Talk:Race (human categorization)/Archive 3

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I removed the adjective "taxonomic" from the lead sentence since that is a loaded word that unnecessarily favors the POV that "race" is an accepted concept in the field of taxonomy; which it is not. Other than that the lead paragraph looks really good to me. I'll read the rest of the article later. --mav

While Maveric was writing the above, I was quoting Maveric. Interesting. Here is what I wrote:

At the top of this page we have the following excellent observation in reply to another contributor to this discussion who said, "I just wish there was some way to redefine 'race' to reflect a statistical/evolutionary/morphological classification scheme below 'species'." Maveric replied:

The word you seek is "population". But alas, usage by biologists and laypersons is different. --mav

I wonder whether JDL and SLR could say whether they prefer the term "race" to the term "population," and why. I think that those who use the idea of a "population" do not maintain that a population is a 'social construct'. Nor do they deny that people in a relatively stable population (e.g., Australian aborigines before the arrival of colonizers) will have a higher occurrence of certain characteristics than will some other populations. The difference between the concept "race" and the concept "population" seems to me to be that one conceives of the members of a race as a closed and homogeneous group of people, whereas the members of a population are clearly recognized to be a permeable group whose total membership and therefore whose ratios of various characteristics are constantly undergoing change. The social utility of the idea of a population is that it makes it clear that one cannot look at, for instance, a single Chinese person and know by the fact that s/he is Chinese that s/he will have shovel-shaped incisors, epicanthic fold, straight hair, etc., much less whether s/he will be smarter or stupider than my Uncle Paul. Patrick0Moran 07:34, 1 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Slr and I contributed most of the material in the article that discusses population vs. race as competing terms. It's quite a detailed discussion. Slr prefers 'population' and I prefer a term similar to 'race' but not loaded with the old negative historical baggage and bogus superiority/inferiority valuations, and which is not tied to geography as 'population' is. Note that, unlike Peak, we simply summarize what the advocates of each term believe rather than injecting our preferences explicitly into the article. I'm glad you are cognizant of 'a higher occurrence of certain characteristics' among given groups of people. It shows your feet haven't completely left the ground and that you haven't been paralyzed by fear of the very thing which in other contexts you would celebrate: Diversity. JDG

I wish that Mav read my explanation for my reversion, at least Peak read it. I made some changes to the intro and want to explain them, and respond in part to Peak. For me the main point is that scientists do not have a monopoloy on "taxonomy" and that the word taxonomy, by itself, does not necessarily have a scientific meaning. I have rewritten the intro to make this clearer. I also want to clarify my own POV: specifically, my POV is not relevant. I am not trying to write an essay on what race, to use PatrickOMoran's phrase, "seems to me to be." "Race" is used in different ways by different people -- scientists and non-scientists; biological reductionists and social constructionists, racists and non-racists. This article should present all views and explain the context for these views and debates between advocates of different views. I think it does a pretty good job. I believe that the original introduction introduced the entire article in an NPOV way. I admit, as Peak points out, that it could have been clearer. I have made some changes to make it clearer. Slrubenstein

Dear Slrubenstein: Thank you for taking things in stride - your constructive spirit is admirable. I hope that you did not misinterpret my phrase about reversion sometimes amounting to a form of vandalism. Perhaps I should have expressed my concerns differently. My intent was certainly not to offend you, but I did want to get your attention! As for your latest changes, I still think you are missing the point to a significant extent. I would welcome your comments on the subsection "Multiple Points of view" above. Peak 23:42, 1 Dec 2003 (UTC)

In addition to being POV, it is redundant to say "taxonomic classification", since taxonomy is the science of classification. However, there is very little that is scientific about the use of the word "race" so it should not be used in that regard as well. Sl: I read what you wrote, but your usage of "taxonomy" here is similar to the common usage of "animal" to mean "all mammals except humans" (which is a very common meaning of the word). However, that meaning of "animal" has no real encyclopedic merit - thus the biological definition is the one that dominates in the context of an encyclopedia, and, if anything, the dictionary definition gets a line or two - but just to contrast its meaning with the encyclopedic one. Same problem with the usage of the word "theory" - in the context of an encyclopedia the only definitions that have real value are the scientific and the mathematical ones. The other uses of that word are mere definitions. Therefore please be careful when using these kinds of words in the encyclopedia (they carry more weight around here than they would in other contexts - esp in certain sub-contexts such as the one we are dealing with). --mav 03:13, 2 Dec 2003 (UTC)

I agree with you that we should avoid colloquial usage, or at least prefer technical usage and make the distinction clear. I disagree, however, with your privileging of what you call the "scientific" (by which I take you to mean postivist natural science) meanings of such words as taxonomy and theory. These are terms that have different meanings in the social sciences, humanities, and critical theory. The "encyclopedic" meaning of any of these terms should not be limited to just one segment of academia. Other scholarly approaches must be included as well. For example, there has been considerable research into folk taxonomies (including the suggestion that scientific taxonomies are just one more kind of folk taxonomy) -- a discussion of these debates is better left for an article on taxonomy or on the sociology of science. Nevertheless, since many people in the social sciences and humanities have studied (and published a considerable amount of influential work on) race, this article must iacknowledge there approaches, including their approach to taxonomy and theory. Slrubenstein
Slr - If a word has acquired several meanings that cannot be trivially distinguished (e.g. using a Wikilink), then it would be best to avoid it in introductory remarks. The same thing holds if the intended meaning of a word or phrase differs from the meaning given for that word or phrase elsewhere in Wikipedia (even if the Wikipedia entry is later modified). Peak 23:46, 3 Dec 2003 (UTC)
I'll admit that my understanding about how encyclopedic the secondary definitions of taxonomy are may be incorrect. However, as Peak pointed out the difference in meaning between taxonomic in the social sciences sense cannot be easily distinguished from taxonomic in the biological classification sense. On top of that is the very divisive issue concerning attempts to add race as a valid scientific classification by social Darwinists (who in turn are associated with the Eugenics movement). So that is why taxonomic is completely out of place in the lead sentence and must be heavily qualified elsewhere. --mav 04:17, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Fair enough. As you may have noticed, I have no objection to the current version, in which taxanomic was removed fom the first sentence but "folk" taxonomy appears later in the paragraph. I think we have achieved an agreement, Slrubenstein
Thanks for your input, mav. I think it has had the effect I was hoping for when I requested assistance from you. Not that things have gone exactly as I'd have wished, but the debate has been about a lot more than the words "taxonomic" and "principle". If you agree that the article is basically balanced and high quality as it stands this moment, would you remove the phrase "The neutrality of this article is disputed" and perhaps urge users to be a little less bold in their edits than they would be in less developed articles? I'm sure this is an issue that will become a leading concern throughout Wikipedia-- how to protect valuable contributions while maintaining wiki freedom. The informal guidance of sysops would be the ideal, but we may find we need a formal mechanism. The casual overwriting or burying of standout work will be a serious hazard to the entire project, especially since it automatically carries a threat of alienation precisely to the most accomplished contributors. JDG
Done. We do need an established a system of mediation and when that fails arbitration. We have talked in circles on the mailing list about this and there is general agreement that it should be done. However, nobody to my knowledge has set it up yet. Be my guest: Wikimedia:Mediation, Wikipedia:Requests for mediation, Wikipedia:Arbitration, and Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration. --mav 05:56, 2 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Maybe I'll take a crack at one of these headings, but I would want to focus pretty narrowly on the preservation of standout work. Mediation is needed in probably dozens of differerent sorts of disputes (NPOV, vandalism, etc.), but the protection of high quality prose is something that will need its own policy. At the least, a proposal should be made to amend the "Be bold!" ethic in the specific case of articles that have attained a certain quality level through intensive collaboration (and, once in a great while, a top notch solo effort on a non-controversial topic). The problem will be in deciding who assigns quality rankings. Alas, it is so hard to avoid groups of elites. A general vote on article quality would probably hurt more than it helps. JDG

The first sentence, which sets the context for the entire article, has been much improved. As I re-read the current version I noted about a dozen places that seem to me to need to be changed. There are two ways of going about evaluating such changes. One is to bring them up here, one at a time, and discuss them calmly, rationally, and without a vituperative attitude. The other way is to make changes directly in the original, and carry on as usual. For the first way to succeed would require that discussions be conducted in a spirit of honest inquiry. For what it is worth, all of the changes I would propose should augment the strengths sought and advocated by Slrubenstein in the above message. I thank him for removing such an intractable barrier to understanding.

