The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Donal's picture

    The Agony of the Tweet

    Athletes, especially Olympians, are to be seen and not heard, or even read. Remember when Crash Davis explains the perfect sports interview to Nuke Laloosh?

    Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time." 

    LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring. 

    Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.

    Recently, triple jumper Paraskevi (Voula) Papachristou, tweeted, "With so many Africans in Greece... the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!" She was promptly expelled from the Greek Olympic team. Her politics and her not being a strong threat to medal may have made the decision easier.

    Papachristou also retweeted videos and postings from Golden Dawn, an extreme right party that got an unexpected boost in Greek elections this year, winning 7% of the vote. The party, whose symbol resembles a swastika, is virulently opposed to immigration and has been denounced for thuggish tactics.

    Australian swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk are banned from using social media during the Games, and are to be sent packing directly after their events for tweeting pictures of themselves holding pistols and shotguns in a Santa Clara gun shop. Seems that their pix were interpreted as thumbing their noses at Australia's strict gun laws. 

    And, of course, forty-four years ago Tommie Smith and John Carlos lost their 200m track medals for their famous black power salute

    Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee in 1968, declared that the Games should be apolitical and ordered the pair to be thrown out of the Olympic Village. The move was one of grotesque hypocrisy given that Brundage, as head of the US Olympic Commission in 1936, had ensured American athletes’ complicity in the Nazi salute in Berlin. But he was far from alone in denouncing Smith and Carlos. Time magazine made reference to their “ugly” statement on its front over. Brent Musburger, a prominent CBS broadcaster, branded them “black-skinned storm troopers”. Within 48 hours of the protest, the pair had their Mexican visas withdrawn and were ejected from the country.

    Former Olympians can catch some flak, too. Salon's Amy Bass is taking long sprinter Michael Johnson to task for crediting his sports prowess to his slave genes. In “Slave genes” myth must die, she writes:

    ... when Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson predicted this month that African-American and West Indian track athletes would dominate the London Olympics because of the genes of their slave ancestors, I paid little attention, thinking there was no way this could become a viable conversation yet again. “All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations,” Johnson told the Daily Mail. “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me –- I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

    Bass recalls the racist gaffes of Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis and Rush Limbaugh. She also notes the Runner's World article arguing, "there is a geological divide between West African and East African muscle-twitch fibers that explains why some black athletes, Kenyans, had endurance while African-Americans excelled at shorter distances."

    Her article does not mention Malcolm Gladwell's piece supposing that Africans may excel at running because they have a wider variety of genes than descendants of groups that left Africa. I read that about fifteen years ago in The New Yorker, I think. Gladwell, a former sprinter himself, felt that Africans, as a group, would have the best and the worst genes, and that non-Africans would fall in between. But with all the revelations about interbreeding with Neandertal, Erectus and now perhaps the Denisovans, it seems our Sapiens gene pool gained quite a bit from places other than Africa.

    Essentially, Bass attacks the very definition of saying someone is "black" when folk with backgrounds as diverse as golfer Tiger Woods and swimmer Anthony Ervin can be unscientifically presumed to have the same genes because they aren't "white." She notes that Howard University anthropologist W Montague Cobb considered Olympic hero Jesse Owens more Caucasoid than Negroid. Imagine tweeting that about Usain Bolt.

    Update: When I was a kid, I read a book by sports talk show host Bill Mazer. He wrote that there had been successions of immigrant champions, most lately African-Americans, and someone once asked him: what makes a good boxer? Mazer's answer: Poverty.



    Actually, the genetic studies have shown that there was no interbreeding with the Neanderthals (we wiped them out with violence not sex). 

    Bringing up the Mexico City Olympics calls up a blog I wrote a little while ago The Olympics and Me.  Which does bring to me to question, when one gets into politics and the Olympics, how does one avoid the topic of the 1972 Olympics.

