Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

July 10, 2018

How Donald Trump is like Marxism and Psychoanalysis

Filed under: Donald Trump,Politics,race — David Hume @ 11:46 pm

Recently my Twitter and Facebook timelines have been littered with references to this story: Man, 92, Allegedly Beaten With a Brick & Told ‘Go Back to Mexico’ by a Mom in Front of Her Child. Terrible. It was posted on Twitter, and Facebook, as evidence that Donald Trump’s America was horrible. Some of the Twitter reactions also talked about white privilege and that sort of thing.

When I saw that this occurred in the Los Angeles area though I grew skeptical. There are conservative parts of California. Much of the Central Valley, the far North, some of the trans-Sierra counties and even much of San Diego. But Los Angeles? Here’s Willowbrook, California‘s demographics (took me 30 seconds to find):

The 2010 United States Census reported that Willowbrook had a population of 35,983. The population density was 9,544.1 people per square mile (3,685.0/km²). The racial makeup of Willowbrook was 8,245 (22.9%) White (0.9% Non-Hispanic White), 12,387 (34.4%) African American, 273 (0.8%) Native American, 119 (0.3%) Asian, 49 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 13,858 (38.5%) from other races, and 1,052 (2.9%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 22,979 persons (63.9%).

1% of Willowbrooks’ residents were non-Hispanic whites. 64% were Hispanic. Just based on nativity my assumption then was that the attack was going to be a black American since Hispanic Americans are the less likely to engage in nativist tinged attacks since so many are either immigrants, the children of immigrants, or are in communities where immigrants are common.

And yes, the attacker was a black woman.

Additionally, you can get precinct level election results. 5% of the people in Willowbrook who voted in 2016 voted for Donald Trump for President of the United States of America.

So what you have here is that a black woman who lives in one of the most cosmopolitan metropolitan areas of the United States, in a community that has almost no non-Hispanic whites, and where only 5% of people voted for Donald J. Trump, has engaged in nativist violence. This is evidence for what is happening in “Donald Trump’s America.” As someone who is a nonwhite immigrant I do have to say that I experienced plenty of racism and prejudice, and sometimes bullying, from native born Americans over my whole life. From white people, and black people. Under Republican and Democratic administrations. In Red America and Blue America. I’m not saying it’s all the same. But it’s not new. And it’s not limited to one race or political faction.

There are some arguments for Marxist social and economic systems where everything seems to support the theory. The theory is unfalsifiable. Similarly, the same occurs with Freudian psychoanalysis. These are theories just too good to give way in the face of facts. Facts are secondary.

Often I feel the same way about the current partisan debates in the United States. If a single immigrant kills someone, it’s an immigrant crime wave. Similarly, if there is violence against a nonwhite person somewhere, it’s because of the climate that Donald Trump is creating. There have been instances where racial events have occurred and Trump’s came has come up as a justification. But if America is becoming polarized it seems very unlikely that this crime has anything to do with Trump, seeing as how this is an area with almost no white people, and very few Trump supporters.

You might say I’m kind of being a nerd about this. That’s fine. But not being nerdy about details is how we get in a post-fact world.

April 20, 2018

Is everyone racist and I’m not aware?

Filed under: race,Racism — Razib Khan @ 2:36 pm
Me, proudly culturally appropriating

The expulsion of two young black men from Starbucks is in the news, and people are sharing their experiences. To be honest I’m not surprised that this happened to young black men. What I am surprised by are South Asians who express their own fear of being seen to not buy anything (in part to highlight the privileges that white people have).

I’m a pretty standard looking brown person. Most people realize that I’m South Asian (or “Indian”) when they meet me. Sometimes when I have a very close buzzcut I’m pretty sure people assume I’m a black American (when I got burritos at a Mexican place someone referred to me as the “black guy” in Spanish once when my head was shaved). And a reasonable amount of time people have wondered if I’m a Mexican American, though less and less over the years.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in Starbucks. When I’m traveling I always go to a Starbucks because it’s familiar (when I’m not traveling I rarely do anymore). Sometimes I’ll hang out for a while before someone shows up without buying anything. There have even been times where I never bought anything, but just met up with someone. I’ve never felt in any danger of being kicked out.

In fact, in the United States, my main worry about my race is in a very specific context: airports. Since I fly a fair amount I have a routine down. Always shave. Always get there way earlier. Prepare ahead so you don’t seem stressed or uncertain. It’s not super onerous, but I am conscious that I’m probably under more scrutiny.

All that being said I’ve never had a problem in American airports. I have had problems in Europen airports, after a fashion. An example might be a flight in Germany when security was stopping every young non-white male, whether black, brown or Asian before we got on the flight (after we’d made it through the checkpoints). And, when I was in Italy in 2010 on a trip the racism was more palpable. At one point I was denied service by a street vendor, and when I was at a bookstore my wife (then girlfriend) told me I was getting suspicious looks, and there was a misunderstanding with one of the clerks (I don’t speak Italian).  I definitely felt there was more racism in Europe day to day than I’ve experienced in this country, and I speak as someone who grew up in eastern Oregon.

And yet I’m not here to deny the racism that other South Asian Americans face. Their experience is their experience, and so is mine. What’s the difference here? Are people giving me dirty looks that I don’t even notice? Or are other people hyper-aware of what’s going on around them and perceive slights that might not be intended?

I should add that this tendency is common in my family. We don’t seem to perceive racism around us. Perhaps we’re just oblivious?

What do I think though? Honestly, I think there are different levels and types of racism. If you are South or East Asian you are not going to be under the same scrutiny as a black male. Certainly, there is white privilege in relation to being a brown person. Or at least I’m told there is…I’m not white and can’t pass as a white person, so I can only trust people like Linda Sarsour who are nonwhite by choice that life is a lot easier for whites.

