June 15, 2007

The Steveosphere in The New Republic

The New Republic recently published an article entitled "Why genes don't determine race: Race Against History" by Merlin Chowkwanyun that's a lot of the same old same old.

I've long felt my single biggest contribution was coming up with a definition of "racial group" that was both rigorous and common-sensical ("a partly inbred extended family"). Simply having a useful definition should do much to dispel the hysteria, bad-faith, status-seeking, and general air of nonsense surrounding the topic of race.

On the other hand, my definition hasn't exactly swept like wildfire through the intellectual world as Chowkwanyun. But that's the way it generally is. You don't persuade famous thinkers, like, say, Richard Rorty, you outlive them. A new generation then comes along that doesn't have their egos invested in bad old ideas.

So, I was pleased to see in TNR a reply to the article by Justin Shubow that demonstrates a good familiarity with state-of-the-art thinking on the subject.

(By the way, Steven Pinker was mistaken in attributing the phrase a "a race is just a very large and partly inbred family" to my friend Vince Sarich -- Sarich was the first to draw the analogy of races to fuzzy sets in math.)


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

18 comments:

Glaivester said...

I remember talking to someone a while back about race - I don't remember the context - and they asked me "what is a race?" with the obvious anticipation that I wouldn't be able to define it.

I immediately said "it's an extended family that inbreeds to some degree."

I think they were taken aback by the fact that I had an answer.

Thank you, Steve!

Mark said...

Couldn't get to the TNR article - didn't want to register. So instead I Googled and found this story in the LA Times, by one Osagie Obasogie.

Obasogie is probably as PC as the TNR guy. He says that West African blacks don't have the hypertension problems that American blacks do, so it must be caused by the social environment:

...no contemporary West African population suffers from rampant hypertension...Countless studies show that stressful environments and situations raise blood pressure. And few things are as consistently stressful as being black. By almost every measurable social category — such as income, infant mortality, education, incarceration rates and employment — blacks fare poorly, making everyday life a constant struggle. Only a buried-head ostrich would say that racial discrimination does not play a role in many African Americans' poor health.

Got that? Because, you see, Blacks in Africa don't suffer from low income, low employment rates, high infant mortality, etc., etc., etc. No, in West Africa, blacks live the idyllic life. That's why a numberless concourse of American blacks are streaming back to the Promised Land.

Anonymous said...

On fuzzy sets:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_set

(Introduced by an Azerbaijani, Lotfi Aliaskerzadeh. He might have had refuting the possibility that his tribe is essentially not significantly genetically different from its perceived arch-enemy -- Armenians. Tee hee! Just kidding.)

Kepple said...

Steve, no patent holder ever fought more desperately for credit for an idea than you.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't get to the TNR article - didn't want to register.

eh

Anonymous said...

It'd be especially sad if those who act out of serious concern for black Americans' health end up embracing ideas of racial particularity not too distant from those underlying...The Bell Curve, and other sorry chapters in the history of American thought.

Regarding the question of the merits of the scientific evidence for/against a genetic basis for race, at this point in time it seems absurd to me to be giving attention to the basically political opinion of some agenda driven 'ethnic' non-scientist.

Over time I've learned to be very careful about discussing this topic in multiracial company. In particular, many otherwise intelligent and open non-whites feel instantly threatened, often reacting angrily, emotionally denying even the barest possibility that, e.g., the problem of black academic underachievement could have a genetic component. Almost immediately what could (and should) have been a discussion about facts and policy (rationale, effectiveness, etc) becomes leaden and overshadowed by uncertainty/insinuation about moral character and motive.

tommy said...

A 1996 study by Nancy Krieger and Stephen Sidney, published in the American Journal of Public Health, explored links between victim responses to racial discrimination and high blood pressure.

Heather MacDonald made mincemeat out of Nancy Krieger's sloppy research in her book, The Burden of Bad Ideas. Krieger not infrequently arrives at conclusions at odds with the data she gathers. I believe MacDonald touched upon this particular study in the book. As I recall, MacDonald pointed out that what Krieger's study actually showed was that black men who had faced the least discrimination had the highest blood pressure! Krieger simply reinterpreted these men's responses as evidence that they had been "brainwashed" by society into believe they weren't discriminated against. If you say you've been discriminated against, then we take your word for it. If you say you haven't been discriminated against, that means you've really been discriminated against. Funny stuff!

