Manual Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth

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She Has Her Mother's Laugh presents a profoundly original perspective on what we pass along from generation to generation. Charles Darwin played a crucial part in turning heredity into a scientific question, and yet he failed spectacularly to answer it. The birth of genetics in the early s seemed to do precisely that. Gradually, people translated their old notions about heredity into a language of genes.

We need a new definition of what heredity is and, through Carl Zimmer's lucid exposition and storytelling, this resounding tour de force delivers it. Wilson renews the Enlightenment's search for a unified theory of knowledge in disciplines that range from physics to biology, the social sciences and the humanities. Using the natural sciences as his model, Wilson forges dramatic links between fields.

Presenting the latest findings in prose of wonderful clarity and oratorical eloquence, and synthesizing it into a dazzling whole, Consilience is science in the path-clearing traditions of Newton, Einstein, and Richard Feynman. Here, anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom: He shows that before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5, years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash.

It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Understanding our humanity - the essence of who we are - is one of the deepest mysteries and biggest challenges in modern science. Why do we have bad moods? Why are we capable of having such strange dreams? How can metaphors in our language hold such sway on our actions? As we learn more about the mechanisms of human behavior through evolutionary biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and other related fields, we're discovering just how intriguing the human species is.

In the mids, scientists began using DNA sequences to reexamine the history of all life. Perhaps the most startling discovery to come out of this new field is horizontal gene transfer HGT , or the movement of genes across species lines. For instance, we now know that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infection - a type of HGT.

In The Tangled Tree David Quammen chronicles these discoveries through the lives of the researchers who made them. In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein explodes the myth that America's cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation - that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies.

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Rather, he incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation - the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments - that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day. This revised edition of Human Nature begins a new phase in the most important intellectual controversy of this generation: Is human behavior controlled by the species' biological heritage? Does this heritage limit human destiny? With characteristic pungency and simplicity of style, the author of Sociobiology challenges old prejudices and current misconceptions about the nature-nurture debate.

This mantra has been invoked by scientists for decades and has led to a virtual prohibition on causal talk. But today, that taboo is dead. The causal revolution, sparked by Judea Pearl and his colleagues, has cut through a century of confusion and placed causality - the study of cause and effect - on a firm scientific basis.

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth

In February , Reni Eddo-Lodge posted an impassioned argument on her blog about her deep-seated frustration with the way discussions of race and racism in Britain were constantly being shut down by those who weren't affected by it. Her sharp, fiercely intelligent words hit a nerve, and the post went viral, spawning a huge number of comments from people desperate to speak up about their own similar experiences.

Race has provided the rationale and excuse for some of the worst atrocities in human history. Yet, according to many biologists, physical anthropologists, and geneticists, there is no valid scientific justification for the concept of race. To be more precise, although there is clearly some physical basis for the variations that underlie perceptions of race, clear boundaries among "races" remain highly elusive from a purely biological standpoint.

Differences among human populations that people intuitively view as "racial" are not only superficial but are also of astonishingly recent origin. In this intriguing and highly accessible audiobook, physical anthropologist Ian Tattersall and geneticist Rob DeSalle, both senior scholars from the American Museum of Natural History, explain what human races actually are - and are not - and place them within the wider perspective of natural diversity. They explain that the relative isolation of local populations of the newly evolved human species during the last Ice Age - when Homo sapiens was spreading across the world from an African point of origin - has now begun to reverse itself, as differentiated human populations come back into contact and interbreed.

This book attempted to debunk the notion that human races exist. It would have been more accurately named: Species?

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth

No one doubts that humans comprise one reproducible species: sapiens. Based on their title, though, I expected the authors to argue effectively why the term race is inaccurate. They never did, only preaching that by defining humans by race opens a door to comparisons of differences, which in turn can lead to conflicts and atrocities. No new insights were offered. These migrants were most closely related to groups that today live in East Africa, including the Hadza of Tanzania.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps in the Middle East, the travelers met and had sex with another human species, the Neanderthals; farther east they encountered yet another, the Denisovans. Some scientists also believe the exodus 60, years ago was actually the second wave of modern humans to leave Africa.

If so, judging from our genomes today, the second wave swamped the first. In what was, relatively speaking, a great rush, the offspring of all these migrants dispersed around the world. By 50, years ago they had reached Australia. As they moved into different parts of the world, they formed new groups that became geographically isolated from one another and, in the process, acquired their own distinctive set of genetic mutations. Most of these tweaks were neither helpful nor harmful. But occasionally a mutation arose that turned out to be advantageous in a new setting. Under the pressure of natural selection, it spread quickly through the local population.

At high altitudes, for instance, oxygen levels are low, so for people moving into the Ethiopian highlands, Tibet, or the Andean Altiplano, there was a premium on mutations that helped them cope with the rarefied air. Similarly, Inuit people, who adopted a marine-based diet high in fatty acids, have genetic tweaks that helped them adapt to it. Such is the case with a variant of a gene called EDAR pronounced ee-dar. Most people of East Asian and Native American ancestry possess at least one copy of the variant, known as A, and many possess two.


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The mice look ordinary, with sleek brown coats and shiny black eyes. But examined under a microscope, they are different from their equally cute cousins in subtle yet significant ways.

Their hair strands are thicker; their sweat glands are more numerous; and the fat pads around their mammary glands are smaller. Perhaps, Kamberov speculates, the ancestors of contemporary East Asians at some point encountered climate conditions that made more sweat glands useful.

Or maybe thicker hair helped them ward off parasites. Genetics frequently works like this: A tiny tweak can have many disparate effects. DNA is often compared to a text, with the letters standing for chemical bases —A for adenine, C for cytosine, G for guanine, and T for thymine. The tweak that gives East Asians thicker hair is a single base change in a single gene, from a T to a C. About a decade ago a pathologist and geneticist named Keith Cheng, at Penn State College of Medicine, discovered the mutation by studying zebrafish that had been bred to have lighter stripes.

The fish, it turned out, possessed a mutation in a pigment gene analogous to the one that is mutated in Europeans. Studying DNA extracted from ancient bones, paleogeneticists have found that the G- to -A substitution was introduced into western Europe relatively recently—about 8, years ago—by people migrating from the Middle East, who also brought a newfangled technology: farming.

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That means the people already in Europe—hunter-gatherers who created the spectacular cave paintings at Lascaux, for example—probably were not white but brown. The ancient DNA suggests that many of those dark-skinned Europeans also had blue eyes, a combination rarely seen today.


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There are no fixed traits associated with specific geographic locations, Reich says, because as often as isolation has created differences among populations, migration and mixing have blurred or erased them. Across the world today, skin color is highly variable. Much of the difference correlates with latitude. Near the Equator lots of sunlight makes dark skin a useful shield against ultraviolet radiation; toward the poles, where the problem is too little sun, paler skin promotes the production of vitamin D. Several genes work together to determine skin tone, and different groups may possess any number of combinations of different tweaks.

It seems to have been introduced to Africa, just as it was to Europe, from the Middle East. East Asians, for their part, generally have light skin but possess the dark-skinned version of the gene. Cheng has been using zebrafish to try to figure out why. When people speak about race, usually they seem to be referring to skin color and, at the same time, to something more than skin color.

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth

Science today tells us that the visible differences between peoples are accidents of history. They reflect how our ancestors dealt with sun exposure, and not much else. Even today Neanderthals are in most of us.