Monday, October 15, 2012

Language(s) in schools

Hear ye, hear ye!  Children attending Irish-language primary schools outperformed their peers in English-only schools in mathematics and, wait for it...  English!  A lttle dated, but it's never really too late.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On "race" and ethnicity

On the Anthro-L email list someone asked:
For the uninitiated, could someone please tell me what distinction anthropologists make between race & ethnicity?
First have a look at a post on this blog some time back: "Paging Dr. Gupta: ethnic skin?!?"

Now then, briefly:

Both race and ethnicity are cultural categories used for sorting humans into groups.  The "race" category alleges that biological features can be used to do this, but it is not valid.  "Race" is equivalent to "subspecies," and it doesn't work even for non-human animals. For instance, the "Florida panther" is an alleged subspecies of mountain lion, Puma concolor coryii. It is a figment of people's imagination, although... the informal designation might be useful for conservation purposes: "the panthers that happen to live in Florida need to be protected."  The taxonomic label is simply invalid.

Ethnic group, as a category, alleges that people share language and culture, at least partly or mostly due to their having a common origin, coming from a place.  "African-American" comes to mind, of course. The Garifuna in Central America are an interesting example, because many of them appear to be of African descent, but they speak an Arawakan language: a nice example of the independent variability of biology and culture.

By the way, in the US at least, SAE (standard average European) is the unmarked ethnic category.  Other people belong to "ethnic groups," but not them (us?).  This is one facet of the trap Gupta fell into.  Of course, to be human is to belong to an ethnic group: without language and culture, we are not human.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

J Philippe Rushton is dead

J. Philippe Rushton (1943-2012), one of the leading practitioners of what has come to be called "scientific racism," died last Tuesday from cancer.  A professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, he was unapologetically consistent in his racist assertions about the meaning of the biological and cultural variation across the human species.  Among other things, he argued that:
  • Humans can be divided into three distinct biological races, which he labeled Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid.
  • These three races can be ranked on a scale of "intelligence," as measured by "IQ," with Mongoloids highest, Negroids lowest, and Caucasoids in between.
  • Penis size is an index of intelligence: Negroids, the lowest in IQ, have the biggest penises; etc.
  • The biological concept of r/K selection can be applied to the different human "races." Mongoloids, who are K-selected, have the fewest children and take the best care at raising them, while Negroids, being r-selected, have many children and are relatively careless with them.
There's a lot one could say about Rushton, but I'm not sure it's worth it.  His ideas were straight out of the 19th century tradition of explaining human variation, both biological and cultural, in essentialist, racist terms.  Although this paradigm has been thoroughly debunked by anthropologists since Boas, there remains a group of psychopaths who refuse to let go. Some are gone, like William Shockley and Glayde Whitney; others linger on, like Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, and other fans of the Pioneer Fund and Mankind Quarterly who worry that the "white race" is being "diluted" to the "degeneration" of humankind.

Rushton's misapplication of r/K-selection is typical.  This concept describes reproductive strategies that are generally present at the level of biological order or even higher, rather than at the level of species, and certainly not at the level of "races" (i.e. subspecies).  Among humans, having more or fewer children is a cultural adaptation, not a biological one.  Indeed, this particular cultural trait has changed over time even among "whites" who have moved from farming (which favors having more children) to industrial (favoring fewer children) lifeways.

I'll leave you with another of Rushton's bizarre ideas, one that I frequently share in my anthropology classes: that a nation's intelligence or "IQ" is somehow indexed to its gross domestic product (GDP).  Forget the history of colonialism, exploitation, and deliberate underdevelopment carried out by Europeans in much of the "low-IQ/low-GDP" world.  Instead, just smile at Rushton's "IQ of Nations":

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What does a Native American look like?

In his debates with Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown claimed that he could look at Warren and tell that she isn't Native American.  My friend Anj Petto at the National Center for Science Education worked up a little exercise to test this hypothesis.  I have modified his work slightly and present my version here.

Test your ability to determine, by sight alone, who has Native American ancestry.  The answers are below the fold.