in these places seem different from one another in respect to things like “how friendly they are” and “how much sushi they eat”.

      Unless you want to attribute all of this to genes (the sushi gene?), surely culture has to have some explanatory power?

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        I think it’s also worth noting, at least with culture, that variation-within-a-group can itself very significantly between groups.

        For example, my observation of Arizona was that the difference between Flagstaff and Scottsdale, while profound to Arizonans, would probably barely register to Californians when compared to the difference between Palo Alto and Bakersfield.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        The sushi thing is geographical accident. “Friendliness” applied to a large group of people is so vague and subjective a term as to be pretty much useless for reasoning about causation.

      • Lila says:

        (speaking only for the U.S., because I haven’t been elsewhere)

        I think racists are more likely to be from the deep south, hippies are more likely to be from California, etc. But since so few people fall into these extremes, most southerners aren’t racist and most Californians aren’t hippies, so the cultural stereotypes aren’t very useful. When I was in San Francisco, I noticed a lot of hippies. But all the non-hippies (who probably made up 95% of the population) didn’t register as much, so I probably overestimated the hippiness of the city.

        P.S. I think income is a far better proxy for culture than geography. I think I’d have far more in common with the Japanese or Irish upper class than with the lower class of my hometown.

      • caryatis says:

        What is “aw-shucks” anyway?

      • Matthew says:

        There are an awful lot of exceptions.

        In the antebellum US, blacks were considered not only mentally but physically inferior to whites. Which may have been an accurate phenotypical observation at the time, given that the blacks’ nutrition was almost certain worse. But the racial composition of professional sports now is a fairly significant rebuttal to the genotypical claim, no?

        Similarly, the stereotype of Jews being greedy has a known origin — European Jews were gradually blocked from most professions other than moneylending, and because they had little recourse when their noble Christian clients defaulted, they charged high interest rates. Remove those social constraints, and you find things like Jews being more generous restaurant tippers than Christians and also give more in charitable contributions to provide basic necessities to the poor. (Admitting here that neither of these studies are constructed ideally, but when you can find numerous examples of weak evidence all pointing in the same direction, that should move your posterior.)

        The “jolly fat man” was a stereotype for a long time, but subsequent investigations suggest the obese are more likely to suffer from depression.

        I suspect you can come up with additional examples.

        • A link between obesity and depression might also have something to do with changing social circumstances– the amount of prejudice against obesity has increased, or at least it kicks in at lower levels of obesity.

        • Crowstep says:

          I’ve studied the Antebellum South, and I have to disagree with the idea that blacks were regarded as physically inferior. They weren’t, not even slightly. The sources from the era are full of references to what superb physical specimens the slaves were in terms of their muscularity and their athleticism, contrasted with pale, idle Europeans.

        • Anthony says:

          Stereotypes change, too. There used to be a stereotype of lazy Mexicans. That stereotype hasn’t survived.

        • ozymandias says:

          I was really confused by the lazy reefer-smoking Jamaican stereotype for a long time because where I grew up Jamaicans were stereotyped as being hardworking and always having like six jobs.

      • Multiheaded says:

        (sarcastically) Except for stereotypes about [elite group], of course! That’s just envy and ressentiment!

    • xachariah says:

      Having not lived in the United States, I have still seen this argument multiple times. I am always left with the impression that while racism exists both in the South and in the North in different ways, the South tends to be more racist.

      Why?

      Because the South consistently enacts more racist policies. There’s a reason why Voter ID laws are restricted mostly to the South. Why as soon as the Supreme Court allowed Southern states to change voting laws without pre-approval, they started doing so immediately, en masse, in a way that disenfranchises black people. There’s a reason why the fight over integration and the civil rights movement focused on the South. There’s a reason why the Great Migration was a move North and not a move South. There’s a reason why lynching was a mostly Southern practice. There’s a reason why race-based income inequality is more likely to occur in the South.

      None of this is to say that the North is not racist, or that people may not be less friendly to black people in the North. There’s a ton of ugliness there, too, historically (eg. housing discrimination, racist labor unions) and currently (redlining, segregation). Racism is not restricted to the South.

      But if we’re talking about measurable, institutional discrimination, it is my impression that you’ll find more of it in the South.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I think your impression is based on a) some seriously loaded assumptions and b) focus on the past rather than the present.

        You start off with assuming that Voter ID laws are inherently racist. This really needs to be backed up. Do you feel the same way about all other things which require ID?

        The Great Migration did indeed happen some 40-100 years ago. If it shows the South was more racist then (which I find very plausible), then we need to consider that the New Great Migration in the opposite direction now shows that the North is more racist. Lynching, likewise, is a historical and not a present reality.

        • The really racist/anti-poor feature is that getting ID is sufficiently costly and inconvenient that badly off people are unlikely to have it.

        • xachariah says:

          I mixed both current-day and historical examples, yes, in part because culture has a way of not changing all that quickly. They are pieces of evidence that are not definitive, but they are not valueless either.

          The Great Migration happened for a number of reason, but fundamentally because of black oppression in the South combined with a need of labor in the North created by World War I — not a particularly controversial point. There’s a lot of fascinating research on what actually happened to black people when they got to the North (shockingly, racism). But there’s no real evidence that the New Great Migration is driven by Northern discrimination, AFAIK.

          Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise black people. This is not a controversial statement: this is the effect those laws have. There is also no evidence that they fix a real problem, because there is no evidence that in-person voter fraud is a thing that needs fixing (we have something like 30 individual instances of that happening over the past decades). That policy is racist in effect, but there are many other ways in which black people in the South are disenfranchised, including restrictions on early voting hours, distribution of polling places

          Now you could argue that maybe the South doesn’t intend to disenfranchise black people, and it’s just a consequence of partisan politics, or neutral policy or whatever. Intent is difficult to prove, however, and doesn’t change a thing about the effect of those laws.

          If we want to look at current-day racism, we may want to look at race-based inequality — mostly Southern. We may also want to look at the most segregated cities, which is more weighted toward Northern cities (hi there, housing discrimination). We can look at representation in state legislatures, which seems better in the South but that may be a consequence of demographics — I’d actually like to see data on that but I’m too lazy to run that right now. We could look at the presence of hate groups by state – mostly the South, when weighted by population. I’m sure we could look at different measures, too — feel free to point to a few.

          Yes, that’s a bit of a mixed bag. Racism is everywhere and the North is no exception, as I noted. I would say that the weight of the evidence says that the South is still worse, however.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’m aware of the argument. But I can see why pro-ID folks are skeptical of it: the argument never seems to be applied in any other area of life. You need ID to drive, fly, get a job, open an account just about anywhere, and very often to use a credit card. These are pretty critical, every day things. If you really believe that requiring ID is inherently racist when it comes to voting, you should be apoplectic that employment laws, the TSA, and the roads are so racist.

          There is a reason voter ID proponents get such a kick out of articles like these.

        • xachariah says:

          Policies that disproportionately affect black people are racist in effect, yes, and that would also apply to those laws. I’m not sure how “but these policies are also racist” is an argument against Voter ID laws being racist.

        • Jaskologist says:

          A person with no real experience living in the US who is convinced that the South is super-racist because white Northern liberals have been telling him so seems like the perfect illustration of “sampling error and/or confirmation bias.”

          I look at your maps of black inequality, and what I see is that it’s basically just a variant of the map of black population (with the notable exception of Louisiana). Should we really give Washington credit for a lack of black inequality when really it’s just lacking blacks period? Nor does the New Great Migration need to be driven by Northern oppression to be a strong indicator that black people themselves must not think that modern Southern racism will impact their quality of life much.

          Here’s a recent map of school segregation. It doesn’t show much pattern at all, except that states without much in the way of minorities don’t have much in the way of segregation either.

        • xachariah says:

          The income inequality maps I linked relate it to localized diversity levels to avoid the issue of “but there are simply more blacks here”. That was the entire point of those maps. Whether they do that well enough is another point, but I can’t find any data that contradicts that income inequality data. If you have some, great! Please share!

          I’m slightly bemused by the assumption that this is based on what Northern white liberals told me. It is not, but that’s a tough point to prove and not particularly relevant either way. The fact that I don’t live in the US arguably gives me a more objective view of the situation than someone who does, and is hence actually invested in the North-South divide.

          As for segregation, I agree. The picture I get from the data I’ve seen is that the North is more segregated than the South. The historical reasons for this are fascinating, and not surprisingly caused by Northern racism. It’s a mixed bag, as I said, one that I think the data shows is worse in the South than in the North, but I’m open to being convinced — preferably by data, not anecdotes.

        • nydwracu says:

          The fact that I don’t live in the US arguably gives me a more objective view of the situation

          Which regions have more control over the narrative that makes it outside the US?

        • xachariah says:

          That’s a tough question to answer, because there is no real dissemination of views on the internal issues within the United States toward foreign audiences.

          For instance, the Lost Cause myth and the romantic view of the old South is very prevalent in popular media consumed abroad. You don’t really ever see North=good, South=bad popular fiction. On the other hand, you do get occasional derogatory remarks toward the South in general in some popular TV.

          But mostly, you just don’t get any views on who is better or worse. You have to look for that information on the internet and parse it yourself, so there are no real gatekeepers in that sense.

      • Ryan says:

        On voter ID laws. It’s entirely incorrect to presume the purpose of the law is to disenfranchise black voters. The purpose of those laws is to disenfranchise people likely to vote for Democrats. In the south the people who are most likely to not have an ID are very likely to vote for Democrats. Yes, they’re likely to be black too, but that’s not relevant.

        • xachariah says:

          I would argue that intent doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t change the effect of the law. Many very racist policies, actions and beliefs don’t carry intent to discriminate, and yet still do that very same thing in practice. Racism is a societal system, rather than an isolated, individual intent or action.

          Even if intent would matter, however, it’s still not a coincidence: there’s a reason why almost all blacks vote Democrat and not Republican. That’s because of a now 50-year history of deliberately using racism as an electoral ploy (the well-documented Southern strategy), and the consistent endorsement and implementation of policies that hurt black people. The Republican party has purposefully removed the black population as part of its electorate, something they’d like to undo now, but can’t.

          Voter ID hurts a part of the Democratic electorate and on its face it’s just a coincidence that that part is largely black. But it also obscures the fact that that part of the population is Democratic by Republican design. Claiming that this does not constitute racism but is just a coincidence is kind of like saying that leftists don’t intend to tax rich people, it’s just a coincidence that that’s where the money is. True on its face, but missing a couple of crucial steps nonetheless.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    It’s worth noting here that there’s another common thing that gets said about the notion of “race”, namely, race is a social construct, not a biological notion. (E.g.: One-drop rule, are Irish people white, etc.) Which is of course making the mistake that the word “race” can only mean one thing. Because the social construct of race is very obviously relevant, but it’s a mistake to then infer that biological population structure — which often does not divide cleanly or non-arbitrarily into “races”, but they’re a useful shorthand — is not also relevant.

    (I feel like this might be a mistake that SJers make more generally, assuming that the social-construct version of something is the only “real” version of something or the only version that matters. But I’m going based on impressions here.)

    Also worth noting: As I understand it, the within-group/between-group thing about races isn’t even true; it’s only true if you stick to some pretty restrictive methods. (Note: not an expert at all.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Different mathy people interpret the within-group/between-group thing in very different ways for complicated reasons; there are smart people who say that calling Lewontin’s Fallacy a fallacy is wrong for reasons I don’t entirely get.

      This is *exactly* the sort of quandary I am glad to be able to Feynman myself out of.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Can you point to “mathy” or “smart” people arguing that Lewontin was right? Surely you’re not talking of Nathanael whose reason is very simple.

      • Vaniver says:

        there are smart people who say that calling Lewontin’s Fallacy a fallacy is wrong for reasons I don’t entirely get.

        Conditioned on them not having a restrictive definition of the word “fallacy”, I would put this as at least 10:1 evidence that they are not smart (operationalized as ‘able to judge mathematical arguments correctly).

    • Fnord says:

      It’s probably worth noting, at this point, that basically no one would dispute that culture is a social construct.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        It also is worth noting that 40% of the posts in this thread begin with variations on “it is worth noting”.

        • Andy says:

          It is worth noting that “It is worth noting” is a phrase that gets used often in this comments section, despite being essentially “hey, check this out!”
          (I wonder how many comments we can get in a row with “It is worth noting” before Scott violently bans us all.)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          This blog is probably causing half the Internet to catch my weird verbal tics.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          I would note that this game, while certainly funny in ways that Scott is likely to find humor in, is also fraught with social risks at a time when I am perhaps on thin ice with some of the readership.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        True, I guess that particular point isn’t the most relevant in this context!

      • Lesser Bull says:

        Isn’t that just by definition?

    • xachariah says:

      Race as a social construct and race as a biological concept can be different things, but in practice a lot of the biological claims people make about races rely on the social construct definition, and not the biological notion. This is in part caused by the fact that we have a really difficult time divorcing ourselves from ingrained concepts like race, and then using that same term rigorously in a different place.

      For all intents and purposes, a lot of this controversy could simply be sidestepped by removing the social construct of race from the debate and instead simply referring to population groups. Which is what a lot of research actually does: they’ll refer to similarities between modern-day Inuit, Meso-American and Siberian peoples, for instance. Or they’ll try to find genetic reasons for the dominance of Kenyan marathon runners. Or something about Ashkenazi Jews.

      It mostly gets thorny when you get people like Charles Murray, who just seem really, really interested in trying to prove the inferiority of people with darker skin colors.

      • Troy says:

        It mostly gets thorny when you get people like Charles Murray, who just seem really, really interested in trying to prove the inferiority of people with darker skin colors.

        xachariah, I would encourage you to actually read something by Charles Murray. It’s very clear from his writings that this is not his attitude, however much others have smeared him as a racist.

        • Multiheaded says:

          1) He advocates for people with lower IQs to become servants and other heavily exploited workers, without caring about first raising the prestige, dignity and status rewards of these positions. 2) Unlike Clark et al. – here’s an example of a conscientous liberal who cares about the moral implications of biodeterminism – Murray has put remarkably little effort into arguing against a winner-takes-all society and working for the dignity and rights of the least able.

          Therefore, I think that Murray deserves to be judged much more harshly for 2 than the typical race-egalitarian/non-biodeterminist conservative like Sowell. It is the apparent ranking of his priorities that seems so troubling.

        • Troy says:

          He advocates for people with lower IQs to become servants and other heavily exploited workers, without caring about first raising the prestige, dignity and status rewards of these positions.

          What evidence that Murray does not care about “raising the prestige, dignity and status rewards of these positions”? As for exploitation, presumably you and Murray disagree about the degree to which those occupations are or need be exploitative. While you may see his suggestions as disguised bigotry, he presumably sees them as the best option for workers without the cognitive ability to succeed in more skilled trades (see, e.g., http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/2005g-jobs-life.pdf).

          I’m not saying you have to agree with Murray; I’m saying that there are far more plausible and charitable readings of him than as someone who simply wants “to prove the inferiority of people with darker skin colors.”

        • xachariah says:

          I’ve read Murray. I don’t see any reason to alter my statement.

          I am not saying that Murray really hates black people. I’m saying that his research really, really looks like him trying to prove that black people are inferior. Because that’s really what his research is actually trying to do (and doesn’t do a very good job of, anyway, imo). In fact, I don’t see a plausible alternative reading of his research.

          Now, you may argue that he’s doing that because science tells him that’s a fact (I’d argue he’s wrong), but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still trying to prove that black people are inferior.

          He could have done all sorts of different research related to race and genetics. All sorts of stuff that is easier to prove, easier to research, not intertwined in all sorts of complex and undetermined ways with culture, oppression and other effects. All sorts of stuff that is more scientifically rigorous. All sorts of stuff that doesn’t try to support and justify long-standing negative stereotypes, oppression and abuse. All sorts of stuff that doesn’t give power to really, really ugly hate groups.

          That doesn’t make his research wrong necessarily (although it is), but it does mean that Murray is really, really interested in trying to prove the inferiority of people with darker skin colors.

        • Troy says:

          Permit me the following parody of your argument:

          I am not saying that Galileo really hates Christianity. I’m saying that his research really, really looks like him trying to prove Christianity wrong. Because that’s really what his research is actually trying to do (and doesn’t do a very good job of, anyway, imo). In fact, I don’t see a plausible alternative reading of his research.

          Now, you may argue that he’s doing that because science tells him that’s a fact (I’d argue he’s wrong), but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still trying to prove that Christianity is wrong.

