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Genography and Biological Determinism

Genography, Biological Determinism, and Stephen J. Gould

The subject of genography and genetic ancestry triggers uneasiness due to its association with racist genetics, eugenics, and biological determinism. As written by Gould in his ‘Mismeasure of Man’, the notion that “the social and economic differences between human groups—primarily races, classes, and sexes—arise from inherited, inborn distinctions and that society, in this sense, is an accurate reflection of biology…” is not scientificallly sustainable. The study of environmental genography is in complete accord with Gould’s verdict.

Genography does not purport to explain social differences on the basis of genetics. However, the fact that these associations are not biologically determined does not negate the fact that associations do exist between ancestral genetic haplogroups and certain contemporary aspects of society and culture. For instance, it is possible to examine access to, or use of, certain natural resources according to ancestral haplogroup. Similarly, it is possible to estimate current population densities of the ancestral haplogroups. These are but two example applications of genographic data for social science and policy purposes. I think Gould’s point is that these differences are not pre-determined; they are rather management choices.

Therefore, while genetic differences are not determinative of social and economic differences, looking at social data through the lens of ancestral genetics can provide important information as to the actual state of the distribution of many social goods across the globe as well as the morality of these distributions. Furthermore, there is no reason to reject the hypothesis that social and economic differences between human groups are the result of cultural differences and that these cultural differences are in turn associated (albeit not caused) with ancestral genealogies. That these associations may be arbitrary and not biologically determined does not negate their existence nor the utility of studying the associations, nor does it deny the possibility that ancestral genetic haplogroup formations precede and are likely to be a causative factor in the divergence and geography of human cultures from prehistoric times until the present.

For more about Gould’s book:

Cherson AD (2013) 
Atlas of Genetic Genealogy