I do a real good SJW impersonation because I have good verbal skills and “present” as nonwhite. But it always seems fake to me. I’ve experienced racism in this country, but it’s not pervasive. I felt under more scrutiny in the Middle East to keep to my lane, and that’s despite my “Muslim name.”

I’m curious as to other peoples’ experiences. The above are just mine.

November 25, 2017

What does Ajit Pai’s race have anything to do with net neutrality?

Filed under: Ajit Pai,race — Razib Khan @ 3:33 pm

Not surprise that Hari Kondabolu goes there. The problem with making everything about racial dynamics is that more white people in the United States might take a page from that. I don’t wish to encourage that.

Also, believe it or not racializing a topic that the majority probably agrees with on might make it less popular. But if you now talk to people who just agree with you all the time on these things you might not remember that.

October 12, 2017

Race is not just skin color

Filed under: Genetics,race — Razib Khan @ 8:56 pm

“The southern Indians resemble the Ethiopians a good deal, and, are black of countenance, and their hair black also, only they are not as snub-nosed or so woolly-haired as the Ethiopians; but the northern Indians are most like the Egyptians in appearance.”

– Arrian

I might almost say that the same animals are to be found in India as in Aethiopia and Egypt, and that the Indian rivers have all the other river animals except the hippopotamus, although Onesicritus says that the hippopotamus is also to be found in India. As for the people of India, those in the south are like the Aethiopians in colour, although they are like the rest in respect to countenance and hair (for on account of the humidity of the air their hair does not curl), whereas those in the north are like the Egyptians.


The plot above is from Genetic Evidence for the Convergent Evolution of Light Skin in Europeans and East Asians. It’s a 2007 paper. For those of you not versed in genetics, 10 years is like the difference between the First Age and Third Age on Middle Earth. For those of you not versed in Tolkien, 10 years is like the difference between Gupta India and Maratha India? I think?

Basically, the authors looked around the regions of the genome of loci known to be implicated in pigmentation variation in 2007, which mostly started from differences between Europeans and Africans. In the plot above you see pairwise genetic distances visualized in a neighbor-joining tree. The populations are:

SA = Asians, IM = Island Melanesians, WA = West Africans, EU = Europeans, EA = East Asians, and NA = Native Americans

What you see is that pigmentation loci are not phylogenetically very informative. Because of ascertainment bias in discovery Europeans are an out-group on many of the genes. But overall you see that the trees generated by a relationship on pigmentation genes do not conform to what we’d expect, where Africans are an outgroup to non-Africans. This is not surprising, as any given locus is not too phylogenetically informative. Additionally, pigmentation is a trait where selection has likely changed allele frequencies a lot, so it’s not a very good trait to look at to determine evolutionary relationships.

A white actress?

I bring this up because The New York Times and other publications are reporting on a new paper in Science, Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations, with headlines like Genes for Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions of Race, Researchers Say.

The Science paper is very interesting because it helps to make up for the long-term ascertainment bias in the literature, whereby European differences from other groups helped to discover pigmentation loci of interest. The big topline result is that there’s a lot of extant variation within Africans, and much of it is very old, pre-dating modern humans by hundreds of thousands of years, implying long-term balancing selection to maintain polymorphism.

Here’s a quote from The New York Times piece:

For centuries, skin color has held powerful social meaning — a defining characteristic of race, and a starting point for racism.

“If you ask somebody on the street, ‘What are the main differences between races?,’ they’re going to say skin color,” said Sarah A. Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.

The widespread distribution of these genes and their persistence over millenniums show that the old color lines are essentially meaningless, the scientists said. The research “dispels a biological concept of race,” Dr. Tishkoff said.

I can go along with all the sentences more or less except the last. Skin is the largest organ we have, and it’s pretty salient. West Asian Muslims regularly referred to Indians as “black” (early Islamic Arabs referred to the people of Sindh as “black crows”). They defined themselves as white (though contrasted their own olive complexion with ruddy Europeans). The Chinese referred to themselves as white, and Southeast Asians, such as the inhabitants of the ancient Cambodian kingdom of Funan, as black. Among South Asians, skin color is also very salient. During the period when Pakistan included a western and eastern half the West Pakistanis were known to refer to the Bengalis as blacks, while East Pakistanis who went to study in the West, like my father, were surprised that not all Pakistanis were white like Ayub Khan.

Sharon Muthu, Indian American actress

But racial perception and categorization are not identical with skin color. The ancients knew this intuitively, as the quotes from Arrian and Strabo above suggest. They were aware that South Asians were dark-skinned, but those in the north were lighter than those in the south, and that those in the south resembled Africans in the range of their complexion. But, they also knew that it was not difficult to distinguish a South Asian from an African in most cases, because South Asians have different hair forms and to some extent facial features, from Africans.

I know this myself personally. Living in almost white areas of the United States for most of my childhood I encountered some racism. My skin tone is within the range of African Americans. But when it came to racial slurs I was usually called “sand nigger”, or more sometimes “camel jockey.” Please note that the modifier sand. Even racists understood to distinguish people of similar hues who were clearly physically distinctive.

Conversely, African Americans did not usually recognize me as African American. Living in the Pacific Northwest there aren’t many non-whites. It’s also very rainy. Sometimes when I was wearing my Columbia jacket with hood black men walking from the other direction on the sidewalk would start to nod at me, assuming I was black. But mid-way through the nod as they approached me they recognized that despite my brown color I was not African American and would stop the motion and switch to a manner of distanced politeness as opposed to informal warmth.*

Finally, I also had East Asian friends who were very light-skinned. As light-skinned as any white person of Southern European heritage. That did not prevent racists from calling them “chinks” or (more rarely) “gooks.” These racists were seeing beyond the skin color.

If ancient authors from 2,000 years ago understood that race is more than skin color, and if genuine bigots understand race is more than skin color, I fail to understand why so often the public discourse in the United States acts as if race is just skin color. We know it’s not so.

