Scientific racism's long history mandates caution

Feb 14, 2014

Racism as a social and scientific concept is reshaped and reborn periodically through the ages and according to a Penn State anthropologist, both medical and scientific researchers need to be careful that the growth of genomics does not bring about another resurgence of scientific racism.

"What we are facing is a time when genomic knowledge widens and gene engineering will be possible and widespread," said Nina Jablonski, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. "We must constantly monitor how this information on human gene diversity is used and interpreted. Any belief system that seeks to separate people on the basis of genetic endowment or different physical or intellectual features is simply inadmissible in human society."

What worries Jablonski and the sociologists, psychologists and evolutionary biologists in her session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, today (Feb. 14) in Chicago, are people who believe that they can use genetic traits to describe races and to develop race-specific interventions for each group. One particularly disturbing approach, although currently suggested as beneficial, is application of genetics to create special approaches to education. The idea that certain individuals and groups learn differently due to their genetic makeup, and so need specialized educational programs could be the first step in a slippery slope to recreating a new brand of "separate but equal."

Similar approaches in medicine that are based not on personal genetics but on racial generalizations can be just as incorrect and troubling, especially because human genetic admixture is so prevalent.

"Our species is defined by regular admixture of peoples and ideas over millennia," said Jablonski. "To come up with new reasons for segregating people is hideous."

Classification of humans began innocently enough with Carl Linnaeus and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who simply classified humans into races in the same way they classified dogs or cats—by their physical characteristics. These were scientists classifying the world around them and realizing that the classifications were not immutable but had a great deal of diversity and overlap. However, in the last quarter of the 18th century, philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant, looked to classify people by behavior and culture as well as genetics. Kant suggested that there were four groups of people, three of which because they existed under conditions not conducive to great intellect or achievement were inferior. Only the European race was capable of self-improvement and highest level of civilization.

Kant's ideas, widely accepted during his lifetime, set up the idea of European superiority in the future. Coupled with the great rise and profitability of slavery at the time, his views were adopted and morphed to legitimize the slave trade.

In the late 19th century, after Darwin's ideas became accepted, many applied his principles to the cultural, political and social spheres, developing the concept of Social Darwinism. Darwin's nephew, Francis Galton, suggested that in parts of the world there were still "pure races" and that these needed to be preserved. This line of thought led to the eugenics movement and eugenic engineering ideas of the early 20th century. Included in this were the rise of European superiority and the trappings of eugenics and racial purity.

"The most odious of all was the rise of Nazism and biological justification of Nordic supremacy," said Jablonski. "Emphasis was placed on the need to maintain the purity of all races, but especially the Nordic race and to improve the races."

The reasoning given was that the quality of a race could be improved by preventing reproduction of those deemed physically or mentally undesirable either by sterilization or extermination.

"This included the Jewish race, which was considered to be biologically and socially destitute representing a lower form of civilization than others and preying upon higher civilizations of Europe," said Jablonski. "This was a worse consequence than justification of the , being killed and subjugated by those using pseudo science as justification for scientific racism."

According to Jablonski, it is not surprising that scientific racism is experiencing a rebirth, but not because people are malicious or necessarily have a racist belief systems. She believes that the scientific neoracists often are well intentioned, but that the application of genomic-based interventions, while potentially beneficial, cannot be done on a racial basis.

"We know that it is more likely for people in certain parts of Northern Europe to develop cystic fibrosis," said Jablonski. "But it is wrong to say that this is a potential trait only of the European race, especially because of admixture.

"From a clinical medical perspective, people are more complexly admixed than ever. The best approach is to get people to talk about their levels of admixture, rather than label them or their diseases by race."

Explore further: Racial blends - easy on the eyes until you categorise

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Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 14, 2014
This line of thought led to the eugenics movement and eugenic engineering ideas of the early 20th century. Included in this were the rise of European superiority and the trappings of eugenics and racial purity.
And just so we are clear, given the comments of certain trolls, eugenics was NEVER accepted by the majority of scientists, even in Europe, and most certainly did not ever reach the level of "consensus" as is claimed by a certain troll.

flashgordon
3.3 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2014
In the few examples of rascism I've experienced, rascism is an over-generalization. Some white kid got punked by a black kid way back in my high school years. The white kid came storming into my English class and announced he's going anti-blacks. He's basically saying that 'all' blacks are punks because one punked him for no apparent reason. Just saying someone is stupid because of their skin color is a bad idealization; how does skin color affect intelligence?

