Debunking race denialism 2: Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Apr 15th, 2011 by Unamused
My series of short essays debunking race denialism continues. Hopefully you’re not bored of this exercise yet. Someone’s got to answer their arguments, no matter how weak, in case there’s some race denialist or race agnostic out there who’s following the debate and keeping an open mind. Even slightly open. Ajar.
Frankly I’d settle for a race denialist mind that hasn’t been shut, locked, bolted, and sealed up with concrete.
Today I present my final, comprehensive remarks on the Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza controversy. Here is a summary of said controversy, according to race denialists.
- Evil racists claim Cavalli-Sforza is secretly on their side.
- Race denialists refute these claims by quoting recent books by Cavalli-Sforza.
- Return to step 1.
This, on the other hand, is a summary of the actual controversy.
- Race denialists claim Cavalli-Sforza is openly on their side by quoting his recent books.
- Race realists point out that Cavalli-Sforza’s work on human genetics is clearly race realist in nature. However, his recent books contain a perfunctory section or two stating that classifying people by race is impossible, useless, arbitrary, and/or racist. These statements are (a) contradicted by Cavalli-Sforza’s own research and/or (b) just plain silly. This suggests that he includes them to fool race denialists — who can be counted on to stop reading as soon as they find a quote that supports their beliefs — so that they leave him alone.
- Return to step 1.
One example is more than sufficient.
Step 1, or: the usual suspects
Zek J Evets: “[Race realists] pretend that science is divided on the issue, and try to undermine the research done on the subject, portraying people’s work as quite the opposite of what they say it is. And the whole time, yelling, raving, that the establishment is trying to cover it up! … They talk of conspiracy theories like a crazy person.”
abagond (dutifully “summarizing” Zek by completely rewriting his rant): “The reason scientific racists give for trusting, say, Steve Sailer, a computer salesman, over Cavalli-Sforza, a professor of human genetics who has, like, studied race, is, wait for it, that people like Cavalli-Sforza secretly agree with them but are too afraid to say so in public! Have they gone mad?”
Have we, indeed, gone mad?
Step 2, or: madness? THIS IS SFORZA.
In my reply to the attacks above, I linked an article by Steve Sailer that explains quite clearly the “politically-correct smoke screen that Cavalli-Sforza regularly pumps out to keep his life’s work — distinguishing the races of mankind and compiling their genealogies — from being defunded.” In Cavalli-Sforza’s own words, direct from his unabridged 1994 book “The History and Geography of Human Genes” (HGHG, written with Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza), which I have open on the desk beside me:
The [genetic] color map of the world [see below] shows very distinctly the differences that we know exist among the continents: Africans (yellow), Caucasoids (green), Mongoloids… (purple), and Australian Aborigines (red). The map does not show well the strong Caucasoid component in northern Africa, but it does show the unity of the other Caucasoids from Europe, and in West, South, and much of Central Asia” [HGHG, p. 136]
Sailer goes on to explain that
Cavalli-Sforza’s team compiled extraordinary tables depicting the ‘genetic distances’ separating 2,000 different racial groups from each other. For example, assume the genetic distance between the English and the Danes is equal to 1.0. Then, Cavalli-Sforza has found, the separation between the English and the Italians would be about 2.5 times as large as the English-Danish difference. On this scale, the Iranians would be 9 times more distant genetically from the English than the Danes, and the Japanese 59 times. Finally, the gap between the English and the Bantus (the main group of sub-Saharan blacks) is 109 times as large as the distance between the English and the Danish. (The genetic distance between Japanese and Bantus is even greater.)
Neither Zek nor abagond can refute any of this. Unfortunately, that does not stop them from disagreeing, with predictably incoherent results.
Back to step 1: “The History and Geography of Human Genes”
Here again is Zek J Evets, who does not know when to quit:
Originally convinced that human races were subspecies… Cavalli [sic] changed his position after investing himself in research on the issue. (See [HGHG] p. 19) … This is called “learning”, but scientific racists like to quote him from 1994 (during the time he was still learning) when he said, “The most important difference in the human gene pool is clearly that between Africans and non-Africans” but not more recently when he published a book in 2000 entitled, Genes, Peoples, and Languages… that, according to The Economist (Vol. 356, no. 8177, pg. 11) “challenges the assumption that there are significant genetic differences between human races, and indeed, the idea that ‘race’ has any useful biological meaning at all”.
Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, and Piazza’s “The History and Geography of Human Genes” (1994) is the culmination of Cavalli-Sforza’s five-decade career up to that point. Zek cites it twice. The first time it is to prove Cavalli-Sforza has “changed his position [by the time he wrote HGHG] after investing himself in research.” The second time it is to prove he was “still learning [when he wrote HGHG].” Yes, the quote about “[t]he most important difference in the human gene pool” is from HGHG (p. 93). Of course, both cannot be true. Zek doesn’t know what source he’s citing, let alone its contents.