    Well, two years ago, everyone was buzzing about this:

    A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome

    Neandertals, the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humans, lived in large parts of Europe and western Asia before disappearing 30,000 years ago. We present a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome composed of more than 4 billion nucleotides from three individuals. Comparisons of the Neandertal genome to the genomes of five present-day humans from different parts of the world identify a number of genomic regions that may have been affected by positive selection in ancestral modern humans, including genes involved in metabolism and in cognitive and skeletal development. We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other.

    And even a few days ago, I read this:

    A Bone Here, a Bead There: On the Trail of Human Origins

    In your earlier career, you concentrated on Neanderthals. Do you now accept the new evidence of Neanderthal-Homo sapiens interbreeding, which seems to establish that we are more than 2 percent Neanderthal?

    This is one of the remarkable bits of news of the last couple of years. We’ve had the genomes of Neanderthals reconstructed, and yes, indeed, it shows that people outside of Africa have, on average, about 2.5 percent of an input of Neanderthal DNA in them. And, of course, it’s led to a rethinking of our relationship with them; clearly there was viable interbreeding.

    So, do you have a source for your contention?

    The black power salute shouldn't be confused with Tweeting nonsense - it was one of the greatest symbolic markers of our time - perfectly executed at a time when worldwide we were struggling with our conception of blacks within society.

    As for black genetics, suddenly unlike the usual goal of science, everyone seems to be struggling mightily to not find answers.

    but I would agree with the West Africa hypothesis/observation, and doubt that slavery changed genetic selection at all except that US slaves were West African. (ok, there might be some improvements for some sports with a caucasian/negroid mix, but that would need a real study to show, not just 1 athlete)

    More likely it's a mix of genetics & opportunity & social upbringing. But since we know from studying genetics and inheritance that species evolve and specialize, and we use this for everything from wheat to race horses, it'd be nice if we didn't have to shy away from the genetic portion of our skills. If we hadn't evolved legs, none of us would be running anyway. Q.E.D. genetics matters, just not always quite as much as presumed.

    (since 90% of slavery in the Americas was outside the US - e.g. Jamaica, Brazil - there are lots more examples to observe there, and the types & extent of genetic mixes vary greatly from colony to colony - enough to feed genetics studies for lifetimes. The athletic success of former British colonies can be studied in terms of a white/black mix as well as access to wealth or different types of nutrients et al. If there's a special gene for reggae, we haven't isolated it yet.)

    Nailed by Danger Mouse. Discussed as a hybrid cat. Destined to take 7-8 medals at the Olympics. Before relieved of them for doping. Oh what a tangled web we weave...

    "Disguised", not "discussed". Now I'm discustard.

    As for black genetics, suddenly unlike the usual goal of science, everyone seems to be struggling mightily to not find answers.

    I'm one of those who has little interest in the subject of comparative racial genetics.  Why pry into that area?  It strikes me as akin to the desire to find out what what is in my sister's diary.  The fact that their are sciences of textual analysis and psychology that could help me in the exegesis of her diary doesn't provide me with a good reason for digging into the matter.  Life is short, time is limited, and there are nearly infinitely many areas of more fruitful and less fretful scientific inquiry to work on.

    I am also uninterested in the genetic basis for Malcolm Gladwell's goofy hair.

    While I'm sure your sister's diary is greatly fascinating, I'm interested in genetics because it ties into things like cures for diseases, improved longevity, and better tasting Cream o' Wheat. And in-breeding.

    In any case, I'm interested in what neo-Larmarckism (or "neo-neo-Lamarckism" as one scientist puts it) and epigenetics hold in store, even though they're in danger of being ridiculously overhyped & misunderstood. How species evolve is rather fascinating, and it may be that our models oversimplified the variation & environmental effects on gene expression.

    I imagine within a century we'll be mucking about with the gene pool rather hard, though we might do it under cover of the night still.

    Whether we'll explain Malcolm Gladwell's hair in this lifetime remains to be seen - even the Mayan end-of-the-world was postponed - it's all a letdown.

    Evolution explained.

    Nature versus nurture, the argument has been going on for centuries. I pretty much lean toward nurture and would bet that in most cases the environment forces over ride the genetic effects.

    The problem I have with discussion of genetics in racial terms is that the choice to sort and subdivide in that manner is in most cases cultural not scientific.Its highly unlikely that the genes that affect athletic success are the same genes that control melanin production. The genes that control the production of melanin are trivial and if one is looking for genes that affect athletic success there is no scientific reason to see how often they correlate with the genes that control melanin production. Yet while the genes that control melanin production are rather trivial the visual impact of those genes is huge, as different as black and white. And that's about the whole reason we're choosing to sort and testing correlations along racial lines.

    Now if we discover that there is a high correlation between high melanin production and the genes that affect athletic success that really doesn't give us any relevant scientific insight. Those athletic genes must have originated in mutations in some few people. They spread through the entire high melanin producing breeding population over hundreds of thousands of years because they led to higher survival rates. If those athletic genes had such a high survival value among that breeding population they would likely have had an equally high survival value among those with low melanin production. They should have spread throughout the entire human species. Yet they didn't, if the correlation actually exists. Why?

    Differences in melanin production created, culturally, a high degree of antipathy to interbreeding. Something we already know. Scientifically speaking, that's all making this meaningless correlation will tell us.

    First, the exploration of epigenetics gets us further past "nature" vs. "nurture" - the nature part isn't just a one-time download of genetic programming - there's variation in how that programming gets revealed or doesn't, partly through environmental factors.

    Second, I'm indifferent to melanin - I was just referring more to tribes of people, whether they came from Caucasian tribes or African tribes (or whatever the deliniations that are genetically significant). Africa was fairly closed to external genetics, so its evolution over millenia is more self-contained and likely easier to study. Since US slavery involved only a small part of Africa, blacks in the US will have inherited that fairly condensed lineage. But of course all this predicates certain physical attributes assisting in certain sports, and if someone discovers a new technique - say the Fosberry Flop - or we decide skateboarding is Olympian and running isn't - any advantage could be gone in a second. Evolution is fickle.

    Oh, youse guys with your "Gladwell's crazy hair" jokes.

    You do know that his Mum is black, right? 

    He was one of the 12 discussed in Gates book about racial origins and such. 

    No, I have no idea who Gladwell is, never hear of him till this column.

    You're a lucky man.

    I find the analysis of genetic differences amongst humans - and other species - to be pretty fascinating. Sadly, it's become pretty much useless to try and discuss it in the States, and Canada as well. When I listen to the "debates," they're basically infantile idiotic moronic not very good. We start with the racist right over here, being insane... and then the left, which responds with a lot of great and grand talk about how we're all the same, and colour doesn't link to anything, and above all, why don't we shut up and move on to other things? Which - if you feel this sort of genetic work just feeds racism - I can understand. 

    But inside, when I'm just thinking to myself, I wonder at why some groups of people have big barrel chests and others have arses that just won't quit and some handle diseases better than others and some love music and some can run long distances and some are IQ-smart and some are frighteningly violent and and and. 

    I love it. It amazes me. That this is what human beings are - ALL of this. 

    And the thing is, it's genuinely not racist for me, it's simpler, and it's personal. I had a biological father whom... I never met. Not ever. And yet, he had the most amazing genes. He was an Olympic marathoner... and a professional violinist... and a Jew... and a teacher on creative thinking. Then again, maybe he didn't have amazing genes, but it was just... him. Except that, there are things I know and feel and can do that he also knew and felt and could do, but that other people, largely, can't. And we never met.

    So, to me, it's a mystery, it matters, and it's magical. It's part of why I'm interested in deeper family histories, in clan and tribal histories, and in anthropology going as far back as we can reach.

    To now study this stuff, or to let it be caged by tiny little minds? What a loss. What a loss. Maybe someday we'll be able to explore the human genetic inheritance - and potential - with the sense of excitement of kids opening a treasure chest at Christmas. I hope so.


    Oh the places we will go some day!

    Meantime, just struck me as an incredible contrast, after reading comments on this thread, to go to reading about the horse in the Olympics of which Anne Romney has part ownership. That most humans (aside from a few PETA peeps and perhaps Peter Singer--not sure of his opinion on that front) have had no qualms for centuries about playing around with animal genes and talking very specifically about what traits are passed down from these experiments:

    Many of the jumping genes end up in dressage horses like Rafalca. Her sire, Argentinus, was a successful Hanoverian jumping stallion, with a similar dark mocha coat to Rafalca’s, and part of a long line of successful jumping horses going back to the 1930s.

