Say Experts: Human
by Shawn Foster
Salt Lake Tribune
But scientists say that race and skin color mean little more than a good suntan. Or lack of one.
"In a biological sense, there aren't races in humans," says Alan Templeton, a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of a recent article about race. "Race is a cultural concept. If this was any other species, human differences would not classify as races."
Templeton used the same strategy in looking at human populations that biologists have used in studying non-human species, from salamanders to chimpanzees.
He analyzed millions of genetic sequences found in three distinct types of human DNA and concluded that there is no scientific basis for racial distinctions.
His results show that 85 percent of genetic variation in the human DNA was due to differences that occur among individuals.
Only 15 percent could be traced to what could be called group or "racial" differences.
In other large mammal species, the rates of differentiation are two to three times that of human "races." African elephants, a longtime subject of Templeton's study, have three distinct, genetically identifiable "races." The groups not only look different, but have measurably different genes.
Humans, on the other hand, are one of the most homogenous species.
In fact, there is more genetic similarity between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans and between Europeans and Melanesians - the inhabitants of South Pacific islands northeast of Australia - than there is between Africans and Melanesians.
Yet, Africans and Melanesians share the similar "racial" traits of dark skin, curly hair, broad noses and other comparable facial features.
The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould has proposed doing away with all racial classifications and identifying people, instead, by geographic regions - the same method used to account for the diversity of birds and other species.
Race, many scientists have concluded, has nothing to do with science and everything to do with society.
But for many ethnic minorities, it does not matter if race is culturally determined or has a scientific basis. Most people still buy into the idea of race, and many feel threatened by people who are different from them.
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