Unfortunately, NPR has gotten hold of Agustín Fuentes, who seems to have a strong ideological slant on biology, to explain to its listeners the “problems” with using DNA tests for ascertaining your ancestry—as many of us have done with companies like 23andMe™. Sadly, Fuentes’s “criticisms” of the method and results are misguided, bespeaking either an ignorance of biology or an ideological drive to convince people that humans around the world are so similar that it’s next to useless to use DNA to find out your ancestry. (This is, of course, part of the view that “race is a social construct”, which apparently now means “ethnic groups can’t readily be identified by their DNA.”)
To cast doubt on such tests, Fuentes makes a number of claims: races (or ethnic groups) are social constructs; we don’t have enough data to reliably identify groups from their DNA (ergo we don’t have enough data to reliably determine your genetic origins); that one doesn’t expect to find genetic differences between geographically separated populations because geography is purely subjective and arbitrary; that people move around too much to reliably determine the location where one’s ancestors lived; that your genealogical history may diverge from your genetic history; and that the best that ancestry tests can do is tell you what genetic diseases you may be prone to. To sum up all the misguided information that Fuentes gave in his 14-minute interview with Regina Barber, I’ll first give one paragraph from Fuentes’s interview:
So I will tell you right now, my 23andMe tests miss a bunch of my actual kin – right? – because, like, most of your ancestors contributed no genetics to you – right? – because of the way genetics mixes down and across. And here’s the punchline for ancestry testing. It actually can tell you some information. When it comes to certain diseases, it’s actually really important to know, but it does not tell you who you are, and it actually doesn’t tell you who your ancestors are. It tells you which peoples from different places contributed to your genetics. But that is not your family, right? Your genealogy is more than just the biology.
Now we’ve met Fuentes before and I’ve taken issue with his distortions of biology (see here for some posts), especially those insisting that Darwin was a racist and that there is no such thing as a sex binary. What worries me, especially in this NPR interview, is how Fuentes, perhaps in the interest of ideology, has repeatedly misled the public. In my view, the NPR interview does damage the public understanding of an important area of modern genetics.
But hear (or read) for yourself. The short NPR show (14 minutes) can be found by either clicking on the screenshot below and then by listening to the show, or by reading the transcript here.
I had an email discussion with my colleague Luana Maroja at Williams College about this, for the two of us have co-written a paper on this and similar topics that will be out in a month. She gave me permission to use her name and her words, and so I’ll put her words in indented italics and mine flush left in roman type. Fuentes’s statements from the interview are indented in roman type.
First, a few words about the supposed inability of using DNA to determine one’s ancestors. Although it’s true that most genetic variation occurs within rather than between populations (this was first popularized by my advisor Dick Lewontin), and that 99.9% of the DNA between any pair of humans is identical, people don’t realize that that still leaves a substantial amount of genetic difference between people, and especially between populations, that can be used diagnose ancestry. We know this because the human genome has 3.3 billion base pairs, and even 99.9% identity leaves 3.3 million differences among individuals.
And research has shown that a lot of those differences occur between geographic populations. (I use either that pharse or “ethnic group” instead of “races” because we know that the classical idea of races as absolutely geographically demarcated groups, profoundly genetically differentiated,and diagnosable using few genes—is wrong.) But differences between populations become clear when you use a large group of those 3.2 million segregating base pairs (SNPs, or “single-nucleotide polymorphisms”), and these can be used to tell you where your genes come from. If it was way off the mark, companies like 23andMe would be out of business.
For example (do check out the links for yourself):
a.) Even the old and outmoded view of race is not devoid of biological meaning. A group of researchers compared a broad sample of genes in over 3,600 individuals who self-identified as either African-American, white, East Asian, or Hispanic. DNA analysis showed that these groups fell into genetic clusters, and there was a 99.84% match between which cluster someone fell into and their self-designated racial classification. This surely shows that even the old concept of race is not “without biological meaning”. But that’s not surprising because, given restricted movement in the past, human populations evolved largely in geographic isolation from one another—apart from “Hispanic”, a recently admixed population never considered a race. As any evolutionary biologist knows, geographically isolated populations become genetically differentiated over time, and this is why we can use genes to make good guesses about where populations come from.