The reason I’m posting this on Brown Pundits is that the focus on skin color made sense to me growing up in the United States, but as someone of South Asian ancestry I also knew it was not sufficient as a classifier. I knew when I was probably around five. Many South Asians see a huge range in skin color within their immediate families. That is, empirically the fact that there were large effect QTLs segregating within South Asians is obvious to any South Asian who grew up around South Asians.**

My mother is of light brown complexion. My father is of dark brown complexion. My mother’s complexion is fair enough that she is usually assumed to be Latina if she doesn’t speak (her accent is clearly South Asian), and in cases has been misjudged to be Southern European. My father, like his mother, is in contrast on the darker side. Their Bengali friends would joke that they were an interracial relationship.

My father’s father was very light skinned, and his mother was very dark skinned. Some of his siblings were dark, some of them were light, and some of them were between. One of my father’s brothers is basically a doppelganger of my father, except he is lighter skinned.

And yet there was never a question that both my parents were ethnically Bengali. They were both people with deep roots in Comilla in eastern Bengal. Now that I have their genotypes I can tell you that my parents are genetically clearly from the same region of Bengal; they cluster together even compared to other Bangladeshis. In fact, my father is more Indo-Aryan (every so slightly) shifted than my mother. I suspect it is through his mother, whose father was born into a family of recently converted Brahmins. It is clear that skin color is not predicting phylogeny in this case, and I am sure many South Asians intuitively grasp this because of the variation in complexion they see across their families, who are usually from the same sub-ethnic group in any case.***

A multiracial United States is going to be more complex world than the situation before 1965, when America’s racial consciousness was partitioned between black and white (notwithstanding Native Americans, Hispanos and other Latinos in the Southwest, and a residual of Asian Americans). But sometimes I feel the intellectual and cultural elite of this nation is stuck in the paradigm of 1964.

* I have a friend from Kerala in South India who has talked about being mistaken for being Ethiopian.

** I am the only South Asian my daughter has grown up around, and her complexion is far closer to her mother’s than my own. She did have a difficult time distinguishing me from black males in her early years because to her my dark-skin is very salient. When her mother asked her to give reasons why African American males might look different from her father, she immediately clued in on the hair and facial features.

*** Black Americans and Middle Easterners, and a whole host of other groups where pigmentation loci segregation in appreciable frequencies, can all see that differences in skin color do not necessarily denote differences in race, since there is so much intra-familial variation.

May 15, 2017

Reason is but a slave of passions as it always has been

David Hume stated that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” I don’t know about the ought part, that’s up for debate. But the is part seems empirically true. The reasons people give for this or that is often just a post hoc rationalization. To give a different twist to this contention, others have argued that reason exists to win arguments, not converge upon truth. Or more precisely in my opinion to give the patina of erudition or abstraction to sentiments which are fundamentally derived from emotion or manners enforced through group norms (ergo, the common practice of ‘educated’ people citing scholars whose work we can’t evaluate to buttress our own preconceptions; we all do it).

One of the reasons I recommend In Gods We Trust, and cognitive anthropology more generally, to atheists and religious skeptics is that it gives a better empirical window into the mental processes that are really at work, as opposed to those which people say are at work (or, more unfortunately, those they think are at work). In In Gods We Trust the author reports on research conducted where religious believers are given a set of factual assertions purportedly from scholarship (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls). These assertions on the face of it flatly contradict their religious beliefs in some deep fundamental way. But when confronted with facts which seem to logically refute the coherency of their beliefs, they often still accept the validity of the scholarship before them. When asked about the impact on their beliefs? Respondents generally asserted that the new facts strengthened their beliefs.

This is one reason that cognitive anthropologists term religious ‘reasoning’ quasi-propositional. It takes the general form of analysis from axioms, but ultimately the rationality is besides the point, it is simply a quiver in the arrow of a broader and deeper cognitive phenomenon.

To give a personal example which illustrates this. Many many years ago I knew a Jewish girl of Modern Orthodox girl background passingly. She once asserted to me that the event of the Holocaust strengthened her belief in her God. I didn’t follow through on this discussion, as it was too disturbing to me. But it brought home to me that in some way the “reasoning” of many religious people leaves me totally befuddled (and no doubt vice versa).

As it happens, while in the course of writing this post, I found out that Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, the authors of the above argument in relation to reason and argumentation, published a book last month, The Enigma of Reason. I encourage readers to get it. I just bought a Kindle copy. Dan Sperber, who I interviewed 12 years ago, is a very deep thinker on the level of Daniel Kahneman. He’s French, and his prose can be somewhat difficult, so I wonder if that’s one reason he’s not nearly as well known).

Ultimately the point of this post actually goes back to genomics and history. Anne Gibbons has an excellent piece in Science, There’s no such thing as a ‘pure’ European—or anyone else. In it she draws on the most recent research in human population genomics to refute antiquated ideas about the purity of any given population. If you have read this blog for the past few years you already know most human populations are complex admixtures; that is, it isn’t a human family tree, but a human family graph.

Gibbons’ piece attacks directly some standard racialist talking points which have been refuted on a factual basis by genetic science:

When the first busloads of migrants from Syria and Iraq rolled into Germany 2 years ago, some small towns were overwhelmed. The village of Sumte, population 102, had to take in 750 asylum seekers. Most villagers swung into action, in keeping with Germany’s strong Willkommenskultur, or “welcome culture.” But one self-described neo-Nazi on the district council told The New York Times that by allowing the influx, the German people faced “the destruction of our genetic heritage” and risked becoming “a gray mishmash.”

In fact, the German people have no unique genetic heritage to protect. They—and all other Europeans—are already a mishmash, the children of repeated ancient migrations, according to scientists who study ancient human origins. New studies show that almost all indigenous Europeans descend from at least three major migrations in the past 15,000 years, including two from the Middle East. Those migrants swept across Europe, mingled with previous immigrants, and then remixed to create the peoples of today.