Concepts I'm talking about is mathematics. The rascisms mentioned in this article are about biologists(actually a philosopher who got the philosopher of mathematics wrong amongst other things) who are not thinking mathematically.

I find that understanding the creative nature of mathematics explains rationality and irrational behavior. I have blog about these things,

Here's a post a bit about rascism, http://wwwscienti...ech.html

julianpenrod
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 14, 2014
Essentially, the emphasis, unspoken and evidently agreed never to be expressed in words, only exist as a subtext, is to debase any legitimate reasoning on the issue of genetics so as to avoid ever acknowledging the reality of racial differences!
"Constantly monitor" how information on genetics "is used and interpreted". Which sounds so much like the thought police.
"Belief systems" that "seek to separate peoples" are "simply inadmissible in human society". But what if what the "belief systems" say is true?
Developing race based methodologies of teaching is condemned, even without being tried. Not because it's untrue, but only because it challenges the Liberal orthodoxy!
In attacking religion, how many "science" devotees didn't describe religion as "monitoring" what "science" said and trying to fight it, even if it was right, because "it's wrong for society"?
julianpenrod
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 14, 2014
Among the sophistry, "explanations" and apologia trying to deny the reality of race, the claim, by the article that, Kant posited four races, "three of which because they existed under conditions not conducive to great intellect or achievement were inferior". So warm and wet environments, like in Africa or South America, are not "conducive" to intellectual achievement? Why not? What is is about warmth that inhibits intellectual growth? The region populated by Mongoloids is largely cool and mountainous, similar to so much of Europe. And didn't Orientals build huge cities and powerful civilizations? For that matter, so much of North America resembles Europe, so why were the people here still in the Stone Age when Europeans were circumnavigating the globe? Is it so much that the environments kept the other peoples from developing or is it that the peoples who were hindered were hindered by their own inferiority kept them from surmounting their surroundings?
ryggesogn2
1.3 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2014
Why won't tests like those conducted by metabolic typing be used?

https://www.metab...ult.aspx

Everyone is different, but we have a regulatory system that assumes everyone is the same for drug tests and nutrition mandates.

Jimee
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2014
Bigots don't often wear their hoods and sheets anymore, but they are still bigots and haters.
rmk948
4 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2014
Anthropology has produced some excellent work, but sadly also more pseudoscientific gibberish than the rest of the social sciences put together. Far from teaching us that any racial intellectual or ethical differences are fixed and immutable, modern epigenetics suggests that we can develop powerful new tools for promoting true equality of opportunity for all humans. We can only deploy them by facing up to the differences, not sweeping them under the rug. A close look at separated twin studies and transracial adoption suggests that adopting an epigenetic approach will lead to a more just society, not apartheid or Naziism.
barakn
5 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2014
Why won't tests like those conducted by metabolic typing be used?

https://www.metab...ult.aspx

Because there's absolutely no scientific evidence that they work, practitioners have been busted for not having medical licenses and prescribing nutritional therapy for cancer, and identical blood samples sent to the same company resulted in radically different dietary prescriptions. Metabolic typing is snake oil, a scam. Pretty typical of soggyring2 to promote some shady company.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2014
Because there's absolutely no scientific evidence that they work

How can scientific data be collected on a sample size of one?
Science would call positive results anecdotal.
The Okinawans and Greeks have been studied for longevity, but how are their genetics separated from the diets promoted by some?
Reminds me of a Star Trek episode, Omega Glory where a Starfleet captain thought he found the fountain of youth, a planet were peole lived hundreds of years.
"McCoy believes the natives' immunity to disease and longevity was simply the result of evolution through natural selection;"
My ancestors followed the retreating glaciers likely eating mostly wild game, not wheat, rice or bananas.
Pima Indians suffer diabetes when eating a non-native diet. Aboriginal Australians suffer maladies when eating a non-native diet.