Patrick0Moran 03:05, 2 Dec 2003 (UTC)

I think a mixture of the two approaches would be best. If you come up with a spot improvement, you may as well make the edit and see what happens. If you contemplate a major change/addition/deletion, it should probably be floated here first. Contrary to certain characterizations made above, neither I nor Slr is particularly obsessive about keeping people's hands off our prose. Anyone who can't live with that should find an outlet other than Wikipedia.... I have a feeling that your 'dozen places' mostly center on the material describing the views of those who maintain the realness of meaningful genotypic/phenotypic clusters. If you truly want to write in the spirit outlined by Slr, hopefully you will keep this phrase front and center: "This article should present all views and explain the context for these views and debates between advocates of different views." JDG

It may be interesting for everyone to see that you have reached a judgment before seeing what I have to say -- or is it "just a feeling"?

Patrick0Moran 19:57, 2 Dec 2003 (UTC)

It's just a feeling, and an incorrect one at that. JDG

My only concern is with making a dozen changes in the text within a short time (e.g., one day) -- a number of people are working on this article, and in my experience it is simply easier to debate/negotiate substantive changes if they are done over a few days. Here is my suggestion: if among the dozen or so changes PatrickOMoran wants to make some are editorial, or stylistic, I suggest making them in the text. I see some value in minor reorganization, and as long as that is done without cutting anything, I think POM could just go ahead and do it in the text. If POM (or anyone else) is considering major reorganization, I think it would be good to discuss it on this page first (for example, we could reorganize the whole thing chronologically; or by disciplines like anthropology, biology, comparative literature, classics; or by debates such as social construction vs. biological reduction -- I am not advocating any of these in particular, but I do think there are some redundancies that could be sorted out through reorganization. My only point now is that if any change involves more than moving a few sentences, I think we should discuss it here first). If anyone is considering substantive changes, I think that we should either (1) discuss them here first, or (2) that person should make one major change a day (er even every two days) to give people a chance to mull it over and respond. Although I am responding to POM's recent remarks, I hope he doesn't take any of this personally -- I speak based on my experieince with others on other articles; I've seen articles where one person made over a dozen changes within an hour and it became very difficult for me and others to sort out what had been changed, and which changes were good and which were (so we thought) bad. Slrubenstein

Question: What did Boas's students intend to communicate

I think I will bring up a trial case here. Not only is this approach less likely to incite the feeling that I am a proponent of what has been called "the majority view," it is also the case that I do not know how to clarify the matter and those who wrote this passage may know.

(1) The article says: "Since height, even after accounting for environmental factors, is still at least 80% heritable, and since human subgroup height averages irreducibly differ according to that hard genetic determinant, many of Boas's students accepted the existence of race as a biological fact. But they concluded that there was no relationship between biological race and other human phenomena (such as social behavior, culture, intelligence and morality)."

My request for clarification:

In what way was their definition of "race" different 
from the definition of "population"?

Patrick0Moran 23:25, 2 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Having received no clarification I checked out what Boas himself had to say. I have added a link to the text of one of his speeches. The text mentioned above does not identify the students that are said to have accept the existence of race, so it is unclear to my why Boas's own position should not be cited.

Patrick0Moran 22:43, 3 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Sorry, I am not in a position to clarify for you. My sense is that Boas and his students used "race" very much like population. Also, I am not sure where the statement from the article that you quote comes from. Boas's main point with the height data was to show that environment affected even highly heritable traits. I don't think any of them doubted that "races" exist, they just didn't think race could explain the kinds of things they were trying to explain. Good luck with your research, Slrubenstein
That Boas himself used "race" pretty much as we now use "population" seems clear to me from his own speech, recorded in the site to which I provided a link.
I agree, but have something to add, below Slrubenstein
I am not sure what "the statement from the article that you quote" refers to.
It refers to this: "Since height, even after accounting for environmental factors, is still at least 80% heritable, and since human subgroup height averages irreducibly differ according to that hard genetic determinant, many of

Boas's students accepted the existence of race as a biological fact. But they concluded that there was no relationship between biological race and other human phenomena (such as social behavior, culture, intelligence and morality)." I do not know the source of this information, and cannot judge it.

What I actually quoted in my question above is copy-and-paste from the current Wikipedia article on race. The link is to a site that has preserved a journal article from the 1930s. Boas clearly did not doubt that people whose ancestors had been highly isolated would share adaptations that, e.g., shielded them from diseases prevalent in Australia or wherever they were. But he also clearly realized that variations of characters were clinal, and the more travel between groups (roughly speaking) the less sharp or more gradual would be the region of transition from one to the other. So if you go from an Australian aborigine community to Iceland you're going to notice a sharp change, but if you walk the Silk Road from China to Rome you're going to see people who, from village to village, look pretty much the same.
It seems to me that Boas was clearly aware of the factors that make specialists in anthropology prefer the term "population" to the term "race." He pointed out, for one thing, that: "Considerable mixture between white masters and slave women occurred during the period of slavery, so that the number of pure Negroes was dwindling continually and the colored population gradually became lighter." Later he says, "In common parlance when we speak of a race we mean a group of people that have certain bodily and perhaps also mental characteristics in common," and he goes on to mention the visually distinctive white and Negro groups, but then points out the transitional forms that appear "between East Asiatics and European types," and finally explains the complicated tapestry of types and ancestries among the European "races."
Patrick0Moran 04:06, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)
I agree with you for the most part, except I am concerned about a possible anachronism. Clearly, Boas and his students were trying both to complicate our understanding of what "race" is, and qualify and limit its usefulness to explain social phenomena. Nevertheless, they did use the word race, and I do not believe this is merely a matter of semantics. It was not until Montague and then, really anthropologists working in the late 1960s that anthropologists pretty much junked the whole concept of race altogether. In short, Boas played a crucial role in the progress and personally I think was among the most sophisticated scientists of his time. Nevertheless, he was a scientist of his time and limited by certain conventions, not just linguistic or discursive but scientific as well. I wouldn't want to white-wash him by suggesting that he entirely dismissed the validity of race as a concept. Perhaps had he lived a little longer he would have, but that is speculation. Slrubenstein
Right. From the context it would seem that he was using the concepts and vocabulary current at his time. The passage I am complaining about does not attribute use of the word "race" to Boas, but to his students. Now, nobody knows to whom the writer of that passage referred. Shouldn't the passage be changed to reflect views for which we have evidence?
Patrick0Moran 22:40, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Your request was interesting and I would have liked to answer it off the bat, but the old memory isn't serving as she used to. If I can settle in with some good source documents for both Boas and his students, I'll be back to tell about it. From the link you gave (which I trust is a faithful transcription of Boas' own words), I think it's pretty safe to say Boas himself was not ready to jettison the concept of biological race even while disagreeing with many or perhaps most inferences laypeople and certain other anthropologists were drawing from the bare conclusion that race is real. Cosmetics are also real, and how much of true significance flows from one shade of mascara or lipstick over another shade? JDG
I, too, trust that the material I linked to is a faithful transcription. But the beauty of citing such evidence is that it can be checked by going to a major library that preserves its copies of old journals. The passage I am questioning in the Race article is not even a representation of Boas's position, but of unspecified "students" of his, and there are no citations given. Who knows what the qualifications of these "students" were? And the passage in the Race article is not a faithful representation of Boas's position because it does not contextualize his remarks on "the term race" as used "in common parlance," by noting the many ways that his understanding of the phenomenon commonly termed "race" when discussed by the members of his audience was more similar to the current understanding of population. As a matter of fact, once he gets going he uses the term "population" (without, however, breaking his narrative to give it a succinct definition).
Boas does seem to see a sharp line of demarcation between what he calls Negro and White populations -- but not in the United States. So the question to ask him would have been whether he has measured skin tones as one travels from Equatorial Africa to the Middle East and on to India, and how he would explain the absence of inter-breeding if he did not find some kind of a zone of clinal variation between ebony and bronze.