First, let’s set aside the political question of welcoming on the order of one million refugees to Germany. I will not post comments discussing that.

As a point of fact the truth genetically in relation to Germans is even more complex than what Gibbons’ asserts. When I worked with FamilyTree DNA I had access to their database and presented at their year conference some interesting results from people whose four grandparents were from Germany. In short, Germans tended to fall into three main clusters, one that was strongly skewed toward people from some parts of France, another which was shifted toward Scandinavians, and a third which was very similar to Slavs.

The historical and cultural reasons for this are easy to guess at or make conjectures. The takeaway here is that unlike Finns, or Irish, and to a great extent Scandinavians and Britons, Germany exhibits a lot of population substructure within it because of assimilation or migration in the last ~1,000 years. This is why genetically saying someone is “German” is very difficult when compared to saying someone is Polish or Swedish. By dint of their cultural expansiveness Germans are everyone and no one set next to other Northern Europeans* (with the exception perhaps of the French…I’m sure Germans will appreciate this comparison!).

The conceit of these sort of pieces is that racists will confront refutations which will shatter their racist axioms. But since most of the people who are writing these pieces and read Science are not racists, they won’t have a good intuition on the cognitive processes at work for genuine racists.

This causes problems. As a comparison, many atheists seem to think that refutation of the Athanasian creed will blow Christians away and make them forsake their God (or showing them contradictions in the Bible, admit that you’ve gone through that phase!). Though the Church Father Tertullian’s assertion that he “believed because it is absurd” is more subtle than I often make it out to be, on the face of it it does reflect how outsiders view a normative social group like Christianity.

The emphasis here is on normative. Social or religious movements and sentiments are often about norms, which emerge at the intersection of history, intuition, instinct, and facts. I place facts last in the list, because I think it is a defensible stance to take that facts are the least important variable!

The field of cultural evolution has shown that group cohesion and communal norms have been major drivers of human evolution. Likely there has been gene-cultural coevolution so that group conformity has been selected for as a way to make social units operate more smoothly. Social cognition is a thing; people believe what they believe because other people in their social groups believe something, not because they’ve reasoned to it themselves. Originally reasoning is hard. Letting others derive for you, and plugging and chugging is easy. As Muhammad stated, the Ummah will not agree upon error! The smarter people are, the better they are are reasoning…but the better they are at motivated reasoning, ignorance, and rationalization.

When faced with disconfirming evidence some people can dig in and deny the plain facts. Creationists are a straightforward case of this. Then there are evaders.  From what I have seen on the political Left in the United States at least over the last 15 years (when I’ve been engaging actively with people on the internet) there has been a consistent pattern of obfuscation and dodging the likely reality of sex differences in many quarters. When pinned down on the fundamentals few deny the principle or the possibility, but they almost always impose an extremely high level of skepticism that is not found in other domains, where their epistemology is far less stringent.

But then there is a third case, where facts that seem to refute on first blush to you  only strengthen the beliefs of someone with whom you already disagree. I am generally of the view that the rise of naturalistic science has probably undermined the case for classical supernaturalist theism, which emerged in the pre-modern era. Reasonable people can disagree, as I have smart religious friends who are also scientists. Some of these people, like Francis Collins, will even assert that modern findings which boggle the mind and shock our intuitions confirm and strengthen their belief in pre-modern religious systems!

My point is not to take a strong stance on science and religion. Rather, it is to say that when you present evidence and declare “I refute you thus!”, they may simply respond “Aha! You have proven my point!”

In relation to the Gibbons’ article the writing has been on the wall for at least three years, and probably longer. In Towards a new history and geography of human genes informed by ancient DNA Pickrell and Reich content:

…Implicit in this research is the assumption that the geographic locations of people today are informative about the geographic locations of their ancestors in the distant past. However, it is now clear that long-range migration, admixture and population replacement have been the rule rather than the exception in human history. In light of this, we argue that it is time to critically re-evaluate current views of the peopling of the globe and the importance of natural selection in determining the geographic distribution of phenotypes. We specifically highlight the transformative potential of ancient DNA. By accessing the genetic make-up of populations living at archaeologically-known times and places, ancient DNA makes it possible to directly track migrations and responses to natural selection.

Since this was published in spring of 2014 the evidence has gotten stronger and stronger. That is, the distribution of outcomes is getting more consistent and converging to a high confidence truth.

From this, are we to conclude that white nationalism would decline from marginal to non-existent in the past three years? A review of the empirical data does not seem to support that proposition. Therefore, a naive model that white nationalism is predicated on facts about racial purity may be wrong.

The responses that I have seen (often in the form of comments I don’t publish on this weblog) are denial/rejection, confusion, reinterpretation and vindication (along with standard issue racial insults directed toward me, their colored cognitive inferior). As with the religious case I have a difficult time “putting myself” in the shoes of a racialist of any sort, so I don’t totally understand how they’re getting from A to B, but in their own minds they are.

Let’s reaffirm what’s going on here: white racial consciousness in the United States has exploded on the public scene over the past three years, just as scientists have come to the very strong conclusion that the “white European race” as we understand it is an artifact of the last ~5,000 years or so.**

We need to go back to Hume, and the anthropological understanding of what reason is. Reason is a tool to confirm what you already hold to be true and good. If reason falsifies in some way what you hold to be true and good, that does not mean for most people that reason is where they will stand. Likely there will be some subtle reinterpretation, but magically reason will support their presuppositions. Ask the descendants of the followers of William Miller about falsification.

The fact is that very few people in the world know about David Reich and his research. I know this personally because I’m a voluble evangelist, and many geneticists, even human geneticists, are not aware of the revolution in historical population genetics that ancient DNA has wrought. I do not know any Nazis personally, I suspect that perhaps their knowledge of human phylogenomics is not at the same level as a typical geneticist.

