First syllogism: Samuel Morton is a reprehensible model racist with a fixed definition of race.
2.5. Contras to Points 1–6
: It is not obvious why NG chose Morton as the father of scientific racism. Morton was predominantly working within conventional, pre-evolutionary Rayian—Linnaean systematics (for details, see Müller-Ville and Rheinberger, 2012) [21
] where species with uniform formal designs were made by the Creator. Members of a species, except in the case of “natural varieties” such as sexes, differed (i.e., Varieties) only due to the direct effects of the environment. This view dominated for much for the 17th century and the early part of the 18th century, with few dissenters.
So why does NG champion Morton as THE “father of scientific racism”? In fact, Aristotle, Linnaeus, Buffon, Locke, Kant, Gobineau, Malthus and many others could have been equal or better choices. Add to this that Morton’s works did not matter much outside the US, his most productive period is essentially limited to 1839 to 1851, which is about a hundred years after Buffon (1749–1789) [22
] and many more used the term “race” in a natural history perspective.
It appears that NG wanted to construe a straw-concept of scientific racism by choosing Morton as the Father of racism, a convenient picking because he was already falsely accused of fabricating an opportune racial hierarchical brain size rank order (see later).
Ad 2: Morton certainly did not hold THE one “correct” definition of race. In fact, he did not explicitly define the term “race” in his major works. Rather, he defined “species,” and he used the term “race” to mean “lineage.” “Species,” being lineages, were “races”, but not all “races” were species. In fact, Morton did not consider human “races” to be separate species in his earlier works, as discussed below. In this he joined a longstanding debate, where some authors saw race in a technical sense as designating constant varieties of a species and most polygenists used race in a more general sense to mean lineage, which could describe both species and constant varieties.
Commenting in particular on the role of Morton’s American school in the debate, natural historian De Quatrefages (1889) [23
“—In Europe, all botanists, all zoologists, from Linnaeus to de Candolle, from Buffon to Cuvier, and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, have employed them to designate very different things. If some have designated race by the expression hereditary variety, this difference in words does not in any way affect ideas... The distinction which exists all facts considered is always translated into language. Yet it is this distinction that the American school seems to forget entirely here. For her, there are no more races or varieties in nature; there are only species”.
So why does NG take Morton’s use of the term “race,” when describing species-lineages, to be the only true meaning of “race” (lineage)? One conclusion comes to mind: NG promoted a straw-concept while remaining ignorant of Morton’s own (changing) position(s). But what is NG’s view now on species? Does NG also think of species as a social construct? We do not know.
: We already know by now that “race” was neither a distinct category for Morton nor for his colleagues. We also know that his American School clearly preferred “species”, “types”, “groups”. In Types of Mankind
(1857, pg. 80–81) [24
] Morton writes: “…Lineage … where species are a type, we now ask where species come from?”
Are species created or selected? In Josiah Clark Nott’s (1854) book [25
] “Types of Mankind
, we find Prichard quoted for saying:
“The meaning attached to species, in natural history is very definite and intelligible. It includes only the following condition: namely, separate origin and distinction of race, evinced by a constant transmission of some characteristic peculiarity of organization.”
This definition accords in fact with the dominant Rayian-Linnaean Systematics of the time. It is now clear that points 3, 4, and 6 pertain to Morton and his colleagues’ concept of species, which is the conventional pre-evolutionary one—While species could be races (i.e., lineages), not all races were specifically distinct, that is species.
But then Morton (1847) [26
] redefines his concept of “species” as a “primordial organic form” by asking …“What constitutes a species?” and answering that “I now submit a definition, which I hope will obviate at least some of the objections to which I have alluded: SPECIES—a primordial organic form...” How do we best understand what it means that forms are primordial, Morton asks: “If they can be traced back into “the night of time” as dissimilar as we see them now, is it not more reasonable to regard them as aboriginal than to suppose them to be mere accidental derivations of an isolated patriarchal stem of which we know nothing?”
He further clarifies this position in Dr
. Morton’s Craniological Collection
“… I do not use it to imply that all divisions are derived from a single pair; on the contrary, I believe that they have originated from several, perhaps even from many pairs, which were adapted, from the beginning, to the varied localities they were designated to occupy... [which]... does not imply a common origin.