Patrick0Moran 03:38, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)

External links are supposed to be gathered together at the end of the article.
Patrick0Moran 07:17, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Vitamin D Paragraph

The paragraph on skin color, the tropics and Vitamin D requires significant revision, if only because at least two of its premises are, at best, questionable:

  1) "people with light skin would suffer from excess vitamin D levels".
      This was believed to be the case some time ago, but according to 
      everything I've read (in both medical and anthropological writings),
      is now known to be incorrect.  (Of course, excessive vitamin D in
      the diet does cause problems.)
Peak, could you please provide a good citation to this research?
Patrick0Moran 17:17, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Sorry, I didn't see your request until just now. Here's the best I can do right now:
  1. Medical references that mention Vitamin D excess (e.g. [1]) invariably fail to mention sunlight as a cause.
  2. "Prolonged exposure to sunlight does not cause vitamin D toxicity. The body has an efficient feedback system and reduces the production of vitamin D with increased exposure to sunlight." [2]
On the technical side:
  1. Webb AR, DeCosta BR, Holick MF. Sunlight regulates the cutaneous production of vitamin D3 by causing its photodegradation. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1989; 68: 882–7.
  2. Landin-Wilhelmsen K, Wilhelmsen L, Wilske J et al. Sunlight increases serum 25(OH) vitamin D concentration whereas 1,25(OH)2D3 is unaffected. Results from a general population study in Goteborg, Sweden. Eur J Clin Nutr 1995; 49: 400–7.

Peak 06:44, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)

  2) "[Skin color] does not vary according to culture."
     This is inconsistent with one of the best developed theories
     linking skin color to geography. Cavalli-Sforza and others
     found that about five millennia ago, a random mutation occurred along
     the Baltic allowing people to live off agriculture in the far north
     and still not get rickets.  According to this theory, the distribution
     of skin color is therefore related to the combination of culture
     (agriculture), geography and genetics.  The last two alone just don't
     cut it, as anyone who has thought about the original Tasmanians and 
     Arctic Inuits knows.
So other people could live that far north, but not by engaging in agriculture because without animal food their vitamin D would fall too low. Agriculture was possible in the far north, in Europe, because of the Gulf Stream. When the mutation occurred, people could forego hunting and live primarily off plant produce, permitting higher population densities and gradually displacing non-farmers in those lands. Interesting.
If I remember correctly, one of the explanations for fairly dark-skinned people being able to successfuly migrate into regions closer to the poles, e.g., in the Far East, is that fish in the diet (and perhaps other dietary factors, I cannot remember) supplements the vitamin D that their untanned skins can produce, while clothing protects them from the cold.
Patrick0Moran 04:00, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)
One other thing. The article states that black skin sweats well and white skin sweats poorly. The color of one's skin does not have anything to do with the number or efficiency of sweat glands. A black-skinned person may very well have more sweat glands or bigger sweat glands than a white-skinned person, but that is because both features are adaptations to a hot, sunny environment, not because a black skin causes sweat glands to multiply or enlarge.
Even so, the color of a surface affects not only the absorption of radiant energy but also the emission of radiant energy. So a person with black skin will be warmed more by the sun, but his body will also be better cooled by radiation. That might be to one's disadvantage in the daytime, but at night a person with black skin should lose heat faster than a person with white skin. In the tropics that would mean that a person with black skin would be better able to rest at night. But in the arctic a body efficiently radiating away its heat would not be a desirable state of affairs.
Patrick0Moran 07:18, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)

If one of the major authors of this paragraph or of the article as a whole would like to rewrite it to take into account these considerations (and the general observation that some of the statements are somewhat speculative), could they please either do so, or leave some indication regarding their intentions here? Thank you. Peak 23:46, 3 Dec 2003 (UTC)

As far as I know the Vitamin D hypothesis ia alive and well, even among 'populationists', although it could be better stated than it is in the article. I think it's less important that those with light skins would suffer from hypervitaminosis D in equatorial areas than that those with dark skins are at increased risk of inadequate Vitamin D (leading to rickets) in more temperate regions. I think it's pretty accepted that the UV filtering action of melanocytes, particularly the decreased need for it as one moves away from the equator, has been a strong factor in producing the shading among human groups. Maybe you and/or Patrick can 'flesh' out that section. JDG

Suggested link to 'Important Caveat'

How about adding this at the top:

This article is listed in the Wikipedia "Brilliant prose" category. Before making changes, please review these Wikipedia guidelines and then review the discussion page.

Peak 04:16, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)

That might be good, as long as the phrase doesn't appear in the 'Printable Version'. JDG
How does one do that? I notice that __NO_TOC__ (or whatever the code for "No Table of Contents" is) usually shows up when non-Wiki sites serve out Wikipedia content. By the way, an anonymous user (with good intentions) messed up a paragraph just now. I don't want to revert, but will fix the grammar and offer something that might be perceived as an improvement by some. After having reviewed multiple sources on "Alternate" vs "Alternative", I will take the plunge on that one too.


here are a couple links which should help those who are interested in what a contemporary scientific journal has to say on this subject scientific american1 scientific american2 JackLynch 17:39, 4 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Yes, I recently read both of these. Both come down quite strongly on the side of identifiable, objective gentotypic/phenotypic groupings that merit descriptors, and there are even some statements advocating the old racial terminology, especially in the medical field. The pure social construct thing is so 1995, at this point. At the same time, I certainly wouldn't want to go back to the 19th century way of seeing things. That was even further from reality... It's healthy that many workers in the field are now refusing to close their eyes to the obvious, and that the extremists who put social sensitivities ahead of empirical findings no longer rule the roost. Our diversity is a strength-- we should embrace it and move ahead, being especially careful to keep any overall valuations of group superiority or inferiority from ever again gaining credence (not because they're unfair, but because they're incorrect) JDG

On the Boas's students thing -- virtually an entire generation of American Anthropologists can consider themselves Boas's students (with all due respect to Harvard and Chicago), but I would guess that the text is referring primarily to people like Benedict and Herskovits. According to Benedict, in Race: Science and Politics (1940, race is about heredit and traits transmited by hereditywhich characterize all the members of a related group. Benedict's real argument was not on what race is, but what it isn't: it is not isomorphic with language; race is not isomorphic with cultural values or social norms. Benedict felt that race was a real phenomenon that should be studied historically, biologically, and anthropometrically -- but which could not be used to explain the vast array of human achievements (0r differences between people speaking different languages or having different cultures). Nevertheless, she was skeptical about attempts to classify people by race accrding to phenotypic traits such as skin color, shape ofnose, cephalic index, etc. Still, she accepted the division of humans into two braod races, Mongoloid (following Boas she included Caucasions as a sub-branch of Mongoloids) and Negroids (again, my point is that however much these students were trying to complicate our notions of race, they still accepted and used racial terms). In any event, the whole book is organized as a critique of "scientific" racism; one one page she points out the Northern Blacks scored higher on intelligence tests than Southern Whites. Obviously this comparison is of limited value, but it was enough to get the U.S. Senate to condemn her after the passage of her book was read on the floor.

Herskovits similarly claimed that races are biologically real, but (I am looking at his Man and His Works 1947) he defines race more like what we'd call populations (clusters of traits that vary and overlap). Still, he insists that races exist and that one could argue that races do not exist only if one plays a semantic game. And still again, he says that at best we have to think of races as family lines (rather than as aggragates of similar individuals); they allow us to describe different groups of people, but give us no information at all about how these differences (or similarities) came to be. To answer these questions, he argues that it makes much more sense to study populations rather than race.

In short, what I see here is people accepting the existence of races, but qualifying the word in so many ways (it is a statistical phenomenon; it has no explanatory power) that at best it becomes a collloquial term for population, and at worst must simply be replaced by the concept of population. It would be wrong to say that this generation of scholars rejected the notion of race. But they played a crucial role in the shift, among anthropologists, at least, away from believing that "race" has any scientific value/meaning. Slrubenstein

That all sounds pretty reasonable to me. Moreover it points to Boas and his students as marking an important inflection point in the discussion of race.