Of course this sort of logic about logic cuts both ways. Before 2010 I actually assumed, as did most human geneticists who took an interest in these topics, that human populations had long been resident in their region of current occupation for tens of thousands of years. When I read Reconstructing Indian Population History by David Reich I was shocked out of my prior model, because the inferences were so ingenious and plausible, and, the updated story of how South Asians came to be actually made a lot of anomalies make a lot more sense. When Lazaridis et al. posted Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans on biorxiv in the December of 2013 I was far more surprised, because I had always assumed that the thesis that most European ancestry dated to the Pleistocene in any given region was a robust one. Both the phylogeography from mtDNA and Y pointed to a Pleistocene origin.

But the data were compelling. It’s one thing to make inferences on present day genetic distribution, it’s another to actually genotype ancient individuals (remember, I can reanalyze the data myself, and have done so numerous times). Lazaridis et al. and Priya Moorjani’s Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India totally changed my personal life. All of a sudden my wife and I were far closer emotionally and spiritually because we understood that the TMRCA of many segments in our autosomal genome was about 5-fold closer than I had assumed!!!***

Actually, the last sentence is a total fiction. The history which changed how I understood my wife and I to be related on a historical population genetic sense had zero impact on our relationship. That’s because we’re not racists, and race doesn’t really impact our relationship too much (the fact that my parents are Muslim, well, that’s a different issue….). Sorry Everyday Feminism. This is not an uncommon view, though perhaps not as common as we’d assumed of late (actually, as someone who has looked at the fascinating interracial dating research, I pretty much understood that what people say is quite different than what they do; anti-racism is the conformist thing to do, so people will play that tune for a while longer).

Just because the state of the world is one particular way, it does not naturally follow that it should be that way, or that it always will be that way. Most ethical religions saw in slavery an aspect of injustice; rational arguments aside, on some level extension of empathy and sympathy makes its injustice self-evident. But they accepted that it was an aspect of the world that was naturally baked into the structure of reality. The de jure abolition of slavery today does not mean it has truly gone away, but its practice has certainly been curtailed, and much of the cruelty diminished. Theories of human nature or necessities of economic production at the end of the day gave way changing mores and values. Facts about the world became less persuasive when we decided to let them no longer dictate tolerance of slavery.

All that I say above in relation to how humans use reason does not leave scientists or journalists untouched. All humans have their own goals, and even though they see through the glass darkly, they see in the visions beyond what they want to see. The cultural and theoretical structure of modern science is such that some of these impulses are dampened and human intuitions are channeled in a manner so that theories and models of the world seem to correspond to reality. But I believe this is deeply unnatural, and also deeply fragile. When moving outside of their domain of specialty scientists can be quite blind and irrational. Even when one steps away at a mild remove in terms of domain knowledge this becomes clear, such as when Linus Pauling promoted Vitamin C. And motivated reasoning can creep into the actions of even the greatest of scientists, such as when R. A. Fisher rejected the causal connection between tobacco and cancer.****

I will end on a frank and depressing note: I believe that the era of public reason and fealty to empirical standards in at least official capacities is fading. Social cognition, tribal logic, is on the rise. But we have to remember that in the historical perspective social cognition and tribal logic ruled the day. They are the norm. This is age when he abide by public reason is the peculiarity in the sea of polemic. Ultimately it may be the fool who fixates on being right or wrong, as opposed to being on the winning team. I hope I’m wrong on this.

Addendum: I have written a form of this post many times.

* The current chancellor of Germany has a Polish paternal grandfather.

** If Middle Easterners are included as white we can extended the time horizon much further back, but that seems to defeat the purpose of white nationalism in the United States….

*** I had assumed that the western affinity in South Asians had diverged from Europeans during the Last Glacial Maximum. In turns out some of it may be as recent as ~4,500 years ago or so.

**** This may have been unconsciously as opposed to malicious, as Fisher was keen on tobacco personally.

November 12, 2013

Is that white supremacist part black?

Filed under: Craig Cobb,race — Razib Khan @ 9:45 am

Goebbels, Nordic superman! Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild

Goebbels, Nordic superman! 
Credit:, Bundesarchiv, Bild

Many of you probably know about Dave Chappelle’s black white supremacist sketch (NSFW video!), though fewer are aware of Leo Felton, a white supremacist (ex, after he was outed) with a black father (a less tragic outcome than Dan Burros, the Jewish American Nazi). I know, these sound like they’re out of South Park episodes, though the last two are actually not fictional. But now the media is exploding with news that a DNA test has suggested that a notorious white supremacist is 14 percent black. The same one who was recently profiled in The New York Times promoting a separatist racial vision in a small North Dakota town. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t think that these results will hold up. (though personally I would think it was rich and very funny if they did, just like everyone else).

Credit: ScottH

Credit: ScottH

The reason is the chart to the left. It’s from 23andMe‘s data set. Out of their ~100,000 white American individuals tested, ~5% have any evidence of African ancestry. Of those, you see the distribution of results. If Craig Cobb, the white supremacist, is ~14% Sub-Saharan African, he’s in the less than 0.1% of white Americans with this sort of pattern. If he was a Latin American white, or a identified white person of Arab ancestry, I’d be willing to accept the results as plausible on the face of it. But the reality is that European Americans with relatively well documented histories usually do not have a high probability of having African ancestry. And if they do, 14% is a great deal. I have seen this among my friends (or more honestly, 5-10%, which is not far off), but that was due to a cryptic (though somewhat known within the family) non-paternity event.

The media isn’t consistent about which firm tested Craig Cobb, so I’m not going to make accusations specifically, but he says he’s getting other tests done, and he’ll release the results. I’ll be curious to see the raw results. To me this is reminiscent of the constant Facebook shares I get from the Daily Currant from friends who confuse satire for reality because of their biases (not to say those biases are unfounded or not). Just because the story is awesome does not mean we should set skepticism to the side, and not evaluate the probability of alternative outcomes, given what we know prior.

