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Biography

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (born January 25, 1922) is an Italian population geneticist born in Genoa, who has been a professor at Stanford University since 1970 (now emeritus). One of the most important geneticists of the 20th century, he has summed up his work for laymen under five topics covered in Genes, Peoples, and Languages (2000). Physiologist and evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond praised the work for "demolishing scientists' attempts to classify human populations into races in the same way that they classify birds and other species into races."

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Cavalli-Sforza's The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994 with Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza) is considered a standard for geneticists. The authors identify ten genetic clusters in the global population: East Asians, Europeans, Inuit or Eskimos, Southeast Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, South Asians and North Africans, sub-Saharan Africans, southern-African Khoisan and central-African Pygmies, and Australian Aborigines. Cavalli-Sforza also wrote The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution (with his son Francesco).

Once the genetic structure of inheritance had been made plain, Cavalli-Sforza was one of the first scientists to ask whether the genes of modern populations might contain an inherited historical record of the human species. The study of demographics was already well-established, based on linguistic, cultural, and archaeological clues, but it had become overlaid with nationalist and racist ideologies. Cavalli-Sforza initiated a new field of research by combining the concrete findings of demography with a newly-available analysis of blood groups in an actual human population.

Cavalli-Sforza has studied the connections between migration patterns and blood groups.

While Cavalli-Sforza is most often credited with his work in genetics, he also, in collaboration with Marcus Feldman, initiated the sub-discipline of cultural anthropology known alternatively as coevolution, gene-culture coevolution, cultural transmission theory or dual inheritance theory. The seminal publication Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach (1981) made use of models from population genetics to investigate the transmission of culturally transmitted units. This line of inquiry initiated research into the correlation of patterns of genetic and cultural dispersion.

Cavalli-Sforza received his M.D. from the University of Pavia in 1944. His post-war studies at Cambridge in the area of bacterial genetics were followed by years of teaching in northern Italy, in Milan, Parma, and Pavia, and a move in 1970 to Stanford, where he found the intellectual culture more open-ended and cooperative, and where he has remained.

Criticism

In a paper published in 1997, Shomarka Keita and Rick A. Kittles have criticized the primary methodology used by Cavalli-Sforza and other like-minded geneticists, pointing out the "inappropriateness of using a priori predefined racial categories and then sorting genetic diversity as much as possible into these categories." (1)

He has also been accused of "cultural insensitivity, neocolonialism, and biopiracy." (2)

However, according to an article published in The Economist, the work of Cavalli-Sforza "challenges the assumption that there are significant genetic differences between human races, and indeed, the idea that 'race' has any useful biological meaning at all." (3)

Steve Sailor, an admitedly conservative commentator, takes Cavalli-Sforza to task exactly for this reason:

"Cavalli-Sforza himself has written, 'The classification into races has proved to be a futile exercise'; that his research is 'expected to undermine the popular belief that there are clearly defined races, and to contribute to the elimination of racism'; and that The idea of race in the human species serves no purpose. Don't believe any of this. This is merely a politically correct smoke screen that Cavalli-Sforza regularly pumps out to keep his life's work -- distinguishing the races of mankind and compiling their genealogies -- from being defunded by the commissars of acceptable thinking at Stanford."(4):

Links

Professor Cavalli-Sforza's Homepage at Stanford University

Attribution

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