Patrick0Moran 03:11, 5 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Latest flurry of changes

Whoa, you little monsters have been busy. Much of it is quite good. Some of it is woefully POV and will be changed. I think you know full well which statements are POV, so I'll look for your justifications here before diving in. Also, some discussion of Vitamin D and other physiological reasons for pigmentation will be restored or added. JDG 22:50, 5 Dec 2003 (UTC)

As I mentioned elsewhere, I agree that some discussion of Vitamin D etc would be worth adding, perhaps in a section on Pigmentation or Skin color or Geographical distribution or whatever. As we all agreed, the paragraph was a bit of a jumble, and I focused on trying to recover one coherent strand. The paragraph previously described some aspects of the "descriptionist" POV; if anything needs balancing with a non-descriptionist POV, then so be it, but if you tell me where the imbalance needs redressing, I would be happy to attempt to do so.Peak 05:46, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Shucks! Just as I was fixin to do something drastic like changing the stuff that says that black skins sweat better than white skins.
I did perform a physics experiment with a newly purchased black coffee cup and white coffee cup of the same make and design. Rinsed them well with hot water, then sloshed boiling water over them, then dumped that and filled them both to the brim with boiling water. After that I capped them with 2 identical plastic covers. Then, unfortunately, I forgot to note the time. When I thought of them again they were still hot to the touch. The white one was over the limits of my electronic fever thermometer, the black one was 108 degrees. A while later I went back and the white one was at 108 and the black one was at 106. So I am encouraged to look for research on the enhanced radiative cooling capability of darker skins. Shall we trade a groundless assertion about adaptive character to an assertion about an adaptation that has the support of evidence (if we find it)?
Body configuration, it has been argued, run to short bulky guys in the hypothermia belt and tall rangey guys in the heat stroke range. So why are there so many tall guys in northern Europe? To keep their heads above snow perchance?
While you are thinking about adaptations, how about us camel-nosed omnivores from peri-polar climes who temper incoming frigid air and probably recover some water as we exhale -- all with big noses (and sinus cavities, perhaps)?
I have, as you can see, no trouble with the idea of adaptive changes to different environments.
Patrick0Moran 02:50, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Yeah I half remember reading about a few Pygmy tribes and the unique radiative cooling properties of their body shape/pigmentation combo. As usual, it was a complex situation: despite being right on the equator their little hilly, forested niche gets downright chilly during the foggy nights, so you can't just look at them and say "heat adapted"... Overall, my guess is that the evolutionary pressures that led to the loss of the default primate hair covering in protohumans left them with a need for a substitute UV filter, and increased melanocyte production filled this need so well that the downside of dark skin (increased heat absorption) was more than made up for. An enhanced slow-cooling property of dark skin may have mitigated that downside, but it still seems the initial high heat absorption was a trade-off of some kind. Did you ever walk around barefoot in the summer as a kid? Remember sprinting along a stretch of super hot black tarmac to quench the soles of your feet on the painted white lines? Radiating absorbed heat in torrid climates might help, but reflecting it away in the first place seems much better (and that leads us to the paradox of blondism in cold climates, and not just among humans (polar bears, arctic terns, etc.))... Anyway, it's great you have no trouble with the reality of adaptive changes. Now all you need to do is drop your objection to the use of proper nouns as descriptors for them. JDG

I am no expert on pigmentation, but there are many reasons for being extremely skeptical of would-be explanations of the distribution of skin colors based primarily on the thermodynamics of radiation. These include:

  • As Patrick mentioned, black objects also absorb radiation more efficiently than others. Keeping cool in the day time in hot climates is usually more difficult than keeping warm in the night, when it's typically warm anyway. Remember that in equatorial regions, people tend to wear light-colored clothing during the day to keep cool!
The deal is that black objects both absorb and radiate better. Since writing the above I searched for on-line information. It turns out that work has been done on water buffalo. They need to wallow in the daytime unless they can get enough shade to keep cool. They can suffer heat stress more easily than cattle for a number of reasons. But they cool very efficiently once the sun goes down. One of the most distressing things for me when I moved to Taiwan in August -- with no air conditioning -- was to sleep in a pool of my own non-evaporating sweat. If I could have radiated heat better I would not have been so uncomfortable. On the other hand, if I had to go around naked in the wintertime there when the humidity was 95%, the temperature was 45 degrees, and a wind was blowing, the extra heat loss due to radiation would not have been desirable.Patrick0Moran 08:03, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
  • This topic has been around for a while, and most of what one reads about these days has to do with Vitamin D and the like, not thermodynamics.
That is probably because we carry so much of our environment with us wherever we go now. But for water buffalo the radiant heat dynamics are still a subject of great interest. See Patrick0Moran 08:20, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Patrick - This is all very interesting, but I hope you are not writing it because you think I'm saying that the topic of radiant heat dynamics is not important! On the contrary! It's just that the more I read about it, the more absurd the idea that there is a simple connection between radiative thermodynamics with human pigmentation seems. The Vitamin D/agriculture thesis by contrast is at least plausible. Peak 09:06, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
I agree. Once clothing was invented, evolutionary processes were strongly modified. The world radiation bands do not correspond to the world skin-color regions. Heating, cooling, UV damage control, vitamin D synthesis, and folic acid depletion all seem to be involved, and material culture can modify all of those factors. I'm guessing that clothing came before fire and was followed by gradual improvements in architecture. The white-skin mutation must have occurred relatively recently. The people learned about cod liver oil, etc. The importance of folic acid supplentation seems to have been very recent, but I wonder whether people were already taking steps to prevent deficiencies without knowing why eating certain things was important. Patrick0Moran 07:18, 7 Dec 2003 (UTC)
  • If being black is so important in hot climates for keeping cool, then why do most mammals in hot climates have hairy or furry bodies? Conversely, if mammals in cold climates need protection against radiation, then one would expect increased hairiness or furriness to solve the problem.
Keeping cool is definitely a problem for birds and mammals in the tropics. My horse can sweat a great deal in the summer, but her only real problem is getting a sunburned nose because she has white skin there. Horses with black skin near their nostrils do much better in intense sun. During the winter, my horse generally refuses to go in the barn. She quite happily goes to sleep on the snow under the open sky. But if you check out her coat you will find that below the level of what was visible in the summer there is an incredible mass of ultra-fine hairs. Therefore she is very well insulated. So shedding and sweating work for the summer, and turning into a fluff ball works well for the winter. But I have read that the desert tribes eliminated black Arabians because they were not dependable mounts during the summer. They couldn't wallow and they couldn't find shade so they had to be light enough in color not to absorb too much solar radiation.
One of the surprising things about polar bears is that each hair in their coat is a wave guide. So sunlight is channeled down to their skin through what otherwise would be a virtually impenetrable thick fur coat. They are not heated by the midnight sun, but they don't need heat as much during summer. They conserve their body heat when it is dark because the white hairs reflect infrared back to their bodies. (This is all from memory, so apologies if I get details wrong.)
The important thing is that there is a trade-off between heat gain and heat loss. If you gain radiant energy easily during the day, it's not a big problem if you sweat well or shed heat evaporatively and/or through other mechanisms. The advantage is that you will get through with somewhat greater expenditure of energy whenever it is too hot for you (it is expensive to sweat), but you can shed heat after it gets darker without paying much overhead by radiating it. If, on the other hand, you do not absorb radiant energy well during the day, you will also conserve it better at night. In a cold place, if you are moving during the daylight hours and sleeping during the dark hours, then you are better off working hard enough to warm up during the day and staying cozy at night when your metabolism is slowing down. If you don't have to shiver to stay warm you lose less body weight over the winter months. Patrick0Moran 08:23, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
  • If the thermodynamics of radiation is so important in determining skin color, then why isn't there a similar cline as one goes South (at least in Latin America and Australia)?
I think that it is because of culture. Black skins evolved in Africa, and I am guessing they were there almost as soon as humanoids became relatively hairless. There wouldn't have been much evolutionary pressure to lose that adaptation in Africa, but after people started moving out of Africa there was not such intense solar radiation to cope with. On top of that, people had to wear more clothing the farther north they went. So the pressure was put on humans by vitamin D deficiencies and perhaps by the need to retain heat during the inactive part of each day. If people had dispersed gradually and steadily, moving out along the Tropics and only later expanding north, then it would seem likely to me that there would be a more smooth and regular equator to pole transition. But at least two things probably interfered with that. For one thing, people moved in waves of migration and in so doing went north or south of the lands to which they had become adapted. If they were by that time wearing clothing and eating a wide diet that included things like fish, then darker people could go, for instance, from what is now China, Manchuria, and Mongolia all the way up to the Bering Strait and down into North and South America. There you see both indications of color adaptations and also indications of migrations where, for instance, lighter skinned peoples from what is now the South-West part of the U.S. pushed down into the western half of what is now Mexico. On the other side of Mexico the people are darker.
It sounds like the people who study these things believe that the Australian aborigines came along a migration path that emerged from southern India. Once they got to Australia it seems like they ought to have started to get lighter the farther south they went. But to really understand what was going on one would have to know the rate at which skin color changes occur with naked people, and how much that process can be slowed down by clothing and other cultural adaptations. My guess is that whites could exist at the equador without really feeling any environmental pressure to change as long as they could afford zinc oxide and keep cool. People from populations like the Chinese have a great advantage when it comes to migration north and south because when they are not tanned they can be as light as a northern European, and when they are tanned they can be as dark or almost as dark as all but the darkest of African-Americans.Patrick0Moran 08:29, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
  • The Cavelli-Sforza et al findings I mentioned indicate that the mutation for light skin occurred fairly late, when people had agriculture, fire, clothing, shelters, and the like, so by this time keeping warm cannot have been much of an issue.
The first year I was in Taiwan I lived in a building with no insulation to maintain the inside temperature, and no central heating. The temperature only got down to around 40 degrees, but the humidity was always around 95% and much of the time it was raining so everything that you would like to have dry and fluffy tended to be at least slightly damp. I sat at my desk studying, wearing a thick ski sweater, my cowhide split ranch hand jacket, a watch cap, and with my sleeping bag tied under my armpits, and yet my hands were still so cold and blue that I could barely write. Losing heat was a great problem even with a goosedown sleeping bag. By the second winter my body had develped an ability I never had before, which was to put on a layer of fat on my face as soon as the weather turned cool. Putting on that fat, and shivering much of the time anyway, were all costs due to the cold. If I had possessed a black skin I might well have needed an even higher caloric input. Needless to say I had enough money not to need to worry about food to eat during the winter, but the early colonists in the U.S. didn't have it so easy.Patrick0Moran 08:29, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
The thing is that when you are considering the general ability to adapt to an environment you have to consider the costs involved in keeping a black body comfortable vs. the costs involved in keeping a white body comfortable. If your existence is marginal, then a small extra heating cost (shivering cost) may be the difference between success and failure.Patrick0Moran 08:20, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Peak 05:46, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Peak said "It's just that the more I read about it, the more absurd the idea that there is a simple connection between radiative thermodynamics with human pigmentation seems." Well, I guess I would also rule out a "simple connection", but there's little doubt it comes into the picture and must be considered along with other stuff at the frontier between skin and sunlight. It's clear there is a pressure to admit just enough UVB for Vitamin D synthesis (and no more, due to deleterious effects of UVB, especially destruction of folic acid), but if the pigmentation which moderates UVB admission threatens to overheat the body then the thermodynamics are exerting a pressure on phenotype. Perhaps without this pressure more sub-saharans would be jet black. It's really quite a brain teaser. The riddle increases when you throw in the reflective properties of lighter skin-- more of the visible light, along with its heat, is reflected away from the body altogether, yet UVB is less obstructed so that enough of the weaker UVB in this latitude gets through to maintain adequate Vitamin D synthesis. So again we have a thermodynamic downside (those lighter skins in cooler climates could have used the extra warmth but are instead reflecting it away) traded for a metabolic upside. The thermodynamic issues always seem to exert the lesser pressure, but they are certainly there and influencing the final result. All of this is further complicated by the human animal's capacity to clothe himself. Perhaps it was clothing that rendered the reflecting away of solar warmth acceptable. The differentiation in skin shades is recent enough for clothing to have affected it-- and clothing, of course, has mostly to do with thermodynamics. JDG 18:01, 6 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Lighter skins mean that it is harder to warm up in the sun -- but if you are chilly enough for it to bother you, then you'll just put on some more clothing. The clothing will shield your skin from solar heating except on your face. Lighter skins also mean less radiative losses when you are cold, so you stay warmer at night when there is no sunlight to absorb. If you are spending the night in a snow cave in the Rockies (or in a Conestoga wagon on the prairie in the dead of winter in 1844) you may not have enough clothing to make yourself comfortable. Similarly, if your skin is black you will warm up better in the sun, but you will cool off better in the shade and at night. Being able to get a restful night's sleep when fatigued from daytime heat is no small matter. Check out the architecture of pre-airconditioning structures in hot places. Even in Nebraska, an accessible flat roof is good to have when it's 95 degrees inside at night.