          He could have done all sorts of different research related to physics and astronomy. All sorts of stuff that is easier to prove, easier to research, not intertwined in all sorts of complex and undetermined ways with metaphysics, unproven tools like telescopes, and the like. All sorts of stuff that is more scientifically rigorous. All sorts of stuff that doesn’t try to support and justify the denial of long-held Catholic dogma and the authority of the Church and the Bible. All sorts of stuff that doesn’t give power to really, really ugly atheists and deists.

          That doesn’t make his research wrong necessarily (although it is), but it does mean that Galileo is really, really interested in trying to disprove Christianity.

          This analogy breaks down where, exactly?

        • xachariah says:

          That analogy doesn’t counteract my statement. Galileo was vindicated because he was correct. Charles Murray will ultimately be vindicated if he turns out to be correct. But he will still have been really, really interested in trying to prove the inferiority of black people.

          I’m purposefully not going into object-level analysis of that analogy, by the way. I understand the argument you’re trying to make and the correctness of each point in that analogy isn’t all that relevant.

        • J_Taylor says:

          The strawman account of Galileo is more correct than the popular narrative, as far as I am aware. Can you think of a better intellectual martyr?

        • Troy says:

          That analogy doesn’t counteract my statement. Galileo was vindicated because he was correct. Charles Murray will ultimately be vindicated if he turns out to be correct. But he will still have been really, really interested in trying to prove the inferiority of black people.

          Do I correctly understand you in this response to be accepting the following two claims?

          (1) Galileo was really, really interested in proving Christianity wrong. (And he was right!)

          (2) If the empirical claims Murray makes about black-white differences are correct, then black people are inferior to white people?

          (1) is historically false — Galileo was a devout Catholic. That was the point of the analogy.

          (2) is, in my view, a morally abhorrent claim, one which I strongly reject and which I am confident Murray rejects too. (For example, searching for the word “inferior” in the Bell Curve reveals only two occurrences, neither of which support the view that he views blacks or low IQ individuals as inferior.) In my view, moral disapprobation should be reserved for those who accept this conditional, not those who accept its (empirical) antecedent.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @Troy:

          In my view, moral disapprobation should be reserved for those who accept this conditional, not those who accept its (empirical) antecedent.

          I think that’s the point over which the progressives who are not anti-biodeterminism but anti-Murray are trying to argue; you are being hopelessly idealistic and/or deliberately obtuse in implying that (correct) values like this can be imprinted on society and its intersecting dynamics by fiat after reasoned argument! “Ought cannot follow from is” – it might be ethically correct, even necessarily so, but it’s still anti-predictive of social dynamics and social psychology! And we can’t do shit about it! (Not even abolishing political democracy could change that.) It is far more likely that society – with its strongly adaptive/Molochean features like disdaining low-intelligence people just because they’re easy to disdain and can’t organize to bite back – would subvert or roll over your values of equality!

        • xachariah says:

          I am saying that whether or not Murray is correct, he is really, really interested in trying to prove black people are inferior to white people. Claiming that in the culture we live in “those people are dumber than us” does not map to “they’re inferior” is not a tenable position.

          Yes, (1) is historically false, but many other statements in your analogy don’t map to Murray cleanly, either. It breaks down really quickly. My point was that whether or not the analogy works, it doesn’t counteract my point.

          I’ll indulge you for a minute and explain why this doesn’t work, though: Galileo’s research did not contradict Christianity, it only contradicted orthodox Catholic interpretation of scripture at the time and this was not the only interpretation, and there were many people who did not think this contradicted scripture.

          Meanwhile, Murray’s research revolves around black people having lower IQ than non-black people. His research is him trying to prove that. I don’t know of anyone who disagrees that that is what he’s trying to prove. Why anyone wants to contradict that statement is beyond me.

        • Troy says:

          I think that’s the point over which the progressives who are not anti-biodeterminism but anti-Murray are trying to argue; you are being hopelessly idealistic and/or deliberately obtuse in implying that (correct) values like this can be imprinted on society and its intersecting dynamics by fiat after reasoned argument! It is far more likely that society, with its strongly adaptive/Molochean features like disdaining low-intelligence people just because they’re easy to disdain, would subvert or roll over your values of equality!

          I don’t claim to know in advance what values society can or will accept. But I do think that trying to suppress scientific knowledge almost always does more harm than good, including, in this case, for those groups it’s supposed to protect.

          xachariah:

          Claiming that in the culture we live in “those people are dumber than us” does not map to “they’re inferior” is not a tenable position.

          Although you’ve clearly phrased the empirical claim in a tendentious way, there are most certainly people in our society who do not believe that just because someone is less intelligent that they are inferior.

          I’ll indulge you for a minute and explain why this doesn’t work, though: Galileo’s research did not contradict Christianity, it only contradicted orthodox Catholic interpretation of scripture at the time and this was not the only interpretation, and there were many people who did not think this contradicted scripture.

          And I am claiming that Murray’s research does not contradict anti-racism — understood as a moral commitment — only progressive anti-racist dogma (which is not the only interpretation).

          There were other analogies, too, in the kinds of evidence brought in support of Galileo being anti-Christian and the kinds of evidence you gave to support Murray being anti-black: that they give ammunition to anti-Christian/racist groups, and that their focus on these issues rather than less inflammatory and more straightforward ones.

          Meanwhile, Murray’s research revolves around black people having lower IQ than non-black people. His research is him trying to prove that. Why anyone wants to contradict that statement is beyond me.

          I am manifestly not denying that one of Murray’s (many) claims in the Bell Curve is that black people have a lower average IQ than white people. I am denying that this shows that he is out to prove the inferiority of black people.

          It’s further worth noting that Murray and Hernstein do not assert that the explanation of the racial IQ gap is genetic, although they consider this one possibility; and that the claim that there is an IQ gap is completely non-controversial among psychometricians (see, for instance, the Mainstream Science on Intelligence statement) — what’s controversial is to what degree the explanation is genetic and to what degree it’s environmental.

        • xachariah says:

          Here’s the last thing I’ll say on this, because we’re going in circles now:

          I’m sure there are people who will say that they don’t think stupid people are inherently inferior. But we live in a culture, and that culture judges intelligence as one of the most important traits to have. There’s a reason why racist stereotypes always include the “stupid” marker. Murray’s research does not occur in a vacuum, nor does he live in a vacuum. His research tries to prove that black people are inherently less intelligent. It does this by focusing on genetics. I

          Unless Murray has completely divorced himself from the culture in which he grew up (looking at his writing: no), the assumption that he wants to prove the inferiority of black people is entirely warranted. Even if he doesn’t personally think that, that is most definitely the effect of his research given the culture in which it is published and consumed.

          So yes, I am entirely comfortable with the statement that Murray is really, really interested in proving the inferiority of black people.

        • lmm says:

          Galileo may have considered himself a devout Christian. But his discoveries were instrumental in Christianity’s downfall.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @xachariah:

          This.

        • Troy says:

          Galileo may have considered himself a devout Christian. But his discoveries were instrumental in Christianity’s downfall.

          I don’t think this is particularly true. Almost all leading European scientists up into the 19th century were Christian, and many were deeply influenced by their faith in the way they practiced science. If there is a scientific theory of which this is true, it is Darwin’s theory of evolution, not Copernicanism.

          And at any rate, as a Christian who would like to see Christianity play a larger role in society than it does, I still don’t think speculation about the future effects of scientific theories on religion are a suitable way to evaluate them. Evolution by natural selection is compatible with Christian theism. Evolutionary theory is not going away, nor should it; it helps us better understand the world in which we live, and has great practical utility in areas like medicine. So as Christians we’d better do a better job of convincing people that they can be Christians and believe in evolution. Likewise, the study of human biological diversity is not going away, nor should it; it helps us better understand the world in which we live, and can have practical utility if used wisely. So as moral egalitarians we shouldn’t oppose it; instead we should do a better job of convincing people that people with lower IQs or other negatively valenced and genetically influenced characteristics are no less human because of this, and have just as much moral worth.

          In general, opposition to science by some worldview will do more damage to that worldview than the science itself. The negative impacts Darwinism has had on Christianity are largely attributable to Christian leaders at the time setting themselves against it rather than accommodating it into Christianity; the negative impacts of HBD will be greater the more well-meaning progressives convince people that belief in moral equality is incompatible with belief in empirical inequality. Belief in such dichotomies tends to be self-reinforcing.

        • Troy says:

          xachariah: I again feel that opponents of Galileo’s could have said all the same things. Galileo’s claims were not made in a vacuum, but in an environment where many would perceive claims that, say, the Earth moves as inconsistent with the authority of the Bible. That doesn’t mean that Galileo himself thought they were.

          All I’m asking for is extending a basic principle of charity towards one’s political and ideological opponents. Don’t assume that people who study race and IQ simply want to denigrate black people. Aside from the itself perfectly reasonable goal of trying to understand our world better, there are perfectly good practical reasons – by progressives’ own values – for doing such research. For example, knowledge of IQ and its effects on student’s abilities can lead to more effective teaching strategies for low IQ individuals. In the United States right now schoolteachers cannot sort students by ability because this “disparately impacts” racial groups with lower mean IQs, who would disproportionately get put in the lower ability groups. And this hurts those very children, who cannot learn well when a teacher is forced to try to teach them alongside much higher IQ children who have very different needs.

        • nydwracu says:

          Murray’s research revolves around black people having lower IQ than non-black people. His research is him trying to prove that.

          And that’s been proven. The argument is over what it’s caused by — genetics, environment, IQ measurements being biased, whatever.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Time to get on my tangential hobby horse.

          Galileo neither came up with heliocentrism (that was Copernicus), nor demonstrated it (that was Kepler). His arguments were bad, and his model was less predictive than the dominant Ptolemaic model of the day.

          Galileo was just the loudest, brashest, and wrongest proponent. His modern prominence is just rehashing of the discredited Conflict Thesis, brought to you by the same people who gave us the flat earth myth.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. The phases of Venus and Galilean relativity are better arguments than any you’ve ever made in your life.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @Douglas

          Never before has that Neil “SmokeDeGrasse” Tyson “Watch out, we got a badass over here” image macro been so literally appropriate.

        • Troy says:

          Hi Jaskologist,

          It’s rather tangential to the point I was making above, of course, but allow me to defend Galileo briefly.

          I agree with you that he was loud and brash, and that his polemical style was partly to blame for his subsequent condemnation by the Church (which Copernicus avoided). And I hope my response to lmm made it clear that I do not subscribe to the Conflict Thesis!

          And sure, he made some bad arguments (who doesn’t?). But his astronomical discoveries answered several important contemporary objections to Copernicanism: for example, he showed that there were moons orbiting Jupiter, contradicting the Ptolemaic claim that there is only one center of motion; he discovered that Venus had phases, as predicted by the Copernican view and in contradiction to the Ptolemaic view; and he showed that the apparent sizes of stars in his telescope hardly changed at all even as their relative distances increased, thus lending credence to the view that the stars were not (as opponents of Copernicanism had claimed) so large that if they were to be placed at the appropriate distance to avoid an observed parallax (if Copernicanism was true), they would be as big as our solar system.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Troy:

          Fair enough. I should clarify that I’m not saying Galileo didn’t make any contributions to astronomy or other sciences, just that he does not deserve credit for heliocentrism, which he is most famous for. Kepler deserves the credit there, since he actually came up with the crucial insight of elliptical orbits (which Galileo rejected), with an assist from Brahe in gathering the empirical evidence needed.

          Galileo does indeed deserve credit for being the first to turn a telescope towards space. I’m not sure about your last point, though. My understanding was the lack of stellar parallax was a major point in geocentrism’s favor. Wouldn’t seeing the star sizes not change be entirely consistent with the view that they’re all fixed in a sphere centered around Earth, and therefore always at a constant distance?

        • Troy says:

          You’ll get no argument from me on Kepler’s greatness (or his or Tycho’s carefulness in recording the data). History may well have granted him greater status than Galileo had his work not also contained so much mystical speculation and other wild conjectures.

          Yes, the lack of a stellar parallax was still a problem for Copernicanism even in Galileo’s time. However, before Galileo, the obvious reply to the problem (which Copernicus made), that the stars were too far away for us to observe a parallax, ran into the problem that the apparent size of the stars would have made them larger than our solar system if they were that far away. The answer to this puzzle, which Galileo’s contemporaries could not have realized before the science of optics, was that the stars appear larger than geometrical calculation would suggest because our eyes cannot resolve images smaller than the diameter of our pupils: so that stars’ images are blurred out and they look bigger than they are. (This is the same reason that what looks like one star to the naked eye turned out to be two when looked at through Galileo’s telescope – a point that some of his opponents actually used to claim that the telescope was unreliable when pointed at the heavens.) When stars appeared to be the same size through the telescope, this showed that some kind of optical illusion of this sort must be going on – so that the stars might actually be much further away and yet still appear as large as they do.

          Galileo still couldn’t show that the stars were too far away to observe a parallax, but this answered one objection to the claim that they were.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        True; you don’t normally use the word “race” in that context when you’re being technical, largely because of such associations. But if someone does use the word “race” in that way, I think we can infer what they are talking about, and maybe point out to them that that is not the preferred terminology, rather than unhelpfully responding that that just isn’t what the word means, or incorrectly telling them that the concept they’re trying to get at is incorrect or useless.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        That’s a pretty slanderous and unfounded view of Murray.

        I guess there is no term limit on the 15-miunute hate. Once an Emanuel Goldstein, always an Emanuel Goldstein.

  4. kappa says:

    I’ve been using IQ as an example recently, and I feel bad about it because it’s so controversial and politicized. So let’s switch about something else instead.

    How about race?

    I observe that this snippet belongs to a category I’m going to call “Scott jokes”. I know I’ve seen enough of them already for the category to exist in my head, but I can’t call to mind any other examples or give a straightforward verbal definition. Still, it is definitely a thing. Does anyone else know what I mean, and if so, can you remember more examples than I can?

    • I’ve been reading this blog (with great enjoyment) for a few months now and I think I know what you mean. I recall one time Scott was referring to an article by PZ Myers and said ‘Pharyngula, showing the subtlety and restraint for which it is famous, says it’s about “destroying science in the US”.’ Having some familiarity with Myers and his rather strident style of commentary I could not help but laugh. I’m not confident I could venture a definition, but the word “wry” comes to mind.

    • Kate Donovan says:

      I think the thing that this is is verbal irony, and it seems to come along with litotes for particularly dry wit.

      • kappa says:

        Hm. Yes, verbal irony is a category to which this Scott joke belongs, but I think the Scott joke is still its own beast.

    • Sam Rosen says:

      Scott Joke from his steel man of Time Cube:

      Q: What does Ray mean by “Cyclops mentality, inflicts static non pulsating logos as a fictitious queer same sex transformation.”
      A: This question is trivial and left as an exercise for the reader.

      • nydwracu says:

        Of course it’s trivial! It’s obviously talking about how unchallenged (“static”) American cultural hegemony causes the transformative spread of specifically American and deeply flawed social constructs regarding sexual orientation and gender, leading to the cessation of development in the ways other cultures think related concepts. These social constructs are simultaneously Christian and rationalistic — “logos” refers simultaneously to Aristotelian logos (as opposed to pathos and ethos) and John 1:1, “Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος”. “Cyclops” refers to the eye in the pyramid, a common metonym for American capitalism; “cyclops mentality” means a specifically American and mercantile form of power. As a challenge to the “non pulsating” end of history (pulses are cyclical) that this hegemony has created, he advocates Benoistian paganism: “non pulsating logos”, as was mentioned above, refers not only to the Aristotelian mode of rhetoric which the “cyclops mentality” privileges and “inflicts” upon the world as the one true way to do logic and the one best way of knowing, but also to the monotheistic God that brought about both a rethinking of the structure of history, from cyclical “pulsating” time to linear time, which American ideology, following Fukuyama, holds has come to an end, become “static” with the establishment of global American hegemony, and the universalizing impulse that developed into the “cyclops mentality”.

        (Hard mode: Explain a concept from postmodernism by reordering phrases from Timecube.)

  5. Douglas Knight says:

    Here is the Feynman passage.

    I don’t think many people divided Khoisan out from Africans until recently. Carleton Coon proposed this fifty years ago, but then his field was suppressed and people forgot his conclusions. I think Cavalli-Sforza’s crude genetic techniques got this wrong. Indeed, the modern conclusion is that the root branch is between Koisan and everyone else, not between Africans and non-Africans.

