Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (born January 25, 1922) is an Italian
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 population geneticist
Population genetics
Population genetics is the study of allele frequency distribution and change under the influence of the four main evolutionary processes: natural selection, genetic drift, mutation and gene flow. It also takes into account the factors of recombination, population subdivision and population...

 born in Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

, who has been a professor at Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

 since 1970 (now emeritus
Emeritus is a post-positive adjective that is used to designate a retired professor, bishop, or other professional or as a title. The female equivalent emerita is also sometimes used.-History:...



Cavalli-Sforza has summed up his work for laymen in five topics covered in Genes, Peoples, and Languages. According to an article published in The Economist
The Economist
The Economist is an English-language weekly news and international affairs publication owned by The Economist Newspaper Ltd. and edited in offices in the City of Westminster, London, England. Continuous publication began under founder James Wilson in September 1843...

, 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". The book illustrates both the problems of constructing a general "hereditary tree" for the entire human race, and some mechanisms and data analysis methods to greatly reduce these problems, thus constructing a fascinating hypotheses of the recent 150,000 years of human expansion, migration, and human diversity formation.

Cavalli-Sforza's The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994 with Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza) is a standard reference on human genetic variation
Human genetic variation
Human genetic variation refers to genetic differences both within and among populations. There may be multiple variants of any given gene in the human population , leading to polymorphism. Many genes are not polymorphic, meaning that only a single allele is present in the population: that allele is...

. Cavalli-Sforza also wrote The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution (together with his son Francesco).

Schooling and positions

Cavalli-Sforza entered Ghislieri College
Ghislieri College
The Ghislieri College , founded in 1567 by Pope Pius V and inspired by the Almo Collegio Borromeo, is the second the most ancient colleges in Pavia and co-founder of the IUSS, located in Pavia as well....

 in Pavia in 1939 and he received his M.D.
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine is a doctoral degree for physicians. The degree is granted by medical schools...

 from the University of Pavia
University of Pavia
The University of Pavia is a university located in Pavia, Lombardy, Italy. It was founded in 1361 and is organized in 9 Faculties.-History:...

 in 1944. After the war he followed studies at Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 with the statistician and evolutionary biologist Ronald A. Fisher in the area of bacterial genetics. They were followed by years of teaching in northern Italy, in Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

, Parma
Parma is a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna famous for its ham, its cheese, its architecture and the fine countryside around it. This is the home of the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world....

, and Pavia
Pavia , the ancient Ticinum, is a town and comune of south-western Lombardy, northern Italy, 35 km south of Milan on the lower Ticino river near its confluence with the Po. It is the capital of the province of Pavia. It has a population of c. 71,000...

, and then he moved in 1970 to Stanford
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

, where he has remained.

In 1999 he won the Balzan Prize
Balzan Prize
The International Balzan Prize Foundation awards four annual monetary prizes to people or organisations who have made outstanding achievements in the fields of humanities, natural sciences, culture, as well as for endeavours for peace and the brotherhood of man.-Rewards and assets:Each year the...

 for the Science of human origins. He has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Pontifical Academy of Sciences
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a scientific academy of the Vatican, founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI. It is placed under the protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff. Its aim is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of related...

 since 1994.

Specific contributions

Cavalli-Sforza initiated a new field of research by combining the concrete findings of demography with a newly-available analysis of blood groups
Blood type
A blood type is a classification of blood based on the presence or absence of inherited antigenic substances on the surface of red blood cells . These antigens may be proteins, carbohydrates, glycoproteins, or glycolipids, depending on the blood group system...

 in an actual human population. He also studied the connections between migration
Human migration
Human migration is physical movement by humans from one area to another, sometimes over long distances or in large groups. Historically this movement was nomadic, often causing significant conflict with the indigenous population and their displacement or cultural assimilation. Only a few nomadic...

 patterns and blood groups.

Writing in the mid-1960s with another genetics student of Ronald A. Fisher, Anthony W. F. Edwards, Cavalli-Sforza pioneered statistical methods for estimating evolutionary trees (phylogenies); to estimate evolutionary trees, they used maximum likelihood
Maximum likelihood
In statistics, maximum-likelihood estimation is a method of estimating the parameters of a statistical model. When applied to a data set and given a statistical model, maximum-likelihood estimation provides estimates for the model's parameters....

 estimation. Edwards and Cavalli-Sforza wrote about trees of populations within the human species, where genetic differences are affected both by treelike patterns of historical separation of populations and by spread of genes among populations by migration and admixture. In later papers, Cavalli-Sforza has written about the effects of both divergence and migration on human gene frequencies.

While Cavalli-Sforza is best known for his work in genetics, he also, in collaboration with Marcus Feldman and others, initiated the sub-discipline of cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

 known alternatively as coevolution, gene-culture coevolution, cultural transmission theory or dual inheritance theory
Dual inheritance theory
Dual inheritance theory , also known as gene-culture coevolution, was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to explain how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution...

. The 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.


His proposed ambitious Human Genome Diversity Project
Human Genome Diversity Project
The Human Genome Diversity Project was started by Stanford University's Morrison Institute and a collaboration of scientists around the world. It is the result of many years of work by Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, one of the most cited scientists in the world, which has published extensively in the use...

 to gather further genetic data from populations around the world was accused of "cultural insensitivity, neocolonialism
Neocolonialism is the practice of using capitalism, globalization, and cultural forces to control a country in lieu of direct military or political control...

, and biopiracy
- Biopiracy and bioprospecting :Bioprospecting is an umbrella term describing the discovery of new and useful biological samples and mechanisms, typically in less-developed countries, either with or without the help of indigenous knowledge, and with or without compensation...


Linguist Bill Poser in Language Log
Language Log
Language Log is a collaborative language blog maintained by University of Pennsylvania phonetician Mark Liberman.The site is updated daily at the whims of the contributors, and most of the posts are on language use in the media and popular culture. Google search results are frequently used as a...

 has criticized some of Cavalli-Sforza's comments about linguistics, in particular the suggestion, echoing controversial linguists Merritt Ruhlen
Merritt Ruhlen
Merritt Ruhlen is an American linguist known for his work on the classification of languages and what this reveals about the origin and evolution of modern humans. Amongst other linguists, Ruhlen's work is recognized as standing outside the mainstream of comparative-historical linguistics...

 and Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Harold Greenberg was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.- Early life and career :...

, that some mainstream linguists are unnecessarily conservative about hypothesized long-range relationships between language families, and an overstatement that Greenberg's critics "have ruled out the possibility of hierarchical classification", which Cavalli-Sforza did not defend when challenged by Poser, but deferred to Ruhlen. Cavalli-Sforza's interest in hypothesized large-scale language families is as a basis for comparison with similarly large-scale postulated genetic classifications of human populations.

Views on the concept of race in humans

Cavalli-Sforza's views have altered over time.

External links

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