Lewontin did not commit Lewontin's fallacy, his critics do: Why racial taxonomy is not useful for the scientific study of human variation

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

Abstract

In 1972, R.C. Lewontin concluded that it follows from the fact that the large majority of human genetic variation (≈ 85%) is among individuals within local populations that racial taxonomy is unjustified. Three decades later, Edwards demonstrated that while the accuracy with which individuals may be assigned to groups is poor for a single locus, consideration of multi-locus data allows for highly accurate assignments. Edwards concluded that Lewontin's dismissal of racial taxonomy was unwarranted. Edwards misidentified the aim of Lewontin's critique, which was directed at the utility of racial classification and not at assigning individuals to groups using genetic data. Moreover, Edwards conflated distinct kinds of correlation when sketching out his argument. If we follow Edwards’ argument to its natural terminus, it becomes clear that it is consideration of all of the correlation structure among local groups in human genetic data that renders racial taxonomy scientifically useless. Lewontin considers the correlation structure relevant to his analysis of racial taxonomy and does not make his eponymous misstep. Rather, critics of Lewontin who use racial taxonomies in their work are the primary offenders when it comes to committing Lewontin's fallacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2100204
JournalBioEssays
Volume43
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Lewontin's fallacy
  • evolutionary psychology
  • population genetics
  • race and human variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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