Science is one of the most extraordinary inventions of mankind. He has become a source of inspiration and understanding, has revealed the veil of ignorance and superstition, has been a catalyst for social change and economic growth and saved many lives.
However, history also shows us that science is not entirely a blessing. Some scientific findings have caused more damage than good. There is one error that you will never find in the list of the biggest mistakes of all time on the internet.
The worst mistake in the history of science is undoubtedly the classification of humans into different races.
Today there are several major competitors for this dubious title. Big mistakes like the discovery of nuclear weapons, fossil fuels, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), Tetraethyllead, and DDT. And weak theories of theory and dubious findings such as luminiferous ether, expanding earth, vitalism, phrenology, and Piltdown Man, for example.
But race theory stands out among them all because it has caused untold misery and has been used to justify savage actions ranging from colonialism, slavery, to genocide. Even today the theory is still used to give rise to social inequality and continues to inspire the rise of right-wing extremist groups throughout the world.
As another example, the controversy surrounding Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book, A Troublesome Inheritance, if you hesitate for a moment that race-based sentiments are still shared by some people.
The human race was created by anthropologists such as Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in the 18th century in an effort to categorize new groups of people who were found and exploited as part of growing European colonialism.
From the very beginning, the changing and subjective nature of racial categorization were widely recognized. Often, the race is justified on the basis of cultural or linguistic differences between groups of people rather than biological differences.
Their existence is considered a gift until the 20th century when anthropologists were busy making race a biological explanation for the differences in the psychological, intelligence, education and socio-economic of a particular group.
However, there was anxiety about race and the widespread belief that race-based categories in practice were very difficult to implement.
If the race is still being talked about to this day in public and politically, what do scientists think about it? Do anthropologists, in particular, believe that the race is still valid?
A new survey involving more than 3,000 anthropologists by Jennifer Wagner of the Geisinger Health System and her team was recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The survey offers some valuable knowledge about their views and beliefs.
The people surveyed were members of the American Anthropology Association, the largest professional anthropologist in the world.
They were asked to respond to 53 statements about race which included topics such as whether race was real if the race was determined by biology, whether race must play a role in medicine, race and hereditary roles in commercial genetic testing, and if the term race must continue to be used.
The most prominent response was to the statement, “Human populations may be divided into biological races”, with 86% of respondents answering strongly disagreeing or disagreeing.
For this statement, “Race categories are determined by biology”, 88% answer strongly disagree or disagree. And, “Most anthropologists believe that humans might be divided into biological races”, 85% of respondents strongly disagree or disagree.
What we can take from this finding is that there is a clear consensus among anthropologists that race is not real, that they do not reflect biological truths, and that most anthropologists do not believe race categories have a place in science.
However, buried in the results of the survey are some unsettling findings such as the fact that anthropologists come from groups that get special treatment – in the context of the US ‘white’ men and women – tend to be more accepting of race as valid than those who are not special.
Messages taken home are clear. Like everyone else, anthropologists are far from immune to unconscious bias, especially the effects of social and cultural status in shaping our beliefs on issues such as race.
The irony may be that, as an anthropologist, as a discipline, it is necessary to work harder in challenging our own views that are strongly held and culturally embedded and give a greater voice to scientists from groups that have historically not come from privileged groups.
Even so, the survey made a very strong statement. This is a major rejection of race by scientists who are disciplined to find the racial classification system itself.
This also marks an almost universal acceptance by anthropologists of decades of genetic evidence that shows that human variation cannot be grouped into categories called races.