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Erroneous Notions of Race and Human Biology

The latest discussions of anthropology in the New York Times has spurred conversation amongst AAA members. Below is a letter to the editor by AAA member, Agustín Fuentes in response to Nicolas Wade’s recent article.

Dear Editor,

Nicolas Wade’s article of Feb. 14th, 2013, presents erroneous notions of race and human biology. Wade distorts the findings of two studies on human genetic variation by couching the research in racialized terms not used by the scientists themselves. One of the studies proposes possible explanations for a genetic variant common in North-east Asian Han peoples (via human genes inserted into mice) and the other looks at patterns of genetic variation across 179 people from Nigeria, Utah, Beijing and Tokyo. Humans vary in complex and important ways, but Wade’s categories of “East Asian,” “African,” and “European” are not biologically valid groups. His assertions of what the two studies tell us ignore abundant genomic, morphological and physiological data and act to reinforce public misunderstandings of science. I urge the readership of the New York Times not to accept the myths offered by Wade, but rather to seek out what we actually know about human biology and evolution for themselves.

Agustín Fuentes
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Notre Dame

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