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Debunking a Scientific Myth

Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle

Narrated by Peter Lerman

Available from Audible

Book published by Texas A&M University Press

Race has provided the rationale and excuse for some of the worst atrocities in human history. Yet, according to many biologists, physical anthropologists, and geneticists, there is no valid scientific justification for the concept of race.

To be more precise, although there is clearly some physical basis for the variations that underlie perceptions of race, clear boundaries among “races” remain highly elusive from a purely biological standpoint. Differences among human populations that people intuitively view as “racial” are not only superficial but are also of astonishingly recent origin.

In this intriguing and highly accessible book, physical anthropologist Ian Tattersall and geneticist Rob DeSalle, both senior scholars from the American Museum of Natural History, explain what human races actually are—and are not—and place them within the wider perspective of natural diversity. They explain that the relative isolation of local populations of the newly evolved human species during the last Ice Age—when Homo sapiens was spreading across the world from an African point of origin—has now begun to reverse itself, as differentiated human populations come back into contact and interbreed. Indeed, the authors suggest that all of the variety seen outside of Africa seems to have both accumulated and started reintegrating within only the last 50,000 or 60,000 years—the blink of an eye, from an evolutionary perspective.

The overarching message of Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth is that scientifically speaking, there is nothing special about racial variation within the human species. These distinctions result from the working of entirely mundane evolutionary processes, such as those encountered in other organisms.

Ian Tattersall is a curator in the division of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Trained in archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge, and in vertebrate paleontology at Yale, Tattersall has concentrated his research since the 1960s in three main areas: the analysis of the human fossil record and its integration with evolutionary theory, the origin of human cognition, and the study of the ecology and systematics of the lemurs of Madagascar. He is also a prominent interpreter of human paleontology to the public.

Rob DeSalle is a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. He curated the American Museum of Natural History’s new Hall of Human Origins and has written more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific publications and several books. Tattersall and DeSalle recently coauthored Human Origins: What Bones and Genomes Tell Us about Ourselves.


“In the footsteps of Haddon and Huxley, a prominent anthropologist and a prominent evolutionary geneticist have teamed up to give us a powerful scientific critique of the commonsensical idea of race. Distinguished scholars and skilled communicators, Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle show clearly how “race” simply cannot be used as a synonym for “human biological diversity”. In the age of genomics, this partnership of intellectual specialties is particularly valuable, and the result is a splendid testament to the merits of trans-disciplinary collaborations.”

—Jon Marks, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

“If you think you understand what 'race' is, read this book!”

—Ian Paulsen, Birdbooker Report, The Guardian

“Tattersall and DeSalle argue that not only are the differences between the classically defined "races" very superficial, they are also of suprisingly recent origin...The diversity among us has risen in a blink of evolution's eye...began to reverse as formerly isolated human groups came back into contact and interbred...Tattersall and DeSalle confront those industries head on and in no uncertain terms, arguing that "race-based medicene" and "race-based genomics" are deeply flawed.”

—Jan Sapp, professor in the biology department at York University in Toronto, American Scientist

“This well-written, enjoyable book should be suitable for a broad range of readers interested in human diversity, its origins, and its future.”

—S.D. Stout, Choice

Race? is an accessible primer on much of the biological theory relevant to the question of race...this book appeals to both general readers and students of biology, anthropology, and the history and philosophy of science as a valuable, if incomplete, overview of the topic's major themes.”

—Paul Mitchell, Expedition

In Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth, they [the authors] dismantle the biological notion of race...the authors argue that a valid justification for the concept of race does not exist...that all the variations we characterize as 'racial' accumulated over a relatively short time informative, well-researched, and well-written contribution to the scientific, intellectual (and even mundane) discourse on the lingering problem of race.”

—Okori Uneke, International Social Science Review

“This is a helpful book for anyone who wants a short, accurate and scholarly appraisal of race as a concept ... Students in both anthropology and human genetic courses will benefit from the discussions this book will provide.”

Quarterly Review of Biology

“Tattersall and DeSalle expertly and clearly summarize the scientific findings that provide the best evidence about the insignificance of race. They also survey, usefully and succinctly, the history of ideas about race from the Enlightenment through the genome project. Summarizing current biological and archaeological work, Tattersall and DeSalle note that all humans have a genetic make-up nearly 100 percent African in Origin.”

Victorian Studies

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