Open letter to National Geographic:

After watching “The Human Family Tree,” I plan to post my impression on my web site in the form of this letter.  The day will come when a person reading it may think that the show supports extreme racism and favors destroying babies.  These are serious charges so you need to know.

I hasten to say that I do not attribute to you any ill will or bad intention, and I expect you do not understand how you could possibly be accused of any such things.  If you understood, I do not believe the show would have been the same.  And in the present political climate, it is very understandable if you are ignorant of the relevant facts.  I am going to give them to you now, so you can never have that excuse again, and there are seven billion potential witnesses.

The easier part of the charge to understand is racism.  According to Webster’s Third International Dictionary, a race is a division of mankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinct human type.  The sloppy definition might be, “Race is skin color and some colors are superior to others.”  You cannot be charged with promoting that latter definition, and if anyone were so bold as to make such a charge I would defend you with my last strength.  The stricter definition is trickier and is to say a race can be characterized by descent.  By implication, members of any race are a large family among whom there are no important differences, leaving aside any differences of sex or genetic disease.  By that definition, if one listens to the program, all of humanity is one race; there are no significant differences among us. 

But we are not members of any race, whether it be one or several.  One enthusiast (Heads and Tales, Malvina Hoffman, Garden City Publishing Co., Garden City New York, 1943) working for the Chicago Museum of Natural History invented 100 races.  It is a sweet spirited book, containing inside the cover a world map entitled Unity of Mankind.  At the other extreme was the terrible racism of the Nazi, who pretty much divided the world into two races, the Aryans and everybody else.  So far as I can make out, they sought to unify the word by wiping out the “everybody else.”  The old meaning of german is a close relative. 

Your program explicitly stated the truth, which that “race” has no biological meaning.  But you take the idea one logical step farther than the Nazi’s.  You say we are all “everybody.” It is still kindred, still a family.  It is still a race, still an arbitrary collection invented for political purposes.  The only scientifically valid kindred is all known life. 

You might rightly point out that I am close to playing with words.  The kinship of all humanity is scientific fact even if it is an artificially selected subset of life.  I understand that.  The near future may be less kind. 

We are individuals.  We each have unique dreams, goals, potentials, consciousness, identity and usually DNA inheritance; even identical twins are individuals.  

One very important thing about people is we can have children.  Here again, “race” means nothing.  In general you are as likely to have as many children with somebody from the other side of the world as with somebody from the other side of town.  This is an assertion that can be put to the test.  And it has been put to the test.  Here is a graph from a study done in Iceland:
 What they did was to examine the extensive Icelandic genealogy, going back 10 generations.  They then calculated for a large number of couples how related they were.  They compared this with the number of children they had.  As you can see, second, third and fourth cousins had a large number of children.  The number fell as kinship decreased.  By the time you get out to eighth cousin, you are far below having enough children to replenish the population, and the line is leveling off.  If you went out to 10th cousin, the line would essentially be horizontal.  That is why I say that the far side of town is about the same as the far side of the world.  Fertility has already fallen below what is needed for long term survival.  They looked at grandchildren:


An Association Between Kinship And Fertility of Human Couples.  Agnar Helgason, Snaebjoern Palsson, Daniel F. Guobjartsson, Pordur Kristjansson and Karl Stefanson, SCIENCE vol 329 8 February 2008 page 813 figure 3 C. 

As you can see, the effect is still felt in the second generation.  This is a process that accumulates over time. 

These are all Icelanders, the most homogenous country in the world.  Race plays no part.  What matters is kinship.  Marry a near cousin and you have children.  Marry a seventh cousin or more distant, and you have too few.

This is scientific fact published in a refereed journal of the highest prestige.  Anybody who undertakes to talk about the fertility of populations or the future of people needs to know about it.  Another study from Denmark. Comment on “An Association Between the Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples,” Rodrigo Labourai and António Amorim SCIENCE vol 322, page 1634b December 12, compared marital radius, that is to say how far apart a couple was born, with their number of offspring.  They got essentially the same curve.  They also found, mentioned in an earlier study, no effect of education or income on fertility once genetic factors were accounted for. 

Lest you think this is something limited to Vikings, there was a study of more than a thousand animal serial field counts that compared population size, for which you can read kinship, with population growth rate, On the Regulation of Populations of Mammals, Birds, Fish, and Insects.  Richard M. Sibly, Daniel Barker, Michael C. Denham, Jim Hone, Mark Pagel SCIENCE VOL 309 22 JULY 2005 page 609.  They found the same curve.  They found no effect of environmental saturation. 

There you have three excellent studies.  They all agree.  There is no conflicting evidence.  I have put a lot of supporting evidence on, my web site, but I am making it simple.

So you see, there is no such thing as race, even the whole of humanity.  There are only people.  And people need to marry cousins or there will be no more people.  If you were to continue to herd everybody into on grand mix, as is illustrated at the end of your program, it would destroy so many babies that it would drive us to extinction or near extinction. 

Why don’t you look into it?  The lead author of the Danish study has been willing to communicate with me, for which I have been most grateful.  The other authors apparently are too haughty to return a message to me, but I am pretty sure that if National Geographic approached them, they would come wagging their tails like puppies.  Even if not, they have committed themselves in print where you now know how to check them. 

You could get another program out of it.  Humanity would be eternally grateful.  I’d be grateful myself.

M. Linton Herbert MD 

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