I'm storing an url here that I plan to use when I get around to the Vitamin D/Folate issue: JDG

The bands on that map do not correspond well to the coloration of people living there. Once people started wearing clothing and migrating, the original environmental factors that put pressure on for UV protection were mitigated. Once population densities or other factors started migrations, factors other than color appear to have been the more important ones in deciding who occupied what territory. In skin color maps you can see a lighter color bulging down into a darker colored region, or a darker color bulging upward into a lighter colored region, but you don't see isolated incursions of, e.g., the lightest skin color into a region surrounded by the next to darkest skin color -- at least not until recent colonial history. Patrick0Moran 06:55, 7 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Question: How can "nomenclature strongly reminiscent..." be tightened up?

The following paragraph does not seem to me to clarify the "minority position" sufficiently:

In the 19th century many natural scientists made three claims about race: first, that races are objective, naturally occurring things; second, that there is a strong relationship between biological races and other human phenomena (such as social behavior and culture, and by extension the relative material success of cultures); third, that race is therefore a valid scientific category that can be used to explain and predict individual and group behavior. In the 20th century, mainstream anthropologists and others rejected each of these claims, while continuing to study between-group genotypic and phenotypic variations. By the end of the 20th century, most social and many natural scientists turned to the "population" concept to talk about these variations, arguing that accounts of "race" (within both the popular and scientific literatures) are socially constructed. Some social and natural scientists, however, argue that new studies in molecular genetics support a nomenclature strongly reminiscent of traditional racial and ethnic terminology.

"Racial terminology" ?= "race" and/or "the XXX race" and/or.... 
What does "racial terminology" really mean? Clarify!

As I understand it, JDG and others would like to preserve the utility that they believe is possessed by the word "race." I am not sure whether "ethnic" is being used as a synonym for "racial" here, or whether another meaning is intended. That in itself is an issue that needs to be clarified. Since the "studies in molecular genetics" are not cited, it is difficult to know what support they may give to people who advocate the use of the word "race" on grounds of its pragmatic value.

I am having difficulty discussing the term "race" without implying acceptance of the validity of that term. So I am going to steal a technique from the phenomenologists and put it in square brackets to indicate that it is under examination.

The grounds for favoring the use of terms like "the Australian aborigine race" or "the Native American race" is that knowing someone's [race] is deemed useful in predicting, and therefore avoiding or else providing early treatment, some diseases that are particularly prevalent among that group of people. And one problem with using such terms is that the white in America is not necessarily like an average specimen of a white in Norway because of the American genetic melting pot. Another problem is that all sorts of negative qualaties are asserted to be signaled by some trivial and/or superficial feature of individuals. I think I need not give examples of these assertions.

I am guessing that the studies in molecular genetics mentioned in the passage must show that, e.g., Chinese people have more in common than high rates of agenesis, high rates of shovel-shaped incisors, high rates of epicanthic folds, high rates of black hair, and high rates of brown eyes. Second, it would seem, such studies must show that other groups that are superficially similar, such as the Navaho Indians, hold in common a significantly different underlying constellation of genetic features. Third, it seems likely that those studies might show that even if there is a "clinal bridge" between Chinese and Navaho, if you look at matters statistically, and if you talk only about individuals in China and individuals in what is now the U.S., and so ignore the bridge that I presume must follow the land bridge to and from the Bering Strait, then you can make statistically valid predictions about which genetic traits one or another individual will have.

If all of the above wild speculation is incorrect, I submit that it only proves my point that the words of the article are not clear enough.

And if the speculation turns out to be substantially correct, I wonder whether the nub of truth that the advocates of "traditional racial and ethnic terminology" want to preserve is that to the extent that one knows a person's genetic heritage, one is enabled to explain or even guard against things like lactose intolerance (by cautioning people that if they every cease milk consumption for some extended period of time their bodies are likely to cease lactase production forever), direct public health funds where they will do the most good, etc.