"Study Finds Evidence of Genetic Response to Diet"
http://www.nytime...tml?_r=0
Maggnus
5 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2014
So what are you promoting rygg, is that government take control of people's diets to ensure they are eating the correct food.

Nestle
1 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2014
after Darwin's ideas became accepted
Even toddlers avoid the strangers instinctively, because the speciation couldn't work, if every would have intercourse with everyone. The dismissal of strangers (albinos, black, whatever..) therefore helps the faster Darwinian evolution. Also, the differently looking foreigners are more probably a competitors if not an enemies. Therefore the people have hardwired instinctive barriers against strangers and they're not fully prepared for life inside of forcefully globalized society.
ersatz
2 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2014
"And just so we are clear, given the comments of certain trolls, eugenics was NEVER accepted by the majority of scientists, even in Europe, and most certainly did not ever reach the level of "consensus" as is claimed by a certain troll." --Maggnus
------------

then apparently,the supposed minority of the scientific community effectively converted the united states into a country that openly accepted this racist pseudoscience as viable enough to legislate and endorse via sterilizations for many many years.

americas disturbing past of accepting eugenics as a 'science' can never be erased,no matter how hard many attempt to do so.

genetic mapping/ gene sequencing & databases are simply eugenics ver2.0 w/ more technology at it's disposal.

--------------------------

"Darwin's nephew, Francis Galton, suggested that in parts of the world there were still "pure races" and that these needed to be preserved."

Francis Galton was Darwin's cousin( half- cousin),not his nephew.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2014
"The importance of diet and nutrition in the etiology of a number of metabolic and autoimmune diseases, affecting mortality and morbidity is well recognized. However, the exact nature of how diet impacts health and disease is not clearly understood"
http://grants.nih...375.html

http://www.foodna...opyright
Sigh
5 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2014
Therefore the people have hardwired instinctive barriers against strangers

Not so. Pietraszewski, Cosmides and Tooby (2014). The Content of Our Cooperation, Not the Color of Our Skin: An Alliance Detection System Regulates Categorization by Coalition and Race, but Not Sex: http://www.ploson....0088534

Sigh
5 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2014
Even toddlers avoid the strangers instinctively, because the speciation couldn't work, if every would have intercourse with everyone.

Please do explain to me how that would create selective pressure for assortative mating. I am a biologist, so I am really interested in learning something new on this topic.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2014
then apparently,the supposed minority of the scientific community effectively converted the united states into a country that openly accepted this racist pseudoscience as viable enough to legislate and endorse via sterilizations for many many years.
"Supposed minority"? Sterilizations were the method used by politically motivated non-scientists, people who thought they knew better. So yes I guess the "supposed minority" were able to effectively convert US politicians into doing something the majority of scientists said was a flawed idea.

It amazes me how many people confuse "majority" with "consensus".
Nestle
1 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2014
Not so. Pietraszewski, Cosmides and Tooby (2014). The Content of Our Cooperation, Not the Color of Our Skin
Not so. Racism is 'hardwired' into the human brain - and people can be prejudiced without knowing it (from Race, Behavior, and the Brain: The Role of Neuroimaging in Understanding Complex Social Behaviors). The problem is, "your" study was psychobehavioral, i.e. based on willing decisions of studied persons during research (and you know - no one wants to look like racist at publics, even not during psychological research) - but the studies of Phelps at all. are based on objective brain scanning studies. You cannot fool the chemicals in your brain so easily.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2014
Not so. Racism is 'hardwired' into the human brain - and people can be prejudiced without knowing it