Of course, making the argument that black men don't have high blood pressure in other societies and therefore the high blood pressure of American blacks cannot be attributed in part to genetics isn't very compelling unless those societies are otherwise similar to our own. For example, are West African or Haitian diets similar to American diets? I seriously doubt it. Nobody denies blood pressure is determined by multiple factors, except for Nancy Krieger and company who would chalk it all up to that most obvious of cause of bad health: racial discrimination, overt and covert.

Josh said...

Steve says that African blacks have "issues" over there in Africa,so the whole "Blacks Suffer Emotionally Here In the US" as the cause of high blood pressure,and who knows what else,should be discounted. But in Africa,however bad things are,you're pretty much surrounded by other blacks. However you define status on Africa,its gonna be a black guy who has it! The non-blacks among you are probably foreign business guys,government jerks, the "helping professions" or Bono. Nothing too impressive. :D But here in the USA blacks see every day that they are on the bottom of the ladder and they know its gonna stay that way.Maybe they are being stressed not by "white racism",the usual whipping boy,but by "diversity".

Mark said...

But in Africa,however bad things are,you're pretty much surrounded by other blacks. However you define status on Africa,its gonna be a black guy who has it!

True. But that, then, means that it isn't racism that causes stress, but worry and anxiety and doubt from oneself. It's not what the other guy's doing to you - it's your worry about what you perceive the other guy to be doing to you.

It seems this is the sort of anxiety caused in a survival, fight or flight situation. For many blacks, their nervous system must always be on high alert because they perceive us - whites, Asians, whoever - to be an enemy that must be dealt with.

In a roundabout way, then, the evidence for racism that Obasogie (I still haven't read the TNR article) is pointing to is actually evidence for racism in blacks.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps there are measurable and significant differences between races wrt diet. Natural selection at work. Oh that icky, icky science.

Eskimos eat (or used to anyway) a diet so rich in fat that it would fell most other people by age 40. Italians and Frenchmen drink wine every day with meals and don't become (mostly) raging alcoholics. Something neither my Scots-Irish nor Amerindian ancestors can handle. Because we came late to booze. And aren't physiologically adapted to handle that in our diet.

What do West Africans eat? Probably a diet with some significant differences from American blacks. Hence a difference in hypertension. There is also very likely significant differences in physical exertion that causes metabolic differences.

Nigerians who move to the US find it "paradise" compared to the anarchy, chaos, and crime of say, Lagos. They're black too. But they'll take the racism over figuring out if say, a criminal gang will shoot them that night.

Steve Sailer said...

The original TNR article starts out by making fun of Oprah for hosting a show about the old theory that African-Americans have blood pressure problems due to salt retention issues selected for on slave ships. I covered this several years ago.

Greg Cochran told me:

"The reason it wouldn't have an important effect is that you don't get a lot of genetic change in one generation unless you try _really_ hard. If they lost the bottom 15% of the people (in terms of salt retention) during the Middle Passage, a cutoff of about one std below average, the increase in salt retention would be about a tenth or so of a standard deviation, assuming a narrow-sense heritability of 50%. You'd never notice the difference. [And, of course, genetic differences in salt retention didn't cause all the deaths in the Middle Passage, so this estimate is optimistic.]

"But there is a real difference in salt retention between Africans and non-Africans, and it may well have something to do with cardiovascular problems (although other differences like an increased tendency to inflammation may be as important). It's been around for a long, long time. See the following account, based on a recent article in The American Journal of Human Genetics:"

Here's the press release rom the U. of Chicago about the article about Africans' tendency to retain salt:

"Researchers at the University have found genetic evidence to support the sodium-retention hypothesis, a controversial 30-year-old theory that the high rate of hypertension in certain ethnic groups is caused, in part, by an inherited tendency to retain salt.

