Species vs Race?
February 7, 2008 at 3:28 pm #9069
I hope I can get a little direction here.
I’m sitting around the breakfast table with a couple of family members on a beautiful winter morning. Heated bird bath and two filled feeders just beyond the window. Someone expresses fascination that the bird varieties "instinctively" know better than to interbreed. Here we go again. Knowing better, I can’t help myself.
"You mean, when compared to humans?"
"Sure! I mean.. the robin doesn’t mate with the bluebird!"
I can’t be helped at this point. "…but the norwegian human mates with the peruvian human?"
..suspiciously she says "Yeah"
……………..and here we go again.
I’m often irritated at the misapprehensions regarding this stuff. I realize that it is at the heart of many of the nastier shades of racism. I happen to be the one at the table with the most time spent in college I feel like I can shed some light. But I suspect that the argument may not be as succinct as I’d like it to be.
With some confidence I explain that a robin is to a bluebird what a human is to a raccoon. There are many species of bird, but only one of man. That while a poodle may compare to a bulldog as a robin is to a bluebird, this is a misapprehension of species. Poodles and bulldogs are of one, robins and bluebirds are separate from one another. Dog varieties are merely human adaptations of wolf/canine stock. I tell my audience that the norwegian and peruvian can produce offspring as they are of the same species. But a robin is to a bluebird as a human is to a hippo. …..can’t be done.
"Do you know all this as a fact?" ..I’m asked
I have to admit that I have no single source of fact for this. I studied government in college. I go to the internet to print out something concise enough for general comprension and am amazed at how difficult this is to nail down with any clear boundaries.
Can anyone point me to a good little primer that would make this as clear as possible?
February 7, 2008 at 4:29 pm #81559JonesParticipant
Do you mean that the Robin persives the Bluebird as so completely different from itself that it in turn makes it unfit as a mate in the Robins mind?
February 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm #81565
You have the right idea, although I suspect you might be letting your metaphors compicate the picture a bit more than they should. The simple fact is that, as you said, there are many species of birds but only one of man. Different species cannot interbreed but individuals within a species can. I don’t see a need for further explanation than that.
Of course, given the inherent closed-mindedness of racism, I doubt if any argument, however logical, will make much of an impact on your audience.
February 7, 2008 at 5:41 pm #81574
I see…then are the people of mexico simply the offspring of Indians and Spanish who didn’t know any better?
February 7, 2008 at 6:06 pm #81575
It’s still seems that a lack of real clarity to point to that fosters more close-mindedness. We’ll just retreat from something that requires so much effort, back into old habits of thinking.
I agree completely that it’s these metaphors that complicate the picture. I’m here to ask the experts to help me clean them up where possible.
I’ve been hearing for a while that "race" should be eliminated in discussions of ethnicity since we humans are about 99.95 percent genetically identical. But I wonder if that is, after all, merely culturally sensitive semanitcs. What is meant by any of these terms? Cannot "race" be compared to "breed" among dogs? That dogs have been specifically (consciously) bred for physical and behavioral traits is not necessarily too far off from the behavioural, physical, ethnic distinctions among humans shaped by the "accidents" of geography and climate, and the willful contributions of war, emigration, and other factors.
In another thread here it is mentioned that the Amish forbid marriage outside of the community. A community based on faith? Skin color? Geographic origin?Language? Obviously some combination of these that they are comfortable with – like many groups. I’m not implying that the Amish constitute a race, but just using them as an example of willful exclusion. We seem capable of determining the outward characteristics of humans by our actions. (generally for the worse, in my own opinion)
According to anthropologists, there are 4 human "races".
Mongoloid (people of Asian descent – this includes the Native American peoples as well)
Caucasoid (people of European descent – this includes Middle Eastern peoples as well)
Negroid (people of African descent)
Australoid (people of Australian descent – the native Aborigines)
No doubt this is pretty arguable. For the sake of my breakfast conversation, here are a few of the rubs I see.
There is is no evidence that any human groups are incapable of "interbreeding". Apparently the last time it was a matter for debate was during out encounter with neanderthals and, I don’t know here, did we kill them off in conflict or did we mate with them? But we are incapable of mating with other primates (or at least in producing offspring).
