Propagandizing the Aryan Invasion Debate: A Rebuttal to Tony Joseph

Propagandizing the Aryan Invasion Debate: A Rebuttal to Tony Joseph

On 16 June 2017, an article appeared on the Hindu titled “How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate” by Tony Joseph. This article claims that the question of the origin of the Indo-Aryan people has been “settled”, based on the findings of a research paper that was published three months ago.

In this response, I will go into some detail to refute Joseph’s claims. There are a number of reasons why Joseph’s claims and conclusions are incorrect:

1. The article is based on an unreliable source.

Joseph’s article is based on a peer-reviewed research paper [1], which, at first sight, appears to be an impeccable source. Being published in a peer-reviewed journal, however, does not automatically endow a research paper with credibility. There are big issues with the peer review, which is known to be a flawed process [2]. Nobel prize-winning papers have been known to be rejected by the peer review, while works of low quality are often accepted.

Silva et al.’s paper claims that earlier studies such as [3] are inaccurate and cites two papers from 2015 [4,5] and one from 2016 [6] – which it refers to as “sufficient high-quality Y-chromosome data” – to conclude that R1a-Z93 (a subclade of the R1a haplogroup), which is prevalent in South and Central Asia, is between 5,600 and 4,000 years old, and is indicative of male-driven Bronze Age (c. 3,000 BCE to c. 1,200 BCE approximately) incursions by Indo-Aryans into India from Central Asia (“robust conclusions”, per Joseph). To understand what a haplogroup is, please refer to [7].

Silva et al.’s paper has two major failings:

(1) The authors have misinterpreted the dating of the expansions within R1a-Z93 given in [5] as the age (Time to Most Common Recent Ancestor: TMCRA) of the subclade itself. The paper [5] refers only to expansions within R1a-Z93 occurring approximately 4,000 – 4,500 years ago in South Asia; it does not refer to the time of the subclade’s diversification from its parent haplogroup; it makes no attempt to determine the subclade’s TMRCA and makes no claim that the date of the expansions coincides with the subclade’s TMRCA. Silva et al’s conclusions misrepresent the findings of [5] which they cite, and are therefore incorrect.

(2) Silva et al. neglect to cite research papers that do not support their conclusions. Academic research papers must cite all research that is relevant to their work, even if it contradicts their findings (in which case they must prove that their work improves upon, or disproves that of their predecessors). For example, in my article about the Aryan Invasion Myth, I have clearly stated that there are several genetic studies that claim that the Aryan Invasion Theory is correct. Furthermore, I have also given an unambiguous explanation of why those conclusions are incorrect.

In contrast, Silva et al. neglect to cite the 2015 paper by Lucotte [8], which samples a dataset of 6643 male DNA samples originating from 79 populations in 52 countries (more than the samples of [4,5,6] put together). Lucotte’s paper demonstrates that the Z93 subclade originated in India and is approximately 15,450 years old, thereby confirming and refining the results of several older studies [3,9,10].

Silva et al. also neglect to cite the recent paper by Tamang and Thangaraj [11] which rejects the possibility of an Aryan invasion/migration and concludes that Indian populations are genetically unique and harbor the second highest genetic diversity after Africans.

Silva et al. are guilty of cherry-picking: they have selectively chosen data that support their conclusions, and tried to suppress data that doesn’t. A biased approach such as this invariably leads to skewed and inaccurate results and conclusions.

Due to these glaring deficiencies, Silva M. et al.’s paper cannot be considered a credible or reliable work of research.

This dismantles the very basis of Joseph’s article, and renders it irrelevant and moot.

2. The article ignores a fundamental rule of scientific research.

Apart from the deficiencies in Silva et al.’s paper, there is also the fact that the paper’s results and conclusions have not been independently corroborated by other research teams (not surprising, considering it was published only three months ago). New scientific results are widely accepted only after they withstand rigorous testing and are confirmed independently by other research teams, as is borne out by numerous historical examples.

Einstein’s announcement of the general theory of relativity in 1915, for example, did not cause any headlines until 1919, when the bending of light by the Sun’s gravitational field was first observed (simultaneously in Brazil and western Africa). Many more tests of general relativity were devised and performed during the past century, and the theory continues to be tested today. General relativity has passed all these tests without exception, which is why it is widely accepted as being correct.