    That is, a given black person and a given white person could be more genetically similar than two black people.

    The rest of the paragraph is fine, but I don’t see any way of making sense of this in which it is true. Would you really define “genetically similar” to just mean blood type?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      My intuition may be failing me here, but take a model where everyone has five genes of either 0 or 1. One gene is always related to race (let’s say it represents skin color – 0 is white, 1 is black). Another gene is slightly related to race (let’s say it represents running speed, 0 is slow, 1 is fast, and 10% more black people are fast runners). Three genes are totally unrelated to race – let’s say they represent random liver enzymes nobody cares about.

      We have three people:

      Tyrone: 11000
      LaShawn: 11111
      Anders: 00111

      Tyrone and LaShawn share the one race-specific gene, and they share the one slightly-correlated-with-race gene, but by coincidence LaShawn and Anders share the three liver enzyme genes. LaShawn and Anders are more genetically similar than LaShawn and Tyrone.

      This model just requires that most genes vary in ways mostly not related to race, which I think is true.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        OK, if you just use 17 genes, as Lewontin did, there will definitely be cross-race pairs that are identical. But is this what he meant? I thought he took them one at a time and just meant that each individual marker had a lot of variance. If you use all 17 at once, I think it’s fairly easy to distinguish races.

        But I wouldn’t call people “genetically similar” just because they match on 17 sites. With a million SNPs, then there will be drift on every single one. Every one will have a minuscule frequency differential across races and everyone of one race will be closer to the center of that race than anyone of the other race.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Hm, that makes sense. So it’s conceptually possible to have inter-race pairs that are more similar than intra-race pairs, but it is very unlikely to happen in real life?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Sure, everything is about the odds. No gene is completely fixed in one race (except maybe Australians because of isolation), let alone completely fixed the opposite way in the neighboring race. If we just used genes that were strongly selected, we wouldn’t need statistics and PCA. Probably there are enough strongly selected genes to perfectly identify races, but that’s not what people do.

          Lewontin certainly wasn’t talking about skin color. He probably started with a preface saying that strongly selected genes like that are rare, which is completely true. He was talking about things like blood group, which have obvious racial patterns, but where everyone has diversity. But add up 17 mildly selected genes like that and you see a lot of difference. Much more common than mildly selected genes are neutral genes, but even there is a statistical signal.

          So I think the line I quoted is wrong, but I don’t think Lewontin said it. I don’t think he aggregated across traits at all. But maybe I should read what he actually said.

        • JK says:

          If you compare a few thousand genetic markers or more, two individuals from different races are NEVER more similar than two individuals from the same race: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0303264712001542

        • JK says:

          If you look only at a single locus or a few loci, it’s indeed possible that two whites are less similar than a white and a black. But under this definition, it’s also common for you to be genetically more similar to random strangers than your first-degree relatives. In fact, under this definition, you are frequently more similar to non-human animals than many people.

        • anon1 says:

          By the standard American notion of race, if you have one black great-grandparent from Africa and seven white great-grandparents from Norway, you’re black (and not white). I would *not* expect that this would mean you’re genetically closer to the average African than the average Norwegian. And yet when I hear about race realism for some reason it’s almost always about black people in America, a group that’s a heck of a lot more socially constructed than, say, Japanese people in Japan.

        • blacktrance says:

          What race you’re considered to be depends on your physical appearance, with a bias towards “black”. Barack Obama had a white mother, but he’s considered black because he looks black. No one would say that Ben Jealous is black, even though his mother is.

        • anon1 says:

          Looks like Ben Jealous would say Ben Jealous is black: http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=11528.

          “Mr. JEALOUS: I’m black. You know, the only thing that we have, you know, the only definition that’s out there on the books, if you will, are state laws, and my family is from Virginia. When I was born it said, the law said that you had to be 1/32nd, excuse me, if you were at least 1/32nd of African descent, you were black, end of story. White was an exclusive definition, black was an inclusive definition. I do have biracial parentage but quite frankly…”

        • blacktrance says:

          He considers himself black, but if someone encountered him on the street, not knowing who he is, they’d consider him black even if he told them he has a black mother. People sometimes self-identify in atypical ways, as is the case here.

    • nydwracu says:

      Indeed, the modern conclusion is that the root branch is between Koisan and everyone else, not between Africans and non-Africans.

      In historical terms, sure. In genetic distance terms?

      Cluster analysis looks like it turns up something different, but who knows what’s going on there.

  6. Oligopsony says:

    Two things deserving their own posts, which in the absence of time at the moment I’m just going to blindly assert rather than actually provide any evidence for:

    1) “culture” actually is a dumb concept that you should uninstall, it’s just a big old dormitive prinicple that makes it seem like you have explanations for things when you don’t,
    2) wade’s central argument would still suck even if he talked about clines rather than races

    • Creutzer says:

      I’m really curious about 1). Culture strikes me as a fairly useful concept!

      • anon says:

        I don’t think it’s useless, but do I think it often proves too much. It’s often almost impossible to rule out a cultural explanation, and they’re very easy to invent, just like evopsychological ideas.

        In addition, I think that much of the work done by the concept of culture can be done better by the concept of path dependency. Economics and human psychology cause certain norms, and those norms don’t disappear once their underlying causes do. We call those norms culture. But viewing them in the context of path dependency means you have to trace them back to an origin and you have to explain why they were path dependent, why they didn’t dissipate over time, which prevents their overuse.

        • Anonymous says:

          The purpose of “culture” as a concept is not to explain behavior, it is to put people in groups so as to predict behavior.

        • Anonymous continued says:

          I correct myself… culture is an useful explanation; for example “why does that guy move his hands so much”? an useful explanation is: “culturally, he’s Italian”. Then you’re free to ask “and why is it part of Italian culture to move hands like that?”

          People frustrated with the concept of culture only need to ask one question more: “And why is this thing part of their culture?”

        • Anonymous continued says:

          Oh and I can write that because I’m italian.

        • Bruno Coelho says:

          Culture is useful to explain our fast adaptation. As a historical artifact who made humans capable of making changes more quickly.

    • Multiheaded says:

      I like Gelman’s attack on Wade best. (The fact that some racialist has apparently dug up the case of Francis Galton calling East Asian supremacy in the 19th century really does strike me as a proper example of an exception confirming the rule; one scientific racist out of a myriad, presumably one most enlightened by his own intelligence… and he still made some flawed strong predictions – he wouldn’t have believed Ghana or Rwanda in 2014.)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Digging up an example is a lot better than Gelman, who just makes up whatever he wants to believe.

        • Multiheaded says:

          1) Citation needed. 2) It’s always nice to see a fellow asshole! (I still like non-racist assholes better, though.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That’s rich coming from someone who just rejected an actual citation.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @Douglas Knight:

          There’s ten billion citations about East Asian uncreativity and servile obedience supposedly dooming them to stagnation.

  7. Vaniver says:

    (and everything really is bigger in Texas)

    Boy howdy!

    On the other hand, this framing also suggests that race doesn’t have any extra reality beyond culture.

    This seems unlikely to me; I’m pretty confident race is more ‘scientific’ than culture. That is, I agree that both racial classifications and cultural classifications exist at many levels of granularity, and that ‘tree’ classifications are attractive (American divides into West, East, Midwest, and South, and East subdivides into New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and so on) but that they’re really more like a ‘graph’ or ‘family tree’ since they recombine.

    But I disagree because I think that the stuff underlying race is more discrete/measurable/whatever than the stuff underlying culture. Memetic inheritance is scientific, sure, but genes are more measurable than memes. I won’t go into memes, but here’s my short explanation of what race actually means, in biological fact:

    You have at most 2 parents (1-ancestors), who each had at most 2 parents (your 2-ancestors), and so on. You have at least 2 and at most 1024 unique 10-ancestors. For most people alive, that set of 10-ancestors has a fairly large number of people in it, perhaps even a full 1024. But you have at most 1.07 billion 30-ancestors, who probably lived approximately 25*30 years ago, and we’re certain there weren’t a billion people around then (the estimate is about 400M). So there must be duplicates in this set of ancestors, and we can think of it as a distribution over people.

    Clearly, the n-ancestry for two people is very unlikely to be the same for low n, and even once we reach high n, it’s unlikely that you have the same people duplicated the same number of times. But this is just a problem for distributional overlap, and we can pick whatever measure for that we like. On any measurement, my n-ancestry is the exact same as my brother’s, at all values of n, and has half overlap with all of my cousins at n=2. But what’s interesting is that as you increase the value of n for my cousins, the distributional overlap cannot decrease and probably increases. For my cousins who are half-European and half-Japanese, it won’t increase until n is well over a thousand, when Europeans and Asians split. For my cousin whose parents were (if I remember correctly) second cousins, that implies that they have two copies of our shared 4-ancestors, and so once n reaches 4 the overlap will be higher. For the rest of my cousins, their other ancestors are mostly also from the European diaspora, and so n should increase bit by bit, probably starting below 10 and definitely being well underway once we hit the 100s. By the time we’re at the set of 30-ancestors, the distributional overlap with my cousins is probably high, and the shared set membership overlap is probably very high.

    But that’s just talking about who ancestors are. Why does that matter? Well, genetics. Ancestry distributional overlap will track genetic similarity (if you picked the right measure of overlap) but obviously I can’t make the claim that my genes are the same as my brother’s (we’re not identical twins) even though our ancestry distribution is the same.

    But that’s just talking about genetic similarity, and doesn’t get to race yet. If all historical pairings were selected uniformly at random, the ancestry distribution would be smooth- there wouldn’t be any additional structure beyond the structure inherent in the specification. But historical pairings weren’t selected uniformly at random: not only do humans tend to pair bond, and so there are often multiple people with the same ancestry distribution (adding more structure), but humans can’t teleport- and so people are much more likely to have children if they lived within reachable distance of one another. Up until ~10 generations ago, it is unlikely that the Japanese ancestors of my aforementioned cousins had even met anyone in my ancestry, let alone had children with them! This adds a tremendous amount of structure to the distributions.

    And so we get the concept of ‘race’ as the clustering of n-ancestry distributions with high n, and you can cluster that distribution at arbitrary levels of precision. If you make n high enough, the only cluster is ‘all humans’; as you reduce it, you get a cluster for ‘africans’ and ‘non-africans’ (with a line between them of mixed-race individuals), and then more and more clusters break out, until eventually you hit n=1 and the clusters are ‘same parents.’ And if you believe in evolution, it trivially follows that trait distributions can differ when you have different ancestry distributions.

    • Andy says:

      And if you believe in evolution, it trivially follows that trait distributions can differ when you have different ancestry distributions.

      In theory, very very neat. In practice, I think you’re underestimating how much people got around, especially in the slow churn of the movements of entire people. For example, every century or two Central and Western Europe received fairly large infusions of Central Asian nomads for millenia, culminating with the Mongols. The Medieval POC project on Tumblr has I think conclusively demonstrated that there were a fair number of people of Asian and African descent in Europe during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and there’s evidence going back to the Classical period. I think assumptions of isolation are going to be more wrong than right in most cases. The Japanese may be more the exception than the rule.
      for the evidence, we’d have to see actual large-scale gene typing and see if people with dark skin and the “African” phenotype actually form a distinct genetic cluster when looking at large numbers and comparing with Caucasions and Asians. This I seriously doubt.

      • Anonymous says:

        Maybe I don’t understand your last paragraph, but I think it has already been done. Do you keep up with genetics research? Maybe you should read Wade’s book.

        As to your first paragraph, churning prevents races from become separating due to genetic drift, but it doesn’t prevent them from becoming different due to selection.

      • Brett says:

        We’d have to see actual large-scale gene typing and see if people with dark skin and the “African” phenotype actually form a distinct genetic cluster when looking at large numbers and comparing with Caucasions and Asians. This I seriously doubt.

        See, this is what gets me. We have already done this, and the answer is yes, they do. It is not an open question anymore; there are in fact genetic differences between populations, just as one would expect from the theory of population genetics. I do not know why this knowledge is not more widely spread.

        • Wulfrickson says:

          Brett,

          people with dark skin and the “African” phenotype actually form a distinct genetic cluster

          is a strictly stronger claim (in the logician’s sense) than

          there are in fact genetic differences between populations

          and the distinction between the two is the main issue at hand in Scott’s post. Do I misunderstand you, or do you have citations for the first claim as distinguished from the second?

        • Anonymous says:

          Wulfrickson, I don’t know what you mean, or what Andy meant, but try genetic PCA plots, some 20 years old.

        • Wulfrickson says:

          I’ve seen genetic PCA plots, and I hope most people commenting here have as well.

          I’m pointing out that the claim “there’s a gap in genome-space between (the bulk of) Africans and (the bulk of) non-Africans, rather than a continuum,” which is how I’m interpreting Andy’s comment about “distinct clusters,” is not implied by weaker claims like “Africans tend to be closer in genome-space to the mean African than non-Africans are,” or even “Africans are a continuous slice of genome-space.”

          Of course, degree of clustering has to be measured quantitatively, and I think the point of the review Scott quoted is that the clustering that gives us “continental races” isn’t necessarily the best one.

          I hope I made myself clear.

          (Scott, is it possible to fix the comment-depth limit? Replying to the parent of the comment I’m actually replying to is confusing.)

        • Anonymous says:

          No, not clear at all. I don’t know what more you want than the clusters visible in the PCAs. An SVM score?

          Of course there is no “best” clustering.

        • Wulfrickson says:

          Are you thinking about plots like in this post by Razib Khan? (Scroll down to find the one with a big letter “B” on top of it.) I would agree this shows “Africans” as a very distinct cluster, but I’ve seen other PCA charts where the clustering is less distinct; it sounds as if you know more about the subject than I do, so if you have better examples at hand, I’d love to see them.

          My original point was an objection to equivocation between “there are genetic differences between populations” and “there are genetic differences in populations; furthermore, these differences take the form of distinct clusters, one of which includes Africans with certain phenotypic traits.” I wasn’t trying to make an object-level point about whether I agreed with either claim, but I guess I didn’t make that clear.

        • Brett says:

          The first claim is poorly formed, which is why I rephrased it, but, yes, African populations can be clearly separated from non-African populations using relatively few genetics markers. See, e.g., http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1000114

          Here (in figure 2) the authors show clear separation between European, Asian, and Nigerian samples. There are some caveats to this; outliers (individuals of admixed ancestry) were removed to better identify axes of separation, and these samples are of limited size and localized to sub-populations (Yoruba, Utah whites, Tokyo Japanese, and Beijing Han Chinese).

        • Wulfrickson says:

          Gotcha, that clears things up. Thanks for the link.

          (Friendly advice: if you don’t know how to use the HTML <a> tag, it may be worth learning. Formatted links look nicer than copy-pasted raw URLs. Apologies if you’re just posting from some device that makes HTML unpleasant to write and you don’t need this advice.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Part of the reason to point to google for PCA graphs is that information is lost by projecting to two axes, so looking at many is valuable. Particular choices may affect the graph. The axes that distinguish Africans from Europeans won’t give much detail within Europe. The same plays out at all scales. Include enough English in your graph, and the PCA will distinguish them from other people, even at the expense of blurring together groups that we think of as more fundamental. Any gap that you get is some projection is a true gap in the true high dimensional data.

          But another choice is which populations to represent races. The Sahara is a very sharp border and Nigerians really are quite distinct from Moroccans. But there may be more of a cline in East Africa. Including that in the search term, I find some PCAs that have a cluster for Kenya quite close to Yoruba. This post has many graphs, such as
          this which shows one East African group close to West Africans and another close to North Africans, but it does not show the dispersal of the groups, nor name the two more specifically (though maybe the post does).

      • Medieval POC seems to not be accurate.

        Anyone care to suggest a better source?

        • Andy says:

          That post is mostly about periods in art history that don’t match up with periods in history-history, and IMO making a mountain out of a molehill. The thrust of that post, other than the periodization, “MedievalPOC is BAD because she posts pictures of art without permission!” ignoring that for a lot of the stuff she posts, there’s no copyright and the museums make the images public on the Internet. There’s no allegation that she’s falsifying historical artworks or documents, for example, which would make her useless for the purpose.
          I wouldn’t use MedievalPOC as a primary source, but it’s a great resource for looking past the “whites-only” view of history.

        • It looks like there are a fair number where the dates are out of range and the regions are misattributed.

          Discussion at NPR— less than I would like to know about to what extent paintings were modified (either the physical paintings or the way they’re presented) to eliminate poc, but a good bit about dyes, including that some black madonnas were darkened after they were made.

