This is a critique of RationalWiki’s page on “racialism”. This response will be long, but that is only because RationalWiki commits an astonishing number of errors.
RationalWiki begins by defining racialism as “the view that human races are substantially different from each other and these racial differences strongly determine the abilities and behavior of individuals and peoples.” This isn’t a horrible definition. But it is missing a few key facts. Human races are groups of people who share a common ancestry from certain pre-historic populations. Typically, we group people based on whether they mostly descend from the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Europe. The people within these ancient populations not only lived together but also, over time, evolved together. As they evolved they came to resemble each-other more than they did members of other races in terms of all the traits that evolution impacts. Because of this, knowing what race someone is a member of allows you to predict, with varying degrees of accuracy, an immense number of things about them. These variables include a person’s personality, intellect, political disposition, and other features of their psychology. And an individual’s psychology is a major factor in how well they end up doing in life. Perhaps more importantly, the psychological features of a population are a major determinant of their societal success. And so, race is a key factor in why some individuals and societies succeed while others fail. If you believe all that, then, so far as I am concerned, you are a racialist.
Races Are Subspecies
Unfortunately, RationalWiki begins fucking things up when they try to describe what racialists think races are. They state that “contemporary racialists no longer argue for biological races in the sense of subspecies” and that, instead, modern racialists have come up with various new definitions of race. This is false. I, for one, do define race as subspecies. A subspecies is a population that doesn’t frequently mate with members of other populations within the same species for a long time and so becomes genetically different from them. And that is what a race is.
And I am not alone in this belief. Just consider the views of some other racialists that RationalWiki names on their own page. For instance, they correctly name the Canadian psychologist Phillipe Rushton as an important modern racialist. Had they bothered to actually read Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior, they would know that he defined a race as “A variety, a subspecies, or a subdivision of a species characterized by a more or less distinctive combination of physical traits transmitted in descent. A genetically distinct inbreeding division within a species.” (Page 305) Similarly, Richard Lynn, another researcher which RationalWiki names in its list of racialists, has this to say in his book Race Differences in Intelligence: an Evolutionary Analysis: “It is a general principle of evolutionary biology that when populations of species become isolated from one another they evolve into two or more sub-species. These are generally termed varieties, strains, or breeds. In the case of humans these different varieties are called races. “ (Page 7) I could go on, but these two examples of very prominent modern racialists are sufficient to show that many do still believe that races are subspecies. Thus, RationalWiki messes things up right from the get go. They don’t understand what racialists think that races are and so spend a good deal of time criticizing fringe conceptions of race that are irrelevant.
The Problem of Races
RationalWiki goes on to define the so called “problem of races” as the presupposition that “there is only one objectively and biologically valid way of dividing all humans into different populations.” According to RationalWiki this is a statement that racialists believe and which is indefensible. But this isn’t something that racialists actually believe. There are many valid ways of dividing of populations and race is only one of them. Moreover, people can be divided racially in more than one way.
Sometimes it is useful to talk about 3 major human races (Mongoloids, Caucasians, and Negroids), but other times it is more useful to divide people into 6 races, or dozens of ethnic groups. This has long been known by racialists. For instance, writing in 1957, the biologist William Boyd had this to say about a supposed disagreement between himself, who had written about 6 races, and another group of researchers, who had written about 30: “Our points of view were actually not so different. It simply suited the purposes of Coon, Barn, and Birdsell, to divide mankind up into 30 races, and it suited my purpose to divide the human species into 6 races”. (Readings of Race, [page 25) Similarly, Rushton divided humans into 3 races in most of his work but readily admitted that you could divide these “macro races” into smaller units if it was useful to do so (page 235). And so, just as with race and subspecies, RationalWiki is simply wrong about what racialists think. Humans can be divided in many biologically valid ways and racial divisions, which are themselves malleable, is only one of them. Thus, the “problem of races” boils down to RationalWiki’s “problem of lying”.
What do scientists think about race?
Rationalwiki goes on to posit that the “vast majority” of modern biologists maintain that variation between human populations is too small and continuous to justify the existence of races. In fact, according to RationalWiki, this is a “consensus” among scientists. To justify this claim RationalWiki refers to a handful of papers that dispute the existence of race. This is, of course, not a legitimate means of determining what a group of people thinks. And, in-fact, if you look at surveys of biological anthropologists you find that about 1 in 4 researchers in America believe in biological races as do a clear majority of researchers in eastern Europe and China. So RationalWiki is just plain wrong about there being a consensus that race doesn’t exist.