Two conclusions come easily to mind here: (1) Morton began to regard human races (lineages) as species, meaning that if we are to follow NG’s logic, it rather claims that Morton’s species represent the opposite of reality and that the concept of species is “made up”, and (2) Morton began to regard species as having multiple localities of origin where they were pre-adapted to diverse conditions.
: Morton thus came to think that species were pre-adapted to their environment, as opposed to differing only due to environmental influences or ranked by a divine hierarchy. In fact, already in his November 1st. 1842 lecture [28
], before which he embraced the view that human races represented different species (are different creations) he wrote:
“Man, regarded in his general character, is the same in every zone; he possesses the same general confirmation, and notwithstanding some striking diversities of organization, the whole human family is to be regarded as a single species. Yet, notwithstanding this approximation of mankind in essential and specific characteristics, I firmly believe that they were originally, or, in other words, before their dispersion into different latitudes, endowed with those varied traits of mind and body which alone could adapt them to their various allotments on the face of the earth. The more I have reflected on those diversities, the more I am confirmed in the conclusion, that they have not resulted from physical causes acting on constitutions originally the same, but that, on the contrary, there has been a primeval difference among men; not an accidental occurrence, but a part of that all-pervading design which has adapted man, in common with animals and plants, to the diverse conditions which form a necessary part of the economy of creation... Is it not more probably that the same Infinite power that conducted them, before their dispersal, to the varied physical circumstances with which they were henceforward to contend?… I apprehend that without such adaption, the patriarchal germs of our species would have been utterly destroyed in the effect to contend with those pestilential influences which appear to be inherent in certain localities on the surface of the earth.”
It subsequent years Morton adopted the view that races were created in separate regions (Morton, 1850) [29
], but the logic was the same. Morton’s “economy of nature”—not “divine hierarchy”—was part of the 18th century pre-evolutionary attempt by many naturalists to reconcile the logic of “natural selection” with creation. The difference was that Morton was willing to apply it to humans at a time when many of the authorities of the time would violently oppose to the bare suggestion that each species, whether of plant or animal, did not originate[d] in a single birthplace.
Ad 5: Insofar as races were species, they were, by definition, not genealogically related. However, many pre-evolutionary natural scientists, including Morton, allowed for differences in magnitude of relation—in the sense of similarity–between species. The differences between species of a Genera could be large or small. Morton distinguished between “remote” and “proximate” species and suggested that proximate species are similar enough to produce fertile offspring.
To the extent origin is a problem, it is for the “species” concept, not the “race” (lineage) concept.
Ad 6: Did Morton believe race characteristics were necessarily distinctive, homogenous, and immutable? Again, the answer to this question is already provided in the above discussion of “species”. It is: No!
2.6. Discussion of the 6 Major Premises in the First Syllogistic Analysis
The overall implication of NG’s first 6 primary premises for criticizing Morton’s position is that race and species are made-up concepts. This urges us to examine NG’s own scientific position on race (and, by implication, on lineage, ancestry, admixture, or genetic population differences).
We find it-in rather plain words-on the one page before its critique of Morton and race. NG here informs its readers about the content and value of its own down-loadable DNA ancestry tool-kit called “GENO 2.0 Your DNA [30
], Your Story”. The kit is sold by the following description on its webpage:
“Through decades of research and reporting, National Geographic seeks to answer and share fundamental questions about our collective past: how our ancestors migrated from our African homeland, adapted, and populated the Earth. With your help, we are writing this ever-evolving story. The Geno 2.0 test examines a unique collection of nearly 300,000 DNA identifiers, called “markers,” that have been specifically selected to provide unprecedented ancestry-relevant information … In addition, for all participants, we analyze a collection of more than 250,000 other ancestry-informative markers from across your entire genome to reveal the regional affiliations of your ancestry, offering insights into your ancestors who are not on a direct maternal or paternal line”.
The science behind the DNA kit is also presented there:
“Different populations carry distinct mutation, or genetic markers. Identifying and following the markers back through generations reveals a relationship shared by all humans, best conceptualized in the form of a genetic tree. Today, thousands of diverse branches, corresponding to unique human groups, can be followed backward to their common African root more than 100 millennia ago…. Your results give you an unprecedented view of your lineage. You will discover the migration paths your ancient ancestors followed hundreds and even thousands of years ago. You will also learn the details of your unique ancestral makeup—the biological and geographical components that make up who you are. What are the ingredients, and how much of a mixture is your own DNA recipe?”
