Re: [asa] Ethnic groups

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Wed Sep 02 2009 - 12:16:47 EDT

On Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 10:07 AM, Randy Isaac<> wrote:
> I have a question about another article that Jack Haas noted on his blog.
> This article
> looks at genetic characteristics of ethnic groups. They "found that overall
> there are more genetic differences within ethnic groups than between them,
> indicating that separate 'ethnic groups' exist in the mind more than the
> blood."
> Is that really the right criterion to determine whether ethnic groups exist
> on a genetic basis? Why isn't it possible to define an ethnic group as those
> sharing a particular subset of genetic traits, which would likely be a
> miniscule fraction of the whole, while the rest of the genetic code would
> provide a significant diversity?

Part of the issue is how broadly ethnic groups are defined and exactly
how they are delineated. The variation within "white", "black",
"Asian", and "Hispanic" or similar categories is indeed quite large,
while the variation within, e.g., "Czech" or "Thai" is rather less.
Also, intermarriage means that a lot of individuals are genetically
somewhat mixed, confounding the picture. In the U.S., at least,
racial segregation was basically between those perceived as fully
white and everybody else, so a sampling of African American genetic
ancestry will often have assorted non-African genetic backgrounds
mixed in.

There are a number of genetic variations between individuals that
affect the actions of various pharmaceuticals. Unsurprisingly, people
with greater relatedness are more likely to have a similar set of
genetic variations. So ethnicity, defined as specifically as
possible, provides a useful pointer, but any particular individual may
be an exception.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Wed Sep 2 12:17:47 2009

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