Dnews Denies Race Exists

This post is a response to the "Dnews" video "The Science of Racism." In the video Dnews argues that races aren't biologically real and that racism is unnatural. Below, I will show that both of these claims are false.

Dnews begins their video by claiming that there is no biological basis for racial classification. Instead, according to Dnews, race is a cultural construct. This claim is strongly contradicted by the relevant scientific facts. Consider, for example, (Rosenberg et al. 2002) which found that researchers could correctly predict someone's race by looking at their genome nearly 100% of the time. In fact, (Tang et al. 2005) showed that even when looking at people from the United States, a country with a long history of race mixing, researchers can still correctly identify someone's race based on genetic analysis alone 98.7% of the time. Furthermore, as demonstrated by (Witherspoon et al. 2007), members of the same race are almost always more genetically similar than members of different races. And the biology of race is not limited to genes. For instance, as noted in (Sesardic 2010), researchers have been able to correctly identify someone's race by analyzing their skeletons for decades.

Dnews also attempts to cast doubt on the idea that there are significant genetic differences between people by noting that all humans share 99.9% of their genetic code with one another. In other words, humans, on average, are genetically identical except for 1 in 1,000 base pairs. This is true, but Dnews' interpretation of this statistic is misleading. According to Dnews' own source, there are around 3 billion base pairs in the human genome and so differing at a rate of 1 per 1,000 base pairs means that humans, on average, differ by 3 million base pairs. To put this in perspective, a difference of a single base pair can cause significant differences between people. For instance, the genetic disease sickle cell anemia is caused by a mutation in a single base pair. Consider further that (Polderman et al. 2015) combined decades worth of data on 14.5 million twins and found that, on average, about half of the differences between people were caused by genetic differences between them. (Bouchard 2004) found similar estimates when examining the behavioral genetic literature on psychological differences between people. Clearly then, there are genetic differences between people and they have very significant effects.

The Dnews host states that the genetic distance between different African populations is larger than the genetic distance between African populations and Europeans ones. So far as I can tell, this isn't something that any of their sources actually say. I suspect that the Dnews writers are confusing genetic distance between populations and genetic diversity within them since their main source on race and genetics does state that Africa has more genetic diversity than anywhere else. Regardless, what Dnews does not tell its audience is that the human races are as genetically distant from each-other as subspecies among other animals are. For instance, (Woodely 2010) notes that human races are more genetically distant from each-other than the subspecies of the Canadian Lynx and the African Buffalo. Similarly, (Sarich and Miele 2004) calculated that the morphological differences in head measurements between human races are greater than the craniometric differences between Chimpanzee subspecies.

Dnews also talks about clines. The relationship between clines and race is something that is often poorly understood, even by supposed experts. Dnews is no exception. The video doesn't make clear why exactly clines are supposed to be relevant to the existence of races. Because of this, I am going to respond to what is the most common argument which uses clines to invalidate races. But first, some background: a cline, according to the evolutionary genetics textbook (Jobbling et al. 2014) is defined as "A gradient of allele frequencies from one region to another, indicative of migration or natural selection". (Alleles are different versions of the same genes). The idea then is that genetic differences between populations are related to the geographic distance between them. When these relationships are nearly perfect the cline is said to be "smooth" because this indicates that populations are diverging genetically at a very constant and gradual rate the further apart they are.

Returning to race, some people think that human genetic variation is a very smooth cline and as a result races are an arbitrary set of lines imposed on what is really continuous variation. This would mean that geographic distance and genetic distance would be proportional so that if you compared pairs of populations that were twice as far apart geographically they would also be, roughly, twice as genetically distant from each other. To make this less abstract, think of the color spectrum. The color spectrum changes in an extremely gradual and continuous way such that one color faces into another. This argument suggests that this is also how genetic variation is patterned in humans and that this means that the lines that demarcate one race from another are arbitrary and therefore invalid. Of course, as you may have noticed, the first problem with this argument is that there is nothing wrong with imposing arbitrary lines on continuous variation to create useful categories. That is, after all, exactly what colors are. The second problem with this argument is that human genetic variation is far from a perfectly smooth cline. (Rosenberg et al. 2005) showed this when they demonstrated that two populations of the same race are usually more genetically similar to one another than populations of two different ones even when both pairs of populations are equally far apart. Similarly, in a video on race and clines the YouTuber "Yargon G" notes that the genetic distance between Sub-Saharan Africans and Europeans is roughly ten times larger than what you expect given the geographic distance between these locations. It is also worth noting that (Relenthford 2009) showed that the majority of cranial differences between populations is not explained be differences in the geographical distance between them. Clearly then, this argument doesn't hold up to close scrutiny.