    Apparently, it doesn't work with humans though. Our genes are just too unruly.

    Neigh neigh neigh, they say.

    Unruly and wooly. "Doesn't it bother you your father screwing a sheep?" "Na-a-a-ah"

    Get real Q(uinn?) Everyone I know will look at a child and say she has her father's ears, her mother's nose, or his father was a high school super star basketball player too etc.

    What does that have to do with nonsense like "slavery has benefited descendants like me –- I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us"? You can easily find articles about the black basketball gene or years ago the Jewish basketball gene, which apparently has recently been breed out of the present Jewish population.

    Most of it is crap genetics being filtered through pre-conceived overly broad notions of race. there's just no scientific or genetic basis for much of it.

    Acanuck speaks more usefully than I on this, below. 

    And, yes, notions of race are pretty bad. The thing is though, we may well have sub-populations who are genetically better at certain activities. Those sub-populations may well show up within, and only within, certain groups we perceive as being members of a certain race. Do all members of that race share that trait? Perhaps not. But might all individuals with a certain trait belong to one commonly-perceived "race?" Perhaps yes.

    What I dislike in today's public debate is that you cannot cannot cannot even discuss many of these traits and any links to groups. I find it as bizarre as when you can't speak to the "racial" connections to certain kinds of crime. Yes, sure, race is a weak as hell concept. Yeah, sure, we don't want it to lead to feeding racism or profiling etc. But also, if you're in Canada's most violent city - Winnipeg - you damn well need to know that when you go downtown, it's the young native kids who have joined the gangs, and the young native kids who kill the shit out of each other - and sometimes bystanders - and thus, when to get the hell out of Dodge.

    To discuss even these sorts of basic things is seen as being racist though, and thus, our policy machinery clanks along up here, with politicians, the media, academics, and even community leaders all speaking without ever (publicly) stating the obvious.

    Turning back to genetics, it interests me whether or not people have much genetic variation that links not just to physical capabilities, but also various kinds of intelligences, music, social linkages of various sorts, violence, you name it. What I dislike is that as soon as you say that in many North American contexts, people assume you that in doing so, you're looking to back some racist agenda, and in particular, against blacks. But I'm not. I'm interested in whether the phenomenon of the "berserker" has any genetic backing, for instance, whether that shows up racially or not. Why wouldn't I be interested in this? Same with the ability to withstand cold, to run marathons, to sing, etc.

    And most of all, EVEN IF IT IS IN A COMPLETELY 1:1 RELATIONSHIP WITH SOME SKIN COLOUR, who cares? I don't. If it's the truth, even if human beings turn out to secretly have 17 separate species, which are technically incapable of interbreeding and giving live birth, I want to know. 

    Turning back to genetics, it interests me whether or not people have much genetic variation that links not just to physical capabilities, but also various kinds of intelligences, music, social linkages of various sorts, violence, you name it.

    I believe that the word "tallent" is just a way of attributing a higher level of a certain kind of intelligence. "Instinct" is another thing passed on genetically but can vary among sub-groups of particular animal lines. Among humans it seems less obvious and harder to tie various attributes to various identifiable groups.
     The human gene pool may have become so homogenized as to make tieing genetically transmitted characteristics ranging from physical advantages to variations in mental abilities impossible to rank among various groups but animal models suggest to me that very definite characteristics can be locked into a genetic line. Maybe my thinking has been distorted by trying to make a sheep herding dog out of a Pit Bull Terrier. My nurture couldn't overcome the dog's nature.


    The human gene pool isn't that homogenized. It's just always PC to say so, which skips the difficult or unacceptable questions. Did Merovingians have a special knack for basketball? We're not allowed to ask - some French law or other.

    There were times in this discussion that I thought you might have done some study of modern genetics that I lacked and you might have some scientifically valid information to share. I no longer think that.