          I’ve started poking around the blog— I had no idea how many poc were present in ancient Greece and Rome.

        • Nornagest says:

          This only scratches the surface of my irritation with MedievalPoC, but “PoC” is a really bad word in this context. I don’t even think it’s an especially good one in the context of contemporary North American race politics, but it completely fails to map to any meaningful concept in the worldview of medieval or classical civilizations. Athenians in 450 BC wouldn’t think in terms of “white” and “PoC”; they’d think in terms of Hellenes and barbarians; or, at a slightly finer granularity, Medes, Persians, Egyptians, and so forth. This would have had more to do with culture than ancestry, although writers weren’t shy about talking about phenotype either. (The word “black” shows up occasionally in translations of e.g. Herodotus, but he’s strictly talking about skin color.)

          Medieval philosophers at least had a category for it, but their breakdown wasn’t much closer to ours; if you asked a medieval scholar with an interest in ethnography, he’d tell you about the children of Noah, mapping roughly to Caucasian, African, and Middle Eastern.

          Now, that doesn’t really touch the substance of the blog’s claims, but I think it’s illustrative of the problems in its approach: it’s projecting contemporary American mores (with a heavy political slant to boot) onto some very different civilizations and skimming off anything convenient that rises to the top. If you’re going to read it, be very critical.

        • I’m not convinced that’s a problem with medievalpoc– a project that was based on how medievals thought about people would be worth doing, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing what more modern ideas of race might have caused people to leave out.

          Also– and this might just be me– but I like medievalpoc because, as a result of it’s author having an unusual angle, it means I’m seeing works of art which aren’t the usual classics.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’d have no beef with a project that was dedicated to highlighting depictions of non-European ethnicities in European art (though that’s fairly well-trodden ground; it’s one of the main focuses of the study of Orientalism, for example). It’s the normative angle that bothers me, and I don’t think you can talk about that without talking about historical attitudes.

        • xachariah says:

          But the only normative attitude taken by MedievalPOC doesn’t try to critique the historical attitudes of medieval people, but the attitudes of modern-day people who ignore the presence of people of color in the middle ages. It is not a historical critique as much as a current-day social critique of how we view history. The term people of color is entirely appropriate, because it is not talking about how medieval people would view people of different skin colors, it’s talking about why we in the present day tend to think there were only white people in medieval Europe. It’s a critique of our society, not of medieval society.

        • Nornagest says:

          I know perfectly well what it’s trying to critique. I’m saying that critique fails in part because of a pervasive presentist bias interfering with an understanding and accurate presentation of context. My little rant about “PoC” above was an example of presentism, nothing more: finger, not moon.

          To be clear, MedievalPoC’s object-level claims are hit-and-miss and often sloppy, but not totally wrong. Some of the stuff the blog points out is fairly accurate, though it tends to present it as controversial when it’s really quite well known: Rome, Iberia during the Reconquista, and to some extent Classical Greece were all ethnically diverse times and places, and the histories of (especially Mediterranean) Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa are intertwined in ways that don’t get a lot of exposure in pop culture. Some of it is a stretch: the black Madonnas the blog occasionally points out are generally not thought to carry ethnic implications, though that’s at least a little controversial. And some of it is flat-out wrong, like the pictures of Cleopatra that occasionally turn up (she was a member of the notoriously inbred Ptolemaic dynasty, which is to say of mixed Greek and Persian ancestry).

          But even where those object-level claims turn out to be factually incorrect, they’re the motte to a much larger and more politically charged bailey. By grounding its object-level examples only in an extremely present-day and extremely American analysis of ethnicity, and by setting itself up in opposition to the mainstream understanding of history (tagline: “you wouldn’t want to be historically inaccurate, would you?”) it’s painting an implicit picture of the past in general, and of historical scholarship, that’s misleading at best. I’d go so far as to say outright self-serving.

        • xachariah says:

          I disagree that it is implicitly saying that the modern, American concept People of Color was a category in the past. In fact, I would say that it is explicitly doing the exact opposite.

          I think that the implicit judgment of historical scholarship as not having much view for the presence of skin color diversity in the past is accurate, with some specific exceptions — and most of those specific exceptions are rooted in the past decades.

          But it’s also important to note that it is primarily saying something about pop culture, more so than about scholarship.

        • Nornagest says:

          I disagree that it is implicitly saying that the modern, American concept People of Color was a category in the past.

          That is not what I think it’s doing.

  8. Jaskologist says:

    Why stop at races? Species don’t even have clearly defined lines!

    Sure, they may have taught you in biology class that the species line is defined by ability to produce fertile offspring, but they were lying. Ligers not only exist, they can reproduce. The fish trade divides fish into all kinds of species categories, even though they can interbreed, and tend to look the same to the untrained eye. (And that’s not even getting into plants, which are far less pickier about genetics.)

    We can play the same game with inter- and intra-species differences as well. Cheetahs may be fast, but a lame cheetah is closer in speed to a turtle.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Playing this game on Hard Mode would be to argue that individuals are social constructs without clear dividing lines. This is something I plan to try at some point.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        I GREATLY LOOK FORWARD TO THAT POST.

      • Andy says:

        Playing this game on Hard Mode would be to argue that individuals – are social constructs without clear dividing lines. This is something I plan to try at some point.

        Let us know in advance so I can sell popcorn?

      • Jaskologist says:

        This sounds like a job for the Ship of Theseus!

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          I feel like that’s part of it, but a much more profound part is how we all seem to behave differently in different social environments and with different support networks and different incentive structures. This implies that a good deal of our ‘personality’ is encoded somewhere between our environment and our bodymind.

          For example, having other people who remember the same events that you do in similar ways can help shape your memory of those events; if you identify strongly with your memory of your past self, then the integrity of that identity is literally being supported by the stories your friends tell you about you.

      • Matthew says:

        I think you mean you want to argue that personalities/roles are social constructs. That way you don’t have to deal with obviously-stupid arguments about individual organisms existing contingently.

      • Anonymous says:

        Most people are convinced, at least temporarily, by the case put forward by lsd.

        • anon1 says:

          Indeed! After the first time I tripped, I spent four straight days in a state of imperturbable peace and happiness. It was deeply out of character for me and would have been extremely alarming except that I wasn’t capable of being alarmed. This might have done even more to confuse my idea of the self than the whole temporary enlightenment thing during the actual trip.

      • Andrew says:

        Paging Michael Vassar.

      • Franz Panzer says:

        Isn’t that the point of Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop?

        I am not completely sure whether he would agree that individuals are social constructs (probably depends on how you define social constructs), but he definitely argues that individuals have no clear dividing lines.

      • anon says:

        I had a debate resolution a few years ago with the word “individuals” in it. Made the same argument, and it was highly enjoyable.

  9. taelor says:

    Much of the confusion about race stems from viewing it primarily as a biological concept, when it is really better understood as a sociogeographic one. Even the biological parts of race are ultimately social in origin, in that there is no biological reason why people with one particular skin color or etc. should reproduce assortively with each other; the fact that they do is a result of social and geographic factors. Economist Glenn Loury writes on the topic:

    My second observation is that what we call “race” is mainly a social, and only indirectly a biological phenomenon. […] Put differently, what I’m saying is this: the creation and reproduction of race as a feature of society rests on a set of beliefs and conceptions about identity held by people in that society — beliefs about who they are, and about the legitimacy of conducting intimate relations with racially distinct others. […] Much could be said in this vein, but just to cut right to the core of it: there would be no races in the steady state of a system unless, on a daily basis and with regard to their most intimate affairs, people paid assiduous attention to the social boundaries that separate themselves from racially distinct others. Put differently, over time race would cease to exist unless persons in that society choose to act to biologically reproduce the variety of phenotype expression that constitutes the substance of racial distinction. […] Race is not something simply given in nature. It is a socially produced thing. It’s an equilibrium outcome. We’re making it. It’s not something that’s coming from on high. It’s endogenous.

    Ultimtely, I think that when people claim that “race” doesn’t exist, what they are really objecting to is treating race as a neat little exogenously given fact, when really it’s an endogenous outcome that is incestuously intertwined with pretty much every facet of society.

    • dhill says:

      You drift from sociogeographic to social in your argument. The geographic barriers are real and not a created by society.

    • Lesser Bull says:

      At this point, I don’t think we can entirely rule out “biological reason[s] why people with one particular skin color or etc. should reproduce assortively with each other.”

  10. Wulfrickson says:

    Scott, you may be equivocating between two senses of the word “culture” in a way that makes your analogy seem stronger than it is.

    Merriam-Webster gives two relevant definitions of “culture,” which I think you would agree are both found in common usage: “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time” (call that “culture(1)”) and “a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.” (call that “culture(2)”). You could imagine creating some quantitative measure of culture(1) by combining data on religious affiliation, opinion polls on social issues, and such, then collecting the data geographically, applying a clustering algorithm that draws somewhat-arbitrary lines across the map, and calling the resulting regions culture(2)s. But would the statement “culture doesn’t exist” refer to culture(1), which can be defined without reference to other culture(1)s, or to culture(2), which is only a useful concept insofar as it distinguishes one culture(2) from others? I hope the analogy to race is clear: “races” are formed by drawing lines across genetic data much as “culture(2)s” are formed by drawing lines across culture(1) data. “Culture(1) doesn’t exist” I agree is absurd; “culture(2) doesn’t exist” I could parse as “the dividing lines between culture(2)s in the popular perception are largely arbitrary,” which is much less obviously absurd.

    (You may be interested in this page about determining the boundaries of the South; the results from considering different measures of “Southernness” can differ substantially. The links to the images have been broken in the current version, hence the link to archive.org.)

    Another good analogy: language. Let’s use “dialect” to mean “the language spoken in a specific locale,” by analogy with culture(1). “Dialect continua,” in which speakers of dialects A and B can understand each other, as can speakers of dialects B and C, but A and C can’t understand each other, are quite common. If we want to divide these dialects into “languages,” we have to put arbitrary dividing lines somewhere. (Historically, the job of putting these dividing lines in fell to national governments, which chose one dialect – usually the capital’s – as the “standard language” condemned all other dialects as inferior, and set up national education systems to enforce learning the official dialect. The result can be odd from a linguistic perspective sometimes; for example, Norwegian and Swedish, which are mutually intelligible, are considered separate languages, whereas IIRC the Chinese government’s position is that Cantonese is a “dialect” of Mandarin despite the two not being mutually intelligible.) In this sense, “language (in our special sense) doesn’t exist” does have meaning as “the notion of discrete ‘languages’ as distinct from dialect continua is a consequence of social and political factors with no basis in linguistics”; the usual way of putting this is Max Weinreich’s quip that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” and as Weinreich said this in Yiddish, I think you can imagine how much this mattered to him.

    • Troy says:

      I think the analogy with language is better than the analogy with culture. Language clearly varies substantially across the globe, and is more continuous at some points and more discrete at others. Moreover, for historically obvious reasons, linguistic and ethnic differences tend to correlate with each other. We can measure linguistic relatedness with more precision than cultural relatedness, though not with as much precision as genetic relatedness. And with both race and language there’s clearly underlying real variation, but the way it gets carved up is influenced by political and social factors.

      I also think this analogy supports Scott’s point. Our concepts of discrete languages may not get at underlying linguistic reality, but they’re obviously tremendously useful, and would (I think) be much harder to do without than even our concepts of discrete cultures.

      • Wulfrickson says:

        I don’t have much to add to your comment itself, but I just want to provide a few more examples of the “social construction of language,” because linguistics is fascinating. Consider Gullah in South Carolina, Haitian Creole, and Yiddish in German-speaking Europe. These were languages of oppressed, despised ethnic groups, and they were considered for a long time as merely “broken” versions of the dominant English, French or German (even by their speakers themselves, who saw them as barriers to assimilation). As a consequence, very little literature was ever written in them (Yiddish in Germany almost died out), and it took until the 20th century, when race relations were liberalized, for them to be considered as languages in their own right.

    • nydwracu says:

      …and then dialects themselves are abstractions over idiolects, which are abstractions over individual utterances.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        I don’t see how you can objectively divide the matrix of pressure waves that permeate our atmosphere into separate individual ‘utterances’. So-called oral communication is merely a social construct.

  11. Toby Bartels says:

    One way to interpret the claim that race isn’t biologically real is to say that there is a lot of genetic variation between humans but that the particular ways of classifying humans into a few (say, less than 10) races are rather arbitrary.

    Once upon a time, people used the word ‘race’ (and its cognates in other European languages) much more flexibly. You could speak of the Irish race without making any strong claim that the Irish weren’t White, because you’d also speak of the French race, the Japanese race, the Jewish race, the Hottenot (≈ Khoisan) race, etc. This lasted at least as late as the Nazis’ speaking of the Aryan race, which included a bit more than just Germans but excluded, for example, Slavs. (People then also often conflated race and culture —genetic and memetic variation—ƒ, but we know better than that now.)

    Biological discussion of human genetic variation makes a lot more sense to me when people are talking about specific populations (whatever the basis for choosing them) than when people are talking about a small number of races spanning the entire globe. Even if you’re discussing White vs Black, it makes a big difference if you’re talking about White Americans vs African-Americans, Indo-Europeans vs Bantu, or White Australians vs Aboriginal Australians.

    So what your analogy with culture makes me think is: yes, let’s go ahead and talk about genetic variation in the same way that we talk about cultural variation, but this is very different from the popular conception of race. (And it’s probably best to abandon the term ‘race’ for this genetic variation, because while it was once used in this way, its rehabilitation is probably a lost cause, at least in English.)

    • Toby Bartels says:

      Forgot to subscribe.

    • Anonymous says:

      People can’t talk about “Toby” without thinking of “Tobey Maguire,” so you should stop using it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve used it all your life, it’s irretrievably stained.

    • Franz Panzer says:

      Once upon a time, people used the word ‘race’ (and its cognates in other European languages) much more flexibly. You could speak of the Irish race without making any strong claim that the Irish weren’t White, because you’d also speak of the French race, the Japanese race, the Jewish race, the Hottenot (≈ Khoisan) race, etc.

      I find this is still true in the UK, or at least more true than the US. I have never lived in either of these places, but of course you get a lot of US media influenca anyway. From there I was used to using “race” to differentiate between black, white, hispanic etc. However, when I startet following British media more (particularly the comedy there) I found it at first startling that jibes against the Irish, Scottish, French, Germans and so on were (even if only jokingly) reffered to as racist. E.g. that the americans like using brits as villains in movies because “we’re the only country that won’t cry ‘racist’ if they do that”.

      I would find it interesting to know which of these two usees of “race” is more widespread, globally.

      • It would also be interesting to see how similar concepts are handled in other languages.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        Perhaps my pessimism about the possibility of rehabilitating ‘race’ to be used in a way truly analogous to ‘culture’ (rather than as solely a broad classification into White, Black, and a few other groups) is because I live in the USA. My British English can say ‘race’ but American English needs a new term.

  12. Aleph says:

    Arguments against race denialism will usually not persuade anyone who doesn’t already believe in race. Here’s why: Certain tribes have egalitarian values which imply that races should be equal. Saying things which support these values will win favor from the tribe. Since winning favor from one’s tribe is valuable, evolution has built us to internalize the values of our tribes, and disbelieve things which would oppose those values; it has also made us biased when judging those beliefs (because arriving at socially-frowned-upon beliefs reduces your status in the tribe).

    This is not some evil scheme on the part of the race denialist – they really, truly do disbelieve in race, it’s just that that disbelief stems from sub/semi-conscious status considerations and not from dispassionate reason. The race denialist doesn’t think “My tribe denies race, therefore I should too so I can win favor with my tribe”, he thinks “My tribe denies race… and in other news, clearly race isn’t real, and race realism is evil.” It’s not even really their fault, it’s just that evolution’s built us all this way.

    The main thing a race denialist sees when reading your post is either “Scott isn’t of my tribe, hence I should stay away from him or my tribe will shun me”, or “Scott is of my tribe but has committed a great transgression, lowering his status; I should stay away from him lest I become associated with this transgression.” Again, this isn’t conscious – the conscious thought is more like “Yuck.”

    Now maybe the converse argument applies to race realists too – that they’ve internalized the values of a racist tribe. Except it doesn’t, because most people on this blog, including Scott, including me, come from extremely liberal milieus that shun race realism.

    • Matthew says:

      Not to be flippant about this, but if you want to find mindkilled race realists, it’s not that hard. You just want to look at clan rallies instead of Charles Murray seminars.

