As documented by UNESCO itself, the declaration from 1950 was heavily criticized by researchers who was concerned that "freedom of scientific enquiry is imperilled when any scientific findings or opinions are elevated, by an authoritative body, into the position of doctrines", and UNESCO's approach was compared to "the National Socialists’ notorious attempts to establish certain doctrines as the only correct conclusions to be drawn from research on race, and their suppression of any contrary opinion; as well as the Soviet Government’s similar claim on behalf of Lysenko’s theory of heredity, and its condemnation of Mendel’s teaching." (Fischer). "I can have no part in attempts to solve scientific questions by political manifestoes, as is the practice in Soviet Russia and now at Unesco as well." (Scheidt). The result was the somewhat less tendentious declaration shown below.
See also other papers in the UNESCO-series on race.
Paris, June 1951
L. C. Dunn (rapporteur)
The reasons for convening a second meeting of experts to discuss the
concept of race were chiefly these:
Race is a question of interest to many different kinds of people, not
only to the public at large, but to sociologists, anthropologists and biologists,
especially those dealing with problems of genetics. At the first discussion
on the problem of race, it was chiefly sociologists who gave their
opinions and framed the ‘Statement on race’. That statement had a good
effect, but it did not carry the authority of just those groups within whose
special province fall the biological problems of race, namely the physical
anthropologists & geneticists. Secondly, the first statement did not, in all
its details, carry conviction of these groups and, because of this, it was not
supported by many authorities in these two fields.
In general, the chief conclusions of the first statement were sustained,
but with differences in emphasis and with some important deletions.
There was no delay or hesitation or lack of unanimity in reaching the
primary conclusion that there were no scientific grounds whatever for the
racialist position regarding purity of race and the hierarchy of inferior and
superior races to which this leads.
We agreed that all races were mixed and that intraracial variability in
most biological characters was as great as, if not greater than, interracial
We agreed that races had reached their present states by the operation
of evolutionary factors by which different proportions of similar hereditary
elements (genes) had become characteristic of different, partially separated
groups. The source of these elements seemed to all of us to be the variability
which arises by random mutation, and the isolating factors bringing about
racial differentiation by preventing intermingling of groups with different
mutations, chiefly geographical for the main groups such as African,
European and Asiatic.
Man, we recognised, is distinguished as much by his culture as by his
biology, and it was clear to all of us that many of the factors leading to the
formation of minor races of men have been cultural. Anything that tends
to prevent free exchange of genes amongst groups is a potential racemaking
factor and these partial barriers may be religious, social and
linguistic, as well as geographical.
We were careful to avoid dogmatic definitions of race, since, as a
product of evolutionary factors, it is a dynamic rather than a static concept.
We were equally careful to avoid saying that, because races were all
variable and many of them graded into each other, therefore races did not
exist. The physical anthropologists and the man in the street both know
that races exist; the former, from the scientifically recognisable and
measurable congeries of traits which he uses in classifying the varieties of
man; the latter from the immediate evidence of his senses when he sees an
African, a European, an Asiatic and an American Indian together.
We had no difficulty in agreeing that no evidence of differences in
innate mental ability between different racial groups has been adduced,
but that here too intraracial variability is at least as great as interracial
variability. We agreed that psychological traits could not be used in classifying
races, nor could they serve as parts of racial descriptions.
We were fortunate in having as members of our conference several
scientists who had made special studies of the results of intermarriage
between members of different races. This meant that our conclusion that
race mixture in general did not lead to disadvantageous results was based
on actual experience as well as upon study of the literature. Many of our
members thought it quite likely that hybridisation of different races could
lead to biologically advantageous results, although there was insufficient
evidence to support any conclusion.
Since race, as a word, has become coloured by its misuse in connection
with national, linguistic and religious differences, and by its deliberate
abuse by racialists, we tried to find a new word to express the same meaning
of a biologically differentiated group. On this we did not succeed, but
agreed to reserve race as the word to be used for anthropological classification
of groups showing definite combinations of physical (including
physiological) traits in characteristic proportions.
