Pit bull killing of Rhode Island child punctuates point made by local prof & colleagues one year earlier
KINGSTON, Rhode Island––Fifteen-month-old Scarlett Pereira, of East Providence, Rhode Island, killed by her grandparents’ pit bull as the family enjoyed an outdoor lunch, on July 16, 2020 became the 29th U.S. dog attack fatality of the year.
Scarlett Pereira became also the 24th U.S. pit bull attack fatality of 2020, and the most recent human death of hundreds specifically attributable to the success of pit bull advocates in promoting the notion that breed-specific legislation is “canine racism.”
Rhode Island banned breed-specific laws
Pressured by the American SPCA, the Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States, the Rhode Island SPCA, and the Animal Farm Foundation, formed in 1986 to promote pit bulls, the Rhode Island legislature in 2003 became the first of at least 22 state legislatures to accept the “canine racism” argument.
Each of these 22 states has prohibited communities from enforcing bans on the possession, breeding, and sale of dogs bred specifically to kill.
The Rhode Island prohibition of breed-specific legislation came 416 U.S. pit bull attack deaths ago.
“Deep racist undertones”
University of Rhode Island anthropology professor Holly Dunsworth and four colleagues in July 2019 had no evident intention of getting involved in breed-specific politics when they published an emphatic refutation of what University of Rhode Island publicist Tony Laroche summarized as “a recurring popular evolutionary analogy that compares human races with dog breeds,” which “may sound innocent and scientific on the surface but carries deep racist undertones.”
But Dunsworth “felt it needed to be refuted,” Laroche wrote, “and not just with a tweet or a blog post,” because of the damaging effect that the analogy of “race” to dog breed has on people.
Dunsworth responded with a 10,000-word interdisciplinary study that shows ‘how the assumption that human races are the same as dog breeds is a racist strategy for justifying social, political, and economic inequality,’ Laroche continued.
Interdisciplinary team of five
The paper, “Human races are not like dog breeds: Refuting a Racist Analogy,” appeared on July 9, 2019 from the online journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.
Co-authors included geneticists Heather L. Norton of the University of Cincinnati and Ellen E. Quillen of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, plus anthropologists Abigail W. Bigham of the University of Michigan and Laurel N. Pearson of Pennsylvania State University.
All were previously acquainted as graduate students at Penn State.
Opened Dunsworth et al, “Equating the category we culturally call ‘race’ to patterns of human biological variation is nonsensical, and equating ‘race’ to the categories we know for dogs is pernicious and racist, despite the comparison appearing obvious to many individuals.
“Breed/race analogy close to racism”
“We counter the seemingly innocent belief that because dogs are distinguishable, on sight, by breed, that therefore human racial categories are just as biologically based.
“As many readers know all too well, the breed/race analogy sits in close cultural and mental proximity to the non-innocent racism that lowers targeted minorities to the status of nonhuman animals.”
Dunsworth and co-authors began by looking at the respective definitions of “breed” and “race,” observing that the American Kennel Club currently recognizes 192 dog breeds, “among the some four hundred to a thousand breeds described globally.”
Conversely, the United States Census Bureau currently recognizes only five racial categories.
Definitions of “race” vary among cultures
“The number of human races has varied throughout U.S. history,” noted Dunsworth et al, “reflecting the shifting social and political motivations [of the census-taking agencies], including [in response to] slavery and immigration.”
Some other nations use much more complex definitions of “race.” Brazil, for example, recognizes 18 possible racial categories, Dunsworth et al mentioned.
“A key assumption of the race-breed analogy,” Dunsworth et al continued, “is that both human ‘races’ and dog breeds are formed and structured in similar ways, with each representing distinct groups within each species.
“If this assumption holds,” Dunsworth et al explained, “then one expects to observe both high levels of among-group diversity and low levels of within-group diversity.”
Human & dog variation
In other words, humans of different “race” should vary markedly more in measurable traits than humans of the same “race” should vary among one another.
Likewise, dogs of different breed should vary markedly more than dogs of the same breed.
Reviewing previously published scientific literature, Dunsworth et al cite 2004 findings by Heidi G. Parker of the National Institutions of Health indicating that about 27% of the genetic differences among dogs can be ascribed to breed.
By contrast, a study led by Stanford University geneticist Noah A. Rosenberg reported in 2002 that only 3.3 to 4.7% of global human genetic variation could be ascribed to region of origin, the supposed basis of racial difference.
Most humans are of multi-ethnic genetic history
While the Rosenberg team “found support for a model of six genetic clusters, five of which roughly correspond to the broad continental regions of Africa, Europe/Middle East/Central Asia, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas,” Dunsworth et al summarized, they also “found that most individuals had membership in more than one cluster,” suggesting “a distribution of genetic variation that is driven by constant mating among neighboring populations and relatively low levels of genetic differentiation driven almost entirely by geographic factors.”
Simply put, the influence of breed on the distinctive characteristics of a dog is about nine times stronger than the influence of race on the distinctive characteristics of a human.
“It is notable,” Dunsworth et al found, “that the origin of modern humans [circa 200,000 years ago] markedly predates that of dog domestication [about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago].
Opposite pressures have shaped dog & human evolution
“When differences in generation time between the two species are taken into account,” Dunsworth et al speculated, the approximately 10,000 generations of humans may appear comparable in opportunity for genetic change to the estimated 9,000 dog generations born since the beginning of domestication.