RationalWiki’s incorrectness does not stop there. RationalWiki didn’t just get the views of scientists in general wrong, they were even wrong about the specific scientists they quoted as being anti-racialists. In particular, they quote the anthropologist John Rhelenthord as saying “The boundaries in global variation are not abrupt and do not fit a strict view of the race concept; the number of races and the cutoffs used to define them are arbitrary. The race concept is at best a crude first-order approximation to the geographically structured phenotypic variation in the human species” and infer from this quote that Rhelenthord denies the utility of race. This is a distortion of Relenthord’s views. Rhelenthord does say that racial classification is a “crude first-order approximation” but he also says that it does capture some real variation and that this is useful to science. In the very paper RationalWiki quoted he also wrote: “There is, however, geographic patterning to human biological variation, both for traits affected strongly by natural selection, such as skin color, and for traits whose distribution tends, on average, to be more neutral, such as craniometrics and many genetic polymorphisms. I suggest that typical uses of the concept of geographic race today are simply crude labels imposed upon this geographically structured variation. In that sense, race is culturally constructed, as all labels are, but it is also based on an underlying reality of biological variation.” Rhelenthord goes on to compare race to other useful scientific labels like “high” and “low” blood pressure and concludes by saying: “The issue is whether reduction of continuous variation into discrete groups is appropriate and under what circumstances. In terms of the geographic structure of human biological variation, there are times when a crude division into major geographic regions may be useful”
Rhelenthord may not be an enthusiastic supporter of all racial science. But he doesn’t deny that race is at least sometimes useful in science either or that racial categorization reflects something real about human genetic variation. He is thus not in the race-denier camp and RationalWiki’s attempt to pretend that there is a consensus by quote mining his papers and ignoring poll data is both pathetic and telling. It is telling because it speaks volumes about how important it is to RationalWiki to convince everyone that there is no nuance to this debate and that Science with a capital S is on their side. They need to hide behind a fake consensus because without it the implausibility of their arguments becomes apparent.
Historical Racial Thought
RationalWiki also lies about what racialists of the past thought. For one thing, they call Arthur de Gobineau, a predecessor of Nazi racial thought, a “scientific” racist when in reality Gobineau was a mystic completely detached from the Anglo tradition that we now call “scientific racism”. This attempt to connect scientifically rigorous racialism to Nazism is a transparent attempt at poisoning the well.
Even more ridiculously, the writers at RationalWiki have somehow managed to convince themselves that Charles Darwin wasn’t a racialist. They contend that “On the Origin of Species and the subsequent Descent of Man undermined many of the arguments made by racialists by demonstrating that humans were one species.” and that “Darwin specifically argued that there were no clear delineations between the races and that they graduated into each other”. It is true that Darwin argued that the races have fuzzy boundaries and that, because of this, races should be considered subspecies rather than separate species. But, as we have already been over, this is what most racialists think. Moreover, Darwin expresses clear racialists thoughts in the 7th chapter of The Decent of Man with passages like “There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other,- as in the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body,* the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain. But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference. The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatisation and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties.” Darwin clearly believed that human races exist and, because of evolution, that they differ in every conceivable way. By any reasonable standard, he was a racialist. RationalWiki’s attempt to avoid the cognitive dissonance that should result from their hero worship of Darwin on the one hand, and Darwin’s sensible racialist views on the other, is thus an utter failure.
Race in Forensic Anthropology
Once RationalWiki is finished pretending that Science is on their side and always has been they begin to make some actual arguments against the existence of race. They begin by looking at forensic anthropology. Forensic anthropologists come to crime scenes and can tell you the race of a skeleton based on the physical differences between the races. Some people think that this is evidence of race’s scientific validity. RationalWiki disagrees and cites a famous anthropology article from the early 90’s which states “race identification by forensic anthropologists has little to do with whether or not biological races exist. The race controversy in anthropology is a debate about natural groupings of human biological diversity, a question of taxonomy…The successful assignment of race to a skeletal specimen is not a vindication of the [biological] race concept, but rather a prediction that an individual, while alive was assigned to a particular socially constructed ‘racial’ category.” RationalWiki also notes that scientists can also use similar techniques to identify French people or to tell people from different generations apart. Yet, neither of these groups are races. And so the fact that we can look at physical traits and predict what group someone belongs to doesn’t validate that group as a race.
