race vs. species

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by ukub311, May 3, 2011.

  1. ukub311 Registered Member

    Hey guys, I've always wondered if human "race" is just a politically correct term for species? For example, how is a black person and a white person different from, say, a grizzly bear and a polar bear? or maybe a siberian tiger and a bengal tiger? I feel that if we humans talked about ourselves more as animals, then race would be replaced by species. Not trying to stur up any racism by any means, I'm just an average guy who needs smarter people like you guys to help me out.


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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Humans are all one race but have various ethnic peoples that make it up. They are all the same except for a few appearance differences, color being one as an example.
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  5. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    We have phenotypic differences, but our genes are all really similar.
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  7. SilentLi89 Registered Senior Member

    We aren't different species, we can easily interbreed and produce viable offspring. I suppose we could be called different breeds (like dogs or something), maybe... But even still we are probably even more genetically similar than that.
  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    A black and a white human being can breed to produce children that are able to breed to produce more children.

    I'm not sure that the same is true for polar bears and grizzlies.

    Anyway, the point is that things that can interbreed to produce non-sterile offspring may be sub-species, but they are still the same species.

    Compare, for example, breeding a horse and a donkey to produce a mule. Mules are sterile - they can't breed to produce more mules. So, horses and donkeys are separate species.

    Sub-species, perhaps. We're all Homo sapiens.

    It's like different breeds of dog. In principle, any dog can breed with any other dog to produce viable offspring, so all dogs are the same species.
  9. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    The Wikipedia page on polar bears claims that they can indeed interbreed with brown bears to produce fertile offspring, and so they are not "true" species in the strict sense. Apparently the designation is driven as much by the fact that neither can survive long in the other's ecological niche.

    I'm told that the term "clade" is the biologicial systematics term most suited to discussions of race.

    But regardless, I think there's some considerable danger in going in for the premise the races are essentially biological entities in the first place. They do have a biological component, but they are above all social constructs. Which would be to say that my answer to the OP's suggestion is that it is fundamentally headed in exactly the wrong direction.
  10. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

    In terms of pure biology, and for humans, there are no races. It is just a word that has become widely used and even more widely abused.

    The genetic difference between myself as a pallid European, and an ebony black African living on the equator, is not greater than the genetic difference between myself and my neighbour down the road, who is another pallid European. Skin colour is determined by a very small number of genes.

    It is more correct to talk of individual human populations, rather than races. So, the Bantu are one population, and Anglo-saxons are another. They are not separate races, since the genetic differences are far too trivial.
  11. madanthonywayne Morning in America Staff Member

    That is PC nonsense. You say the term race shouldn't be used for humans? What other species do we use it for? Race is a term used to describe the different human populations that developed on the various continents during the period in which they were genetically isolated.

    There are obvious differences between races that pop up all the time. There are notable differences in which diseases a person is likely to get based on race. There are also differences in which drugs work best that vary by race. Not to mention the obvious differences by which we traditionally define race. Furthermore, studying genetic markers it is easy to detect patterns of distribution largely consistent with what we traditionally call "race".

    Exactly how significant the differences between the various human populations we call "race" are is open to discussion, but to claim there is no biological basis for race is to deny reality.
  12. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

    To the mad one.

    Sorry, but you are wrong. There is no biological basis for the concept of human races. There are two scientific reasons for this, and neither are political correctness.

    1. The genetic differences between those populations that are incorrectly called different races are very small. In fact, normal human genetic variation across our entire species is small anyway. The genetic differences between a person from equatorial Africa and a person from northern Europe, which come from their different origins, are fewer on average than the genetic differences between two people who are from the same place, which come from simple individual variation.

    2. There are no distinct groupings. Each population called a 'race' blends imperceptively into the next group, and the genetic changes show a continuum of changes. So the black equatorial African merges into dark brown peoples, who merge into light brown, who merge into olive skin, who merge into white skin. No single group stands apart. All are simply a piece of a continuum.

    Some animal species do indeed have separate groupings which can be called races. In those cases, there is no continuum, and the genetic differences are much greater than we see with human populations.

    The word 'race' implies significant genetic difference, and as such does not apply to human populations, which are characterised by very limited genetic variation.