Is the definition of "species" therefore unequivocally that likes may produce offspring? Bird types constitute different species, but when suitable mates are not available, classifications without distict boundaries will sometimes make due. Obviously not a Wren with a Bald Eagle, but do we know where the lines are drawn? A Carolina wren and a Jenny wren? Wren and Sparrrow?
The "Zeedonk", "Liger", and Mule and "jaglion" are examples of such types that will opportunistically mate. They seem to be genetically exceptional in that they are incapable of producing offspring beyond their type. Grey area. Many other "hybrids" exist, but since that term so loosely applys to breed (dogs for example) it doesn’t really help much here.
Obviously I’m no scientist. That’s exactly the point. I’d like to be able to understand as clearly as possible where the lines are drawn in this subject in order to most effectively deconstruct these myths that humans harbor any of the instictive disincliations to mix types that we observe in other animals around us.
Any help here?
February 8, 2008 at 1:40 am #81594
you guys are really letting me down here.
February 10, 2008 at 1:56 am #81658
If you want to know about race the wikipedia article talks a lot about different ways of drawing the lines of what is a species and what is not. For example, how do you define bacteria by reproductive isolation when pretty much all bacteria can mate(or at least exchange DNA) with others? How is it possible that sea urchins and sea squirts can mate even though they’re not even of the same phylum!
I think you’ll have to look towards history and the founders of biological study such as Linneaus to understand why we even have these terms. Maybe it’s simply a way for humans to organize a world that isn’t neatly black and white. Why not simply accept the modern usage of phylogenics and acknowledge that there is more of a spectrum of genetic variation than any real "classes"?
As far as race goes, I think all that’s been said has been said. Personally I think it’s more of a social construct than anything even though you could argue that gene sequencing shows you can identify different "races" from each other. Both Nicholas Wade and Jared Diamond have written books if you want to delve into the controversy more with considerations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race,_Evol … d_Behavior
February 11, 2008 at 9:39 am #81699bbrubakerParticipant
"Someone expresses fascination that the bird varieties "instinctively" know better than to interbreed."
Those that didn’t wasted energy and resources on unsuccessful mates and their DNA is no longer around?
February 11, 2008 at 4:57 pm #81718
I have this thread going at two boards now. The results have been very interesting to me.
If there is a common tone to them it seems that among those who have had already digested a good portion of genetics and taxonomy, that being the majority of people who drop in here, there is bewilderment that so much if it isn’t just common sense to the great unwashed. I’m not one who gripes about "ivory tower" mentalities. I’ve spent most of my effort in arguments defending against those perceptions. But where is the perspective here?
I challenge anyone to ask the next twenty people "on the street" what would happen if a Sparrow mated with a Bluebird and I’m pretty sure that far more than half of them would take a stab at some hybridization of color resulting. For the less educated, it’s a simple matter of A is to X what B is to ??? Sparrow and Bluebird. Physically, almost indistinguishable but for color. Norwegian and Peruvian. Similarly so. So these sidewalk respondants are what.. just idiots? Irredeemable? If anyone has even the tiniest interest in how racism infects, wouldn’t you wonder the same thing I am? How do I communicate something in any form more digestible than undergraduate coursework in biology?
I may be back where I started. Maybe there is no way to put this stuff simply. It remains, for a depressingly large number of people around us, a matter of ‘you’ll have to take my word on this’. And you’re suprised when your neighbor’s kid wants to know why he can’t study creationism in his public school.
February 12, 2008 at 6:19 pm #81770
I agree with most of what you say, geb, except for that last bit; I wonder what creationism in public schools has to do with the species vs race issue. Are you simply referring to scientific ignorance in general? Sorry, I’m always cautious when that topic comes up since evolution debates have a bad habit of going nowhere around here.
February 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm #81773
Oh no. Creationism simply as a comment on scientific ignorace. More of a comment on willful ignorance. Like I’d said, it’s all there. It’s not hard at all to see. If anyone really needs to believe anything their imagination can drum up, there will always be ample ‘evidence’ to support that belief. Creationism just happens to be a pretty popular one.
But since I’m starting to ‘editorialize’ in this thread, I guess I’ll just quit it here. As I started out, I am disappointed that I am unable to explain away some of the common misapprehensions of race and species to people that desperately need to know better. It’s too damn bad. But it does give me a little more understanding of the depth of misunderstanding. I am a little more patient with such faulty reasoning.