Race and health is another topic covered by Dnews. They argue that we shouldn't assume that racial differences in disease rates are due to genes because they could also be caused by differences in diet, stress, and socioeconomic status (SES). Of course, the most obvious reason why this argument falls flat is that racial differences in diet, stress, and SES could also be caused by genes. But setting that aside, the other problem is that Dnews seems to be unaware that racial differences in health have been linked to differences in the frequency of specific gene variant within each race. For instance, numerous studies have shown that Blacks are more likely than Whites to carry a gene that makes their androgen receptors more sensitive than average. This is thought to be part of why they are more likely to develop prostate cancer. Similarly, Science Magazine recently reported on a study which found part of why Mexico has such a high type 2 diabetes rate is because Mexicans carry two gene variants associated with the disease at an above average rate. These are two examples from a potentially very long list. The point is that while not all racial differences in health are explained by genes some obviously are.

Dnews also talks about the work of the anthropologist Robert Sussman. According to Sussman, racism is a learned behavior that was invented, along with the concept of race, during the Spanish inquisition. Saying that racism is learned is true but uninteresting since all human behavior is learned. It is also true that human genetics designs us in such a way that, in certain environments, we learn to be racist. Thus, asking if racism is genetic or learned is meaningless. Like all human behavior, racism is the result of an interaction between genes and environment. That being said, the kind of environment humans need to develop racial preferences is surprisingly simple. This was shown by (Kelly et al. 2005) who found that infants started displaying racial preferences by 3 months of age. Similarly, (Vogel et a. 2012) demonstrated that infants begin to empathize more easily with members of their own race than with members of other races by the time they are 9 months old. This is not to say that the environment has nothing to do with the development of racial preferences. It does. Both the previously referenced studies found that new born infants exhibited no racial preferences. But this formation of racial preferences seems to be a pretty natural part of human development and is clearly not the result of indoctrination.

And what about the idea that that humans were not categorized racially until the Spanish Inquisition? This is simply false. As reviewed in (Sarich and Miele 2004), the ancient Eygptians, Greeks, and Chinese, as well and the Romans and Arabs, all talked about differences between different racial groups. This can by seen in Eygpt's paintings which depict the different skin colors of the various groups they came across. Similarly, the Chinese had words used to demarcate people of European and Asian decent. And writers in the Greco-Roman world studied the differences between themselves and Africans extensively and theorized that they were caused by the differences between European and African climate. The 20th century historian Frank Snowden even wrote that a poem by Virgil described race in a way that was remarkably similar to the work of 20th century anthropologists.

All that being said, it could be argued that none of these societies believed in modern races. They noticed differences between populations, but for the most part, due to lack of exposure, weren't aware of all of the races we recognize today. This is true, but the Spanish Inquisition didn't change that. All the Spanish Inquisition did was cause a shift of emphasis among the Spanish from religious to ancestry because of animosity they had towards the Jews as an ethnic group rather than as a religious group. Rather, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the first time all of humanity was divided into a modern racial classification was when Fran├žois Bernier wrote "A New Division of the Earth" in 1684. Bernier was a traveler and, as such, was one of the first people to see humans from all over the globe. The differences he noticed sparked a scientific study of race which began in the 18th century and has continued to this day. Thus the Spanish Inquisition is mostly just a footnote on a long process that ended in modern racial categories.

Dnews ends its video with an absurd rant about Nazis. The Nazis are a severe reminder of the consequences of hating a group of people with genocidal intensity. But they tell us nothing about merely accepting the obvious and scientifically legitimate fact that races exist. We can recognize biological differences between the races without using them as an excuse for violence just as easily as we can recognize the biological differences between straight people and homosexuals without using them as an excuse to stone homosexuals to death.

Finally, I want to touch on something that Dnews mentioned briefly. They called race a "cultural construction". It is true that racial categories are artifacts of culture in the sense that they are categories that humans invent. But, as we have seen, they are categories that group people based on real biological differences. Furthermore, racial categories are no less valid than any other category used in biology, all of which were invented by humans.

Here is the video version of this post: