Saturday, October 16, 2010

The evolution of Cavalli-Sforza. Part VII

Bird in a gilded cage

Cavalli-Sforza’s last big project was the publication of The History and Geography of Human Genes, which came out in 1994. Since then, he has kept himself busy tying up loose ends.

Advancing age is only one reason why he has lowered his sights. In fact, he had originally planned to work on two major projects until the end of his life. One was on gene-culture co-evolution. It would have involved studying the Inuit to see how their hunting lifestyle had selected for a keen sense of spatial orientation, specifically the ability to disembed an object from a larger visual landscape, to store it as a spatio-temporal model in the mind, and then to convert it back into a real-world object (e.g., a soapstone carving). Adopted and non-adopted Inuit would have been studied to find out how much of this ability was innate and how much learned. The project would have then served as a springboard for comparative studies of mental traits in other hunter-gatherer groups and, later, in agricultural populations.

That project suddenly aborted, for nebulous reasons. Its place was then taken by the Human Genome Diversity Project. This would have been a continuation of work that Cavalli-Sforza had been pursuing off and on since the mid-1960s, the main aim being to reconstruct how ancestral humans had split up as they spread out of Africa to the other continents. That project too came to a sudden end—in the face of violent accusations of racism. Funding dried up and researchers shied away. Today, research is still ongoing unofficially, the unspoken premise being that an unofficial project is less likely to catch flak than an official one. And the less Cavalli-Sforza has to do with it, the better.

So what should he do in his twilight years? One possibility would be a second edition of The History and Geography of Human Genes. This massive tome is based on data collected up to 1986, so it is now a quarter of a century out of date (Cavalli-Sforza & Cavalli-Sforza 2008, p. 281). An update is sorely needed and Razib Khan (2010) has shown how some of the gene charts could be redone. Such reediting would not be difficult. Most of the work could be delegated to other people, with Cavalli-Sforza keeping overall editorial control. His opus would thus gain a new lease on life and earn itself a place in university classrooms for another quarter-century. This is something he can and should do.

Yet something tells me he won’t. He seems content, or perhaps obliged, to rest on his laurels … and be buried with them. Until then, he will certainly not suffer from lack of recognition. His eventual departure from life will be met with eulogies of praise, such as befits a great man of science, and probably a state funeral in his home country.

And then his works will fade into obscurity. THGHG will be the first to go. Ironically, his earliest works will retain attention the longest. In twenty years, he will be remembered as we now ‘remember’ great anthropologists like William Sumner and Lewis Morgan.

But who knows? These are the shadows of what might be, not what must be. Cavalli-Sforza may still surprise us. Let me give him the last word of this unauthorized biography:

Why does one fear the unknown, the future, that which is new? Some stability is necessary for everyone’s life and well-being. It is normal to fear sudden changes that could upset this equilibrium.

[…] In all the cases where we feel powerless before the unknown, we should simply keep our eyes wide open and face the situation, if possible, with a certain fatalism, as befits the old saying, “whoever will live will see.”

(Cavalli-Sforza & Cavalli-Sforza 2008, pp. 326-327)


Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. and F. Cavalli-Sforza (2008). La génétique des populations : histoire d'une découverte, Paris: Odile Jacob. (translation of Perché la scienza : L’aventura di un ricercatore).

Cavalli-Sforza, L.L., P. Menozzi, and A. Piazzi. (1994). The History and Geography of Human Genes, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Khan, R. (2010). A generation of human genetics & genomics. Discover Magazine. October 8.


Doug1 said...

Its place was then taken by the Human Genome Diversity Project. This would have been a continuation of work that Cavalli-Sforza had been pursuing off and on since the mid-1960s, the main aim being to reconstruct how ancestral humans had split up as they spread out of Africa to the other continents. That project too came to a sudden end—in the face of violent accusations of racism.


I wasn't aware that he'd come under heavy accusations of racism. I haven’t come across that reflected on the web.

There’s a lot of squid ink to the contrary in his introduction to his History and Geography of Human Genes, as Steve Sailer put it. What his work does do is make it pretty hard (impossible) to plausibly claim that ‘there’s no such thing as race’.

Peter Frost said...


He wrote that "squid ink" largely in response to the firestorm of criticism he encountered with the HGDP. I covered this point in my previous post, and most of the references are available on the Web.