More recent work, taking advantage of our ability to easily sequence whole genomes, confirms a high concordance between self-identified race and genetic groupings. One study of 23 ethnic groups found that they fell into seven broad “race/ethnicity” clusters, each associated with a different area of the world. On a finer scale, genetic analysis of Europeans show that, remarkably, a map of their genetic constitutions coincides almost perfectly with the map of Europe itself. In fact the DNA of most Europeans can narrow down their birthplace to within roughly 500 miles.
b.) Here’s a genetic cluster analysis (using principal-components analysis of many genes from many Italian populations, nicely separated by geography (the paper is here). This is based on only about 270 variable SNPs in 210 genes studied in 1736 individuals. Although there’s been some mixing (overlap between clusters), in general you would be able to localize where in Italy a person was from by looking at even a relatively small sample of their DNA variants. Why the different groups? They reflect the history of colonization and settlement in different parts of Italy as well as local population structure due to mating with those born close to you. Clearly, migration has not been sufficient to efface these historical differences. You get similar maps if you look at the three links above, which cover both Europe and the whole world.
c.) You can also place people pretty accurately using variation within transposable (“mobile”) genetic elements, as you can see in this figure using a cluster (principal components) analysis of MEVs, or mobile element variation. Populations fall out genetically very well according to the continent from where the individuals were sampled (the Nature paper from just 12 days ago is here). Continental areas are coded this way: AFR, African; AMR, American; EAS, East Asian; EUR, European; SAS, South Asian. And remember, this is only DNA sequences in moving elements. If you use every bit of DNA in whole genomes, you get much cleaner results.
(If you added positions of these elements, you’d get even more information, but the analysis above seems to depend on DNA sequences alone, which aren’t ideal for MEV’s because they have are so many repeats.) Still, look at how just a small sample of the genome can give you pretty good diagnostic ability.
How many SNPS do companies like 23andMe use? Over a million variable sites (see here). That gives substantial diagnostic ability to determine where one’s ancestral genes came from. Not only that, but since we know the gene order, you can use that to find your relatives, for relatives not only have similar variants, but also have the same sets of variants grouped together on their chromosomes, as “linked” gene variants aren’t broken up by recombination within a generation or two. My own 23andMe analysis found several distant cousins, and when I checked with my sister, sure enough, they were indeed my cousins. This would not be possible unless the variation had some biological significance. You can diagnose ancestry with good accuracy, but you can also find your relatives! (Because of “linkage disequilibrium” between sites, you can even “paint” the chromosomes based on geographic ancestry, showing recombination that happened in your ancestral lineage).
Now that I’ve told you the fallacy of Fuentes’s insistence that DNA testing is severely compromised because most humans are genetically identical, I’ll turn you over to Luana, who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, as she not only does it herself, but teaches it to her undergraduates. She analyzes (her words in italics, again) a number of Fuentes’s claims, and, actually, finds the whole interview deeply misleading about DNA testing. Note that her words are reactions to what Fuentes said in the interview.
FUENTES: So here’s the deal. When you spit in a tube and send them – let’s take 23andMe – your DNA, they analyze your DNA – this little, teeny piece of it – right? – they don’t analyze all of it – and they file that in storage. It’s like, you know, a compartmentalized cluster of information. These are reference populations. These reference populations – the data they have are how they place your DNA and tell you something about it.
. . . This ability to take your spit and put it in a tube, pay someone 150 bucks and have them send you something back about your DNA – that is amazing. But what it tells you – when they send you back your results, that splash page is never accurate because the thing it should say on that splash page is, congratulations, you are 99.9% identical to every other living human. That’s not what it tells you.
LUANA: He seems to ignore that they use SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism) rather than whole genome sequencing. Well, because they only use informative sites (SNPs)—the sites that vary among individuals and populations—and not the sites that are 99.9% identical among people, they cannot actually come back with a result saying “you are 99.9% identical to all humans”. The SNPs they actually use in determining ancestry are the variable sites alone, the 0.1% of the human genome. And because they categorize people NOT by race, but by geographic location, Fuentes’s criticism of race as a social construct also falls apart.
FUENTES: Yes. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of idealized reference populations in humans. So it sure as heck doesn’t tell you where you are in the human panoply of genetics.
LUANA: Then he goes on to say there would be more populations if they sequenced more people – but this is not the point. The populations nearby would still be the most genetically similar because of strong isolation by distance – so you could subdivide more (for instance, now Italians can be further subdivided between south, middle and north), but that would not change the fact that if your DNA says you are most closely related to people descending from the Italian peninsula, that doesn’t mean you may be more closely related to North Europeans, because Italians are more closely related to each other than to North Europeans.
