Opinion: The Evil That Men Do

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The terrible legacy of Richard Lewontin.

In Shakespeare’s play, Marc Anthony says of Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” I don’t know if much good was interred when Richard Lewontin died last month, but a great deal of evil lives after him. He was one of the first people to claim that race is a meaningless social construct. And that, of course, is why we are supposed to love him.

The Washington Post wrote: “Richard Lewontin, a preeminent geneticist of his era, dies at 92.”

The New York Times said he was “widely considered one of the most brilliant geneticists of the modern era,” adding that “many of his students and colleagues regarded him with an awe that tipped toward reverence.”

The Guardian called him a “Pioneering biologist and geneticist whose research showed the emptiness of traditional biological concepts of race.

Somehow, none of the obituaries mentioned that in 1985, he co-authored a book called The Dialectical Biologist. On page 165, it says that “as working scientists in the field of evolutionary genetics and ecology, we have been attempting with some success to guide our own research by a conscious application of Marxist philosophy.”

The book is dedicated to Friedrich Engels, shown here on the right with his buddy, Karl Marx.

Lewontin was openly partisan. The author of this book writes on page 298 that Lewontin cheerfully admitted that he was deliberately “nasty” – his word – about people who disagreed with him in order to make the debate sound like a moral battle instead of a scientific question.

In a 2003 interview with PBS, he explained why people use racial categories even though they are meaningless. “They justify the inequalities that exist in a society” And, boy, did that idea catch on.

Vox tells us there are “11 ways race isn’t real.” Eleven ways? Number one: “Americans embraced the idea of race to make slavery feel okay.” Newsweek tells us, “There is No Such Thing as Race.” Scientific American explains that “The Concept of ‘Race’ Is a Lie.” Not just a mistake, mind you; an outright lie.

And here’s lofty talk from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists: “The Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination.”


That means it’s only out of a desire to oppress and discriminate that you might think the guy on the right is biologically different from the others.

Lewontin did discover something, which he reported in a 1972 article called “The Apportionment of Human Diversity.” He found that of all the genetic diversity in humans, 85 percent is found within the same race, and only 15 percent varies from race to race. This was his justification for claiming that race is a myth.

The reality is that there is an enormous amount of genetic variation in human beings that seems to have no effect on how we turn out. The 15 percent, where there are racial patterns, produce the very clear differences we see between human groups. It turns out that in the case of dogs there is twice as much genetic variation between breeds as there is between human races: 30 percent of the genome rather than 15 percent. But there are tremendous differences in dog breeds, not only in appearance, but in intelligence, lifespan, temperament, you name it. Would anyone argue that these differences are a meaningless social construct?

There are racial differences because the races evolved independently without contact for 50 to 100 thousand years or more. In animals, the equivalent of race is subspecies. As Wikipedia explains, “When geographically separate populations of a species exhibit recognizable phenotypic differences, biologists may identify these as separate subspecies; a subspecies is a recognized local variant of a species.” That sounds like a perfect definition of race, because that is exactly what it is. Please note the tiger.

There are nine subspecies or races of tiger. Unlike distinguishing between human races, you’d have to be an expert to tell a Malayan Tiger from a Bengal Tiger. Here are nine different subspecies of Hartebeest. Do you think they differ more or less than human races?

Nobody invented these distinctions so that Swayne’s hartebeest, shown herecould oppress the red hartebeest. The distinction is pure biology, and the same rules apply to humans.

The races are clearly genetically different. This paper, for example, uses several analytic tools to distinguish race. Principal components analysis shows this kind of genetic clustering corresponds clearly to race. On the right, from the top down, as you travel from East to West, you can see the genetic groupings of different populations. Black Africans are off to the left because they are genetically very different from everyone else.

As this cluster shows, you can make fine distinctions. On the left, you can distinguish high-caste Indian Brahmins, in blue, from Lower Caste Indians in green.

Ancient DNA testing shows that light-skinned Indo-Europeans conquered India some 4,000 years ago and ruled over darker skinned natives. The purpose of the caste system was to prevent interbreeding, and that’s why their genes are still different.

For 100 bucks you can learn your own biological origins. This is the principal components map for Europeans that the company 23&Me uses. It’s not measuring a social construct. It’s looking at biology. This guy is 100 percent Northwestern European. He is white and nothing else.

