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Surprising Science

Bill Nye: Race is a Human Construct

The Science Guy explores the social lessons to be learned from evolution. Paramount is that race, both as a classification for humans and dogs, is not a natural construct.

Bill Nye the Science Guy returned to Big Think to discuss canine evolution and, by way of man’s best friend, various lessons he learned while writing his new book, Undeniable:

After joking about interviewing dogs for the new book, Nye began a dissection of the purebreed myth:

“We obsess about whether our dog is a pug-Jack Russell terrier mix with corgi overtones and an oaky finish. ‘An approachable little dog,’ whatever. They’re all dogs, okay? And so the idea of a purebred is just a human construct. There’s no such thing – in a sense there’s no such thing as a purebred dog.”

This is one of the main lessons Nye hoped readers and viewers would take away from his analysis of dogs and evolution. No matter what kinds of dog mate — pug with a chihuahua, Great Dane with a dachshund, whatever — the result is still a dog. There is no variance in species. Years of breeding and evolution have resulted in a broad spectrum of dogs that look different from their proto-dog ancestors and certainly different from each other. But underneath it all they’re still just dogs. 

The same can be said for humans. Race, just like breed, is a human construct:

“If a Papua New Guinean hooks up with a Swedish person all you get is a human.  There’s no new thing you’re going to get. You just get a human. Japanese woman jumping the African guy, all you get is a human. They’re all humans. So this is a lesson to be learned. There really is, for humankind there’s really no such thing as race. There’s different tribes but not different races. We’re all one species.”

This isn’t a groundbreaking idea in any way; sociologists and political scientists have argued over race for years. What’s notable here though is that Nye is not making his claims from the platform of sociology. Instead, he’s analyzing hard scientific evidence from a biological perspective. His argument that race doesn’t exist is supported not by conjecture but through evolutionary evidence. 


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