JAC: One of the biggest flubs in Fuentes’s argument is his claim that continental areas, because (he says) they are demarcated subjectively, they aren’t really expected to have much correlation with genetic differentiation. But in fact that’s how genetic differentiation occurs: by lack of gene flow between geographically isolated populations, which causes them to evolve in different directions. He picks out the only “arbitrary” geographic division I know of between continents to make his point. But even that divide, between Europe and Asia, is not purely subjective: it’s usually at the Ural Mountains, which are a geographic barrier.
FUENTES: A reference population is a cluster of individuals who have their DNA sequenced from some geographic place – continents, big geographic space. So Africa, Asia and Europe are not biological units, right? They’re not even single geobiological patterns or areas or habitats or ecologies, right? They are geopolitical. We named them. We created these landmasses and divided them in certain ways. So for example, what is the difference between Asia and Europe?
BARBER: Other than geographic location?
FUENTES: No, when does Asia become Europe?
BARBER: Oh, I don’t know.
This is cherry-picking nonsense. Of course the geographical demarcation between Europe and Asia is somewhat arbitrary (though it does involve a mountain barrier, but this does not mean that you can’t tell a European from people in various parts of Asia). And of course the other regions: the Americas, Polynesia, Australia, Africa, and so on, are geographically isolated. The difference between Europe, Asia, and Africa, or between Australia and the Americas, is not arbitrary. Further, the presence of genetic continuity is clear in DNA information, with more significant geographic barriers usually usually leading to greater population structure.
Luana chimes in:
LUANA: Then one more bit of nonsense – because we named continental regions – it does not mean they were not “regions”. In fact, our geopolitical nomenclature usually follows geographic lines pretty closely – rivers, mountains etc. And the categories of 23andMe are not sociopolitical locations – they are geographic locations – not countries. These include the Iberian peninsula, Great Britain, east Asia etc. Not to mention that political and linguistic boundaries also have a huge effect on gene flow. I am baffled about why Fuentes is even talking about subjective “geopolitical boundaries.”
FUENTES: The problem is that they don’t actually tell you from the get-go how human you are – right? – 99.9% identical to everyone else. It’s 0.1% that varies across humans – 0.1% of our DNA. They don’t tell you sort of how that actually varies. They tell you you are X percentage African, Asian or European because we think of continents – we think of Africa, Europe and Asia as places that reflect biologies, that reflect deep lineages in humanity. And that’s not true. So the danger in these tests is reifying that. You say, like, oh, I’m 17% African. Wow, I’m 17% Black. Those two things are not the same, right? If you have 17% ancestry, let’s say, from Africa on a test from 23andMe, most – and you’re here in North America, most likely, you have some genetic ancestry in populations from West Africa, right? That’s interesting. That’s fascinating. That’s important. But that doesn’t mean you have any relation to anyone in South Africa or East Africa or Central Africa or North Africa. Africa is not a biological unit. There is no gene for race because race doesn’t come from biology. It comes from racism.
LUANA. More nonsense. He says, “But that doesn’t mean you have any relation to anyone in South Africa or East Africa or Central Africa or North Africa. Africa is not a biological unit. There is no gene for race because race doesn’t come from biology. It comes from racism.”
This is ridiculous – A sub-Saharan African population is indeed more closely related to other populations from that area than to populations from other areas, for genetic mixture between Sub-Saharan African and other groups was impeded by the Sahara. In all principal components analyses, sub-Saharan African populations appear as tight clusters, differing even from other African populations, with additional diagnostic differences seen within locations in the sub-Saharan cluster. So, I think what he means is that you won’t have close family members in Africa, for we’re talking about the kind of ancestry that dates back thousands of years, not a couple generations.
Luana found this 2011 paper from the European Journal of Human Genetics that shows the genetic structure of African and non-African populations. Notice that all sub-Saharan African populations in this principal-components analysis group together at the right (dark green), and are separate from northern African populations (orange), while European populations (blue), South Asians (pink), east Asians (light green), Pacific Islanders (yellow) and the Americas (tan). While there is some mixing, you can see that in general, the genetic clusters correspond to geographic localities, and sub-Saharan African populations are one of the most isolated of them all. (Also notice now similar this SNP map is to the map of movable genetic elements shown above: genetic information from different sources converges to a similar structure set by past population history).