We also tried hard, but again we failed, to reach some general statement
about the inborn nature of man with respect to his behaviour toward his
fellows. It is obvious that members of a group show co-operative or
associative behaviour towards each other, while members of different
groups may show aggressive behaviour towards each other and both of
these attitudes may occur within the same individual. We recognised that
the understanding of the psychological origin of race prejudice was an
important problem which called for further study.
Nevertheless, having regard to the limitations of our present knowledge,
all of us believed that the biological differences found amongst human
racial groups can in no case justify the views of racial inequality which have
been based on ignorance and prejudice, and that all of the differences which
we know can well be disregarded for all ethical human purposes.
Scientists are generally agreed that all men living today belong to a
single species, Homo sapiens, and are derived from a common stock,
even though there is some dispute as to when and how different human
groups diverged from this common stock.
The concept of race is unanimously regarded by anthropologists as a
classificatory device providing a zoological frame within which the
various groups of mankind may be arranged and by means of which
studies of evolutionary processes can be facilitated. In its anthropological
sense, the word ‘race’ should be reserved for groups of mankind possessing
well-developed and primarily heritable physical differences from
other groups. Many populations can be so classified but, because of the
complexity of human history, there are also many populations which
cannot easily be fitted into a racial classification.
Some of the physical differences between human groups are due to
differences in hereditary constitution and some to differences in the
environments in which they have been brought up. In most cases, both
influences have been at work. The science of genetics suggests that
the hereditary differences among populations of a single species are
the results of the action of two sets of processes. On the one hand, the
genetic composition of isolated populations is constantly but gradually
being altered by natural selection and by occasional changes (mutations)
in the material particles (genes) which control heredity. Populations are
also affected by fortuitous changes in gene frequency and by marriage
customs. On the other hand, crossing is constantly breaking down the
differentiations so set up. The new mixed populations, in so far as they,
in turn, become isolated, are subject to the same processes, and these
may lead to further changes. Existing races are merely the result, considered
at a particular moment in time, of the total effect of such processes
on the human species. The hereditary characters to be used in the
classification of human groups, the limits of their variation within these
groups, and thus the extent of the classificatory sub-divisions adopted
may legitimately differ according to the scientific purpose in view.
National, religious, geographical, linguistic and cultural groups do not
necessarily coincide with racial groups; and the cultural traits of such
groups have no demonstrated connection with racial traits. Americans
are not a race, nor are Frenchmen, nor Germans; nor ipso facto is any
other national group. Moslems and Jews are no more races than are
Roman Catholics and Protestants; nor are people who live in Iceland or
Britain or India, or who speak English or any other language, or who
are culturally Turkish or Chinese and the lie, thereby describable as
races. The use of the term ‘race’ in speaking of such groups may be a
serious error, but it is one which is habitually committed.
Human races can be, and have been, classified in different ways by
different anthropologists. Most of them agree in classifying the greater
part of existing mankind into at least three large units, which may be
called major groups (in French grand-races, in German Hauptrassen).
Such a classification does not depend on any single physical character,
nor does for example, skin colour by itself necessarily distinguish one
major group from another. Furthermore, so far as it has been possible
to analyse them, the differences in physical structure which distinguish
one major group from another give no support to popular notions of any
general ‘superiority’ or ‘inferiority’ which are sometimes implied in
referring to these groups.
Broadly speaking, individuals belonging to different major groups of
mankind are distinguishable by virtue of their physical characters, but
individual members, or small groups belonging to different races within
the same major group are usually not so distinguishable. Even the
major groups grade into each other, and the physical traits by which
they and the races within them are characterised overlap considerably.
With respect to most, if not all, measurable characters, the differences
among individuals belonging to the same race are greater than the
differences that occur between the observed averages for two or more
races within the same major group.