These arguments are uniformly shitty. Firstly, both “French people” and people from different generations (age cohorts) are valid scientific categories. Age cohorts aren’t races because they aren’t subspecies. You could consider “French people” or, at least, “Northern Europeans” as a race, because they do fit the criteria of subspecies. As I stated above, how narrowly races should be defined is just a function of what is useful. And it could be useful to talk about French people as a biologically distinct population. In the second place, the ability of scientists to correctly categorize organisms has long been a key criteria of subspecies. The cited anthropologist’s denial of this is either dishonest or the result of total ignorance. Correct identification is so central to the subspecies concept that for several decades there was a heuristic in subspecies taxonomy known as the 75% rule which simply stated that if you could sort organisms into subspecies with an accuracy of at least 75% then they were taxonomically valid. This criteria doesn’t carry as much weight today as it did in 1950, but the basic idea that we need to be able to accurately sort organisms into their subspecies is still widely used in taxonomy. This is why extremely prominent geneticists and biologists have made such a big deal out of the fact that we can predict someone’s race with an accuracy of near 100% with purely genetic information.
So, in short, our ability to sort people into races is relevant to the race’s validity. If we couldn’t predict someone’s race based on their biology then race couldn’t have much to do with biology. That being said, sorting accuracy is necessary but not sufficient for showing that a group is a race. The group must also be a subspecies, meaning a population that has became genetically distinct from other populations due to limited mating with them over a long period of time.
How genetically distinct are races?
RationalWiki also tries to show that the races are not genetically distinct enough to be subspecies. This is an argument that can only fail because there is no widespread agreement about how genetically distinct populations need to be in order to be considered subspecies. In fact, it isn’t even universally agreed upon that genetic distance, as opposed to observable physical differences, should be the deciding factor. RationalWiki, in keeping with the level of rigor they’ve displayed thus far, arbitrarily point to dog breeds as subspecies that are more genetically distinct as humans and think that this casts doubt on the validity of humans races.
There are many other species which have recognized subspecies that are less genetically distinct than human races are. Such species include, for example, the Canadian lynx, the African Buffalo, The Plain Zebra, and the Red Winged Black Bird. Dog breeds are more genetically distinct than most subspecies are and there is no plausible justification for using them as the standard by which to judge other species. The choice of dogs is obviously motivated entirely by the fact that dog breeds are more genetically distinct than human races. There is no other reason that RationalWiki decided to use them as their example. But if we use the same standards as we do for other species the level of genetic differentiation between human race is more than enough to justify calling them subspecies.
Following their attempt to argue that there isn’t enough genetic variation among humans for races to exist RationalWiki argues that the genetic variation that does exist isn’t “patterned” in a way that would be consistent with the existence of races. Specifically, they argue that human populations slowly become more genetically distant the farther apart they are geographically. This continuous pattern of change is, according to RationalWiki, at odds with discrete categories like races. Races imply that there are abrupt “breaks” in these smooth geography-based changes in gene frequencies. But there are none, and so human genetic variation can’t be described racially.
This argument has two major deficiencies. Firstly, as already noted, scientists often apply discrete categories to perfectly continuous variation. “High” and “low” blood pressure, as well as colors, are obvious examples of this. So racial categories could be perfectly useful even if human genetic variation was perfectly continuous. Secondly, differences between human populations are not a simple function of geographic distance.
When looking at difference in observable traits, RationalWiki quotes the same paper referenced earlier by Rhelenthord which showed that the further apart two populations were geographically the more different their head measurements tended to be. RationalWiki described the paper as showing that “there is no abrupt discontinuity in phenotypic variation across space, populations mostly grade into one another”. The idea that populations “mostly grade into each-other” is actually challenged by the very paper they are citing. The paper reports that “populations farther apart geographically tend to be more dissimilar phenotypically (a correlation of r = .521, P 5 0.002)” A correlation of .52 implies that differences in how geographically distant populations are accounts for about 27% of the variation in how similar population’s head measurements are. This is substantial, but clearly less than half, and so does not support the idea that populations “mostly” grade into each other. (It is also worth noting that the cranium differences between human ethnic groups are about as large as the cranium differences between different species of chimpanzee. [Race: The Reality of Human Differences, page 172]) When looking at genetics the story is much the same. If you compare two pairs of populations which are equally distant from each-other geographically, populations from the same race will be more genetically similar than populations from differences races. Thus, the genetic distance between populations is clearly not just a matter of how far apart they are geographically.