JAC: One of Fuentes’s misleading beefs is that human migration largely nullifies any value in DNA testing:
FUENTES: But what it can tell us is where do you map related to these reference populations? What does the movement of humans look like? And the best thing they’re doing now is you can ask, sort of, well, where was I – where do my ancestors – genetic ancestors – where were they 200 years ago? Where were they 2,000 years ago? Where were they 10,000 years ago? And guess what? They’re different places. Now, humans throughout history – right? – for at least the last 3- to 500,000 years, humans and our most recent ancestors have been moving around and having sex with each other regularly. Humans do that. And that’s what we’re from.
LUANA: And then this empty statement: “Now, humans throughout history – right? – for at least the last 3- to 500,000 years, humans and our most recent ancestors have been moving around and having sex with each other regularly. Humans do that. And that’s what we’re from.” Sure, who said otherwise?? This is exactly what 23andMe gives you – the mixing, for it assumes mixed ancestry. What Fuentes is leaving out is that human populations are also quite quick to regain genetic structure after replacement events (due to the very low ancestral migration distances in our species) and after settlement, humans tended to disperse very little until the invention of rapid transportation starting with horses and now with airplanes.
JAC: One more argument Fuentes makes against assessing your ancestry via DNA testing is that his own personal ancestry changed over time as he took repeated tests. This argument implies that, say, a test you take now may be completely off the mark:
FUENTES: The cool thing about these tests is that they’re constantly updating their reference populations. So really cool part of this is that once you’ve done it, Ancestry.com, 23andMe or any of the other companies keep going back because as they expand their reference populations, lo and behold, your genes change. Everything changes about you. I – it’s basically – they just get more information, so they know better about you. So, for example, I’ve been watching myself slide around, like, the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, way over into Arabia, down into Sudan, back up, back over. And then lately I’ve been shoved, like, way up into Russia. But what’s interesting is that you learn more and more about all of the movement of those peoples that contributed to you and how we are all mutts and how we’re all this blend of amazingness
LUANA: Finally the very thing he says: “I’ve been watching myself slide around, like, the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, way over into Arabia, down into Sudan, back up, back over” simply shows the huge progress the sites are doing for identification. When I first sequenced my DNA, I came out as partially east Asian. Nowadays I have no East Asian, it is all Native American – in the past they did not have enough information to finely break these two related groups, now they do. This is progress. Unlike Fuentes’s insinuation, this means the dataset is getting more robust and that it’s easier to finely locate people to smaller regions.
(Luana is from Brazil but has mixed ancestry from within the Americas.)
Jerry here again: Fuentes’s presentation on this NPR show makes the listener think that the real value in DNA testing is not the “slippery” business of finding out where your ancestors come from, but what genetic diseases you have. He raises a number of “problems” with tests like those used by 23andMe, but these are not serious problems. And by concentrating on the similarity between humans, without emphasizing that there are several million sites in the DNA that can be used to diagnose ancestry as well as to find your relatives, he’s neglecting the fact that it is those millions of variable sites that are the ones that CAN BE AND ARE used to detect your ancestry—and we know now that they do so with substantial accuracy, as the data above show.
Fuentes’s deliberate neglect of genetic differentiation between populations that are geographically isolated or isolated by distance and by cultural “inbreeding”—the way we diagnose ancestry—can only be understood as an obfuscation due to either ignorance or ideology. If you adhere to a certain ideology, populations cannot be allowed to show diagnostic genetic differences because that means that populations are different, and thus that populations could be unequal. And thus they could be superior or inferior. This sliding from “difference”, which is indisputable, to “ranking”, which need not happen at all if you’re rational, is why “progressive” ideologues oppose the emphasis on diagnostic genetic differences between human populations. It is another case of reading into nature what you would like to see in nature.
And that is why Barber starts her interview with Fuentes this way.
BARBER: And aside from leaving out our similarities, most of these tests spit out results based on large, geographic locations – so continental ancestry. The problem is that these kinds of results – think African, European, South Asian – are then linked to race, a social construct.
No, we’re not talking about race or social constructs here: we’re talking about geographic populations, and which ones contributed genes to your own DNA.
Finally, because it’s so cool, here’s the genetic map of Europe compared to the geographic map, taken from the 2022 PNAS paper cited above. The genetic data, presented again as a principal components analysis on the right, are based on 5,500 individuals and 204,652 SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms). Isn’t the coincidence between the genetic and geographic maps remarkable? This shows that migration has not effaced historical data, and that you don’t need obvious geographic barriers to get distinguishable clusters.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and comrades, is how we can make fairly accurate guesses about where your genes (and distant ancestors) come from.
