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Is it correct to say that 'humans' are a race? Will it also include apes and chimpanzees?

Can I use the terms 'species' and 'race' interchangeably?

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    $\begingroup$ You should clarify what are your definitions of 'species' and 'race'. It's not clear whether you are asking about biological taxonomy where such category as 'race' doesn't exist, or about human categorization where it's pretty much social construct. $\endgroup$ – Maxim Kuleshov Sep 11 '18 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ "Race" is a very informal and sloppy term that you would use below the rank of "sub-species", another vague and unrestricted term that I asked about a while ago. Species is much stricter and has some biological/taxonomical meaning. $\endgroup$ – James Sep 17 '18 at 12:27
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The term "race" in biology

The term "race" is sometimes used in biology as a level of categorization below the species level. It is hence not a synonym of "species" but closer to a synonym of "subspecies". The term is however quite rarely used to my experience.

The term "race" in the popular literature

In the popular literature, the definition of the term "race" has varied quite a bit through time (see wikipedia > Historical race concepts). It also vary a lot through languages and cultures. For example, in french, the term "race" is generally understood as synonym of "species", while in english it is generally understood as synonym of "ethnic group". Below, I will focus on the english definition.

From wikipedia > race

A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society.

Hence, the term "race" (in the 21st century and in english) is often used as synonym of "ethnic group" (see here). Note that ethnic groups are defined very arbitrarily and have been defined much before we started to study the genetic structure of human populations. As a result the standard categorization of humans into ethnic groups only poorly represent the existing genetic diversity. For example, consider the categorization "Sub-saharan Africans, caucasians, Asians, Amerindians, and native Australians" referred to by @Eff in the comments. In here, the category Sub-saharan Africans, in itself represent the majority of the genetic diversity among humans (I eyeballed this claim from figure 1 from Tishkoff et al. 2009)

enter image description here

It is hard to read the post here. It is a phylogenetic tree of human populations. The below two third of the graph contain only African populations. Hence the non-African populations are nested within the African tree (or in other words, "African" is not monophyletic). See also the post Human genetic diversity in Africa in comparison with the rest of the world. To be clear, I do NOT mean that the classical grouping of populations into ethnic groups does not represent any genetic structure, I only mean that those categorization were made somewhat arbitrarily and hence only poorly reflect the genetic structure of populations.

Keita et al. (2004) is a very good read on the subject.

Questions of interest

Is the concept of species somewhat arbitrary?

Yes, it is somewhat arbitrary. For more information, please have a look at How could humans have interbred with Neanderthals if we're a different species? .

Are there several species of humans or is there only one species of humans?

Have a look at Does it make sense to classify all humans in a single species?

Are there different "subspecies" of humans?

Typically, we do not consider subspecies of humans. However, this decision is somewhat arbitrary. The standard classification of humans into ethnic groups is only a poor representation of the genetic structure in humans. You will note that most of the genetic diversity in humans today is found in Africa only (see the post Human genetic diversity in Africa in comparison with the rest of the world).

Is it correct to say that 'humans' are a race? Will it also include apes and chimpanzees?

Humans are usually considered a species. Other great Apes such as Chimpanzees for example are considered a separate species from humans. Some people consider neanderthals as the same species as humans but different subspecies hence calling neanderthals Homo sapiens neanderthalis instead of only Homo neanderthalis. When considering neaderthals a subspecies of Homo sapiens, we necessarily need to consider humans as a subspecies, then called Homo sapiens sapiens.

Is Human a race?

Humans are generally consider a species (or sometimes a subspecies). The term race, when used in humans is generally used to mean ethnic groups.

Can I use the terms 'species' and 'race' interchangeably?

No, you probably should not. While the term "species" is a somewhat arbitrary concept, it is a concept for which scientist work an agreement based on empirical data. The concept of race on the other hand is often used with very different definition by different people, when used in humans and in english, it poorly represent the genetic structure of populations. Also, the term "race" never really mean "species" to anyone. It either mean something like "subspecies" or something like "some arbitrary grouping" (aka. ethnic group).

On a personal note, I tend to avoid the term "race" as I prefer use the concepts of "ethnic groups" (when dealing with the arbitrary categorization of humans into groups), "subspecies" (when dealing with commonly agreed upon subspecies based on empirical data; there are no commonly agreed upon subspecies in humans), or "species" (when dealing with notion of reproductive isolation) instead so that my interlocutor has a better understanding of what I mean.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer generally, however there are a few things that I think are misleading. "In other words, the standard categorization of humans into races (or ethnic groups) has very little biological basis to it and poorly reflects the reality of population structure." This is false or at least misleading. Self-identified race maps almost perfectly on to genetic clusters as they come out of cluster analysis. If you're talking about the "classic" major races such as Sub-saharan Africans, caucasians, Asians, Amerindians, and native Australians, then genetic clusters fit very well. $\endgroup$ – Eff Sep 17 '18 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ While I strongly agree that subspecies has a somewhat arbitrary feel to it, this is just as true for other animals than it is for humans. The reason that humans aren't generally categorized into subspecies while other animals are, is not because of a biological reason. There are many species that have recognized subspecies which have less genetic diversity, less phenotypic diversity, much overlap/continuous variation, etc, and yet have recognized subspecies. It's mostly just not done for humans because it's a socially controversial thing to do to split humans into groups. $\endgroup$ – Eff Sep 17 '18 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Eff Thanks for your comments! I tried to clarify what I meant. Please let me know if it sounds correct to you. I have no opinion about your claim There are many species that have recognized subspecies which have less genetic diversity, less phenotypic diversity, much overlap/continuous variation, etc I imagine it is likely true but I do not know a good way to make this comparison (or do not know the literature well enough) to include that in my answer. I'll just leave it with Typically, we do not consider subspecies of humans. However, this decision is somewhat arbitrary. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Sep 17 '18 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ I think your answer is good, and I agree with most of what you say. I think that species and subspecies are concepts that can be useful, so I don't advocate for never using them, but there is no doubt that they are quite fuzzy concepts (especially subspecies). When I say that classical racial groupings map well onto genetic clusters, I'm saying that there are many studies that have investigated to which extend there is concordance with self-identified race and best-fit genetic cluster. What you tend to find is that there is near 100% agreement, at least 95%. $\endgroup$ – Eff Sep 17 '18 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Eff this is not an attack, I am just genuinely interested: is there a citation on hand for these? $\endgroup$ – NatWH Sep 17 '18 at 19:08

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