February 12, 2008 at 9:29 pm #81780
Try explaining why buying lottery tickets makes you poorer….to people who don’t understand probabilities.
February 12, 2008 at 11:04 pm #81783
I buy lottery tickets.
February 14, 2008 at 8:00 pm #81830
alextemplet just beat me to this.
I have no doubt that alex.. (with just shy of 5000 posts to a board like this he ain’t exactly hiding his curiosity under a rock) is as familiar with statistic probabilities as anyone on earth need be to warn them away from any rational reward to buying lotto tickets. It isn’t rational. It’s pleasure. I don’t buy lotto. But it’s not just because I’m smart (tho that does seem to be the least requirement – which explains the demographics). It’s a genetic marker for that pleasure that I lack. Or rather, a part of me that is repressed enough to keep me smugly uninvolved in such ‘nonsense’.
My mom is really into lotto tickets. And she’s smart. It’s ok. She’s well off enough for it to be a harmless hobby. It’s just enjoyment. Too bad for many of the folks that can’t say that. If it’s eating up more than ten percent of your income, you probably need intervention (exactly where some smarts might help). And demographically, that’s usually the case. That’s why it’s referred to often as a regressive tax. It’s probably also why I have a hard time with my mom’s hobby. It’s just unbecoming.. I’m a snob. Ok?
My girlfriend and I once got very drunk and bought a bundle of lotto tickets. It was a jest. We both generally despised the ruse. We sat at a 24hr diner and scratched them off. Later we recalled what a guilty thrill the whole thing was. There you go. It’s not rational. Can’t buy a thrill? Yes you can. If you’re sufficiently repressed, you just have to be drunk enough.
Anyway. This thread really has become an editorial space for much beyond the original thought. I have it going elsewhere and there are some interesting thoughts. I’m was hoping that it might generate some useful debate on how to factually deconstruct racism in our casual conversations with friends and family. It hasn’t done much for that really (yet), but who knows.
The other address for this thread is at….
http://thescienceforum.com/Race-and-Spe … 10239t.php
February 15, 2008 at 5:38 am #81854
I don’t buy scratch-offs; only powerball tickets, and only one per drawing. That way, if I win, I can tell my boss to shove it; however, if I lose, it’s a dollar, oh well. It’s not so much entertainment as it is a mathematical assessment of the fact that I can easily afford to throw away two dollars a week and it is remotely possible that I might actually win the millions. In my opinion it’s a very simple risk/reward calculation.
February 23, 2008 at 12:26 pm #82150mcarParticipant
I have a friend who wants to prove that he could win in a horse race with the lowest possible bet and he’s working really hard doing his calculations to figure out the winning combinations. He does not even want to risk too much pesos whereas others could easily throw them off. I was thinking to buy a lotto ticket these past few days, I had a dream that I almost got the winning numbers. They say that if you dream of the numbers, there’s a greater probability to win the millions.
February 24, 2008 at 6:53 am #82175
If that’s the case I should start dreaming.
February 24, 2008 at 10:35 am #82179
Are the genetic differences between different species of birds greater than the genetic differences between different types of dogs? Since modern birds evolved about 120 million years ago whilst dogs descended from the wolf only about 15000 years ago there is probably less genetic difference in dogs which makes interbreeding possible. Man has only been around about 200000 years and so again there is not much genetic difference between different types of Homo Sapiens.
Has anyone artificially tried to produce a hybrid between a bluebird and a Robin to see if it is possible?
We have no natural hybrid between the two bird types – but does that mean that they have never attempted to mate – what is the proof that they have not tried and failed? It is much harder to observe a negative result.
As for the dog – it is so lusty that it will attempt to breed with almost anything – even my leg. No humanleg-dog hybrid has yet been produced but that does not prove that the dog didn’t try.
February 24, 2008 at 7:17 pm #82192
Consider both lifespan and selection pressures not just years.
February 25, 2008 at 1:19 am #82215
I’d kind of given up on these questions as I realized that there was a pretty vast threshold of knowledge I had to gain before I could make any more sense of them than is apparent to the eye. Not that much time to go back to grad school.
I don’t know why birds offer up such a range of species. To understand that would go a long way toward examining the possibility of anything hardwired in humans that might set them on similar paths toward specialization.