UPDATE: Within a minute of pressing “post,” I got this notice from 23andMe, saying that they’d located putative relatives of mine, including one second cousin and three third cousins. I’ll check with my relatives!
62 thoughts on “A misguided critique of genetic ancestry testing”
Seems a pretty clear playing out of the problematization formula :
… provincial, IMHO – akin to religion, in the face of unsettling observation and empiricism, keeping the mind in its tiny safe and happy place of ignorance.
I appreciate the insightful analysis of technically challenging material!
Analysis of “social construct” by James Lindsay:
“So, in the technical, banal (if not vapid) sense, knowledge is a social construction, but in the more profound and meaningful sense of how people use the term, it is not. This trick is one that Social Justice turns upon over and over again.”
From Social Construct(ion) :
Jerry, you would probably find an audience interested in a book about ideologically driven distortions of scientific facts. There are many from history that would hook the modern ideologue and the wham! smack them with their own biases!
Something analogous to the Wil Reilly book “Hate Crime Hoax”. Maybe “Science Crime Hoax”.
Absolutely Dr. Coyne,
Many of us would love to see some of your “greatest hits” essays taken from this site published as a book…..
And btw, Anyone familiar with this article? It’s short read…Notice the “Should they?” And injunction, really, similar to the one highlighted in Dr. Coyne’s writing above.
“Forensic anthropologists can try to identify a person’s race from a skull. Should they?”
I have long said that – I think Jerry has enough material for several books already on the website.
I remember reading Stephen Jay Gould’s “Mismeasure of Man” with indignation about such ideologically driven distortions of scientific facts, back in about 1984 (when I was studying Sadistics). Since then I’ve become inured to it as a regrettable norm.
Ah yes, let’s go to the DEI seminar and proudly announce that, because we follow Fuentes and understand the science, we don’t see race. We’re “ 99.9% identical to everyone else.” so what really matters is that we’re all just human. Let’s watch that go over like a lead balloon.
From what I can tell Fuentes is doing the same thing here he did with sex: assume that actual differences in biology between individuals entail a hierarchy and unfair discrimination; assume that denying these differences undermines racism and sexism; assume that this will thus help support oppressed people whose fundamental sense of self is locked into their race or sex.
Inverse Naturalistic Fallacy? Definitely a type of Perception vs. Reality Fallacy.
Ah ha! Found a good fit.
Although something like “even when maintaining the claim requires denial of well established facts and evidence” really needs to be included.
I don’t think Fuentes (or those who endorse his views) are actually claiming that X must be true because it is moral. I’ve known people who’ve specifically done that and they started out with the premise that the universe was Spiritual. It’s more likely that it’s just normal bias, in that we all tend to find convincing reasons for what we want to be true.
When scientific positions are advanced as matters of social justice, though, disagreement is usually interpreted as motivated by a hatred of the cause. Critics aren’t seen as acting in good faith by being merely mistaken on the science; instead, they have a moral problem.
Oh wow, I didn’t know this :
“The phrase “the best of all possible worlds” […] was coined by the German polymath and Enlightenment philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine du mal (Essays of Theodicy on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil), more commonly known simply as the Theodicy.”
“The claim that we live in the best of all possible worlds drew scorn most notably from Voltaire, who lampooned it in his comic novella Candide by having the character Dr. Pangloss (a parody of Leibniz and Maupertuis) repeat it like a mantra when great catastrophes keep happening to him and Candide.”
And then back to the moralistic fallacy after which I curb my enthusiasm :
“The moralistic fallacy is sometimes presented as the inverse of the naturalistic fallacy. ”
You are probably right. They don’t actually make that specific claim, but what they say seems indistinguishable from what someone who would make that specific claim would say.
In your 2nd paragraph it sounds like you are explaining how believers tend to react to criticism of their religious beliefs.
Isn’t that what Dr. Pangloss was driving at? This is the best of all possible worlds?…
He thinks we should focus on the fact humans share 99.9% of their genes. Then we could also point out how humans share some 97% of genes with chimps, which still doesn’t mean we are not profoundly different. Percentage of genetic similarity is deeply misleading for those who lack familiarity with genetics.
Right, chimps and humans are on the spectrum. “Species” is a social construct. But, although we are all 97% (or whatever it is) the same, the highest value, for the admissions office, is “Diversity”. Except in “Diversity Statements”, which should all sound the same.