Patrick0Moran 07:11, 8 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Haven't you seen the recent phylogenies that calculate "genetic distance" based on haplotypes and/or polymorphisms? The first one to gain wide recognition was Christopher Stringer's "Mitochondrial Eve" analysis. That was an interesting one because Stringer and colleagues, in confidently identifying an "African Eve" from whom we all descend, felt they had already scored enough sociopolitically correct brownie points that they didn't need to cover up the fact that later adaptive changes affected the underlying genetics enough to warrant groupings that basically mirror Coon's racial groupings. Here's an url to an abstract of a paper published this year in the Journal of Forensic Science: . They used polymorphisms and make no bones about the reality of race: "we investigate the application of five STR loci (CS1PO, TH01, TPOX, FGA and vWA) routinely used in forensic analysis for delineating the phylogenetic relationships of 10 human populations representing the three major racial groups"... By the way, here's an url to a paper, also published in 2003, which uses "race" in a purely taxonomic sense (it is a study of different flavonoids from different "races" of Lasthenia californica, a flower): . JDG

P0M: The materials you quote are interesting but irrelevant to my objection to the vagueness of the text. By my quick count there are a baker's dozen of characterizations of "race" in the article on race that the general reader might identify as pertinent to deciding what is meant by "traditional racial terminology." If you are the author of the passage I am calling into question, then you will presumably know which of these versions of "race" or "racial" was intended. The present version of the last sentence of the article paragraph that I quoted above requires the reader to guess which "traditional racial" views or interpretations are supported. Patrick0Moran 23:36, 8 Dec 2003 (UTC)

P0M: I suggest replacing the sentence that end the passage quoted at the beginning of this section of this talk page with the following: " studies in molecular genetics indicate empirical grounds for categorizing human beings on a multi-factorial basis into several main groups that resemble the racial groupings put forth by earlier scientists using more general observational criteria." Assuming that I don't hear any objections after a few days, I'll go ahead and change the article.

Peak: Patrick - There is much merit in the thinking behind your revision but unfortunately in its present form I think it only makes matters worse because there's a big jump from haplogroups to categorizing human beings in a way that roughly corresponds to "traditional racial groupings".
Let me illustrate. Suppose that by studying mitochondrial DNA we come up with 7 categories (M1,M2,...) (I choose the number 7 because of the "Seven Daughters of Eve" idea); similarly, suppose that by studying Y chromosomes we come up with 10 categories (Y1, Y2, ...) (the number 10 comes from [3]).
So we have 70 logical categories, and we've still only looked at the smallest chromosome. If each chromosome yielded just 10 categories, there would be a huge number of logical categories altogether (> 10²³). Since in reality the relevant unit of study is generally smaller than the chromosome, the number of logical categories is larger than the number of H.s.s. who have ever existed.
Of course, most of these pigeonholes would be empty. But does anyone know how many pigeonholes would be non-empty?
Suppose we focused only on the largest non-empty pigeonholes and found that the largest k pigeonholes account for N% of the entire population for various values of N and k. What do we actually know about k as a function of N? If we looked at the top 7 pigeonholes, they would probably be full of people from East and South Asia, so I doubt that these categories would correspond to "traditional conceptions of race" at all.
In summary, I agree that cladistic studies often do show some kind of correspondence with "traditional conceptions of race" but it's not so easy to explain this without being misleading. On the theory that a picture is worth a 1000 words, I would suggest we try to find a relevant cladogram that we can use on Wikipedia. With something concrete to discuss, the words should fall into place. Peak 07:56, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC)
P0M: Do others favor leaving "Some social and natural scientists, however, argue that new studies in molecular genetics support a nomenclature strongly reminiscent of traditional racial and ethnic terminology" in its current form? I judge it to be too vague to be useful.
P0M 21:15, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC): Would something like this be useful?

I'd like to make a general comment on the above discussion. Lest I offend anyone, please know that my intention is only to be constructive, and not to take one side or another. First, I see in all contributions an attempt to make the article as clear as possible. I appreciate this and think some of the details that have come up here should be moved into the article. BUT I also see a strong degree of subjectivity, by which I mean, an implication that "this is not clear to me" and "what would make sense to me would be...." or something to that effect. One example -- and again, PLEASE do not take me to be chosing sides, I am only picking a convenient example -- is the experiment using two coffee cups. Frankly, I do not think this line of discussion is constructive or appropriate for an encyclopedia article or its talk page (in another venue -- a chat room or list-serve, of course, it would be entirely appropriate and valuable). The encyclopedia should dedicate itself to presenting points of view that are established among significant (whehter minority or majority, scientific or popular) points of view that are "out there," not the points of view of the contributors of the encyclopedia. In other words, that a particular explanation of the distribution of specicific traits (e.g., epicanthic fold, dark skin), or the use of a particular word (like racial or ethnic) makes sense to me or does not make sense to me is not at all relevant to this discussion. All that is important is that a significant group of people present such an explanation or use such terminology (I would take peer-reviewed journals, standard textbooks, as well as large-circulation magazines such as Time, Newsweek, &c.). Then the task of this article is to present such views clearly. If a peer-reviewed journal provides an experiment to support its explanation, we could describe that experiment. If another peer-reviewed article critiques that experiment, we should report that critique. If an article uses language a certain way, we should report that; if another article criticizes thast use of language, we should report that. But our own opinions as to whether the terms or experiments or explanations make sense donot belong here. I am not trying to disparage the above contributions -- it is my sense that a few people are sincerely trying to take advantage of the talk page to work out certain concerns which may or may not end up going into the article. If someone says "this doesn't make any sense to me" as an invitation to another contributor to provide an explanation (presumably, drawing on published research), then I applaud the spirit of the dialogue. The only reason I have taken the time to write all this is that sometimes -- only sometimes -- this is not clear to me. Slrubenstein

P0M: I argued for "changing the stuff that says that black skins sweat better than white skins." I meant, further, to suggest that there are real adaptations that have to do with the radiative cooling capacity of skins of various colors. What I said was offered as a suggestion for a genuine biological adaptation that someone might want to mention in the place of the assertion about the sweatiness of black skin. I cannot disprove the assertion that black skins sweat better than white skins, but I note that no evidence has been adduced to support that assertion and yet the assertion has survived previous critiques. I cannot prove the assertion that human black skins radiate heat better than human white skins, but I did adduce evidence to show that the phenomenon is well known among specialists in animal husbandry.
P0M: I have avoided characterizing apparently groundless assertions by some such term as "rubbish". I have attempted to indicate that such an assertion at least seems to be either factually incorrect or logically flawed by saying something like: "That black skin should necessarily sweat better than white skin does not make sense to me," leaving open the possibility that it does make sense to some eminent student of the structures and interrelationships thereof that appear in human skin.
Patrick0Moran 00:12, 9 Dec 2003 (UTC)
With all due appreciation for the spirit of your discourse, here is my advice: if you know of no evidence for an empirical claim, simply ask for it. If you have some time, you can even figure out who made the claim in the first place (It wasn't me; I share your suspicion. There seems to be some correlation between axillary sweat glands and "race" but nothing that affects the ability to radiate heat or cool down). Wait a few days. If no one responds with a source, just delete it. I realize that your speculation is an attempt to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but honestly and with all due respect I think it is a meaningless gesture. There is scientific evidence that can be cited in the article, or there is none. It is perfectly fair for you to request the evidence or citation. It is up to the other person to respond. Slrubenstein
P0M: Your advice seems reasonable to me. (Oh, oh, did it again ;-) Thank you.
Patrick0Moran 01:39, 9 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Underhill et al: 20 groups based on Y chromosome

This is a followup to various strands above about what phylogenetic trees might be telling us.

Here is a summary of a phylogenetic tree based on analysis of the Y chromosomes of 1062 individuals from around the world. The tree comes from [4] It has 20 population clusters, but only captures 18% of the variation in the haplotypes. (That is, many of the haplotypes are spread in various ways amongst the identified groups. The details are given in a table in the paper.)

Underhill et al did not have adequate data on New Guinea and Australia, and so created a single group for them all. It looks as though they may have missed some interesting areas altogether.

In the following:

  • "X, Y" means X and Y are leaves that are directly joined together;
  • A+B is just the name of a single group.

The tree has three main lobes (A,B,C):

A. Sardinia
   Sudan, Ethiopia
B. America
   S.Africa, C.Africa
   New Guinea/Australia (grouped for lack of data)
   Taiwan, China
C. Europe, Basque
   Morocco, Mideast

Peak 09:04, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Preamble again

JackLynch recently added "language" to the list in the preamble, and then Slr reinstated "perceived", putting it before common descent. I am certainly not opposed to improving the preamble, but would like to suggest that the considerations that motivated these particular changes should be addressed differently.

Please first consider these three points:

1) The Wiktionary is not that far off in giving these two meanings:

  • a group having common ancestors
  • a classification of human beings on superficial traits such as skin color, and shape of facial features

Notice that "language" is not listed here at all (language is not normally regarded as a trait akin to skin color); neither is the qualification "perceived" used. One can obviously ask how "common ancestry" or "superficial traits" are determined, and equally obviously, we perceive the world through our senses, but it would be wrong to say that everyone means that "race" must be defined solely in terms of "perception".

