Furthest Right

The biological basis of race

I know, I know… if you want to be one of the popular kids, you insist that everyone is equal, we all want the same things, and we all have inalienable rights and we’re all OK.

If you’re a realist, you know that people are different, have different abilities, and some are born bad and some are born good, and that all categories get fuzzy around the edges but still apply.

Then you run into the modern dogma that race is a “social construct,” or has no basis in biology. As you remember from biology class, your genotype or genetic makeup determines your phenotype or the traits that show up in you. Obviously, then, consistent differences between people have some root in genetics.

But thanks to those who want to be the popular kids, that’s not what you’re hearing from the multibillion dollar media sources of your government and your mainstream media.

However, some information has sneaked through the cracks and so I’m compiling it here. The purpose of this post is not to affirm racism, superiority or inferiority, or any of that jazz; its only purpose is to point out that race does have a biological construct, and because all traits originate in genetic information, it’s insane to insist any consistent difference in appearance, behavior or biological process has anything but a genetic basis.

Let’s begin.

Recent research has produced a surprise, however. Population geneticists expected to find dramatic differences as they got a look at the full genomes — about 25,000 genes — of people of widely varying ethnic and geographic backgrounds. Specifically, they expected to find that many ethnic groups would have derived alleles that their members shared but that were uncommon or nonexistent in other groups. Each regional, ethnic group or latitude was thought to have a genomic “signature” — the record of its recent evolution through natural selection.

All of Earth’s people, according to a new analysis of the genomes of 53 populations, fall into just three genetic groups. They are the products of the first and most important journey our species made — the walk out of Africa about 70,000 years ago by a small fraction of ancestral Homo sapiens.

One group is the African. It contains the descendants of the original humans who emerged in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. The second is the Eurasian, encompassing the natives of Europe, the Middle East and Southwest Asia (east to about Pakistan). The third is the East Asian, the inhabitants of Asia, Japan and Southeast Asia, and — thanks to the Bering Land Bridge and island-hopping in the South Pacific — of the Americas and Oceania as well.

Washington Post

The writer injects a certain amount of political correctness into the article, so I reversed the order of the three paragraphs above. The point is this: we can trace the history of evolution through genes, and it shows us three groups which have small but crucial differences caused by “genetic drift” — in this case, the traits kept by being successful in the different areas to which these new populations adapted.

Geneticists are uncovering another level of human ethnic diversity: It may not be which genes we have so much as the way they behave that accounts for our differences. Using the International HapMap Project, which catalogs human gene variants across populations, University of Pennsylvania researchers Vivian Cheung and Richard Spielman first collected the gene sequences of a particular white blood cell from 82 Asians and 60 people of European descent. Then, using microarray chips, they measured expression levels of those genes.

What they found was surprising: Although which genes were present didn’t differ dramatically between the Asians and the Europeans, their expression did. And that expression was governed by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)—one-letter changes in DNA­—in nearby regulator regions that determine how much of a gene’s product is made. Overall, 25 percent of the genes seem to show different levels of expression in Asians versus Europeans, and SNPs in regulatory regions probably account for much of the difference. In the case of one gene, researchers found that Caucasians expressed it at 22 times the strength that Asians did.


I quote this article first for two reasons: first, it shows the clear differences in genetics; second, it shows that we’re not looking for a race gene, or identical genetics; we’re looking for genetic coding that expresses what goes into the organism.

As the article points out, the differences weren’t dramatic — but they occurred in crucial areas, just like the difference between the computer code for a word processor and a database program is mostly the same, but has important details changed. It’s like saying to person A “Take ten of these red pills, and five of the green, after each meal” and to person B “Take five of these red pills, and ten of the green, before each meal” — small but vitally different instructions.

And lest you missed it:

25 percent of the genes seem to show different levels of expression in Asians versus Europeans

One quarter of the instructions you give to person A and person B are substantially different, although both involve red pills and green pills.

Next up, a neat cascade by Steve Hsu, who fired off one of the more recent salvos in this fight by pointing out the obvious:

We were told long ago that there is no scientific basis for race. Yet, it would be surprising if the distribution of individual genes were the same in all ethnic groups, with their different evolutionary histories of the last tens of thousands of years. In fact, mtDNA tests can readily identify which of a few dozen matrilineal lines any modern human belongs to. Each of these lines can in turn be traced to certain geographical regions to which early humans migrated from Africa, and correspond reasonably well to conventional racial categories.