Denouncing racism doesn't buy protection against accusations of racism. This was Cavalli-Sforza's big delusion.

Anonymous said...

"Denouncing racism doesn't buy protection against accusations of racism. This was Cavalli-Sforza's big delusion."
Very well said my friend. I was wondering where you were going with this long essay about Cavalli-Sforza, but I think you've excellently expressed the double standards and inherent unscientific nature of political correctness. It's too bad that most people fall victim to emotionality and low brow politicism. Our world would be much richer if only we were courageous enough to seek self knowledge without being barred by such things.

Ben10 said...

I have no problem to admit that one particular genetic analysis fails to show the existence of boubdaries between species or subspecies. I have even no problem to admit that a set of scientific tools prove that no human race exist.
That is, providing that these experiments are properly executed, with adequat controls, positive and negative.
So, I am sorry to reiterate the same question again but I never got a clear answer. Are you, Peter, Doug1, Todd, or any expert willing to comment, confident that the same genetic experiments that proved the non-exitence of racial subgroups in men, would proved, if they were conducted in species with known subgroups (carnivores, canides, bears etc), that these species indeed contain subspecies?

Wouldn't the failure to detect subspecies boundaries in a single one of these species completely invalidate any conclusion for human groups?
If not, why ?
If these control experiments have not been done, why?

Peter Frost said...


Lack of courage is part of the problem. Another problem is the naivete of certain academics who think they can "make a deal" that will protect their own research at the expense of everyone else's.

Alas, it doesn't work that way.


In a nonhuman species, the domestic dog is the best known example of within-species genetic variation:

"Researchers find little variation in karyotypes within the genus Canis ... Results using mtDNA data also reveal startling similarities among canids ... Greater mtDNA differences appeared within the single breeds of Doberman pinscher or poodle than between dogs and wolves. Eighteen breeds, which included dachshunds, dingoes, and Great Danes, shared a common haplotype and were no closer to wolves than poodles and bulldogs. These data make wolves resemble another breed of dog."

When I discuss this example, some people will counter by saying that dog breeds are artificially created by kennel clubs and tell us nothing about natural selection. This isn't really true. Many dog breeds (like dingoes) go back long before kennel clubs and were not the result of any conscious process of selection.

But to save my breath I point to other examples, where we see this same genetic overlap between species where no human-guided selection is involved.

As a general rule, we see this genetic overlap when two populations have split apart from each other over a span of two or three thousand generations.

Coppinger, R. & R. Schneider. (1995). Evolution of working dogs, in: J. Serpell (Ed.), The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 21-47.

Ben10 said...

Peter, I knew this quote of yours about canids, it's very usefull and i use it too, but as you said, the canideae are somehow special. So that would be nice to include other species too.
Wikipedia goes crazy on the numbers of sub-species for felidea with something like, from memory, just about 20 or so subspecies of panthera. I think there is no way SC could differentiate a Siberian Tiger from a Bengal tiger if he can't see the difference between a Dingo and a Coyotee, but I might be wrong.
All right, people from the 'no race' side, something easyer for you, show me SC/Lewontin can see the difference between a donkey and a zebra (of which an hybrid has been obtained recently) and I might give a little credit to their conclusions.
What? even that is too much to ask?
The faithfull doesn't need proofs, right, but science isn't about faith, isn't it?

Ben10 said...

Allright, I see that appealing to the tenants of the no-human-race theory is useless.
They assume their theory TRUE by default, they don't need experimental proofs or controls. ONE set of evidence that goes in their direction is enough to ignore all the other evidences.
To the man of the street who repeat the main stream media 'Scientists have proven that races don't exist', we can say 'no, they have proven nothing, but they don't want to talk about it'.

Oh well, that's war for survival. No matter how strong and numerous is the one who fight for power, ultimately this is the one who fight for his survival, his land and his soul who win the battle.
So, I will continue the long term guerilla, hammering the problem with the dogs 'there is no racial difference between a wolf and a caniche' in every possible blog or person who still has a brain to get them back one by one.

Anonymous said...