Most anthropologists do not include mental characteristics in their
classification of human races. Studies within a single race have shown
that both innate capacity and environmental opportunity determine the
results of tests of intelligence and temperament, though their relative
importance is disputed.
When intelligence tests, even non-verbal, are made on a group of
non-literate people, their scores are usually lower than those of more
civilised people. It has been recorded that different groups of the same
race occupying similarly high levels of civilisation may yield considerable
differences in intelligence tests. When, however, the two groups
have been brought up from childhood in similar environments, the
differences are usually very slight. Moreover, there is good evidence
that, given similar opportunities, the average performance (that is to
say, the performance of the individual who is representative because he
is surpassed by as many as he surpasses), and the variation round it, do
not differ appreciably from one race to another.
Even those psychologists who claim to have found the greatest
differences in intelligence between groups of different racial origin and
have contended that they are hereditary, always report that some
members of the group of inferior performance surpass not merely the
lowest ranking member of the superior group but also the average of its
members. In any case, it has never been possible to separate members
of two groups on the basis of mental capacity, as they can often be
separated on a basis of religion, skin colour, hair form or language. It is
possible, though not proved, that some types of innate capacity for
intellectual and emotional responses are commoner in one human group
than in another, but it is certain that, within a single group, innate
capacities vary as much as, if not more than, they do between different
The study of the heredity of psychological characteristics is beset with
difficulties. We know that certain mental diseases and defects are transmitted
from one generation to the next, but we are less familiar with the
part played by heredity in the mental life of normal individuals. The
normal individual, irrespective of race, is essentially educable. It follows
that his intellectual and moral life is largely conditioned by his training
and by his physical and social environment.
It often happens that a national group may appear to be characterised
by particular psychological attributes. The superficial view would be
that this is due to race. Scientifically, however, we realise that any
common psychological attribute is more likely to be due to a common
historical and social background, and that such attributes may obscure
the fact that, within different populations consisting of many human
types, one will find approximately the same range of temperament and
The scientific material available to us at present does not justify the
conclusion that inherited genetic differences are a major factor in producing
the differences between the cultures and cultural achievements
of different peoples or groups. It does indicate, on the contrary, that a
major factor in explaining such differences is the cultural experience
which each group has undergone.
There is no evidence for the existence of so-called ‘pure’ races. Skeletal
remains provide the basis of our limited knowledge about earlier races.
In regard to race mixture, the evidence points to the fact that human
hybridisation has been going on for an indefinite but considerable time.
Indeed, one of the processes of race formation and race extinction or
absorption is by means of hybridisation between races. As there is no
reliable evidence that disadvantageous effects are produced thereby, no
biological justification exists for prohibiting inter-marriage between
persons of different races.
We now have to consider the bearing of these statements on the problem
of human equality. We wish to emphasise that equality of opportunity
and equality in law in no way depend, as ethical principles, upon the
assertion that human beings are in fact equal in endowment.
We have thought it worth while to set out in a formal manner what is
at present scientifically established concerning individual and group
(a) In matters of race, the only characteristics which anthropologists
have so far been able to use effectively as a basis for classification are
physical (anatomical and physiological).
(b) Available scientific knowledge provides no basis for believing that
the groups of mankind differ in their innate capacity for intellectual
and emotional development.
(c) Some biological differences between human beings within a single
race may be as great as, or greater than, the same biological differences
(d) Vast social changes have occurred that have not been connected in
any way with changes in racial type. Historical and sociological
studies thus support the view that genetic differences are of little
significance in determining the social and cultural differences
between different groups of men.
(e) There is no evidence that race mixture produces disadvantageous
results from a biological point of view. The social results of race
mixture, whether for good or ill, can generally be traced to social
Text drafted at Unesco House, Paris, on 8 June 1951, by:
Back to the UNESCO page
Back to HonestThinking home page