      I also think it’s worth pointing out that a lot of well-educated liberals probably think something like the following, but it gets really tiring to reiterate whenever the subject comes up:

      “Yes, there are real differences between genetic cohorts. But race as talked about by people who aren’t physical anthropologists or population geneticists lines up far from perfectly with genetic cohorts. That, along with the fact that between-cohort variation is smaller than within-cohort variation, makes talking about race for purposes of policy unlikely to be productive.”

      That’s aside from the (often justified) belief that race realists have an ulterior agenda driving their interest.

    • Wulfrickson says:

      Scott has complained before about people who psychoanalyze their opponents rather than arguing with them. If you must do so regardless, would you please take it elsewhere?

      Also, I agree with what Matthew said.

      • Matthew says:

        Scott has a tumblr? How did I not know this?!

        • Wulfrickson says:

          He just started it a few weeks ago. This series of posts stemmed from a long argument there between him and occasional commenter nostalgebraist, which (unusually for arguments about IQ on the Internet) is well-reasoned and civil and well worth reading on both sides.

    • Mark says:

      “Race denialist” sounds pretty charged to me. This comment sets off my polemics detector, even though I probably agree with the content.

      • George says:

        Do you think the same thing about climate change denialist?

        • Mark says:

          Depends on the context, but yes. If I were trying to have a polite, scientific conversation about the reality of global warming, I’d be made uncomfortable by a comment that haphazardly flung around words like “denialist” and tried to refocus discussion on one side’s incorrigible tribal irrationality.

          If I were writing a post that took the (perceived) obvious veracity of AGW for granted and wasn’t trying to convince or really even communicate with skeptics, I’d probably be less bothered by polemics.

    • Alejandro says:

      I think one more charitable explanation of this dynamics (that leads any statement of race realism to be accused of evil racism) is that the vast majority of people are Bad at Avoiding the Naturalistic Fallacy (BANF).

      Suppose Leo the liberal believes that normatively, all races should be valued and treated equally; that is is a very important value, and that anyone opposed to this is a racist. And Rachel the race realist comes and says “races are not equal, here is the data”. Now think of all the failure modes possible here:

      1) If Rachel is BANF, then she will be at the same time, consciously or unconsciously, advocating to treat races differently, and Leo is justified in crying “Racist!” even if he is not BANF.

      2) If Leo is BANF, then even if Rachel is not BANF he hears her as advocating to treat races differently, and cries “Racist!”

      3) If Leo is not BANF and neither is Rachel, but Leo does not know that Rachel is not BANF, then since most people are BANF Leo believes that Rachel is actually advocating to treat races differently, and cries “Racist!”

      4) If Leo is not BANF and neither is Rachel, but Rachel doesn’t know that Leo is not BANF (or she does but Leo himself doesn’t know she does, or…), then Leo believes Rachel is cynically trying to trick him into treating races differently, and cries “Racist!

      5) And even in the limit where there is perfect common knowledge between Rachel and Leo that neither of them is BANF, if the conversation takes place in a public forum where most people listening are BANF (or not known to not be BANF, etc.), then Leo will believe that crying “Racist!” is necessary to avoid people starting to treat races differently.

      So the only places where race realists can talk to liberals about their data without being shouted down as racists are forums with high levels of rationality (nobody is BANF), lots of trust and common knowledge, and no outsiders reading… in short, places like LW and SSC.

    • peterdjones says:

      Arguments of any kind, of any quality, on any subject, will usually not persuade anybody.

    • Nornagest says:

      Except it doesn’t, because most people on this blog, including Scott, including me, come from extremely liberal milieus that shun race realism.

      I’ll just give in to my overwhelming urge to be a prick here and say that this doesn’t get you out of the woods by the standards of anti-racist theory. A basic assumption of that crowd is that everyone in Western civilization grows up bathed in racist assumptions; especially, but not exclusively, white people, and not excluding the nice sheltered liberal intellectuals that grew up on a steady diet of the same uplifting picture books of e.g. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. that I did. These latter would shun race realism as a matter of tribal identification, but they’d still be informed by the same cultural background, which would lead them to do things like clutch their purses a little tighter in the inner city or seek out lily-white school districts to enroll their kids in or touch kinky hair without asking. (I don’t really get the hair thing, but it always comes up in these lists.)

  13. Tom Hunt says:

    Hmm. I usually try to deal with this argument in a couple of different ways, which may be the same as the ones you’re using or may not. It seems important, first, to cash out precisely what the assertion “race does not exist” is saying.

    I submit that the only reasonable expansion of “race does not exist” is “the concept of race does not have useful explanatory or predictive power”. One can get into an argument about what it really, truly is to exist, but if you go deep enough into quantum, you reach the point where specific individual objects do not “exist” as such. And yet this concept clearly has predictive power; if I pick up a rock by one side of it, you expect the other side to come along, and you don’t expect the other separate rock underneath to. This arbitrary sorting of silicate molecules is useful for prediction, even if one could quibble about whether it’s really fundamentally justified. I haven’t seen any of the anti-race types (or anyone, in fact) arguing that individual objects don’t exist, and bringing this out as an objection whenever someone makes a statement about an object. Therefore, I’ll take the “has predictive power” interpretation as what “to exist” means in this debate.

    Thus, the two lines of objection above are recast as reasons why race has no real predictive power. From this perspective, #1 seems entirely vacuous. It’s just Sorites; there is no obvious and intuitive line that makes a heap of sand, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no useful difference between one grain of sand and ten million. Make another analogy, to literal color. There’s no obvious dividing lines between “white” and “gray” and “black”. Saying these different categories have no predictive power is obviously moronic.

    The second, Lewontin’s fallacy-or-maybe-not-a-fallacy-as-the-case-may-be, has a different issue. It usually seems to come up in the context of saying that race has no biological meaning apart from its socially constructed one; the evidence here, then, is that because the genes aren’t correlated in a certain way, that means race is not genetic and hence not biological. But, leaving aside all debates about the inherent validity of one statistical method over another, if you use a slightly different statistical method you can assign genetic scans to races with near-100% accuracy. This information clearly isn’t coming out of nowhere. So race clearly has something to do with genes, whatever that may be, and that’s enough to refute that form of the argument.

    The other form would be to argue that race does not allow for any useful predictions or explanations about the genetic code itself. I’m not actually sure if this is true; my instinct is that it isn’t. But we can sidestep this, because people who want to use race as an explanatory/predictive tool usually aren’t trying to predict genotypic traits, but phenotypic ones. Leaving aside anything controversial, it’s obvious that race has significant predictive ability regarding obvious phenotypic traits like skin color, hair texture, and so forth. And yet the most controversial racialist claims still fall in this same domain; they’re about phenotypic traits as well, usually mental ones. So it seems clear, again, that they can’t be ruled out on the grounds that the concept of race is somehow unreal.

    • dhill says:

      One can get into an argument about what it really, truly is to exist, but if you go deep enough into quantum, you reach the point where specific individual objects do not “exist” as such. And yet this concept clearly has predictive power;

      Thanks for this, I was actually going to ask a question along those lines. This comment section entropy reminds me of Illegal Prime.

      My story was that a lecturer at the university said that “numbers obviously exist”. Having read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (the fragment about ghosts) I approached him with the question “So what are the conditions for non-existence, then?”. He dismissed the question as similar to those questioning reality, but still using spoon to eat. I guess your “predictive power” answer would satisfy me then. It’s been a long time…

    • peterdjones says:

      “Race does not exist” could be construed as meaning “commonly accepted racial categories don’t carve DNAspace at the joints”. That isn’t equivalent to “race isn’t predictive”, since some other schema could be predictive.

      Even race realists should be anti realist about some categories, (such as Latino), just as species realists should be anti realistmabout unicorns.

  14. AR+ says:

    I’ve wondered to what extent white anti-race realists agree with the more icky sort of race realists, in that, IF race were “real” and IF races did significantly differ along socially important axis, then certain super-racist policies actually would be totally justified and they would all drop their sociology classes and register w/ the American Nazi Party.

    I don’t think there is much of that, but I then further wondered to what extent that incorrectly believe that they would, or that other people would, in the same sense as a theist who says, “Without God, it would be rape time, all the time!” but who would not actually start raping anyone if they suddenly stopped believing.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Gould wrote an essay about this: 1 2 3 4. Two quotes from the last page:

      It would be poor logic and worse strategy to hinge a moral or political argument for equal treatment or equal opportunity upon any factual statement about human biology. For if our empirical conclusion turns out to be wrong–and all facts are tentative in science–then we would be forced to justify prejudice and apartheid

      [Australopithecus] might well have survived and presented us today with all the ethical dilemmas of a human species truly and markedly inferior in intelligence (with its cranial capacity only one-third our own). Would we have built zoos, established reserves, promoted slavery, committed genocide, or perhaps even practiced kindness?

      Pinker said something similar to the first quote which is widely quoted as an attack on Gould. But the last sentence:

      Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow; more important, understand it as the center of a network of implication: “Human equality is a contingent fact of history.”

      seems to me to be advocating indoctrination.

      • Eli says:

        They’re not advocating any kind of indoctrination, merely noting that ethical equality is an ethical fact.

        • Oligopsony says:

          “Indoctrinate” is an irregular verb, so if you disagree with Gould here it’s indoctrination.

        • Multiheaded says:

          This is a totally false oppositon: we DO need to indoctrinate people in (objective, independently derived) ethical facts. Moral realism FTW.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Oligopsony, the indoctrination part is “Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow,” regardless of whether I or Gould believe that it is true. I find it difficult to believe you didn’t understand that.

          I was actually meaning to dig up this essay for the topic of indoctrination to respond to a question you asked here. There is a further comment there.

    • Oligopsony says:

      Historically speaking, most liberals have been both factual and normative racists, so why would it be otherwise?

  15. cryptael says:

    Sorry for picking on an object-level point, but having grown up in the south and now living in California, I take objection to the idea that the South is more racist.

    Growing up in the south, I was around black people in my school, church, and in the set of my family’s friends. Working-class blacks and whites lived similar lifestyles, though I’m sure southern whites as a group do slightly better on average.

    In California, neighborhoods, occupations, and lifestyle are heavily stratified by race. Black people live here, but mostly separated into ghettos. I have nearly zero black friends in California.

    But white Californians are probably much more likely to believe PC ideas about race than white southerners – Asian and Hispanic Californians, not so much.

    By actions, the southerners where I grew up were much more friendly across racial boundaries. I had Christmas dinner with a black family once and it was a hell of a lot of fun – the black bourgeoisie know how to have a good time. But judging by words, Californians are probably much more racially progressive. I think the average black person is a lot better off back in the south, though.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I’ve never lived in the South, but what I’ve heard from people who have is that the South is more *openly* racist, but not more racist, and if you’re gonna have racism then it’s better for everybody if you’re honest about it.

    • There’s an old joke that in the South, white people don’t care how close black people get as long as the black people don’t get too big, and in the North, white people don’t care how big black people get as long as the black people don’t get too close.

    • cryptael says:

      But man, white folk from Yankeeville and the Left Coast sure do love to hate Southerners. They’re sure the South is full of racist inbreds, not that they ever condescend to visit it.

      Scott, if you’re ever in my hometown, we’ll visit biscuitville together and get a nice fried-chicken biscuit made by a smiling obese black woman and sit down to eat it with a sweet tea among good old boys – black and white.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Maybe it’s because they naively assume that Southern states are democratically governed, and that therefore the things like voter suppression laws there do represent the popular (non-black) will? Or they pattern-match voting solidly conservative with the brazenly anti-black things said and done by some conservatives that get picked up by the media and/or history books?

        (Also see xachariah’s comment; it represents the official US progressive party line, and therefore I’m inclined to trust it, because I’m meta-contrarian and lightly endarkened.)

        • cryptael says:

          I still think that you’re running a piss-poor democracy if you’re not ID-ing your registered voters, especially if you live in a country with tens of millions of illegal residents. A lot of non-American democracies seem to agree with me. I’m not quite sure how that makes me a racist, but I’ve been told it does.

        • xachariah says:

          The policy is racist because it has the effect of disproportionately disenfranchising black people (because it disenfranchises poor people).

          Whether or not you need such a policy is a different question. There is no evidence that in-person voter fraud is a problem, which is the only kind voter fraud it prevents.

          We can look at other voting restrictions too, though. The limiting of early voting hours, the distribution and opening of polling stations, gerrymandering — all of which are more prevalent in Southern states and racist in effect (and I would argue by design).

        • Jaskologist says:

          Gerrymandering is indeed often done in a racist way, but it is required to be so by law, and not by laws the Southern states passed locally.

        • xachariah says:

          Laws state that gerrymandering must happen to ensure minority vote is not diluted. I cannot think of a sensible definition of the word ‘racist’ where that means gerrymandering must be racist.

          Sadly, a lot of gerrymandering has the opposite effect, specifically in the South. This has gotten worse since the pre-clearance requirements in the VRA have been lifted by the Supreme Court.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @cryptael:

          Studies have proven that “voting fraud” is statistically insignificant in the US (and has been extinct for about 50 years, since the destruction of the old-time political machines), while the effect of the laws on suppressing poor & marginalized voters is very significant and well-known to the laws’ supporters. Frankly, this sounds like studied ignorance on your part, given how often American liberals cite this well-proven fact. But fine, you don’t trust the professional activists and their ilk; here’s a Forbes article.

          Re: other nations – I was confused about this too at first, but they just seem to have a significantly different pattern of ID use and voting procedures. And anyway, the common motivation and the direct impact of voter ID laws in America appears to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

        • xachariah says:

          re: other countries, their policies can be racist, too (or discriminate against other groups). My country requires photo ID for voting, though it also requires that everyone have photo ID anyway. There is no such thing as non-photo ID. This doesn’t cost that much (~$50 every five years, or less than that if you have a driver’s license) and I think photo ID is more widespread here than in the US.

          I cannot find statistics on how common possession of photo ID is here, but I would still not be surprised if that policy had a racist effect, or discriminated against the poor.

        • cryptael says:

          Voting is the central act upon which the legitimacy of your political system depends. It seems strange to me that you would want to wait until widespread voter fraud is discovered before you want to institute the same level of identity verification that you require for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, and the receipt of government benefits.

          Are you telling me that I can walk into any city liquor store and pick up a 40 and a pack of Camels without ID?

          This is an example why I do not want people with hypertrophied empathy centers (i.e. bleeding hearts) in charge of designing a government system. I think you guys are supporting extremely unwise policies for bad reasons.

        • xachariah says:

          No democracy is completely fraud-resistant, and trying to make it theoretically fraud-resistant is largely a waste of time. The US electoral system has many other points where it could be preventing fraud (like absentee ballots). That’s an area where voter fraud does occur, incidentally.

          Instead, the goal of any well-functioning democracy should be to make it as easy as possible for every eligible voter to exercise his right to vote, while still preventing voter fraud from deciding elections. In other words: they have to balance the reward of preventing fraud, versus the risk of losing legitimate votes. This is why the US forces people to register to vote, for instance.

          However, you prefer to set the balance where we prevent ~3 fraudulent votes per year in favor of effectively preventing thousands of people from exercising their right to vote. I cannot in any sensible way parse that in such a way that this makes a democracy more legitimate.

        • Oligopsony says:

          I still think that you’re running a piss-poor democracy if you’re not ID-ing your [ascribed caste granted suffrage], especially if you live in a country with tens of millions of [legal category denied suffrage].

          This seems a little circular.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Senpai smashes nerd, episode 9346.

        • nydwracu says:

          Instead, the goal of any well-functioning democracy should be to make it as easy as possible for every eligible voter to exercise his right to vote, while still preventing voter fraud from deciding elections.

          Wrong! The proper goal of any government is to govern well.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @nydwracu:

          Govern well for whom? Doing what?

          (Machiavelli said this much way before Lenin! Why isn’t he sufficiently reactionary for you? j/k, he’s not reactionary for anyone because he’s progressive, & super awesome.)

  16. Patrick says:

    So for ages people went around and classified animals by their traits. If something had traits from the fuzzy category “cats,” it was a cat. Etc. This worked reasonably well. For cats. But when we tried to classify the bears, lizards, etc, we had a few problems and ended up waffling back and forth based on what traits seemed most salient to various researchers.

    And when we tried to classify the worms? Holy hell, you have no idea. Seriously, spend some time studying all the different types of animals we labeled as “worms.” Anything tubular and wriggly got called a worm. The results were downright stupid and embarrassing.

