Saturday, January 03, 2015

Are Black people more human?

In the past few years it has become fairly well-established that some modern humans have Neanderthal genes. However, there are two schools of thought on why that is. One is that Europeans homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals, which I think is the most parsimonious and therefore likely explanation, while the other is that the shared ancestors of humans and Neanderthals became genetically isolated, with southern African populations remaining virtually pure homo sapien and northern Africa and European populations expressing more genes that are also common to Neanderthals.

Here are some charts from New Scientist that tell the story.

But no matter whether you believe in the sex or no-sex theory, either way what this all boils down to is that the more recently your ancestors lived in Africa, the more likely that you are a pure homo sapien, undiluted with the genes of a separate sub-species of humanoid.

And I'd bet anything that if the situation were reversed and Africans were more likely to have Neandertal genes, race-obsessives like Razib Khan would use that fact to proclaim African inferiority, on the grounds that their genome is polluted by an extinct species.

I decided to check in with Khan's writings and see what he thinks about all this. It appears that he's something of a Neanderthal denialist. This is perhaps not surprising since he doesn't think highly of Neanderthals and of course if Africans have no Neanderthal, that would be a good thing:
Perhaps the difference between Neanderthals and behaviorally modern humans was less about large between group differences in individual level traits, and more about the fact than Neanderthals simply lacked the leadership cadre which behaviorally modern humans possessed. In this scenario most modern humans are just like Neandertals, lacking vision, drive, and proximate insanity. Neandertals would not have had their Alexander the Greats, but perhaps they would not have had their Adolf Hitlers.
None of this is based on evidence of course, but since when did socio-biologists/evolutionary psychologists ever rely on evidence? Speculation has always been their favorite scientific method.

More recently Khan appears to hold out hope that Africans are less pure homo sapiens sapiens than current data might appear to indicate:
I assume that in the near future a lot of whole genome analysis is going to come out of Africa, with decent population coverage (yes, Sarah Tishkoff is probably going to be on the author line, so you can get a sense of which populations). The assertion that there is more genetic diversity within Africa than outside is often used to glib effect in my opinion, but in this case I think that this fact may be indicative of future career possibilities for human population and phylo genomicists.
Because Khan is such a bad writer - and I suspect the lack of clarity serves his real purpose, it's often difficult to get what he's driving at. It always helps to remember that he is absolutely obsessed with the concept of race, and of determining which races are intellectually inferior - although of course he's already made up his mind which one is the most inferior. It also helps if you've been studying the racial end of the evolutionary psychology spectrum and know that when they say "human biodiversity" it means, as Rational Wiki says:
  • Human biodiversity or HBD:[2] By being just one "bio" away from supporting "diversity" and by failing to mention race, human biodiversity is the most innocuous form of racialism, because it allows one to deny any racism -- because it's recognizing biodiversity, not being racist!
Khan is apparently afraid to tangle with his critics in the 3Quarks comments now, so instead he's retreated to flinging feces across the fence from his safe perch at the far-right Unz Reader. He says:
There is no Platonic sense where there are perfect categories with ideal uses. Rather, we muddle on, making usage of heuristics and frameworks which are serviceable for the moment. We lose our way when we ignore the multi-textured nature of the issues.
What this appears to mean is that Khan really has no clear definition for "race" and he's fine with that and we can "muddle on" without any concern for rigor or truth. In other words race is whatever Khan says it is. And anybody who expects more than that in the discussion is a wacko who expects pie in the sky.

Although he doesn't always use the term race, he sometimes likes to use the term group, as in:
Razib adds: Racist? God-that-I-don’t-believe-in I’m tired of this crap. I’ve addressed these issues before. I believe in equality before the law. But, I believe different groups probably have different aptitudes (not moral inferiority or superiority)-and the axiom of equality-that all groups have the exact same tendencies as our common evolutionary heritage, could cause serious problems when applied to public policy.
If you are going to declare that "groups" have different aptitudes from others, might it not be important to be clear about which individuals belong to which aptitude groups? Apparently Razib Khan feels like it's no big deal if there is no clarity there. Much like his writing.

Oh, and also, apparently right-wing Razib Khan has found agreement among the readers of his far-right web site that liberals are closed-minded hypocrites. Who could have seen that coming?


  1. Anonymous8:53 AM

    This is a totally unmerited witch hunt of a known geneticist. Khan writes huge amounts of text on scientific findings in the field of human population genetics almost daily, and the only thing you find to brand him a racist is a ten year old quote that still requires a vivid imagination if one is to read in racism.

    Nowhere is he suggesting that any group is "less human" than the other, you are the only one doing that.

  2. Well, anonymous coward,

    Since when does arguing on discussion boards and expressing an opinion on blogs count as a "witchhunt"? I've been criticizing Razib Khan for over ten years in this manner, ever since I became aware of him when he and his Gene Expression gang would come over to attack feminists on the old Pandagon discussion board, and it seems to have harmed his career not in the least.

    Khan has the full backing of the right-wing Unz people, and I have no doubt if they ever forsook him, he would find employment with some other right-wing think tank. I'm sure the Koch brothers would be glad to work with him.

    And do you have a reading comprehension problem? Nowhere have I ever suggested that Khan said any group is "less human." Although it is abundantly clear that he thinks people with more recent African heritage are less intelligent than any other group.

  3. Biologist11:06 AM

    You have made numerous personal attacks on a person I would say is among the top three population genetics/anthropology bloggers, the other two being Eurogenes and Dienekes. Out of these three, Khan takes the most time to explain concepts in population genetics. He is also the only one taking time to debunk myths about genes in the media, such as "blonds-are-going-to-die-out-due-to-race-mixing" (obviously false).

    The picture you give of him is entirely fictitious, being based solely on guilt-by-association and extremely imaginative interpretations of what he writes. If you want to battle racists, why not battle real ones instead of biologists who just happens to deal with population substructure?

    For me as a scientist (not a politician), guilt-by-association slander is just as bad as racism. That is all, thank you.

  4. I have no reason to believe you are a a scientist, since there is no way to check.

    I have provided plenty of evidence of Khan's beliefs. And the fact that his main media publisher is a right-wing political rag would give any reasonable person pause about his science and his motivations.

    But some people would rather have a hissyfit I suppose.