This position gets much play in the media. An article published in The Economist tells us that the work of Cavalli-Sforza "challenges the assumption that there are significant genetic differences between human races, and indeed, the idea that 'race' has any useful biological meaning at all." This is also how he is seen in an article in The Stanford Magazine:
And he has received another kind of recognition —stacks of hate mail from white supremacists —for his well-publicized insistence that DNA studies can serve as an antidote to racism because they reveal an underlying genetic unity that cuts across racial groupings, making race a scientifically meaningless concept.
Yet not everyone believes he is a convinced antiracist:
How is it, then, that Cavalli-Sforza now finds himself accused of cultural insensitivity, neocolonialism and "biopiracy"? Late in his career, as he struggles to organize his most ambitious project yet -- a sweeping survey of human genetic diversity -- why are some people calling him a racist?
Perhaps because some people feel he is too inconsistent. On this issue, there are really two Cavalli-Sforzas: the one who denounced the race concept in 1994 … and the one who upheld it in 1976:
Today, all continents of the world are inhabited by representatives of the three major human races: African, Caucasian and Oriental. The proportions of the three groups still differ considerably in the various countries, and the migrations are too recent for social barriers between racial groups to have disappeared. The trend, however, seems to be in the direction of greater admixture.
On the most general level. geographic and ecological boundaries (which acted as partial barriers to expansion and migration) help to distinguish three major racial groups: Africans, Caucasians, and a highly heterogeneous group that we may call "Easterners". The Easterners include subgroups that were separated in various older classifications, such as American Natives (American Indians) and Orientals (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans). Some regard Australian aborigines as a separate race, but they do not differ much from Melanesians. From the Melanesians, we can trace a sequence of relativelygradual changes through the transition to Indonesians, then to Southeast Asians, and on to East Asians. American Natives and Eskimos probably both came from a related Northeast Asian stock from (or through) Siberia into North America. Eskimos, however, came much later than American Indians, and they subsequently expanded further eastward to Greenland.
The African continent contains, in the north and east, populations that have various degrees of admixture with Caucasians by all criteria of analysis. In the western, central and southern parts of the continent, Africans are relatively homogeneous - although some isolated groups of hunter-gatherers (like Pygmies and Bushmen) show cultural and physical peculiarities that suggest they should be considered somewhat separately. In fact, the Pygmies at least have attributes that indicate they may be "proto-African" groups — populations that have been the least altered by more recent events.
We tend to side with those taxonomists who prefer to group the human species into a few large racial groups (such taxonomists have been called "lumpers"). Others ("splitters") prefer to distinguish a large number of groups differing in relatively subtle ways. (Bodmer & Cavalli-Sforza, 1976, pp. 563-572)
Even later in time, particularly in journal articles, one can find references to race-based thinking:
The first split in the phylo-genetic tree separates Africans from non-Africans, and the second separates two major clusters, one corresponding to Caucasoids, East Asians, Arctic populations, and American natives, and the other to Southeast Asians, (mainland and insular), Pacific islanders, and New Guineans and Australians. Average genetic distances between the most important clusters are proportional to archaeological separation times. (Cavalli-Sforza et al., 1988)
What happened after 1976 to change Cavalli-Sforza’s views on race? Very little in terms of data. Four years earlier, the case against the race concept had already been made in a paper by Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin. Frank Livingstone, an anthropologist, had even earlier presented similar arguments in his 1962 paper: “On the non-existence of human races”. Both papers had been published in leading journals and were still being widely discussed when Cavalli-Sforza co-authored a genetics textbook in 1976. Evidently, he was not convinced.
At least not then. As one anthropologist told me: “I don't think our perception of the general patterns of genetic variation changed much from '76 to '94, but the intellectual climate that geneticists operate in sure did.”
Anon. (2000). The Human Genome Survey, The Economist, 1 July 2000, pg. 11
Bodmer, W.F. and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza. (1976). Genetics, Evolution, and Man. WH Freeman and Company, San Francisco. pp 563-572.
Cavalli-Sforza, L.L., Menozzi, P. & Piazza, A. (1994). The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cavalli-Sforza, L.L., Piazza, A., Menozzi, P., and Mountain, J. (1988). Reconstruction of human evolution: Bringing together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic data. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 85, 6002-6006.
Leslie, M. (1999). The History of Everyone and Everything. The Stanford Magazine. May-June.
Lewontin, R.C. (1972). The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology, 6, 381-398.
Livingstone, F.B. (1962). On the non-existence of human races. Current Anthropology, 3, 279-281.