    Eventually we developed cladistics as a replacement. This system classifies animals by genetic connection and common ancestry. It takes a little research but is workable, objective, and rigorous.

    When applied to cats, cladistics yields about what you expect. When applied to things formerly called bears or lizards, we got a few surprises, but got matters mostly right. Worms were the disaster we expected. The acorn worm is probably more closely related to humans than to earthworms, which is to say, it isn’t particularly related to either. The whole panoply of “worms” is like this. A nomenclature disaster area.

    That’s race. That’s what people mean when they say that race isn’t real. They mean that your methodology, in which you look for identifiable traits and classify race/culture/whatever based upon them then assume that these indicate common genetic lineage, is a really shit methodology. It yields shit results, it has historically yielded shit results, and every indication we have suggests that it will continue to yield shit results. Genotype-phenotype distinction 4evar.

    Now if you want to argue that common genetic lineage is a real thing, fine. You want to argue that fuzzy categories can still be categories, fine. And if you want to redeem the word “race,” fine (but good luck). But if you want that study of genetic lineage and those fuzzy categories to line up to what gets called “race” in common parlance, you’re gonna have a bad time.

    • Tom Hunt says:

      I’m not convinced this is true.

      People with sub-Saharan African ancestry look predictably different from, say, southern Indians, Pacific Islanders or Australian aborigines. People from Siberia look different from people from Norway. Current conception of race isn’t anything like a one-dimensional analysis of melanin content.

      Can you provide examples of people or populations which are grouped by modern conceptions but significantly distinct by a genetic analysis, or vice versa?

      • Wulfrickson says:

        For similar populations considered distinct races, the usual example is Irish-Americans, who were considered non-white for most of the nineteenth century despite being very genetically close to the English (closer AFAICT then a fair number of other early European immigrant groups like the Dutch; most of the European PCA maps turned up by a quick Google search don’t even bother labeling the English and Irish separately).

        For populations “significantly distinct by a genetic analysis” classified as the same race, a lot depends on your definition of “significantly.” One example is African-Americans, who differ tremendously in proportions of African and European ancestry, as well as where that African ancestry comes from (most African-Americans are descended from West Africans, but the category also includes Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya).

        • JK says:

          Irish-Americans, who were considered non-white for most of the nineteenth century

          LOL. Let’s see. Could the Irish be naturalized as white citizens in the 19th century? Yes. Could they vote and run for office when such things were the privilege of whites only? Yes. Could they marry Anglos despite anti-miscegenation laws? Yes. Could they attend segregated white schools? Yes. Did the US military consider them as white? Yes. Did the US Census list them as white? Yes. Did 19th century racial anthropologists regard them as white? Yes. Is the idea that Irish-Americans were not considered white in the past a total fabrication by modern “whiteness” scholars? Yes.

        • Wulfrickson says:

          Is the idea that Irish-Americans were not considered white in the past a total fabrication by modern “whiteness” scholars? Yes.

          Your arguments all seem plausible, but if you have a scholarly source that elaborates on them, I would like to see it. Replace “non-White” with “racially distinct from the English,” though, and I think the force of the example largely remains.

          It’s worth noting that nineteenth-century political cartoons often depicted the Irish with elements of black stereotypes such as comparisons to monkeys; a good sample is here. So popular imagination may not have considered the Irish fully white despite whatever the official racial classifications said to the contrary, though I anticipate further discussion of this point will degenerate into useless semantic quibbling over what we mean by “white.”

        • Anonymous says:

          Wogs begin at Calais.

          The claim that the Irish group with the Spanish apart from the English is a reasonable guess from language, but seems to be wrong. The English seem to be halfway between the English and Germanics, though the link doesn’t have Germany proper.

          Cavalli-Sforza’s early genetic methods grouped the Irish and Scottish neither with the Spanish nor the English. I don’t know how well that has held up. Maybe people have just stopped making trees.

        • Geirr says:

          @Wulfrickson

          Here’s Ben Franklin on Germans being distinct from the English; it wasn’t just an Irish thing.

          “why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their languages and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion?”

          “All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.”

          In this regard I must say we Irish place very comfortably with the English. I think the “How the Irish Became White” thesis is only marginally more defensible than “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”, which has no primary source documentary evidence whatsoever.

        • Anonymous says:

          Geirr, when Franklin says “Irish,” what does he mean? Does he mean what we now call “Irish,” or does he mean what we now call “Scotch-Irish,” that is, Scots who lived a couple of generations in Ireland before moving to America?

        • JK says:

          Your arguments all seem plausible, but if you have a scholarly source that elaborates on them, I would like to see it.

          I don’t have one that concerns the Irish in particular, but here’s an article making the same point about Southern and Eastern Europeans.

          Replace “non-White” with “racially distinct from the English,” though, and I think the force of the example largely remains.

          The question was whether there are populations whose social race doesn’t match the genetic race, and you gave the Irish as an example. But the Irish were always considered just another European variety. Perhaps the Irish were seen as an inferior variety next to the English, but they were certainly never thought of as a different race in the sense that blacks and whites are different races. Modern genomic analyses show that the Irish are similar to but distinguishable from the English.

          It’s worth noting that nineteenth-century political cartoons often depicted the Irish with elements of black stereotypes such as comparisons to monkeys

          Firstly, I bet that you could find old political cartoons comparing just about all European nationalities to monkeys — here’s one about the Germans.

          Secondly, how common such depictions of the Irish actually were? The method of the whiteness scholars seems to be to concentrate on rare instances where a European group was seemingly described as nonwhite, hysterically overgeneralizing them — while completely ignoring the big picture, such as the fact that the US was racially segregated legally and socially, and the Irish were on the white side of that boundary.

        • xachariah says:

          The Irish were not seen as equal to ‘real’ whites for a period of history. That changed later. The Italians were not seen as equal to ‘real’ whites for a period of history. That changed later. The same happened with Poles, and Russians, and Jews, and every other immigrant group. Mexicans are still not seen as whites, interestingly. We have a ton of historical scholarship on this issue, and it’s not subject to controversy at all.

          It’s not that hard to confirm this, either: read some primary source material from the second half of the nineteenth century and you’ll see a ton of references to the Italian race, the Polish race, the Spanish race, the swarthy races, the Chinese race, the Irish race, the Welsh race, the French race, the German race etc. And yes, they did genuinely mean that these people were fundamentally different in ways that were not cultural, and not equal to the ‘real’ Anglo-Saxon whites.

          The article you link doesn’t refute that, it points out that they were classified as white in censuses. Which is important, absolutely. But it also obscures the fact that these peoples were still seen as distinct races in many, many primary sources.

          Note that this doesn’t mean they were seen as black. Black people were consistently placed at the bottom rung of the ladder, with every subsequent immigrant group automatically ranking above them. This had a bunch of interesting consequences following World War I and the great migration.

        • Emile says:

          Wulfrickson:

          For similar populations considered distinct races, the usual example is Irish-Americans, who were considered non-white for most of the nineteenth century despite being very genetically close to the English

          Note that Tom asked about “modern conceptions”, so this doesn’t really fit.

          I’m not just nitpicking – I liked Tom’s question because I would like to have examples of where my mental models are a bad match for reality. “How 19th century Americans may have considered the Irish” is of no use there.

        • JK says:

          @xachariah

          you’ll see a ton of references to the Italian race, the Polish race, the Spanish race

          Yes, they said ‘race’ when we would say ‘ethnicity’ or ‘nationality’, and they considered some varieties of Europeans better than others, but so what? All Europeans were considered white. The white race was not regarded as some undifferentiated mass but was divided into subraces or varieties.

          The article you link doesn’t refute that, it points out that they were classified as white in censuses. Which is important, absolutely. But it also obscures the fact that these peoples were still seen as distinct races in many, many primary sources.

          Uh, did you even read the article? It was about much more than census racial categories. Let me quote from the article:

          In stark contrast [to the black-white boundary], there was essentially no SEE-white boundary [SEE=Southern and Eastern Europeans]. Contrary to the arguments of many whiteness studies historians and the social scientists who have drawn on their work, we contend that wherever white was a meaningful category, SEEs were almost always included within it, even if they were simultaneously positioned below NWEs [=Northern and Western Europeans]. Some individuals and an occasional institution questioned—or appeared to question—the whiteness of SEEs and other Europeans, blurring the boundary in limited contexts. But the categorization of SEEs as nonwhite was neither widely recognized nor institutionalized. In fact, quite the opposite. Federal agencies including the census, the military, the immigration service, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and others all counted by race and placed SEEs firmly within the white category. No court ever denied Europeans the right to naturalize as free white persons at least in part because race scientists and the “common man” placed SEEs within the boundaries of whiteness. Furthermore, when SEEs saw Whites Only signs in movie theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, playgrounds, buses and streetcars, and at places of employment, they could—with near certainty—be confident that those signs were not meant to exclude them. Similarly, when housing covenants restricted the sale of homes to whites, when unions declared that their membership was restricted to white workers, when schools declared that their doors were open to white children only, and where marriage laws prohibited miscegenation, SEEs quickly learned that the category “white” included them, too.

          In other words, Southern and Eastern Europeans were considered white in all the everyday contexts where whiteness mattered. The fact that there may have been snide comments about their racial characteristics in newspapers or whatever is completely inconsequential next to this.

        • xachariah says:

          The use of ‘race’ in primary sources wasn’t “well they’re from another country”, like you suggest. It was genuinely “they’re fundamentally (often genetically) a different kind of people”. ‘Race’ in this context does indeed mean race — it just doesn’t mean “they’re black”. This is qualitatively different from how we approach nationality now, and you can’t really equate the two.

          Which is kind of the crux of the argument. Most of that article isn’t controversial, but it argues for a re-classification of race-based discrimination against non-Anglo Europeans. That it wasn’t white-non-white discrimination, but northern and western Europeans vs southern and eastern Europeans. Which is, I think, a fair point (and not one you’d see many people disagree with), but doesn’t mean that the concept of whiteness is not applicable here.

          The approach the article advocates treats the concept of white as a constant, context-free category over a period of 55 years rather than a context-reliant categorization tool that was used to create boundaries between different groups, whose acceptance shifted over time during those 55 years. When that categorization occurred in a context that had to account for blacks, southern and eastern Europeans were classified as white. The contrast between them and blacks was greater than that between them and Anglos. But when we’re talking about contexts where there was no black presence, the boundary between Anglos and non-Anglos became much more defined, and they suddenly didn’t find themselves to be seen as white. The article actually does a really good job of explaining this phenomenon with regard to Mexicans, so I’m slightly puzzled as to why it doesn’t make that distinction for intra-European discrimination.

        • JK says:

          The use of ‘race’ in primary sources wasn’t “well they’re from another country”, like you suggest. It was genuinely “they’re fundamentally (often genetically) a different kind of people”. ‘Race’ in this context does indeed mean race — it just doesn’t mean “they’re black”. This is qualitatively different from how we approach nationality now, and you can’t really equate the two.

          ‘Race’ in expressions like the “German race” or the “English race” was used to refer to ethnicities or (ethnic) nations, or, to borrow a modern dictionary definition, “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock.” European nationalities are of course biological categories in a sense (as confirmed by modern genomics), but they were never considered formal taxonomic categories. In old school physical anthropology, Europeans were divided into subraces like Alpines, Nordics, and Mediterraneans; they were not divided by nationality because (sub)racial types were believed to cut across nations.

          You write, sensibly:

          That it wasn’t white-non-white discrimination, but northern and western Europeans vs southern and eastern Europeans. Which is, I think, a fair point (and not one you’d see many people disagree with)

          But then you disagree with it yourself in the next paragraph:

          But when we’re talking about contexts where there was no black presence, the boundary between Anglos and non-Anglos became much more defined, and they suddenly didn’t find themselves to be seen as white.

          First you correctly say that the white/non-white dichotomy did not apply to intra-European-American conflicts, but then you claim, without evidence, that non-Anglos were seen as non-white in such conflicts.

          Race is a nested concept, and it’s always possible to slice a race into smaller subraces. But doing so does not destroy the unity that exist at the higher taxonomic level.

          The article actually does a really good job of explaining this phenomenon with regard to Mexicans, so I’m slightly puzzled as to why it doesn’t make that distinction for intra-European discrimination.

          That’s because intra-European discrimination wasn’t about white vs. non-white. Mexicans are a mixed population ranging from pure Europeans to pure Indians and everything in between so it’s not surprising that racial categorizations applied to them have been inconsistent.

        • xachariah says:

          The authors of the article insist on an application of whiteness that is context-insensitive. I don’t think that’s a viable approach, because elements of white/non-white discrimination also played a role in the discrimination of various groups that were in other contexts seen as white. At times that justification was explicitly used, at other times implicitly in imagery and stereotypes. The use of the term ‘race’ to refer to different groups was part of that: it represents the essentialist application of ethnic characteristics.

          I do think you have to be careful with how you apply the term white/non-white in these contexts, though, and you have to be clear about what you mean. If it is used to imply that the discrimination leveled against Irish or Italians was the same as the discrimination leveled against blacks, then that’s dangerous. If it’s used to show the context-dependent flexibility of the term/concept ‘white’, then that is generally fine.

          This is why I was puzzled by their disparate view of the situation of Mexicans and SEE. Sure, Mexicans probably faced more of this problem, but they pretend that the concept doesn’t apply at all to intra-European discrimination, and that is, imo, not correct.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It yields shit results, it has historically yielded shit results, and every indication we have suggests that it will continue to yield shit results. Genotype-phenotype distinction 4evar.

      I don’t buy this. It boils down to the claim that you could not tell, at a glance, that my wife’s ancestors came from Asia, and that mine did not. Furthermore, you’d have to claim that if she gave birth to a black kid, I wouldn’t be able to tell at a glance that s/he isn’t mine.

      Everybody can tell that she’s Asian, I’m white, and neither of us are black, and we can discern this with trivial effort.

  17. lmm says:

    I would expect people who deny the existence of race to already also deny the existence of culture. Don’t they?

    • MugaSofer says:

      I’m still considering this, and wouldn’t want to say something as general as “X doesn’t exist” or “X is wrong” yet.

      But intuitively, I would not be any less suspicious of his claims if you swapped the word “race” for “culture”. Or, perhaps, only a small bit less. They both pattern-match (perhaps wrongly) to the same failure mode.

  18. Chris says:

    Personally, I’m willing to take the ennobling position that the only mathematics that I need are the ones I already understand pretty well.

    As you mentioned with your health insurance example, it can be helpful to use math to clarify an argument, but this will always mean using comprehensible math, otherwise you’re defeating your own purpose.

    Eulering is obviously different, being an attempt to make incomprehensible math the basis of the argument. While I’ve no doubt this can be a fruitful method for making scientific progress, I don’t think there is ever a case where a layperson needs to understand it for a simple reason, complex statistical regressions and the like are never sufficient evidence to justify a belief (see Gelman’ & Loken’s garden of forking paths). To be justified it must be backed up with causal pathways and empirical evidence like predictive power, which is possible to evaluate without complex technical knowledge (or at the very least easier to parse criticisms of made by those with the knowledge).

    So my Euler defense is to ignore any argument based solely on math I don’t understand, and to treat it as corroborating evidence (weighted to expert consensus) when its part of a Diderot argument, while trying to use something like Feynman’s method above to parse the logical / empirical stuff.

    • William Newman says:

      “So my Euler defense is to ignore any argument based solely on math I don’t understand”

      Unfortunately, there are some important things that really are hard to straighten out without some math that is not universally understood. Consider arguments about overfitting. Without math, it is hard to express a strong opinion about how much we should be influenced by e.g. hindcasting a fit to a single artificially smoothed curve (something like a running average). Indeed, it seems to take math than most people are prepared to study. Admittedly honest informal intuitions about this can be basically correct and much better than nothing. (They can also be funny, like von Neumann’s remark about making an elephant wiggle its trunk.) But such intuition is not completely reliable under most circumstances, and appeals to such intuition tend to bog down badly in any discussion when any participant is engaging in motivated reasoning rather than honest curiosity. And the math required does not seem insanely hard, but it may be significant that historically it was surprisingly elusive: note how recent the dates are on things like “VC dimension”, and compare to the trippy obviously-much-harder things which were developed much earlier to analyze other problems. (E.g. bizarre twisted geometry of general relativity, or the peculiar mathematical constructions used to prove impossibility results like solubility of polynomials by radicals and Goedel’s theorems.)