    The human gene pool is unquestionably vastly more homogenized than the canis lupus familiaris gene pool. The eugenics program we've done with dogs has produced many more breeds of dogs than there are breeds of humans. Through extreme interbreeding we have not only concentrated specialized traits but created heritable congenital weaknesses and defects in most purebred varieties.

    Of course one can ask if there's a basketball gene. One can even undertake a scientific study to attempt to determine the veracity of the hypothesis. But if someone begins to speculate without undertaking that study or makes psuedoscientific claims one can also call out the bad science, the often silly and ignorant claims and the crap genetics that speculation is based on.

    Get off high horse and ride.

    Here's map of where slaves came from - very focused on West Coast:

    5% of trade to Americas went to the US - of roughly 12 million over several hundred years, that's about 600,000, from which remaining millions in US would be descended. 2/3 of slaves headed for the Americas were men, likely selected where possible for obvious size & strength where possible.

    We don't need pure breeds to describe any of the sports bit - we're talking about say 100,000 athletes overall across 70 years, which is a small population to witness a specific effect.

    Jamaican population was only 6000 when the English arrived in 1655, and following British union shortly after, the addition of Africans, Scots, Irish and Welsh was set until slave independence in 1830. The 1 million Africans brought from 5 African ports to the tiny island of Jamaica was more than the total brought to the U.S.

    (The Scots' social status was barely above slaves in early years, many of them cast-off prisoners or other unwanteds. )

    Similarly, English, Scottish and Irish settlers in the US South dominated the population (German, Scandinavian and Slavic immigrants sticking more to the industrial northern areas and off to the Great Lakes), and Irish dominated new immigration throughout the 1800's.

    So there we have two similar populations in Jamaica and the South that could have brought on some new African-British (plus Irish) traits over hundreds of years of co-habitation, which could easily have been change in muscular structure et al.

    This doesn't have to result in a homogenous population - simply that these traits pop up frequently enough to be significant - say Olympics selection. The traits don't have to be related to survival - they can be simply dominant/recessive inheritance from the 2 groups that shapes the offspring.

    There, you have a hypothesis that's not silly, and considering the "caucasion-negroid" structure of Jesse Owens' muscles (according to 1 doctor), you have 1 data point for the theory. Now someone needs to fund the study - maybe Mr. Bolt as he seems interested.

    Note: for genetics tracking on the British Isles, using a new technique with Y-chromosomes and mitochondrial RNA, a very interesting article here, which includes genetics analysis with historical conclusions across the fairly-isolated region, without giving up in despair that the evidence or populations aren't 100% pure and conclusive. (as an aside, the article proposes the accepted Anglo-Saxon & Celtic history of the Isles is full of mistakes)

    "Maybe my thinking has been distorted by trying to make a sheep herding dog out of a Pit Bull Terrier. My nurture couldn't overcome the dog's nature."

    This is a prime example of garbage science and crap genetics one can find so often on the web. In our history there has often been some bigot with a PHD spouting slightly more well written crap genetics which was then used as a prescription for public policy  discriminating against minorities. That's the main reason to push back against crap genetics like the slave gene nonsense discussed in the OP.

    Your analysis would simply be dismissed out of hand without even wasting time considering the evidence as anecdotal by scientists. But let's critique your "study" and consider the "evidence." There are no controls to test for or eliminate other possible hypothesis. Was it the genetics of pit bull terriers or the genetics of just that one pit bull? Was it the genetics of just that one pit bull or the environment of its early puppyhood, in other words was that particular pit bull in some way stunted? Was it the training method rather than the genetics? Was it the skill of the one trainer used in this "study" rather than the genetics of the pit bull?

    It would be just as stupid for me to use this "study" to claim that the breed (race) of the trainer was genetically unable to interact positively with dogs.

    I don't think there's been any scientifically rigorous study to determine the capacity of pit bull terriers to learn sheep herding but my hypothesis based on my experience and study of canis lupus familiaris is that one could with proper training and skilled trainers teach them to sheep herd.