RationalWiki would have you believe that the amount of genetic variation that is not accounted for by geography is very small. The evidence they base this off is shaky at best. But even if we grant this, the fact that the races differ mostly, but not entirely, because of the geographic distance between them doesn’t change the fact that they do differ and that these differences are important. In other words, it does nothing to challenge the truth of racialism. Even the researchers that RationalWiki cites to say that only a small fraction of genetic variation is explained by racial “clusters” admit as much. In the exact same paragraph that RationalWiki cites to justify their statement that “As little as 1-2% of this variation is unexplained by geographic distance, and can be captured by clustering” the researchers state that “human genetic variation might be best explained by a combination of both clines and clusters”. (Clines are gradual changes in variation due to geographic distance.) Thus, RationalWiki has once again misrepresented a source to fit their anti-racialist agenda.
RationalWiki also challenges the existence of genetic clusters saying that “ In a major study Serre and Pääbo demonstrated the pattern of genetic variation among populations between continents or major regions (Africa, Europe, Asia) is not abrupt and that and any divide or slicing of this genetic continuum will be arbitrary: “ The paper they refer to is part of a well known story in population genetics that RationalWiki skipped the end up. In the early 2000’s geneticists began to use a program called STRUCTURE which would take genetic data from a bunch of organisms and group them into a pre-selected number of “clusters” so that the genetic similarity of organisms put in the same cluster and the genetic distance between organisms in different clusters was maximized. It turned out that if you told this program to group people into 6 clusters the clusters correspond almost perfectly (99.8% of the time) with a person’s race. Following this, Serre and Paabo, the researchers that RationalWiki cite, argued that these clusters were caused by the fact the samples used in these studies came from just a few places with most of the world being unrepresented. They did their own cluster analysis using a more geographically representative set of samples and showed that these racial clusters weren’t found in their data. A few years after this, some of the researchers involved in the original cluster analysis argued that Serre and Paabo’s results were caused by them including too few genetic markers in their analysis. They showed that this was true by collecting data on a large number of genetic markers from a very geographically representative set of samples and once again found clusters that closely corresponded to racial categories. This paper basically settled the issue. For over a decade now population geneticists have accepted the fact that human genetic variation forms clusters that correspond to races. RationalWiki relied on outdated and refuted evidence to make their case and in so doing once again proved itself to be an unreliable source.
RationalWiki’s final argument about the genetic differences between races amounts to nothing more than blatant dishonesty. They write that “The idea of large clusters of people that are principally homogeneous within and heterogeneous in-between in terms of genetic similarity — the latter being necessary to speak of distinct “races” — has no scientific basis”. To support this they cite a 2007 by Witherspoon et al paper as saying “even when the most distinct populations are considered and hundreds of loci are used, individuals are frequently more similar to members of other populations than to members of their own population.”. Witherspoon et al’s paper looked at how the chances of two people from different races being more genetically similar than two people from the same race changed with the kind and number of genetic markers used in the analysis and the geographical representativeness of the samples of populations used. RationalWiki cites them as saying that people form different races are often more genetically similar than people of the same race when hundreds of genetic markers are used. This is true, but what RationalWiki neglects to mention is the fact that Witherspoon et al also showed that different race pairs of people are almost never more similar than same race pairs when around 10,000 genetic markers are used. In particular, when using 9,922 micro-array markers and samples from 8 populations the probability that a pair of people from the same race would be less genetically similar than a pair of people from different races was a mere 3%. This probability gets smaller the more genetic markers you use and if the study had been able to measure 100,000 markers there is almost no doubt that it would round to 0%. RationalWiki’s citation of this paper was thus completely misleading. When the whole genome is considered people of the same race are basically always more genetically similar that people of other races.
Is Race a Social Construct?