Related: Has anyone followed up the old story that James Watson was part black? The timing was a little suspicious to me.

The post Is that white supremacist part black? appeared first on Gene Expression.

Is that white supremacist part black?

Filed under: Craig Cobb,race — Razib Khan @ 9:45 am

Goebbels, Nordic superman! Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild

Goebbels, Nordic superman! 
Credit:, Bundesarchiv, Bild

Many of you probably know about Dave Chappelle’s black white supremacist sketch (NSFW video!), though fewer are aware of Leo Felton, a white supremacist (ex, after he was outed) with a black father (a less tragic outcome than Dan Burros, the Jewish American Nazi). I know, these sound like they’re out of South Park episodes, though the last two are actually not fictional. But now the media is exploding with news that a DNA test has suggested that a notorious white supremacist is 14 percent black. The same one who was recently profiled in The New York Times promoting a separatist racial vision in a small North Dakota town. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t think that these results will hold up. (though personally I would think it was rich and very funny if they did, just like everyone else).

Credit: ScottH

Credit: ScottH

The reason is the chart to the left. It’s from 23andMe‘s data set. Out of their ~100,000 white American individuals tested, ~5% have any evidence of African ancestry. Of those, you see the distribution of results. If Craig Cobb, the white supremacist, is ~14% Sub-Saharan African, he’s in the less than 0.1% of white Americans with this sort of pattern. If he was a Latin American white, or a identified white person of Arab ancestry, I’d be willing to accept the results as plausible on the face of it. But the reality is that European Americans with relatively well documented histories usually do not have a high probability of having African ancestry. And if they do, 14% is a great deal. I have seen this among my friends (or more honestly, 5-10%, which is not far off), but that was due to a cryptic (though somewhat known within the family) non-paternity event.

The media isn’t consistent about which firm tested Craig Cobb, so I’m not going to make accusations specifically, but he says he’s getting other tests done, and he’ll release the results. I’ll be curious to see the raw results. To me this is reminiscent of the constant Facebook shares I get from the Daily Currant from friends who confuse satire for reality because of their biases (not to say those biases are unfounded or not). Just because the story is awesome does not mean we should set skepticism to the side, and not evaluate the probability of alternative outcomes, given what we know prior.

Related: Has anyone followed up the old story that James Watson was part black? The timing was a little suspicious to me.

The post Is that white supremacist part black? appeared first on Gene Expression.

September 15, 2013

Miss America, Nina Davuluri, does not look like Miss India

Filed under: Beauty,Miss America,Nina Davuluri,race,Racism — Razib Khan @ 11:40 pm
Miss America 2013 is an Indian American woman, Nina Davuluri. This has predictably ushered in lots of sad and sometimes so-sad-it’s-funny (frankly) racism on Twitter. But there’s another interesting angle: a friend pointed out that Nina Davuluri is probably too … Continue reading

August 2, 2013

Gendered perceptions of parental identity

Filed under: race,Sexism — Razib Khan @ 11:32 pm
At the super market my wife pointed out an article in the parenting section which she stumbled upon while waiting for me to finish at the checkout line, Is She Yours? In a stray moment I decided to see if … Continue reading

August 9, 2012

The law of reversion to type as cultural illusion

Filed under: Admixture,Genetics,race — Razib Khan @ 12:01 am

A comment below:

Does the higher genetic diversity in sub-Saharan Africans explain why mixed children of blacks + other couples usually look more black than anything?

As in, the higher number of genetic characteristics overwhelms those of the other parent and allows them to be present in the child.

But this makes you ask: is the assumption that people with some African heritage tend to exhibit that heritage disproportionately even true? From an American perspective the answer is obviously yes. But from a non-American perspective not always. Why? Doe the laws of genetics operate differently for Americans and non-Americans? I doubt t. Rather, hypodescent, and its undergirding principle of the “reversion to the primitive type” are still background assumptions of American culture. In fact today black Americans are perhaps most aggressive and explicit in outlining the logic and implications of the “one drop rule,” though non-blacks tend to accept it as an operative principle as well.

Assessing someone’s racial identity has a subjective aspect. We see through the mirror darkly, and that’s a function of the cultural preconditions of gestalt cognition. But there are some objective metrics we can look ...

July 25, 2012

A little food & medicine go a long way

Filed under: Caste,Lower Caste,Prejudice,race — Razib Khan @ 7:45 am

I clicked through on the links to Zack’s post below and was pretty shocked. I know this somewhat, but not having grown up around many Indians (or South Asians generally) I didn’t have a good sense. That being said, a few years ago I stumbled on a book at the local book store, Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir. The author was an adopted woman of Indian heritage from Spain. Skimming through, her family seems to have been peasant cultivators in Maharashtra. Therefore, I was struck by her photo. She is rather attractive and not “worn down” by the life of extreme subsistence.

This is not to take anything away from Zack’s post, and she obviously does not look like the typical upper caste NRI even to my unsubtle eyes. But a great deal of the physical difference in terms of perception is environmental. Though I do think it is telling that a woman who looks like this could never be a leading lady in a Bollywood film.

Asha Miro


July 22, 2012

The Scots-Irish as indigenous people

Filed under: Culture,race,Scots-Irish — Razib Khan @ 4:04 pm

A fascinating comment below:

In traveling across America, the Scots Irish have consistently blown my mind as far and away the most persistent and unchanging regional subculture in the country. Their family structures, religion and politics, and social lives all remain unchanged compared to the wholesale abandonment of tradition that’s occurred nearly everywhere else.

Unfortunately, this has a lot to do with a powerful and long-running strand of paranoia and xenophobia. I’ve ridden trains through the rail towns of WV and KY and been regarded with more unprovoked hatred than anywhere else on Earth. On the other hand, when I’ve been introduced to their clan-based social structures by close friends, it is a uniquely close-knit and life-affirming culture that I’ve been honored to participate in.