      Somewhat similarly, at a lower level of math that was worked out earlier in history, I have heard it is hard to get the mass of ordinary professionals to think straight about simple few-variable inference problems. (Things like significant rates of false positives in tests for rare medical conditions.) Unless the conversation is somehow dragged up to the required modest level of math, the conversation may be limited to an intellectual analogue of pointing and gesticulating inarticulately: presenting telling examples and hoping that the person you’re communicating with will have the right intuitive leap and then go on to figure out how to apply that informal insight consistently.

  19. Kieran M says:

    Well again, just as with IQ, it sort of depends what you mean by “real”. As you say, I could draw a geographical line around a city, and take the mean, and say that people from the city are like that. And I’d be right on average, although there’d be a lot of variation. Similarly, I could split by people by the shade of their skin, or a particular genetic pattern they have, and take the mean, and I’d be right on average!

    I think culture and race are good parallels, because they are not terribly good predictors. They’re also incredibly correlated thanks to most Chinese people (which is a word which covers a lot of people) living in China, for instance. I could compare the power of culture and race by taking the mean of chinese Americans and comparing them to chinese Chinese.

  20. suntzuanime says:

    I think there is a sensible core to claims of “race doesn’t exist” and that’s to say that a layperson’s conception of “race” is so screwed up that it contributes a negative amount to their understanding of the world. Lay notions of “race” are very permeable, as has been noted upthread; it used to be that “white” didn’t include Irish and Italians, and now it goes so far as to include Hispanics and Asians, at least if they’ve recently shot somebody.

    If you want to be charitable to the “race doesn’t exist” people, you might say they’re using a heuristic that mostly works out well, and if a few legitimate population geneticists get caught up in it, it’s still worthwhile overall. If you want to be uncharitable, you might point out that a layperson’s understanding of, say, quantum mechanics also contributes negatively to their understanding of the world, but it would be ridiculous to consider quantum physics an illegitimate science because of this.

    I want to say it might be worth using a euphemism in place of “race” to try to avoid confusion, but I remember the race-realist crowd tried to rebrand as “human biodiversity” and all they accomplished was slandering the name of human biodiversity. As usual, the euphemism treadmill is inescapable.

  21. blacktrance says:

    Finally, a given person from Culture A may certainly be much more culturally similar to a given person from Culture B than they are to another Culture A member.

    I don’t know what you mean by “culture” if something like this is possible. If someone who was raised in a Culture-A-area by Culture-A-parents but is more similar to a person from Culture B, then they’re Culture B, not Culture A. If they’re more similar to a person from Culture B, then what is it that makes them Culture A?

    • kappa says:

      Allow me to Feynman: If a particular red ball has the same number, size, and distribution of spikes as a particular blue ball, what is it that makes the first one red?

      • Fronken says:

        But if “culture” is, like color, completely independent of the number, size, and distribution of spikes … why do we care about it?

      • blacktrance says:

        But culture is a collection of traits/behaviors, not just one defining feature. For example, someone could have most of the traits associated with a Midwesterner, but talk with a Southern accent. They’d be in the set of people who talk with a Southern accent, most of whom are culturally Southern in other ways too, but because culture is determined by multiple traits, they’d still be much more Midwestern than Southern.

        • kappa says:

          Alex from Culture A and Bela from Culture B might differ from one another completely along all the axes that differ between their cultures – broad categories of preferred food, absorbed folklore, language/dialect, whatever – while simultaneously both being fans of all the same media, interested in the same niche hobbies, have the same sexuality and neurotype and favourite colour and favourite ice cream flavour and preferred brand of computing device… I’d say that makes them more similar to each other than either would be to a person from their own culture who differed drastically on all those. But it doesn’t make Alex a B-culture person or Bela an A.

    • peterdjones says:

      Having that particular label placed on them by culture and convention.

    • nydwracu says:

      “Culture” is overloaded: the word can refer to cultural artifacts like media and music, to thedish identification, or to adherence to unspoken norms and possession of intuitive knowledge associated with geographical areas.

      Say you have two people, Johnny Dickweed and Tuomas Suksivittuun. They both drink vodka, listen to Korpiklanni, like cold weather, and watch whatever TV shows are necessary to make this work — but Johnny Dickweed will strike up a conversation with anyone he can, whereas Tuomas Suksivittuun is silent unless he’s thoroughly smashed. Same media and music, different unspoken norms. (And different thedish identification, of course.)

  22. David says:

    It is generally believed that we can talk about the United States as being made up of different cultures. […] We will probably never be able to agree on exactly how many cultures there are.

    You have read, I hope, American Nations by Colin Woodard, who puts that number at 11? (though admittedly he is including Canada and northern Mexico, and effectively ignoring the borders between those countries and the USA)

  23. Sam Rosen says:

    My “proves too much” strategy for the “there are more differences within groups than between groups” argument is asking people to compare 6 year olds to 7 year olds.

    There is obviously more variation within the category 6 year old (in height, in weight, in reading ability) than there is between the averages of 6 and 7 year olds.

    From this, no one would say, “age is meaningless” or “there are no differences on average between 6 and 7 year olds” or “maturity is a myth.”

  24. peppermint says:

    Regarding the placement of Australian Aborigines, the best that could be done in 1885 was http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_%28human_classification%29#mediaviewer/File:Meyers_b11_s0476a.jpg , which is based on skull shapes.

    As of 2008 it was possible to compare skull shapes with a 2-factor factor analysis of genomes: http://imgur.com/XXT4i.jpg

    Today we try to examine paths of human migration, literally asking the question of where they came from. AFAIK it’s still sort of unclear.

  25. Shmi Nux says:

    Scott, it’s nice to see you slowly slide from Eliezer’s physical realism toward instrumentalism (which can be expressed as “it’s models all the way down”). To an instrumentalist the question “Is X real?” is meaningless. The only question worth asking (because it’s the one which can actually be answered) is “Is [model] X accurate/useful/predictive?”. This works equally well whether X is race or gravity.

    • peterdjones says:

      If it’s models all the way down, who is making them?

      Rejection of naive realism doesn’t entail wholesale abandonment of realism. We may not be able to say what ultimately exists, in a mind independent way but the idea that nothing does is absurd. The third way, the compromise, is known as Kantianism.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      What? I can’t help but think here that you have misunderstood either Eliezer or Scott (though perhaps one of them can clarify). At the level of base reality there is a fact of the matter, but when you’re working at a high level you need to lose some information if you want to ever get anywhere, and you may need to make some arbitrary choices to do that. Obviously there are no metaphysical “race” tags hanging on people (as Eliezer would say); the question has always been to what extent the concept is useful as a high-level compression of the low-level reality, which is made up of genes and actions (or you could break it down further if you want). I’m really not seeing anything here that goes against physical realism or anything here that Eliezer would object to? Is this just because of the use of the word “real” or “exist”? I feel like it’s pretty clear what the question here is, and whether you use those words to describe it is not really relevant.

      • Alejandro says:

        What Shmi is saying (I hope, and if not, what I would say) is that even at the base level there is no “fact of the matter” in a stronger metaphysical sense than for higher level concepts. Suppose that we develop a complete physical theory that can predict anything from calculations including only e.g. quarks. This does not mean that there are “quark” tags hanging on anything any more than “race” tags! The territory is what it is, a vastly complex reality that we can describe at high level with maps using concepts like “race”, or at low level with maps using concepts like “quark”. Both of these maps are justified on basis of predictive ability and practical convenience, and asking “what is reality *really* made of?” is a misguided question (unless it means something practical like “can I break down quarks into smaller pieces?”)

        • peterdjones says:

          What shminux is saying, in the “writing words” sense of “saying”, is that it is “maps all the way down”, ie that there is no territory at all. You say that what shminux is saying in the “implicitly meaning” sense of saying is that there is a territory, but it is not pre labelled. That is a more defensible theory, but a less obvious interpretation of the words. Which is right I do not know.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        The thing is, those compression schema are often chosen based on what you want to accomplish.

        The question “is race real” can properly be answered one of three ways, depending on what you’re really asking:

        If you’re asking, “Can I assume that people’s skin color is a good enough proxy for an IQ test that I can use it instead when I want to hire people?”, the answer is “no, probably not, except in a few weird edge cases.”

        If you’re asking, “Can I use skin color to influence what sorts of diagnostic tests I should perform on someone when checking for particular diseases?”, the answer is “yes, definitely, but it’ll be a bit lossy.”

        If you’re asking, “Can I use skin color to decide whether to exterminate or enslave people?”, the answer is “Fuck you, you fucking fuck.”

        A lot of the back-and-forth that goes on with the HBD crowd looks like motte-and-bailey tactics between these three questions, where *both* sides agree on #2, Progressives tend to try sneaking in a somewhat-bad answer to #1, and Neoreactionaries tend to try sneaking in a terrible answer to #3.

  26. Fronken says:

    I just want to disavow any responsibility for this metaphor, if possible. It kind of got away from me:

    I think everyone agrees that there are memetic clusters, and that these are entangled with a bunch of other things. We can call these broad memetic classifications “cultures”, for clarity.

    If I meet a person who (I judge to be from) the “Southern” culture, then obviously I would be unjustified in assuming they were racist – but in aggregate, the somewhat higher tendency to racism *might* exist. (Or it might not – we should test this, not assume.)

    Southerners might tend to be poor, and poor people tend to become more racist (1). Southerners might tend to live in the sunny South, and become racist as a result of heatstroke (2). Southerners might be racist as a result of a passing fashion among their cultural elite (3). There might be something about a Southern upbringing that makes people racist (4).

    Now, if I need to make predictions about the course of Southern racism over time, then hypotheses 1, 2, and 4 are for my purposes indistinguishable. I might construct a causal graph separating “culture” and “fashion”, and it would serve perfectly well for my purposes. If I generate a new hypothesis (5) then I can now sort it into one of these two categories, rather than attempting to test it directly.

    Now, suppose I wish to make predictions regarding Southern *upbringing*, specifically. Perhaps large numbers of Southerners have moved to my state. Perhaps I am a scientist, who is interested in understanding how memetics varies between cultures.

    Drawing on my useful causal graph from earlier, I might declare that either it is a result of “fashion” or “culture”. Examining Southern history, I might (hypothetically) find that they have been very racist for generations. It is indisputable that Southern racism is cultural.

    But, of course, I would not have actually understood Southern memes. In fact, I have not answered my question at all! By leaping to the readily-available idea of “culture”, I have only succeeded in confusing myself.

    Instead, the correct solution is to invent a *new* concept – call it “culter” [thanks, Toby Bartels!] “Culter” refers strictly to the memetic component of “culture”. This has much more predictive power, but is of course harder to examine directly. We might use both concepts independently, and keep or abandon them (and any implicit assumptions) independently of each other.

    Culters are at least vaguely “real”. Are cultures?What is the difference between these two questions?

  27. aretae says:

    Well said. Aside re Racism:
    That’s completely a history thing, and coupled with bad Lincoln/civil war narratives.

    In my experience, participating in a bi-racial marriage for more than a decade, with mixed kids, and having lived all over the country…the old North/Union is the most racist part of the country, and it’s not close. The midwest is uniformly far worse for race issues than anywhere I’ve been in the south. Houston is far better on race than, say, Berkeley or Chicago, or anywhere else in the US that I’ve been. I tend to think: Southwest (incl Texas), then South, then West, then Northeast and Midwest at the worst racist areas of the country….

    More…when whiteboy me talks to other black folks about our shared experie
    nce of racism, they basically all agree with me. The entire rest of the country is better than the Northeast/Midwest, with the south being probably the best on race, from direct experience.

    • Wulfrickson says:

      More anecdata: One of my best friends is from North Carolina and attends college in the Northeast (he’s also white, FWIW). He thinks that the North is more racist than the South, and cited the specific reason that he hears jokes about racial stereotypes much more frequently in the North. The reason is probably similar to the reason that Germans don’t tell jokes about Jews.

      I’d speculate that urban and rural Southerners probably differ substantially in racial attitudes, but I don’t have much personal experience with the matter and haven’t looked at any relevant research.

      • aretae says:

        Re: urban/rural

        Best 3 places I’ve ever been for racial acceptance/ unconscious lack of reaction to racial differences and race mixing are:

        All over Houston
        Urban Atlanta
        Rural North Carolina (Wilkes/Boone area)

        Worst personal race experiences:
        Chicago
        generic midwest.
        I’ve also been told that rural Atlanta is pretty bad, though not as bad as Chicago.

  28. Luke says:

    How do you have time and energy to write so much great stuff while also working a plausibly soul-crushing job amidst so much slow decay?

    Re: race. Wade’s 5th chapter is a pretty succinct, modern case for the biological existence of race, though it’s not the strongest case that could be made. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a similarly succinct and forceful case for the non-existence of race, but it’d be nice to see one.

    One interesting comparison question is “Do dog breeds exist?” And to pick a sub-question: How much variation is among individual dogs vs. populations of dogs?

    As for humans, Wade notes that “85% of human variation is among individuals and 15% between populations,” as Lewontin famously said.

    So how significant is 15%? Rather than comparing this “fixation index” to the fixation index of other species and subspecies such as dogs, Wade instead quotes a single expert:

    Sewall Wright, an eminent population geneticist, said that a fixation index of 5% to 15% indicates “moderate genetic differentiation” and that even with an index of 5% or less, “differentiation is by no means negligible.” If differences of 10 to 15% were seen in any other than the human species they would be called subspecies, in Wright’s view.

    Why should Wright’s judgment that a fixation index of 15% between races is significant be preferred over Lewontin’s assertion that it is negligible? Three reasons: (1) Wright was one of the three founders of population genetics, the relevant discipline; (2) Wright invented the fixation index, which is named after him; (3) Wright, unlike Lewontin, had no political stake in the issue.

    IIRC our best estimate for the fixation index for Canis lupus familiaris is 25%, though I couldn’t easily find the source where I remember reading that. And at a glance, it does seem like dog breeds are more distinct than human races are.

    • Adam Casey says:

      And at a glance, it does seem like dog breeds are more distinct than human races are.

      Surely that’s expected. If I walked down the street and saw someone as different from me as a great dane is from a chiwawa I would be deeply worried.

    • ozymandias says:

      Pedigree dog breeds are often incredibly inbred and thus very related to each other, far more so than humans.

  29. Noumenon72 says:

    I majored in math so I get that Feynman is trying to do some kind of translation of one function into an equivalent one, isomorphic or something like that, but it seems like it will end up being just an analogy.

  30. Emile says:

    As an alternative to Feynmanning, how about asking your interlocutor to help you understand his maths? Breaking down steps in the argument, explaining concepts in more understandable terms, using simpler examples for explaining some parts, etc.

    In terms of increasing difficulty: following a formal/mathematical explanation; understanding a formal/mathematical argument; making a formal/mathematical argument.

  31. Matthew O says:

    It seems to me that the idea of “race” does the work of starting with an easy-to-identify AND hard-to-fake surface phenotype (such as, let’s say…facial bone structure, or height) and from there extrapolating statistically towards a hard-to-identify characteristic of interest (such as IQ).

    Where race could potentially be useful is in situations where you NEED to be prejudiced — that is, in situations where you HAVE to pre-judge, where do not have the time or the tools to learn more about a stranger whom you meet just then, and you HAVE to decide on how to relate to that stranger based on very poor information (such as surface appearance).

    We might contrast this with situations where prejudice is sub-optimal — where you do have the tools and the time to gather more information about a person to make a much more informed decision about that individual.

    A situation warranting prejudice: you are a medieval merchant crossing the Sahara Desert with your camels and expensive gold jewelry. You see a stranger approaching you. You do not know anything about this stranger except for what you can see about that person. What do you do? Brandish your weapon? Flee? Wave hello? Keep in mind that trying to obtain more information from the stranger about himself would itself be a signal, and possibly the wrong one. Can you afford to afford to transmit such a signal of open curiosity? Or should you immediately brandish your weapon?

    A situation NOT warranting prejudice: a job interview. Suppose that you have an African-American male sitting in front of you. He has just taken an extensive battery of tests measuring personality, IQ, and you have his resume in front of you. In this case, it would be silly to say to yourself, “On average, people whose ancestors came from Africa have more anti-social personalities, lower IQs, and lower academic preparation,” EVEN IF that were true, because you have much more specifically-tailored information about this individual right here in front of you. You don’t have to speculate about this person’s personality, IQ, or academic training. All of the statistical averages are irrelevant in the context of having better information, which you have. Just make your decision based on this individual information and consider this “easy mode” compared to the “hard mode” of being a caravan merchant being approached by a strange, fierce-looking nomad.