According to RationalWiki, racialism’s biggest problem is that race is a social construct. They don’t spend much time on this so I won’t either. I’ve written about it in more detail elsewhere. If by a social construct they mean that race is a label that people invent then they are correct, race is a social construct. But so are all categories used in science. If you go back and read the important historical thinkers on race you will find that many of them, going all the way back to the 1700’s, recognized that race is a social construct. More broadly, many important biologists have recognized that all subspecies concepts are social constructs. The fact that race is a social construct is completely irrelevant to whether or not it is a useful category in science and politics and so is completely irrelevant to the truth of racialism.
Race and Medicine
RationalWiki also attacks the use of race in medicine. Doctors and medical researchers often make use of race because certain diseases, including genetic diseases, are more common in some races than others and because some medical treatments work better for some races than others. RationalWiki’s writers argue that there is genetic variation within each race and so medical researchers would be even better served if they looked at data on how disease rates and treatment responses varied by ethnic groups or smaller populations instead of races.
This argument is fundamentally utopian. In order to ignore race and instead concentrate on medical differences between smaller populations you would have to have data on each of those smaller populations. This would require an extraordinary amount of money and time for each disease or drug. You might as well say that we should ignore all population data because it would be more useful to know about each individual’s unique genome. Both suggestions are correct, but neither is realistic or practical. And if doctors withhold important information about a person’s level of risk for disease or a negative response to a drug simply because it is based on racial data, lives will be lost. Someday, when we have all the data a researcher could want, race might not have a place in medicine. But in the here and now it does and RationalWiki’s denial of this fact is both foolish and dangerous.
Race and IQ Testing
Finally, I want to consider what RationalWiki has to say about race, brain size, and intelligence. They started this section off by denying that it is even possible that the races differ in brain size for genetic reasons and that this leads to differences in intelligence. This is because “the arbitrary group “people of recent African ancestry” has more genetic variation than does the entire rest of humanity, and claiming they are a genetic grouping defies science.” I’ve already demonstrated that races are valid scientific categories and not completely arbitrary. But even if they were, what RationalWiki is saying would still be nonsense. After all, we could assign people to random groups, one of which has more variation than the others, and it could still be true that they happen to differ in intelligence for genetic reasons.
With that out of the way, for those that don’t know here is a very basic rundown on race and IQ. IQ tests ask you to do various things ranging from vocabulary questions, to math, to pattern recognition. How well you do on them predicts how much money you will earn, how well you do in school, and how smart your friends and family say you are. They don’t measure our folk conceptions of intelligence perfectly, but they clearly measure a part of it that has a huge impact on how successful people are. Black people score worse than White people on IQ tests and White people score worse than East Asians. These testing gaps were first discovered during world war one and have mostly persisted over the last 100 years. They’ve also been found all around the world; in White counties, Asian countries, and Black countries. If you control for IQ most racial differences in things like crime rates, income, out of wedlock birth rate, and educational attainment, disappear. So they have great practical importance. Most intelligence researchers think that genes explain part, though not all, of why these race differences in intelligence exist. As we will see shortly, one highly influential theory ties race differences in intelligence to race differences in brain size.
But before we get there, I should note that RationalWiki makes a series of vague complaints about IQ tests saying that “there is no consensus on a number of related issues, such as how strongly it [IQ tests] correlates to general intelligence, how many aspects of intelligence it can measure, what the implications are sociologically speaking”. Their evidence for this is extremely dated. They cite a review of the state of intelligence research that was published 20 years ago. And they don’t explain exactly how any of these supposed problems challenges research on race and IQ. These complains are too vague to be falsified and so too vague to respond to.
RationalWiki also brings up the Flynn Effect. The Flynn Effect refers to the fact that the IQ of most populations around the world has been increasing for the last hundred years or so. RationalWiki states that non-whites have made the largest gains, implying a reduction in racial IQ differences, and that this challenges the idea that the gap is caused partly by genes. There are two problems with this argument. First, racial IQ gaps are probably not closing. There is some data that indicates that they are, at least among children. But most of the data with the largest sample sizes, including the SAT, indicate that the black/white IQ gap has been stable, or even increased, over the past few decades. Secondly, even if the IQ gap was decreasing this would be perfectly compatible with the idea that part of the gap is caused by genes. The environment would just be reducing the part that isn’t. And so the Flynn effect is irrelevant to the truth about race, IQ, and genes.