"In the online edition of the December [2004] issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers show that the frequency of one version of a gene that is crucial to salt retention correlates with distance from the equator.

"Populations that live in hot, humid climates near the equator tend to have the normal version of that gene, which produces a very effective protein. Populations that adapted to cooler climates tend to have a mutant gene that codes for a totally dysfunctional protein.

“The surprise,” said study author Anna Di Rienzo, Associate Professor in Human Genetics, “was finding that as populations moved away from the tropics, the original or normal version of the gene became less and less common and the ‘broken’ version more frequent, which suggests it is protective. There seems to be a strong selective advantage conferred by the non-functioning protein, and that advantage increases with latitude."

Anonymous said...

cochran is right about the implausibility of the middle passage as the source of selection.

setting the slave trade aside, it's still plausible that part of the cause of hypertension differences in African Americans is due to differences in salt retention. the case for some genetic cause is made by studies that use admixture mapping. for example: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng1510

"Identification of genetic variants that contribute to risk of hypertension is challenging. As a complement to linkage and candidate gene association studies, we carried out admixture mapping using genome-scan microsatellite markers among the African American participants in the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Family Blood Pressure Program. This population was assumed to have experienced recent admixture from ancestral groups originating in Africa and Europe. We used a set of unrelated individuals from Nigeria to represent the African ancestral population and used the European Americans in the Family Blood Pressure Program to provide estimates of allele frequencies for the European ancestors. We genotyped a common set of 269 microsatellite markers in the three groups at the same laboratory. The distribution of marker location−specific African ancestry, based on multipoint analysis, was shifted upward in hypertensive cases versus normotensive controls, consistent with linkage to genes conferring susceptibility. This shift was largely due to a small number of loci, including five adjacent markers on chromosome 6q and two on chromosome 21q. These results suggest that chromosome 6q24 and 21q21 may contain genes influencing risk of hypertension in African Americans."

Harry Reed said...

Politically correct multiculturalism has made honesty extinct among leftist intelligentsia. One cannot be honest and adhere to PC dogma, unless one is a certified idiot.

That is why it is so important for all college students to see the film Indoctrinate U so as to understand the culture of indoctrination in which they are immersed.

The 88 professors of Duke U. who tried to have the lacrosse players burned at the stake based on false accusations are typical of university faculties across North America. Living in a fantasy land of the mind, they demand that everyone else within their power submit to the same fantasies.

tommy said...

Researchers at the University have found genetic evidence to support the sodium-retention hypothesis, a controversial 30-year-old theory that the high rate of hypertension in certain ethnic groups is caused, in part, by an inherited tendency to retain salt.

"In the online edition of the December [2004] issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers show that the frequency of one version of a gene that is crucial to salt retention correlates with distance from the equator.

"Populations that live in hot, humid climates near the equator tend to have the normal version of that gene, which produces a very effective protein. Populations that adapted to cooler climates tend to have a mutant gene that codes for a totally dysfunctional protein.


No! No! This is all wrong!

Nancy Krieger has determined conclusively that sodium retention in blacks is caused by racism. From what I understand, she will soon be releasing a paper in which proves that iron retention in the Irish, in the form of hemochromatosis, is caused by feelings of inferiority induced by an abusive WASP culture. She has also started on a project which seeks to demonstrate that Tay-Sachs is induced when mean-spirited Anglo-Saxons cast pregnant Jewish women an antisemitic 'evil eye.'

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the salt retention/slave ship gambit is flawed from the PC standpoint.

If it were true it would illustrate an identifiable genetic ethnic difference - which cant exist of course what with all differences being due only to racism etc.

saltynick said...

'What is a race' may trump it in the intellectual stakes, but the major question in politics is 'what is a nation'.

What is a 'nation' Steve? :)

Mark said...

Question: why do people keep focusing on the "Middle Passage?" Why not the entire elavery experience itself? Wouldn't salt retention have been as beneficial on the plantation as well? The American South isn't known for its mild summers, after all.

Just a question.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and the most unhealthy cities in our country are in our nation's south.