Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Human Races: Biological Reality or Cultural Delusion?

race

The use of “race” in biology has been controversial for many decades irrespective of which species it has been applied to, human or otherwise.

By Darren Curnoe

Is the concept of racial groups a sociopolitical construct or is there scientific evidence that races exist in humans?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The issue of race has been in the news a lot this year, with the canning of proposed amendments to Australia’s racial discrimination act, attempts by extremists to commit genocide on cultural minorities in Iraq, and a new book by US author Nicholas Wade that has scientists claiming their work was hijacked to promote an ideological agenda.

The idea that races are part of our existence and daily experience, especially those of us living in multicultural societies, seems to be taken for granted by many people. But are races real or simply sociopolitical constructs? Is there any scientific evidence they exist in humans, or are some scientists just being politically correct in denying their existence?

Race in Nature

The “race” category has been used by biologists for hundreds of years to classify varieties of plants and animals, and, of course, humans. It has normally been reserved for geographic populations that belonging to a single species, and has often been used as a synonym of “subspecies”.

While the species concept, or definition, has also had its share of controversies, biologists agree that species are real, not arbitrary, and represent reproductively cohesive evolutionary units.

Yet the use of “race” in biology is far from straightforward. It’s been controversial for many decades irrespective of which species it has been applied to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.