Race and Brain Size
Okay, now let’s talk about brain size. For about 200 years, many researchers have argued that people with bigger brains are, on average, more intelligent. And in the 20th century various data sets confirmed that there is an Asian>White>Black pattern in brain size which starts from a very early age. So, some have argued that racial IQ differences are related to genetic differences in brain size.
RationalWiki begins its coverage of this topic by saying that “If this idea were taken to its logical conclusion, the world would likely be ruled by elephants or sperm whales”. This is obviously stupid, brain size can be associated with intelligence within species without being associated with intelligence between them. Moreover, this association is far from perfect and so the largest brained individual, and populations, will not always be the smartest. Moving on, RationalWiki makes the out-landish claims that “It is only when a person has an extremely small brain, as with conditions such as microcephaly[wp], that absolute brain size has any negative impact on cognitive functions.” This is simply not true. There have been multiple meta-analyses carried out in the last 15 years on well over 100 studies on brain size and intelligence and all of these meta-analyses have found that, on average, people with larger brains are smarter. And these samples did not consist of large numbers of people with rare neurological diseases. They go on to say that “having an abnormally large amount of brain tissue, referred to as megalencephaly, is recognized as being pathological and is strongly correlated with several neurological disorders, especially severe epilepsy and autism.” This is true but irrelevant. On average, being shorter is associated with living longer. This isn’t refuted by the fact that midgets and dwarfs don’t live very long. All of RationalWiki’s red herrings aside, the fact remains that the smarter someone is the larger their brain is likely to be.
RationalWiki also cites famous evidence put forward by Franz Boas showing that head size, and so probably brain size, can be changed by the environment. This evidence is valid, but it remains true that twin studies show that most, but not all, of the differences between people in brain size are due to genes. With regards to race, any environmental theory is going to be seriously constrained by the fact that blacks have smaller brains than whites even at birth. Ultimately, Rushton’s theory of life history strategies, which will be discussed below, provides very strong evidence for the view that these racial differences are due evolution rather than culture.
The last thing that RationalWiki says about brain size is that we even if brain size correlates with intelligence we can’t know whether large brains cause intelligence or intelligence causes large brains. The only evidence they use to justify this skepticism is the mere fact that the brain can be changed by the environment. This argument doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. In the first place, the fact that the environment can change the brain does not suggest that thoughts can make a brain bigger. In the second place, the whole idea of asking whether intelligence causes a large brain of vice versa implies some kind of mystical mind/body dualism. The only way it wouldn’t is if RationalWiki is suggesting that “intelligence” is some neurological event which itself causes large brains. But this isn’t as parsimonious as saying that large brains are typically smarter brains since it adds an extra brain state to our explanation and so is not the best scientific explanation available.
Source: Whole Brain Size and General Mental Ability: a Review by Rushton and Ankey
The Default Hypothesis
RationalWiki also offers the following explanation for why “scientific racism” is ridiculous: “To argue that races or ethnic groups differ innately in intelligence, however defined, is exactly equal to an assertion that intelligence has proven less adaptive for some people than for others. This at minimum requires an explanation, a specifically evolutionary explanation, beyond mere statistical assertion; without that it can be assumed to be cultural bias or noise. “ In other words, RationalWiki is saying that unless we have some specific evolutionary explanation for genetic group differences we should assume that there are none. But this defies everything we know about evolution. The races evolved in completely different environments. The weather was different, they ate different kinds of foods, they produced food differently, they had differing population sizes, they faced different weather, they dealt with different pathogens, they competed with different species, and they even mated with different kinds of humans (those who left Africa, and only those who left Africa, mated with neanderthals). And, with time, they lived in different cultures. Given all this, it would be shocking if the selective pressures each of the races faced were identical for any trait. Moreover, we would expect genetic differences to emerge between the races over time just due to random chance. So the assumption should always be that if there are observable differences between the races they are probably, at least partly, due to evolution. We should never just assume, as RationalWiki suggests, that differences are due to “cultural bias or noise”.
Life History Strategies
But even if the default assumption was that the races don’t differ genetically, the fact is that we have a very good evolutionary explanation for many racial differences: namely, that the races follow different life history strategies. A life history strategy describes how an organism decides to allocate its time and resources toward two competing goals: on the one hand an organism can live a long life and produce fewer offspring each of which it invests heavily in. This is called a “slow” life history strategy. On the other hand, an organism can follow a “fast” life history strategy and live a short life in which it produces many offspring each of which it invest very little in.