Fuentes’s insists that DNA testing is severely compromised because most humans are genetically identical – otherwise he would have to change his political views. Clearly his political views are righteous and cannot be wrong.
The Borg do not see themselves as evil. They view themselves as liberators and justice warriors, pursuing a state of “perfection”. If he was to change his mind he would be severely criticised and perhaps expelled from the Borg. Fuentes wants to belong far more than he wants to be clear eyed.
As the Borg always say: “resistance is futile”
We can confidently predict a new article in Scientific American, perhaps by Dr. Fuentes, conveying these revelations: geographic locations are a social construct; Asia, Africa, Europe, America, Oceania are on a spectrum, and thus are not different places.
I predict it will eventually be argued that, to a first approximation, we are all the same person. We won’t need any kind of “critical studies” at that point, just a good therapist.
I was surprised that neither Fuentes nor the interviewer seemed to grasp the challenges of getting from Central Asia (or anywhere else in Asia) to Europe without horses. It’s all one land mass, sure, but not only the Ural Mountains (which I’m appalled the interviewer drew a blank on) stand in the way. There’s the vast arid steppe of modern Kazakhstan, then the Caspian Sea which is ringed with mountains to the south through Persia and the Caucasus. You can see why the horse people came out of Central Asia into Russia and Ukraine. They were the first people who could have done it in numbers. Getting from Uighur territory to the Volga would have been like flying to the moon.
Fuentes’s sniping at the tendency of non-Slavic Europeans to say that Asia begins in the Balkans is completely gratuitous and beside the point. As we all know, Asia begins at Calais. (Kidding!!)
Grateful for the correct explanation from you and Luana Maroja.
We are all the victims of geography.
Yet another example of Progressives and the Post Modern problem with facts getting in the way of their pet goals.
My concern here (which, if mentioned above, I apologize for overlooking) is that once someone makes a “name” for themselves on a particular topic, they will tend to get called more and more as an expert. If someone is a reliable source, this is not a terrible thing, although calling on different class members out there has to be a good thing as well. But will Fuentes now be the go-to for questions if this sort?
Universities also have active processes to push faculty members forward as commentators on social or political or scientific issues. Staff circulate links or contact information to news orgs, and reporters use those links to find someone photogenic and quotable to interview. Princeton would I guess have a busy media and comms office that would help put Fuentes out there for NPR etc.
This new book might be in the vein of Fuentes, but then it might not be. I have not read it.
Kostas Kampourakis: Ancestry Reimagined: Dismantling the Myth of Genetic Ethnicities. Oxford UP, March 2023
From the publisher’s description:
Kostas Kampourakis is a philosopher (most of whom are at best innocuous dilettante) but a particularly damaging one who is seems to be on a mission to dismantle genetics and evolution, a project shared by other philosophers like Henry Taylor (https://theconversation.com/what-is-a-species-the-most-important-concept-in-all-of-biology-is-a-complete-mystery-119200). If I remember correctly JC already criticized this article but I cannot find it.
So the name of the game is persuading everyone that people must be treated the same because they are in fact all the same; differences are purely illusory. There are no differences in skin color, height, language, ability, etc etc. Problem is: any serious challenge to the non-existence of differences will undermine the rationale for treating people fairly.
How about a different approach: differences exist, but with a very few exceptions, they don’t matter? Rather than ignoring differences one by one until there’s nothing left to ignore, instead argue that differential moral treatment of individuals must be justified. For example, babies don’t get the rights and responsibilities of adults because they’re too immature to handle them, a justified form of ageism. The main problem then will be that extensive training in “critical” disciplines and funding of DEA departments may become unnecessary.
I have a hard enough time finding pants that are short enough as it is!
I often use the analogy of height when trying to explain race. Imagine an ancient world where there were lands where tall people lived and lands where short people lived, perhaps because of climate or diet. Then that world slowly modernised and international travel became possible, and later, easy. It is easy to see that, given there are multiple genes controlling height, eventually there would be a world filled with people of intermediate height for the most part, with a few outliers. This is exactly the same thing as race. If “height” real? Is “race”? Yes, in both cases, but only for a certain time and place.
Of course, the ‘melting pot’ concept is now forbidden, and older Brits may remember the 1969 number 3 hit by Blue Mink of that name—it’s now banned from British radio by Ofcom as racist.
One of the big contradictions in woke ideology I have noticed is that they seem to constantly go back and forth between opposite positions on the issue.
Race or sex or other differences are sometimes irrelevant or imaginary, and at other times immutable, conveying them special insights and abilities.
