Human genetic diversity: Lewontin's fallacy

Bioessays. 2003 Aug;25(8):798-801. doi: 10.1002/bies.10315.


In popular articles that play down the genetical differences among human populations, it is often stated that about 85% of the total genetical variation is due to individual differences within populations and only 15% to differences between populations or ethnic groups. It has therefore been proposed that the division of Homo sapiens into these groups is not justified by the genetic data. This conclusion, due to R.C. Lewontin in 1972, is unwarranted because the argument ignores the fact that most of the information that distinguishes populations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data and not simply in the variation of the individual factors. The underlying logic, which was discussed in the early years of the last century, is here discussed using a simple genetical example.

MeSH terms

  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Principal Component Analysis