Researchers last week described a new drug, called BiDil, that sharply reduces death from heart disease among African-Americans. …But not everyone is cheering unreservedly. Many people, including some African-Americans, have long been uneasy with the concept of race-based medicine, in part from fear that it may legitimize less benign ideas about race.

…The emergence of BiDil, described last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, is a sharp reality test for an academic debate about race and medicine that has long occupied the pages of medical journals. Is there a biological basis for race? If there is not, as many social scientists and others argue, how can a drug like BiDil work so well in one race?

…This month, in a special issue on race published by the journal Nature Genetics, several geneticists wrote that people can generally be assigned to their continent of origin on the basis of their DNA, and that these broad geographical regions correspond to self-identified racial categories, such as African, East Asian, European and Native American. Race, in other words, does have a genetic basis, in their view.

…Some African-Americans fear that if doctors start to make diagnoses by race, then some in the public may see that as a basis for imputing behavioral traits as well. ”If you think in terms of taxonomies of race, you will make the dangerous conclusion that race will explain violence,” says Dr. Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University.



I like how he excerpts the vital parts of this article. But the point is clear, and this article was the first mention of it in the public eye: the races are biologically different, e.g. in homeostatic process, not just bone density, skull/facial shape, skin color, hair type, etc.

But now we’re looking at it as biology as well:

But several other geneticists writing in the same issue of the journal say the human family tree is divided into branches that correspond to the ancestral populations of each major continent, and that these branches coincide with the popular notion of race. “The emerging picture is that populations do, generally, cluster by broad geographic regions that correspond with common racial classification (Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, Americas),” say Dr. Sarah A. Tishkoff of the University of Maryland and Dr. Kenneth K. Kidd of Yale.

Although there is not much genetic variation between the populations of each continent, write Dr. Joanna L. Mountain and Dr. Neil Risch of Stanford University, new data “coincide closely with groups defined by self-identified race or continental ancestry.” The data is based on DNA elements outside the genes with no bearing on the body’s physical form.

The pattern reflects the fact that once humans dispersed from Africa, the populations on each continent started breeding in isolation and developing their own set of genetic variations.


“Not much” is somewhat arbitrary. Just as one percent of a computer program being changed could cause it to act radically differently, even a tenth of a percent of our DNA being different could create different results. Even more, DNA is not linear, so a single difference in a key place makes it operate differently. So when scientists bandy about terms like us being 90% similar to chimpanzees, or 99% similar between ethnic groups, keep in mind that those figures understate how radically different the results can be.

Forensic experts are increasingly relying on DNA as “a genetic eyewitness,” says Jack Ballantyne, associate director for research at the National Center for Forensic Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who is studying whether a DNA sample can reveal a person’s age.

The push to predict physical features from genetic material is known as DNA forensic phenotyping, and it’s already helped crack some difficult investigations. In 2004, police caught a Louisiana serial killer who eyewitnesses had suggested was white, but whose crime-scene DNA suggested — correctly — that he was black. Britain’s forensic service uses a similar “ethnic inference” test to trace murderers and rapists.

In 2007, a DNA test based on 34 genetic biomarkers developed by Christopher Phillips, a forensic geneticist at the University of Santiago de Compostelo in Spain, indicated that one of the suspects associated with the Madrid bombings was of North African origin. His body was mostly destroyed in an explosion. Using other clues, police later confirmed he had been an Algerian, thereby validating the test results.

Worried about the ethical and social challenges, Germany doesn’t permit the forensic use of DNA to infer ethnicity or physical traits. Nor do a handful of U.S. states, including Indiana, Wyoming and Rhode Island. The U.K. and the Netherlands allow it.

DNA-based racial profiling “has to be used carefully,” especially in a diverse country like America, says Bert-Jaap Koops of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who has studied the regulatory picture in different countries. “Some people could make connections between race, crime and genetic disposition” and thereby encourage stigmatization.


A small amount makes a big difference. And by reading that genetic history, we can tell where something evolved and, increasingly, what its traits are.

Biologists have constructed a genetic map of Europe showing the degree of relatedness between its various populations.