Is a human as genetically similar to a chimpanzee as is a robin to a bluebird? Does a robin regard a bluebird similarly, as far as any disinclination to mate? Dogs are, after all, such a recent descendant of wolves that the differences in breed have not had time to establish deep genetic distinctions. Would they eventually? Left alone on separate islands for a million years, is it likely that poodles would no longer be able to produce offspring with setters? Left together, they seem to show not too much disinclination to mate. So why did the bird species ever bother to specialize within close physical proximity of one another? What drives such behavior?
Is there any ‘survival instinct’ that compels human beings toward racist behavior? Asking this question in most company, even highly educated company, is usually met with deep suspicion. But don’t we desperately need to answer some of this stuff to make better informed headway in combating the worst forms of it?
Worst forms of it? Isn’t it all bad? Well, the most ardent liberal will concede the sanctity of one’s wishes to perserve his culture and ethnic distinction. As a fairly ardent liberal, and part of an ethnic minority in the U.S., I think I understand the sentiment. But I also understand the implicit racism. It isn’t enough to simply say that it is only ‘racism’ when intolerance is involved. World populations are too much in constant motion to be so simplistic. There will always be seemingly defensible resorts to violence when cultural trespasses must be defended against.
Ideally, of course, it’s supposed to be "culture" and "lifestyle" (and Dr. Dobson’s family values, whatever the hell this really means) that must be defended at cost. Not ethnicity per se. But we all know that isn’t what goes on in the real world. So why can’t the biologists talk about it?
February 25, 2008 at 4:53 am #82220
Geb asks "So why did the bird species ever bother to specialize within close physical proximity of one another? What drives such behavior?"
I think a partial explanation, which might also explain racism, would be the following:
We over-rely on vision to help us to decide whether another living creature is genetically different from us. Birds have better vision than humans and are probably even more discriminating with that sense. We are programed to “look” for differences which might indicate genetic differences which would interfere with reproduction.
Without a well developed forebrain these visual differences would further help to prevent breeding between dissimilarities which in itself might help to accelerate species differences . The visual clues to identify genetic differences is pretty good as far as evolution goes but is not foolproof. The different human races can still inter-breed and we are therefore being misled if we only rely on visual clues.
The difference between birds and humans is that birds are unable to reason and question these visual clues. They have to accept them at face value and act accordingly and might explain why even in close proximity they do not breed with dissimilarities.
You could infer from this that birds are more racist than humans.
February 25, 2008 at 6:51 am #82222
If what I have said above is correct, then the detection of differences or "racism" could be seen as a beneficial driving force in evolutionary terms for producing variation and increasing the chances of survival in different niches.
However, I must quickly add that with the human species we have the added factor of intelligence. Whilst "racism" might be beneficial to the unintelligent world, intelligent humans would only use it as a weapon to destroy rather than to diversify. There are no other niches left for human diversity.
February 25, 2008 at 7:21 am #82223
negotiation: talking with people who you might not want to talk to.
February 25, 2008 at 7:57 am #82224MichaelXYParticipant
What defines species is the fact that one species cannot reproduce with another species. A Bluejay cannot breed with an Eagle. They are genetically incompatible. Race is not the same as species. Race is just variation within a species, yet they can still breed offspring.
February 25, 2008 at 8:27 am #82226quote MichaelXY:
Agreed. But would birds of the same race use their acute vision to discriminate against any variations which might accelerate the process to lead on to another species?
February 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm #82234MrMisteryParticipant
The concept of a species in not so simple as you might think: how would you determine if 2 animals that lived in the Jurasic are the same species or not? How about 2 bacteria? How about two species of the genus Pipilo that only do not reproduce because a forest divides their habitats?
February 25, 2008 at 6:14 pm #82243
I agree that it is only clear-cut when a member of a defined species breeds and reproduces viable offsprings which can also breed. When we obtain hybrids between what we take to be different species it must mean that the speciation of either one is not yet fully completed. One would expect this to happen as slight mutations etc may not initially achieve a New Species.
Small organisms like bacteria where genetic material seems to pass quite easily between different bacteria must take even longer to change to another species (although this is counteracted by the rapidity of reproduction).
The point I am asking is do animals having good vision (like birds) who can detect small changes of form amongst themselves use these subtle changes in form to avoid mating with variations within the species. If so, this would be like geographic isolation and may accelerate the production of a greater number of species within the group of animals known as birds. ie Is form discrimination an accelerator to speciation?
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