This scientific position challenges the substantial difference between NG’s “populations”, which represent “branches” of the “human genetic tree” and one’s “lineage”, and the “races” concepts of natural history from the mid-eighteenth century, when evolutionary theory was adopted right until the mid-nineteenth century, when “race-denialism” accelerated.
To be sure, the early conceptions differed by species and individual variation (“varieties”) and many natural historians in the middle of 17th. century thought of ‘race’ as ‘lineage’ (as in French, conf. Nugent’s French dictionary from the 1700s): Lignee, sf, lineage; issue; race)—one could speak of “noble de race” or “nobility by lineage”.
When ‘race’ is not formally defined in a natural historian’s work prior to the middle of 20th century, we can generally replace this term with ‘lineage’-understood as a sequence or succession of individuals. According to Buffon and Cuvier’s widely known definition of “species” (“A succession of similar individuals which re-produce themselves”), species are races (lineages) in a non-technical sense. But, sometimes ‘race’ was defined in a technical sense, to refer to infraspecific lineages (in particular, so-called “constant varieties”). Thus, we could speak of different races, or lineages, of a species of dogs, horses, etc. (Doron, 2016) [31
]. Others see the similarity, too.
Add to this that the NG article immediately succeeding the DNA Test advertisement (Forget race, ancestry is the real story—and it’s much more interesting”) explains:
“These six [pictures of Afro-Caucasian individuals] had their DNA tested with National Geographic’s kit (see below). These results indicate essentially the same “racial” heritage, in the percentages [of biogeographic ancestry] shown above. But their experiences are unique. Brenda Yurkoski (lower left) knew before the test—which names ancestral populations, not individuals …”
We then understand that even within the same National Geographic “Race Issue” magazine, we find people thinking along similar scientific lines, such that race is identified with lineage and biogeographic ancestry.
Generally, it goes without saying that few natural scientists between the middle of the 17th century, when it was possible to speak about race as a natural scientific concept, would not have called differentially adapted the “branches” “of “the human genetic tree,” lineages, or “ancestral populations”, or “races”, at least if they were visibly distinct.
If we assume for the sake of argument that the DNA GENO 2.0 kit defines NG’s honest scientific position, then in which respects does it differ from that of its editor, Susan Goldberg, who motivated and launched the Race Issue attack? In fact, not much.
She too acknowledges that human variation exists by arguing “That race is a human construction doesn’t mean that we don’t fall into different groups or there’s no variation.” She further acknowledges the existence of variation between human lineage-populations or descent groups by saying that:
“Sometimes it’s clear that natural selection has favored a mutation, but it’s not clear why. Such is the case with a variant of a gene call EDAR (pronounced ee-dar). Most people of East Asian and Native American ancestry possess at least one copy of the variant, many possess two. But it’s rare among people of African and European descent.”
Interestingly, Goldberg also keeps in line with the typical 18th century conception, according to which lineages and descent groups were seen as branches, as can be seen when she says that:
“Studies of this genetic diversity have allowed scientists to reconstruct a kind of family tree of human populations… the Khoe-San, who now live in southern Africa, represent one of the oldest branches of the human family tree.”
Undoubtedly, Goldberg’s conception of groups as branches, which, by the way, are more discrete and thus more stereotypically racialist than most modern stances, must have left knowledgeable readers of her Race Issue in doubt about NG’s precise scientific point of view. Unfortunately, there are more reasons for confusion.
NG thus refers to Reich’s (2018) book [32
], which discusses, among other important topics, the nature of phylogenic networks. Here Reich argues that:
“…while three is a good analogy for the relationships among species–because species rarely interbreed …. It is a dangerous analogy for human population …” because “… great mixtures of highly divergent population have occurred repeatedly. Instead of a tree, a better metaphor may be a trellis, branching and remixing far back into the past... This is greater than the separation times of the most distantly related human lineages today…”
We now see that, in contrast to Goldberg’s conception of stereotypically racialist branches, Reich prefers the term “lineage” and is in fact skeptical of her tree model.