    I also doubt that your particular race is genetically unable to learn to train dogs.

    The mistake that I will own up to is that I did not write in such a way as to make it clear that my anecdote about training a pit bull to herd sheep was a fabrication for the purpose of making a point. I expected the point, though, to be obvious. I have owned a good sheep dog and I have been around a few pit bulls. A pit bull has inherited instincts, inherited presumably through genetics, that make it quit different from a blue heeler which also has inherited instincts, but some importantly different ones. The heeler is quite easy to turn into an efficient herder, the pit bull is quite easy to turn into a killer, often actually quite hard to prevent from becoming one. It may be possible to train the pit bull to herd, but training it away from its instincts as opposed to reinforcing the instincts of the natural herd dog, should be evidence that they have inherited different types of intelligence and different instincts as well as different physical characteristics. I will continue to believe that they have inherited them genetically unless you convince me, with scientific data, differently.

     "This is a prime example of garbage science and crap genetics one can find so often on the web."

    What genetic "garbage science" and what "Crap genetics" did I offer which is "garbage"?  What I said was, "...but animal models suggest to me that very definite characteristics can be locked into a genetic line".   I offered a lay-man's opinion, but one that seems completely obvious and which you make no effort to refute along with your ridicule.
     Do you think that all dogs are the same mentally and only different in physical appearance? And, is not the difference in appearance obvious evidence of different physical capabilities? Do you think the differences just accidently happened or do you realize that at least parts of the scientific method were used by those who observed and then selectively bred so as to lock in characteristics that they desired.  
     Try this. Send your six year old running across a field and then turn an untrained border collie loose and say go get em. Good chance it will 'herd' the child back, little chance it will hurt the child. Then do the same thing with a pit bull. [In case you don't understand, I am not really suggesting you do that] I have not seen for myself a pit bull maul a child but I have heard enough anecdotal evidence that I have formed what I believe to be reasonable hypothesis: Pit bulls are far more dangerous to humans because of their inbred instincts than are most other dogs. The point here though is just that they are genetically different in ways that have effects. It is interesting to me to wonder how the same causes, selective breeding, or other cause of variations in genetics, whether deliberately carried out or whether caused by natural selection, might manifest itself in human populations.
     While a hypothesis might be formed by a bigot in hopes that science would prove his bigotry to be founded, the asking that a question be studied by science is not proof of bigotry and should not even be considered an indication of bigotry minus other evidence.
     I don't know if the various countries which have outlawed pit bulls performed vigorous scientific study before they did so, but I believe that many observations led them to a common sense decision that could be supported by vigorous scientific study.
     You imply that you have studied genetics and then call out the "bad science", the "crap science", and the "garbage science' you have seen here [and elsewhere on the net]. How about debating the points and bringing some of your knowledge to the conversation rather than just calling bullshit?  While a hypothesis might be formed by a bigot in hopes that science would prove his bigotry to be founded, asking that a scientifically valid question be studied by science and being interested in the answer is not proof of bigotry and should not even be considered an indication of bigotry absent other evidence.

    Good post. I concur. The difference between your previous post and this one is a fine illustration of the difference between good science and bad science. I would add that beyond general principles, for example the manner in which  recessive and dominate genes interact, its unwise to extrapolate too much when comparing the results of an extreme eugenics program, like dog breeding, to a wild population like humans.

    To my mind the difference between your 2 posts is metaphorically similar to difference between the next two paragraphs. Note that I'm not implying you said or believe anything that follows. but you asked what I mean by bad science and crap genetics.

    There appears to be some statistical evidence that East African runners might have some genetic characteristics that cause them to do better in sprinting and less well in endurance running.

    African-American and West Indian track athletes would dominate the London Olympics because of the genes of their slave ancestors. “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me –- I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

    If the statistical evidence exists the first is a good scientific hypothesis, the second, bad science, total crap. If in fact there is statistical evidence of East African genetics favoring sprinters one might hypothesize that Afro-Americans that can trace their line to slaves from East Africa might tend to do better as sprinters. That's all one could hypothesize.