But opposite pressures have shaped human and dog evolution, the Dunsworth team explained.
“While geographic, cultural, or linguistic features may slow or limit gene flow between human groups,” Dunsworth et al argue, “these forces have not resulted in the high levels of genetic differentiation that resulted from artificial selection for distinct and distinguishable breeds of dogs.”
Pekingese vs. Great Dane
One obvious example is that while human body size clusters within a few standard deviations of the norms, with very little discernable difference in the norms among “races,” the height difference between a Pekingese and a Great Dane is “about the difference between an average human and a two-story building,” Dunsworth et al note.
“Height, like most traits in humans, is extremely complex,” Dunsworth et al continue, “meaning it is regulated by a large number of genes, the vast majority of which show nearly identical variation across all human populations, plus environmental factors. It takes more than 400 genetic loci to explain only half of human height variation,” according to research published in 2014 by Andrew R. Wood of the University of Exeter, “but for dogs, only six major genetic loci explain roughly 50% of the variation in size between breeds.”
Translation: relatively little genetic difference can produce greater variation among characteristics of dog breeds than even occurs among humans.
“Dog breeds seem distinct because they are”
“Human populations are genetically very similar to one another, with overlapping phenotypes,” Dunsworth et al summarized. “In contrast, modern purebred dogs exist almost entirely due to artificial selection; their mating is controlled by humans to produce offspring with desired traits.”
This is “acting against the natural accumulation of genetic variation (i.e. evolution by anything other than artificial selection) within the breed.”
Therefore, wrote Dunsworth et al, “Dog breeds seem to be so distinct from one another in many conspicuous traits because, relative to human groups, they are.”
“Embrace of purebred dogs coincided with scorning immigrants”
“American history provides more context for the social construction of ‘race,’” Dunsworth et al observed. “On the contemporaneity of the establishment of the American Kennel Club and the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, both in the mid 1880s, [Colby University professor] Paula Harrington writes [in 2009] how, “the embrace of purebred dogs coincided with the scorning of immigrants,” and, “at the height of nineteenth-century immigration, when Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, and other so-called ‘races’ kept arriving, a purebred dog was not a mongrel, much as someone born in the United States—read a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant—was not an immigrant.”
Wrote Is Science Racist? author Jonathan Marks in 2010, “Race is a sense-making system imposed upon the facts of difference. Races are not merely human divisions, they are politically salient human divisions. All classifications exist to serve a purpose; the purpose of a racial classification is to naturalize human differences—that is, to establish important categories and make their distinctions appear to be rooted in nature, rather than in history or politics.”
“If one can tell a Dalmatian from a mastiff”
Citing Marks, Dunworthy et al explained that “The Portuguese water dog [for example] demonstrates how entire American Kennel Club dog breeds are painted with personalities, like ‘strength, spirit, and soundness,’” listed as traits in their official breed descriptions, “that individual humans do not even necessarily share with their immediate family members. Yet, dog breeding standards influence assumptions about hard-wired behavior characterizing and differentiating human groups.”
Continued Dunworthy et al, “Arguments in support of the biological basis or ‘reality’ of race are often thinly veiled arguments for a significantly genetic basis behind perceived behavioral differences between races. The ‘logic’ of this argument or line of thinking, particularly when it relies on the dog breed analogy, is easily gleaned from social media: If one can tell a Dalmatian from a mastiff, and one can tell a person of one race from another race just by looking at them, and if behavior is bred into dogs to a degree that distinguishes breeds too, then genetically based behavior also distinguishes human races and, thus, a person’s intelligence or criminality can be predicted by ancestry.
“Whether & how dog behavior is breed-specific”
“Consequences of that false framework include support for eugenics (past, present, and future), racial segregation of schools, justifying status quo institutional oppression, white nationalism, white supremacy, other forms of racism, and defunding social, environmental, economic, and health programs that counter racism’s effects.”
Refuting the argument that genetically based behavior specific to “races” exists by demonstrating that the differences among dog breeds are nine magnitudes of order greater than racial difference implies that breed-specific differences in dog behavior are not “all in how you raise them.”
But Dunworthy et al sidestepped that controversy, writing only that, “Scientists are still discovering whether and how dog behaviors are breed-specific and, when they are, how heritable they are.”
Greyhounds & bulldogs
The paper by Dunsworthy et al, however, was published several months ahead of “Significant neuroanatomical variation among domestic dog breeds,” by Harvard University evolutionary neuroscientist Erin Hecht, in the September 2, 2019 Journal of Neuroscience; “Highly heritable and functionally relevant breed differences in dog behavior,” by four co-authors, in the October 2, 2019 edition of Proceedings of the Royal Society; and “Prevalence, comorbidity, and breed differences in canine anxiety in 13,700 Finnish pet dogs,” by eight co-authors, published in the March 5, 2020 edition of Scientific Reports.
(See Dog brain study refutes every major claim of pit bull advocacy; Pit bulls: new gene study shows it is NOT “all in how you raise them”; and Dog study let pit bull owners lie & still found behavior is breed-specific.)
Dunsworthy et al referenced the use of the analogy of human “race” to dog breed in defense of dangerous dog breeds only in their concluding sentence:
“Equating the differences between two human beings to the idealized differences between a greyhound and a bulldog is the province of poetry or prejudice, not science.”