All the populations are quite similar, but the differences are sufficient that it should be possible to devise a forensic test to tell which country in Europe an individual probably comes from, said Manfred Kayser, a geneticist at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The genetic map of Europe bears a clear structural similarity to the geographic map. The major genetic differences are between populations of the north and south (the vertical axis of the map shows north-south differences, the horizontal axis those of east-west). The area assigned to each population reflects the amount of genetic variation in it.


Not only can we tell that races have different homeostatic processes, but we can tell them apart — and ethnicities too, including ancient ones.

That’s a big blow to the idea that there’s no ethnic component to race. Starting about 1968, it became taboo to note differences between races; if you did, you got called a bumpkin, a redneck, an uneducated hick, and people assumed you did it because you had no money and hated society. This kind of groupthink is never healthy, and it’s thoroughly opposed to everything that science is supposed to stand for, but if you’re a scientist looking for grant money and to further his own career, you’re not going to take on an unpopular issue.

During the 1990s, this hysteria peaked and we had common statements like: there’s more difference between individuals of the same race than between individuals of different races, we’re 99% similar, race is a social construct, and so on.

2. Race has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.

5. Most variation is within, not between, “races.” Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.

9. Race isn’t biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.


Note how they have to fall into bad science: Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race. But race has always been assumed to be a collection of traits; it’s only anti-racists that refer to it as a difference in skin color.

Gradually, this view has fallen into panicked disrepair as science has assaulted it, starting with The Bell Curve and then The Blank Slate, showing that for every ability we have, there’s a gene, and that collections of genes make races and ethnicities, even class distinctions. This upsets people who want equality and an end to all strife, because lack of equality means strife and possibly that someone will interrupt them doing whatever they want to do.

Here’s a great assault on these scientific fallacies:

Once one accepts that genetic information clusters people together according to geography and that these clusters sometimes correspond to race, the next question is, do these genetic differences add up to phenotypic differences? The answer to this question is slowly emerging, and in the shadows I see the outline of a “YES”.

All of the studies I will cite are based on the HapMap, a resource with genetic data as well as cell lines for individuals from four populations– one of Western European ancestry, an Nigerian population, a Chinese population, and a Japanese population. Does the Nigerian population represent all populations in the African cluster, or the European population represent all the populations in the Eurasian cluster? Of course not, but analyzing them certainly gives an insight as to what makes one population different from any other.

First, the genetic data from the different populations can be analyzed to search for areas of the genome that have been under recent selection– i.e. that have recently become beneficial for Nigerians, or Chinese, or whichever group. That analysis was done by two groups (both papers are open access), though I will discuss the second one. What they found was that each of the populations (they group the Chinese and Japanese together into a single population) has been under, and probably continues to be under, natural selection. It would be theoretically possible (if remarkable) to find that all humans are undergoing the same selective pressures and responding identically to them, but that is not the case. I’ve posted on the right a Venn diagram from the paper showing that most of the loci identified as under selection are detected in only one of the three groups, indicating that selection is causing people in different parts of the globe to become more distinct. The precise effects of the genetic variation between populations is unclear, but (as it’s under selection) it’s certainly phenotypically relevant. And lest you think the genes under selection are related only to “boring” physiological traits, note that one of the papers found that a number of genes involved in “neuronal function” have been under selection.

Even more recently, another group analyzed gene expression in both the Asian HapMap samples and the European HapMap samples and found that around 25% of the genes in the two were differentially expressed, and that this differential expression is due to genetic differences in many cases. The road from genotype to phenotype goes through gene expression, so this is a major step in connecting genetic variation to phenotypic variation.

So it’s clear that populations differ genetically and that these differences are relevant phenotypically and informative about race. So, do genetic differences explain racial differences in any given phenotype? I hope that for phenotypes like eye color and skin color people accept the answer as obviously yes; these sorts of things have been convincingly demonstrated. For other phenotypes like IQ or personality, if you’re inclined to react negatively, I say wait a few years before you get too confident; the study of human genetic variation is in its infancy, and once it hits adolescence it’s going to start becoming a real pain in the ass.


As people are learning, the fallacy that people are more different within ethnic groups than between ethnic groups (Lewontin’s fallacy) makes no sense biologically, but it made a good sound bite.