But then again, Reich’s use of the term lineage lines up with the customary translation of lineage: race. Of course, races (lineages) were conceptualized as phylogenetic networks too, as illustrated by Buffon (1749–1789) [22
] and others. Now, if Reich and Goldberg agree with what most people up until the middle of the 20th century called “races”, does this mean that they do not think races differ? Not at all. In addition to NG’s scientific position for selling its DNA kit, Reich writes in his 2018 book [32
“But “ancestry” is not a euphemism, nor is it synonymous with “race.” Instead, the term is born of an urgent need to come up with a precise language to discuss genetic differences among people at a time when scientific developments have finally provided the tools to detect them. It is now undeniable that there are nontrivial average genetic differences across populations in multiple traits, and the race vocabulary is too ill-defined and too loaded with historical baggage to be helpful. If we continue to use it, we will not be able to escape the current debate, which is mired in an argument between two indefensible positions. On the one side there are beliefs about the nature of the differences that are grounded in bigotry and have little basis in reality. On the other side there is the idea that any biological differences among populations are so modest that as a matter of social policy they can be ignored and papered over. It is time to move on from this paralyzing false dichotomy and to figure out what the genome is actually telling us... But such a statement is wrongheaded as if we were to randomly pick two people living in the world today, we would find that many of the population lineages contributing to them have been isolated from each other for long enough that there has been ample opportunity for substantial average biological differences to arise between them.”
The critical reader may now also begin to wonder whether replacing a term—because it is “too loaded with historical baggage”—is not a euphemism, regardless of what is otherwise claimed? Confusion rules again as to the precise nature of the argument. Does the term “race” means/meant something radically or substantially different? If not, the reader witnesses an attempt to control the language and exclude— “cutting off the baggage”—the dense nomological network surrounding the term “race”. Too many options are still left open.
2.9. Summary of the First Syllogistic Analysis
NG has created a straw-concept by singling out Morton as THE father of scientific racism. Many other eminent historical researchers would qualify as well or better, given NG’s premises, and most of them reached beyond the limited impact Morton had outside the US. NG muddies the already controversial concept of “race” in several ways, including being unclear about technical (e.g., hereditary varieties) and more general usages (e.g., lineage) and more general usages (e.g., hereditary variant, species, types, groups). NG pays no attention to the fact that race was not a distinct category for Morton, who used "race" to refer to lineage, include both infraspecific and species-lineages, and who repeatedly revised his definition of species.
Still worse, even NG editor Goldberg herself admits to human genetic variation in a stereotypically enhanced racialist way, and Reich, while criticizing race, fails to see that his favored lineage easily translates into race.
Obviously, NG’s claim—that Morton’s race differences in brain size (skull size, brain capacity, volume, or however defined) do not exists—is misleading. Morton’s findings are in fact supported by empirical evidence from such varied sources as (1) early fossil findings (Beals, Smith and Dodd, 1984) [42
]; Smith and Beals, (1990) [41
], and (2) Rushton’s current findings (1988a, 1988b [44
], 1992 [33
], 1997, 2000 [46
]; Rushton and Osborne, 1995 [48
]). No doubt, Morton misclassified the “cold” North East Asian average skull size by ranking it lower than less cold European ecotypes, perhaps due to incomplete series of specimens. The effect of temperature refers here to the observation that ecotype skulls found in prehistorically colder econiches are in general larger than those found in warm econiches (Smith and Beals, 1990 [41
We are already at this early stage of analysis led to the conclusion that a more suitable title for NG’s whole Race Issue paper would be: “National Geographic’s Mischaracterization of Morton”, even without calling for a full testimony of all aspects of the critique and Morton’s many letters, lecture notes, and entire works, spanning the period 1839–1857.
Doing so is obviously beyond the scope of the present paper, but the above evidence suffices to show that NG systematically misrepresents Morton’s and other’s historical and current sources of differences in brain size and selectively suppresses unwanted or unacceptable results. Moreover, by making Samuel Morton responsible for centuries of horror after publishing his empirical data on race differences in skull size, NG provides examples of ad hominem accusation and guilt by association, based on hearsay and feelings of white shame (see later). NG fails in providing the needed scientific counter-evidence in this context.
In a word, NG’s many accusations—including that Morton is a racist harming minorities and public policy—are scientifically unbecoming.