2) Although it is obvious that people do in practice infer (or guess) a person's race based on things like behavior and language, that is not to say that they would believe their inference or guess to be unerringly accurate.

3) Both "scientific taxonomists" and "social constructionists" would be entitled to object to the addition of "perceived" here, as it implies that attributes like actual common descent are irrelevant. (To say that race is a social construction, is not to imply that individual misperceptions are relevant.)

Taking all these considerations into account, I would like to propose that the first two sentences be revised along the following lines:

Race is a type of classification used to identify groups of living things based on such elements as common descent, heredity, physical attributes, self-identification, and more rarely behavior and language. Although the term is sometimes applied to the entire human population ("the human race"), this article is primarily concerned with "race" as the term has been used to designate groups of humans, whether or not the groups are mutually exclusive, and whether or not the classification purports to be objective.

Peak 23:22, 8 Dec 2003 (UTC)

I have no objection to your proposal, although I'd like JDG and P0M to weigh in. Although I don't object to your proposal, I admit I don't quite follow your logic -- you sem to be infering some implication of "perceived" that I do not infer. For the record, I believe, following standard Darwinian theory, that all living creatures are descended from a common ancestor. I believe that those who use the term race, however, make one of two distinctions. I believe that some do not believe that all living creatures share an ancestor, but that people of different races share different (unrelated) ancestors. I believe that others, who may accept that ultimately people of different races share an ancestor, believe that at some specific time in the past these races diverged, so that members of one race share an ancestor not shared by members of another race. N.B., I do not believe this -- but I do believe others do, and so our description of racial beliefs must in some way represent these views. This is why I objected to the deletion of "common descent," and what I intended by including the word "perceived." If anyone can think of a clearer or more eloquent wayto communicate this, I welcome their suggestion.
Peak: But so far as I can tell, nobody deleted "common descent". (Perhaps you thought JackLynch did when in fact he only added "language" before "common descent"; perhaps you then thought he must have objected to "common descent" and so tried to soften it?) Anyway, it may be that some people do get confused by the phrase "common descent"; if anyone thinks that's the case here, then I have no objections to using the phrase "common ancestry".
Moreover, Peak's comments, if I understand them correctly, seem N. American-centric.
Peak: If they are, it's not because I was born in N. America as I wasn't :-)
I agree that in the United States people may consider dialect to be an indicator of race, but not a defining characteristic. But this may not be the case in other countries, where dialect may indeed define one's race.
This point is covered in the article, and I think it's worthwhile making, but not too much can be read into it as far as the English word "race" is concerned, and therefore as far as an article on race in is concerned. Let me explain as there's an important point about language here. Let's suppose that someone says that the more-or-less equivalent word for "race" in language X is x, and further let us suppose that in all countries where X is spoken, everyone agrees that language is the only criterion for x. Then it is clear (from the Wiktionary and almost all other English dictionaries) that (at least in this context), 'x' cannot be properly translated into the English word 'race'.
These considerations lead me to a larger point, which I mention because there has been some discussion here and elsewhere about how the concept of race could be (or should be, or maybe in some quarters even has been) redefined (or reconceptulaized) so that it can be usefully used in the context of human classification. If there are some communities of English-language speakers who have done so, then that constitutes a POV that would be worth mentioning in the appropriate way. Since Wikipedians form a community too, it would be noteworthy if Wikipedians came up with a POV on the topic, but it would just be another POV.
Considerations like these also lead me to agree with the idea expressed in the 'Race' article (before you deleted it) to the effect that the concept of "race" may never recover from its history. If I can find the author, I am inclined to add a Quotations section and quote him or here there :-)
Peak 04:58, 9 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Haha-- twas I who contributed the may never recover statement. Surprised? JDG
Peak: To be quoted, more than three initials are needed :-)
Patrick0Moran:A word that has many different definitions in the minds of the various people who use it is not a word well suited to rationale discourse. But that fact may be a reason for its survival.
Moreover, I agree that in the United States most people would agree that dialect is not an unerring indicator of race. But in other countries, people may not consider skin color to be an unerring indicator of race either (this is -- or at least, in the 1960s was -- the case in Brazil).
I think the main body of the article is the appropriate place to go into the different ways race is constructed in different societies. The preamble, however, should be as inclusive as possible -- describing race is scientists and non-scientiss; biological reductionists and social-constructionists, N. Americans and others might understand race. Slrubenstein
P0M: "Race is a type of classification used to identify groups of living things based on such elements as..." I think we may all have been subtly misconceptualizing things and getting ourselves into unnecessary trouble. More on that later, if I am permitted to speak. For the moment, may I ask whether it would not work to change the word "identify" in the above-quoted passage to "sort"?
Some meanings of "sort" entail an ordering. If you don't like 'identify', how about 'define'? Peak 07:33, 9 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Patrick0Moran: After work I'll dig out my thesaraus. I was looking for a word more like "sort," but you are right that it suggests an ordering. What is another verb for what the clerk in the post office does to letters addressed to different box holders? "He _____ the letters to the various P.O. boxes." "Appropriately distributed?" "Distributed by rule?" Either of those choices would change the rest of the sentence in form but not in meaning.
When a clerk distributes letters to mailboxes, he or she pigeonholes them. Mutual exclusion is NOT something we want to imply just here.Peak 18:02, 9 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Races are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Not all forms of identification are mutually exclusive. "Race" is one way people identify themselves and one another. What is wrong with "identify?" Slrubenstein
Patrick0Moran: I do not want the article to say anything to imply mutual exclusivity. People categorize themselves and other people in various ways. Scholar A looks at the world and puts its people into three categories. Scholar B puts the same people into five categories, and so forth. The people don't actually go anywhere, it is some token of the individual that is put in one category or another. For instance, one person puts my name on the list of car owners. Another person puts my name on the list of bicycle owners. Am I correct so far?
Patrick0Moran: "Identify" implies a (putatively) objective process, correct? The sentence: "Moran has been identified as a Martian sympathizer," implies two things: (1) that the word "Martian" has a real referent, and (2) that Moran actually sympathizes with those Martians. If somebody take me before the HUAC and identifies me as being a Martian sympathizizer, I am off the hook if I can disprove either (1) or (2). Right or wrong?
Patrick0Moran: If, however, we say, "Senator McCarthy put Moran on the list of 52 Martian sympathizers," then the issue of truth or falsity involves whether McCarthy has a list entitled "Martian Sympathizers", and whether Moran's name was put on that list. Right or wrong?
Patrick0Moran: I think the word I was looking for this morning may be "allocate." How does the following formulation strike you?
"Race is a type of classification used to allocate groups 
of living things to categories based on such elements as..."
Peak 04:56, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC): Patrick - To quote you, I think that the path you're pursuing here is only going to get ourselves into unnecessary trouble. To define or identify a group is not necessarily to specify an algorithm or procedure for allocating individuals to that group. Consider e.g. the OMB directive: it defines groups using certain language, but allows self-identification, where it could just as well have allowed ascription by committee. (Allocation also connotes mutual exclusion.) Of course, I myself have proposed significant revisions to the preamble, so I am not suggesting we cannot do better, but we have to take things one step at a time. I would suggest that you choose between 'define' and 'identify' for now; later, we can reconsider more ambitious rewrites.
P0M: I accept that "Race is a type of classification used to define groups of living things...." adequately conveys the idea that there are rules (or conventions, if you prefer) according to which people are put (or put themselves) into one group or another. It doesn't suggest something resembling a Platonic Idea which an individual either matches or fails to match. So it works well for me.
P0M 05:22, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC):I don't think that it creates the misapprehension that there is any "mutual exclusivity" implied, either. I can define my groups my way, and somebody else can define groups that would scatter my group memebers hither and yon.
Since you and Slr have agreed to the proposed change, and since everyone else has been silent, I will install the change. Thanks to all. Peak 05:53, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC)
In general I feel the new opening is good, but I would do away with "whether or not the groups are mutually exclusive"-- I think it just muddies things up this early in the article and, besides, some of the theories discussed do deal in mutual exclusion, at least primarily. JDG 20:09, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC)
agreed, it goes without saying, Slrubenstein
Dear JDG: The term 'classification' often involves mutually exclusive classes, whereas the term 'race' (as applied to humans) often does not, so having mentioned 'classification' it is better to make clear right up front that this article does not mean to imply mutual exclusion. However, if you or anyone else wants to propose a complete rewrite of the Preamble, please do so! Btw, regarding the botanical article with 'Race' in its title that you cited - do you know exactly what they mean by 'race'? It seems they mean something like "a group of organisms all of whose genes come from a small set of ancestors".