It depends on which position benefits them or their favored group in that particular situation.
It is kind of sickening when someone who is clearly educated well enough to know better, but who puts political ideology ahead of scientific truth.
“But will Fuentes now be the go-to for questions if this sort?”
Almost certainly, yes. People in the media are generally blatantly ignorant in what they consider esoteric topics. Fuentes has build a “rep” for himself and, thus, the media considers himself an expert, and his views generally match what they want to believe. Dissenters from his views are likely to be ignored. I imagine it can be quite lucrative to be the “go to guy” talking head.
Yeah. No doubt ego fluffing too.
I’m very much puzzled by that last map, the European one. Are the Anglo-Saxons (and Jutes and Frisians, not to mention the Scandinavians and Normans) closer related to the Welsh and Irish than to the West and North ‘Germanics’? Are the Dutch more closely related to the French than to the English or Germans? That would not make much historical sense. I guess I do not read those maps right.
I also thought that the great split in human populations was between the Khoi-San and Pygmies on the one hand and all the rest, including black Africans, on the other. Is that notion now debunked?
Which map, the one from the 2022 PNAS paper? If you ignore the left panel and just examine the PC plot you will find that the Dutch are placed “on average” closer to the Brits, Germans and Scandinavians. The colouring is probably (I haven’t read the paper) to indicate the results of a cluster analysis but this method is based simply on distance and is not very good at determining phylogenetic distance. It is just a way to shrink the sample into bins.
The coloring is just too indicate semi-arbitrary geographical grouping. Some of it aligns with ethnolinguistic clusters, but there are some odd choices like grouping Finland with Scandinavia and the Netherlands with France and Belgium. Why? Because the Netherlands is in Western Europe, and Germany is in Central Europe. The regions are named in the table on the bottom left.
This recent article may be of interest –
I think it is a mistake to try to distinguish Jutes, Saxons, Frisians, Angles, as if you read on this topic we know very little about those groupings, & it may be only broad demarcations used once they had migrated to the British Isles. As it is, archaeologists are rightly super cautious over using such names to describe skeletal remains, when we can have no idea of the person’s language of how they were ethnically categorised in life – if indeed that was a thing they would even have considered.
Also this book – if you can get it from a library – (I just have & have not yet read) –
Harland (2021), Ethnic Identity and the Archaeology of the aduentus Saxonum –
this book has a chapter that attempts to unpick the history of various interpretations & schools of thought over the archaeology of race & ethnicity.
Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe –
again not read but is important in how modern historians & archaeologists approach the subject.
Fun fact: if you look up “misguided” in the dictionary you’ll find a picture of Agustín Fuentes.
He will certainly help NPR in its mission to become increasingly dreary, woke, and useless.
I am getting confused. We are all the same, but we are different. We are different, because we are all the same. We want diversity because we are equal. We are equally diverse. But some are more diverse than others.
Here’s the real tragedy: once “all animals are equal”, there will be no reason to respect any of us as individuals. Not our thoughts, our agency, or our lives.
There will only be power.
Diversity is such a wonderful thing to appreciate.
Unfortunately, I fear you might be right…
In this country, you gotta make the differences first. Then when you get the differences, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the sameness. Apologies to Tony Montana.
A sign I read once (amidst plenty of “Rainbows”, or rather fields of stripes of the six easily discernible colors):
ALL THE SAME
“six easily discernible colors”
“six colors easily discernible except for people with any form of color blindness, genetic or otherwise”
The 99.84% number is correct. See “Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies” (NCBI/PMC). Based on a smaller sample, a person by the name of Frudakis got 100.0%. See “The Inconvenient Science of Racial DNA Profiling” (https://www.wired.com/2007/10/the-inconvenient-science-of-racial-dna-profiling/).
A very slight correction is in order here. The actual percentage is 99.86% not 99.84%. A funny (and quite sad) note is contained in the interview “The Whole Side of It—An Interview with Neil Risch” (https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.0010014)
“We actually had a higher discordance rate between self-reported sex and markers on the X chromosome!”
NPR and Agustín Fuentes: made for each other.
Great post! I’d always wondered about this. Thanks 🙂
“I am so very right, right? And when I am not I am ideologically right, right?”
Nothing else matters… Right!
Once something like this gets out there via a major(ish) media outlet such as NPR, it’s very difficult to set the record straight. I also suspect that many NPR listeners are preconditioned to want to accept what Fuentes is saying, which makes correcting things doubly difficult.