If differences are considered to exist when individuals can be accurately classified according using a single randomly chosen trait, then Lewontin’s results imply that human races are not distinct in this sense.


We’re looking for a single trait again? Yet people have never claimed race is determined by a single trait, but by multiple traits:

In response to questionable interpretations of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and to help ensure the evolutionary significance of populations deemed ‘subspecies,’ a set of criteria was outlined in the early 1990s by John C. Avise, R. Martin Ball, Jr.[10], Stephen J. O’Brien and Ernst Mayr [11] which is as follows: “members of a subspecies would share a unique, geographic locale, a set of phylogenetically concordant phenotypic characters, and a unique natural history relative to other subdivisions of the species. Although subspecies are not reproductively isolated, they will normally be allopatric and exhibit recognizable phylogenetic partitioning.”

The Race FAQ

That’s a scientific definition of race. People who argue against race generally make up a definition they think they can beat, and then disprove it. That trick sort of works on undergraduate papers but its value disappears when there’s real-world consequences on the line.

Here’s a good definition as well:

That is, we think that what most people call “races” are actually independently evolved sub-populations, but that human races exist in the same sense as ecotypes exist among other animals and plants.

An ecotype is a locally adapted population (say, characterized by an “alpine” phenotype for a plant, or a “high light intensity” phenotype for a human), which is not genetically much different from other populations of the same species, except for genes specifically influencing whatever traits are adaptive in that environment (say, short and branched stalks in alpine plants, to protect against strong wind; or dark skin in humans living near the Equator, to protect from high light intensity).

Scientific Blogging

Jonathan Haidt points out that these small differences, which are tiny compared to the amount of code required to create a body and brain, could influence not just physical traits and mental traits, but also that subset of mental traits known as moral traits:

The most offensive idea in all of science for the last 40 years is the possibility that behavioral differences between racial and ethnic groups have some genetic basis. Knowing nothing but the long-term offensiveness of this idea, a betting person would have to predict that as we decode the genomes of people around the world, we’re going to find deeper differences than most scientists now expect. Expectations, after all, are not based purely on current evidence; they are biased, even if only slightly, by the gut feelings of the researchers, and those gut feelings include disgust toward racism..

But the writing is on the wall. Russian scientists showed in the 1990s that a strong selection pressure (picking out and breeding only the tamest fox pups in each generation) created what was — in behavior as well as body — essentially a new species in just 30 generations. That would correspond to about 750 years for humans. Humans may never have experienced such a strong selection pressure for such a long period, but they surely experienced many weaker selection pressures that lasted far longer, and for which some heritable personality traits were more adaptive than others. It stands to reason that local populations (not continent-wide “races”) adapted to local circumstances by a process known as “co-evolution” in which genes and cultural elements change over time and mutually influence each other. The best documented example of this process is the co-evolution of genetic mutations that maintain the ability to fully digest lactose in adulthood with the cultural innovation of keeping cattle and drinking their milk.

Skin color has no moral significance, but traits that led to Darwinian success in one of the many new niches and occupations of Holocene life — traits such as collectivism, clannishness, aggressiveness, docility, or the ability to delay gratification — are often seen as virtues or vices. Virtues are acquired slowly, by practice within a cultural context, but the discovery that there might be ethnically-linked genetic variations in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues is — and this is my prediction — going to be a “game changing” scientific event.

I believe that the “Bell Curve” wars of the 1990s, over race differences in intelligence, will seem genteel and short-lived compared to the coming arguments over ethnic differences in moralized traits. I predict that this “war” will break out between 2012 and 2017.


Others can provide more on the IQ-race differences:

What I’ve found is that in brain size, intelligence, temperament, sexual behavior, fertility, growth rate, life span, crime, and family stability, Orientals, as a group, consistently fall at one end of the spectrum, Blacks fall at the other end, and Whites fall in between. On average, Orientals are slower to mature, less fertile, and less sexually active, and have larger brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the opposite end in each of these areas. Whites fall in the middle, often close to Orientals (see Chart 1)

Of course, these three-way racial differences are averages. Individuals are individuals. However, I’ve found that this three-way pattern is consistently true over time and across nations. That the same three-way racial pattern occurs repeatedly on some 60 different biological and behavioral variables is profoundly interesting and shows that race is more than “just skin deep.” The international data come from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and Interpol. Recently, I even traveled to South Africa to collect new IQ data.