What stuck me about this comment is that it is the sort of statement you regularly see from Western anthropologists or adventure tourists in relation to indigenous colored peoples the world over. That is, a parochial clannish folk trying to hold onto to their traditions, albeit with the downside of being inward looking and often regressive (downside from the perspective of Westerners that is). What these people ...

May 25, 2012

Fear of a black past

Filed under: Melungeon,race — Razib Khan @ 9:35 pm

I notice that the media has started reporting that scientific genealogy has now established to a great extent the likely origin of the Melungeons. You can find the original paper online. The gist is that the Melungeons seem to exhibit a large proportion of Sub-Saharan African origin Y chromosomal lineages, and European mtDNA lineages. The lack of Amerindian ancestry in the generality is also notable. But, this does not entail that the origins of the Melungeons is from the union of free black males and white women necessarily, at least on purely genetic grounds (the paper itself has a wealth of genealogical evidence pointing to this likelihood). The Melungeons are an endogamous community, and so have a low effective population. African or Amerindian mtDNA lineages may simply have been lost by chance over the past few hundred years.

But I point to the story of the Melungeons because it is a nice counter-point to that of the Hispanos of the Southwest. This is a case where historians and anthropologists who made the case for the false construction of a mythical Middle Eastern ancestry for the Melungeons as a way in which to escape the bounds of the ...

May 20, 2012

Education encourages integration?

Filed under: data,Demographics,race — Razib Khan @ 10:36 am

It is sometimes fashionable to assert that higher socioeconomic status whites are the sort who will impose integration on lower socioeconomic status whites, all the while sequestering themselves away. I assumed this was a rough reflection of reality. But after looking at the General Social Survey I am not sure that this chestnut of cynical wisdom has a basis in fact. Below are the proportions of non-Hispanic whites who have had a black friend or acquaintance over for dinner recently by educational attainment:

35% – Less than high school
36% – High school
47% – Junior College
45% – Bachelor
59% – Graduate

I thought this might have been a fluke, so I played around with the GSS’s multiple regression feature, using a logistic model. To my surprise socioeconomic status was positively associated with having a black person over for dinner, and age negatively associated. These two variables in fact tended to exhibit equal magnitude values in opposition, and always remained statistically significant. Just to clear, I created a variable Non-South vs. South below (being Southern increases likelihood of having had a black person over for dinner). All the individuals surveyed are non-Hispanic whites for the year 2000 and ...

May 4, 2012

Richard Dawkins accepts the usefulness of race

Filed under: race,Richard Dawkins — Razib Khan @ 10:57 am

There have been a variety of responses to my column in The Crux on race. To be fair, because the audience for The Crux does not consist of genome nerds I engaged in some first approximations which some readers have taken objection to. For example, the genetic architecture of blue vs. brown eye inheritance is ‘quasi-Mendelian,’ with ~75 percent of the variation in Europeans on this trait attributable to variation in the region of the HERC2 and OCA2 genes. But I thought, and still think, that a rough re-characterization of the trait as a recessive one with a monogenic Mendelian inheritance pattern can be justified for didactic purposes (just like one can justify the idea that whole human genomes have been sequenced, even if there are large gaps, and known errors in regions of repeats).

But the comments over at Richard Dawkins’ website have been rather amusing as a whole. Some people were patronizingly pedantic, and I don’t have time respond in detail (the real response would be: read my blog!). But some comments are easy to answer:

I’d like to hear Dawkins’ response to this, I’ve read all of his books and he’d surely disagree with ...

April 23, 2012

An algorithm is just an algorithm

Filed under: Anthroplogy,race — Razib Khan @ 8:48 pm

In the comments below:

You should include a Moroccan or otherwise native North African sample. Without a North African sample West Africans act as proxy for some of that North African ancestry that does exist in Iberia, specially the Western third (Portugal, Galicia, Extremadura, León, etc.) Doing that your analysis would become more precise and you could make better informed claims.

I was reading through all the entry and there was no mention to the rather surprising notable West African component in Iberians other than Basques. For my somewhat trained eye it is clear that this is a proxy for North African ancestry and not directly West African ancestry. This is demonstratedly also the case in Canary Islands, at least to a large extent, and, by extension in Cuba (which is nearly identical to your average Canarian), at least Cuba-1. Cuba-2 seems actually admixed at low levels and both seem to have some Amerindian ancestry not existent in Spain.

This is a fair point. I switched computers recently, and the Behar et al. data set I had seems to have become corrupted. So I snatched the Mozabites from the HGDP, and removed the Gujaratis from the previous run. I also added Russians, ...

April 22, 2012

A deeper dive analysis of two Cubans

Filed under: Anthroplogy,race — Razib Khan @ 10:42 pm

About a week ago I put up a post put on an analysis of a paper which reported on the ancestral make up of 50 Cubans (as well as assorted other Hispanic/Latino groups). One aspect of the paper which was somewhat notable is that 1 out of 3 Cubans were 90 percent or more European in ancestry. The notability of this is that is that 5 out of 6 Cuban Americans identify as white. That is, of European ancestry. The main caveat here is that these Cubans were sampled from New York City, and to a lesser extent the Midwest. The fact of non-European admixture in putatively white European individuals from Latin America is not surprising. Our prior expectation should be that the admixture is non-trivial, though not preponderant. For example, the majority of the white population of Argentina has Amerindian ancestry (or, more precisely ~15 percent of the aggregate ancestry of Argentineans is Amerindian). At least notionally Cuba is a much more racially mixed culture than Argentina, so non-white admixture in even white Cubans is not surprising.

Based on the above paper (and the data which you can find on other Latin American whites), as well as ...