Define vs Identify

Dear Slr: Why did you change 'define' to 'identify' without engaging in discussion here? Agreed it is a minor change, but POM had specifically requested 'define' and there was discussion on this page regarding the change; JDG also approved it subsequently. I don't think this is fair to POM, or to those who have agreed to follow the "discuss first" approach you have requested that others follow. Peak 00:51, 11 Dec 2003 (UTC)
Dear SLR: I do not regard your change as minor. Perhaps the following example will be pithy enough to serve: The forelock of a horse is the continuation of the mane. Some hairs belong to the group of hairs we call the mane, and some hairs belong to the group of hairs we call the forelock. One cannot identify a hair as a mane hair or a forelock hair just by looking at it. One must define what one (or one's linguistic community) means by the words "mane" and "forelock" and then apply that definition to know which kind of hair it is. In practice, each person asked to comb the forelock forward would put his or her comb down at a different point. There is nothing in nature that draws a precise mathematical line between the forelock and the mane. One cannot identify a mane hair prior to defining what the words "mane hair" mean. I think the reason that we have been unable to resolve our dispute is precisely because you insist on covertly asserting that there is a collection of races existing in the real world and already "pre-labeled" as it were. That insistence seems incongruous with your belief that there are folk taxonomies as well as scientific taxonomies, because a folk taxonomy will divide the world in different ways than will a scientific taxonomy. For instance, a folk taxonomy may group sheep and goats together. (In Chinese they are just two kinds of yang2.) But they are identified by biologists as members of two genera, Ovis and Capra. --- And, by the way, when you asked above "What's wrong with identity?" I told you, but you appear not to have noticed my reply. P0M 17:06, 11 Dec 2003 (UTC)
I didn't understand what you think is wrong with identity, and I still do not. You seem to be arguing from analogy (which one should never do), and analogies that don't apply. I agree that there is much debate over how to define "race" and that shold be covered in the article. But people do not use race to "define" people (I am not even sure what it would mean to define a person, other than to say a person is a featherless biped)
Peak The question is not whether we are to 'define people' but whether we should write: "to identify groups of living things" or "to define groups of living things". The groups we have in mind here are "racial groups" so the question is whether it is better to speaking of "defining racial groups" or "identifying racial groups". I agree with P0M that, in this context, the most neutral phrasing would use "define", since "identify" could be interpreted to mean that the racial groupings are "objective". Peak 01:22, 12 Dec 2003 (UTC)
People do use race to identify people. I have read a lot of literature, scientific and non-scientific, on race, and I have talked to a liot of people about race, and I do not recall anyone ever saying that they "defined" themselves or others according to race but I have heard many people -- scientific and non; racit and non; left-wing and right-wing, use the word "identity" and "identify" so it seems to be the appropriate word here, Slrubenstein
P0M I regret that you do not understand. I suggest that you carefully study pages 1 and 2 of the document posted at the following URL:

This is not a question of set theory. This is a question of how people use the word race, and how best to introduce an encyclopedia article on race. The word "identity" in identify politics and racial identification does not mean the same thing that "identity" means in set theory. Slrubenstein

P0M: Surely an article on race is not an article just on how people use the word race. It would be best to introduce an encyclopedia article on race by avoiding pitfalls of misconceptualization.

An article on race should be an article on how different people use the word race; the history (i.e., account of the changing ways) of the use of the word; an account of the contexts in which the term has been used and in which the use of the term has changed; and debates over how (if at all) the word should be used. In most of these instances, people have used race to identify themselves and/or others. People have also debated whether race is a scientific way to identify people; people have also debated the politics of racial identification. A good article would cover all of these. Slrubenstein

P0M I think you are missing my point. If someone without prior knowledge were asked to identify the race of two people dragged in "from the ends of the earth" as it were, how would that person proceed? I wouldn't know a Sardian from a Hunza on sight. How would I list their personal names under the proper headings? I would have to have a definition of what a Sardinian really is and what a Hunza really is. If I were really thorough I'd get a copy of the study given at and do a genetic analysis on each of them to figure out where each of them belongs. Somebody might "identify" me as a member of "the Irish race," but they'd be in for a surprise if they did a genetic study. They'd find that I don't fit the definition because on the maternal side I'm French and lots of other non-Irish things.

You are missing my point. Your comments -- about how to"define" a Sardian and a Hunzan are more appropriate for articles on Sardians and Hunzans. This is not an article on Sardians and Hunzans, however. By the way, your account, such as it is, assumes that the definition of Sardan and Hunzan is genetic. There are indeed some people who define races genetically, but not everyone does and there is much debate over this and the articel -- most certainly, not the first paragraph of the article -- should privilege this point of view. You assume that there is one definition (in your phrase "I don't fit the definition") but in fact there may be several definitions, some held by different groups of people, others held by the same group of people but used in different contexts. In any event, this is not an article on Sardians or Hunzans, or on Irish or French -- it is an article on race. Slrubenstein

P0M: You accept that some people define races genetically, and that one or more other groups of people define races by non-genetic means. At last we have something that we can agree upon -- I think.

Opening is Drifting

Maybe it's too many cooks. The opening now is just substandard. Language shouldn't have been introduced at a point when all living things are the predicate (and it is covered later). The phrase "whether or not they are mutually exclusive" is still muddying it up, and the deletion of "where all members belong to the same species but appear to warrant further classification" does great harm to the opening sentence as a standalone definition. JDG 05:27, 12 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Peak: Here are responses to each of your points:

  • It seems to me that either we should take out both language and behavior, or leave them both in. The relationship between the phylogeny of languages and the phylogeny of humanity is far more interesting than whatever connection there may be between "race" and "behavior".
  • There is no need to revive the (very tedious) qualification: "where all members belong to the same species but appear to warrant further classification". This is already covered in both paragraphs of the preamble, and is brought up again in the very first section of the article! Specifically:
    • the first paragraph says: "this article is primarily concerned with "race" as the term has been used to designate groups of humans";
    • the second paragraph says that race is used like the word subspecies;
    • the first paragraph of the first section talks about "the classification of humanity into various races".
  • I have already explained why the substance conveyed by the clause "whether or not they are mutually exclusive" is an essential counterweight to the emphasis given to "classification"; I don't see the phrasing as awkward, but perhaps you'd care to suggest an alternative way to convey the idea, or to restructure the preamble altogether. Speaking of which, my original contributions to this topic tried to circumvent the need to be explicit issue by providing examples:
    • the U.S. naturalization example illustrated "mutual exclusion";
    • the OMB example provided an illustration of the opposite.

Peak 08:03, 12 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Sorry, but by my lights you have fallen back into wanting the article to convey your ideas of race rather than historical ideas of race.
  • Language should come out of the first paragraph while behavior stays in. Only humans talk and write, but all organisms have behavior. The first sentence is dealing with "all living things". Language gets its due a few paras down.
  • The phrase that strikes you as tedious simply must be in the article. None of the other statements you list acts as a clear summation of the traditional notion of Race. You don't like that notion, but the article is "Race", not "Peak and Race".
  • I disagree with your thinking on the "mutually exclusive" issue. You said earlier that "it is better to make clear right up front that this article does not mean to imply mutual exclusion". But this article does not mean to imply anything, overall, about the vailidity of old or new formulations of Race. It means to, or should mean to, convey the definitions and uses of the term through time. For the great majority of that time, race was indeed used to imply mutual exclusion between groups-- in fact this exclusivity was fundamental to the meaning of the word. To stress a recent and still rare construction in the opening paragraph is misleading. JDG
P0M: Not talking directly about the editing of the article, but just to clarify in my own mind what you just said, JDG, let me see whether I've got it straight. There have been several ways, over the course of history, that race has been used to speak of the group differences perceived or believed to exist among individual members of a given genus and species. For instance, in the case of human beings, some people might be deemed members of a race on the grounds of skin color, some people might be deemed members of a race on the grounds of religious affiliation, some people might be deemed members of a race on the grounds of country or region of origin, some people might be deemed members of a race on the grounds of tribal affiliation, some people might be deemed members of a race on the grounds of sentiment toward some group or ideal, etc., etc. And eventually we get down to relatively recent events and find that some people might be deemed members of a race on the grounds of their genetic inheritance. I'll leave it at that for the nonce.