Another thing the Lewontin crowd love to say is that human beings are 99.9 percent genetically identical. This is somehow supposed to mean that there can’t be enough genetic variation for there to be different races. But even if people differ in only 0.1 percent of the genome, that’s still six million base pairs, and that’s plenty. As this article points out, we are about 99 percent genetically identical to chimpanzees, and we share 90 percent of our DNA with mice, for heaven’s sake. Small genetic differences can have huge effects.

Babies notice race before they can even talk. This article, called “Babies Are Racist,” points out that at age three months, babies prefer to look at faces of people who are the same race as themselves.

You can tell someone’s race from the bacteria in his mouth. As reported here, “each ethnic group in the study – that was blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians – was represented by a “signature” of shared microbial communities. “This is the first time it has been shown that ethnicity is a huge component in determining what you carry in your mouth. 

Race shows up in medicine all the time. Hispanic women get cervical cancer at twice the rate of white women. Sickle cell anemia and the hemolytic anemia are found almost exclusively in blacks and have a direct genetic cause. This article finds that whites are especially vulnerable to cystic fibrosis. They get it 7.5 times more often than in blacks and 17.5 times more often than Asians. Doctors have discovered the gene patterns associated with these differences.

Here’s a headline: “Strange Colon Discovery Explains Racial Disparities in Colorectal Cancer.” In blacks, the right side of the colon ages more quickly than the left side, and cancer generally shows up on the right. Researchers have found the genetic causes, and this helps explain why blacks are 40 percent more likely than whites to die of colon cancer.

And how about “Polynesian ancestry linked to obesity, heart failure and diabetes in Native Hawaiians,” Every 10 percent increase in Polynesian ancestry means an 8 percent increase in the chances of being diabetic, and an 11 percent increase in the chances of having heart failure.

Another headline: “What to Know About BiDil, the First Heart Medication Marketed Specifically for Black Patients.” It works for black people but not for white people.

A doctor who believed Richard Lewontin would be guilty of malpractice.

In America, blacks are 34 percent more likely than whites to be obese. One reason is race differences in metabolism. This study found that if you put black and white women on exactly the same diet and exactly the same activity regimen, the white women lose more weight“There are racial and genetic differences in obesity,” said Dr. Mitch Roslin who did the study. “These things are real.”

Very occasionally, some of this slips into big media. In this article called “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’,” David Reich argues that race is a biological fact and people better get used to it. He writes that there are genetic differences that completely account for the fact that black Americans are 70 percent more likely than white Americans to get prostate cancer.

This is biology. David Reich adds: “I am worried that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science.”

Consider this video an onslaught of science.

The race deniers look more idiotic all the time. When you find a dead body rotted beyond recognition, a forensic anthropologist can look at the bones and tell you the race. As this article notes, this is a puzzle: “if races don’t exist, why are forensic anthropologists so good at identifying them? The author admits he can even tell Japanese from Chinese bones, but then goes full Richard Lewontin and writes, We should “not fall into the trap of accepting races as valid biologically discrete categories because we use them so often.” It’s in the bones. It’s real. It’s useful. But it’s not biology.

Here’s the latest lunacy. Programmers are spending millions trying to get artificial intelligence software to read X-rays and scans. Really good AI catches things doctors can’t. When a doc reads an X-ray he can’t tell a Japanese foot from a Norwegian foot. But, AI can: “Reading Race: AI Recognises Patient’s Racial Identity In Medical Images.” Are the people who cooked up the software pleased? No. They’re appalled. They don’t want the computer seeing race and they don’t even know how it does. But the machine gets it right every time, even from just part of the body, and even if the image is artificially blurred so people can’t make it out at all.

On August 2, one the researchers tweeted: “Medical AI has the worst superpower . . . Racism. . . . AI can do something humans can’t: recognize the self-reported race of patients on X-rays. This gives AI a path to produce health disparities.

Does this loon really think that because the software can tell races apart, it’s going to discriminate? Does he think some malicious motive gave the software the “worst superpower” of detecting race? How hard can this be? It sees race because it’s there.

And guess what: You have the same superpower. Three-month-old babies have the same superpower. And every time our rulers want to set up preferences for “people of color” they use their “superpowers” to detect race, too.

How much longer can this foolishness last? Richard Lewontin would be very proud of the evil that lives on.


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