Thursday, June 2, 2016

More on the Ethnotype

More thoughts.

A correspondent has shown interest in my ethnotype idea and has made two major suggestions, one I mostly agree with and the other I have some reservations about but partially agree with.

First, the suggestion was made that the ethnotype is best conceived as a normal distribution. Thus, while all the possible (and, of course, existing) genotypes of an ethny contribute to the ethnotype, some are more possible, or more frequent, than others.  Therefore, one will observe a cluster of more common genotypes defining the central or median part of the normal distribution curve, with outliers (the y axis is of course frequency, the x axis may be defined in various ways; perhaps a 3-D rather than 2-D distribution is best; in any case the genotypes making up the ethnotype can be distributed both relative to each other and relative to those of other ethnies).

This has certain advantages.  One can observe how the central tendency varies with time.  If one wanted, one could break up the genotypes to look at various traits (see second point below, but this in my opinion deviates from what I’m considering here, which is the entire genotype as an integrated genetic unit.  Another important advantage is how it handles the question of miscegenation and assimilation, including the assimilation of hybrids (this assumes that hybrids would be assimilated and not ejected from the population, which could be favored).  Consider mixing across wide racial lines.  Assume small-scale mixing that affects only a small fraction of the population.  This would increase the range of possible, and actual, genotypes, but would not really alter the mass of more central genotypes that make up the median ethnotype.

On the other hand, more massive miscegenation, assimilation, etc., particularly with widely divergent populations, would indeed shift the entire normal distribution and alter the central/median types, indicative of more serious effects on genetic interests.

In general, this may not be a bad idea.

The second idea, of which I am less enthusiastic, is to tie the ethnotypes to phenotypes, stressing functional genes (and, as above, possibly dividing the ethnotypes, if desired, into more specific traits).  Now, this confuses my use of the ethnotype concept – that is genetic – with the more anthropological phenotypic view.  I’m not defining ethnotype to describe a racial phenotype or set of phenotypes.  I’m using it to express the reality that while individual phenotypes are ephemeral, the range of possible genotypes of an ethny can be reasonably stable over long periods of evolutionary time.  And by genotype, I consider the entire genetic integration of individuals of a population, not individual alleles in isolation.  Further, while I am willing to grant (true) functional genes a higher per-allele value than (true) non-functional genes (since the functional ones influence their own replication, I do not – for reasons I have discussed many times – relegate non-functional genes to irrelevance.  It is the entire distinctive genome that contributes to genetic interests.  One must be careful that a sole focus on form, function, and phenotype does not lead to a John Ray-like memetic attitude that large scale miscegenation and genetic replacement is acceptable as long as certain phenotypic traits are maintained (e.g., “White-looking” heavily admixed mestizos of Latin America).

Again, a focus on form, function, and phenotype (while it has its relevance in particular contexts) deviates from the objective of my ethnotype definition: to capture the reality of a relatively stable set of (genetically integrated) genotypes (genetic structures) that define an ethny and its genetic interests, and to distinguish the ethnotype from an individual and unique “one-shot” genotype.