@zephir
your statement is misleading
racism is a LEARNED TRAIT and can be altered
here is a quote from the conclusions in the study you linked
Showing a behavior "in the brain" does not indicate that it is innate, "hard-
wired," or unchangeable. Every experience leads to an alteration in the brain.
[sic]

you really should have at least read all of the abstract and conclusions
what they are essentially saying is that your PREFERENCES (from prior experience, learning, etc) are hard wired and have a tendency to affect your decisions etc
therefore it is the PREFERENCES that are LEARNED AND REINFORCED that are hard wired
NOT RACISM ITSELF

just a wee bit different than saying racism is hard wired... it THAT were true, babies would never be attracted/play/interact with with other race babies, etc
Nestle
1 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2014
racism is a LEARNED TRAIT and can be altered
IMO not, as the above study of toddlers indicates. The avoidance if not fear of strangers is hardwired in most of conscious animals. I'd rather say, the trust in foreigners is learned trait instead. Why not to admit, you're living in your perception of reality?
Nestle
2 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2014
BTW My posts here are often dismissed just because they don't use English grammar properly. I know about this attitude well, it's unconscious trait. It's not just about racism, but about xenophobia in general.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2014
IMO not, as the above study of toddlers indicates

@zephir
my answers above about racism came from YOUR link ( http://www.psych....iors.pdf )

I am not making anything up. I quoted DIRECTLY from the study conclusions
RACISM is a LEARNED TRAIT
what you are referring to is fear of strangers, which is different and can be tied to the fear of the unknown which would be a different study altogether
Why not to admit, you're living in your perception of reality?

READ THE STUDY that I RE-LINKED FROM YOUR POST
My posts here are often dismissed just because they don't use English grammar properly

no
they are often dismissed because you cannot form logical arguments
you said
Racism is 'hardwired' into the human brain - and people can be prejudiced without knowing it

and then linked a study

I refuted it with that same study

i dont care about your race
only your argument
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2014
I know about http://metro.co.u...453565/, it's unconscious trait. It's not just about racism, but about xenophobia in general.

@zephir
this is your paranoia speaking out
I have given you a five star vote before
and I can respect someone who admits mistakes
like in the thread ( http://phys.org/n...firstCmt )

IMHO - your dismissal comes usually from your continued support of a hypothesis that has no empirical data and your willingness to share it in almost every article comment section

I know some people may not like you because of where you are from, but I really dont care
Sigh
5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2014
The problem is, "your" study was psychobehavioral, i.e. based on willing decisions of studied persons during research

Did you even look at the procedures?
study participants are asked to watch and form
impressions of the people involved.
As the scenario unfolds, these participants see eight speakers
make a series of comments. The speakers vary in ways of interest
to the experimenter; the differences may be apparent from their
photos (e.g., sex, race, age) or from what they say (e.g., interests,
attitudes, affiliations). When the scenario is over, participants are
given a surprise memory task: they are asked to recall who said
what.
Their mistakes reveal how they categorized the speakers. When
a cognitive system in the observer has been assigning individuals to
categories, the observer will be more likely to confuse members of
the same category (e.g., two women) than members of contrasting
categories (e.g., a woman and a man).
Sigh
5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2014
the studies of Phelps at all. are based on objective brain scanning studies

I followed through from the Daily Mail to the original review. It makes the same point as Pietraszewski:
What has been interpreted to be race-based processing may also reflect a more general response in intergroup contexts. In two recent studies, researchers arbitrarily assigned mixed-race participants to one group or another. Subjects viewed pictures of members of their own arbitrarily assigned group or the other group during fMRI. The studies report heightened activity in the FFA to faces of arbitrarily assigned ingroup members compared with outgroup members, regardless of race. These results suggest that expertise with ingroup race exemplars per se may not lead to altered FFA responses74, but rather that the salient social group identity in the situation, which may or may not be race, could dictate lowered attention to outgroup members at the expense of encoding individuating features.

Sigh
5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2014
Which leads me to these comments:
1) Try to read the original papers. Newspapers summarise, and their selection can be biased.
2) Brain scanning is not inherently more objective than all behavioural measures. It depends on what the behavioural measures are.
3) If you don't even try to control what coalitions your participants perceive, then they can only fall back on defaults. Most of the studies reviewed by Kubota, Banaji & Phelps didn't try, and therefore could not be evidence against Pietraszewski et al's conclusions. Those that did control cues to coalitions came to the same conclusions.
4) If trying not to look racist explained results, I would expect people who don't want to look racist also don't want to look sexist. Yet Pietraszewski et al say that participants continued to remember whether the source of a particular remark was male or female, even when sex was irrrelevant to coalition membership.