Often, even a confirmation by one independent team is not enough if other teams are unable to confirm a result. The Italian research group that runs the DAMA/LIBRA experiment has for years claimed to have detected the signature of dark matter with high statistical significance, a result that appears to be confirmed by the results of the American CoGeNT experiment. Physicists, though, remain skeptical of the results because experiments such as XENON (Italian) and LUX (American) have been unable to replicate them.

Prematurely proclaiming a discovery can cause considerable embarrassment. Consider the March 2014 announcement that the BICEP2 telescope had discovered the first evidence of gravitational waves and cosmic inflation. It generated headlines worldwide, and a video of the distinguished theoretical physicist Andrei Linde choking back tears on being told of the discovery went viral on YouTube. Sadly, the claim had to be withdrawn less than a year later when it was found that the signal was caused by dust within the Milky Way, which the researchers had failed to anticipate.

Although I have given examples from research in physics, the same fundamental rule applies to the science of genetics, namely:

New scientific results must always be treated with skepticism. They must be accepted only after they withstand rigorous testing and there is strong, independent confirmation of their correctness and accuracy.

Joseph, in his desperation for “settling” the issue, has ignored this cardinal rule. Or, perhaps, he may be ignorant of it altogether, which would not be surprising given his lack of a scientific background.

3. The article neglects relevant and important research papers.

While Joseph refers to the 1,244 male DNA samples in [5] as an “avalanche of new data”, he, like Silva et al, conveniently neglects the veritable tsunami of 6643 male DNA samples in Lucotte’s paper [8]. He also neglects (again, like Silva et al.) the recent paper by Tamang and Thangaraj [11] which rejects the possibility of an Aryan invasion/migration and concludes that Indian populations are genetically unique and harbor the second highest genetic diversity after Africans.

Joseph is guilty of either cherry-picking data, or of ignorance: it is possible that he was not aware of this research, given his lack of specialization in genetics. If the former is true, it is indicative of deception and dishonesty; if the latter is true, it raises the question as to why a person who does not possess sufficient competence in the subject has been allowed to publish an article in the Hindu.

4. The article misrepresents the conclusions of the second paper it cites.

The second paper [5] cited in Joseph’s article refers to “striking expansions within R1a-Z93” occurring approximately 4,000 – 4,500 years ago, which predate the downfall of the Indus Valley Civilization by a few centuries, and have a notable parallel with events in Europe.

Joseph interprets this to mean that there was a significant inflow of Indo-European language (which he infers to be Sanskrit) speakers from Central Asia into India in the Bronze Age, approximately 4,000 to 4,500 years ago (the so-called Aryan invasion/migration), even though the authors of [5] make no such claim, referring only to lineage expansions within R1a-Z93 in South Asia.

A lineage expansion within a particular geographical region does not necessarily indicate an invasion from outside. It can also indicate a rapid (over a few centuries) migratory expansion within the region (or even outward) by its indigenous inhabitants due to a geological or climatic change (for example, the drying-up of a major river due to declining monsoons).

Joseph’s conclusion is therefore, regrettably, incorrect.

5. The article neglects relevant archaeological, literary, and linguistic evidence.

Genetics does not exist in a vacuum. It is closely related to the fields of linguistics (hence the term “genetic relationship” for languages that belong to the same language family), anthropology, sociology, archaeology, and even the little-known (but important) field of literary archaeology.

Joseph claims that the Indo-Aryans originated in the Pontic-Caspian steppe. However, if one considers the research of Sharma et al [10], Lucotte [8], Sarkar et al [12], the overwhelming archaeological evidence of temporal (spanning nearly ten millennia) as well as geographical (from the north to the south) cultural continuity of Indian civilization, as well as literary and linguistic evidence, all of which is presented in [7], a very different scenario presents itself:

The haplogroup R1a* originated in India approximately 15,450 – 18,500 years ago. Its members primarily settled along the (now defunct) Sarasvati and (extant) Sindhu rivers and their tributaries, and formed what is known as the Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization. Of these rivers, the Sarasvati was by far the mightiest and most significant.

