gould racial differences

Gould Full House & Ongoing Gould-Race Controversies

Posted by / Race, Racism

My post on Mismeasuring Gould in “The Mismeasure of Science” has generated a lot of traffic in the comment stream, including responses from two of the study co-authors. I have also found these links helpful:

I insist the question is not whether to publish-or-suppress, but to pay careful attention to framing study results. If the authors titled the study “What the Morton skulls really tell us about human cranial variation,” it could have had the same critique of Gould but would not have been so very useful in the current climate of racialist resurgence.

Gould Full House

I did once assign Stephen Jay Gould’s Full House for an anthropology course. It had a lovely re-telling of the evolution-of-the-horse story (haven’t checked if that one got debunked too). I assigned it because Gould made an eloquent case for non-directionality in evolution. My impression, however, was that Gould so overemphasized the randomness and unique events leading to complex creatures that it paradoxically could be read as making a case for the idea that there had to be some guiding force: how else could all those chance occurrences have aligned? I did not assign it again–indeed, it seemed some students became more convinced of evolutionary directionality and cited Gould for support! (See section on Evolution and natural selection, anthropologically for related material.)

More Gould-Race Controversies

16 June 2011: Fascinating discussion by John Hawks in “The sign of four.” I am particularly drawn to this passage:

These observations show that the present distribution of genetic variation is in some ways completely unrepresentative of the patterns in the past. The thing that strikes me: It takes a pretty massive demographic turnover to make this happen. And what we’re looking at in today’s populations is many, many instances of such turnovers during the last 20,000 years.

Is it possible that further work along these lines may finally un-do the notion that there is anything deep-genetic about so-called race differences? Or is it that race-pushers will simply re-constitute around the notion that biological difference is evolutionarily shallow but tenacious?

Two interesting side-notes: I previously critiqued Jonathan Haidt for his justification of bin Laden celebrations. Also, I linked to the 2011 version of The Edge when I highlighted Milford Wolpoff on GIGO.

From the comment stream on my last post, FSL provides a link to “Faster evolution means more ethnic differences” by Jonathan Haidt (2009). Haidt’s comments are well worth a complete read, as they specifically address these questions. Haidt predicts:

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.

Haidt’s prediction, from 2009, seems about to come true–anthropology needs to prepare.

Along related lines, John Hawks post from June 17, “The immune systems of archaic humans,” demonstrates how quickly and touchy this stuff is becoming in terms of Neandertal and Denisovan interbreeding. I commend Hawks for stressing complexity, but others are trying to charge ahead with ideas of adaptive benefit from Neandertal intermixture outside of Africa. The phrasing of the article title in New Scientist “Breeding with Neanderthals helped humans go global” and other phrasings like “never in Africans” is troubling. Hawks disproves these headlines and results, saying “HLA-A*11 is in Africa, just very rare.” The comments I made in the blog-post Denisovans, Neandertals, Anthropology 101 remain relevant.

13 June 2011: The “Race Remixed” series has another article: “On College Forms, a Question of Race, or Races, Can Perplex.” It’s been a while since I did my reality check on “Race Remixed,” but that analysis still applies to the current article: it has lots on identity and choice, almost nothing on inequality and structure. Inevitably the comment stream is all about disparaging affirmative action and how no one should ever ask race-identification questions. The article feeds the worms in the can opened by the idea of “anti-white bias” as discussed in my blog-post A so-called study on racism.

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