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Debunking a Scientific Myth

Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle

Publication Year: 2011

Race has provided the rationale and excuse for some of the worst atrocities in human history. Yet, according to many biologists, physical anthropologists, and geneticists, there is no valid scientific justification for the concept of race. To be more precise, although there is clearly some physical basis for the variations that underlie perceptions of race, clear boundaries among “races” remain highly elusive from a purely biological standpoint. Differences among human populations that people intuitively view as “racial” are not only superficial but are also of astonishingly recent origin. In this intriguing and highly accessible book, physical anthropologist Ian Tattersall and geneticist Rob DeSalle, both senior scholars from the American Museum of Natural History, explain what human races actually are—and are not—and place them within the wider perspective of natural diversity. They explain that the relative isolation of local populations of the newly evolved human species during the last Ice Age—when Homo sapiens was spreading across the world from an African point of origin—has now begun to reverse itself, as differentiated human populations come back into contact and interbreed. Indeed, the authors suggest that all of the variety seen outside of Africa seems to have both accumulated and started reintegrating within only the last 50,000 or 60,000 years—the blink of an eye, from an evolutionary perspective. The overarching message of Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth is that scientifically speaking, there is nothing special about racial variation within the human species. These distinctions result from the working of entirely mundane evolutionary processes, such as those encountered in other organisms.  

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Texas A&M University Anthropology Series


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p. vii

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p. ix

A Texas A&M Press we would like particularly to thank our editor Mary Lenn Dixon for her enthusiastic support and our copyeditor Mia Scroggs for smoothing out the text. Without the initial encouragement of Ben Roberts, the book would never have been started. Thanks are due also to Jon Marks, Bob Martin, and John Relethford, and to several anonymous reviewers, all of whom...

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pp. xi-xv

Race. There's probably no more emotive word in the language. The notion it conveys has underwritten some of the worst atrocities ever committed by one people on another, as has recently been happening in Sudan’s Darfur province, where...

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Chapter 1. Race in Western Scientific History

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pp. 1-56

As a cultural, historical, and political phenomenon, race still permeates modern society in a way that nothing else does. The issues it raises are complex, and, to make the situation more difficult, they are deeply embedded in the often opaque human psyche...

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Chapter 2. Species, Patterns, and Evolution

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pp. 57-100

In February of 2010, the beautiful southern U.S. city of Atlanta, Georgia, was besieged by a billboard campaign that claimed that black children were becoming “an endangered species.” Antiabortion proponents sponsored the installation of over seventy-five of these...

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Chapter 3. Human Evolution and Dispersal

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pp. 101-143

The roots of the human family go back some seven million years, or maybe a bit more. The order Primates to which we belong is first documented around the time the dinosaurs became extinct, some sixty-five million years ago, though early representatives might already have been around for some time. The first known mammal relative lived back in the Carboniferous, well over three ...

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Chapter 4. Is "Race" a Biological Problem?

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pp. 144-157

Human beings vary. That is no surprise. Everyone knows that some people are better poker players than others, that pearl divers can hold their breath longer than bus drivers can, and that some landlubbers can shimmy up coconut trees without any apparent effort, leaving the rest of us scratching our heads at the bottom and wondering how they do it. Over the years the many ...

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Chapter 5. Race in Ancestry, Forensics, and Disease

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pp. 158-195

We have already covered a lot of ground discussing genes as they relate to human origins and diversity in various contexts. But we haven’t finished yet, for race and genes have also figured widely in recent discussions of medicine, individual ancestry, and forensics, three areas that we’ve so far only touched in passing, yet are the focus of enormous popular ...

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pp. 196-199

As this book nears its finish, we’d like to draw the reader’s attention to an interesting fact that we feel is important to bear in mind when we think about how we, as a species, view our own biology, and why we have probably had much more than enough already of “race” as a biological concept...

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pp. 201-215


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pp. 217-226

E-ISBN-13: 9781603444774
E-ISBN-10: 1603444777
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603444255
Print-ISBN-10: 1603444254

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: Photo. 9 line art. 6 tables. Index.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Texas A&M University Anthropology Series
Series Editor Byline: Steele, D. Gentry See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 759040839
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Race?