A tool that can be easily used to demonstrate errors promulgated in the NPR interview is the Geography of Genetic Variation Browser (link below). It uses data from the 1000 Genomes project and maps the frequency of SNPs in 30 or so populations. This dataset is a standard reference set in populations genomics.
You can enter in a known SNP or click on “random”. It can easily be shown that while most SNPs occur throughout all populations, many occur in geographically restricted sets of populations such as east Africa, west Africa, southern Africa, SE Asia, Japan, etc. By tracking down the IDs of SNPs in genes that have undergone recent natural selection you can show lots of cool population biology, such geographic barriers (Africa only alleles, Japan only alleles), clines (eg skin color genes), the spread of recent adaptive alleles (lactose tolerance), correspondence between disease and resistance alleles (malaria) and more.
PAPER WITH LIST OF GENES THAT HAVE UNDERGONE SELECTION
We’re supposed to believe on the one hand that everyone’s the same, and on the other that there are distinct differences (culture) that are sacred and not to be appropriated.
If this guy wanted to do something useful, he’d bang the drum that Israelis and Palestinians are more genetically similar than either are to any other groups, which I gather is the case from a paper I recall from long ago, and see how well that works for him.
Otherwise, on the map of mostly Europe, I noted that the Nordic countries are all the same color, while if you look at the pattern at right, the Scandinavian countries (IS, NO, SE, DK) cluster tightly as you would expect, while Finland is a considerable outlier. I went straight to that because my results (free!) from the AllofUs longitudinal study came back 72% Northern European, which I took to be a much broader descriptor than as used in that map, knowing that I have English, French and German genetics in addition to Swedish, and 11% Finnish, which surprised me but made me happy as well, since it suggests that my Swedish great grandparents were one or both partly Finnish, and the remaining 17% Mediterranean, which I took as genes imported by my Viking ancestors.
Also interesting to note how far Finland is from Hungary, what with their (complicated!) linguistic relationship.
Did you see this?
Wow, there’s a lot in there! Thx!
Naturally, I just skimmed it at first, but I thought this was interesting and related to one of the main themes here:
Dömötör (1983: 83) also hypothesized that the Hungarians preferred to believe in the ability of skilled humans to improve their own destiny, rather than expecting support and protection from the spirits. As widely described in Castren’s work (Castren 1853: 1, 4), the Finns peopled nature with spirits since they became aware of the fact that men could not and did not have absolute control over the powers that influenced their lives
(I’d add that I think the Finns have a lot more dark forests for such things than Hungarians.)
I am amazed that apparently we humans created earth:
*We created these landmasses and divided them in certain ways.*
Since continents are – apparently – just a social construct.
Not so surprising. Sure, Finnish and Hungarian are in the same primary language family, but so are English and Hindi.
Well, we tend to resemble those who live in near proximity. No one is surprised. I think I recall Jerry’s friend Steve Jones (UCL Emeritus Prof) talking about the clear demarcation in Pembrokeshire between Welsh & anglophone areas (though the anglophones were I think from Norman settlers – Flemings & perhaps Bretons?), & he also said the huge difference the bicycle made to mixing populations – for the first time you could meet & marry someone from further than the next village. Also, the Church banned cousin marriages (for several generations) – this meant several things – people had to keeps better records, so the priest knew if you were a cousin, money could not just stick with close relatives, so there was more exogamy – result, WIERD people as Henrich has it –
I would like to see a comparison of different DNA tests from different companies to see how they match up. Also, it is one thing to test modern DNA but to me it is ancient DNA that is more interesting – eg https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1010360
I think this DNA testing is probably more interesting to those who live in countries where the population is dominated by immigrants from Africa & Eurasia – ie the Americas, & Australasia, where you ARE less likely to be closely related to your neighbour than someone from outside the urban centres of the Old World. My issue with it is privacy – what is the company doing with my DNA, is it using it for other research?
By the way, I note that testing of air & water for DNA from animals has now raised privacy issues, as of course it picks up human DNA!
Fuentes has a problem. A serious problem, that he can’t solve because it can not be solved. Ancestry.com and 23andme exist, showing that ‘race has no biological basis’ is not correct.
For a much more subtle demonstration of the same thing, AI can now determine ‘race’ from X-rays. I must admit to being a bit surprised by this result. I should not have been. If forensic anthropologists can determine ‘race’ from bones (with considerable, if not perfect accuracy), why shouldn’t AI be able to do something equivalent?