    I quote :

    "There is no scientific consensus of a list of the human races, and few anthropologists endorse the notion of human "race"."
    Last edited: May 4, 2011
  13. madanthonywayne Morning in America Staff Member

    The term race is not used for other species. It is used for humans to denote the different human populations that evolved on the various continents. There are various tests one can take that can trace your ancestry and gives you a breakdown that looks an awful lot like race:

    Estimate Ancestry
    87% European
    13% Indigenous American
    0% Sub-Saharan African
    0% East Asian​

    Looks like that guy is white with a bit of American Indian in him, and that's based only upon his dna. Clearly there is a testable difference between the races at a genetic level.

    Again, you can repeat your statement about how the differences between the groups we call races are not significant, but clearly they are significant enough to detect, so I'd call that a biological basis for race. Now the genetics might not always align exactly with the groupings we call race, but that's even true of species.

    We've had to reclassify various species once genetic analysis became available. Does that mean there's no biological basis for species? Of course not. It just means that our previous division was based upon less precise information than we now have.

    The same goes for race. It may not be a perfect description of the variations among the human populations, but it does have some basis in biology.

    PS Of course the test specifically says it doesn't test for race (a nod to political correctness), but then proceeds to break down the results by race, even giving the percent each race contributes to your ancestry.
    Last edited: May 4, 2011
  14. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

    Here is the definition from yahoo answers.


    Again I quote :

    "The biological definition of race is: a population, or group of populations, within a species that has measurable, defining biological characteristics and an Fst of at least 0.25 relative to other populations of the species.
    Fst scores among humans average 0.17. So there are no biological races within H. sapiens."

    Or to put it more simply, the genetic differences between different human groups are too small to be called different races.

    This is not political correctness. This is science.
  15. madanthonywayne Morning in America Staff Member

    I'm not sure where this .25 fst cut off comes from, but that seems pretty arbitrary to me. It wouldn't surprise me to find that whoever made that the cut off already knew what the fst for humans was and specifically defined it to exclude humans. Furthermore:
    The significance of this FST value in humans is contentious. Anthropologists often cite Lewontin's 1972 work which came to a similar value and interpreted this number as meaning there was little biological differences between human races [2]. On the other hand, FST at neutral loci does not (at least on its own) tell us very much about phenotypic differences between populations. While an FST value of 0.12 might be lower than those exhibited between populations of many different species, Henry Harpending has pointed out that this value implies on a world scale a "kinship between two individuals of the same human population is equivalent to kinship between grandparent and grandchild or between half siblings" [3]
    Also, saying that "there is no biologic basis for race" and saying that the variation between races falls just below the arbitrary cut off used to define races are not the same thing.

    Finally, look at the fst values between races:
    Europe (CEU) Sub-Saharan Africa (Yoruba) East-Asia (Chinese)
    Europe (CEU) 0.1530 0.1100
    Sub-Saharan Africa (Yoruba) 0.1530 0.1900
    East-Asia (Chinese) 0.1100 0.1900 ​

    and now look at the fst values between different Europeans:

    Italians 0.0064 0.0064-0.0090 0.0130-0.0230 0.0010-0.0050 0.0029-0.0080 0.0088-0.0120 0.0030-0.0050 0.0000
    Palestinians 0.0064 0.0191 0.0101 0.0136 0.0202 0.0057
    Swedish 0.0064-0.0090 0.0191 0.0050-0.0110 0.0040-0055 0.0007-0.0010 0.0030-0.0036 0.0020 0.0084
    Finns 0.0130-0.0230 0.0050-0.0110 0.0110-0.0170 0.0060-0.0130 0.0060-0.0120 0.0080-0.0150
    Spanish 0.0010-0.0050 0.0101 0.0040-0055 0.0110-0.0170 0.0015-0.0030 0.0070-0.0079 0.0010 0.0035
    Germans 0.0029-0.0080 0.0136 0.0007-0.0010 0.0060-0.0130 0.0015-0.0030 0.0030-0.0037 0.0010 0.0039
    Russians 0.0088-0.0120 0.0202 0.0030-0.0036 0.0060-0.0120 0.0070-0.0079 0.0030-0.0037 0.0050 0.0108
    French 0.0030-0.0050 0.0020 0.0080-0.0150 0.0010 0.0010 0.0050
    Greeks 0.0000 0.0057 0.0084 0.0035 0.0039 0.0108 ​
    You can not deny that the fst variation between races is much larger than the fst difference between various European populations. The difference is one of orders of magnitude. That seems significant to me. One could probably define human races as having an fst of .1 or greater. This would imply that the difference between human races is less than that for whatever other species you say has races seperated by an fst of .25. But it's still not the same as there being no biological basis for race.
  16. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

    Mad one

    It is a matter of definition. Human genetic variation is minimal, and the biologists who determine such things have decided that this variation is too small to permit a classification of human variation as being different races.