    Now, let’s to back to the situations that warrant prejudice. In order to make a good pre-judgment, you still need to be sure of the correlation between the hard-to-fake surface signal and the unknown characteristic of interest. This requires three things:
    1. That the variations in the surface signal are easy to identify. It would do you no good as a caravan merchant facing down this stranger to know that there was a very strong correlation between tall people and aggression IF the normal range of height among adult males were only 5’8″ to 5’10” because it would be hard to tell from a distance, “Is that guy 5’8″?” (in which case, no worries), “Or is he 5’10”?” (in which case, run for your life!)
    2. That the variations in the surface signal can’t be easily faked. If two-inch platform shoes are readily available and easy to wear and hard to detect, allowing a docile 5’8″ guy to masquerade as a fierce 5’10” guy, then one could intimidate Sahara merchants into giving up all their gold, such that all of the nomads will be wearing those platform shoes, making the height signal even more worthless for pre-judging.
    3. That the correlation between the observed surface signal and the unknown characteristic is a strong one, preferably based on actual data gathered by grad-student surveys rather than urban legends about fierce 5’10” nomads (although in the absence of grad student surveys, urban legends are better data than nothing. But when grad student surveys exist and are readily accesible on the internet, you have no excuse for basing your pre-judgments on sub-standard data).

    Note that, for the purposes of pre-judging my encounter with this desert nomad, I don’t care what causes the correlation between, let’s say, height and aggressive armed robbery. Whether greater height makes the heart pump harder, which makes people irritable and more likely to commit armed robbery, or whether past instances of armed robbery increases testosterone which then makes someone taller, or whether there is some third factor causing both, such as the fact that there is a nearby civilization called “Atlantis” that both encourages armed desert robbery and also happens to practice eugenic selection for height for totally unrelated reasons (in which case you could say that the association between height and desert robbery is a “social construct” that would disappear if the Atlantis civilization were to disappear or change)….it doesn’t matter for the purposes of the caravan merchant having to make the pre-judgment.

    Now, let’s take pre-judgment based on skin color and see how it fares based on the above three criteria.
    1. There is a wide variation of skin color among humans. While there will always be edge cases, it’s a lot easier to distinguish between a person with peach skin and a person with Wesley Snipes skin than it is to distinguish between a 5’8″ person and a 5’10” person, all other things being equal.
    2. In pre-modern times, skin color was difficult to fake. Nowadays, we have tanning salons, skin bronzing sprays, and skin bleaching, though, so it is not as reliable of a surface indicator as it once was. (Note that when most people say that someone looks “black” or “white,” they are not really just going off of skin color, but also facial bone structure, hair color/texture, and/or other cues, because a “white person” dressing in blackface would fool very few people).
    3. Now, the REAL question is, what hidden characteristics have racists historically been trying to uncover by extrapolating from skin color? Here are some (not mutually-exclusive) possibilities in various contexts:
    A. Whether a person (perhaps a runaway) was the legal property of someone. (Skin color would have provided a strong, albeit not ironclad correlation (could be a free black)…whether ironclad enough for the law would depend on the locality).
    B. Whether people with social power in that society would be okay with treating that person badly. (In the case of blacks, yes, most other whites would recognize them as “black” and be okay with treating them badly…except once the abolition movement got going. Then that pre-judgment no longer held so sure…)
    C. Whether a person would be violent if given freedom. Southerners made a notoriously inaccurate pre-judgment in this case when they forecasted that freeing blacks would cause a bloodbath due to ex-slaves taking revenge on whites after the Civil War. No such bloodbath happened. No such correlation there. A fair pre-judgment to be interested in making, but a very poor execution of it.

    Nowadays, if I am walking down a street at night (similar to the caravan merchant), and I see a black man up ahead of me, or a white man, it might be good for me to know the statistics of the violent crime rates of white and black men so that I can pre-judge and take more or fewer precautions accordingly…REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THE CAUSES FOR THOSE STATISTICS ARE GENETIC OR FROM SOCIETAL RACISM. As a social reformer, I could care about what was causing various trends in violence (whether genetic “race” or social-construction of “race”, but as a private citizen not wanting to be mugged by either whites or blacks, I don’t care what the causes are. I just want to know my chances. And for those purposes “race” could be a very real concept, IF there were a marked difference in violent crime rates between whites and blacks, FOR WHATEVER REASON.

    • Jaskologist says:

      A situation NOT warranting prejudice: a job interview. Suppose that you have an African-American male sitting in front of you. He has just taken an extensive battery of tests measuring personality, IQ, and you have his resume in front of you.

      The wrinkle here is that requiring IQ tests for employment is of questionable legality (or at least murky enough that most non-legal experts would rather stay clear of it than open themselves up to the liability). So the interviewer doesn’t have an actual IQ test; the usual fallback is to look at credentials and where they went to school.

      Of course, if he knows that the applicant is of a race that universities lower their standards for, those credentials probably get downgraded in his mind, and we’re finding ourselves pretty close to Situation 1 again.

    • The Lack of a Name says:

      I definitely agree with the idea behind this. However, I slightly disagree with the last example. Maybe blacks have a higher rate of violent crime than whites, and perhaps you don’t need to know the causes – but if, say, low-income blacks (or blacks in a low-income neighborhood, which is easier to tell) have the same rate of violent crime as low-income whites, and the apparent difference is due to higher poverty rates, then the overall statistics are worthless. You have to get the relevant statistics, because otherwise you’re going to be using false assumptions.

      • Matthew O says:

        The only problem I see with trying to pay attention to “income” rather than “skin color” when pre-judging someone is, income is not as easily discernible and can more easily be faked. If you say to yourself, “Poor whites are just as violent as poor blacks, so I’m just going to avoid poor-looking people on the street rather than pre-judge based on skin color,” then you have to be sure that you can pick out the poor people as easily as you can pick out the darker-skinned people on the street.

        Which…yeah…it seems like one can usually tell about how much a person makes based on his/her style and manners. Dirty rags = poor. Conspicuous bling bling = only slightly less poor. Lack of middle-class restraint in manners = poor.

        Any sort of manners or dress that conveys the sense of “I’m from a subculture where people are desperate and will rip you apart tooth and claw unless you project toughness and high status” = poor.

        Any sort of manners or dress that conveys the sense of “I’m from a subculture where people are well-off and satisfied and not desperate to prey upon the weak and low status, so I can afford to look unthreatening / unassuming” = not poor. So, effete polo shirts = not poor. (More often than not).

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Whether a person would be violent if given freedom. Southerners made a notoriously inaccurate pre-judgment in this case when they forecasted that freeing blacks would cause a bloodbath due to ex-slaves taking revenge on whites after the Civil War. No such bloodbath happened.

      I dunno, the state of violence in majority black communities seems to approach bloodbath levels in some areas of the US, though not based on revenge. I suppose the Southerners didn’t anticipate how easy it would be for whites to avoid said bloodbaths via official and unofficial segregation. Most white Americans claim to oppose segregation but their actions (where they actually choose to live) beg to differ.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        You know, this has been repeated often enough on this blog, with very little variation, and with such a tenuous flow from the posts that preceed it, that it really just sounds like grasping at this point.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          How is this tenuous? And I don’t recall making a comment similar to this one on this blog. I’m pretty sure I’ve never cited that map before. Have you clicked on it? If I didn’t tell you when it was made you would have probably guessed sometime during the peak of segregation. Most white Americans might claim to not judge people based on race, but they predictably run away from communities with high numbers of blacks (especially rich whites) leaving them to rot with few resources.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Most white Americans might claim to not judge people based on race, but they predictably run away from communities with high numbers of blacks (especially rich whites) leaving them to rot with few resources.

          Obvious solution: find a way to expropriate the white-flighters, with the money going back directly to the community under democratic oversight.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          @Multiheaded

          Indeed, though that is very difficult politically. It seems like the lobbying groups with the most money get their way usually, but I’m not very knowledgable about US politics.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Indeed, though that is very difficult politically.

          ☭☭☭☭☭

          It seems like the lobbying groups with the most money get their way usually

          ☭☭☭☭☭

        • Matthew says:

          Actually-existing socialism did not, in fact, manage to dispense with either racism or (informal) lobbies. If you grew up in the Soviet Union, you are presumably aware of that.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        > How is this tenuous?

        I’m going to invoke Poe’s Law for the sake of charity, and assume that you’re actually asking this question and not just being… man I don’t even know what.

        “Southerners made a notoriously inaccurate pre-judgment in this case when they forecasted that freeing blacks would cause a bloodbath due to ex-slaves taking revenge on whites after the Civil War. No such bloodbath happened.”

        This is clearly talking about the people who were alive at the end of the civil war, not people 150 years later, whereas

        the state of violence in majority black communities seems to approach bloodbath levels in some areas of the US

        is obviously talking about people 150 years later as if they were a direct realization of the fears of those (now long-dead) people. How is that NOT tenuous?

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          as if they were a direct realization of the fears of those (now long dead) people

          Not what I said nor intended.

          Why are you making a selective demand for rigor in how I respond to comments? Tangential comments (and I dispute that my comment was significantly tangential to the main point of the parent) are well within the social norms here are they not?

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Okay, so meta-level query:

          When someone calls me out on a weird technicality for rules lawyering, how do I know which one of us was actually rules-lawyering?

  32. rich says:

    The underlying argument here seems at risk of ending up commiting to the reality of the mountains of Florida.

    You can crawl over any piece of land, and measure it with an accuracy that means you don’t even need statistics to detect the bumps. And certainly the fact that those bumps have indeterminate edges, and overlap, doesn’t mean they are not real. It’s just they are bumps, not mountains.

    Because mountains actually are a thing; there just are none in Florida.

    To continune the D&D chat, races are orcs and dwarves and elves. Magc aside, they could exist; plenty of other species have populations distinct enough that reproductive fitness goes down when they interbreed. Not every liger is sterile, but they generally are not going to be winning any parent of the year awards.

    The scientific concensus used to be that humans races existed in that sense, which is why mixed-race marriages were illegal for half of last century. Now it is that they don’t; humans are more or less the second least genetically diverse mammal (after cheetahs, who are basically one extended familiy about the size of the Hapsburgs).

    I suppose it’s a matter of taste whether you want to overload a word for a commonly-believed in thing that logically could exist to mean something else. Might seem stupid, but maybe it annoys someone you want to annoy or something.

    But be careful not to book a ski trip in the mountains of Florida.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Isn’t “breed” what we usually call distinct populations in animals? I don’t think the word “race” risks being overloaded because it’s basically only used for people. We don’t talk about Irish Setters as a race; we don’t talk about Irishmen as a breed (well, sometimes metaphorically we do, and if you want to argue we shouldn’t you’re on stronger ground there).

      • rich says:

        ‘ because it’s basically only used for people’

        A quick google will find you thousands of examples of terms like ‘Klingon race’.

        If all members of a category are fictional, or based on delusional claims, it would be usual to say that thing doesn’t exist.

        So ‘vampires don’t exist’ is true.

        You can’t disprove that by carefully measuring skin tone and degree of nocturnality and applying math.

        And you certainly shouldn’t go round staking the outliers.

  33. ishi says:

    This is an interesting thread, though since i skimmed it i am not totally sure I know what is being said. (There is also a discussion of Wade’s book in Science mag now, and also on something called the Unz review or report online, which also links to some sortuh white supremacist websites–vdare, HBD etc. ), I think I agree with the original post, and the comments by ialdaboat and eli at the beginning.

    (The 2nd comment or so, referencing Linda Gottfredson of U Delaware (if i recall),
    i’d just say Gottfriendson knows some data and statstics, but a correlation is not a cause. I see her views, like much of behavioral genetics (eg the journal of that name, Am J Psychiatry, Intelligence, J P Rushton, K Kendler etc) as somewhat ‘Newtonian’ (to use an analogy) . They think they have figured all of physics or behavior out—‘all we need is the initial conditions (eg environment) and then we’ll plug them into our equations and solve the problem of predicting the entire future of the universe, humanity, humynity, humilty, and empathy’. But following Newton it turned out you had the photoelectric effect, planck distribution, and quantum mechanics. So, I don’t trust her research apart from what it is—data collection).)

    (As an aside, U Delaware had a very good physicist (E.S Kerner, who was a student of Feynman) who wrote on eveything from ‘Gibbs ensemble, biological ensemble’ (math bio) to early variants of VSL (varying light speed cosmology)—i guess he didn’t partake of the the local drink (the kool aid) provided by Dupont)..

    Regarding ‘Eulering’ (and its maybe 50% there if you read outside of standard population/behavioral genetics) one can remember norbert weiner said something like ‘if you give me 4 parameters, i can make your data into an elephant, and if you give me one more, i can make its ears wiggle’. (Feynman was in my opinion much closer to the ‘truth’ —-he did say ‘if i could explain QED to a laymen, i wouldn’t have a Noble Prize nor a job at Caltech’ but his ‘lectures in physics’ (which were essentially a banned book in my quantum mechanics classes) explained a whole lot more than some of the standards text we used (much of which were about things like harmonic analyses (sperical polynomials, etc., ) used to find solutions to the schrondinger equation) ) . (My prof of quantum theory thought stuff like ‘bell’s theorem’ (EPR, etc.) were of no interest, except to dilletants and cranks (though even einstein, schrodinger, and others thought they were worth thinking about even if only as a thought (or gezanken (sic) ) experiment (like the ones einstein did when trying to see through a photon’s eyes —-i wonder why i wonder why i wonder why i wonder what race photons are—are they white (like white light, white heat’ (song by lou reed and velvet underground) or is there a spectrum of colors, like other (mathematical) groups exhibit (see George Mackey, on wikipedia).

    I’ve been to Florida (one to a conference on ‘quantum biology’ in Tallasaheee; i also noticed they had the magic mushrooms growing in the cow pastures around there; Paul Dirac once taught there, and Jack Cowan (u chicago, neuroscience/math bio) gave a talk on symmetry breaking in the nrain (explaining why hallucinations, art, escher patterns etc are basically invariants due to the logic of neural nets. I mentioned some similar work from Canada, and he said ‘that guy just knows one math technique (a variant of quantum field theory) and applys it everywhere’ though i notice it seems he is now using more or less the same formalism.

    I am not sure if Rich has been to Florida, but I lead mountaineering tours there. (They are free, apart from shipping and handling costs—but they are very selective, and you need a whole lot of ice picks and climbing equipment; which means it requires that you pay 99% of your wealth and income if you are a member of the 1%). (I went to a demo for michael brown of missouri yesterday, amusing and interesting).

    Regarding race, in simple terms (remembering Feynman (see the lesswrong blog on heisenberg’s uncertainty principle if i recall), as has been pointed out above you can cut the pie (or cluster—i used to do clustering algorithms for RNA ) in many ways. Alot of it is conventions. I gather since i haven’t read it and may not half of Wade’s book is based on really bad (or totally subjective) clusters. So thats politics or religion—having belief in your faith. (a la Lob’s theorem).

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  35. Well-Manicured-Bug says:

    This should be one of the worst articles I’ve seen here. It’s one thing to identify races for social scientific reasons, admit that it’s pretty arbitrary, and go ahead and make predictions with it anyway, just like people do with culture, nationality, or state. It’s another thing to claim that race is a biological phenomena, without really proving it, and then attributing high-level differences between people in various places in the world to their genes. In other words, it’s one thing to say that Italians are pretty fucking violent, so don’t go anywhere near them. It’s another thing to say that therefore Italians are genetically predisposed to organized crime. Similarly it’s one thing to say that the Chinese are generally collectivist. It’s another thing to claim that the Chinese are more collectivist than other people due to their genes, when you can’t even define them this way.

  36. JayMan says:

    It is generally believed that we can talk about the United States as being made up of different cultures. For example, Southern seems to be a culture. Midwestern seems to be another culture. Yankees are probably a third, and the West gets a fourth.

    There’s more than that. I covered that one as well. See:

    Flags of the American Nations | JayMan’s Blog

    and

    Maps of the American Nations | JayMan’s Blog

    and

    More Maps of the American Nations | JayMan’s Blog

  37. “whether you are allowed to make claims like “Asians are genetically more collectivist than white people”

    The words “allowed” leads to confusion, referring to a criterion that might not be obvious. Maybe better:

    “whether it is meaningful to make claims like “Asians are genetically more collectivist than white people”