QUESTION: Someone told me that the whole blood type diet theory is racist and that the majority of your information comes from research done during the times of Nazi Germany. Is this true?
ANSWER: In all of my trolling through the scientific literature on blood groups since 1910 I've not recovered a single reference on ABO blood group that supported any of the racial notions then in vogue in Nazi Germany. My suspicion is that if any research was done the results were not supportive of their racist prejudices- i.e. the subjects were more alike on a blood group basis than they would have liked to admit.
Far from being driven by any sort of racist tendencies, the early blood group researchers cast a bright tolerant light during a time of segregation, Jim Crow and rampant anti-Semitism.
One of the primary blood type/ anthropology sources I've cited, Frank Livingstone, even rejected the concept of race altogether. He pointed out that although it is true that there is biological variability between the populations of organisms which comprise a species, this variability does not conform to the discrete packages we call 'races'. In other words, there are no races, the are only clines (a 'cline' is a gradient of physiological change in a group of related organisms usually along a line of environmental transition).
Livingstone suggested that the variability in the frequency of any gene does not utilize the concept of race. (1)
William Clouser Boyd, blood type anthropologist, science fiction writer with Isaac Asimov and the discoverer of lectins (talk about a life!) used his work with blood types in Races and People to demolish the racist notions then commonly believed in this country during the 1950's.(2)
Fifty years later John H. Jenkins could still write of Races and Peoples:
Asimov, as an unabashed liberal and champion of the essential value of any human being (partly because of his growing up as a Jew in an era when significant portions of the world found anti-Semitism innocuous or even virtuous), here attacks the notion of "race". He shows how it is hard to define and uses Boyd's research to demonstrate that the superficial characteristics which so many of us use to define "race" and determine our value vis-a-vis other human beings are utterly without value. In the end, again following Boyd, he resorts to blood typing as a method” not to determine race” but to trace the different overall "types" of humanity and show how they have moved back-and-forth across the world. This is truly a book which ought to be read much more today. I speak as one who has unabashedly absorbed many of Asimov's liberal values.
Boyd defined race as "not an individual, not a single genotype, but a group of individuals more or less from the same geographical area (a population), usually with a number of identical genes, but in which many different types may occur." For Boyd, as with Livingstone, you got your racial characteristics from where you live more than from your genes, and this explained why the variability made the notions of race untenable.(3)
Rather than being racists themselves, I think we should consider the early blood group researchers rare beacons of tolerance in a world still coming to grips with the notion of equality for all.
1.Livingstone FB. 1962 On the non-existence of human race. Current Anthropology 3 (3):279-281.
2.Boyd WC and Asimov I. Races and People. Abelard-Schuman 1955
3.Boyd WC. 1952 The Contribution of Genetics to Anbthyropology. in Anthropology Today, ed. by A.L. Kroeber, pp488-506, Chicago: University of Chicago Press