Page 19 and the very top of page 20 of HGHG (which Zek has not read) do indeed contain all of Cavalli-Sforza’s reservations about racial classification. All of them are addressed in this article by Steve Sailer (which Zek has not read). The other 533.9 pages of the text (which Zek has not read) explain how Cavalli-Sforza produced the following 518 pages of genetic maps (which Zek has not looked at). Those maps, again, “[show] very distinctly the differences that we know exist among the continents: Africans (yellow), Caucasoids (green), Mongoloids… (purple), and Australian Aborigines (red)” (HGHG, p. 136).
One particularly silly objection by Cavalli-Sforza is that “[h]uman races are still extremely unstable entities in the hands of modern taxonomists, who define from 3 to 60 or more races… [T]he level at which we stop our classification is completely arbitrary.” (HGHG, p. 19). This philosophical fallacy also “proves” that height, weight, motion, and food do not exist, since there is no non-arbitrary dividing line between short and tall or thin and fat; nor is there a consensus on what the highway speed limit should be or what kinds of food taste good.
Despite the alleged arbitrariness of races, Cavalli-Sforza’s six genetic color maps (the world, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Oceania) clearly depict black Africans, Khoisans (Bushmen and Hottentots), East Asians, south-west Asians, white Europeans similar to north Africans, native North Americans, native South Americans, and native Australians (HGHG, color section, Figures 1–6). To be precise, they clearly depict these races according to Cavalli-Sforza’s own captions. In fact, the only races from Richard Lynn’s “Race Differences in Intelligence” which are not clearly depicted are
- Arctic Peoples (or Eskimos) as clearly distinct from American Indians — Cavalli-Sforza’s caption to Figure 5 suggests this is “probably because [Eskimos] inhabit a very thin area on the coast,”
- South-East Asians as clearly distinct from East Asians” — his caption to Figure 3 notes the “extremely dark color that makes Southeast Asia almost invisible,” and
- Pacific Islanders, who occupy an even tinier area, as clearly distinct from native Australians — the map of Australia shows four major regions, one of which is present in Australia but not New Guinea.
“Genes, Peoples, and Languages”
Finally, we have Cavalli-Sforza’s 2000 book “Genes, Peoples, and Languages” (GPL), which I also have open on the desk beside me as I type this. Cavalli-Sforza reiterates his reservations about racial classification on pages 25–31. Then, knowing that any race denialist readers have already put down the book, satisfied — if they even bothered to pick it up in the first place — he gets back to the business of mapping human genes, in a way that happens to match up almost exactly with the everyday, hopelessly arbitrary racial classification scheme we all use (black, white, East Asian, and so on). His theories about human genetics have not changed significantly since he co-authored HGHG in 1994.
It is clear that Zek has not read GPL either, because instead of quoting it to support his case, he quotes an article in the Economist. This neatly illustrates Steve Sailer’s point: “What’s striking is how the press falls for his squid ink — even though Cavalli-Sforza can’t resist proudly putting this genetic map showing the main human races right on the cover” of HGHG. In fact, Zek appears to be quoting, not the “Economist” directly, but rather the Wikipedia article on Cavalli-Sforza.
According to an article published in The Economist, the work of Cavalli-Sforza “challenges the assumption that there are significant genetic differences between human races, and indeed, the idea that ‘race’ has any useful biological meaning at all”.
That article cites “Geoffrey Carr, ‘Survey: The proper study of mankind’, The Economist Vol. 356, no. 8177, pg. 11. (1 July 2000).” Compare Zek’s version:
according to The Economist (Vol. 356, no. 8177, pg. 11) [GPL] “challenges the assumption that there are significant genetic differences between human races, and indeed, the idea that ‘race’ has any useful biological meaning at all”.
The find feature of any Internet browser will show that this is the only place Zek uses the abbreviation “pg.” for “page” (that is, the abbreviation used in the Wikipedia article), rather than his usual “p.” This tiny detail proves that the closest Zek came to reading his source, “Genes, Peoples, and Languages,” was copying and pasting from a Wikipedia article about the author that quotes an article in the Economist that interprets pages 25–31 of the actual source’s 228 pages as challenging the following:
- the existence of “significant genetic differences between human races,” which is demonstrated in HGHG
- “the idea that ‘race’ has any useful biological meaning at all,” an idea — a fact, really — which is validated by this video
Also note that Zek had previously written: “Apparently you [Unamused] never went to college since you still use [Wikipedia as a source]” (source). (Context: Zek was asserting that idiom is a synonym for rule of thumb. I provided the relevant Wikipedia pages for his edification.) Shortly before that, he wrote a post in which 80 percent of the citations were Wikipedia pages.
I leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions as to the quality — and honesty — of Zek J Evets’ scholarship.