PART ONE Posted on February 14, 2011

I have read only parts of Cavalli-Sforza’s The Great Human Diasporas, and the squid ink is plentiful, but so is the schizophrenia: he goes to great links to distance himself from the possibility of racial differences in average cognitive ability, but the same time state unequivocally that biologically, the human race breaks down into two large groups: black Africans and everyone else, and that the difference between an Englishman and a black African is a hundred or so times as large as the difference between an Englishman and a Dane, for example.

The current regime of total delusion concerning racial difference in the West could have been broken decades ago if people like Cavalli-Sforza were less cowardly.

Coevolution is mere common sense, one could quite easily infer it armed with little more than the most basic definition of Darwinian natural selection, a journalistic smattering of knowledge of cultural difference and historical change, a third grader’s awareness of animal and plant breeding, and a rather anecdotal awareness of human psychology, reinforced by anecdotal knowledge of one's own family.

You just have to imagine a Tribe A where individuals who display inventiveness, sensitivity, and flexible thinking get whacked over the head with a big rock, reducing their reproductive success, and a Tribe B, where individuals who are stupid, domineering and stubborn get all the chicks.

Minus the ideological blinders, marked differences in psychology and average cognitive ability between the human races is extraordinarily obvious, and the job of genetics should be to EXPLAIN the extraordinarily obvious, not to use their authority to bludgeon ordinary people into concluding that their own experiences are false, that they need to be “deprogrammed” by racial sensitivity counselors.

Anyone who has grown up in New York City, for example, will have noticed that professional and intellectual life is dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, the majority of whom probably have IQs above circa 115, and criminal life is dominated by people of African descent, the vast majority of whom probably have IQs below 90, not to mention of course the radically different temperaments and mental abilities of the various European and Asian nationalities, of various Latin American groups, etc. etc.

In other words, we are talking about phenomena of such obviousness that a Ph.D. in genetics is NOT!!! a prerequisite for recognizing them – any 9-year-old of middling intelligence can see all of this without having it explained to him (hence the need for constant brainwashing – given authority and credibility by the statements of people like Cavalli-Sforza – so that he will learn to mistrust his own experiences).

On the contrary, in this case a Ph.D. is apparently a prerequisite for NOT!!! perceiving the obvious.

Put differently: a working-class nine-year-old of middling intelligence growing up in a multiethnic community who is informed quite solemnly by the most eminent geneticists in the world that there are no differences in average cognitive ability and temperament between the human races is perfectly entitled to conclude that genetics is garbage, and that this crowd of prize-winning geniuses are frauds and charlatans who are deliberately and consciously lying to him.

He is entitled to conclude that genetics is a grotesque fraud if it tells him that a Japanese person is more closely related to someone from the Cameroon or Finland than he is to other ethnic Japanese.

Anonymous said...

PART TWO Feb 14 2011

He would probably want to ask our illustrious Harvard scientists:

If genetics is NOT what makes Japanese people resemble their own second and third cousins more than people from Finland and Cameroon, then WHICH biological mechanism DOES cause these obvious similarities/dissimilarities?
why are Japanese people born to other Japanese people, and not to Cameroonians and Finns?

In other words: Lewontin has essentially posed as a geneticist in order to propagate a lie so implausible that in fact, no one on earth actually believes that - and politiyzed science in the process.

The cowardice of people like Cavalli-Sforza has led to a world historical debacle:
we have completely reorganized our societies on every level in conformity with a principal that wholly and demonstrably false, in the process creating dysfunctional multiethnic societies which are in rapid decline economically, socially, culturally, educationally, etc.

Eminent scientists such as Cavalli-Sforza should have spoken up clearly when there was still time.

But there is a second issue of equal importance:

If it is possible for the vast majority of geneticists, anthropologists, psychologists, social scientists, politicians, educators, etc. etc. etc. to deliberately and consciously lie about something as stupendously obvious as racial difference in temperament and intelligence over a period of more than a half-century, then WHAT ELSE MIGHT THEY BE LYING ABOUT???????

Can scientific integrity in a modern, democratic, liberal society survive this kind of conspiracy to commit scientific fraud?

Anonymous said...

Part of my post is gibbeish, of course, sorrection:

You just have to imagine a Tribe A where individuals who display inventiveness, sensitivity, and flexible thinking get whacked over the head with a big rock, reducing their reproductive potential, & individuals who are stupid, domineering and stubborn get all the chicks, and a Tribe B, where smart guys get all the chicks.