Wednesday, October 09, 2002

VALUE OF THE CONCEPT "RACE" WATCH: Early anthropologist Franz Boas probably fudged his data:

Two physical anthropologists have reanalyzed data gathered by Franz Boas, a founder of American anthropology, and report that he erred in saying environment influenced human head shape. Boas's data, the two scientists say, show almost no such effect.

The reanalysis bears on whether craniometrics, the measurement of skull shape, can validly identify ethnic origin. As such, it may prompt a re-evaluation of the definition of human races and of ancient skulls like that of Kennewick Man.

"I have used Boas's study to fight what I guess could be considered racist approaches to anthropology," said Dr. David Thomas, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "I have to say I am shocked at the findings."

Forensic anthropologists believe that by taking some 90 measurements of a skull they can correctly assign its owner's continent of origin — broadly speaking, its race, though many anthropologists prefer not to use that term — with 80 percent accuracy.

Opponents of the technique, who cite Boas's data, say the technique is useless, in part because environmental influences, like nutrition or the chewiness of food, would overwhelm genetic effects.

Via GoodShit. This, of course, does not answer the "there's no way to define race scientifically" thing one way or the other, but it does validate the physical anthropologists who get pooped on a lot when they say they can tell your race from your skeleton.

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