    Chimpanzees will have greater variation genetically between two chimp tribes, a mere 500 km apart, than humans have across our entire species. And chimps are not classified into races.

    The word 'race' is used carelessly by the general public in a way that the more stringent demands of science will not permit. But this is a science forum, and we should try to use language according to good science.
  17. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

    There is no doubt that some closely related "species" on Earth can happily interbreed. And that there is possibly an argument for re-nomenclature in certain instances. This however does not make races of humans separate species.

    An acute funnelling event in humans prehistory has insured that all humans are one species. Not enough time has elapsed for general speciation. And no significant enough, mutation/extreme genetic alteration, event has happened either.
    Last edited: May 4, 2011
  18. madanthonywayne Morning in America Staff Member

    Who defined it (the fsp .25)? And when?

    Regardless, I still say it is misleading to say "there is no biological basis" for race when we can run a dna test that can determine what percent of your ancestry was of which race. There is clearly a variation in our dna that cooresponds quite nicely with the population groupings we traditionally call race. Someone (who?), sometime (when?) has decided that the variance is not high enough to be officially meet their definition of race.

    But that doesn't mean there is no biological basis for race. No basis would (to me) mean no pattern of variance that corresponds to the classical definition of race.
  19. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    No, there is not. The tests you've suggested show ancestry by continental origin, which is not the same thing as race. Notice that your links are very careful to avoid using the term "race," in favor of "ancestry" and "continental origin."

    This, for example:

    ... is nonsense. You can't tell what race that guy is from that data. He could be white, or native, or Hispanic. You'd have to look at him to have any chance of determining his race. The determining factor of what race he'd be categorized in might well have as much to do with how he dresses and talks, and who he socializes with, as his genes.

    Has anyone ever done a DNA analysis on you before determining your race?

    And you might be surprised at what those DNA tests produce on your average person in the modern world, even those that are unambiguously members of one particular race. The variance between where your genes come from and what your skin and hair look like can be pretty huge, particularly in a world that has had global transport and mass immigration for centuries.

    No, there aren't. The correspondence is with continental origin, not "race."

    And that is exactly the situation. If you sort populations according to genetic variance, the groups that you end up with don't resemble the usual racial groupings. Even to get those continental origin groupings, you don't do a simple analysis of variance - you go looking for specific markers for each region. And those markers do not account for anything like the majority of the population variance of the human genome.

    Race is a social construct with a biological component. It is not the same thing as "continental ancestry."
  20. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

    Plus there are many millions of people whose 'race' cannot be determined either by observation, or by DNA. These are the 'in-between' people.

    For example ; Egypt is well populated with 'in-between' people, who cannot be called African by 'race' or European by 'race'.

    As I said before, humanity is a continuum of physical characteristics, and there is no natural cut off point to delineate one 'race' from another.

    If there were 'races', they would be best exemplified by those living in continental Africa, since Africans have far more genetic variability than the rest of humankind. So, we might call pygmies one 'race', except (oops), they are almost genetically identical to the Bantu. Ethiopeans are physically different to Zulu - thin noses and lips.

    So how many 'races', Insane Tony, do you think there are in Africa? It is noticeable that those who try to classify different 'race' always put Africans into one category, which genetically is totally idiotic.
  21. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    There's a word for them. It's "Arabs."
  22. Skeptical Registered Senior Member


    Not quite so simple.
    Egypt has a wide range of peoples, from black as ebony people who are clearly African, to quite European looking types. Large numbers are not arabic.
  23. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    Nothing you cite there is exclusive of being an Arab. The distinctions between "Africans" and "Arabs" frequently have as much to do with language and religion as with appearance.

    The thing about race being a social construct is that each society gets to pretty much just make up whatever rules it wants for categorizing people into races. Many of these will not make much sense to observers from different cultures - if you dropped me off in Cairo, I'd have a great deal of trouble distinguishing the "Africans" from the "Arabs." But nobody who lives there would have any such difficulty.

    Arabs are, technically, "white" under the standard US classifications. I.e., not in a different race from European peoples at all, even though many of them are not exactly white-skinned. One should not expect much consistency with these topics.

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