Charles Darwin Research

This fits in with what we know about humans as a whole, which is that traits like intelligence are heritable along with physical constraints, with a small amount of influence for other factors of gene expression and factors of nurture, such as better diet and exercise.

Even more, it fits in with a view of the world that many find disturbing, which is one that views the world by IQ:

This roughly mirrors the pattern of evolution, and the racial makeup of different nations. Pretty hard to argue with there.

Others get more into the IQ debate — I start to shut off at this point, although I’m a big believer in IQ:

A 60-page review of the scientific evidence, some based on state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain size, has concluded that race differences in average IQ are largely genetic.

The lead article in the June 2005 issue of Psychology, Public Policy and Law, a journal of the American Psychological Association, examined 10 categories of research evidence from around the world to contrast “a hereditarian model (50% genetic-50% cultural) and a culture-only model (0% genetic-100% cultural).”

The paper, “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability,” by J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario and Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley, appeared with a positive commentary by Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware, three critical ones (by Robert Sternberg of Yale University, Richard Nisbett of the University of Michigan, and Lisa Suzuki & Joshua Aronson of New York University), and the authors’ reply.

“Neither the existence nor the size of race differences in IQ are a matter of dispute, only their cause,” write the authors. The Black-White difference has been found consistently from the time of the massive World War I Army testing of 90 years ago to a massive study of over 6 million corporate, military, and higher-education test-takers in 2001.

“Race differences show up by 3 years of age, even after matching on maternal education and other variables,” said Rushton. “Therefore they cannot be due to poor education since this has not yet begun to exert an effect.

Medical News

While all this seems a bit much, all of it underscores the vital truth: race is genetic, just like abilities are genetic; races and ethnicities are defined by clusters of inherited abilities relevant to the specific conditions under which that group developed. While these are a small number of our overall genetic makeup, most of the makeup we have in common is to establish the very basics of our bodies and minds, and its the tweaks that give us special abilities beyond the utter average. That makes knowing that race is genetic important; there’s also another reason why we should care — it’s ignorant to deny science, and yet people are trying to censor science in this regard.

The Soviet Union lost a generation of genetics research to the politicization of science when Trofim Lysenko, director of biology under Joseph Stalin, parlayed his rejection of Mendelian genetics into a powerful political scientific movement. By the late 1920s, Lysenko had denounced academics embracing Mendelian genetics, which some said undermined tenets of Soviet society. His efforts to extinguish ‘harmful’ scientific ideas ruined opponents’ careers and delayed scientific progress.

Yet the spectre of Lysenkoism lurks in current scientific discourse on gender, race and intelligence. Claims that sex- or race-based IQ gaps are partly genetic can offend entire groups, who feel that such work feeds hatred and discrimination. Pressure from professional organizations and university administrators can result in boycotting such research, and even in ending scientific careers.

Nobel prizewinner William Shockley became a subject of controversy in the 1970s, after his work turned to racial differences in intelligence. In recent decades, the writings, statements and teachings of Arthur Jensen, Michael Levin and John Philippe Rushton, also on racial differences in intelligence, have met variously with acclaim, outcries and demands for job termination. So have writings of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray on the differential distribution of IQ by race. And Frank Ellis, a lecturer at the University of Leeds, UK, took early retirement in the face of an ethical storm that developed after he suggested in a student newspaper that intelligence levels were related to ethnicity. The list goes on. Many have been dissuaded from even looking at the research topic for fear of condemnation.

The outcries against those who speak of racial and gender gaps in IQ have become deafening, at times resembling Lysenkoism in language if not in deed.


We, the people, will empower others to alter our reality if we demand the right to alter reality through censorship and boycott of the topics that scare us.

I don’t believe in racism, which seems to me to be a preference for putting others down because of their race. However, it’s not clear to me how recognizing racial differences is inherently racist, and like the writers above, I am appalled at the idea of censoring science for political pretense.

Right now most of the divide is political. Leftists prefer multiculturalism because it guarantees them power, while nativist movements oppose both raw capitalism and socialism, seeing both as components of the globalism that replaces culture with rules and commerce.

If we are to ever face the truth of this issue, we must look past politics to see reality, and that states with recognizing that race is a biological reality.


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