Friday, May 15, 2015

Race, biology and forensic evidence

The following text is from Johns Hopkins about cranium structure and race:
In American legal contexts, ancestry is usually at issue as a way of determining the racial affinity of unidentified skeletal remains. Hence, the forensic anthropologist usually tries to make a determination as to whether a skull has features that indicate African, European, Asian or Native American ancestry.
Cranial features are not perfect indicators of ancestry: Forensic anthropologists using multiple features claim at best 85% accuracy in their assessment of racial ancestry. When we know less about the context of a skull, we will be less and less accurate.
Here are some traits that vary between skulls with different race backgrounds. Most of them are on the face or palate.
  • Shape of the eye orbits, viewed from the front. Africans tend to a more rectangular shape, East Asians more circular, Europeans tend to have an ``aviator glasses'' shape.
  • Nasal sill: Europeans tend to have a pronounced angulation dividing the nasal floor from the anterior surface of the maxilla; Africans tend to lack a sharp angulation, Asians tend to be intermediate.
  • Nasal bridge: Africans tend to have an arching, ``Quonset hut'' shape, Europeans tend to have high nasal bones with a peaked angle, Asians tend to have low nasal bones with a slight angulation.
  • Nasal aperture: Africans tend to have wide nasal apertures, Europeans narrow.
  • Subnasal prognathism: Africans tend to have maxillae that project more anteriorly (prognathic) below the nose, Europeans tend to be less projecting.
  • Zygomatic form: Asians tend to have anteriorly projecting cheekbones. The border of the frontal process (lateral to the orbit) faces forward. In Europeans and Africans, these face more laterally and the zygomatic recedes more posteriorly.

Note :  First, the author claims that even with multiple features, forensic anthropologists can only point to a race with 85% accuracy.
Second, note the text that reads, with less "context" we will be less accurate.
And, lastly note that the author is not definitive, but instead uses words like "tend to have" instead of  definitively saying "Europeans have..."
Finally, note that the author is only speaking about Asian, African and White.  What would an Egyptian person be?  Or how about these:  aboriginal Australian, Hawaiian, Alaskan, Berber, Eritrean, Swahili,Yanomano, Nenet people, Koriaks? 

And note this article from the professional organization that studies hair.  It explains that
This study has shown that it is possible to classify the various hair types found worldwide into eight main groups. The approach involves objective descriptors of hair shape, and is more reliable than traditional methods relying on categories such as curly, wavy, and kinky. Applied to worldwide human diversity, it avoids reference to the putative, unclear ethnic origin of subjects. Briefly, a straight hair type I is just that, and whether it originates from a Caucasian or an Asian subject is not at issue. The hair types defined here also more adequately reflect the large variation of hair shape diversity around the world, and may possibly help to trace past mixed origins amongst human subgroups.
Lastly, note that the author of the afore mentioned forensics article is mostly referring to race IN AMERICA.  That is something that often goes unsaid.  They say race, but they really mean race IN AMERICA.  And when you go to another country like Brazil, for example, the information does not apply.  That is the problem with race, people assume it is  biological but it does not apply to other countries.

The fact is that people do look different.  Some people look more similarly to each other such as hair type and cranium structure.  BUT, these looks are not distinguishable into distinct identifiable groups that many people call "race".  It simply is not possible and does not exist.  Before any forensic analysis of "racial" types is done, I would ask the forensic analyst how he determines "race." What are the racial groups?  How many are there?  What determines each group?  There are not answers to these questions because race does not exist biologically.

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