Sept. 8, 2004
For years, mainstream scientists have said there are no real racial differences among people. Race is purely a “social construct” – in other words, it’s imaginary, some have argued.
But two new studies raise doubts about a key calculation on which this argument rests.
“The 99.9 percent number is pure nonsense,” wrote Michael Wigler, of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, in a recent email. “I will not say anything more about it.” However, he added, “it is true that humans are more like each other than many other species.”
Wigler is a co-author of one of the two studies, which is published in the July 23 advance online edition of the prestigious research journal Science. In it, the researchers wrote that they were surprised to find large-scale differences in human DNA. “There is considerable structural variation in the human genome [genetic code], most of which was not previously apparent,” they wrote.
Some researchers don't think the new findings should change the 99.9 percent figure that much. “Taking all types of DNA variation into consideration and looking at the entire 'content' of the genome, I would now say we are 99.7-99.8 percent identical,” said Stephen W. Scherer of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Scherer co-authored another study, whose conclusions were similar to those published in Science. His was published in the Aug. 1 advance online issue of the research journal Nature Genetics.
Scherer declined to say whether he thinks the findings mean race is real.
Lander – a researcher who has been quoted in published reports giving the 99.9 percent figure, and who works with the Whitehead Institute in Boston – didn’t respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment for this story. His secretary said he was abroad.
Also unreachable was Craig Venter, chairman of the Institute for Genomics Research in Rockville, Md., U.S.A. He was president of a company whose research produced the 99.9 percent figure in 2001, Celera Genomics. He didn't return phone calls or repeated emails.
The Cold Spring Harbor team found that these changes affected the code for 70 genes. These included genes involved in Cohen syndrome – a form of mental retardation – as well as brain development, leukemia, drug resistant forms of breast cancer, regulation of eating and body weight.
The “race-isn't real” proponents have other arguments besides the 99.9 percent figure to back up their case. But that figure has become one of the most prominent pieces of their argument since about four years ago, when the number came out from scientists associated with the Human Genome Project, a 13-year program to map the human genetic code.
“Dogs and wolves are 100 percent identical but functionally different,” Entine added. “Rats are about 95 percent the genetic equivalent of humans. These are ridiculous statements, although technically accurate. The use of the 99.9 percent figure by the popular press and scientists is, frankly scandalous.”
Whether or not race is real, researchers said, it doesn’t mean one race is better than another. “Great abuse has occurred in the past with notions of 'genetic superiority' of one particular group,” Stanford University's Neil Risch wrote in the July 1, 2002 issue of the research journal Genome Biology. “The notion of superiority is not scientific, only political, and can only be used for political purposes.”
Whole Article: http://www.world-science.net/exclusives/exclusives-nfrm/040908_race.htm