    North American slaves came from East and West Africa as well as the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa. There was insufficient time for any possible East African genetic difference to spread throughout the whole American slave population. So talking about some sort of slave gene when slaves came from such  widely separated regions in Africa is nonsense. Even worse to talk about black athletic genes or a black basketball gene, which is based on the premise that if people look black, i.e. has genes that produce high melanin, that the rest of their genes are similar.

    This is the type of bad science Bass was arguing against in the OP and I agree with her reasoning. "Essentially, Bass attacks the very definition of saying someone is "black" when folk with backgrounds as diverse as golfer Tiger Woods and swimmer Anthony Ervin can be unscientifically presumed to have the same genes because they aren't "white."" I personally believe calling out that bad science is a valuable and very important thing to do.


    You've got it backwards. East Africans excel at endurance running, i.e. marathons. The "slave gene" theory is that genes that favor sprinting were predominant in West Africa, from which most slaves were captured. Also that slave-owners deliberately bred their chattel to enhance their natural abilities. Why they would want them to get better at running away is an unanswered question.

    I haven't seen any studies of significant breeding among slaves, except likely "this guy's big - let's get him some kids" - so I don't know that the gene pool would be significantly changed. And yeah, presumably, "work harder/better" would have been the desired trait, not "run faster/run away". Pulling a plough and sprinting are quite different sports.

    Two comments. Every sport demands a specific set of physical traits. Training, nutrition, exercise are crucial to reach the elite level, but you need the right kind of body to start with. Some "micro-populations" carry a surplus of genes for those desired traits. So parts of East Africa produce superb distance runners but lousy weightlifters. It is not racist to acknowledge this, or to want to study exactly why.

    Second, much of this thread displays an outdated view of human genetics. Understandably. Within living memory, some very bad "science" by some very bad "scientists" has fed racist theories, leaving a legacy of mistrust. But modern geneticists, I would suggest, are actually ahead of the general population in understanding that "race" is basically a meaningless term. Certainly, broad categories based on skin color just aren't scientifically relevant or useful.

    Bad science has led anti-global warming sentiment, "drill byaby drill", etc. But I doubt that's the issue. But who exactly is talking about broad categories based on skin color, vs. people who came out of a consolidated location?

    The decades-long embrace of eugenics by otherwise respectable scientists shouldn't be the issue today, I agree. I mentioned it because I think it colors the emotions that some people bring to the discussion, such as Dan's preference for "less fretful" fields of inquiry. That's certainly true of Amy Bass's reaction in Salon to the "slave gene" myth.

    She summarily rejected it as a repugnant idea, one in a long string of racist stereotypes. Her commenters at least offered reasoned arguments: that there is no documented evidence of intentional slave-breeding, that there was no financial incentive for it, that it takes many generations to develop a desired trait, etc.

    Bass also flatly rejects the "muscle-twitch" effect as linked to specific populations (East vs. West African). I have no idea whether such a genetic difference is present, or whether it actually affects running speed. But obviously those are discernable scientific facts. You can't refuse to go there because you fear the implication that we aren't all equal. We're aren't. So what?

    As for skin color, I was trying to contrast the framework modern geneticists use to that of the general population, not saying anyone here had said that.


    Olympic Rules: One Bad Tweet And You’re Out
    By Annie Rose, ABC News, July 20, 2012

    A rude tweet insulting athletes from another country has cost a second Olympian a spot at the games.

    Michel Morganella, one of the players on Switzerland’s Olympic men’s soccer team, sent out such a tweet following his team’s 2-1 loss to South Korea on Sunday. Morganella’s tweet said that Koreans should “burn themselves” and described them as “retards.”

    Despite Morganella’s quick apology posted on his Twitter page, a prompt response from the Swiss team chief resulted in Morganella’s Twitter account deleted from the social networking site and his dismissal from the team.

    “He discriminated, insulted and violated the dignity of the South Korean football team and the South Korean people,” Swiss team chief Gian Gilli said to Reuters.


    The International Olympic Committee created “IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines” which clearly states that upon noncompliance of the guidelines an athlete can be stripped of their Olympic Games accreditations.


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