Scientific Attitudes to Race

Researchers' attitude to race has swung through a wide arc in the last century and the new view developed by the work of Risch, Feldman and others has probably not yet become the consensus view.

In the nineteenth century, as European explorers became acquainted with the peoples of other continents who seemed so different from themselves, a serious debate arose as to whether these strange foreigners should be considered as belonging to separate species. Darwin, with his usual unerring insight, rejected the idea in his 1871 book The Descent of Man, arguing there was only one human species, though divided into subspecies or races. The one species must have had a single origin, which Darwin pre sciently placed in Africa, the continent with the greatest diversity of great apes. That human population, in his view, was later fragmented into different races by geographical isolation, followed by a differentiation that in Darwin's view was principally driven by sexual selection, the preference by women for men of a certain type. Since Darwin's time, greater awareness has developed of the dangers of race in light of the many harms and injustices committed by people of one race against those of another. Many academic researchers, including geneticists, have sought to minimize the extent of biological variation within the human family. What is still one of the most influential positions on race is a statement made in 1972 by the geneticist Richard Lewontin. Lewontin measured a property of proteins (DNA sequencing was not then available) taken from people of different races, and computed a standard measure of variation known as Wright's fixation index or FST. The idea is to measure some character that varies in members of a population and assess how much of the variation arises because two subpopulations differ from each other in that character. The index, in other words, reflects how much of the variation is general and how much is specific to the subpopulations.

Lewontin's value for Fst came out at 6.3%, meaning that of all the variability in the human population, at least as reflected in the 17 proteins he had measured, only 6.3% lay between races, while a further 8.3% was found to lie between the ethnic groups within races. "Of all human variation, 85% is between individual

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