Racial definitions `hangover from days of colonialism'

Steve Connor reports from the annual meeting of the American Associatio n for the Advancement of Science in Atlanta, Georgia
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The Independent Online
The concept of race is out of date and has no biological basis, according to scientists.

C Loring Brace, professor of anthropology at Michigan University, United States, told the meeting that if people had to be defined in terms of ethnic types it should be done on the basis of geographical origin rather than physical features.

The professor told the meeting that dividing people into a handful of distinct races was a historical hangover from the days of colonial conquest and had never been important in the evolution of the human species.

"There was no race concept prior to the Renaissance. There is no race concept in the Bible or other writings of antiquity," he said. "The best way to refer to people is to use geographical designations. Thus people can be identified as African, or Australian, or European, and the like."

Scientists have submitted an updated definition of race based on this concept to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Development Organisation for approval and adoption, Solomon Katz, professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

The definition states: "Nineteenth and early 20th-century categories of race, which today are thought to have little scientific merit, have often been used to support racist doctrines. Yet this concept persists as a social convention that fosters institutional discrimination."

Public misconceptions about the biological basis of race, especially in relation to the genetics of IQ, have largely gone unaddressed, Professor Katz said.

He added: "It's outrageous to base judgements on research and findings that are clearly outdated. There is just no valid reason for using existing racial terms. This isn't politically correct, it's scientifically correct.

"We are much more alike than we are different. The differences within a population are much greater than the differences between populations, so race becomes a meaningless distinction."