Richard Lewontin left a legacy of fighting racism in science


When Donald Trump Call genetics Minnesota campaign rally In September 2020, commentators quickly connected his language with eugenics and Nazi science of the early 20th century. “You have very good genes, you know, right?” Trump asked him as an almost white audience. “You have a good gene. A lot of it is about genes, don’t you, don’t you believe it?” This means that—according to his race—his people are genetically consistent with Trump and target his government. Black and brown immigrants have different policies and are superior to these immigrants.

This view has been clearly recognized by some political extreme rightists today, and it was once the mainstream scientific view. Today, however, most scientists do not take the concept of biological race seriously-thanks in part to the evolutionary biologist Richard Leventine of Harvard University, who died in July at the age of 92.Leventin became famous in the 1960s when he proved that using populations in wild fruit flies, individuals of a species are Genes are more diverse More than scientists had imagined before.

In 1972, Lewontin became interested in genetic diversity in a clear political direction. Published papers Prove that only about 6% of human genetic variation exists between traditionally defined ethnic groups; the rest can be found within Those groups. By investigating how alternative versions of specific blood proteins encoded by subtle variations in the same genes are distributed throughout the population, he was able to figure out how much genetic overlap exists between ethnic groups.

For example, if it turns out that all whites are of type A blood and all blacks are of type B blood, then the idea of ​​genetically different ethnic groups will be partially verified. However, if half of the people in the two groups are type A blood and half are type B blood, then all the genetic variation will exist within the group, not between the groups. Lewontin found that reality is closer to the latter situation.more Recent experiment A broader genetic survey has confirmed Lewontin’s findings.

He finally issued a statement in his 1972 paper that in today’s scientific journals, it looks shockingly political. “Human race classification has no social value and is positively destructive to society and interpersonal relationships,” he wrote. “Because it is now believed that this racial classification actually has no genetic or taxonomic significance, it cannot provide any reason for its continued existence.” This paper is groundbreaking—according to Google Scholar, it has been cited more than 3000 times— —And constitutes the main pillar of the motto “race is a social structure”.

“It is an old idea to think that there is more variation within a group than differences between groups. This situation has existed for decades,” said Jonathan Marks, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “What Lewontin does is add numbers on it. It’s very powerful.”

Since the 1970s, new technologies have significantly changed the landscape of genetics: large-scale genomic research has changed the way scientists understand the relationship between genes and behavior. “Lewontin has the foresight. With the massive public investment in genomics, genetics will occupy a major position in trying to explain diseases and more and more social behavior characteristics,” said Sandra Lee, a professor of medical humanities. And the ethics of Columbia University. With the increasing power and complexity of genetic technology, Lewontin’s work remains very popular.

One of Lewontin’s most annoying people is his Harvard colleague EO Wilson, who has a strong and influential view of the role of genetics in determining the social behavior of animals and humans.With his 1975 book Social Biology: New SynthesisWilson promoted the view that behaviors from altruism to aggressiveness to sexual habits can best be explained by referring to evolutionary pressure. Lewontin believes that Wilson unreasonably assumed-mainly based on animal research-that many human behaviors and characteristics, from creativity to obedience, must have been selected in the evolutionary history of the species. Lewontin argues that this idea is just another resurrection of the regressive belief that living things are destiny, and he said that this belief has been used Consolidate social hierarchy Hundreds of years.


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