If You Still Think Humans Come In Distinct ‘Races,’ This Biologist Will Set You Straight


There’s no doubt that different groups of people can look very different from one another. But to contemporary anthropologists and sociologists, the notion that there are distinct “races” of human beings, each with its own specific attributes, doesn’t make much sense.

Dr. Marcus Feldman

The same goes for biologists like Stanford University’s Dr. Marcus Feldman, who has done pioneering research on the differences between human populations.

Recently, HuffPost Science posed several questions about race and racism to Feldman. Here, lightly edited, are his answers.

Does the concept of race have any scientific validity? Or have biologists discarded the term?

Many biologists have replaced the term “race” with “continental ancestry.” This is because such a large fraction of the world has ancestry in more than one continent. The result is hyphenated nomenclature, which attempts to specify which continents are represented in one’s ancestry.

For example, our president is as European in his ancestry as he is African. It is arbitrary which of these an observer chooses to emphasize. Obama’s opponents overtly and by implication denigrate him because of his African ancestry. But he is equally European.

How did the concept of race originate?

Probably from Aristotle’s predilection with classification. But more recently with [German physician Johann Friedrich] Blumenbach‘s classification in 1775 of the five human races.

How do biologists today view race, and how has that view changed in recent years?

Biologists generally agree that with enough data on DNA, it is possible to say that someone’s ancestry is more likely to include representation from a given set of continents. However, the fraction of genes that contribute to visible differences between individuals from different continents is about 10 percent of all the genes that we carry.

How do biologists explain the differences between different populations of humans?

It depends what differences —> Read More