After approximately 5,000 BCE, the monsoon started declining monotonically. This gradually weakened the Sarasvati, which eventually dried out to a large extent around 1,500 BCE. The Harappan civilization thus gradually deurbanized due to declining monsoons, and its inhabitants migrated both eastward as well as westward, which is a logical and plausible explanation for the “striking expansions within R1a-Z93” that occurred approximately 4,000 – 4,500 years ago per [5].

The westward Indo-Aryan expansion is a plausible explanation for the male-mediated demic expansions of R1a1a (R-M17) into Europe beginning around 2,500 BCE, which, to a large extent, replaced indigenous European males and their Y-chromosome strata. It also explains R1a1a’s diversification into the European R1a-Z282 and Asian R1a-Z93 branches.

This scenario is more logical, plausible and in line with known genetic, archaeological, linguistic, and literary evidence than Joseph’s wishful “connecting of the dots”.

6. The author seems ignorant of the fact that the issue can only be settled by Harappan DNA.

India’s civilizational roots lie buried along the Sarasvati river’s dry paelo-channel (much of which is situated in India). More than 500 archaeological sites are known to exist (the vast majority of which are unexplored), and there are undoubtedly many more waiting to be discovered.

Since many of these sites are over eight millennia old (possibly even older), it is probable that very ancient human remains will be found there. These human remains’ DNA holds the key to settling the question of the origin of the Indian people once and for all, for it will reveal what haplogroup the people of the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization (the so-called Harappans) belonged to.

If the R1* haplogroup is detected in Harappan remains, it will conclusively prove that the Indo-Aryan people originated in India. Given the preponderance of genetic and other evidence that supports this possibility, this may well be the case, but time will tell. The matter will be settled only after a large number of ancient Harappan DNA samples are tested.

This is the only definitive way to settle the Aryan invasion/migration debate, but again, Joseph appears to be wholly ignorant of this fact.

7. More errors, and cherry-picked interviews.

Joseph makes the ridiculous claim that a small percentage of Indian females carry the R1a lineage.

Are you serious, Mr. Joseph?

Are you serious, Mr. Joseph?

Does Joseph not know that R1a is a Y-chromosomal, patrilineal (male-only) haplogroup? Does he not know that the Y chromosome is absent in females (who have two X chromosomes)? Most high-school students would be able to teach him this! This is extraordinarily poor journalism; it is what happens when non-scientists write science articles.

Furthermore, Joseph alludes to interviews with scientists who are known to support his conclusions that the Indo-Aryans originated outside India. That is well and good, but he fails to inform the readers of the views of the many scientists who do not support his agenda. By doing so, he makes it appear as if there is unanimous support for his conclusions.

This, I regret to say, is deceptive, dishonest, and very poor journalism.

In Conclusion

In my previous article, I had written: “I therefore expect India’s “eminent” leftist historians to either ignore the results of the research papers and studies cited herein (as they have largely done thus far), or to respond with cherry-picked data and flawed logic as has long been their wont.”

Although Joseph is neither “eminent” not a historian, he has done precisely this in his article, as demonstrated above.

His article is typical of India’s leftist has-beens: devoid of original research, based on other people’s work, presents subjective opinions rather than hard results, and uses far-fetched and convoluted logic to make biased and untenable arguments that are unsupported by scientific evidence.

It is a propaganda piece which makes a clever attempt to spin public opinion in a certain direction by citing research papers and alluding to email conversations with scientists. Sadly, it is little more than a hodge-podge of self-contradicting and incorrect claims that appear scholarly but do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny: the very definition of “pseudo-intellectual”.

India’s left-liberal-secular clique seems determined to propagandize the Indian public with its spin on the Aryan invasion debate by any means possible, and it has evidently co-opted the Hindu into its agenda.

It is perplexing that the Hindu published the article without fact-checking it. It is even more perplexing that the Hindu employs non-scientists to write articles about hard science, and presents their subjective opinions as facts.

One would expect a venerable, eminent organization such as the Hindu, despite its ideological biases, to value its reputation and respect its readers enough to hire science post-graduates and Ph.D.s for the job. It is disappointing that it is not so.


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A.L. Chavda

A. L. Chavda is a theoretical physicist whose research interests include dark matter, dark energy, black hole physics, quantum gravity, and the physics of the very early universe.