Month: March 2017

Inquiries into fake history: The retconning of Frank Livingstone’s (1962) decidedly anti-Darwinian “there are no races, there are only clines” argument

According to one popular version of the race narrative, natural scientific concepts of race were conceptualized, in the 18th to early 20th century, such to imply discrete categories; and human “races,” were, accordingly, imaged to have significant discontinuities until post-World War II anthropologists, such as Frank Livingstone (1962), came to realize that human variation was relatively continuous, a fact which, the story goes, demonstrated that human “races,” as traditionally understood, did not exist — instead, only “populations” do. Anyone sufficiently familiar with actual 18th to early 20th century discourses on the matter, would find this tale outlandish. They would recall, for example, Wallace’s (1864) account, in “The origin of human races and the antiquity of man deduced from the theory of natural selection,” of the competing pre-evolutionary views about human variation:
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Inquiries into fake history: Antoine Duchesne (1766) and Georg Forster (1786) on “race” in context to natural history

Science is replete with fake, whiggish histories peddled to bolster new paradigms. Biology is no exception. Two examples are the The Essentialism Story (Winsor, 2006; Richards, 2010; Wilkins, 2013) and The Classic View/The Mutationism Myth (Stoltzfus, 2010; Stoltzfus and Cable, 2014). According to the former, early biologists were inexplicably caught in the thrall of Platonic-Aristotelian typological essentialism, which resulted in the failure to recognize the significance of individual variation and which consequently retarded the recognition of evolution. According to the second, early geneticists were caught in the grip of saltationism, which resulted in the rejection of natural selection and held back for decades the synthesis between Mendelian principles and evolutionary theory. As expected, in these tellings, the actual historical views are often barely recognizable.

The most prominent, yet least discussed, example of pseudohistory of science has to be what should be called The Race Narrative. The Race Narrative is meta-myth, comprised of several related tales, which typically involve some permutation of: “”Race” never described a classification which had a proper place in natural history or a classification which, given how it was historically understood, was applicable to humans, but rather was a political construct imposed to oppress certain human groups, which was then back rationalized by natural historians, who read reality through the political ideology of their times.” Often The Essentialism Story and, to a lesser extent, The Mutationism Myth are incorporated into this Narrative.

To give just a few examples:
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