April 15, 2012

The case of the white Cubans

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Human Genomics,race,white Hispanics — Razib Khan @ 5:11 pm

In a follow up to a post below, a new paper in PLoS Genetics has some data on American Hispanics. Specifically, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, and Cubans, as well as assorted Central and South Americans. I am not too interested in the cases except Cubans; no one doubts the mixed heritage of the other groups, though the African ancestry of Mexicans, and some Central and South Americans may surprise (again, I have to note that this not surprising in light of history, and has been robustly confirmed in the genomic literature).

But Cuban Americans are somewhat a special case. The vast majority, specifically, 85 percent, identify as white. This is a higher proportion than the number of self-identified whites in Cuba, and a function of the skewed nature of the migration out of Cuba socially and economically. By and large the white elite of the island fled Castro’s revolution to a far greater extent than the black lower classes. And contrary to American stereotypes of Latin American ease and openness about race, Cuba was a relatively stratified society, albeit not characterized by hypodescent. Slavery was ...

March 7, 2012

Where the wild clines aren’t

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Human Genetics,Human Genomics,Population genetics,race — Razib Khan @ 7:38 pm

In the recent ‘do human races’ exist controversy Nick Matzke’s post Continuous geographic structure is real, “discrete races” aren’t has become something of a touchstone (perhaps a post like Cosma Shalizi’s on I.Q. and heritability).* In the post Matzke emphasized the idea of clines, roughly a continuous gradient of genetic change over space. Fair enough. But in the map above I traced two linear transects. I would suggest that anyone who has a general understanding of the demographics of South-Central Eurasia would immediately anticipate that these transects would reveal a relatively sharp break in allele frequencies. True, there are intermediate populations between the two end points, in Nepal, and on the fringes of India’s northeastern states. But clearly about halfway through the southwest-northeast transect you’ll see a rapid shift in allele frequencies. The blue transect is different, insofar as the change occurs very near its eastern pole. In Bengal, 85% of the length of the transect from its western terminus, the populations will still be far closer genetically to those on the western pole than those just to the east!


I thought of this when I saw that Zack had posted a Tibetan data set from Qinghai. As the crow flies Qinghai is closer to the plains of North India than peninsular South India, but Zack found Tibetans from this region to be only ~1 percent South Asian. That’s likely to be close to noise. I assume this does not surprise anyone. Despite the fact that North India is very populous in relation to Tibet, it turns out that geographical barriers are very strong in discouraging gene flow (note that Tibet and North India are actually culturally related; Tibetan Buddhism has its origins in the Tantric Buddhism of Bengal). This is one of my major “beefs” with the idea that “race does not exist” because of clines. I think this is a robust point when it comes to there being no Middle Eastern race vs. Scandinavian race. The clines are real and gradual between these two population sets. But I do think there has been strong differentiation between populations from the antipodes of Eurasia. I suspect that the emergence of more flexible lifestyles (e.g., oasis agriculture, horse nomadism) has in fact resulted in far greater connections between the isolated zones of Western and Eastern Eurasia over the past 10,000 years than before. In fact, one can conceptualize it as a two fold process. On the one hand you had very powerful expansions from small initial founder groups across macro-regions such as Western Eurasia and the Far East. This resulted in a decrease of genetic difference within these zones through the power of homogenization, though increased Fst in the few zones of direct contact across the zones. But, the “empty zones” of Central Eurasia may also have filled up with”proto-”Silk Road” centers over the past ~10,000 years, resulting in more frequent long term connections between the macro-regions than had heretofore been possible.

* I guess I should divulge that I have socialized with Nick Matzke an that we share common friends.

March 2, 2012

Race: maybe it’s agriculture

Filed under: Human Genetics,race — Razib Khan @ 3:23 pm

I’m too busy to really blog today, but I thought of putting up a post, the gist of which was actually expressed in Ian’s comment below:

When I was younger, I thought of human races as archetypes, and the variation between them a product of mixing. I blame it on the fact that I read Coon when I was about 14. Still, as a (half)Indian, it’s hard to see reconcile the reality of a billion people in the subcontinent with models that try to classify people into 3-5 races. As I learned more biology, I came to the conclusion that human variation was clinal, and race was really an artefact of where you chose to sample along the continuum…as a plant ecologist, I think about things like that a lot. (I’m also somewhat skeptical of ecozones.)

Thanks to a number of convergent strands (of which Razib’s blogging has been a key element), I have come to a rather different conclusion. Race, in my opinion, is more a feature of agriculture than evolution.

Consider two possible models of race: Model 1, in which sharp distinctions existed before the Neolithic, and have been maintained and enhanced as certain groups adopted agriculture and displaced their hunter-gatherer neighbours; and Model 2, in which variation was clinal prior to the Neolithic, but that the immense demographic expansion of certain groups expanded THEIR specific points on the continuum, and brought them into contact (or nearly into contact) with other expansionist agriculturalists.

To me, the Model 2 seems more plausible than Model 1. Is that an argument against race? No, but it does suggest that races shouldn’t really be seen as “locally adapted optima” and rather, should be seen more as transient phenomena produced by historic contingency. Whether this means that race is “real” or not is, to me, a little beside the point. But I’m not convinced by Coyne’s argument that these differences represent the “accumulation of genetic differences between isolated populations”.

A hybrid?

Isolation-by-distance is a powerful null model. But if Reconstructing Indian History is correct then it is a poor description of the recent history of the Indian subcontinent. Since there are ~1.5 billion South Asians I think that that is a major objection. And I don’t think it is just South Asians. Even 10,000 years ago I suspect that a clinal isolation-by-distance model would be confronted by several clusters of demes which were operationally allopatric (e.g., West Eurasia & North Africa vs. East Eurasia, Austarlasia, the New World, Sub-Saharan Africa, and likely South Asia). This probably had to do with the fact that human occupation is not, and was not, evenly distributed.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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