Organisms tend to evolve to posses certain traits depending on which strategy they chose to follow. A slow LHS is typically associated with a long life span, a high birth weigh, a small litter size, a slower maturation process, less sexual activity, and a larger brain. It has been verified that these traits tend to correlate with each-other across hundreds of species. Compared to most species, all humans follow a pretty slow LHS. But there are clearly differences within the human species. Whether we are comparing US counties, states, nations, or races, we see that populations which have larger brains also tend to have smaller litter sizes (less twins), longer lives, longer maturation periods, lower crime rates, fewer children, fewer STD’s, and less sexual activity. When looking at race, we see that east Asians have the slowest LHS, followed by Whites, and ending with Blacks. Some have also argued that these differences in LHS evolved because Eurasia had a harsher climate and fewer resources than Africa did and so each parent could only afford to raise a few children each of which would require a large amount of investment from the parent in-order to survive.
Recently, work in behavioral genetics has begun to pin point the exact genes that cause populations to differ in LHS. For instance, one study published earlier this year used a life history index which assigned scores to 40 nations that represented how slow their life history was based on their rates of education, adolescent fertility, crime, and HIV, aswell as their scores on intelligence tests. The study then showed that the majority of variation in the LHS index between these 40 nations could be statistically accounted for by differences in the frequency at which these populations possessed a handful of gene variants known to be associated with relevant behavior.
LHS has two great strengths as a scientific theory. First, it is incredibly parsimonious. It makes sense of a pattern of multiple traits correlating with each-other seen consistently across hundreds of species. Secondly, it has great predictive power. Life history theory has made predictions, all of which have been verified, about differences between hundreds of non human species, human races, and nations, as well as predictions about molecular genetics. It is hard to image any egalitarian theory which would better fit the standards of what makes a good scientific theory.
RationalWiki does offer one criticism against the LHS explanation of racial differences. It quotes another researcher as saying that in the early 20th century Asians had smaller brains than Whites and that because of this evolutionary explanations for these differences are not compelling. I tried my best to check the source of this claim but was ultimately unable to do so. RationalWiki cites a journal article which itself quotes a book. The book in question then cites a text book from 70 years ago. I was unable to find a copy of this textbook, but this isn’t a very good citation anyways. If there was actual data suggesting that Asians had smaller brains the author should have just cited those studies. The fact that he didn’t may have been exactly because old studies are easy to find in academic databases where as old textbooks are not.
Fortunately, Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior contains summary statistics on 19 studies which measured the brain size of 10,925 White or Asian men and women before 1947 (when the textbook was published) which have sex specific means and the sample size of each sex (Table 6.6 on page 127). The weighted means of these data sets clearly show that Asian men and women had larger brains than White men and women even 70 or more years ago. Rushton’s book also reports on data on cranial capacity which was collected for 54,454 males during the 1930’s which also showed that Asians having a larger cranial capacities than whites (page 118). Thus, there is an abundance of data from the early 20th and late 19th century which is consistent with modern data showing that Asians have larger brains than whites. That being said, all this early data should be taken with a huge grain of salt because the samples used in these early studies were generally not representative of the populations as a whole.
Further evidence for the evolutionary origin of race differences in brain size comes from racial differences in the rest of the body. Animals that evolved to have larger brains also tend to posses other anatomical differences which are either directly related to having a large brain, such as wider pelvises so that they can give birth to offspring with large heads, or are caused by some of the same selective pressures that cause larger brains, such as having smaller muscles in environments that selected less for strength and more for thinking. A paper which looked at how the races differed in traits that are commonly associated with larger brains in non human species found a three way pattern consistent with the Asian>White>Black pattern on brain size for 25 out of 31 traits. The probability of this happening by chance is virtually zero. Finally, and as already noted, these racial brain size differences are present at birth. Combined together, all this data strongly suggests that racial differences in brain size are, at least partly, due to evolution.
And so it is with most traits that the races differ in. Whether we are talking about intelligence, crime, impulsivity, political orientation, sexual behavior, etc, these differences are rooted in our evolutionary past. They have profound political implications and are of the utmost importance to social, evolutionary, and medical, science. Because of this, no matter how many sources the writers at RationalWiki choose to lie about, racialism is a thoroughly Rational and empirical worldview.